“If it scares you, it will be awesome”

Back in 2004, Matt and I were getting ready to go to Africa for the first time. (Side note- OK, so technically we were preparing for our second trip to Africa, if you count the first time in 2001.  While in Malaga in Southern Spain, we took a day trip to Tangiers, Morocco in North Africa just for lunch. Note that it was a good lunch- quite worth the ten hour round-trip- but Tangiers is bit like going to Tiajuana for the day and saying you’ve been to Mexico. Anyway.) Simply put, I was fucking terrified. This camping safari through the Serengeti in Kenya and Tanzania was, at the time, so far out of my traveling comfort zone that I was absolutely riddled with fears.

OK side note again. (I’d apologize but it’s my fucking blog). My biggest fear was literally being eaten by a lion while sleeping in my tent on the Serengeti. I didn’t know how I was going to be able to sleep knowing that at any moment, I would be swallowed (and chewed) by a lion. To prepare, Matt and I visited the Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle, which has a fantastic Serengeti exhibit, run by actual Serengenti Masai warriors. I relayed my fears about the upcoming trip to one of the warriors, who looked at me strangely and asked, “Why would you think that?” And I explained that when camping in Seattle, we live in mortal fear that black bears will eat us through our tents. (I should note here that it should surprise no one that I do not camp.) He was confused by this fear, as it turns out only bears exhibit this behavior towards humans.  Well done Seattle for featuring creatures who will eat me for sport. (Fuck you bears, Stephen Colbert was right) But the Masai warrior said that lions avoid humans because they think we “stink.” While I was revelling in a unique combination of relief and deep insult, he did offer up this helpful tip: Make sure I check behind myself for snakes before I dropped trou to pee. I believe it goes without saying that I spent the entire safari in a state of low-level panic about this, and actively chose dehydration over filling my bladder.

So back to my actual blog post…Matt and I were out to dinner with our friends Scott and Willow, and I confided my anxiety about the upcoming safari. And I will never forget what Scott said next: He looked at me closely, and said:

“Yeah, but if it scares you, it will be awesome.”

People, that is profound. In fact, I’ve quoted Scott repeatedly over the last twelve years since he originally said it. And you know what? It’s TRUE. That Kenyan safari was mind-blowing, life-changing, and opened me up to a lifetime of adventure travel throughout the world.

So on that note, things are awesome here.

I had mentioned in a previous blog that I played live host to our company’s Executive VP. While I don’t have any fear of public speaking, I do have a visceral fear of fucking up my career, so it goes without saying that this was scary.  But last night I was informed that things were about to get even more awesome: About a month ago, I’d applied to be a speaker for a London convention for women in technology. I had an idea that speaking about the plate in my skull, and how the accident served to reframe my narratives and change my perception of obstacles, would be an informative, unique presentation. But I hadn’t heard anything regarding my submission, and quite frankly stopped thinking about it.

At 10pm last night I received an email inviting me to present this talk. Which is in two weeks. One of which I’ll be spending drunk and sunburned in Albania. Which leaves me one week to write and memorize a talk that doesn’t yet exist, build a Powerpoint presentation, and somehow find the ballz to talk about this very difficult subject in front of a (as of today) SOLD-OUT audience of strangers.

This should be interesting.

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Well, that was a dance-y, stress-y week

I can’t believe this week is already over. I feel as if I’ve been moving at 90mph nonstop.

Expedia London’s Day of Caring was last week, a day to volunteer as a team at a local charity. I was team captain again this year, and we spent the day at Body & Soul, a community center for children and teens with AIDS.

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Yes that’s right; grown adults made this

Our volunteer work much resembled a day in kindergarten; we made decorations for Body & Soul’s upcoming program for newly adopted children, and baked goodies for their kickoff meeting. And since baking was on the docket, Matt managed to sneak onto my team as kitchen manager. It was a pretty fun day- painting rainbows and baking cookies beats workin’ any day, if you know what I mean.

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Three very cute men bake cookies for charity

The crazy week continued….I’ve somehow become the president of Expedia’s London chapter of WELL (Women at Expedia somethingsomething– I forget what the Ls stand for, so let’s say “Livin’ Large”). I volunteered to reboot this networking group here in London (I belonged to the Bellevue chapter) along with two other women, but according to the Expedia intranet page I was alerted to, I’m apparently president. Who knew.

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Expedia’s Executive VP presenting at the WELL reception on Tuesday

I’ve been doing some fairly challenging and new things with WELL, among them presenting WELL info to the company president, handling budgets and contracts, and on Tuesday, hosting a reception for the visiting Bellevue HQ’s Executive VP. It’s funny, that doesn’t sound like much work- it was just an hour in our large open lobby- but it was a ridiculous amount of preparation. I had to coordinate with the VP’s schedule via her admin, send out and track invites to the company, order food and drink for the 100 who responded, get shirts designed* and delivered, order IT assistance for the VP’s microphone and projection setup, create a projection backdrop, order housekeeping assistance to have the lobby set up with chairs and a podium, and organize a raffle (did you know you can make auto-numbering raffle tickets online for free? Neither did I!). All this for just one hour of Q&A, and endless glory afterwards (note: that last part is a lie). But nevertheless, I’ve never done anything like that, and it was a welcome challenge given that my current job is….well, I’d say it was challenging, but I won’t.

*Side note: I am the least creative person you’ll ever know. So designing T-shirts absolutely shut me down…until a friend jokingly suggested I spice up the crappy WELL logo with a tiara, since I seem to love tiaras. I also love Harry Potter. So I added both. And fuck me if that’s not exactly what the shirts needed. May I present:

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Aside from this, and our regular work and gym schedules, we’ve also managed to hit three dance/acrobatics performances in just one week.  One was planned; the other two were lucky last-minute tickets.

On Thursday we returned to Sadler’s Wells, London’s most prestigious dance theater, to see the Alvin Ailey Dance Company. Alvin Ailey is a New York dance company that I fell in love with in college; we’ve seen them several times in Seattle, but obviously I was thrilled to get tickets for their London tour. ailey-leapIf you’re not familiar with Alvin Ailey, the best I can describe them is a ballet version of a gospel revival. They’re quite famous for incredible modern ballets set to American gospel and spirituals. This time around, however, was a bit different; while they still danced some of their greatest hits (“Revelations” is the most viewed modern dance piece ever), their new works were Black Lives Matter-inspired, and some of the storytelling was a bit obtuse. It was beautiful to look at, though, with the exception of the fucktards in the audience who were on their phones TAKING FLASH PHOTOS throughout the show. It’s so cute to see Brits and Europeans get all tough-talkin’ when I ask them to please put away their phones. Given that you can’t shoot people in theaters here, I’m not quite sure what they think I should be scared of….fun times.

We made our last visit to The Wonderground for the season, to see “Barbu.” How shall I describe these guys….hmmm…let’s say they’re a cross between the Cirque du Soleil Strong Men and gay lumberjacks. Barbu is a comedy acrobatic troupe from French Canada, with the hook that all of them are heavily bearded (well…the men, at least). And they like to flash their willies at you at strange moments. We saw them with our fellow Bellevue expat friends A* and B*, who liked the sexy lumberjack look probably more than I did.

And finally, this afternoon I discovered that choreographer Matthew Bourne’s (he of the all-male “Swan Lake,” and the vampire-y “Sleeping Beauty” at Sadler’s Wells) protegé was debuting three new works at a tiny theater in King’s Cross, for just £10. It was pretty amazing to see these works, by choreographer Jamaal Burkmar, in such a tiny, workshoppy setting. The theater and dance offerings in this city never fail to astound me.

And now I need to sleep all weekend.

 

Weekending in York (old, not new)

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Monkgate, one of the surviving city gates of York

We just returned from a lovely weekender getaway to York, which is about two hours north by train from London. Whenever I’d ask my British friends “Where should I go in the UK that is beautiful, historical, and typically English?” most would tell me how much I’d like York. The problem was, York is grossly expensive to travel to- about £100 for train tickets. But we’d recently lucked into free tickets anywhere Virgin East Trains travel, so we cashed in to visit York.

York is known as England’s “second capital.” It was a massively important city back in Roman times- Constantine the Great was coronated as Holy Roman Emperor here in the 4th century AD, which absolutely blew my mind. (those Romans sure do get around.) But it was also a major medieval center as well- Oliver Cromwell, the Englishman who had King Charles I assassinated, was burned in effigy here (fun trivia fact: Where he was burned in effigy was one of the very first medieval streets to be paved. It was, and still is, called Pavement. As are all paved streets since. Very cool.).

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The massive York Minster Cathedral

In more modern times, York was the epicenter for Britain’s formerly dominant chocolate industry (side note: Though many Brits insist that Cadbury is the shit compared to “junk US chocolate,” I like to gleefully remind them that Cadbury was bought by Kraft in 2010, and is now “junk US chocolate” itself.). But the crowning glory of York is its cathedral; next to Canterbury Cathedral, this is England’s most important, most impressive cathedral. It’s monstrously Gothic and towers over the Old Town. It has the largest stained glass window in the world. It’s just breathtaking.

We spent the weekend without much of an itinerary. We used our trusty Huntzz app to partake in a clue hunt throughout Old Town, and spent most of Saturday wandering the medieval alleyways. We discovered one of the most lovely spots in the UK I’ve ever seen; the ruins of St. Mary’s Abbey. This was once the richest, largest abbey in England- until Henry VIII forbade and confiscated all Catholic churches.

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The ruins of St Mary’s Abbey, set next to the archaeological museum in a riverside park

It fell into ruins, and now is a stunning riverside park encompassing a museum and a gallery. One thing Brits do extraordinarily well is turning ruined churches into public parks. You’ll find them all over, even in The City in London. They’re an absolute joy to discover, and St Mary’s is by far the most spectacular.

One item we did have planned was finding a proper spot for afternoon tea.  Afternoon tea with cakes is one of York’s great pleasures- York Tea is a specific kind of tea, and there is no English Breakfast to be found here- and we were in search of a tea room that was locally owned and not full of tourists (York is notorious for day tripping tour groups).

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Afternoon tea with teddy bears

We discovered a teddy bear shop (seriously) with its own tea room in the attic. Usually this is not a setting in which my pastry chef husband would agree to consume his baked goods, but the TripAdvisor ratings convinced us to give it a try. And it was amazing- all the baked items were locally sourced (even the jam!) and baked in-house. Who’d have thought that stuffed toys and cake would go so well together? Color Matt pleased.

A pot of tea and a tripod of treats later, and we rolled ourselves out of the tea room and attempted to visit the cathedral….but conveniently showed up three minutes past their closing time. However, we were invited to join for evensong (evening mass sung by the choir), and we readily agreed. Hearing medieval hymns in the acoustics of the cathedral was awe-inspiring. It was definitely an afternoon to remember.

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York and the River Ouse at dusk

One thing that is not memorable about York is its penchant for attracting stag and bachelorette parties. To be frank, there is little as obnoxious and gross as groups of British stags or bachelorettes. They tend to be loud and staggeringly drunk by 8pm, and vomiting by 9pm. So we avoided the pubs on Saturday night, and instead found a tiny, delicious bistro near our B&B called The Lime House. I had Serrano ham and duck confit, and no one vomited on me! While a low bar for success, it was success nonetheless.

We awoke Sunday morning to a blindingly sunny, beautiful day. We had expected gray and pissing rain all weekend, so given that blue sky and yellow orb, we decided to spend the morning walking the walls of the medieval city.

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Walking the medieval walls on a stunning September morning

Most of York’s ancient walls are still standing, as are the city gates and the portcullis. Between the walls, the towers, and the medieval shops and alleyways, it does feel a bit Disneyfied and unreal. I’m stunned that this city is still fairly intact, given the passage of time and the Blitz in the 1940s. But it’s one of the most beautiful places we’ve seen in England.

Before our train left early this afternoon, we had to do a Sunday Roast, with a REAL Yorkshire pudding. And we decided to have our roasts in the birthplace of one of York’s most famous residents- Guy Fawkes.

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Would-be terrorist Guy Fawkes’ home, now a pub serving tasty Sunday Roasts

Guy Fawkes was the rebel who tried unsuccessfully to blow up Parliament, and is now commemorated with fireworks and booze each November 5th (thanks Guy! Love your holiday!). His childhood home has been converted into a pub, called Guy Fawkes Inn, with fantastic local food and an outdoor garden in which to enjoy it.

So it’s back to work tomorrow, and just twelve days until we head to Albania!

My day (and night) with Harry #KeepTheSecrets

Back in late October of last year, while we were on vacation in Belgium, the very first round of “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Parts I and II” tickets went on sale in a super-secret, members-only, pre-release event. This entailed being emailed a personal code that allowed you to access the presale site; at precisely 11am, the site went live, and potential buyers logged in and waited in a queue. Since we were on vacation with Matt’s father and his wife, I proposed plopping ourselves down in a Ghent cafe for a coffee and lunch, and buy our tickets. I waited two hours in that queue, but eventually was the proud owner of two sets of tickets for eleven months in the future.

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Me in a Ghent, Belgium cafe in October 2015, patiently waiting online for two hours for my magic golden tickets

So fast forward eleven months….and today was the big day. After nearly a YEAR of waiting, we headed to the Palace Theater in the West End to see “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Parts I and II.”

It was worth the wait.

MINOR SPOILERS AHEAD

MINOR SPOILERS AHEAD

DO NOT READ BELOW THIS LINE UNLESS YOU WANT TO HEAR ABOUT THE SHOW AND CASTING (BUT NO PLOT POINTS)

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YOU WERE WARNED

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#KeepTheSecrets

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I knew absolutely nothing about the play before we attended today. I had scrupulously avoided all spoilers, commentary, and reviews because I wanted to approach it with the same sense of new adventure that I’d had with the seven books. I had assumed, however, that the play would be long on character nostalgia, and shorter on plot. I was completely OK with that, however- the chance to revisit the Harry Potter universe again, even if they were in their 40s now and no longer Hogwarts students, was an absolute cannot-miss-event for me. Upon seeing the eighth and final film, I had thought I would never have a new Harry Potter experience; but then, I got the amazing opportunity to visit the Harry Potter Studios outside London last summer. But this!! An entirely NEW STORY!! There would very little that wouldn’t please me.

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Got my golden ticket!!!! (and my requisite Hedwig, and Harry Potter glasses)

Even given my high expectations, this play was astounding. The production values absolutely matched the quality of the books and films.  Visually, the effects were impressive, though happily the “magic” effects complemented the story rather than driving it. These were no Andrew Lloyd Webber-style “falling chandelier” or “helicopter crash” big-budget effects; rather, it was as if the designers asked, “how can we cleverly adapt this magic for the stage in a way that doesn’t overshadow the story itself?”. I loved the Apparating and flying effects, and Hogwarts’ magical moving staircases…and I will say that the Dementor effect had me say, literally out loud, “OH MY GOD.” (along with several other people)

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SUCK IT I GOT MY TICKETS

The casting was spot on. The actor portraying Harry as an adult was absolutely perfect. Ron was well cast too, though I’m not sure I liked the clumsy, clueless character he’d been written as in middle age (and I’m not entirely convinced that Hermione would be married to someone like that as well). As for Hermione- there’s been a lot said online by angry little white men in their mothers’ basements regarding the casting of a black South African woman, but honestly her race was irrelevant. What I found missing was Hermione’s quiet fragility underneath the control freak, superstar student. Emma Watson did such an amazing job of portraying a girl who can control everything except her feelings, and with grown-up Hermione as Minister of Magic, she lacked that essential vulnerability. But aside from that, I loved Hermione’s performance. Her precocious daughter Rose stole her scenes.

 

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Intermission during Part I (glasses mandatory)

The story itself revolved around Harry and Ginny’s second son, Albus Severus, and Draco’s son Scorpius. The play begins in that same final scene from the end of the eighth film (and seventh book): Harry and his family sending Albus off to Hogwarts for the first time. Both boys were stunningly well-cast, and while I hadn’t thought a play about Harry’s son, rather than Harry himself, would be as interesting, it was. To put it succinctly, without giving away any plot points, the play went in a direction I had not for one moment expected. The show managed to cleverly weave a story of a beloved character in midlife, while still making room for the familiar characters we love….and introducing some fascinating new characters as well. It was a neat trick. Jo Rowling is amazing.

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Heading back in the queue for Part II

Given that the show had just opened in July, and my two-hour presale queue could only snag this later September date, I knew that I was surrounded by other Potter diehards willing to do the same thing to acquire their tickets. It was one of the most rapt, attentive, committed audiences I’ve ever shared a theater with. People showed up in Harry Potter capes and shirts (I brought my little stuffed Hedwig!), and during a highly disturbing plot turn, many of us audibly gasped and said “oh no!”…followed by embarrassed giggles. Because sometimes we forget this shit isn’t actually real….

The day was a long slog, I’m not going to lie. We had seats in the balcony, 127 stairs straight up, in the West End’s largest theater. Luckily I like heights, the acoustics were fabulous, and each seat came with binoculars- so neither of us felt as if we’d been cheated by poor seats (it did get a bit toasty by the second show, however). But we were required to queue for each show an hour ahead of time for security checks, and then the first show was two hours and 45 minutes. We then were given a ninety-minute dinner break (we went to a little French bistro we love), followed by another hourlong security queue, and the two and half hours of Part II. All in all, the experience lasted nine hours.

TOTALLY WORTH IT

…And now I gotta read the script!!!!

#KeepTheSecrets

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#KeepTheSecrets

 

 

When one finds dead things en route to work, one must check that sh*t out

So I went to a two-day training course, held about two miles east of our flat, on the border of Shoreditch and The City (as old London is known). Being that it was so close by, and somewhat summery, I walked to the training offices.

And so there I was, strolling along the sidewalks of The City, and bam, suddenly between a grocery store and a Starbucks is a Victorian graveyard. It was obviously a very old, very cool graveyard too- it was one of those ancient London structures that has been there so long, that the city can only build around it and quietly pretend it’s not there. But I found myself stopping on the sidewalk to gawk (note: nothing will get you punched in the kidneys quite like stopping in the middle of a busy sidewalk in London rush hour), and of course I had to venture in.

The cemetery is Bunhill Fields, and meets two highly important requirements for my cemetery enjoyment:

  1. It was free to enter. In fact, for reasons I don’t quite understand, this cemetery is classified as a “garden.” The main path through the cemetery is paved, and considered a public footpath. People commute on this path, people. Past dead things. I am thrilled.
  2. FAMOUS PEOPLE ARE BURIED HERE. Wheee!!

The cemetery was kind enough to provide a large map and signage detailing its history, and the famous people buried there. The literary geek in me was super excited to discover that William Blake and Daniel Defoe are buried here. Now, you may think those are random dead British guys, and while the dead part (and the British part) is correct, you know who Daniel Defoe is- he wrote Robinson Crusoe. Admit it, that’s pretty cool. As for Blake, he’s an 18th century poet most famous for the poem “The Tyger” (and even Matt has heard of this one); as in “Tiger tiger burning bright/In the forests of the night/What immortal hand or eye/Could frame they fearful symmetry?”

(For the record, I’m OK with being the only person left alive who cares about such things.)

The graveyard/garden was nearly destroyed in World War II, so when the city repaired it, they put all the regular people’s graves behind iron fencing, but put Defoe’s and Blake’s graves in the center of a small square so everyone could stroll by and appreciate them. That’s pretty fucking cool.

But as I walked out of the garden, a very large, very conspicuous tomb caught my attention. It had what is possibly the WEIRDEST FUCKING INSCRIPTION on it I have ever seen. I am baffled.

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OMFG WHAT DOES THIS EVEN MEAN

WHAT IS THIS TOMB TRYING TO TELL ME

SOMEBODY EXPLAIN THIS SHIT TO ME*

 

*Note: Google explained this shit to me. This is the tomb of Dame Mary Page, who apparently was the first known victim of Meig’s Syndrome. This is an ovarian disease of some sort which, as a fun side effect, produces excess fluid in its victims- as in 240 GALLONS of excess fluid.

I think I just threw up a little.

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Burn baby burn

Today is the 350th anniversary of the Great Fire of London. This was one of the most important historical events in the city’s history; for four days, from September 2 to September 5 1666, the fire gutted the entire medieval city inside the Roman walls.

The fire consumed 13,200 houses, 87 parish churches, St Paul’s Cathedral, Baynard’s Castle (where King Edward IV and Queen Mary I were coronated), and most of the buildings of the City authorities. It is estimated to have obliterated 350 acres of London, and destroyed the homes of 70,000 of the City’s 80,000 inhabitants. The death toll was recorded as just SIX PEOPLE, but the actual total is unknown…because 17th century London didn’t even bother to record the deaths of the poor and middle classes. Fuck ’em, they’re kindling!

All this destruction happened just ONE YEAR after the Great Plague killed 200,000 English citizens. (Note: On the bright side, the Great Fire is credited with ending the Great Plague, because it fried up all the rodent carriers of the disease. There’s always a bright side!!)

London isn’t one to ignore such important historical milestones, so this entire weekend has been celebrating- if one wants to use that word to describe such a catastrophe- the 350th anniversary of the fire.

Two major events were held this weekend that, in my opinion, were so freaking cool that I had to share.Yesterday, to illustrate the path of the fire’s destruction, 23,000 dominoes were set up over FOUR MILES in The City. This required the work of hundreds of volunteers over Saturday morning. Sadly, we were unaware this event was even HAPPENING until today- had we known, not only would we have attended, we’d have volunteered for the setup. Oh well…watch and enjoy anyway:

The second event, which just concluded ten minutes ago, took place on the Thames. A Burning Man artist created a huge model of medieval London, and set it ablaze on a barge on the river. As far as models go, this one was ginormous: 360 feet long, and designed to slowly burn over the course of thirty minutes.

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Workers assemble the massive model on the Thames barge

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Assembled and ready to BURN!!!

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heh heh…FIRE! FIRE!!

There was a live streamed video to watch the burn…unfortunately the British do like to hear themselves talk more than they like to watch things burn, so you have to fast forward through the endless chatting to see the burn. But still!!

And if all this makes you wish you could somehow join in on the excitement…know that there’s an online Great Fire of London video game so you, too, can join in on the burnin’.

Final note: The fire was started by a baker. On Pudding Lane. The moral to all of this is that we should be very afraid of pastry chefs.

 

Day tripping to the Cotswolds

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The cream stone and cutesy buildings of the Cotswolds

We joined a Meetup.com group for a day trip to the Cotswolds yesterday.  The Meetup had collectively rented a bus for the two-hour trip out, which may sound weird, but given that the trains are SO EXPENSIVE here- Concord flights are cheaper per mile on some routes– a £20/per person bus ride was a screaming deal. I’d wanted to see the Cotswolds for some time, so we were off at (ugh) 7:30am Saturday morning.

The Cotswolds are…how shall I explain…a region of veddy British, Beatrix-Potter-precious villages, all made from cream Cotswolds stone. The British love their Cotswolds. Visiting them is a bit like going back in time to the glory days of Englishness, when all that mattered was tea and pip-pip jolly good mate and colonizing 90% of the globe into the British Empire.  However, outside of Britain, the Cotswolds aren’t very well-known. Before I emigrated, I’d heard of the most famous town, Bath, but that was it.

Our first stop was the Broadway Tower, a peculiar British vanity project from 1799. It’s a tower. Built in the middle of a field. On a hill. Essentially, some bored, rich English chick wanted to know if this tower could be seen from her house. Yep, sure can.  And they’re quite proud of this tower, because it’s the second highest viewpoint in the Cotswolds. (Those of us from mountainous regions snickered quietly and derisively.)

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The random Broadway Tower in the Cotswolds, correctly classified as a “folly”

By the way, in that photo, my hair isn’t in a ponytail. It’s being blown straight back by the most bone-chilling August wind I’ve ever experienced. In fact, we’d chosen this trip in August so as to enjoy a lovely summer’s day in the English countryside. However, apparently there are no such days in the Cotswolds- the wind shrieks and the rain pours just about year-round. How lovely. I was wet. And cold. In fucking August. Them’s fightin’ words.

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Nobody is moving Matt’s cheese

Over the course of the twelve-hour day, we visited the preciously-named villages of Mickleton, Moreton-in-Marsh, Stow-on-the-Wold, Nauton, Bourton-on-the-Water, Lower Slaughter, Kingham, and Snotsby-upon-Scrotum (that last one is a joke). But know what’s NOT a joke village name? Dicks Mount, Suffolk; Crotch Crescent, Oxford; and the piece de resistance, Fudgepack upon Humber, Humberside. (side note: I must visit that place.)

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Bourton-on-the-Water, where everyone sells ice cream, but only until 5pm on Saturday evening, then go the f**k away

So with that many towns on the itinerary, each visit was a very rushed forty-five minutes.  But after the first few villages, I began to realize that a short hour in each was more than enough.  Why?  Well…in my opinion, you kind of have to be British to dig the Cotswolds. They’re beautiful, don’t get me wrong…but as with most charming British places, they’ve been given over to cars, overcrowding, and serious tourist trappiness. I mean, if you want a kitschy tea room, each village has about ten of them, out of fifteen total businesses. And those other businesses, without fail, sell tourist trinkets, fudge, cheese, ice cream, or beer. There’s nothing to suggest real life goes on in these towns; no theaters, no community centers, no sidewalks, no groceries, no laundrettes….just rows and rows of identical cutesy houses and stone tourist shops.

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Me and my piggie friend enjoy a locally-made Cotswold cider by the roaring fireplace. IN AUGUST.

Once upon a time, these were sweet thriving villages, but today, the only inhabitants are working the tourist trade, retirees, or worst of all, Über-rich Londoners with their second “country home” and a Ferrari in the cottage’s driveway. Gag. (I have a colleague who grew up in the Cotswolds, and now that I’ve been, I can’t figure out what he did to stave off boredom, aside from heavy drinking and biding his time until he turned eighteen and could flee to London.)

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Apparently it’s a rule that all cottages must be named…so we claim this one.

There is literally nothing going on but the constant influx of tourists in their cars, and the cars also contribute to the overall ruining of the traditional village feel. So while the Brits may ooh and aah over the Cotswolds and their countryside views, they have nothing on the rolling wineland hills of Tuscany, Provence, Portugal, even Napa (also: NO WINE). And unlike the Cotswolds, many of these adorable villages have banned cars- because as I had noticed, it’s pretty fucking hard to feel like you’re experiencing a historic region when you’re constantly getting nearly run over by a 4×4 in a medieval alleyway.

There is history here, though it seems to be quietly getting crushed under the weight of all those tea shops and parking lots. I found some very cool pubs with both historical and literary importance: The Bell Inn in Moreton-in-Marsh, J.R.R. Tolkien’s inspiration for The Prancing Pony in “The Lord of the Rings,” and The Porch House in Stow-on-the-Wold, which claims to be Britain’s oldest pub, from 947 AD. Now, I’ve been around Europe enough to take that claim with a grain of salt– like the ten different places in Spain which all claim to have THE Holy Grail- but in the spirit of international cooperation I will choose to believe this claim.

Overall, while it wasn’t really my cup of tea (pun intended), I’m glad we took the time to see the Cotswolds. Because now, when I am told by Brits how amazing this place is, I can resist the urge to book a weekender trip there, only to be slowly lulled into a coma of boredom, interrupted only by yet another tea shop offering me afternoon tea at £10 a pop.

Next weekend: LYON!!

Random acronymania

I am only writing this because I’m easily mesmerized by the vagaries of the English language. That, and Fiona’s little nugget of informational crack has lodged itself in the trivia-hoarder portion of my brain, and is holding the rest of my cognitive capacity hostage until I address it properly. So that said….
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There’s a term here in the UK to designate someone who is upper class, highly educated, snobbish, etcetera….it’s called “posh.” The Queen is posh. So is ex-Prime Minister David Cameron (he’s also a weaselly fucktard, but that’s another post).  It’s just a word that I’d never given much thought to, until Fiona woke me to this most awesome fact: “Posh” is not a word. It’s an acronym. (And fuck you, because yes, that is awesome.) According to her (and who am I to doubt Fiona, really*), “POSH” refers to wealthy Brits who would sail to the USA, and had enough cash to pay for the southern exposure cabins both to and from America…they had cabins that were “Port Out, Starboard Home.”

So my reptilian brain has been noodling on the question…what other words are not actually words, but acronyms? And this is what I have come up with:

  1. Wharf. This one is thanks to Miss Kristin, who informed me to my great delight (as I live right off a Wharf Street, and am constantly reminding Matt of this fact) that WHARF is an acronym for “Ware House Along the River Front.”
  2. Scuba. I learned this was an acronym for “Self-Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus” from the infamous “Stage Fright” episode of Family Ties. (and I apparently was not the only one so educated.)
  3. Taser. Our friend Trevvie works for a company that makes them, and I now know it stands for Thomas A Swift’s Electric Rifle.
  4. Canola oil. This, no shit, stands for Canada Oil Low Acid. And all along I’d been looking for the canola plant….
  5. Care package. Originating after World War II, Cooperative for American Remittances packages were sent from the US to European recipients.
  6. Aga. This is a word I never heard until I moved to the UK- it’s a type of stove. But apparently it stands for Aktiebolaget Gasaccumulator, or “The Gas Accumulator Company” in Swedish. Huh. Things I never need to think about once I move back to the US. Just sayin’.
  7. Base jumping. I had thought it meant parachuting from a, well, base. But “BASE”stands for  the four types of platforms that you can jump from: Building, Antenna, Span, or Earth.
  8. Pakistan. This is an acronym of the five British northern Indian kingdoms that comprised the new country of Pakistan: Punjab, Afghania, Kashmir, Sindh and, providing the final few letters, Baluchistan.
  9. And my personal favorite, being a gym rat: Buff. I used to date a navy man who informed me that this is a military slang term for airplanes, meaning “Big Ugly Fat Fuckers.” Awesome.

And now my OCD is done. Ta-da!

*Note: The Oxford Dictionary, however, is one to argue with Princess Fiona. Apparently there is no evidence to back this acronym origin up, AND it wasn’t sailings to and from America- it was to and from India. But I’m already done typing this blog, so fuck it, let’s just go with Fiona’s explanation.

Hydrated wanderings

For the first time in a  very long time, Matt had to work a sunny summer Saturday. This meant that I was on my own, and given that I’ve not spent much time by myself, or exploring London on foot, I decided to take advantage of the sunshine and head to the West End for a street festival at The Seven Dials.

The Seven Dials is a neighborhood nearby Covent Garden, featuring a massive sundial in a roundabout, and seven streets spoking off the sundial. Back in the day, it was a bit skeevy- Charles Dickens mentions it as a good place to get shanked in one of his books. These days, it’s filled with upmarket, mainly independently owned, shops and cafes. But today is their once-per-year Spotlight Festival, which features that unicorn of London: FREE THINGS. So obviously this was the destination of my three-mile walk.

I set off from my neighborhood, and given that I was in no hurry, and hoping to find new and interesting things along the way, I took a route that cut through a part of St. John’s Street that I had never seen. My office building in on St. John’s Street, so I spend a LOT of time there. However, this being London, there are no broad swaths of boulevards neatly aligning the streets. Instead, St. John’s Street is intermittently broken up by large historical buildings, and continues on the other side. But as I walked by this segmented end of St. John’s Street, I saw this:

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St. John’s Priory, built way back in the 11th century…and right on my office’s street. Who knew.

I literally stopped in the middle of my street crossing and stared. My exact thought was, “Holy fuck, that’s a castle shoved into the intersection.” So I wandered over to check it out. Turns out, this is the original Priory of St. John, built in the 11th century. While part of the Priory was burned down in the Middle Ages, this is still a building that has been standing for a THOUSAND years. The Priory is now a museum and events venue, and the docent at the desk was more than pleased to allow me to roam the museum and learn the history of the Priory. The Knights of St. John specialize in healing the sick, and in the  modern day are known for their ambulance services. But here is the cool part, the everything-in-Europe-is-connected part; in the 15th century, these Knights expanded to Malta, and became the famous Knights Of Malta. And as we learned when we visited Malta back in April, the rent for these Knights in Malta was one falcon per year to the king (Yes! As in “The Maltese Falcon”!). They flourished there until Napoleon forced a surrender in the 18th century. But this Priory is where the Knights were established several hundred years earlier.

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The St. John’s Priory Museum; the external wall forms the Museum’s entrance

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Inside the amazing Priory

Aside from that, there is so much mind-blowing history here: Thirty of Shakespeare’s plays were licensed here; in the 18th century, the Priory gate functioned as a pub where Charles Dickens would come to write. And no one seems to think any of this is amazing…in fact, in the right-hand side of the entrance is a hipster microbrew pub, and as you can see in the exterior photo, a parking lot. Crazy.

About thirty minutes later, I arrived at the Seven Dials in the midst of the Spotlight Festival. I had cleverly made notes, gleaned from the Festival’s website, of which shops were offering which freebies. Walking down one of the seven passages, I immediately claimed my free gin and tonic at an eyeglasses shop (yes please!) and chocolate macarons at an upscale BDSM sex shop. Fun! There were also street performers, street artists making art out of fruit (?), and sales galore.

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Citrus-based street art at the Spotlight Festival

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Holy shit! This was free!! I walk into a shitty sk8er boi store, and someone shoves a Peroni in my hand. Whee!

Best of all, there was a Prosecco truck…giving away Prosecco on tap. For free. This is so not-London I could have fallen over and died from not-Britishness. Though note that the Brits aren’t very schooled in this sort of freebie-fest unfortunately; with the exception of the eyeglasses shop, most other vendors would have the free beers, wines, or cocktails out in full view, but refuse to OFFER them (side note: OFFERING the free thing is probably the most important part of the “giving away a free thing” transaction). So I would say, “may I have a beer?” and get either a side-eye, or an “oh! Sure, I guess” response, as if this were not the entire point of my visiting your little shop. Duh.

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The Spotlight Festival, as seen from my free glass of Prosecco

I will add here that I did buy some items from the shops, so I wasn’t a complete freeloader. But I am happy to say that my purchases were well hydrated with a flute of Prosecco, two beers, and a gin and tonic. Hic.

I headed back home around 4pm, and went in search of Blue Plaques. In London, if someone famous lived, worked, or died in a building, the neighborhood can request a Blue Plaque on its exterior wall to commemorate that person. I love randomly looking up, and seeing that perhaps Karl Marx lived in what is now a Starbucks. But today I may have found the coup de grace….the piece de resistance….the plaque of uber-awesomeness. This plaque commemorates Priss Fotheringham, who was considered the borough’s “second best whore” due to her ability to stand on her head, and allow her patrons to shove the sum total of forty shillings up her hoo-hah.

I shall add my editorial opinion that a party trick like that should rank one as the BEST whore, but nonetheless, she made quite a pile of cash, then unsurprisingly died of syphilis. Wouldn’t we all.

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Oh London, you and your cheeky sense of humor….

My glee at this completely vulgar plaque was considerably dimmed when I Googled Priss’s plaque later in the day, and found out that while she and her twat-tastics tricks were real, the plaque itself was put up as a humorous art display. The London Councils had put a two-year moratorium on new Blue Plaques in 2013 due to austerity, so an artist from the “English Hedonists Society” took it upon herself to put up some amusing plaques commemorating interesting London women. Well poop.

My final wandering en route back home was to follow a sign that has been BUGGING ME AND TAUNTING ME since we moved here: The sign pointing to Charles Dickens’ home. Yes, Charles Dickens spent a lot of time in my neighborhood…scholars believe that Bob Cratchit’s family was envisioned to live essentially on my block, back when Angel was the ‘hood. So there is a lot of his life here, and I’ve tried to follow this fucking sign for over a year to his home/museum (as has Angie), with zero luck. It’s become a running gag that this museum doesn’t actually exist. Turns out, it’s quite a long walk off the main signposted street, and no directionals are posted to ensure you haven’t just walked right by it. But I finally found it! They wanted £12 entry, to which I of course said hells no, but browsing the gift shop and the outdoor signage is free- so there, Chuck.

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HA! I FOUND IT, ANGIE!!!!!!

So that’s one more Blue Plaque for my collection. Huzzah!!!

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