Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Mexican Medley Cruise

There have been a few days without an article I'm afraid. We were erm... researching(!) for a new series of articles set around the Caribbean Sea!

I'd like to finish off the London holiday articles before launching properly into this one but just as a taster, this shows where you can expect to go for a few days.

We joined the Thomson Dream for a week at Montego Bay, Jamaica.

After a day at sea we spent a day in Cozumel, Mexico where I was lusted
over by a female prisoner and a Gay Cruise docked alongside...

Then a further day in Mexico at Costa Maya.

The following day saw us on Roatan, an island of Honduras where we visited a glorious tropical beach at Mahogany Beach...

...and got buzzed by some large raptors as we rode a chair lift!

After another day at sea we visited two of the slave plantation mansion houses on Jamaica.

One of which contained this bed on which the White Witch of Rose Hall was murdered!

We enjoyed exotic drinks and calypso singers in cellars.

And I made a new friend in a craft market!

We met up with some old friends from several past cruises...

...and I joined them to play some music!

Come back to see the full details of what we got up to on our Mexican Medley cruise around the Caribbean and to hear the full story of the White Witch. We had a fabulous week and had a really great relaxing time catching up with Tom and Maris and several other staff that we remembered (and remembered us - how do they do that???) from Thomson Celebration and a previous trip on Thomson Dream.

Ok, for now I must put my scanner back on and finish my London pics from 1995!

Sunday, 8 February 2015

The Tower Of London

Tuesday 5 December 1995. Having come down the river and left the boat at the Tower of London, we buy tickets and enter through the castle walls.

This is what people think of when the Tower of London is mentioned, though the White Tower is only one of the many buildings within the castle wall. It was built from around 1078 by William the Conqueror as a symbol of his power and sovereignty after his taking of the Crown following the Battle of Hastings in 1066. Always fearful of rebellion, he dashed out of Westminster Abbey during his Coronation, mistaking the cheers outside for the sounds of an uprising.

The Tower is guarded by the Yeomen Warders, or Beefeaters. They wear the black uniform with red highlights unless the Monarch is at the Tower in which case they wear red uniforms with black highlighting. The uniforms are thought to be the oldest design still in use. We will return to the White Tower later, but for now we find ourselves between the inner and outer walls of the castle.

Water Lane in the Outer Ward. Due to the narrow lane between the high walls, it is a place of shadows under the outer wall and brighter only on the other side of the lane. The Bell Tower is on the left with the arrow loop. Wakefield Tower juts out to the left just in front of the archway. Also just before the archway but on the right hand side the outer wall is pierced by Traitor's Gate.

Which is where I found a vantage point to take this photo of a Yeoman Warder leading a tour. Tower Wharf on the river was started by King Edward I and was added to by Richard II in the later 14th Century to its current proportions. It allowed access through Traitor's Gate by boat only. Up the steps visible on the lower right of the photo, prisoners, including Princess, later Queen, Elizabeth, daughter of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, walked from their boat into the Tower and imprisonment.

The Yeomen of the Guard were created by King Henry VII after the Battle of Bosworth. That term is no longer correct as they were split into two corps when Henry VIII moved his residence from the Tower. The Ordinary (or permanent) Yeomen being bodyguard to the king and the Extraordinary (originally paid roughly 1/4 of the wages of the Ordinary). The guards who remained at the Tower became known as Yeoman Warders, a term more aptly describing their duties.

The Bloody Tower is the one under which you pass into the Tower of London, the gatehouse. It housed higher status prisoners such as royalty or those who had previously been royal favourites. Anne Boleyn is said to be one of the ghosts who supposedly haunt the Bloody Tower, as the song goes: with her head tucked underneath her arm...!

The room shown above is set out as it might have been when occupied by Sir Walter Raleigh with his chair and writing desk. Queen Elizabeth I had great affection for him and must have felt betrayed when he started an affair with one of her Maids of Honour, Elizabeth (Bessie) Throckmorton. As a Maid of Honour, Bessie was not free to have any relationship without the specific permission of the Queen and Raleigh found himself imprisoned here in the Tower. He was released when one of his ships brought back a great treasure that had been captured from a Spanish ship.

He married Bess and retired to Dorset. After the death of the Queen he was framed in a plot against King James I and was again imprisoned in the Tower, convinced he would be executed. He spent years imprisoned here, writing five volumes of a History of the World. In the preface he thanks the "ungentle and uncourteous readers" who had had him thrown into the Tower, "For had it been otherwise, I should hardly have had the leisure, to have made myself a foole in print."

Yet in 1616 he was freed once more. Undertaking yet another expedition against the Spanish, this time their influence at Court was to cost him a third spell in the Tower. And on this occasion it ended with his beheading in 1618. Having asked to see the axe, he said "This is a sharp medicine, but it is a physician for all diseases." His head was embalmed and sent to Bessie as was custom. The poor woman apparently carried it with her at all times until her death at the age of 82 some 29 years later.

People assume that the Tower was the scene of lots of executions, but it isn't really so. Most executions were carried out outside of the castle on Tower Hill to the north, where crowds could gather to watch. Only six people were executed on the scaffold, three of them Queens of England. Queen Anne Boleyn was the first of them, her head struck off by a skilled French swordsman so fast that as her head was picked up and displayed to the witnesses, her eyes still swivelled and her lips were still moving in prayer. Queen Catherine Howard was the second, a young girl a fraction of the age of her husband Henry VIII and this time she had most definitely been guilty of adultery. The third was the tragic Lady Jane Grey, queen for only nine days and a pawn of her ambitious family. She was executed by Queen Mary I, first daughter of Henry VIII. Blindfolded and groping about her for the block she asked "Where is it? What shall I do?". She was guided to the place and then a few seconds later her head was struck off. She was 16 years old.

The other three executions were those of Lady Rochford, the Lady-in-Waiting who had made all the arrangements necessary to allow Queen Catherine's lover to visit her during Henry VIII's Progress through England; The Earl of Essex, executed by Elizabeth I, but granted a private execution due to her previously having held him a great favourite; and finally Countess Margaret Pole of Salisbury. She was the niece of Kings Edward IV and Richard III, the daughter of their middle brother, George, Duke of Clarence. He had been found guilty of treason against Edward and given the choice of how he would be executed. He joked that he would be drowned in a vat of best wine - and was... Margaret Pole was one of the few Plantagenets to survive after the Wars of The Roses ended at Bosworth. She was cousin to King Henry VII's queen, Elizabeth of York. She was Lady-in-Waiting to Catherine of Aragon both as wife of Prince Arthur and later as wife to Arthur's brother King Henry VIII. Later she was to become governess to Princess Mary, later Queen Mary I. A Catholic, her sons worked to bring back the old faith and she was arrested by Henry VIII as part of a conspiracy in 1539.

She was held in the Tower for over two years. On the morning of 27 May, 1541, she was told she would die within the hour. Her response was that no specific crime had been laid upon her. However she was dragged out to the block, yet refused to lay her head upon it. Physically restrained and forced down yet struggling fiercely, the headsman (later recorded to be a "blundering youth"), missed her neck and inflicted a hideous wound to her shoulder. It took him a further ten blows to kill her. The Calendar of State Papers records that he "hacked her head and shoulders to pieces".

The Jewel House occupies the ground floor of the Waterloo Barracks and was very recent at the time of our visit having been opened by the Queen in the March of 1994. It contains the crowns, sceptres and orbs and Coronation paraphernalia plus a number of ceremonial items such as gold plate and a magnificent gold punch bowl.

Moving platforms take the visitor past the main items of the Crown Jewels but as it was so quiet at the time, we were able to go past several times to get a good look!

Whilst inside the Yeomen Warders' main duties are to inform and help visitors, the building is secured by the Tower Guard - comprised of whichever regiment is on duty at the time. They stand on sentry duty outside, marching up and down a short distance as necessary to keep warm and awake - or to move away from the banal comments of visitors!

The White Tower, seen from one of the souvenir shops. These sold the usual books on the English Monarchy, castles and history together with jewellery, prints, and history-based games and videos.

The entrance to the White Tower leads to a complete Norman chapel, the oldest complete Norman place of worship in the country. They tell you here that, ten feet beneath the steps to the Norman chapel, workmen in 1674 found the burial place of the murdered princes, Edward V and his little brother, Richard, Duke of York, murdered by their ambitious uncle, who became Richard III. For two centuries their whereabouts remained a mystery until during alterations to the Tower in the reign of Charles II the bones of the princes were found and by order of the King, removed to Westminster Abbey.

The mystery, however remains that. The bones were buried by Charles II in Westminster Cathedral but remain unproven to be the two princes. They were briefly examined for evidence of how they died, but not for anything else - even their gender! They could be two scullery maids...

In 1491 a man known as Perkin Warbeck claimed to be Richard, the younger of the two princes. He was formally recognised by the princes' aunt, the sister of Edward IV and gained support from the Kings of France and Scotland. He was captured in 1497 and lived at King Henry's court until 1499 when, after an escape attempt, he was dragged on a hurdle to Tyburn and hanged. The fact that he lived and attended court with high status for 18 months is rather curious though if we are to believe he was simply an imposter... Modern thought tends to believe that Richard III was not the guilty party anyway, but that their deaths - if they were indeed murdered - were down to followers of Henry Tudor, later King Henry VII, or his mother, Margaret Beaufort.

We walked through the White Tower and then left the Tower of London, walking along Tower Wharf, to view this infamous entrance. We saw the steps on the other side of this gate earlier. Traitor's Gate was the entrance to the Tower from the river. In Queen Mary's time her sister the future Queen Elizabeth I was brought into the Tower, terrified and anxious as to what would be her fate. Mary was taking England back to Catholicism and had already had the head of Lady Jane Grey as we have seen. She knew that Elizabeth could equally be used by Protestant supporters as a figure head. Then an apparent pregnancy seemed to secure Mary's line and Elizabeth was released. Only later was it found to be a false pregnancy, now thought to perhaps have been an ovarian cyst.

In the next article the bus tour takes us around London taking in lots of sights. We will return to the Tower during darkness and then onto a West End show.

Return to London Weekend 1995 index page

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Friday, 6 February 2015

Boat Trip Down The Thames

Tuesday 5 December 1995. We had climbed down the steps to Westminster Embankment and got onto one of the boats heading east towards The Tower of London. This was an included trip on our 24-hour tour bus pass.

Our boat had a very mixed bag of passengers: Japanese, Dutch, Spanish and just the two of us representing England!

The first photo today shows the memorial to Royal Air Force, Royal Naval Air Service and Royal Flying Corps personnel of all ranks who gave their lives in service during the First World War. Raised in 1923, further inscriptions are dedicated to World War II. The memorial to The Battle of Britain is situated nearby.

Cleopatra's Needle has only tenuous links to Queen Cleopatra. It was already over 1000 years old when she came to rule and even she is getting on a bit by now... It was presented to Britain by Muhammad Ali, the ruler of Egypt and the Sudan in 1819 to commemorate the victories at the Battle of Alexandria and the Battle of the Nile. The British government of the time said "Thanks awfully old chap - er, could you deliver... we couldn't possibly collect..."

The response was, "Well we would but our ship's run out of wind...". The obelisk stayed where it was for 60 years until a philanthropist donated 10,000 pounds, a very considerable fortune, to bring it to England. It was floated on a pontoon with a crew of six, to be towed by ship. All went well until they reached the Bay of Biscay which threw a storm at them. The pontoon was in great danger and the ship, the Olga, sent six men in a boat to rescue the crew of the pontoon. Sadly the boat capsized and all her six men were lost. The Olga managed to get alongside the pontoon saving the pontoon crew but the pontoon itself became detached and was then lost to the ship.

It was found drifting by Spanish trawlers and was rescued by the Scottish steamer Fitzmaurice, which towed it to Spain to be repaired. What do they say of those canny Scots? The master of the Fitzmaurice claimed £5000 salvage and settled for £2000. The pontoon was then towed by a paddle tug, arriving in the Thames estuary in 1878.

The tenuous link to Queen Cleo is that the obelisk had been moved along with its twin, now in New York, from Heliopolis to Alexandria to the temple she had built for either Mark Anthony or Julius Caesar (she was a bit fickle) in 12 BC. It was toppled a bit later and resting in the ground is what preserved the hieroglyphics in the excellent state they are in now.

Blackfriars Bridge. The original black friars were the Dominican Order of monks who had a priory nearby. They wore black robes, hence the name. "Friars" is a corruption of the french word "frères", meaning "brothers". Henry VIII's divorce hearing from Catherine of Aragon was held in the priory.

The bridge opened in 1869, the successor to a once toll bridge that had stood, but only just, for a mere 100 years. In 1982 the Italian banker, Roberto Calvi, was found hanging from the bridge with pockets full of bricks and a small fortune in money. The Mafia were suspected, though a trial in Rome folded through lack of evidence.

A bit further along the river we came to the clearest view of St Paul's Cathedral. This view is spoiled somewhat for river users now because of the Millennium Pedestrian Footbridge which runs from this spot over the river to the Globe Theatre. At the time of our visit, the reconstruction of Shakespeare's theatre was still ongoing. The theatre opened two years later in 1997.

One of the iconic images of today's London, Tower Bridge seen as we approach from upriver. The boat, in order to dock at the Tower of London, actually goes under the bridge to turn and then comes back under to moor at the dock before the Tower of London.

And thus our river trip comes to an end as we reach the Tower of London. If it's a bit awe inspiring now, then think of how it would appear to those early Londoners in the 11th century. It was a symbol of Norman power. William I declaring that he was, indeed, a Conqueror. We'll have a closer look at it in the next entry.

Return to London Weekend 1995 index page

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

A Morning in Westminster

Tuesday 5 December 1995. It was no warmer than it had been the the night before. If anything the temperature was dropping as we got off a bus at Trafalgar Square and walked down Whitehall towards Westminster.

We walked down past lots of government buildings. This is the Foreign Office opposite the Cenotaph just visible at the left. More properly it is the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO). Not a massively attractive building and in fact it was never considered such. The Victorians held a competition for its architectural design ( along with a War Office and grounds) but the selection committee knew little about architecture. In fact, perhaps realising this they co-opted two architects, but not well known ones and they disagreed with the committee (hardly surprisingly). The design chosen was not that of the outright winner but the one who came second in more than one category - this (so it was argued) outranked the two architects who came first in only one category. George Gilbert Scott had designed a Gothic building, but before he got to build it, Palmerston was voted in as Prime Minister and wanted a Classical not Gothic building. Whilst Scott had won the competition and couldn't be dismissed, Palmerston insisted he produce a new Classical design, perhaps hoping Scott would quit of his own accord. He didn't. He produced a new design in a style he was unfamiliar with and it got built and virtually no-one has liked it since...

King Charles Street with the archway connecting the Foreign Office (right) with the Treasury on the left. The Treasury has since been faced with stone to match the other buildings of Whitehall.

By the time we got down to the end of Whitehall the sun came out briefly, allowing this brighter view of the Methodist Central Hall. Dating from 1911, it was built to commemorate the centenary of John Wesley's death. Apart from being a Methodist church, it has conference facilities, meeting rooms and an art gallery.

It was from here that the football world cup was stolen from display in 1966, the cup though not the thief, being recovered in time for England to win the competition a few months later.

Just a couple of minutes later and the sky was once more dull... We decided to go into Westminster Abbey. You can go in for free, but if you want to see the tombs of kings and queens you pay to go deeper into the abbey. In 1995 we paid £3 each. Photography wasn't allowed, but most of the sights are easily found on Google anyway... now...

This is my sketch of the Shrine of St Edward the Confessor. King of England from 1042 to 1066 he rebuilt, in the year of his receiving the crown, on the site of a previous church that had been built where tradition told of an appearance by St Peter in a vision to a fisherman. The vast majority of what we see - perhaps everything of what we see - dates from Henry III's rebuilding which commenced in 1245. However traces of Edward's church survive in the lower parts of the Norman undercroft of the Great School, which includes a door that is said to have been a part of the original Saxon building.

King Henry III raised this shrine and had the saint's body placed in it. He placed it there himself in fact - he, his brother and two sons carried the coffin themselves. Niches in the sides of the shrine allowed pilgrims to get as close as possible to the saint's relics. Too close by far after a few hundred years. The tomb fell into disrepair and in the Middle Ages the saint's bones could be seen, some being stolen. Records show that someone offered for sale a knife with a handle allegedly made from one of the saint's bones, although it is not known if this really was the case. The coffin was damaged during an accident when scaffolding was being dismantled after the coronation of James II and a gold chain and crucifix were removed and given to James. However they were stolen during his flight from England in 1688.

Lots of royal burials are to be found in the area of Edward's Sanctuary. To one side lie Good Queen Bess, Elizabeth I, daughter of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, with her half-sister, "Bloody" Mary, daughter of Catherine of Aragon at her side. In the similar chapel on the opposite side of the Confessor's shrine lies Mary, Queen of Scots.

We visited the cafe before leaving the Abbey and had found Poets Corner and memorials to musicians and Prime Ministers. It should be noted, that the existence of a memorial does not necessarily mean that the person is buried in the Abbey. There are, however 17 kings and ruling queens (as opposed to queens of a ruling king) buried in the Abbey. Well worth a visit and paying to go into the inner areas. I would love to go back and do it again in fact.

It was bitterly cold as we came out and walked down past the Houses of Parliament, the Palace of Westminster and passed under the shadow of St Stephen's Tower commonly, but wrongly, known as Big Ben. Big Ben is actually the bell that strikes the hour.

On the opposite side of the road on the edge of Westminster Bridge is the statue of Boudicca, Queen of the Iceni tribe who occupied the northern half of today's East Anglia during the early Roman occupation of Britain. Boudicca is the spelling used by Tacitus in his records. It is thought Boadicea was a spelling mistake from a Middle Ages translation. However it was the spelling used in a popular poem by William Cowper in 1782 and became the dominant spelling from the 19th century. Her husband was a client king of the Romans and had borrowed heavily to fund his lifestyle. On his death the loan became due for repayment and he had tried to pass on his reign which was not part of his bargain with Rome. Boudicca was publicly flogged and her daughters raped before her eyes. Designed to break the spirit of the Iceni, this treatment simply bolstered their resolve behind their Queen. With the main Roman army off druid hunting in Anglesey, she swept down the country, sacking Colchester, London and St Albans. She took no prisoners or slaves. Anyone she found was killed, carrying out far worse barbarism than had been visited on herself or her daughters. London has an identifiable layer of earth from that period that speaks of destruction by fire. It is estimated that around 80,000 people died during the destruction of the three towns. She was eventually defeated by the Romans, though it is not clear whether she was killed, committed suicide or otherwise.

We ventured onto Westminster Bridge to take some photos of the Houses of Parliament. It started to snow at this point and the temperature was desperately cold. I good naturedly asked a traffic warden what sort of weather this was to inflict on visitors. "Ow, it's laaarvely, innit?" she replied...

We waited until Big Ben struck the eleventh hour and then decided we had to find somewhere both warm and with a seat! London is extremely hard on the feet - as it seems to hit the bottom of them an awful lot of times! We booked tickets for a boat trip down to the Tower of London.

Return to London Weekend 1995 index page

Monday, 2 February 2015

London's Great Squares

4 December 1995. In the last entry we walked from Oxford Street down Bond Street and Regent Street, the end of which brought us to Piccadilly Circus.

This is theatreland - London is justly famous for its West End theatres and there are many to be found in Piccadilly and along Shaftesbury Avenue, that approaches it from the east. At the time of our visit the Criterion Theatre was showing Taking Sides, a new play by Ronald Harwood that earned him a nomination for the Laurence Olivier Award for Best New Play.

The building had a Lillywhites shop as the centre of it's ground floor with the Criterion Theatre on the right and the Criterion Restaurant on the left.

A short distance away, the Piccadilly Theatre was hosting performances of Mack and Mabel, the musical based around the on-off relationship between silent films director Mack Sennett and the ultimately tragic star, Mabel Normand.

The two things everyone pictures when Piccadilly Circus is mentioned are the statue of Eros and the huge illuminated advertisements.

The statue was not meant to be Eros at all, the artist had in mind a joke with an archer about to bury a shaft into Shaftesbury Avenue. However it was set up facing the wrong way and Londoners - those incurable romantics (huh?) - soon made a link with the Greek God of Love, Eros.

In 1995 the adverts are still neon rather than the huge video screens of today. I think I rather prefer them somehow!

A quick peek into the front door and entrance to the Cafe Royal. Established in 1865, it quickly became famous for its wine cellar and was frequented by Royalty, great thinkers, artists, writers and musicians. From Oscar Wilde through the Burtons to Princess Diana and onwards, people have come here to eat and drink in convivial surroundings and to discuss the great matters of the day. It was also here that the Queensbury Rules for boxing were agreed and set down.

On the edge of Piccadilly Circus is this huge statue, set into a corner, of the Four Horses of Helios. These were the horses that pulled the fiery chariot (the sun), driven across the sky by the god Helios during the day. At night he plunged the chariot into the great ocean, thus travelling through the centre of the earth, to emerge again in the east the following morning.

The backdrop to the statue is a large curtain of falling water and with fountains before them, this was not the place to linger for long on a cold winter's night without feeling uncomfortably like wanting to create fountains or waterfalls of your own... We move on...

From Piccadilly Circus a short walk along Coventry Street brings you to Leicester Square. The Empire Cinema the following night was to host the London premiere of the film The American President with Michael Douglas and Annette Bening. We were just five minutes off meeting them but it was so cold and snowing that night that we didn't wait. When they arrived only one brave couple was there (and they must have arrived after us) and they were invited to go in and watch the premiere!

Talking of snow, it is starting tonight too as we walk down from Leicester Square to Trafalgar Square and Nelson's Column. The National Gallery is seen in the background.

And this surely dates this visit! Who uses these nowadays? But whilst mobile phones were growing in popularity by this time, we hadn't yet identified a need to have one ourselves.

Admiralty Arch, leading from Trafalgar Square towards the long straight road of The Mall and to Buckingham Palace at the far end. Commissioned by King Edward VII in memorial to his mother, Queen Victoria, he would not live to see it completed in 1912.

Miss Franny poses in front of one of the massive lions at the foot of Nelson's Column. The building of the column commenced in 1840 with the statue being raised three years later. It was another 11 years before the final bronze relief scene was placed on the pedestal and the famous lions were not installed until 1867.

Behind the water of the fountain the National Gallery is seen at the rear with the church of St Martin-in-the-Fields at the right hand side. A church has been on this site since at least 1222. King Henry VIII rebuilt it in 1542 to avoid having plague victims from the neighbourhood carried through the Palace of Westminster. At this time the church was still situated in the middle of fields in an area between the cities of London and Westminster.

The current building dates from 1722-1724 after a survey showed the 180 year old church to be in a state of decay. It is the parish church of the Royal family and contains graves of furniture maker Thomas Chippendale and, most famously, King Charles II's mistress, Nell Gwynne.

A photograph of the same scene with the fountain lit by flash.

Return to London Weekend 1995 index page