Tuesday --- our last full day in London, since bunny_hugger and I were to fly out of Heathrow Wednesday afternoon --- we again got up too late for the hotel breakfast service. It isn't as though we weren't still up to doing things; we just had been doing so many things for so long that getting rest was more appealing than eating something with the aptly named brown sauce would be. I believe we did finish the last of the snacks we'd gotten in the Netherlands, though, including a bag of cheese rice crackers that was threatening to never leave my possession, before setting out; certainly we finished it by the night, when we had the last of those adorable tiny cans of Coke Zero got in Amsterdam.
We figured to head east, to the tourism-heavy centers of the city, with Big Ben and the houses of Parliament our target since we certainly couldn't miss those, could we? We learned when we got there that the Commons were in session, sort of --- it was the day before an adjournment and the only action was open debate not particularly expected to reach any conclusion --- and that we could just go in and watch as if we had any business there. Cool.
We passed through security, which among other things took an extremely blurry black-and-white photograph of us to make temporary ID lanyards. We thought there might be some color scheme to the color of the ribbon holding it round our necks, based on some important-looking people in business suits and talking about conferences seeming to have a different color, but that pattern didn't hold up. However it is they separate the people with actual Westminster business from the riff-raff I haven't sorted out. Possibly it's the people holding cameras and pointing at things like the statue of Cromwell who're supposed to not be there for actual work.
What we first entered was Westminster Hall, startlingly huge considering it dates more or less back to the 11th century --- it's immediately obvious why it was such an impressive spot --- and not even near being filled with tour groups and informational and interpretative panels and statues and markers in the floor denoting where the Queen Mother lay in state or about where Charles I stood as he was tried for being King or a host of other historic events. I learned much about English and British history over the past fifteen years and here in almost one room was an almost oppressive pile of it.
Past the hall we went up stairs and turned left and past the gift shop we got on line to actually sit in Parliament and reached the first of multiple points where we were told, no photography, no hand phones. We sat for a while, until space was available in the viewing gallery, in a hallway whose windows opposite were lined with the various emblems for noble families or cities or counties (I suppose those categories blend together). I couldn't figure out what order was used for placing the emblems so asked one of the attendants there, who admitted, she didn't know. I'd like to think I came up with a question she hadn't heard before, but that's not terribly realistic. It's probably more that people keep forgetting to look it up and the answer is probably on some densely-composed early-Victorian scroll instead of something Google can hunt down.
The path to the viewing gallery goes past another check point to put away your cameras and turn off your hand phones, as well as a series of placards about the fight for women's suffrage. And then we went on a long series of twisty staircases up to another room where we checked our cameras and other people checked their cameras and phones (we had left ours with our suitcases back at the hotel because they'd do us no good overseas, though they thought my wallet looked suspiciously hand phone-like), and we were admitted to the viewing gallery.
There wasn't going to be anything big going on that day. It was just MPs giving speeches to be put on the record, I suppose, with ``health'' the focus of the afternoon's speeches and subject of most of these discussions being the proposed closing of a children's care unit in Leeds in favor of one in Newcastle. I didn't have the slightest opinion on this going in, but after speech after speech about how superlative the care offered in Leeds was and how thoroughly irregularly the decision-making process involved in the closure was and how nearly two patients in five entering Newcastle for medical care immediately burst into flame I was getting worried for the poor children of the central north. I did wonder if someone might speak up on Newcastle's behalf, but no, everyone who spoke --- on both sides --- was a strict pro-Leeds partisan.
One MP was dressed in a lime green suit --- jacket and pants matching, if such a word applies --- with a candy-cane-striped tie. Happily, he did rise to speak, on Leeds's behalf. The next speaker followed by saying he wished to thank the member ``for his comments and for his suit, which has done so much to brighten our days''. I like to think that immediately after the session he dashed off to confound the Adam West Batman, possibly by stealing the Finland Tunnel into New Guernsey.
Also noted: there were perhaps fifteen or so MPs visible from where we sat. At least five of them took out mobile phones or iPads or the like and were apparently texting (Lime Suit was among them). This is maybe lower than the rate of students in class texting. But remember the multiple points at which people were to turn off and hand in their phones and cameras and such before entering the visitors gallery: despite all this, multiple people took out phones or cameras and were immediately approached by a sergeant-at-arms and scolded, who materialized from nowhere to do his shaming. He also appeared from nowhere when a couple young women in the back row nodded off. bunny_hugger remarked how she longed for one of those for her classes.
We actually sat and watched this debate about an issue of astounding inconsequence to us for over an hour and I'm not sure we really had enough. There was the whole atmosphere of being there, at such an historic location, and seeing where the Commons's mace was, and watching the closed captioner on the Parliament channel not quite keeping up and breaking down into the homophonous syllabic hash that you'll see attached to live events, and watching spectacles like a dozen teens (a student group?) shuffling in and sitting down, only to immediately rise and shuffle out again. But we were getting hungry, and needed to use the bathroom, and from the looks of things the Leeds-versus-Newcastle child care unit debate wasn't going to be settled anytime soon.
On the way out we examined the Parliament gift shop, naturally, although we didn't find anything worth comment more than the Guy Fawkes-themed stuff that seemed designed to bring a grin as long as you don't think how miserable life would have been for everybody had the Gunpowder Plot succeeded. (I didn't think to ask if they sold replica tally sticks, but probably I didn't need that kind of trouble.) I was a little disappointed: while I'd found gifts for my nieces fine, and we presumably had the tulip bulbs for bunny_hugger's mother, we weren't doing well finding souvenirs for anyone else, and maybe nobody was expecting anything but I'd still like surprising them.
We got something to eat at the cafeteria just off Westminster Hall, where apparently people with actual responsibilities and reasons to be there also ate sometimes, and then went out to walk around the rest of the area.
Westminster Abbey's the obvious tourist-attracting spot immediately after this, though our first spot was the Saint Margaret's Church, which has among other things a sculpture of a ballerina on a shiny globe just outside for some reason. It also has outstretched sticks on its walls to serve as sundials and I was delighted to find a chart explaining the time correction curve, to adjust from sundial-indicated time to the correct sun time for such factors as the Earth moving faster in January, when it's nearest the sun, than in July. It's just a little correction --- not more than 15 minutes at that latitude --- but isn't it wonderful the information is provided?
The Westminster Abbey cathedral is magnificent, but it also closes early enough that tourists like us who'd lingered in Parliament all day couldn't get in. We had to content ourselves --- and we were content --- to walking around outside and looking at the detailed carvings around the outside and of the allegorical figures surrounding every door. We couldn't help noticing at one frieze how embarrassed Philosophy seemed to be, tucked behind Abbot but at least ahead of History and Poetry and Letters. Mathematics didn't seem to get a spot, but Astronomy and Navigation did, ahead of Physic and Engineering. There's also a lot of gargoyles and gargoyle-head figures surrounding the many arches and they varied, a lot. I don't know whether patterns were reused at all in the building. We didn't catch any, at least.
Beyond there we wandered around the Parliament Square statues, showing off historic figures such as Winston Churchill, David Lloyd George (who's got the most active-looking pose, caught almost mid-run on his way to disapproving of something), Nelson Mandela, or Jan Christiaan Smuts (who looks like he's staring right at Mandela and glaring. Abraham Lincoln's there --- one of the little things I've never perfectly internalized is how the whole world is Lincoln-crazy --- and the one I had to photograph was George Canning, because I realize now I'd mixed the name Canning up with the Cavenagh Bridge, a pedestrian bridge over the Singapore river which you might as well be required to photograph when you're in Singapore (it has a sign warning about the passage of vehicles of more than 3 cwt). Probably I was thinking of Fort Canning Park.
Here, the sun came out, and we got some beautiful moments of Big Ben and Parliament glistening in the early afternoon brilliance.
The Abbey might be closed to mere tourists, but the gift shop was not, and we poked in. I did spot something interesting, the DVD of the official movie of Queen Elizabeth II's coronation. My father, I thought, would likely enjoy that: he's mentioned several times how as a child he was awe-struck that they had movies, of this, in the theaters, less than a week after it happened. It was one of those imagination-sparking moments of his childhood, that the world could be that cozy and close. What I wasn't sure about was whether the DVD, a region 2 thing, could play our DVD player at home, assuming we could find how to jailbreak it. It wasn't an expensive DVD player, a good signal, but it would be perverse to buy a pretty good present only for it to be even more a coaster than any DVD bought for my parents would be. I chickened out, and got a republication of a 1952 magazine covering the coronation in lavish detail. My father did really like that, and he told me again of how awestruck he was as a kid that the movies had the scene just after it happened.
We got a fresh tea and coffee from the stand outside, and soaked in being where we were, while we were there, with that joy tinged by the awareness that it would not last forever.
The London Eye, that giant Ferris wheel, is right nearby, and we walked in that general direction to consider whether we might go on it or might just do other things instead. We would decide not to go on it --- among other things it's just too slow, taking upwards of three weeks for one full circuit --- but we did spot the red car that's either how they mark where in its turns the wheel is, or is reserved for the Crown, or is just there so one car in sixty feels they're getting something really special.
We crossed the Thames on, if I'm working this out right, the Blackfriars bridge. Besides giving us more places to walk, it also let us examine a collection of fairground rides set up on the far side. No roller coaster, even a small one, sad to say, but they did have a carousel. This was an interesting one, a late-90s replica of one built for the 1951 Festival of Britain, with brilliantly-painted horses and ``No Standing'' signs on nearly every vertical surface. And so for our last full day of honeymoon we had a new carousel to ride together.
Now it was getting late enough we should return to the hotel, so we could meet bunny_hugger's uncle and aunt again. We saw signs for the Underground pointing pretty nearby, and so went that way rather than re-crossing the bridge. The way took us to Waterloo Station.
``Waterloo Sunset'' has been one of our songs for almost as long as there's been an us. We could not have designed a more perfect close to our tourist wanderings. London kept giving us things to delight in. (It was also another station with the striking curved platforms.)
Our last evening and so last chance to be with her aunt and uncle until --- who knows when? --- was again caught in that nether-region between being happy we're there and sad we'd not be there tomorrow. We did finally get the chance to venture out in their back yard, a tiny enclosed yard tightly sculpted. We'd talked about it each night there, but somehow not made it out during daylight, so we didn't recognize points of it like the steps partway through or the Buddha tucked far in back, or the tangle made of a tree growing around the property line (its shape apparently follows from the hurricane that Britain held back in the late 80s).
I think that this was the night we got pizza delivered, after all; I know we did one night, as we talked about a point in one of the Kinks concept albums, Soap Opera, in which a mid-70s English wife can't put up with the requests for fancy-pants exotic food like pizza or eggs benedictus. Pizza had been funny enough to make mere mentioning of it a punch line in the mid-50s (The Honeymooners got laughs with the idea of Ed Norton eating one) or early 60s (Peanuts), and I recalled (in United States of Arugula, about the discovery that food could be something other than generic meat and frozen vegetables boiled into homogenous mushiness) that the New York Herald Tribune food editor felt the need to explain the pronunciation of ``pizza'' in its mention of that exotic Italian food at the World's Fair. So would pizza in the early-to-mid-70s of England have been automatically just-exotic-enough to be weird? We couldn't draw any conclusion, although pizza did seem to reach Britain a couple years after it became the generic American food.
I don't mean to shortchange the time spent with them, particularly as they were most generous to us, but so much of what we did and talked about was essentially family matters, particularly about bunny_hugger's family, and that's not my place to broadcast. The important thing is we had several very happy nights and learned or relearned things about bunny_hugger's mother's side of the family, as well as other things like how the neighbor's cat brought discord between them and their neighbors.
For the last night something glitchy in the hotel's Internet gave Safari the idea that the little icon beside my Twitter bookmark should be a rainbow-style color gradient, red-to-blue, changing horizontally. This wouldn't clear up until actually just today, the 17th. I may have just learned something about bookmark icons.
Trivia: Some spectators paid over £100 for rooms overlooking the route King George III would take to Westminster Abbey for his coronation; others paid up to 1,000 guineas for a day's rent of a suitable house. Source: George III, Christopher Hibbert.
Currently Reading: Flying Saucers, Editors Isaac Asimov, Martin H Greenberg, Charles D Waugh. (Is Waugh still alive? I recall Greenberg died within the last couple years.) (I don't know whether I'm surprised they didn't use novellas from that string Farmer wrote about the guy whose infection by an alien causes him to morph into a flying saucer, a felinetaur, and other things you could found a muck on. Of course, it could have been space constraints or just that Asimov liked other things better.)