Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Day 16 - Tower of London, Charles Dickens Exhibition - Dinner at Kettner's and the Mousetrap

We drag ourselves down to brekky and potter about with this and that and finally get out and underway considerably later than the planned early start. No matter really. We do what we do.
Oh &$%*! I’ve left the camera on the bed.  Do we go back?  ???? We decide not.  I read about some guy with a famous blog or books or something who reckons he never takes photos because he observes things better without the camera.  I will experiment with this approach for one day.  No biggie (that’s Australian for "it’s not a big issue").
I’ve got itchy feet and I’m still disturbed by thoughts of the cruel history of the twentieth century.  It’s a simple matter to get ourselves to Tower Hill station.  Or should be.  We stop at Aldgate and an announcement comes over that the train ends here everyone get off.  We look at eachother.  Hubby says. It’s only one stop, lets walk.  Good thinking 99.  Oh. I see.  Hubby has a cunning plan.  He’s been carrying tomtom around in his, ahem, my manbag just waiting for an opportunity to employ satellite technology.  Oh for god’s sake would you put that bloody thing away.  Hubby has a mind of his own despite how things might look.  Tomtom stays out.  “It can’t get a signal unless it’s in the middle of the road” hubby comments.  Well that’s understandable seeing as it thinks we’re a car I suppose.   Reluctantly hubby lovingly puts poor tomtom back in her bed.  Meanwhile I don’t have much trouble navigating to the Tower with my handy mapguide. 
Walking towards Tower Hill we come to a big memorial looking thing with views over the Tower and a park with a children’s play area.  We congratulate ourselves for having walked this way.  There’s another merry go round which prompts a sadly predictable rant from me.  This round about is a platform of solid wood with no handles. We sit on the edge and propel ourselves around.  The disc is on a slope and the physics of the situation keep the speed at a moderate level as well as maintain momentum. It’s pretty clever. It is similar to one that we have in the (excellent) playground at our local botanic garden at home. 
Despite the hiccup and again quite by coincidence, we are here at precisely the time the London Walk of the Tower is due to meet so take a slight detour to check out the size of the group.  I have concluded that the consistently late start times for the London Walks are the product of an intimate knowledge of the behavior of travelers!  Big. Not ridiculous but at least big.  I’m a bit over the group thing so we decide to take a punt and try the Tower under our own steam.
We cross over to the large Tower plaza complex.  The queues are long to the ticket office.  We congratulate ourselves on our membership of the Historic Royal Palaces.  They said we will just wiz straight in and no queue.  Not so. We have to join another queue for entry. It looks distressingly long, but only takes about 5 minutes.  No biggie. Look, everyone else seems to have some sort of guide to the tower and/or audio guides. Hmm. We’re in but clueless. 
It’s almost time for the free walk with the Yeoman warder.  Assemble down in the moat please.  Today the moat is open apparently this isn’t always the case.  We wait. We check out the war engine on the grass. I imagine hurling sacks of something not terribly dangerous over the castle walls.  We wait some more. We observe the growing size of the group. Golly.  This walk is going to be reasonably large. I wonder if they’ll split it up.  We observe that the drainage pipes we were wondering about on our first day in London have VR on them.  So 19th century then. 
At last, along comes our Yeoman warder.  Just the one. So, approximately 200 people or near enough traipse around the castle grounds, following our guide. Trying not to bump into too many people.  I think the fact that so many people decided they were getting enough out of it to persevere gives some indication how good this yeoman warder is.  He is loud. Impressively loud. To be a yeoman warder you have to have over 20 years of experience as a serving sergeant. Many of the warders have a higher service and rank than that.. colour sargeants or something like that.  Not only does this give the warders experience at giving loud instructions and information.. it makes them impressively good at handling large volumes of people.  This warder has a special talent as well. He’s really funny.  He makes jokes about everyone, nationalities, his outfit, he’s very very entertaining indeed.  Plus, the information he’s giving gives us some clue as to what is at the Tower to see. 
We head up out of the moat and through the original archway with 700 year old portcullis.  We look up as we pass.  Murder holes.  We’re finding that all the things we’ve been seeing have cross fertilized very nicely.  As the tour proceeds we hear about various executions and grisly stuff, which is what people know the tower for and why it is so notorious.  Among all of this we hear about some fellow who lead a rebellion who was tried before he arrived at the Tower so rather than being imprisoned he was taken from the river straight out to the execution spot (outside the tower) and publicly excecuted. No hanging about there. Nicely efficient.
The execution place in the Tower is a grassy open area which no has wonderful views of Tower Bridge.  I missed having my camera!! The execution site in the Tower would be quite moving except for the volume of people milling about and generally having a sort of festive attitude about them. I just found it too difficult in that environment to get myself in the appropriate head space to appreciate the somber nature of the place.
Tour concluded it’s up to us to decide what to do.  There’s a long queue for the crown jewels. Doesn’t look like its moving much.  How about we go check out the white tower.  To do this you follow a one way route so once you’re in you’re stuck you’ve just go to to see it through.  Don’t think you’ll pop in there in the 5 minutes before you leave for something else.  This is the case for everything we did at the Tower.  We think we took about 40 minutes in the White Tower. It’s got displays of armour and so on, but really, if you’ve seen the displays at Windsor and Hampton Court they’re pretty pale by comparison and for the most part arranged more like a museum, which is nowhere near so wonderful as at Windsor or Hampton Court.  There’s a good collection of captured cannons and they’re working on a parade of kings.  This will be a recreation of a once famous display. We don’t hang about in the White Tower. A quick look at the suits of armour, most other content duplicates stuff we have already learned or knew already, or is things I just can’t get into particularly today for some reason.
What now?  Hubby says Crown Jewels. The queue is even longer than it was before but it’s moving really quickly. We joined the queue at 12.40 and were out again by 1.25 so that’s what, 45 minutes for that.  When we come out the queue is out of sight.  Literally. The most remarkable thing in the crown jewels of course is to see the Cullinan diamond which is something like 530 carats and the world’s largest diamond  It’s also nice to see the various crowns of course and the orb.  No point going to the Tower and not seeing the crown jewels.  Oh, the other really impressive thing was the doors.  2000 kg each, this could be interpreted as a “yeah, look don’t bother” message to would be thieves.
We have other plans thisafternoon and not a lot of time left to spend here, but we decide we’ll have a look at the bloody tower.  This took 20 minutes including the queue. It’s only small.  Just a few small rooms really.  There’s a detailed display about the confinement of Sir Walter Raleigh, then you go into the final display about the princes in the tower.  Basically it’s a run down on the motives of various people and the evidence that is available. Ie bugger all. Then they ask you to vote on who you think did it.  There is no option for “murdered by persons unknown” you have to say murdered by the uncle, or murdered by Henry VII or not murdered, just disappeared.   We laugh.  Ah, maintaining the traditions of trial in absentia.  Haha. We decline to vote but note that one boy is there at the buttons pressing his choice repeatedly.  We move on.  OK I’m done. Let’s go. It’s going to be a close run thing to get to the Museum of London in time for our timed entry to the Dickens Exhibition.   Hubby says he wouldn’t have minded a look at the torture exhibit, but there’s a rather long queue and we haven’t the time. I’ve got no interest in the torture chambers or instruments. I read a book called “Torture through the ages” when I was a teenager. If that wasn’t enough to last me a lifetime, then the recent thoughts focused on the abominations humans are capable of inflicting on eachother more recently has done enough to dampen my holiday spirits. No torture exhibits for me thanks very much.
Back to the underground at Tower Hill and off at Barbican we need some lunch. I had suggested getting something at the museum. Hubby suggests the little sandwich joint we pass as we exit Barbican station.  We can eat as we walk he suggests. Good thinking again 99.  We double back and go in. It’s called Piazza sandwiches, salads and espresso.  Nice friendly service hubby had a chicken kiev, mozzarella cheese roll and picked up a coke. I didn’t’ want something quite that big so I opted for a smaller roll with schnitzel, mayo, cheese and lettuce with a bottle of water.  Both our meals were delicious. Chicken was warm, moist and tender. Great little spot for a quick lunch. .. but we don’t eat as we walk after all.  Time is even more of the essence now, but we’ll be OK.  We head into the museum and straight into the exhibition.  It’s not all that large and consists mainly of artifacts from the period designed to illustrate particular passages or aspects of “Dicken’s London”. Paintings for example play a big role.  Little toys that people used to hang on Christmas trees accompanied by an excerpt from Dickens where there is a reference to them. A ledger presumably with entries of rent payments by Dicken’s father for rent.  The desk Dickens wrote at.  There were a couple of pictures of the docks that I found of particular interest because they showed the docks area at the time my Williams forebears were living in the area.
Other exhibits included pictures that people would buy as an outline and then decorate themselves with ribbon and such. You get the general idea I’m sure.  One of the displays I enjoyed the most was an audio piece illustrating and discussing Dickens’ use of dialect.  The point is made that each of the various spellings of similar words or phrases would have been like a code providing social information that Victorians would have understood. Through the Dickens London walk and the exhibition I do have a greater appreciation of what an extraordinarily talented person he was and how influential he has been and continues to be.  I had no idea that when Dickens wrote some of his most famous books he was only in his very early twenties!  He had to have been a natural talent.  Extraordinary. I wouldn’t rate the exhibition as a must do in a limited time in London though.
We are busy again tonight so we decide to head home for a break before heading back out.  Our dinner reservation is for pre-theatre at Kettners and as usual we’re running just a little late but not too drastic.  We had some difficulty spotting the correct street from Shaftesbury Avenue.  Ah. We’ve gone too far we turn around and head back. I suggest we change blocks. Perhaps the street we need is easier to see the next block over.  Good plan.  Kettners has a huge sign that is visible on both intersecting streets from here. 
We are greated politely and shown to our table. It’s quite busy and really very large. Not an intimate dining space like Rules for example.  The d├ęcor is dark grey and white with large mirrors on the panels between large windows. It is a space filled with light.  The mirrors have sayings scrawled on them also in white.  I have to say the general effect is of a place under renovation.  It’s the white scrawling I think that does it.  It’s very hard to read and just looks like the sort of scribble you find on panels of gyprock (plaster boards) in the hardware store.  Everyone around us seems to be eating from different menus. The people next door have steak.  That’s not one of the options we have to choose from. Not that we mind of course.  They just seem to be running different menus at the same time.  The pre theatre menu is very good value. €19.50 for three courses. I think you can do it for less with two courses. I decided to splurge again and have a Lillie’s Lemonade cocktail.  Entrees: Hubby opted for a Prawn cocktail (very 70s) he enjoyed it.  I opted for the Italian salami remoulade with pickles which was also very nice.  We’re even so far.  Our mains arrive: Fillet of Pork with red cabbage and sage mash for hubby facing off against the Tagliolini with roast aubergine, sundried tomatoes, roquette salad and pine nuts.  Ooooh even again. Both very tasty indeed.  We simply will have to do the tie breaker.  It’s a hard life really.  Me: Pistachio parfait with fresh blackberries mmmmm delicious.  Hubby: Strawberry Tiramisu.  Yuuuum.  A tie.
Finished in time for dinner.  Now we just have to make our way to St Martins Theatre and take our seats. No dramas there, except my god we are tired.  Hubby buys the souvenir book for the 60th Anniversary.  It includes an interview with Agatha Christie which will be of interest.  Asked why she thought the Mousetrap was such a success she said that it has three elements a nice non-grisley murder puzzle that you can solve, part farce.. actually she said more than that, but the point is, even the author regarded the piece as a farce.  Bear that in mind when you go.  They don’t play it completely dead pan all the time.  It’s a bit of fun.  We were probably too tired to really do it justice.  We had planned an earlier night last night but it wasn’t to be and unfortunately for the Mousetrap we’re not really in the appropriate condition.  Qe sera sera.

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