Friday, January 20, 2017

London Life #3

Look Gromit, it's Wensleydale cheese!

OK, I didn't actually buy this one. It's got apricots. But I enjoyed the fact that I could have bought it. I'll have to pick up some other variety of Wensleydale soon.

Anyhow, this week began with a tour of Parliament. Tours are possible on most Saturdays, so we bought tickets and waited in the security line. It was like getting on a plane, going through metal detectors and all that. The tour starts in the historic Westminster Hall, built at the end of the 11th century. It is a ridiculously large space, and one of the few portions that still remain from the original construction.

The tour continues into St. Stephens Hall, which is incredibly beautiful. Sculptures and paintings are all around.

One of the nice guards came over to give us a little history. He pointed out a specific the paintings and asked Max to count up the legs of the dogs in the corner. It turns out there are two heads but only five legs visible. He suggested that doing the construction and painting the art must have taken many years to finish, and quite often artists would die before they were complete.

It was kinda wild being in the actual House of Lords (the red room) and House of Commons (the green room -- y'know, the one where you see all the members of Parliament shouting questions at the prime minister).

We spent some time taking a nice long walk along the Thames. We started at the London Eye, crossed at the Westminster Bridge, then took in some of the sculpture and monuments along the way, finishing our walk at the Millennium Bridge.




After such a long walk, we had worked up an appetite, so we headed over to a restaurant Nick Weiser had suggested called Punjab for some Indian food. It turns out it's the oldest Northern Indian restaurant in the U.K. We really enjoyed it; Max always loves bread and rice.


On Tuesday, we headed back to the Science Museum. Max wanted to get the Fly 360° experience. I declined, as I knew it would make me completely nauseated, but Max and Catherine gave it a shot.


Afterwards we walked over to the ICLC to meet the rest of the faculty and have a little reception. Max is always up for a reception. As always, he always enjoys bread and cheese. What a good bunch of people!

On Wednesday afternoon, I started teaching my London Center course: Exploring Cultural Diversity in the London Music Scene. What a title, eh? The class is going to get out into London and check out the scene. Very exciting, I hope!

Catherine and Max joined me on the tube ride over to the LC, but it turned out this was to be the first time the tube was unreliable for us. After we changed trains to the Victoria line, the conductor announced there were signal problems ahead and we had to wait. The wait turned out to be very long, so after a while we decided to improvise. It's funny -- even though I'm a jazz musician who takes pride in my ability to improvise, all I could think about at that moment was one of my favourite scenes from one of my favourite movies. It's from Apollo 13, where Ed Harris instructs his flight controllers "I want you all to forget the flight plan. From this moment on, we are improvising..."

We left the station, checked Google Maps and hopped on a bus. It was actually Max's first double decker bus ride, so of course we rode up top. Eventually, we found our way to the LC, and Catherine and Max headed off to the Natural History museum. I was only 5 minutes late for class. Postscript: Heading back home after class, the Victoria line was STILL down. Glad we didn't stay on the train.

Thursday Max and I battled with Nerf guns for a few hours at the nearby park. A four-year old named Murray approached Max on his bike, and stopped to watch the action while munching on an apple. I think the orange and blue plastic of the Nerf is just too attractive for a kid to ignore, so after a few minutes he and Max started playing together and his mum walked over and struck up a conversation. She tentatively asked about the "big changes" going on in the U.S. She wasn't sure if/how to broach the topic, but I could tell she was genuinely interested in my point of view as an American. It wound up being a very interesting chat about a whole range of topics -- Brexit, the National Health Service, middle age employment prospects, and the current state of the government in her native Poland.

Friday we had a long outing, in the afternoon buying tickets for the evening show of Half a Sixpence at TKTS.  We had the whole day, so we took a bus to the Tower of London. The bus ride itself was quite exciting. We grabbed the front row of seats in the upper deck, which provides a wonderful vantage point to watch the city go by.

The Tower is of course an amazing piece of history. We got there too late to stay for a long time, so we're surely going to need to go back. Max liked this armor intended for someone just his size.

Of course, there's plenty of really creepy stuff to be seen there, too. We just scratched the surface.

We headed back towards Leicester Square and walked over to Chinatown for dinner. Before we got food, we enjoyed checking out the decorations there. Since the Chinese New Year is coming up, it was a very festive atmosphere.

This one confused me.  I actually exclaimed "Hey, look at that sculpture!" before Catherine pointed out that it was actually a living statue. Man, they totally got me!

After Chinese food, we went over to Noel Coward theater, where Half a Sixpence was playing. Wow, it was really fun. The lead, Charlie Stemp, was amazing. He could do it all -- singing, dancing, acting -- a top notch performer. Max had a total blast. He was was into it all the way to the end. It was quite an impressive production. The orchestra sounded great, too.

That's all for now. Back in a week!


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