Britain

Yesterday and today

Yesterday (1993)
Ian Wright

I’m watching a documentary I taped this weekend, The Story of the FA Cup, which, after an opening quarter hour about the first 89 years of the competition, has had match highlights of every Cup Final since 1961.

Whenever I watch old sport highlights, I’m always fascinated by how, in my head, the moment when I started watching the sport is the demarcating line between the sport’s modern day (by which time the sport has become fast-paced and exciting) and its prehistory (less skilful, less technically accomplished, less engaging as a spectacle).  I first noticed it when I watched America’s Game, the NFL Network’s series which devoted an episode to each winner of the Super Bowl, and I’ve had it reaffirmed tonight.

I started watching football during the 1994 World Cup, the first time the sport became easily accessible to an American TV audience.  So by the mid-1980s, there were players popping up that I can well remember still being professional players in the 1990s: Brian Robson captaining the 1985 Man United side; Ian Rush scoring for Liverpool in the 1986 final; Dennis Wise taking the free kick that provided Wimbledon the only goal in the 1988 final; Ian Wright scoring two goals off the bench for Crystal Palace in the first match of the 1990 final.

But still, even with the easy recognisability of the faces, and with the appearance of kits and balls becoming steadily more modern, the game still looked amateurish, the play sluggish and sloppy.

Today (1996)
Eric Cantona

By the 1990s, the teams were made up entirely of players I know very well, and I was watching highlights of events with which I’m perfectly familiar, even if I wasn’t around to watch them live: Man United beating Crystal Palace in a Final Replay, Alex Ferguson’s first trophy as United manager; the famous 1991 semi-final between Tottenham and Arsenal.

So by this point, I was actively telling myself I needed to be perceiving these matches as modern.  The way things were going, I was about to be seeing highlights from games that I actually had watched live as they happened–Man United’s three consecutive Cup Final appearances from 1994 to 1996–and I’d be thinking to myself, “My God, how did they replace the vibrant, pulsating matches I remember from the live broadcast with antiquated, 70s-style football?”

But then the documentary actually got to the 1994 final, starting with footage of Man United and Chelsea walking out the tunnel at the start of the match.  And seeing the United players take the field, it was as if a switch got flipped in my head.  All of a sudden the players seemed quicker and more capable, the ball lighter and less leaden.

That was shortly followed, of course, by Eric Cantona’s 85th-minute winner against Liverpool in the 1996 final, which is probably the moment from all of professional sport that is preserved most vividly in my memory.  That was only three years after Arsenal beat Sheffield Wednesday in the last ever Cup Final Replay, and now, it’s fifteen years in the past.  Yet the Arsenal-Wednesday replay is History; Cantona giving United the only goal of the match is Recent Events.

I

18:1

My last day in England, I spent a while walking up and down Borehamwood high street while I waited for my uncle to get a haircut.

(Borehamwood, for anyone interested, is the small town north of London that’s home to the various Elstree film studios, where the Hammer Horror films, the first Star Wars trilogy, the original Indiana Jones trilogy and The Muppet Show were all filmed.)

There was, as is much more common in Britain than here in America, a small betting shop on the high street.  It was Monday, so there weren’t any Premier League matches that day, but there was a Spanish league match, between Barcelona and some club from the bottom half of the Spanish table (we’ll say it was Getafe).

Barcelona v Getafe, the sign in the betting shop’s window said, and then suggested a bet I should make: Messi scores first & Barcelona win 2-1; a £10 bet returns £180.

I’m not a gambler; outside of Las Vegas, the only time I can recall placing a monetary wager with a professional was when I went to Royal Ascot for the day with my grandparents in the summer of 1995.  But I returned past this shop several times in the half hour or so I was there, thinking about placing a bet.  It seemed a perfectly achievable thing to have happen, Lionel Messi scoring the opening goal and Barcelona going on to win 2-1, and £180 is quite a return on a ten-pound investment.

(Indeed, if you can get 18:1 odds on that happening for every single match Barcelona play, I’d say you’d be well-advised to take them.  You only have to win that bet four times a season to end up coming out ahead.)

In the event, I did right by not placing the bet; Barcelona ended up winning the match 5-0.  (And Lionel Messi didn’t score the first goal, though he did score the second and fourth.)  But it wasn’t until a little while later that it occurred to me that it was only the wording on the sign itself that had tempted me in the first place.

If it had read, Messi scores first & Barcelona win 2-1; 18:1 odds, I wouldn’t have considered it even for a second.  But it caught my interest because it explicitly said £10 returns £180, which, of course, means exactly the same thing.

Don’t know when I’ll be back again

There are, of course, people whose travel horror stories are much worse than what I’ve had to endure. People who were stranded in foreign countries for weeks because of the Icelandic volcano. The people with whom I’m staying now, my aunt and uncle, have been stranded for days in the past in Cuba and Turkey.

I, essentially, have the luxury of being stranded in a first-world, technologically advanced democracy of whose language I am a native speaker. And critically, I have a support network here. I don’t have to worry about finding the funds for somewhere to stay for an extra two nights; I don’t have to worry about it turning out that my aunt and uncle’s house has already been booked up by some of the other stranded tourists suddenly in need of accommodation.

And yet. I don’t think I’ve ever encountered a trip where every single element of planning has encountered such sustained, unrelenting disruption. The refusal of the East Coast website to accept my credit card, thereby preventing me from booking train tickets in advance and costing me an extra sixty pounds. The failure of my flight itinerary on the way out here. And now, the cancellation of my flight back–a cancellation, I really do feel, that’s premature and an overreaction. JFK will be perfectly happily receiving flights by seven o’clock tomorrow night.

But my flight won’t be amongst them. I’ve now been rebooked for an itinerary on Tuesday. In addition to getting me home two days late, it also requires me to go through Chicago, added two hours to the time I’ll be spending in the air.

Honestly, if it weren’t for the fact that now L has to find somewhere to stow the children during an additional two work days, I’d be ecstatic at the extra couple of days here. But she does, and that’s pretty stressful.

And it means that I can now go to the League match tomorrow between Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester City. Er, not that I finagled an itinerary change to make that happen.

I

Leaving on a jet plane

For family reasons, I found out on Monday that I needed to be in Sunderland, in the North East of England, this morning (Friday), so I booked a flight. That’s when the problems started.

First, of course, there was the earthquake. This might not seem directly connected to my flight, but it was certainly the start of a whole lot of weirdness around my efforts to get to Sunderland.

Then there was the attempt to book a train from London to Durham (the city where my aunt and uncle were staying, just south of Sunderland). For whatever reason, the East Coast train service website flat out refused to accept my credit card. I don’t know why. But the misunderstand cost a serious amount of money–it meant that instead of an advance ticket at £49, I was going to have to wait till I actually got to the train station, when I’d have to purchase a same-day ticket at £109.

My outward-bound itinerary Wednesday night involved a flight from Reagan National in Washington to Chicago, then forty-five minutes later a flight from Chicago to Heathrow in London. Both flights were with American Airlines, but the second one was “purchased through” Iberia Airlines. (Both American and Iberia are part of One World, British Airways’ airline empire. The sun never sets.) The package as a whole was purchased through Expedia, so I’m not sure why I was divided between two airlines when I was only flying on one.

By the time I’d got to Reagan National, I’d actually already been on mass transit for three hours–the trip to Lisa’s work (to drop the kids off) involves two bus rides and a Metro train ride. And then at the airport, I discovered I could only check in for the first leg of my journey. American couldn’t check me into the second (American) flight, because it went through Iberia (who are, once again, part of the same company as American). I had to check in at the gate once we’d arrived in Chicago.

Plane arrives; we board. The plane was less than a third full–probably substantially less than a third full, which was empty enough for the flight attendants to be laughing and joking about it. We pulled away from the gate bang on time.

And sat there. For half hour. Waiting. At which point the pilot informed us that our flight plan had changed; we’d have to make a detour around some weather between us and Chicago, and we did not have enough fuel for this longer journey. So we had to return to the gate to refuel, and we’d be “a little late into Chicago.”

If I’d checked into my second flight, I wouldn’t have worried. I’d have assumed that, with our flight delayed 45 minutes, my second flight would have been held up fifteen minutes so I could get to it. I now suspect that’s somewhat naïve of me.

But it didn’t matter at the time, as I hadn’t checked into my second flight. I was going to be late to Chicago, and there wasn’t even a record in the system that I was en route to get to the Iberia plane. So I spoke to the ticketing agent when we got back to the gate.

She couldn’t help me. My choices were to fly to Chicago and get booked on a new London flight once I got there, or get off the plane at Reagan then and there, and get rebooked for the morning. Either way, I wasn’t arriving in London until 10.45pm Thursday night. Then I’d still have to get from Heathrow to King’s Cross (which are on diametrically opposite sides of London), then catch a three-hour train to Durham.

That really wasn’t acceptable. If I hadn’t already spent nine hundred nonrefundable dollars on the airfare for this trip, I’d have given up then and there.

Then the agent offered me a lifeline. In an hour and twenty minutes, a direct British Airways flight was leaving from Dulles Airport, on the far side of Washington from Reagan National, for Heathrow. She booked me onto that flight.

What followed was a desperate dash across Northern Virginia, with times of frenzied racing punctuated by frustrating, interminable waits. I ran through Reagan National down to the taxi stand, where I found what was pretty much the longest line for cabs I’ve ever seen, which inched slowly forward over the course of about ten minutes.

Finally I had a taxi. I told the driver I was trying to make a 10.10 flight from Dulles, and he took off. He should have seriously been pulled over. (At one point a police car briefly flashed its blue lights ahead of us, at something unconnected to do with us, and the cabbie, alerted to the police presence, slammed on his breaks.) But we made the trip from Reagan to Dulles–a forty-five-minute to one-hour trip–in half an hour.

That trip cost me $80 (including the thirty per cent tip). It was a reminder that I was heading for a few days in a country where the cabs actually charge reasonable rates–seriously, about one tenth to one fifth what they charge in the United States.

So I ran inside the Dulles departure terminal. And found the British Airways and American Airlines counters dark and abandoned. I approached a security guard–I knew he wouldn’t be able to help me, but he was the only authority figure I could see. He suggested trying the British Airways lost luggage office on the floor below.

I went downstairs. The lost luggage office, also, was closed. I headed back upstairs, where I found the BA and AA ticketing agents leaving for the night. I told them I needed to check-in, and was told I was too late.

“A half-hour ago, I was at Reagan,” I said. “They just sent me over here because of a cancelled flight.”

The BA ticketing agent regarded me thoughtfully. The two American Airlines agents with her would clearly have said no.

“You don’t have any baggage to check?”

“Not a thing.”

And she checked me in. Bless her.

Then I headed over to the security checkpoint. It was now 9.35. My boarding pass said the gate closed at 9.55. The TSA agent checking IDs realised how little time I had and wished me luck. The TSA agent who then popped up out of nowhere as I headed toward the baggage inspection line, on the other hand, and insisting on “double-checking” my pass and ID, seemed genuinely amused at inconveniencing me.

I’m serious about that. This isn’t me feeling frustrated and desperate to get to my plane and ascribing malice to someone who just doing their job. It amused her to delay me.

Then I got into my second baggage-scan line of the evening, which took a damn long time but, of course, had no way of doing anything else. It was 9.46 by the time I cleared security and headed down to the shuttle taking people from the Arrivals and Departures building to the departure terminals.

A shuttle was just leaving. I didn’t managed to catch it, and I had to wait for the next one. It was 9.51 by the time I got off the shuttle at the Dulles departure terminal. I ran up the four flights of escalators to the departure gates, though I was so tired by the time I reached the third one that I almost rode the last two on my hands and knees.

(Try running up a flight of escalators the next time you’re at the bottom of one. They’re considerably steeper than normal stairs. Then try it while carrying two fully-packed pieces of luggage.)

As I shuffled, heavily winded, along the terminal towards my gate, the wall clock read 9.52. But I was certain I wasn’t going to make it. I had been sure I wouldn’t make it when I arrived at Dulles to find the BA and AA desks shut down for the night, and I was sure again now.

And, indeed, when I got to the gate, I found its doors shut. But I also found all the flight’s passengers sat at the gate waiting to board–prepping the plane had been delayed, and it hadn’t started boarding yet. Never had I been so happy to see a flight delayed.

So I made my flight. And, having found a ridiculously cheap two-legged, American flight at such short notice, I was essentially upgraded for free (well, for $80, paid to the cab driver) to a nonstop British Airways flight. Instead of sitting at O’Hare waiting for my eight-hour second flight to lift off, I was receiving a free glass of wine with dinner on my six-hour flight. We landed at 10.20, over an hour before my original flight had been due to land.

Which meant that I was on a train to Durham by 1.30, though it did still cost me £109. (Two days ago, when an advanced standard ticket was £49, an advanced first-class ticket was only £112.)

(I had actually brooked with Lisa the idea of travelling first-class on the train when still trying to book in advance. “No,” she said.

“But I get free food,” I said.

“No.”

“But I get free alcohol,” I said.

“Hmm … well, maybe.”)

And here I am, Friday night (actually now early Saturday morning, at least here in England, if not in the United States), with my family duties fulfilled. Of course, I’m supposed to fly back Sunday afternoon, this time on bloody Iberia for both legs. So there’s a pretty decent chance either my first leg, into New York, or my second, into Washington, will be cancelled.

Though, come on, Mother Nature, a hurricane? I’m a Floridian. You can’t scare me with a hurricane. But you threw an earthquake at me, and then bad weather over Chicago. Neither one of those stopped me from travelling intercontinentally. I’m pretty much laughing at you right now. Wouldn’t you really like to show me who’s boss? Like, say, Icelandic volcano levels of wanting to show me who’s boss? That Icelandic volcano erupts Saturday night, I could be stuck in London for days. Weeks.

Wouldn’t that show me?

I

That’s my boy

DaleksI don’t know what prompted Boy to go through all our DVDs–or what made him think he’s allowed to–but he came to me with the DVD of “Resurrection of the Daleks”, a Doctor Who story that first aired in February 1984, and said he wanted to watch it because it had “bad robots” (the Daleks) on the cover.

There are four specific episodes I can remember watching on BBC One in England before we moved to America when I was seven, and this is one of them–I clearly remember this being the first time I’d ever seen a Dalek, and my parents explaining to me that they were the Doctor’s biggest, most dangerous enemy. I would have been three at the time. So of course I told Boy he could watch it, and smiled to myself that his first exposure to the Daleks would be the same as my first exposure.

We watched episode one, and he loved it. So then we watched episode two. Then three, and then four–he watched the entire story in a single sitting.

The next morning I got up to discover that he’d been through all the DVDs looking for more Dalek stories. He’d picked out one of the Cushing movies–the cinematic adaptations of the first two Dalek stories, starring Peter Cushing as an eccentric human scientist named “Dr Who”, made in the mid-sixties to capitalise on the Dalekmania that was sweeping Britain. (With Dalekmania and Beatlemania, we were a pretty manic people at the time.) The movies attracted him because they had differently coloured Daleks on the cover–to highlight the fact that they were in colour, as television Doctor Who was in black and white at the time.

After watching 1965’s Dr Who and the Daleks, he next picked out the television story it was based on: “The Daleks”, the second-ever Doctor Who story, from 1963. This time I was a bit leery–not only had Boy never watched anything in black and white anymore, but William Hartnell-era Who is, in my estimation, rather slower-paced than anything else people are likely to be exposed to made after 1960 or so. It’s almost like a play that’s been put on television–the story is told through dialogue, not images.

And yet Boy watched all seven episodes of the story–that’s three hours of Hartnell Who. And then asked for more.

Boy with his Dalek toyHe’s now watched every Classic Who DVD I have that includes the Daleks–usually, he watches one or two full stories a day. He’s also sampled a few non-Dalek stories: he started with “Survival”, the very last Classic Who story (1989), but wasn’t impressed with it, but then liked “The Five Doctors” (1983) a whole lot. He’s also seen two episodes of the most recent series of New Who (“Amy’s Choice” and–with a Dalek!–“The Big Bang”) but seems rather less interested in them than he does in the classic material.

Mostly, he’s a Dalek fan, and I guess I’m getting a little taste of what it must have been like when Dalekmania first swept Britain in the mid-sixties–and a little proof of the universality of their appeal to children. I love watching it, and I’m sad my dad can’t see it too, as he’d get a big kick out of it.

And now, to see how long it lasts.

I

Anger

For the first time in a long time, a sports team I support made me angry today.

In 2007, England threw away qualification for Euro 2008, then, through losses by Croatia and Russia, were given two miraculous chances to snatch qualification at the last instant. And threw both of them away. That surprised and disappointed me, but it did not make me angry.

Over the course of three tournaments under Sven Goran Eriksson–Euro 2004 and the 2002 and 2006 World Cups–England were workmanlike and unimaginative and unadventurous, and in two quarterfinals (against Portugal in 2004 and 2006) it cost them elimination against a team they should have beat. (In the 2002 quarterfinal, England were simply eliminated by a better team, Brazil.) That surprised and disappointed me, but it did not make me angry.

In the 1998 World Cup, England, despite being reduced to ten men through David Beckham’s most famous moment as a footballer, nevertheless outplayed Argentina over 120 minutes, and even had a perfectly good winning goal disallowed through a referee’s incompetence, only to find themselves knocked out of the tournament on penalties. That surprised and disappointed me, but it did not make me angry.

I can do this for every tournament, every two years, going back to when I first started following football in 1994. They all end in disappointment, usually (except for 1996 and 2002) exacerbated by the knowledge that we should have been better.

Against the United States on Saturday, England were clearly–and expectedly–the superior side, but through a combination of sluggishness as a team, an incredible performance for the USA from one of the Premier League’s best goalkeepers, and a moment that will nag Robert Green for the rest of his life, they were held to a draw. This disappointed me, but it neither surprised me nor made me angry.

Against Algeria today, England made me angry.

I am an England supporter. I’m used to unreasonably high expectations, ludicrously hyperbolic press coverage, a team studded with superstars who fail to live up to their potential, and inevitable disappointment. That’s fine. That’s England.

But the Algeria match today went beyond that. Anyone watching the match today could never have guessed which of the two teams were the prohibitive favourites. Or rather, they could have guessed, but they’d have guessed wrong. Because Algeria actually outplayed England today.

England were, first of all, awful. They could not complete a pass to save their lives. At one point John Terry attempted to pass the ball backwards to a pair of Algerian strikers who had only David James between them and the goal.

But even beyond that, England were scared. They were timid. No one was willing to shoot. Frank Lampard had an open shot on goal, and decided to centre the ball instead so that someone else could shoot–only there was no one there in the centre. Emile Heskey had an open shot on goal, and decided instead to centre the ball toward Wayne Rooney–only there were two Algerian defenders between him and Rooney.

It was a disgusting performance. It made me angry. Fucking fucking fucking fucking FUCKING angry.

Every single England player who stepped onto the pitch in Cape Town tonight should feel ashamed. You pull on the shirt of Sir Geoff Hurst, of Sir Bobby Charlton, of Bobby Moore, you have a legacy to uphold. And honestly, for the first time I can ever remember, not a single player on that team today upheld that legacy.

Supposedly this is the same team that won nine of their ten qualifying matches for this World Cup finals. Supposedly it’s the same team that, until the United States, had won every single match they’ve played in 2010. I’m having trouble believing it right now.

Briefly, when Jermaine Defoe and Peter Crouch came on around the seventieth minute, England looked adventurous. If those changes had been made at halftime instead of with only twenty minutes to go, we’d have scored. But even then, we only managed about fifteen minutes of good attacking play. By the 85th minute we looked limp and lifeless again.

The England team–commendably–already donate all their match fees to charity, so I can’t demand that they do so today because of their awful performance. But a second, matching donation out of their own pockets would seem appropriate, as would, frankly, an apology to every follower of England football.

One more match to get it right. Slovenia, who for my money have looked better than the USA, or Algeria, or England, in their two matches so far. England should have had at least four points from their first two matches, which would mean they would only need a draw against Slovenia to assure progression to the second round. It’s not ridiculous that instead, they need a win.

It is ridiculous that I’m going to have to spend the next five days wondering if that win will come.

I

The Marrakesh Express

Boy and the trainIn England, we spent a lot of time travelling by train, across much of the country, and we loved it. We loved it so much that when we got back to the States, the first thing we did when we needed to travel again was look up train fares and timetables.

And then promptly booked ourselves some aeroplane tickets. The steep prices and the slow travel times–a round trip between DC and Tampa sits you on the train for 42 hours–immediately put paid to any plans to travel by train on this side of the Atlantic.*

Last week, we made a quick trip to Florida, since my sister Claire graduated from the University of Florida on Saturday and then had her engagement party on Friday night, and we elected to travel by train. Reserved early enough, the train looks expensive, but it does have the advantage that unlike the airlines, its prices don’t skyrocket as you get closer to departure date.

I think there’s a real romance to train travel. I love sitting by the window, watching the countryside roll by. As a parent, I love the relative freedom of being able to get up and move around in a way that you can’t on an aeroplane. If I’m able to travel without children, I love travelling generally, whether by plane or train–but I love it more by train.

Alexandria train stationLisa was full of that romance before we’d even boarded the train–she felt it as soon as we entered the train station in Alexandria, Virginia, because this sixty-year-old lobby looked to her like just what a train station should, with its rows of back-to-back wooden benches, its linoleum floors and its sparse interior overlooked by a clock set high on the wall. I’d had much the same sensation at several of the smaller stations in England, but of course Lisa doesn’t have the same associations with sleepy English country village train stations that I do.

Of course, once on the train, we couldn’t help but compare the experience to the trains in England. One area where the American trains definitely have the edge is in spaciousness. Sleeper cars; the coach class seats whose footrests and seat backs flattened out so that they practically turned into beds; the lounge car and the dining car–American trains are designed for overnight trips, not for the daytime trips in England that, even if you’re travelling the length of the country (as we did from London to Newcastle), won’t exceed three hours. The bed-seats did mean that none of the seats faced each other, but it was a tradeoff worth making.

Bearsted train station, Kent, near Leeds CastleIt was also a relief to be able to check luggage on the American trains, so we didn’t have to be responsible for it ourselves, and to know that we’d have enough time to make it off the train comfortably at our stop. In Britain, we’d (by which I mean, I’d) be desperately hauling our suitcases (and a family of three on a four-week holiday have a lot of luggage) off the train in the minute or two we had before the train pulled away again on the way to its next trip.

We definitely found British train travel superior in efficiency, though. Despite the fact that we were assigned to seats when we boarded, on neither train were we actually sat together. So not only did the American trains need a separate porter for every car–to assign people to seats–but the effect achieved seemed to be the bureaucracy of assigned seating minus the comfort of good seating arrangements. After we got shuttled into four adjacent seats a few hours into the trip–when those seats became available–I asked Lisa what she thought so far. “It certainly makes me appreciate England,” she said.

The American trains also seemed much more laid back about actually getting anywhere. For large portions of the trip–mostly in suburban or urban areas, it seemed–they were content to stroll along at 25 or thirty miles per hour. They also felt the need to stop at almost every single station on our route, though I’m guessing that’s an unavoidable consequence of how much less popular train travel is in American than in Britain: less service means that each time the train does run, it has to stop almost everywhere.

All in all we had a lot of fun. I don’t know that, without significant savings, it would be enough to justify taking what amounted to two days out of our holiday for travel time, but we’d certainly be sympathetic to travelling by train again.

Theoretically the Southeast High Speed Rail Corridor is supposed to open within the next decade, and when it does, I’ll be really interested in checking it out. One thing I look forward to a lot is travelling without small kids. I got a taste of that in the evenings, when Lisa, Boy and Girl all went to sleep and I was left alone with my laptop. Free of the distractions both of children and the Internet, in both cases I got a thousand words–a day’s work, essentially–in about an hour.

I

*In Britain the base prices are also fairly steep, but there are so many different discounts that the only people who are going to end up paying full price are basically single adults (or couples of adults) who don’t travel by train very often. The presence of a small child in our party reduced our fares by over half. Traveling parties of at least four also get their fares reduced by half.

Shanghai
Words last two days: 1175
Words total: 24,433

Time spent writing: Noon-6pm, on and off
Reason for stopping: Quota; Lisa got home
Darling: The Chinese policeman turned and fired a rant at me of which I could not understand a single word but took his meaning perfectly.
Words that boggled Word: must’ve
Tyop: I felt a pull at my angle and spun round.
New words today: charred, bombardment, cadre

The day Spring dies

The past two months have been beautiful. Today, the truth of that has inspired me to whinge.

Apart from a four-day heat wave in the middle, for eight weeks the high temperature has been somewhere between fifty and seventy degrees Fahrenheit every day. I have spent most of every day sat out on the balcony–recently, I’ve spent that time writing.

And out here on the balcony is where I’d like to spend every day. Whether it’s this specific balcony, or the porch behind our apartment in Gainesville where I wrote A Traitor’s Loyalty, or the solarium at my aunt’s house in West Berkshire. It’s … good for me. It’s good for my state of mind; it’s very good for my writing productivity.

Today, though, that all changes. Today spring ends, and summer begins. Today’s forecast high is 84 degrees; tomorrow, it’s 88. On Sunday it’s 91. The sweltering heat is about to chase me back inside, where my choices will be either to sit in the living room at one of those collapsible TV-dinner tables while a pair of small children use me as their personal Swiss Alp, or to retreat to my desk in our bedroom–after carefully clearing from it the parts to my half-assembled model Spitfire–where I would have no way to keep an eye on the kids.

Clearly, when I’m a rich and famous author, or Lisa is a rich and famous … um … lab analyst, we’ll have to spend our summers in England. May through August in England; springs and autumns in Northern Virginia. And the winter in–oh, I don’t know–San Diego.

I

Shanghai
Words last two days: 1173
Words total: 18,564

Time spent writing: Noon-2pm; 3.30-6pm
Reason for stopping: Went out for a walk; quota
Darling: Her voice bubbled and fizzed over the telephone line.
Words that boggled Word: fiancé
New words today: pocketbook, gilt, artillery, baseball

Cue Grieg’s "Morning" in the background

The West Berkshire countrysideIn order to be at St Pancras to catch our 9AM train to Paris, we had to leave my aunt’s house by 5.30, which meant we had to be up by 4.30. In England in June, that’s already comfortably after sunrise.

The thing that most surprised Lisa about England was how green the country is, how much of train trips or car trips across the country are spent trundling through patchwork fields of pastureland and bright blue or yellow flowers and country lanes. And at 5.30 that morning, when we set off through the West Berkshire countryside for the M4, we had those country lanes all to ourselves–apart from the English wildlife.

Lisa and I went to Paris alone, so Boy wasn’t in the car with us–just Lisa, my dad (driving) and me. So early in the morning, we all sat in semi-catatonic silence. A light mist wreathed its way across the field–the sort of weather that would get described as foggy in America. The roads in there are narrow enough that when two cars approach each other travelling in opposite directions, they have to slow down for caution as they drive past each other. They were bordered on either side by overgrown hedgerows that offered occasional glimpses of the meadows through which we drove.

Every turn around a blind corner would reveal, for just an instant, a cloyingly pastoral scene out of a Disney movie: rabbit, pheasant, hedgehog, all strolling or resting comfortably on the road surface. Of course, then they’d see our giant SUV bearing down on them at forty miles an hour, and they’d scatter into the bushes. One bird took off and hurtled down the road in the same direction we were travelling. Its speed matched ours perfectly, and riding behind it was like a shot of a jet fighter in a movie, watching it glide smoothly, yawing slowly from side to side, then after a few moments banked away across the fields. Around one corner, we came upon a fawn, which turned and bounded away from us, along the road for a few moments before hopping through a break in the hedgerows.

That same day, I travelled on a ninety-mile-an-hour train, I saw the palace at Versailles, I had a Royale with Cheese at a Paris McDonald’s, I encountered a ring of gypsy beggars, I made eye contact with a man urinating on the street, I ate at a cafe where the fizzy drinks cost more than the Heineken, and I walked four miles in 85-degree-heat with a six-months pregnant woman to get to our hotel(s). (See Two days in Paris.)

But those first thirty of minutes of that day? I shall never forget.

I

Shanghai
Words last two days: 1100
Words total: 16,656

Time spent writing: 1pm-6pm
Reason for stopping: Quota
Darling: His lips thinned; I had asked a question he had long grown tired of answering.
Words that boggled Word: sepoy
New words today: reverie, companionable

YouTube Tuesday (YouTubesday? YouTuesday?)

London is bidding for the 2014 World Science Fiction Convention. I guess this is their concept of how it might look as the guests arrive:

Man that was fun. I wonder if there’s a city that comes anywhere close to being as present in film and television science fiction as London. San Francisco took a run at it for a while, but London had a pretty big head start, and Frisco seems to have lost steam now anyway.

I think I could probably identify about sixty per cent of the images in the video. There’s 28 Days Later, The Prisoner, 1984, V for Vendetta, what appears to be King Kong in London (though I’m unfamiliar with such a film), An American Werewolf in London and a flash of what I think is an adaptation of Day of the Triffids. I’m sure there must also be some flash of Quatermass in there too, whether from the 50s or from the past few years, and I’m a bit surprised there’s no Primeval.

Of what I can’t identify, I’m most curious about the cartoon scenes of the Great Exhibition in the mid-nineteenth century, and the scenes of dragons flying above the city. (Though maybe the dragons are Triffids? I’ve neither read the book–though I have my dad’s copy printed in the 1950s–nor seen any of its adaptations, so I don’t know how dragonlike Triffids are.)

And of course, a good third of the montage are scenes from Doctor Who, whether from the classic series (confined only to the 1960s, for some reason) and the past six years. From the classic programme, there are of course two of the most famous images in the history of British television: the Daleks trundling past the Houses of Parliament in “The Dalek Invasion of Earth” and the Cybermen walking down the steps of St Paul’s Cathedral in “The Invasion”.* There’s also “The Web of Fear” and a shot I think might be from “The War Machines”. From New Who there’s “The Empty Child”, “The Age of Steel”, “Aliens of London”, “Doomsday”, possibly “The Next Doctor”, “The Shakespeare Code”, “Voyage of the Damned”, “The Christmas Invasion”, “Rise of the Cybermen” and “Rose”.

But even after all that, there’s still stuff I’ve missed. Anyone catch anything else? Is there anyone who can identify that post-apocalyptic foot race around the dome of a flooded St Paul’s? The bombing raid on the city by jetfighters? Anyone? Bueller?

I

*I think the shot of the Slitheen spaceship slicing through the Big Ben clock has become as iconic amongst Who fans as those shots from the 60s, but I don’t think it’ll ever achieve anything like a comparable position in the history of television in general.

Shanghai
Words yesterday: 1418
Words total: 3705

Time spent writing: Three hours (1pm-3pm; 11pm-midnight)
Reason for stopping: Boy woke up; bedtime
Darling: “Bloody hell,” I said quietly, and Mrs. Muldoony pursed her lips in silent Presbyterian disapproval.
Tyop: dig into my picket for dug into my pocket
Words that boggled Word: pocketwatch
New words today: rickshaw

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