Thursday, March 31, 2011


Today, being Cesar Chavez Day, is a day off for me (being a State employee).

(Yeah, don't get your knickers in a twist about all my free days off.  I also have one (unpaid) furlough day per month, although I'm still expected to get the same amount of work done.)

Which also means that today was the day I sat down with TurboTax (and a variety of statements and receipts) to do my damn taxes.  The process took a bit longer than expected because, of course, there were a couple things I couldn't find.  (Still don't know where last year's Property Tax bill went -- good thing my bank has copies of the cancelled checks online.)

Oh, and unlike a lot of whiny tax-dodgers who don't want Amazon to collect sales/use tax, I'd really kind of like it if they did.  Because, for me to pay it (as it is owed anyway) meant that I had to add up all the money I spent on Amazon this year.  Which was sobering as well as time-consuming.  Because I've spent a pile of money at Amazon.

(And then I started thinking:  no wonder businesses are failing, because I buy damn near everything I need online.  And then I started thinking: no wonder my State has no damn money, because it is missing out on all the sales tax revenue it would be getting if everyone bought all this stuff at bricks & mortar stores.  So, yes, of course I pay my use tax.  A fact which has nothing at all to do with the fact that I want my State to do well fiscally so that it can freakin' pay me.)

But that's just missing the main point that THE TAXES ARE DONE!  There shall be much rejoicing!

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Tick tick tick

Do you ever wait for an email, so you're sitting there with your email open hitting "reload" (or "send/receive") every minute or so?  And the damn email still doesn't come?

No?  Never mind.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

OK, Who Doesn't Want Me To Sleep?

Was up late last night.  Couldn't entirely be helped (OK, I was out till 11:00 -- the extra two hours watching TV and unwinding probably could've been helped).  But I'm still jet lagged so I really need to sleep a lot.

I was scheduled for a mattress delivery today.  (As I am a good American, I bought a new mattress on Presidents' Day.)  They called yesterday and told me they'd come between 7:45 and 9:45 this morning.  Yowch.

I set an alarm for 7:30 (figuring I could throw on clothes and strip the linens from my bed in 15 minutes), but also knew they'd call a half hour before coming.  Since my phone is a magicjack, it won't ring unless the computer is on, so I make sure to leave the computer on all night.

So, 7:09, I am awakened by the phone ringing.  They'll be here in a half hour.  Get up; strip linens; put clothes on.  Dudes arrive just around a half hour later.

Macy's mattress delivery dudes are all business.  Old mattress and box spring out; new mattress and box spring in.  All by 8:00.  (And they were good about not letting the cat out, too.)  I sign for the mattress, agree to give them a positive review when Macy's calls to check up ("in two or three days"), and send them on their merry way.  I remake the bed, reset the alarm for a more civilized hour (10:00) and try the mattress out.

I am awakened by the phone at about 9:45.  (Should've turned off the computer, dammit.)  It is Macy's, calling to see how well the delivery went.  (Two or three days, two or three hours -- same difference.)  I assure Macy's that their delivery guys were great.  I turn off the alarm and go back to sleep.

10:15.  Doorbell.  Stumble to the door and hear a child's voice.  "Who is it?"  Not a child's voice.  A man's voice.  Peephole shows me a whole family.  They want to talk to me about the Bible.  Thanks but no thanks.  They wish me a good morning and walk off.  I try to go back to bed, now for the third time.

11:00.  Doorbell again.  Really?  This time, it's window salesmen, signing people up for free estimates.  Annoyingly, I may actually be interested in new windows -- and from this company, too -- but I have a strict policy of not signing up for anything with door-to-door solicitors, as it only encourages them.  I tell him I'll call when I'm good and ready.  He leaves his phone number and a brochure at the door.

I think about going back to sleep again, but there's really no point.  Good thing, too, as the phone rang about ten minutes later.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Kindred Spirit

[Note:  Am back home now.]

I met a kindred spirit last night at Spider-Man:  Turn off the Dark.  (Yes, having finally seen it, I now understand the subtitle.  Well, “understand” in the broad sense of the word.  Like how you understand the matter/anti-matter engines on Star Trek.  It makes sense on the surface, but when you look behind it, there’s no there there.)

OK, so, about two-thirds of the way through the first act (which wasn’t going nearly as badly as I’d been led to believe – look, I paid my money to see a $65 million train-wreck) – yeah, anyway, about two-thirds of the way through the first act, there was a moment of jaw-dropping badness.  I mean, they’ve got about 10 actors playing Spider-Man, between the one actually singing the role and the ones doing backflips and the ones flying around the theatre – but, at one point, Spider-Man rushes in to catch a baby falling from a burning building and they do this with an oversize cartoon drawing of a (massive) baby falling from the top of the stage, and then the giant cartoon Spider-Man hand moving on in just underneath it while we hear an offstage voice yell, “My baby!”  Stupid?  Oh my yes.  Silly?  Outrageously.  Enough, in fact, to make the guy sitting next to me start laughing his butt off.  He could barely stop.

So, at intermission (when, because we apparently live in bizarro-world, I overheard people say how much they were enjoying the show), I turned to the guy next to me and said, “The baby was too much for you, huh?”

We start comparing notes.  He, too, was there to see this train wreck of a musical.  I pointed out that I thought the first act was salvageable, although, when you got right down to it, the only thing that was genuinely GOOD about it was the set design.  So, dude and I were just nodding in the silence saying, “Yeah, sets were really great.”  “Mm-hmmm.  Really great sets.”

Dude told me that, from all he had heard, the second act would be a lot worse.  I sort of hoped so.  (Look, I want the show to succeed – and I think that their current plan of closing it down for a few weeks and doing a massive rewrite is an excellent idea.  BUT, I didn’t have a stopover in New York just to see a mediocre show.  I wanted to see a piece of crap that I could tell my friends in L.A. about.)  I noted (eagerly) that the song “Deeply Furious” was still in the song list – I’d heard that they were going to cut that one and was hoping I’d still get to see it.  It apparently involved the Goddess Arachne (and the Furies, who, for some inexplicable reason, were also 8-legged) singing about shoes.

And, indeed, they did.  Imagine a woman standing inside … you know how a baby has a round walker the baby stands inside?  Picture one of those, except instead of plopping the kid in a cylinder with wheels on the bottom, it is a four legged thing.  And the legs are, y’know, ACTUAL LEGS.  Human legs.  (Well, fake human legs.)  Wearing high heels.  Now imagine the woman inside also wearing high heels.  (The other two legs are, of course, her arms.)  Now imagine her throwing a couple of the fake legs around with her arm legs, like she’s doing the can-can and flashing her drawers at you.  And singing about shoes.

And this was ONLY ONE of the insanely ridiculous things that went on in the second act of this show.  (I’m hesitant to actually describe the plot here, because it would be a spoiler – but can you legitimately spoil something that is already rotten to the core?)  When the whole things ends up resolving itself like Phantom of the Opera, it was my turn to have the uncontrollable laughing fit.

And the most inexplicable thing of it all was that at the end of the show, everyone around us actually stood up to give it a standing ovation.  I turned to the guy next to me and said, “Not if my life depended on it” at the same time he turned to me and said, “No way in hell.”

It was, in fact, spectacularly awful.

I hope they rework it and make a genuine hit.  But I’m really glad I saw this, and that it lived down to expectations.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

New York State of Mind

And... my New York State of Mind is "bitchy."

Flight was due in at 4:00, and I needed to get through immigration and customs and out to midtown in time to check-in, change, eat dinner, and get to a play by 8:00.  Knowing that the taxi line can often be long, I reserved a limo (well, a town car) -- billed at $60, but it ended up over $100 once they added in tax, tolls, "meet & greet" fee, and gratuity.  Fine, just get the damn car there when I need it.

So, plane lands, clear immigration, get bags (both of them!), clear customs (all by about 4:20) walk out to where six limo guys are standing with signs for passengers, and my name is not among them.  I call the limo people and they make various excuses about being caught in traffic, and I'm thinking I could be in a fucking taxi right now for half the money.

Note the expletive.  I'm in New York -- it seems to come with the territory.  So I'm pretty much on a hair-trigger and these idiots are pissing me off.  The guy eventually shows up, and starts walking me to the car -- he takes one of my bags and leaves me carrying the other.  Really?  A $12 "meet and greet" fee and a $12 tip and I'm hauling a bag?  F you, people.

Yuri apparently reads minds, because he reaches for my second bag when we're halfway to the parking lot.  He then attempts to mollify me with the fact that they sent a stretch limo rather than a town car.  Same rate.  I am somewhat impressed, but the fact is, I would've taken a taxi if it would've gotten me to the city sooner.  It's about speed, not snootiness.

After some initial difficulty with my credit card (natch), we eventually get on the road (4:45) and make it to the hotel at around 6:00.  I make an enemy of the doorman by refusing to let him take my bags.  It isn't that I'm against bell guys on principle -- and I'm not against tipping a few bucks either -- it's just that when they take your bags, you don't get them back until after you're in your room already, and I'm in a fucking hurry.  So when doorguy tried to grab my bags out of the limo (probably wrongfully expecting a big spender), I say I'll take them.  He says he'll take them.  We're having a standoff in the middle of the street, and I have to raise my voice and say, "Sir, I will take my bags!"  I was inches away from actually using the word "unhand" (or "damn" -- it could've gone either way).

So, here I am, in my room (small, but functional, and with free wi-fi -- yay America!), tidying up and getting ready for the theatre.

Last night:  "Frankenstein" in London.  Tonight:  "Spider-Man" in New York.  From the sublime to the ridiculous.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Experiencing the Doctor Who Experience

Not entirely sure if you’re going to get a note on Frankenstein tonight – I’ve got to pack and get ready to hit the road.

I do have about an hour now, though, so I should write up my early afternoon foray into the Doctor Who Experience. (Geeks only need read further.)

It is at the Olympia 2 arena. Which is located near the Olympia underground station. Which I could not get to. (You’re supposed to pick up a train for it at Earl’s Court. According to the timetable on the wall, the train for Olympia is to leave at 11:49. At 11:43, it wasn’t listed on the board of trains coming within the next 10 minutes. And my ticket was for noon. Heck with it – nothing left but to hoof it.) So, I follow some signs and make my way to the Doctor Who Exhibition. You can’t miss it – it’s in the building with about 100 schoolchildren gathered in front of it.

Poop. I specifically chose noon on a Tuesday thinking that might be adults only. The folks inside the exhibit agreed with me that this is usually the best time – but somehow they got several school groups in today. They let me right in, though, ahead of all the kids.

There are two parts to the exhibition – a “walk-through” (which has little video segments leading you along the way) and a standard exhibit (which you can take at your own pace).

There were about 3 other adults in the exhibit with me – and a school group ahead of us. One of the guys running the place came to the four of us and told us he’d put us through the walk-through with this school group, because it was kinda small and there were five school groups behind. He also told us not to be polite and let the kids go in front. “Get your money’s worth,” he said.

He also told us that the kids would be screaming a bit, but that it was better to have kids with you to get the full Experience experience. This was accurate.

So, it starts in a room with a film clip on a screen. Then the screen shows a crack in time splitting – and the screen itself splits along the crack (kids let off a collective, “ohhh!”) and we’re invited to pass through it. (“Is it okay?” a kid cautiously asks a teacher.)

In the next room, it’s a TARDIS control room, with two sets of railings around. On the first set of railings are a few joysticks for kids to operate the controls. (I’m at the second railing, with a perfect view above all the little heads.) The kids are TOTALLY into this. The Doctor (on video) asks which kid is at the “Navigation” controls, and a little kid in front of me eagerly raises his hand and follows the Doctor’s directions. The Doctor is also making jokes – one running joke has to do with bald people turning into chickens or something. Turns out one of the other three adults in our group is bald, so the kids keep turning to him whenever the Doctor mentions feathers appearing on the bald gentleman. (It’s like the Doctor actually sees us!)

Third room is a dalek attack. Daleks on tracks start appearing from all sides. Lasers get fired. Random dalek extermination conversation. It was at this point I decided I had to start taking notes on what the kids were saying. One of the daleks says something like, “We are the only true master race!” An indignant child stands up right in front of him and says, “No you’re not!” Yes, it IS more fun with kids.

After the last room (a 3D with monsters coming right at you – including a very nice bit where a weeping angel gets closer while you’re blinking – I don’t know if they force a blink with a light or if I just got lucky on that, but the timing was perfect and the effect nearly made me jump), you get out into the museum itself.

It begins with a costume display of all 11 Doctors. I check them all out, but I have particular affection for the 5th Doctor (Peter Davison), as he was my first Doctor, as it were. A group of school kids walks by – one little boy (who looked like he couldn’t have been more than 8), points to the 10th Doctor (David Tennant) and knowingly says to the kid next to him, that that one “was the Doctor when I was little.” I smiled at him. I guess everyone remembers their first – even if it was just two years ago.

Nice exhibit. Cybermen through the ages; daleks through the ages; monsters; companions – heavy on the 10th and 11th Doctor eras, but a bit from before as well. (Note to the curious: Astrid was displayed among the companions. So, that’s the official ruling on that particular question.) A lot of the displays indicate they were here on loan from private collections. This included the 5th Doctor’s TARDIS (on display at the opposite end of the room from the 10th Doctor’s TARDIS). And I thought, “Private collection? Someone has this in their LIVING ROOM?” And while the 10th Doctor’s TARDIS wasn’t doing anything in particular (having been exploded), the 5th Doctor’s TARDIS had the lights in the core going up and down, leading the child next to me to loudly proclaim (to everyone around him), “Ooo! Look! It’s liftin’ off!”

I got me some photos (the other adults offered) and, of course, stopped in the gift shop (mandatory at the end of every exhibit), managing to get one more gift from my list (only one left to go!) and something for me, too – a sonic screwdriver pen, amusingly labelled as an “executive” pen. (Yeah, these are used only for important signing occasions.) Goes on to say it is “essential kit for time travelling escapades or deskwork!” Man, this country just cracks me up.

I really, truly love the little kid standing up to the dalek, though. Gives me faith that television is raising the next generation right.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Very Long Trip Journal

Oh, SO much happened today. I might have to do this in sections for easier reading. (And hi Kath! Thanks for commenting.)

I seem to be alternating between waking up nice and early (when my alarm goes off) and oversleeping. Today was an oversleeping morning. I believe the problem arises when, after my alarm goes off, I think, “Oh, no need to hit the snooze, I’ll just get up on my own in five minutes.” And, an hour and a half later, I actually get up.

This was a bit of a problem. I needed to be someplace at 11:30. Someplace it would take me a half hour to get to. And it was 10:25. Breakfast was totally out. (The hotel free breakfast stopped at 10:30 anyway.) Hell, SHOWERING was very nearly out of the question. (Good thing I’d taken a bath to warm up the night before.) Also, remember when I went to Covent Garden on Saturday and mentioned buying something for myself? It was one of those little hair toy gadget thingies that helps pin your hair up easily. Convenient – yes. No time to wash my hair and no way I’m going out in public without it washed or up. Up it is. So, clothes on, hair up, and I’m out the door at about ten of. Got to my destination on time. Hell, I was about 12 minutes early. Go me.


The plan (at 11:30) was to talk a guided walk. I’ve taken a few walks with the London Walks people ( and they’ve always been informative. The “Darkest Victorian London” walk seemed particularly interesting – learning about the work houses, debtors’ prisons and the like. Besides, the walk took place on the South side of the Thames, an area I’ve rarely seen.


The South Bank houses the National Theatre, which I have seen. Plenty. (Also the Old Vic, which I’ve also seen.) But, other than specific targeted forays into the area, I’ve really not gone there. And I used to get lost going to the National. Frequently. I may have mentioned this before (my last trip to London) – but the shortest way to get to the National is to take the Underground to Waterloo station. The National is only a few blocks from the station, but it isn’t a really pleasant walk (I have vague recollections of a dreary underpass) and I didn’t know the way very well. But, one trip, I learned that I can actually get there from an underground station on the OTHER side of the Thames. Walk along the embankment a bit, walk across Waterloo Bridge, set down right next to the National. Can’t miss it. The walk is beautiful at night, too. Thames is dark and beautiful; Parliament is lit up – hell, now you’ve even got the London Eye being pretty. You know when you’re doing relaxation exercises and someone tells you to think of a happy place? My happy place is walking back over Waterloo Bridge after seeing a terrific play at the National. But, taking this walk means I don’t REALLY set foot on the South side of the Thames, other than on the grounds of the National.


So, I signed up for this walk, thinking I would (at the very least) see some areas of London I’ve never seen. And maybe even get my bearings on the other side of the Thames. (I’m getting pretty good at navigating by feel on the North side – am extremely proud of myself for this.) We met the guide at Monument – a great big pillar that’s a monument to the great fire. (Impressive. And difficult to miss.) There was a group of people all milling around the monument. I joined them. When the guide, Jean, came, we all circled round her. I thought it was kinda funny – every single person looking at the monument was really just killing time until Jean got there. So, we all paid our few pounds and set off. Here’s the one negative thing about the walk: there were a lot of us on it. Jean is older and small, and her voice doesn’t carry all that well. I quickly learned that if I wasn’t standing near the front, I’d miss half of what she was saying. So, every time we went off walking someplace new, I’d take off at a fast clip and try to get to the front of the mob, so I’d end up near the front when Jean stopped. They really should’ve split this group into two. And/or given Jean a megaphone.

Other than that, the walk was pretty interesting. There’d been a journalist in Victorian times who spoke with people on the street (poor people) and asked them what they did for a living and how they got by – and wrote down their exact words. Jean took on their characters and relayed their words to us. It really made the stories come alive. We also saw the buildings (or their remains) where some of this stuff took place. I mean, even when all that’s still standing is the outer prison wall, it’s pretty cool to be staring at the bricks from what was the inside.


There was a bit of a bonus on the walk – it ended at the Old Operating Theatre (which offered a 50% discount for people on the walk), which was a museum I’d been wanting to see anyway. This is … well, it’s exactly what it says on the tin: an old operating theatre. (Which is to say: old operating room, with benches around it so medical students could watch and learn.) The room itself was in use before such exciting medical advances as sterilizing instruments and anesthesia. On your way to the room, they had displays of medical and surgical instruments (as they evolved). Yeah, any time someone tells you they wish they’d lived in Victorian times or something … no, they didn’t. Dude, I saw the “amputation kit.” Hell, I saw how they removed stones from the urinary tract.

(Sorry, no photos. I sorta forgot the camera in my hurry out the door.)

The operating theatre itself, though – small. Wooden table. Box of sawdust underneath to collect the blood. A roll of bandages. People to hold you down while they do the procedure.

Oddest thing, though – they had some pages of a surgical book on display, which explained the process of an amputation at the thigh. (Which did, actually, begin with having an assistant hold the patient in place.) But what was crazy weird about this was that it WASN’T just “grab saw; take off leg.” I mean, this was a medical text, a fairly educated document setting forth the height of medical science at the time, and went on for a few pages about what to cut, when to cut it, and how to cut it – with notes about how this or that does not increase the pain of the procedure or how another thing makes it easier to have enough skin to heal up over the stump. There was this crazy sort of dichotomy between the hifalutin’ medical language and the barbaric procedure it was describing – but that was the best they had at the time and they didn’t KNOW it could (and would) ultimately get a lot better.

It was a pretty small museum (teeny, if you want to know the truth) but I was there for nearly an hour. You know how I said Stonehenge seemed cold and empty? There were still ghosts here. Not “ooooOOOOoooo” ghosts or anything, but it was pretty hard to stand in the operating theatre, right next to the small wooden operating table, and NOT think of the women (it was a female operating room) who underwent the torture of limb removal without anesthesia … and were very likely to die anyway, from infection picked up in that very room.


And then: food. :)

Look, I hadn’t had breakfast – hunger overrode any residual ooky feelings from the operating theatre. Decided to go back to the North side of the Thames. Hell, I could go back to the hotel. There’s a nice little bakery about a block away – could get a sandwich and a scone or something. Went to said bakery, stood by the “Please Wait to Be Seated” sign, and wasn’t seated. Not surprising, really, the place was packed. But it was nearing 2:30 and I was thinking food would be a really good idea, sooner rather than later.

Hey! Wait a second! Sandwich and scone – that sounds suspiciously like afternoon tea. My hotel offers afternoon tea – I could get some. This was more complicated than it should have been, as I had no reservation. The lounge serving tea couldn’t fit me in, but sent me down to the lobby bar. The ambience kinda blew, but food was food. I even went back up to my room to grab a book, and read while I had a leisurely tea.


(See? There was a reason I went into this.) I had a ticket for a show at the National tonight. Actually, I had a ticket for two things at the National, a play and a thing.


Yeah, OK, I need to explain this, too. One of the reasons I came to London was to see this (hopefully really nifty) production of “Frankenstein” at the National. A somewhat unique feature of this production is that the roles of Dr. Frankenstein and his Creature are played by two actors who alternate roles (Jonny Lee Miller and Benedict Cumberbatch). So, once I figured when tickets were on sale, I had to figure out which combination of actors to see. (Seeing both was a possibility, but I rejected it. Seemed too greedy. Besides, there was the chance that the play would really suck, and I wouldn’t want to be stuck seeing it a second time.) OK, so I put a surprising amount of thought into this. I went for Miller as the good (?) Doctor and Cumberbatch as the Creature. (Here’s my thinking: My only real experience with Miller was as Jordan Chase in this past season of “Dexter.” And I thought his character there had some real Doctor Frankenstein elements going on – in that he’d created killers, and seemed really heartless about it. Whereas my experience with Cumberbatch is his unbelievably good Sherlock in the recent TV adaptation. I figured he’d work well in either role, actually, but I think he’s particularly good at portraying OTHERNESS, which I reckoned would make him a good Creature.)

ANYWAY, I decided on THAT arrangement of actors. Which is tomorrow, not tonight. But tonight, the National was doing a THING – a discussion of “Frankenstein” with the playwright (Nick Dear) and Director (Danny Boyle – you’ve probably heard of him). And that seemed kinda cool. So I got a ticket for that, and figured that if I’m going to see a show at all tonight, I should see something at one of the other two theatres in the National complex, since I wouldn’t have a ton of time between the discussion and curtain. So I bought a ticket for a show called “The Holy Rosenbergs,” about which I knew pretty much nothing, except that it had something to do with a Jewish family in London, and that it was selling fairly well.


So, had to get there by 6:00, for the thing. Was aiming to get there by 5:30, to pick up my tickets for everything all at once, and I didn’t leave until 5:00 – so time was a little tight. Figured I should actually go via Waterloo Station this time. The walk over the bridge isn’t nearly as fun during daylight; the station is much closer; and I’ve got to get over this fear of navigating on the South side of the Thames.

I look at my map, figure out exactly where I have to go, and go to Waterloo station. I get out of the station, follow the signs to the National, and when the signs stop, I just pick a direction and keep walking...

… and end up at totally the wrong place. It’s salvageable, of course – I walked toward the London Eye, because I knew the damn thing was on the river, and all I had to do was make a right once I got there. The problem was, I never should have been anywhere near the London Eye. Shit shit shit – I will NEVER get this right.

Got there in time, though. Got all my tickets, too – to my great amazement, I put my credit card in the Ticket Pick Up Kiosk and it immediately spit out my three tickets. I don’t know why, but I am impressed when machines that are supposed to work ACTUALLY do.


Nick Dear and Danny Boyle were interesting. Was very glad I attended the talk, although in their attempts not to “spoil” the show, they pretty much managed to spoil it anyway. (No big deal, but still.) They were amusing and informative and …

… and I couldn’t stop thinking about the Old Operating Theatre. (Bet you didn’t see that one coming. I didn’t.) But it was all in there, when Dear was asked if he’d ever considered modernizing the story rather than keeping it set where Shelley had set it (round about 1820). And he said, no, it had to be there. It had to be pre-1830 (which he noted as the first commercial steam train – hey! Steam Train!) because it had to be verge of industrial revolution. Because we’re dealing with a time of infinite possibility – a doctor who feels that scientific development has enabled him to challenge G-d and create life itself. And I’m thinking back to when surgery was pretty much taking limbs OFF, and how irresistable the idea must have been of putting them TOGETHER. How they thought they knew so much, but their technique was really pretty rudimentary. At the Old Operating Theater, my sympathies had been with the PATIENTS, but now I started thinking about the doctors – the people who held in their hands these intruments that were simultaneously delicate and crude; the people who (through study of cadavers) knew a lot about what went on inside a living human body, but didn’t have the tools to properly access or fix it.

So, yeah, am rather more looking forward to “Frankenstein” tomorrow – I reckon I might get a bit more out of it thanks to thing today.


You know, if I were reviewing this play, I’d have a lot to say about it. The writing was a bit weak and I didn’t entirely buy all the performances. Although there was one point that really seemed to work for me – which was totally weird as it’s generally the part of this sort of play that doesn’t always work. See, SOMETIMES in plays about modern Jewish families, the whole play is created in order for there to be some sort of political discussion involving Israel. And the discussion generally seems shoe-horned in the play, and it generally comes off as kind of one-sided (as it’s the reason for the play in the first place), and I get the feeling that it isn’t going to change any minds because of its one-sidedness. And here, that discussion was pretty much the only thing in the play that really worked. We’re dealing with a father who takes a “support Israel right or wrong” attitude (and it is strongly influenced by the fact that the generation before him didn’t have an Israel when it really needed one) and a daughter who is taking part in a UN-sanctioned investigation into possible war crimes committed in the West Bank, because she believes that the only way to move past a perpetual state of war is not to lose the moral high ground.

The discussion works in the play because, true to the way the world works, nobody is going to change anybody else’s mind – and the play is structured so that this isn’t really the point, and it actually had a better point. So I quite enjoyed that. The rest of it, though, was kinda trite and (sad to say) a bit stupid.

Plus side, though: Walked back over Waterloo Bridge with a big old happy grin on my face.


Came back to my hotel to write up this monster of a journal entry and plan for tomorrow. (Actually, tomorrow is largely planned. I just gotta get up on time.) Turned on the TV and discovered a “World Edition” of “The Daily Show.” It’s not entirely current (as some of the clips were things that I already saw back home), but the two big differences seem to be: (1) a very short (two joke) introduction especially for the international audience; and (2) the bad words aren’t bleeped out. I got to hear Jon Stewart cuss! Score!

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Day Trip!

Today I was to visit my friend Janice and her family (husband, two kids). She doesn’t live in London, but about a one-hour train ride away. Our initial plan was for me to take a train to … let’s just call it Place A, and she and the family would drive to Place A, and then we’d go to some nearby gardens for the afternoon.

Problem: Trains were not running to Place A. I’d have to take a train, a bus, and another train. It would take an hour forty. We considered Plan B.

Plan B involved taking a train to Place B. They’d meet me there and we’d go to a National Trust property (read: historical house, with gardens as well).

Problem: The forecast was for rain. Lots of rain. I believe the technical term (according to was “showers.” I wasn’t really enamored with the idea of wandering around a not-yet-in-bloom garden in pouring rain. We moved on to Plan C.

Plan C involved me taking the train to Coventry. If I took the early train, we’d go to the Great Central Railway.

I so totally took the early train. (I’d actually been investigating the Great Central Railway for a different day of the trip – but it turned out I didn’t have enough days to do it. So seeing Janice AND going to the Railway was a total no-brainer.)

Great Central Railway runs old-fashioned STEAM trains. :::bouncy bouncy bouncy::: It’s got about 40 minutes worth of track covering 4 stations – you pretty much run the whole line as a round trip in about an hour and a half. With Janice’s family, there were five of us, so we got our own six-person compartment in the train. It was all wooden interior (well, the bench seats were upholstered) and everything else in there (the mirror, the little ledge where you can leave your tea, and the knob to adjust the steam heat) all looked vintage. Hell, they even decorated the stations in period style (each in a different era) – putting old magazine advertisements in the ladies’ lounge and such. And, at one of the end-line stations, they had a garage where they work on the trains, and we got to go in and see one of the engines up close (and a really, REALLY big wrench). And, on the track, we could see the rods used to move the points and the cords used for the signals. It was really nifty – don’t get me wrong, I loves me some modern tech – but there’s something really special about this stuff, where it isn’t all hidden behind some smooth case, and you can see the pistons moving to turn the wheels. I’m not going all steampunk on you, but there’s a definite beauty to it. And riding the train itself was the mostest awesome, watching the steam puff out and feeling the train pick up speed (in real chug-a-chug-a fashion).

So, yes, that was all KINDS of fun. And then, we couldn’t help but notice it was not showering. Not even raining. Sky was actually CLEAR, when you get down to it. So we then drove over to a National Trust property – checked out this lovely old house (how old? old enough to have priest holes in it – you know, where Catholic priests hid out when the country had gone rather adamantly Protestant) and had a little stroll around the gardens, too.

As Janice’s husband put it, we got two outings in one day! I’m pretty wiped (what else is new?) but had a terrific time.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Shopping and Stuff

You know, when I generally go on London, I don’t have things planned for every day. It’s pretty much whatever I feel like doing. Because, y’know, it’s VACATION.

For various reasons, this trip has been a bit different. I have a lot prebooked and what isn’t booked is planned. Today was the one day I didn’t really have anything booked for – which meant that today DID have a plan: see two plays and buy stuff.

I also let myself sleep in. (Hell, I had a 7:50 train out to Salisbury yesterday morning, so I figured I deserved a bit of an oversleep.) Oh, also: not using the alarm clock. (That was a waste of eight pounds.) Had a little talk with my cell phone which basically involved me forcing it into GMT (and TELLING it what time it was – had to reset the date, too – for some reason, it thought it was 1970 – which is really odd as that’s about 40 years before the phone ever existed.) ANYWAY, cell phone alarm is back on the job, but I slept in till 10.

Enjoyed my free breakfast... Normally, I just grab a yogurt or something, but I ended up booking a hotel room with breakfast included. (There’s a story to that too. Here’s the short version: found a good rate on Orbitz; the hotel does price-matching (actually price-BEATING); so they gave me the same rate, a discount, and a free upgrade. Now, the Orbitz rate happened to include breakfast, so I’ve basically got an amazing deal at a really spiffy hotel AND they feed me. Score!

So, enjoyed my breakfast and went off to the half price ticket booth. I had about 4 shows in mind, and two of them were conveniently available. That’s matinee and evening sorted, then. Had about an hour and half to shop, so I ran over to Covent Garden/Jubilee Market (various handmade crafts and stuff) and, in fairly short order, picked up items for two friends, myself, and my boss. This is very good news – there are only three other gifts I have to get, and I’ve already planned where and when I’ll be getting two of them. (See? Everything is preplanned.)

Ran to the matinee. Very nearly literally. At 2:00, I was in the Covent Garden tube station, and figured it’d take ten minutes (or less) to get back to my hotel, leaving me time to dump all these gifts (one was quite heavy) and maybe take a bathroom break before going to the theatre (walking distance from my hotel) for the 2:30 curtain. Had totally underestimated the crowds at the Covent Garden tube station – took ten minutes just to get down to the damn trains. Jogged to the hotel, opened my room, threw the bag in, closed the door. Very nearly got back in the same elevator. Left the hotel about 10 minutes before curtain with a (hopefully-accurate) mental map of how to get to the theatre – I knew what streets to take, but didn’t quite know how long it would take me. I actually handed my ticket to the usher with about 3 minutes to spare. Very close.

That was a revival of “Blithe Spirit,” and it was quite fun. After the show, I went to a nice little restaurant for some hearty British Grub (steak and mushroom pie – mmmm). Had a leisurely meal, and then walked to the other theatre for my evening show, a musical called “Shoes.”

You know, there are some shows that you think might have been written because of a bar bet. “Shoes” is one of those shows. Somewhere along the line, someone must have said, “Oh yeah? I bet you can’t make a musical about shoes!” It’s basically a dance show (my sister would love it) although there are a few people singing to back up all that dance. And one guy who keeps coming in singing shoe metaphors. Like, “If you walk a mile in someone else’s shoes....” and you think, where is this going? He repeats, “If you walk a mile in someone else’s shoes....” OK, I figure there’s a joke here, but I can’t get to it fast enough. “If you walk a mile in someone else’s shoes … then you’re probably a thief.” That sort of snark pervaded the show. It didn’t take itself seriously – except when it was taking itself TOO seriously, for comic effect. Really enjoyable.

Leaving the theatre, it started to rain. Of course, I had left both rainhat and umbrella in the hotel. Figures. So, I got a bit rained on. Ah well.

Best get to bed now. Plans start early tomorrow. :)

Friday, March 11, 2011


Hotel charges 10p a MINUTE for internet access (there’s a per day maximum, thank goodness). But this means that I’m back to typing the journal entry before hopping online real quick to post. And it also means you don’t get the awesome Stonehenge pictures until I get back.

And, yes, they are truly awesome. Largely because, for quite a few minutes today, I was the Only Human Being standing inside the stone circle. (I momentarily considered spinning round like Julie Andrews – but although I was the only person in the stone circle, there were some folks watching from outside.)

See, if you plan in advance with the nice people in the English Heritage office, and give them a not-at-all excessive amount of money, you can get “Stone Circle Access” in a group not to exceed 26 people. Either just before, or just after, public viewing closes. (And in public viewing, you’re stuck on the footpath outside the circle, and can’t get near the stones.)

So, I booked for this afternoon at 4:30, hired a driver to pick me up from the Salisbury train station that morning, tour me all around the area, and take me to Stonehenge. When we pulled into the lot at Stonehenge, the security guy leaned in my car window and said, “You must be [my full name here].”

I was surprised at the personal identification. This was later explained when I learned, at about 4:27, that the bookings for Stone Circle Access this afternoon consisted of me and a tour group – so the solo traveller was pretty easy to spot. And then he said, “The group isn’t here yet, but I could let you up by yourself now, if you’d like.”

Um, yes, please. I’d very much like.

And that was pretty much it. Walked up the path, and when I got to the point where the path comes closest to the Circle, another security dude had pulled aside the rope and said, “Welcome.”

There followed about 10 minutes of me silently wandering around the stones. Now, the last time I’d gone to Stonehenge, I was on that outer path with several hundred other folks, and I’d wanted to try to, y’know, RELATE to the stones, which was hard to do with all the talking around me, so I’d cranked up the music on my Walkman (really, YEARS ago) and tried to tune out the others while having my own personal moment with the several-thousand-year-old monument.

This time, the only sound was the wind whipping round (and through) the stones. It was actually pretty noisy, but it seemed fitting. So, I took my time walking around – I could get as close to the stones as I wanted, but had promised not to touch. Security was very cool about this – I came very very close to touching the stones (generally to line up a photo), and nobody shouted out a warning or anything.

So – did I “hear” anything? Did I feel the magnetic pull? Did I (as my driver asked) get beamed up? No. I gotta say, there was no real spiritual connection here. Perhaps it was just the effect of the wind and the overcast sky, but the real feeling I got from the place was that it was a cold and dead shell – as though whatever spirits might’ve inhabited the place have long since died or fled, leaving this empty place behind.

(Come to think of it, I guess that’s something. I mean, I didn’t think, “Just a bunch of stones.”)

The group eventually arrived, with their tour guide. I decided to make a point of keeping my distance from them, so they didn’t think I was trying to “free ride” off their guide when I hadn’t paid for their group. So, I put in my earphones, cranked up my mp3 player …

… and the Rolling Stones come blasting on. (“Sympathy for the Devil.”) Now, there may be something more inappropriate for Stonehenge, but Mick Jagger was high enough on the inappropriate list that I started laughing, and quickly paged through my “album” list to find something that seemed a better fit.

(And thank you, Michael Flatley. For some reason, I had the soundtrack of “Lord of the Dance” with me. Starts with a number called “Cry of the Celts,” which was whole orders of magnitude better for the moment.)

I did shoot a ton of photos. I started going for some unusual angles, figuring that I might as well take advantage of my location, but I realized, pretty early on, that there is probably not an angle on Stonehenge that nobody has shot before. At one point, one of the nice security guys came in and offered to take a pic of me in front of the stones, so I do, in fact, have photographic evidence of my presence inside the Stone Circle. (I also got what I’d thought was a reasonably decent shot of the sun breaking through the clouds in the background – until Security Guy told me that yesterday they’d had an actual SUNSET, and when that happens, it apparently lines up really cool with the stones.) Still, it was pretty darned impressive just being there.

The rest of the day was spent travelling. A lot. We started off in Bath, and came back stopping at … oh hell, let’s just say about 8 different locations along the way. Some medieval stuff and some neolithic stuff. Actually, quite dug the neolithic stuff. There was an excavated burial mound which we could walk into. (It was on top of a little hill – about a ten minute hike to get to the top. I put on my mp3 player for that and it immediately clicked on U2 singing the lyric, “It’s not a hill, it’s a mountain, as you start out the climb...” Sometimes, it just knows.) Inside, I could see stones piled in the same unique way stones were piled in those Stone Age sites I’d seen in Ireland. Apparently, Stone Age Tech was fairly uniform. There was also a small museum (in Avebury) displaying relics (and bones – animal and human) they’d dug up around there. Totally dug the artifacts. I mean, stone age TOOLS – the way these people modified the limited stuff they had (wood, stones, and animal bones, mostly) to be able to use it – to build, to cook, to even DECORATE. That’s astonishing to me. I mean, I think about life in the stone age as being incredibly harsh and difficult – but the fact that people living then made the effort to make utilitarian things PRETTY is just terrific.

Thursday, March 10, 2011


Well, it’s been quite the day. And a half. Or two. I sort of lost count.

Actually, although I didn’ t know it at the time, the story begins on Tuesday night, when I was packing. And since I generally procrastinate packing, it was LATE Tuesday night. I made a list, put all the items from the list into packing cubes and folders, and put them all in a suitcase.

Er... not all. They wouldn’t all fit.

Now, I was planning on taking my red suitcase, and putting everything else in my matching red rolling duffel carryon. But it would have been AWFULLY tight. I’d have to wear the wool coat, and there wouldn’t be any room for souvenirs. Or, I could go back in all of the cubes and folders and take LESS stuff. Or I could just take another suitcase. (I have a green one that matches the red one.)

Checked online. Am flying Business Class (yay for points!) and I’m allowed three free checked bags. Fine. Let’s use two of them. It’s after midnight and I don’t want to repack. (I’ve course, I’ve only got two hands, so I have to switch to a backpack for the carryon. But since I’ve got tons of space in the two checked bags, this isn’t a problem.) I throw a few cubes in the green suitcase, and I’m done with it.

I do not pack my travel alarm clock. I’d brought it last time and ended up not using it, since I could use the alarm on my cell phone. So, yes, even though the travel alarm clock takes up, like, no space, I did not bring it.

So, Wednesday morning, get on plane at LAX. Connect at JFK. Arrive at Heathrow the next morning 12 hours later. I’m pretty sure I missed a night’s sleep somewhere in there, but, hey, whatever. London! Yay!!

Go through Passport Control. Go to baggage claim. Green bag is waiting for me.

You see where this is going? I certainly did.

At this point, I considered the contents of the bags. My “bathroom bag” is in the green bag. That’s a plus. So is my wool coat. Another plus. Jeans are in the other bag. So is underwear. Dawns on me that, in future, when taking two bags, it might be a good idea to more EVENLY split up the contents.

The nice people at the desk inform me that my red bag didn’t even make it on the plane in L.A. They put it on the next flight – a direct flight to Heathrow which should arrive at 12:45. It was noon at this point, and I didn’t really have to be anywhere. (Had a masssage appointment at 4, but that was about it.) I decide to wait.

The plane didn’t land until closer to 1:00. The bags didn’t start coming off until about 1:15. My bag was pretty much mid-pack. I get it, and finally get to clear customs and make my way out of Heathrow.

There’s free WiFi on the train out of Heathrow. I crank it up on my phone and check my email. Something odd is going on. My phone, using Wi-Fi and GPS, knows I’m in London. It really does. It even shows my location on the train track in Google maps. But, at the same time, it doesn’t know I’m in London. It thinks I’m in … I don’t know where the hell it thinks I am. It thinks the time is about 4 hours and 20 minutes off. I could understand five hours – it would be thinking I’m still on New York time. But this 20 minutes thing is just bizarre. I don’t know any time zone that has that current time.

(The time zones in my Google calendar app? They’re still in New York time.)

Make a mental note (which, with jet lag, is always a dodgy proposition) to buy an alarm clock in London. This is what I get for not packing my travel alarm, dammit.

Arrive at my central London hotel at 2:00 – I realize I have about an hour before I have to leave and find this massage establishment, assuming I want to take a shower before the massage. And, I mean, I do. I’ve been travelling and it’s only polite. So I quickly remove the cubes and folders from my bags, and put on a change of clothes. I am surprised to discover a “Hello, we pawed through your stuff” card from the TSA in the GREEN bag – that is, the bag that actually made the flight.

Shortly after 3:00, I make my way out of the hotel and hunt down the massage establishment in question. I’d been checking UK Groupon for months until I found one for a massage that I could use (ideally, one that didn’t require a mobile phone number for booking, as I don’t have a British mobile phone). I finally found and booked this one. So, I show up at the spa for my (pre-paid, inexpensive) massage.

You were going to get a whole journal article on the very interesting ways in which Ling beat me up. Also bent me into a variety of positions during the massage. Seriously. Not just “face down” and “flip over,” but “lean on your right side” and “put this leg over here.” I sum up: she moved my body around so much EXTERNALLY, it got things moving INTERNALLY so much that I, er, had to pass gas right there on the table. Twice.

From there, I stopped by a shop to pick up a damn travel alarm clock, got some cash for my travels tomorrow, and (and, again, I condense what was a very long story) wander the streets of London for about an hour while (a) killing time before meeting a friend for dinner; and (b) vainly looking for an internet cafe. I was actually supposed to meet the friend at a cupcake shop, but the shop was closed. Turned out ok, though, as the shop was rather near a restaurant I quite like, and I hadn’t eaten since the flight to Heathrow, so a real meal was definitely welcome. Friend quite liked the restaurant too. I was very pleased to (a) see the friend; (b) get a meal; and (c) actually introduce a local to a good place she’d never eaten at.

Which brings us, more or less, to now. Am nicely ensconced back in my hotel room. (With new alarm clock.) It’s just going on 11:00 now, and I’m pleased I managed to stay awake this late without totally falling apart. (I’ve been very careful on stairs tonight, as, with this state of tiredness, I’ve felt like I might put a foot wrong with unpleasant consequences.) There’s quite a bit of stuff I feel like I should be doing now, but I’m pretty much going to just do a quick weather check, lay out some clothes for tomorrow, and deal with any emails that absolutely cannot wait another day.

Night all.

(In London! Yay!!!)