Good Vibrations

When I found out that Brian Wilson was touring with The Beach Boys this summer as part of the group’s 50 anniversary tour, I thought it was about time. When I learned they were going to perform at Provo’s Stadium of Fire on the Fourth of July, I knew we had to get tickets.

I try to avoid the Stadium of Fire because (a) I don’t like the traffic, and (b) I haven’t been interested in the talent, and (c) often the emcees have been conservative ideologues who think their extreme right-wing brand of patriotism is the only true kind of patrotism.

The traffic was still a problem, but the main performers were going to be The Beach Boys and the emcee was Alex Boye, and I could live with that.

The traffic was everything that could be expected. The flag ceremony was impressive. The opening acts were harmless. It wasn’t the kind of stuff I would pay for, frankly, but that’s not why I was there. The fireworks were fun, from inside the stadium. I read some complaints from folks who watched the fireworks from outside the stadium and felt they failed to deliver much punch. In this case, you got what you paid for.

The Beach Boys part of the Stadium of Fire was a highlight, much to their credit. Here was a group of old men — most around 70 — singing songs that were equally old — most around 50. But the songs sounded fresh, the music moved the crowd, and everybody I saw was having a great time.

The best part was hearing Brian Wilson sing the lead vocals on “God Only Knows,” “Good Vibrations” and other favorite songs.

Clearly his voice is not what it used to be, and someone else had to carry the falsetto parts that used to be his trademark sound. But Brian hasn’t toured with the band since the 1990s, even though he was largely responsible for most of the bands songs.

And every time he sang a solo, it was a touching moment.

To be clear, I love this group. I bought their albums when I was in high school. I listen to “Pet Sounds” at least once a week, and usually follow it up with Brian’s “SMiLE” which came out in 2004.

For Father’s Day, I added “That’s Why God Made the Radio,” The Beach Boy’s CD which was released last month.

And seeing them in person did not disappoint. What a great way to spend Independence Day — and celebrate my birthday which comes two days later.

Back to the British Museum

Tuesday morning, we headed for the British Museum. This was April 10.

Sharon had wanted to go to one of several places. Really, you could live in London for six months and not see all of it, but we were worried about the weather, and we had tickets for a 3 p.m. show, so we were trying to find a good place to visit.

Originally, Sharon had wanted to see the London Zoo, which would have been fine, but we were worried about the weather — especially after our rainy-day adventures the previous day.

So we opted for the British Museum. It is, after all, one of the great, if not the greatest, natural history museums in the world — the benefactor of hundreds of years of British plunder throughout the world.

The Rosetta Stone is here. So are the marbles that once decorated the Parthenon, looted from Greece and brought to London in the 1800s by a British noble. The Greeks want them back, by the way, but the museum built an entire wing just to display these marvelous statues just as they were on the Parthenon, only at eye level, so they are not going back to Athens any time soon.

Even better, the same Tube stop that services the museum left close to the theatre where we had our tickets — and that proximity kind of sealed the deal.

We had been here before, but only for a brief time. It’s a great deal. Admission is free. That’s right, absolutely free unless you want to see a special exhibition.

So this is what we did. We paid 2 pounds for a guide that offered the top 10 things to see for people who want to experience the museum in an hour (like lots of tourists who ride around in tour buses) and took three hours to look.

Actually, the top 10 is cleverly designed to lead visitors through almost every part of the massive museum. By the time you’re done, you’ve traversed about 60 to 70 percent of the museum, even if you only took a moment to look at the mummies (which are very popular, having been looted over many years from Egypt.)

By extending our one-hour stay to three hours, we had a great time. And this is where I bought my favorite memento of our vacation.

This is always tough for me. Sharon loves to collect miniatures as mementos, or clothes, or jewelry, or even games (we own copies of Uno we have purchased in England, France, Italy and Mexico), but I can’t ever decide.

And then I saw the book, “A History of the World in 100 Objects,” which was written by Niels MacGregor, the director of the museum, featuring objects that are displayed in the museum with great illustrations.

I had my eye on this book for months, planning on buying it before we visited the city this year, but the $40 price (it’s even $20 on the Kindle, and the pictures aren’t very good) had put me off.
Here were copies for 20 pounds, which is cheaper than $40, and my copy would come right from the museum.

I picked up a copy on the way out. Sharon got some nice Elizabethan earrings. It’s my favorite memento ever. I skimmed it on the way home, skipping from object to object. It’s easy to see why Amazon named it the best book of the month when it came out last November.

I was happy to lug it around for the rest of the day.

Fish and chips? What fish and chips?

The Monday after our visit to the National Observatory (and 0 degrees longitude), we returned to our hotel using a combination of light rail — which took us through Canary Wharf for a brief look at this part of London — and the Underground. We recuperated and dried off, and then picked a restaurant for dinner.

Sharon wanted some really good fish and chips. (While this is a traditional national dish in England, we have found the fish and chips in London can be disappointing. You never know what you will get, and often the result is either very soggy or to greasy. Another traditional part of a fish and chips meal is mushy peas, a unique English side dish which involved mashing up marrowfat peas after they have been soaked overnight. They defy description, and are a bit of an acquired taste, and I didn’t get any on this trip because, well, you’ll see …)

Sharon consulted our guide book and found a place that was supposed to the best fried fish in London — a restaurant called The Golden Hinde. It was one Tube stop and short walk from our hotel, so we set off.

It should be noted here that this was the second time we had come across the Golden Hinde this day. The actual Golden Hinde (a hinde, by the way, is a doe, a deer, a female deer) was the English galleon Sir Francis Drake when he circumnavigated the world in 1577, plundering plenty of Spanish sailing ships on the way.

A replica of this famous ship now lies moored on the River Thames not far from the London Bridge, and we had toyed with the idea of dropping by until our tour of the Royal Observatory took up our day.

But I digress.

And so we set off, with only a map of London and a general idea of where this restaurant might be. When we got off the Tube and emerged from underground, we had been turned around. It’s quite simple, actually. Tube stations are pretty deep underground, and you usually go through a combination of stairs, hallways and long escalators to get back to street level.

I am constantly amazed that Sharon simultaneously trusts my ability to get us just about anywhere we wish to go while she has no confidence that I can locate my own nose. It doesn’t help when I start out disoriented, and that was case this evening. Fortunately, I have no problem asking directions, and a very nice public worker (you could tell by the yellow vest) set us right.

Once started, we moved through the narrow streets rather easily, always getting closer to the restaurant, with me leading the way and Sharon following while questioning my directions at the same time. This was especially obvious every time I said we needed to cross a street. At that point she would balk, then move into the street cautiously.

You can’t be cautious in London streets, however. You have to move quickly to the other side, because the streets are narrow and the cars move fast — very fast.

When we reached the corner where the Golden Hinde should be, we couldn’t find any open businesses. I was getting frustrated when Sharon noticed two other tourists across the street looking frustrated, and standing in front of a darkened building with “The Golden Hinde” boldly printed.

It was the Monday after Easter, and a bank holiday to boot, and the people who fry fish at the Golden Hinde apparently decided to take the day off. We were very unhappy as we made our way back to the Tube station. We had passed a number of small restaurants on the way, and so we stopped in one and had an OK dinner — as British cooking is as a rule bland and tasteless.

We will probably never know how good the fish and chips were at the Golden Hinde, but they have lost my business forever.

Finding longitude

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When Sharon asked me if there was anything I wanted to do while we were in London, I had a ready answer: I wanted to visit the Royal Observatory in Greenwich and see the Harrison clocks.
“What?” she said.

I started telling her about the clocks which were the first to tell time accurately enough at sea to make it possible to determine your longitude and make it possible to navigate the oceans safely.
And her eyes glassed over.

Now bear in mind that Maritime Greenwich is a World Heritage Site. So is the Tower of London, Westminster Abbey and the Kew Gardens in London, and several other sites in England (like Stonehenge and historic Edinburgh), but such sites are relatively rare, inevitably historic, and almost always worth a look-see.

And we had a whole day to get there, if we could just figure it all out.

To be honest, I thought I had a pretty good handle on the place, and I was wrong. I charted out an underground route that took us from Marble Arch to North Greenwich, when we should have headed to the Cutty Sark for Maritime Greenwich stop. Live and learn, I guess.

This honest mistake took us first to the O2, a gigantic white tent with an auditorium and shops and restaurants inside. It used to be called the Millennium Dome and was featured in the James Bond move, “The World is Not Enough,” so I recognized it right away.

But we were pretty far from historic Greenwich, and it took a ride on the Thames Clipper, a public water taxi, to get where we wanted to go. This proved to be a tedious trip, so I won’t write about it, except to say it was raining and Sharon was miserable.

She was miserable before we got to the tube station for a variety of reasons. I will list them:

1. She didn’t think I knew where I was going.

2. She didn’t want to go there.

3. Her socks kept getting wet.

Her socks were getting wet because it was raining, as I mentioned before, and she was wearing sandals and socks. She changed her footwear to give her feet a rest from the shoes she had worn for several days, and she didn’t take into account that London streets and sidewalks can be a bit uneven and harbor pools of water when it rained. (This is why rubber boots, called Wellingtons, are so popular in England, where it rains often.)

So before we had walks two blocks from our hotel, her feet were wet. Two blocks later, and they were soaked. Before we got on the Tube, she bought a dry pair, and changed during the ride. Then the first order of business once we arrived was to find a restroom with a air dryer so she could dry her wet socks so they could be held in reserve for when the new pair got wet.

We went through this change-and-dry routine several times, and she got a little bit happier, until she learned that our first tube stop of the day was for the wrong Greenwich. Then she wasn’t happy any more.

And the fact that I walked her about in the rain for a while longer before finding the landing dock for the Thames Clipper didn’t help either.

And once we landed, the Royal Observatory was in sight, but still a long walk away, and uphill — all the better for observation, I guess, but inconvenient for a visitor on a rainy day.

Still, there were plenty of visitors there, which I maintained was proof that our destination was a worthy one. Sharon remained unconvinced.

Actually, she saw some really great stuff, although she may never know it. Like the Harrison clocks, which I had read about in the book “Longitude: The True Story of a Lone Genius Who Solved the Greatest Scientific Problem of His Time” by Dava Sobel, which is much more interesting that its title.

And we got to straddle the prime meridian, which is 0 degrees longitude, mainly because British scientists figured it all out first and got to designate where 0 degrees would be.

It was all very cool. Science carried out in this very building changed the world forever — and we were there. It was worth getting a little wet.

The rain had stopped by the time we were through at the observatory. And that cheered Sharon up. We had to work our way through some major tourist shops to get back to the public transport, and that cheered Sharon up even more.

All in all, I thought it was a stellar day.

Hunt for the hotel and more

(This is a continuation of the previous post.)

Once we were back on the road, we faced a problem — we could not find our hotel. Sharon had booked a Hilton near Windsor because we were going to spend our first full day in England with Jack and Derek and Helen at the British version of Legoland. Sharon is writing a travel story about the park.

But we drove up and down the same stretch of highway with no luck, looping around roundabout after roundabout. We stopped and asked. Then we looked some more. Then we stopped and asked. again

It took us hours, literally, to finally find the hotel tucked away into a small but secluded bit of ancient woodland only a mile or so from where we had been driving for hours. Derek and Helen had been waiting for some time and were starting to worry. They gave us a cell phone to use for the rest of our journey, which was a good thing.

Then they took us out to a pub for dinner and talked to us while we fell asleep at the table after a night on the plane and a day on the road, all filled with stress. We were ready for bed that night.

The next day, we drove around for a long time, about the same routine as the night before, trying to find Legoland, which is marked well on the motorway, but impossible to find from surface streets, which is what we were doing. I had to stop twice to ask directions (and bought my first bottle of Irn Bru – a Scottish soft drink that tastes like a cross between bubble gum and Mountain Dew – and a Yorkie candy bar (yum!) in the process).

Sharon hates this. (Not the Yorkie. She liked that a lot.) She hates being lost. She hates feeling out of control. She hates wondering if she will every see anything familiar ever again. She hates relying on a map and she isn’t fond of riding with me when I drive down these narrow streets.

But I love it. It’s an adventure. You get to stop and talk to people, and then try to follow their convoluted directions. You get to see things. We drove by the Ascot horse racecourse at least three times. That’s the one featured in “My Fair Lady.” How cool is that?

I had to stop and ask directions twice, but we finally got there, and all this driving was getting me used to the car and the roads. We were happy to park, get out of the car and into Legoland. Derek, Helen and Jack were waiting for us, but we knew this, thanks the cell phone.

Next: A day at Legoland

Driving on the wrong side of the road

Sharon and I did the calculations and were surprised to find this was our fifth trip to England, and the third time I would be driving. So what could go wrong?

The flight over was routine and long — made briefer by the fact that both Sharon and I were carrying new iPads. I had my own, and she was carrying Derek’s, which we were delivering to him. I had loaded some simple games before we left, and Sharon quickly learned how to play Angry Birds. I had also purchased Scrabble for my own iPad, and we played several games. I don’t remember who won, which means I probably didn’t.
Once we arrived, our first stop was Enterprise rental, where they took our money and showed us to our Peugeot van, which had the steering wheel in the wrong side of the car — as do all cars in England.

We thought about renting a GPS unit, but at 10 pounds day, it seemed too costly for 14 days, and we would have had to return the unit to Gatwick Airport (which is south of London) when we were planning on returning the car to Heathrow Airport (which is northwest of London and closer to Derek and Helen’s home) and relying on the Tube during our three days in London. Because only crazy people want to drive in London.

I had to spend some time familiarizing myself with the car. It was a stick shift, which meant shifting with the left hand. The well where my feet went was small, which made it easy to miss the clutch and hit the brake — never a good move on congested streets. The car had six forward speeds and I couldn’t find reverse without some help. And you just need a few minutes to psychologically prepare yourself to drive on the left side of the road after a lifetime of doing it the other way around.

Then we were off, and it went OK at first. For one thing, you hit the motorway right out of the airport — wide lanes and traffic all moving in the same direction. If you just focus on keeping that lane line next to the driver’s side of the car, things aren’t too bad.

But you can’t stay on the motorway forever. Sooner or later you have the face the reality of negotiating English roundabouts (which bear little relation to the simple roundabouts in the USA), and for us, that happened less than an hour into our road trip.

The single biggest problem I have driving in the UK is not being on the left it is the narrow lanes and the difficulty of judging where the left side of the car is in relation to the curb. It’s just so easy, no matter how much attention you are paying, to drift to the left rub your tyres on the curb.
And in our first tricky roundabout, I did more than that.

Trying to follow the unfamiliar road signs and make a complete turn, I drove the front tyre on the passenger side into the curb and flattened it.

Here we were less than an hour into a trip, and I was pulled into a “lay by” trying to change a tyre in a French-made car. I couldn’t figure out how to release the spare from the underside of the car and the jack looked like an object designed by aliens.

We were hungry, in a foreign country, stranded and stressed. We didn’t even have a cell phone. We did have a number for the AA however (the UK’s answer to Triple A) and a kindly truck driver let us borrow his “mobile” to make the call.

After about half an hour, the AA showed up and a very young nice man (I sound old, don’t I?) was able to release the tyre, make the change, and direct us to a nearby tyre station (Kwik Fit) where they replaced our flattened tyre with a brand new one, returned the spare to the bottom of the car, and sent us on our way.

While they made the repair, we took a short walk down a quaint street to the local fish and chips restaurant and ate our first meal in England. It was tasty. We’d made our first memory.

Then we were on our way and hunting for hotel. But that’s another blog.

Two reviews of movies that have been around

This is my first chance to pass along a few movie reviews using my Z-factor rating system.

Please ignore the fact that these movies have been out for a while. Given my current income status ($0 for the last two months),  I find I am attracted to the second-run theaters that give discount prices on tickets and popcorn.

So you’ve probably seen one of these, and you probably haven’t seen the other, just like everybody else.

The Tourist Rated PG13 –  Z (Probably two, but Angelina Jolie is in it.)

I might have dozed through more of this thriller, but the audience kept me up, making noise and everything. Sharon and I arrived early, claimed a seat we thought would be private, and settled down. Then the rest of the small audience slowly filtered in, congealing around us like the jelly in a Vienna sausage can. The theater was about one-third full, and they were all within earshot of us, because we heard everybody whispering.

Except for the old lady who came in talking loudly about how it was her birthday and she’d sit where she wanted. She kept talking loudly throughout. Shortly after the movie started one of the men in her group stood up, turned around and turned on one of those small but powerful LED flashlights, apparently looking for a coat because he asked us all if we’d seen it.

Added to this yak fest, there was a texter sitting next to Sharon who never turned off his cell phone, a pre-teenager who sat next to me, when he wasn’t running around the theater, and whispers, whispers everywhere.

I guess people feel that if they pay $3 for a movie, they pay for the right be as obnoxious as humanly possible.

About the movie: It was OK. Plenty of action. Some nice plot twists, although you can see the end coming about 15 minutes before the film-makers want you to. Some violence. A little unpleasant language, but mild compared to most PG-13 movies you’ll see geared to an adult audience. It dragged just enough in the middle to earn that single Z.

I know it got terrible reviews, but that’s not what this is about, is it? It would make a pretty good video rental.

Tangled Rated G –  Zero Z’s

I went to this because of Trish, who was cutting my hair when I told her about the Z-ranking and added that any animated film automatically earns a ZZZ rating because I just can’t stay awake no mater how hard I try.

She said this movie was different, and she was absolutely correct. It was great. I enlisted a granddaughter as my companion, even though she had already seen it.  It wasn’t hard to talk her into going, although Sharon claims she was jealous.

I loved this retelling of Rapunzel. We’ll probably buy it. Sharon is looking for someone to buy the upcoming Blue Ray-DVD combo pack, and splitting the two versions, with us taking the DVD. (Which pretty well rules out my chances of getting a Blue Ray player for my birthday, doesn’t it? Sigh!)