September 2009


When I composed this list, it was way back in the year 2007. George Bush was still President, we still had an economy, and things were so, so much different then. The Internet did not even have pictures, which can be the only explanation as to why I did not include any. Anyway, I post this with pix now so that you may enjoy the effervescent Slickosity.

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Yes, it is time to compose another top X list. One of my favorite books is the Book of Lists. Another one of my favorites is Moneyball, but that doesn’t really have any bearing on this post. It’s just fun to list things, yo.

And by “top 5”, I don’t necessarily mean best. In this case I mean a combination of “most cynically conceived” and “most hilariously devoid of education content”. In that respect, I can’t really include “Trading Spaces” because, devoid of anything educational that it is (other than “don’t let the crazy lady redesign your house”), it’s not something you’d ever even potentially see a schoolteacher TiVo and then play for his/her class as a means of not having to put together a lesson plan for that day. No, these are straight-out documentaries.

Come on, now. It was just a chimp that walked upright.

Come on, now. It was just a chimp that walked upright.

“Humanzee” I think that this documentary had a lot of promise but I haven’t seen it at all on any of the channels save the one time. Basically, it’s the story of a pet chimp some couple purchased back in the 1960s that they think might have been half human. I don’t even want to think about how that would have come about. I really, really hope that it involved test tubes. But that’s not all! Supposedly there have been several human/chimp hybrids but they have all been killed by angry mobs and/or the government.

Extra credit bonus points: There’s a scene in the documentary where the female half of the aforementioned couple recounts a time when the Humanzee apparently sexually assaulted her. This was relayed in a jokey, off-the-cuff manner, which somehow manages to increase the creep factor of an already naturally creepy show.

“The Tunguska Explosion” The Tunguska Explosion is something that really occurred. The latest theories on the subject involve a largish comet that bounced off the Earth’s atmosphere and released insane terror on a remote section of Sibera. It’s actually a pretty interesting phenomenon.

However, I guess that the producers of the doc decided it wasn’t interesting enough because this is the most extreme Educational Channel Program I think I’ve ever seen. Here are the tenets of Educational Channel Programs:

It's not a matter of if, but when.

It's not a matter of if, but when.

– You never say “this was 3 miles long” or use any English or metric system of measurement for anything. When relaying size, it’s always in terms of football fields. Force is ALWAYS – and this CAN NEVER BE SUBSTITUTED FOR ANYTHING ELSE – measured in Hiroshima bombs. I forget how many Hiroshima bombs the Tunguska explosion was worth but it was worth a lot of them.

– You have to find creative ways to make whatever phenomenon you’re talking about Newsworthy and Important to your average channel-surfing, gum-clacking viewer. In the case of “Tunguska”, this is done by scientists repeatedly saying things like “it’s not a matter of if but when”.

– If you can create a corny CGI of a city being destroyed and find a good reason to include it in the doc, you must. In fact, you must repeat the image about 400 times because CGI costs money, dammit.

– If it involves a war, you are legally required to have 8 people dress up in period clothing. This will be your army, and you will do nothing but take close-up shots of their feet and faces because then maybe viewers won’t figure out that you didn’t actually send a cameraman out to the Battle of Thermopylae.

This, of course, did not involve a war, which is unfortunate because I would have really liked to see the feet and heads of 8 to 10 Cossacks at some point in this. It did have the other 3 things I mentioned and included them gloriously. A friend of mine developed a drinking game around this particular doc which involves taking a shot every time you hear the words “football field”, “Hiroshima bomb”, or “it’s not a matter of if but when”. I do not recommend doing this as it is possible to die from alcohol poisoning.

Look, God! I can shoot crap out of my butt! Can the humans please make an EXTREME animal show and feature me in it?

Look, God! I can shoot crap out of my butt! Can the humans please make an EXTREME animal show and feature me in it?

The entire Most Extreme Animals series I admit, I’ve watched most of these. But you know what? I am a man in my mid-30s and that means I get to fill my brain with whatever fluff I want to fill it with. Children, on the other hand, do not need to know what the Top 10 Most Grossest Animals Ever X-TREME are (yes, the snot eel made the list). My favorite aspect of this show is when they transform evolved animal abilities into superhuman powers. “If you could use sonar like a dolphin, you’d have to have a really big head and a protruding jaw. Basically, you’d look like Jay Leno.”

“The Real Da Vinci Code” Thankfully, we’re not seeing so many of these as we did last year. Here’s the real code: THERE IS NO FUCKING CODE, OKAY? IT WAS A CRAPPY BOOK MADE INTO A CRAPPIER MOVIE.

Somehow, the fact that this was called "Animal Face-Off" makes it even more awesome. Or lame. I don't have a good barometer for these things.

Somehow, the fact that this was called "Animal Face-Off" makes it even more awesome. Or lame. I don't have a good barometer for these things.

The “(carnivore) Versus (carnivore)” series As happy as I am that there are no more Da Vinci Code docs being made, I am saddened that this series – which was hyped to a MASSIVE degree back in 2005 – is not only not still being made but isn’t even being shown anymore. The idea for the show was this: let’s take 2 animals that could beat the crap out of your average person and see who would win a “battle” between the two. They would actually in many cases create a life-size metal animal head and have it clamp down on something to demonstrate its jaw power. This, of course, did not actually demonstrate jaw power so much as it demonstrated the power of a chunk of metal with a hydraulic thingie behind it, but that’s not the important part. They’d end the hour with a CGI animation of one animal clobbering the other and then – my favorite part – the scientists talking all kinds of trash as though one just broke the other’s ankles Iverson-style. There should be more trash-talking in science.

Well, there you have it. My top 5. To those that didn’t make the list: try harder and include more references to Hiroshima bombs.

What I knew about the British Museum before this trip was essentially that it had lost all of its charm for the person who wrote the song “A Foggy Day”. I never did get around to seeing if there were really angels dining at the Ritz or if a nightingale sang in Berkley Square, but I was intrigued enough by a place that had enough charm to lose it in 1940s popular music to go here. Also, I’m a history buff and would be a total museum type if we had museums worth a darn in Seattle.

How long did I wonder could this thing last?

How long did I wonder could this thing last?

From the outside, this place evokes a sense of grandeur that I’ve only seen reflected in America by government buildings (disclaimer: I have not been to Washington, DC or New York City). The British Museum was the first of its kind, a museum for the people rather than a hoard of treasure made by nobles or the clergy for the benefit of themselves and themselves alone. It’s probably surprising to few that it the current building “only” dates to the Victorian Era – really, anything in England that’s this far over the top can only be considered to come from that time – but the museum itself dates back to the collection of Hans Sloane, a physician and naturalist who died in 1753. This concludes this edition of “Stuff I Learned From Wikipedia”.

In The Republic, the ancient Greek philospher Plato imagines a group of prisoners chained up inside a cave and positioned so that they have nothing to look at but a wall. Behind them there is a fire and when somebody or something passes between them and the fire they can see its shadow. Over time, these men begin to believe that the flickering shadows are, in fact, reality. The allegory here is that what we perceive as reality is in and of itself just a flickering shadow of what the gods have created in their perfect form. It’s not that much of an overstatement to say that the British Museum is to other museums what Plato’s shadows are to real life. All public museums aspire in some way to just equal the BM and all fall short in some way or other. If you’re at all a fan of ancient history, it’s very easy to become overwhelmed just walking up the steps to this place, and the feelings do not subside when you walk through its doors.

Close-up on the frieze, center

Close-up on the frieze, center

Frieze, left side

Frieze, left side

Frieze, right side

Frieze, right side

As you can see from these pictures, it’s not just the size that makes this grand. Like a medieval cathedral built by hundreds of men who each desired to make their own mark on the place, the British Museum is nearly as intricate as it is large. I think there is a bit of unintended irony in the addition of Greek gods in the rooftop of the place, given that one of its most precious treasures are the murals from the Parthenon. Nonetheless, the use of brass as a highlight amidst the stone catches your eye and you feel like the museum is saying to you, “Enter into my bad assness, young mortal. In a couple hundred years I will probably steal your culture and put it in here, too.”

No, buildings don’t speak to me very often. Occasionally at night but that happens to pretty much everyone, right?

I have no idea what this is.

I have no idea what this is.

Knowing that I have a couple of actual bona fide English people who read this blog on occasion… anybody have any idea what this thing is? It looks kind of like a washbasin. I mean, it definitely appears to be designed to collect some sort of liquid substance. That being said, the idea that the Museum ever made people wash their grubby hands before looking at the pristine artifacts strikes me as a bit snobbish, even for Old Blighty. Perhaps it is an offering holder, where one can slice open a vein and get a little bit of good luck from the gods on the roof?

I put a small child in here but did not feel especially lucky.

I put a small child in here but did not feel especially lucky.

BAM!

BAM!

Here is where my meager photography skills really, I think, give you a sense of how awesome this place is. A more skilled picture taker would probably have found a way to keep the Great Court from washing out. But… it really does look like that when you walk in. I know you’re coming in from the outside and all but on a sunny day, I swear, it actually does look like you’re walking into the Pearly Gates or some similar abode inhabited by the deity of your choice. The entrance still has a few marvelous busts of people done up in ancient Greek finery – I don’t remember whether they were actual ancient Greeks or stylized images of former curators of the BM. I would not put these people past that. Still, compared to the magnificence of the Great Court, this area is downright dull.

Looking up at the Circular Reading Room

Looking up at the Circular Reading Room

As you can see from the close-up on the roof, this effect is manufactured by sunlight, which a. means that it’s probably a bit muted on a rainy day (I was lucky to have great weather for most of my first trip), and b. it’s probably really, really creepy at night. Anyway, this room is as much a pleasure to be in as it is to look into. The Round Reading Room sits in the center and dates back to when the British Museum was also the British Library. Now the RRR has a big British Museum store at its base where you can buy all kinds of books and Museum-related souvenirs. Yes, I totally bought stuff from here, most notably a big, thick book that talks about each and every single item in the BM collection. Perhaps not every *single* one but it’s a good 500 pages and I prefer to think of the cost I paid for it in pounds because that makes it sound like I didn’t spend an entire day’s worth of food money on it. There’s a cafeteria at the far end and the RRR is surrounded by a number of pieces of modern art.

This is what happens when you serve a very large man a burrito.

This is what happens when you serve a very large man a burrito.

I bought one of these at Radio Shack before I left.

I bought one of these at Radio Shack before I left.

Now, I am not a big modern art person; as the song goes, if I had a million dollars, I would buy a Picasso or a Garfunkel. There is some seriously cool-looking stuff in the Great Court. The thing in the left in particular looks like a giant wadded-up piece of tin foil, but the artist really picked up on how awesome (I am overusing this particular 1980s slang exclamation, I know, but if I start to say “tubular” or “dino rhino” I am going to get hate mail)(from myself) wadded up tin foil looks on a sunny day. Imagine how it would look if you were a chicken or a small dog. That’s the place this sculpture takes you to.

This artifact will teach you how to speak Spanish in 21 days.

This artifact will teach you how to speak Spanish in 21 days.

I’m going to end this episode (blogisode? If I am blogging about England, do I get to make up my own words?) with the first thing that you see when you walk into the museum portion of the British Museum. Not coincidentally, it’s also perhaps the most important piece they have. The Rosetta Stone is not just an expensive yet effective piece of language software, or a turn of phrase meaning a device that unlocks a clue to understanding something else. Basically it’s a big declaration that temple priests didn’t have to pay taxes. Yes, even in ancient times it seems that churches were exempt. That’s not the important bit, though. The important bit is that this decree was written in classical Greek (the language of the Ptolemaic Empire, who controlled Egypt at the time of the inscribing of the Stone), a version of ancient Egyptian called Demotic that used something similar to the alphabet used by the Greeks, and hieroglyphics, which I am sure you know as the funny little pictures on the insides of the Pyramids. At the time of the finding of the Stone, hieroglyphics were considered indecipherable: the people who knew how to read them died centuries before, and they weren’t, apparently, laid out in a way at all similar to any of the known written languages. A lot of ancient writing, you can look at the current languages that are derived from it and sort of backtrack your way to understanding. There’s nothing that descends from ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics like that. I don’t think there’s anything that descends directly from Demotic either, but Demotic was close enough to ancient Greek that they were able to decipher it, and once linguists figured out Demotic they could use that to figure out hieroglyphics. As you can see, without this exact piece of writing, with all three languages spelling out the exact same thing, hieroglyphics might remain undeciphered to this day.

I probably shouldn’t assume this, public school history being what it is, so I’ll say it straight out: Napoleon was a big-time dictator who came to power in France at the tail end of the French Revolution, which came about 15 years after the American one and was, compared to the American one, anyway, really, really bloody. We had some pitched battles over here but at no point did we ever round up all the nobles we could find and chop their heads off. The guillotine saw its first widepread use during the French Revolution. It was designed as a way to make beheadings, already considered one of the more humane ways of executing criminals in that you didn’t actually torture them in the process of kiling them, an even quicker process for the condemned (before the guillotine, an axe was used; there are reports of some less-skilled executioners or guys working with a dull blade requiring several whacks to completely dislocate the head from the body). Quickness can be an advantage for the executioner as well as the executed; it’s estimated that as many as 40,000 people were put to death in this manner during the Reign of Terror.

Allow the pretty picture to distract you from the boring history!

Allow the pretty picture to distract you from the boring history!

Like a lot of revolutions that lead to periods of bloody anarchy, the French Revolution eventually gave way to a new dictatorship led by one Napoleon Bonaparte. Napoleon would eventually come to rule almost all of Europe and a big chunk of North Africa, and the only reason Germany, Spain, and so on are not speaking French to this day is that his army was completely wiped out by the Russian winter. In the late 1790s he was busy taking over Egypt when his scientists found the Stone. They cut it out and probably were fixing to take it back to France but England got their first and either stole it or otherwise forced the French scholars to part with it.

So it’s in English hands now. It should not surprise you to know that Egypt would kind of like it back, seeing as it’s theirs and all. And if you know anything about British arrogance, you know they don’t plan on giving it back any time soon. After all, they took it from the French, not the Egyptians. The Egyptians should talk to France if anybody about getting it back. Plus, it’s now as much a symbol of British pride, given that British scientists were the ones who used it to unlock hieroglyphics. Finally, knowing those Egyptians they’d probably just put it in some museum somewhere, whereas the Brits, they know how to keep track of these things. But it’s okay, Egyptians! Here is a replica of the stone for you to display! It’s reasonably accurate.

It’s often said that to understand a man, you should look to his father. Making a parallel to countries, if you don’t understand where the USA gets this idea that it is answerable to nobody but gets to dictate its policies to the rest of the world (see: Kyoto), you should look no further than America’s dad, Great Britain.

I’ll get back to the rest of Hyde Park in a jiff. In the mean time, I wanted to discuss possibly the most aWesome aspect of aWesome London: Speaker’s Corner. For those who are not aware of this place, it’s up in the northeastern corner of Hyde Park, and every Sunday it turns into mass of arguing humanity. As someone who worked in talk radio for five years, let me say this: it is wonderful, fabulous, and fabulously wonderful. I would say that you have all strains of humanity but frankly I would be lying. Normal, mainstream people with normal, mainstream beliefs are nowhere to be found at Speaker’s Corner, except maybe in the crowd heckling the speakers. All the loonies, though… they’re in there. Because I believe that the best way to get a sense of things is through the details, I’ll concentrate on a few of them I encountered there.

CIMG1656This was the first guy that I stopped to listen to. In retrospect, I’m not really sure why. I think he was one of the religious folk. There were lots of religious types there. This guy might have been what some might call a “Christian Socialist”, except that the term “Christian Socialists” connotes a party affiliation and therefore lack of general nuttery. What I do remember for sure about this was the following conversation:

Nutbag: And the Muslims are nothing but fools!

Arab Guy next to me: (looks perplexed)

Me (to Arab Guy): Dude, I think he was talking about you.

Come to think of it, I think he might have been a “freethinker”. Which is refreshing in a backwards and twisted sort of way. Here in the USA the only people who bash Muslims are Christians. There aren’t enough Jews to go around and the atheists are all ex-Christians or were raised among Christians so that’s the primary source of their disdain for religion. This guy, though, he was all about singling out the minorities. Come to think of it, “refreshing” might not be the proper word.

CIMG1659I have to admit to being initially fooled by this guy. Come on. You would be too. Look at the sign! “Everything is OK”. It sounds like he is peddling early 90s era cola products. Or, you hope as you stand in the midst of all the yelling, he is the Official Voice of Sanity, the guy who points out that yes indeed anti-Semitism is still anti-Semitism, even if your anti-Semitism springs out of the belief that the Jews are secretly 9 foot tall lizards with remote control devices on the planes that crashed into 9/11.

But no, this guy turned out to be a loon as well. What specific type, you ask? I don’t think he was specifically anti-vaccine because England as a whole is just not that stupid but if he lived in the United States he would totally be a follower of Jenny McCarthy. I think the thrust of his shouting had to do with the children today and how they are being turned into robots with the hip hop and the public school. You’d think that with that attitude the least he could do is throw in a Bill Cosby reference, but no.

Socialist Dude #1

Socialist Dude #1

Socialist #2

Socialist #2

No, seriously. There were not one, but two guys from a socialist party at this. And they did not like each other. You remember the television show “I’m With Busey”? Probably not. Anyway, it was a show by a guy named Adam de la Pena (who has since gone on to write for the animated series Minoriteam and Code Monkeys) who idolized actor Gary Busey, who in turn made it his duty to get Adam to learn the meaning of life. In one episode, Busey found a bunch of guys who believe in crazy stuff and brought them all together so they could convince the semi-skeptic Adam that there was more to life than was dream’t of in his philosophy or however the quote goes. The hitch in this little idea was that the guy who believed in UFOs thought that the guy who believed in Bigfoot was full of crap and vice versa. Needless to say, Adam did not learn the lesson Gary Busey wanted to impart upon him in this episode.

This nook of the Speaker’s Corner was, like, the living embodiment of that show (to the extent that the show itself was not the living embodiment, since it was reality TV and all). On one side you had the guy from the Socialist Party of Great Britain, who thought that the guy from the World Socialist Party was a fool. On the other side, the World Socialist Party guy thought that the Socialist Party of Great Britain really didn’t think the whole socialism thing out. Both of them were communist – calling themselves socialists was pretty much just a ruse to keep people from throwing eggs at them. Both had nebulous plans about how communism was ever going to be achieved worldwide (I think Marx said it would be a bloody revolution by the proletariat; both guys agreed that it wasn’t necessarily going to be bloody but it was coming. Somehow). Both blamed lots of things that have nothing to do with market systems of any kind on evil capitalism. I’m talking about stuff like mental illness and crime. Both said that Russia and every other so-called communist nation to date were not actually communist, and both called me an idiot when I asked how we were supposed to believe that their Glorious Revolution was still in the making when nobody could even decide what a communist government was.

The most interesting parts of both guys’ interchanges came when an Eastern European talked about the horrific experiences his family endured before the fall of the Soviet state. I am no commie-lover but I did think the World Socialism guy made a good point that those were repressive dictatorships, not so much the “worker’s paradise” envisioned by Marx. Still, the stories were very compelling and actually made people think. Well, they made me think anyway.

If you throw a yelling party, of course the Jesus freaks are going to crash it.

If you throw a yelling party, of course the Jesus freaks are going to crash it.

As noted, the talk radio producer in me loved this stuff. Not only were there so, so many viewpoints to argue with, and not only were so, so many of the viewpoints just plain retarded and easy to tear apart, but most of these guys are semi-professionals and therefore have a 5-10 minute speech they just run through over and over again. That means that when you hear a stupid point and you don’t think of a good comeback until a minute later, all you have to do is wait until the speaker cycles back to that stupid point again. You do have to interrupt people but interruption is the name of the game and I have to admit that it’s a lot more democratic than potting the caller’s phone call volume down so that the host can say his piece.

Also, there’s this weird sense of camaraderie at Speaker’s Corner, a feeling that hey, we’re all here to let the crazy thoughts loose and we may as well have a good time doing so. Despite some very heated discussion there was zero violence, at least not that I saw. People were free to name-call, shout over other folks, and commit any number of rudenesses but stopped short of profanity. The area is fairly well policed and I am told that swearing is one thing that will get you kicked out of this area. Nonetheless, I don’t care how many policemen you have, you put a whole bunch of crazy Americans together in a situation like this, you’re going to get UFC 104: This Time, We’re Not Just Going To Hug Each Other On The Mat.

The tears of... oh, screw it.

The tears of... oh, screw it.

I want to end with this guy. He’s obviously hamming it up for the camera, but overall I think he was my favorite out of all of ’em. First up, he spoke openly about his bipolar disorder and how most of his speech was out of a really vivid dream he had. I felt the same sort of tolerance towards him that one feels towards the Matt Damon character in The Informant!: not someone I’d want to have dinner with, no, but he’s just a little different, that’s all. He was a Massive Worldwide Conspiracy Theorist who was of the opinion that George W. Bush was anointed by the Bilderberger Committee or the Illuminati or the Freemasons or Skull and Bones or… frankly, they all kind of gell together in one big conspiracy blob for me because I am not that particular breed of crazy. At one point, I did have to point out that if there really was a far-reaching conspiracy, you’d think they would have chosen someone with a greater intelligence capacity of a marmot* to head the leading country of the free world. The response was the typical “yes, that is what they WANT you to believe” but I refuse to hold that against this guy.

I’m mulling whether or not to go back this time around. On the one hand, it was a good deal of fun and to be honest there’s not a lot else to do in London on a Sunday. On the other, this is one place where I fear that the second time will not be the charm: many of the nastier things I mostly overlooked in this essay will probably come more to the fore for me. On the third hand, if Bill Maher comes back for another bit in a movie (he pretended to be a Scientologist spouting his silliness at the Corner in Religulous) I can “razz” him about his stupid, stupid beliefs about vaccination. On the fourth hand, I’m not freaking Vishnu, okay!?

*Not to be confused with the capybara, the largest and therefore most intelligent rodent on Earth.

1. In a MASSIVE attempt to tie everything on this site together, I emailed the London Zoo to ask if they have capybaras. No response yet. I don’t think they do because if so it would be called the London Capybara Plaza and would be the most attended venue in the entire world and I am including the Rosalie Wyhel Museum of Dolls in this.

2. I’m not sure what point #2 was going to be now. This is what happens when you lead with the capybara story.

If you’ve heard anything about England, you’ve probably heard about the foodstuffs. Well, this blog post shall denounce some popular myths and, um, talk about other stuff as well.

This is the good stuff.

This is the good stuff.

The English like their beer cold, just like we do. Yes, I know that’s the big stereotype, those English folk drinking their room-temperature beer. And I will grant you, some of the “classic” ales are meant to be tasted at 50-60 degrees, which is what passes for English room temperature. Personally I think that a lot of people prefer their beer to be ice-cold because they’re drinking crap like Budweiser or Coors and want to experience as little taste as possible. That being said, you will not have a problem getting a good cold beer in England.

In fact, a proper Pacific Northwesterner will probably have between zero and no problem with the pub scene. With all the hops-heavy microbrews up here, you’ll probably find most English beers rather mild in comparison. Don’t get too complacent, however: I doubt most English folk know what a hefeweizen is, and if they catch you putting a slice of orange into your beer you will get punched very hard in the face by a “hooligan”.

While we’re on the subject of beverages, a couple bits about soft drinks. First, do not be surprised if your Coke comes sans ice. I don’t know why, but they don’t put ice in drinks a lot of the time. It’s a strange experience, in that we Americans know how our soft drinks taste and prefer them ice cold. That being said, if you’re a Coca-Cola connoisseur, this may end up being a good thing because they use cane sugar as opposed to high fructose corn syrup. Yes, there is a difference in taste. Don’t let anybody tell you differently. I found cane-sweetened Coke to not necessarily be any sweeter – in fact, it might have been a little less sweet – but had more of a sense of what I think the Japanese refer to as umami. It has more of a… complete feeling to it, like the taste equivalent of Warren Spector’s wall of sound. And you don’t even need to murder anyone to get it! Anyway, no ice in your Coke means you’ll have that much more of it to savor. Just don’t expect it to cool you down so much on a hot summer’s day (and really, you shouldn’t be using Coke too cool down anyway, fatso).

Don't expect any of this in Old Blighty.

Don't expect any of this in Old Blighty.

Don’t expect a lot of steak. Think about it: the United States has vast tracts of land, the kind that guy in Monty Python and the Holy Grail could only dream about. We have so much land, we can let cattle basically roam free and only bring ’em back in when we decide to cut them into tasty bits. England, well, look at it. Imagine a country with a third of the population of the USA jammed into a land mass the size of the state of Oregon. On top of that, a great deal of the land that is out there an available is owned by an aristocratic class that would rather use their land for leisure than ranching. As it happens, England has some of the best farmland in the world, but the scenario I put together does not make for a lot of space to raise cattle. England’s got plenty of fish and other meats, is really good with cheeses, and the restaurants are close enough to continental Europe to really nail the presentation aspect of things, but if you’re in the mood for a thick, juicy steak, save it for when you get back to the USA.

The best place I ate at in all of England. No, really.

The best place I ate at in all of England. No, really.

Feel free to think “outside the box”. London is, of course, the cornerstone of the British Empire. At one point in time, lots and lots of different cultures paid some sort of fealty to this capital of this nation. As such, there is a great deal of stuff available from a number of different locales in the city. When I think of London, I think of it as an incredible location in a vertical sense, in that there is so much history there, but also in a horizontal sense, in that there is a tremendous amount of diversity. It’s very easy to be overwhelmed by all of this; in fact, I’d say it wasn’t until the last couple days of the trip that I really began to understand the depth as well as the breadth of England.

That goes quintuply to its food. “Classic” English cuisine has always been derided as bland, overcooked, and pie-centric: the sort of thing you wash down with your 17th beer of the day so that you never taste it anyway. Thing is, “classic” English cuisine isn’t so English anymore. My tour guide on one of the trips I took – tour guides, of course, always being 100% correct about everything – remarked that the most popular foods in the country nowadays are tikka masala and spaghetti bolognese. Indian and Middle Eastern are also very popular (I think tikka masala is Indian but I don’t really know Indian outside of curry so I can’t say for sure).

Where that intersects with bangers and mash and meatpies and so on is that a lot of these kebab shops and so on are pushing out the pubs. That’s a bad thing to the nostalgic but a wonderful thing to the visitor, as many of the places that have managed to stay in business have done so by providing the best that old-skool English food has to offer: delicious, fresh food and some of the best alcoholic beverages in the world (brought to you by the people so drunk they tried to burn mud) (and succeeded, I will grant you, but you still have to be drunk).

Pub grub is going to be a bit on the mild side, though. The English do not seem to have the taste for heat that many of us in the USA have built up (thanks in large part to our neighbors in the South). My brother tells of a place he went to further north where a restauranteur passed around some hot sauce. Try it before you put it on your dinner, he warned. This is painfully hot, he warned. Do not, whatever you do, put this directly in your mouth, he warned. My brother tried it. It was roughly as hot as Tabasco sauce.

So if you want the heat, you have to get away from the places that “native” English folk and tourists frequent and instead head out to the shops that service the immigrant populations. The Star Kebab House is, I am pretty sure, one of those places. It was on Earl’s Court, right smack in the middle of Touristville, but even so this was not a place designed to suck in tourists. There were around 40 items on the menus, all with unintelligble names and no explanation. I chose one at random and must have chosen right because man, oh, man… spicy and delicious, and served on a bed of rice so that you could put the fire out as soon as it started. I liked it so much, I went there a second time and was not disappointed (that time, I pointed at one of the trays of simmering goop).

The ironic bit was that these were also perhaps the cheapest two meals I bought (Burger King’s breakfast might have been less expensive). It’s mentioned in the Lonely Planet Guide to London that you don’t have to spend a lot to have a good time in the city, that in fact sometimes all money does is insulate you from the heart of the city. This is definitely one of those situations.

In retrospect, I used all caps a bit too often. Still, using the magic of copy and paste (don’t you iPhone users wish you could do this? AHAHAHA crap there’s the all caps again), I bring you a goodie from the Johnny Slick MySpace vault about baseball heckling. Heckling is a time-honored tradition that is just not practiced by enough Seattle-ites to be frank.

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Mariner Snaps, Part II

My brother Robert and I once again had those aWesome seats behind third base and this time I believe that my mad heckling skills had a positive effect. To wit:

– First, we came in just in time to see the end of Mariners’ batting practice. The Blue Jays were in town. Fans who know Seattle baseball know how horrible this is. Whenever the Toronto Blue Jays come to town, Safeco Field behaves like a visitors’ park. This goes back to the early 90s at least and probably before. What happens is that thousands of Vancouverians make their way down from their land of back bacon and tocques and cheer for their sub-.500 team because that is the only baseball team they will ever see in their lifetimes on Canadian soil.

Anyway, these Canadians were cruelly heckling Richie Sexson and I felt that I had to step in.

Canucks: “HEY RICHIE SEXSON! YOU WEIGH MORE THAN YOUR BATTING AVERAGE!”
Me: “TORONTO BLUE JAYS! WHY DO YOU HATE AMERICA!”
Canucks: “Hey, man. That wasn’t cool!”

I seriously thought I was going to engage in fisticuffs with a Canadian! I was scared. I have seen my share of hockey and know that these people will pull your shirt over your head and then pummel you about your face and shoulders if you let them. I quieted down for a second, but they resumed the heckles of poor Richie Sexson and I had to anti-heckle some more.

Canucks: “blah blah blah the same comment about weight”
Me: “YOU WILL HAVE TO EXCUSE OUR LACK OF CREATIVITY, MISTER SEXSON! YOU SEE, WE ARE CANADIAN AND HAVE NEVER WITNESSED SUN BEFORE!”
Me: “MY HEALTH CARE SYSTEM WAS FEATURED IN A RECENT MICHAEL MOORE DOCUMENTARY!”
Me: “MY COUNTRY DOES NOT ELECT A PRESIDENT AND OUR CONSTITUTION IS ONLY 23 YEARS OLD!”
Me: “I THINK THAT HAM IS BACON!”

This was the one that really got them to be quiet, though:

Canucks: something else about Sexson
Me: “THIRTY PERCENT OF MY CANADIAN POPULATION IS FRENCH!”
Canuck #1: “What did he just say?”
Canuck #2: “I think he said that 30% of us are French.”
Canuck #1: “Man.”

The Canadians did not ride Sexson any longer. That may have been because Mariners’ BP was over at about that time but it also could have been shame.

– Sadly, I did not do as much research as I’d done in the Twins game so I was not armed with players’ middle names so much as I had been before. I had to improvise. I believe this paid dividends with Jays’ catcher Greg Zaun, who is actually Steve Zahn:

First at-bat: “HEY STEVE ZAHN! I LOVED YOU IN SAHARA!”
More in the first at-bat: “ALSO THAT MOVIE WITH JASON BIGGS AND NEIL DIAMOND!”

This last comment earned us an evil stare from a fan (probably a Canadian at that) two rows ahead of us.

Second at-bat: “CAN YOU HELP US, PLEASE, MISTER ZAHN? I DON’T HAVE IMDB.COM HERE. WHAT WAS THE NAME OF THAT MOVIE YOU WERE IN WITH JASON BIGGS AND NEIL DIAMOND? I THINK R. LEE ERMEY WAS IN IT TOO.”
Later: “OH NEVER MIND, WE FIGURED IT OUT.”

Third at-bat: “SWEEEEET CAROLINE!”

That may have been a little on the obscure side. I mean, I explained it, more or less, in the second at-bat, but I don’t think ballplayers have memories like that or else they are concentrating on other things such as baseball.

It’s also worth noting that Greg Zaun was wearing a catcher’s mask that looked like he was a hockey goalie. This crap has no place in baseball and I let him know it.

Me: “HEY, WHO IS CATCHING? IS THAT STEVE ZAHN OR IS THAT A BIRDIE?”
Me: “I AM SURE THAT IF YOU DON’T HAVE A ‘BIG BOY’ CATCHERS’ MASK, THE MARINERS CAN LEND YOU ONE.”

Steve, er, Greg Zaun was removed in the 8th inning and replaced with a catcher who wore a regular old mask. Coincidence? Oh, I think not. However, this was not to be the biggest impact we would have on the game.

– In the first frame, Ichiro bunted his way to first base and stole second on the very next pitch. Jays pitcher Roy Halladay was, shall we say, very aware of Ichiro’s presence for the rest of the inning. At one point I yelled “THERE HE GOES!” during Halladay’s windup and he bounced one in the dirt. Sadly, the Mariners were not able to capitalize on the ball I gave to them and went out with no runs scored.

– Throughout the game, Jays fans were really out in full force. You could clearly hear them boo pro-Mariners calls by the umpires, cheer the few times the Jays did something to cheer about, and make chants such as “LET’S GO BLUE JAYS”. There were even a couple of large Canadian flags being waved around on the first-base side of the stands. It was a bad, bad situation and I had to let the M’s know what country they were in:

To Miguel Batista: “STRIKE THIS MAN OUT FOR FREEDOM!”
To a later relief pitcher for the Jays after the M’s had tattooed him for several runs: “OOOH CANADA! CA-NA-DA CANADA!” (this was how I heard the Canadian national anthem. My brother pointed out that they say Canada a lot in it, and that is a true statement).

– I said this to Frank Thomas and am very ashamed:

Me: “FRANK THOMAS! BARRY BONDS JUST HIT NUMBER 750! IF YOU WOULD HAVE TAKEN JUST A LITTLE BIT OF STEROIDS THAT COULD HAVE BEEN YOU!”

He flew out. Not that at-bat, I don’t think, but later on. Sometimes snaps take a little while to sink in.

– Finally, I really and truly believe that we got a pitcher rattled. His name was Jason Frasor and he was very, very short. Okay, actually he was 5’10”, but that’s still tiny for a pitcher.

Me: “HEY JASON FRASOR! GIVE YOUR DAD BACK HIS UNIFORM!”
Me: “DIDN’T BASEBALL OUTLAW MIDGETS IN THE 1950s?”
Me: “YOU KNOW, THERE ARE HORMONES YOU CAN TAKE THAT CAN HELP WITH YOUR CONDITION!”
Me: “HEY SHORT PERSON! YOU’RE SHORT!”
Me: “HERE IN SEATTLE WE WOULD CALL YOU VERTICALLY CHALLENGED!”

I admit, I hit the bottom of the barrel pretty quickly. Short-person jokes are pretty blah in the first place. There are only so many of them out there.

Here’s the deal, though. Frasor kept looking at us. There wasn’t anybody on third base until he put them there, so he wasn’t checking the runner. He could have been looking in the dugout, I guess, if by “in the dugout” you mean 10 feet over the dugout and directly at us. I think I also saw him crying (this sentence contains a lie). The bottom line is, Frasor walked a batter and gave up two hits after getting behind two other guys. Then he was pulled for a much taller guy I couldn’t think of and didn’t need any snaps for, who helped facilitate the crucial 5-run 7th inning.

I’m beginning to think the Mariners should have me on their payroll.

So as I said I took a *lot* of pictures of London. Not of them are really about anything, just stuff that caught my attention. As stated earlier, the people all speak English, albeit with a funny accent, so it’s *almost* like you’re still in the USA. But then little things start to creep in on you around the corners and it dawns on you that this might just be a different country after all.

From left to right: the shilling, the loony, the poltroon, the bollocks and the Manx henge.

From left to right: the shilling, the loony, the poltroon, the bollocks and the Manx henge.

First of all, the money’s different. One of the first thing a USAsian notices about pretty much all foreign money is that it’s much cooler than ours. Our money is pretty boring, frankly, and I imagine it has to be easy to counterfeit. Oh, I know we put all those anti-counterfeiting measures all over our bills, but realistically… how many people hold up a $20 to the light to find the little “TWENTY TWENTY TWENTY TWENTY” strip they put inside of it? And I know that you can fold George Washington on the $1 to make a mushroom cloud but I don’t think that was a theft prevention device the Founding Fathers put in there. (Speaking of which, when *did* they decide who to put on what bill? I would love to know that the version of American history that is in my head and which features Aaron Burr shooting Alexander Hamilton out of anger over not being put on the tenner is true.)

ALL YOUR BASE ARE BELONG TO US.

ALL YOUR BASE ARE BELONG TO US.

One thing that did throw me off for a little bit were all the Starbuck’s. Now, there were *not* as many as in Seattle because, well, it’s Seattle. I know of 9 Starbuck’s within a mile of my apartment. I’m probably missing some and I am also not counting the 3 Tully’s Coffee places, although I guess I just did. Anyway, Starbuck’s is Starbuck’s wherever you go – coffee named after things that make you think you’re saving the planet, burned coffee grounds, lots of sugar in everything. I am sad to report that I went to Starbuck’s twice during my trip, although one of those was because I got to the Globe too early and nothing else was open in the area. I also went to Burger King once and McDonald’s once. I am a bad, bad tourist.

What the freak. I mean, what the freaking freak.

What the freak. I mean, what the freaking freak.

Speaking of Burger King… here is the “Texican” Whopper. Hey English people, I know you invented the language and all, but “Texican” is not actually a word. You want to go with “Mexican” or “Texan”. Although I can kind of see your point; this burger is clearly neither Texan nor Mexican nor really a combination of the two (there, the proper term would be “Tex-Mex”). If the resolution is too low, this is what the Texican Whopper included:

– Hamburger patty (from Texas, I guess)

– Cheese (From Wisconsin, which is way, way north of Texas)

– “Crispy taco coated with chili con carne” (this gets into the WTF portion, as chili con carne is not something you can coat something with. Chili is a kind of soup with beans and meat and onions and chili powder. This makes about as much sense as making a New England Burger and including a crispy apple fritter coated with clam chowder)

– Lettuce and onions (from the land where they put children in a blender and create lettuce and onions from their entrails)

– Cajun sauce (WTF part #2, as it’s from a place in the USA called Louisiana. Louisiana is sort of near Texas in the same way that Canada is sort of near Mexico but they aren’t exactly similar in terms of the foods the people eat. So, unless your idea of authentic Mexican food is poutine, there is a bit of disconnect here as well)

– A sesame seed bun (from the state of Sesame).

No, I did not eat this.

They move closer to you when you're not looking.

They move closer to you when you're not looking.

The phone booths are interesting on so many levels. On the base one, these probably define England for foreigners as much as double decker buses, soccer hooligans, and drinking tea with one’s little finger extended. On top of that, though, these are pay phone booths. In the year 2009. Yes, pay phone booths. And they even work! You can go inside of them, put your money in the slot, and actually use them to call people. It will feel like you just stepped into the year 1979.

On a slightly related note, ISTR there being a Monty Python sketch involving these things attacking innocent people. They do look kind of like Daleks, you have to admit. Or at least how you’d imagine Daleks to look since you, being a person who reads this fine and esteemed blog, is far too cool to know what a Dalek is (hint: it’s a monster from Doctor Who or Star Trek, I forget which. By which I mean I totally know that it’s from Doctor Who but I am trying to re-establish my non-nerd street cred).

CIMG0407I’ll go ahead and end on this, just because I think it’s a crying shame and a tribute to the way England hates America so much that they would have a perfectly good “yield” sign that has two words that make sense on it rather than “yield”. Yes, I know perfectly well what the word yield means. I am a college graduate – with a degree in our language, nonetheless – so I am supposed to know this kind of thing. But when was the last time you heard someone use the term ‘yield’ in a sentence that did not involve either a. a road sign or b. them sounding like a pompous ass? I mean, other than this post. Which I guess you aren’t technically hearing anyway unless someone is reading it aloud to you or you have one of those cool Speak and Say software programs because you’re blind.

Whatever. My point is, the English yield sign, which is actually the English GIVE WAY sign, actually makes more sense than its American counterpart. When I go to England I want nonsensicality created by several millenia of history, not something that makes more sense than what I see at home! BRITAIN R DESTROYE MERKA.

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