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Send My Conscience Home in a Taxi

Externalised Memory

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The Tower O' London
Drawing of a trike
Monday morning, Deb and I walked through Greenwich park again, this time looking for the Greenwich Dock. There is is a ferry that runs up and down the Thames, which doesn't seem to get used much by the locals - or maybe it was just the time of day. The guy driving the boat (I'm thinking "Captain" might be a bit of a stretch here!) was pointing out interesting sights on both sides of the river as we cruised along.

The ferry went past Canary Wharf, London's newish financial district, and the "Captain" told us that 40% of the people working their had lost their jobs! Looks like we found the heart of the financial crisis right there.

The Thames is an interesting river, it's tidal until well above London, which is amazing. You could see from the height of the banks that it obviously went up and down quite a distance. I think it was low tide when we were there. It doesn't look much like a working river, we didn't see much going on on it. No freighters or oil tankers, but they must have gotten too big for the river more than a century ago. But there was a good deal of interesting buildings butting right on to the river. Some quite old buildings, with windows that can been only just above river level sometimes.

The ferry dropped us at the dock near Tower Bridge, St Katharine's or St Josephine's Dock, can't remember now. A great spot to see Tower Bridge, so we took lots of photo's of each other. And some random English woman so she could show them to her daughter! Then we set off to the Tower of London.

Before we popped into the tower, I found a rather good French-themed place for some lunch. Turned out to be part of a chain called.... Paul!

I realised that part of the reason I hadn't been terribly impressed with the tower o' London when I had encountered it a few days beforehand was because what I'd seen was in fact only one of the outer walls, near were the moat used to be. The tower itself is deep inside the place, surrounded by not one but two walls. Not terribly effective walls, it would seem, the place was invaded at least once, although a long time ago. In the thirteen hundreds, a bunch of peasants scaled the walls and generally caused havoc. Maybe it was after that they built another wall!

The place is very very freakin' historic, lots of really really old towers. The central, white, tower dates back to the 1100's or so, when William the Conqueror, or one of his Norman descendants was ruling over the locals. Who, strangely, didn't appreciate this much. The outer walls are also all dotted with large towers with various infamous histories.

We went on a tour with one of the Yeomen who live at the place. There's a small street, which used to be called Mint Street because it was indeed where the coins were minted. Now it is occupied by the yeomen and their families who do, mind you, have to pay rent. And have to have another house outside the place into which to retire. The Yeomen have to have served at least twenty years in one of her majesties services, although until recently navy folk were not allowed - something about swearing allegiance to the admiralty and not the Queen. Sounds like a nice form of retirement, showing people about and wearing a series of ridiculous uniforms.

Our particular yeoman was ex-airforce, and a bit of an reconstituted old sexist, who made a series of poor jokes along the way. All of which rubbed Deb the third wave feminist up the wrong way! He did a good job of showing us around however. The Tower of London is another one of those places which has history tacked on to history - walls on top of other walls, ruins next to working buildings. Towers tacked on to walls centuries after they were first constructed.

It's also home to the Crown Jewels, and has been since about 1300 and something. So we went and had a peak at those... Now, I'm a bit of a lefty and a bit of a republican, so the crown jewels actually made me want to storm a palace, and throw these privileged arses out on to the street. It wasn't so much the jewels - although I can't tell a diamond from a lump of glass, so although I was peering on to some of the biggest diamonds ever found, they moved me not a great deal. What annoyed me was the gold and silver banquet plates and all that crap. Let them eat of ceramic like everyone else!

I guess it was kind of interesting to see these crowns etc. which are hundreds and hundreds of years old. What was also really funny were the crowns, sitting in a separate area, denuded of jewels. The diamonds which had adorned them were rented for the occasion and then returned after the coronation! OK, so it sounds like some monarchs were less privileged than others. It is however all an exercise in power and splendor, showing off how great the nation is by plonking hundreds of millions of dollars worth of jewels on to the head of some inbred aristocrat!

(Actually, having said all that, there are some things I do like about the Royal Family. Prince Charles has been farming organically for decades, from well before it was fashionable. And there is something to be said for raising a child from birth, grooming them to be a competent and wise head of state - rather than, say, electing some former car dealer yahoo to the highest office in the land. But the trappings... Damn, what a waste of our resources. And whatever I think of the English royal family, they have no business being the head of our lovely nation of Australia!)

Oh, I forgot to mention the Ravens. For some supposedly historical reasons, there are eight ravens living in the Tower of London. Apparently there has to be at least six of them, otherwise the monarchy will fall or something equally unlikely will befall the nation. I looked 'em up later - the Wikipedia has an extensive entry on the subject of the ravens, including a list of all the current ravens and their ages! They have their wings clipped so they'll hang around, and are looked after by a Ravenmaster and an assistant Ravenmaster! The wikipedia also mentions that there is almost no historical record for Ravens living in the tower, going back centuries, as is claimed, and in fact the oldest historic reference appears to be from the late 1800's. None the less, the legend is firmly entrenched, and when after the second world war the tower was re-opened to the public, they made sure the one surviving raven was soon joined by some new friends.

They are an impressive bird, it must be said. I saw one on a lawn having a good squawk. He looked like a big overblown crow with a serious beak. They have been know to snatch food from passing visitors. And so more power to them for their privileged existence, and lucky them for the meat the Ravenmaster buys them every day.

We never did make it into the white tower itself. It is a pretty impressive building all the same! Next time I am in London perhaps...