It was never a dull moment during our summer in Chelsea. My music obsessed children had been eager to find a way to bring a piano back into our lives. I toyed with buying an electric one and somehow squeezing it into my suitcase at the end of the summer, but my pragmatic and frugal husband thought this was mad and for once, he was right. I, however, was on a mission. If it wasn’t non-cloven hoofed sausages, it was pianos (and by the by, partway through the summer I discovered that Harrod’s had chicken sausages, conveniently located right next to the bunnies). After a google search, some e-mails and a phone call or two, I found a shop that would rent us a proper 88-key electric piano, and I fit it, me and my two handsome children in one black London cab. The cabbie admitted that in his 30 years of driving he’d had lots of odd things in his taxi – but never a piano. For my second mean feat of the day I got the piano and me, but not my children, in our elevator. Two feet wider than our dreadful washing machine, our elevator gave me claustrophobia symptoms every time I rode in it, despite the lovely British voice that soothingly announced each floor upon arrival. The piano was clearly meant to be. My children began tapping the ivories the moment we got the thing in the door. A great deal of time was spent by my younger child trying to play “The Hamster Dance” – a circumstance that was entirely the fault of our babysitter who introduced the song to him at some point before we left on holiday. When she arrived to visit us in London I sat her in one of the flat’s rickety antique chairs and ran my fingers down a chalkboard for two days straight. There have to be consequences to bad behavior. She should know that better than anyone.
We had a lovely weekend not celebrating the 4th of July with my visiting in-laws. On Saturday of not The Fourth of July Weekend, we took in both the Tower of London and the Churchill War Museum. A first-rate Beefeater led our Tower tour. A witty Welshman, he had lots of ghastly stories of this murder and that beheading, and just enough good humor to keep both my children and my in-laws entertained. There was a new exhibit at the Tower called “Henry VIII: Dressed to Kill.” Seriously smashing, the exhibit was another swashbuckling display of high museum design. In the middle of one of the large rooms in the ancient Tower complex sat a series of massive clear boxes with silver brackets holding them into place. I’d have been happy just looking at the display boxes, they didn’t even need to have anything in them, but low and behold, they were filled with all sorts of great stuff. In one they had hung swords and spears on cables at varying heights and lit them from above and below. They looked like they were swimming, a sea of spears and swords. It was really extraordinary. Oh, and there was lots and lots of armor. It was notable how much bigger Henry’s armor had to get over his lifetime to accommodate his ever-expanding girth (according to one of the displays, the average Tudor consumed 4,000 – 5,000 calories a day). If any of you have been watching The Tudors on HBO, I hate to break it to you, but Henry NEVER LOOKED LIKE Jonathan Rhys Meyers, not ever, no way, no how. You should SEE the size of Henry’s armor. I mean really. The guy was a beast. Have you seen Rhys Meyers lately? Does the man do anything but workout? I’m not sure where all the gym equipment and personal trainers fit in to Henry’s daily schedule running England, dismantling the Catholic Church, and marrying and beheading so many people, but whatever.
It should be noted, since I do seem to keep returning to bathrooms and appliances, that I had the opportunity to pee in the “Loo of the Year: 1995/1997” at the Tower of London (two very large plaques said as such inside the facilities – and I didn’t even have to pay extra to use them). We are clearly missing out on an awards ceremony opportunity in the U.S. We’ve got the Emmy’s, the Grammy’s, the Oscar’s and even The People’s Choice Awards,” but no “Toilet of the Year.” I’m not sure what you get if you’re the “Loo-ser,” though I certainly visited a few toilets in the Ukraine that were quite deserving of that honor.
I quite liked the Churchill War Museum. A tad claustrophobic down in the basement, they left all of the Churchill Cabinet War rooms intact, just as they were on the day they stopped using them at the end of WWII. The audio guide was terrific with lots of in-depth commentary about Churchill, the war, and the manner in which the Brits chose to steer their course, directly from those rooms.
We spent the Sunday of not The Fourth of July Weekend at Hampton Court Palace. Only 30 minutes from London by train, it felt 500 years away. They have a troop of able thespians who act out Henry VIII’s last wedding day to Catherine Parr. If you are willing to go along, the costumed actors will take you through the various parts of Hampton Court as if it were 1512. If we tried this at home in the US we’d be sure to make the thing so hokey and sugar coated I’d never be able to stomach it. The Brits have just the right dose of self-awareness. It’s humorous, but not slapstick, and clear about the overall goal – which is to give the everyday visitor a sense of how the place functioned under Henry VIII. Both the buildings and the gardens are still fit for a King. The formal gardens are resplendent with neat, clean lines, right angles and diagonals – fabulous from afar and stunning close-up. There is a hedgerow maze that is dizzying and complicated and takes just a little too long to figure out. I was ready to escape when we did.
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