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!

No comments: