Thursday, April 30, 2015

England Anthology: London, the Tower and Ravens

I went to England this month, and now I am back. I didn't tell you about it beforehand, my readers, because I didn't trust you not to blab it to the world! No, no...that's just my little joke. Most of you are family and friends. It's the five or six of you whom I don't know personally who worry me!

My luck in finally seeing a country whose literary masters I have read all of my life is still something I can't quite believe. I am so very grateful to my husband for agreeing to the expense of such a trip and for taking time off work to mind our babies. When I recall the hospitality and generosity of my brother Nate and his wife Natalie, who live just outside London, I am amazed, appreciative and a bit convicted when I compare my own hosting skills or lack thereof. And I am very glad that Holly, my good and artistic friend, journeyed with me - having the same appreciation for Austen, the Brontes, Gaskill, and Dickens - and that she compelled me to see more than I would have done without her.

Still, the day I arrived in England, I missed my family terribly. The miles between us were multiplied by my anxiety in not being able to contact them via phone at all. I had the ungrateful thought that such a trip, such a distance away from my husband and kids, was not worth it, could not compensate for the fear of such a wide separation.

And now? Now I miss England. I miss my brother and sister-in-law and their vivacious little girl, Nina, who will so quickly forget me and who has yet to meet my own children. Though I don't wish to be apart from my family again, my head is also full of enticing memories of London, Bath, Dover and a little town called Devizes (the latter of which I mispronounced the whole time I was there). It was natural that last Friday, on my first day home in sunny Arizona, it uncharacteristically rained in spurts and was overcast, and I and the weather shared the same mood as I imagined that I had brought a bit of jolly old England with me on grey skies.

Ironic then that we had not one bit of rain on our trip in the UK. Holly and I joked we took Arizona with us, for the skies were blue and mostly clear instead of the rain and persistent clouds we had expected.

And so it was warm on our second day in the UK, the day Holly and I went into London and discovered that what my brother said was undeniably true: you cannot visit London and not see the Tower of London. It is obligatory. If you skip it, well, then off with your foolish head. The atmosphere of that place, the weight of its history (almost too much to bear for us young Americans), and the macabre details of its public executions is well worth your time. The Yeoman Warders, or beefeaters, who give the tours are knowledgeable fellows and much more than charming, witty Englishmen stuffed into old-fashioned garb. They actually live at the tower and serve the government as well as tourists; in fact, they can only get the job at the Tower after honorably serving 22 years in Her Majesty's army. Plus, they will cordially let you take a picture with them, even if you look ridiiculous wearing your backpack purse in front of you to fend off the dreaded pickpockets you read about in Oliver Twist.

It was our humorous Beefeater/guide who told us of the ravens at the tower and the legend pertaining to them that says six ravens must always be present there and that if the ravens were ever to abandon the tower, England will fall. How very Edgar Allen Poe of them! The Yeoman Warder then asked us tourists, "Do you think we believe in such superstition?" Being a good American, I shook my head. But that was the wrong answer, for the Warder quipped that the tower doesn't just keep six ravens, but seven for good measure.

I do wish they had asked for popular opinion on the subject or at least my opinion, for I could have easily told them, based on my observations after just a few hours in London, what was the real threat to the future of England: skinny jeans.

Yes, skinny jeans and skinny trousers, for that matter - in particular those worn by younger-than-thirty, "fashionable" London men - seem to me a real threat to population growth. They are worn so close to the skin all the way down to the ankles that circulation must be badly constricted to the lower half of their bodies. The only thing that could possibly save their nether regions might be the atrocious fact that they are also worn so low on the hip that underwear inevitably peeks through, and their waists are free from the maniacal cinching influence. Perhaps these skinny, self-torturing garments are meant to make the men look metrosexual. Well, I suppose we should cut these modern Londoners some slack, for stylish men used to regularly wear wigs, high heels and stockings just a few hundred years ago.

But enough about frightening apparel. London itself more than made up for the fashion of some of its male denizens. How could one look at the Tower Bridge and not be ebullient?

Ah, the whole city was beautiful! Perhaps I had long ago been charmed by its descriptions in English novels and was primed to drink in its ambiance, but I liked it better than any city I have known thus far. Though its buildings tread upon each other in seemingly endless rows on many narrow, winding streets, I was so enamored by their architecture and the sense of history that wafted from them that I never minded their shadowed influence.

Thus, I had no time to reflect on the distance between my family and I, no time for anxious thoughts. I was an urban explorer at last!

Traitor's Gate at the Tower....does that include Americans?
History lies down these halls.
A beautiful Norman window

These guys really do not budge or blink - not even at annoying, camera-wielding tourists.
Please don't ask. This picture went wrong somewhere...


  1. I'm so happy I went on a trip with a writer! Great first post, I'm looking forward to more. I really did LOL about you mispronouncing Divizes (well both of us).

    - H

    1. Yep, I got many a laugh out of that one, didn't I?

      I plan to write a good deal more if I can. :) And you could always write, too!

  2. So good to see a visitor's perspective. I lived in London for 20 years (and worked right next door to the Tower for ten of them) and never once visited it! (Tower I mean, not London, obvs.)

    Interesting thought: I've never been to the States, but feel I know the country pretty well, through its art (the movies, the literature, and of course the music). Here comes a bit of heresy - I suspect your culture is actually richer and more diverse than ours!

    1. You worked right next to the Tower? I hope you had an office with a window for that beautiful scenery at least. But I know what you mean. I didn't visit the Grand Canyon until my sister's family came to visit.

      Yes, I think we do soak up the culture of a place through its artistic exports, and it could be our culture is richer only because we have always been a melting pot.

  3. Your trip sounds fabulous! It's good that you grabbed the opportunity when you could. I love the photos from inside the tower- that long hallway of arched stone...!

    1. Yes, I am so glad I went, so grateful for the memories. I just wish my camera pictures measured up to my mind's eye, but my friend Holly took amazing photos, thank goodness!


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