I really am going to try to make this log shorter.
They say that work expands to fill the time available. Well, I believe that space expands to fill the amount needed, at least when packing a suitcase. Which is to say, when I read the weather report after packing a full suitcase I was still able to add a raincoat in it. (And I do not mean a steamer trunk, but a 21-inch carry-on. And I do not mean a plastic poncho, but a full-length trench coat.) Of course, coming back we did check a small bag, containing the heavier books we had bought, plus two camp stools we bought, plus laundry.
July 26, 2005: Besides the obvious inauspiciousness of this trip so soon after 7 July and 21 July, my nervousness was further increased by the discovery/realization the morning of our flight that we were flying to Gatwick, not Heathrow as I had been assuming all along. Somehow I never noticed the e-ticket or any of the mail said Gatwick. (In my defense I was paying more attention to making sure we were leaving from and arriving at Newark rather than LaGuardia or JFK.)
It has been a long time since we flew internationally on an American carrier--they charge for alcoholic beverages now. But the headphones were free. I lucked out and got an entire row of three seats to myself, and Mark had an aisle seat with an empty seat next to him. I guess travel to Britain is probably off a bit in what is usually the high season. Continental's Hindu meals are pretty tasty, by the way, though the roti was a bit soggy.
July 27, 2005: We bought tickets for the Gatwick Express, but some ended up on the Gatwick local instead. We had planned on taking a taxi from Victoria to our hotel in Piccadilly Circus, but there was a huge queue for taxis. (When I asked the person at the front how long he had been waiting, he said, "Hours!") And there did not seem to be any taxis pulling in to pick people up.
So we took the Tube.
The only problem we had is that while the longer ascents/descents have escalators, the shorter ones are still only stairs, and with the luggage it was definitely a nuisance. I am hoping we can get taxis for our other "luggage" trips.
One woman on the Tube was wearing a button with the Underground symbol, but instead of a station name in the center plaque, it said "Not Afraid".
The Regent Palace Hotel was right across the street from the Underground exit--and only a very narrow street at that. It was too early to check in, being about 10:30 AM, So we checked our luggage at their luggage room (fixed rates: £3 per suitcase and £1 per small bag, for £8 total) and proceeded to walk.
First we went to Leicester Square to locate the TKTS booth (for half-price theatre tickets). We were not going to try to see one today (jet-lagged as we were, even a rousing musical would probably put us to sleep. So we walked up Charing Cross Road, stopping in Quinto Books, which was having a half-price sale on everything! Given how heavy our luggage felt carrying it up and down the Underground steps, we bought just one book, an Eric Frank Russell collection for 75p. Quinto is probably my favorite of the used book stores on Charing Cross Road. We skipped most of the other bookstores, though we may go into Blackwell's one day--they had a big window display of math books! (Or as they are called here, "maths books".) And since Murder One dropped their science fiction section when they moved, we skipped that.
We then went to the British Museum. We mostly followed the tour described in "Rick Steves's London 2004", though even as recent as that was, it was out of date. For example, the Rosetta Stone, which had moved between my first and second visits, has moved again, this time to the center of the room and into an even stronger protective case. And at least one of the Assyrian rooms was closed off. And they seem to have removed the Greek helmet that caught my attention when I visited in 2000.
But the high point of this visit for me was the Reading Room, finally re-opened (the renovations were almost finished when I was here in 2000). It is massively impressive, especially for book lovers. The reading tables are still there, even though the bulk of the books have been moved to the new British Library. I am not sure how they decided what books to keep to fill the shelves here--probably the duplicates or books they were planning on culling. (Some sections have been replaced by panels with paintings of books on shelves.) The reading tables access the computer system COMPASS instead.
The Reading Room has a display tracing the history of the British Museum. It was founded by Sydney Smirke ("along with Gilbert Guffawe", according to Mark).
I have written in detail twice already about the British Museum, so I will not do it again.
Afterwards we decided we needed to replenish our fuel, so we went to Munchkins, a nearby (and probably over-priced) eatery, where we shared a large fish and chips for £ll.95. The fish was probably plaice, but at any rate it tasted different from what we get in the United States. When we went in, the waitress asked where we were from, and we thought it was just conversation. Later she asked the next group, who looked Middle Eastern, and one woman asked in an offended tone why she asked. The waitress said it was so that she knew which menus to bring, and indeed the menus outside were in several languages. I told the Middle Eastern woman that the waitress had asked us as well--obviously the woman thought it was because she looked Middle Eastern and I wanted to re-assure her it was not that. People are very touchy these days.
On the way back to the hotel, we passed Forbidden Planet. This is the last remaining SF specialty shop in London, but we were too tired to go in. (Also, we do not need more books.)
Later in the evening we decided we should eat dinner rather than wake up hungry at 2 AM, so we walked over to a place recommended in the Rick Steves book, The Stockpot, where we both had lamb chops. At £7.95 each it was less than what we would pay back home--when we can find lamb chops in a restaurant, which is rarely.
July 28, 2005: We had breakfast in Chinatown, at the Crispy Duck restaurant, where naturally we had Chicken and Roast Duck Congee. A very filling meal at £4.30 each.
We arrived at the TKTS line a little before 10 AM, and bought tickets for the matinee of BEHIND THE IRON MASK (£19.25 each including service charge).
The National Gallery is literally just down the street from the TKTS booth, so we decided to spend the intervening time there. Unfortunately, I suggested we start in the Sainsbury Wing, which turned out to be entirely religious art! (And only one particular religion.) By the time one gets to one's hundredth Madonna and Child, one is heartily sick of Madonnas and Children.
They had an almost airline-like security check at the entrance--no X-ray, but they looked through one's bags and one had to walk through a metal detector.
Well, it is not completely accurate to say the Sainsbury Wing is entirely religious art; there were a few paintings of classical mythology and legend. There was a Tiepolo of the Trojan Horse of which Mark observed that the musuculature of the men in it prefigured that of the Machiste movies.
Not all religious art is boring, of course. One room had three beheadings--Judith and Holofernes, Salome and John the Baptist, and Perseus and the Gorgon!
We took an overview tour at 11:30 AM, then went through a few of the rooms in the main building. But we wanted to get something (with caffeine) to drink before the play, so we decided to save most of it for another time. We managed to find a place where we could go in, sit down, and still pay only 70p for a Coke--amazing!
BEHIND THE IRON MASK (Duchess Theatre) is not really related to the Dumas novel, even though there is a section about him in the programme book. Rather, it is based on the same story/legend that Dumas drew from, that of a mysterious prisoner in an iron mask. (Although as even the programme book pointed out, the mask was more likely black velvet.) I will not describe too much of the plot, but there are only three characters in this play: the Prisoner, the Jailer, and a Gypsy Woman. It is a musical, although there are only two live musicians playing along with prerecorded music. The actors are miked, and the Jailer's almost shaven head makes his microphone very obvious (at least from our seats in the second row). Also, the voices seemed to come from the sides of the stage (where the speakers were). Again, this may be a function of how close we were, and seats further back might not notice it. While it is enjoyable to see a play in general, I cannot say I would recommend this one. (Mark noted that the actors did not seem as good as some. For example, he said they did not recover very well from a scene where someone accidentally dropped something, and that they occasionally walked through what was supposedly a wall.)
On the way back to the hotel, we stopped in a convenience store, where I managed to be obstructing the path, not once but twice, of someone whom I did not recognize, but Mark realized was Brian Denehy.
July 29, 2005: We had gotten European-strength fuses for Mark's CPAP before we left home, and they worked fine the first night. But last night they seem to have blown. We had two spares, but our first errand this morning was to find more fuses. On-line, people had said this was difficult, but the concierge knew immediately where we could get them (an electrical D.I.Y. only a block away!). At 40p each, the fuses were cheap enough that we bought four; even though it seems to have been a one-time surge problem, we may not have an electrical D.I.Y. so close in Glasgow.
This being Friday, there were very few matinees (just the big tourist-attracting shows), so we bought tickets for the evening performance of THE WOMAN IN BLACK (£19.75 each). We then went to Pret a Manger for breakfast (crayfish and avocado sandwich, and yogurt with berries and granola). The sandwich bread was a bit soggy in spots. At £7.14 total it was not as filling as congee, though slightly cheaper.
We then walked over Waterloo Bridge and to the Imperial War Museum. While the bridge was fairly close, it was a much longer walk after it to the museum than I expected.
We arrived there about noon and spent the next five hours going through it. One new exhibit was a Holocaust exhibit which at times seemed to bend over backwards, with statements like "Christian churches blamed the Jews--unjustly--for killing Christ" and "Jesus was born and died a Jew". However, it also claimed (or at least implied) that when Britain closed Palestine it did not realize what the result would be. But another exhibit showed the "Evening Dispatch" of 7 Feb 1940, which indicated a knowledge of Jewish deaths at the hands of the Nazis.
Publisher Victor Gollancz, whose company I know primarily as a publisher of British SF, was also the author of "Let My People Go", a pamphlet explaing why the British should help the Jews.
Another display credited the "Japanese government" with saving thousands of Lithuanian Jews, and did not mention Ambassador Sugihara at all, even though it was him, working pretty much against the Japanese government's desires.
One Nazi collaborator mentioned was Rene Bousquet; I think the movie THE STATEMENT (with Michael Caine) was about his assassination.
There was also a display on "The Silent War" about intelligence and espionage, with sections on MI5 (internal security), MI6 (foreign espionage), Communications, SOE (Special Operations Executive), and SAS (Special Air Service). The MI5 section mentioned THE INVASION OF 1910 by William Le Queux (which sounds like early science fiction). The section on the Anti-Terrorist Branch was particularly topical. (One section talked about how two incendiary bombs were set off in the Imperial War Museum in September 1992. These were presumably by the IRA, which just yesterday announced it was renouncing violence as a method. (The elephant in the room that no one seems to be talking about is that they may want to disassociate themselves from attacks similar to the recent terrorist attacks in London, because such attacks will definitely be considered more negatively by both sides now.)
We went through the rest of the museum, which covered primarily World Wars I and II, with some coverage of later conflicts. I am not sure if there is a museum that covers all of England's wars, or even all of its wars other than these.
We took a bus back from the museum. There were several reasons for this. The obvious one might seem to be that the bus would be safer than the Tube, but it was more that the bus stop was much closer to the museum than the nearest Tube stop (and we had been walking all day). Also, the bus is cheaper than the tube (£1.20 for the bus versus £2 for the Tube). The flip-side of the cost is that on the Tube you can transfer as many times as necessary to get somewhere, while there is no such thing as a bus transfer here. If it takes you two buses, you pay twice.
Dinner was at Taste of India, where we shared Lamb Rhogan Ghosh and a chicken dish. (I know it was not Chicken Korma, because when someone else tried to order Chicken Korma, the owner told him not to order that--it was garbage, but all the Americans would order it because it was all they knew.) With appetizer, dessert, and coffee, this set meal came to £21.38 for the two of us.
THE WOMAN IN BLACK (Fortune Theatre) has apparently been playing in the West End for seventeen years, but somehow we did not see it on previous trips. It is a very basic ghost story, but well-executed with good stagecraft and the gimmick of having only two actors, one of whom plays the other, who plays all the remaining characters. At the interval (intermission), Mark compared it to an M. R. James story, and later we saw a review that mentioned that one of the chapters of the book on which it was based was named after an M. R. James story as homage. (Of course, James would put all this in a short story, but the author of THE WOMAN IN BLACK got an entire novel out of it somehow.
We have been paying about £20 each for half-price tickets for plays. Since movies cost £9 (!), this is not bad.
We watched the news where they showed the police capturing two of the suspects, insisting that they come out in just their underpants (so the police could be sure they were not wearing explosives). I was reminded of Robert A. Heinlein's THE PUPPET MASTERS, in which aliens would take over people by attaching themselves onto their backs. Very quickly, people started wearing less and less clothing so as to show they were not carrying/wearing/attached to an alien.
July 30, 2005: We had breakfast at The Stockpot, where we discovered we were no longer happy with English breakfast--too much grease, and the sausages were very mealy. Total was £8.90.
There were no plays posted at TKTS that we were that familiar with, so we bought tickets for the matinee of THE SHAUGHRAUN (£22.50 each), which sounded like fun from the description in one of the magazines. Then we dropped into the Westminster Reference Library, half a block away. We looked up some reviews of plays we were not familiar with and discovered THE SHAUGHRAUN did not get very good reviews, although what critics complained about did not seem like things we would object to (too melodramatic, cheesy effects, etc.). We also checked our email.
We went back to the National Gallery and finished the galleries we had not seen before. These had considerably less religious art and more landscapes and so on. One "mathematical" piece was "The Ambassadors" by xxx, which is a classic example of anamorphic art.
We stopped in a Boots, where Mark got a lot of advice from the pharmacist on how to treat the pulled muscle or tendon or something that he got from carrying his luggage up and down stairs through the Underground. In the United States, pharmacists do not give this sort of advice. And it was quite detailed. For example, she asked what drugs (if any) Mark was taking before deciding which non-prescription pain killer to suggest. Mark ended up with a pain killer, a salve, and a wrist bandage, which collectively seem to have solved the problem.
THE SHAUGHRAUN (Albery Theatre) is a well-known Irish play by Dion Boucicault, performed here by the Abbey Theatre Company from Dublin in a limited run. One review mentioned Irish stereotypes, and it certainly had one in the mother, but for that matter the whole notion of a shaughraun (vagabond) seems to be a stereotype. Still, it was an Irish play and an Irish company, so one presumes it is not considered terribly negative. The rather improbable plot is that a young man has been unfairly transported to Australia but has escaped, and an English captain brings troops to look for him. The captain falls in love with the man's sister, the villain who had the man transported is scheming to make the man's fiancee marry him, and so on. There was more music (and more enjoyable music) in this (which was not billed as a musical) than in BEHIND THE IRON MASK (which was). Unfortunately, there is not much point in recommending this production, as we saw it on its last day.
For dinner, we ended up back at The Crispy Duck, where we had baby squid in XO sauce, and fried duck with ginger and spring onion. The spring onion here is really spring onion, not just scallions. Total was £19.70.
We returned to the room, dropped off our stuff, and caught the Tube to go to a science fiction gathering at Avendon Carol and Rob Hansen's house in East Ham. (Our trip includes going to the World Science Fiction Convention, so lots of other fans are also in London at this time.) I brought along the DVD of the Timothy Hines version of THE WAR OF THE WORLDS, which Moshe Feder had asked me to pick up for him and bring to the convention, since I expected him to be at the party. The train stopped a few stops before our destination, and through the door whom should I see waiting to get into our car but Moshe? So he was barely through the door when I stuck out the DVD and said, "Here you are!" What are the chances that he would be taking not only the same train, but the same car?!
We got off and I am glad we had Moshe to direct us, since while his written directions were accurate, the area was much more congested than I expected. We stopped at Tesco's to pick up some stuff to bring (soda, cheese, etc.), then proceeded to the house. There were about fifteen people there, including GUFF (Going Under Fan Fund) winners Damien Warman and Juliette Woods, and a good time was had by all, particularly since it had stopped raining and we could sit in the backyard. We stayed until about 9:30, then left so that we would not get back too late. (The last train was about midnight, but we were not going to try to stay that late!)
July 31, 2005: We went into a breakfast place near us which had a variety of set breakfasts, but Mark wanted one with a bagel and they did not have bagels on Sunday. So we went for congee again.
We hung around the room until noon, because there is not much going on in London on Sunday mornings. Then we walked to Hyde Park and Speakers Corner. Speakers Corner used to be a very interesting mix of speakers talking about political and social issues. Alas, it has become almost entirely religious, with all but a couple of people trying to convert their listeners to Christianity (not clear what branch most of them are, but some are definitely "Jews for Jesus" Christians.) We spent about an hour listening to a couple of socialists. One of them was very persuasive, except that his view of world socialism and collective ownership seemed to rely on a different species than Homo sapiens--it would only work if people were not greedy or envious, and altruistic to the point of volunteering for jobs such as cleaning sewers, and so on. I am reminded of Thomas Hardy's poem "The Oxen".
Christmas Eve and twelve of the clock "Now they are all on their knees," An elder said as we sat in a flock, By the embers in hearthside ease. We pictured the meek mild creatures where They dwelt in their strawy pen, Nor did it occur to one of us there To doubt they were kneeling then. So fair a fancy few would weave In these years! Yet I feel, If someone said on Christmas eve, "Come; see the oxen kneel" "In the lonely barton by yonder coomb Our childhood used to know," I should go with him in the gloom Hoping it might be so.
Alas, hoping it might be so does not make it so.
After this we walked through Hyde Park and to the Science Museum. Or, more precisely, the newest part of the Science Museum, since that term apparently covers the Natural History and Geology Museums as well, though it is not clear what to call just the part we saw. (One book called it the "Science Centre", but the museum maps said "Science Museum".)
We had a snack to refresh us, then saw as much of the museum as we could. We started with the history of flight. There was more about "dreams of flight" than usual, including the Japanese legend of Minamoto-no-Tametomo, which had a lot of similarities with that of Icarus.
One panel quoted Wilbur Wright as saying that his goal was "to escape accident long enough to acquire skill sufficient to prevent accident."
Another panel mentioned an early pioneer of flight, J. W. Dunne, who later wrote AN EXPERIMENT WITH TIME, described as "a mystico-scientific book"! This must be the book mentioned at Boskone 37 in 2000 by David Hartwell, who said that J. W. Dunne explicated a theory of time with decision splits in 1929. (That Boskone reference to Dunne was the third reference to Dunne's theory that I had heard in that week. The other two came within a half hour of each other, one in a collection essays by Jorge Luis Borges, and the other in a short story by Damon Knight from a collection I picked up for a break from the Borges.)
We then went through the optics display, which included cinematography and anamorphic art. In general, there is a much higher intelectual level of displays here than in United States museums--I had trouble following many of the explanations for the optics displays.
The museum here uses optical switches instead of buttons to operate the interactive displays. In addition to being less likely to break, they do not provide a temptation to little children to go around pressing all the buttons and usually then running on to the next one without even seeing what the button did.
(But as good as the displays at the Science Museum were, they still misspelled the name of the airship "Akron" as "Acron".)
We went to the mathematics section next. This was pretty amazing, since most science museums have no mathematics section, or if they do, it is really a computer section. Well, this one was really a geometry section, but it is still mathematics. Even so, after several display cases of conic sections, polyhedra, solids, etc., it did get a bit tedious.
There was also a computer section, including a Phillips Economic Computer, which showed, by means of tubes and tanks, what would happen if various econimc changes took place.
There was also a Difference Engine being built. Two had been built already, and the sign noted that there were "three times fewer parts" in Difference Engine No. 2 than Charles Babbage's original--another example of sloppy writing. The first was built in 1991, the second (which included the printing function) in 2002. There was also the right half of Babbage's brain.
The spaceflight section included Clarke's Three Laws. I do not know if there was a robotics area, or if it included Asimov's Three Laws, but Sir Arthur C. Clarke is British and Isaac Asimov was American, which might explain why their laws show up in different proportions in the different countries.
Clarke's Three Laws:
We left when the museum closed at 6 PM, and walked down to where we could catch a bus back (it being about three miles from our hotel). Before catching a bus we had dinner at Thai Island, where we had Seafood Kratiam and Pad Khee Moa, for £17.80.
August 1, 2005: Well, we had another set of fuses in the CPAP blow. Mark's theory now is that plugging it into the outlet causes the surge, so he is going to try plugging the detached power cord into the outlet first, then plugging the power cord into the CPAP. But just in case, we bought four more fuses. (For one thing, we have no idea if there will be a convenient electrical shop in Glasgow.
A bust of Isaac Newton in Leicester Square is labeled "Scientist, Mathematician, and Philosopher". Mark noted, "That means something here. In America, you say mathematician and someone leaves the room."
At some point we found ourselves wondering if somewhere in the world there is a Museum of Philosophy.
We had been eager to get tickets for MARY STUART, but it is sold out, people start queueing at 8:30 AM for the ten reserved day tickets that go on sale at 10 AM, and if we start queueing at who knows what hour, we might be able to get returned tickets at full price. (Most theatres sell them at half price.) We decided we were not that eager.
Instead, we walked up Charing Cross Road, stopping in various bookshops. One was the Dover Bookshop, which features Dover books on art and style, as well as similar books from other publishers. Given that Dover Books are published in Mineola, New York, it is ironic that the Dover Bookshop in New York City (Manhattan) closed a couple of years ago, but the one in London is still going strong. (The Mineola office does have a very small shop attached, but it is not the same.) Mark found a very interesting book hear, SACRED GEOMETRY by Robert Lawlor.
We went into a few more shops, but did not buy nearly as many books as one might expect us to. Even though we will be getting rid of some of what we brought (the heaviest items being award plaques), we do not have a lot of room to carry books back, or to store them at home. And now with the Internet, it is fairly easy to order books from the UK. (Plus we see a lot of them in Toronto when we go each year.) We did buy three small books: a hard-cover edition of Diana Wynne Jones's A TOUGH GUIDE TO FANTASYLAND, a parody of THE HOBBIT called THE SODDIT, and a small book on magic, all £1 or £1.50.
Ten years ago, for their 60th anniversary, Penguin books came out with "Penguin 60s", sixty very small books (in all three dimensions) that featured a short story or a few poems or an excerpt from a longer work, priced at 60p. (At the time, that was about a dollar.) Shortly after they announced these, American readers clamored for something like this, so a North American series was published as well, priced at ninety-five cents. (Well, expecting them to sell at sixty cents would be overly optimistic!)
Now it has been seventy years, and Penguin now has Penguin 70s. These are books the same height and width as regular books, but very thin, and selling for £1.50 (I think). Unlike the Penguins 60s, which had a uniform cover style (resembling the Penguins of the time), these have no consistent look on their covers. (A boxed set of them showed that the spines were different colors such that the set appeared to display the entire spectrum.) They also seem much more focused on contemporary works than on the classics. Because of the lack of uniform cover look, and the loss of the charm/distinctiveness of the smaller size of the older series, I suspect these will be less popular. (I like the old ones because they can fit in most shirt or jacket pockets.)
I suppose I could ask in used book stores if they have any of the old Penguin 60s, but I suspect they are a but pricey these days as collectibles. (The North American ones do show up occasionally in book sales or used book stores.) (I later found a few in an Oxfam shop.)
Eventually--after a long walk--we arrived at our destination, the British Library. They have a lot of books, but luckily for us the vast majority are not for sale. (They do have a bookshop, though, with books about the Library as well as general literature et al.)
The British Library is old, but the building is relatively new. The Library used to be part of the British Museum (hence the Great Reading Room there), but about ten or fifteen years ago they build a new building up by St. Pancras Station. The books are accessible only to those with a library card, but the Treasures Room is the main destination for tourists. This has copies of the Magna Carta, Gutenberg Bibles (as well as indulgences printed by him, which were really what got movable type going), illuminated manuscripts such as the Golden Haggadah and the Lindisfarne Gospels, a First Folio of Shakespeare, a first edition of Newton's PRINCIPIA MATHEMATICA", the original notebook for Jane Austen's "History of England" (available as a Penguin 60!), and so on. The First Folio is open to Ben Jonson's poem, "To the Reader":
"This Figure, that thou here seest put, It was for gentle Shakespeare cut, Wherein the Graver had a strife with Nature, to out-doo the life : O, could he but have drawne his wit As well in brasse, as he hath hit His face ; the Print would then surpasse All, that was ever writ in brasse. But, since he cannot, Reader, looke Not on his Picture, but his Booke."
They also had the "Nimatnama" or "Book of Delights", an Indian cookbook from the late 15th Century. For this, the sign said, "Most curiously, ingredients such as tomatoes and chillies are absent." It is not curious at all--tomatoes and chillies are New World plants that had not been imported into Asia in the 1400s!)
There was also a special display, "Hey Presto! Conjuring, Magic & Illusion Since 1700", commemorating the centenary of the major British society of magicians. One amateur magician was the engineer Brunel, who accidentally swallowed a coin while doing a trick. The coin lodged in his esophagus, so Brunel designed and had built (in three days!) a machine that would rapidly spin him head over heels and so dislodged the coin by centrifugal force.
When we were ready to leave, it was raining buckets. It had been drizzling on and off for the past few days, but this was a real downpour. So we browsed the bookshop a bit more, and sure enough, the rain eased up, and we walked across the street (a major project near King's Cross Station), and had dinner at Taste of India, which I had Pistachio Chicken and Mark had Lamb Phaal. According to someone, Phaal was invented when people in Britian wanted something hotter than Vindaloo, and when this was mentioned in rec.arts.sf.fandom, the reaction to something hotter than Vindaloo, was like Pippin's reaction in the film THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING: "It comes in pints?!
We then walked to Holborn and the pub Walker's of Holborn for a special meeting of the London Tun, a monthly get-together of science fiction fans. They normally meet on the first Thursday of the month, but since the August meeting will take place when almost everyone will be in Glasgow for the convention, they scheduled an earlier one as well, which would also give overseas visitors a chance to attend. (Their July meeting was on July 7, and in spite of everything that day--including having to change pubs because Walker's was in a restricted area--they still had six attendees.) This was doing better--when we left around 7 PM, there were already about fifteen people and I'm sure more showed up later.
We stayed there about an hour and a half, but the cigarette smoke was getting thick and we decided to Tube back to the hotel.
August 2, 2005: We went to the TKTS booth. None of the plays available were ones we had picked, but we had heard good things about HEDDA GABLER, so we got tickets for the evening performance of that (£22.25 each). We then walked back and tried a different Chinese restaurant for breakfast. The prices were slightly higher for congee, Mark got a different dish, and they charged for tea, which meant we ended up paying £13.60 for breakfast.
We walked over to Lincoln's Inn's Fields, the Royal College of Surgeons, and the Hunterian Museum. This is a museum of anatomy and surgery, dating back a couple of hundred years. (There were even older objects, such as the Evelyn Tables of anatomy, dating back to the 17th Century. These are wooden tables onto which had been laid the nervous system, the circulatory system, and so on of various corpses, and then the whole glazed over so as to attach and preserve the parts.
This and many other museums started as Cabinets of Curiosities. (The Ashmolean Museum in Oxford began as Tradescants' Ark.) Most of the bones and fossils in the Hunterian were lost during the Blitz, and the museum is only about forty percent of the size it was earlier. In addition to all sorts of anatomical specimens (from plants, animals, and humans), there are paitings and drawings relating to anatomy, particularly "monstrosities" (as they were known, even though the term disappeared long before political correctness came in): giants, dwarfs, cojoined twins, etc. There were paintings of Joseph Borulawski, Owen Farrel, and Bamboccio (victims of achondrospasia), and the skeleton of "the Irish Giant". There was also the left hemisphere of Babbage's brain. (As noted before, we saw the right half in the Science Museum, so we can actually say we have seen Babbage's brain.) The odontological museum is mostly separate now, but the Hunterian still displays dentures from Winston Churchill and Queen Caroline.
There is a long series of displays about the history of surgery, with a particularly gruesome section on the development of plastic surgery during and after World War I. Other sections and displays are also somewhat off-putting, and one must remember (and I should mention) that this museum is intended for students and professionals of medicine and related fields. I'm not sure how long it has been open to the general public, but other sections (such as the odontological section) are still for members of the profession only.
Afterwards we decided to take a cheap bus tour of London. We did this by buying day passes for the bus, and then just riding various buses around. (It would have been even cheaper if the fare machine at the first stop hadn't eaten my £3 without dispensing a pass. (We walked over to the Underground station and bought our passes there.) There is a number to call if you lose money in a machine, but it probably doesn't pay: if they send me a £3 cheque, it would cost me considerably more than that to cash it.
We got on at Holborn and took bus 8 southwest to Victoria, where we switched to bus 11 east to Westinster Abbey. We got off at the Abbey and the Houses of Parliament. As we were walking to the Abbey from the bus stop, we passed a statue of Abraham Lincoln. I commented on this and said we had also seen a statue of George Washington at Trafalgar Square. Mark said if we looked long enough, we'd probably find one of Martin Luther King as well.
At the Abbey there is a pillar to the "Russian and Indian Wars" (which we know better as the Crimean War and the Sepoy Rebellion. (As Mark noted, for the British "the first half of the 1800s was when they had their French and Indian Wars".
The west entrance of the Abbey had statues of 20th Century martyrs: Maximilian Kolbe, Manche Masemola, Janani Luwum, Elizabeth of Russia, Martin Luther King, Oscar Romero, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Esther John, Lucian Tapiedi, and Wang Zhiming. These were added in 1998. They seem to be very ecumenical in what branches of Christianity the martyrs belonged to. Below these are statues to Truth, Justice, Mercy, and Peace.
So Mark was proved right within about fifteen minutes of his statement.
East of Westminster Abbey are the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben. We walked past these just as the clock was striking three, and discussed what science fiction films took place in this area (THE QUATERMASS XPERIMENT, GORGO, and KONGA). We didn't visit any of these buildings, partly from lack of time, and partly because we had visited them (particularly Westminster Abbey) on previous trips.
We got back on bus 11 and rode it through the City of London, past the Royal Courts of Justice and St. Paul's to the Temple of Mithras stop. Here we spent almost fifteen minutes trying to find the Temple of Mithras, which turned out to be right on the main street, but slightly above ground level and surrounded by a wall concealing all but the very top. These are the foundations of a Mithraic temple that was found nearby during building construction and moved to where they could be displayed.
We then availed ourselves of the toilets in the Underground station and switched to bus 15 to Tower Hill Gateway. Here we got off and walked around a bit, seeing the exterior of the Tower, as well as some of the old Roman wall. Again, we had visited the Tower on a previous trip.
On Tower Bridge we boarded bus RV1 ("Riverview", though it passes on streets that have very little view of the river). At one point we traveled down Druid Street and then turned onto Crucifix Street--a strange juxtaposition. The route also made a strange loop, apparently so that it could pass right next to the London Eye (a giant ferris wheel, a la the Riesenrad of Vienna except bigger). No modifications were made to its original route for Shakespeare's New Globe Theatre, which tells me where their priorities are.
The RV1 was supposed to go to Covent Garden, but the final stop was actually Aldwych. This must be because of the closure of the Covent Garden station because of the closure of that stretch of the Piccadilly line after 7/7.
We picked Sofra, a Turkish restaurant, for dinner, although since it was before 6PM, we could order the set two-course lunch for £7.95 each. I had patlican (fried eggplant and peppers with a tomato-based topping) and grilled lamb fillet; Mark had a mixed appetizer plate and moussakka.
We took a bus back to the hotel to drop off our stuff before the play. The traffic was so bad at the beginning that we were ready to give up on that idea and just get off at Trafalgar Square, but it got better at Trafalgar Square and we stayed on until our hotel.
The walk from our hotel to the Duke of York's Theatre took only ten minutes.
It was nice to be able to see a classic play like HEDDA GABLER (even if it did turn out that the lead was played by the understudy this night). The West End seems to have been taken over by musicals, or by plays starring American actors. I can remember coming to London and choosing a play simply because Sir Alec Guinness was in it. Now they are advertising something as starring Val Kilmer, and while he is okay, Val Kilmer is no Alec Guinness.
I've been trying to figure out how British phone numbers should be divided. But when I look in the airlines section of our hotel guest services book I see them divided 4-3-4, 5-3-3, 4-4-3, 5-6, 4-7, and even 4-3-3 and 4-6.
August 3, 2005: We got an early taxi to King's Cross. We were worried that we would have difficulty, but there was a taxi right outside the hotel at the taxi stand. At King's Cross we were lucky to find a couple of seats, since we had to wait an hour and a half. (We had to clear some rubbish away to get to them. For security reasons they have removed all the rubbish bins, and while someone does come around to clean up, it takes time.)
The train ride to Glasgow was about six hours long, but relatively comfortable--better than a plane, at any rate.
[For the Glasgow section of our trip, see my Intersection convention report.]
August 9, 2005: We returned to London on a 7 AM train (arriving 12:41 PM). The reason we took such an early train was that it was the only one that got us back into London at a reasonably early time for which we could still buy cheap return (round-trip) tickets when we booked (about three weeks ahead). Cheap in this case means £40 each, and someone said that he paid almost that much to go to Oxford, which was only an hour out of London. Train fares here may make as little sense as plane fares in the United States.
We were able to get a taxi with no problem, although the traffic was such thta it was £10 rather than the £8 it had cost when we went in the other direction. Still, with our luggage, there was no other way.
After checking in, we went to TKTS and bought ticket for AS YOU LIKE IT. It had gotten mixed (or worse) reviews, but The Guardian just made it one of their "picks of the week", so maybe it has improved. We will probably try to see LES MISERABLES and THE HOME PLACE (with Tom Courtenay), and may call about THEATRE OF BLOOD (which does not have half-price tickets).
We went over to the Westminster Reference Library to brush up on the plot of AS YOU LIKE IT, then over to Forbidden Planet to check out the only central London science fiction specialty shop. Talking to one of the staff, I discovered that Forbidden Planet in New York is no longer part of the same company as Forbidden Planet in London or other UK cities. That might explain why the New York one is so bad. (They do not have any books anymore, for one thing.) This Forbidden Planet has been in a new location every time I have been in London, but has always had a very good book selection--now bigger than ever--even if it is always in the basement (sorry, "lower ground").
After browsing here (without buying, because our luggage is already too heavy), we walked back toward the hotel, having dinner at Woo Sang on the way.
This hotel room is even smaller than the one we had at this hotel the previous week. It is wide enough for the width of the double bed plus the door plus about a foot to spare (maybe ten feet total). The length is about fourteen feet. But out of the room is taken about two feet by three feet for the bathroom, with about another one foot by two foot "dead space" between the bathroom wall and the window. (Well, you can store luggage there.) The only advantage is the layout lets Mark leave his CPAP plugged in during the day, and we think it was the unplugging and re-plugging that was blowing the fuses. But the bed is against the wall, meaning it is hard for the person on the inside to get up during the night, and the room is still hot (though the windows seem to open a bit more). This room's mattress is much less comfortable than the last, and Mark got bitten either by bedbugs or something that came in through the open window.
AS YOU LIKE IT (Wyndham's Theatre) has a pretty lame plot to begin with, and the cadenced delivery of the actors did not help. By "cadenced delivery" I mean a more "Olivier-style" that stresses the rhythm and meter of Shakespeare's words, rather than a "Branagh-style" that is more conversational and stresses the meaning. In addition, the transposition of the action to post-World-War-II France only served to confuse the play (as opposed to Richard Loncraine's transposition of RICHARD III to 1930s England, which gave additional meaning and resonance to the play).
(Wyndham's, by the way, is where we saw THE SECRET OF SHERLOCK HOLMES on our 1989 theatre trip.))
August 10, 2005: Crispy Duck was closed at 9 AM and did not look like it was about to open, so we settled for what was open: McDonald's. The basic Egg McMuffin in Britain does not include ham, and the place mats have complete nutritional and allergy information on the back.
We were taking a bus to and from the Westminster Pier, so we bought bus passes, figuring we would take an extra ride later. It is a good thing we did, as we managed to miss our stop and would have had a bit of a walk back if we did not want to pay for another ticker. As it was, we just crossed the street and took the return bus back one stop.
Our sightseeing for the day was Greenwich, and the boat trip to and from. The weather was perfect--just enough clouds that the sun was beating down on us all the time. We took City Cruise (£9 return); the other company charges the same. The (narrated) cruise normally takes about an hour from Westminster Pier to Greenwich, though it took longer this time because we had to wait at the Tower Bridge Pier while they opened Tower Bridge to let a sailing boat through. (This was actually a plus, to get to see this operation.) We could also see some sort of bombardment damage on the embankment walls near the Tower, though I have no idea when it was from.
By the way, the best view of Big Ben, the houses of Parliament, and the statue of Boadicea is probably from one of these boats while they are docked. I also got to see the new Globe, which we had not been able to see from the bus the previous week.
After each pier, there was a safety announcement, "In the unlikely event of an emergency...." Mark and I had mentioned to each other several times about Gorgo (or rather, Gorgo's mother) destroying Tower Bridge, so Mark added, "In the unlikely even of a therapod...."
There was a lot of new development since we had last been through, in the Docklands and further downstream at Canary Wharf on the Isle of Dogs. We passed the Prospect of Whitney pub (which used to be the Devil's Tavern); Pepys and Dickens and Turner frequented this. We went through Limehouse and the East End.
In 851 Vikings destroyed London, helped in large part by the fact that the tide can carry boats all the way to London. The Thames Barrier was built to help prevent flooding from the sea. It used to be closed three times a year, but now it is much more often--probably having to do with global warming.
When we arrived at Greenwich, our first stop was the National Maritime Museum. It also turned out to be pretty much our last stop--even with a large part of it set aside for the "Nelson & Napolean" exhibit which we did not see (at £9 each, it seemed a bit pricey), there was a lot to see. (Although in addition to the floor space set aside for the Nelson & Napolean exhibit, they also took all the Nelson-related items from the rest of the museum as well.
The first section we saw was on exploration and discovery, and had a free audioguide. If we had played every stop's description all the way through, it probably would have taken us a couple of hours just for that gallery. I am not knocking a very in-depth presentation, but given our limited time (five hours or so every ten years or so), we decided to skip some of it. There was a lot on polar exploration with which we were already familiar, for example. (This topic seemed to be much expanded from last time, if they had it at all then.)
There were other changes--I am sure whole galleries had been either rebuilt or moved, as "The Bombardment of Algiers" was no longer in a very large hall, but rather on a stairway. There was no large hall of the size we remember in either the main building or The Queen's House, which is named for a previous Queen and now houses most of the Museum's art collection.
The section on "Trade and Empire" had a film running which consisted of film clips from travelogues and other documentaries of the jingoistic sort as well as THE FOUR FEATHERS, CARRY ON UP THE KHYBER, GANDHI, SANDERS OF THE RIVER, KING SOLOMON'S MINES, ELEPHANT BOY, THE DRUM (a.k.a. DRUMS), and NORTH WEST FRONTIER (a.k.a. FLAME OVER India), all accompanied by John Agard, a Guyanese-born poet, reading a long poem about colonialism ("While the locals dance we Brits prance," and "When the time has come to invade, let's just attack and call it trade").
The sections here were Australasia, Trade with the East, The Atlantic Slave Trade, and The Empire in Britain, which seems a very "non-parallel" set of topics. In 1921, when the British Empire was at its peak, it covered 25% of the globe (land area thereof, one supposes) and more than 25% of the world's population.
They also had the restored windows from the Baltic Exchange which were damaged by terrorists on 10 April 1992. (They do not say, but I would guess this to be the IRA.)
(I should note here that all Tube services were back up and running by the time we left for Glasgow, but we had gotten used to the buses by then. One takes the Tube for speed, but the buses for economy and for scenery. Also, there are a lot more bus stops than Tube stations, so one walks a lot less with the bus.)
We finished the main part of the museum and saw The Queen's House, then decided how to schlep up the hill to the Royal Observatory, as 1) it was getting late and we would not have much time up there, and 2) we were tired.
We popped into three branches (all on the same block) or a bookshop which sold remaindered books for £2 each and bought three books from the "Wordsworth Military Library", one on the Mahdist Revolt, one on secret technological warfare in World War II, and one an omnibus of two volunes on battles in Britain from 1066 to 1746. I did not buy Hobson-Jobson, the classic etymological work on Anglo-Indian--it was too large and I suspect it is available online.
We caught the boat back (not the last, but the next-to-last) and took the bus toward Victoria Station and a little past until we saw someplace good to eat. We ended up at a balti place name Joruma (I think) where we had two different chicken baltis and naan for #17. Then back to the hotel and sleep.
August 11, 2005: We started by buying tickets for BLOOD BROTHERS, then a bus pass, and headed for Pollock's Toy Museum, a small but densely packed collection of children's toys from Britain and around the world. (Their scope was actually a little broader than that, as they included votive dolls from Africa and such.) Then we went to three charity shops along Goodge Street, buying a cassette and four books at the Oxfam Shop. (It is not as bad as it sounds--the books were Penguin 60s, so they were very small, and only 29p each.) We have some charity shops (thrift shops) in the United States, but not as many. Where we might have one large Goodwill Store serving an entire county, Britain seems to have a small Oxfam shop in every town and village. Even Wooton Bassett, where I stayed on my last trip and which has a High Street only about two blocks long, had one.
We took a bus (or rather two buses) to St. Paul's for the London Walk on the Blitz. There was more on St. Paul's in the Blitz and less on the Blitz itself than we might have wanted (although the last half hour did improve the ratio considerably).
During the Blitz (7 September 1940 through 10 May 1941), London had only about 20% of the total population of Britain, but suffered half the deaths, half the damage, etc. (I think the same proportions held later in 1944 with the V-1s and V-2s.)
Helena (our guide) talked about 29 December 1940, the "Second Great Fire", which had some of the heaviest bombing, exacerbated by the fact that it was a Sunday and also that the tide was out, making it difficult to get water to put the fires from Incendiary bombs out. Added to this was the fact that the Germans had either on purpose or by chance bombed the water mains. Even so, she said it was not as bad as "Black Saturday" (which had 430 deaths versus 150 for thsi date). However, almost immediately after this, heavy rains started so the Germans abandoned the explosive bombing stage.
One bishop whose sermons were interrupted almost every week finally started taking the collection first. Other expressed problems in knowing "what prayers to say when two Christian countries were fighting together." (It is odd to me that they though of Nazi Germany as Christian.)
During the war, the British used "double British summertime"--they advanced their clocks two hours to get maximum benefit of the daylight hours.
Helena told us about the few bombs that did hit on or near St. Paul's. George Wylie and Robert Davies saved St. Paul's from an explosive bomb that eventually caused a crater 100 feet in diameter when moved to outside the city and exploded there. Another time a sea mine was parachuted down but failed to explode. On 17 April 1941 an explosive bomb destroyed the organ in the crypt (where it had been moved for safety!).
When the walk was over, we went back to the hotel, dropped our stuff off and went out looking for a place to eat before BLOOD BROTHERS. Almost everything was either too pricey or too crowded or both, but we eventually found a Turkish kebab place (Opuz) where we ate very well for £19.
BLOOD BROTHERS (Phoenix Theatre) is a musical about two twin brothers separated at birth and how their development and their lives are affected by class and economic considerations. I was surprised to discover that it was twenty years old and has been a major success both in London and in New York. Somehow we either never heard about it, or heard about it and then forgot. (Note: The Phoenix Theatre is where we saw RICHARD II last time.)
August 12, 2005: As the bus went down Piccadilly we saw a huge queue, the front of which was the British Airways office. We are so happy we didn't choose British Airways for this trip (we almost did). The news reports say that between seventy and eighty thousand people were stranded because of the strike.
We went to the Natural History Museum, a beautiful museum structurally as well as being fascinating for its contents. There is a new T. rex exhibit with the grand finale being an animated T. rex standing over a kill. You get to this by walking along a catwalk and viewing some of the larger skeletons the museum has which they display by hanging them from the high ceilings, thus assuring that the upper room space isn't wasted. After the animated display, you go back through the hall on the floor and cover all aspects of dinosaur life, paleontology, etc.
The mammal hall is also quite good, with explanations of why the displayed exhibits look so faded and shabby. (They are old, but the museum does not feel it would be right to kill more animals for display purposes. This may not apply to some of the more common ones such as rats and rabbits.)
The human evolution was interesting--no shilly-shallying about Creationism or Intelligent Design, and anatomically correct models (although as Mark noted, showing males as circumcised implies at least some level of distancing from nature).
Part of the exhibit tried to define what distinguished humans from other mammals. It used to be language, but then we discovered that other mammals had language. Then it was using tools, but then we discovered that other mammals (and non-mammals) used tools. Then it was making tools, but then we discovered that other mammals (and non-mammals) made tools. (All the preceding is my interpolation, not in the exhibit.) So what the exhibit says is the distinction is using tools to make tools. This seems incredibly convoluted and artificial. Soon they will make it "using a Black & Decker power drill to build a picnic table."
There was a lot of explanation of habilines, homo erectus, Neaderthals, and homo sapiens, with the museum coming down on the idea that Neanderthals died not (rather than interbred with homo sapiens).
After the museum we decided we weren't hungry just yet, so we hopped a bus with the idea of riding a loop into the center of London and back, then eating at a chippy we saw near the museum. We had to get off at Baker Street and change to a different bus on the same route, which gave us a chance to observe that the Sherlock Holmes Shop, Elvis Shop, and Beatles Shop are still there, but that the Abbey National Bank at 221B Baker Street has been torn down and a block of luxury flats is to be built there, though the town council stipulated that the bell tower from the original structure must remain. See http://www.sherlock-holmes.co.uk/home.htm for details.
We then looped back to the South Kensington area and had fish and chips, then returned to our hotel to pack for our return trip.
August 13, 2005: Nothing exciting here--taxi to Victoria, train to Gatwick, plane to Newark, limo home (in 98-degree heat and humidity to match!) At Gatwick they had a dog sniff everyone's carry-on items. We spent the last £10 we had on Cadbury bars, but the dog did not seem to care about that.
Samuel Johnson said, "When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford." Of course, Dr. Watson referred to it as "that great cesspool into which all the loungers and idlers of the Empire are irresistibly drained." And Henry James said, "It is difficult to speak adequately or justly of London. It is not a pleasant place . . . . It is only magnificent . . . it is the biggest aggregation of human life--the most complete compendium of the world." So we will probably return again someday, though not to the same hotel.
Just for comparison, this is the schedule of our last "theatre trip" to London, sixteen years ago. As you can see, the quality of the plays, at least those in the West End, seems to have gone down. There may be good productions elsewhere, but finding out about them in London sans Internet can be difficult. One reason is that the attempt to appeal to tourists from all over the world has led both London and New York to concentrate on big splashy musicals that don't depend as much on people understanding the words. (We heard a lot of people in the TKTS line speaking languages other than English.)
March 27, 1989: flight to London
March 28, 1989: bookstores
March 29, 1989: British Museum, METROPOLIS, THE SECRET OF SHERLOCK HOLMES
March 30, 1989: Regent Street, Piccadilly Circus, Victoria and Albert Museum, RICHARD II
March 31, 1989: Museum of the Moving Image, Charing Cross Road bookstores, A WALK IN THE WOODS
April 1, 1989: "Sherlock Holmes Trail of Mystery" walk (London Citywalks), LES LIAISONS DANGEREUSES, SINGLE SPIES
April 2, 1989: Jewish Museum, Hyde Park and Speakers' Corner, National Army Museum, Jack the Ripper walk ("On the Trail of Jack the Ripper" with Martin Fido)
April 3, 1989: Samuel French Bookshop, return to New Jersey
The dollar/pound rate was just about the same as now (£1=$1.80), but everything was cheaper. For example, full-price box seats for SINGLE SPIES were £15 each.