Here’s a useful tip. If you’re going to a Sunday morning service in the Chapel of St Peter Ad Vincula within the Tower of London, and provided you’re pre-booked in (or just plain convincing, smartly dressed and clearly not a terrorist) you can get in for free. See, there is a plus side to an established state religion. Of course, it’s probably best that you actually go to the service after that if only to establish some cred.
Or, in today’s case, to attend (arriving five minutes late due to a crash [not ours] on the M4 and having to awaken a slumbering teenager at 7.30am on a Sunday) the christening of Junior Nephew in the same building that has previously seen the christening of his sister and brother and the marriage of his parents. This is a chapel royal and they do it … differently to Christ Church on Long Furlong.
The medals worn by the vicar on his robes are the first clue (six of them, one with bar and a mention-in-despatches). The robes themselves are another. As the service progressed I had cause to discover (and feel quite pleased that) I can still mumble my way through the Venite, the Te Deum and the Jubilate, all in 1662 English. And I can safely say that the highly spiritual meditative aid that starts “Oh it’s great great brill brill wicked wicked skill skill to have a friend in Jesus” has never rattled these particular rafters.
The rafters are however rattled by a marvellous choir who can hit their notes so perfectly that the sound just seems to come out of the air around you. We finished, as you would only expect, with the National Anthem and the final verse of “Eternal father strong to save”-
Oh Trinity of love and power
Our brethren shield in danger’s hour.
From rock and tempest, fire and foe
Protect them wheresoe’r they go.
Thus ever more shall rise to thee
Glad hymns of praise from land sea.
In case this all seems a little overpowering, it’s also worth mentioning that the choir master has a pony tail, he looks (from behind) like the lead singer of the Commitments, and at my niece’s christening four years ago he played “The wheels on the bus” on the chapel organ for the benefit and delight of Senior Nephew.
Sometimes it’s good to take a break, eh?
On previous occasions we’ve taken the opportunity to see the Crown Jewels, but not this time as the queue was winding around the block and there’s some things even chapelgoers can’t jump. As I recall they have a conveyor belt down either side to carry the tourists past, thus preventing build-ups of gawkers which is a very good idea. With only a small effort you can make the perceptual shift that you are standing still and it’s the Crown Jewels that are gliding past, like a very expensive edition of the Generation Game. “A priceless diamond. An orb. A sceptre. A cuddly toy …”
Then we repaired to Zizzis in St Katherine’s Dock for lunch, where I had the seafood risotto “with a hint of chili”. I would say more than a hint – it gave me several harsh nudges, a couple of curt requests and at one point it was outright barking orders at me. Very nice. I’m loath to admit to any good coming out of the Thatcher era at all, but sheer honesty often forces me to admit that quite a lot did and one of these things is the renovation of the Docklands. If a building has to be one thing or the other, would you rather an Italian restaurant with a slightly experimental menu or a moldering warehouse that’s no good to anyone except rats? Not a hard choice to make.