Tower Bridge at stupid o’clock in the morning
Having arrived in the UK in one piece, albeit feeling like I had been pulled out of a matchbox when I eventually got off the plane. I had managed not to over self medicate, (something’s obviously wrong with me…) and I actually felt slightly human. If doing it one meal at a time counts, I’m also trying this vegetarian thing and remarkably, I am still enjoying it (thanks Liz!) but the problem is that a pint and a bag of pork scratchings does sort of scream ‘you’re back in Blighty now…’ and for old times sake, I just have to have them. It is possible to buy such an unhealthy snack in Oz of course, but somehow it’s more processed and removed from the farmyard than the fantastically greasy lumps of crunchy fat in a bag that the UK pubs can offer up.
In order to justify such a thing as part of my rehab, I have continued my early morning speed march efforts and as a blast from the past, I have dragged myself around a circuit of London Bridge, HMS Belfast, Tower Bridge and the Tower of London. It’s really quite mesmerising and I find myself stopping and staring often.
The bloody tower – it’s had some distinguished guests over the years
The Tower of London still has the capacity to send chills down your spine if you think about the number of people who were put to death there, both ‘judicially and otherwise’ or imprisoned. One person who fitted in to the former category is Anne Boleyn, the second wife of Henry VIII, who was executed on tower green following false accusations of incest, witchcraft, adultery and conspiracy against the King; apparently on the grounds that she couldn’t produce a male heir (she did give birth to Elizabeth the 1st, one of England’s greatest monarchs mind you) and that she’d allegedly said that Henry was a crap shag. He may well have been, given the size of him in the end.
Rudolf Hess, who was Hitlers deputy and the Kray twins were also imprisoned there for a while. The Krays were there for avoiding national service apparently. Not so tough after all perhaps.
Jet lagged. Can you tell, I can’t sleep?
There’s around a thousand years of history lessons in an hour of dawn walking. Maybe it’s just a boy thing, but I am really enjoying glancing down the riverside steps and seeing signs telling me that something nasty happened there. Under Tower Bridge, to the left of the picture above, there’s small area called ‘dead mans hole’ where the victims of suicide or the short brutal life that poverty engendered, washed up. Under the supports of the bridge there’s actually a small mortuary, disused now, where the bodies were stored before they could be identified (I wonder how often that happened?) and disposed of. There is still a long pole with what looks like a grappling hook atop hanging on the wall, that can only have been used for dragging the corpses out of the river.
Dead mans hole and the open air mortuary
The large pole and hook reminded me of a boat hook we found in the river when Mrs Jerry and I lived on a small boat at Richmond on Thames. we were too poor to pay rent in such an exalted neighbourhood, so we saved up some money from various jobs and bought ‘Snipe’ who was a wartime Thames cruiser, for us to live on. Snipe was very briefly a movie star in a ‘Fish called Wanda’ and can be glimpsed when Michael Palin and John Cleese are riding along the riverside on a motorcycle.
Snipe – allegedly, one the little ships that rescued troops from Dunkirk
Snipe was small but beautiful inside, made of pitched pine, oak and teak, with a lovely enameled stove that warmed the boat through in the winter when you made a morning cup of tea. My mother had made curtains and two hanging baskets for decorating our first home, but they were clearly under the assumption that we lived on something the size of a small ocean liner as they were huge, but they did look great sitting on the roof. It wasn’t the easiest lifestyle, what with having to row out to Snipe when the tide was running, but it was very romantic and in the mornings, the swans used to tap with their beaks on the side of the boat when they wanted to be fed.
We were moored just off the very exclusive ‘Ducks Walk’ area of Richmond and not having the proverbial pot, we could only afford an in river mooring, rather than one alongside.
One of our neighbours and something more like our regular visitors were expecting!
This being the semi tidal part of the river, large party boats would sail up from central London, music blaring and turn around right next to us. Once, they were so close, a swearing and shouting Mrs Jerry had to fend them off with the bargepole, to avoid them sinking Snipe. The rooftop hanging baskets, fell into the water as she heeled over from the wash and had to be fished out later.
One of the party boats, called the Marchioness, was the worst culprit and the captain clearly did not value his reputation. In August, 1989, the Marchioness was literally run over by a dredger called the Bow Belle and 51 people died.
The salvaged Marchioness
Sadly, a couple of those people washed up river near us, as did a beautiful 8′ hard wood bargepole with a brass hook from the party boat. We kept the bargepole, but it let Mrs Jerry down at a crucial time, breaking like a matchstick when she was mooring up against the buoy when the tide was in full flow. We both think that it was cursed.
Yesterday, I wandered around the decks of HMS Belfast, the light cruiser that has been moored in the Pool of London since 1971. The last time I was on board, was my last day in the paid service of Her Majesty. I was actually an extra in a 1988 Denzil Washington movie called For Queen and Country and if you’re bored, you can pick me out 3’58” into the movie, just for a brief second. I’m just about the only one, apart from Denzil who couldn’t/wouldn’t grow a moustache – couldn’t in my case. The big Sergeant dispatching the men out of the hatch and into the landing craft was the mountain leader who was shot in the chest during the raid on Top Malo house in the Falklands war.
HMS Belfast, moored just below Tower Bridge and she played a part in my misspent youth.
The Belfast is lovingly looked after by a number of volunteers and it really did take me back to my thoroughly undistinguished but much enjoyed days in the Corps. I was what is known a ’embarked forces’ (just along for the ride) onboard HMS Invincible during one trip and below the decks, the Invincible looked just like the Belfast, albeit a lot larger of course. Being drawn to that kind of thing, I also discovered that there is a great rooftop bar just above the ticket desk for the Belfast and it makes for a wonderful observation platform for Tower Bridge. I can also highly recommend the charcuterie platter if you are hungry.
The next few days will round out what has effectively been three weeks on the road and I can’t wait to get home, but first there’s a night out in Covent Garden to contend with.