Our final day in Great Britain was blessed with the best weather we'd seen on the entire tour! The whole day was free to explore London until we gathered for a farewell dinner in the evening, and I'm sure we all made the most of it. Cheryl and I began in the late morning at the ceremony of the Changing of the Guard outside Buckingham Palace; because it was a weekend and the weather was so nice, a huge crowd (in the background they're sitting on the Victoria Memorial, which we saw on Thursday) had the same idea.
The crowds were so thick that you pretty much had to choose a vantage point and then see what you could see from there. I stationed myself where I could see the approaches to the palace, but that meant I couldn't see the actual ceremony inside. Here are some of the fresh troops arriving to relieve their predecessors.
There were quite a few police officers, on foot and on horseback, present to keep the crowds from blocking the roads. Here one of them, however, has allowed these two kids (who presumably couldn't see much from deeper in the crowd of taller folks) to stand outside the rope barrier while the military band marches toward the palace.
After the guards, the band, and more mounted troops entered the palace grounds, we decided we were not going to be able to see anything of the actual ceremony taking place there (because of the crowds), so we went to St. Paul's Cathedral, which we weren't able to get into on Thursday. The interior of this cathedral is much more decorated than that of some of the other cathedrals we've visited; here is a view down from the Whispering Gallery, so called because its circular stone walls reflect sound around them so you can hear a whisper from far around the dome. This gallery is at the base of the dome; you can also climb up about half as far again to get to the Stone Gallery on the outside of the dome. Finally, you can climb open ironwork steps from there to the "Golden Gallery" just under the "lantern" at the top of the cathedral! In 1996 when I was here last, I found that my fear of heights allowed me to negotiate the stone stairs up as far as the Stone Gallery, but not the openwork stairs from there up, so that was as high as Cheryl and I got today.
The Tower of London is an impressive castle from any vantage, but the most familiar one is from the Thames, and we never got out there with a steady enough platform to get a photo of that face of the Tower. (That is, a bus on a bridge doesn't cut it for photography!) The whole castle takes its name ("Tower") from the White Tower, built during the reign of William the Conqueror in the late 11th century, which still dominates the center of the castle grounds (one of its turrets, the round roof with weathercock, is visible in the center background here).
We were trying to cram several visits into our last day in London, so we didn't have much time for each one. At the Tower, we didn't go into most of the buildings, but we did tag along with a tour of part of the castle grounds led by one of the famous Yeoman Warders, who for reasons unknown are traditionally called Beefeaters. These are military retirees with at least 22 years of honorable service, who live within the walls of the Tower. They are responsible for guarding the gates and the Crown Jewels, and in times past have also guarded prisoners of special importance who were kept in the Tower. The Queen's House, the Tudor building in the background of this photo, is the home of the Resident Governor of the Tower of London, and prisoners of high rank were sometimes housed there under the personal supervision of the Lieutenant (deputy to the Tower Constable). The last prisoner housed in the Tower was Rudolf Hess, Deputy Führer of Nazi Germany.
We had the privilege of having our tour led by Derricke Coyle, the Ravenmaster of the Tower of London. He is responsible for the care of the ravens who live on the Tower grounds; here is Hardy, the oldest and largest of the current group, at 25 years of age and four feet of wingspan. Legend has it that as if the ravens ever abandon the Tower, then the White Tower will fall, and so will the monarchy; thus he clips the lift feathers on one wing of each bird, and they keep a couple of backups around in addition to the six regulars demanded by tradition.
The Crown Jewels and royal treasures, which include not only the Coronation Regalia (counterparts to the Honours of Scotland that we saw in Edinburgh) but also other precious works of the jeweler's and goldsmith's arts, are housed in the Tower as well, and of course we went in to see them. No photographs were allowed, but if you've seen pictures of Queen Elizabeth II in her coronation robes, holding orb and scepter and wearing the crown, or if you've seen the well-known photograph of Queen Victoria wearing a small diamond-encrusted crown, then you have seen what we got to see up close and personal!
Finally, we went to a pilgrimage site in the city that many of the choir had already visited: Harrods. This extraordinary store, with its famous food halls and luxury restrooms (among other things), doesn't allow photographs inside. What is this, a cathedral? Well, now that you mention it...
When we walked up to the store, we saw that The Sale (the only store-wide sale they have each year, apparently) was in progress, and that just for today you could get an additional 10% off if you used an American Express card, which Cheryl happens to keep on hand. So we figured, "It's fate," and went inside to get some gifts, plus a few indulgences for ourselves. Then we took a taxi back to the hotel for our farewell dinner.
At the dinner, several people spoke to thank those who made the tour such a success (and I read, for the last time, emails sent to the whole choir). At the request of one of our escorts, Peter Swann, we sang "I'll Be Seeing You" from our 1940s medley; here are Pat Edwards, Peter, escort Linda Peterson, drivers David Fox and Jim Anderton, and in the background Jo Emerson and Marie Bishop. You'll note that everybody, including those not in the choir, was singing along!
Also at our farewell dinner, a couple of us read short poems they'd written about the events of our tour, and I think I'll let them have the final words on this website. From Nancy Jackson:
Thanks to the poet among us named Ray,
I've tried to rhyme what I have to say.
A toast to Ray and Terri, who got our tour off to a wonderful start.
Announcing their engagement warmed each and every heart.
"Sad to say," our tour now ends. "Oh my, what a pity"--
But let's raise our glasses to Guy and committee.
You studied and faxed, phoned and sent email
To design and confirm every wonderful detail.
And to David, who was absolutely beaming all throughout Wales--
Where it was fun to sing and drink their ales.
On to Scotland, where Caroline was all aglow
Like David--proud of her heritage and rightfully so.
Our thanks to your family, and your Mum so sweet--
Their lovely party was an added treat.
A toast to our drivers, who always knew their way.
They kept us safe and on time--what more can I say?
And to Linda--dear Linda--you've become one of us!
We're telling Ambassador you earn an A-plus!
And to Peter--wow! Always a wealth of information on what to see.
You'll long be remembered and loved by all of us from MBCC.
Now a toast to the choir, to Pat and to Lee.
You've made us all very proud here across the sea.
We've experienced so much and had a wonderful tour.
And we've helped UK's economy, of that we're quite sure.
We loved Cardiff and London, and all in between.
The castles, cathedrals, and hills oh so green.
Not to worry if those castles and towns have all started to blend;
With Mark and Suzi's expertise, our trip will not end.
Enriched by this tour, and the people we've met,
Here's another special "thank you," lest we forget:
Thank you, Dear God, our Heavenly Host;
Please see us all back safely to our homes on the coast.
And finally, from Rev. Ray Lambert:
Sad to say, our tour is coming to an end.
Too many have said "I'll not do this again."
But with talk about China, Australia, Japan,
In a couple of years we'll all say, "Sure I can."
From Michigan Linda came as our guide,
Putting up with our quirks through the whole bloomin' ride.
She laughed at our jokes and applauded each song,
And before it was over she was singing along.
We enjoyed all the stories Peter lovingly shared,
And it soon became obvious just how much he cared.
We toured the back country at no additional cost.
Peter confessed to us all that we simply were lost.
To maneuver a coach one must truly be brave!
That's the reason we entrusted our lives unto Dave.
When our sleep was disturbed by a song or a hymn,
We discovered the musical talents of Jim.
Not long after touring the city of Bath,
Our coach was diverted from its usual path:
Our director's music was not on the bus.
Boy I'm so glad it wasn't one of us.
We sang all the way from the south of Wales
to little St. Mildred's near Canterbury tales.
A few started coughing with something like croup,
While the rest of us simply ran out of poop.
The food's been superb, all those breakfasts with beans;
It's increasingly hard to get into our jeans.
To say nothing of deep fried haddock and chips,
Which have a way of going straight to your hips.
You'd think it not possible to get lost in a loo,
But the Campbells would say, "It could happen to you."
When we sang the wrong note or made a big flub,
Pat would always forgive at the neighborhood pub.
So never fear, auld acquaintance shall ne'er be forgot,
When we get the bill for the treasures we've bought.
What could I add to that?
new 13 July 2002, revised 21 July 2002