London Day 6

This morning was a slow start as Dana packed up her luggage with now five weeks of wear as she headed up to Ireland for another few days. To say this woman had baggage is an understatement. Although technically there was only 4 bags, the maximum allowable on her return flight without additional fees, each bag was a monster of inconvenience. Now, all of this is to be expected, as she packed her whole social and student life into these that had to last for five weeks of mixed weather conditions, formal affairs, and souvenirs abound. I had already received my football scarf saluting England, which ironically was purchased in France. Still, it took a modest chunk of the late morning to collect her things. A backpack and a computer case were all I brought with me, so being the natural gentleman that I am, offered to take one of her bags back to San Diego on my return flight. Otherwise, she'd have to tote the hundred plus pounds of bags without wheels to Ireland, back to England, back to the US, and ultimately San Diego. I'm a sweet guy.

She checked out of her dorm room and left her bags with the front desk before we headed over to the Ruskin to deposit her suit bag back in my room. Her flight from Gatwick airport departed mid-afternoon, so with a few hours to spare we decided to do something we hadn't done in London for the entire visit: sit and relax. The whole week had been very busy for both of us. We headed up the block from the Ruskin to Russell Square and the cafe near the northern gate. We enjoyed a small breakfast, well, I enjoyed an English breakfast while Dana had coffee and a pastry. For the next while we fended off casual pigeons and overheard lazy British life before sprawling out on the grass to lie in the sun. Keeping reluctant eyes on our watches, we waited for goodbye.

With an hour to spare before the flight, we stopped by the dorm one last time to pick up her bags and head to the station. I helped her through the Tube station to the Victoria transfer from Tube to train. She had no time to spare and bolted down the platform like a snail with baggage but without the wet slimy trail following her. Luckily, she had very strong legs.

Still with plenty of time in the afternoon, I rode from Victoria straight east to the Tower Hill station right next to the Thames. The rest of my daylight would be spent in the famous Tower of London.

Navigating from the station to the actual tower, here is the northern side of the heavily shaded tower. The sky actually only partly cloudy and a quite a London blue, to coin a color, but the exposure for the shot completely bleached the sky.

Rounding the north-western corner towards the ticketing gates, the lighting was somewhat better:

I purchased my ticket and headed down towards the river to the main entrance. However, just past the entrance was a view of Tower Bridge, one bridge east of the disappointing London Bridge pictured before. In the foreground was the first Paul I had witnessed in London. Dana and Rebecca raved about their wares as the best baked goods ever. I bought a croissant as a recognizable pastry from their list. It was definitely above average, although I've never scrutinized croissants before.

Pastries aside, the bridge solitaire:

Now, the Tower of London is somewhat misleading, as it is actually a collection of towers inside a single bounding fortress. Although chronologically, the White Tower was built first and others were added and expanded around it, the entrance first passes the St. Thomas tower, built by King Edward I. This was a typical window in the tower:

Another window in the next room.

The insides of the tower were pretty dimly lit, so there are no crisp photographs to share. Basically each room was mostly empty except for a corner the featured a few artifacts native to the room's heritage fenced off from the public. One was a throne room. Another was the king's bedroom. The best, however, was the fact that this tower also laid way for Traitor's Gate beneath, the river entrance to the tower where Kingy Edward kept his boats. Thus the king actually slept above water garage. From a window, here is a view of the gate with an observant red-headed child having a feeling he's being watched:

Just above, you can see you how well fortified the woodwork was with angled bricks layered between the beams:

Throughout all of the towers were windows meant for archers. These narrow vertical slits did not have windows or screens. Instead, they were just open spaces in the tower wall that archers could safely target from to dispel attackers or annoying kitties (in the pre-Mews days of course). There was a small vertical slit near the middle: probably to allow the archer to aim. Here is one in St. Thomas's tower looking along the wall:

For context, the slit left of center of this shot is the one I looked out in the previous:

The tour then followed to the right in the picture above over the walkway beneath. This is the view from the window on the opposite side, looking towards the entrance path:

After the throne room the path followed outside along the outer wall. This immediate shot into the tower gives an idea of the variety of buildings. In the foreground are the Raven cages. Legend has it that as long as ravens stay in the tower, Britain will be free from invasion and the monarchy will reign supreme. To ensure this, ravens with clipped wings and cages have been kept on the grounds ever since. Gwylum, Thor, Hugine, Munin, Branwen, Bran, Gundulf, and Baldrick are the eight current inhabitants.

Following the wall, here are some pictures looking towards the White Tower:

...down towards the front walking entrance:

...just down:

...and the rest of the top of the wall:

Just before leaving said wall, here was a view of the Cradle Tower I entered next. There wasn't much of anything to see inside except for the living quarters for the guy who let Edwards get to his boats and what appeared to be a few prison cells.

Back down on the ground, there were a number of people in costume portraying historic tower personnel. Here were two.

The guy on the left's job was to always keep his eyes open. The guy on the right conducted the historic street cleaner shown behind him.

This guy threatened small boys to throw them into the dungeon while telling stories in harsh accent of having done so. This mean guy even parked his car illegally behind him on castle grounds.

Arch, tower, and Tower Bridge in the background:

The tower served many purposes over the years, from a royal palace to a prison to a zoo to a fortress. To illustrate its power as a fortress, many historic cannons were placed as they may have been. Here, the fuse had yet few inches before going off:

Another cannon with a safety cap:

A whole line of cannons:

From the wooden railing, a glimpse down into the moat that has long since been drained:

Next was Bloody Tower, so named for obvious reasons. This tower led down to the torture dungeon beneath. A window on the way down:

The dungeon featured a few of the torture devices used back in the day. A pair of shackles was shown where the person was basically suspended by their wrists for extended periods of time. In the middle was "the rack". A person's feet were tied to the bottom of the wood frame, while the arms were attached to ropes along a giant spool with ratchets to tighten the tension and give the person a well-earned stretch. At least the guard figured it was well-earned anyways: the prisoner may have had a different option. While the above two stretched a person out, the most interesting was a clamp of sorts. The person would crouch down on their knees between a metal clamp that met in the middle of the back. The guard would then tighten the clamp around the person, forcing them into a smaller and smaller ball. Although all of these would in fact torture a poor soul well past tolerable means, I saw no evidence of shoe shopping, graduate school, or the many other widespread forms of torture prevalent today.

Surfacing from the dungeon, I noticed a medieval drain. Thankfully, my old landlord's mother was not around, who consequentially was also a medieval drain on my patience.

Left up the stairs and I was now ground level against the wall I photographed from earlier.

Next was the White Tower that occupied the middle of entire complex:

There was quite a line to get into the tower, so here is a westward shot trying to balance the bright sky with the adjacent grounds.

Despite the many purposes this tower has fulfilled over the years, it currently showcased a museum of weapons it harbored as an armory. Spikes, spears, swords, and armor hung to the wall on mannequins and racks. Again, poor lighting is to blame, as well as the glass cases the prohibited any camera flash. Still, a blurry wooden drunken monk is better than no drunken monk at all:

A view riverside from the top of the tower of the south bank:

Now, your impression of the next picture is wrong. No, this is not ale, but a small portion of the regular supply of gun powder kept in the armory. Supposedly there was quite a conspiracy to detonate the entire armory and overthrow the king, that is, until the conspirators will uncovered and killed.

The tour of the White Tower started from a staircase on the 3rd floor. The rest of the tour then worked down to ground level, featuring more modern weapons and decorative displays on the 2nd floor.

Still in excusable low light, wooden horses in the form of each king's favorite dominated the room full of armor pieces. Armor included king's armor, the king's champion's armor, and the horse's armor. This room also held in a glass cabinet wooden heads of each king. No further comment.

The last floor held what was left of the historic artillery. Most of the artillery exhibits were burned in a huge fire some years ago. Of what remained were mostly cannons and cannonballs. Cannonballs apparently come in sizes from 16 inches to 24. Here are some of the larger varieties:

On the north side of the White Tower is the Jewel House, so named for housing the crown jewels. Here is a picture of the tower and the line of people waiting to get in the tower. Correction: this is not a picture but actually a video depicting how fast the line was moving. After much deliberation, I figured I wouldn't make it through the line before the place closed. Thus jewels are on top of the list of things to do next time.

However, also in front of the Jewel House is a real guard. That is a real gun and a real sharp knife on the tip. Although others were brave enough to jeer insults or blow bashful kisses to make him move, I was quite happy with him where he was. No one really knows what to do when he in fact DOES move with a weapon like that.

By now evening was starting as the tower's hours were ending. Here is the White Tower again now from the north:

The miscellaneous royal offices that had been built onto the grounds sometime later:

The tower, I was pleased to note, does in fact fashion a classic castle door. Shown below are the inner-most door and the metal gate that would fall to protect the doors. Not shown is the drawbridge over the moat, although there was one at one time.

On leaving, the suppository in poking out above the tower walls:

Outside of the contiguous tower proper is the Middle Tower which acts as the main entrance/exit of the grounds.

The previous night at the Old Globe theater Rebecca had invited me to join her and some leftover lawmates to watch the football game today, so I had to get back to the neighborhood and peek in the pubs they frequented. As I returned to the Tube station, these were my last impressions of the tower:

Once out of the station, I hurried to the pubs as the Germany vs. Sweden game was already underfoot. However, after trying all of the pubs in the immediate vicinity of the dorms, I couldn't find Rebecca and company anywhere. I tried again and again, but to no avail. By now I was feeling pretty depressed, being alone in London when I was looking forward to another night of rousing company. I was tired, hungry, ill-showered, and now quite panicked that I somehow missed the meeting place. Very reluctantly, I made my way back to the Ruskin to sort things out. Pushing things around my room for a bit trying to remember, I finally decided a shower was on order before anything else. On the "take a shower and feel better" scale of showers, I left this one feeling magnitudes better and somewhat optimistic to still have an enjoyable night.

I lounged about the room for another while trying to figure out what night was to be had. Dinner won out. I decided to spoil myself with another dinner from Pizza Express, the luxury pizza parlor we had before Billy Elliott. I crossed the dorms, stopped at each pub one last time in retreating hope before taking a table for one at the restaurant a few blocks down. I get the menu, take a deep breath, and look out the front window when Rebecca steps even closer, waving to get my attention.

What fortune. Apparently she had sat down not even a minute after I did and saw me as she surveyed the room. I was in much higher spirits now as we sat together at her table. Apparently, despite the Dana-induced Germany fever the lawmates exhaled, Rebecca meant to watch the Mexico vs Argentina game shown after the Germany game. We had plenty of time before the match and talked for a long while. That day Rebecca had taken a boat to Greenwich for the day, and successfully crossed into the eastern hemisphere. This is a feat even when in Greenwich, as the true Prime Meridian is several yards passed the sign indicating the Prime Meridian, just like the four corners statue in the US is not actually on the four corners. This was the first time I didn't mind the terribly slow service because it was just nice to have the company. The eventual pizza was again incredible. This time I ordered the Sloppy Giuseppe: "so named after the chef who first put hot spiced beef, green peppers and onions onto [their] classic base."

We walked down the street and found Jeniece right inside the door of one of the pubs. She was sitting with some lawmates I hadn't yet met, but while Rebecca headed to the bar, Jeniece informed me that two guys she had met the previous night held a table square in front of the flat-screen TVs and said we could join them. Two guys she met in a bar? This did not seem the girl to pick up guys in a foreign bar, but she defended that these were not those kinds of guys, but really, really nice guys. Rebecca came back and we caved at the expense of good seats.

As the three of us joined the two gentlemen at the table, these in fact were not guys from the first impression. They were two middle-aged American researchers studying medieval works in the British Library for the next several weeks. Tonight marked day two of their stay. These were two swell guys, that had perhaps the best straight man and joker pair I've ever seen. They were indeed very nice and offered drinks to all of us throughout the game. However, once the game was on, I was mostly lost in the screen as Mexico managed to get an early lead on Argentina with an unbelievable goal.

All was going well with a great seat, a cold Guinness, and hilarious company until Rebecca broke my concentration. Although the table was in fact square in front of the display, beneath the display lay a raised seating area that was reserved that evening for a party. We had a few problems with people standing in front of the TV, but after a couple polite taps we were sitting pretty again. Rebecca, again calling my name and waving to get my attention, directed my confused look right of the screen. There, standing along the fence, was a 20-something gentleman leaning against the gating surrounding the raised landing. He was chatting to the equally 20-something ladies sitting at the tables above. The problem, though, was that his polo, though very long to match his long frame, was not long enough to cover his blinding white arse that hung out of his pants. This was no half moon, but the latter stages of a waxing gibbous.

I shook my head and tried to continue watching the game while they poked fun. However, I couldn't shake this glaring bum now dancing in my peripheral vision. Something had to be done. I looked over to Jeniece and asked for her digital camera she had laying on the table. They all laughed and shielded their eyes while I extended the camera in physical zoom to get a good shot of the shot being dealt to us. Still laughing, Jeniece took back her camera and started to put it in her purse for safe keeping when I asked to see the photo in the display. She brought up the arse and I stood up. The two guys began to groan under their breadth while Jeniece held hers. I stood right next to the guy and tapped him on the shoulder repeatedly. It was probably a good ten seconds of repeated tapping that he finally followed the gaze the girls had already directed to me standing impatiently at the fencing. I showed the ladies the camera while he just looked at me. While the ladies laughed out loud, I showed him the eyeful with my hand on his shoulder saying "I really like your work, do have any others?" with a immodest lisp. He began to blush as he pulled up his pants and turned around while I returned to my seat. Trying to make light of the situation, he noted that we should be watching the game, and not his bum. It was all taken in good humor, although the guys complemented my bravery on a scale they had not seen before. Appropriately, I had balls, and was able to glow for a while.

Jeniece has been emailed for the picture. If it manages to come in, it will be posted here with the appropriate censorship.

After the first half, with the game tied up, the party really began to swing. No longer could we tap people out of the way as some lady gave a very rude remark to Rebecca or Jeniece. We were losing this battle as the half waged on. Finally, the guy who held the party pointed us to another TV in a hidden corner near the front of the bar that was also showing the game on a smaller screen. At first we bucked, but when no one was sitting around the display, we managed to pass the rest of the match in peace. After Argentina walked away victorious from the overtime period, the researchers headed to bed like good researchers, while the girls and I made our way down the street. We ran into Nate drinking in a park across from the dorms, and we all said our respective goodbyes, though it was mostly goodbyes among the lawmates and polite pleasures "to meet you" to me. Rebecca was staying at a hostel out in the sticks, so I walked with her to the Russell Square station on my way back to the Ruskin, now much happier than when I last left having spent one last night with Dana's friends.