Tuesday, August 16, 2016

England, 2016, Part 6: The Imperial War Ferris Wheel

After my late night PUB ADVENTURE I slept in on all the way till 4am, as my poor, transported body continued to try to find its proper time zone. “Here? No, here? Well, poo (Loo): We’ll just put him to sleep for 4 hour stretches at random times, and eventually we will find the proper circadian rhythm again.”

My big Thang of the day didn’t open until 10am, so I wrote until 6am, and then showered and was first in line for breakfast when they opened at 6:30am. My stomach had completely forgotten about the forgettable meal I had had in the hotel when I slogged in last night and I was famished.

And I was treating myself to the full British Breakfast experience: Eggs scrambled and poached, toast, danish, fruit salad, grapefruit, tater tots, mushrooms, baked beans, stewed tomato and a small block of cheese. 

And TEA, of course.

I nixed the grapefruit and mushrooms (not-fit-for-human-consumption and wrong-time-of-day, respectively) but ladled on everything else, including a mysterious packet of “brown sauce”.
Yes, pictures of food. Sorry.

Now, replenished and feeling surprisingly chipper, how shall I kill 3 hours? By going back to the train station to figure out how I had turned a 10 minute walk yesterday into a 45 minute drunken odyssey around Waterloo. 

I also looked for a coin-op laundry, but all I found were dry cleaners. Foreshadowing.

No matter! It was now 10am and even though my feet were already sore I was lined up under the 15inch naval guns, waiting for the doors of the Imperial War Museum to open. This was the centerpiece of my ‘acclimation’ day before I picked up Karen. 

I had set up this mini-me vacation ahead of time and chose our hotel specifically for this place. The IWM was located across the street from the Days Hotel (which, in turn, was across from the Grand Union pub!). 

The IWM sits on the site of the Bethlem hospital of the 1800’s, the psychiatric circus from which we extracted the phrase “Bedlam”. So that should have been a sobering clue to how my morning would end up.

Spitfire, Harrier, V1 (bottom) and V2 (right)
The 14 year old kid in me waiting in line was Way. Too. Excited. And Imperial War Museum certainly delivered the firepower. The first thing you see as you enter is the central plaza which was strewn with a Spitfire airplane, a Harrier jet, a V1 rocket and a gigantic V2 missile. They were SO BOSS! (Brilliant!)

The museum proper was laid out very neatly and sequentially, telling the story of 20th century  warfare across 6 floors. I started with World War 1 on the first (Wait, less than 1st - the ZERO) floor. The exhibit was immersive, interactive and comprehensive, showing you ordinance, uniforms, personalities, resources, and innovations in turn. Ambient war soundscapes played unobtrusively in the background, and the lighting was appropriately harsh or moody. 

The highlight of this floor though were ‘the trenches’. You entered a high, close-walled area with no clear path ahead (a nice, disorienting touch) and you had shadow companions that played on the walls of the trench. These pantomimes in period costume spoke to each other, splitched in the ‘mud’ (good sound effect), grumbled about the food, and ducked for cover when a round came screaming in. Above you was one of those gi-normous WWI tanks, seemingly ready to squash you into Jell-O (Jelly).
Enigma machine

It was one of the best museum exhibits I have ever seen: totally, instantly immersive. I felt cold and dirty and scared and claustrophobic in here, and was grateful for the exit into the Bolshevik revolution, where I could relax and enjoy myself.

The Second Floor, (1st floor) aaaargh! The NEXT floor up was the Big One, WWII. This was a large ring exhibit, taking one all the way around the big central plaza. Compared to the dark basement of the previous World War, this floor was positively sunny (well, as sunny as London ever gets). 

Russian T34 tank
Tanks and guns and jeeps and the fuselage of a bomber and bombs and Nazi emblems and Japanese surrender swords and pretty much everything I have reading about exhaustively since I discovered Laurence Olivier narrating “The World at War” on late night TV in the 70’s.

The display of ‘Little Boy’ - one of the atomic bombs dropped on Nagasaki ended the exhibit with a blunt finality. Period. Paragraph. Surrender. Gift shop!

Yes, war is hell, yeah yeah, but this, THIS floor is heaven for the 14 year old boy inside most of us.
And that pretty much ends that.

I breezed through the next two floors, about the Cold War and Art. Zip-a-dee-doo-dah……Maybe I’ve become hardened.

Next floor: The Holocaust. No, I haven’t become hardened. No human being could emerge from that exhibit and not be touched. Comprehensive to the point of…..well I guess “overkill” would be a poor choice of words. Dry-eyed is a good term for this floor. The exhibit looks at all aspects of the Nazi genocide program, tracing its roots, its histronics, its engineering, its logistics, and its step-by-step de-evolution into a systematic annihilation industry - sparing no detail or finger of blame. 

Floor.......zero. I never got used to that.
In fact, one of the most intriguing parts of the floorplan was every so often, as you are moving from month to month and year to year with the spreading infection of this idea - there would be a small display, separate from the rest, entitled “The first time the world knew” and detailing how knowledge of these atrocities HAD gotten out, who it had reached, and yet nothing was done. 

Another 100 yards of nightmare or so, and then, separate, “The second time the world knew” with another way and time that the evidence of the holocaust escaped, was made public, and yet we didn’t react. 

Point taken.

The eagles will not save you, Nazi scum!
And then the whole thing figuratively and literally descends, down a flight of stairs, into the Camps. But before then there is an actual ‘chicken’ exit. A discreet sign showing you to a lighted walkway through ‘a minimum of the exhibit’ and then to an exit.

Which we will now take, because you don’t want to know whats down there, and I don’t want to remember what I saw - even though it is vitally important that the world never forget.

On the WWI floor people were lightly conversing with each other. On the WWII ring people were laughing and ‘wow’ing and kids were running around. On the Holocaust floor though - dead silence.

I walked back across the park to my hotel, clutching a bag full of magnets and books, in a thoughtful mood. I thought I would spend the rest of the afternoon organizing my thoughts and writing a pensive treatise on war as a happy hobby
444 feet tall. 444 feet tall.
versus the grim depths of what humanity is capable of, the hope and determination of peoples that have been ground under by the jackboots of tyranny. Yeah. I dumped my shopping bag, opened up the laptop -  

- and I woke up 4 hours later at 6pm. 

*sigh. Thanks, body. Sorry about all of these post-evolution travel shenanigans. What’s that? You are hungry, body? But didn’t we just - oh. Well. I guess we DID miss lunch back there. 

I pulled on some clothes and walked towards the train station and the river. I had dinner in a packed pub, just like you’re supposed to. My
Fine. Fine! Totally fine! All good!
seat looked out over the patio, and when the inevitable rain started falling all of the locals instantly whipped out their umbrellas (‘Brollies) and never paused in their eating, drinking and talking.

Dinner was bangers and mash with peas in gravy and a side of curly fries (Chips). Yes, I know faithful Britishism Translator; french fries = Chips. But there are no ‘curly chips’. Regular fries are Chips, but curly fries are ‘curly fries’. Creeping Americanism!

For my evenings entertainment, I thought I would do something really stupid. I would ride the London Eye, the ridiculously tall ferris wheel which dominates the landscape around here.
Parliament and Elizabeths Tower, FAR below

Luckily the brief rain shower had chased away a lot of the tourists - people, its just water! - and I was able to pretty much walk right into one of the big, plastic eggs, along with 20 other people. Man, this thing is fooking HUGE. Like, 40 flippin’ stories tall.

And smooth, thank the gods. The London Eye takes half-an-hour to circumnavigate, leaving you plenty of time to think of every possible scenario that would lead to your horrible, hideous, watery doom. That’s bad enough. But if it had been a rough ride, well, there would have been half-digested bangers and mash and curly chips all over the place.
Ah, back on dry....err....land.

Once we neared the top though I started to get my sea legs and from there it was just plain fun to see all of London City laid out in the gathering twilight, gazing down from 444 feet in the air. Whee!

I’m glad I did it, because I would be seeing this thing almost every day for the next week, and each time I did I would congratulate myself - and only get a little jelly-legged thinking about it. 

Angus McMahan

(Pic of the naval guns from wikimedia commons. All other pics and videos are mine.)

Next up: If you want a REAL thrill ride in England, try DRIVING…….

P.S. Here's a short video I made from the top of the London Eye. It's surprisingly steady considering how much I was shaking.


  1. The war museum must change the displays ever so often as I didn't see all that you did a couple years ago.
    The food looks just as awful as it did too. I generally ate fish and chips for breakfast lunch and dinner. At least it was something my stomach could stomach.

    1. The food was fine: I like bland. :-)