Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Happy New Year!

I'll post all the (mind-numbing) details of today's travels sometime tomorrow.  For now, I'll just say that I'm somewhat inebri-  intoxi- pissed, and I smell a little of vodka.  (It's not what you think; Sasha couldn't pour very well near the bottom of the bottle.)

Am pleased to report that neither underground car I travelled home in tonight had vomit in it; am even more pleased to report that I was not a part of the problem.  

I'm staying awake just long enough to drink this here cup of tea -- because it is criminal that a place would serve unlimited wine and champagne on New Year's Eve, but be incapable of supplying a tea (or coffee) chaser.  Seriously, people, I was getting on a train with all those lights and fast-moving signs and stuff, you'd think a little stomach-settler would be a good idea.

I digress.  My point:  It's about an hour and half into 2014 from where I sit and I want to wish everyone who reads me a happy new year full of only good things.

Monday, December 30, 2013

I regret the hat

When packing, I couldn't find my hat.  I have plenty of hats, but only one actual rain hat.  It's a good outdoorsy hat, with a nice wide brim that manages to keep the rain off me without me needing to carry an umbrella.  I couldn't find the damn thing.  This meant I was left with the hood on my jacket and a small little easy-to-pack umbrella I'd bought at Sharper Image.

The Sharper Image umbrella is great if you want a tiny little umbrella that fits in your purse, so's you can whip it out in the unlikely event of a little drizzle.  It is totally inadequate for an actual London rain, especially when accompanied by wind.  I walked down the street aiming it into the wind ahead of me, which was just fine except when I wanted to see what I was walking into.  Later in the day, the wind was coming from a less convenient angle, and easily flipped the damn thing inside-out.  I managed to fold it back into shape, but things were actual better when I ignored it and just stuck with the hood.

Oh, I do miss my hat.

Today's activity was pretty much comprised of walking in the rain, seeing two shows, and being very happy to walk in the not-rain.  Somewhere in there, I had a good lunch in the little bar at the first theatre, and a really crappy dinner at an Italian restaurant across the street from the second.  (Seriously, all I was looking for was some decent food and free wi-fi.  There was no damn wi-fi, and the food and I have, er, continued our disagreement for the past several hours.)

The first play in question was the new musical of American Psycho.  (I'll just let you chew on that for a second.  I certainly did.)  Starring Matt (don't call me Eleven) Smith.  A musical of American Psycho seemed like such a bizarre idea, I was mildly curious to begin with.  Having Matt Smith play Patrick Bateman moved the idea from the "bizarre" column to the "so inconceivable I have to check it out" column.  To be honest, I had a hard time not being a theatre critic on this show.  I mean, I REALLY wanted to point out some mistakes in costumes, a particularly annoying choice of prop, a place where some of the lyrics really blew ... that sort of thing.  I also found myself evaluating Matt Smith's performance more than just experiencing it.  (Evaluation:  Not the world's best (or even the play's best) singing voice, but it worked for the part.  Generally believable as Bateman, although the American accent failed from time to time when talking about American businesses (when he mentioned "Dean & DeLuca," all of a sudden he was from Brooklyn).)  Honestly, though, I have to admit having never read the book or seen the movie -- I just had a general passing pop culture knowledge of the piece.  And while there was a lot about the show I would have tinkered with, the final scenes and number just knocked me the hell out, and the person I most wanted to tip my (non-existent) hat to was Bret Easton Ellis.  Because damn.  (And props to Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, who wrote the book for the musical, and did it so successfully, I am willing to overlook the fact that he was involved in writing Spider-Man:  Turn off the Dark.)

The second play was a piece called Mojo, a play about ... hmm, what was it about exactly?  Sort of about the gangs that controlled and manipulated the early days of the British rock 'n' roll scene.  Basically, a club finds itself with a real star on its hands, and some, er, ethically-challenged businesspeople would rather be in charge of the fellow's career.  (And full marks, really, full marks to the actor who plays the singer.  He has something like three lines in the whole play, but may end up working harder that everyone else.  (Not to give it away, but the program credits both a Hanging Consultant and an Osteopath.)

There's six guys in this thing, and they've all got some level of fame from film or TV -- ranging from a dude on Downton Abbey to the dude what starred in Merlin, to that Rupert Grint fellow.  And they were all really good.  The play is written/directed to give each of the actors a moment to really shine, and they all take solid advantage.  I have to admit, though, that Ben Whishaw stole this thing.  I generally tend to think of him as a very precise, delicate actor, and he so disappeared into the role of a sadistic bully, I didn't recognize him.  (I seriously did not recognize him.  I was sitting in the fourth row, and just before intermission, I thought, "Wait a minute, isn't Ben Whishaw in this thing?"  Then I started examining faces and realized, "Holy crap! He's playing that asshole!" -- who was neither delicate nor precise.  Dude got range, he does.)

People behind me during Mojo were discussing their plans for New Year's Eve.  One of them commented that people party so hearty out here, she'll be going home tomorrow night "on an underground train full of vomit."  I made a point of downloading two different hail-me-a-damn-taxi apps to my phone for the occasion.  I expect taxis to be pretty busy shortly after midnight tomorrow, and I like the idea of being able to request one with my cell phone (even if I may have to wait a while).  Because, I mean, Wait for Taxi vs. Underground Train Full of Vomit is a pretty easy call.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Late-Night Addenda

Three in the morning and I am awake.  This time, it is most certainly related to it being cold in the bedroom, and I am willing to concede a certain amount of jet-lag because my mind is annoyingly racing.  Part of this is because I forced myself to go to bed around 11:30, which is difficult for me to do even in LA, as I generally stay up until 2:00ish (when I'm pretty much too tired to think, come to think of it).  But, anyway, I forced myself to bed at 11:30 and, time and climate being what they are, I'm quite awake now, so I figured I'd make the best of it and write some stuff down -- and apologies now if it makes no damn sense because 3:30 blogging is probably about as stupid as drunk tweeting.

ANYWAY, I need to add a bit to the story about the Privy Council chamber at Hampton Court, because (while asleep) I managed to put together a few random puzzle pieces of the day and conclude that we probably weren't supposed to be in the Privy Council chamber at all.  The audio guide had said to go in through the door to the chamber, "listen to a debate" in there, and then leave.  The problem with this was a guard was standing outside the closed door.  I was about to ask the guard what was up, when he approached me and asked the time.  I told him the time and, about a minute later, he made an announcement to the room that the King was going to appear to head off into the Great Hall to do something important and we should all go if we wanted to hear.  (Sorry for the lack of detail.  At the time he was making the speech, my mental translating circuits instantly changed it to:  "The reenactor playing the King is going to go into the Great Hall and do something to entertain all the kids who were being prepared for his visit back when I was in the Great Hall.  Hopefully, this will siphon off a bunch of the tourists from the line to get into the Royal Pew, and make the reproduction-crown-viewing easier for me.")  The point:  Guard announced the King; a curtain right next to the door he was guarding opened and the King appeared from the room.  Guard and King went off to the Great Hall to be re-enacty.  Curtain to Privy Council chamber (which, I'm guessing, had been used as the reenactor's Green Room) was now invitingly open, and nobody was there to tell me to stay out.  So I peeked in.  I noted the displays which were supposed to be an exhibit of some sort, but they were clearly off (I now realize they were where the debate was going to come from) and overheard another tourist say the Privy Council chamber was closed today.  (It ain't that closed, lady, we're standing in it.)  So, in retrospect, we probably weren't even supposed to be in there, but I kind of led the charge and opened the place up.  Heh.

Not only did my sleep-deprived-yet-racing brain put together the events of the day (as it is supposed to), it also fixed my dream.  Seriously.  I woke up having had a dream, and (as per standard operating procedure) I was forgetting it, so couldn't tell you about it if I tried.  But I remembered being disappointed in how someone acted in it, so I thought myself an epilogue to explain away the bad behavior and make everything OK.  Yes, I know, it was a dream; none of it was real -- but, for some reason, it seemed important enough for me to actually think up a way to end it in order to feel better about the people in it.  This is apparently how I work.


So, I woke up around 5:15 this morning.  I can't blame this on jet-lag or the bedroom being cold.  I woke up because I was thirsty, which would require getting out of the warm bed into the cold room.  I delayed the process by checking my email, and discovered a message from the apartment owner, as to the location of the fuse box (right up there near the ceiling) and the location of the step-ladder to get to it.  While part of me thought it was probably not a good idea to get on a ladder in the (relative) dark of 5:15 in the morning, my curiosity as to whether I could actually solve the overhead light issue by flicking a switch was enough to get me out of bed.

And, indeed, I could solve the issue by flicking a switch.  Let there be light!

Went back to sleep to a more reasonable hour (about 8:30) and (after another quick email to the flat owner re: hey, is there a thermostat in the bedroom I'm missing?) I got a start on the morning.  It was a bit of a slower start than I'd intended -- mostly because I'd forgotten how long it takes to blow dry my hair (I usually just let it air dry in L.A., but that's not an option when it's, like, 40 degrees and I'm walking around outside), and because I couldn't decide exactly what to carry for my adventures for the day.  See, I was going to do a lot of walking, but I also was going to have a lot of down time, so I wanted to bring a book.  And while I'm in the middle of an awesome book ("S." -- which, once I finish it, will warrant a whole post on its own), said awesome book happens to be hardcover, a bit weighty, and too big to fit in my purse.  So I considered carrying my backpack today -- only to carry the book, mind -- but it's pretty heavy and after lugging the damn thing around all through airports and train stations the other day, my shoulders were killing me.  So, no backpack, no book.  Onward!

With a decent day of weather, I decided to go out to Hampton Court Palace and play tourist.  I'm not entirely certain if I've been to Hampton Court before -- if I did, it was back in the '90s, and I've forgotten it completely.  (I was supposed to go kayaking out there this past summer, but I pulled something in my back the night before, so that was totally out.)  So, boring bookless train ride out to Hampton Court.

(Note to future travellers:  You can buy your admission ticket to Hampton Court when you buy your train ticket.  This turned out to be a really smart move -- not only for the few pound discount, but because it enabled me to skip what turned out to be a very long ticket-buying line at Hampton Court.)

Hampton Court is associated with several British rulers, but probably most strongly with Henry VIII.  (He of "divorced, beheaded, died; divorced, beheaded, survived" fame.)  So, of all the tours you can take at Hampton Court, I cranked up the audio guide to "Henry VIII Royal Apartments," and went for a wander.

I saw the Great Hall where he had dinner parties (and where the walls still hold tapestries which were there 500 years ago!), and the waiting room for folks who hoped for an audience with him.  I saw the Royal Pew (sort of a private box at church) and a recreation of his crown.  I saw a bunch of portraits (in which he really wasn't all that attractive, and, hey, when is "Dracula" coming back on TV?) and the room where the visitors used the toilet (if there's no one around, go for it -- if people are within earshot, the rule was to cough to cover the sound).  It was all very interesting, but I damn near missed the best room of all.

The best room of all is a little room off to the side, with royal blue curtains, in which sit two concentric circles of chairs (with one very big one at the best spot) -- this was the Privy Council chamber, wherein the Privy Council (memorably described by one of my law school professors as "The King and his cronies") sat around and generally made the decisions that ran the country.  And while every other room I went into at Hampton Court felt historical and educational and all that, this room felt like POWER.  You could still feel it.  Shit happened in this room, is what I'm saying.

After I finished the rest of the tour, I went back (against the tide of everyone else going the other way) to stand in there a bit longer and just, y'know, feel it.  (Because it isn't often that I get any sort of emotional vibe from a historical site, so I wanted to enjoy it a bit more.)  At which time some tourist was plopping her son in the seat o' power (the reproduction seat o' power) and taking a picture of him posing regally.  I couldn't stop myself from glaring disapprovingly, even though it was (apparently) totally permissible.  It made me think that every stupid photo like that sucked one tiny bit of the remaining power out of the room.  (It also made me think that there must have been a hell of a lot of power in there for decades of tourists not to have depleted it completely.)

After the tour, I found myself at the back of the palace, where the gardens are.  Perfectly manicured, and gorgeously sunny -- like, palpably warmer than the other side of the palace, where the guests entered.  I actually murmured aloud, "It's good to be King."  I had a stroll around the gardens, found the maze (which is the UK's Oldest Surviving Hedge Maze), found my way through the maze (with a little bonus help from kids yelling out directions to their lost father), and then headed back to London.

Because I had reservations for tea.  (I had originally thought to schedule tea on New Year's Day, but that wasn't to be.  I was, however, able to make a reservation at a spiffy hotel for tea this afternoon.  Really nice place for tea -- I'd been there with my parents this past summer, and thought I'd return, especially now that I knew the right way to find the door in.)  Here's the thing about having tea by yourself:  you want to bring a book, as the experience calls for a certain amount of lingering.  As previously noted, I was bookless.

I had upwards of an hour and a half to kill, so initially thought I'd go back to the flat and pick up my book.  While on the train, I had the rather better idea of going to the Forbidden Planet Megastore (aka Geek Central) to just buy some (paperback) reading material.  This was clearly a better idea, as I go there every trip to pick up geeky stuff.  And the place was packed.  As always, I enjoyed listening to the variety of foreign languages saying "[something foreign, something foreign, something foreign] Doctor Who [something foreign]."  I bought myself a couple of small Doctor Who related items myself, and a book in the delightful subgenre of British Comic Sci-Fi.

Went to tea (actually hit the door about 5 minutes before my reservation, which is remarkable, as I'm rarely that accurate in my own city), ate myself silly, and chuckled my way through the first section of the book.  The folks at the tea place actually told me to stay as long as I wanted (dude said he wasn't off duty until 11:00 at night), so I hung out for two hours, until I had safely assured myself that, "no, there is no way I can eat any more food tonight, no matter how long I sit here."  (And they had free wi-fi.)

And that's it.  Came back to the flat (the internet assures me that underfloor heating takes, like, an hour to crank up a single degree, so I confess I left the system on all day so I'd come home to a warm place).  Bedroom is still on the cold side.  If I happen to pass a cheap space heater in my travels tomorrow, I may pick one up -- it would save the flat owner a ton of money in wasted underfloor heat, and (rather more importantly) it would make me much more comfortable.  Then again, it's supposed to rain tomorrow, so I'm not sure how likely I am to shlep a portable heater back to the flat in the rain.

Two plays tomorrow.  YAY!

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Hey! Guess where I am!

London again!  Yay!

I was sort of, y'know, just here, but I've come to see some plays (and the fact that it just so happens that the first episode of Season Three of "Sherlock" will air when I'm here is a happy coincidence).  The nice lady at Immigration asked what I intended to do while I'm here, so I said, "See lots of plays."  She surprised me with, "Which ones?" and my answer (of three West End titles that are not likely to transfer to the US) apparently convinced her that I am, indeed, a perfectly good American theatre geek who is not planning any sort of terrorist activities.

The flight was uneventful, although this is (at least) the second trip when I have been unable to fall asleep when (slightly) reclining in an airplane seat, wearing earplugs and eye shades, bundled up with pillow, blanket, and non-binding clothing, yet I found it amazingly difficult to keep my eyes open during a play that night -- sitting, bolt upright, and actually trying to pay attention to the play.  Normally, the first night I get in, I go to the half-price ticket booth and get a ticket for the loudest, most obnoxious musical I can find.  But, tonight, I thought, screw it, I kinda want to see this stage adaptation of "Strangers on a Train."  Yeah.  Maybe a live version of film noir is not the best choice for wakey-wakey.

I'm staying in a different flat than the one I've rented the last couple times I've been here.  The jury is still out on this one.  It's a few blocks farther away from the underground -- which wasn't that big of a deal today, but let's see if I feel the same way when carrying purchases.  In the rain.  The person who owns the place is in Australia, so sent a friend to meet me.  Who did meet me, although I got here earlier than she did (thanks to a failure to communicate which was kind of my fault, as I'd forgotten a particular quirk of calling London numbers internationally).  The two other reasons the jury is still out are:  (1)  the bedroom seems to be suspiciously colder than the living room (so I may have to crank the heat up super-hot in the living room for it to sufficiently warm the bedroom); and ... wait for it ... (2)  coming home after theatre tonight, I blew a fuse and killed ALL OVERHEAD LIGHTING in the unit.  (I thought I'd killed all power completely, but when I saw blinking lights on the wireless router, I realized all was not lost.)  I emailed the owner in Australia -- I couldn't bring myself to wake up the owner's friend at this hour, and I can't imagine she'd do much about it anyway.  (And, really, I have heat, some lights, TV, fridge, and internet, so I'm (mostly) good.)

Well, the weather is supposed to be nice tomorrow ("nice" here meaning "not raining") so I've got a touristy day trip planned.  (Let's see if I actually feel like doing it in the morning.  Let's also see how I survive showering in the dark.)

Oh, and I had a literal "brush with fame" today.  Tom Hiddleston brushed my shoulder on his way into the theatre.  (It was only after the fact that I realized I should have immediately dropped to the ground, writhing in pain, in the hopes it would earn me house seats to his otherwise sold-out show.  Damn.  Moment lost.)