Part 3. The Tower of London, a Cup of Tea, and a Visit to Dr Johnson

Image: Dr Johnson’s house in Gough Square, London

Monday afternoon       

The Tower of London

Carmen, Ana and Maria

CARMEN:  Right, here we are.  Finally, we’re here!  It takes so long to get anywhere in London. There!  Just look at it! The Tower of London.   

MARIA:     Well, what’s so special about it?

CARMEN:  That’s what we’ll find out from one of the Tower Warders.

MARIA:     From who?

ANA:          Look there’s one.  That man in the funny uniform over there.

CARMEN:  The uniform is medieval.  In fact, the warders go back to the 1480s.  It’s all in my book here.

MARIA:     And what do they do in their funny uniform?

CARMEN:  They guard the Crown Jewels for one thing.   There are 35 warders all together, and each one must have served in the armed forces for at least 22 years.  It’s all in my book!  Look, there’s a tour starting over here.  Quick or we’ll miss it!  

ANA:           How much is it?

CARMEN:  It’s included in the ticket.  Come on!

MARIA:     Where does she get all her energy from?  I’m exhausted! Now, had I had a siesta …

The Tower Warder is an enormous man with an enormous ginger moustache.  He waits patiently for his group to form around him, for the mothers to collect their wandering children and for the students to put away their mobiles.  When everyone is as ready as they ever will be, he begins.

TOWER WARDER:      Here, on the lawn behind you, you can see a big black bird.  This is one of the ravens of the Tower.  There is a legend which says, “If the six ravens leave the Tower, the kingdom of England will fall.”  As a result we take very good care of them, and the Ravenmaster feeds them every day.

MARIA:     The Ravenmaster?        

TOWER WARDER:      Yes, his job is to look after the ravens, and to make sure they don’t fly away.

MARIA:     (To Ana) Ravenmaster!  A man who just looks after ravens. I will never understand the English.

CARMEN:  There are six ravens?

TOWER WARDER:      Well, the legend says there must be six, so we keep seven here, just in case. 

ANA:           Do they always stay here?

TOWER WARDER:      Unfortunately, no.  You see, in a way, they are employed by the Tower, just as I am.  Their job is to protect the kingdom of England.  If they’re not very good, they get fired. 

MARIA:     Has that ever happened?

TOWER WARDER:      Oh yes.  Recently Raven George was dismissed for eating TV aerials, and Raven Grog developed a drinking habit and has not returned from a pub in the East End of London.  At the moment, though, all seven are quite well-behaved!

MARIA:     (To Ana) Alcoholic ravens!  They’re all mad here!  I will never understand the English!

TOWER WARDER:      Now we’ll move on and visit the Jewel House where you’ll see the Crown Jewels.  Follow me!  Keep up there! Follow me! 

CARMEN:  The Crown Jewels are really worth seeing.  They’re kept under tremendous security. 

ANA:           So they’re valuable?

CARMEN:  Valuable!  Are the Crown Jewels valuable! Listen. (She consults her book.)  The Imperial State Crown has 2868 diamonds, 273 pearls, 17 sapphires, 11 emeralds and 5 rubies!

MARIA:     Only five rubies!

ANA:           Maria, please!

CARMEN:  Just imagine wearing that!  Now you can understand the line, “Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown.”

ANA: Who said that?

CARMEN:  Shakespeare of course.

MARIA:     I might have known! How would this country manage without Shakespeare? Well, here we are.  Let’s go and see them, anyway.  They wouldn’t miss just one diamond, would they?  Just one?  They would still have 2867!  Surely they don’t count them every night!

20 minutes later they are outside again.

CARMEN:  Here we are on Tower Green.  This is a sad place.  A lot of people were executed here, and they were all important people too.  You see, it was a privilege to be executed here.

ANA:           A privilege!  That’s a strange privilege!

CARMEN:  Well, it was a privilege to be executed in private, and not in front of all the shouting crowds, I suppose.

MARIA:     Strange people, the English, with their privileges.

ANA:           Maria, please stop saying that.

MARIA:      Saying what?

ANA:           Saying that the English are strange.

MARIA:     Well, alright I’ll stop, but they are strange!  Very strange indeed!

CARMEN:  Quiet you two!  Anne Boleyn and Catharine Howard, who were two of the wives of Henry VIII, were executed here.

MARIA:     He was a villain, that Henry VIII.

CARMEN:  Also, Lady Jane Grey who was Queen for only nine days.  Poor girl.  She was only 16.

MARIA:     Look there’s a monument here.

ANA:           What does it say?

MARIA:     “Gentle visitor, pause awhile:  where you stand, death cut away the light of many days…may they rest in peace while we walk the generations around their strife and courage…”

ANA:           That’s nice.  It’s hard to understand, but it’s nice.

CARMEN:  Yes, most of these poor people were entirely innocent.  Those were hard times.

MARIA:     Let’s go somewhere else.  This is all a bit too heavy for me.

ANA:           Yes, I feel like a drink.  Look over there!  The Tower Wharf Café.  That looks a good place for tea and a cake.  Let’s go!

CARMEN:  Tea and cake!  More kilos!  I’ll go on a diet when I get back to Madrid!

MARIA:      Tea and cake! I was thinking of something a bit stronger! Still, when in Rome…

ANA:           And tomorrow?  What are we doing tomorrow?

CARMEN:  Tomorrow is a literary day!

MARIA:     What does that mean?

CARMEN:  That means Dr Johnson’s House in the morning and Dickens’ House in the afternoon.

MARIA:     Dr Johnson?  Wait a minute.  “When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life!”  Didn’t he say that?

CARMEN:  Yes, he did.  How on earth did you know that?

MARIA:     I’m not just a pretty face, you know!

ANA:           No comment! So, tomorrow is Johnson’s house, then Dickens’ House, so what about a good restaurant this evening?

MARIA:     I feel like some Indian food.

ANA:           That sounds good!

CARMEN:  Yes, and it’s more British culture! 

MARIA:     British?  It’s Indian!

CARMEN:  In my book it says that Chicken Tikka Masala has replaced fish and chips as the most popular meal in Britain!

ANA:           I think I prefer Chicken Tikka Masala to fish and chips!

CARMEN:  Now, where’s this café? I’m dying for a cup of tea!

MARIA:     Carmen, you sound completely English already!

CARMEN:  When in Rome, you know, when in Rome even if you’re in London!

MARIA:     I wish I were in Rome.  Just imagine an Italian coffee at a little trattoria by the Spanish Steps!  Perfect!  Still, we’re in London so we must keep calm and carry on! 

Dr Johnson’s House


Carmen, Ana and Maria

CARMEN:  OK, it’s another fine day.  That’s two in a row! And the sun will be out in (She looks at the sky) two clouds’ time!  And here we are at Dr Johnson’s house.  Well, almost.  (She looks around.) This is Gough Square so the house shouldn’t be far away.

ANA:           And over there is a statue.

MARIA:      Of Dr Johnson?

ANA:           No, it’s a cat.  It’s the statue of a cat.

They go nearer, and it is indeed a statue of a cat.  A small cat on a small pillar.

ANA:          Here’s a text.

MARIA:     What does it say? 

CARMEN:  This is Hodge.  Dr Johnson’s cat.

MARIA:     I will never understand the English. In the middle of London, they erect statues to cats!  The English are very…

CARMEN:  Maria!  There‘s a story to this.  Hodge was Johnson’s cat. One day Johnson was stroking it and said, “I have had other cats that I liked better than this.”  Then because he thought Hodge looked upset, Johnson added, “But he is a very fine cat.  A very fine cat indeed!”  And that’s what is written here. “A very fine cat.  A very fine cat indeed!”

MARIA:     I will still never understand the English!  Anyway, if we’ve found his cat, his house can’t be far away!

CARMEN: (Looking round.)  Yes, there it is.  (Reverentially) This is where Dr Samuel Johnson wrote the first great English dictionary.

MARIA:     That doesn’t sound like a lot of fun.

ANA:           It wasn’t.  In this book it says it took him nine years, and he did it on his own.

CARMEN:  If we go upstairs, we can see the room where it was written.

They walk up the narrow, wooden staircase to the top of the house.

MARIA:     Oh, my poor feet!  Your shoes are killing me!  If only my suitcase would arrive! It’s probably sitting in some cupboard in Gatwick! Oh no, these stairs are never ending!

ANA:           Well, here we are.

CARMEN:  Yes, here we are.  Just imagine!  The very room where the first great English dictionary was written.

MARIA:     And here is the dictionary itself!  Open on the table.  Let’s look at a definition.  Here’s one, “oats”.

ANA:           What does “oats” mean?

CARMEN:  “Oats”.  That’s a cereal.  It’s “avena” in Spanish.

MARIA:     OK, let’s see what the great dictionary says, “Oats.  A grain which in England is generally given to horses, but in Scotland supports the people.”  Well!  If I were Scottish, I wouldn’t like that.

CARMEN:  It’s a joke!  Johnson could never resist a joke about the Scots.  But some of his secretaries, you know, the men who wrote down the definitions as he dictated them, were Scottish.  And so was Boswell, of course, so I suppose he liked them really.

ANA:           And who is this Boswell?

CARMEN:  Ah yes, Boswell!  James Boswell! You can’t keep him out of the story for long!  He was a great admirer of Johnson.  He went everywhere with him and wrote down everything he said, word for word, just like a tape recorder.  He was 30 years younger than Johnson, and Johnson was a sort of hero for him.  When Johnson died, Boswell wrote his life with all the conversations exactly as he had heard them.   It makes great reading!  It’s as if you were there unseen in the room listening to the greatest minds of the 18th century chatting away together.  Edmund Burke, Oliver Goldsmith, Sir Joshua Reynolds. 

ANA:           Over here is a list of Johnson’s greatest sayings.

MARIA:     Yes, here it is.  “When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life!”  I must tell Olly.

ANA:           I thought you weren’t interested in Olly.

MARIA:      I’m not interested in him.  Not at all!

CARMEN:  Then why are you talking about him?

MARIA:     I’m not talking about him.

CARMEN and ANA:     Yes, you are.

MARIA:     Now, can we turn to something else?  I’m tired.  I’m exhausted.  I’m tired of London, but I’m not tired of life.  In a week I’ll be in Madrid!  This time next week I’ll be walking down the Calle de Alcalá. This time next week I’ll be having a beer in a bar in la Plaza del Callao.  This time next week I’ll be in the Prado!

         ANA:          In the Prado!  That’s rich coming from you! You’ve never bothered to go to the Prado in your life, and you’ve lived in Madrid since you were born! You!  In the Prado!  

          MARIA:     Never mind!  Now I’m in London, I have a sudden urge to go to the Prado!  What’s wrong with that?  It’s totally natural!

          CARMEN and ANA:     Oh yes, completely natural!  Now shut up!

Before they left, Carmen bought some postcards and a poster of the “oats” page of the Dictionary.  When she got back to Madrid, she had the poster framed, and then she hung it up in her bedroom. Maria bought Boswell’s ‘Life’.

Then they had a quick lunch in a sandwich bar in the Strand.  It was hard to find a table as a lot of office workers were eating there too.  Lunch is very fast in London if it takes place at all.  Many people eat in 10 or 15 minutes and then it’s back to work.

MARIA:     Let’s have a look at this book.  (She opens it at random.)  Ah here’s something about Scotland.  Boswell says that there are noble prospects in Scotland.  What’s a noble prospect Carmen?

CARMEN:  It just means a good view. He said that Scotland has a lot of good views, you know, mountains and lakes and the Loch Ness monster!

MARIA:     And Johnson replied… Just a minute…

ANA:          Johnson replied, ‘Just a minute’? He had to dash to the loo or something?

MARIA:     No, I’m trying to find the place. Ah, here it is.  So Boswell said that there were noble prospects in Scotland and Johnson replied, “The noblest prospect which a Scotchman ever sees is the high road that leads him to England!”

CARMEN:  That’s what you said earlier on the London Eye.  More or less, anyway!  How on earth did you know…?

MARIA:     No idea!  Can’t explain it!  Johnson and I just think the same!  (She grimaces.) Oh, I think I’ve got indigestion!  How do people in London eat lunch so quickly?

CARMEN:  It’s practice, I suppose.  You see, if they have a quick lunch break, they can finish work earlier in the afternoon. Most of the people here have a long journey home after work.   An hour and a half to get to work in the morning and an hour and a half to go back home in the evening! Some spend half their lives on the train. That’s depressing, isn’t it!

MARIA:     It’s certainly a waste of time!

CARMEN:  It’s also quite expensive.  You see, nobody lives in the centre of London anymore. It’s not like Madrid or Barcelona.  Everyone here lives miles away from where they work, and that means that they have to commute.

ANA:           I think it’s beginning to happen in Spanish cities too.

MARIA:     Well, if it is, I think it’s a pity.  The city centre should have life and atmosphere! It should be full of people enjoying themselves!  A city with no people and full of offices has lost its soul.  (Carmen and Ana look at her in surprise.)  Well, today is our literary day, so let me use my…elevated English!

CARMEN:  Anyway, let’s walk to Dickens’s House.  That’ll help you digest your lunch!  It’s not that far away!

MARIA:     Lunch!  That was just a sandwich!  One sandwich and a cup of tea! Now if I were back in Madrid…Sorry, were I back in Madrid… Another inversion, Carmen, please note!

CARMEN:  Maria, one point!

ANA:           Were you back in Madrid, you’d be eating ‘cocido madrileño’ every day!  And that’s hard on your digestion too! Full of garbanzos! What are ‘garbanzos’ in English, Carmen?

CARMEN:  Chickpeas.  And you’re right!  Chickpeas are very hard on the digestion!  Now on to Dickens!