London, day 3

Wednesday 4/8:

I tubed up to Waterloo Station, and found a real restaurant serving breakfast on the mezzanine.  I sat at the counter and ordered two eggs over hard, orange juice, toast and tea.  Then I had to explain “over hard.”  As I ate, the staff gathered at the far end of the counter, murmuring together; “Over easy … over hard …”

I bought a return (two-way) ticket to Sidcup from a vending machine, turned and scanned the extensive departures boards.  No runs to Sidcup!  Had I bought a bus ticket again?

I located a human ticket agent.  It was the “hidden platform” gambit again.  From the mezzanine, a long passageway ran to Waterloo East, a sort of postscript to Waterloo.  It had no departures board; but there was a kiosk with a human inside; he directed me to Platform A.

Sandy and Terry met me at the station.  We drove to Chatham Historic Dockyard, England’s premier shipyard from the time of Henry VIII through World War II.

"Ye know the penalty for treason, don't ye?"

“Ye know the penalty for treason, don’t ye?”

We heard a fascinating talk on rope making by a woman in black Victorian garb.  “If ye have a pipe in yer pocket, or anything about ye that could make a spark, ye must put it in the smoking box before ye go in.  With the tar and bits of fiber in the air, the rope walk is very subject to fire, which would be arson.  And arson is akin to treason.  Ye know the penalty for treason, don’t ye?”  Dramatic pause. “Hanging!  And we have the rope to hang ye with!”

I joined three other volunteers to make some

Paul helps make rope.

Paul helps make rope.

rope.  While two others spun gadgets at each end of a fifteen-foot work area and a boy hung onto a tension line, I held a conical, three-channeled guide that I’d call a “joiner” that brought the three strands together, slowly walking backward as I felt the pressure rise.  Our host tested our somewhat tarry and hairy rope by showing that it would lie flat on the floor, and stand up without wilting when held in the hand.

We moved to the Rope Walk, a quarter-mile-long building with tracks set in the floor.  Here, anchor cables were produced, long enough to anchor a ship in 40 fathoms of water without a splice (1 fathom = 6 feet).  We saw a demonstration of a rope-making method similar to what we’d done by hand. Wheeled spinners and joiners slowly progressed along a track with much whirring and clanking, all hand-propelled and guided.  Nelson’s flagship, the HMS Victory (which was built at Chatham and still exists in Portsmouth), has 33 miles of rope.

HMS Gannet

HMS Gannet

We adjourned for lunch (I had a lamb cobbler, a pastry with something like lamb and vegetable stew inside).  Then Terry and I scrambled around on two ships; the World War II destroyer Cavalier, and an 1878 ironclad steam-sailer whose armament included machine guns, the HMS Gannet.  A memorial to lost destroyers listed dozens of ships, a testimony to the sacrifices Britain made in the war.

IMG_7009We wandered thru a huge building in which the HMS Victory had been built and which now houses strange war machines, such as a mobile bridge/ferry that could be joined onto similar machines to create larger bridges/ferries.  The back third of the building was stuffed with a jumble of unlabeled machinery of every sort and era, perhaps awaiting restoration–the attic of the empire.





We had dinner at a Toby’s Carvery; it was generous and good (turkey with stuffing and cranberry sauce for me); the sundaes were stunning.  We visited Sandy and Terry’s daughter Mel and her family, and I met her two grandsons.  I told them to come to Seattle and I’ll take them up on Mt. Rainier.


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