Saturday, November 8, 2014

Beth's Excellent Adventure—Part 1: Fish and Chips Outside the Tower of London

Heya, Adventurers!  This is J.K.’s friend Beth, reporting from England, where I had many culinary adventures and remembered to take pictures of some of them.

On my second day in London, I finally got to meet my adopted cousin Henry. Forget those Dos Equis commercials, Dr. Henry Ayshford Sanford is the most interesting man in the world, a brilliant polymath with a degree from Cambridge and a great uncle who was a fabulous art deco artist.  We’d been corresponding for years about Sanford family history and genealogy research. When the tale of the scrape (DNA evidence) proved we weren’t his Sanfords, he was quite disappointed. We told him not to go anywhere, because we thought he was incredibly cool and intended to adopt him.

We met at the Tower of London, outside the White Tower (William the Conqueror’s original building). England is, understandably, making a huge deal about the centennial of the Great War, and we encountered a living history sketch. An officer was recruiting stockbrokers for a new regiment, on the “pals” theory that men from the same class and profession would bond quickly as comrades in arms. He and his sergeant (a dead ringer for Rowan Atkinson in the Great War season of Blackadder) were doing their God and Country thing when they were interrupted by Sylvia Pankhurst, the suffragist.

“Let’s get out of here,” said Henry. “This is the 10th Fuisiliers. That’s my old regiment. They may recognize me and try to pull me into this.”

So, together we toured the White Tower, now an armour museum. He wanted to take me through the Chapel of St Peter ad Vincula (in Chains), but it was closed for refurbishment. Many who roam the Bloody Tower with their heads tucked underneath their arms are buried there, and there’s a lovely modern memorial to them outside.

After chatting on a bench, Henry bid me cheerio until the next day, when he was giving Cousin Gary and me lunch. I spent the rest of the day at the Tower, which is quite fun.

Around closing time, I exited (or, in British fashion, should I say way outed?) and looked for something to eat. I saw people with fish and chips, and up the rise outside the Tower entrance I saw a small chippy tucked under a carpark promising fish and chips for £5 if you showed them your Tower ticket. I did, then tucked in, slanting my chair at the picnic table to have the backdrop above. As you can see, when they serve you fish in England, they don’t mess around.

When I went to toss my container in the dustbin, a lady offered me a seat, thinking I was bringing over my meal. I explained that I was done, and disposed of the container with my best Ringo line, “I like to keep Britain tidy.” They were finishing up, too. One of the daughters had just spent a day as a volunteer placing ceramic red poppies in the dry Tower moat. It’s an art installation, aiming at placing 888,245, one for each British or Commonwealth war casualty. A worthy endeavour, and a striking piece of art: you see a lot of poppies, turn a corner and see more, turn another corner and see even more. They flow down from a wall of the Tower as though in a waterfall.  Makes you stop and think.