Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Peep Be Gone

My poor plush Peep Bunny.

I'd been practicing bridge bidding at the dining room table, and was getting sick of trying to keep it all straight. Peep was sitting there and I decided to wind him up and let him fly. Unfortunately, when the windey part was done and he'd stopped his wobbling, he kept peeping. And peeping. And peeping.

I let him peep for two hours (hidden under a blanket.) I tried to shut him up. He kept with the chirping. Mom had warned me this might happen, and so I tried her trick of fiddling with the base. Didn't work.

So I smashed the Peep with the heel of my red leather boot. Repeatedly, until he peeped no more.

Please forgive me.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Parrot

I'm sure that when my next door neighbor bought his parrot, he was excited to have a shiny new pet. And I'm sure it's fun to imagine all of the clever funny things you can teach your shiny new parrot to say..."Clive! Did you hear it?! The parrot said "kiss my arse! HAHAHAH!" And I'm sure some rainy Saturday my neighbor was watching the teley and thought, "That's a catchy tune. I should teach it to my beloved parrot."

I just wish he'd considered that, in practice, you don't necessarily want your parrot to whistle the Bridge Over the River Kwai several times an hour round the clock. Every day for the 100+years it lives. Outside, so it echoes around your patio/deck that covers your entire back garden.

And perhaps he should have picked the parrot that wasn't an insomniac.

Oh well. Next time.

Monday, March 28, 2005

Where are the Von Trapps when you need them?

Okay, so I tried to go exploring this morning, but things are closed today since its' a bank holiday. I ended up on a long walk instead. Now I'm home and surfing and I keep finding things to blog about, hence the multiple entries today.

I had finished up the Easter Bunny post, and then I decided that I'd see what's on TV...at home, you often get lucky on Easter and they air The Sound of Music. I could have played my uke with "Doe, a Dear" and spun along with "I Have Confidence." Always a good way to spend an afternoon.

But the BBC has other views on classics. My choices are That Darn Cat or Thunderpants. If I'm watching Haley Mills, I prefer The Parent Trap, so TDC's not of real interest. And Thunderpants? Yes, it's a movie about a fat kid with a farting problem. Read the review here. Perhaps this adds insight into the British fondness for The Goonies.

Hmmm. That reminds me to call Tom (TDC does, not TP). And you know I'll be watching TP tonight, if only out of sick and horrid fascination.

The Easter Bunny wants Terry Schiavo to LIVE!

Skip this one, Mom. XXOO min

The BBC is a fine, balanced news organization and because the UK and the US are pretty tightly aligned economically and politically lately, there is a lot of news about home here. But I still have my favorite US news sites, and I check them for headlines, commentary, etc., because the news of the world and the news at home aren't usually the same thing, even if the subject is the same. (The White House hasn't been able to successfully plant a paid-advertisement in the international press yet, but I'm sure Karl's on the case. They've got a legacy to worry about now.) Try www.cnn.com, and then click on the "International Edition" in the upper right corner. See what I mean?

Anyway, as often as I can, I go to the New York Times, The Washington Post, The Star Tribune, Slate.com, CNN, and Decorah Newspapers. I check a few blog sites like Wonkette, and then I move to the comedy sites like the Daily Show with Jon Stewart and Fox News Channel.

Jon is laugh-out-loud funny, but sometimes Fox gets the edge, like it did today. Here is an example of the satirical comedy found on FNC's website:

Headline: Bunny Makeover: Will the Easter Bunny be the latest casualty of political correctness?

It's a video clip, wherein the "anchor" and two "experts" discuss the sanctity of the Easter Bunny. Seems a shopping mall in a predominantly Jewish community in Florida renamed the Easter Bunny as the Garden Bunny (after the Garden Mall, where an event was being held.) The idea was that leaving out the reference to Easter made it easier for non-Christian participants...they could bring their kids to an egg hunt and have some other fun without needing to answer pesky questions from their 5 year olds about where the B-man gets his name.
The lefty on the panel argues that, even though the EB's name references a Christian holiday, it's still a secular icon. He's a symbol of the commercial side of things, and Mr. Pinko says he doesn't see the harm in a non-Christian community revising Senor Rabbit's name so that their kids can have some fun with what is basically a celebration of spring for many Americans.

The moral high-ground is taken by the Culture and Family Institute rep, who argues that this is a symptom of ills...we continue to remove God from traditional society, as is evidenced in our passive approval of the innocent murder by starvation of a non-terminally ill woman in Florida. (I guess I assumed he meant TS, but perhaps there's another one Congress hasn't told me about.) I'll give him credit...it takes some major cajones to find a link between egg hunts and right-to-life issues, especially considering the irrelevance to the issue at hand. I love the part where he tries to substantiate his argument by telling us that the EB is a sacred Christian symbol of Christ's love, just like Santa is a sacred symbol of the birth of Christ. Now that's a good joke.

And it's all tied together by a talking Ken-doll moderator who uses a sarcastic, inflammatory tone to incite outrage in his guests.

Want to see it for yourself? Go to http://www.foxnews.com and click on the big bunny to the right.

And you thought Jon Stewart was the only fake news program out there!

Saturday, March 26, 2005

Easter Weekend 2

Three things I forgot to mention....

  1. Too late for the Easter basket, but perhaps it's an option for Pentacost....You, too, can fragrance your home with the scent of the Lord. Check this out. I wonder if it's sacrilegious to use it in the bathroom?
  2. The resurrection of Christ is taking a backseat to the resurrection of someone else here in the UK. Tonight is the first in a series of 13 new Dr. Who shows, this time with better sets and a Geordie lad in the title role. Of course, making better sets than the original Dr. Who isn't exactly difficult. If they're not out of cardboard it's an improvement. And the stupid scarf and crazy hair are gone, replaced by a slick black leather jacket and a shaved head. At least 21st century geeks will be better dressed.
  3. Do you know about Peter Kay? He's a comedian, and he made a video for comic relief lipsyncing Tony Christie singing Is This the Way to Amarillo. The link I have here is only a portion of the original, and it doesn't show the best bit where the little guy on the left at the endof the clip falls off his treadmill. Excellent viewing, and since Peter Kay reminds me of my friend Kent Gubrud doing a "northern" accent, it seems appropriate to mention it today. (Kent's a Lutheran minister, so this is his busy season.)

Easter Weekend

I'm almost half way through the four-day Easter Extravaganza, as I like to call this weekend. Have done nothing of consequence, which suits me well.

Woke up this morning to a knock on the door. It was my own personal Easter Bunny (dressed as a Royal Mail deliveryman, but I imagined him with bunny ears to make it festive.) My mom and dad had sent me a package. It had a Peep theme...yellow peep bunnies (open and getting stale for proper munching as we speak), a chocolate egg with a marshmallow peep waiting inside, and a lovely plush purple peep bunny, which when wound by running on the table, peeps and wobbles across the room. The stuffed toy is perfect...slightly misshapen like a good peep is, and with that disembodied, mouthless stare that makes even the tastiest sweet confection a little creepy. I love it.

Bought my own little set of Easter treats at Marks and Spencer. M&S is a department store/luxury food emporium mix (yes, it's as odd as it sounds), and they specialize in primed-for-cooking meats, roasts, vegetables, luxury desserts, etc. They have a complete chinese takeaway menu in little boxes in their Asian aisle, and the puddings range from sticky toffee or figgy to lemon ginger and white chocolate raspberry. I selected a ready to roast chicken breast with sage and sausage stuffing, some mash with cabbage and onion, fresh green beans, and some kale for sauteeing....an Easter feast that will also be good in leftovers. Portioned for two, so will work for one twice I think.

Oh. And I stopped at Starbucks for some Sumatra beans, too. Not Dunn Brothers, but close enough for a proper cup of coffee on Easter with my Observer.

Now that I've cleaned up the garden and mowed my over-due grass, I can spend a day reading crap and catching up on email. Whoopee.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Random Thoughts on a Wednesday

  • People in England are ready to kick Tony Blair out of office because he lied about Iraq, the economy is in a slump, and national health care isn't taking care of people. Now they don't trust him. Hmm.
  • I'm sorry for her family's loss, but I don't understand why Congress is involved in Terry Schiavo's death.
  • Why hasn't Tom DeLay been indicted?
  • Why did the Sec. of the Treasury issue a report today telling us that Social Security is going bankrupt sooner? (Oh wait. There was also that news story about how support for SS reform is waning by the second. Never mind.)
  • Surely Michael Jackson is faking the back pain. That's ridiculous.
  • I like that Woody Allen named a movie after me. Twice. I don't care if the critics think it sucks.
  • NPR had a story about the ukulele teaching physics yesterday on All Things Considered. (Thanks for the link, Heidi.) How topical am I?
  • Have you joined Book Crossing yet?
  • My washing machine sounds like it's going to take off.
  • There's a duck in the pond across the street that is black with an orange head.
  • What's happening on Gilmore Girls?
  • I have to mow my lawn this weekend.
  • Drinking 8 glasses of water a day wakes you wee a lot.
  • They switched the lighting in our office to be "softer", and now I can't see because the light's too low. I have to ask for a desk lamp (as do some other geezers in my area.)
  • Lulu is right. Robert Redford is timeless.
  • Jennifer Lopez can't act. Selena was just luck.
  • People who want to be famous need to sign a contract not to bitch about photographers and fans who want to know about their personal lives before they get their first paycheck. If they ever DO complain, they have to donate all of their profits and possessions to charity and start over with their pre-fame net worth.
  • Don't spill instant hot chocolate on your lavender sweater, because it won't come out.
  • Work on your penmanship. It can be messy, but don't write like a 13 year old girl if you want my respect. People who write like 13 year olds think like 13 year olds, and I then get to dismiss you as a mindless twit. (No, Mom, you didn't teach me to judge people like that. Dad did. You taught me the part where I'm annoyed by their trampy outfits. =)
  • Mozilla and Thunderbird are far superior to IE and Outlook. I've been using them for two months now, and I must say I am a believer. Give them a try.
  • Two official bank holidays around Easter may not be enough separation of church and state for my taste, but I'm not complaining about the four day weekend. Now I just need a plan for my free time. (Suggestions anyone?)

Monday, March 21, 2005

Tiptoe through the Tulips...I Dare You

I am teaching myself to play the ukulele. I have always wanted to play the uke. I loved Tiny Tim on variety shows as a kid. (That could have been the freakish hair and popeyed look about him, though. You never know with me.) In one of my favorite movies as a teen, "The Purple Rose of Cairo," the sadsack Mia Farrow begins to see the beauty of life when matinee idol Jeff Daniels comes down off the screen and picks up a uke to sing her a little song. The ukulele seemed like an instrument that could cure all ills, and let's face it...there's a lot of sadness in this life so it's important to find hobbies that make it impossible to stay down. As far as I can tell, the ukulele is practically a miracle cure.

Name one sad, tear-jerking uke song. I dare you. You can't, can you? That's because the ukulele is fundamentally a happy instrument. It's in a high, happy tuning. Veritable sunshine in a string, I tell you. It involves strumming. Take a moment and mime playing a ukulele. Left hand up near your shoulder, right hand strumming between your heart and your left nipple. Come on. DO IT. Your head starts bobbing back and forth, doesn't it? You start to loosen up, don't you? That's because the action of strumming a ukulele is fundamentally a stress-reducing, happy-feeling behavior. (Plus you get to say the word "nipple" without being dirty or inappropriate, and how often do we get that chance if you're not nursing a child?)

Then there's the added bonus that ukuleles aren't just brown wood. They come in a myriad of funky colors and patterns. Mine's bright orange, and triangular shaped. It's called a Mango Fluke...the perfect starter uke for those ready to dabble. It's a cutie, I'll tell you what...and it sings like a little school girl.

When I'm sad, I play my uke. When I'm worried, I play my uke. When I'm bored, I play my uke. It's the perfect remedy for all bad moods. Plus, think of the hours of party entertainment I'll be able to provide in a year or so! Cabin weekend...it's time to sing along with Mindy. Dinner party? Howard and I will be happy to play a little after-dinner music.

My song repertoire is pretty small right now since I'm only proficient in the keys of C and F, but I'm working on it. So far I've mastered "Clementine," "She'll Be Coming Round the Mountain," "And the Band Played On,"and "Bill Bailey,"just to name a few. I'm working on "A Bicycle Built for Two." I've also been using the web to find transcriptions of guitar chords for favorite songs...I'm refining some Jonathan Richman and "Raindrops Keep Falling on my Head." (Thanks, by the way, to Pam Mandel, my uke mentor and idol, for the tips on expanding your song portfolio.) I'm also thinking I might try a little Beck or something if I can find the right song, but you have to be careful when you play the uke not to be too Weird Al. (Not that turning hit rock songs into polkas doesn't have its merits. You just don't want to step over the line.)

The accordion...that's another guaranteed party instrument. I believe one of the first quotes on our Seattle pizza box was, "Where there's an accordion, there's bound to be fun." Amen to that.

But back to the point. If you haven't heard the gospel of the uke, just ask my pal Ben Hippen about the persuasive powers of the uke. Ben was a skeptic, a bit of a music sophisticate, and when he visited me back in October you could tell he thought this was yet another of my personal quirks. (To be fair, he's seen a lot of them in the past 34 years, so it's a reasonable misunderstanding.) But Howard sat there winking at him from the corner, and he couldn't resist his siren song. He picked him up, and I think it took five strums before he was a convert. Ben, I know you're out there. Testify, my brother! Testify!

So if you're feeling a little blue, try stepping out to a local music store and try your hand on a Fluke or a Flea. Listen to Iz play "Somewhere over the Rainbow." Or send me your request. I'll learn your song, and give you a call with your own personal serenade.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Whew (and a recipe, too)

It was an extremely busy week and I'm glad it's over. I was working on an RFP for a customer who decided that, although BI has always done an amazing job for them, they needed to knock us down on our pricing so they put our program out to bid. That means a lot of work jumping through hoops and trying to please them, and ultimately charging even less than we usually do for our services. I don't quite understand why customers who squeeze their customers for every little dime turn around and demand their suppliers give them everything at cost, and I really don't understand why management even considers going along with this. Have some self-esteem and charge what you're worth, for pete's sake. The week was further complicated by the fact that I was working with an unorganized client services director who was totally unavailable to review our project until the last minute, and then we had to scramble to get things done in time. Pleah. It all turned out well, though, assuming our client accepts our work since we submitted it two hours later than we thought we would.

After my busy week, I was very excited for the weekend. It's in the 60's here now, and has been pretty sunny. Yesterday I opened up the house and did a big organize/move things around, and now today I plan to clean up the garden a bit and get it ready for planting next weekend. Since I have a four-day holiday and haven't planned the trip to Prague I'd hoped for, I think I'll stay here and get the yard fixed up.

I made a totally kickin' soup last night, and I'm very proud of myself because I created this recipe from instinct. Big thanks go to Kimmy for bringing me Penzey's Hot Curry Powder when she visited...it's the primary spice used. (Non-midwesterners....you may not yet have discovered the joy that is Penzeys. I dream of opening a shop in Pike Place Market and making this my semi-retirement plan. Go check it out...you can order online. Foxpoint Seasoning is an absolute kitchen staple.)

If you care for something spicy, here's the recipe.

Red Lentil and Chicken Stew

Take 9 oz of red lentils, 2.5 pints of water with some dry stock/bouillon tossed in, a chopped onion, about an inch of grated ginger, one pulverized garlic clove, one chopped up chili, a couple of dashes of Worcestershire and two tablespoons of hot curry powder, and simmer for about 45 minutes.

Add three small chicken breasts (whole for now), one chopped up green pepper, and a can of chickpeas you've rinsed off. Continue to simmer for another 1/2 hour, or until chicken is cooked through.

Remove chicken, shred, and return to pot. Toss in a can of chopped tomatoes, cook another 10 - 15 minutes. Add salt to taste, juice of one lemon, and about 1/4 - 1/2 tsp of garam masala. Taste it, and if it's not bright enough you can add a bit more salt or even a pinch of sugar to bring it into a full-mouth balance.

Fine by itself, but would rock with brown rice or ww pita, too.

Monday, March 14, 2005

Small Country

People will tell you that England is about the size of Minnesota. They're right.

Growing up in the middle of the US, I always knew that I lived in a gigantic country. I went on family vacations and spent HOURS sitting in the back seat with my brother. (Sidebar....My clever mother devised a game with lifesavers candy that kept us occupied...everyone would get a candy of their choice, and then we'd have to hold it on our tongues and you only won if you were the last one to finish yours. Cagey woman, my mom...exchanging sweets for silence, and we were totally suckered in.) My family traveled from our house in Iowa to every end of the country and we'd be gone for weeks. It'd take three days to get to Yellowstone and the ocean wasn't even close. I think we were gone for two weeks on the Detroit/Toronto/Niagra-and-back route. And when I moved from Seattle to Washington DC in my thirties, I drove from coast to coast and it was a two week undertaking (with a three day stop in the Midwest, but still.) Our country really is the width of a continent. It's incredible.

The UK, on the other hand, is a very small place. Evidence to support my case:
  • You can drive from the Midlands (technically the start of "the North") to the South in 2 hours.
  • Regional news covers 1/3 of the country.
  • Most strangers who meet seem to find a common acquaintance within 10 minutes of starting a conversation.
  • The entire country can mobilize behind Comic Relief and donate £60M to charities in Africa and the UK, a la Jerry Lewis - with no local cutaways. BI's £200 contribution got our picture on national tv at 1 AM.
  • There's only one time zone.
  • National news covers stories like one about the family in rural Surrey that has been vandalized for the last five weeks by people leaving shoes in a pile at the base of their driveway. (And all the stations covered this...it's breaking news.)
  • Celebrities just aren't all that attractive (or talented)...the talent pool is smaller, and so they have to lower their standards for the perfect nose or the right hairstyle. Hugh Grant...certainly foxy, but not especially handsome. Emma Thompson...beautiful in a unique way, but never was a starlet. Oh. And get a load of the newscasters. There's one guy who looks like one of his eyes is on his forehead. Must make it hard to read the teleprompters.

Sunday, March 13, 2005

Touring Britain

Sorry for the long absence. My friends Abby and Kim were visiting from Minneapolis, and then I had a busy few days at work getting caught up.

We had a great time wandering around southern England. Neither Kim nor Abby had been here before, so they got the full dose of "the-same-but-different" that is the UK. They took the non-stop from Gatwick, and then National Express up to MK. It seems they had quite the local color on the bus, with a thick-accented driver who refused to answer questions about travel because he was a driver, not an information service. I picked them up at the coachway and let them relax at my house while I finished the day at work. Took them to the Swan, my stand-by local pub, for dinner. Kim is more inquisitive than most, and was really interested in its history. Turns out the pub was built in the late 17th century, and has been added to and remodeled to get to its current state. This is evident from the open fire and the low-beamed ceilings, but when you stop to think that you're having dinner some place people have been eating since the late 1600s, that's actually amazing.

On Friday we'd hoped to go to Cambridge for the day, but the weather wasn't cooperating. There was a snowstorm all over the eastern part of the country, with as much as a foot of snow in Kent (that's the part closest to France, for those not familiar with the counties here in the UK). Cambridge was in the snow belt but MK and London were just a little wet and cold, so we scrapped Cambridge and headed to the city. We had tea at the Orangery of Kensington Palace (my favorite tea, plus it's affordable) and then we walked through Hyde Park and Knightsbridge. Did a little tour of Harrods, then headed to South Kensington for a delightful dinner at the little Italian place I've come to rely on for inexpensive dinners. Had a good table, there were lots of other folks there to make the atmosphere lively, and we had a marvelous dinner. Even splurged on desserts....killer lemon tart, creamy strawberry gelato, and a rich tiramisu. (We'd walk enough to justify three desserts...London gets your 10,000 steps in.)

Saturday was also a London day. We'd had big plans for seeing sites, shopping AND taking in a show, but we realized in pretty short order that we were not going to do it all in one day. So, here's what we DID cram in:

  • Westminster Abbey - It's a great way to start the day...you get off the tube and as you come up the steps you practically run into Big Ben. Literally. The steps have to turn because the lower wall is in front of you. So we did the outside viewing of the Houses of Parliament and BB, walked to the Abbey and only had to wait about 15 minutes to get in. Not bad on a Saturday. We spent about an hour and a half in the abbey looking at windows and graves and the coronation chair. The abbey is still one of my favorite places in London. It's been around since William the Conqueror, and it's great fun to see all the funky graves. I'm particularly fond of Elizabeth I, who shares her grave with her sister Mary (Bloody Mary, the 5 year queen who brought the Spanish Inquisition to England). You have to read the fine print to know Mary is in there with her...it's all about Elizabeth, much as their pre-death days were. And as tour guide, at the Abbey I learned to remind Abby to keep her hands on her ticket. She has a tendency to pay and stow the stub without thinking about needing it later on.
  • Tower of London - It seemed to be Engineering Weekend on the Tube, as practically every line had reduced or stopped service, which made getting around difficult. We took a cab from WA to the Tower, since both the Circle and the District lines were closed for the weekend. Grabbed some fish and chips for a chippy in the square, and then went into the Tower. Yet another "oh-my-God-it's-old" moment, as you realize that this has been around for almost 1000 years. (The White Tower was built in 1078.) It's got a great history, as a palace, a prison, and a fortress, and so they have made the tours a little colorful to play up the history. All the guards are dressed as Beefeaters (like the guy on the gin bottle), and there are lots of "this marks the spot" signs wherever you look. There's a great little display explaining the deaths of the two young princes (sons of Edward IV) that were killed there, supposedly by Richard III. (Oh, the insights into Shakespeare you get when you tour England. That was a plot line I never really got, what with all the concentration on the language when I've seen the play.) The best part of the tower is the vault with the Crown Jewels. You walk through several rooms that are airing a tape of the coronation of the current queen, and then you see the various royal miters still used in ceremonies (one was missing last Saturday), and then you get to the conveyer belts. You stand on them, and they take you slowly past the cases that house the jewels. My, but they sparkle. There's a 500-something carat diamond in one of the staffs, and the emeralds and rubies boggle the mind if you try to think what they might be worth. No crowd to speak of, so we rode the belt a couple of times for full viewing.
  • Okay, by then it was time to get moving before the shops closed. Took a cab to Buckingham Palace. It was not a changing of the guard day (it happens only every few days in winter), but we peered in the gate, then walked down the Mall to Trafalgar Square and into Covent Gardens. Required viewing of the Market Stalls, including a stop at Lush for bath products, and then a quick coffee and cookie before we headed home. Our big plans of the London Eye and a play were replaced by sitting down and having a nice dinner in MK.
  • When we got home, I took them to Mysore, a great little curry house in Newport Pagnell. It was the first foray into Indian food for both Kim and Abby, and I believe we have some converts. Indian food really is perfect here.
Let's see....Sunday we went to Oxford and walked around the City of Spires. Had lunch at the Crown, a pub that has been around since the 15th century AND where Shakespeare often stayed. Wow.

Monday we headed out in the car. Stopped at Stonehenge, which I have to say is really cool. With the new path, you can get within about 10 feet of the stones, and the recorded tape is pretty good. I think I like the Druid angle the best, because I can really visualize hooded people dancing in the moonlight and sacrificing animals there. It gives you that eerie feeling that there's some unknown power afoot, and you expect Leonard Nimoy to pop out from behind a stone to tell you mystic stories of the unknown any second. The gift shop is really affordable, too. It was CRAZY cold, though, with the wind whipping across the plain. I think I'll go back in the summer. They had good coffee at the little food shop at the visitor's center, so we decided to save time and try their sandwiches for lunch. Also quite good, though I threw the last few bites of mine away because a stupid bird dive-bombed my hand trying to take it away. With all the talk of the bird flu here, decided to not eat the remaining part of the sammy (but the damn bird didn't get it, that's for sure...I buried it in the bin.)

We're not done yet, though. We were on to Bath, for a walk around the shops and time in the Roman Baths. The drive from Stonehenge to Bath is beautiful, with little Norman churches and thatched cottages and more sheep than you can count. Bath is a city that deserves a couple of days, not just an afternoon, so I'll definitely be going back. The Roman baths rock. For those who haven't been there, they are the best-preserved Roman mineral baths in the world (fed by a hot spring), and they date back to the 1st century AD. Fascinating place, and they've done a good job of preserving the foundations in the tour, as well as recreating what it would have looked like in Roman times.

Headed to a posh hotel called The Grove outside of London, where we spent the night in luxury. My room had a grand piano, a king-sized bed, a fireplace, and a fabulous bathtub. The sales contact treated us to dinner in the fine-dining restaurant, so we ate delicious food (though I'm not sure any of us could really tell you what some of it was.) My venison was excellent...crusted in nuts and with a pomegranate sauce. Yum.

Took a tour in the AM (the price you pay for free lodging in our business), and then headed to Windsor. Found a shop with a great little selection of antique jewelry and some new amber pieces that were absolutely beautiful. Kim and Abby got souvenirs there, then we headed up the hill. Stopped for lunch at a thai place (and it was GREAT), and then did the castle tour. The highlight of Windsor Castle are the state apartments. They have great tour guides who tell stories, and you see some really ornately palatial decor in there. It's also quite interesting to see the parts restored after the devastating fire in the early nineties. You'd never know that several rooms had been destroyed. We got the giggles in the palace imagining the queen in her housedress relaxing with a book in the Crimson room, and knew it was time to leave when we started deciding which room we'd call ours if we lived there. (Kim liked the Crimson room, Abby and I would have to duke it out over the Emerald Room.) Had a cup of coffee, and then I drove Kim and Abby to their Gatwick hotel and headed home. FYI, if I tell you you're staying at The Gatwick White House on your way home, make me change the reservation. It's awful. (Sorry, ladies.)

It was a great visit, and I'm learning to be quite the tour guide. Have decided to draft a visitors kit for future guests, including a little guide to the money. I watched both Kim and Abby get frustrated trying to pay with change, and finally they'd just hold their hand out and let the clerk take what they needed. I did this, too, when I first got here, but think it will save frustration in the future if I remind people that the 50p is the big one, the 20p is the angled one, and the 5p is tiny.

So the week and the weekend have been about getting caught up an sleep and getting back on a routine. I'm finally back to normal now, so we'll see what I get up to this week.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Visitors Alert!

Just a note to those who may be contemplating a visit to the UK: Dates are filling up fast, now that people are getting tax returns and have some spare cash to book tickets. I'm also starting to travel more with work...I have a trip to Oman coming up, as well as a possible Amsterdam/Copenhagen/Athens circuit.

If you've got a plan in the works, let me know ASAP so I block your dates.

Kim and Abby arrive today, so I doubt I'll be online until next week sometime. When I get back, we'll have stories of London, Cambridge, Bath, and The Grove.

Have good weekends.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

British Pop Sucks

I don't know what these people are thinking with their music.

We listen to the radio at work. And you all know I'm a sucker for a good pop song. But they're going too far here.

I must admit, I really like the Scissor Sisters, an American band that has taken the UK by storm. They're kind of a discofunk throwback band of oddballs from Tennessee. I'd say their album is one of the best dance-around-the-house, drive-really-fast releases I've heard in awhile. Not as funky as the Black-Eyed Peas, but perfect for a John Travolta moment in the privacy of your home (or faux privacy of your car.) Plus, it's hard to find social-commentary disco...with choruses like "You can't see tits on the radio" (about indecency police) and the song Filthy/Gorgeous which is basically a prostitute talking about how pathetic her johns are they're making a statement while they boogie. They do a disco version of Comfortably Numb, but I've been able to forgive them for that. Check them out.

Beyond that, though, there's lots of 4/4 driving drum beat electronic music sung by Barbie dolls like Kylie Minogue. It all sounds pretty much the same, and I get really tired of it by about 10 AM. There's a band called Girls Aloud that I've dubbed a bunch of talentless bimbos who look like an army of pole-dancing clones. Gwen Stefani has unnecessary popularity here, as well, with her cupie doll squeals and dance-mixy nonsense. Her current hit is a dance mix of GET THIS: "If I Were a Rich Man". Yes, Gwen meets Tevia in an electronic, drum machine frenzy. It's positively vile.

The Brits also like to make remakes of songs that didn't need to be made in the first place. Steve Winwood's "Valerie" has been made into a radio-friendly aerobics hit, there's a version out there of "Out of Touch" NOT by Hall and Oates, a remake of "Give a Little Bit", and the Bryan Adams "I'm Gonna Run To You". Dreck is dreck, but dreck that' been given a driving beat suitable for giving headaches or doing aerobics is simply not okay.

It's even worse when they take a good song and make it bad. "Dancing in the Moonlight" is a catchy 70's groove number, and it doesn't need a drum machine and a little insert of "Here we go" before each chorus. They've even bastardized Jefferson Airplane's "Somebody to Love" with a version which sounds like a vinyl album with a skip ("Don't you wan/Don't you wan/Don't you wan/Don't you wan/Don't you wan/Don't you wan/Don't you want some body to love...")

Lesson for the day: BBC Television = Good. BBC Radio 1 = BAD