Friday, July 26, 2013

London 2013 Part Three: More Touristy Fun and The Boss at Wembley

The Tower of London: a place of murder, treason, terror and... murder. Crawling with 11th century ghosts and positively overflowing with the presence of doom and despair. Or simply crawling with overseas tourists and positively overflowing with overpriced souvenir shops. But it is a great tourist attraction after all, and it was something we just had to do. At 21 Pounds entry each, it sure had to be something spectacular, and we weren't disappointed. Although I'm sure the Beefeaters didn't quite know that when they signed up they were really becoming glorified tour guides, they manage to do a decent job leading our herd of sheep-like tourists around. Oh, and might I mention that it's about -4 degrees by the time we get to the Tower. OK, I'm probably exaggerating, but only slightly. Clad in jeans, boots, jersey, hat and whatever else I could find, I'm still shivering in the icy wind, and attempting - unsuccessfully to shelter under a signboard. The Tower really is impressive, but cynical me is left wondering how much of it is the real 11th century building, and how much has been reconstructed in recent years. Nevertheless, it's interesting, and quite an exciting way to spend a morning. The highlight is most definitely the crown jewels (you know, those things Mr Bean stole in Johnny English... or protected... or something). There's also an obscene amount of gold basins, goblets, and who knows what else - you name it, and there's a gold one at the Tower of London. Sadly no pictures are allowed in this area. The things you are allowed to photograph are the several suits of armour scattered around the museum and grounds. And the ravens. Lunch is - thankfully - just about anything you can think of in a help-yourself type restaurant. I opt for a chicken stew as the one and only thing not on offer is the one and only thing that's been on my mind since landing - a good old roast chicken accompanied by some roast potatoes and gravy. Mmmm.

The rest of the day is spent around Picadilly Circus and Trafalgar Square, the latter of which the news tells me is now being guarded by a massive, blue, uh, chicken (I kid you not, google it). All pretty fountains appropriately stared at, we make our way back to the hotel for yet another welcome night of sleep.

The last touristy/cultural thing we really feel the need to do before we give in to temptation and just hit the shops, is the changing of the guards at Buckingham Palace. Turns out the palace is supposedly only a ten minute walk, so we hit the road yet again, and - of course - turn up about an hour early. After a quick walk through St James' Park (where a pigeon doesn't take kindly to my pretending to have food for him and gives me a good bite on the finger), the nearest Starbucks is swiftly located, and the most delicious sticky/custard/chelsea bun in the world is obtained. Yum. It also just so happens that said Starbucks is directly opposite Scotland Yard - cue more photos. Despite our best intentions,we never actually end up watching the changing of the guard at all, but we do see them all lined up about to march to the palace, and that's more than enough. Back on the tube we go.

The Royal Albert Hall is probably my very favourite building in London (for reasons 'unknown'...), and I insist that that we make a stop here so that I can repeat last year's photo of myself starring in awe as I touch the building in which my favourite band recorded their first DVD. Oi, stop judging me.

At some stage we also end up at Kennsington Palace - where Brits are sprawled out on the lawns taking in some rare sunshine, and even I reluctantly undo the buttons of my coat.

We've chosen tonight to go on a two hour walking tour of London, exploring sites related to Jack The Ripper. Rephrase: my mother has chosen tonight to take me on a two hour jaunt into the wonderful world of frostbite. A scarf, hat and coat are nothing against this so-called 'summer' weather. In an amusing turn of events, the guide is the same guy who took us on a walking tour of Harry Potter sites last year. He pretends to recognise us. I proceed to recite his lame speech about how his name is Richard, but he's really glad he's not Richard III. Some things never change.

Saturday. The day of The Boss. Yes, that's right, that star-spangled rockstar who's been dancin' in the dark since the 80s is still going strong - so strong in fact, that he's playing Wembley tonight. Although I had sat compulsively refreshing Ticketmaster the day the tickets went on sale, the best seats I was able to get were in the top tier, but so what... we're seeing Bruuuuuuuuce!  My sources (OK, Jess and Ryan who arrived from Manchester at 8am) say that there are almost 2000 people in the queue already, so I'm actually quite glad I'm sitting for once.

After a lovely lunch (finally, roast chicken and veggies!) and wander around the V&A Museum with Jen and Cara, we make our way to Wembley around 3pm. Although the immediate vicinity lacks a visible Starbucks, we are able to find something even more familiar - a Wimpy! Yes, the logo and colour scheme are a little different, but there's no mistaking that it's the same brand. Whilst sitting cozily in said Wimpy, nursing my third cup of tea, the heavens open. Here I am actually not exaggerating at all. I'd never seen rain like that in my life (until I got to Rome, that is). People outside run for cover, brollies inside out in protest against the howling wind. Eek. Here's hoping Wembley has one of those cool little roofs that can close at the first sign of a torrential downpour (it doesn't).

Luckily it's not too long before the rain subsides, but the damage is done: next time I see Jess and Ryan they're soaked though, raincoats and all. And if I had thought it was cold the day before; if I had thought it was cold at last year's Rocking The Daisies; if I had thought that it had been cold at 4am when I woke up for work, I was about to discover a whole new level of cold. Although Google tells me that the predicted temperature for that day dropped to 11 degrees, this doesn't take into account the wind chill, and the fact that Wembley Stadium  seems to summon wind to zoom around it in hysterical circles. I estimate the real feel to have been about 4 degrees. Bruce t-shirt acquired (nevermind that I'm too cold to take my coat off to put it on), we're soon let through the turnstiles. Although you must please remember to hand the cap of any water bottles to the security guards on your way in - it's perfectly acceptable to chuck a bottle of water into the crowd, but Heaven forbid you should possess a cap  to throw. #logic

The average age of the people around me is approximately 90 ... no kidding, I'm the youngest person by 26 years (next youngest is my mother). So either all the young fans are down in the golden circle - or young people simply have no taste in music. Sigh, kids these days.

Of course, Bruce has no need for something as mundane as an opening act, as he quite enjoys playing a three hour set himself. Opening with 'Land of Hopes and Dreams', the audience response in my section is less fanatical screaming and more quiet appreciation - lest any concert-goers should lose a denture. I'm not even going to pretend that I'm familiar with the next three songs (sign requests from the crowd) but 'Rosalita' makes me feel a sudden urge to put on my dancin' shoes. 'Hungry Heart' is possible my favourite Bruce song, so when that comes up as the last sign request, I squeal and positively jump up and down in delight. As is customary, Bruce lets the crowd sing the first verse and chorus, and delightedly tells us that we sound great. Aw, thanks Bruce. It's as though someone has forgotten to tell Bruce Springsteen that he's a 63-year-old man, rather than an 18-year-old boy, playing some tunes in the garage with his mates. He has a mischievous grin on his face all night, and a boundless energy second to none. It's evident from the way they play that the E-Street band have been together for as long as any of them can remember. They seem to form a seemless whole, able to take one glance at a sign request and all launch into the song at exactly the same instant. Plus they just seem to be having so much fun! Drummer Max Weinberg must be into his 60s, but is going for it just as hard as the 20-something drummer of any number of awful mainstream pop-rock bands. And Bruce himself... well, there's a reason they call him The Boss: he's flawless.

"We could keep taking requests, or we could play Darkness on the Edge of Town in full..." We probably didn't really have a choice, but seeing Darkness is most people's favourite Bruce album, we had no problems with this. After the album has been completed, fun comes around in the form of the ridiculously  upbeat 'Shackled & Drawn', a tiny audience member brought onstage for 'Waiting on a Sunny Day', and my other favourite 'The Rising'. Encore includes a touching 'Bobby Jean' (which is totally about Steve van Zandt), a danceable cover of 'Twist and Shout' (finally the old age home around me starts standing up), and of course 'Dancing in the Dark', which makes me jump so much that for a second I honestly fear that I might fall off the stands and topple into the row in front of me. Bruce takes to the stage one last time - alone - for a special second encore: an acoustic of 'Thunder Road'. I'm genuinely surprise (but not disappointed, really) that they don't do 'Born in the USA', but I guess when you're The Boss, you don't have to answer to anyone. Seeing Springsteen is a bit of a life-defining moment - it's definitely something everyone should experience at least once in their lives. Whether you know all the songs or not, it's about appreciating that there are some real legends in the world of music, and this man is one of them. An absolutely amazing show, and definitely in my top 5 concerts ever.

By the time the show ends (after Bruce's little joke about wondering if someone's going to pull the plug on him for going over time), I'm completely and utterly exhausted. The walk from the Victoria Station back to the hotel is the longest 8 minutes of my entire life. I can't even think. And I have to be up at 6am tomorrow for a flight to Dublin.

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