Friday, June 27, 2008


I've been pretty quiet on politics and government for a time. Been occupied elsewhere, though I have paid attention to what's going on. The potential FISA sellout, the unwarranted search and seizure of electronic devices at our borders, etc. I've also been watching the candidates closely. This lit up my radar today and the theme is RESPECT:

You just have to hand it to John McCain. He just doesn't know when to keep his mouth closed (which is most of the time). The man is mean spirited and an ugly loser. Just what we need in the Oval Office with his finger on the button. Yeah, the button that can put us into WWIII with one temper tantrum.

"Carter was a lousy president," McCain observed to Ralston. "This is the same guy who kissed Brezhnev."

And this from the guy who hugged Bush. Carter, whether you appreciate his work or not, deserves more respect. Which seems to be McCain's problem. RESPECT. He just doesn't have it.

And though this is not news, this was the clincher for me:

Three reporters from Arizona, on the condition of anonymity, also let me in on another incident involving McCain's intemperateness. In his 1992 Senate bid, McCain was joined on the campaign trail by his wife, Cindy, as well as campaign aide Doug Cole and consultant Wes Gullett. At one point, Cindy playfully twirled McCain's hair and said, "You're getting a little thin up there." McCain's face reddened, and he responded, "At least I don't plaster on the makeup like a trollop, you c***." McCain's excuse was that it had been a long day. If elected president of the United States, McCain would have many long days.

This segment was from here. So he calls his wife not only a whore, but the "c" word. Classy. All because she joked his hair was thinning. If he can't treat Mrs. McCain, the mother of his children, with respect, then he won't treat the rest of us with respect. No way I'd vote for this creep. He crossed a line here. A big one. One I'm not willing to forgive. I'm surprised she did.

Nope, the Republicans made a bad choice here, no matter your position on Obama. We don't need another cowboy in the White House. Think long and hard on this one, folks. There HAS to better choices out there. Tell the GOP you don't like theirs.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Author at Work

While I was posting almost daily while in Merry Olde England, since I've been home it's been pretty quiet on my end. One big reason: once I returned home I had five and half weeks before my next trip (four weeks now) and during that time I needed to turn the editorial changes requested of me so Madman's Dance will hit the shelves on time. Which meant I needed to be head down, at at the computer, working away like a mad thing.

Which I have been. Once I finally ironed out the last 130+ pages of this incredibly long book (hey, there's a lot to wrap up) I started work on the editorial bits. I sent the first quarter (revised) to the editor today and am now trudging through the second quarter. My editor acts both as a content editor and a copy editor. So she adds punctuation where needed and dings me for things that make no sense. Or if I need more added to a scene. Or a whole new scene, for that matter. Since the series is so blasted complex, I appreciate this input immensely. Her instincts are top notch.

I currently have two other beta readers going through the book. One is my proofreader (Nanette Littlestone) and the other is SWMBO (She Who Must Be Obeyed). Actually, Ally's a neat lady who has the ability to analyze the main plot and all my umpty diddly-odd sub-plots and tell me what works and what's (insert favorite expletive here) up. I'm getting them the book far later than I would prefer, but I will incorporate what they find in the last editorial pass. Their insights are always gold.

So nothing much exciting going on here other than the application of the author's fingers to keyboard as another book comes to fruition. I intend to celebrate when this one's done. Jacynda's story wraps up in MMD. And she deserves a wonderful send off.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Some Final Thoughts

After a delayed flight, etc., I'm home. It feels good. I figured I'd do a recap for those who might be considering a trip to the UK sometime in the future:

1) Use the local trains to and from Gatwick or Heathrow. They cost £9.95 or so compared to £17.90 each way. The Express takes 30 min. The train I took from Gatwick on Saturday took 34 min. Go figure.

2) Buy food at the supermarkets or local weekend markets for the occasional evening meal.

3) Pay attention to the station announcements before you board the train. The train I was taking to Gatwick was to split into two separate trains further down the line. If you are in the wrong group of carriages you go somewhere unintended.

4) The Oyster Card is the way to go. You buy them from a vending machine at the Underground stations and can top it off as you need (add more
£). The card allows you access to the Tube, trams, buses, Dockland Light Rail and on some rail services. You tap the card against a flat surface and the charge is deducted and then you tap when you exit the station (but not the bus). You HAVE to tap the card or they will charge for the highest amount allowable for that trip. I think it's £1 to use the bus. Great value. You will receive the cheapest going rate for travel within London with the card. Every now and then someone will wander onto a bus or through a train and ask to see your Oyster Card (they scan it) or your ticket. Just don't bury that stuff very deep.

5) Remember that if you purchase higher ticket items (not food) in the UK to have the vendor fill out the paperwork so you can reclaim the Value Added Tax (17.5%). I hadn't bought anything of that nature for years and forgot to do this when I bought my new digital camera. You have to have that form filled out by the vendor and then stamped by the Customs folks on the way out of the country so you can file for your refund. In my case I lost about $25 worth of refundable taxes. Bah.

6) If you have trouble with stairs you need to take the bus. They have wheelchair ramps and low stairs. A large number of the Tube stations were built during the Victorian Era and do not have lifts (elevators) or escalators so the only way out of the ground is by trudging up two or three flights of stairs. The Underground map shows which stations have wheelchair, etc. access. The modern stations aren't a hassle.

7) The Underground is the Tube. A subway is a tunnel that gets you from one side of the street to the other. Crisps = chips. Chips = fries. Brits use milk in their coffee and will ask if you want it black or white. I'm starting to see the use of ice cubes in soft drinks. That's an accommodation for us Yanks I suspect. Real ale is something different than the usual ale you drink. Give it a try.

7) Some of the restaurants use those portable credit card machines to process your payment (I didn't see one in a pub). Very cool. I was clueless the first time I used one. They're slowly being
introduced at home.

8) You will most likely need to mosey up to the bar in a pub to order your food and you will need to tell them what table you're sitting at. They'll bring you the food. Waiting at a table can be a futile experience. The good thing is that once you have that table they don't rush you out.

And lastly, just in case you think I might never find a modern building I actually like in London, see the photo at the top of the blog. This one sits across from Big Ben on the Westminster Bridge. It's Neo Victorian, a unique combo of old (echoing the endless chimneys) and the new. It fits the surroundings. And that is everything.

Friday, June 13, 2008

To Consult a Detective

My final day in London. Part of me is keen to get home, the other part will miss this city. It's always that way.

As I'm officially out of my room at 11, I checked with Victoria Station to find out how much they charge for Left Luggage. Well, it'
s £6.50 per bag. That's $24 to leave two bags for a period of about 2 or so hours. So I checked with the hotel. They charge £1 per bag. Situation solved. So I stashed my bags and hopped the Underground to Baker Street, home of the world's most famous consulting detective. I hoped to catch Mr. Holmes in residence as I have a few points to put to him regarding a case involving anarchists, explosives and the plot to overthrow the monarchy (in 1888).

But first there was a parade. Not an official one with bands, but a lovely parade of horse flesh down Baker Street (which is right near Regent's Park). This long line of riders trotted past me. Can you imagine handling your mount and a spare on a London street? I'm guessing they're acclimatizing the horses to traffic, etc. It was an unexpected event. I almost always like those.

Mr. Holmes, much to my dismay, was not in residence. According to Mrs. Hudson he is in Yorkshire on business. Dr. Watson, however, was at home and was currently engaged in a discussion with a lady from Russia.
The good doctor was very gracious in allowing me to tour his home.

Mr. Holmes' corner (below) was jumbled, full of all sorts of testing equipment. His violin sat near the sheet music. In another room was a photo gallery of some of the more well known criminals of the day, including Thomas Neill Cream (the poisoner).

Dr. Watson had an impressive display of medical books and instruments (above). There were mementos from his time abroad and each had a story to tell. His desk was quite tidy as compared to Holmes' niche.

After a very interesting visit (Sherlock Holmes Museum) I collected the luggage and headed for Gatwick Airport. After another shuttle ride I settled into my hotel and worked on my book until about midnight. Tomorrow is the long ride home. Hope all goes well.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

A Tall Ship And A Star To Steer Her By

"I must down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by..." -- John Masefield - Sea Fever

Greenwich. Just down the river Thames from London, this is the home of the National Maritime Museum, The Royal Observatory, the Millennium (now O2) Dome and a lot of history. Since I was griping about bad architecture the other day and made the comment that the Blade Runner building was just awaiting the arrival of the Mother Ship, it's only fair to show you that ship. Yup, it's already on earth "hiding" in Greenwich (see left). Now called the O2, this building hosts concerts (Tina Turner is going to be there soon) and exhibits (King Tut is there now).

But I didn't come to Greenwich for the Mother Ship, but for the National Maritime Museum. I wandered around in there for about an hour and found the information I wanted on the Prison Hulks in, of all places, the E-Library. Off a site I'd visited before. Sigh. Up until the war with the Colonies, Britain used to send its criminals to America. Once we became independent, they hunted around for some place else to dump those who violated the law. Australia was the next stop. You could be "transported" for pretty minor offenses. In the end 160,000 criminals were shipped to Australia.

To deal with their overcrowded prisons at home and for a place to warehouse those who were destined to be transported, the Prison Hulks were used. These were old ships moored in the Thames that served as prisons. Conditions were beyond horrific. Death rates were high, sanitation nil, food substandard. Many of the inmates begged to go to Newgate Prison (certainly not a luxury spot) rather than be stuck on one of these floating hell holes.

The museum also had an video/electronic recreation of the Battle of Trafalgar during which Admiral Nelson took one for the team. Nelson is a full fledged British hero (he's the guy perched at the top of his very own column in Trafalgar Square). I'd like to do more research into the battle as I got the impression the French (and Spanish) just said "to hell with it" and surrendered. Nelson died from a bullet wound to his left shoulder that shattered his spine. Instead of a traditional burial at sea he was toted home in a wine barrel filled with brandy to preserve the body. Hummm...

After my trek through the museum I headed up the hill to the Royal Observatory. The weather was unsettled, to put it mildly. Windy, occasional splatters of rain, threatening clouds. Which delivered the following shot looking back toward the museum (which is off to the left of the picture). In the distance is Canary Wharf's massive skyscrapers.

I'm a time junkie (obviously) and so finding that there were all sorts of antique clocks displayed at the Royal Observatory just made my day. I took the obligatory picture of the Prime Meridian and noted that in 1884 an international assembly decided to divide the world into 24 different time zones starting with zero at Greenwich. The Observatory was founded in 1675. It is now located at Cambridge and the original Observatory is part of the Maritime Museum complex.

I am amazed at the work that was completed at the Observatory using pretty primitive telescopes. Flamstead, the first Royal Astronomer, was poorly paid and had to take on pupils to pay for his daily needs. Like now, the really important tasks are underpaid. He'd spend hours each night in the cold air making note of what he saw in the heavens. Quite amazing.

Tomorrow I'm off to a hotel near Gatwick Airport so I can fly home on Sat. I've learned it's best to settle somewhere near the airport the night before so if the trains have problems during rush hour you still make your flight. But before I zip down to the airport, I'm going to see if Sherlock Holmes will receive me. I've heard he's quite the character.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Do You Know Jack?

Today was the trip to the Museum in the Docklands and the Ripper exhibit, one of the main reasons I'm here. Before we dive into old Jack, a bit about the Docklands. London is a port city with a tidal river. Since about the dawn of time they've been ferrying goods up and down the Thames. As Britain became a naval power and arguably the most powerful nation on the planet at one time, they needed somewhere to offload all those goods. (see image left)

They brought all sorts of unimaginable riches into London from such far flung places as India, Singapore, East Africa. Silk, tobacco, rum, hardwoods, ostrich feathers, spices, sugar, even frozen lamb from New Zealand (!) long before they had refrigeration. Over the centuries they built the docks to handle all these imported goods. Canada Water, Canary Wharf, the Royal Docklands, St. Katherine Docks, etc. Ships would come up the Thames, their cargo would be offloaded and away they'd go. For most of England's history, these were multi-masted sailing ships so the journeys took a very long time. Once the goods were in the docks the customs folks would charge the appropriate duties, the items would be sorted, weighed and repackaged for sale. For those of you who would like to do more research I can recommend this site.

To accommodate all these goodies, a series of docks were built, each with particular specialties. The West India Dock, where the museum is now located, handled sugar, rum, hardwood, fruit, coffee and grain. As the ships grew bigger the docks moved further out of the city. With the advent of container ships, London's docks went into permanent decline.

After a lot of work, the Docklands have been rebuilt into a commercial center housing some of the world's biggest corporations. It's all yuppy for the most part, but they have retained many of the old warehouses which are now luxury flats (apartments). The Museum in the Docklands is in a block of warehouses built in 1802. Inside you can see the original timbers. The museum has a wonderful exhibit on dockland life and the connection between slavery and the growth of the British Empire. The Jack the Ripper Exhibit is a special presentation to commemorate the 120th anniversary of the Whitechapel Murders.

And now to Old Jack. I liked the exhibit. Certainly it didn't present incredible detail about the murders, but I got to see the original police reports (they had amazingly tidy handwriting), photos of the time period (though some of them were later than 1888) and modern critiques of how the newspapers and the police handled the crimes. Little details pop out at you: if you made a gross of matchboxes (a home industry) you earned you 2 1/2 pence for the work. There were 45 pubs/gin palaces on Whitechapel Road alone (the water was hardly sanitary so folks stuck to gin and beer). There were over 600 beds (in common lodging houses) on Dorset Street alone.

The exhibit clearly gives you a sense of what it was like to live in the East End in 1888. The photos were grim. So was life at that time. For those who hadn't studied the crimes it helped put it all in perspective. For me, I enjoyed studying the official police reports, some of the letters written to the coppers offering assistance or claiming to be Jack the Ripper. For the more dedicated Ripperologists, they probably would want more detail. For the average person, the exhibit did a good job.

One part of the exhibit that did bug me was the interviews with those residents who live near the areas where the Ripper tours are held. There are a lot of Ripper tours. Some are excellent, some complete crap. They go on seven days a week and many involve more than a hundred people at a time. I can imagine it gets old having to deal with someone on your doorstep shouting out at a crowd about the dismemberment of some woman six score years ago. One resident complained about that the fact that the women who'd died were never shown any respect, that all the focus was on Jack. She is wrong, actually. The Ripperologists may have black humor, but they show considerable respect for the victims. Research is being conducted into their lives, what led them each of them to that meeting with Jack and his knife. The last Ripper conference in the UK was dedicated to Kate Eddowes, one of the victims from the Double Event. So I gritted my teeth when this lady was grumbling about the lack of respect and how she'd never go on one of those tours. Pity. She might learn something about the ladies and what brought them to their end.

One hundred and twenty years later we still don't know who Jack was. Was he a Jill? A surgeon, butcher, horse slaughterer, a member of royalty, a complete nutter or a painter? Theories have come and gone and Jack is still an unknown. That's what appeals to us. The Great Victorian Mystery. In some ways I'd prefer it not be solved.

After the exhibit I met a friend for lunch at a restaurant just down from the museum. Helen McCarthy is a unique person. She is an expert in Japanese animation of which I know diddle. I first met her at A-Kon in Dallas a few years back. She's witty, smart and a damned fine person. We talked about the writing industry, about politics, about ugly buildings and just about everything else over our three-hour lunch. I can't wait to meet up with her again.

Tomorrow I'm off to Greenwich (gren-ich) to visit the Maritime Museum and see what I can learn about Prison Hulks. Yes, I'm odd. But when you're good at something, it's best to stick with it.


Tuesday, June 10, 2008

British Justice

As part of my research I made my way to the Old Bailey (Central Criminal Courts) to watch a trial. I had a number to choose from, but none of them rang any bells. So I chose Courtroom #1 because I'd heard that it was most Victorian in architecture. After being patted down and run through a metal detector, I hiked up three flights of stairs to the area where the spectators wait and then into the courtroom itself. I settled onto the wooden bench thinking to myself how uncomfortable this was going to be in a little bit. (Photo at left by Nevilley from Wikipedia 6/14/04). Why I didn't take my own photo is explained in the next paragraph.

A British courtroom isn't laid out like ours. The defendant sits in the dock which faces the judge. He does not sit at a table in front of the judge with his attorney. The defence (British spelling) and the prosecutor sit to the right of the defendant, the jury to the left. In America we have a lawyer. In Britain they have two types of attorneys -- a solicitor (who does not plead cases in front of the court) and a barrister (who does). In this case the appropriate folks were wigged and gowned. The spectators sit above and behind the defence and prosecuting barristers. The judge is an active participant in these proceedings, not just a moderator between the defence and prosecutor. The judge will sum up the case at the end, adding his own thoughts on the presentation of both defence and prosecution as compared to our system when the the judge instructs the jury to make an unbiased opinion and leaves it at that. In this particular case spectators were not allowed to take notes. Nor was I allowed to bring in a cell phone, camera or any large bag (which are restrictions for all courtrooms in the Old Bailey).

I quickly realized why there were a number of others in the spectators' galley and why none of them had gone into any of the other three courtrooms. Courtroom #1 was the scene of the first day of the retrial of Barry George, convicted in the 1999 murder of BBC celebrity Jill Dando. This is a weird case. Initially the police thought Ms. Dando's death was a contract hit and then later they settled on Mr. George who has a history of mental issues that involve stalking of celebrities and local women. There are a number of theories about this case involving international assassinations no less. The question is whether Mr. George (with an IQ of 76) is capable of planning such a cold-blooded execution.

There were eight women, four men in the jury. They were told to expect to be in court for the next 6-8 weeks. I listened to the Crown Prosecutor's opening remarks and the beginning of his case. The jury receive two huge (4") binders full of material, another 1" binder and a bound set of 11" x 17" pages. They had TONS of stuff to go through, all information from the first trial.

Alas, we did not get to any witness testimony or anything of that nature which is exactly what I wanted to experience. I suspect I'll just have to go back to the States and have Netflix send me a few Rumpole of the Bailey DVD's. However, I did enjoy being a spectator at such a notable trial.

This afternoon I returned to the hotel, took a quick nap and then grabbed my camera and went for a long walk from Victoria Station to Trafalgar Square. This took me past Westminster Cathedral, Westminster Abbey, Houses o'Parliament, Big Ben, the Clarence Pub (which stands just outside the street that once led to Scotland Yard. I was going to eat at the The Clarence, a pub that was there during the 1880's near the entrance to Scotland Yard, but the prices were designed for someone on a government salary. Of course Scotland Yard (as in the police establishment) is no longer there. It was moved to Victoria Embankment in 1890 and dubbed New Scotland Yard. Then in 1967 New (New) Scotland Yard was built on Victoria and Broadway Streets. I do want to get a photo of the second Scotland Yard if possible. It just depends if I get back that way or not.

I finally made my way to the Salisbury, that gorgeous Victorian pub we visited last October. This time I was armed with a digital camera that could handle the inside shots and so here's what the place looks like with its ornate cut glass and wood. Their Roast Beef dinner was excellent and overly filling.

The photo does not do this place justice. Ignoring all the booze bottles, check out the cut glass panels in the background and the red tin ceiling. If you ever get a chance to visit London, go see this pub (St. Martin's Lane just north of Trafalgar Square.) It's worth the hike.

Tuesday consisted of visiting the Royal Courts of Justice (the civil courts) and listening to a pleading regarding an appeals on behalf someone suing Random House. This is not riveting stuff, but it was still fascinating to see how the process works as compared to us. Like the U.S., everything moves at half speed. The Royal Courts consist of no less than 80+ courtrooms and the place is like an elaborate stone rabbit warren. Truly stunning architecture but photos are not allowed inside. I could tote the camera in along with my messenger bag and cell phone, but no photos. And if the cell phone rings heaven help you. So I turned it off and stuffed it in the bottom of the bag.

Tomorrow I'm off to the Ripper Exhibit in the Docklands and lunch with a delightful British friend. This is a day I've truly been anticipating.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Stuff That Goes Boom

Victoria Station. A sizable edifice built in 1862, it houses not only rail links for all over this nation, but a bus centre and the Underground. The picture (left) does poor justice to the intricate designs inside the roof support system. It's usually packed with people, 55% of them clueless as to where they're headed. That makes for some bottlenecks when someone suddenly stops in front of you with "deer in the headlights" syndrome. When I find myself getting that way I try to drift to the fringes of a situation, but it doesn't always happen. It's easy to get turned around in Victoria. I suspect some time/space continuum issues but have no way to test that theory.

Had the opportunity to watch a very tender scene at the station. A young couple, most likely in their early twenties, were saying goodbye. She was wearing an engagement ring and crying. I didn't get to see which ones of them was departing (I think it was her) but it was clear they didn't want to be away from each other. Very touching.

I hopped a train north to Waltham Cross, then a taxi to Waltham Abbey, home of the Royal Gunpowder Mills. The nice folks at the Mills said I could walk from one to the other (only 25 min or so) but I know that people often miscalculate the actual distance. Besides, it's been warm over here by British standards -- 80 degrees. Add the need to tote a messenger bag, a few too many extra pounds accumulated by overeatage and the results aren't pretty. The taxi service worked quite well.

Since explosives play a big part in the third book, I needed to do a bit more research into their manufacture. The Gunpowder Mills is situated on over 200 acres now converted to a museum and a wildlife refuge. The museum went into the details of gunpowder, nitroglycerine and cordite manufacturing in terms I could understand. Fascinating to me, but probably not to the average person. There were tons of old buildings to visit (incorporating mills, pressing rooms (gunpowder increases in explosive power the more it is compacted) and a nitratum (where they made nitroglycerine). At left is a gunpowder barrel from the 1830's. It shows the grain (or size) of the gunpowder, the weight and that there's a waterproofed bag inside to keep the powder dry.

Safety, as you can imagine, was a big thing at this site. There were blast walls (traverses) all over the place to shield one part of the manufacturing process from another. Buildings were well spaced apart. For those structures in which dangerous processes were being carried out, they had a couple ingenious ways to deal with potential blasts. The sheds below have flimsy roofs and side walls, but thick blast walls between each room so the blast will go up and out, but not into the next compartment. Clever.

I returned to London in the late afternoon and tried to get more editing done. It's been hard because by the end of the day I'm knackered (tired). Tomorrow I'm off to the Old Bailey (Central Criminal Courts). That outta be an experience.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Whitechapel: Home of the Ugly Building Contest

Catching up on my posting as it's been a busy couple of days. Well, actually most of Saturday was spent in the room doing some editing and trying to let my back and feet rest from the marathon on Friday. By afternoon I was back in the saddle. I took the Underground to Bank Station and then hoofed it into the East End to the Aldgate Exchange (a pub) where the Whitechapel Society meeting was being held. My walk took me through the financial heart of London and on Saturday afternoon it was dead quiet. Come Monday it'll be full of all sorts of black-suited folks, but yesterday it was eerily quiet.

So was Whitechapel, which seemed odd to me. I steered a few lost British tourists toward Brick Lane (home of some excellent Balti restaurants) and then descended into the basement of the pub. I know a fair number of the Whitechapel Society members, but not all of them. We caught up on life since last October when I was last here. Last night the speaker was Sarah Wise who did a presentation on The Old Nichol, a part of the East End located just north of Spitalfields. It's an area I knew nothing about so the talk was of interest. After a pint or two, I headed home at about quarter past ten as I don't like to stay out too late when I'm on my own.

Instead of taking the Tube, I went by bus which means you have to find the right bus stop. Just because the sign says Bus 15 stops there doesn't mean it's the right 15 for you. And not all the bus stops are the kind where bus always stops. You have to know if the sign means they will automatically pick up your tired bum or sail by if you don't wave them down. I did a couple of bus changes (it was drizzling rain but pleasant) and made it to Victoria Station about an hour after I started. The buses were packed at 11 at night. Like SRO (standing room only). Unreal. Probably has something to do with the hellacious cab fares.

Speaking $. I ate at Subway -- six inch Subway Club, crisps (potato chips) and a drink. $9.60 in our money. Wow. I want to thank those in charge (you know who you are) for making our currency Third World.

Okay, my rant for this blog: The contest. Now I suspect this isn't an official contest per se, but I'm seeing a trend in London architecture. I believe the contest consists of the following challenge: "Build us the ugliest damned building you can possibly imagine and you might win a fabulous prize." I jest not. Now The Gerkin (that's it at the top of this post right behind St. Botolph's Church) is downright gorgeous compared to some of these things. Like the one they're building in Whitechapel at present. It's like this: Π

As if someone decided to build two elevator shafts to the moon and then decided they'd best put a walkway between them. It's hugely tall, far above the old Victorian brick buildings in the neighborhood. You half except it to grow feet and start marching across the landscape, crushing cars, buses and humans underneath. I was so appalled I never got a picture of it.

But then there's the Matrix/Blade Runner/I Got The Bad Drugs This Time building (below is both a distance shot and a closeup for your viewing horror.) It really does look like something out of Blade Runner, though a bit more shiny. In contrast to the Victorian building to its right, it seems like an alien who planted itself in the middle of London and is just awaiting the arrival of the Mother Ship.

So that was my day. Tomorrow I'm off to Waltham Abbey to visit the Royal Gunpowder Mills. Should be fun. I'll post more when I have time. That pesky book calls...

Friday, June 06, 2008

London Day 2: Of Fires and Jews

The picture to the left is a painting of a cabman's shelter in the middle of the winter 1888 by John Charles Dollman (London Museum). I think it's so evocative of the time. They'd take shelter from the weather, swap tales and eat their meals. Unfortunately the horses had to remain outside. There's an still one of the original shelters at Russell Square (Bloomsbury). Nothing fancy, nothing huge. Just respite from the weather and a bit of companionship. Can you imagine the tales they'd tell?

Luckily, we didn't get rain until this evening so today was gorgeous (again). Upper sixties, a little breeze. Perfect for hiking your bum off. Which I did. First thing, I popped into a Starbucks for coffee (£1.60 = $3.20 for a small cup). To their credit Starbucks have public loos and those can be hard to find. If you're about to indulge in a two-hour tour of the East End, find a Starbucks first.

So after fortifying myself with caffeine I began the day with a London Walks entitled The Old Jewish Quarter ("a shtetl called Whitechapel.") Jean, the guide who showed us around the Victorian walk last October, gave us a tour of the "Hebrew" side of the East End. We visited Bevis Marks Synagogue (built 1701) and the interior was stunning. Marble, English oak benches (the original ones) and candles. Lots of candelabras. They have electric lights, but use the candles for weddings. Neat. This is a Orthodox shul (shool = synagogue) which means the woman sit separate from the men. In this case they sit up in a gallery overlooking the main floor. I've attended Orthodox services in Hong Kong and found the women got bored and tended to chat during the service because they had nothing to do. Reform and Conservative Judaism include women in the services. Each to his own.

There was a nice fellow at who gave us an overview of the Jewish community during the past three hundred years. Of course, there's always one in your tour group who likes to stir things up. A lady, a Jew, announced she wouldn't attend an Orthodox shul as they made the women sit separately. I saw no reason for her grumbling about this. You choose which synagogue you attend. Griping at the Orthodox folks about their traditions is like bitching at the Reform Jews because women can conduct a service. The Orthodox are keepers of the tradition. Without them Judaism would be lessened. To be honest, I doubt the Almighty really cares either way.

After the walk I went to the Museum of London for their London's Burning: Great Fire of 1666 exhibit. I was really psyched about this. Alas, it was just okay. Not earthshaking in my mind, but then I've done a LOT of research into this event as it plays into the third book in my series. That makes me a hard sell. What was cool was that I got to hold artifacts from the fire (342 years old folks), including two pieces of pottery that had fused together. To achieve that, according to the museum folks, you'd need at least 1700 degrees Fahrenheit. Steel melts at 1370 degrees. That might explain why the stones of St. Paul's Cathedral actually exploded from the heat.

One of the more touching exhibits, not related to the Great Fire, was the memorial book dedicated to those folks who lost their lives on the July 7, 2005 bombing. There are pictures of the those who died, including testimonials from friends and family. It's heart wrenching. As a frequent traveler to London I know fate could have easily put me on one of those trains or on that bus. I've traveled in and out of those stations on a regular basis. Ironically, the bombers targeted Aldgate Station. A sizeable number of Muslims live in that area and travel by the Tube. They were killing their own. Hate is always blind.

After the museum, I wandered a bit more. I visited St. Sepulchre's Church just down the street from where Newgate Prison used to be located (now the Old Bailey) and also the Central Criminal Courts which always seemed to have the requisite TV cameras across the street. I'll be attending a trial on Monday to experience firsthand the differences between the US and the UK court systems. More wandering took me to St. Paul's Cathedral, but not inside, and then back to the hotel.

Besides all the historical research, something else I noted -- guys. There are some drop dead hunky guys in this city. Of course there's a lot of older English fellows, but some of the younger ones are just so yummy. Don't know what it is, but I noted a LOT of them today (a few in Starbucks). Some in jeans, some in pinstripe suits. All worth a second look. Damn. The Brits have been holding out on us.

Off to the Royal Gunpowder Museum tomorrow in Waltham Abbey, a brief train ride north of London. Should be educational. Tomorrow night is the Whitechapel Society Meeting in, of course, Whitechapel. This time I get to listen to someone else give the talk. It'll be a later night than usual but I'm not anticipating any trouble getting back to the hotel.

And for those of you who do keep track of UK news -- the bomb is still not defused. What bomb, you ask? A WWII Blitz bomb, to be precise. Some workers unearthed it near the Bromley-by-Bow Underground Station, which is also close to the water treatment works. It is sitting on top of a gas main. So the brave folks who disarm things that go boom are working on disarming this one. Can you imagine messing with a bomb that is over 60 years old? Not enough money in the universe for that sorta job. To be safe they've closed some of the Underground east of Whitechapel. Sensible.

Will continue to update you on my various trudgings. Now it's time for editing and some of that Burt's Bees Peppermint Foot Cream. For some reason my feet are very unhappy.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

London Town

It seemed as if there was a conspiracy to keep us in Atlanta. The plane arrived late and a mechanical delay held it up even further. Then as we’re taxiing out to the take-off runway there was a hold as a previous landing had issues and they needed to check the runway for any stray bits o’plane. Finally we were off and sailing away. I had a delightful seat mate from the Caribbean who was on her first trip to London so it made the trip quite pleasant.

The weather here is gorgeous. 70 plus degrees and sunny. There were only two other people ahead of me in the Immigration line (unreal) and the trip to Lodnon on the Gatwick Express went swiftly. Somehow I remember when it used to £18 for a Roundtrip, not one way. That's $36 each way in our Silly American Pesos. Youch. I'm going to check into the bus on the return trip as I'll have plenty of time to spare that day.

Today is primarily a reconnoiter sort of day. I’m staying in a hotel south of Victoria Station this time as the husband is not with me and I’m not keen to truck around the back streets of some of London’s suburbs alone. By some wonder of fate I was able to check into my room at 11:15. Wow. The wi-fi is up (obviously) and a quick trip to the St. George Tavern earned me a pint of real ale (Timothy Taylor Landlord Ale) --- note this is real ale of which I'll write more about down the line -- and some fish and chips. The fish was so-so. The ale was very nice. Not surprisingly after that load there was a LONG nap due to the half hour of sleep I got on the plane (can't sleep on them no matter how many drugs I take) and now I'm up and freshed with a cuppa (tea) and about to do some serious wandering. To Hyde Park, me thinks. Need to stretch the legs and see the sights. Tonight it's back to the editorial work on Madman's Dance. I'll issue reports and photos as time progresses. Hopefully you folks will enjoy the trip to England, at least vicariously.

Update: Ah the joys of a Tesco nearby. Tesco is a supermarket chain and that means if you have one near your hotel you can buy: crusty bread, thin sliced ham, cheddar cheese (the real stuff) some yogurt, apples and a bit of Single Malt to keep you going. All for a lot less than dining out. The yogurt is an experiment. I read an article that said you should eat the local yogurt as it imparts the local bugs to your gut and might help you avoid intestinal disruptions. Interesting idea. The Scottish Raspberry stuff I ate tonight was fab.

I did achieve Hyde Park and took the air along with a fairly large number of Londoners. Nice weather so they were out in force. (See photo above -- Achilles about to do battle with the evil building monster. The thing had so many antennas on it you'd swear it was part of NASA).

I've rewired my brain to remember to watch for vehicles coming from odd directions, that you walk on the left, not the right and that pubs fill up the moment the work day is over. Thursday evening and the pubs are packed and overflowing onto the street. The Brits are worried about the level of binge drinking. I suspect they might have legitimate worries.

Tomorrow I'm off to the Museum of London to see the Great Fire (1666) exhibit. Sure to please any pyromaniac in your household. More later. Must edit book.


I usually post convention reports within a day or two of the convention. Right now I’m writing this post at 33,001 feet. Yup, I’m in a plane bound for England. But that’s the next post.

A-Kon 19 (they’ve had some practice) went very well. As usual there were somewhere over 15-16K Japanese animation fans. They just love the stuff and A-Kon is very good at ensuring they get the sort of experience they’re looking for.

We all survived the writers' workshop, of which I was one of the critiquers. I’m hoping those brave souls who partook of our input found it of value, despite the sea of red ink we poured all over their creations. The actual writers’ panels were very well attended. I had a total of eight with two stints of three in a row. That takes a bit of a toll and by Sunday afternoon I was feeling the fact that I’d not been drinking enough water to remain hydrated. I made sure to consume a lot of H20 and I stopped feeling like I was going to die. I got to spend time with Lee Martindale ([info]lee_martindale), Melanie Fletcher, Tom Knowles and Heidi B ([info]heidi2524). Also got to be on a couple of panels with David Drake. Both went over quite nicely with the fen.

I got home at about 8:30 Monday evening and then was back on a plane Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. It was a hectic two days, but almost everything managed to get done. What didn’t will be there when I get back.

Next post – London. I’m up to my usual research hijinks so I’ll keep you informed of what’s new in the heart of Britain.