July 7th, 2009

Fishy Circumstances

Ceremony of the Keys

A kestrel swoops down, glides just above the uplighters, the shadow of crenelations behind them. The lights show off its creamy feathers, flecked in brown, its precise beak, and then it has flown beyond sight again. There was a fundamental quiet to the moment, only the murmur of voices in our crowd of fifty, but no other people beyond them.

Our birthday party of six people were in the hush of the Tower of London at night for the Ceremony of the Keys. Swarmed in the daytime, the Tower is tranquil at night, a small village of fortified residences in the heart of a sprawling metropolis. The Yeoman Warders live there with their families, children, and grandchildren. Soldiers stationed there live in residence too. The numbers are not large, given the scale of the place, and so it is an island of peace when the crowds have gone.

Our guide had about fifteen minutes to give us touristic commentary on the Tower and the towers around Water Lane before the ceremony began with the appearance of four soldiers on ceremonial duty, armed for the security of the Tower. The Senior Warder, hat marked with ribbon, collected his guard for the locking of the Tower's main gate. They returned to the scripted call-and-response, another soldier on duty letting pass the Queen's keys. Then we flooded up the slope for the final interchange with yet another yet of soldiers, and, while the bells struck 10 pm, the trumpeting of Last Post. Night had fallen, but the last light not yet gone from the sky. The ceremony was complete.

The Ceremony happens nightly at the Tower of London, and has done for around 700 years, apparently. Tickets are free (donation requested, but it was a mystery as to how to give one). Ticket requests are limited to groups of six, and the overall group limited to 50. Requests must be made 2-3 months in advance.


Location: The Grove, in the docks area, Bristol.

riverstation is spacious and light, industrial and civilized. What is now a bar and restaurant was formerly the dockside police station, a comfortable restaurant well-patronized by suited businessmen, standing up, shaking hands, smiling at each other. I met intertext at the train station on Friday and we walked over - 10-15 minutes - with our luggage. Happily, they could keep the luggage in a closet for us while we went to claim our river-views table, booked with a well-designed online interface.

Impressively, the set meal prices have come down since last year's guidebook prices were printed. Two courses for £9.50, three courses for £12.00! My gazpacho was refreshing, and full of vegetable goodness. The mackerel was tender, with more potatoes than we needed, and greens. (I've already forgotten if it came with any sauce or compôte.) The passionfruit crême brûlée was a delight, ethereal in its lightness. Once I'd asked if there was anything interesting to drink other than wine, we received the other drinks menu - entertaining cocktails, and a decent selection of juices and interesting other non-alcoholic drinks. I went with a strawberry bellini.

The price was right, the food generally enjoyable (though forgettable around the edges), the drinks good, and the light-filled space beautiful, but the toilets might as well have been candlelit, they were so dark. Still, I had a lovely, relaxing lunch there in good company with generally good, if busy, service. I'd be willing to go back, but I'm much more interested in exploring more of Bristol's many other scattered restaurants instead.