We move from Bank Station to the Tower; it’s rush hour and the tube trains are packed – standing room only – so we decide to walk. The pubs are full, overflowing on to the pavements. Lots of laughing, happiness – the Scotland referendum has just been decided and it’s Friday evening, the start of the weekend. Everyone’s care-free.
We join the thousand or so others – tourists, workers, pensioners, groups of school children, the young and the old, visitors from all over the globe – on the steps overlooking the Tower. Cameras and phones snapping away. We’re all here to see the growing carpet of red ceramic poppies in the moat and to listen to the roll call of soldiers fallen in WW1 and the playing of the last post. The September Indian summer continues.
London’s on high alert, everywhere’s on high alert. World leaders are meeting to discuss the threat. In Australia there are arrests – their intelligence service has been listening to “chatter” – someone’s possibly planning a random killing of a member of the public. France has sent in bombers to destroy ISIS depots in Iraq.
It’s warm. The sky is almost cloud-free. There’s hardly a breath of wind. Up overhead the outbound flights from Heathrow stick to their schedule, freighting holidaymakers and tourists to their far-flung destinations, jet engines occasionally drowning out the voice of the Beefeater as he calls out the names of the dead.
The mood at the Tower is sombre. Many died in that war. 888 246 British and Colonial fatalities. Hellish. It’ll take until 11th November to read out all those names. And by then there’ll be 888 246 poppies in the moat.
There’s no sense of a terrorist threat despite the warnings, the talk. I start looking for uniforms to reassure myself that we are safe. I see them. One elderly Beefeater in full ceremonial dress, but no pike; he probably can’t use a microphone and wield a pike at the same time – there could be a nasty accident. Next to him is a Grenadier Guard in his red tunic and carefully brushed bearskin. Formidable warriors, are the Grenadiers. He brandishes a trumpet, no rifle; you can’t play the last post with a gun. Behind us, in a loose line, stand four bobbies, chatting idly amongst themselves. Unarmed. Talking football.
I relax. We are safe.