Being There

I had an hour before I would meet Heidi and there were swarms of people on the streets but nowhere to sit and have a cup of tea.  Normally I would have gone for a walk to see what I could stumble upon, but the rain hadn’t let up and I just wasn’t in the mood to get splashed by taxis and spend the rest of the day with wet pant legs and shoes.

Then I noticed a modest structure across from Parliament with a sign out front and wandered over to have a look.  It turned out to be what was left of the original Royal Palace of Westminster, the Jewel Tower.

Before I paid my five quid or whatever it cost, I asked the guy at the till, “Will I be able to see it all in an hour?”

He laughed a little.  “Oh yes.  It’s smaller on the inside than what you see on the outside.  No one’s been in all day,” he said.  “You’ll have the place to yourself.”

“It’s weird there are thousands of people standing in line for a tour of Parliament, just steps away across the street, but no one in here.”

“I know.  This place isn’t on any of the Top 10 lists. It’s the kind of place people visit the fifth time they come.”

Erm…that would be me.  I hadn’t known of the Jewel Tower’s existence until now, as I began climbing the steep, winding, stone steps to the top floor.

The Jewel Tower was built around 1365 to hold the treasure of King Edward III.  It was used as a store house for special-occasion clothing, public records, and jewels—as you might expect.  In the late 18th Century it was turned into the office of Weights and Measures—exciting stuff!  There were displays in the small rooms of some of the objects stored or measured there, but the best part was the views of Parliament from inside the tower.  None of my photos turned out, but trust me; it was very atmospheric to see Victoria Tower in the rain through the wavy, hundreds-of-years-old window glass.

I was done in 15 minutes but felt like the guy downstairs might be offended if I popped down too soon, so I sat on a window ledge and enjoyed the views, including the forever queuing tourists.  It was warm and cozy in here. After a few minutes I traipsed down the steps and bought a cup of tea in the tiny café area.  The ceiling was only maybe 12×12 feet, but richly adorned.  My friend was busy with two new guests, so I gazed up and around between sips and killed a half hour.

How often are we forced to do nothing?  Rarely.  And I have to be forced.  I can’t do it on my own.  After 15 minutes I began to notice things I wouldn’t have if I’d given the place the usual cursory once over. Differences in colors where a wall must have been repaired.  Was that from the great fire?  There was a lion’s head—was it carved in stone, or wood?  How was it attached to the ceiling?

Looking straight on, my view was a little display of souvenirs and a freezer full of ice cream treats.  Ice cream treats!  This is one regard in which the Brits are eternally optimistic.  There might be that one warm day when an ice cream treat wouldn’t freeze off your already cold cockles.

I realize I’m writing about a lot of nothing here, but that’s my point.  I had nothing to do, nowhere to go.  I wasn’t in any hurry, and there wasn’t a lot to see but what there was, I really saw that day.

I realize I’m writing about a lot of nothing here, but that’s my point.  I had nothing to do, nowhere to go.  I wasn’t in any hurry, and there wasn’t a lot to see but what there was, I really saw that day.

I was kind of impressed with myself that I wasn’t ruminating about my dad, after feeling the shock of recognition in Victoria Park.  I didn’t think about shopping, or work, or paying my bills, or how I was going to lose 10 pounds, or what time I needed to catch the train to get back to Windsor by sunset.

I was just there, off leash.  This only happens when I’m traveling.


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