“It’s Mrs Jellywoman, isn’t it?”
I am at the gym (thanks for all the helpful hints – so far, so good), face to face with a jolly woman, probably in her mid-sixties. Though she might be ninety-eight but really, really benefiting from regular work-outs. She does look familiar but I can’t quite place her. I’m vaguely thinking Jacob’s nan; Jacob, whose suggestion for a word containing the ‘ee’ sound was “weed – like what you smoke.” Maybe, maybe not…
She spots my uncertainty. “Joseph’s nan.” Ah, yes. We exchange pleasantries and I hear about how marvellously Joseph is getting on at school. Then, solicitously, Joseph’s nan asks after my health. Fine, I tell her.
“Only, Joseph told me about your assembly. Well – what he actually said was ‘Mrs Jellywoman told us about having Robinson’s disease’.”
Robinson’s disease sounds much more fun; shades of strawberry jam and lemon barley. Wonder if I can put in for a transfer?
How did his careers’ teacher react, I wonder, when Chris Skaife revealed his ambition to be Ravenmaster at the Tower of London? You’ve got to admit that as far as jobs go, it’s a bit niche.
Courtesy of Actor Laddie’s City Guiding group, we were lucky enough to have the Ravenmaster showing us around the Tower of London one evening last week. Also, we had a meal cooked by the Ravenmaster’s wife and served by the Ravenmaster’s daughter. In essence, we slipped into a Happy Families book, only lacking the chance to be beheaded by the Ravenmaster’s son.
Crickey, that chap knows his ravens! Since 2005, he’s been caring for his unkindness of birdies and clearly dotes on the wee scamps. There are seven ravens at the Tower – that’s the six needed to stop London falling and one on the sub’s bench – and the Ravenmaster wants us to know that they have not had their wings clipped to prevent them from flying away: that would be cruel, he says. During the day, they roam freely around the Tower but at night he calls to them and they come fluttering back to have supper before being safely tucked up in their cages, away from foxes. They are as intelligent as a four year old child and sometimes live for over forty years in captivity. So there you go.
I ask the ravens to say cheese – apparently they do have quite a varied vocabulary – but it turns out that a photo of a raven-black raven at the back of a crow-black cage in a moonless night, starless and bible-black, is beyond the help of any brightness settings.
Selective parts of the Tower, though, are lit at night; the effect is extraordinarily atmospheric. The Ravenmaster speaks as eruditely about the Tower as he does about the ravens: he’s a witty, natural born storyteller and must have been popular in the barracks.
He tells us that in order to apply to be a Yeoman of the Guard, which he was before discovering his metier as Ravenmaster, one has to have worked in one of the services for at least twenty years, and have a record that is completely clean of offences – “or, in my case, where all offences were undetected.”
We are then herded down to see the Ceremony of the Keys, which has taken place just before ten o’clock every night since about the fourteenth century. Apart, that is, from the night when incendiary bombs fell on the guardroom and those taking part in the Ceremony were knocked off their feet. They dusted themselves off, then continued and you’ll be relieved to know that King George officially pardoned them for being late in locking the Tower Gates.
At the end of the ceremony, a trumpeter plays the Last Post, as those present silently reflect on absent friends. Anyone can see the ceremony, apparently, and it’s free, but there is a nine-month waiting list.
About one hundred and twenty people actually have residences inside the Tower walls. What a great place to live, we say. Not easy if you want to order a take-away, he replies. As we leave the Tower – thankfully the guard has a spare set of keys – we see the truth of this, as we can’t work out where Eric in Blueberry Van would leave our groceries.
The Ravenmaster can be found on Twitter at @Ravenmaster1.
My other experience of being a “plus one” this week (does that make me a “plus two”?) was at ActorLaddie’s Morris Group’s Christmas meal. Largely a jolly affair, though not a bell or hankie in sight. As in any reflection about the year just gone, conversation did touch on the nightmare of the conflicts in Syria and elsewhere. Sally – another retired primary teacher – sighed and said “why can’t everyone just play nicely?” Which, to my mind, sums it up brilliantly.
Discussing this blog with a new reader, highlighted for me that those who are reading it on a phone won’t necessarily spot the goodies which, on a PC, are in the side-menu. On a phone, all the goodies are popped at the end of the blog, under WordPress’s choice of adverts. There’s a Search box, if you want to focus, say, on posts about Parkinson’s or Teaching. There’s a list of some of my personal favourite posts, links to other websites and somewhere that you can put your email address if you want an alert whenever I post a blog. One of these links is to GiveAsYouLive which is hopefully receiving many donations for charity from on the online shopping.
Stay warm and play nicely.