Off with their heads!

Trip Start May 27, 2009
Trip End Jun 17, 2009

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Flag of United Kingdom  , England,
Tuesday, June 16, 2009

In past visits to London, I've spent a lot of time in museums, but this year I've focussed mainly on three areas: gardens; walking; and eating (mostly cupcakes).

One exception was Sir John Soane's Museum, recommended to me by Joe G. The day I went there was drizzly, and my typical ineptitude with directions had kicked in. I didn't have a lot of time, and I wasn't exactly sure where the museum was, but I headed toward a little group gathered on a sidewalk outside one of the beautiful homes surrounding Lincoln Fields which is near the Holborn Underground station.

As I approached, a formally dressed man greeted me and asked if I planned to go to the Sir John Soane's Museum. I said I did, and he popped open a very large umbrella for me to stand under while I waited my turn since only a limited number of people are allowed inside the small museum at one time. This was so quaint and made me feel so special that the museum could have been a real dud and it wouldn't have mattered much.

Turns out, it's not a dud, but a fascinating, if slightly overwhelming collection of art and artifacts.

Soane, who is considered one of England's greatest architects, used his home to display a collection of architectural antiquities to inspire and educate his students on classical principles of design. Apparently his wife didn't object to the sarcophagus in the basement or...also on the lower level..the Gothic Monk's Parlour and yard Sloane recreated to illustrate the "atmospheric effects of light and space" (from the museum's brochure). Like most other London museums, this one is free, and a great way to while away a few hours on a rainy day.

One London site that isn't free is the famous Tower of London, a place I'd avoided in the past because it seemed so touristy. The cobbled street that leads down to the entrance is usually crowded, it costs a lot to go into the place, and I'm not really that interested in war history or in the Crown Jewels which are kept there. Nevertheless, I hooked up with one of the guided London Walks and spent the better part of the day learning what a truly despicable man Henry VIII was. I also realized that most of our literature, art, and religions are intimately connected with war. Unfortunately, it seems you can't have one without the other.

The London Walk guide introduced himself as a barrister, and he treated our group as if we were a jury to which he was presenting his arguments. It was fun and effective, especially when we tried to decide if Richard III was really responsible for imprisoning and killing those two adorable (whoops, does that sound biased?) princes who stood in the way of the throne. Shakespeare paints the man as a humpbacked wife-stealer and murdering son-of-a-gun, but you might be surprised, as I was, to learn that others describe him very differently. Beginning to feel a little reasonable doubt???

And then there's Henry VIII. Not only did he divorce and murder wife after wife, he wouldn't let anyone but royals play tennis! (Maybe that's why the game still has a sort of snob appeal and why Venus and Serena Williams are such iconoclasts.) His collection of armor, including equine armor displayed on full size models of horses, is seen in an exhibit entitled "Dressed to Kill." Aargh.

The Tower itself is a fortress surrounded by a succession of walls built over many centuries, all of them designed to keep out invaders. Historically, the system worked pretty well, and when I wanted to go back in to make a phone call, I found out that they still pull up that drawbridge to keep out the undesirables. Which I had become.

Don't make the mistake of visiting London without a cell phone that works here. Those traditional red phone booths are fast disappearing and the ones that still exist tend to take huge amounts of money or be out of order. For dinner, Claire and I were meeting chefs Thomasina Miers (some of you may have met her in Inverness when she stayed at our house last fall during Slow Food Nation) and Darina Allen (who runs the wonderful Ballymaloe Cookery School in Ireland where Claire will be teaching in July), but I wasn't sure exactly when. Her phone had been busy when I called from inside the Tower walls, so I left, planning to call from another one I'd seen up on the street earlier in the day.

Unfortunately, that phone was out of order and when I tried to get back into the Tower, you'd have thought I was William the Conqueror back from the grave. The first guard at the entrance said the place was closed, but I pointed out that according to the sign it wasn't. "Not worth my job," he said, as meanly as Richard III.

I then tried to plead my case with the other guard who was dressed up in Beefeater garb. Brassiness, meakness, skullduggery, tears. Nothing worked. I turned dejectedly away trying to figure out which goddam bridge I could walk across to get to the Borough Market on the other side, when I heard the Beefeater's voice: "Madame, you look as if you don't know what you are doing. Go ahead back inside and make your phone call."


To the tower with him!

p.s. I did eventually make it across London Bridge to the Borough Market where I came across these men making an astoundingly large pot of paella!.

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Where I stayed
Claire and Damian's flat, London England
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the_assistant on

Scout is absolutely dismayed over the behavior of the guardians of the Tower of London. Off with their tails, she says!
Safe travels tomorrow.

claireptak on

and just like that, it's all over
everyone ought to watch this space, as mom continues to tell of her adventures in the UK. damian and i just sent her off to heathrow in the addison lee car which she will take to Paddington station where she will transfer to the heathrow express to catch her plane. i'm tearful. what a visit! mis you mom!!!!
xoxo claire

MorinConnie33 on

It is great that we can receive the home loans moreover, it opens
completely new chances.

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