2005-11-07: House of Wax
I remember it well. It was yesterday. But before the story of yesterday the story of the day before yesterday, which was Saturday. I'll begin my tale then as I listen to the continuing explosions that mark England.
On Saturday I went to work. For the first time in my professional career I had to work on a Saturday. I've worked on Saturdays before. When I was a kid and working in a chicken yard. But that was because the money was good and I was too stupid to know that Saturdays are better spent not working. The software is due this week but it still isn't finished so we all had to help finish it. The software isn't my fault, it was in this state well before I got in. However I helped to try to get it working. My task was to apply a simple fix to make the website usable and then to spend all day pondering some rare thread condition that you can never get to reproduce but never fails to get you when you don't want it. The boss was going to give those of us working a lift back to the train station, however being a boss his definition of 10 minutes blew out into 40 minutes. I got home to my wife Edyta at 5pm, exhausted but ready to go out with her into Reading.
We went and saw a movie - on a big screen! Not on some TV in an apartment, or on the tiny laptop screen, but in a nice cinema. It was our first trip to the movies for ages and reflects our slightly better economic conditions (sometimes I still think there might be value in joining the homeless people of Reading in their "Got any spare change" tours). We walked into Reading under a clear sky that later turned cloudy and had intermittent rain. The movie wasn't memorable but the night was. It was Guy Fawkes night, "Remember, remember the 5th of November". Well Australians don't any more, but apparently you get to launch fireworks and burn effigies. Of course it seems you get to launch fireworks for the fortnight before and for some time after so that the entire town takes on the feel of Iraq or London during the blitz. As we missed the first movie session we entertained ourselves by watching the fireworks. Unlike Adelaide the fireworks aren't done in one big display in one tiny spot, but instead consist of tiny fireworks (many backyard ones) launched all over the place. In following one set of fireworks to another we came out of town, half-way home and turned around back in to the city. We found a Polish store where I promptly got left out of the conversation when the staff started talking to Edyta in Polish (I must learn that language soon). Back in to Reading we had some more time to kill so got a platter of grease covering food at the Old Orleans restaurant. After the movie finished we found only the Night Track buses were running and we had no idea of where or when they went so we walked back home. There were no fireworks at midnight but the night was clear and cold. (The movie was the Brothers Grimm, and was best left out as one of the highlights of the night - not bad, but not very good either).
Tower of London and lots of English rain
The next day saw us up nice and too bloody early to begin our first real bit of tourism since France (by real tourism I mean going to those places you have to say you've been too if you've been to the place). We caught a bus into Reading. While there I got to advise people that you didn't need to pay to enter the toilets (even though there are pay machines on the turnstile the things have never been used as long as I've been through that station - damn, I'm becoming an old hand on the train station). We went to London on a crowded train and then rode the Tube (love the Tube) out to Tower Hill. For those of you who don't know, this means we were visiting the Tower of London. However by the time we saw sky again it was overcast, low and dribbling lots of water from it. To help fight the cold I bought us a packet of roasted chestnuts. For a nut they were actually pretty spongy. It was worth trying but I don't think I'll put them on my favourite nuts list (however the sheer quantity of freely available chestnuts makes them an attractive food source).
The White Tower
We got our ticket at the site. We had to pass by two places before hand because we wanted to use our 2-for-1 deal (if you are in London and travelling by train/Tube, get yourselves one of these books to save a fortune on entry costs). We went in through the gate, pass the back check and underneath the scaffolding into an old castle (I wish just one monument in this hemisphere wasn't actually covered in scaffolding). The Tower was fantastic, you could smell the age of the place (many of the rooms smelt of centuries old fireplaces). We saw the ravens lording all about the tower (free from bird flu). We saw the crown of Queen Adelaide (without the diamonds, but apparently royalty tended to lease diamonds because not even they could afford a crowns worth - except our lady Adelaide who just used all her other jewels to make her crown). We also saw the Crown Jewels and both agreed they were gaudy objects d'art and only good for showing how fabulously wealthy you must be. We went into the tower where many royals had been kept (just past the spot where many royals had been killed). We managed to get on the end of a Beefeater tour which was great, I wished we'd managed to get on it from the start. The best part of the Tower though was the actual Tower itself, now an old armoury museum. There were swords, muskets, armour, barding, the whole kit and caboodle (and elongated cod pieces for King Henry VIII's armour). By now it was getting late and we still hadn't eaten and had to get to our next attraction yet.
Lunch was had at 3pm. By this time a menu order at Subways was too complex to work through so we ended up at a place that did standard cafe food. Edyta had the Calzone (un-folded) and I had a pepperoni pizza. Both arrived and were huge round discs of melted cheese and pepperoni, differentiated by Edyta having mushrooms and me having capsicum. We left from there (without leaving a tip, but the staff had French accents and the French still evoke irrational fear and loathing in me).
From the Tower of London we were back onto the Tube and off on Marylebone street trying to find Madame Tussauds. Madame Tussauds is a place you really want 2-for-1 deals; it costs a fortune to enter there. However not long into it I was excited, among the collection of standard celebrities there was a Sarah Michelle Gellar model. Edyta and I both got photos with her. It tore me up when some young girl was asking her dad who we were standing next to and even he didn't know. I wanted to scream at them - Buffy! We did had photos with some of the others too, I gave Samuel L. Jackson a bad mother f***er look and stood next to Patrick Stuart (in a suit, not his costume damn it). The best looking dummies were the new ones of some people from the show Very Little Britain (bit of a naff show with some good bits). From there it was into the action room with Harrison Ford, Arnold Schwarzenegger and others (including a very old Michael Jackson face). From there we found the world leaders room and the main display which was likenesses of the X-factor crew (so wanted to melt them...).
Buffy! Buffy! Buffy!
"Say what again"
The most significant people in the world
Guy Fawkes at last
The next stop along the procession is the Chamber of Horrors (the original wax works was just this chamber), only now it is done up to frighten women by having people walk around in the dark and touch at you and blow behind your ear and stuff. You can see that they know they don't scare guys because they just avoided me and decided Edyta was a better mark. Maybe because I was just laughing at how crap the whole thing was. I had to rescue Edyta when they had her cornered and we left, Edyta complaining quite loudly they have violated the rules on touching (they don't touch you so you're not allowed to touch them). After that we had an exciting 400 year journey through English history in about one minute sitting in a dinky little London cab thing (just like the Ghost train really, only far more camp). Finally we made it into the planetarium for a fairly good, if astronomically incomplete, show about the solar system (how could they not include Xena and Gabrielle?) With that our day was done (except for some standing around in tourist stores while Edyta got her feel of the merchandise).
And now it is Monday night, and my tale of the weekend is complete. The ack-ack guns surrounding us have gone silent again. Perhaps Guy Fawkes is finally over. Lets hope so, all of this celebrating an attempted act of terrorism is in contempt of the new anti-terrorism freedom-of-speech suppressing rules they are making over here.