ELEVATION: The Tour Diary ("For my sanity and your entertainment," M.) - Page 6
£ I read the news today - oh boy...
Just to fill you in on the headlines (in case you haven't heard):
€ There was a bomb blast late last week near a night club in Ealing (Western London). They think it's the work of "The Real IRA" - an IRA splinter group. There were some injuries, but, thankfully, no deaths.
€ Prince Charles fell off his horse while playing polo and nearly choked to death on his tongue (serves him right, the dopey pillock!). He was taken to Cheltenham General Hospital (in the town I visited a week ago). Prince and tongue are said to be doing well.
€ The Queen Mum turned 101 on Saturday (4 August), following a blood transfusion earlier in the week. I'm not a big fan of royalty (although I am open to an arranged marriage with royalty (I'm sure membership has its privileges)... then again, I don't know if I could handle being around some members of the family. Chuck bugs me... but Will seems like a good Joe...). Anyway, I didn't pay a visit when Mum was doing her public greeting on Saturday. (So much for scoring some points!) I've done the Queen/Queen's Mum alert before - and wound up with great pictures of the backs of people's heads. In short, too much to do, too little time...
€ Finally, the latest Internet virus, Code Red, has reeked havoc on my Internet access. The perpetrators, so I've heard, had some kind of nefarious plot to attack the US government's Web site... or something similarly James Bond-ish.
That concludes the educational portion of this e-mail... On to the fun stuff...
£ London Eye
Some people have a fear of clowns (and carnies with their "small hands"). I have a fear of Ferris wheels. Well, it sounds better if I say I have a problem with heights. Nonetheless, I still took on the challenge of riding the giant London Eye Ferris wheel, situated off the Thames and across from Big Ben.
Having purchased my ticket for the next available time, 12:30, I stepped outside.
One rain drop, splat on the wrist.
Luckily, the weather pretty much blew over. There were clouds, but no major weather action. Having an hour to flit around before needing to get on the queue at midday, I ran over to Parliament and Westminster Abbey for photo opps. They now charge £6 to enter the Abbey and there was a substantial queue, so I had to pass on that option. Seems to me I was able to run around the Abbey (and St. Paul's, now charging £5 to enter) at will before. But I could be wrong...
Back at the London Eye, I joined the queue and was really impressed with the whole operation. The line moves swiftly, and crowd control was not an issue. My one beef: They bothered to print a nice ticket with a picture of the London Eye on one side and your "flight details" on the other, only to take the ticket when you board! That should be a souvenir!
It was terrific - and quite a piece of engineering. The queue is constantly in motion as each cabin is unloaded and loaded with passengers - about 12 or so to a cabin, leaving plenty of room to roam about and take in the sights. There is no sway to the cabin as it steadily compensates and stays level as the wheel rotates. You stop briefly as each cabin is reloaded, making the entire "round trip" last about a half hour. It's a genuine attraction for residents and visitors alike - you get a great view of all of London - N E W S - for miles. Puts it all in perspective and makes you feel soo very small in the grand scheme of things.
I was too immersed in the view to be bothered by the height, and I felt secure in the cabin - so it's not like being on the roof of the World Trade Center, steering clear of any psychos that might try to push you off the top...
£ My Fair Lady
Yeah, it's sold out, but I managed to book an "extra seat" through the Really Useful Box-office (Aye, there's the RUB?). I arrived at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane pleased with the thought of seeing Jonathan Pryce in a show in Covent Garden that, in part, takes place in Covent Garden.
However, there was a bit of confusion at the theatre's box office. As it turns out, when I booked the ticket, they accidentally hit the "post" key and sent my ticket to my stateside residence, 7100 E. Missippe Ave. Um, I think even in the Queen's English, this is a misspelling of Mississippi! They reprinted the ticket without a fuss and I found myself in the fourth row! I was in disbelief to be that close. Although, being on the far right aisle, my view of stage right was obstructed, but not so much as to miss too much of the action. They staged it well, keeping as much to the front of the stage as possible.
Jonathan Pryce was great as Professor Henry Higgins and Martine McCutcheon (as Eliza Doolittle) had an incredible voice. At one point, the three principles cracked up and Martine was on the verge of tears trying to hold back the laughter. Seems Jonathan/'enry 'iggins was a little too amused by the incredibly lengthy sentence he wanted Martine/Eliza to recite while garbling marbles in her mouth, there was also a somewhat flubbed line by Pickering right at that time. It all added up. Just then, Eliza says of the marbles, "I swallowed one." Higgins replies, "That's OK, I've got more." It was a really enjoyable time and there were some moments of real stage magic.
Of course, there are several famous tunes (With a Little Bit of Luck, I Could Have Danced All Night, Wouldn't It Be Loverly).
And some classic lines: Just talk about the weather and your health... and the rain in Spain falls mainly in the plains.
How do you do? (That was a line the drunken ladies kept saying over and over and over at the pub on Day 1.)
The actor playing Eliza's father had, to my ears, a terrible voice, but he got rapturous applause during the curtain call.
The guy sitting next to me seemed to enjoy it tooo much, lip-synching to some of the tunes and gushing as Eliza enters the stage all dolled up.
By the way, for a picture of Mr. Pryce, visit http://www.mattimus.com/Shiny/index.htm. (Uhhh... Totally unrelated, but while there, be sure to check out my picture of Nessie! Concrete evidence the Loch Ness Monster exists! I'm very proud of that photo!)
It was a hot theatre and the second half dragged a bit more because of it. It's a shame Lerner and Loewe put all the good songs in the first half, leaving the second half primarily to the drama. Hmmm... Somebody should re-envision this retelling of Pygmalion - fine tune it for the new millennium!
The oddest thing: Seeing people queue up to buy a cup of Ben & Jerry's ice cream from the usher at the foot of the stage.
"What if" recollection: While picking up my copy of the programme from the usher, I remembered being offered a job as an usher for Grease when it was playing at the Dominion Theatre - with Debbie Gibson as Sandy. Hmmm... that would've been a totally different London experience, no doubt, and probably not as successful as it turned out at "the firm."
Prior to the show, I escaped a heavy downpour and had dinner in a nice little Thai restaurant. I sat next to an English couple from Yorkshire in town to see The Lion King. They seemed well-to-do and were well-travelled, but they were "fed up" with the cost of living in England and wanted to run away. It was an interesting conversation...
£ The Thames
After the show, the obligatory late night walk along the Thames. It's great stuff, good atmosphere. A really loud nightclub here, peace and quiet down the street. St. Paul's dome looming on the horizon...
True to form, I kept putting off my return to my cheap hotel in King's Cross (an admittedly bad part of town, but cheap) and just barely made it to a tube station in time to catch one of the last tubes. Why do I always do that?!
£ Abbey Road
The next morning got off to an early and productive start. A full English breakfast at the hotel and then a quick jaunt down to Tower Bridge in the spare time before The Magical Mystery walking tour of the Beatles' London.
Even with my carefully timed plans, I nearly missed the start of the tour because the Central Line was closed in a few in-between stations from the Tower to Tottenham Court Road. It was a crazy, long hike in the subterranean passageways - down an escalator, through a long corridor, up an escalator, another hallway, twists, turns...
Finally got out of the tube to face multitudes of signs with bright neon yellow arrows pointing riders to the bus stops being used in replacement of the tube. They, uhhh... kind of contradicted each other and the funniest thing was to see a sign that had fallen to the ground saying, "Bus stop: Around the corner." BUT, on an antiquated intersection containing half a baker's dozen of corners, that isn't very clear!
Among the sites:
* Trident Studios, where Hey Jude was recorded
* The public gentlemen's loo used in a Dudley Moore / Peter Cook / John Lennon TV comedy sketch
* The Palladium, where London Beatlemania "began"
* The gallery where John and Yoko first met (right next to the club where the Jimi Hendrix Experience had its first concert)
* The old Apple offices, where the Beatles performed their legendary rooftop (and final live) performance
* Abbey Road's world famous street crossing. A photo of the Beatles crossing Abbey Road graced the cover of one of their albums - the title of which escapes me right now. (HA! Just kidding!) I even signed my name on the studio fence (it gets white-washed every few months for the next round of visitors.) And, yes. I actually got my picture taken crossing the road - and sitting on the steps of Abbey Road Studios. Hopefully they'll turn out OK...
The guide had a lot of good stories to tell. Like Yoko charging £200 for a fresh apple at her gallery. Of course, John would think that was funny...
As for that guide, dubbed the "Beatles Brain of Britain," he was a short guy with a big ego (so typical of those short people, certainly compensating for their lack of reason to live). He was so otherwise non-descript, he blended into the counter at the Abbey Road cafe, a hole in the wall at the St. John's Wood tube station. It can barely hold 6 people, and yet I had to ask a guy if our fearless leader had already left because I didn't see him leaning on the counter by the cappuccino machine!
£ Rock Hard
The perfect addendum to the Beatles tour was an early dinner at the Hard Rock Cafe - the very FIRST Hard Rock. (The first Planet Hollywood, by the way, was opened in New York. But that's irrelevant.) As legend has it, the cafe, founded by a couple Americans, was originally a sports-themed kind of American restaurant - a unique concept in 1971. Soon, it became a hangout for the likes of the Stones, Clapton, and other big acts of the era. Clapton, concerned about having his favourite seat reserved, offered his guitar in exchange for the favour. The guys didn't know what they would do with his guitar, so they said it wasn't necessary. "What'll we do with it?" they asked. "I don't know," Clapton responded. "Hang it on the wall." Within 20 minutes, the story goes, Pete Townshend phoned up saying he wanted to use his guitar to save a place (one of those "my guitar is better than your guitar" things)... and now, 30 years later, there's a Hard Rock everywhere (conspicuously, though, not in Dublin).
I remember the place being extremely small, but on this visit I "discovered" the lower level restaurant that features a far more funky decor - sofas and low tables rather than the traditional restaurant setting. The store has also moved (it seems to me) across the street and now features The Vault, a converted bank vault featuring some more buried treasures. You get a guided tour through this little room. As our Irish biker / guide explained, it's a time line o' rock'n'ruel. This was a nice bonus. Got my picture taken holding of Hendrix's guitars while sitting on a sofa taken from Jimi's London flat. There was an odd vibe holding that guitar... some kind of purple haze...
As for the restaurant, it was nice to hear some "local bands" played on the video screens:
I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For - the anthem of my life, by my band
Yellow - Coldplay will be opening for my band at Slane
Woke Up This Morning (used as the theme song for The Sopranos) - I hung out with A3 back in Denver after their concert at the Bluebird a few months back! They're great and an amazingly underrated British band.
£ Thomas Edward Lawrence
I finally got to see Lawrence of Arabia on the big screen! It was bloody brilliant! Some of you might not be able to appreciate that, but this is one of my top four favourite movies of all time. For my review of the recent DVD release, click here: https://moviehabit.com/reviews/law_di01.shtml (thanks again, Marty!).
The chap in front of me at the concessions counter was bummed to find out they had no crisps left and instead, chose to slam a beer. Yeah, they sell beer and assorted liquor at the theatre, but the alcohol cannot be taken into the theatre itself. (Kind of like live theatre in the States.) They also sell pre-fab popcorn packaged in foil bags that make an incredible amount of noise when people dig their hands into the bags. They also sell coffee, espresso, cappuccino, and cans of Coke or bottled water for 80 pence... I only went to a couple movies the last time I was out here, but I think these are more the quirks of the art house cinema. I'm sure the Warner Bros. Leicester Square has fountain sodas and might not sell the booze...
The movie was preceded by 10 minutes of commercials - not even previews! But, once underway, it was great to see this one the way it was meant to be seen. The ending had a new resonance to it, gave me goose bumps. And it was nice when the end credits rolled and "Horizon Productions, London, England," came on the screen.
I picked up a copy of Lawrence's biography while in Reading the last time around and blazed through it while riding the tube to work and such. One of my roommates at the time, from New England, wondered why I was reading that during the summer, when in London! "Why not read something 'fun,' like a John Grisham novel?" he asked. Gosh! I guess I had lost the plot. I mean, why was I reading a biography of one of the most significant British figures in the 20th Century while living in Britain?! Truth be told, I have a hard time finishing just about every book I pick up. That I tore through the bio says a lot about its readability.
Lawrence wound up being quite the source of inspiration as I went on to visit his homes in Oxford, London, and in the country. Going out to his retirement cottage in Moreton was quite the adventure in and of itself. Within walking distance of the cottage were the army base he was taken to after his accident and his grave. (Speaking of the motorcycle accident, I've witnessed firsthand both the crazy driving habits of England's motorcyclists and the lush, tree-lined country roads that can obscure a driver's vision. Even so, there's plenty of room for conspiracy theorists...)
£ The English Phrasebook:
"That was bang out of order!"
That was uncalled for!
"He's takin' the Mickey out of you." (or "He's takin' the piss out of you." or "He's windin' you up.")
He's just joshin' you.
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