|September 22, 2000
Breakfast at Cumberland house is great. I set up a big bowl of meusli and milk, a container of low-fat peach yogurt, (real!) orange juice, and coffee from a french press. Hits the spot. Brig takes up Mrs. Innes' offer of a "cooked breakfast", consisting of a sunny-side-up egg, ham, sausage, tomato, mushrooms, and stewed tomatoes. And tea, for a change of pace. And "white toast" (as opposed to "brown toast", which is toasted whole wheat bread -- never her first choice). I nibble some of each -- also good, but now that I'm no longer in the land of queso y jamon, I can return to my preference of fiber and carbos for breakfast.
Both of the Inneses are tremendously helpful. Sarah offers to loan us the Rick Steves London guidebook, but finds that it was already lent out, and never returned. She loans us the Rough Guide version instead. Its maps were occasionally helpful, but it lacks the prioritization and helpful hints we have come to appreciate.
There's a small controversy that we were able to settle. The Inneses disagree on the walking time to Horley Station. Gary says it's 8 - 10 minutes. Sarah says it's more like 15. We took just under 15 minutes at a reasonable walking pace. I suppose I could jog and make it in 8 minutes, if all crossings were devoid of traffic. That situation is rare, though. Brighton Road is pretty busy at all times, as are some other roads you have to cross. Sarah is closer to being right, I'm afraid. (Later, Gary will explain that he's right anyway, 'cause he takes a short cut!)
A pair of round-trip tickets from Horley to London, with unlimited tube fares, cost us around £17 ($24). The train came right on time, though we did have to change trains once.
We exit the tube at Westminster, where we of course are faced with a certain famous clock. (Actually, "Big Ben" is the bell that is struck on the hour -- it is not the clock or the tower.) At the Leicester Square ticket booth, we confirm my suspicion that there really are no Friday matinees. "Chicago" has a 1700 performance, but Brig wants to do a "Jack the Ripper" walking tour at 1930, and we would never get there in time. (15 minutes from the West End theater to Tower Hill in the East End? I don't think so.) We drop the idea of seeing a show.
Admission: At this point, I made a mistake. I failed to take Brig's suggestion of going to a tourist information center. I figured we already had all the info we would want. Wrong. So, instead, we head for Westminster Abbey. Brig has never seen it.
Our route (a slight misnavigation takes us along the Thames for a bit) gives us a view of the London Eye, a 400 foot high, slow-moving Ferris Wheel-like attraction. It's not really a Ferris Wheel, though. They appear to be using cables under tension, instead of girders under compression, to support the wheel. The cables are laid out very much like a bicycle wheel's spokes. The axis of the wheel is supported by a pair of large beams, canted at an angle. Interesting design.
We take the self-guided tour of Westminster Abbey. It's mostly a matter of visiting gravestones and tombs, of regents, nobility, family thereof, and then some of their more distinguished subjects. I'm slightly disappointed that we can't visit Isaac Newton -- his tombstone appears to be outside the public tour area, at the moment.
Next, we head over to Harrod's. Along the way, we learn that the Knightsbridge station, the nearest one to Harrod's, is closed for escalator repairs. I choose the wrong alternative (well, even a bad decision is better than none, right?) and we end up walking a mile and a half from South Kensington, including a 1/4 mile detour based on bad navigation on my part. Sigh. I've put a lot of unnecessary wear on Brigid's poor soles.
By the time we reach Harrod's, a toilet sounds like a good idea. Seems like they've caught on to that. So far as we can tell, they only have "luxury restrooms". £1 entry fee, please. I'm for paying up, but it rubs Brig the wrong way, and suddenly our bladders develop a stiff upper lip, so to speak. Instead, we browse through their endless food rooms. Let's see now, they had rooms for meat, cheese, and fish; deli; candy & pastry; baked goods; and produce. Do they have more cheeses than Zabar's in Manhattan? Probably not, but it's close. They certainly have more varieties of pates and terrines. And I don't recall seeing jellied eel in Zabars. (What the heck IS that ugly-looking stuff, and how are you supposed to eat it? I ought to try it someday, but somehow I'm not in any hurry.)
All that browsing, and all we come away with are two small scones (chocolate chip for Brig, and whole-meal fruit for me), 70p for the pair ($1). They ended up being consumed as late-night snacks. Satisfactory, but nothing special.
Back to the tube -- but this time I find a much more convenient station, 5 minutes from Harrod's. We find our way to Tower Hill station. No, not Fawlty Tower, but the London Tower. Been there, done that -- 17 years ago. I doubt much has changed. We're here for the Ripper walking tour. It's 1700, and the tour isn't until 1930. We walk around, looking for a satisfactory lunch opportunity. Indian would be nice, but the few Indian restaurants we see are closed. We settle on a bar named "Jamie's", which has a nice, almost reasonably priced 3-course meal advertised in the window. They're not serving food until 1800, though. The server suggests that we take a seat, have a drink or two, and wait. We take a walk instead (availing ourselves of Jamie's toilets, first!). Ten minutes more walking is enough, though. Nothing but pubs, closed Indian places, and emptying office buildings. We go back to Jamie's and get a drink. The food may be semi-reasonable, but not the wine! We paid £5 ($7) for a 1/4 liter glass of wine (and that's at a "promotional" price). We nursed that glass until the kitchen opened. Then we find out that the reasonably priced dinner is actually an expensive lunch -- and it's no longer available. Grrr. We order ala carte. I order the a tiger shrimp rice bowl, Brig gets the spiced lamb couscous. Both turn out to be very good. The shrimp has a little kick to it, and is served with stir-fried sticks of zucchini, bell peppers, carrots, and eggplant. Brigid's lamb is tasty, but not spicy in the least! We pass on the dessert menu, though I do grab an espresso (so-so).
Then, we're off for the Tower Hill tube station again, to meet the walking tour. As we arrive, at 1900 (the tour is supposed to start at 1930), a gentleman in a trenchcoat and hat is loudly expounding to a small crowd about Jack the Ripper and the investigation of him.
He's a good speaker, with a good patter. We join the crowd. At 1910, we follow him into the streets of the East End. No need to repeat all the (literally) gory details. Things that stand out: Our speaker tells us that the national dish of England is now curry -- supposedly, there are more Indian restaurants in London than there are in "the capitol of India". I wonder if that means much -- how many restaurants are there in Indian cities, anyway?
[Our tour takes us through the Indian neighborhood, where "excellent curries are served at reasonable prices." Again -- very poor preparation on my part. If I had done my research, we would have eaten here before the tour, instead of at that overpriced, smokey bar. Damn!]
Our guide also claims that the origin of "so quiet you could hear a pin drop" originates at the London commodity exchanges, where a pin was pushed into a burning candle, to determine the end of a trading session. Non-traders were supposedly advised to remain so silent that they could hear the pin drop at the end of the trading session. The tour takes a 20 minute break (out of a 2 hour tour) at the Ten Bells pub, where one of the Ripper victims drank on the night she died. The pub is relying on this for its marketing efforts, as the place is Ripper-themed, with various facts posted on the walls. I buy a half-pint of some beer (Alois somethingorother?) for the heck of it. Our speaker mentions that he does these tours 5 nights out of 7. Meanwhile, Brigid notices a flyer from London Walking Tours. She points out to me a notice about the Ripper tour: The tour is only ever led by one of two people (neither of which fit our guide's description), and it NEVER leaves before 1930. They urge you to never be hornswoggled into an imitator's tour. Ooops. Well, what the heck? The guy is doing a good job. He's giving good information along with the B.S. And he's working on the honor system: You pay him his £5 at the end, and then only if you are satisfied. The other tours are paid for up-front. We continue with our guy.
I'll cut to the chase: Basically, our speaker has two theories, both of which hang the blame on the Freemasons, of all things. The head of the London Metro police was a Freemason, and supposedly destroyed much of the evidence and failed to investigate other evidence. His primary suspect, an unsuccessful solicitor with a family background of dementia, may also have been a Freemason, since the murders are carried out in a manner supposedly described in a biblical text that he alleges the Freemasons use, i.e., neck slit twice, disembowelment, with the intestines thrown over the victim's shoulder. Furthermore, he implies that Prince Edward, who, he claims, was known to have employed prostitutes, could possibly have impregnated one of the victims. He implies that the one prostitute who was young and pretty might have been pregnant with Edward's child, and that Edward had her killed in the manner described. And of course, Edward was a Freemason. If all this is not preposterous enough to make you disregard the guy's tripe, he ends the walk by saying that "There are 5 people leading these Ripper tours, and I am the only one who is not a Freemason!" Which is utter nonsense. One of the groups we encountered was led by a woman. Women are not admitted to Freemasonry, so far as I know. Oh, and the proof that his main suspect (the solicitor) done it? He takes a message supposedly chalked by "Jack" on the wall beside a victim, and turns it into an anagram, forming an admission of guilt by the the guy. I don't know whether the victim's name, nor the police officer to whom it is addressed, ever existed.
Regardless of the accuracy, the evening was entertaining theater, and cheap at the price. We pay the man his money, though it clearly would have been a simple matter to have walked off without doing so.
The ride back to Horley was painless and easy. The train left Victoria station within 10 minutes of our arrival.
We munch our scones and my grapefruit, and go to sleep.