Monday, 11 August 2014

An Unexpected Journey

During WWI, in 1916 The Better Half’s (TBH’s) grandfather died in Mesopotamia which is now Iraq.  His regiment were present at Gallipoli and after that terrible slaughter, only 181 survivors out of 1000, they went to Egypt to rebuild the regiment.  We do not yet know if he was present at Gallipoli, but he obtained a promotion from private to lance corporal around the time that his regiment was in Egypt, so it is likely he was one of the survivors.  Once back up to full strength, the regiment went on to Basra and after a lot of fighting their commander surrendered to the Turks.  TBH’s Granddad died from dysentery whilst in a Turkish prisoner of war camp and is buried just outside present day Baghdad.   A grave we are not likely to visit.   TBH, managed to get his name registered for the roll of honour which is read out each evening at sunset amidst the poppies in the moat of the Tower of London.  We only found out a few days ago that his name would be included Sunday the 10th of August. 
The weather forecast for Sunday was grim, so we debated whether or not to go.  Ex-hurricane Bertha was heading across the Atlantic and was due to arrive on Sunday.   Yellow weather warnings were making it seem that attending the roll call might not be such a good idea, but watching the weather reports regularly as Sunday approached, it began to seem less likely we would have travel disruptions or even very much rain, so Sunday morning we girded our loins and took a trip into town to witness the event. 
We decided to go by train, driving into London  is not an option these days and anyway we have senior rail cards, so we pitched up at the station in time for the eleven o’clock train to Paddington.  This particular train was very crowded and not having booked a seat, we had to sit separately until Didcot, where we were able to grab two seats either side of the gangway.  This was great until Reading when, what I can only describe as a hairy arsed baboon and his side kick stood between us.  Admittedly because there was no other space for them, but the baboon then went on to moan about everyone he knew to his long suffering  sidekick in a most irritating and penetrating voice.  The list of people he was criticising was endless, his wife, his wife’s friend, his best mate, his other best mate, an acquaintance of both him and his sidekick and so on and so on.  This in my left ear all the way to Paddington and  I longed for the days when trains were so noisy, you could barely hear the person sitting next to you, but the modern trains are much too quiet and I did not have an iPad to drown him out.
First Great Western boast an entertainment coach with interactive screens on the back of each seat, and we were in it, but all the right hand screens had crashed, so no matter what you did all you saw was the VoloTV logo.
In London, we had lunch and then had some time to kill until sunset.   A slight misunderstanding occurred at this point, TBH had wanted to visit the tower and do one of the tours and I had forgotten this and had invited one of my cousins, who lives in North London, to join us.  So instead of heading straight for the tower, we wandered around the West end looking at shops and eventually getting coffee and cakes in a nice restaurant recommended by my cousin.   We were lucky because at this point Ex-hurricane Bertha made her appearance in the form of a massive rainstorm and gusting wind.  By the time we had finished and chatted with my cousin, the weather had dried up and we continued our wander into Trafalgar Square.  The beggars were out in full force, perched on their levitation frames, dressed as silver and golden people or Yoda.  Within a few dozen yards we found three Yodas levitating and begging for money.  

One of the many Yodas levitating mysteriously.  Nothng to do with the metal pole and platform of course.

A strange golden figure.  The mask this character was wearing was for some inexplicable reason a caricature of Richard Nixon

Two exceptions were Death and a pretty good pirate statue.

The pirate
The weather started to cloud over and was beginning to look as if Bertha was back, so we decided to go into the National Gallery and have a look at the pictures.  Inside not only was it dry, but it was rather hot.  The darkening skies periodically made some of the galleries very dark as the clouds passed over and a foreign lady was haranguing one of the staff about not switching on the lights.  He replied that they were controlled by light sensors and would only come on when the whole building was dark and because sunlight was shining on some parts of the building and only this end was under clouds, there was nothing anyone could do.   I am not sure her English was up to this explanation, because she continued to argue as we went on past into the next gallery.  After a handful of galleries, from about the16th century to the 20th, we came back out only to find that the anticipated rain had never happened.   But it was worth a visit to see some of the originals of the big names from the world of art.
After a while my cousin had to return home and we wandered down to the embankment walking towards the Tower.   Having been on our feet for a considerable time, by mutual agreement, when we came to Temple station, we took the tube on to Tower Hill. 
The ever changing skyline of London

The unchanging part of London

There we wandered around looking at the impressive display that the poppies made admiring the way that they were arranged.   

It was still some time to sunset, which would be at eight forty that particular day and so wandered some more around the outskirts of the tower.   By around six, we decided to go for a meal and finding one of the chain of restaurants with the rather off putting name of The Slug and Lettuce, we stopped for dinner.  The food was plain but excellent but I am often amazed that that name was used for this really rather good chain of eateries.  I first encountered that name in a comedy sketch done by Peter Cook and Dudley More when they were in one of the Amnesty International charity shows.  They were discussing a new restaurant that inexplicably was not doing too well and in the end decided that
this was because of the then rather unusual name of Slug and Lettuce, which was considered a joke at the time.  Since then this joke name has belied their comic wisdom and not put people off and I can recommend them as a good place to eat.
We then wandered back to the tower, the long way around and found a good spot overlooking the grass mound where the Beefeater (Yeoman of the Guard) was going to read out the roll of honour.  Each evening, a Yeoman reads out the list and a bugler then plays the Last Post.  There are around 180 names to be read and it takes a little under half an hour.
When we first arrived at the tower, there were a lot of foreign tourists, but as the evening drew on they gradually thinned out until the area became much less crowded.  Whilst we waited, a number of families with many a grey head amongst them started to line up along the viewing area next to us.  One lady was quite chatty, having come to listen for her Great Uncle’s name to be read out and another lady was walking along the line asking people’s names, looking for a long lost relative who she knew was attending, but had never met.
At the appointed time a Beefeater and a soldier wearing a bearskin helmet arrived and the Yeoman read out the list, including TBH’s Grandfather who was at number 84 on the list.  Finally the bugler played the last post and the event was over. 
The Yeoman reading out the Roll of Honour
By now it was beginning to get dark and we were rather foot sore, so we limped and staggered our way to the station and returned to Paddington via the District and Circle lines.  

The train home was not crowded and so we were able find a pair of seats and so were able to sit together all the way home.    We were very lucky, the weather was dry all the time we were out in the open and all in all it was a very satisfactory trip.


  1. So glad you and TBH had such an interesting, almost impromptu trip. It must have been most satisfying the be there to hear her grandfather's name read, and also to have done so many interesting things along the way. Good that the weather cooperated, too! So, how do those guys 'levitate' anyway? It looks pretty impressive to me! And thank goodness the hairy baboon & co, were not on the return trip with you!!

  2. The poppies look very impressive. They've been on TV a lot up here because they were made a few miles from where I live.
    I'm glad you got to go there. It would have been a shame if Bertha had prevented the trip.