Thursday, June 3
We slept in, more or less, and after sharing a pot of tea (Bethany drank her share of the milk straight from the cream pitcher), we strolled into London around 9:00am.
Actually, we did not stroll: we took the Underground, which has proven to be one of Bethany’s new favorite things to do. If I had known she would be so easy to amuse, I would have simply bought her an Oyster card and turned her loose for the week while I went to the museums, castles, and churches. But it’s been nice to have her along in any case.
(“Thanks,” she said upon reading the above. “You make me sound like a dog.”)
Actually, she became the main guide and map holder for most of the trip, keeping us pointed the right direction when possible, and getting us back on track when not. We both became responsible for some wrong turns (and wrong-direction trips on the subway) but overall, she was chief Direction Giver and Map Keeper. (It made a nice break from my bossing her around all the time, I’m sure.)
First order of business of the day was to pay a visit to Westminster Abbey, and I am pleased to report that we arrived just minutes before opening, and although there was a small line of people waiting outside, we totally got ahead of the crowds (which were beginning to mob through in hordes as we were leaving) and thus were able to enjoy the visit in relative peace and quiet.
I especially enjoyed the hourly pause for prayer, verbalized over the sound system by a parish priest and echoed quietly in the hearts of those who chose. I must say that I’ve already seen more evidence of spiritual life in Westminster and Bath Abbey combined than I saw in the whole of Rome while visiting, and that includes the Vatican. Now granted, it’s a different sort of spirituality that I experience at my home church, but at least there’s some life there, unlike the Roman churches, which are basically open-door museums now, with just a handful of tourists and one or two locals at daily and weekly mass.
But back to Westminster: Obviously, the history and literary lover within me geeked out the entire time, but on the surface I played it cool. Tombs of dead lords and ladies: check. Tombs of dead royals: check. Coronation seat: taken out for restoration. (Phooey.) Tombs and monuments to dead poets & writers: checkity check check! Time of quiet prayer: check. View of the “Oldest Wooden Door in Britain”: check, but honestly, we’re just taking their word on this one. (Just waiting for someone to label and start charging admission for the “Oldest Meat Pie in England” or some such nonsense. And I would pay to see it, too.)
From Westminster, we made our way down to Trafalgar Square and the National Gallery, where we spent a happy hour or two viewing Titians, Carvaggios, Monets, Manets, Picassos, Turners, and the like.
When we’d overloaded on oils and watercolors, we walked back toward Parliament via Whitehall, making a quick tour through the Horse Guards Parade Ground, then followed the Horse Guards road back to the Churchill Museum and Cabinet War Rooms.
Now here’s where things got tricky for us. We were both very interested in the subject at hand, being minor history buffs who had just read Connie Willis’s Blackout; however, this being our third museum-type experience of the day, we went into Information Overload very early into the visit and were therefore unable to absorb all that we would like to have done. We took our time in the beginning at least, clutching our audio-guide wands to our heads and listening to reenactments of Churchill arguing with his staff as we gazed through the glass at the war rooms, but shortly after that we came to the very informative and interactive Churchill Museum bit, at which point our brains gave out.
Upon exiting the museum, we had a short rest in the sun along the top of a low stone wall as we scanned the map and talked lunch options. It was already 2:00pm, and we were both feeling famished. (I for one was ready to eat my chap stick.) Catching the underground, we nipped up into Chinatown for lunch.
We chose a restaurant offering a buffet lunch, and although the food was not the best quality, the service was excellent and the quantity we ate more than made up for any lack in freshness that the food may have presented. After two heaping plates and a pair of drinks each, we found ourselves well refreshed and ready for an afternoon of sightseeing.
Sitting at the table, finishing our drinks and burping quietly, we pulled out maps and guidebooks in an attempt to decide what we would see next. Royal Mews? Closed Thursdays. Some-such person’s house? Closed Thursdays. All museums were out due Information Overload.
We finally hit upon the London Bridge Experience with the London Tombs. I’ll save you an account of the directional mayhem and extra walking that ensued when we both got mentally turned around. Sufficed to say we finally did arrive at the Bridge Experience. We enjoyed that bit of it, too, especially the bits where we walked through different rooms that depicted various historical periods and stages of the bridge’s life, starting with the Romans and taking us onward to the original bridge’s sale to the American.
At any rate, each room had an actor/guide who related his bit of history more or less in character, but of course each one threw in modern-day jokes and slang, so that the general masses uninterested in the history of the place would have something to pay attention to. At one point, we were with what may have been a 17-th century pig slaughterer who supposedly plied his trade on (or under?) the bridge.
Since one of the first things he did was make an MC Hammer joke (but asking one of the young kids to hold on to a prop mallet for him because it was “hammer time,”) Bethany and I immediately began singing “Oh! Oh! Ohhhhh! Oh! Oh! Ohhhhh!” which of course is a bit from one of his best-known songs.
“All right, don’t get crazy,” the guide admonished us.
“Hey, you brought up Hammer,” I think I said. And then upon getting no response, I asked him if he had his Hammer Pants on (forgetting, of course, that over here, pants means underwear, but I wouldn’t have said Hammer Trousers in any case because that just sounds so… wrong.)
At the mention of Hammer Pants, the guide stared at me, turned around, and promptly looked down his pants. Not the joke I had been intending to make at all! Embarrassing!
“I don’t think they know about Hammer Pants over here,” I said loudly to Bethany, feeling a bit flustered and for once not really knowing how to get a handle on the situation.
Slight, awkward pause.
“All right,” the guide said frowningly, “this has escalated into silliness.”
“Our work here is done!” Bethany cried out delightedly.
The guide then turned back to the young boy whom he’d been addressing in the first place and once more extended the hammer. When the boy reached out to grasp it, it was pulled back by the guide at the last second, saying,“Can’t touch this.”
At the end of the Bridge Experience, we opted not to enter the London Tombs, as it seemed to be a bit much. We can deal with pop-out-and-startle-you fright, but this seemed to be more along the lines of horror, and that just wouldn’t do at all. Or, as Bethany told the worker who escorted us out the other way, “It’s not our cup of tea.”
We then made our way back toward London Bridge, where we sat in the sun on the grass facing the bridge, trying to enjoy the fresh air (and wait out rush hour) before we headed back to Earl’s court.
Nearby on the lawn, some young men attempted to throw around a small Nerf football (excuse me, American football). As Bethany put it, they were basically playing catch with it. I had never seen males of their size and age so non-adept at such a simple task as tossing around a football. At first I thought perhaps it was because they were English, and not as into football as American males, but then Bethany pointed out that they had been drinking steadily as we’d been sitting there, so that would explain some of it. That might also explain why one of them, so keen on catching the ball in his hat, seemed to have no depth perception whatsoever, and why the ball was so often thrown wide off its mark.
The trip back to the hostel was uneventful, the showers hot, and the beds comfortable. I’d been planning to do some laundry in anticipation of checking out and heading up to Scotland the next day, but I just missed the time deadline for starting laundry. That chore pushed back to morning, there was nothing for it but to begin my evening routine of loading pictures and writing in my travelogue.
I had nothing to read, now that I had scattered my books all over the place on busses and airplanes. I may or may not have considered buying a book just to leave on the Underground. Just because.
* * * *
STOP! Hammer Time.