Wednesday, August 29, 2007


On August 3rd, we left Dulles Airport on Virgin Atlantic, me and the Cap'n, and my brilliant younger niece. We arrived early in the morning August 4th at Heathrow. I would like to throw in a small kudo to Virgin, because they handled me and my needs extraordinarily well. US air carriers either do not provide supplemental oxygen, or charge $100 per leg additional to provide you a bit of gas. Virgin Atlantic takes their required-equipment portable oxygen bottles (called walk-around bottles), which they must have for crew members to be able to move freely around the cabin during depressurization , and adds a pulse conserver device to the top, and one small bottle lasted me the entire eight-hour flight at 2 lpm. And they did this for FREE. Bravo!

We proceeded to rent a car which was disadvantaged by having the steering wheel on the wrong side of the car, and a six-speed manual transmission which insisted on being shifted with the left hand. It was okay, because it appears that the English drive these malformed cars on the wrong side of the road as well.

We then proceeded to drive into downtown London. The congestion rules that make you pay a fee for driving a car into central London do not apply on weekends, and at 8 am on Saturday morning there isn't much traffic. We were armed with the Google Map instructions that I had e-mailed to my phone, a Michelin map, and a strong sense of self preservation.

We drove into town, and rather promptly found our hotel in Mayfair. We parked our car there, but weren't able to check into the hotel until the afternoon. The hotel restaurant was still open for breakfast, so we had a touch of tea and toast (and corn flakes). We went for a walk, up Berkeley Street to Berkeley Square. We saw no nightingales singing, but plenty of pigeons. No angels dined at The Ritz during our stay.

When our hotel would let us check in, we did so, and took a nap until six o'clock or so. When we woke, we walked up and down Piccadilly, window shopping, and decided to get take-out from Marks & Spencer and dine in our hotel room.

Early on Sunday morning, we got up and took the doubledecker bus tour which is required with each trip to London. Our hotel was near Green Park, which was the starting point for the bus tour (did I do some planning, or what?) so we trotted over there for the first tour of the day. Hopped on the bus (with tickets I'd bought online before leaving home) and went forth.

We saw the sights.

We went to Buck House, and Liz wasn't home (the bobbys suggested she might be at Windsor, but as we all know, she spends August in Scotland). But they were changing the guard, nonetheless, so we hung out. Very lovely horses. I suppose they stay that way when they're not regularly in the mud.

After we finished the tour, we hopped into the malformed car and headed north. We were on our way to visit our friends Tim and Sally, (hereinafter referred to as our generous host and hostess) who live in a town outside Manchester called Wilmslow (which I liked so much, I keep looking at the realty ads for available properties there). We drove on the wrong side of the road up the highway, past Birmingham and Coventry (where they make Jaguars, so we bowed profoundly as we passed through). We arrived at our destination using only our map and directions that our gracious and lovely hostess had e-mailed me a few days previous.

They welcomed us with open arms! (Lucky us! What if we'd arrived and they'd taken us into White Slavery??) We rather decompressed and hung out. The Cap'n and our gracious host began their week-long course in the finer points of cricket, with a supplemental thousand-page-book of rules serving as their sacred text. UK was playing India in a test match and were losing their tails. They took this as a learning experience...

On Monday we visited the Manchester Museum, the regular home of the Lindow Man, who was unfortunately on holiday in London during our stay. Nonetheless, there were a variety of stuffed animals and dead Egyptians to greet us.

We also went to the Manchester Airport. Not to the terminal side, but the backside. Airplane watching is a sport like birdwatching in England. Folks collect the registration numbers of airplanes they have seen, and there are databases tracking where these airplanes have been sighted. (Rather odd, imho.) But, in the viewing section at the Manchester Airport, they have one of the original BA Concordes parked, and on certain days, they give cockpit tours. This was not one of those days, but the Cap'n was more excited because there was a Hawker-Siddeley Trident on display next to it, and he'd never actually seen one of those. (It looked like an airplane to me.)

We took it slow and easy on these days. I tried to remember that I needed to not go full speed all the time, and I was careful to charge the battery in my oxygen concentrator every time we were in the car. I had two batteries, and fully charged, the two of them would last about six hours, so I was generally in very good shape, and never was in danger of being without.

Thinking again, it was slow and easy for me, because I would doze off and nap in the afternoon car rides, while our gracious and generous hostess hauled me around at her usual hundred miles per hour (she is recently released from the Formula One circuit). It was neither slow nor easy for her.

On Tuesday, we went to Wales. Our gracious and generous host is a Welshman, and we went to the sheep farm of his brother, where our host grew up. This was during the hoof and mouth scare, and they could not move their rams (at the lower farm) to meet with their ewes (at the higher farm) to make lambs for next year, and were rather concerned that this might well be disasterous. However, the restrictions were lifted in a few days, so we are hopeful that the lambs of 2008 will be on schedule.

They also raise and show Welsh ponies at the lower farm. Driving up to the house at the lower farm was a bit of an adventure. The road wound up the hill a bit, off the paved road, and became increasingly narrow until there was truly room for only one vehicle, and not a large one at that. At one point we met an opposing car, and had to back up to let them pass.

The Cap'n decided that Welsh was actually English that had been typed starting on the wrong home row. For example, the previous sentence in Welsh would read "Tnd Czl'n cdckcdc gnzg Sdlxh szx zcgjzlly Dnblkxh gbzg nzc bddb gtped xgzfgknb ln ghd sfonb nlmd fls."

We left the farm and went to Castle Conwy, in the town of Conwy, and climbed around. I did not go all the way to the top of the tallest tower (and mostly because the stairs were very narrow and would have been very difficult to navigate with the oxygen concentrator, considering the traffic was two-way). I did, however, go as high as the Chapel in the front end, which was halfway up the tower.

Conwy was built by Edward Longshanks, my ancestor (and probably yours; he seems to show up on a LOT of geneology charts), so my niece suddenly discovered that she's a princess, and not the JAP sort either. I assured her that she was not any sort of princess, that even Liz's grandchildren weren't all princes or princesses. Add to the fact that my mother's maiden name is of Welsh origin, and my grandmother was a Campbell, and Longshanks tried conquering all of them, it's no wonder I'm conflicted.

We stopped at a posh hotel spa tea room sort of place, which was gracious enough to accept us for dinner in our going-to-the-farm-and-castle-clothes. We had a lovely dinner and acted respectably, to our great credit.

Wednesday dawned cool and clear (as did every other day; we were very lucky) and we headed off to the metropolis of Barrow in Furness. Barrow is the birthplace of the Cap'n's grandfather in the 1880s. The drive there is a beautiful one, through the Lake District, near Windemere. Barrow is an industrial town, where Vickers and the British Navy have been building ships (especially submarines) for a hundred years or more. When the grandfather was a child, it was a steel mill town, and indeed, there is a slag heap outside the town as tall as the surrounding mountains.

The intrepid Cap'n and our gracious host found grandfather's baptismal certificate, the church and font where he was baptized and a house he lived in as a child. Pretty remarkable, all told!

On Thursday we visited the Museum of Science and Industry of Manchester, which was very interesting and well done. Since Manchester was the cradle of the industrial revolution, they have mills and engines powered by water, hot air, steam, gas, electricity... probably some powered by captive Americans if you look closely enough. It was very well done and very interesting. It's housed in five or six separate buildings which were originally was the very first train station in the world. My brilliant niece was most captivated by the elaborate setup of Thomas the Tank Engine, an old friend of hers.

I got to have fish and chips for lunch. No mushy peas.

Our gracious and generous hostess is a lay reader in the Church of England, and her parish has two churches. St Bartholomew's is the older of the two, and the current church dates from the 1500's, with a crypt dating from the 1200's accessible from a tiny circular staircase in the sanctuary of the current church.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

PS on PH

A really cool article in the Wall Street Journal....

Life is full of surprises. And stuff.

So, I haven't posted for a little while, because I went to ENGLAND, and it was FABULOUS, but I'll write more about this later.

This morning, we went over to see the boat and maybe go sailing, since we hadn't seen the boat in about a month. It was indeed too windy to go for a sail, so we did some maintenance, and puttering around.


As I got out of my car, and fiddled with my equipment (oxygen, backpack, bottle of water, other important items), and Cap'n Bligh got all his equipment together, I stood up, peered down our familiar dock with its familiar boats, and said in an inordinately loud voice, "WHAT THE F*** IS THAT?!?!?!!?!???"

Remember, if you will, that our boat is 34 feet long, with a mast 51 feet above the water. The biggest boat on our dock is maybe 45 feet, with a mast not much taller than ours. What I saw was a bowsprit, (one of those long spear things that stick out the bow of a sailboat) that at its tip was as tall as some of the masts. And masts, taller than anything else by far, with a square-rigged sail at the top of one of them. It was HUGE. It was F***ING HUGE. And it was at the end of our dock.

Well, we marched ourselves down our dock, passing our boat hardly noticing if it was still floating or not, and we marched with our silly mouths agape to see a square-rigged, two-masted, one hundred seventy five foot long ship parked at the end of our dock. On the back it says "Clipper City."

One of our neighbors was on her boat, and she said, "You guys haven't been around for a while, have you?" And I said "What the HELL is this thing??"

She explained that it had come from Baltimore, repossessed by the bank from a guy. It obviously needs a LOT of work. A LOT of work. Clipper City was taken by the bank and they think they're going to get a million dollars for it.

Banks are so silly.

Boats are not investments.

Boats are for work or for fun. They only depreciate.

This one used to give rides in Baltimore Harbor, and the Coasties shut 'em down because the boat is not safe for commercial use. Lots of rust, bad fiberglass over wood of questionable quality, a huge maintenance nightmare, and it needs a crew of ten or so to ever leave the dock.

And the bank is paying our marina about $3,000.00 a month to park it at the end of our dock.

They're not using the pool, or the showers, or the gym, or having coffee and danish in the breakfast lounge.

Maybe next year our rates won't go up.

Welcome, HUGE Friend.