To London, to London…

There was a boat trip – so Boatwif apparently is duty bound to report on it…

Way back in August the Tentatrice First Mate made a proposal. “Would you consider us going down to London together to see the poppies?” Now at that stage Boatwif was aware of the art installation under way at the Tower of London but it was not so for the Captain. Patiently the plan was proposed again – and despite the Captain’s deep felt prejudice against travel to, from and in the capital an agreement in principle was made.

Roll forward two months, and the plans had been firmed up. Accommodation was booked near the Tower of London,

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the Tentatrice boat dog was to be fostered for three nights and the crews, one arriving at St Pancras, the other at Euston, would meet at London Bridge tube station…

And thus it was.

How Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red has captured the public’s imagination.  BNov 07  By the week after half term it was estimated that four million visitors had made their way, in homage and in wonder, to see the bright red ceramic poppies. First sighting was from the Tower Bridge.   BNov 06  So many eloquent words have been penned in recent weeks about the impact of this stunning display, each single poppy representing a British or Commonwealth life lost during the First World War.

BNov 05Mid Monday afternoon (3rd November) crowds swirled above the moat, mesmerised by the potent beauty of a visual representation of so many lost lives. As dusk fell the crowds swelled even further, pressing forward to glimpse the mound from which the Last Post ceremony would be performed. As names of the world war fallen were read aloud thousands of spectators stood in respectful silence,    BNov 08   perhaps listening out for an ancestor’s rank, name and regiment. The bugler sounded the Last Post and slowly the crowds lining the walkways above the moat began to melt away…

A return early the following morning revealed the poppies in different light, the low sun a reminder of the long shadow of war.

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It’s an easy walk under Tower Bridge Road to St Katherine Docks. Here Tentatrice and Cleddau crew members gazed in astonishment at the glitzy apartments and towering penthouses  BNov 13  which overlook expensive sea-going yachts – and a single narrow boat.  BNov 12    Then two other vessels caught the eye. Moored right next to each other was the glittering Gloriana,  the 18-oared rowbarge built for the Thames Diamond Jubilee Pageant  BNov 15  and a  large, a very large hippo! (See article to discover its history).   BNov 14

Boats! The day became a maritime mission with a Docklands Light Railway trip down to Greenwich   BNov 16    and an afternoon well spent prowling around the National Maritime Museum. In the special exhibition  BNov 17    the Captain feasted his eyes on octants, sextants and navigational innovations while Boatwif, finding a vast world map, “flew” across it to San Diego…   BNov 27

Back then to the Tower of London, not by air or train or tube but by waterbus. How different an experience this is from a narrow boat – a wide boat, with airline style seating rows, two aisles and onboard light refreshments. Up the Thames the waterbus surged, slickly stopping on either side of the river to pick up and drop off passengers.  It was dark, rain smeared the views from the windows   BNov 18   but to boat under Tower Bridge  BNov 19   is a treat worth reporting.

After Tuesday’s maritime theme Wednesday’s focus was military. Off to Green Park to find Hyde Park Corner and the Bomber Command Memorial.  BNov 20   There it was, an impressive group of seven aircrew,  BNov 21a   the roof design overhead reflecting the geodetic construction of a World War 2 Wellington bomber aircraft. Wreaths, small wooden crosses and personal messages made the memorial all the more poignant in this remembrance season.  BNov 22

Next to Westminster, Parliament Square as busy as ever. While tourists surged to take iconic photo shots stewards were erecting crush barriers to protect the Houses of Parliament. To protect these buildings from what? From the activists on November 5th who in Guy Fawkes masks were part of the global Million Mask March. And at midday as the chimes of Big Ben rang out  BNov 23   the weekly Prime Minister’s Question Time got under way just yards away. So was this morning all about the fight for and the expression of democracy?

And then, not far at all along the Victoria Embankment from Westminster Bridge,  BNov 24

was the arresting sight of the Battle of Britain Memorial.     BNov 25    “The Few”, the brave airmen who fought in the skies above Britain in 1940, are remembered here. Have you ever gazed on a monument and seen your father’s name there? That is how it was for the Tentatrice Captain.  BNov 26    To come across his name by chance – it was a proud moment indeed and a fitting finale to what had started as a pilgrimage to the poppies.

For most of us war has remained far away, only close via a television screen. If you have time try this: Coming home (aired last Sunday, 9th November, available for 4 weeks.) It’s a most moving programme in which the conversations that poet Andrew Motion held with soldiers and a bereaved mother were the inspiration for vivid new poems.

Finally, London-sceptic Captain has quite taken to the idea of a round London cruise next year. Since being home he has been happily planning routes, miles and locks. Just the tide times and the weather are needed, it seems…

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