Friday, March 30, 2007

Back at home

Flight left Heathrow around 3:15 yesterday.

Arriving at the airport, we were told we were allowed only one piece of carry-on baggage each -- not the "one piece and one personal item" we'd been programmed to understand was acceptable.  (Apparently, this is a British Airport Authority rule.)  So I threw my carry-on luggage into checked baggage, keeping only my laptop bag with me; Debra crammed her purse into her carry-on. 

The rule was particularly ridiculous because, once you cleared security, you could buy whatever you wanted in Duty Free and haul that on board.

In any event, we got our bags screened and passports checked -- and then, before entering the Shopping Zone, we went through an additional security screening where you take off your shoes and send them through a separate scanner.  I have now witnessed the most boring job on earth -- this being the person who watches thousands of pairs of shoes get scanned.

While putting my shoes back on, I overheard a couple American teenagers completely bypass the screening area by walking outside the roped barrier.  They said stuff like, "What are they doing there?"  "Shoe screening?"  "Oh, let's just go around that."  I was annoyed.  Also disappointed that nobody at Heathrow noticed them walking outside the ropes.  I considered reporting them, but seeing as I'd lost visual contact with them, I had a quick mental vision of Heathrow shutting down the airport and making everyone on the other side of security go back in for a shoe re-scan.  On the whole, I decided to risk that the whiny American teenagers were just being selfish and were not, in fact, intent on blowing up airplanes with their shoes.

On the flight home, we had one of them 777 jets with the personal video screens, which is great, because they have a bunch of different channels, so you get to choose what movie you watch.  Or, rather, movies, seeing as it's 10 hours of flight.  So, we get in the air and the flight attendants crank up the programming and it's the movies that are supposed to be aired from the U.S., not the movies that are supposed to be aired to the U.S.  (I know this, as I'd already watched these damn movies on the way to England.)  I pointed this out to the next flightattendant who happened by my seat offering beverages.  She expressed surprise and said they'd check and see if they had the right programming or if they'd been given the wrong one on the ground.  About three hours into the flight (after they'd let this set of movies run for one cycle, so as not to piss up the folks already invested in viewing whatever they were watching), they magically changed the programming to the right set of movies.  I still had time to watch three of them, and a couple episodes of The Simpsons.

Plane landed around 6:00 p.m.  (Yes, a ten hour flight in about three hours.)  Redeemed car from airport parking.  Came home.  Showered feline with much affection.  Had dinner.  Made a very small dent in all the TV shows I'd recorded while I was gone (2 hours -- hardly anything) and got to sleep around midnight.  Hopefully, I've resolved the jet lag in one night again, as I've got a ton to do before I'm back to work on Monday.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Evening the Last

I came back to the hotel after the walk (to change jackets as the warm afternoon had quickly turned rainy and cold) and found Debra back in the room not feeling well.  She'd gone off to the National Gallery in the morning (ironically, that's where the Da Vinci Code walk ended) but came back to the hotel with the lack of sleep having caught up with her.  :(  My mental plans for a nice last-night-in-London dinner quickly reorganized themselves into "hey, where do I wanna get some eats before theatre tonight?"

I settled on Chinese food.  And while I traditionally go to a Chinese restaurant in London known for its really cheap meals (and rude waitstaff), I decided to step up a bit and googled around for a good dim sum place.  Found one that seemed reasonably priced and ... while not actually on the way to the theatre ... it was near enough that I could find it and still make it to the show on time. 

Oh.  My.  Goodness.  Seriously yummy dim sum.  I had me some pork buns (love that bao!), and prawn (shrimp to you and me) and coriander pouches, and some chicken thing in puff pastry that was astonishingly tasty.  I almost ordered a second order of the chicken thing in puff pastry.  I also ordered some hot tea.  They gave me an empty glass with a round ball of ... leaves? ... in it.  Then came by with hot water and filled the glass.  As it steeped, the leaf ball fell to the bottom of the glass (making tea) and then, suddenly, burst open and a little flower came forth, floating in the glass.  Have never experienced this before, but (bless google) have found an image of this. 

Jasmine flower tea.  Fun at parties, I'm sure.

Then, it was off to the theatre.  I had decided to yield to my initial impulses and go see Mary Poppins.  (Up until Tarzan, I would've said Disney Theatricals could do no wrong, but, you know, once bitten, twice shy.  And while my memories of dancing cutlery and the parade of animals around Pride Rock are pretty strong, the debacle that is gorillas bouncing on bungee cords would not soon be forgotten.) 

It was wonderful -- it really was.  With the exception of one entirely misconceived scene (that might actually frighten children in the audience), it was everything it was supposed to be -- big huge dance numbers, fast moving choreography, appropriately-placed special effects, and a heart a mile wide.  Just sweet and sassy and adorable and a delightful end to my week here.

... and now, back to packing.  Need to get enough charge in the ipod to make it all the way home.

Day the Last

Ten to midnite.  Debra is asleep.  (Or, trying to sleep -- something she's been unable to do all trip.  She says the typing doesn't bother her; I hope that's true.)  I'm packing.  The computer is on because it is charging my ipod.  (Aha!  Take that, people at the Apple Store who said we needed a special converter/adapter to charge an ipod abroad.  I got my laptop hooked up thanks to its perfectly good AC adapter (which takes current anywhere from 100 to 240) and plug-that-I-bought-in-Hong-Kong, and hey, when the laptop is on, I can just plug the ipod into a USB port and, bingo -- instant recharging.)  So, yeah -- Debra sleeping, ipod charging, and I'm alternately packing and playing on the internet.

Odd day today.  Decided to go on one of them London Walks.  Selected one called "Occult London and the Da Vinci Code," which is definitely an odd choice I've neither read Da Vinci Code nor seen the movie.  I didn't think it would entirely matter, as the description of the walk suggests it just goes off on borderline coincidences that appear creepy and implies that Da Vinci Code is something in the nature of a springboard for a discussion of said creepy coincidences.  Besides, I always figured Da Vinci Code to be something akin to Foucault's Pendulum on training wheels (y'know, what with the Templars being all in on some great big secret plan), so I reckoned I could get enough out of it by bringing my knowledge of Foucault's Pendulum to the party.  (Random note to anyone out there who read Foucault's Pendulum:  At the British Library, they have a few pages of Da Vinci's sketchbook on display.  In the corner of one of the pages is what's clearly a shopping list ... has a few items like "bread" written on it.  Cracked me up something fierce.)

ANYWAY, here's the thing with the walk.  They totally need to the change the description of the walk, 'cause it was all Da Vinci Code this and "here's where they filmed that scene in the movie" that -- and most of the alleged coincidences they talk about in the walk description didn't even get mentioned.  Instead we pretty much had a brief retelling of the plot of the novel, with significant attention paid to the London bits, as we "retraced the path" of the main characters (with attention also paid to the details Dan Brown just got wrong).

The walk turned out to be worthwhile anyway for two reasons.  The first was that, by complete and utter coincidence (in the sense that I had no idea that this particular location was a plot point in the Da Vinci Code) the walk went to the Temple Church.  Temple Church is the Church hanging out in Inner Temple, which is one of the four Inns of Court.  Which is where I worked one summer, about 18 years ago, when I was in law school and one of my professors hooked me up with a barrister.  I'd actually tried to find this church some years since, and been unsuccessful at it, so was actually thrilled to revisit the place.

(The barrister I'd worked for was in (or near, I forget) the chambers of John Mortimer -- the fellow who wrote "Rumpole of the Bailey."  Everyone in chambers would be amusingly annoyed when, almost daily, some tour group would come by under the window, with a guide rattling on in some foreign language, the only words of which we'd understand would be "Rumpole of the Bailey."  I laughed quietly to myself at the idea that now that the "Rumpole" tours were probably over, they'd been replaced by Da Vinci Code tours.)

The other worthwhile thing about the walk was our guide, who goes by the moniker "Richard III" as he's the third Richard employed by the London Walks people.  Richard had an extremely dry delivery (which, at first, I mistook for boredom or disinterest), which was really the best way to go when recounting the whole Da Vinci Code story, especially when one believes the whole thing is something of a crock.  He had us all laughing by the end -- and we'd seen a few sights and learned a few things, and that ain't bad for two hours and six pounds.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Day Six is it? Yeah, six

Started off early today (before 11:00!) and headed off to the half-price ticket booth to see if we couldn't pick up cheap tickets to something tonight.  Lots of shows I didn't want to see -- and one I did.  Debra wasn't interested -- probably because my description of the play in question was rather limited.  ("It's by Christopher Hampton," I said, hoping she would know who the hell he was.  I knew that I had the name filed away under "pretty good playwright who has written something we've heard of, which might have been Les Liaisons Dangereuses, but I'm not positive that was it and I don't want to guess wrong in front of this whole line of tourists."  Was, in fact, Les Liaisons -- and its film adaptation.  Oops.)  In any event, I bought a ticket to Treats, the Christopher Hampton play.  (I'd thought it was a new play -- I discovered -- when looking him up just now -- that the play was written in 1974.  It is much more satisfying if I think of it as a 1974 play.  More on that later.  Oh, and this probably counts as a spoiler alert if you're ever going to find yourself seeing the play.)

So, ticket in hand, Debra and I hit the wild streets of London.  We drop by some shops (including the Theatre shop that had been closed on Sunday) and then head out to Marble Arch.  (Great big arch.  Marble.)  Debra had wanted to look at it, while I wanted to go to a nearby Department Store, so it seemed a fair plan to do both.

The Department store was ... OK, this is just so incredibly British (or, at any rate, not-American), I just had to check it out.  There's going to be this great big surrealist exhibit at a local museum (the exhibit is not yet open, dammit) and in conjunction with the exhibit, the department store has, um, gone surrealist.  All the store windows are decorated with surrealist displays (by "some of the world's most contemporary surreal designers"); a restaurant in the store had gone with the theme (renaming all dishes for surrealist art works, and redecorating the furniture to go with the theme); and they've added a small surreal shop, where they've promised such bizarre items as mirrored nail polish.

I want the mirrored nail polish.

We checked out the window displays, scoped out the shop, went tothe surreal restaurant for lunch (that experience actually was surreal, in a different way.  I ordered afternoon tea, which includes finger sandwiches along with tea and scones.  Debra ordered a chicken dish.  Sorry, they're out of chicken.  Then she ordered a salad.  Sorry, no salads.  She gave up and ordered afternoon tea.  The waitress returned to inform us both that they were out of finger sandwiches.  She offered us the four sandwiches du jour -- ham & cheese, crayfish, cheese & pickles, or salmon.  I ordered the salmon, Debra went for the cheese & pickles.  Waitress returns and says, "We're out of salmon."  At this point, Debra and I looked over to the people standing in line for the restaurant and said, "Go away!  They're out of food!")

Surreal shop informs me that they will, in fact, be carrying the mirror nail polish, but they don't have it in stock yet.  (Lovely.  I can just come back next week.  Not.)

Debra heads off to the National Portrait Gallery; I go off to meet my friend (who lives in England and conveniently had a meeting in London that night -- so she came in a few hours earlier to visit me and, apparently, talk dirty in Regent's Park).

After a supper of "steak and mushroom pie" (and a smaller quantity of cider), I head off to the play.  Disturbing little story about a woman in an abusive relationship, who is given a golden opportunity to get the hell out of the abusive relationship, and is so mentally messed up by the abuser, she just stays.  I found the play, well, unsatisfying -- but now that I know it was written in 1974, I'll cut it a bit more slack.  The production I saw took place in the present day, and, now, knowing what we know about abusive relationships, I found it problematic that the, er, "good guy" didn't, y'know, grab the police, bust down the woman's door, get the abusive boyfriend thrown in jail, and take the woman to a battered woman's shelter.  I mean, hell, my generation was brought up knowing that you just don't put up with that sort of crap in a relationship -- and I'd like to think that most young people today (the characters here were in their 20s) should also know that this just is not tolerated.  But, now, seeing that the play was actually written in 1974 -- when theresources for battered women were much fewer than they are today (and many more people turned a blind eye to domestic violence), it makes a great deal more sense.  Still unsettling.  But mostly just sad.

A Linguistic Moment

OK, we all know the "tube" or "underground" is the public transit system of them trains what run (mostly) underground in London, right?  And a "subway" is not, in fact, one of those trains, but is instead a pedestrian tunnel that cuts under the street and saves you the annoyance of waiting for a traffic light.

And I also already knew that "fanny" in Britain is not at all what it is in the States.  It, in fact, refers to a part of the female anatomy some 180 degrees away from the part Americans use the word to refer to.  Don't refer to a "fanny pack," in London -- you'll get some strange looks.

Today I learned (and it was from a source I truly respect -- and she would not be funnin' me) that "frigging" is not, in fact, a socially polite alternative to use in place of "the f-word" (as we usually use it in the States) but, as far as the Brits are concerned, refers to female masturbation.

Which led to a fairly amusing conversation, as my source was telling me how she herself learned this, while we're sitting on a bench in Regent's Park -- mothers are walking by with baby strollers, and we're sitting there laughing, throwing around euphemisms (and more technical terms) for the act in question. 

Sigh.  I'm never going to live down this "ugly American" thing.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Day Five: Holy Cow, I'm a Tourist!

I've been to London quite a few times -- enough so that I feel I've done most of the touristy things, and can just hang out and shop or see plays or whatever.

Today, I went all touristy.  And what was odd was that I wasn't even being touristy with Debra (who had a wicked migraine and stayed in the hotel room wishing she could make time pass faster) -- I was touristy all by myself.

We slept in.  I didn't really get a good start until about 2:00.  (Hey, when I sleep in, I sleep in.)  The other night, we'd wanted to do a night-time cruise on the Thames (but had been too late for it) -- and I sorta liked the idea so thought I'd do a little day-time sightseeing tour.  I ended up compromising with myself -- rather than taking a "circle" tour (which would dump me off where I started), I took a one-way 20 minute job that started at Westminster pier (across the river from the London Eye -- the big honkin' ferris wheel) and took us down the river past a bunch of bridges and ended up at the Tower of London.

Once at the Tower proper (which is really more fortress than actual tower), I instantly regretted my footwear choice, as I could feel every damn cobblestone beneath my thin-soled (though sharp-looking) boots.  I sidled over to some relatively smooth pavement and booked on over to the Tower Bridge.  Tower Bridge itself has a tour where you can walk across the upper walkway and (allegedly) get good views of the city.  Seemed worth a go.

I should've known right away that it was a tourist trap given that the city map I'd picked up from my hotel concierge gave me 20% off at this particular attraction.  (It supplied discounts at a few other B-list attractions, and C- or D- list restaurants.) 

It only cost me 3 pounds -- which is about 6 bucks.  That was with the map discount and with the regular discount because half the attraction wasn't available for viewing.  See, the Tower bridge has a lower level and an upper level spanning across the river.  The lower level splits in two and the pieces elevate so that boats can go through.  Although this operates on electricity now, it was originally a feat of Victorian hydraulic engineering.  The Tower Bridge tour was supposed to include a tour of the Victorian engine rooms, but they were out of commission.  So, my six bucks basically got me two 3-minute films on the history of the bridge and a walk across the upper walkway.  (Ooooo.)

By the time I'd completed my underwhelming tour of Tower Bridge, it was around 5:30, so I booked on out to Victoria to grab some dinner before the show.  Ate in a pub/restaurant right next to the theatre--felt all Traditional English Fare, so had a "steak and ale" pie, "mushy" peas, and an actual alcoholic beverage (cider).  I can't prove it, but I'm pretty sure I got way better service than the Americans at other tables who were not drinking.  Then again, there was an awful lot of cider in that bottle, so maybe I was imagining it.

Saw Billy Elliot (the musical) -- which is, if you've seen the movie, pretty much exactly what you'd expect.  I know there's talk of bringing it to America and there may be some concern about its importability -- I can see why.  It's very English.  Trying to do something that English in America might be like trying to do a Motown musical in Lond-  Hey!

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Day Four: Shopping

Debra and her friend went off for the second day of touristy stuff.  I planned to meet them at a tea shop at 5:00 -- because, dammit, we're gonna have traditional afternoon tea in London.  (And we're not going to pay the thirty pounds per person that the hotels charge.)

Today's plan for me was buying stuff.  Went to the Covent Garden Market where I bought a hand-painted silk scarf as a gift (from the woman I always buy hand-painted silk scarves from as gifts).  Also picked up a little something for my neighbor. 

Then commenced walking (stupid underground line still closed for repairs) to another few shops I usually visit.  The Theatre bookshop was inconveniently closed on Sundays.  Then, I went to Forbidden Planet, the science fiction bookshop.

Forbidden Planet conveniently sorts its books by sub-genre, which explains the shelf marked with my Favorite Sign Ever:

"Macho Dudes With Guns."

Seriously.  Wish I had my camera phone on me to snap to a pic to prove it to you all.

I dumped a bunch of cash at Forbidden Planet -- buying books by British authors which I either (a) can't buy in the States or (b) can't buy in the States yet.  Also picked up an overpriced DVD of a British TV series I can't get in the States yet either.  (Which I purchased on the theory that, darn it, I got a code-free DVD Player, so I might as well make use of it.)

Also, I decided I was not leaving that store without some sort of fake sonic screwdriver, but I regret to inform you I did not get the bath set, what 'cause it was, like, ten pounds at Forbidden Planet, and I am not ponying up $20 just to have something to giggle at in the bathroom.

(Only five pounds on Amazon, but shipping may be a problem.)

Anyway, the guy working the till at Forbidden Planet sympathetically said, "It's dangerous walking in here," when he totalled up my bill -- with which I totally agree.

Got out to the tea shop.  We didn't have a reservation and the dude said we were second on the list and it would take a half hour.  (A half hour?  For second on the list?)  But we came back after about ten minutes of walking around, and the guy had pity on us and crammed us into a table for two.  Which was great.  (And about ten minutes later, the table next to us emptied and they added it to ours -- giving us a table for four.)  We lingered there until about 7:00, which pretty much explains why he'd told us the wait would be a half hour.  Afternoon Tea is not to be taken quickly.  Tea.... scones...  cream and preserves ... tea sammiches .... itty bitty cakes ... way nummy.

We came back to the hotel, trying to figure out what to do on a Sunday night in London.  We toyed with a night-time cruise on the Thames, but it is still March, and the only companies that run cruises after 7:00 run them after April 1.  We also considered a pub walk, but they started at 7:30.  So, I'm updating my journal and we're watching Grey's Anatomy reruns.  Not exactly the height of tourism, but what can you do?

Day Three -- The Mystery Play

A friend of Debra's lives in Germany.  She flew in to visit Debra in London for a few days.  So, yesterday (Day three) they went off to do something vaguely touristy (I have no idea what) and I decided to go see another play.

So, I tool on over to the half-price ticket booth, and take a look at the pickins for the matinee.  Not so hot.  Oh, sure, there were about 15 or 20 shows available, but nothing that would really work for me.  Many of them started too late (I was to meet Debra and her friend for dinner around 6:00 -- so the so-called "matinee" at 5:00 was just completely out of the question) and I wasn't really interested in the others.  Figured I might as well pay full price for something I actually wanted to see.

First on the list was Billy Elliott (the musical -- based on the movie).  Figured I'd head on out to the theatre and either see the matinee or -- if decent tix were not available -- buy a ticket for later in the week.  So, I get there (and it's a bit of a pain in the butt, because one of the underground lines that I needed to use was out of commission -- so I had do a little work-around) -- it's around 2:00, and the show is at 2:30.  I get to the box office-- no, I get to the guard in front of the box office.  She tells me that the only seat available for the matinee is Restricted View.  So is the only seat available for the evening performance.  OK, I'll buy something later in the week.  No, I can't.  The guard won't let me near the booth until after the show has started at 2:30.  (Why?  I wonder.  Are they expecting a rush on that restricted view seat?)  I don't want to wait around a half hour, so I'm back on the underground.

My second choice is a show at the Royal National Theatre.  I don't know too much about it, but don't entirely care.  In recent trips to London, I've often rolled the dice on a show at the National, and it's always been good.  (Things I've planned to see there haven't always been great -- but the ones I take a chance on have been.)  High quality acting there, and I recognized the playwright's name from recent work, so it seemed a reasonable shot in the dark.

The National is a three theatre complex.  I hit the box office queue at about 2:25. I duly wait my turn, only to find out that "This close to show time, you need to ask for returns at the individual theatre" -- which is around the corner.  I run like hell around the corner, and hit the box office at 2:31.  They've actually started.  (What?  No grace period?  What's up with you people?)  I ask at the desk if there's any chance of a single seat.  "I'm sorry; all we have left is standing room for five pounds." 

I do a quick calculation:  Have to stand.  But it's only 5 pounds (about ten bucks).  And it's 2:30 now, so I really don't have any other options for the afternoon.  I pony up my 5 pounds and am escorted to my place to lean. 

And am completely entranced for the next two-and-a-half hours.  (My unbroken string of taking chances on plays at the National remains intact.)  The play is called "The Reporter" -- what I knew about it going in is that it is based on the life of a BBC Reporter and sometime spy who committed suicide.  That's pretty much enough to get me in the door.

What I actually got was a theatrical experience (says the program, "The play is not a biography nor a history but a play") which examined the nature of journalism (whether a reporter should remain detached) while dealing with the intensely personal drama of a closeted homosexual (in the 1960s) who figured that coming out would destroy his professional career.  The play actually begins with the reporter's suicide (so you sorta know how things are going to turn out) and tries to determine what it was that led him to take his life (and leave an extremely puzzling suicide note).  Also had some very pointed commentary about Britain's involvement in backing the U.S. in Vietnam -- and you'd have to be living under a rock to not think about Iraq.  Spiffy play.  Excellent way to spend an afternoon (and ten bucks).

Got back across the Thames and booked back out to the Billy Elliott theatre.  The matinee was just letting out and now they were willing to sell me a ticket for Monday night.  Hooray!  Back on the train and got back just in time to meet Debra and her friend for dinner.  We didn't get into the restaurant I had in mind, so just grabbed some eats at a little cafe.

Debra and I then went off for our next play.  (There's a theme to my vacations.)  We'd bought tickets for what I think was the final performance of The Tempest, starring Patrick Stewart as Prospero.

Debra is not a big fan of The Tempest.  I'm not either, but I'd pretty much thought it was because I just hadn't seen a really good production of it.  I mean, I dig Shakespeare in general -- so I figure if this play isn't working for me, I should just keep seeing it until I see someone who actually gets it right.

OK, I can now officially report I just don't dig The Tempest.  Extremely good production (very accessible; very creepy; very effective), excellent acting (although this time I've noticed that Prospero doesn't have a whole lot of stage time), and, all things considered, it just didn't do it for me.  Hey, can't say I didn't try.

Next up:  Sunday.  All theatres are dark.  (What will I do?)

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Day Two -- A Touching Tale of a Boy and His Horse

I kid. 

Well, except about the "touching."

It isn't often that a West End revival of a play written in the 1970s gets mainstream media attention in the U.S. 

But when the play stars Daniel Radcliffe and has a not insubstantial nude scene ... well then, that's a different story.  (Heck, I even recall it making the Welcome Screen on AOL.) 

So.  Equus.  A disturbing little play.  (Boy meets horse.  Boy loses horse...  I kid again.)  Must've been pretty darned revolutionary when it opened back in '73.  Centers around a 17-year-old young man who is undergoing psychiatric treatment because of a brutal crime he committed against some horses.  The play involves issues of religion and sex (and the intersection of the two -- and you're always treading on dangerous ground when you go there), not to mention the purposes the psychotherapy and what it is to be "cured" or "normal." 

And, yeah, the climax (shut up) of the play happens to take place when the boy is in the buff.

The media had a field day.  (Much discussion of "Harry Potter's wand.")  And what was very nearly overlooked in all the fuss about Daniel Radcliffe gettin' nekkid is the fact that Daniel Radcliffe is actually good.  At the acting, I mean.  (Shut up.)  He's very nearly scary good -- to be that young and that effective, and so clearly understand the difference between stage acting and film acting, and actually pull off a really good job at the former when he knows that, because of the latter, the whole world is going to be looking at him through a microscope.  (And binoculars, if you're one of his teenaged fangirls.)

And, just in case you thought I was one of those people who went to see Equus to check out Harry Potter's package, let me point out that, in fact, I was going to check out the actor playing the horse.  Seriously. 

Shut up.

Day One

So.  It was an overnight flight.  I tried to sleep on the plane.  As is my usual practice, I'm not entirely positive that I succeeded.  I never actually feel like I've slept on a plane (I certainly never feel myself wake up) but there were a couple hours unaccounted for, so perhaps I did.  I can't believe I just sat there trying to sleep for four hours -- I don't have the patience.  So, yeah, probably slept.

My travel partner, Debra, did not.  This might explain why, when we got to the hotel, Debra crashed.  Zonked right out on the bed, on top of the covers.  It was about 4:00.  I decided to go for a wander, and left a note that I'd be back in a couple hours for dinner.

My wander had two main purposes:  (a) getting my bearings in this neighborhood (I've never stayed in this hotel before -- thank you, Priceline); (b) getting out to the half-price ticket booth to buy a theatre ticket for that night.

Yes, a theatre ticket.  I was engaging in patented plan to defeat jet lag -- basically forcing myself to stay up until 11:00 or 11:30, by finding "the loudest most obnoxious musical" I could find and buying a ticket.  (London, I should note, has been absolutely terrific for this in previous years.  I mean, really, We Will Rock You -- the musical based on the songs of Queen?  I'm telling you, the only purpose to this musical is helping people defeat jet lag.)  So, I went out to Leicester Square and the half-price ticket booth.  I scanned the boards to see what was up, and there really wasn't anything.  And then.... I saw it ...

Dancing in the Streets.  The Motown musical.


So, I buy me a ticket and head back to the hotel.  Debra is too pooped to go out to dinner anywhere, but there's a department store across the street with a food hall -- and they have tons of premade sandwiches.  (This will turn out to be a regular stop for me -- pretty much grabbing a sandwich and some fruit before I head out each day.)  So, I buy some sandwiches and we eat back in the room.  Then I'm off to Dancing in the Streets.

I felt kinda bad for the cast, because the theatre was half-empty, and it'shard to get an audience all riled up when it's only half an audience.  But they tried, and they were reasonably talented.  And the show didn't have a story or anything -- it was just one Motown song after another, which made it pretty much ideal for my purposes.  OK, I very nearly dozed off during the Endless Love/Three Times A Lady set, but, hey, I probably would've even if I wasn't jet lagged.

And that was pretty much the end of the first day.  I came back to the hotel all pumped and awake and more or less re-set to London time -- ready to attack Day Two.

Where to Begin?

Our Awards show was on Monday.  I admit that the actual planning of the Awards show was much less insane than it was last year -- but the last few days before the show were as crazy as ever.  This was not only because I was co-producing the Awards show, but also because I was way busy at work.  And because I'd decided to go to London on Wednesday.

It had seemed like a good idea at the time.  Get all my work finished on Friday; do the Awards show on Monday; have Tuesday to do laundry, pay bills, and pack all leisurely; leave for London on Wednesday.

Yeah, right.  I was at work pretty late on Friday finishing up -- with London imminent, I didn't really have a "safety net" for finishing work after the Awards.  Awards stuff dominated Saturday and Sunday -- pretty late at night both nights -- 2:30 a.m., I think. After the Awards show itself on Monday (which was (a) way more ambitious than the show we did last year; and (b) really amazing), I didn't get home till around 1:00, and had to unpack my car.  (And had to watch "Dancing With the Stars" -- at least in Fast-Forward) and I didn't turn in until 4:00 a.m.  At which point, I promptly slept till about 4:00 p.m.

I needed it.  Don't get me wrong -- I really, really needed it.  But the day was shot.  No bill paying, no doing laundry, no packing leisurely.  I just about had enough time and energy to get dressed, eat dinner, go to my homeowners' association meeting, come back, watch 24, go back to sleep.

Wednesday, I woke bright and early at around noon.  Put in some laundry, tried to wrap up some Awards business (about 9 people won stuff at the silent auction but left before the auction closed -- so I had to call them all).  Wasn't till 3:30 that it really dawned that I had to leave for the airport at 5:00 and hadn't started packing yet.

There are two ways to pack.  There's the sane way, in which you make a list of everything you'll need based on the time that you're away.  You pile it all up on your bed, stick it all into those space bags, push all the air out, and neatly pack it in the smallest bag it all fits in.

And then there's the way you pack when you're leaving for the airport in an hour and a half.  You take the biggest suitcase you own, open it up on the floor, and keep throwing clothes in until it's full.  Then you're done.  It's packing on the principle that "as long as I have my passport and prescription meds, everything else is gravy."  Sure, I'd like to not have to buy everything abroad, but if I need to, I can. 

Out the door at 5:05.  The bills were unpaid, though.  I threw the bills and a couple blank checks in my suitcase, figuring I could buy some stamps at the airport and mail them there.

While waiting for the flight, I paid my Mastercard bill over the phone.  It was a race, as I was losing battery rapidly, and the automated voice system seemed to be taking it's own sweet time.  "Press 1 if this is correct; press 2 if you want to transfer a different amount."  I press 1.  She says "I did not recognize that command.  Press 1 if this is correct ..."  And I'm yelling, "I pressed 1, dammit!" and pounding on the "1" key.  Finally, I get a confirmation number just as the phone craps out.

Could not pay the other bills, though.  They don't sell stamps on this side of security.  Am now wondering which would be less late -- paying them when I get back or mailing them from London.

Ah well.  I'm here now; that's what matters.

Sunday, March 4, 2007

Yogurt Farts

Part of my eating plan involves tossing back a container of Yoplait every morning for breakfast.  (I have been doing this without fail since August.  Even when I sleep till noon.  It's still yogurt time.)

The problem -- which I have also experienced since August -- is the fact that, when you open the foil seal off the top of the container, yogurt farts right on out of it.  Generally landing on my shirt.  (Requiring application of the magic Tide Pen.)

It wasn't until last week that I really sat down and looked at the science of the problem.  The yogurt farts were occurring because of the airtight lid.  The exact mechanism (of why opening the airtight lid caused yogurt to fly out the opening with great speed and embarrassing sound effects) was unknown to me, but I was positive it definitely had to do with the airtightiness of the lid.  Because, surely, yogurt doesn't just fly out of containers of its own accord.  (Y'know.  Cause of gravity and stuff.)

I therefore began experimenting with a simple solution.  Prior to opening the lid, I punch my thumbnail through the foil, letting air come in all natural-like from the top.  (I admit, I don't think I would have thought of this solution had my thumbnail not accidentally poked through one of the little buggers in the supermarket one day.)  In any event, it works.  Poke through the lid before opening, and yogurt farts are a thing of the past.

Friday, March 2, 2007

Why's The Easy Mac on Sale? Oh

I like Easy Mac.  It's that version of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese you make in the microwave.  You put the Mac in a bowl with water and nuke it up, then stir in the Cheese Sauce Mix.  When I'm feeling particularly creative, I'll throw some tuna in there, too.

Sometimes, I actually have problems with it.  Depending on the bowl I'm using, it sometimes boils over and spills water all over the inside of the microwave.  Alternatively, the water bubbles around the inside of the bowl, leaving a bizarre film there that I need to wipe off before I mix in the Cheese Sauce Mix.

So, a few weeks ago, imagine my surprise when I saw -- in the grocery store -- little microwavable plastic bowls pre-filled with Easy Mac. (EasiER Mac, I reckoned.)  For these, you don't even have to bother with your own bowl.  Just fill to the "fill line" with water and toss directly into the microwave, mixing in the sauce mix afterward.  OK.  And they were on MAJOR sale.  Like a quarter each or something.  I bought about 4 of 'em.

Ate the first two, no problem.  Made the third last night.  By this time, I seemed fairly on top of my Easy Mac technology, so I didn't bother reading the label.  Just tore the lid half off, filled to the fill line, dropped the lid back down, stuck in the microwave.

Microwave stops cooking and beeps.  I reach into the microwave to grab my Easy Mac, and lift the lid off so I can stir in the Cheese Sauce.

At this point, the thousand-degree steam that was trapped inside this thing by the lid comes pouring out and burns me on the thumb.  (On the inside of my thumb.  Between the two joints.)

Now, in hindsight, I realize you were supposed to take the lid COMPLETELY off before the nuking -- similar to cooking in a bowl.  Although I do bet this is why they were on the sort of sale that suggests the product is being discontinued.  'Cause people are likely to leave that lid partially attached, and that's apparently a recipe for hot, skin-burning steam.

Went to sleep with a cold pack under my hand.  I believe this may cause problems with holding a pen, dammit.