Visit to the Tower of London

The day I met one of my students for the first time face-to-face, and we visited the Tower of London

One of the interesting and exciting parts of my job is that I work with people in different parts of the world. Most of my customers live in Germany. I meet with them online and help them to improve their English. The customer who has been with me the longest started when I opened English with Kirsty in 2012, but I’ve never met her, because none of my training is face-to-face.

There are many reasons why I love online training – it opens up the pool of customers to people who aren’t in your local area, and also you don’t spend hours trudging around from place to place. After 10 years of commuting to my job in London, I’m done with that!

Anyway, that said, if I hear that one of my students is coming to London, I take the chance to meet up with them.

People tell me as much or as little about themselves as they want to, but I think one-to-one lessons give a trainer the opportunity to get to know people a bit better. I’d already shared in Heike’s excitement as she began to make her wedding plans, and when I found out that she and her fiancé (now husband) were coming to London, we made arrangements to meet and go to the Tower of London. I’d been there before, but I was 5, and the only memory I had was of wandering around with a mini crown on my head. Nothing more! So I wanted to go again!

Even if you live in a city like London that has so much to offer in terms of history and interesting places to go, I think you only really discover them when friends come to visit. Well at least that’s my experience!

I always find it strange when I meet someone for the first time although I feel that I already know them! However, I’m used to this because so much of my work is carried out online.

Heike and Dirk met me at the station and we went to the Tower of London together. I thought it was one big building, but it isn’t. You can walk around the grounds and you don’t get lost because you are provided with a map. There’s even a tactile map for blind people, which I thought was cool! In addition to that, we got the audio tour guide. I needed people to tell me the numbers on the nearby signs, but when I typed them in, the machine then played the information. I usually do this to stop my sighted companions ending up hoarse with all the reading, but on that day it had an added bonus because it also gave Heike some extra English listening practice!

It’s an interesting feeling to know that you are walking where famous characters from the past have walked. I thought about Anne Boleyn, who was held at the tower before her execution – an educated woman with strong opinions on how to rule the country, whose only crimes were not producing a son and losing at the dangerous game of court politics. She walked around in the places where we went – before being beheaded by sword and not by axe, which apparently was less painful. What a thoughtful guy.

Historically, wild animals, such as lions, tigers, and elephants, were given as gifts to royalty, and the Tower became home to these animals. Visiting them was encouraged, and in the 17th century, King James I installed viewing platforms. There seemed to be little understanding of what the animals needed or how to work with them, and life with the animals did not go without incident. One of the zookeepers was nearly killed by a snake, and someone accidentally left a door open, which resulted in a fight between a lion and a tiger. The lion was wounded and did not survive. I am not anti-zoo as long as the animals are well-cared for, but it seems in the tower they were not – the animals were just a means of entertainment for the people. Animals are no longer kept at the tower.

After walking around the grounds, learning about the various buildings and being startled by a Yeoman Warder (also known as beefeaters, but they don’t like that!, who shouted a command for other soldiers to march, we decided to walk along the Thames and get some lunch. The Yeoman Warders have to have served in the armed forces, with an honourable record, for at least 22 years. The name beefeater is thought to have come about because they were given special privileges, such as being allowed to eat as much beef as they wanted from the King’s table.

There are restaurants in the tower, but I thought it would be nice to go along the river and I also thought there would be a better choice of food. We settled on giraffe because it has a selection of dishes and most people can find something they like on the menu.

After that, we walked along the river again and got some ice-cream.

It was really good to meet Heike and Dirk in person, to spend the day chatting with them, and to share in Heike’s experience of learning something about my home city!

How about you?

Have you been to the Tower of London? For London readers, if friends were coming to visit, where would you take them? Let me know in the comments.

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Discover dogs

Discover dogs – a day out for dog lovers

You may have guessed it by now, but in case you haven’t, I love dogs. My absolute favourite breed is the Golden Retriever, because of my golden guiding girl, who was my faithful companion for 10 years.

I don’t have a dog at the moment, but I never pass up on hug time with the Labrador, Greyhound, Saluki, German Shepherd, Yorkshire Terrier or Chihuahua Cross in our circle of friends. Oh ok then, and the random ones I meet on my adventures.

I’ve been wanting to attend the Discover Dogs event for a number of years and last year we did it. My partner and I travelled to the Excel Centre and entered a temporary world of soft furry snouts and waggy tails.

Of course I paid the Golden Retriever a visit, and checked out all the other types of retriever too, but the main aim for me was to find out what the other breeds look like. I knew about some of them from previous encounters or descriptions that I’d read in books, but some of the breeds, such as the mountain dogs, are more rare and you’re less likely to come across them in the local park. Being able to stroke them and talk about them with their owners gave me a much better mental image than anything I might have read about them.

The stalls are organised alphabetically in terms of dog breeds so you can either hunt out specific breeds if you’re interested in one (whether you are getting a dog from a rescue or a breeder, it’s still good to chat to people who already have that breed), or you can do what we did, which is to go along the line systematically and try to meet as many breeds as possible.

Our favourites were the Maremma Sheepdog, Canadian Eskimo Dog, Canaan Dog, Pyrenean Mastiff, Pyrenean Mountain Dog, Samoyed, Siberian Husky, Finnish Lapphund, Tibetan Mastiff, Rhodesian Ridgeback, Norwegian Bulhund, Newfoundland, Leonberger, Kooikerhondje, Japanese Akita Inu, Japanese Shiba Inu, Belgian Shepherd Dog, Bernese Mountain Dog, Border Collie, Brittany, Deerhound, Entlebucher Mountain Dog, Estrela Mountain Dog, Eurasier, Hovawart, Hungarian Vizsla, Hungarian Kuvasz, Irish Wolfhound, Griffon Fauve de Bretagne and Greenland Dog. As you can see, we tended to prefer the bigger dogs, although the Beagle in the picture was very sweet!

If you have a visual impairment, I would advise finding someone to go with, as it is a large exhibition with a constant flow of people and dogs and it was at times quite noisy. I think I would have struggled to negotiate the conference hall without sighted assistance. Even if I’d managed it with the help of many strangers, I think the idea would have been much more stressful and less enjoyable. As well as explaining which breeds we were approaching, my partner was also able to get me into good stroking positions, as there were often many people standing around each enclosure. It was also good to have someone with whom to share the experience.

There were usually several of each breed, so they could swap them around and it didn’t become too tiring for one dog.

Our main interest was the dogs, although there were other activities going on in the show rings. Classes were being judged, and I believe there were demonstrations too of what working dogs can do and dancing to music demonstrations.

If I had to suggest an improvement, I found the music too loud, especially towards the end of the afternoon. If noise sensitivity is a thing for humans, I’m sure it affects dogs too. Maybe it wouldn’t have been such a big deal outside, but I don’t think the music needed to be as loud as it was. After all, people were trying to talk to each other and the dogs’ hearing is better than ours.

Overall, I really enjoyed my day and I felt that I learned a lot from it. So many different types of fur. Floppy ears, pointy ears, silky ears. I’ve been following the antics of some Tibetan Terriers on Facebook and now I finally know what the breed looks like, as well as many other breeds that I didn’t even know existed. If you love dogs, it’s a really good day out.

This year (2017), Discover dogs is on 21st and 22nd October. If you want to find out more, you can go to the Discover Dogs website.

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