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2 July London Journal

Did my jet lag efforts succeed?  Hard to say. My goal last night was seven solid hours of sleep; I got 6.5 hours of OK sleep. But I awoke feeling fine, not like my head was full of bees (the way I used to feel even after a trip to New York). So, I'd say it worked. I didn't lose a single day.

Through miracle of the Internet, I listed to NPR news this morning before I left for breakfast with my friend L. 

Talk about variable weather; it is 75 right now (at 3 in the afternoon), headed for 80 tomorrow, 81 Friday, and rain on Saturday(?!). One of the nice things about writing a reality based blog entry is you don't have to do transitions, or create a story, or even have a beginning, a middle and an end, metaphorically. Physically yes, metaphorically no.

Maybe I'll use three dots like Herb Caen used to.

A lot fewer posh people on the subway this morning, especially once I transferred from the Jubilee Line to the Central Line. More tats, fewer ties. My friend L, who has lived here for a decade, tells me the Jubilee Line exists mainly to take posh people from the West Side to their fantastically remunerative jobs at Canary Wharf (which I hope to see--the Wharf, no the posh people--time permitting). As I read the Times on the train this morning, I saw one of the all-time great headlines; some woman had decided not to enter politics because the political class here consists largely of "braying toffs." What an image.

Riding on the tube, looking at the map, I was (as an Anglophile) overwhelmed by all the familiar names. Neasden, the frequent butt of jokes in Private Eye, the British humour magazine I have subscribed to for more than three decades. West Ham, the home of a famous soccer team. I have a mental association with almost every stop we pass through. It is like visiting Southern California in the 40s and discovering there really are places named Anaheim, Asuza and Cucamunga (old joke from the Jack Benney radio program).

Exit the tube at Holbrook, on the edge of Soho, to meet my friend L. We worked together at CMP and have maintained a lively correspondence by email since the last time we saw each other... 1992. I told him I was wearing a black beret, he told me he was wearing a gray cap. We would have recognized each other anyway. We're exactly the same... only older.  "If New York is the city that never sleeps, London is the one that goes to bed early and stays up late," he said, by way of explaining the fact that we had a 10-minute walk before we could find anything nicer than a fast-food restaurant that was open for breakfast. We ate at Boheme, which was quite lovely. Good food, quiet, handsome 19th century interior.
I had planned on using my phone and  Google maps to get around, but while most of central London has 5 bars of service, there are strange gaps. L had me go into a newsagents and buy a "London A to Z" map, which cabbies used to use before GPS. It helped me on the 15 minute walk from Soho to the BBC building.

If you know me well, you know I listen to the BBC on a daily basis. Not the wimpy news stuff everyone listens to. I record comedies and dramas from the BBC website and listen to them on my iPhone. The idea of a studio tour was thrilling to me. Alas, you have to book in advance. But if you hang around, you can fill in if someone flakes. At 1 pm, someone did. Becky and Jamie took us around. It was a stone-cold gas. Not only that, but since I was in the building audience services took my phone call. Despite the fact that I do not have a permanent UK address, they put my on the list for the taping next Tuesday of Giles Brandreth and guests for the panel show Wordaholics. I might get a ticket! They also advised me to hang around in the Media Cafe' on Thursday night, because there is almost always a ticket or two available for News Quiz on the day of. It is worth it to me to hang around and hope.

We got a good look at the BBC newsroom, the largest newsroom in Europe (formerly the world until the Chinese built a bigger one). Two-hundred-fifty million people watch or hear BBC news a day; they want 500 million by 2020. Then we went to a television newsroom mock up, where they asked for volunteers to sit at the newsdesk and read off the prompter. Hands up! Who can guess what I did? Yes, I volunteered. Later in the tour, we went to a mock radio drama studio. Yup. Again. I did the announcer and played the butler in a Catherwood voice (Firesign fans, and my immediate family, will recognize the reference). I should have recorded it! We got quite a round of applause. What was I thinking! A great performance lost to the ages :-(

It is now 4:30. I need a nap, dinner, and a seat at the Haymarket Theater, where I will watch Harry Shearer perform in a play called Daytona.

Do I really look like this? Street caricature

Prospero and Ariel in front of BBC Broadcasting House

BBC Plaque

News desk
Me at the "BBC TV news desk"

Me on the big collage monitor

Me on a another monitor

1 July London Journal

I thought America had flat seats in Business Class. British Airways has REAL flat bed seats; they don't pinch you at the waist and feet. In fact, I was able to get six hours sleep, but that's all I've had in the last  33 hours. It is 10:30 here and I am fading fast; I am meeting an old friend for breakfast in the AM

Anyway, the six hours sleep prevented jet lag, along with lots of water, no caffeine, moving my bedtime up, and staying awake all day Tuesday in London. And melatonin at bed time.

I have been flying regularly since I took a United flight from Seattle to Boston to attend MIT in August of 1970. And in all that time, this was my first seat upstairs. It is quieter up there. Which is a good thing because--did I mention the Bose noise-cancelling headsets on American? I used to carry my own NC headsets when I flew regularly but now it seems like too much trouble. Well. Fly a long flight with them and a long flight without them and you'll have another think coming.

We arrived at 9, a  half hour late. I don't know what UK Borders did with the extra time, but they sure as heck weren't bringing in extra agents. Several  hundred people stood in line in front of six people. Thank God I didn't have checked luggage; the additional wait after the 45 minutes waiting for my 90 second border formalities would have friend my brain (things have changed in the 28years since I was last here; you no longer get your luggage before "entering" the country.

_uk border

*Long Lines at UK Border

I had expected to be in worse shape than I was, but I had prepaid a car service, so it took me 90 minutes to get to my condo in the Greenwich Millenium Village (a 10 minute walk from the O2 Coliseum, where Monty Python will peform for me... and 14,999 other people... on Friday night. Since the express train only takes a half hour, I'm going back via that route.

*O2 Coliseum: A White Tent With Poles Sticking Out

On the way in, we passed the London Eye ferris wheel. R and I had talked about my using that as a way to stay awake. So, I checked in, grabbed  52 pounds of supplies (laundry soap, paper towels, TP and food) at a convenience store (price, not weight), then walked to North Greenwich tube station to buy an Oyster card  (don't get me started. I never did get the machine to sell me a card; I had a human do it instead.).

Over lunch, I read a review of a play called Great Britain, about a woman named Britain, that was hastily written to parody the recently completed trials of journalists accused of hacking into people's voicemails. I was already signed up for Harry Shearer in Daytona on Wednesday (he had plugged it on his radio show last week), and Rock and Roll Politics with a journalist named Steve Richards. But what the heck... now I am going to see three plays.

The line at the London Eye was depressing. Then, I discovered that England (or at least the London Eye part of it) is following in the footsteps of America in general and Disneyland in particular, by offering a better experience for more money. Basically, it is the same schtick; hand then an extra 10 pounds, and you go in via a special gate; five minutes on line instead of 45.

_fast track
*Fast Track Everywhere

It is amazing--the wheel never stops; people get in and out of each "capsule" while the wheel is still moving.

I took a selfie with Big Ben behind me at the top of the London Eye ride. It isn't great.

Big ben selfie
*London Eye Pinnacle Selfie

Afterwards, amazing dim sum at a Chinese place called Ping Pong across from Southbank Centre, near the National Theatre... and the London Eye. The honey glazed ribs were to die for. 

My first impressions of London are of an impossible diverse and very lively city. Everywhere I went, sidewalks were crowded (like midtown Manhattan at lunchtime) with people young and old, walking and biking. And there was a Tower of Babel re-creation going on with all the languages.  Generally, when I hear a snatch of dialog, i can place it as European, Slavic or Asian. Not today--there were vowels and consonants I am quite sure I never heard before. This could have to do with the fact that, in England, the official start of summer vacation season was Sunday June 29th. Chalk one up to my good timing.

George Bernard Shaw once said that the English and the Americans are "two great people, separated by a common language." I had not even been here a day, when I found my go-to phrases were "I beg your pardon, could you repeat that," and "perhaps you could spell it for me." Frequently, I just nodded my head and went looking for an easier accent. Of course, Steve Martin fans know the danger of just nodding. You might be saying, "I'll have a shoe with cheese on it, and force it down my throat."

No one here has done that. Yet.