When we got back to my cousin's house, around 8 pm, my father called from Canada, with a worried tone to his voice: "Is everything okay? Are you all alright?" Now, you can accuse my dad of being a lot of things, but an unreasoning fusser, he is not.
We're fine, I said, why? "Because I'm watching the BBC World Service on television and there are riots in Croyden at the moment, and I know you're there. There's a huge fire and they've closed the train station." Okay, we had just come from the train station, and there had been nothing going on at all. (Turns out we were at the East Croyden station and they'd closed the West Croyden station.)
We stuck our heads out the front door and sure enough, a huge column of black smoke was rising over the houses across the street, and there must have been 5 helicopters hovering around and sirens blaring. The BBC World Service does not lie; there was a riot happening about a 15 minute walk away.
It turns out there were riots all over London that night, and a few other cities besides. There seemed to be no real reason or cause for the riots, other than hoodlums smashing and grabbing at retail stores, and criminals taking the opportunity to do whatever they wanted. The fire near to us was a furniture store...who robs a furniture store? Did the rioters plan on leaving with a sofa under their arms? And the pity is, that was a 150-year old, family run business, that had lasted through a couple of depressions and two world wars, and it was gone in one night because some twerp threw a Molotov cocktail through the window.
We were all fine though, and didn't feel like we were in any danger at all. We wouldn't have even known it was happening, had my dad not called from Canada to tell lus.
We walked down to see the damage a few days later, and it was awful. More heartening, though, was the reaction of Londoners; they were horrified and sickened, and assured us over and over that this was not the real London, and they hoped we understood that.
Before we left home, I bought us tickets to tour Buckingham Palace. Apparently, they only have the tours a couple of weeks a year, when the Queen is away, I assume to deter people from sneaking off and trying to find her and have a chat. Not that I would even dream of doing such a thing.
Buckingham Palace is huge, and we only got to see a small portion of it, and it is magnificent. The rooms are gorgeous, and I totally loved the place, even if it was, as my father reminded me, built on the backs of my ancestors. It is all red carpets and gold accents, and the artwork is incredible...I kept reminding myself that those paintings are real Rembrandts and original Vermeers right in front of me.
Kate Middleton's wedding dress was on display in the ballroom, and let me tell you, that thing is beautiful in real life, much more detailed and lovely than on tv. The veil looks like it's made out of cobwebs, it's so gossamer and light. They had a video about how it was constructed and the lace was made, which was even more interesting than the dress itself. And, the waist on it is tiny. I don't think I could fit my right leg into it.
The girls really wanted to go to Mme. Tussaud's wax museum, so we headed on up to there, to find another two hour line up. (I tell you, the Loudshoes family are expert liner-uppers by now.)
It was, again, incredibly crowded, but we had a good time looking around and taking pictures. Thing 2 was thrilled, thrilled, to be able to get her picture taken with Justin Bieber. (Ironic note: we had to go 3,000 miles to see Justin Bieber, and his hometown is only 4o miles from where we live.)
They had some statues that were uncannily like the person they were supposed to be (Helen Mirren and Russel Brand were so lifelike it was kind of creepy.) and then a few more that you suspected they let the new staff members have a go at them. I had to ask who James Dean and Drew Barrymore were supposed to be, and the Elvis looked more like Joan Collins.
It was a really beautiful, sunny summer evening, so we took another tour on the "hop-on, hop-off" bus and had a good look around. London is such a gorgeous city, and it never looks better than when the sun is low and the breeze is warm.
We decided to just grab a bite to eat at the train station, since it was getting late and we didn't want to sit very long. All along on this trip, the girls had been very good at eating whatever was there, and after 10 days of eating unfamiliar food, they fell upon the McDonald's at Victoria station like lions on a limping antelope. I went over to the Marks and Spencer food kiosk, which was only fabulous. They had all kinds of lovely sandwiches and salads and fresh fruit, all ready to go. They even had plastic glasses of wine (as well as bottles) all sealed up for you take away...wine to go! What a concept!
And the bathrooms still cost a few cents, but the attendants were a lot less intimidating than in Paris.