Thursday, October 25, 2007

Tuesday, October 23: Packing and Hairspray

I figured it would be an odious task and indeed it was. On an extremely positive note however, if I miss anything Jamie is now responsible for finding it and stuffing it in his own luggage. I am very glad we thought to buy a duffle bag and pack it inside Jamie's luggage for the trip over. We used every inch of it despite the dryer having misplaced several socks and a pair of underwear or two. This after me taking great pains to purchase non-breakable and small souvenirs. I managed to disburse all of my souvenir guidebooks among the various suitcases so none should exceed weight restrictions.

No food in the flat so I took the boys up to Canary Wharf for lunch. Colin wanted to see the "Big JT" again which was set up right outside our Jubilee Line Canary Wharf Underground station. Liam was curious and also wanted to eat at Wagamama one more time so we bundled up and headed over towards Jamie's office. He and Garry came down to check out the hype for next Sunday's game so we ran into them on their way to get coffee. People in NY Giants and Miami Dolphin jackets were shoving trading cards and lapel pins in our hands left and right. Colin managed to muscle up to answer a trivia question, "What city are the Giants from?" and won a Miami Dolphin's t-shirt. He wanted to wear it to the theatre that night. Um, think not! Poor Liam couldn't work up the assertiveness to jump in there and of course was a bit out of sorts because Colin got a free cap AND a free t-shirt. Life isn't fair, but I can't blame him. If I were in his shoes I'd be feeling a bit glum myself I imagine.

More packing in the afternoon and then I settled in on my bed with my laptop to watch three more episodes of "The Vicar of Dibley" while putting a heated cloth on my neck. Of all days to wake up with an excruciating pain in the neck...besides the one snoring next to me. Sheesh, I don't think I've had "crick" like this in literally decades. Wonder how in the world I managed to do that in my sleep. Maybe that is what a decided lack of earplugs will do.

I also took the time to arrange for last minute tickets to see a show in London's West End. I thought that might be a nice surprise for Jamie for his birthday. Except as usual the bugger guessed yesterday that I might be up to that. Oh well, at least I got to surprise him on which show. He knew I was interested in "Wicked" and might try to find tickets to "Spamalot" because of the kids. We ended up going to see "Hairspray." It is the first time it has run in London and it's press opening is on the 30th. So we were treated to the opening cast. It was fantastic! I think Liam was absolutely enthralled and Colin even squirmed at an absolute minimum. Every once in awhile he had to ask why people were laughing and these were jokes you just don't explain to a seven year old.

Lest anyone tut tut me taking a child so young to a musical with sexual innuendo I must point out I saw "A Chorus Line" in London when I was almost eight years old and it did me no lasting harm. I am so glad we got to do this for our last evening in England. I really did want to find a way to take the boys to a show and it turned out to be a lovely way to celebrate Jamie's birthday as well since we will be leaving the day before. Hence, the champagne toast during intermission.

Tomorrow it's planes, trains and automobiles. Technically, taxi, train, plane, automobile.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Monday, October 22: Last Minute Cramming

Liam decided he wanted a quiet day in the flat to himself so Colin and I took off to see whatever we could see over the next few hours. We started at the National Portrait Gallery where Colin was gracious enough to humour me while I roamed the three galleries in which I was most interested. i.e. Tudor, Jacobean and Victorian portraits. Colin was fascinated by the marble busts and had me read out the names and occupations of every bust we encountered. There are usually at least two in every room and sometimes as many as two thousand. Okay, not that many but it felt like it when trying to read the names and look at portraits. We only stayed about forty-five minutes but that was plenty of time to hit the highlights I wanted to see.

Next we popped around the corner to the cafe at Trafalgar Square where we stopped for a mocha and scone. Oh the clotted cream! We couldn't fail to notice the gigantic animatronic model of Jason Taylor of the Miami Dolphins and a jumbotron playing football highlights right in front of Nelson's column. Something just doesn't seem right about that. But just after Colin had enough of climbing up and down the lions (it was rather cold), they began filming something with the crowd where the show's host explained football, quizzed people for prizes and they demonstrated the animatron. I cannot tell you how odd it is to hear a football play called in a British accent. The host noticed Colin, but was unable to quiz him for a prize because of camera angles (we're in the long shots) so he came over afterwards and gave Colin an NFL International Series commemorative baseball hat. Cool! That was the first of Colin's freebies today. When he stopped at a souvenir kiosk on our way out of Trafalgar Square, the gentleman was so amused by Colin he tossed in three free postcards with the teddy bear.

We next wandered over to Covent Garden passing through the Actor's Church (St. Paul's Covent Garden) on the way. Colin wanted to stop and watch a juggler/comedian's act that was really quite funny. Then we picked up a few souvenirs at the market and trudged on to find a pub for lunch. We ended up at Duke's at The Wellington. Very slow service but we passed the time arranging the condiment bottles and cutlery into replicas of the Tower of London, Warwick Castle, Canary Wharf, etc. We both had the sausages and mash with my version being the vegetarian option. Oh my! I want to take home a crate of whatever these were. Best vegetarian fake meat I've ever had.

We waddled down to The Strand and stopped for a bit at Somerset House where Colin had to peek into another gift shop and had fun climbing up and down off of columns and steps. We passed through King's College London where my darling shopaholic had to at least buy a pencil at the college bookshop. I was heading towards Temple where I hoped to stumble upon the ruins of the temple to Mithras the bus driver pointed out two weeks ago. No such luck, but I did get to see the church founded by the Knights Templar for which this region really gets its name. I'm glad we wandered down there because we got to see the Royal Courts of Justice and it is really a beautiful building. Not that I ever want to see the inside mind you.

Our meanderings towards a Tube stop took us right to the steps of St. Paul's Cathedral. Colin wanted to poke his head in to see it, but declined the admittance fee to tour the entire church. I didn't mind as I was ready to get back as we were now getting a bit of a mizzle. (mist and drizzle) We exited through the church gardens, hopped on the underground and brought a snack back to Liam who didn't look like he had moved from his chair since we left. In fact, I don't think he ever changed out of his pajamas.

On Tuesday we begin the arduous task of packing and may look for the animatronic Jason Taylor at Canary Wharf for Liam when we go out for lunch because there is absolutely nothing to eat in the flat.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Sunday, October 21: Two Kings One Field

A bit of a late start this morning, but that was to be expected. Garry and Pauline did tell us we were most welcome to attend the family service at their village parish church at 10:30 if we so desired. St. Michael and All Angels in Fenny Drayton celebrates a family service on third Sundays at 10:30 A.M. Oh how tempting! My family would have deserted me.

Instead we started the day by walking the dogs...and the boys...through the village. We did stop at the church and I was able to poke in before the start of the service. I did feel a bit guilty when pounced upon by the greeter whom I believe was hoping had found new potential parishioners. Still, she presented me with Fenny Drayton Parish Newsletter for October and a flyer about the church itself. We continued on to a small playground and then round to a memorial to George Fox, birthplace of the founder of the Society of Friends, i.e. Quakers. I was more impressed than the boys of course.

When we returned, Pauline had prepared a traditional English breakfast for us. A "fry up." Oh my! I may not be able to tuck in to the rashers and sausages, but I still had quite the post-rugby World Cup breakfast. Following a refreshing autumn walk through a charming English village, who could ask for more? Well, Liam I suppose, but we did cut him off at one point.

Garry held up admirably and escorted us to Bosworth Battlefield. My entire family, as well as my host, were wonderfully accommodating and humoured my love of history. I am very aware that we simply walked around a field that sports a few battle standards and a handful of historical plaques. The spot where Richard III supposedly took a sip of water looks much as a small child shouted from a distance. "Da, it looks like a barbie!" (That would be outdoor grill, not anatomically impossible doll, for the Americans reading this blog.) I am an unabashed Yorkist who firmly believes Henry VII undeservedly and through a pure stroke of luck achieved the English crown. Richard III has been sorely maligned throughout history and the princes in the tower disappeared on the order of Henry Tudor. Be that as it may....

The battlefield exhibition is under rennovation, but the visitor center did enable Jamie and Garry to watch a brief film while the boys drew pictures of knights and I rung up our inevitable souvenir purchases. The walk around the battlefield was just glorious in this weather. I did a few "brass rubbings" and then we left for the Coventry train station. We actually caught a slightly earlier train an would have arrived even sooner had not a small child not pulled the emergency lever. We wondered what had happened when our train stopped in the middle of nowhere. I am so ever grateful the train manager bawled out a mother that was not me. Though given her ethnicity and the expression on her face I'm going to take a wild guess that she hadn't a clue what he was yelling at her and we were quite lucky the little shit didn't do it again.

Jamie taught Liam how to play a variety of poker variations while I taught Colin how to nap on a train. I win!

After returning home Jamie contacted a co-worker who had arrived earlier today to begin training the "superusers" at the newspaper tomorrow. We all went to an Indian/Bangladeshi restaurant where the children were total shits. I ended up leaving a bit early with Colin, poured him into the tub and was asleep before Jamie could get both Colin and Liam to bed. All night long I dreamt of hiding out in a tornado shelter as oodles and oodles of tornados descended upon Melbourne, FL. Before and after I moved into the bed with Colin because of Jamie's snoring. I wonder if that means anything.

Saturday, October 20: Out to the Midlands

Oh I do so love waking up children before dawn who screwed around at bedtime and swore they would be fine in the morning. Ha! Parent's revenge. We took the Underground to Euston and then on to a Virgin Train to Coventry. I've decided Branson must own a substantial percentage of England. I've also come to the conclusion that this is a people who have invented an astounding array of ways to flush a toilet. Pull, push, tug, wave, flip, depress, and of course the mystery flush where you stare at the back wall of the stall and pray you can figure it out before the next lady in the queue suspects you are either a dullard or blocked up.

But on to Warwick Castle. Garry and Pauline picked us up at the train station and took us to Warwick Castle. Like any locals, they had not been to the most popular tourist spot in their backyard in two decades. That's right. Ask me when the last time I went to the Kennedy Space Center was. However, their lapse resulted in a delightful car tour of Warwick. Lovely town.

Warwick Castle is nothing short of spectacular and the weather was absolutely perfect. The company managing the property has maintained it well and the staff is in period costume. Given the entry fee I would expect nothing less. All in all though, I'd consider it a value. We saw an archery exhibition as well as the boys trying their own hand at it. Colin may have a future there. We watched the launch of the world's largest trebuchet. Being this close to Halloween the projectile was of course a pumpkin.

We had a proper carver lunch at the castle, walked the ramparts, explored the Great Hall and State Rooms, visited the mill and engine room and best of all, I got to lie on the grass and simply immerse in the history of the spot. Both Colin and Liam thought the best exhibit was the Dream of Battle exhibit which follows the thoughts of 12 year old Squire William the night before the battle that took the life of Neville the Kingmaker in 1471.

After the castle we drove to Garry's village of Fenny Drayton stopping in the local pub for a pint and a cider. The boys fell asleep on the way. It took us awhile to figure that out because they were in rear facing jump seats in a Renault. I need one of those! It was a bit chilly so we didn't hang around long. We settled into Garry's house and were treated to a fish and chips with mushy peas dinner before heading over to the squash club for the World Cup Rugby match between England and South Africa. Imagine my delight to walk in and see the new season of Robin Hood broadcast twenty feet high on a squash court wall. Imagine my dismay when they switched to the rugby match with five or ten minutes left in the episode.

Exciting game. England may not have prevailed (I personally believe the Australian ref blew it and that WAS a legitimate try), but I scored some points by bringing a flag of England for the club owner to display during the match. Back to Garry's home where we all convened in the dining room for more spirits, cheese, biscuits and lively conversation. I put the boys to bed around midnight and followed shortly thereafter. I hear Pauling went not long after I and Jamie and Garry tasted a variety of scotches while talking business until 3:00 a.m. Ay yi yi!

Friday, October 19: Horse Guards and High Tea

After the disappointment of obstructed view at Buckingham Palace I decided to take the boys to the changing of the Horse Guard. It is a simpler ceremony but since it is less popular you can see absolutely everything. The only rough spot was the twenty minutes of five horse guards simply staring at one another across the short ring in the parade ground while the other half of the contingent switches places inside the building. Needless to say there was much shuffling of feet. I did get to explain what was going on to two German families though. It was a wild guess on my part, but in the end turned out to be accurate so I'm either supremely logical or just lucky.

I videotaped much of the change, albeit not the staring at one another, while Colin photographed it. He got about five absolutely brilliant shots and 50 of the sky, my nostrils, Liam's crotch, pidgeons, etc. I am sorry to report that I deleted most of them so they are not in the Facebook albums. I didn't really think anyone would be interested in the state of my armpit or the condition of the gravel on the parade ground. Not even our own family in posterity.

After the changing of the guard I gave the boys the option of going to a souvenir shop or back to the playground at St. James's Park. Colin surprised me by picking the playground. I told them I would take them out to lunch after the playground, but then ended up enticing them out of there with hot dogs from the kiosk canteen. Much more economical!

As I've mentioned, London is incredibly tourist friendly in terms of public transportation, accessibility of toilets and signage. May I suggest to the Lord Mayor that he invest in a few more rubbish bins? I understand completely why you don't want them right near Buckingham Palace. But give me a good reason why they aren't located more conveniently elsewhere.

We spent the early part of the afternoon relaxing in the flat until Jamie came home. They knock off early on Fridays so I had made a reservation at the Crowne Plaza St. James for high tea. My nightmares of being kicked out of the place (literally dreamed this the night before) were unfounded. We dressed up the boys with minimal fuss and were beyond deighted to be escorted to a small private room already set up beautifully for the training of young gentlemen who haven't quite gotten there yet. I hadn't even warned the staff that our party of four would include two minors. The set up was perfect!

Liam and Colin were gobsmacked. This made their previous "teas" with mom look rather pale by comparison. Jamie and I got to relax totally as we were away from public view...but of course the boys behaved fantastic without an audience. As we were leaving Liam turned to the tea room manager and said, "Thank you, the service was exquisite!" Makes a mum proud.

Jamie has had limited opportunity to explore the city over the course of his six trips so I took the boys back over to the St. James playground and walked with Jamie up to see Buckingham Palace. It was nice to be able to take him through the park and down to the Horse Guards parade ground, stopping for a glass of wine at the cake house in the middle of the park. The temperature was a bit on the cold side, but the weather was clear and the late afternoon sun cast lovely shadows. Jamie was amazed at all the flowers still in bloom. Come to think of it, so are the English. I guided the family past the Defense Ministry and across Downing Street to the Westminster Underground station. Thus ending Jamie's precious few hours of London site seeing. I gather the view from One Canada Square (tallest building in England), just isn't the same as being in the streets.

Two comments about the children:

1. Liam was embarassed by all the people, including us, having photos taken with the Horse Guards, i.e House Cavalry. He felt is disrespectful. Okay fine.

2. The English are enamored of Colin and seem to really enjoy his enthusiasm and energy. I suspect he is right on the cusp of leaving childhood cuteness behind. If he looked any older they'd probably be scorning his obnoxious behavior. As it is, he seems to be a source of great amusement. Especially his endless questions. I reallly should have been writing them down. On the train ride to high tea I thought a smartly dressed man obviously on his way home from work was going to split a gut trying to hold in the laughter as Colin grilled me. He whispered "good luck" to me as he got off the train.

Tomorrow we head out to the country. I am so excited to spend a weekend in the midlands away from the city.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Mind The Gap

And you thought it was going to be an entry about the London Underground didn't you? we are off to catch a train to Warwick so I will once again be about three days behind when I return. I will valiantly try to update as much as I can about Friday, Saturday and Sunday when we're back Sunday evening.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Thursday, October 18: Buckingham Palace

This morning did not begin with the best of portents, but once I had the boys dragged into Green Park the day picked up. The changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace was not as interesting as I remember it from when I was a child. Colin spent the time whining about wanting water and Liam got a bit squirmy there as well. Thankfully the American tourists around us were amused by the boys rather than perturbed. I've decided to take the boys to the changing of the Horse Guard tomorrow as that is supposed to be a much less obstructed view and more pomp and circumstance. We ducked out before the conclusion of the ceremony which didn't bother me at all.

I took the boys to The Phoenix for lunch and it was fantastic! I had a butternut squash and cumin soup, fish pie and side salad. Colin even ordered the fish pie and pointed out that unlike his brother he has not had a hamburger since leaving the states. I was going to link to the pub, but they are all old reviews prior to the rennovation and new management. Suffice it to say it is no longer "grotty" or particularly over-priced. At least not compared to everything else here in London. It is, however, conveniently tucked away in a quiet street quite near the Royal Mews which was our next stop.

I loved it! Despite her school-marmish look, the tour guide was a delight and had a wonderful sense of humor. She had to do some fancy dancing to change the order of the tour to avoid a stampeding horde of primary school children. I thought the guided tour and access to a working stable was well worth the entry fee. The boys both stayed attentive and seemed to enjoy it thoroughly. We were extremely lucky. The Irish Coach was brought out into the yard as it is being prepared for a state visit on October 31. We also saw the Royal Mail coach which only comes out once or twice a day.

If the Gold Coach looks attractive in pictures and on television, nothing compares to seeing it in person. It is most definitely a piece of art. The next time it would be brought out would be in 2012 for the Queen's Diamond Jubilee or Charles' coronation. I think even the boys were impressed with it. Though I suspect the highlight was the gift shop where I allowed them to pick out two more medieval knight action figures.

At this point I felt it best to let them play in St. James' Park, but right before we got there we saw a contingent of soldiers lining up down a flight of stairs at Wellington Barracks where a carriage was waiting to carry someone of importance away. I'm pleased to report we were hardly the only gawking tourists waiting to see who the dignitary was. For a brief moment I thought it was Prince Charles and Camilla, but in my defense that was at quite a distance, I did not have the thought for long and I do not have the best eyesight as it is. I snapped lots of pictures and came to the conclusion that it is absolutely no one I would have heard of before. If anyone recognizes his picture do please comment as I am very curious.

The boys loved the playground and I do believe I might have some vague memories of it. It certainly looked old enough to have been around in 1976. While the boys played I drank my first cup of coffee since arriving in London and called home to speak to my baby who cannot be bothered to hold an ongoing conversation with mommy. I interrupted Sesame Street. On the walk back to the Green Park station I took the boys past St. James Palace where the Queen Mother used to live. A bit disappointing as the traditional guards that I remember are no longer in the boxes by the front door. Still had to stop and photograph the boys out front though. Took the train home, fed the boys dinner and I'm in for the night!

The Pub Culture Will Be The Death Of Me

So I met Jamie and his customers/co-workers last night for a few drinks. Good God can they pack it away. Once again I had a bottomless glass of wine. Gee, could this be the reason I'm barely fitting into my clothes? I think I shall stay in tonight and leave Jamie to his mates for a pint.

I am a bit gratified to hear some of them are a little worse for wear this morning while I'm feeling surprisingly fine. I'm even up for traipsing over to Buckingham Palace for the changing of the guard today.

The boys wanted to try Christmas pudding. I warned them not to expect it to be like American pudding, but they didn't heed me. Both of them promptly spit it out into their hands. Not exactly Jello brand chocolate pudding is it? Beats fruit cake, but not by much.

This is the picture of our neighborhood pub, but not where we were last night. Davy's is their den of iniquity of choice.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Wednesday, October 17: The Globe and Random Odd Musings

The pace of this week is certainly much more relaxed than the last. Once again we didn't make it out until noon, but this time we were back by 4:00. I was tempted to cross the "Wobbly" Bridge, aka Millenium Bridge, and press on to Temple Court or St. Paul's Cathedral but it was a bit on the cold side and frankly all I wanted to do was hide in my bedroom from the children. Which is exactly where I am now.

I took the boys to lunch at Nando's and then hopped on the underground to Southwark and a quick walk to the recreation of The Globe theatre. We lucked onto a tour just starting. Liam found it interesting, I found it fascinating and Colin found most of it sailing right over his seven year old head. For those who are curious, the movie "Shakespeare in Love" was not filmed here, but the director did visit to get ideas. The set recreation was quite good.

When it came time for picture taking I offered to take a photo together of at least five couples who were photographing one another in turn. They all accepted gratefully....yet not a single person offered to respond in kind and photograph me with Liam and Colin. Okay then. The exhibition hall isn't really all that impressive, but the tour was informative and entertaining. Plan on no more than an hour for the entire thing. I would recommend it for children 10 and up. Be sure to fill them in on who exactly Shakespeare was before going though. And if you have your own favorite theory assuming he was not the man from Stratford-on-Avon, discuss that with your kids before or after the tour. I did not get the impression they were going to relish any sort of debate on the subject. For the record, I favor the Edward de Vere, Seventeenth Earl of Oxford theory myself. Debate me on that later.

Now for some random commentary:

I was rather surprised to see an article in the paper the other day about the growing concern...oh please do pardon the pun...about obesity in England as one of the first things I noticed was how fit the Londoners are compared to Americans. I realize full well I am seeing a very small proportion of the British citizenry, but given the pub culture and the cuisine the people I am seeing are by and large....whoops, another horrific pun...more svelte than Americans. No offense to my fellow countrymen, but we are simply staggeringly huge by comparison.

Colin has developed two traveling habits that can be either endearing or maddening depending upon the mood or level of fatigue of the adult accompanying him. He absolutely must be the first of the family on any escalator, up or down. And heaven help you if you try to stand on the step immediately behind him. You must be at least one full empty step back. The other is to climb on anything climbable within reach. Items that can be both climbed and leap-frogged are particularly prized. I do not exaggerate when I estimate I will have at least fifty photographs of this child perched on some kind of pole, fence or whatever the heck those things are just sticking out of a sidewalk. He insists his photo be taken each time.

Who knew how long it would take to find sunglasses, a mobile phone charging cord or a pair of socks in a four room flat. Liam started our with four pairs of underwear and I swear I can only find two now. How exactly do you lose things when there is nowhere for them to go?

I think I have figured out why so many elderly Londoners are walking around the city muttering to themselves. They raised their children in small flats such as this. Only a parent will understand the following statement. All others will think me a monster. I love my children with all my heart and soul. I would die for them. But at the moment I do not like them very much.

It is a good thing I do not live permanently in London or care much for being fashionable. From what I can tell, the current styles would look positively hideous on me and I question whether they should be worn by more than 5% of the female population anywhere. Thick colored tights and baby-doll dresses just don't do it for me. Suits and jeans are worn at least one to two sizes too small...which given my laundry situation has landed me right in the midst of the highly fashionable. Jewelry, particularly rings, look like bling on steroids. I quite like that actually. I go with the adage, it's only gaudy when it's on someone else's hand.

What do you get when you boil four pans of water, heat up two instant-hot tea kettles, microwave two teapots and two large bowls of water in the microwave? A barely lukewarm bath. AGGHHH!

And lastly, American media fascination with the sensationally mundane at the expense of politically and socially meaningful is alive and well here as well. More's the pity. Lest I sound overly critical, I do believe I would move here in a nano second provided I could find a nice quiet village akin to Dibley.

Tuesday, October 16: National Museum of Childhood

Our original plans today were to see the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace but with a forecast of rain we decided to wait until Thursday when we will presumably have colder but clearer weather. Not a bad idea considering I didn't drag my body out of bed until 10:00 a.m. and we didn't leave the flat until 1:00 p.m. Changing of the guard was history by that time.

I didn't tell the boys where we were going and that drove them predictably crazy. I do so love that. Yesterday we had a discussion about daily budgets and made them make the choice between nice restaurants for lunch or tourist attractions with entrance fees and souvenirs. My boys came to the conclusion that we are taking tons of photos, there is plenty to do that is free and souvenirs don't really last as long as photos and memories anyway. That sound you heard was my jaw dropping. Today they begged to have lunch at Nando's, but we arrived at Jubilee Place at peak lunchtime and there was already a line. We ate at a little counter cafe that had the best panini I've ever had and the boys half the price, whew! Still, with the exchange rate, three sandwiches cost $35. Ouch! See my point?

We took the DLR to the Central Line and emerged from the Bethnal Green tube station. We had to fly blind at this point because my handy dandy book map does not extend to this part of the city. At least the museum was visible from where we popped out of the ground. At first the boys were skeptical. Oh no, another museum! Not like this one boys. When we entered they assumed it was just cases and cases of toys they couldn't touch. And there is that. But then they noticed there was stuff you could actually do too. The boys first made houses out of construction paper to be mounted on the wall. The docents were very amused by our discussion of how much easier it was to be featured in the National Museum of Childhood than in the Tate Modern and you don't even have to open a tuna can to do it. I forgot to mention the boys have been speculating on and off for the last three days how the Tate decides which person's red square, torn canvas, paint drippings or empty tuna can has been rendered art worthy of preservation in a museum. Hell if I can explain it to them.

At any rate, they had the opportunity to make their own art, create their own toys and play a video game with them, play Checkers and Snakes & Ladders, dress up as a fireman, ride rocking horses, etc. I was thrilled to learn both of their absolute favorite hands on activities was playing with a doll house. Who'd have thought it! I think I see a Christmas present on the horizon. I adored watching them let loose while browsing through toys dating from about 1700-2006, and resting on couches to read children's books from around the world. I was tickled pink to stumble upon some marionettes of Hansel and Gretel dated 1977 that are the exact ones my parents bought for my sister and I at Harrod's in 1976. Oh, and of course we had afternoon tea. We were there for almost three hours.

Here's the best story of the day. An elderly lady and her granddaughter were riding the two rocking horses. I asked if she had a camera and would like their picture taken. She was startled, but delighted and brought out a digital camera from her purse. I took the picture and returned the camera. A few moments later she came up to me to ask if I knew how to review the pictures because her granddaughter wanted to see it. Her daughter-in-law had given her the camera with little to no instruction. After fiddling with it, I determined we first had to overcome the problem of dead batteries. I always have spares on me so I popped some in and solved that problem. She tried to pay me for the batteries, but of course I wouldn't hear of it. If I've got one spare battery here in the flat I've got fifty. I taught her how to use the camera and we went our separate ways passing one another off and on throughout the afternoon. I ran into her again in the dollhouse section and she pointed out one particular Edwardian dollhouse and informed me her mother had made it. Wow! Just wow. Of course I am including a photo of it.

Relatively uneventful trip back to the flat with the exception of changing trains at the one station that has woefully inadequate signage for finding the Jubilee line. A kind Londoner sent me in the right direction. After that it was home for dinner. Jamie and I ran out to the grocery store for a few items and stopped at a truly local pub for a pint on the way back. The North Pole. I must take a picture of it. It is right around the corner from the flat. I can't think why I haven't photographed it already. I feel like I've taken a picture of everything else in this city. Including bicycle racks.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Monday, October 15: Imperial War Museum

"No fighting in the war room!"
One of my favorite lines in cinema history. Non sequitor. We got a late start today. The boys and I didn't even leave the flat until noon. We had to as there was virtually no food left in the flat. Nothing that could be magically transformed into an edible meal anyway. Liam wanted to go to the Imperial War Museum and I had no particular plans whatsoever so off we go. I must say exiting the Elephant & Castle Underground station is an adventure in itself.

There is a traffic circle right there with no street crossing access for pedestrians. It took me a moment to orient us and find the subway (that would be the British term for an underground walkway) to get us on our way. The signage is of course excellent, but I suspect I went 3/4 of the way around the circle when I could have taken a left turn and walked a much shorter distance. Oh well, I can use the exercise. Despite the amount of walking we've been doing I doubt I've lost a pound, stone, kilogram, whatever. That or our drier shrinks the shit out of every piece of clothing. Maybe it's a combination of the two.

On a side note I would like to take the opportunity to make a suggestion to the city council of Bilbao. I understand they would like to transform their business and industry oriented community into a tourist mecca. A word of advice. Visit London. Signage and toilets. The key to any successful tourist area. Label everything and encourage people to empty their bladders in plentiful, well-marked and clean facilities. Build toilets and they will come.

Oh yes, the Imperial War Museum. Well done, well done! The experience through the trenches has the most disgusting smells piped in which I suspect do not remotely approach the squalor actually experienced by WWI servicemen. The blitz experience scared the daylights out of Colin who damn near ripped my arm from its socket, but Liam thoroughly enjoyed. Go figure. The view of the Battle of Britain from the child's perspective is an exhibit that should not be missed. Wow, wow, and more wow. I hope I did not terrify my children, but I could not refrain from reading some of the poignant first person experiences and providing contemporary analogies.

Liam and I wanted to go through the Holocaust exhibit. It is not recommended for children under 14 but Colin did not want me to leave him on the bench outside. He insisted on coming in while holding my hand and staring at the ground the whole time. Fortunately, the exhibit was highly informative without being too graphic. Again, a fantastic exhibit.

The boys got to go through a sub mock up, an airplane that dropped spies into France and watch a film of the SAS raid on the Iranian embassy in 1980. And of course had afternoon tea in the museum cafe. I sure hope they don't think this will become a ritual when we return home. But most important to me, after they played for awhile in the playground adjacent to the museum we wandered through the Tibetan peace garden dedicated by the XIV Dalai Lama in 1999.

Once we returned to Canary Wharf I had the most lovely time located the low cost grocery store. Translation: Stopping into a pharmacy to ask where it was before my head exploded and then handing the crumpled up mall map to the cashier telling her she was more than welcome to throw the useless piece of garbage in the rubbish bin. What a wonderful experience dragging two bickering boys through a colossal mall trying to find a grocery store when you know they are going to act like assholes once you start shopping. And then I get a message from Jamie asking me where I want to meet him. We might as well have been in the middle of Moscow asking the same question. Hint: If I don't know where I am, I cannot possible tell you where we can meet. This was surely a low point of the trip.

But on to the plus side. After dinner we tucked the boys in and went back to Canary Wharf for wine and snacks at two pubs near Jamie's office. Jamie and I needed that time else we'd never have a completed conversation here.