Read&Delete--- in England!
Greetings, virtual travelers!
This edition of the tour d' insanity starts from the friendly skies, as I am winging my way to the UK onboard a Boeing 767. It is no secret that I hate to fly. I'm not afraid, mind you, I just hate it. Even though I am comfortably seated and sipping a "bombay and tonic" on this bus, It's just not a whole lot of fun. There is a power outlet located nearby, but I lack the necessary adapter to get some free juice from the twin Pratt & Whitneys out under the wings. I will have to depend on my weak and ancient Nickel
Metal Halides for the go power.
It's a 7 hour flight, and I'm situated back in steerage with the rest of the
sardines. The in-flight movie is a remake of "The Exorcist", starring Don Knotts in the title role. (Just kidding---I wanted to see if you folks are
still awake here)
(three hours into the flight)
I just finished the in-flight meal (beef broquette!) and believe it or not it did not taste like it was made from plywood! The food served on overseas flights is definitely superior to domestic. I've had a gin and tonic along with the wine served with the meal (Chardonnay--depressing, I should have had the Bordeaux) so typing on the laptop in turbulence is quite interesting. I'm using the second battery. (I have three.)
The landing at Birmingham was uneventful, thankfully, and the trip through British customs was even less so. Getting the baggage was another matter. I waited for 45 minutes to retrieve my garment bag, and, as they say over here--- it got a bit of a trampling. (translation: at least I didn't have to pick shrapnel out of it.) The managing director of our U.K. office came to pick me up from the airport. I'm glad I decided against renting a car over here, I don't think I could have gotten the car out of the airport, period. English driving is for the English only; to my American eyes all the traffic signs here are anagrams and abstract drawings, the pavement markings are cryptic slashes, zigzags and stripes. Even as a passenger, the
trip was not comfortable. Imagine riding as a passenger on the left front seat, as the driver zooms along the left side of a narrow road, and then makes a sudden right-hand turn across three lanes of traffic coming the other way. And this is NORMAL! Roundabouts----Aaaaaaaaah! Imagine again--- instead of bringing two roads together at an intersection--- you merge FIVE of them--- and you put a giant traffic circle in the middle of it---- then make everybody drive clockwise around it at high speed, hoping that
centrifugal force will fling the motorists off onto the proper street.
I went directly to the U.K. office and attempted to do some work. That was difficult, due to the fact the UK is six hours ahead of the
U.S Midwest. By the time my hotel room was ready (at 3PM local time), I had been awake for nearly 28 hours. They booked me into the Leofric Hotel, right
in the center of downtown Coventry. Coventry's claim to fame is the memory of its most famous citizen-- Lady Godiva, a titled woman who gave a new
meaning to the term "bareback rider". Her husband Leofric is who the hotel is named after. My room is located just down the hall from the "Peeping Tom"
banquet hall. I wonder what social functions they do in there. I don't want to know, I'm just wondering.
(Friday night---all work all week)
FOOD IS FUN!
What is there to eat over here? Well--cheese and pineapple sandwiches, lasagna soup, and Worcestershire flavored potato chips--- I am not making this up. Actually, the food is quite surprising---ly good. Don't let anybody kid you about- most of the food tastes pretty good. The cholesterol will kill you, but it tastes good. Breakfast in the hotel lounge consists of: eggs, sausages the size of your closed fist, bacon (what the English call bacon-- we Americans call ham) and toast. Toast is not taken lightly here. The Britons do not simply drop a slice of bread into a toaster and take what comes. Good toast is a national institution here; the bread is surgically sliced and tanned evenly and specifically to exacting standards-- much the same way Claudia Schiffer is.
I ate a "jacket potato" for lunch one day. A jacket potato is similar to a dressed up baked potato in the U.S., except for proportions. A "cheese and bacon" jacket potato is a baked potato the size of a medium brick, to which is added an entire 1/4 pound stick of butter, half a pound of shredded cheese and two
slabs of English bacon weighing a quarter pound each. But that is a child's portion next to a "mixed grill". I ate one of those the other night. A mixed grill features a six ounce steak, two lamb chops, a LARGE sausage, English ham and "chips" (french fries). I thought I had enough food on my plate to feed Ethiopia. But that's not all! I also sampled Yorkshire Pudding (beef stew in a thick homemade crust) and fish and chips. I learned something about real English fish and chips. They are almost totally unpalatable
unless you drink a pint of bitter ale while you are eating them. (Bass ale will do nicely) The two tastes counteract each other and the effect is incredible. I normally don't like either fish and chips or bitter ale, but I was ready to go back for more of both. Duck and venison were on the menu tonight. The duck was sweet and the venison was slightly tangy. I was really quite surprised. I expected Bambi to be more sour or dry or something else that would make me feel guilty about eating the animal. Not!
The weather has been very good here. It's been mostly sunny, rained only at night, and the humidity has been tolerable. The only rain that I felt was the slight drizzle that fell on me when I was outside on Tuesday night, playing "football". What they call football, we Colonists know as soccer. I played for an hour with the amateurs from the industrial complex that I was working out of. I got winded during the warm-up, but I played the whole hour. The best maneuver I could accomplish was to fall on top of the
ball and get tangled up in the opposing teams legs. As goalie, I blocked a power-kick with my chest and rearranged some of my internal organs at the same time. When the ball hit me, I made a sound not unlike that of a ping-pong ball being sucked up into a vacuum cleaner tube. Both teams applauded as I stumbled all about the goal area, trying to re-inflate my lungs and look for missing ribs. By the end of the hour, the idea of getting run over by a train had some merit.
Tomorrow I will peruse some of the local shops and such here in downtown Coventry, before visiting Warwick Castle and the Regimental Museum. I visited Stratford on Avon (Shakespeare's town) Thursday night. I wanted to see the Royal Shakespeare Company in action, but alas! poor Yorick took the week off with the rest of the company. I also saw a pub called "The Old Mint". It is where Cromwell minted his money. The Yorkshire pudding they served there was excellent. No, I did not do the pub crawl!
The English monetary system is based on pounds and pence, not dollars or sense. The current exchange rate weighs in at $1.45 to the pound, so if some souvenir had a price tag of L3.99, the American cash outlay ran to $5.80. My stack of sakajweas turned into a small handful of the Queen's banknotes. I may have had all the notes, but I definitely wasn't singing about it.
Saturday's jaunt was a walking tour of Coventry, including the British Museum of Motor Transport. This is where to go to learn more about the history of the English motorcar than anyone else with a life would want to know. Most English cars are made in Coventry. Some of the notable English names are: Vauxhaul, Standard, Jaguar, Lotus, Morris, Hillman, Triumph, Austin, Bentley, Rover and M.G. among others. There are over a hundred cars, motorcycles, lorries (trucks) and coaches (buses) that date from the
turn of the century to the turn of the century. All of them have been restored to working order (It's a museum rule.) There is a room in this museum that has at least 15 double-Decker buses of varying vintages, plus a dozen large transports, fire engines and taxis. They have a room of display cases filled with die-cast car models from around the world. Plus, for a limited time, the admission is free.
Souvenirs--- why yes! Saturday afternoon was spent hypnotically
wandering around the local shops downtown in search of some mementos of the week. I got some really neat stuff for everybody: toys for James and Peter,
some interesting clothes for Wendy, and a pocket-sized short-wave radio for me, along with chocolates for the whole family of course. I saw some curious
curio shops (and some downright shocking ones too, like the sci-fi store, I think it was run
by refugees from Area 51).
Sunday held visits to Coventry Cathedral and Warwick Castle. (in that order) The old Coventry cathedral was built in the fifteenth century and bombed out during the Second World War. The remains stand as a memorial to the faith of the people. Warwick Castle is a restored fourteenth century fortress open to the public. After walking across the battlements, climbing the towers and visiting the dungeon, it impressed me as the most interesting sight of the trip. Besides that, there were demonstrations of medieval bowmanship (archery) by a master bowman, who was in uniform of the period. He had set up a target about thirty yards away. (When I say target, I mean a 2 by 4 standing alone with a plume of branches the size of a man's head set on top of it, and an apple placed 'where the adam's apple should be') The bowman sent twelve arrows in one minute, with most of them passing through the target's head. Then he put on his helmet and visor-- which restricts his vision severely -- and sent 18 arrows in one minute with the same accuracy, plus driving two arrows into the 2 by 4. He talked about the War of the
Roses, and the role played by the Warwick bowmen in defeating the entire Lancasterian army while outnumbered 7 to 1. I don't think I'd mess with a bowman, ever.
On Monday-- the return trip!
Gotta go.... there's saturated fat waiting for me, lurking-----