5/31/2006

Woo-Woo And Woo Hoo!

Uncle AndrewUncle Andrew
Filed under: @ 6:42 am

View From The Train

I’m posting this from–get this–the train from King’s Cross to Edinburgh, Scotland. Man, is this the way to travel! Upgrading from our BritRail pass coach seats to First Class only cost us about 40 pounds per….well worth it for extra-comfy seats and some relative privacy. Okay, there’s one woman and her daughter in our cabin but they’re pretty quiet. Man, we ought to take the train back to Seattle! I’m almost willing to wait for it to be built. 😉

By now I’m sure you’ve read Margaret’s account of the goings-on of the last few days. Yesterday was a bit of a downer for me, what with this goddamn virus keeping me up all night (you know that feeling when you’re throat itches and burns and you’ve just got to do something about it and all you can do is swallow repeatedly? It’s possible albeit problematic, to get to sleep while this is happening. On the other hand, when you get to the point where your throat is so dry from repeated swallowing that the fricition on the inner surfaces of your mouth and throat is greater than the lubricating ability of your now all-but-exhausted supply of saliva that you can’t swallow at all, that instead you get a brief spasm at the back of your glottis and a totally unsatisfactory glick! sound, sleep is pretty much a quaint notion from more innocent times). But last night Margaret gave me a Snoot-O’-Phedrin, an Ambien and something else (it was green, I think), and I got my frist real night’s sleep in three days.

After the sardine-can that was our plane from Jersey back to the mainland, we are now on an 8-hour train ride to Edinburgh and ultimately Inverness, home of castles, moors (geogrpaphically speaking, not racially) and a certain body of water purported to contain a totally unlikely Jurassic-age aquatic reptile. We may even take one of those cheesy Nessie-hunting boat tours of the Loch, if Margaret doesn’t think she’ll be chumming the water with her puke. If we get any pictures of it (the varmint, not the vomit), we’ll do our best to get to shore before we’re eaten.

Beyond what Margaret has already discussed in exhaustive detai over the last few days, I really don’t have a lot to offer at this time. I plan to get another batch of photos uploaded at my next opportunity. Until then, here are a few other random observations:

My previous observation about the dearth of non-American obsese people here in the UK turns out to not be entirely true. Our trip to Jersey revealed a codicil to this rule: almost without exception, the only working class obese people you will find here are Americans. The “fat cats” tend to take on the physical form of their name at a higher rate than their countrymen further down the socioeconomic ladder. Perhaps this is because they still believe in the caste system here, and unconsciously follow the tradition that only royalty can afford to eat well enough to overdo it. Whereas in America, every man is a king, so every man can pork out as he sees fit.

A tomato, brie and basil baguette is just about the perfect quick-eat food, and can be trusted to be not only edible but quite delicious no matter where you get one, from garçon to gas station. The same cannot be said for sausage and pickle sandwiches. 😮

I may be blowing this out of proportion due to my inherent biases, but parents in the UK seem to be more willing to discipline their children–and more to the point, prevent the kids’ improper behavior–in public than their American counterparts. It seems like a rug rat has to be actually setting something/someone ablaze for the average American parent to put a stop to their shenanigans, whereas the British parents we’ve seen shush their kids when they raise their voices. It must be noted, however, that this training seems to wear off with the application of alcohol; pickled Brits are as obnoxious as any out there.

That’s all for now; see you with Round Three of pictures later!

5/30/2006

Jersey Girl Part II

MargaretMargaret
Filed under: @ 11:32 am

30 May, Tuesday (I think. I’m not entirely sure and I find that an enchanting state)

Day started out poorly. Andrew has come down with some sort of throat virus so we spent late last night and very early this morning with him swallowing, on average, about twelve times a minute. Neither of us slept very well and this room, while quiet, tends to get very warm if the window is shut which, I hadn’t realized until I got up this morning, it was.

We managed to find a doctor just around the corner who very kindly took a look at Andrew and reassured me that he wasn’t coming down with Strep. Okay, reassured us both, but really it would seriously suck if one of us came down with a bad case of the creeping crud while we’re traveling and Melanie did promise to cancel all out of country vacation permission if I came back to work sick, so this is of moderate importance. I think she was joking, but whether or not she was really joking, I suppose depends on whether or not I come back sick and how busy the summer is. I’ve got a lot of doctors depending on me here.

Once we got the official blessing of the British Medical Association we wandered off through the business district of St. Helier trying to avoid getting to the bus station by walking through the transit tunnel from Hell like we did yesterday.

We did manage to find an alternative route to the bus station and had a very nice stroll getting to our circle island tour bus. Nice chat with the dude selling tickets and we were off.

The streets are narrow and walled in either by real walls or by trees in most areas so there are blind spots from the Black Lagoon. There are many one lane two direction sections of the roadway. And every single driver we’ve run across drives, as I’ve mentioned before, like they were in the last stages of hallucinatory syphilis.

The island, however is GORGEOUS. Lots and lots and lots of potato and onion fields, lots of Jersey cows, I just can’t say enough. The architecture is stunning, the newest building I saw was dated 1914, and they all seem to be built out of these cool orange/red pumice type stones. The coastline is easily the equivalent of Hawaii (highest praise I can come up with for stunning coastline), however the wind is something else entirely. Beautiful day, blue sky, bright sunshine and a wind off the back end of some glacier around about the Arctic Circle.

We made our first stop at the Jersey War Tunnels, a tunnel complex built by slave labor during the German occupation. Originally designed as a munitions dump it was transformed into a German critical care hospital near the end of the war, but was never used. It was a really depressing sort of exhibit really. Basically takes you through from the moment that the British Navy browbeat Churchill into giving up the idea of defending the Channel Islands (“In case of an invasion the Channel Islands will not, repeat not, be defended!”) all the way through the war until about a month past VE day when the German soldiers were finally taken as prisoners of war. It’s pretty much no more depressing than any other WWII exhibit and certainly no more moving than, say, Pearl Harbor, but it’s so sad to see the timeline of how this wonderful and slightly dotty island was made into a German fortification. Also the opening of the exhibit consists of a series of pictures and bits of movies alternatively showing beautiful pastoral scenes of 1940’s Jersey and German propaganda films with a lot of swastikas, marching soldiers, and “Seig Heil!” which is specifically designed, I’m quite sure, to be very unsettling.

Took us about two hours to get through the exhibition by which time we were quite ready to be above ground in the sunshine, and somewhere where we weren’t still occasionally getting echoes of “Seig Heil!” (which is, honestly, a very unsettling phrase to have echoing down the hallways at you when you’re buried 50 meters underground).

We hopped back on the circle island bus and proceeded at a madcap pace through some of the more hideous tourist traps on Jersey. Granted there was also some wonderful scenery, but the “Jersey Living Legends Village” where you can take a ride on “Jersey Karts” (don’t ask) and the “a-MAIZE-in Maze” were a little distressing. We got off for lunch at St. Brelade’s Bay which amused the snot out of me. Standard tourist trap beach town, absolutely stunning half circle white sand harbor and blue, really blue water. Remember the wind off the back end of that glacier? Yeah, well it hadn’t calmed down any. And so the sight, at this veddy British beach resort darling, of people in coats, scarves, and mittens side by side with people in Speedos and nothing else. Now why the people in Speedos and the kids splashing in the water and the damp little girl playing Cricket in her bathing suit weren’t as blue as the water was beyond me. Andrew and I were walking a good clip and I was pretty darned uncomfortable in jeans and a t-shirt.

We had lunch, got some great photographs and then hiked it back to the bus. While we were waiting we struck up a conversation with an older Scottish couple and I was distressed to discover that while they were speaking English, I was completely unable to determine what it was that they were saying. No joke, I was only able to understand about two words in five. I thought the advice I got from one of my contacts on the Veterinary Information Network was exaggeration. I was told that I should get used to nodding my head and smiling a lot when I was in Scotland, and I’m afraid he (my VIN buddy that is) was correct. Andrew seemed to understand them pretty well, so I may have some hope.

Bus trip from St. Brelade back to St. Helier. The bus didn’t stop at the lavender farm which was disappointing, but just means that I’ll have to come back again. Rush hour traffic in St. Ouen means that you sit in traffic just long enough to be able to have a good look at the fields of what turned out to be lettuce along the side of the highway before the traffic starts moving again. Stopped at the pizzeria in St. Helier for takeout calzones so we could come back to our room early and get all set up to leave tomorrow.

The plan for tomorrow is to get up, get breakfast and then wing back to London so we can catch the train to Inverness. Tomorrow’s installment from The White Lodge Guest House in Inverness.

Observations for the day 5/30/06

Yet another comment on public lavatories. I stopped at the WC just across from the beach park in St. Brelade bay this afternoon. While the toilets had seats that were bolted to the bowl, this least upscale lavatory that I’ve encountered so far had no graffiti, no garbage, and intact windows. I’ll try to stop commenting on The Restrooms Of Great Britain, but truly I’m amazed.

At breakfast this morning I most thoroughly freaked Andrew and the waitress out by commenting that the King Charles Spaniel that was following the waitress around probably had an ear infection because I could smell it. Apparently this is a weird thing for me to be able to do, but I was right. After her eyes stopped going a little buggy the waitress confirmed that yes, the spaniel did have an ear infection and that they had taken her to the veterinary down the way a few days ago so that she could get some ear drops. Andrew thinks that it’s a very weird thing for me to be able to do.

I have got to come back to this island. There are so many cool, beautiful, and absolutely interesting things to do here that spending a week or more wandering around with a camera glued to my face would be a pretty appropriate thing to do.

Observations regarding European parents are, by no means, commentary on the parenting skills and styles of our direct group of friends, nor, god forbid, are they any commentary about either of our sets of parents. On the whole what I am seeing here is what I see from our group of friends who are parents and what I saw and have seen from all four of our own parents. I am merely commenting because what I am seeing is so different from the average American parent/child interaction, especially that to which I am witness in my professional capacity. That disclaimer having been made I hope I am free to say that I’m impressed. I have seen children disciplined, I have seen rowdy and disruptive children removed from social situations, and I have seen fathers especially being much more affectionate towards their children than I am used to seeing. It’s really refreshing honestly.

5/29/2006

Jersey Girl

MargaretMargaret
Filed under: @ 1:09 pm

Oh.

My.

GOD!

I’ve been waiting my entire life to do that!

Well, okay, maybe not my entire life, but how old must I have been when Mom first read to us from My Family and Other Animals and The Overloaded Ark? Nine? Ten?

So only just most of my life.

Let me just back up a bit. I missed Saturday and Sunday.

Saturday we did laundry. We hung out in Kew, we had a superb meal at a European Bistro (this is beginning to sound more like a gastronomic diary rather than a travelogue). We dealt, with poor grace, with the airplane noise and the loud drunk people in the streets of Kew overnight and we got all packed and set to leave Sunday morning.

Sunday we woke up way to damn early and didn’t wander around the streets shouting about how sober we were early in the morning (no, we’re not grouchy about the noise at Maura’s place, why do you ask?). We tubed to Victoria and caught the Gatwick Express to the airport. Breakfast consisted of baguette with brie, fresh basil and tomato, and fresh squeezed OJ. At the airport.

Have I mentioned that I love this society?

You may actually get that feeling when you see the photo that I took of a sticker that is placed prominently on multiple lamp posts around Kew noting that “People who let their dogs foul the pavement are bad mannered, inconsiderate, unhygienic and can be prosecuted under the ‘DOGS FOULING PAVEMENT LAW’!” A whole society of people (at least the great majority of the society) who are concerned with being bad mannered and inconsiderate!

I really love this society, although having seen more of how most people live, at least in the greater London area, I can understand the social pressure to be well mannered and considerate. The train trip from Victoria to Gatwick took about half an hour and at least 15 minutes of it (at an average speed of about 80 miles an hour) was through London and the outskirts. Block after block after block of row houses. The smallest houses we saw were duplexes. If you’re an ill mannered, unhygienic, inconsiderate person I rather imagine your close neighbors, all 60 or 70 of them, tend to run you out on a rail.

Which doesn’t, I’ll admit, do much to explain the pickled pixie that was wandering around Ennerdale Road Friday night screeching into her cell phone to Tom about how he did her wrong.

I should have bunged a brick at her head.

Anyway, we were on the way to Gatwick.

Love the train. Love it. Not much else to say although I may have more commentary after we get to Inverness (our train trip is set to take about 8 hours).

Gatwick Airport was loud, confusing, and absolutely choked with people. We took the tube to the train to the airport and once we got to the airport we had to take the tram to check in for our flight. It was a strenuous morning.

Our flight was set to leave Gatwick at 11:50. The boarding gate was set to CLOSE at 11:35. While we were finishing breakfast at 11:20, our boarding gate hadn’t been assigned yet.

Mild panic.

Went to talk to the guy at the BA information kiosk, he told us the flight had been delayed. What he didn’t tell us is that the flight had actually been delayed for FOUR DAYS due to fog on Jersey and that we’d be lucky if we got off the ground.

We were, in fact, lucky, it just took a while.

About three hours in fact. They started to board us at a little after 1:30. They took Andrew’s boarding pass and let him on. Since our flight was very full, we were seated separately (this part is important). They took my boarding pass and wouldn’t let me on. Colin (the very Irish dude at the gate) ran my boarding pass under the scanner again and the computer answered with a very discouraging “BONK” again. He poked at a few buttons, ran the scanner again and was again rewarded with “BONK”. Andrew was already on the plane and there was a LONG line behind us.

“BONK”!

Colin turned to his counterpart and asked “Maeve, have you boarded seat 6C yet?”

To which Maeve replied “No, it’s reserved, an Internet booking for Margaret Hammond.”

Blink blink blink.

I turned to Maeve and said “I’m Margaret Hammond and I did book on the Internet.”

She took my boarding pass, ran it through her scanner and got BONKed again. I offered to show her my passport and my driver’s license, she declined and asked me to sit while they boarded the rest of the flight.

Oh yeah, THAT’S designed to reassure me.

So they boarded the rest of the flight and then Maeve walked me down the gangway and parked me in first class, no less, while she went to figure out which Margaret Hammond was in 6C.

I was perfectly happy to stay where I was for the rest of the flight, but she did find a girl about the size and shape of a Q-tip in 6C who was supposed to be in first class. No appreciation she’d have had for those wider seats.

Oh well.

We finally got off the ground, it was a fun flight. The cabin crew had just enough time to close the curtain between first class and coach (that is supposed to be secured in the open position during takeoff and landing) and to get everyone a drink before they had to turn around and take everything away again so we could land. The folks in first actually got a meal, but I don’t think they had any time to eat since it was all I could do to finish my soda before they were collecting rubbish before landing.

Jersey is beautiful from the air and stunning in person (as it were). Green rolling hills separated by hedgerows, miles and miles and miles of white sand beach. Gorgeous architecture, ancient buildings…… I could go on.

And while there were both Pizza Hut and KFC advertised in the airport there’s not a Starbucks in sight.

We got a taxi driven by a mad Glasgewian. He was charming and gave us a lot of good tourist information, but he drove like…… well, he drove like a Brit.

I think a lot of my discomfort with the traffic here is that we’re on foot all the time and I can never figure out which way to look to avoid being squashed. Even when it’s printed in the crosswalks (as it frequently is) “LOOK RIGHT” or “LOOK LEFT”, it never feels like I’m looking in the correct direction and I’m positive I’m going to get squashed.

But it doesn’t help that they all seem to drive like they were in the end stages of hallucinatory syphilis. Dude that was driving our bus this afternoon scared the pants off of me.

I get ahead of myself again.

La Bonne Vie

La Bonne Vie Guesthouse, Roseville Street, St. Helier, Jersey.

The interior layout of this place confuses me greatly. There are thirty seven steps from the entry up to our room and we’re on the fourth floor. How do you get an odd number of steps?

La Bonne Vie

The view out our window

There are two rooms on this floor, #1 and #2. #3, #4, #7, and #10 are one floor below us. Two floors down you pass #5 and, inexplicably, #8, but there is no sign of #6 or #9. Now granted I haven’t done any snooping on the second floor to see whether the hallway at the back leads to #6 and #9, but still.

And no, for the record, there is no street number for this place. It’s just “La Bonne Vie Guesthouse, Roseville Street”.

There are at least 5 small hotels or guest houses on Roseville Street. It is crowded, the street is almost impassable for vehicles (which isn’t to say that the garbage truck and the street sweeper didn’t do a fine job this morning) and it’s QUIET. I was woken twice this morning, once by doves, once by seagulls. Right now I can hear the waves hitting the seawall at the quay a block and a half away. If the bed weren’t so tiny Andrew and I would sleep much better, but it’s still QUIET!

Completely off the subject for the moment, but I was reminded by a typo that I just deleted out. Andrew has spent the last four or five days being entirely enchanted with British cars. He wants a Ford Ka. They are cute I must admit, but I think a little impractical to put in our carryon.

We got here, got settled in and I went for a walk while Andrew napped. Lovely walk, I got to see a good section of the touristy areas of St. Helier and marked out some places that we’ll have to investigate more closely. There’s a park with a statue of King George V that I’ll have to get a picture of. You’ll understand when you see the picture.

Dinner last night at the Roseville Bistro. Three doors down the road and absolutely stupendous food. Andrew had prawns while I disported myself with chicken in mushroom sauce. The Jersey New Potatoes are worth a shout out too. Really wonderful little potatoes.

Today was dedicated to the zoo and only the zoo. Until I was completely zooed out, there wasn’t any way anyone could have pried, threatened, or cajoled me out of there.

We took the bus from St. Helier, about a half hour across the island to Trinity Parish. Gerald Durrell and his zoo have rather become Trinity’s talking point and it’s obvious why.

This is not a commercial, make a profit type zoo.

This is a show the animals to the people enough that they’ll pay to see them, but for the most part keep the animals here because they’re endangered, they need a safe place, and let’s see if we can’t get them to breed type zoo.

You can get within touching distance of most of the animals, and it’s my impression that most of them are pretty hand tame.

As impressed with and as proud as I am of Woodland Park, Jersey beats them hands down. This place was put together for the comfort and pleasure of the animals not the visitors……you’ll just have to see it. I spent the day somewhere I’ve read about my whole life, looking at animals that I’ve read about my whole life. No joke, there are a couple of the orangutans and a couple of the gorillas, to say nothing of the reticulated pythons, who are originals to the zoo. It was like meeting an old friend for the first time.

I was in tears more than once. It’s quite an experience.

And I found that I do, in fact, own every book Gerald Durrell ever wrote. I picked up his authorized biography though. Started reading it while we were waiting for the bus back here, it looks like it’s going to be really cool. It will be leant out on request (once I’m done of course), but understand that this is one book that I will get back from whomever borrows it OR ELSE.

Got off the bus in ‘downtown’ St. Helier and wandered around looking for a place to have dinner. No one opens for dinner before 6 p.m., it’s weird. You’d think in a tourist town they’d be open a lot more than they are, but I’m also forgetting that Jersey has a serious French influence and it’s probably illegal in France to eat dinner before 6:30. We wandered through a really cool little cemetery, again, you’ll have to see the pictures.

Dinner at a Portugese place on the waterfront. Our chorizo appetizer came on a grill over a dish of flame. Great food, absolutely wonderful and yes, for the record, I had lamb again while Andrew was inspired by his seafood steamed rice. The lamb kebabs came on a not so miniature sword. Now that’s a kebab.

Tomorrow we plan on taking a circle island hop on hop off bus tour. I secretly hope to get out to the lavender farm, but if our bus doesn’t go there I might be out of luck.

Observations for the Day 5/29/06

All of the houses have names. It’s odd. We passed one today whose sign read “#1 The Cloisters”. I thought that was only in books! Makes it hard to tell which are the guest houses and which are the private houses.

There is apparently a British ban on washcloths. Bath towels are present, hand towels are present, but there is no such thing as a washcloth. I can’t even find one in a store.

Mom and Dad have GOT to get to Jersey. We’re already planning our next trip, perhaps we can chase them out here when we come the next time.

Jersey cows are really cute.

And I still want to know what happened with Matt’s bat woman.

5/28/2006

More From Us In The Uk

Uncle AndrewUncle Andrew
Filed under: @ 12:55 pm

We got into Jersey about six hours ago, after an agonizing wait at Gatwick airport for our flight. (Turns out we had it soft; some folks had been waiting for three days to get to Jersey. The airport here had been socked in by fog for that long.) Tomorrow we head out for the Jersey Zoo, the brainchild of Gerald Durrell (still overseen by his wife, in fact) and the subject of Margaret’s Great Britain travel fantasies since she first heard of the place. Me, I go look purty aminals. And maybe buy a T shirt. 😉

Here is the second installment of photos from our trip, taken mostly at or around the London Eye (which is quite a cool little tourist attraction, lemmetellyou. Pity the cars don’t detach and ply the Thames like they did in that Simpson’s episode. Ah, well.), plus some at Trafalgar Square and the nearby, um, Something Cathedral (Margaret’s asleep or I’d ask her for the name).
I’m not quite as loquacious as my darling Wife when it comes to this trip–I’m really not getting enough sleep for one thing–but I thought I’d share a few random observations with you all regrading my experiences here:

Flying into Heathrow Airport, the modern steel-and-glass towers seem to rise up like futuristic mushrooms from a rich loam of antiquated red brick and stone.

While the President of the United States backs the “theory” of Intelligent Design and can only grudgingly admit to the possibility of global warming, the Brits like science so much that they put a strand of DNA on the back of their two-pound coin.

In England, there are lots of interesting physiological and physiognomic perplexities among the human populace. There is a manner of stentorian female figure here, a woman of a type that brings to mind the description “handsome”, big matronly women in their late 60’s hulking statefully down the sidewalks. There are people with weird planes and angles of the face where Americans don’t even have places; jawlines designed to admit dentata never meant to fit in the human face; faces like horses, faces like pugs, faces like Siamese cats. But there are virtually no truly obese people over the age of ten; if you see one, chances are super-good he or she has an American accent.

In the UK, a can of diet soda measures its energy content in kcal, or kilocalories, rather than calories as is the case in the US, which, in the case of the US, happens not to be the case.

The transit system here is to die, kill, rape, pillage and (more to the point) pay out the ass in taxes for. Our host at the B&B was lamenting to us the other day how Maggie Thatcher had butchered the rail/bus system in England, reducing it to a pale shadow of its former self in the name of her backers in the automobile industry. If this is the pared-down version, I think the real thing might be enough to send me into diurnal emission.

Despite popular lore to the contrary, beer in the United Kingdom is not universally served piss-warm. We have eaten out every single day of our stay, at pubs, bistros, Mediterranean restaurants, tandoori and fish-and-chips joints, and I have yet to be served a beer that was not refreshingly cold. Unless local comestabularies maintain a separate “stupid American” fridge of ice-cold brewskis, this piece of common knowledge about the beer-imbibing habits of the British would appear to be completely inaccurate. And it should be noted that, were it actually true, I would still quaff my Brit suds with nary a hesitation, because truth be told, the beer here does not have to be cryogenically prepared in order to be drinkable. I chalk it up to the preservatives–primarily nitrites, that jaw-tightening bitter aftertaste that seems to be the hallmark of domestic brew–that most non-American beers manage to do nicely without. Even a beer from, say, Holland, brewed and bottled in Holland for the American market, is brewed to American standards for shelf life. Which means the average imported beer contains enough nitrites to preserve a hundred strips of bacon….three hundred, if it’s a dark beer.

That’s all for now. I’m sure we’ll have just a royal shitload (or is that a metric shitload?) of Zoo photos for y’all to see in the coming days. Until then, cheerio!

5/27/2006

First Batch Of Pictures

Uncle AndrewUncle Andrew
Filed under: @ 9:10 am

I haven’t quite figured out how to add captions with this goofy photo album software I’m using, so you’ll have to use your imagination, but here is the first batch of UK photos. Have at!

A Shout Out From Across The Pond

MargaretMargaret
Filed under: @ 2:45 am

It took us about a week to finally sort out the whole Internet access thing, including calling our housemate at 11:30pm our time so he could reboot my server. So here, without further ado, is an extra-large, old-tymie super-deluxe posting on our trip so far by Margaret. Pictures to come. -Andrew

mm.

Where to start.

First and foremost this keyboard is going to drive me insane. There’s a reason I don’t usually use laptops.

SeaTac.

Shawn dropped us off, we breezed through security, found our departure gate and only then figured out that the currency exchange booth is, for some damnfool reason, in the arrival area next to baggage claim.

So I went back. Toting our ready supply of stored up American dollars ($464 for the record. I’ve been saving bits of cash for a long time now.) I went down the escalators from the S gates, along the tram line back to the main terminal, up the escalators to baggage claim and then halfway back along the length of the concourse to find the currency exchange booth which was peopled by what I assume was a congenital moron.

That’s not exactly fair, she seemed pretty reasonable actually, but I gave her my cash, she typed in a few numbers and then told me I could get 220 pounds for $464 or I could get 240 pounds for $500. I didn’t have any more cash so I handed her my Visa and told her to take the extra $36 from my Visa. She obligingly ran my card through the swiper.

And then her machine gagged. Locked up. Froze. As in, 0 Kelvin, frozen solid. There were three international flights that had arrived at baggage claim fairly soon after I had. I was carrying nearly $500 in cash, minutes were ticking away (our flight was due to board at 6 p.m., when I got to the exchange booth the clock on her monitor read 5:15 p.m.) and here is this woman with my Visa, every scrap of cash that I have on me, and my driver’s license and she won’t give any of them back because she says that since she swiped the card there is no way for her to cancel the transaction.

A line started to build up behind me. A line of grumpy, JOJ (Hawaiian pidgin term) international travelers who wanted to exchange their currency into US dollars and get the hell somewhere they could have a hot shower and sleep in a bed.

You know on the TV shows when they’re “showing” someone being given a polygraph exam how they’re always careful to show that the person’s hands are placed flat on the table in front of them so as to allow the examiner to monitor how much tension is in their hands? Yeah, well if someone had been watching my hands, laid on the counter on either side of the sliding drawer in the bulletproof glass, they’d have been able to look at my hands (them or the finger shaped dents in the formica that is) and say…..”HM! Margaret’s under a lot of tension right now!”

And the minutes kept ticking away. I was about to jump out of my skin when she finally made the correct call to the correct person to cancel the transaction from hell so she could count out my cash and let me go. The clock on her monitor read 5:45 p.m.

Did I mention that neither of us saw any reason to bring our cell phones with us? We do have an international cell, but its service didn’t start until we’d landed at Heathrow and I don’t know the number anyway.

I thought I was jumping out of my skin!

Andrew, having been left at the departure gate with our carryon baggage was a wee bit ANXIOUS about where I’d gotten off to. Fortunately I didn’t have any problem getting back through security again and they say that running stairs is great aerobic exercise (escalators were just not fast enough!).

And, just to state the obvious, I got back to the departure gate in plenty of time, the flight started boarding just when they said it would and all was well. Except that I saw a client, an older dude who owns a chocolate Lab (don’t ask me his name, but the dog’s called Godiva) with a camcorder taking home movies of the plane and the line of people waiting at the departure gate. He did board after we did, that is, I don’t suspect he was video taping the plane for any NEFARIOUS PURPOSE, but I did manage to confuse the daylights out of Andrew by doing my duck and cover routine while trying to explain to him through clenched teeth why I was suddenly acting like a lunatic.

The flight was not bad. Not bad in a claustrophobic, desert dry, heavy turbulence at the start sort of way. Cattle car class on British Air is somewhat more humane than cattle care class on, say, Hawaiian, but it’s still close and stuffy, and remarkably uncomfortable. The turbulence didn’t add anything. Y’all will know that I get profoundly seasick. I have never been airsick, but as I get older I think it may start to happen. The next time I do something like this I’m taking an ocean liner. My understanding is that they don’t move (much), and besides if I’m on an ocean liner and seasick, I’ve at least got plenty of space to throw up then lie down and be miserable instead of about thirty six square inches of space and no chance to get to the lav because of the turbulence.

Once we crossed the Rockies into Calgary, things settled down a good deal. I got perverse enjoyment out of watching our progress on the map when I wasn’t trying to sleep or decide what sort of food they were trying to convince us to eat. The food wasn’t bad, but lord it wasn’t good.

My MD had prescribed Halcion pills for me. My understanding is that Halcion is the stuff that they give presurgical patients to keep them from wigging out so that they’re nice and sleepy for the anesthesiologists. I can’t say whether or not I slept. I don’t know that I did sleep, but if I wasn’t sleeping I at least didn’t care that I wasn’t asleep. That is, once the loud Russian guys two seats back, and whistling dude one seat up shut up.

Please pardon the more pointed parts of this commentary. By my current clock it’s still Monday evening even though by local time it’s a quarter of Wednesday. We did nap once we got here, but I wanted to get all this down before I went to sleep so I’m still pretty loopy.

Andrew didn’t sleep on the plane at all so he’s currently crashed out waiting for me to finish with this so he can do whatever he needs to do before he puts the computer away for the night.

Once we hit the ground at Heathrow it was smooth sailing. The “Passport Control” (I love that phrase) agent looked like one of the minor female characters from The Full Monty, the people at Customs asked us if we had anything to declare and waved us through when we said no, and we were first in line at the taxi queue so we leaped right in and drove off.

We did have instructions on how to get here via the tube, but the tube station at the international terminal at Heathrow is closed so we would have had to take a bus to the nearest tube station, take the Central Line tube to the South Ealing Station, and then take a taxi from South Ealing to Maura’s.

It seemed easier just to get in a taxi. By no means less expensive, but SO much more straightforward.

Besides it was kind of cool to go screeching along the motorway (why is it a commonality around the world that local taxi drivers all drive like lunatics?) looking at Great Britain from the top side instead of the Underground. Lovely, very homelike, vegetation, enormous Magpies, and a number of small finches that I’ve not managed to find in our bird book yet. Of course we have a British bird book. It’s lovely, my only regret is that it’s not a copy of Olson’s Standard Book of British Birds (Monty Python reference, sorry, I am quite loopy). And yes, I checked. It’s got gannets and nuthatches in it.

58 Ennerdale Road, Kew Gardens, Richmond Surrey.

This is one section of a large multiplex. Three stories, narrow (only about two rooms wide and two deep that I can see), but tall. This is the ONLY guest room at this guest house, the Old Unitarian Network has really done itself proud in recommending it. We are literally across the street from the Kew Royal Botanical Gardens. The street is about two and1/2 cars wide which means that since people are parked along both sides the traffic is almost nil. There are robins bellowing, numerous finches tweedling, starlings, ring neck doves (hey Susan! I’ve got pigeons to chase!). We’re in the flight approach for Heathrow, but the airplane noise won’t bother Andrew or I, it’s quite homey. Hell, right now brass bands aren’t going to keep us awake. The room is spare, but clean with lots of closet space, and the nightstand has a copy of Rick Steves’ London 2006 travel guide along with about two dozen maps, brochures, etc. If there is a bible, I’ve not found it yet.

And Maura makes a mean cup of tea.

Italian for dinner. Good Italian. Fresh made mozzarella on my bruschetta, audible whamming when Andrew ordered veal cutlet. And I’m sorry to say that neither the fact that the carpaccio was raw nor the fact that the veal was, in truth, veal detracted from the enjoyment of the meal. It had been close to 24 hours since either of us had eaten anything resembling real food and it was GOOD.

Fun with British English 5/23/06:

That bag I carry strapped around my waist as a purse is a waist pack. Not a butt pack, and God forbid not a fanny pack. Apparently the word fanny has an other definition in British English. A good thing that I’ve always referred to my purse as a “waist pack”.

Another word with other definitions: stuffed. Apparently it’s a pretty darn rude thing to say to come out of a restaurant and say “man, am I stuffed”.

And if you ask for water someone is likely to ask you “Do you want gas with that?” Um…… no, all I want is water. I was prepared to not automatically have water delivered to my table, but it took me a few minutes to parse that question. Apparently you’re supposed to ask for plain water or sparkling water (i.e. water “with gas”).

Tomorrow we’re going to take the tube into London and ride the ferris wheel.

But now I gotta sleep.

Wednesday 5/24/06

I still dislike this keyboard intensely.

We got a late start. Maura offers breakfast after 0830, and I was up and showered by then. Andrew was still dead to the world when I came back up and decided that I should go back to sleep as well.

I finally managed to boot both of us out of bed at about 11:30, but only for long enough for Andrew to take a shower, eat some breakfast and for me to make the bed. Then we decided to take another nap.

It was a little before 1400 (yeah, I’m going native) by the time we both got it together, got dressed and went out.

Then it started to hail. No shit, hail. Well, truthfully, thunderstorm, then monsoon, then hail.

We went to the Kew Greenhouse Café and had lunch.

We got some entirely unhelpful information from the dude at the tube station regarding travel passes (he said that there weren’t any that were likely to be useful for us whereas the dude at the Victoria tube station gave us some great information about prices, week long passes, and travel options) as well as a pair of what turned out to be one way tickets from Kew Gardens to Victoria which we only found out when I tried to barrel through the turnstile at Victoria on our way back this evening only to be stopped at the midsection by the turnstile gate that refused to open.

Anyway we took the tube to Victoria and hooked up with The Original London Bus tour which was narrated by one of the most engaging lunatics I’ve ever had the pleasure to meet. He claimed that it was only his first time narrating that particular tour, but the ease with which he rattled off some of the minutiae makes me believe to the depths of my soul that that was just part of his patter. He was claimed to have been a solo European tour guide in a previous job but said he had to quit when one of his tourists tried to murder her husband on his tour and he was then saddled with a paranoid schizophrenic with bowel problems. Man you just can’t make stuff like this up. Anyway we tried it on the top of the bus for a while but it was spitting and still hailing occasionally so we made do on the bottom level which didn’t have nearly as good a view. We also ended up sitting behind another pair of Americans, the female of which had been a program secretary at Evergreen for many years.

So we went round and round and round London, sometimes passing through the same intersection three times. I know we saw Trafalgar Square from three different angles and were told at least twice that the statue of George Washington that is in Trafalgar is sitting on Virginian soil because Washington refused ever to set foot on British soil. There is also, for some odd reason, a statue of Abraham Lincoln somewhere outside of Buckingham palace.

Oooh, and for the Potterheads out there, we saw the façade for Gringott’s bank, a.k.a. the Australian Home Office. I’ll try to get a picture, but I’m not sure if embassy security are as fussy in the U.K. as they are in the U.S. about people aiming cameras at their front doors.

Observations for the Day:

British toilet paper has improved since 1985. Even in the public lav at Victoria station it was relatively reasonable and not the waxed paper nightmare that I remembered.

In her story “The First Thanksgiving” from The Partly Cloudy Patriot, Sarah Vowell describes her family as being “claustrophobic homebodies who would prefer to be alone than in a group. I can relate to that. London is a DAMN big city, there’s lots of people, lots of places, and I tend to go all to pieces when I’m not in an area that I recognize or can maneuver well in. At Victoria there were literally thousands of people, lots of ambient noise, I couldn’t see well anywhere around me (too short), I don’t tend to hear well when there’s a lot of background noise, and as a result I got us completely turned around while trying to find the pub at which we had planned to eat dinner (called The Rat and Parrot) and just about had a breakdown when I couldn’t find the underground station again. And I am very much my mother’s daughter in my sense of direction. Given a map I can probably find where I’m going most of the time, but if there’s any inaccuracies or twists I can get butt lost in no time.

Doesn’t mean I’m not having fun though.

There are still Cadbury chocolate vending machines at the tube stations. I’m thrilled.

Being simultaneously kippered by cigarette smoke while enjoying some truly stellar Indian food detracts from the enjoyment less than one would think. The Indian place we fell into after we failed to find The Rat and Parrot was the real thing. Andrew’s prawn vindaloo was hot enough to give me hiccups and my lamb masala was outrageous.

The statue of QueenVictoria is still quite one of the ugliest pieces of statuary it has ever been my pleasure to witness.

Also it’s not just taxi drivers, tour bus drivers regular drivers, scooter riders, pedestrians, etc. are all complete and total lunatics. I won’t ever figure out the traffic here, I can never remember which way to look when I cross the street and it’ll be a miracle if neither of us ends up getting squashed. Thank God we decided not to drive while we’re here.

Fun With British English 5/24/06:

People do say words like “cor” and “strewth” unashamedly and without any sense of irony. I’m enchanted.

Tomorrow we plan to go back into Victoria, pick up the bus tour again and get on and off this time instead of just riding around. I wouldn’t mind getting the barking mad narrator again, but I could do without the Americans from Olympia. I came to Great Britain to get away from most other Americans.

Hey Matt, what happened with the woman and her bat?

Thursday May 25th 2006

We’ve been married for ten years. Thanks again to everyone who came to the wedding and encouraged, with great energy, our relationship. Here’s to another forty or fifty more.

We both managed to get up and get it together in time for breakfast. I could have used another few hours of sleep, but Andrew was all bright and bushy tailed so I gave up and got up. The water pressure in the shower on its own is pretty wimpy, but Maura has this magic little doodad that spikes it up to PRETTY DAMN IMPRESSIVE. Wake you up impressive.

We tubed it into the Tower Hill station instead of Victoria and went directly to the Tower instead of catching our bus tour again. The Tower is still really cool but I’m distinctly cheesed off that the Great British Heritage passes that I purchased at great expense with the understanding that they’d get us into……well, British Heritage sites, did not, in fact, get us into the Tower. I am considering major complaints and charge backs on my Visa card if these passes don’t end up paying their way. Cost us thirty damn pounds to get into the Tower.

Enough ranting.

There’s still a whole lot of walking to be done, the stairs inside the towers are still extremely narrow and spiral-y, the 11th century graffiti scratched into the walls is absolutely stunning, and Henry VIII’s armor with the codpiece still cracks me up. I also noticed that the face plates for the horses’ armor (it has some special name, but I’ve forgotten what it is at the moment) not only have little armor sections covering the ears, but the earpieces are tufted as if the horses’ ear hair needed protection. We got some good pictures.

Contrary to popular rumor the ravens at the tower aren’t locked up for fear of bird flu, although most of them were on restriction in their mews today. They don’t seem as large as they did in 1985, now whether that’s because I’m more adult (god knows I’m not any much bigger except in girth than I was 20 years ago) or whether it’s simply that I’m more acclimated to dealing with big damn birds it’s hard to say. They’re still pretty big, they’ve still got REALLY IMPRESSIVE beaks, and there are still signs sprinkled all over the green that say in multiple languages, ‘RAVENS BITE!’

I couldn’t find any information at all, anywhere, about a Tower Ghost Tour which makes me think that what I heard about it was just urban legend. We were both really interested in getting in on the Ceremony of The Keys where you follow the beefeaters around as they lock things up for the night, but you have to sign up for it a few months in advance. Oh well.

They’ve improved the traffic flow through the vault with the Crown Jewels too. You start in a reception area where you get to watch the important section of Queen Elizabeth’s coronation. Watching it over a few times I was struck by the tremendous responsibility that was placed on her, even as a token monarch, at such a young age. Okay, she was 25 (by the estimation of the beefeater that I asked later), and sure there have been many more coronations of much younger monarchs, but for heaven’s sake, even to be named the token head of state at 25…… yeesh.

That doesn’t really do what I saw in the films, the expression I saw on her face, justice. It was a pretty moving film quite honestly, but then I’m a real sucker for ceremony.

Anyway, you start by watching Elizabeth’s coronation and then move into the vaults. No windows, any available window embrasure is boarded over with steel shutters at least 3 inches thick, vaulted, reinforced ceilings, walls quite literally 4 foot thick the works. There are displays of the less, well certainly not less valuable, but less important, paraphernalia involved with the royal house. A lot of impressively ugly gold work, a fountain basin calling itself a punch bowl…..solid gold, three feet long by two feet wide by three feet high. That’s a load of punch.

Then you move into the vault with the Crown Jewels. Instead of the round room and the multiple tiers on which you have to keep moving, they’ve now got a central island with a moving sidewalk on either side. You can’t stop, and if you try to get off and go around again one of the beefeaters comes around and prods you.

We went along the wall walk after we finished with the Crown Jewels. Little teeny narrow spiral staircases, cool glimpses into the yards of the beefeater’s living quarters, and when we finished the wall walk and were sitting for a bit afterwards I found a sparrow’s nest in a crack in between two of the stones of the wall.

A lovely day, it didn’t rain on us once. We took a lot of pictures, tried to load everything to the blog and found that there’s something not right with the web server which Andrew is now, at a quarter to midnight, trying to fix.

Dinner at the Kew Gardens Inn. You walk in and think that you’re going to get pub grub and what you get is a very fine meal. I had lamb (it’s going to be a sheepish sort of vacation it seems), Andrew had porkchop with bubble and squeak which he said was lovely. I had rhubarb sauce for dessert which had a shot of something savory/spicy in it that we think was woostershire sauce.

Fun With British English 5/25/06

While clearing our dinner plates this evening, the middle European waitress at the Kew Inn asked “Do you want some, maybe, pudding?”

I was able to translate this to “Do you want some dessert?” and asked for the menu before Andrew had a chance to pipe up with “No, but I’d like some dessert please.”

Tomorrow we’re going to Trafalgar, probably the London Museum, and quite possibly St. Paul’s cathedral. I still love the tube.

Friday 5/26/06

My love affair with the tube was strained quite considerably this afternoon when it took us almost an hour and a half to make what is usually a 20 minute trip. Not the fault of the London Underground that there was some sort of police activity at the Earl’s Court Station, but I sure wish that if they were going to stop our train on occasion that they would have done so in an area where they could open the doors and let some air in instead of in between stations where we’d sit and cook.

It was an annoying sort of morning to begin with anyway. We both stayed up far too late last night looking at the photos we’d taken at the Tower. It started raining again overnight which meant that early early this morning it was quite impressively humid in here and I was, I admit, grouchy when I got up this morning. The magic shower doodad did help, really there is nothing like being hosed in the face with hot water at high pressure to get your blood moving, but I was still grouchy when we set out at about 11 a.m.

We had some of our travelers’ checks to cash since we’ll need to pay Maura before we leave for Jersey on Sunday morning and I can guarantee that none of the local banks are open on Saturday. What I neglected (grouchy and tired remember?) to recall was that while we were planning on cashing in $1000, the packets of $500 were only packets of five $100 checks instead of packets of two $500 checks.

So when we got to the bank we only had $500 to cash which wasn’t going to get us the amount of money that Maura would need n Sunday. So I walked back, leaving Andrew at the local Starbucks to fight with their T-mobile hotspot. I got another packet of checks, walked back, and we went into the bank to cash them only to find that you’ve got to have your passport to cash travelers’ checks.

So I walked back. Leaving Andrew at the local Starbucks to fight with their T-mobile hotspot.

Thoroughly irritated with $1000 in checks and BOTH our passports, I met Andrew at Starbucks, handed him the checks and his passport and went to soothe my soul looking for emery boards at the local drugstore (they call themselves a drugstore, not a chemists).

Then we got on the tube only to find that some nutter was being chased along the tracks at the Earl’s Court Station and our train had to stop for periods of up to 20 minutes since the transport service had turned the electricity to the tracks off.

It was an annoying way to start the day.

We took the tube to Westminster and wandered down to get tickets for the London Eye. Coming out of the tube station at Westminster was like being dropped right in the center of Waikiki. One of the most unashamed tourist traps I’ve ever been privileged to witness including some woman “selling” tissue paper flowers on aluminum foil stems “for the children”. She was asking for donations, but, as Andrew pointed out, she couldn’t answer what charity she was collecting for nor did she have any indication of any children (photos, pamphlets etc.) so it seems likely that she was just panhandling and probably making a pretty good go of it.

We walked past the stand selling roast peanuts in some sort of horrid looking sticky sauce.

Oh damn, and I just remembered that we also walked past, without getting a photo, of the sculpture (and calling it that is really gilding the lily) of an elephant’s body on giraffe legs with a pyramid on its back. We really will have to go back and get that one, it’s quite impressive.

The London Eye is cool. Flat out, grade A cool. 30 minutes of slow ferris wheeling over the Thames and a simply stupendous view. Really worth 13 pounds and a long line. We got a LOT of photos.

We walked from the Eye over the Golden Jubilee bridge. Fans of Mythbusters will recall that that’s the bridge that helped to inspire the “see if you can collapse a bridge by marching in step across it” episode. It has been significantly reinforced since it was built and apparently no longer threatens to collapse from harmonic vibrations in high winds with lots of people walking across it.

And the winds were high. I am tempted to shave my head if the weather doesn’t settle down. Andrew already cut almost 6 inches off my hair, but in high winds it’s still a serious nuisance.

We were able to walk direct from there to Trafalgar Square which is cool enough if you like pigeons. Every pigeon in the city is there, most of them panhandling from people who ignore the signs that say in about 8 languages “PLEASE DON’T FEED THE PIGEONS”. I was struck by the thought that people wouldn’t be nearly as blasé about it if they didn’t have feathers. Really, what is the difference between a pigeon and a rat besides the feathers?

Anyway we went from there to the Cathedral of St. Martin-In-The-Fields which is right across the street. Standard Catholic cathedral, really cool organ. Engagingly hideous cherubs on top.

After that it was pretty much a matter of just tubing it back here. We now have a compact that if we can’t get on the tube before 4:30 p.m. we’ll just stay in London until about 7 because the tube was PACKED. Sardine can packed. Sweaty, stepping on people’s toes packed. Better than being stuck in rush hour traffic in a car, but a LOT hotter.

And at the Baron’s Court stop, two stops before ours, a pair of guerilla musicians hopped on and started to sing “this train is going to Richmond/this train” “this train is stopping at Gunnersbury/this train” etc. When they finished with that song they burst into a song of their own, a protest song called “If You Can’t Have A Shave In A Toilet” complete with guitar, bongo drums, a kazoo, and a whistle. Apparently the London Underground has recently started, in an effort to discourage homeless people from using the public lavatories for shaving etc., a policy of prosecuting and/or persecuting people they find shaving in the public lavatories. The lyrics went something like “If you can’t have a shave in a toilet/where can you have a shave?” “If you think about it much worse things happen/in a toilet” and lines commenting about how people are just trying to stay neat and tidy.

I just about ruptured myself trying not to laugh. They were commenting about how their song was available on CD, but if I’d turned around to see whether or not they were really selling CDs I’d have burst out laughing. I think I would have bought one.

When the train stopped at Kew, they jumped the turnstile, guitar, bongo drums and all, and disappeared.

Observations for The Day/That’s Not Something You See Every Day 5/26/06

Two things you will never see in a public restroom in the states:

1. A vending machine with little disposable, chewable, mint flavored toothbrushes instead of a vending machine with condoms.

2. A scale.

No joke, the public restroom at Westminster Station had a scale.

Being a licensed buskar in a hallway at Westminster Station in London does not, in fact, make your plonky rendition of Led Zepplin’s “Stairway To Heaven” any more appealing than it is anywhere else.

You will never see four pre-teen boys, three of whom are wearing neckties, EVER reading a newspaper in a public place in the U.S., let alone will you be able to notice that they leave their table in a fast food joint (the local fish & chip shop for the record), cleaner than it was when they sat down.

Clothes from Deva Lifewear should most probably be washed before they’re worn to remove excess dye. I’m currently wearing a new blue blouse and I’m blue in several interesting locations.

5/20/2006

Death From Above

Uncle AndrewUncle Andrew
Filed under: @ 4:39 pm

Crow Being Dive-Bombed by a Robin

I shot this picture out my office window. There seems to be a robin nest in our immediate area, because a pair of them are jeeping day and night at anything remotely out of sorts around our property. A juvenile crow certainly qualifies.

5/19/2006

Slip Sliiiiding Away….

Uncle AndrewUncle Andrew
Filed under: @ 7:27 am

It’s been a hectic week, what with preparing for our trip to Europe, so I haven’t done jack on my blog lately. You’ll just have to amuse yourself with my BirdieCam and the occasional frag fest. And this.

This came courtesy of my father-in-law Ron, who got it from a friend in Portland. It arrived attached to the following email:

This 3150 m long tunnel in Russia is the longest in-city tunnel of Europe.
There is a river running over it and water leaks at some points.
When the temperature reaches -38 degrees like it did this winter, the road
freezes and the result is the attached video taken during a single day
with the tunnel camera.

I liked the articulated bus. If it had passengers I’ll bet alot of them needed an underwear change!!!!!!!!!!!

Click here to view the movie. It’s in Windows Media format. As usual, my Mac brethren can use the excellent (and free) Flip4Mac to view it.

5/14/2006

Food Fright, Part 13

Uncle AndrewUncle Andrew
Filed under: @ 3:43 pm

Food Fright, Part 13

Sorry it’s been a while since I posted. I got hit with a nasty-ass flu virus that’s been going around (“nasty ass” being the term, if you get my drift. [“Goodness, is he talking about diarrhea?” Why yes, yes I am, thanks for asking. Can’t you take a hint?]).

So as a celebration of my (near) recovery, I thought I’d take a moment to bring you the latest installment of Food Fright: Coca-Cola Blak, a “carbonated fusion beverage”. What it appears to be a “fusion” of is Coke, Diet Coke, and black coffee.

Food Fright, Part 13

Or, if you happen to agree with my brother-in-law (pictured above), a fusion of Coke, Diet Coke and ass.

I don’t happen to agree. I mean, the stuff ain’t nothin’ to write home about (which, given the banality of the Web in general and UUdN in particular, still makes it more than worthy of writing online about), but it’s not terrible. It doesn’t make one physically gag or spew a fizzy rooster-tail of expelled beverage across the room upon contact with your tongue. It’s less sweet than regular ol’ Coke, which is just fine in my book, with a slight artificial-sweetener aftertaste that is partially masked by the coffee notes.

The coffee part is—well, it’s interesting. They seem to have been trying for a fairly strong, “Starbucks French Roast” kind of effect (strong as in strong coffee, not necessarily strong presence in the overall flavor. The coffee part is actually pretty subtle….if “subtle” is the term for anything put into a soda), and they seem to have hit it pretty well. Coke and coffee actually go together all right, to my great suprise. It’s nothing you would horse down after a hard day of rock climbing or anything, but if the experts are to be believed, a soda isn’t the kind of thing one should be drinking after heavy exertion anyway. (Off-topic: does anyone else remember those Dannon Yogurt commercials that first aired sometime in the late 70’s/early 80’s that showed a woman climbing into her car after a hard run, her breath steaming in the morning chill, reaching into the bag on the back seat and pulling out a plastic container of yogurt and digging into it, her face a mask of sublime but winded bliss? How fucked up was that? About the only thing I’d want less after a jog than a tub of yogurt would be a peanut butter sandwich.)

No, the flavor is not the real problem with this beverage. The problem is twofold: first, the marketing campaign is, well, weird. Coca-Cola seems to want to try to position this stuff to appeal to a group of people who only truly exist in stereotype: edgy, artsy, hip, gallery-crawling trendoids, arrogant androgynes presumably dressed to the nines (do you kids today still say “dressed to the nines”?) in dark, stylishly-cut suits and titanium-framed sunglasses. Like New Yorkers as they might appear in the nightmares of Red-State Heartlanders or something. (Which, come to think of it, is also a stereotype. Perhaps the Coca Cola Company is working on a beverage for them as well.)

Slurking down a bottle of Coke Blak did not make me feel any closer to the pulse of the city at the bleeding edge of the envelope, or whatever the hell it was supposed to do. It did make me feel a bit gassy, though. Maybe they were trying for artsy and overshot into artsy-fartsy? Stranger things have happened.

The second and more prevalent problem is the price. This shit retails for as much as $8.99 for a four-pack of 8 fluid ounce bottles. At that price you’d better draw a serious MoMA salary if you plan to make a habit of the stuff.

My conclusion is this: if you have the hankering for a quick jolt of less-than-Coke-sweet cola goodness and have two bucks burning a hole in your pocket, you might want to give Coca-Cola Blak a try. I think you’ll say, “Wow! I can’t wait until X-Men 3 comes to the Cinerama!” Then you’ll either finish your drink or dump it out onto the sidewalk. Either way, please remember to recycle the bottle.

5/9/2006

Yeah, Yeah, Yeah….

Uncle AndrewUncle Andrew
Filed under: @ 5:57 pm

I know, I know, my server was down for a few hours.

Power supply was acting up. I’ve never even heard sounds like this coming out of a power supply before: sort of a random “tick, ticktick, tick, ticktickticktick….” It wasn’t a cable or other obstruction hitting one of the fans, either. But it was sure something having to do with a fan. Anyways, had to tear the old one out and stick in a replacement. Hope I didn’t cause any of you any inconvenience. Feel free to send me a check to cover the time you spent being more productive at work.  😉

Two Of The Coolest Pictures You’ll See This Week

Uncle AndrewUncle Andrew
Filed under: @ 9:30 am
Garter Snake Eating Frog

My boss, Paul Stamets, shot these pictures in one of our mushroom grow rooms last Thursday. Jim, a fellow employee, was running around emptying mouse traps when he came across this cool-but-grisly scene in Grow Room 2.

Being an environment of high humidity and relvatively controlled temperature, our grow rooms are naturally host to a largish population of frogs of varying species and size. We welcome their presence, as they help to keep the insect levels down. (Only one customer I know of has ever been enough of a chimp to ask if our mushrooms are contaminated with frog droppings as a result. No, they’re not. Where do people find the time in their day to worry about shit like this? Um, no pun intended. ;-))

Naturally, where conditions are favorable for a given species, predators will also congregate. This two-foot-long garter snake has doubtlessly been cruising the rooms for most of its life, hoping for an opportunity to take down one of these free-range delicacies.

Snake Eating A Frog

The ex-frog depicted here is—was—one of our true veterans, a batrachian hulk christened Moses by our previous growroom manager. Sorry Damein, I know you must be heartbroken over this. Ah, well, ashes to ashes, dust to snake poop.

Despite what would seem here to be an impossible task, the garter snake (I think I’ll call him Mister Creosote) did manage to get Moses all the way down (“Go down, Moses, wayyyy dowwwwn in snaaaakie belllly….”), though I wasn’t there for the dessert course.

According to Paul, after dinner Mister Creosote tried to slither out of the grow room, but was so overloaded that he couldn’t make it over the two-inch door sill. 😀

5/5/2006

This Just In….

Uncle AndrewUncle Andrew
Filed under: @ 7:32 am

From alert reader Joe, an addendum to my previous Food Fright post about Wolfgang Puck’s Self Heating Latte:

Woflgang Puck Self Heating Latte is being Withdrawn from Shelves

Tuh-hoo cool. It tastes like coffee sweetened with diabetic’s urine. And it explodes!

Thanks, Joe!

5/4/2006

Pack Your Brolly….

Uncle AndrewUncle Andrew
Filed under: @ 7:59 pm

You may or may not have noticed three recent additions to the Weather bar along the left side of your browser window. I recently figured out how to pull international information from weather.com’s XOAP server so I added links to weather in Tel Aviv, Baghdad and London to my list of weather in places that are important to me. Israel because that’s part of my tribe (as diluted and unconnected as I might feel at times to it), Baghdad because it just seems like the very least I could do (particularly given the fact that I’ve had one nephew there already and another likely on the way), and London because, well, we’re GOING TO ENGLAND!

Margaret and I have actually been planning this for some time, in celebration of our tenth wedding anniversary (ten years. My God, ten fucking years. I can’t tell you what this means to me, but this might give you a bit of an idea: in 1989 I had decided that I would give myself five years after graduation from college to see if my life had begun to improve. If it hadn’t, I was planning to commit suicide. Shortly thereafter Margaret and I started dating. I’m still alive. Top that, Hallmark!) She went there with her family as a teen, whereas I’ve never so much as been to Canada, despite the fact that it’s close enough to cast a shadow on my house at the right time in the afternoon.

We’re going to spend time up and down the coast of the Isles, visiting London, Jersey, Bath, Inverness (yes, we’re going to take a tour of the Loch, we’re that big of a couple of weenies), Stonehenge, and every single zoo and botanical garden that gets in our way (and there’s a lot of them. At one point, Margaret was at her ‘puter researching places to visit when I heard her squeal with delight, “The Royal Thyme Garden!” I burst out laughing, and she asked me what my problem was. Affecting my most rapt tone of delight, I squealed, “The Strategic Dandelion Reserve!” I don’t remember nothin’ after that. 😉 ) If we have time, we’re going to take the Chunnel and spend a couple of days in Paris. We want to do the Tower of London Ghost Tour, eat at half a dozen places featured on various Food Network and Travel Channel shows (St. John, Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen, and Yialousa Greek Tavern, a place Margaret and her family frequented when last they were in England, among others). All in all, an action-packed month.

All I can say about planning this trip is, thank God Margaret took the reins. If it had been up to me, we would have likely stayed in the hotel closest to Heathrow, touring the surrounding computer stores and eating at fine curry houses within ten minutes’ walk of our lodging. That’s just the kind of guy I am: lame. Margaret is also the one who saved our wedding from being held in our driveway, with pizza from the now-defunct Joe Mama’s next door and a Winchell’s donut wedding cake.

We will, of course, be taking a metric assload of pictures while we’re there, and posting some of the best of them right here for your viewing pleasure. To this end we recently bought an Olympus E-Volt E500, a wonderful digital happy-snap SLR with all the bells and whistles, save a couple. If you’re an amateur photog who wants the splendor of a digital camera with the full range of SLR lenses, but you don’t feel a pathological need view a live preview through the LCD viewfinder or shoot action photos in dimly lit rooms, I’d heartily recommend this bugger.

The main reason I wanted to let my adoring readers know what we were up to was so we could solicit suggestions, tips and other bits of tid from our more worldly compatriots regarding things to do, see and perhaps buy in England. Where to go for good omiyage? Places we simply must go, places we for the love of God should avoid? C’mon people: most of y’all are ten times the world travelers that we are (what’s ten times zero again? Remember, I graduated with a Bachelor’s in Liberal Arts). Help us out here!

5/3/2006

That Thing You’ve All Seen….

Uncle AndrewUncle Andrew
Filed under: @ 7:44 pm

But in case there’s a single person left on the planet who has not yet seen the movie of Stephen Colbert at the 2006 White House Correspondant’s Dinner, here’s a Windows Media Video of it (probably need to right-click and “Save As…”; I didn’t build a Web page in which to embed it.). My Macintosh brethren can use the free Flip4Mac to view it. It is pretty cool. 😀


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