My Life with the Ravens at the Tower of London
Yeoman Warder of
Her Majesty’s Royal Palace and Fortress
The Tower of London
Farrar, Straus, & Giroux, Oct 2018
241 pages, hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Memoirs, Historical (Anglophile), Non-fiction
Christmas gift from my husband
The cover is really eye-catching with the author in his uniform in the foreground with Merlina on his pike and the fog-shrouded fortress in the background. It really emphasizes the idea of their guarding the palace and the monarchy. Whether there’s any truth to the saying or not.
This combination of a personal memoir, nature book, British history, and humorous tall tales is a wonderful read. I couldn’t decide what genre to place it in. The publisher labeled it a memoir, and that’s fine, but it’s so much more than that. Chris Skaife talks about his life as a youngster who obviously got into more than his share of trouble. He relates incidents from his 25 years in the military. There were reviews that complained about his personal life, and I could relate to that. This was where I got bogged down myself. About halfway through, I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to finish the book. But this is about a man who is part of a group required to be retired from the military and be the cream of the crop. So the military has played a major role in all their lives. You don’t leave that behind just because you no longer wear that uniform. Also, they still wear another uniform and lead a regimented life serving the monarchy. So, while I did take away a star for all the weapons talk in that center portion, I finished the book and can honestly say I really loved it.
Like another reviewer, I also wished there had been more pictures of the ravens, but I follow @ravenmaster on Twitter and see them there.
About seven years ago I was lucky enough to travel to London and see the ravens in action for myself. I got so engrossed in watching them that I forgot to take pictures of them. I only have one photo! But I bought a stuffed one in the gift shop so I could have one to take home with me. I made the trip with my daughter and as soon as we got home we wanted to go back! Our Yeoman Warder was fascinating with his rambling stories and hints of horror and out-and-out gore. While reading the book, I found many bits and pieces of the stories we’d been told coming back to me.
Something that simply amazed me about England is the age. I’m American, and we’re only several hundred years old. In England, you walk around a corner in town and come face to face with tea shops that have been doing business since before we even had our independence. We got on a bus and took a ride out into Wiltshire. As we came around the curve the rolling hills parted and revealed Stonehenge. Just sitting there on the side of the road! The English live with their history whereas here in American we put it under lock and key. Granted, the Stonehenge is fenced and you have to pay to see it. But there are several other henges nearby that you can touch.
Well, back to the book. Chris covers his life, the history of the tower to some degree, and the history of the ravens. He also looks into the future of the birds. Due to the hunting of ravens across agricultural England years ago, the population is very reduced. In the past, the birds have been gifted to the Tower and have been a combination of wild and hand-bred birds. Chris is looking at starting a breeding program for Tower ravens. I think if anyone can do it, Christopher Skaife can. I wish him all the luck. And I definitely recommend this book.