Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Oh it’s SMASHING, isn’t it????

DSC03685We started our Day Out (GREAT!) by getting a bit lost. Well really lost. It’s all these bloody roundabouts. Or roundandroundandroundabouts if you are like me. However we eventually made it to the right road AND the right direction (crucial) toward Sissinghurst Castle and Garden. Today’s choice of destination was my Mum’s and she chose these famous gardens (well you have heard of them haven’t you??). The castle is medieval and mostly in ruins, with only a tower remaining but the house and gardens really are beautiful. Of course, DSC03707everyone wanted to climb the 79 steps to the top of the tower and so I thought well, how bad can 79 steps be after the 297 at St. Paul’s? Yes, Jane, how bad can it be? Bad. It can be bad. I made it up the spiral staircase and emerged onto the open terrace at the top of the tower. From the ground it looked like the solid stone railing around the terrace looked like it was at least 4 or 5 feet high. From the top it looked like this railing was only 2 or 3 inches high. I gulped, blinked, then quickly bolted back inside muttering something about meeting everyone downstairs. I zipped back down the spiral staircase, closing my eyes as I went past the windows so that I would not have to witness my children as they fell over the 2inch high railing and plunged to their untimely deaths , passing the windows on their way down, and, to the great surprise of the Man at the bottom of the stairs who, only moments before had counted me (only 40 people allowed at the top at once) and sent me up the stairs, burst through the door into the courtyard. “I’m OK” I almost shrieked in answer to his unasked question. “That was fast” he said, finally. I was unable to speak for sometime and instead sat and listened as he explained to a group of smiling, uncomprehending tourists from somewhere in Eastern Europe that Elizabeth 1st had stayed here and in fact would have stood where they themselves were standing now which he indicated with hand gestures while he spoke. They thought he meant they had to move and so they stepped backwards, smiling all the time, and then, when he shook his head and waved his hand to say that they had misunderstood him, they smiled and moved again. Then one of them said ‘I am thanking you” in broken English and they all turned and headed off in the direction of the White Garden. At this point, the rest of my family appeared (through the door, not headfirst onto the flagstones to my relief) and we, too, headed off to the White Garden where, you guessed it, everything is white! It’s actually stunning and I loved it. I think it would be spectacular at night with a full moon. And Hugh Grant. With Julie Andrews narrating. I digress. We walked the rest of the grounds in the burning heat (so much for England being cold and rainy – it’s been hot and dry the whole time) and encountered a little old lady (LOL) who had in fact collapsed due to the heat. I asked her family if she was alright and they said she was just a bit hot. Yes, so hot that she’s lying half on the gravel road. I said I thought maybe she wasn’t quite alright and at that moment she went unconscious. Thankfully the castle medical team showed up at the moment and called an ambulance. We got out of the way and headed for our car. I was just driving out to the main road on one of England’s ridiculously narrow ‘roads’ that are also lined by 12foot high hedgerows (as they call them here, aka hedges in the rest of the world) and the whole thing makes visibility an unknown concept. Add to this an ambulance (carrying the LOL) coming up behind you and another car approaching and what is one to do?? One drives as fast as one can, with the poor bugger who was coming the other way driving as fast as he can in reverse until a ‘lay-by’ is located into which one can swerve allowing the ambulance to roar past you.

Peace soon settled on us again as we made our way to the small town of Headcorn. I am not making this one up. Headcorn happens to be one of the villages where the Potter family has lived. My Uncle Richard has traced the Potter family roots back hundreds of years and discovered that many of them lived here in Kent in an area known as the Weald of Kent which is basically a forested area in the centre of the county. It was neat to go to the parish church and search for Potter Family gravestones, of which we found several. There was also a window in the church dedicated to the Potter family. The Rector (an unfortunate title, I’ve always thought) was very helpful. In fact perhaps a bit too helpful and we spent much longer than I had intended in the church while he searched for the right key to the safe that held the parish records etc etc. He was lovely, if a bit doddering. He had that English habit of making a statement, and then following it up with a question. For example, “I hate it when the badgers get into the potatoes, don’t you?” or “I like a nice slice of tripe for my tea, don’t you?” or “That cd of Sounds from an English Kitchen is FANTASTIC, isn’t it?” How exactly is one to answer these sort of questions? The answer, should you choose to have one, is almost always ‘no’ but you can’t really say that for fear of being rude. And they aren’t rhetorical either as the asker always looks at you as they say it. I have taken to turning my head to the side in a sort of angle that could be yes, could be no and saying ‘mmmm’. Some people are more pushy than others and actually repeat the question portion of the statement. My mother is among this group. Try being in a car with her.

My mother: “Oh look at that church it’s so sweet isn’t it?

Me: (head angled) “mmmmm”

My mother: “I say, Jane, isn’t that the sweetest little church?”

Me: “Ummmm…well the last one…

My Mother: “I mean just look at it it’s quaint, it’s got a garden it’s sweet isn’t it????”

Me: “well yes it’s very pre…”

My mother: “Oh that is a LOVELY field of cows over there isn’t it? Jacob look at the cows! They’re lovely aren’t they?

And so on. But it’s nice to be with someone who appreciates everything so much, isn’t it? Well, isn’t it?  DSC03686

Stuffed Pine-Martins

DSC03644 DSC03642 We spent a very restless night in the cottage in which I endured the sounds of a crisp linen down quilt being attacked repeatedly through-out the night due to the inability of my dear son to figure out that if one is already hot, undertaking aerobic activity such as knee kicking, spinning in place, karate, and, crumping, is not going to cool one down. In fact, it may make one hotter which may make the down quilt seem like even more of an enemy and require further assaults on said quilt. Finally, at 2:45am, I suggested that he TAKE THE FRICKIN QUILT OFF THE BED AND SETTLE DOWN so that Zoe and I could get some sleep. After a few moments of silence, he agreed and we all went to sleep. Typically a quilt is not a noisy item. This quilt however, became the bane of my existence for a few long hours and I’m happy to report that I wrestled it back into its tiny little storage bag and shoved it in the cupboard this morning. I think I may even have called it a ‘f$%^&)@ piece of work’. Jacob has a light bedspread on him tonight and if he starts on that, then so help me God.

We spent the morning getting over the night, then took ourselves off across the fields to the main area of Leeds Castle. This castle is quite lovely – all moats and stone archways and little leaded windows. Inside is good, too, as much of the early history has been restored over the years by recent owners. And I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned it or not but Henry VIII loved this castle and had a lot of improvements made so that his first wife Katherine of Aragon would be comfortable when they stayed there. There is a fully-intact banqueting hall that was a favourite of Henry VIII’s and I perhaps stayed a little longer than most in that room imagining Katherine of Aragon sipping her ale while her husband wolfed down entire lamb legs etc. etc.

The kids enjoyed it all well enough although without perhaps the same enthusiasm as my mum who loved, it seemed, every last thing about the place:

Mum: “Jacob! Did you notice that woven badger from 1632 on the wall?”

Jacob: “Nope”.

Mum: “Well go and take a look at it – I think that’s amazing!”

Jacob: “Can we eat lunch now?”

Mum: “After we take a look through this display of early 17th century cod sketches”

Zoe: “That’s boring. I can see birds out the window”

Mum: “Oh and did you see this collection of 18th century commode covers? These have been here since 1789 when Lady Olive Slot-Prickford found them shoved under her mattress and thought they should be on display. How fascinating. How FANTASTIC!”

Me: “Uh…mum? Can we keep moving here?”

Mum: “Yes of course just let me take a quick look into the Library….OH HOW FABULOUS! Look an entire set of Biggles books! Biggles Goes Flying, Biggles in the Amazon Basin, Biggles On Fire… This is JUST how I would like my….

Me: “Mum we’ll meet you in the café…”

Mum: “OK Darling I’ll see…Oh LOOK! A complete set of Andy Pandy books! Andy Pandy and the Ladybird, Andy Pandy and the Man in the Park, Andy Pandy ties his Shoes, Andy Pandy and KGB, Andy Pandy loses his Keys….”

Lunch was a passable affair marred only by the compete absence of a fork anywhere in the vicinity resulting in salad by spoon. Katherine of Aragon would have had a fork for sure. The kids then burned off some steam in a huge playground where I had the pleasure of overhearing a mother tell her child to “stop messing about this instant or it’s no bangers and mash for you tonight”. The child stopped instantly. I’ll have to try that one. I wanted to ask her if they would also be having spotted dick for ‘pudding’ (which is English for dessert, by the way) but thought that might be a bit rude.

We then walked back through the grounds and across the sheep fields to our cottage. The kids crashed for awhile then we all went for a swim at the local Ramada where we have a week’s membership as part of the cottage rental. We also have access to the entire grounds of the castle at any time so we can hardly wait to walk the paths and bridges after everyone else has left and pretend we live there. Or something.

We spent the evening trying to plan the rest of the week. Jacob and I both take great delight in poking fun at the English penchant for what they call a Day Out. This is not an extended punishment for your child, but rather an entire day with family or friends or both spent out at a local attraction. Pamphlets and brochures are everywhere exhorting you to spend a Great Day Out at such and such a place where you will be sure to enjoy some or all of the following:

A mansion or castle, a garden, a woodland walk, a boating lake (usually more like a boating pond), a restored potting shed used by Virginia Woolf’s best friend’s aunt’s gardener for 10 minutes in 1912 but only by accident as he was drunk and thought it was the bathroom, a playground, a café or food service of some kind (which means you can get sandwiches that have been made by the chef who then sat on them to make them less than an inch thick before being put out), a gift shop, screaming children in prams, a car park, a family activity trail (I don’t know what that is either), haggard-looking parents, a dormouse conservation project visitors centre or something similar, a stuffed pine-martin, pic-nic area, mothers-in-law following children around with slices of apple or a piece of cake in hand, toilets, and of course, tea.

This is all made out to sound like such FUN! SUPER! A GREAT Day Out!! Maybe we’ll try one and I’ll let you know.

More tomorrow from the land of the Stuffed Pine-Martin.

London to Kent

DSC03625 DSC03617 Our trip from London to Kent (a county in southeast England) was relatively uneventful except for the highly disappointing fact that there was no trolley on the train. “Will there be a food trolley on the train?” was the question of choice for Zoe who asked it about 34 times as we got ready to take the train. Who uses the word ‘trolley’ anyway other than Mr. Rogers. When we showed up at Charing Cross Station, the schedule board showed no less than 5 trains to our destination all leaving within an hour. How convenient! How absolutely SMASHING! The next one was leaving in exactly 3 minutes so we dragged our leaden luggage to the platform where the train was conveniently waiting, loaded everything on and settled ourselves around a table. We were virtually the only people on the train and the rest of the journey passed without incident except that the trolley never did make an appearance to Zoe’s dismay so we had to settle for the remains of a bag of Cadbury’s chocolate fingers that I found in my purse (how did they get there???) and whatever my mum had in a mysterious plastic bag of food that she saw fit to bring with us from the London apartment. I only opened it once and then quickly closed it after briefly glimpsing what looked like broccoli and a container of cherry tomatoes. A nice piece of broccoli is really indispensable on a train journey after all.

Trolley operator: “Would you care for anything from the trolley, miss:

Me: “Yes, please, I’ll have a cup of tea and a couple of broccoli florets please…

Trolley Operator: “I can do the tea miss but I’m afraid we don’t have much call for broccoli”

Me: “Oh it’s all right my mum has some right here.”

Trolley Operator: “Very good, Miss.”


Trolley Operator: “Cadbury’s chocolate fingers, Otter’s noses, lemon biscuits, Fondant Fancies, Hot Tea, Broccoli Florets, Badger’s Spleens, …”

Me: “I’ll have a bag of Broccoli Florets, please”

Further inspection proved there was also a bag of suspect lettuce, and some pistachios shells. I started to ask why and then left it because really what is there to know?

Upon arrival at Ashford International station, so named because it is one of the starting off point for the Eurostar trains, I called the rental car place and they dispatched someone to pick us up in the aptly named Nissan Micra. The plan was to take us back to the station, do the paperwork and then we would be on our way but there was clearly no way at all we would all fit in this tiny little vehicle. So I left the entourage on the sidewalk amid promises that it was only a 5-minute drive and I would be right back. Of course it was more like 15 minutes there and then the larger car that we were promised was at the back of the car lot behind 15 other cars. So it was more like 45 minutes before I finally got behind the wheel of my Vauxhall Meriva and started the trek back to the station with the world’s most useless map ever in my possession and the most useless driving directions ever (just go left out the gate, down a little hill, under a little bridge, straight along for a mile until you come to a pub and then take your third exit off the next roundabout but you’ll want to take a sharp right then a sharp left and then under another bridge and then get in the middle lane so that you can take the second left exit on your right past the village of Spiffing-Blean and there it is you can’t miss it it’s dead easy). All it really takes here is one wrong exit of a roundabout and you have been hurled off into the complete wrong direction.

You will be surprised to hear that this happened to me! So it was probably 60 minutes later that I approached the station, and then took the wrong turn into a parking lot, and ended up in a dead end, which wouldn’t usually be a problem as one would just reverse out of said dead end and leave the parking lot, except that I could not get the car into reverse no matter how hard I tried. The ‘r’ was located on the top left of the little diagram on the gear shift knob and so I tried a million times to get it into reverse, each time putting it into 1st instead and so nosing closer and closer to the wall in front of me. At this point a man approached me to, I assumed, offer assistance to this twit who was apparently trying to drive her car into a wall one inch at a time. I rolled down my window and put on an apologetic face. “Do you have the time?” he said. “Uh...Oh…..Ummmmmm…yes it’s 1:58pm” I stuttered. “Thanks. The clock in my car has never worked” he said with a smile and walked off. “Yes, I know what you mean – the reverse in my car has never worked either” I wanted to say.

Sensing the complete ridiculousness of the situation, I stopped trying to drive in to the wall, turned off the car, and looked around for someone who might help. At this point, a police van drove into the lot so I flagged them down and apologetically explained my situation. A very nice constable came back to the wall with me and explained kindly that if I would just look at the base of the gear shift knob I might see that there is a ring that wants lifting up, see, as you switch into reverse. Oh. Of course. Right! RATHER! I thanked him profusely, answered a few questions about where I was from (not Ashford) and where I was going (not sure) and no it probably wouldn’t be appropriate for me to pop over to the pub with him and his partner for lunch as my family was waiting for me on the other side of the parking lot and thanks very much anyway.

I backed away from the wall and zipped over to the station to pick everyone up. We set off toward Maidstone in what I thought was the correct direction. Well whatever it wasn’t and so after an extended tour of Ashford including a nice look round the pedestrian only areas, we eventually found the right road and eventually, the entrance to Leeds Castle, our cottage, and here I am. I am not leaving the house today!

Managed to speak to Kent last night and he sounded completely stoned (good for him) declaring that there was no need for hysterics. I got the feeling that he was quite enjoying the chance to sit in a wheelchair, read the paper, have people bring him food and drugs regularly. I miss him a lot though and feel bad that I can’t be closer. He did say that he didn’t even want our friend Sandy to contact me at all but she recognized that that was a bit ridiculous and so I’m glad she did. How SPIFFING of her! I SAY!

More tomorrow…

Friday, June 26, 2009

What? No Internet??

We have arrived in Kent and successfully located our cottage on the grounds of Leeds Castle. It's pretty 'sweet' as Jacob said. My mum just about burst into tears at the englishness of it all - sheep in a field, rolling hills, a castle in the background and a cricket pitch! The only down side is that there is no internet access so my updates will be 'spotty' over the next few days. I have found some access right now at the local pub where I am happy to report that I am enjoying a ploughman's lunch! SMASHING! GORGEOUS!
You will also be pleased to hear that Leeds Castle was a favourite of Henry VIII; he often brought his wives here while on progress around England.
I'll try and write more but my posts might not be as frequent.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Out Out Damned Appendix!

Just heard that Kent has had his appendix out while I've been swanning around in London:( He is Ok but in hospital for a couple of days. I'll hopefully be speaking to him tomorrow. What a nightmare for him! Hard to be 7000 km away...More on this tomorrow...
In other news, had a very enjoyable day of shopping in the morning followed by an afternoon visit to the Tower of London where we met up with some friends from Victoria, Toni and Mark and their boys Owen and Jonathon. We had a great time and Toni and I were selected to the women's team for a demonstration of some sort of medieval weapon similar to a trebuchet or a catapult (but 15 ft high). The women's team did not send the water balloon as far as the men, but we did manage actually to hit the target whereas the men did not even come close. Another example of how great length does not always matter.

I may have mentioned that I have a bit of an obsession with Henry VIII. Well for those of us with this affliction, The Tower of London is the place to be. Currently there is an exhibit on in the White Tower devoted to Henry VIII with many fine examples of his armour, clothes, personal items and sporting and hunting equipment. I found this to be fascinating! Oh RATHER! We then toured the Tower Grounds and saw the Scaffolding Site where Anne Boleyn (wife #2) and Catherine Howard (wife #4) were both beheaded.

'Divorced, Beheaded, Died, Divorced, Beheaded, Survived' is the rhyme English school children learn to help them remember what happened to each of King Henry VIII's six wives. They say that the ghost of Anne Boleyn walks the Walls of the Tower at night carrying her head under her arm. Bit of a waste of time really. I mean just get on with being dead already.
Anyway, we then toured the Beauchamp tower, which here in England is pronounced Beechamp because they are British you know and don't have to pronounce Foreign words with any kind of an accent if they don't want to. This tower is where many prisoners were held and so is full of a kind of Medieval Graffiti which consists mainly of initials, but sometimes entire verses in Latin and even bas-relief carvings, scratched into the soft limestone brickwork. The entire room is full of it but the most interesting is the name 'Jane' which appears twice in the room and is a reference to Lady Jane Grey who, at 16, was manipulated in to being Queen in the power struggle that ensued after Henry VIII's death. She was only on the throne for 9 days before supporters of Queen Mary I, the daughter of Henry VIII by his first wife, Katherine of Aragon, had her taken to the tower and beheaded. She was said to ask the executioner to 'dispatch me quickly'. Her young husband was also executed earlier that same day. It's all wonderfully gruesome and sad and fascinating. I love it!
We then popped in for a quick look at the royal jewels, (no, not those royal jewels!) which Zoe loved, especially Queen Victoria's tiny little crown, and then had tea at the cafe where, to the delight of the kids, a small mouse made an appearance. Apparently, beheadings, kings, dungeons, treacherous queens, and armour are Ok if you are a kid but a mouse! This is exciting beyond belief. Our children who had begun rapid descent into a Zombie-like state, suddenly sprang to life and went into rodent-catching formation complete with a french-fry, sorry, chip, to be used as bait.
Following this adventure, we said goodbye to Toni and Mark and walked down the embankment to the St. Katherine's dock area which is really worth a visit if you are in the area, and had one of the best dinners ever at the Dicken's Inn which is an old spice warehouse that has been converted into a series of restaurants. I'm afraid we can no longer speak smugly about how terrible food is in London as it is actually REALLY good and not that pricey at all. Relatively speaking.
Made it home in one piece and wrestled the kids into bed only to have Jacob's bed collapse on him several minutes later. The bed frame was an ikea jobby and appeared to be made from cardboard and plastic. We somehow got it back together and then it crashed again! He is now on the floor, which is where I'll be if I don't get to bed so more tomorrow!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

And How Shall we F&%$ off, oh Lord?

It seems that not only does London employ Julie Andrews for all the public service messages but they have also hired her to do all the public signage. Only here in the UK would they implore you not to graffiti up the walls of St. Paul's by mentioning the PAIN you will cause the Dean if you so much as even think about scratching your 'foolish scribblings' in the stone wall.
Outside in the Church Garden, you are asked to consider public health before you scatter that handful of bread. I think we have the little old Bird Woman from Mary Poppins to thank for this sign. She started it with all her bags full of crumbs anyway. She's probably responsible for the Bird Flu too.
And perhaps if it's not too much trouble, would you mind NOT using the newly-laid grass. I'm not sure what we would 'use' it for anyway. Does one 'use' grass? At any rate, everyone was kindly obliging and not using it for anything at all.
I also saw a notice of parking closure sign for a street. The sign mentioned dates and times of closure and then, underneath, encouraged you to call a certain number or visit a website if any part of this notice caused confusion or was unclear in anyway. Can you imagine this in Victoria: "We're awfully sorry but we've got to close off part of Douglas Street on such and such a day and time. Please feel free to call the office directly if you need help understanding any part of this sign". It's not going to happen. Instead we have very boring little signs that say things like 'fine for graffiti:$200' or 'Stay off the Grass' or we go to the other extreme with a diatribe on the migratory patterns of the common duck and their place in the food chain and our impact on said duck, all in 4pt font.
Anyway, I do love the signs. They're so cute! Keep it up, London!
But a bit about our day today. We started out at close to 11am by taking the tube to St. Paul's Cathedral. I was not that happy about having to pay 11 pounds to get in. WTF? Last time it was free. And now it's 11 pounds? Bit of a jump isn't it? But in we went and, I must admit, the first impressions were worth it. It really is a work of incredible beauty. The amount of time and creative and artistic energy that went into the construction of the place still radiates up from the floor and fills you with a kind of wonder that isn't often felt. Even Zoe was momentarily quieted. Momentarily. We wandered for awhile then found the 297 steps to the Whispering Gallery which lines the inside of the first and biggest dome. The rumour is that one of you can stand on one side and the other on the other side (30 metres away) across the dome and if you whisper, your friend will be able to hear you as clear as day. I'm sure this is likely the case if you are not sharing the space with school groups from Upper Claptrapping Comprehensive College and Mumpet-upon-Sea School for Girls. I think perhaps they were briefed before hand that one must not whisper in the Whispering Gallery, but instead one must giggle hysterically and at full volume and must do so while texting your friend 30 metres away across the dome so that she can pretend to have actually heard you, and fool her long-suffering teacher. When this task is accomplished, you must then call everyone you know on your cell phone and tell them exactly what has happened in the intervening 30 seconds since you last spoke to them.
Needless to say, I am not really in a position to criticize as we all know about Zoe's voice and its ability to cause avalanches, shatter windows and summon packs of dogs while she innocently relates the events of the day.
There was one other factor that marred my appreciation of the Whispering Gallery and that was the psychotic state I found myself in upon emerging from the ridiculously small door that leads onto the gallery. Now I knew I wasn't good with heights, but I was unprepared for the violent attack of anxiety that hit me as I peered through the railings (that are probably 5 feet high and thick cast iron) to a drop of what appeared to be several kilometres to the Cathedral Floor. In an instant sweat, I weakly felt my way to the cool stone walls and bench that surround the gallery and managed to sit down. Of course the kids wanted to bolt off and run around to opposite sides but thankfully my mum stayed with me and kindly did not remark on my paleness or obvious distress except to suggest that perhaps I would like to stay sitting on the bench. Indeed I would, and did, all the while trying to put on a brave face for the kids. "No, really, I'm just going to stay here (and press my face into the cold stone wall) - you go ahead and see if the whispering thing works." It was a good thing it was the whispering gallery as I could not manage more than a few weak exhalations at this point. I managed to watch them walk around the gallery to the other side at which point I had to look away as I didn't want to watch my two beloved children plunge to their deaths as they most surely would at any moment. My only consolation was that I would be following them shortly thereafter as I, too, would be compelled to jump the railing and fall to my death. Scenes from various murder mysteries began running through my mind: vicars tossed to their demise from the peak of the church tower, errant archbishops pushed down flights of 297 stairs etc etc. I suddenly found the energy to bark out orders to the kids to COME RIGHT NOW BEFORE I DO SOMETHING SILLY and stumbled to the door leading to the ground floor.
Once downstairs I was sufficiently recovered to eat lunch and then gather the troops for the tube ride to the Apollo Victoria Theatre to see the Matinee performance of Wicked.
All I can say is that if you have any means at all to see this performance, wherever you might be, you MUST GO TO SEE IT ASAP. It is unbelievably wonderful in every way. FANTASTIC. Briefly, the plot is the back-story to the Wizard of Oz and tells the story of Glinda the Good and her friendship with the Wicked Witch of the West. Never have I been so impressed with a performance. SMASHING! A million thanks to Heather for recommending this to me.
After the show we made a pit stop at a book store, then headed home for dinner. Later we went out for a walk - it really is irresistible here - and strolled the Covent Garden/Charing Cross neighbourhood. So much going on, so much to see. It was another great day.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Top 10 Things I Love about London

1. Londoners start all conversations with "you alright then, luv?". This threw me the first couple of times I heard it: Did I look ill? Had I got a bleeding nose? The first time I was asked this I answered with 'yes I'm fine thanks' at which point the salesperson turned and walked away and I had to chase after her for service.

2. It's really SMASHING how they have somehow procured Julie Andrews to do all public service announcements from the 'Mind the Gap' reminders, to the closing announcement at Harrods, to the tube information messages: "The next station is Piccadilly Circus. This is a Piccadilly Line train. And Remember- A spoon full of sugar helps the medicine go down!".

Or "The next train will leave in 2 minutes. And please note - The hills are alive with the sound of music!"

3. It really is so considerate of Londoners to tell you which way to look when crossing the street. 'Look left' or 'Look right' is conveniently painted directly on the road in front of the curb at your feet. Perhaps they could start adding other helpful messages in obvious places like 'brush your teeth' or 'exercise' or 'don't be a WANKER'.

4. The street performers are amazing. Such talent!

5. The City of London has recently installed 30 pianos, complete with song books, in outdoor public places like parks and squares. These pianos are for anyone to play and are meant to encourage spontaneous music and creativity. What a great idea! Jacob and I played a rousing version of Heart and Soul on one of these pianos that we came across in a square in Soho where we are staying. Such fun!

6. The tube makes it dead easy to get anywhere, if you don't mind a few stairs along the way. Like a few hundred. Oh and by the way, if the tube doors are closing, do not try and force your way onto the train. It's not a good idea. Not unless you want to make a fool of yourself in front of several hundred people, and inflict large bruises on the backs of both arms. This did not happen to me. Nope.

7. The shopping is FANTASTIC! I mean really SMASHING! And if you purchased something at, say, Next, on Oxford Street, and then, a couple of blocks later, have worked out a rationalization to buy the things you put back on the rack at the last Next store, not to worry there's another Next store on this block and another on the next. How thoughtful! How convenient! Not that this applies to me.

8.The theatre scene is BRILLIANT. For example, one could be forced to endure the likes of Jude Law as Hamlet if one had ones wits about one and purchased tickets before they were all sold out. (DAMNIT!). Or Rowan Atkinson (Mr. Bean) as Fagan in Oliver if one had the foresight to buy a ticket before that, too, was all sold out. What kind of a WANKER would do that anyway? Not me. Nope. However, all is not lost as there are about 645 other musicals and plays running and all of them look SMASHING! In fact today I am off to see the Wicked, the wonderful Wicked of Oz...I'll let you know how it was.
9. Pubs allow you to spill out the doors onto the street and curb with your drinks, without the threat of an irritating man with a clipboard appearing and shutting the place down for the next six months. They have realized that when you allow people to do this, NOTHING BAD HAPPENS.

10. There is always something interesting virtually right in front of you. Sometimes you need to look for it, but more often that not, there are 800 amazing things happening within a few metres: architectural wonders, street performers, street art, public art, interesting people, many different languages being spoken, and historical facts. As Zoe said to me yesterday: "It's so interesting to know that people live in others places and not just Canada". YES! Mission accomplished:)

Western Civ 12 Strikes Again

Even though we're only on Day 2, Travel Lethargy had set in slightly, compounded by jet lag, so it was harder than you would think actually to get going, cocooned as we were in our snug little apartment, the dulcet tones of the BBC4 news reader remarking on this or that seemingly trivial event in the background: a badger family had been spared their lives while crossing the M1 due to the quick thinking actions of Mr and Mrs. Bollingsworth of Tiddleyspot Cottage, in the lesser known village of Titcombe Grange-upon-Splodge; 12 yr old Douglas Carp-Treacle of Spotting-Bludford has been selected to the village cow-paddy sculpture team and is indeed the youngest member ever to make the team. And further, if this team is successful, they will make it to the county cow-paddy championships, no less. Or something like that. That's what it all sounded like anyway.

These are important events here in the UK, make no mistake about it and are not to be taken lightly. But leave it to the BBC to juxtapose them nicely by following these headlines with a listing of all the upcoming London concerts: Madonna, Pink, Green Day, Bruce Springsteen, Michael Jackson, Oasis, UB40, Neil Young, the list goes on and on.
Rural Vs. Urban - I don't know who is the winner in this country.
Back on the streets of London, the kids and I made the Ripley's Believe it or Not Museum our first stop. I had given choice of our first Museum visit to the kids and despite my best attempt to sway them by listing off such classics and the Victoria & Albert, the Natural History, The British Museum, etc etc, they chose Ripley. I reluctantly handed over the cash and in we went.
After a few minutes, I began to warm to the place, especially after finding an exhibit of a shoe belonging to Henry VIII (with whom, I'll just mention here, I have a bit of an obsession).

An hour and two thoroughly delighted children later, we emerged back onto the streets. The kids had LOVED it and really, Mum, could they go again? Tomorrow? Ummmmm. No.
Ignoring their complaining, I marched off in the direction of Trafalgar Square, pointing out various landmarks as we went, entreating them to look up, look down, could they see that spire, and this plaque, and wasn't that a beautiful example of neo-classical Greek architecture and how about that Jacobean influence over there. I was starting to sound a lot like Kenneth Clark. Western Civ 12 anyone? To their credit, the kids soaked it all up.
Trafalgar Square with its hugeness is a great place for people watching but I had other plans and after quickly eating our lunch, I whisked them off into the National Gallery for a spot of culture.
I knew I had perhaps 30 minutes, 45 at the most, before I started sounding like the teacher from Charlie Brown, so I hurried them along to the Early Italian rooms, followed closely by the French Impressionist rooms. After a few minutes of espousing the virtues of Raphael or Michaelangelo, or the near-camera quality of Canaletto (which is what finally got Jacob's attention!) and then launching into a description of what exactly Impressionism is, and being surprised that Zoe already knew about Pointillism and Seurat, I realized that I was really starting to sound far too much like Kenneth Clark. Or maybe that Nun that talks about art. What was with her anyway? Time for something different.
One of the best things about London must be the street performers. We encountered three or four of them, any of which could have filled the Royal Theatre. The best was Opera Dude as we referred to him, who was performing in a courtyard in Covent Garden. Dressed in a T-shirt and jeans, with a cd player accompanying him, he was belting them out like nobody's business. We were all stunned, especially Jacob.
Zoe also began her career as a street performer in Covent Garden when she was selected by a clown/juggler type to be his assistant. She did an excellent job and was on stage for about 20 minutes, to much applause.
We finished the day with shopping and then all fell into bed completely exhausted. Or should I say 'shattered' as they say here.
More tomorrow!

Monday, June 22, 2009

Top 10 Indicators that it's Going to be a Long Flight

1. Your seatmate smells like a damp sheep

2. The pilot appears to have tapped his way onto the plane with a white cane if his ability to steer the plane to the runway is any indication (see #5 for possible explanation)

3. Your seat is wet

4. The vegetables in your meal defy scientific classification

5. The on-ground traffic controllers appear to be doing the actions to 'YMCA" by the Village People.

6. You see the Grim Reaper on board. He is in Row 13 and has been allowed to bring his scythe on board, when your lip-gloss that you inadvertently left in your bag was confiscated.

7. The flight attendant pokes you in the eye while indicating the emergency exits.

8. All children on board actively and vocally shun sleep

9. The father of the baby in row 9 is flat out and has his baby's soother in his mouth. See #8.

10. The flight attendants are all wearing bubble-wrap turbans. Or at least that's what is looks like as you mistakenly lurch into the galley while looking for the bathroom. What the hell were they doing anyway and where did they get the cheese and charcuterie plate?

This is Why I Need a Jetpack

At the time, booking an overnight flight to England with a 7 and 13 yr old in tow (not to mention my mother as well) seemed like a tolerable plan. We would be flying over the kids' bedtimes so, more likely than not, they would just fall asleep and we would arrive in the UK in the morning relatively rested, go about our day, stay up until bedtime, and none of us would know the meaning of jet lag. I would quietly congratulate myself on my excellent parenting skills and my well-rested children would go happily hand in hand from one culturally significant locale to the next, soaking it all up with their alert minds.


Instead, both kids stayed wide awake for the first four hours, watching movies, eating, and generally behaving. Then, at the 5hr mark, I suggested sleep might be in order. Both kids snuggled down in their 1 cubic foot of space and attempted sleep. What followed is not worth repeating suffice to say I eventually retreated into a catatonic state in an attempt to remove myself from the situation. If anyone from flight TCX52L row 20 or 22 is reading this, I'm very sorry. I don't know how she manages to reach that octave either.

However we eventually made it to our 'holiday flat' in London, went out for a walk and some sightseeing, and all the trauma of the previous 24hrs became a blur. Until 2:30am this morning when it came back into sharp relief as Zoe, with whom I have the pleasure of sharing a bed, decide to wake up and stay awake until the morning. Of course, she was quite chipper until we were all ready to go out for the day when she suddenly glazed over. I put her in her bed and she's still there 2 hours later. Sigh.

Plans for the day include a few museums, some public transit adventures and mainlining some caffeine. I'll let you know how it goes!