austin_dern (austin_dern) wrote,
austin_dern
austin_dern

Dirty old river, must you keep rolling, flowing into the night

[ Sorry, late, was in Detroit attending a punk concert. Bet you didn't see that excuse coming. ]

bunny_hugger worried that our honeymoon would be too heavily weighted to the things she wanted to do: going to the Efteling amusement park, going to Blackpool, dropping off a card to Trevor Horn. She wanted to be sure I got the chance to do things I really wanted to do too. I wanted most to spend wonderful, luxurious days with her, so that was easy enough. And I'd wanted to go to Blackpool, certainly. Still, there was something I'd had thoughts of it being really wonderful to go see, and it gets right at the mathematics- and physics- and astronomy-loving nature of me, and that would be, going to the Royal Observatory at Greenwich. Yes; of the things to specifically do, that was the thing for me.

Sunday night before going to bed I checked Greenwich's web site, to figure out their hours, the most convenient way to get there, that sort of thing, and discovered they were closed, due to some Olympics-related matters. I was disappointed; bunny_hugger more so, for fear that now the balance of our activities would be completely tipped in her direction. But, again, our being together was what I most wanted. And it gives us something to do next time we get to England.

The first thing we did Monday was sleep in, though. We wanted to pack as much experience as we could into our honeymoon, of course, but at this point we'd been going for two weeks straight on the trip, and were coming right off the wedding and wedding preparation right after that, so, what we were more than anything else was tired. We slept right through breakfast and didn't really feel the loss there.

Of course, there is not a present shortage of things to do in London when you are a tourist and have reasonable amounts of disposable capital and an afternoon to do things in. We took the subway, aiming for the Tower of London. Here we'd have a nice, direct route, taking us right to Tower Hill, or so we thought: the particular train we were on was going to end its loop a little short of our final destination; I want to say at Cannon Street, but it's not important. What is important is that at one stop the doors began closing, and then halted, and then an alarm went off.

What happened, according to the train's driver, was that someone was jumping onto the train just as the doors were closing, and this paused everything. Normal enough. But then someone else --- and the driver clearly held this person in contempt --- decided to use this opportunity to test the emergency stop apparatus, and they had to wait for the train to be checked and the system cleared. He went on to explain that it was foolish to jump on the train as the doors were closing, and that this was not the sort of thing that required an emergency signal for anyway.

Because of the delay between the late passenger and then the alarm, however, the train wouldn't be able to finish its circuit at Cannon Street; it would have to stop one before, at Mansion House, I think. The driver went on to announce that those hoping to go farther would have to get off at either Blackfriars or Mansion House, and he strongly recommended Blackfriars. Apparently, and thinking this over I'm not sure how it's possible, while those going farther would have to get out on the platform and wait in the comfort of the available platform seating ``for all of one minute for the next train'' --- the driver here was practically performing, doing the part of the put-upon subway driver; there were moments our trip where I got the feeling that everyone in England was playing the part of English Person Doing Some Chore, and this was one of the most theatrical moments --- it would be easy to get off, and wait in a comfortable spot, for the train at Blackfriars, whereas at Mansion House one would have to get off and go up some steps and back down to the correct platform and one would almost certainly not be able to get there in the one minute allotted.

After that lecture we didn't dare disobey the driver, and took our new train as directed.

The Tower of London and the grounds around it are just what it says on the label. We went in for the tour, but would be mildly disappointed. Due to the threat of rain, the Yeoman Warder told us they'd take us right to one of the chapels inside and describe the place from there, rather than take us where we might get soaked. Disappointing, yes, but we were quite satisfied and entertained with our Warder. (He's a special case of that sense of English People Playing The Part Of English Person, since of course his responsibilities are largely ones of performing well.) Among the curious points: he mentioned that when someone asks a really brilliant question, it gets written down in a big book for all the other Warders to enjoy, and that the most recent addition was ``Why didn't you build the Tower closer to the Underground station?'' It seems like the existence of the book of really brilliant questions has to be a joke, although I don't doubt they share stories of dopey things tourists asks. And yet ... well, the Tower isn't that far from the Underground station; it's about as close as could reasonably be, in fact. I could imagine asking that question deadpan, after all. I could also imagine Warders making that up as the sort of really brilliant question someone would ask without it ever happening (qv: the tech support call about the computer's broken cupholder). So, yes, it was entertaining and left us not quite sure what we had just experienced.

It happened that afterward we didn't get rained on, or at least not to any important measure. We walked about, appreciating the non-fake, non-Dutch Beefeater doing sentry duty outside the Crown Jewels; we were also there for part of the ceremony of the Word, transmitting the new password for the night, which allowed people to gather around a whole small flock of sentries who ordered ``Make Way!'' and got their way swiftly. This also left me with odd feelings: the ceremony doesn't serve any real point, after all, other than being something tourists like me could go to and photograph. If the tourists didn't come to watch people in bright red coats and enormously tall black hats stomping around, they wouldn't need to do it. But they do do it, so tourists feel they need to come and watch them doing it.

The Crown Jewels are as they say on the label. What I didn't know was there was a pair of sliding sidewalk-type conveyances, just as you have at airports, to move people past the largest display of crowns and jewels at a reasonable clip. Oddly only the nearer one had people on it when we got in, so we went to the far side and got to slide past without having to worry about shoulder space. (Later, more people followed our lead, or we just got there at an unexpected lull in far-sliding-belt use.) I'd thought I remembered a story about George VI being afraid his crown would be put on wrong-side-front (they're quite symmetrical) for his coronation, and so had a red spot put on to mark front from back, only to have the spot taken off before the ceremony and, indeed, the crown put on backwards. According to the tourist guide book I had it essentially right, if I may brag. Left unanswered is whether a crown that needs careful examination to tell backwards from frontwards can actually ever be said to be backwards.

We were amused and confused by introductory text saying the oldest piece of crown jewelry was a spoon dating back to the 12th century --- like, such as you might use on soup?, and before dismissing us as absurd consider that some of the jewelry on display were bathtub-sized punchbowls from the 19th century so that stuff which had technically utilitarian value could be on display --- and sure enough, it was a spoon, just as described, although it's used less for soup and more for anointing sovereigns with holy oil.

Not present were three maces, which by statute have to be in the chambers of Parliament for the houses to legally meet (apparently the Commons requires the one mace, while the Lords take two, possibly reflecting a need to more often whap Lords over the head with maces). This point in which the monarch claims authority over Parliament forms an interesting point of convergence between me as bunny_hugger's current husband and her past one. We both, taking rather a de facto view of things, see it as an in principle charming bit of theatrics honoring the fiction that the Crown is actually necessary for government; bunny_hugger is more annoyed with the de jure case that the actual representatives of the public can't do their work without the blessings of someone whose only necessary qualification is extreme luck in the genetic lottery. My pointing out that the first thing Parliament debates after the Speech from the Throne is the Outlawries Bill, having nothing to do with anything and absolutely nothing to do with the Speech didn't encourage my reading that the maces don't mean anything besides everyone agreeing they'll work to govern the place. (The Outlawries bill, in the Lords the Select Vestries bill, has been used for centuries, and it is not intended to do anything except show that Parliament will debate what it likes whatever the Crown might say is urgent.)

The plaques and such also describe the only not-utterly-complete-failed attempt to steal the Crown Jewels, that of Colonel Thomas Blood in 1671, which seems wrong to me, not just because Blood was given a £500 annual pension as a result of all this. I mean, I've listened to the radio adaptations of the adventures of Sherlock Holmes and based on them, there's an attempt to steal the Crown Jewels every fourth week, which is nearly as often as Professor Moriarty pops in. Maybe they're trying to hush things up so as to avoid a panic.

The most emotionally intense part of the Tower was for us the cells where various prisoners had been historically kept, particularly one corner we were able to wander around in where the prisoners had carved into the walls ... well, cries that they had been there, essentially. Some made just marks of their names, some prayers. One even carved a complicated astrological chart (while, if I have it right, awaiting trial for witchcraft, which this was supposed to help prove he wasn't doing). Most astounding were parts that were just present, without transcription, without interpretation: graffiti that was too fragmentary or too obscure to make out unambiguously. At one point carving those symbols was the most important thing in someone's life; and now, we can just hope that maybe someday we'll have the context to understand it.

The least emotionally intense part was my spotting in the windows the refrigerators of the Tower of London, used for the New Armouries Restaurant. We stopped there for a meal --- cucumber sandwiches, I think --- and enjoyed the ambiance and not being where it might drizzling rain on us and the large frieze recovered from a military storehouse and that's now backdrop to the cash registers.

The last sight we really got to was the room discussing the animals which had been at the Tower. Before the opening of the London Zoo, the monarch's collection of exotic and novel animals were kept at the Tower, where the hopelessly overwhelmed and (non-maliciously) ignorant staff would try to keep creatures alive despite being nowhere near their ecologically appropriate climate. Some of their efforts were almost ingenious, such as the polar bear (of Henry III) who was tethered and allowed to swim in the Thames, or intriguing, such as James I who allegedly designed a nipple to bottle-feed sick lion cubs. One panel, providing no other context, said ``snakes were wrapped in blankets and kept on a stove to keep them warm''. But mostly it's a sad tale of people being brutal to animals: one example mentioned repeatedly was of the ostrich who was choked because passers-by fed it nails, on the theory that ostriches digested iron. So, we must again ask, people: what is your problem?

One interactive panel display asks ``Where did the tower's animals come from?'' and on this map of the world one can rub a sensor to hear the sounds of animals from the appropriate continent. The spots to rub have been worn down, so you know where to rub for Africa or Asia or so. But the clear favorite of the Tower-going public is Australia, which is rubbed almost completely out by this. There's also a ``Journeys and Captives'' display showing 1741 woodcuts of tower animals, including the worst picture of a ``Racoon'' ever. It looks less like a chained raccoon --- and by the way, the lion, lioness, leopard, tigers, and panther aren't chained, and the ape has just a rope tied to him, but the raccoon is plainly secured by chain-link metal --- and more like a scrawny dog. There's also a picture of a ``warwoven'' and I don't know either. The only explanation I can find is that it's a ``strange bird from the East Indies''.

We couldn't go on past this display of human callousness toward animals, because they were closing up, and a Warder was locking rooms behind us. So we did some last looking around, and took the chance to use the bathroom (the men's room had signs about it winning Toilet of the Year competitions as recently as 2006; bunny_hugger reported the women's room had such certificates going back to 1998, which, really is lingering to your glory; you don't see me going on about being Time's Person of the Year for 2006), and got another glimpse at one of the Tower's ravens. Not sure who.

What to do next? Well, here's a little secret: The Tower of London is adjacent to the Tower Bridge, or as it's called by everyone getting their first look at it, the London Bridge. There was an interpretative centre of some kind on the bridge's walkway, and that was ... closed. Naturally. Still, it'd be rather silly to come all this way and not at least walk across the Tower Bridge and so we crossed the Thames that way.

Given that position it'd be a touch silly not to get over to the London Bridge and walk the other way, although oddly I remember my attempting to do just that and go back over the Tower Bridge. Fortunately bunny_hugger was more sensible and we returned the other way and so got to experience walking across one of the world's many insignificant replacements for a magnificently important structure.

I noticed around the north side of London Bridge a sign saying the entrance to the original historic London Bridge was nearby, and thought we might be able to find it. This was a fine idea. What we weren't quite able to do was actually locate the path, although we did pass the monument to the Great Fire of London, and walked a good length along the river front, including underneath the modern bridge, without ever finding a spot that looked plausibly like it had been the old approach. We must have seen it --- topology just doesn't work any other way --- but when or where, we can't say.

Wandering around to find the Underground we did come across many markers representing parts of Queen Elizabeth II's 1977 Jubilee and events from that, and we also passed a convenience store and felt a nagging feeling that we should pick up something from there, but with toothpaste taken care of and sunscreen a hilarious and sarcastic joke we couldn't think of it. It would be allergy medication so that bunny_hugger could visit her uncle and aunt's without potential agony, and we never would think of it when we were somewhere potentially selling it. But her cat allergy developed very slowly over the evenings so she wasn't miserable.

Instead we found a series of closed-off entrances to the Underground station, followed by the still-open entrance, and that the platform here was a gradual curve. I got one of my best subway photograph pictures of this platform.

On the train we found copies of the Evening Standard and caught up some on the little fiasco where the security agency realized it kind of forgot to hire guards for the Olympics (it's a bit more complex than that, but comes to that) or marvelling at the editorial pages; there was also a bit of an editorial-pages argument going on about the cutting off of Bruce Springsteen and Paul McCartney's speakers in a concert the weekend before. Perhaps it was just the foreign nature of things but the writing was much more lively and crackling than United States editorials and columnists; see earlier comments about English People Performing As English People.

Better, across the street from the subway station was a news stand we hadn't gone into before. I suggested we try it out in case they did have Starbars, and what do you think was at the counter? We picked up one each in what seemed to me a remarkable bit of restraint on bunny_hugger's part. For not getting to Greenwich we were doing pretty good anyway.

We met up again with her uncle and aunt; he'd parked this time outside the hotel lot, on the street, where we could avoid all automobile mishap and confusion. To get back to his home bunny_hugger's uncle had to pull into the modestly heavy traffic going over the bridge. A car coming up fast behind him swung out to the side, and then weaved around his lane and the next. The car sped up and then cut sharp in front of her uncle, in a harrowing move that looked like cutting him off sharp as punishment for getting in his way. But the cars scraped one another, and the other driver pulled alongside and pointed at the shoulder. Her uncle wasn't willing to stop on the middle of the bridge --- we weren't sure it was wise to stop at all, since we were afraid of a violently angry other driver confronting an elderly and honestly feeble man.

He drove around to the first available street and parked, and the other driver pulled in beside. Her uncle went and talked with him, and ... well, the meat of the discussion was, who was at fault for this? The other driver's opinion was that in a collision between two cars the driver in back is always at fault. I believe that's the base presumption in New Jersey, but that circumstances and sense can overrule that base presumption, such as, if the car ahead is cutting into the lane so sharply and quickly there's not time to react.

However, the other driver didn't want to call the police and get an official report, or to send it on to his insurance company, because he's a minicab driver, and being involved in an accident like that is an undesirable state of affairs. They did exchange numbers (her uncle briefly lost it, later on), and with bunny_hugger's aunt and the two of us saying that we'd be witnesses on his side if it came to a court case, we went our separate ways. We would try to worry about it later, although it kept worrying us right then.

I remember that one night we got pizza delivered and it seems logical that this was the one, but I'm embarrassed to say I'm not positive. We were thrown off by the accident, and worrying about its implications.

bunny_hugger's aunt, the therapist, took us upstairs to see her office. It's a nicely packed place, the sort of cozy tight spot that feels right for intellectuals to work, at least in my view of things. She's also got a vast collection of tiny figures, nicknacks that would just make for a more complicated dusting situation if they weren't useful for (apparently) building scenes and acting out stories as her clients needed. Also their cat spends some time in the office, watching, and occasionally coming over to patients.

For all that there was some good news. They'd taken the time available to finish running our clothes through the washer, and even bundled socks together and put them into some rather sturdy bags. The rest of our honeymoon might be short, but it would be in fresh, clean clothes.

Trivia: When sweets rationing ended in Britain in 1953 long queues for rock candy formed outside Blackpool Rock shops as early as 5:30 am among panic buyers, even as the thriving black market carried candy to London. Source: Sweets: A History Of Temptation, Tim Richardson.

Currently Reading: Undersea City, Frederick Pohl, Steve Miller.

Tags: honeymoon
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