Sunday, April 01, 2007

The Horseguards

Thanks to Laurie for inspiring me to write down this recollection of a favourite traveling memory. Hope you have as much fun in London.

In 1994, I spent the summer in London, doing an internship course through Syracuse University Law School. It was a pretty good deal – we had a week's worth of classes and then eight weeks in a law-related internship. I'd wanted the Crown Prosecution Service but got put in the legal department of the Borough of Islington. I learned a lot, mostly that I didn't want to practise law in the States. Ever.

I was living in a 2-bedroom flat in Islington with 3 other internship students. We quickly broke into two groups – the beautiful model girl with a bad attitude and a gangly wanna-be became the "cool" kids. The other girl, T, and I were the nerds. I didn't mind so much as T was fun – she had a wickedly sarcastic sense of humour and was a complete non-drinker, so she kept me out of a lot of trouble.

T had bought a Brit-Rail pass before she got to London, so she spent most weekends taking the train out to the countryside to tour castles. We spent every evening after our jobs trying to wring ever last drop of fun out of London. We'd take the Tube to a new place and jump out to explore the neighbourhood, taking turns picking where we'd go. T's choices ran to the safe, genteel neighbourhoods while I usually selected the borderline area. After we witnessed a bar fight in Whitechapel, I was banned from making any more selections.

We definitely had our favourite spots – we both loved the Tower Bridge and enjoyed St. James Park. I liked the lions in Trafalgar Square and T had a massive crush on the horseguards. She dragged me to the Queen's birthday parade and to a Trooping of the Colours concert thing so that she could see her boys in action. A guy I dated briefly my first week in London told me that to be a horseguard was one of the highest honour a British soldier could achieve, so I reckoned that T had very discerning taste.

On our last weekend together in London, we planned a Day O' Fun. We were going to go everywhere we'd wanted to go but hadn't gotten to yet. The Friday night before our Day o' Fun, we took the walk that had become our regular. We hung out in St. James Park and then walked through where the horseguards stood sentry.

We had our little gawk at the man on duty and then headed out to the street. When we got nearly to the corner of the building, we saw 2 guys hanging out the window, smoking cigarettes and drinking cans of beer. We could tell they were horseguards, since they were still wearing their jackets, fully unbuttoned to reveal white undershirts.

I stopped and said "Hi" to them, which embarrassed the hell out of T. She was a shy and quiet type with strangers (which is usually how I am except that I was taking the opportunity that summer, in a foreign country, to be more outgoing) and was absolutely mortified. She had good cause to be wary of what I might say, since I am in the habit of speaking first and thinking later.

They said "Hi" back and asked us where we were from. I told them. T was practically pulling my arm off to get me to leave. One of the guys said "Go ahead, I know you have some question that you're dying to ask us." I thought about it for a second and said "Yeah, doesn't it get horribly boring to just stand there all day?"

They laughed and the other guy said "Exactly! You understand exactly. You have to come in here." I was all ready to go although T was a bit torn. But then, we'd spent all summer admiring these guys from afar, could we really turn down an invitation to go behind-the-scenes? Indeed we could not.

The guys were joined by a third guy – I only remember the names of two of them – Mac and Seamus. What I do remember is that they were incredibly nice. They gave us a tour of the stables and let us each have a turn sitting on a horse while they lead the horse around the inner courtyard. Then we went into canteen with them where we politely refused beers and chatted with them for about 3 hours.

When I told them what the guy I'd dated had said, about it being a huge honour, they nearly died laughing. They didn't always like their jobs much. One had taken the posting because the alternative was to go to Belfast and now, he was wishing he'd gone to Belfast.

They were great guys – fun and charming. We would have stayed longer only we didn't want to miss the last Tube home. It was a fantastic experience and turned out to be even more fun than all of our activities during our Day O' Fun.


At 1 April 2007 at 21:51, Blogger laurie said...

ah, that's a great story, ann. what an adventure! there's definitely something about foreign travel that makes a person bolder....for better or worse. usually for better, i've found.

i remember one time in mexico a friend and i got tired of being pestered by vendors and so we went to the mexican beach instead of the tourist beach and took a glass-bottom boat ride with a bunch of locals. we ended up on an island that had some kind of military encampment on it (my spanish is very shaky and i never figured out who, exactly, these young men were. but they all carried machine guns) and we played chinese checkers with them all afternoon.

and then we took the boat back to land. no harm done. (they even posed for pictures.) but would i do that here? hell no....

At 2 April 2007 at 20:36, Blogger -Ann said...

That's a great story - any story that involves machine guns and chinese checkers is good.

Foreign travel is probably the best thing a person can do. My biggest regret in life is that I went to law school when I should have traveled instead. (On the plus side, law school is sort of the reason I met Peter, but it still put me loads in debt for nothing.)

Someday I'll have to post my best Belfast story.


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