Yesterday, we were lucky enough to go on a tour around Tower Bridge with Geoff, one of my volunteer colleagues. Tower Bridge, one of the most historical and beautiful bridges in London, the one that usually is mistaken by the tourists with the London Bridge (please! London Bridge cannot compare to Tower Bridge, people!)
While walking from the ground up to the top of the Bridge, we were slowly told by Geoff about the story of the bridge. This reminded me of my first day volunteering with him in London.
I still remember vividly that day as it were just yesterday. It was an event hosted by the British Redcross along the River Thames. Our team only had 4 people, but partly because it was not a “too exciting” event, to be honest. It was my first time volunteering so I was nervous and did not talk too much. During my lunch break, Geoff called me over to the bank of the river and asked me one question while pointing to the other bank afar.
“Tobias, do you know why people say when the lions drink water, London will be flooded?” And that was the first story of London amongst tons and tons of others that Geoff has been telling me when we volunteer together.
Eventually, each event became an opportunity for me to get to know him, get to know London through the stories he told. I respect a gentleman like Geoff. He might be considered “old” but he still volunteers. I rarely see him absent in two events in a row. His home is so far that he has to take the train (and changes a couple of times) to get to the event, but I’ve hardly seen him coming late. There were a couple of events when we had to work all day shifts, Geoff always shared his food with us. Maybe he does not eat much, but the fact that he did it even though he didn’t have to, makes people adore him more. Because after more than a year of living here, I’ve got to know that if you do what is not your responsibility, people will highly evaluate that gesture (like volunteering!)
Today, Geoff took me and two other ladies who also are my volunteer colleagues to visit Tower Bridge. Geoff is one of the former staffs who used to work in this historical bridge of London.
While following him up to the top, we were listening to what he’s got to say about the bridge from the first day it was built, the untold stories that no one would know from reading books, the accidents during his career and the events that had happened, that only who loved London more than enough would know.
“Tobias, do you know what those black doors at the bottom of the bridge are for?”
“Tobias, do you see the statues of the workers working up there?”
“Tobias, do you know why people call that hill the Shooters Hill?”
“Tobias, do you know why this was damaged but they did not re-built it?”
Question after question, story after story, Geoff turned into a book about London, about Tower Bridge, slowly tell me tons and tons of amazing stories (I wished I had learnt more English to understand them all!)
Walking with Geoff, I also saw him being warmly welcome by the staff working here. They respect him. They love him. I was touched so many times when a staff called Geoff from afar then ran to him and gave him a hug, just as they met their long lost friend after a long time. Geoff looked like a veteran, coming back to his old battlefield, where his teammates had fallen down one by one, during and after the battle, but the next generation of the military still couldn’t forget what their fathers, uncles had done for them…
When the tour finished, Geoff gave me two thin books about Tower Bridge in which contained many interesting facts about this bridge, and a key chain in the shape of the bridge itself when it opens for the boats to go through.
After that, we asked him to join us for a cup of hot coffee, but he said no because he had a long journey home and he did not want to stand all the way in the tube during peak hours. I guessed he wanted to go home soon with his wife, maybe he didn’t want his wife to wait for him at the dinner table.
Walking with my two colleagues, while trying to keep myself, an Asian guy, from not falling behind when it comes to talking with British people, I was just wondering that nowadays, in London, how many people are there living while holding the full history of London like our Geoff?
I am sure that I am the lucky guy here. I am so lucky that even when I nearly have to say goodbye to the city I love, I still feel that the one who receives love from the people is not just the city, but I do feel surrounded with love, too.