A Christmas Carol and the River Thames

The annual Carol Service is keenly anticipated by all those who attend and make it a “standing room only” event.  My own anticipation was heightened by being able to bring an American guest from the Deep South.  Anticipation mixed with anxiety as our return flight from Italy was delayed by the French Air Traffic Controllers striking and our plane making a round tour of Europe.  Then the taxi from London Bridge seemed to go via Bermondsey in the rain.  However we made it - missing only a snippet of the always outstanding opening parade of the choir.

One muses over why it is so eagerly anticipated?  I suggest that it is the time of the year when our sometimes submerged religious feelings come to the surface.  Then there is the exquisite location and last, but certainly not least the beauty of the sights and sounds of the spectacle.

The location of the Tower and the church, the Chapel Royal of St Peter ad Vincula within the protected interior of the Tower is a stimulant to the imagination.  It was originally built in 1520 and has been re-built twice.  Walking over the damp and darkened cobbles one begins to feel the presence of history.  After Traitors Gate other openings occur in the walls and I hoped that the official “No Entry” sign would also protect me from any attempted exit by the spirits lurking within.  The name “Chapel Royal” means that monarchs have often worshipped there.  As did those who fell foul of their monarch and the graves of Anne Boleyn and Thomas More lie with others within the church’s walls.  A sign of regret or magnanimity from the monarch who had just authorised the taking their lives.  Perhaps!

In this setting the spectacle is just stunning.  And the sound from the crystal clear voices of the choristers is just wonderful.  The music mixes the well known and the little known carols delightfully.  The readings are always worth our concentration and thought and were given by the leaders of our Company.

The religious service is led by our own chaplain, Michael West.  Our collection is for our charity RedR UK dedicated to providing engineers for disaster relief and as in every year was well supported.

I always leave the church still wishing that I could linger after the crush has departed to review the detail of the many plaques and rolls of honour that cover the walls.  But rush off to the boat to feed our bodies having satiated our inner selves.

PS Dixie Queen

The paddle steamer is a vessel of superlatives, its size and mode of propulsion being obvious to all. 

The reason for not being able to dally is twofold.  First, for the later arrivals, there is sometimes a slow progression down the jetty to the cloakroom in what seems an Arctic wind and the Captain has often a schedule governed by the tide to meet.  This year there was also the challenge of finding a new route as the berth had been changed because on this occasion Tower Bridge was under repair and could not be raised to salute our passage on the Dixie Queen.  The Beefeaters of the Tower guided us out by a different gate to that which we entered and our footsteps then retraced the steps of thousand upon thousand of the London Marathon runners.

The cold wind was defeated by boarding direct onto the upper deck and allowing an area of that to become an open access cloakroom.  Perfectly safe and a valuable improvement.  Our schedule seemed to run later with dinner being announced well after the boat had departed from its moorings, so all had more time to mingle over a glass or two of bubbly.  There was a pronounced movement of the boat to add to the impression of the evening.  The slight rocking seemed to be caused by an unusually high number of passes by high speed craft on the river - a possible feature of our transport systems to come?

The meal was well presented traditional fare featuring smoked fish, roast beef and apple pie.  Much more lavishly described in the programme of course.  Whether it was wise to attempt Yorkshire pudding with a Master who has roots on the homeland of the dish may be open to question.  But all the contents of all the plates were consumed on my table.

The evening concluded with the Loyal Toast given by the Master and one to our own Company from the Clerk, John Willenbruch.

John Robinson, The Master Engineer offered our thanks to the Governor of the Tower for allowing the event, which is a special privilege.  He thanked the Choir of the Chapel Royal under the direction of its Master of Music Colm Carey, and Rev’d Roger Hall, the Resident Chaplain to the Tower had also been in attendance.

Finally he wished all members of the Company and their families a happy and healthy Christmas.