Just six months ago, we started this little experiment called Death Salon in LA, to see how it’d go. Next thing I know, I find myself on a transcontinental flight to London to do the next one. I (usually) love Virgin flights and this was no exception, (mostly because it was nearly empty) and as I settled into my seat, Blur’s song Tender came on the loudspeaker. I couldn’t help but smile hearing this band that had been my teenage mind’s concept of Britishness, realizing I was finally going there myself. However the Blur song that kept running through my mind during the trip was Chemical World.
Feeling lead, feeling quite light-headed
Had to sit down and have some sugary tea
In chemical world, in a chemical world
It’s very, very, very cheap
And I don’t know about you
But they’re putting the holes in, yes, yes It’s been a hell of a do…
I found myself reaching for quite a few sugary teas during my research days at the Wellcome Library pre-Death Salon, so I kept relating back to this song. But you know, without the allusions to drug use. Unless jet lag counts as a drug. If so, worst.drug.ever.
Jet lag griping aside, my trip to London was phenomenal. I found myself spoiled beyond all reason with amazing experiences, lucky by association. Whether it was exploring the British Museum with my ALHHS friend Leslie, donning my best approximation of pirate garb for a houseboat party on the Thames, going behind the austere walls at Oxford, or carousing many nights in an 18-century private club in Soho, I very often could not believe my good fortune. That feeling hit its peak the day Caitlin, Lindsey, and I spent at the Tower of London.
I’ll admit I had little context for the Tower of London, except that it was the prison of history’s rich and famous. It’s actually more like an elaborate, walled citadel that served as the center of medieval London life since it was founded in 1066 by William the Conquerer. Although thousands of tourists visit the Tower of London daily, we had a very special guide.
Yeoman Warders are highly-decorated military officials with more than 23 years of military service, and they live in homes on the grounds of the Tower of London. One special Yeoman Warder, awesomely-dubbed The Ravenmaster, tends to the Tower’s precious ravens. British lore holds that if there are ever fewer than six ravens at the Tower of London, the empire will fall. So Chris The Ravenmaster makes sure they are kept happy and full of fluffy chick corpses (here’s an image for you: Chris in his uniform, carrying a plastic bucket full of dead chicks, making his way through the crowd of horrified yet fascinated teenage tourists to toss their bodies to the ravens, with us three death chicks in tow, cackling with delight.) Chris and Lindsey have been collaborating on a project called Grave Matters that explores the history of crime and punishment, and Chris was incredibly generous with his time and knowledge of the Tower’s history, showing us all sorts of things normally not open to the public, like Thomas More‘s cell, and his crypt.
After nightfall, Chris treated us to a drink at the Yeoman Warders’ bar, which is only open after the Tower closes at night for the Yeoman Warders and their guests. Guests, judging by the photos on the walls surrounding us there, that included the likes of Barack Obama, Paul McCartney, and Johnny Depp. For some reason we didn’t have our photo taken there; surely it must have been an oversight. But honestly, our day at the Tower was one of the coolest things I’ve ever done.
Speaking of cool things…
Death Salon UK, what can I say, it was a dream. The venue was gorgeous, the program was amazing, the attendees were engaged and delightful. I go into more detail about how great Death Salon UK was over here, but suffice it to say, it’s been a hell of a do.