Don’t fly Aer Lingus to Dublin from Chicago, it’s not worth the price

I strongly suggest that if you’re flying to the UK or Ireland from Chicago, avoid Aer Lingus. Sure it’s cheap, but it’s probably one of the worst, most uncomfortable flights I’ve been on in years… I’m pretty good at sleeping on planes and on this one I only managed about 2 hours even though it was during my normal sleeping hours.
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View of Chicago over the wing
While the puddle jumper from Ireland to the UK wasn’t too bad as it was only 2 hours, the trans-Atlantic flight was abysmal. The seats were incredibly narrow (both in width and depth) so I could barely get my ass in nor stand with ease (I’m fat, but I’m not THAT fat … in fact side to side I’m not all that big because my frame sans fat is incredibly petite). Additionally, the armrest doesn’t lift so you can’t stretch out even if the seats next to you were empty — which mine was… Also they don’t lean back all that far… as a result in spite of having a window seat where normally I sleep pretty well, on this flight I only managed about 2 hours of interrupted napping. Add to this the fact that my body clock was already turned around to UK time so that take off time correlated almost exactly to when I’d been going to sleep for about the last week… and you see the problem. My body SHOULD have just nodded off but couldn’t because of how incredibly uncomfortable I was in the seat.
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It’s not me, it’s the chair

More worryingly,  I’d argue chairs like this are an example of why the feds are starting to get sufficiently upset about airline seating in economy so as to start to consider legislation to put an end to what’s been happening, namely, the rows of seats in economy becoming so close together as to be a survival risk in case of emergency.  My experience — and I am NOT overstating this — was that it actually was extremely difficult for me to stand up (I have mild and very common old age mobility issues); the chair in front of me was leaning into my space even when its fully erect. As such, I couldn’t actually stand without coming into contact with the chair in front of me which is pushing back at my frame and forcing me to use one arm to keep myself from falling back into the seat when trying to get up. Add to that I have frozen shoulders (again common in the elderly) and it’s an accident waiting to happen.

Had there been an emergency that necessitated my jumping out of my seat quickly to avoid being burned to death, I could not have done it. People on the plane seeing how much difficulty I was in were actually volunteering to help me… which has never been necessary before on any other economy flight.

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Inside the plane as we were loading
On top of that discomfort, the food was absolute crap. Honestly the worst airplane meal I’ve had in years. There was a girl sitting two seats away from me, and I wish I’d gotten a picture of her expression when she tasted… it was absolutely funny. So much so that I broke into a full belly laugh and we bonded over just how horrible the food was.
 It was some sort of chicken and couscous thing that had an odd taste, and made me wonder how many of us we’re gonna be sick later (in fact that next day I had impressively loose bowels when usually flying constipates me).
Then there was some sort of feta and cucumber salad thing, which just tasted odd — like something was just seriously off about it. We were all joking about “how can you screw up chicken and couscous, let alone a feta and cucumber salad?” In fact the ONLY tasty thing on the platter was this chocolate mouse thing.
The breakfast sandwich that they gave us a few hours later had a bizarre texture but a fairly decent taste — some people can really be picky about texture and would have been put off by it, me not so much. It was advertised as an egg and provolone with a sauce, they called a bistro sauce (usually: ketchup, lemon juice, mayonnaise, spicy brown mustard, garlic, horseradish, parsley, Hungarian paprika, cajun seasoning, and Worcestershire sauce) — but to me it just tasted like a combo of a lot of mayo, flavored with Worcestershire and Sriracha.
Oh, and the video interface on the plane was ancient. In fact before the flight even took off the stewardess apologized in advance if ours didn’t work and promised to try to move us if that was the case. Mine sort of did, but was almost impossible to navigate. Rather than touch screen it had one of those old handsets that you pull out of the armrest … while using it the interface kept either clicking on the item to either side of the thing I clicked on, or freezing up entirely; at one point I got stuck on a song which just kept repeating and refused to allow me to leave it… and that was it, it would not do anything other than play that one song on repeat for the next two hours … I
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Flying out of Chicago’s O’hare
The only good news was they didn’t loose my luggage.
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Not that one was the result of the other, but this time around I bought and installed Apple AirTags into my bags, and was able to watch my luggage follow me though the airport till it finally rejoined me on the plane. While not necessary I have to say it was comforting to know in advance that the bag was on my flight.

Bunhill Fields Cemetery, London, UK

When in London, assuming you’re a fan of all things historical and/or literary,  green spaces worth exploring on a nice sunny day are her graveyards. One of the most famous of these is Bunhill Fields Cemetery. While this land was “formally designated” by the city leaders to that purpose in 1665, it was believed by them to have been functioning as a common burial ground since the early Roman period, and even possibly before. This is why the area was at that time referred to as “Bone Hill,” and over time became Bunhill, its name today. In 1867 city health officials deemed the cemetery “full” an no more bodies could be buried here. Then, an act of Parliament while deciding its future designated the land as open green space and it has been protected as such ever since.
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This “Green space” is located in the section of London known as the Islington, and is listed as Grade I on the Register of Historic Parks and Gardens. It is a short northeast walk from The Barbican Center, where you can still see remnants of the historic Roman city walls still standing today.  This graveyard, as such, was initially outside of “The City” (which is how Londoners refer to the historic fortress protected by the walls on three sides and wide expanse of the Thames River on the fourth), and because it was not consecrated land adjacent to a church, it was where people could bury friends and family who were disdained by that august institution (think poets, writers, actors, and religious non-conformists, etc.).  The ground is also less than half a mile, about an 8 minute walk, directly west of where Shakespeare initially hung out, where the Theater and Curtain are located; this was before he moved to the land south of the Thames River, near where the reconstructed Globe theater now sits.
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The reason this land was outside of London proper, as laid out by the Romans (the fortified city) … was most likely because it was a type of wetland, a moor, better for feeding livestock and farming than as support for heavy stone buildings. Initially it belonged to the church but in 1315 it was granted to the mayor and the people of London. In 1498 the land was reserved to allow soldiers to practice military exercises and archery. Then, in 1665 the city decided to formally convert the land into a burial ground for people who had died because of the plague, and hence most likely never received last rights, and could not be accommodated by churchyards.
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Because the land was unconsecrated — i.e., not attached to a church, [England had already separated from the Catholic Church back in 1534 during the time of King Henry the 8th], the land became popular with “non-conformists” essentially political/religious dissenters, the Protestants (of various alignments) who refused to join the Church of England (the then state religion, led by the monarch rather than the Pope).

[Going out on a bit of a limb here, as the religious history of this period is NOT my strong suit… but, as I understand it… (correct me if I’m wrong)]
For example, among these were the “Separatists” … a group that we in America refer to as the Puritans/Pilgrims (which any historian will tell you are a names they would not have recognized, it wasn’t how they referred to themselves). But, this group was only one of among a whole variety of Protestant sects popping up in the period. This was happening because the bible had been translated into English, and was now being produced cheaply by printing presses instead of painstakingly by priests, so that people had started to read and interpret the book for themselves, rather than relying on priests to tell them what was in it. And some of those began to feel that the church should be HOLY, and that while the Pope was corrupt, Kings (or Queens) weren’t much better. That they were too political and “of this world” to lead their church — that it should be “purified” of government influence and corruptions — hence why we in the US lump them into one big group of “Puritans”.  But also among the dissenters were some who were just not aligned to any specific group… although as I understand it, all christians HAD to go to church on Sundays (In 1570 Elizabeth began allowing the first Muslims to legally live in England, and Cromwell in 1657, allowed Jews to resettle in England after they’d been expelled in 1290), so Christians were no longer alone in the country.
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This unconsecrated ground consisted of about four acres (1.6 hectares), and London residents were buried here for almost 200 years, between 1665 and 1854 — by which time the city walls were essentially down or absorbed into other buildings (a fact rediscovered during the WWII blitz), and what was considered to be London had expanded well past it.  While today only about 2,000 gravestones and monument are still visible, its believed that as many as 123,000 people are interred there before it was considered too full to continue using, as already discussed, in 1867.
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At that time, improvements were made, these including the planting of trees and shrubs, and the installing of nice looking gates marking off pathways and open spaces, while protecting the gravestones. After WWII (and the blitz) landscape architects were brought in to maintain and or restore the most historic bit, while also making the park aspect more appealing to locals.
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Members of a cricket teams I ran into passing through park

Of course, beyond these places being pleasant green spaces, they are also a tourist destination in part because it’s a chance to pay your respects to famous people who in their lifetimes did something or produced something that has meaning to you today.

In this cemetery you will find among other notables the remains of the great Romantic poet and painter, William Blake (28 November 1757 – 12 August 1827) — or at least a monument point out the general location (I have a feeling the original stone may have been destroyed in the blitz)

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While like many of the greats, the value of his work wasn’t fully recognized until after his death…. in fact his contemporaries thought he was a little bit off his rocker. Although he was a committed Christian, many of his poems and paintings are deeply religious in nature, he was none the less equally hostile to the Church of England (actually, organized religion in general — a man of my own heart), which is why he was buried in this graveyard. Blake, who was 19 years old when the American revolution broke out was a man of his time and influenced by the ideals and ambitions of the revolutions that occurred during it, at least at first… when he got older, what happened in France during “the terror” soured him on them. These ideals can be seen in the lyrics of one of his most famous works a song that every school child in the country probably knows by heart, and one that at this point is so closely associated with England that you’ve probably heard it in any number of BBC productions, not to mention the wedding of Prince William to Kate Middleton, the hymn “Jeruselum”

And did those feet in ancient time
Walk upon England’s mountains green?
And was the holy Lamb of God
On England’s pleasant pastures seen?

And did the Countenance Divine
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here
Among these dark Satanic mills?

Bring me my bow of burning gold:
Bring me my arrows of desire:
Bring me my spear: O clouds unfold!
Bring me my chariot of fire.

I will not cease from mental fight,
Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand
Till we have built Jerusalem
In England’s green and pleasant land.

 

In reality, it was a mostly part of a larger works, that until it was set to music in 1916 by sir Hubert Parry, at the behest of the government who wanted a hymn to put into the Church of England that supported WWI (1914-1918), it was mostly obscure. Also, one has to wonder what a man who was so anti the church must have felt to have his words turned into a hymn to be sung within it.

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In addition to Jeruselum, back when you were  in school you may have learned two of his other poems, “The Tyger” and “The Lamb”, which are often taught together

“The Tyger by William Blake”

Tyger Tyger, burning bright,
In the forests of the night;
What immortal hand or eye,
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

In what distant deeps or skies.
Burnt the fire of thine eyes?
On what wings dare he aspire?
What the hand, dare seize the fire?

And what shoulder, & what art,
Could twist the sinews of thy heart?
And when thy heart began to beat,
What dread hand? & what dread feet?

What the hammer? what the chain,
In what furnace was thy brain?
What the anvil? what dread grasp,
Dare its deadly terrors clasp!

When the stars threw down their spears
And water’d heaven with their tears:
Did he smile his work to see?
Did he who made the Lamb make thee?

Tyger Tyger burning bright,
In the forests of the night:
What immortal hand or eye,
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?

“The Lamb by William Blake”

Little Lamb who made thee
Dost thou know who made thee
Gave thee life & bid thee feed.
By the stream & o’er the mead;
Gave thee clothing of delight,
Softest clothing wooly bright;
Gave thee such a tender voice,
Making all the vales rejoice!
Little Lamb who made thee
Dost thou know who made thee

Little Lamb I’ll tell thee,
Little Lamb I’ll tell thee!
He is called by thy name,
For he calls himself a Lamb:
He is meek & he is mild,
He became a little child:
I a child & thou a lamb,
We are called by his name.
Little Lamb God bless thee.
Little Lamb God bless thee.

Another great name from British literature was the Novelist Daniel Defoe. Although he was a prolific writer with as many as 545 titles have ascribed to his name, works that included satirical poems, political and religious pamphlets….  some of which resulted in his being thrown into Prison by Queen Anne (there’s a huge statue of her in front of St Paul’s Cathederal, and Olivia Colman won her Oscer for playing her in the movie The Favorite) for being a dissenter …. today he’s really only known for one thing… namely, for being the author of Robinson Crusoe, published in 1719, and thought to be second most translated work ever written, after the Bible. His second most remembered work is probably the novel “Moll Flanders
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For all that success, it seemed to me fairly obvious from what’s written on Defoe’s grave that he must’ve died poor with only a very basic gravestone marking his body because this grave was paid for through fundraising from the children of Britain
Daniel De-Foe
Born 1661
Died 1731
Author of
Robinson Crusoe
This Monument is the result of an appeal in the Christian World Newspaper to the Boys and Girls of England for funds to place a sutable memorial upon the grave
of
Daniel De-Foe
It represents the united contributions of seventeen hundred Persons
Sept 1970
— in fact according to Wikipedia, I wasn’t totally off the mark, in spite of the fact that the monument was created in 1970… because he died while in hiding from his creditors —
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The third famous person to be buried here is John Bunyan, the author of Pilgrim’s Progress. Bunyan was another famous non-conformist who rejected the Church of England, a political/religious stance that landed him in jail for 12 years, during which time he wrote his most famous work. In addition to that seminal work, he had 60 other volumes published, most of them expanded sermons.
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If you’re not a familiar with it, while Robinson Crusoe was the 2nd most translated book after the bible, this books is right up there having been translated into 200 languages. And since it was first publish, has NEVER been out of print and became one of the most published books in the English language; by 1938, 250 million copies of the book had been sold and 1,300 editions had been printed — I counted over 25 different editions for sale today on Amazon, and this is 250 years after the author’s death.

 

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The guy who took the picture of me with the tomb was the Chinese guy in the image above, and after he asked why this guy was so important that I wanted the photo take with him. So I told him, “back in the day most people didn’t own a lot of books. If you were a protestant the odds are that unless you were VERY rich you most likely only owned two of them, the first was a copy of the bible, and if you could afford it, your second purchase was a copy Pilgrim’s Progress. Back in the day it was one of the most well read books in countries where Protestants lived. Today while most English speakers have heard of the book, they probably have never read it nor do they know why it was important, unless they studied it for a University course.”

For two centuries Pilgrim’s Progress was the best-read book, after the Bible, in all Christendom, but sadly it is not so today.

When I ask my classes of young and youngish evangelicals, as I often do, who has read Pilgrim’s Progress, not a quarter of the hands go up.

Yet our rapport with fantasy writing, plus our lack of grip on the searching, humbling, edifying truths about spiritual life that the Puritans understood so well, surely mean that the time is ripe for us to dust off Pilgrim’s Progress and start reading it again.

Certainly, it would be great gain for modern Christians if Bunyan’s masterpiece came back into its own in our day.

Have you yourself, I wonder, read it yet?

—J. I. Packer, “Pilgrim’s Progress,” in The Devoted Life: An Invitation to the Puritan Classics, ed. Kapic and Gleason (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press: 2004), p. 198.

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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).

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I was about in the 5th row, in the center of the row

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.

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Simon Russell Beale (the guy in the middle & below) 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.

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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.

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Anyway, if you ever have a chance to see this show, I strongly suggest it, even more if you’re lucky enough to see it with these specific actors.

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I fell down and went boom yet again…

Back on September 22, a day before I was supposed to leave to go to Reykjavík in Iceland I fell down and went boom on the streets of London, yet again!

At the time I was staying in the Kensington neighborhood directly adjacent to Harrods (a world famous department store, now owned by the family of the guy that Princess Diana was in the car with when she died) and had been spending the morning walking around and exploring the museum district where the Victoria and Albert Museum is, while listening to an audible recording of a book. Yes I was very distracted and putting a lot of stress on my brain, which was still dealing with post concussive syndrome. I had already become aware of the fact that I was starting to mentally fatigue and had contemplated staying in place and finding a cab to take me home, but had rejected the notion thinking I shouldn’t be such a ninny, my body was still fine and I needed the exercise.

Suffice it to say that was the wrong decision.

One of the problems I’ve had ever since the major concussion (back in Australia about two years ago) is that when I start to tire the balls of my feet begin to drag.  this is a problem that I’m still dealing with today. Initially they had been doing it all the time, so that it felt like the sidewalk was reaching up to grab my feet as I walked; but after identifying the problem and some self implemented physical therapy — who knew that my childhood ballet lessons would ever serve some sort of practical use in adulthood; I basically made a practice (for a few months) of focusing my attention on what my feet were doing, and that solved the problem by 95%. That said, anytime my brain starts to fatigue my feet go right back to dragging.

Anyway I suddenly caught my foot on a not completely level piece of sidewalk, tripped and started to fall … But I guess because I was mentally fatigued my hands didn’t do what they’re supposed to do, which is to Jut-out in front of me to break the impact and keep my head from hitting the ground. As a result I landed pretty much square on my forehead.

The picture in the upper left-hand corner is what I looked like shortly after hitting the ground. I lay there immobile in a state of shock, but some very nice girls whose names I didn’t get stopped and helped me. Once they gotten me up off the ground they escorted me down the street to a local pharmacy which turned out to not be a real pharmacy. They then took me from there even further down the street to a branch of the Boots pharmacy chain, where there was a minute clinic type set up. 

The pharmacist was busy talking to some other customers when I waddled up and asked for help, with blood trickling down my face. First she said “please stand in line and wait your turn.”, and then looked up at me and said, “apparently you take priority!” The people she’s been talking to were not particularly thrilled with this until they turned around and took one look at me and agreed that in fact I did. She took me into the clinic area and cleaned up my forehead and put a bandage on it and then took me out to the street and put me into a cab and directed it towards the nearest hospital with an emergency room, namely the Chelsea and Westminster hospital.

I then got to experience yet another example of how by comparison to other industrialized countries the US health system is seriously fucked up. I went into the waiting room, had to wait for more serious patients to go ahead of me – – keep in mind my forehead had already been cleaned up and bandaged by the woman at the pharmacy. When they finally saw me — The room has been pretty full when I arrived and I had a wait of maybe an hour, they cleaned my wond up a little bit more and put surgical super glue over the cuts to help them heal (and keep more blood from escaping– as we all know head wounds are heavy bleeder’s). when I asked how much it was going to cost me, this visit to the emergency room … keep in mind that in the United States if I even step foot into an emergency room I am hit with a bill for $1000, and that’s before seeing the doctor. When I was in Australia they charged me $134 to walk into the room, $134 to see the doctor, $134 for the CAT scan, etc.… So at the very least I was expecting some sort of fee of a few hundred dollars. To my shock and awe they informed me I owed them NOTHING!!!

The second picture on the upper left top row is what I look like when I woke up the next morning. The day started out with a small black eye swelling in my inner tear ducts adjacent to my nose, and progressed rapidly over the course of the day, most of which was spent at the airport or on a plane heading to Reykjavík. The third picture starting from the left in the second row is what I look like the next morning waking up in Reykjavík, and from that point on every photograph was taken once a day over the ensuing days. By the time I left Reykjavík the bottom right picture all I had left were lines that made me look like a football player.

What was kind of funny is that in spite of the fact that my eyes were deep purple almost nobody said anything to me about them, other than my best friend who flew in from Chicago to spend that week with me. There was one exception, one elderly man who I met in the waiting area for the flight to Reykjavík said to me, “I have a bet with my wife, she thinks you’re just doing some sort of weird make up thing, but I said that you had fallen and hit your forehead and that you have black eyes as a result.” Apparently the same thing that happened to him as a kid.

What I was most impressed by, and my Best friend felt the same, was just how impressively balanced the swelling was. It really did look like eyeshadow I had applied to my eyes, So I can’t fault people for thinking that that was what it was.

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