Took my brother to the Tower of London this week. I didn’t leave him there, though, although the idea occasionally popped into my head. No, he’s ok, really. I’ve forgiven him for trying to decapitate my teddy bear in a door when I was five. He and his wife, now fully paid up Canadians, had never been to the Tower, and I have to say, it didn’t disappoint.
It can be a weird, sad place on an autumn day; it doesn’t matter how many tourists there are, it always seems a bit empty. My sister in law had imagined it was going to be an enormous black tower, but it’s actually a Norman hall built by William the Conqueror in 1078, surrounded by houses and rooms built or once occupied by every king and queen that has swashed and swished through a Hollywood movie.
There was the Tudor house built for Anne Boleyn where she stayed before her wedding to Henry VIII (and where she was taken before her execution), there was the room where the Earl of Leicester, Robert Dudley, later the favourite of Elizabeth I, scratched his name in the mantlepiece, and from the window, saw his dad taken out to be beheaded; and there were the Crown Jewels, with diamonds as big as ostrich eggs, and the cloth-of-gold cape that the Queen wore for her coronation. Eat your heart out, Fifty Cent.
We had the guided tour by one of the Yeoman Warders who was witty and well informed, and whose former life as a Army warrant officer meant that even people on the fringes of the crowd around him could hear every single word he said.
And then we just poked about in a rather leisurely way. All of us were fired by different things. My sister in law was amazed by the beauty of the buildings. My daughter was rather taken with the gold punch bowl that could take 150 bottles of wine and was big enough to have a bath in.
I was blown away by the fact that the oak pillars in William the Conqueror’s White Tower had probably been acorns about 700 AD, but my brother was still ruminating about his discovery two days later. ‘Did you know,’ he announced to some rather startled looking relatives at a family dinner. ‘Katharine Howard had the block taken to her room, so she could practise having her head chopped off. So she could practise. I mean, it’s not like if you get it wrong you can do it again.’
Tell that to my teddy bear, bro.