July 7, 2007

Another fine day today, and a good thing too because we had a lot of things to do. We had breakfast early because we had decided to get to the Tower of London when it opened. We crossed Tower Bridge about 9:10 am, luckily as it turned out because they had to raise the bridge for a boat at 9:15 am. (These events are all scheduled and published well in advance.)

The ticket line-up for the Tower wasn’t too long this early in the morning. Following the advice from Rick Steves’s guidebook, as soon as we entered the Tower we went to view the Crown Jewels. It was absolutely amazing to see the size of the jewels in the various crowns. And what could one family possibly do with so much gold and so many diamonds? Once we had finished the Crown Jewels museum, we headed back to the entrance for the Yeoman Warder’s tour. One had just started, so we joined the crowd and had an entertaining hour stopping at various spots around the site and being told anecdotes about the life and times of the Tower. Who was living there, where and why they were beheaded, and so on. At the end our Warder guide explained how you, too, could become a Yeoman Warder. You would need 22 years of military service (but not in the Navy) with a good record, and you would have to reach the rank of Sergeant Major.

After that we visited other parts of the Tower, such as the tower completely devoted to the history of the Royal Armoury. But we had to move on. Matthew, Rosemary, and Paul took the Tube from Tower Bridge Station to Victoria Station, close to where the Tour de France prologue was to take place. The course was all barricaded off, so we had to walk a long circuitous way to reach the spot that Matthew had decided would be a good one. We passed the place where the TV crews were and saw Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen waiting for the race to start.

Finally we arrived at our planned viewing spot, which was at a roundabout at the end of Piccadilly near Hyde Park. There was a triple S-bend at this point in the course. The time trial was scheduled to begin at 3 pm, still over an hour away, so we watched the riders do their warm-ups around the course. It was quite amazing; you could see them go by but you couldn’t hear them. Their machines were totally silent.

At first we were in the third row of the people watching, but as the warm-up went on people started to move on, and by the time the first riders were on the course we were standing in front. The riders started exactly one minute apart, so we could tell from the variations in the times they reached us how well they were doing. For example if two riders passed us 40 seconds apart, that meant the second rider had gained 20 seconds on the first rider. Matthew kept an eye on his watch, so he was able to keep track of who was in the lead. But when Fabian Cancellara roared around the corner, almost overtaking the motorcycle that was leading him through the course, it was very evident that he would end up winning.

After Oscar Pereiro, the last starter, passed us, it was well after 6 pm and we were to meet Neil and Christine at 7 pm at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre on the South Bank. The queue for the tube station stretched up the stairs out of the station and up the street for some distance. So instead of standing in that line-up we decided to walk. We made good speed through the crowds, down Pall Mall and over the Millennium Bridge and along the Thames River, arriving at the Globe at about 7:10 pm. Neil and Christine were nowhere to be seen, but they showed up shortly and in we went to see Love’s Labours Lost.

The Globe Theatre is supposed to be as it was in Shakespeare’s day, and no doubt it was, but some of the features were rather surprising. For example the stage had appendages leading out into the standing-only area of the audience, which the actors used to good effect during the performance. We had seats, and they were in the covered area (although there was no danger of rain). And we were in the back row, so we could lean back comfortably against the wall. But on the debit side, our seats were behind the side of the stage, so the actors were usually speaking with their backs to us.

The production of the play was well done and we enjoyed it very much, although we found it was hard to follow the witty rapid-fire dialogues when they were spoken in English accents facing away from us. Matthew’s summary of the first act was “Men agree not to woo women. Women arrive. Men decide to woo women.” During the intermission we ate the remnants of Neil and Christine’s fruit salad. We found the second act easier to follow; there was more knock-about comedy and less witty ribald dialogue.

We said goodbye to Neil and Christine and wished them the best for their (rescheduled) wedding later in the month. Then we followed the orange lamp posts to Southwark station and tubed it back to Pip’s place.

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