Hello Still in London!!

Yes I’m still in London… been here about a month now…. SO, you MIGHT be asking where are the posts? Well… I’ve decided that rather than spending my days drafting posts I’ll just START to draft said posts, with a quick draft of my personal thoughts, etc, and then when, either the weather turns utterly miserable (so far it hasn’t), or I get back home to chicago I’ll finish said posts and put them up for reading… rather than spending my time in London doing that… makes sense, neh?

The weather in London has been unusually good… You know that song from the musical Camelot where it never rains till after sundown?

Well its been a bit like that… or more to the point the mornings when it does rain are the days I’ve slept till noon and by noon the sun starts peeking out at least intermittently (this is of course England).
SO… please forgive me dear readers while I live a life OUT DOORS and tell you about it once I’m stuck back at home with nothing better to do

The Thames tidal project… because I can

This is more for me than anyone… but since I’m staying a friend’s place that sits RIGHT on the thames, a view I seriously doubt I’ll ever enjoy again, I’ve decided to document it.

Every-time it’ll be about the same view of the thames and St. Pauls …  what will change is the light and the tides. The Easiest way to register the hight of the low tide is if you look at side to side width of the beach and which buildings it wraps around or doesn’t. For high tides you need to pay attention to how high up it comes (obviously)…

Also, Rather than wait till the end of the trip, I’m just going to add to this as I get more images till I leave this location.

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Day I arrived in UK: March 2, 11:29 am

Once upon a time when I was in my late 20’s I lived in a room in a shared SF house — my room was in the basement and only had windows at the very top of the walls to let in some light, no view…. but the living room and patio had the most amazing view ever, so I didn’t care. It was right across the bay from San Francisco with a totally unobstructed panorama from from all the way south to San Jose to Richmond which was on our side of the bay north of us. Every day we watched the smog roll north from San Jose which stung our eyes and throats at 3pm (going from clean air to city air all at once is kind of an eye opener), and in certain seasons we’d watch the fog roll in over SF… sometimes it’d hit us, but not always. And I never thought to visually document it — was too busy living my life and writing my dissertation.

[Note how big the beaches are here…. March 6 9:55 am — I haven’t seen it this low since]

While the changes of the Thames aren’t as drastic as the ones in I enjoyed in SF, I realized I could be watching the variations in the tide…. So like in the video above unbeknownst to me the tide around the time I got here was unusually low because a few days later I finally got to see a high tide where all the beaches were underwater and green algae on the sides of the walls was entirely covered (and I’m kicking myself that I didn’t grab my camera at the time), and then suddenly I became aware of the changing nature of the water and a few days later — when I never spotted it quite that high again, I decided to try to document it …. so that’s what this is.

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March 11, 5:50 pm, almost no beach

Anyone who watches enough TV about historic Britain sort of knows this… we’re constantly hearing characters talking about how they have to leave London by ship catching the outgoing tide, or at high tide… or “we need to wait for the tide.”

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6am March 13th, Rainy day, beach is exposed but no where near as much as in the video above

You can see from the photos it took me a few days to realize what I wasn’t paying attention to: for you guys, In fast it wasn’t till the 13th of March (two weeks after I arrived) that I really started to pay attention.

This image is the same day, where the one above is 6am this next one is around 9am — in fact I’m doing three from the same day here…

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March 13, 9AM, 3 hours later Rains cleared and beach is GONE, but not the highest tide I’ve seen

An hour later, 10am ….

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Still March 13, 9:58 am, if you look tide is just a bit higher here

below is STILL march 13, but at 1:51pm… compare this to 6am and you’ll see the tide here is lower that it was when I first snapped it in the morning…  the beach extends farther to the left and right

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March 13, 1:51pm

 

 

 

 

 

 

Progress: London is replacing the old black cabs with new electric ones

Updated April 19th:

The traditional Black cabs of London are in the process of being converted to all Electric Vehicles (EVs), but it is a change not without its problems. First introduced to London streets in 2018, there was some hesitancy on the part of the cabbies to make the transition; obviously, most wouldn’t be having to buy a new one till their current cab started falling apart; that said initially cabbies had a choice between the new EVs cabs and the older designed gas ones (not yet sold) and some, fearing the change, jumped to replace their cabs with a gas one before the new EVs replaced them in the marketplace, but that’s a choice that is no longer available. If they replace their cabs now it has to be with an electric one, or go without — a point I’ll get back to.

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Last time I was in London, in 2019 (pre pandemic) I don’t remember seeing a single electric cabbie nor any charging stations for them. Yesterday I spotted this when walking with an acquaintance through London’s Southwark neighborhood, and it made me very happy.

Anyone who knows anything about Electric Vehicles (EVs) know that this is a BRILLIANT choice and HAS to become the norm in the future, especially for things like cabs, busses and trucks which spend ALL their time on city streets, running more hours than not and polluting the air while burning up non renewable resources.

Add to that the fact the Europe gets most of it’s oil from Russia, and you see the problem. That said, while England does have some of it’s own North Sea Oil sites, they still supplement that with oil from Russia …  and with what’s going on right now over in Ukraine….
So let’s talk about why this HAS to happen:
Firstly, electric cabs run entirely clean, which will help reduce the horrible air quality in cities. London has some of the worst air of any city in the world, with 80% of that pollution coming from cars, and 20% of that traffic on London streets is just from the black cabs… so if all the cabs (let alone the busses and trucks) became electric that would be a big improvement in the city’s air quality right there.
And most of the old black cabs ran on diesel, which is even worse for air quality than normal gas. — blech!
Secondly while electric isn’t all that great on highways or really long drives, they are GREAT for short distance travel within limited areas (according to one of the drivers interviewed in the videos below, he recharges his electric cab at night while at home, and only rarely needs to top up at one of the currently rare charging stations around the city.
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Thirdly… and this is crucial… stop and go traffic, and the constant repetitive hard breaking that is the bane of crawling through inner city streets actually HELPS EVs to recharge their batteries — without having to pay for a top up at an aforementioned station.

That said, when they cabs were released in 2018 the drivers of black cabs, who tend to be traditionalists had to be convinced. To that end I found the following video from 2019 (While it feels like a news piece its actually an advertisement created by the company that makes the cabs) designed to look like a news piece… This is the sort of PR news submission from companies that lazy news stations will put on air as actual journalism, when they’re not; in it a woman talks about the cabs and interviews a cabbie whose been driving black cabs for 10 years before switching to this new car…

But the first major hurdle to the transition was the price. These new EVs cabs cost the drivers 60K (over $78K) to buy, which is about 25K MORE ($32K) than what they are paying for the old fashioned ones. And in 2018 they are NOT government subsidized, even though you would think they would have been (a problem now fixed by the way).

Also, there are other hidden issues I wasn’t finding in the videos but that showed up in the comments left below said YouTube videos.

So for instance, there’s been some complaints about the quality…

TXE faults reported by owner drivers 2018 — by a guy called Graham Grey (posted in 2020) responding to the previous video on YouTube
1) Software errors
2) Cracking windscreens
3) steering Bushes squeaking and need replacement
4) doors dropping
5) panels out of line
6) orange peel effect on paint work
7) steering box seals going … steering box replacement
8) vibrates over 65 mph
9) radio going off on its own
10) meter problems were its showing to much or to little
11) excessive tyre ware
12) broken charger plugs
13) unable to unlock centre seat in the back
14) door handles falling off
15) battery completely under performing from day one
16, can not use heater due to excessive battery drain
17) various intercom problems
18) anti roll bar bushes need replacement
19) charging issues
20) back door lock problems
21) fuses blowing if both front windows opened at same time
22) cab surging forward when applying the break (few accidents reported)

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And apparently above the obvious price difference there were also hidden price issues regarding the loans the drivers have to get to be able to afford buying them versus the promised savings to said drivers of the cost of running them:

“What they don’t tell you is the never ending payment plan that you are stuck on. The bubble payment after 5yrs is approx 19 grand, and the warranty on the battery runs out then also. Most of the drivers in London have the petrol range extender running all day, so the savings against diesel are not as good as stated. The idea is good, but with the current state of the trade. Stay well clear.”– Jumbo Mills (2019)
And then drivers found issues regarding the performance of these new EVs cabs:
“The electric cab does not do 80 miles on electric when u have air con and heater on it does 45 mils on electric when u turn on to to petrol u get 45 to the gallon the cost of buying is expensive u lose working time on pluging in for more electric so a lot of cab drivers run it only on petrol which u get 45 to the gallon so where is the savings it misreputation by the makers of the electric cab” — Jeff Rose (late 2021)
I then found a second video, this one from Fifth-gear, a British TV show devoted to cars enthusiasts. He talks first and foremost about the air pollution advantages, but also compares his experience of driving the old cabs, which were loud and uncomfortable especially for the drivers to this one which is quiet and according to him much more comfortable, even roomier in the back than the old cabs, allow customers to charge their phones and such while driving…  and easier to drive for the cabbie, etc.

According to him the “London Electric Car Company” which produces is the cab is part of the same company that owns Volvo, and hence the car has a lot of the same interior features. Where the last video had one cabbie talking about it, this one pulls in 3 cabbies who’ve never driven the thing before and take them for test drives in it to get their opinions. At the end 2 of the 3 drivers say they’d make the change with one having actually put in a order for one to replace his aging cab.

 So how has the transition been going? 

I found a Taxi industry newspaper article from January of this year saying that since 2018, of the around 15,000 black cabs on the road, 5,000 have been replaced with the electric option; this “total number” of black cabs seemed low to me and the answer for why it is true is a bit complicated, but in retrospect it made sense. According to a mid-covid 2020 article from the same industry paper, this number was down radically since 2015 when there had been 22,500 black cabs on London’s roads. There are two major factors at play… firstly over the last few years I’ve read numerous articles talking about how black cabs were losing out to Uber and Lyft in the competition for customers, making it less appealing to young people to jump through all the hoops necessary to qualify to drive a black cab, when they could just go work for Uber or one of the other mini cab companies popping up around London’s suburbs — although all of those must be ordered, and can not legally be hailed on London streets, something that’s becoming less and less important in the modern age. These taxis don’t use the iconic “Black Cabs” but rather look like a normal American one, and tend to be driven by recent immigrants who barely speak English, let alone have the intimate knowledge of London’s city streets for which Black Cabbies are legendary.

For those of you who don’t know, in London, to qualify to drive a black cab you need to pass a test called “The Knowledge” a somewhat legendarily difficult test to pass of all the best ways to get from point A to point B in London’s maze of one way streets, dead ends, and roads that don’t go for more than few blocks. The learning required to pass it isn’t unlike that of becoming a doctor or lawyer, but for a heck of a lot less pay. While this was invaluable in the low tech age, making London cabbies respected, if not well compensated … now, with the invent of GPS, every Uber and Lyft driver has the equivalent information at their finger tips, and as such one can begin to question if it’s still a necessary requirement (although black cab drivers know where they’re going and as such can focus their full attention on the roads while the former are distracted because they have to keep checking their screens. which makes them arguably less safe). As such, there was attrition in the profession as older drivers retired, and younger ones couldn’t see the point when they could just go drive for Uber, which was attracting more customers anyway.

This changed quite recently for a combination of two reasons, government regulation and circumstance. Firstly, those upstart/disrupter companies were forced by the UK government to raise their prices. The finding, on the part of authorities, was that essentially their prices were artificially low (yet profitable to the companies) because the they had been ripping off their workers who didn’t fully understand the TRUE cost of driving their cars all day (wear and tear, taxes, etc). As such, Uber and Lyft were able to charge customers less than it cost to provide the service, and that was making them anticompetitive with black cabs. Now that the price difference has been fixed. After that, the only true competitive advantage other than price that the high tech taxi firms still had over the tradition London cabbie, in my mind at least, also had been leveled — essentially convenience. Black cabs finally got a little bit high tech, and can now be called via an app from customers smartphones, just like they upstart competitors, and with all the similar features of being able to track it’s arrival, etc.

And that’s when Covid happened. Suddenly, the black cabs which have always been designed so that there’s a Plexiglass divide between the driver and the customers, and more than a 6 foot separation if you sit in the forward facing seats at the back, had an advantage that all the of the various taxi services that were using normal cars, suddenly could not compete with… causing the black cabs to have a resurgence in popularity with customers — but at a time when the market was simultaneously shrinking because no one was going anywhere. Additionally, as anyone who has tried to buy a car recently can tell you… You just can’t. Covid has entirely screwed up the supply chain, and the more high tech the car, the harder it is to get your hands on. SO, just as the demand for black cabs was seeing a resurgence, drivers who needed to replace their aging cars couldn’t do it. At the height of the pandemic disheartened drivers were leaving the profession at the rate of 160 cabs a week, which was worse then before the government steps in to punish the likes of uber.

That said, the turnover from gas guzzlers to EVs in the Black Cab industry is a done deal. Only time will tell how well they do going forward.

Edit: April 19th
My black cab heading home was one of the new ones so I took some pictures of the inside…
I think the sunroofs are a brilliant addition
You can pay cash, which the drivers prefer, or with a credit card that does “tap to pay”, or apple pay….
The control on the door is for turning on and off the intercom with the driver and includes a sound level control
Sits 6 people total, all with seatbelts — and the back and front are separated with plexiglass, which makes them way better during Covid
A light switch, in case you’re in the cab at night

George Inn, London’s last surviving galleried coaching Inn

The George Inn is the last surviving galleried coaching Inn in London, i.e., think a historic motel for people traveling around England by horse led coaches. These were places travelers could come and spend a night while waiting for a connecting coach to a different location, or just come for a drink.
[Also, as I discuss at the very end of this piece, don’t skip it… Shakespeare and Dickens both frequented this place, and it’s adjacent to a location important to Chaucer]

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A panorama shot, the building is straight not curved, that’s just a photo distortion

First established during the Medieval period in 1542, (making the business 480 years old) and then known as “George and Dragon”, after the legend of Saint George and the Dragon — but later becoming known as just The George — the inn had to be rebuilt in 1677 after Great Fire of London, this pub is now a National Trust building, and hence protected from modern re-development of the land.

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From my perspective, It’s a bit like walking back in time to Jane Austen’s London.

While not as big as it once was (there’s no room for carriages to turn around anymore, or for horses to be housed), it’s still worthy of a visit.

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As the sign above says, in the late 1800’s the north part of the complex was pulled down (what would have been to the opposite side of what is now the outdoor patio area) the building that remains still has its original exteriors, interiors and even a few gas lanterns … something that has almost entirely disappeared from London because well… fire hazard, and as I said it was already rebuilt once after the great fire, they don’t want to have to do it again).

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No lightbulb, this is gas powered

Finding it was a bit of a challenge (I walked by it twice) as it’s hidden down what on first glance looked to just be yet another alley…

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I actually stopped a local girl in her early 20’s asking her to take this picture for me. I’m standing by it’s front gate just off the street’s sidewalk, and yet she was a little shocked; she told me that she walks down that street multiple times a week and had no idea it was there nor its historic relevance.

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Note the name embossed into the paving stone at the edge of the street

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Huge outdoor seating area in the area where the horses and carriages used to be
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The view from inside the courtyard looking out the narrow alley to the street beyond

 

After looking around the courtyard area I went into the building itself and walked around exploring the place and taking pictures. At the time I didn’t realize it was a National Trust building and was half expecting someone to give me shit for not buying food or a drink. But their behavior, kind of not taking any issue with my being there, is explained now that I know this. National trust buildings while they might double as businesses or even private homes, are first and foremost historic places owned by the government/Trust. that are open to the public and their structures kept ‘healthy’ by money from the trust.

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That said, at a certain point I decided I was getting thirsty and decided to order my first Shandy of this trip to England

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Note Tudor exposed beams the undulating floors

Shandy’s are my pub drink of choice; if you’ve never heard of it its British beer watered down with lemonade and it’s how local kids get turned into alcoholics… oops did I say that out-loud? …  introduced to alcohol.

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Because of covid I was initially going to drink it outside but then I realized the 2nd floor was accessible and I had not seen anyone going up there, and it was more than a bit chilly that day…

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So I took my glass upstairs — not the easiest feat for me, I’m not great at stairs under the best of conditions and having to take a very full glass up them without spilling it was a challenge — to happily discover I was all alone up there.

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After my drink I got ready to leave and spotted an elderly woman who came into the inn’s yard but with no apparent intention of staying… she was just there to see it and took a few pictures. First I asked her to take a picture for me (see below)

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Then we got to talking and she confirmed my suspicions that she, like I, was a history buff. Then she told me her next stop was the recently discovered Roman floor mosaics that I had read about two weeks ago while still in the USA, so I asked if I could join her… and she said “of course.”

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Lastly, a thing of note, for people with a literary bent…. it is known that both Shakespeare and Dickens frequented this Inn. Not only that, but Dickens, who had the misfortune to spend some of his life living in Marshalsea Prison, just a block or two away from this location…  refers to the Inn in his novel Little Dorrit, a book about a girl born and raised at that same prison (one doesn’t tend to think about this, but most of the time places authors refer to in their novels, particularly ones set in what where then current times, include buildings that readers might recognize, and this was true in the works of Dickens).

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Also, while it’s no longer there, just to the right of the George, off of the adjoining road called Talbot yard (see map below) there used to stand another establishment called The Tabard, that today is only memorialized with a single blue plaque (not much to see, it’s kind of sad)

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That inn was established in 1307 (so 200 years OLDER than the George), and was also rebuilt after the Great fire of London, but was later torn down in 1873 — it had been there for FIVE HUNDRED AND SIXTY SIX YEARS!!!!! While sadly the building no longer exists, its name should ring a bell for those of you familiar with the works of the poet Geoffrey Chaucer. He referred to it in his seminal work The Canterbury Tales because it famously was where people in the 1380’s, who were making the pilgrimage to the Shrine of Thomas Becket in Canterbury Cathedral, would first spend a night, and as such it is mentioned in his 14th-century literary work. The inn’s proprietor was a man named Harry Bailey

Bifel that in that season on a day,
In Southwerk at the Tabard as I lay
Redy to wenden on my pilgrymage
To Caunterbury with ful devout corage,
At nyght was come into that hostelrye
Wel nyne and twenty in a compaignye
Of sondry folk, by aventure yfalle
In felaweshipe, and pilgrimes were they alle,
That toward Caunterbury wolden ryde;
The chambres and the stables weren wyde,
And well we weren esed atte beste;

Saw this yesterday behind the Tate Museum, London

Walked by this film crew yesterday on my way to the grocery store (Amazon’s high tech one) located south of the Tate Museum of art
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Excuse the Panorama distortions…. 
Apparently its for a TV show. I asked what show it was but they said they were not allowed to tell me as they had signed an NDA (non-disclosure agreement), so then I asked them “can you tell me what channel it is for?”
… and they kind of paused, and looked at each other nervously and said “can we? can we tell her?”, and then finally they whispered to me conspiratorially, “it’s for Disney. But don’t tell anyone we’re the ones who told you” —  I talked to more than a few staffers while there so I doubt the Big Black Rat (Disney corporate) will be able to identify which one squealed …

There seem to be a lot of people on roller-skates in brightly colored clothing, and other stuff that looked way more like clothing DisneyWorld cast members might wear rather than anything Londoners actually would … this one poor black woman extra was in an atrocious long fake hair wig (she looked generally miserable), and then there was this one little girl, who was maybe six years old was one of those skateboards with a pole attached to the front type things…. with bright colored streamers attached who kept having to push herself through the scene, but she looked like she was having a good time.

At a few points they kept coming over to me and saying “excuse me you’re not in the cast but your actually in our line of sight …. could you please move?” They were however very nice about it… apologized when it kept happening until the guy finally told me where to go stand … “you can be here, but you know… continuity issues”

Good morning from London! Getting here during covid & Streaming US TV while here

Good Morning from the UK!! (I write this at 3am while suffering jet lag)

After being in Illinois where everyone was vaccinated and masked (and even without the mandate most people neurotically continue to wear a mask indoors or in crowded outdoor areas), arriving in the UK was a bit of a shock. NO ONE here seems to wear a mask. Even in places like Borough Market at noon on a weekend, when the place is cheek to jowl with maskless people … most of whom are there because they won’t eat inside a restaurant, and are kidding themselves that because the market is semi exposed and not heated that means it’s safe… Dear lord people, music concerts and sporting events outdoors can be super spreaders… EEK!!!!

Anyway… After a bit of me going on about how I got here and where I’m staying, this blog post is started out intending to be about streaming American TV while in the UK, and do you need VPN? The answer in short is, probably not, but it depends who you’re signed up with back at home. For that bit, jump to the end….

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I’m loving the night capabilities of my new iPhone’s camera

After 2 years of being locked down in one place yours truly was starting to suffer the beginnings of depression. Just couldn’t do it anymore. So once the covid numbers dropped enough for me to feel the risk was worth it, I bought myself a plane ticket to the UK (like 2 days before flying — in an attempt to find the emptiest flight possible) and got the hell out of dodge.

With regards to the flight, I found if you buy a one way ticket instead of round trip there was no difference in price if I bought it for a flight this week or in a month from now. And the flight was in fact pretty empty. Ironically (or not), United’s business and economy plus zones were almost completely full. Economy basic was also kind of full, but United now charges an extra fee if you want to sit along the window sides rather than the center isle, and THOSE were almost completely empty. SO I bought a window seat in an isle where there was no one in the rows before or behind me, putting a nice buffer between me and most of the other passengers for the eight or so hours it took to get here, and I was able to lie down — go stuff it business class, which would have cost over a thousand dollars more!

I also found a place to stay with in a friend’s spare room. It’s in a truly stellar location, in fact it’s so central that if it were an Airbnb I’d normally avoid it because anyone with such a home is rightfully going to charge you just shy of what the local hotels would — because they can; and their mortgage payments/rent is probably obscene so they sort of have to. (If they didn’t need help meeting their bills they wouldn’t be offering up space in their homes to tourists.) If I’m going to pay THAT much for a place it’s often just a few dollars more for a hotel room. But this time I got lucky and hit up a friend with a spare room who agreed to let me stay for a few months as long as I chipped in for utilities and didn’t eat his food. … Granted those of you who read my page regularly know I normally stay at airbnb’s, because staying with friends for more than a week or so rarely works out, and when I do rent a place I never pay more than 2k a month if I can avoid it. But, because of Covid I needed someplace in London that was SO incredibly walkable that I could avoid rapid transit almost entirely after I arrived — and THAT you can’t find for less than 5.5k on airbnb. If he hadn’t offered I’d have probably ended up at a nearby hotel that rents out full apartments which was just a few bucks more than the airbnb’s I did find in the location I wanted (easy walking distance to the historic city).

That said, the trip from Heathrow Airport into the center of town via taxi is STUPID expensive, don’t do it unless you’ve got like a whole family you can load in  … A few years back I once flew from Tel Aviv to London for LESS than it cost to take the Taxi from Heathrow to where I was staying in north London, which because of highways is a much quicker/cheaper trip than the one into central London I would have had to pay for this time — traffic and infinite traffic lights even in the middle of the night which would have made taking the taxi from Heathrow to here even MORE expensive than the aforementioned flight. At the time I had no choice because the plane arrived really late, like 2am, just after the trains and bus options to Paddington Station had stopped running.

So unless you’re rich, accept that you’ll need to take the train from Heathrow to Paddington. To reduce covid risk I suggest the more expensive direct train, rather than the underground… also it is MUCH easier to get suitcases on and off of that train and there’s way more room to store them, and a significantly lower risk of someone trying to steal your bags… an all around win that makes the extra price worth it.

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View from the living room balcony of my friend’s place
That said I found a really choice location with a friend. It’s in a part of town that ironically I have spent almost NO time at all in during my 57 years of coming to the UK on a fairly regular basis (most of my family that I have any interest in staying in touch with lives in the UK so we came here almost yearly till the late ’70’s and I’ve come often since then — used to say I knew my way around London better than I did Chicago). The building (as you can see from the image above) is just on the Queen’s walk (an almost 4 mile promenade, built in honor of the Queen’s Silver Jubilee, the runs along the southern bank of the River Thames between the Lambeth and Tower Bridges). It is also directly just across the river from St. Paul’s Cathedral and right across the street from both the re-creation of Shakespeare’s Globe theater and a bank-side pier where the ferries going up and down the Thames all stop.
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Bank-Side pier: Ferries by Uber and Tourist ones with guides stop here
I will write more about these later (once I’ve actually used them) but they’re ferries, that travel up and down the Thames like open air busses…. an ancient highway that during covid has become re-discovered by the city locals as a safer way to commute east to west. Business got so good that Uber bought a stake in one of the companies and you can now pay for it via the Uber App.
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From the Pier, my building (left), Globe Theater (center), Tate Museum (smoke stack)
I mean seriously… I’m only about a 30 minute walk from a huge swath of historic London… not the Victorian England side, which is where I’ve spent most of my life in, but rather the Roman/medieval & Tudor parts of London… the walled city part of Shakespeare’s time and before, which during the time of Covid means I for the most part can completely avoid rapid transit and still keep my days full — and it forces me to do a lot of healthy walking …. my weight this week has dropped from 174.5 lbs to 168.9 lbs.
ANYWAY… before I get completely off topic.. when I got here I was of course in Jet lag HELL; I didn’t sleep at all on the plane, and in Chicago my body clock had me falling asleep at around 11am and waking at around 7pm … which meant for the first few days most of my sleep was during daylight hours… (just yesterday I had my first day of being awake while the sun was up, but I then crashed at sunset, around 6pm … slept till about 2am and then started working on this post.

Anyway, this means since I couldn’t go out in the middle of the night I was watching TV on my computer.

This leads me to my discovery which initiated this post….

I’ve noticed that when trying to stream (WITHOUT installing the new VPN software I bought just before jumping on the plane) that I ran up against inconsistencies…
Your NETFLIX account works in the UK!! They just bump you from the US version of the application to the UK one, which means the content is different but overlaps. Pretty much all the Netflix productions on offer are the same, the difference lies in content they didn’t produce … so that’ll offer up new stuff not available in the US along with stuff that is… but some of the shows you might have been in the middle of binging might not be there.

Amazon Prime: basically the same story only they will NOT bump you to UK content. Instead you’ll be able watch their content, stuff they made for their network  … I just watched the new ‘The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel’ episodes for instance … but not much else. BUT there’s a lot of that, so it’s not like you’re deprived.

HOWEVER, Amazon UK keeps trying to get me to sign up for a free 1 month trial of their prime membership, which I’m sure would widen what’s available there … and could be useful if you want to use Amazon fresh to have your groceries delivered so you can avoid going into grocery stores. You can still use Amazon fresh, or get free shipping from normal Amazon (rather than dragging my supplements I found most of them for sale on the UK Amazon, and when I got to the friend’s place, he’s a very tall guy and he didn’t think to buy any step stools and his closets are uncomfortably tall for me, so I bought a cheap step ladder and a bathroom scale — which is how I know I’m losing weight) without, but the amount of money you need to spend to qualify for free shipping almost doubles.

If I try to watch let’s say to watch Disney+ or HBO directly via their websites or apps I can’t do it, in both cases its says “you’re out of country” and tries to get me to sign up.

Interestingly Disney+ says, if you buy an amazon prime membership for the UK store you qualify for a full year of Disney+ for free… so again, it might be worth grabbing that trial 1 month membership (but read the small print… I have not as yet done it so I can’t tell you).

HOWEVER if I go to my Apple+ TV account, it also knows I’m traveling, but it STILL recognizes some of my other channels that I was watching through it when in the states on my Apple TV… It also allows you to watch shows that are part of Apple+
Even though I can’t watch HBO from HBO’s app, if I open it up via the Apple+ app I can IF its a movie I’ve already started, Ditto for Disney+ (I’m currently watching West Side Story). I was unable to start new movies but if I was 1/3 through or what have you they allowed me to finish. (Odd, I know).
this is NOT however true for HULU shows or Showtime or Paramount… that said, I’m wondering if it’s like on a timer where you get 3 weeks while abroad and then it says, “you’ve been away too long if you want to continue watching these other channels you’ll need to sign up for them in that country”
BUT… if you’re interested in the Paramount shows a lot of them, along with other US tv shows that wouldn’t show on back at home ARE shown in the UK on NETFLIX… so there’s that
ALSO, while here, download the BBC’s iPlayer it will allow you to watch the BBC live stuff plus the stuff they have available for streaming
IF you have VPN, which in this day and age you should (You’re going to want to use in hotels with unsecured networks, etc)… HULU will work… any other services you pay through VIA Hulu, (I have HBO, Starz, etc.) should work… I haven’t tried ALL of mine but so far HBO and Starz have both worked).

HOWEVER, Amazon prime seems to know full well that you are NOT in fact in the USA even if the server you’re connected through is… Hulu doesn’t care, Amazon seems to.

Theater Reviews for London’s West End: The night of the iguana & The Lehman trilogy

The goal, Covid willing — which it wasn’t — was for me to be in London this January of 2022, writing brand new posts. Instead, I’m catching up on the backload of half written ones that were waiting to be finished. Yes, I know, I’m seriously behind in these blog posts, as I’m writing this 2019 one over two years after the fact  …. Remember when we used to tell ourselves that if only we had a few weeks off with nothing to do how we’d catch up on all those tasks we never got to… yah it wasn’t that….

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One of the great joys of the London stage is that at some point or another, like broadway, the great and renowned actors of the screen will want to tread the boards, and this is where they often do it… but at a way that offers far more affordable ticket prices than in what you’d pay in NYC (let’s hear it for government subsidy of the arts!). A while back I talked about the play Sweat, which I saw in London in 2019 starring a lesser known but highly recognizable actress of American movies and TV, Martha Plimpton.

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While she may not be as well known as others, she represents the modern generation of a Hollywood royalty family that stretches back to the 1930’s.

In this post I’m going to talk about two other plays I saw in London back in the summer of 2019 starring famous actors that till then I’d only ever seen on the screen.

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On August 21 of 2019 I went to see Clive Own play the leading role in the classic Tennessee Williams stage play Night of the Iguana (later made into a film staring Richard BurtonAva Gardner, and Deborah Kerr)

E471B7B9-DBDE-451C-8957-02929837B7D3.jpgAnyway, Clive Owen… drool. Granted, he’s not one of my favorite actors but he has always had a sort of bad boy smoldering sexuality that is undeniable, and this was a great play for him to be in… because the lead calls for just that sort of character.

Overall the play was good, his performance was VERY good … although there were a few places in the show where I guess he got distracted or something because he dropped out of character and resorted to just delivering lines (what’s referred to in the business — I have more than a few professional friends who work in it — as phoning it in) but for the most part he was so good that I was able to forget I was watching a play, and instead felt I was watching events as they happened.

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When you first came in to find your seats there was a soundtrack of jungle noises playing in the background and all around us, and there was no fire curtain hiding the stage. Initially I thought that who ever was in charge of the stage design required a pat on the back, although I ultimately decided it wasn’t quite as amazing as they seemed to think it was (I’ll get to that later). The stage held a handful of broken down huts which we soon learned were hotel rooms in a jungle atmosphere, that was supposed to be located up on a mountainside overlooking the ocean. Those steps leading up from the orchestra pit, in the picture above, was how new characters, who had supposedly arrived by boat climbed up the side of the mountain from the beach to said hotel …. and we who sat in the ‘house’ were supposed to be the ocean view they spent most of their time looking out at when not looking at each other…

Before the show started, as those of you who read all my theater posts know that I regularly do, I was taking photos of the empty stage from the vantage of my seat — to show where I was seated and a sense of the theater space, when staff stopped me saying it was “protected”(??). Thing is, it was exactly the same stage shown in the advertising images located out in front of the theater… If my concern was the set design rather than where my seat was relative to the stage, I could have just taken photos of those ads … so I found this prohibition needless, and a bit bizarre (kind of like worrying about your daughters chastity when she’s already pregnant). Not to mention their whole approach of dealing with it was just “unfriendly.” There wasn’t anything all that AMAZING or innovative about the set, other than the fake rock cliff towards the back of the stage… in fact it reminded me a GREAT DEAL of the Louisiana part of Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disney … so really nothing innovative of worthy of trying to protect. (And I wasn’t the only one they tried to stop… staff was running around and yelling at a bunch of different people who had taken out their cell phones to take a snap.)

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Anyway, As you can tell from the above photo my seat was VERY good, 7th row almost dead center relative to the stage… and… looking up you can see ….

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I was about a row or two in front of the balcony overhang, so there was no reverb issues with the sound as it bounced around hard surfaces. And this really good ticket was purchased last minute — as in the day before — at a discount from the Txts booth in Leicester Square that I’ve spoken about REPEATEDLY.

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Right before intermission a rain storm broke out as part of the show (the story being located in the tropics), and rather than it just being sound and light effects, there was actual rain falling all over the stage. And I’m not talking just a line of water at the back of the stage either … Clive Owen stood IN it and got drenched by it (yes objectification was real — did I not mention DROOL and how sexy he is) … during intermission I walked up to the stage and you could hear the water dripping off it… not sure how they pull that off without water damage to the stage or folks slipping…. THAT would be interesting to know about but there was nothing visible from the house to answer that question….

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The Next show I saw is one that I’m HAPPY to say is one of the first NYC productions to be reopening in the time of Covid — a limited run that will then travel to L.A. and then on to San Francisco…. and I STRONGLY suggest buying tickets for it if you can.

This was, The National Theater’s production of The Lehman Trilogy. Yep its about THOSE Lehmans, the three brothers who came to America to find their fortune and ended up creating the Lehman Brothers firm, the investment bank that became one of the leaders of the financial world, until it ultimately collapsed, and almost took the entire global economy with it….

 —– Tangent on the collapse of Lehman Brothers
As a former business school professor I think it’s important to note that the collapse happened after the three generations of family control had been handed over to a corporate bureaucracy. Anyone with an understanding of successful multigenerational family owned companies knows that this is a regular process. Companies of this sort are created by an individual — or as in this case a group of siblings, who then usually pass control onto their children. This only happens after he/or she, or they, have personally trained this next generation over the course of their childhoods to takeover the business… usually having them do odd jobs of increasing importance up through their adulthoods that are intended to prepare them and imbue within them a deeply understood awareness of how and why the business is successful. This 2nd generation however tends to not then go on to train their own children as deeply in the ways of the business — often because they resented what their own parents forced them to go through — and instead allow the kids to choose for themselves if they want to be involved — which usually they don’t… and these kids even if one or two of them DOES show interest, by the 3rd generation opt to hand over control to business school types — folks who almost never spent a day working in any factory, let alone choosing to train up individuals who came up through the ranks of THAT company — sending over talented employees off to business school for instance, with the understanding that they were being prepared for management positions (and even if they were they might not have the sort of FAMILY kinship required to keep them in the fold once so invested in). Instead, the heirs of the fortune tend to be disinterested, and prefer to just reap the benefits of the family money and hand over full control to business school graduates with no personal investment in the future prosperity of the company — and once that happens it’s fairly rare for the company to continue to be what it once was, so that at that point decrease of influence to the point of collapse becomes commonplace.  —– end of tangent

That said, the play is not about that collapse and how or why it happened, rather it’s about family, tradition, and legacy, and as such is far more Universal and meaningful. Because the brothers were Jewish immigrants to the United States, recently arrived from Eastern Europe, it helps to bring more depth to the story if you know a little bit about what those traditions are…. although it’s not obligatory. While watching the show I found myself explaining things to the girl seated next to me who was Asian and had no idea why they kept doing things like reaching up to place a kiss on a doorpost, or broke into some Hebrew (praying).

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My cousin, who used to work for one of the major theatrical charities in London, the Mousetrap foundation — they use the profits from London’s longest running hit (excluding a gap for Covid, it’s been playing nonstop since 1952), to introduce school groups from lower income parts of town to the joys of live theater, and as such she continues to stay up to date on what the best shows are in town, and she strongly suggested this one (although she warned they might be fully sold out). As such, I so wanted to see it that I did something I almost never do, and bought the tickets full price… (I tried to get them at TXTs but they laughed at me. I had to buy it at the theater’s box office, and was able to find a good single seat a few weeks out, the week they were due to close).

This left me worried at the time because the day before I was supposed to go London was in the low 90’s F (33.9ºC)  and the day I was scheduled to go was supposed to be as bad if not worse (in fact that day London and Orlando Florida were having the SAME WEATHER, that’s just WRONG). Thank you global warming …

This might not seem like a big deal to average American Theater goer, but the theaters in London, for the most part are NOT BUILT for hot days — especially the older ones — They have limited if any ventilation and most do NOT have any air conditioning. I am one of those people who is great when the temp is in the 60º’s but suffers horribly in anything above 75º — and these theaters with the lights and the people can heat up into the high 80º’s on a hot day; as such, I am incapable of ‘enjoying’ myself in an overheated room… especially ones with no ventilation… and these old historic theaters in London fall into that category. Normally, I buy tickets a day or so in advance, and know what the weather forecast will be, but in this case I had to buy it over two weeks in advance, so there was no way to know.

I took the tube to get there and that had been like a freaking oven, and then I was running late so I had to run to get to the theater, all of which left me radiating heat. So I was SERIOUSLY worried that the heat in the theater would make me feel so sick that I wouldn’t be able to enjoy the show, so I was thrilled to discover that the Piccadilly Theatre in London has air-conditioning! Not only that but it was set to keep the room comfortably cool.  I could hear the system going on and off, and every once in a while the room would heat up just enough that I would start to feel uncomfortable, only to hear the fans comeback on and feel the temperature drop just enough for me to stay focused on the show instead of the sickening heat. (Unlike US theaters, they never over did it so that you wished you’d brought a sweater to the theater in the middle of summer.)

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I can’t remember why, but for some reason I was running really late, and was worried they wouldn’t let me in — British theaters can be sticklers about late comers especially if you were sitting front and center like I was going to be — as always I got a GOOD ticket, that put me just off center and maybe 7 rows from the state, but to my luck …. when I arrived there was a huge line of people standing outside waiting to pick up their tickets –even though the play was supposed to have already started, so I was just damn lucky. I arrived so late however that I wasn’t able to do my normal photo of me holding my ticket and showing the stage in front of me; the photo above of me in front of the theater was from after the show was over — hence why it was already dark. Again a photo I would normally do BEFORE the show started.

The Play is based on a Novel, by Italian author Stefano Massini, available in translation

All that said…. This was quite possibly one of the very best most amazing plays I’ve EVER seen in my 58 odd years of regularly attending the theater!!!! It was an acting Tour De Force … all of the 185 roles were played by three British character actors, excluding the final scene when the family no longer controlled the company and suddenly there’s a collection of faces we’d not seen before… Let me repeat that almost ONE HUNDRED AND EIGHTY FIVE separate roles, including men and women, which up until the final scene of the play are performed, by only THREE MEN …. and every single role is clear and distinct. If you’ve never respected the title of character actor, you will now. These are not movie stars who are basically the same character in every film or TV show you’ve ever seen them in, these are ACTORS. (This is why saying you need to be gay to play gay is kind of problematic, and diminishes the craft of acting… actually obliterates it. Keep going in that direction and from now on no one will have to develop their craft because you’ll have to be the thing in order to be allowed to play the thing.)

Imelda Staunton, Adrian Lester, Damian Lewis and more at The Lehman Trilogy  West End premiere | WhatsOnStage
Left to right: Ben Miles, Simon Russell Beale and Adam Godley   That said, this is NOT my Image, borrowed from: https://www.whatsonstage.com/london-theatre/news/imelda-staunton-adrian-lester-damian-lewis-lehman_49127.html

So the famous actors I got to see were: (left to right) Ben Miles, to be honest this guy sinks into his characters so fully that I totally didn’t recognize him till I checked his imdb. He’s one of those British Actors that Americans are less familiar with. Of all the shows he was in, I think we in the states would most easily recognize him as having played the part of Peter Townsend, the boyfriend of Princess Margaret in Netflix’s international hit, The Crown), that she was having an affair with, and who when he left his wife the corporation kept finding excuses to keep her from marrying him, until he finally gave up and married someone else.

Simon Russell Beale (the guy in the middle) tends to show up in the sort of historical stuff the BBC is best known for, Americans would best know him as having been on the Showtime series Penny Dreadful and as the Baker’s father in the star studded movie version of Stephen Sondheim‘s Into The Woods, with Meryl Streep and Anna Kendrick.

The actor to the right is probably the one most Americans will most easily recognize, although odds are you never knew his name. The man has been in a LOT of things, He’s currently the Archbishop in Hulu’s The Great, about Russia’s Cathrine the Great; He provides the voice of Pogo (the talking chimp) in Netflix’s The Umbrella Academy, he played Elliott Schwartz in the classic show Breaking Bad, was Nigel Nesbitt in the series Suits (best known as Meghan Markle’s claim to fame before she married Prince Harry), along with a bunch of other roles in popular shows and movies. In fact in the Lehman Brothers Adam Godley did a one character in a scene towards the middle of the show that I will never be able to forget and I wish I could hit the rewind to see over and over and figure out how he did it; the man aged right in front of us from young to a wizened corpse on the table, and did it so believably that the audience couldn’t but break into a standing ovation in the middle of the show.

Anyway, if you ever have a chance to see this show, I strongly suggest it, even more if its with these actors.

 

Liver update… I’m ok

SO, My last post was Sept 23, and its now Nov 29., on Oct 19th I got yet another blood draw, and my liver numbers that needed to drop below 100 in order for them to NOT have to do a liver biopsy had dropped to 88 (still high, but a lot less high) which allowed them to use the non invasive technology (it tends to return false readings if that liver number is above 100).  In this test you can’t drink water or anything for a few hours before going in, and they bounce sound waves off your liver and then measure how much it wiggles to see if there has been any hardening of the liver, aka cirrhosis, because of scaring. There was none… according to the doctor my liver was “nice and soft and fluffy”, her actual words believe it or not. As of this week I’ve lost about 39 lbs since this whole thing started…. I’ve gone from a size X-large to a size medium and have lost enough weight that my BIGGEST pair of leather pants — black suede actually — now fit me. That said I’ve got to loose at least another 40 lbs to get to the weight I should be (and back into my favorite clothes) …. I am however in no particular rush to get there… weight is continuing to come off but no where near as fast as before.

My fault really, it’s not the eating as much as the I’ve semi locked myself down, and am not exercising as much as I was at the start because I am no longer vaccinated enough to risk going to places like gyms where folks are breathing heavily and finding excuses to not cover their faces enough to keep me protected.

As you may recall, my regular readers… The liver doctor wanted ONE final blood test for this year and asked me to hold off getting the covid booster shot until that happened….which I did on the 22nd of November…. of the liver numbers, the one that had previously dropped from over 100 to 88 had creeped up to 89, but the 2nd number had dropped yet another 20 points, so the liver doctor was satisfied at my on going progress. Today is Monday… on Wednesday I finally get the booster, and 2 week after that, covid willing, I’m back in the gym and building my muscles back to where they were when delta spiked in my area.

The larger PLAN was to go to the UK on New Years Eve, covid willing, but the travel buddy has been prevaricating and procrastinating on finalizing the travel plans, dates, budgets, etc, in spite of ensuring me repeatedly that he really does want to go (he’s never been, so I was going to be his personal tour guide — over my lifetime I’ve commutatively spent YEARS in in London).  He’s got a lot of shit going on at home and he’s never been one to manage stress well anyway, so I wait.

 

And now this week we’ve got the omicron variant….

You’ve got to love a new variant that is so incredibly infectious that they were able to discover it in about two weeks. You got the Canadian guy in Hong Kong who was fully vaccinated and in a quarantine hotel across the hallway from a guy from Africa who was carrying the variant, and who managed to get infected even though they didn’t have any face to face conversations… Scary shit. And then there’s the flight of 200 people where one by the end of the 8 hour flight from African to Northern Europe, 66 people who were NOT infected at the start of the flight were by the end.

And yet, according to the Israeli Commissioner of medicine, there have been no serious infections among people who caught it who are fully vaccinated.

For those of you who don’t grasp what’s going on with this one, think of it as though you had an old-fashioned walled city.  And an old enemy has shown up with new new ways of poking holes in our walls, or more specifically new weapons for breaching the defenses that are immune system doesn’t recognize as a weapon, and even if it did it wouldn’t know how to fight it.

You’ve trained troops to do various things. You’ve got troops have been trained to man the walls and to stop people from getting in, but obviously that’s insufficient. If the invaders get past them, they’ll face a bunch of women and children with pitch forks at best… and that would be bad. So in addition, you need to also train troops who specialize in urban fighting — as any member of the US military will tell you (even the vaulted US military was stumbling over its own feet before it started retraining troops in urban fighting during the middle east wars). Urban fighters are trained to go home to home, room to room finding the enemy and snuffing them out without taking out the whole city at the same time….. like Queen Daenerys on her dragon when she gets to King’s landing…. which by the way is what is happening with folks who are NOT vaccinated and end up in hospital on ventilators. The defenders are so stressed out by now knowing how to fight in the Urban style that they end up taking out everything and everybody… i.e., killing you in an attempt to kill the invader — and you end up on a ventilator…. all because you didn’t have specialized troops trained at urban fighting.

When they keep telling us, “yes people are getting sick, but they’re not ending up in hospital” that’s because the vaccine has done some relatively quick (6 weeks) basic training of the troops, with one 2 week refresher course 6 months later in how to take out the invaders without damaging the city or the towns folk.

And apparently even though this is a revised invading force, with newer better weapons for getting through our first line of defense (the guys protecting the city walls) this new one … as far as we currently know… doesn’t seem to be doing any better against the troops trained in urban fighting than the previous invaders… at least from what we know so far …  so yes you get sick, but no you don’t need to go to hospital to get over it…. but we’re only a few weeks in, with only a few hundred fully vaccinated people having caught it. That’s too small a sample to know for sure what’s going on.

As was true before, most of the folks who have it, are unvaccinated — relying on poorly manned city walls and no specially trained urban fighters.

So that said, I’m getting my new booster on Wednesday and hopefully in a few weeks we’ll know if the vaccinated are ok… and if we are, I might go travel on my own till my friend makes up his mind

Medical update, regarding my liver

I just got off the phone with the liver doctor — telahealth, got to love it.

She said it’ll be a few days till all the results from my blood draw yesterday — they took EIGHT vials of blood and are running like 10 different tests — get back to her… 5 to 7 days in fact … and she’ll in some cases need two different results to come back before she can comment, but so far they’ve all come back normal and if that continues to be the case than we need to just wait another 3 months to know for sure what’s happening with my liver.

She basically agrees with me — I had come across a bunch of articles on line saying that seeing a spike in liver numbers during the first 14 weeks of serious weight loss is actually kind of normal, and that you need to wait 16 weeks to see that start to reverse itself and a whole 40 weeks before the liver numbers SHOULD be normal if the person had high numbers due to fatty liver disease caused by obesity. She agreed that (assuming the blood tests all come back normal) we will need to wait another three months and get another liver blood test at that time to see what my numbers are doing.

The fact that they are currently spiking doesn’t really worry her too much. That said…

One of the first things she asked me was “when you started losing all of this weight did you change your exercise routine?” And I said that “yes in fact I had gone from being completely sedentary to working out like three times a week”, to which she started nodding her head and smiling (jee I love video phones) and saying “yes that might’ve caused the spike. We tend to see this sort of thing in people who suddenly start working out a lot in order to lose the weight.” Ironic isn’t it?

So she wants us to wait three more months, for me to continue losing more weight and working out (as I have been) and then get another blood liver panel test. If at that point the numbers have NOT gone below 100 then we will have to do a liver biopsy — eeek. She walked me through the two options of how that might happen and it doesn’t sound TOO awful…

If they HAVE gone down, then it’s all good and no sticking needles though my ribs into my liver will be required.

I told her about how I want to start traveling again like I used to before Covid. That I am currently planning to travel with a friend after Christmas to the UK for 3 months. She didn’t see a problem with that… and then I told her how I intended to get the Pfizer Covid 19 booster shot two weeks before traveling — in order to maximize my immunity. I figure its currently good enough for my current life which is mostly staying home and walking around outdoors and maybe doing some grocery shopping, etc… but airports and planes are a different kettle of fish…

This was interesting: She told me to be careful to get the liver blood test BEFORE getting the booster shot. Apparently they’ve been seeing spikes in the liver numbers in some patients after getting the Covid vaccinations. I already knew about making sure I got my mammogram well after the covid shots, but this was a new one… she said the spikes they’re seeing are very temporary, and as its almost been 6 months since my 2nd shot, NO this spike was not the result of that…

We also discussed my eating habits and she was actually really excited that I had discovered Shirataki noodles (as discussed in my last post) as she suggests those to her patients, and eats them herself. She suggested her favorite brand which she found on amazon — she’s a rice eater and uses them as a rice substitute — and I told her about the ones I’ve been eating from Costco.
We discussed my salt intake and she said there’s no reason for me to be worried about that at this point —  I had read all these web pages on liver health saying we had to reduce salt intake to 1,500 mg a day (that’s like NOTHING); she said this was especially true considering my issues with dehydration — she agrees with the advise of an ER Doctor I saw back in my 20’s who told me that ending up in the ER as often as I did with dehydration was not normal… and that best way to address it was just to eat more salt. (He basically said, we don’t say this to most people, but every person’s body is different and normal averages are not gospel and if I’m ending up in the ER on a semi regular basis with dehydration after drinking a normal amount of liquids, than clearly I need more salt in my system to retain it than the average person does.) She said until they start seeing certain very specific problematic things with regard to my liver, that I shouldn’t worry about reducing my salt intake.
This doctor as luck would have it is from Thailand, and there’s a particular food product that I’ve been worried about which is the oyster sauce from Thailand (makes ALL the difference when cooking Asian dishes at home, it’s like the missing secret ingredient to make your home cooked food taste like restaurant food). The one I have is listed on foodie sites as the BEST oyster sauce on the market, but one you almost NEVER see in American stores (got it from an Asian market in California that sells their stuff on eBay). The thing is when it arrived, it has a warning label on it from the state of California warning about cadmium and lead poisoning from the product. So I asked her is it OK for me to continue to use this one when making my noodle soup. She told me to go ahead, I shouldn’t be drinking it straight from the bottle but the occasional tablespoon of it once or twice a week wasn’t going to kill me or damage my liver.
We also discussed my use of supplements and we went through the list of which ones I had been taking (CoQ10 to counter the effects of the Statin drug I take for my cholesterol, and Glucosamine for joint health + Vitamin D)  and she said none of them are a liver risk and I can go back to taking them regularly…. again I had read on line to STOP taking all supplements, so I had….
The Green tea thing however — I had read on the British and Canadian official health services web sites that address liver health that it is a good thing to drink 10 cups of green tea a day if you have liver issues, NOT to take supplements, but to drink normally brewed green tea  — she wasn’t thrilled with (and keep in mind she’s Thai, where green tea is a normal part of any diet) … she said “if you want to have like 5 cups a day fine… but you don’t need to be doing chugging it like that, or any sort of liver cleanse things or making it the only thing you end up drinking all day” … and she was worried too much green tea could strain the liver.

Dieting again — with new toys

Back on June 18th I posted about failing my blood test in a big way, how sitting on my ass for essentially a year of Covid lockdown while watching TV and eating comfort food delivered by UberEats (and every other delivery company, I was signed up with THREE of them) every day had resulted in my blowing up to 202 lbs (from a starting weight of 160) into a size XL; so that not only was I resorting to living in T-shirts inherited from my dad and sweat pants purchased from Amazon, but when I finally was fully vaccinated and went to the doctor for blood tests and stuff, my liver numbers (which I had already brought down into the healthy range back in 2018) were once again not only wildly out of control, but were actually WORSE than they had ever been… this was not a huge surprise because my liver was so enlarged that I could feel it like a football under my ribs pressing out — very uncomfortable — after almost every meal, and towards the end it was making it painful to sleep on my right side… so yah THAT bad

AND… just for shit and giggles, my sugar levels, which I had also dieted back into the healthy range in 2018 where now not just boarder-line diabetic, which is where I pretty much had maintained it for years … were now full out diabetic. The doctor said she was giving me a few months to get it under control before resorting to drugs or insulin, but that was where I was headed if I didn’t drop weight.

So that’s what I’ve been doing for the most part these last few months. Last time I posted about this, August 4, 2021, I had successfully lost 17.5 lb (like 2.5 lb a week) and today, Sep 19th, I’ve continued the trend … it’s slowed a tad to around 2.2 lb a week … so I’m now 174.2 (close to another 10 lbs lost). This was achieved on my own, no paying anyone else to help me. The method is a combination of things….

Partial Fasting: Firstly, I’ve been consciously doing something that I had also been doing unconsciously back in 2018, which is partial fasting… I wake up fully dehydrated, weigh myself… and THEN drink black coffee and water… so calorie free liquids essentially …. to rehydrate myself…. and then eat lunch snacks and dinner (in other words restrict all my calorie consumption to over the course of about 8 hours out of 24), and then make sure I STOP eating a good 4 hours before going to sleep (and making sure I get the full 7.5 to 9 hours of sleep a night, as needed).  And when I say I stop eating, I mean not even so much as a grape (to paraphrase Oprah, who is where I initially got the idea)… Oh, and I stop drinking even water maybe an hour before falling asleep …. Be warned, this does tend to send you to bed feeling a bit wanting a snack, but you have to fight it.

From what I’ve recently read about the power of fasting, which is now ALL the rage — like I said I was doing it without knowing I was doing it back in 2018 — your body needs a 6 hour gap from your last calorie consumption to when it starts resorting to using fat instead of what’s in your belly… and the more time it has without food the more fat it’ll burn… so that 4 hours of not eating + about 8 hours of sleep, plus 2 more hours in the morning before I put any calories in my mouth = 10 hours of my day when my body has to burn fat for lack of my giving it anything else to burn.

Before I was eating right up till bedtime, sleeping maybe 8 to 10 hours and eating as soon as I woke up… so I only had 2 hours a day to burn fat … after a day of eating things like a cheeseburger, fries smothered in cheese, a chocolate shake with chocolate cake in it, and topping that off with dessert … and that was just dinner (so yah, no chance THAT was going to get burned away).

I have also found this not eating for four hours before going to sleep did wonders for addressing my acid reflex issues which resulted in GERD (and WITHOUT DRUGS… I had been popping TUMS® Antacid ultra strength before going to sleep during lock down)… because I had been stuffing my gullet till right before I went to sleep…

Splurge days: once a month I get a splurge day… just one… and I eat till I make myself sick. I’m talking completely blowing the diet with non stop shit I shouldn’t be eating till I’m asking myself why the fuck I did it. I’m talking fried chicken wings dipped in ranch dressing, pizza, ice cream, cheeseburgers and brats, go for it. Actors who have to lose weight for roles talk about this … and I find it maintains sanity and tends to line up nicely with things like thanksgiving, Xmas, Jewish holidays, being invited to friends for dinner, etc. It keeps you sane and provides your metabolism with a kick in the ass. Just don’t go kidding yourself that you can do it more than 1 day a month. 

Weighing myself daily: The one thing I NEVER do when gaining weight is weigh myself. To be honest in 2018 I didn’t do that either… I just went by the size of my clothes. And I know they say NOT to do this… it can be entirely frustrating… and can discourage the average dieter who is denying themselves in order to lose weight. HOWEVER the “diet” I’m on is mostly medical (diabetes control and liver issues) so for me low carb and low fat is something I’m probably going to have to do for the rest of my life and if I HAD continued to do it the first time … LIKE I WAS SUPPOSED TO, instead of convincing myself that the problem was “fixed” I would not be in the situation I am now. That said, if you take away carbs and fat, there’s really not much left to gain weight on even on the days you do over eat. Additionally… there’ve been a few days where the weight went up instead of down or staying flat, so it keyed me into things I can no longer buy… Pistachios from Costco are on that list. I like them too much.

To date I’ve been using the same bathroom scale my brother bought me for as a going away gift (I was moving to SF) like 15 years ago. The thing still works, and its impressively accurate… only of late its become sporadically LESS accurate (as in radically different weights within a 15 minute period in spite of not eating or using the bathroom). So I figured it was time for an upgrade, one of the new ones with all the bells and whistles that measures way more than just your weight. At first I was looking at Withings body+ which is sold at the apple store (and amazon of course), ’cause I’m an apple person and it’s supposed to synch with apple health app and its the one a lot of my friends own, but paying $100 for a high tech scale which most likely won’t have the longevity of the my old scale, just didn’t rock my boat. After much hemming and hawing, I opted for Wyze Scale for 1/3 the price, which showed up on a lot of same lists, and sometimes was considered a better scale… especially when I searched for the most reliable scales rather than “best of year options”. Got it yesterday.

I unboxed it, did everything it said to set it up… happily both it and the old scale registered me as being the same weight, so I knew both were accurate, YAY! And then I went over the apple health app on my iPhone and of course, it did NOT synch as promised. Went to multiple web sites, worked my way through the instructions multiple times, tried various suggested fixes… nothing. I got and phone and called tech support but it being a Sunday evening, well no one was picking up, so decided I would try again today. Went to sleep, and when I woke up like 8 hours later…  I did my morning weigh in on both scales, still got the same number both times…. but this time when I went to apple health to input the data manually, to my delight, it was already there.

Apparently it took the scale a few hours to get linked…. the scale comes with it’s own app, and it’s supposed to share with the apple health app, but I have no idea HOW it does that. Hopefully this was a one time thing and from now on going forward it’ll work like clock work… one can only hope.  But it was nice to see things like BMI calculated for me automatically, along with metabolic age, a metabolic rate (it thinks I burn 1421 calories a day minimum), visceral fat, level of protein in my body (apparently it’s too low… I need less fat and more muscle tone), bone mass, lean body mass (apparently I should be weighing in at like 115, not 175… which I knew), body water %, etc.

It’s amazing what these new scales can do for $33 bucks! Granted they’re not 100% accurate but they give you a ballpark idea.

Carb control; Because of the diabetes, I’m not allowed to have more than 28g of carbs at any one time so as to not spike the sugar in my blood. This is highly limiting but do-able. Last time I did this (2018) the one thing I really missed was pasta. I love pasta. Granted I’ve tried the veggie substitutes, pretty much lived on riced cauliflower… but all of these leave you wanting and feeling like you’re denying yourself … which in fact you are. This time around I got super lucky… while at Costco (and my readers know just how much I love Costco) I stumbled across a new product I’d not seen before, “Healthy Noodles” manufactured by Kibun foods.. a product that for the most part they ONLY sell via Costco, except in a few limited parts of the country, mostly the South/East — and if you live in Colorado I’m sorry, they don’t sell it there.

With this new product I’ve been having every conceivable noodle combination, sometimes twice a day, and losing weight while doing it. And because unlike pasta/noodles this product has 6 grams of carbs, which is a LOT, it leaves you feeling full at the end of the meal. Add veggies in along with it and well… do the math. I’ve had spaghetti with meat sauce (I make it as low fat as conceivably possible, using ground bison instead of beef), fettuccine alfredo with various proteins and veggies added, beef stroganoff, Ramen/Chinese/Vietnamese noodle soups, chicken soup with noodles, macN’cheese, and 5 way chili….. all while losing weight.

For those unfamiliar with it, this is a variety of shirataki noodle, which is something you can pretty much find nation wide in any whole foods or organic section of a supermarket, but….and this is important…  that usually doesn’t quite hit the spot… because firstly, you KNOW you’re not eating pasta; A) it doesn’t feel like pasta in your mouth, or B) it doesn’t SMELL like pasta… and C), most crucially, there’s an actual health risk involved in eating it (which is why in some of the nanny states — socialized medicine — its actually illegal to sell). With THIS brand, none of those things is true … its close enough to the sensation of eating pasta as no never mind, there’s no “fishy smell” (people who are polite call it that, I call it what it is, which is it smells like a woman’s V’JayJay). Where with all the other brands — and I’ve desperately tried pretty much all of them over the years — you feel like you’re eating rubber, with this brand you can feel it falling apart when it comes in contact with the digestive juices in your mouth, and this is a VERY important difference (read on).

Listen carefully, Shirataki in it’s pure form (and there are other manufacturers of this stuff selling it formed like pasta noodles) is something I’ve been familiar with since I was in my 20’s, back when I did two summer internships in a row for companies in Japan. It is a non-digestible carb (you’re digestive system literally can not break it down, only your teeth can do that) that the Japanese make into a cake called konnyaku, and refer to as diet food… because after you’ve swallowed it it’s going to come out exactly the way it went in, as though you had swallowed a marble. It’s great for filling the stomach and your body can not derive any calories from it… in it’s pure form. HOWEVER, if you eat it made into noodles, and you snarf those down without chewing it…. well you know how, if you have a bunch of silver jewelry chains, or maybe bungie cords all bunched up together, how they turn into a gordian knot? Imagine that knot forming in your tummy and completely blocking your digestive track, which your stomach acids can’t eat through… so that the only way to get it out is surgery… I’m not making this up… it happens. Well that’s what can happen if you eat this in it’s 100% Konjac (the name of the root from which Shirataki noodles are made) form, so you have to be REALLY careful about chewing it up before swallowing it… and the texture is a bit like trying to chew up a rubber band, with the same squeak squeak squeak sound happening in your mouth.

I have over the years tried MANY different brands of these sorts of noodles, and NEVER found one that really felt like I was eating pasta, UNTIL this one. ALL of them the texture was just wrong, or my poop came out looking like noodle casserole (which was kind of scary — keeping in mind what I said about the possible need for surgery). This brand is the ONLY brand I have found so far that feels like pasta in your mouth (albeit overcooked noodles, there’s nothing ‘al dente’ going on here), has no smell at all once you’ve rinsed it out (it is stored in liquid in plastic packets) and where you can feel it falling apart in your mouth and your poop looks normal, even if you accidentally snarf them down — so no risk.

The only issue is if you, like a friend of mine who is a breast cancer surviver, can not eat soy for some sort of medical reason; if that’s the case then you shouldn’t eat this. This has NO net CARBS (the fiber and carbs are the same and cancel each other out, more specifically the carbs all come from the Konjac which as I said are undigestible), and the 30 calories is from the protein provided by the soy…. but it does have 30 calories per serving (2 servings in each bag)… but compared to 155 to 190 calories for a bowl of pasta noodles, not to mention the 40 grams of carbs, that’s not really a huge concern.

Low Fat: And of course, because of my liver, and the calories in fat, I try to keep my fat intake low and limit it to only healthy fats, so like Salmon, or Sablefish, occasionally Tuna (which is problematic because of other reasons which most of you are already familiar with, that are doubly problematic with a bad liver), avocado, olive oil, etc.

Exercise: And of course I’ve been exercising… in addition to walking, I’ve added weight training and signed up for a gym membership. I try to get there at 6am when they first open up and almost no one else has arrived. I find that first hour there’s maybe five or six people in a space big enough for 30 or 40 under normal conditions (and that’s including the equipment). At fist I was going to a private gym where you work with a trainer on machines, but now I’ve switched to the University facility (which is ginormous) near my home, and work out on my own. Happily, the University is one of the ones that has mandated full vaccinations for all students and staff, AND they follow the mask mandates as well, so I feel pretty comfortable working out there, especially during the hours when it’s mostly empty.