A magical day.
For we awoke knowing that at the end of today, a room awaited us in a London hotel; that I, and Maddie, and Felix, would be able to indulge in a common passion: our favourite city. London.
We had an agenda. Today, the Globe, tomorrow, the Tower. Whatever else came our way, these were fixed. We walked the dog, visited Granny and then set the internal compass for the city whose streets are paved with folkloric gold.
It never takes long: a train ride to Waterloo, and then our feet do the walking. The wide brown Thames is the very best of tour guides and it’s but a hop, skip and a pricey lunch from Waterloo to Sam Wannamaker’s ship of dreams, a faithful reconstruction of Shakespeare’s theatre which nestled on the South bank with bear baiting and open fields, centuries ago.
The open fields may be long gone but the party atmosphere, the feeling that this place is for leisure: that is ever-present, perpetuated by the street performers and the jaunty boatmen, and that beast-turned-beauty, The Tate Modern. In her frumpier days she may have been bullied mercilessly, but my, how the tables have turned. Daily she hosts great men, artists, the bohemian and the mildly curious, a jewel to dazzle with culture where once only bears could satiate.
We passed her and the footbridge which arches its spine towards The City and St Paul’s Cathedral and strode purposefully into the Globe.
But the Globe was busy, hosting a matinee, despite its protestations that it is not a working theatre. It was the best of excuses, accompanied by an offer to see the foundations of Marlowe’s theatre, the Rose, just down the road. But Mad had come a long way for this, and the Rose would not do. The Globe would be there for us tomorrow morning: meanwhile, the Tower was lowering at us, waiting for a chance to intimidate someone new.
We took a bus. We irritated the bus driver beyond words, asking at each stop if this was the one. We knew our stop instantly because there was an enormous great tower swaggering next to the road. We are no strangers to its formidable exterior; but we’ve never been inside. Inside has a sizeable price tag. Today, we stumped up.
The architecture is famliar to us. We know castles, and throne rooms, and winding staircases. No: it was not that ancient bricks and mortar that dazed us.
It was the names.
Traitors’ Gate: today I saw the steps she walked up, knowing how fragile her hold on life must have been. We saw The Bloody Tower: miserable rooms for so many, filled today with tourists and dappled sunlight.
We filed obediently past Henry VIII’s voluminous armour. The bottom had to be seen to be believed; but in that getup I wouldn’t have quarrelled with him. It was redolent of a raptor.
The resident midnight corvids capered around, and I wondered how they persuade them to stay. With the fate of Kings resting on their small forms one must sometimes simply want to fly away from it all.
But my heart hammered, for what reason I could not say, when my children stood artlessly talking and sketching at a window in the tower.
For in distant times two small brothers must have stood at the same glass, gazing on a not dissimilar prospect. The Princes in the tower were first seen often playing outside, then glimpsed occasionally from these very windows. Finally, they disappeared all together.
We came away dazzled and delighted, and bussed and tubed our way to this lovely room. It has a birds-eye view: we picnicked gazing at rooftops and landmarks, and then took a walk in the Lebanese quarter, watching restaurants with hookahs as standard, and their clientele taking long draws, talking animatedly in the twighlight.
Now the children are asleep and I gaze out over the lights of a vast city, hugging the night to myself.
Tomorrow, the garrulous affability of Speakers’ Corner and a tour of that round white riverside theatre: tonight, a delight in a rather glittering moment.
Sleep well, Friends.