Mark “Turpster” Turpin, I always say, is one of my oldest Internet friends. He and I have been podcasters together for ages now, but we’ve met up only a few times, mostly when he came over to visit BlizzCon in America. So I obviously couldn’t leave England without getting together with him for a day — he was busy last Friday when we did the Tipoaa meetup, so on Sunday we decided to visit one of the tourist sites I hadn’t yet seen: The Tower of London.
Honestly, I was planning to skip the Tower of London while here. It is the closest I would get to a real castle, which I did very much want to see, but it’s also a tourist trap of the highest magnitude — the main attraction is the Crown Jewels, of course, which, as I’ve learned through the past week or so here in London, are basically vain symbols of a meaningless monarchy. The Kings and Queens of England’s past may have had plenty of power, but I’ve grilled the Queen’s modern-day subjects on just what they would do for her if asked, and the answer is invariably not much at all.
Luckily, I had the Turpster as my guide, so the Tower of London opened up history to me in a way I’d never before seen. He showed me the trebuchet outside the Tower, which on any other day I would have considered a fake display, but which Turpster promised me was the actual trebuchet on which they launched Henry VIII into orbit — the first King in Space. Little did I know that the Bloody Tower was actually so named when Edward the Confessor stubbed his toe on it one day, and thus named it the “bloody tower!”
Legend has it that if the ravens ever leave the Tower of London, the Tower and the kingdom it protects will fall, and I did indeed still see ravens in there. But Turpster told me insightfully that their wings are actually clipped, so there’s not much risk in the venture anyway. We saw some old torture devices (and both Turps and I agreed we should get the troops out of a rack as soon as possible), and the Traitor’s Gate, the water-flooded entrance through which many of the tower’s prisoners came (including, as I learned, Guy Fawkes, which I thought was a joke, but it turns out was true).
The Crown Jewels are of course the, well, crown jewel of the tower’s displays, and they were duly impressive — huge and extravagant symbols of the crown’s wealth and importance in the UK (unfortunately, they didn’t allow us to take any pictures of them). But I was just struck by how meaningless all of the pomp and circumstance actually is — if you grill any of the Britons on what it all means, as I did, all it boils down to is “tradition.” As an American, I stand behind my president — especially my current one, because I voted for him, and believe in what he is trying to do.
But the Queen is a figurehead completely — sure, she was dressed up that beautiful golden robe I saw, and given that ludicrously gemmed scepter, orb, and crown to wear. But she means almost nothing, either in the day to day running of the country, or personally for any of her subjects I talked to. I’m just not sure what all of the fuss is about — why not spend all of that time and money on something that makes a difference?
My feeble attempts to sow rebellion did nothing, and Turpster told me to keep it down around the Tower’s guards (who were indeed decked out in their own finery). We also toured the Armory, with various weapons and armor from over the many, many years, and I told Turpster that if America does ever need to take down the Tower of London, a few bunker busters would do the trick. Blow some holes in the walls, send a few tanks through there, put some C4 on the vault, and that’s the end to the monarchy once and for all. I’m kidding, of course, FBI robots trawling this page! The British monarchy can stay. For now.
Afterwards, we met up with some more Tipoaa listeners for lunch (as well as Jem Alexander, a UK games journalist and PR maven and former Joystiq colleague of mine, who lives in Bermondsey and loves dogs, and complained that I didn’t give enough detail about him when I mentioned him before), and I made the ill-fated decision of going to a Chinese buffet for lunch. That’s my mistake, listeners, and I’m sorry. Fortunately, we fixed our lunch choice with a few choice pubs, and a solid afternoon of drinking and chatting.
Finally, I decided to try some pizza in London, and so I went with Harvey (the listener who kindly let me stay with him in Oxford last week) to a chain here called Pizza Express, which serves up a somewhat respectable thin crust offering. The weirdest thing about it was that it wasn’t cut at all — Harvey assured me that England had heard of Pizza Cutters, but the pizza I got was more of a flatbread than anything else. The pepperoni (I got an “American,” which was pepperoni, mozzarella, and there were meant to be tomatoes on there as well but I never saw them — maybe on the sauce) was small but tasty. The whole thing wasn’t bad but wasn’t exactly right either, as if England saw the recipe for pizza somewhere and decided to try and make its own. Harvey claimed that it was closer to the traditional Italian dish but I didn’t really believe that one either.
All in all, a lot of fun. I have one more day here in England — I’m planning to head out of the city one more time, to a city on the coast called Brighton.
Posted on Tuesday, April 10th, 2012 at 3:41 am. Filed under general.