My role as “Tour Dad” could have been tattooed on my forehead and no one would have blinked. We were in Trafalgar Square, swimming through a tidal wave of young people on their way to somewhere special for a spot of culture, a drink or a bite to eat. Nothing deters tourists to London these days, not the price of the pound nor the dismal weather.  School holidays seem to kick in at the same time, and it doesn’t take much to lure teens and twenties onto busses, trains or planes for a trip to the UK. Our daughter had a school break and she had come from Halifax, Nova Scotia on her first trip to Europe.

She hadn’t done due diligence on the tourist front, of course. Homework is homework and she gets enough of that in school. So I picked out a few of the sights I thought she should see– Buckingham Palace, the houses of Parliament, the Tower of London, the National Gallery, and Kensington Palace, since we live so close. We had booked tickets to “Blue Dragon,” a new Robert Lepage production at the Barbican, but she asked about “The Lion King.” Unfortunately, the 2000 seat theatre was sold out. A few tickets were being shilled at twice the face value, but I couldn’t bring myself to make some tout rich.


In Trafalgar Square, I told my daughter about my one claim to photographic fame.  I went to a demonstration against the Vietnam War when things were heating up for Laos and Cambodia. Clad in a dark blue cape with a red lining that I had picked up in a flea market, I posed near the fountain with my hippie length hair and a North Vietnamese flag in the lapel. It was enough to catch a French photojournalist’s eye.

A week after the demonstration I got a letter from a friend in Paris with a full-page photo that had been in Paris Match magazine. The fountain framed in the background had been tainted with red dye and it looked like blood. I was cannon fodder at the time and I was drafted before I left London, but that is another story.

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The Tower of London was a zoo, of course. We arrived early enough to see the Crown Jewels without a long line-up. The historical tour with a female, Scottish Yeoman Warder was both entertaining and gruesome. The Tower complex dates back 1078, when William the Conqueror had a small, timber castle constructed on a sacred pagan site.


The numerous buildings on the site have seen service as a palace, a prison, a mint, an armoury, an observatory and a menagerie, not to mention a place of some awful executions. Most of those occurred at nearby Tower Hill. I will spare you the grisly details. Suffice it to say, that the Tower entered the vernacular as a place of dread. In “My Fair Lady,” Eliza is warned: If the Kind finds out that you are not a lady, the police will take you to the Tower of London, where your head will be cut off as a warning to other presumptuous flower girls.


After about eleven in the morning, all the tourist destinations in London seem to turn into mob scenes. Westminster Abbey was overrun despite the fact that they charge admission. Fortunately, “The King’s Speech” allowed us so see what a visit could have been like if we had simply been born into the Royal Family and had the place to ourselves.

I loved the bit when Logue settles himself on the throne. It is under restoration at the moment, so if you are thinking about having a coronation, I’m afraid it will have to wait.  I am not alone in thinking that Timothy Spall was terribly miscast as Churchill, and the early political leanings of both Churchill and the Royals with regard to Germany were glossed over to the point of misleading moviegoers.  But in Hollywood, all’s well that ends in an Oscar.

My daughter took in the Science Museum and the nightlife of Covent Garden all by herself. We did a lot of walking, talking, tube travel and eating, leaving plenty for another visit.  Dr. Johnson said, “If you are tired of London, you are tired of life, for there is in London all that life can afford.” Disraeli said: “London is a roost for every bird.” Jane Austen disagreed: “Nobody is healthy in London, nobody can be.”


The city of Johnson, Keats and Churchill is just fine for me despite the fact that we haven’t been invited to the wedding.  The sun is coming up earlier and staying around longer in the evening, even offering occasional flashes of brilliant sunshine.  Doing tourist duty in London is not exactly a hardship despite the crowds and cost.  Without visits from friends and family, I would spend too much of the day huddled over the laptop.

And even old curmudgeons can learn a thing or two from an immersion in British history.  The trick is to keep your head.