Monday, June 30, 2008

All London, All the time

I’ve been going back and forth between Hambleden and London, and it’s never a dull moment, shall we say.
The Big Party happens this Saturday, July 5, in Hambleden, and people are starting to arrive (cousins from America, friends of the girls from everywhere!). Celeste (Sally’s sister and my best pal since college) arrived on Wed. and she and I have been tooling around London.
Last Saturday morning, thanks to a friend of Celeste’s who works for Universal Pictures, we got tix to see an advance screening of “Mamma Mia” in Leicester Square at the Odeon. (Mind you, the UK premiere is tonight, Mon. June 30th , and it opens in the US on July 18. Oh, and today is my godson Justin Thomas’ birthday! So HB, JT!) I have to say… the MM movie is pretty dang wonderful. I’ve never loved the stage show, but the movie is quite clever in the updates and changes it makes, and they made full use of the Greek landscapes and the Greek extras! If you’re on the fence, I’d say go…. Meryl Streep is wonderful, as are most of the others. (OK, Pierce Bronson won’t win awards for his singing, but it’s perfectly fine for the part…. And a few of the British accents are a little hard to catch for us Yankees, but those are minor complaints.)
Celeste and I also took a day trip down to Brighton, where we enjoyed fish and chips at a little beach cafĂ©, and we took a double-decker tour bus that ended up at the Royal Pavilion, which is AMAZING and I’ve never been inside it before on my other trips to Brighton. It was mostly built during the reign of George V, the one right before Queen Victoria. The outside looks Moorish but the inside is heavy Chinese. Quite a juxtaposition, with all of the hand-painted wallpapers and one-ton chandeliers.
To complete my absolute “Tourist in London” rampage, I went over to the Tower of London with my friend Bill, who works for Visa card here in the marketing department. We were both a mite disappointed with the jewels… not a tiara or broach in the lot! But knowing that the place was begun in the 11th century does kill any doubts that you’re inside a special place…
It’s been a non-stop flurry of sports here…. Mmm, my favorite thing! There was days and days of Ascot, now followed by endless days of Wimbledon… Oy. Did I mention that they place bets on what color hat the Queen will wear to Ascot on any given day?? Amazing, sort of like guessing what color dress Michelle Obama will wear to the inauguration in January 2009.
(But rah-rah to Spain, for winning the Euro 2008 soccer, I mean futbol, games!!! Aren’t you impressed that I knew that??
TV is almost loads of fun here, with “Last Choir Standing,” where choirs compete against each other (I take it there was a US version of it, which I somehow missed…). Another is “Mary, Queen of Shops” where this woman, oddly named Mary, goes round to a shop and tells the owner what he/she is doing wrong. But our favorite is “The Dragon Den,” where a group of five investors and venture capitalists listen to pitches from people selling a new idea or product, and they either decide to invest (individually or in groups) or send the poor bloke away without a penny. It’s fairly compelling, oddly enough.
And then last night, I got home to the mews house, and Sara and her friend had bought a bag of marshmallows, and they were “roasting” them over a candle flame… Sort of that urban campfire thing you read so much about…
Up next will be the complete story of the Big Party, so check back for details in a week or so! Or feel free to email me if you have any questions or comments.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

'Ello Loves!

And how’s your world?
I’m not sure how much press this got outside of the UK, but the government decided that (gasp) people could no longer drink of the subways (the tube) here in London. The night before the big change, about 17,000 people had a “party” riding the underground that night, with a few hundred arrests for drunken behavior. I’m not sure how much affect it had, in that I saw heaps of people drinking on the trains the week after the law changed. Beer and wine mostly… but old habits die hard.
Yes, there have been great strides in food here. I remember the first time I came here in 1972, and it was all steak and kidney pies and peas. It’s still that, but you can find more variety now – although most if it is bland, too. We ordered in Chinese the other night, and even the “spicy” stuff didn’t have much kick. Maybe I’ve just had too many jalapenos.
I did have my first crumpets, however! They’re sort of like English muffins, but a bit doughier. They’re often served with “golden syrup,” which is a bit like a mix of honey and maple.
Last weekend, I took the train down to Chippenham in Wiltshire, to see my friend Julia. She and I met in 1983 in New Zealand, and we’ve kept in touch ever since. Her husband, Tom, sells French wine, mostly from the Loire, and they have two wonderful kids, Olivia and Alexander. Alexander tried to get me to play any sport with him: soccer, cricket or tennis, but he discovered how the sports gene skipped me. Still, I had to laugh at his honesty when he finally realized I couldn’t connect my foot to the ball, and he said in exasperation: “You’re pathetic!” When it comes to sports, he’s quite right.
Julia and Tom have been renovating and enlarging their home, and I was there to “celebrate” the one-year anniversary of the work being started … and they still have at least another 4-5 weeks to go. In the end, it’s going to be an incredible home.
On Saturday, we went to a “Fete,” pronounced more like “Fate,” which is a thing they do here as a fundraiser for the local church. It’s part rummage sale, part carnival, part bake sale. One of the many offerings was a game (for 50 pence) where kids got a handful of golf balls which they could then throw at china plates and break them. Another game had people trying to throw a tennis ball to get it inside a ring of circles, and the closer you got to the center the more points you earned. Then your name was entered in a notebook, and the winners would be announced at the end of the day. I said that Americans would never stand for that – we want instant gratification. But Julia noted that British people are, if nothing else, patient. They’ll wait to find out who won.
Another huge story here has been the fact that Ireland turned down the proposal for the EU (European Union) constitution, which could throw the whole process of a unified Europe into the trash bin. There’s obviously deep fears about the growth of the EU, which does seem somewhat justified. The EU has opened the borders, but that means many low paying jobs are now going to Eastern Europeans, and all sorts of rules are coming into play now. One example is that bed and breakfast owners are no longer allowed to keep their dogs inside the house, for sanitary reasons. Many B&B owners have sworn to close down before they’ll put their dogs outside.
Another concern here are with the gypsies. They’re Romanovs, from Romania, and they’ve been a part of the English countryside for years. I remember seeing the horse drawn carriages many years ago. But the new breed of gypsies are not as concerned with keeping their camps clean, and their reputation is that of thieves and scoundrels. Many communities are passing legislation that wouldn’t allow any gypsy camps in their villages. A Brit version of NIMBY (not in my back yard!)
Wimbledon starts next Tuesday! On the heels of Euro 2008, which has something to do with lots of soccer, I mean “futbol.”
Prince William became the 1000th knight in the Roayl Order of the Garter, a custom that has gone on for over 600 years here and shows how much more he’s becoming a working member of the royal family.
Favorite phrase heard on the telly: A woman was talking about how much she enjoyed getting catalogs to look at, which she described as “groinal warming.”
I’ve seen this work “bespoke” used, but I couldn’t quite figure it out and finally asked. It means “custom made,” as in you have a “bespoke suit” or you can have a “bespoke chair,” which means it’s been custom designed and made just for you. Now you know.
Of course, watching the telly is always amusing. Tonight, in prime time, was a show about a guy who was making tea from the pods of the baobob tree. That was followed by a show about the nature of food phobias with British kids, and ways to get them to eat all that bland British food!
Weather report: what else, but partly cloudy with a chance of rain!
Tah-tah for now!

Monday, June 9, 2008

A (very) few pix

I know, I know, I need to get better about remembering to take my camera with me...
But here are a few shots, just to give you an idea of where I'm staying at the moment.
Also, I did buy a very inexpensive (like $20) cellphone... so who knows, maybe I'll call soon!
A bit of England

London Calling

First up: Thanks to everyone who wrote to ask about my dear ol' Ma. The update is she's doing loads better, she's up and out again and looks like she'll have a full recovery. She says that she had worried about having a stroke, but she never thought about a heart attack. (Just goes to show you, right??) She's taking it slow, but all's well. I've been trying to call her a few times a week, as have many of my cousins, relatives and friends. On we go.

I've been back and forth between Sally's home in Hambleden (about 45 minutes outside of London, in Oxfordshire), and their mews house in London. During the week, time is spent working on the details of "the big party" upcoming on July 5, reading ALL the newspapers that arrive daily (seven, including International Herald Tribune, USA Today, plus all the London papers including The Times, Daily Telegraph, etc. etc.) and hanging with Sally. The last few weekends, I've come into London.
I had a terrific lunch on Saturday with Athena, a friend who moved up from South Africa whom I met in 2000 when I was in Jo'Burg. She and I met on Oxford Street and then popped into a little Italy cafe and yakked for hours. Then that night, I phoned my friend Caroline -- she and I met in New Zealand in 1983 and we've always kept in touch -- and she was home (shock!), so I jumped on the tube and we had a lovely bite of salmon and had a good catch up. Then yesterday, I met up with Bill Stafford again (he's from Denver but now works in London). We popped into Harrod's (his first time there!), and then spent some time at the Victoria & Albert museum. Your typical day in London...
I'll head back to Hambleden today (Monday).
I mentioned earlier about the price of a subway ticket here ($8 for a single, altho cheaper options are available). But the price of gasoline would send Americans into shock! It works out to nearly $10 per gallon here, or about triple the cost in America. It's typical to "top up" your tank -- for $70 or so... They can't believe how cheap "our" gas is when I tell them, and then try to explain how unhappy everyone is...
The weather has given us some blue skies for the first time, so that's wonderful. And not as hot as the east coast of the States! I read that NYC and DC have been in the high 90's.... And think of the humidity! Makes me grateful for the mild temps and "chances of showers" that always looms over England.
I love reading the theater reviews in London. It's so competitive, what with ALL those newspapers here ... so they resort to some creative writing to make their points. Shows are "baffling" but have "magical realism" or end up just being "oddly poetic." Love it.
Hard to find trash cans in public areas here ... too much of an opportunity for bad people to place bombs in them.
I'm still grappling with how I should've answered the passport lady's question when I landed here. She said: "What's the purpose of your trip," and I was taken aback... What IS the purpose of this trip?? I'm still working on that.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

New news

I had a huge scare this week: My mom had a mild heart attack on Thursday night. She wasn't feeling right, and then had a pain in her jaw so she WISELY called 9-1-1 and was taken immediately to the hospital. They put a stent in an artery that was 100% blocked, and she's doing much better now. She stayed in ICU for almost two days, but they discharged her yesterday (Sat) and she's back home, and talking on the phone already! Bless her heart, she's 80 years old, but seems to have weathered this one. She'll have to take it easy for awhile, but all signs are that she's going to be fine, and perhaps even better than ever! My sister Nanc has been handling it all, and she says that there wasn't any need for me to come home... so I'll see how it goes.
Otherwise, I've been in London, and had time to see Bill Stafford today. He works for VISA, and will be traveling alot. He has a killer one bedroom in Hampstead, a great part of London. Now Sally and I are heading back to Howe Farm, the house in Hambleden. Tomorrow is Sally's birthday, so we'll have some fun there.
A single tube (subway) ride is 4 pounds, or almost $8 dollars! Yikes!!!!! How do people do it here!?!? More to follow.