Got 10-15 Minutes to Kill?   

More importantly, do you have 10-15 minutes to kill 302 times? Because that's how many entries there were in the Bioware Writing Competition , and that's a lot of new, Neverwinter Nights short-playing mod action for your time-wasting (and voting) pleasure. (You will need Neverwinter Nights to play the mods, natch.)

Of course, if you only have  just 10-15 minutes to kill, you might try The Isle, which is the mod submitted by gamer extraordinare, Daniel Ravipinto, and yours truly.

The very exciting thing about the competition, of course, is the chance to have our work reviewed by the Bioware Powers That Be - with the outside chance of employment as writers in the video game industry. With 302 other entries I'm not holding my breath, but I would quite like it if we make the top 8.  In part because I really would love to write video games, but mostly because I'm really tickled by the idea of Dan and I having to arrange some sort of time-share for a wool cap.

Posted by Sarcasmo on Tuesday, January 31, 2006
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Monday Morning Madness   

Posted by Sarcasmo on Sunday, January 29, 2006
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Friday Follies   

  • Creased Comics Are Disturbing: But that creepy, I - need- to -douse - my - brain - with - chlorine way. I like'em. -[MV]
  • If Ghostbusters Had Been An Aminated Gif: It would look something like this. (OG!)
  • His Moustache Scares Me: Some wise advice from Threadbared.
  • Seriously: Why would someone want to ruin some perfectly exquisite chocolate by dipping it in diamonds. What a waste. It's enough to make a gal want to cry. - [SF]
  • Book-Related Goodies:
    • Bed Books - Books printed sideways so you can read comfortably in bed. This is a good start, but what I really need is a books with text that shifts its orientation everytime I change position. - [SBS]
    • Thumbthing - Sometimes it is the little things that make life wonderful. I don't know that this is definitely one of those little things, but I suspect it may be.[CH]
    • Poe's Lighthouse - Is this book a brillant idea, or a horrifyingly bad one? I'm tempted to pick it up, but I fear the pain.

Posted by Sarcasmo on Friday, January 27, 2006
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Sarcasmo's London Diaries - Part the Sixth (Or For the Love of All That is Holy, Isn't She Done Talking About This Trip Yet (Almost))   

I love my hometown.  It's a hard-earned love, for certain; like that of an arranged marriage.  Philadelphia and I were thrown together by Fate and history and the will of my parents - but over the years I have discovered her beauty, felt the raging pulse that burns beneath her quiet exterior, found my own comfort in her sense of peace, and love her for all her glories as well as her flaws.  But there has always been (inexplicably but inexorably) a place in my heart for London.  Perhaps it is not strange that I should feel that way, having grown up in Philadelphia. England is so much a part of our Revolutionary history - our familial resemblence strong enough to be recognized  if, not in the way we speak, then in our architecture and cobblestone streets (which, for the record, are equally uncomfortable to travail no matter on which side of the Atlantic you happen to be walking).  Or it could be down to the types of books I read or the films I'm drawn to or just a strange, overly sensitive imagination - but being drawn to London has always been part of who I am.  Of all the places I have travelled, London is the first place I've felt at almost instantly at home, and where I did, one day (while I was sitting very still in the Starbucks by Green Park, in fact) have the thought come, unbidden, "Yes, I could live here."

You're about to say "Of course you felt more at home there than other places you've travelled.  They speak English there for Pete's sake.  And they have cobblestones."  Point taken. But I'd like to counter with the fact that I have travelled within the contiguous United States without experience this feeling and  that I feel it veritable alien in the Philadelphia suburb in which I work.  So the fact that I could make out all the words on the street signs can't have been all there was to it.  London and I, there's something there. 1

So I felt a bit bad when the weekend came 'round and I had more or less stuck to the guide-book approved, touristy areas.  I felt a bit like I had failed London...wasted this perceived connection.  Surely she and I were beyond this best behavior stage..well past polite conversation and only introducing one other to the friends we aren't ashamed of.2  But Sunday is the the day new lovers let their hair down, sleep late, belch openly and walk around in their boxer briefs; so it makes sense this is the day I spent in London without any distinct sense of purpose in mind, with no specific place to be or site to see - just London at her most natural, beautiful and vulnerable moments.  I wanted to see her quiet, restful, and without her makeup on; a living, breathing city rather than a tourist destination.

It was recommended to me that if (a) I had a map (check) and was feeling a bit brave (check, check) I might take the Tube to Bank Street, then wander around the parts of London that had survived the Fire - including the bits around The Old Bailey and St. Paul's Cathedral.  This was exactly the sort of thing I was after, so I early Sunday morning I set out for Bank Street.

It is worth mentioning at this point that the streets at this time were virtually deserted. It was like the rest of the world had thought it would do me a favour and clear out London so I could have a good and proper look round. Occassionally I would cross paths with another gentleman - also a wandering tourist (judging by his tightly clenched handbook) -  but for some long stretches of time it was as though I was the last person on Earth - and that the Four Horseman had been kind enough to deposit me in London after having scourged the planet so I could have it all to myself.  When I die, if  I get to go to Heaven, I hope it is exactly like a winter Sunday morning in London.

It may also be worth mentioning that although I did have my map, as recommended, I did not actually use it - and so naturally went in the entirely opposite direction from both St. Paul's and The Old Bailey (a fact that became abundantly clear to me when I found myself at the Tower of London - which is well east of both). However, had I not had the unintentional detour, I wouldn't have stumbled into the Corhill area, where a Japanese film crew was filming a scene from Shusho Five, which, judging by the costumes, is set in Victorian London.3 Nor would I have had the opportunity to chat with a member of the film crew who stood on his own a few blocks off.  I'm not clear on what his actual job was - it seemed to have something to do with guarding the equipment trucks with only golf club for protection, and to chat with strange American women who were wandering the streets.  He did caution me to behave myself, as it was my last day in London...and if I wasn't going to behave, I was to give him a call. 

The British are such a friendly people.

I did, eventually, make my way to St. Paul's, wherein I did stop, but briefly. It being a Sunday it wasn't open for tours, and I didn't like to stay around gawking too long as I didn't want to disrupt the service which was preparing to begin. Instead, I went outside just as the cacophany of bells shook the surrounding area - preparing to find the Old Bailey - when I noticed a sign in the opposite direction poining towards Fleet Street. Being a Sweeney Todd fan I could not resist. (I laughed outloud when one of the first things I spotted on Fleet Street was a Barber shop. )  I then proceeded to investigate every little lane and court I happened upon, which is how I chanced to see, among other things, the house of Samuel Johnson.

Before long my wandering took me to Strand - and - remembering that Chicago with Wonder Woman (or, rather, Linda Carter) was playing there, I made my way to the theaters to see if I could find a show for the evening. Alas - Chicago was dark that day - as were most other shows. My choices seemed to be matinees of The Lion King or Stomp (neither of which I was keen to see) or to remain with my backup plan - which was to find the Islington - and the Sadler's Well that was somewhere in it - for the 7:30 show of the Edward Scissorhands musical I'd seen advertised all week. I wasn't 100% sold on seeing Edward Scissorhands. I am a fan of the film, and I had read that this was the World Premiere Production of the stage show - so I felt like I owed it to myself to check it out. However - I also worried that a musical stage interpretation of a film (especially that film) was a hit or miss proposition - and I didn't know if I wanted to chance it. I got quite excited when I walked by The Playhouse, because it looked like As You Desire Me had a matinee; but once I saw Bob Hoskins wasn't appearing that day I lost interest. Instead I decided that come 5PM I'd find a Tube station, get the train to Islington and try and find Sadler's Well. Then I had lunch in a pub off Trafalgar Square and went to Covent Garden.

It is fortunate for me that I am not a shopper - because it seemed every twist and turn in London  seemed to lead to stately shops or an arcade or an open air market of one sort of another. Only one place in Covent garden tempted me - Pollock's Toys (which I heard another patron say was run by someone from Coronation Street) wherein I once again searched in vain for a gift for my newphew. I spent the rest of my time there watching the various street performers juggle and dance and generally harrass the audience in an amusing but - ohgodpleasedon'tpickonme manner.

When I had enough street theater for one day, I did finally break out the map and seek out the Old Bailey like a sane person would. But not before being sucked into the Forbidden Planet - a geek's paradise of collectibles. (Come to think of it, I'm not sure I went into any stores that weren't toy stores on the whole of my trip). Here I was sorely tempted to make a completely ludicrous and needless purchase - a TARDIS toy that would light up and make noise to let me know my cellphone was ringing. I had it in my hands. Twice. I nearly made it to the checkout as well...but my phone isn't Bluetooh enabled and I wasn't clear on whether or not it needed to be. And, more importantly, I noticed a warning on the box that said that when the product reached the end of its life you couldn't simply throw it away - it needed special disposal, which sounded a bit dangerous and decided me against it. Besides which - it only would have been exciting and funny the first 2 or 300 hundred times my phone rang.

After the Old Bailey it was the Smithfield Market area - which I enjoyed immensely despite (or perhaps because) of the market being closed. It was while I was wandering down the small streets and alleys in this area that I chanced upon St. John's Gate. And going through it, I was surprised to find myself in Islington. It was not quite 4PM, but I thought it wouldn't do me any harm to find the theater, get a ticket early, and then walk around a little and perhaps get some dinner. Luckily for me, I found a bus route that went to Angel (the name of the Tube stop I knew to be near the theater) and I successfully followed the bus stops on foot until I found Sadler's Wells.

Sadly - when I went in to inquire about tickets, I discovered I had misread the listings; the only show they had on Sundays was the 4PM show - which was already 10 minutes in when I got there. I absolutely hate arriving late for the theater - but as I was there and they were still seating, I went ahead and got a ticket. I did miss the first bit about Edward's creation in the castle, but having seen the film I thought I would catch up.

Now, I'm not sure why I was so certain that this production of Edward Scissorhands was a musical. There was certainly music - extrapolated from Elfman's original score - but after watching 10 minutes of dumbshow and dancing I went from calmly wondering to when the cast was going to start singing to "Oh. Oh no. This isn't a musical at all. It's a ballet. A ballet!" 4 You must understand - I've been two exactly two ballet performances in my life - The Nutcracker and Dracula, and I wasn't especially keen on either of them. Long ago I came to the conclusion that I simply didn't care for the ballet. It's a cultural shortcoming and a bit of a disappointment, really - but I always comforted myself with the fact that at least I enjoyed the opera. But here I was - rushed into the theater on my last night in London for a ballet - a ballet of Edward Scissorhands no less.

And I've got to tell you - I truly enjoyed it. I was even moved by it. It was funny and touching and absolutely gorgeous and more than a little silly. I can't say it converted me to a ballet believer - but after Edward I am certainly more likely to give dance another chance.

When I left the theater, it occured to me that, since I did not arrive my Tube, I didn't know where the tube station was. So, instead of asking for directions or checking my map, I followed the method that had served me well thus far. I chose a direction - a different one than from whence I came - and just went. I walked quite a ways down the darkened city streets. At some point, I spotted the iconic dome of St. Paul's well-off in the distance, and realised I was no longer lost. I knew that the Black Friar's stop was near St. Paul's - and that one could get from Black Friar's to Kings Cross station -and I was suddenly seized with the insane desire to ride out to Kings Cross Station - because I had an idea in the back of my head that there was some sort of Harry Potter related display there.

As it happens, there were at least two stops between where I was and Black Friars - at least one of which would have taken me directly to Kings Cross - but as I didn't consult my map I didn't know that. Of course, had I consulted my map and gone to one of the closer stops, I wouldn't have run across the Betsey Trotwood - a pub named after one of my favorite literary characters (and for whom, indirectly, my own Trotwood is named), which delighted me by its sheer existence.

I am pleased to report that Platform 9 3/4 was right where one expected it to be - firmly between Platforms 9 & 10. Although, admittedly, I was so overwhelmed by the vast grandeur of the station itself that I initally thought there was no track 9 nor 10, nevermind 9 3/4, but I eventually got myself sorted out. 5

My favorite part of Platform 9 3/4? There's no sign or placard explaining what it is or why it's there. It's just a bricked up track entrance with a station luggage cart stuck half-way through. I realize most of the free world is at least vaguely familiar with Harry Potter - but there must be some people who come through the station who find themselves absolutely bewildered by this strange object d'art.

I do sort of wish I had pressed my hand against the wall where it was bricked up, just to be sure it was solid.  You case.

My sidetrip to Hogwarts so clearly thwarted by brick and mortar, I hope the Circle Line back to Bayswater, popped in a local eatery for some pizza, then returned to my hotel for the regretful purpose of packing.

My hotel check out was at noon, and my transport to the airport was due at 12:30, so I took the few hours I had left on Monday morning as an opportunity to walk around one last time. Now that I was an old hand at finding my way around the grandious Victorian train station, I walked down to Paddington Station in order to acquire a Paddington Bear and a Paddington Bear book for my nephew. This may strike you as a particularly silly thing to get him as, despite being a world traveller himself, he is only just past a year old, and so doesn't really know that there is a Paddington Station, or an England or that it is quite far away from where he lives or even that I was anywhere other than my apartment (a place I rarely bring him souveneirs from). Furthermore - I could have gotten a Paddinton Bear almost anywhere in London, even at the Tower of London; and point of fact: there are three bookstores within walking distance of my apartment in Philadelphia which I'm pretty certain sell Paddington as well. But there was something in the notion of bringing him back a Paddington Bear from Paddington Station that I couldn't resist.6 After the station, I picked up a hot chocolate and took it to Kensington Gardens to sit and drink beside the Round Lake.

I had thought to sit quietly in the park for a while and just be. What I hadn't counted on was the sheer number of birds that would be in the park - ravens, crows, swans, ducks, starlings, pigeons, you name it; all waiting to be fed by the tourists. When I approached the lake, I did notice two women feeding the birds, a baby stroller in front of them thrust right in the heart of the feathery throng. I wondered (unkindly, I'm sure) whether they weren't trying to feed the baby to the flock because the stroller seemed on the verge of consumption - but they left before I got close enough to discover whether their plans were nefarious or merely ornithological in nature.

Alas, when they left the birds turned their sites to me, approaching en masse, honking and fluttering their wings against the water in a firm yet questioning manner - some even being so bold as to walk up on shore. They moved like a gang of young street toughs; had they been human I would have grabbed a firm hold of my purse. (Perhaps Tony Blair needs to put them through his RESPECT initiave). As it was, I indicated as best I could that all I had was hot chocolate, which they probably wouldn't like anyway. That earned me a dirty look - but they waddled off and let me get to my bench in peace. Their patience paid off, as not long after a woman came bearing what seemed an endless supply of bread - which she was happy to feed to them directly from her fingers. I would have stayed around to marvel at how she managed it without having her fingers snapped off - but apparently there's a silent bird alarm that sounds whenever someone brings bread to the park, because no sooner had she scattered the first few crumbs when every bird in London - possibly even in the British Islands swarned upon the lakeside - many of whom felt a flight path directly towards my head was clearly the most efficient path to bready goodness.

I've seen The Birds folks. Many times. And it never fails to scare the bejesus out of me. (I mean, look at them, just standing there, waiting for something. It's just plain eerie). At this point I decided my last hour was best spent walking around rather than sitting with the birds, so I circled the park, walked among the stately embassies on the other side of Kensington Palace - and peeked a little in South Kensington, wistfully wishing I had spent more time in the Kensington area.

Departure time came, as I knew it would, although Heathrow's security did not make me take off my boots in order to get to the gate - I was singled out for random bag search , so I ended up having to remove them and put them on again anyway. (They, at least, provided seating.) And, I'm happy to say, although I was not upgraded on my flight back, there was an empty seat next to me so I was able to stretch out a bit on the flight home. 7

Many years ago, I dated a gentleman whose family went to the same place for vacation every year. He found this very appealing and, I imagine, comforting. I, on the other hand, found the idea horrifying and stifiling. There's an entire planet to see - I certain will not be content to just see the same portion over and over again. And yet I know I will go back to London - that I'd go every year for the PANTO if I could. I may not ever understand that old boyfriend - but I have a new respect for the idea of returning to a place one loves over and over again8.

And whereas I may have a jet-setter mentality, I don't have jet-setter's pocketbook or purse strings - so I can only see the world at intervals, and limited periods of time. The trick now will be to pace myself upon the return - play the vacation field as it were - and not limited myself to just one vacation location. Even if I am in love with it.

Long distance relationships are so hard.

1 And don't think Philadelphia doesn't know it - I was punished when I returned to Philadelphia to icy weather conditions and the discovery that a little pin in my deadbolt had snapped when I locked my door, making my apartment key essentially useless. Now that's a homecoming.  Not that Philadelphia is bitter or anything.

2 I am not, as it happens, ashamed of any of my friends. They are all mad-genius reprobates and I love them for it.

3 It took some time for them to get what seemed a fairly simple shot because traffic was not blocked off, so they needed to wait until such a time as the intersection surrounding them was clear.

4 "Ballet" is probably not the correct technical term. It was a dance performance - no tutus or pointe shoes involved.
5 I read the signs, you see. That's what they're for.

6 And it's better that I did - because the only other thing I seriously considered bringing back for him was a child-sized Bobby helmet, which, on top of being a good example of tatty tourist garbage, would have been a miserable gift because the child hates hats, and I only wanted to get it because I thought it would be adorable on him. It would have been exactly the sort of thing his parents would make him wear once while I was over and which he would detest wearing - the sort of Ralphie's bunny suit of souvenirs. And I don't want to send a trend of being that kind of Auntie.

7 I also proudly managed to survive the whole flight back to Philadelphia without fainting - although I credit that in part to the fact that I also didn't leave my seat to use the restroom for the entire flight. Which made the fact that I was locked out of my apartment in the middle of the night extra exciting. So, I suppose, the trip ended as it started - with a whimper (but, thankfully, no thud).

8 Although I daresay London has a bit more to offer than the Boardwalk in Wildwood, New Jersey.

Posted by Sarcasmo on Friday, January 27, 2006
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Sarcasmo's London Diaries - Part the Fifth (Tokens and Treasures, Yesterday's Pleasures)   

When Philadelphia was originally laid out, it was planned as a grid; which means that in the neighborhood where I currently live, a person who wants to get to a location that is two blocks to the North and one block to the East could either go North two blocks and then East one block or East one block then North two blocks, and reasonably expect to reach the same location going either route. Not so London - where the streets seem to twist and turn and travel through blackholes, so that a one block detour could land one in an entirely different country if they were not careful. And although I knew from my map that there were really only two direct routes to the local tube stop from my hotel, when I set out for Westminster Abbey on Saturday morning, I thought I'd try a slightly different path just to poke around the neighborhood. Which is how my three block trip to the Bayswater Tube station instead ended me up an entire neighborhood away in Notting Hill.

I strolled through Notting Hill's wide, residential streets without a sense of panic, because I knew the line I was planning to take into Central London had a stop at Notting Hill's gate, and I was pretty certain that if I followed the route the buses in the neighborhood seemed to be taking, I would eventually come across it. And I did...but not before first stumbling upon the miles and miles of antiquities (both real and ... suggested) that is Portobell Road.

When I first saw the street sign, the Disney song insinuated itself directly into my brain on a dreadful, infinite loop. Unfortunately - I mis-remembered it as being from Mary Poppins (whereas it is actually from Bedknob and Broomsticks; I blame David Tomlinson for appearing in both films with the clear intent of confusing my memory, poor as it is) - and therefore in my head it was sung by Dick Van Dyke. Even worse - I could only remember the first two or three lines. So, essentially, there I was, accidentally in the largest antique market in the world, hearing fictional renditions of children's songs and generally full of crazy.

Or, as you might say of me - just as usual.

I passed George Orwell's house as I wandered down Portobello to the market proper; and just as I did I thought to myself, "Here it is already Saturday, and I haven't yet seen one of those insidious mimes." Fate, it seemed, was having none of that, because no sooner did I think it than I rounded the corner and saw this lady setting up show. (Strangely, she is wearing black pants under that white dress. Seemed a poor choice to me but hey - what do I know about miming?)

The market itself was overwhelming. The sidewalks were nearly non-exiistant for the covered stalls set outside the various shops - and one could hardly browse comfortably with the crush of people trying to simultaneously work their way up and down what narrow walking spaces available. Admittedly, I wasn't shopping in earnest because (a) as I've previously said, I'm not really a shopper (b) I was acutely aware that anything I did purchase I would not only have to carry with me all day - but also transport all the way back home and (c) there were all sorts of warnings about Portobello Road being a popular area for pickpockets - and since I knew they'd be hard to spot because despite would movies and books have taught me they wouldn't likely be dressed like that lovable scamp, the Artful Dodger - I was determined not to remove my wallet from my bag unless it was for a very good reason. Which is not to say I wasn't tempted. As the song promises, there really were all sorts of wonders to be had - certainly things I rarely see at the antique markets in my own neck of the woods (for example, you never see bits of metal marked as "medieval tin" in the shops on Bainbridge Street). Among the items that I seriously considered were an ivory handled letter opener (eventually ix-nayed because I would never actually use it and because I wasn't sure I could get it back on an airplane); a wooden box that contained a spy glass, a compass and a magnifying glass (which intrigued me by suggesting travel and adventure, and yet repelled me with its £85 price tag); several small, laquer pill boxes (for which I had no practical use) and, of course - more old books - slightly musty and with pages plump from the damp London air - than you could safely shake a letter opener, spyglass or lacquer box at. There were some first edition Dickens' that caught my eye; and chances are good that had they offered a copy of David Copperfield, I would have spent the remainered of my trip reading it in my hotel room, forced to subsist only on water and toast as it would have easily cost me the remainder of my budget (not to mention the rest of my meager credit card balance). I'm not certain how long the market goes on - forever, maybe - but I'll estimate I probably browsed about a mile's worth of antiquites before escaping for Notting Hill Gate with my credit rating (such as it is) intact.

I made it into Central London, gaped at Big Ben (as though I'd never seen a clock before), then crossed the road to visit the hallowed halls of Westminster Abbey. I was looking forward to touring the Abbey - famous for it's many tombs and the countless historic occasions it has borne witness to. In fact, I had saved touring the Abbey for Saturday specifically, as it was my first day without any planned activities, and I wanted several hours at my disposal to look around. Alas - although the Abbey is generally open to the public for tours on Saturdays - this particular Saturday found it closed for a special day of prayer. I was admittedly disappointed, although one can hardly lay blame on a house of worship for seeing to its intended usage. Although I was sorely tempted to lay blame anyway. And other tourists had no problem giving the frocked fellows guarding the gates a rather surprising earful about it.

Unable to tour the Abbey as planned, I instead walked around the neighborhood - eventually crossing the Thames to ride the London Eye. That, at least, was the plan, until I saw the line. It certainly wasn't as long as it could have been - but it was plenty long enough to make me think twice. While I was making up my mind, I went into the County Hall for the IMAF exhibit, which seemed less like the retrospective of Manga and Anime I hoped for, and more like an advertisement and recruitment campaign for a local studio. After the exhibit, I went out and purchased a outrageously expensive hotdog from a vendor who convinced me that waiting to ride the Eye was probably not in my best interest (it being an especially overcast day he mentioned I probably wouldn't be able to see much), so instead I took my hotdog and ambled once again down the Queen's Walk.

Here, as feared, I encountered several more mimes. When I saw the festival sign above the South Bank Centre, I thought I might face my heebie jeebies and go to the show, seeing as I had nothing else planned. I got as far as having my hand on the door before I changed my mind.

Instead, I dropped in to the nearby National Film Theatre to see if there was anything playing that afternoon I might like (there wasn't) - and then the National Royal Theatre to see if they might have a matinee on that day. In fact, they had two, both starting in a hour's time from my arrival. I chose Once in A Lifetime, a comedy about 1930s Hollywood which I picked for the content rather than the cast. As it happens, there were quite a number of actors in the production I recognized from various movies and tv shows (the most widely recognizable probably being David Suchet, who often plays Poirot on tv). However - as it was an American play about an American institution - the whole cast spoke with American accents (specifically - the stacatto American accents of early Hollywood films). It was an entirely surreal experience and enjoyable way to spend a cloudy afternoon.

Despite it being just late afternoon when I left the theater, the sky was dark and dismal with the promise of rain. I walked along Queen's Walk trying to decide what to do next; and I was utterly delighted and bemused to find a street performer playing an upright piano. I stood and listened to her play for a while, trying to puzzle out how she transported a piano to and from her street performances. (I rather liked the mental image of her in her period costume, shouldering the piano up the stairs from the Underground Tube stop.) I also took great joy in watching a nearby toddler wordlessly beg coins from his parents just so he could run up and drop them in the can atop her portmanteau and smile at her in shy wonder. Every time she'd smile back he'd run away - only to demand more coins from his parents so he could repeat the process. (I briefly considered giving him my coins to drop in as well, especially as his parents seemed close to running out of both coins and patience, but I didn't want to be the creepy stranger giving money to a small child, so I deposited my offering myself before going on my way.)

At this point, I got (what I thought was) the brillant idea to hop the Tube to the Whitechapel stop, and seek out one of those Jack the Ripper Tours I was certain would be everywhere. Only, they weren't. Or rather, I'm sure they were somewhere - but their location wasn't immediately clear to me...and by the time I got there the temperature had dropped considerably, the night was inky dark - and I got the general feeling that although I would very much have liked to have taken a Jack the Ripper tour of Whitechapel, I didn't want to become a new stop on a Jack the Ripper Tour of Whitechapel. So, essentially chickening out, I got back on the Tube, went to nice, warm pub in my hotel's neighborhood, had a Pims and ginger ale and read a while. Then I picked up some dinner, returned to my hotel, changed into my pajamas, watched Dancing on Ice (hence developing an instant crush on John "Captain Jack" Barrowman - yet another reason to look forward to Doctor Who finally being released here in the Spring) and fell quite soundly to sleep.

Hey - London or not, even I have to sleep sometimes.

Posted by Sarcasmo on Monday, January 23, 2006
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Dirty Pillows   

On the bus this morning, as I stared absently out the window, my unconsumed, cardboard cup of coffee quickly cooling beneath my gloved fingers I mused to myself, "I could never become a lesbian; I'd constantly be comparing my breasts with those of other women."

Now, I'm not entirely sure from whence this spontaneous self-observation came - especially as I can't think of anything on the Expressway that might put someone in mind of hot girl-on-girl action (although I'm guessing my uncaffinated brain may have still been processing Desperate Living, which I had watched the night before); but although I wasn't clear on where this particular train of thought was going, I did know where it was coming from.

It's no secret that I'm a big fan of film, book and television genres that are generally considered the purview of adolescent males; namley science fiction, fantasy, and, of course, horror and slasher films (the cheesier and gorier the better). One rather socially unfortunate feature these genres share is an almost ridiculous deathgrip on partriarchal archetypes. By and large the heroes, villians, and interesting scoundrels in these tales are male - whereas the female characters are generally either bland and chaste damsels in distress or one-dimensional, cartoonishly vampish sexual predators. Either way the women are swathed in clothes so skimpy as to routinely defy gravity and several other laws of physics.

Strangely, although I grew up on a steady diet of these stories, it never occured to me to be troubled that they provided no strong female characters for me to look up to. For me, character gender never entered into it; I would simply identify with and try to emulate the characters whose stories or actions I found most appealing, regardless of whether they were the damsel, the wizard, the jedi, the villain, the plucky babysitter or the errant knight. Heros and villains, as far as I was (and am) concerend are not defined by their chromosomes, but rather by their conduct. (This is why, for example, I have taken fencing lessons, hold doors open for people, and construct my plans for world domination with a practical, non-sentimental iron-will that relies on my razor-sharp wits and pithy sense of humor rather than seduction and needlessly elaborate bustiers and headresses.)

What did bother me - as an insecure teen and well into my twenties - was not that I didn't see myself reflected onscreen when I watched these tales of derring-do played out on film - but rather that when the women's breasts would explode from their outfits (as they invariably did - the structural integrity of of fiber being able to withstand only so much) I never seemed to see breasts that looked like my own. The jiggling, giggling breasts on screen always seemed pointier or more petite those I was carrying around, their larger-than-life nipples proving consistently smaller or darker or pinker or more flushed than my movie-watching own. Never once did I think it a positive thing that I wasn't sporting the type of bosom that, once exposed, guaranteed a devestatingly pointed rejection from the hero or else summoned demonic serial killers like some sort of Boobie Bloodshed Beacon. Instead I spent years fretting that my mammaries, their example absent from the silver screen, were imperfect and inherently flawed. After all, what man would want a woman who clearly could go skinny dipping at a haunted campsite without fear of manical reprisal?

I am pleased to report that I have since come to peace with my breasts which, despite being less upstanding than they once were- are perfectly servicable. They may not be horror movie breasts, but they're all mine - and have even been praised once or twice in their own right. (Actually, come to think of it (and rather embarrassingly) - this peace came about in part because I saw boobs quite like my own in a mainstream movie some time in my late twenties. I can't remember what the movie was anymore - but I do remember rewinding the DVD so I could revel in the me-ness in the brief topless scene. I suppose I should be pleased really; I must have very sensitive breasts - the kind that only get their kit off when it's artistically integral to the story of my life - or worth an Oscar nod.)

However - what I now find concerning is the inner working of my brain. Why couldn't I get my body image issues from Barbie and teen magazines like all the other girls? I mean, seriously; who develops their insecurities and neuroses watching Conan the Barbarian and Satan's Cheerleaders? It's troubling.

Posted by Sarcasmo on Monday, January 23, 2006
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Monday Morning Madness   

  • Monday Morning Quiz: Here t'is.

  • Yeah...Why Is There a Giant Robot?: Toei Japanese Spiderman - a good example of bad tv...and the fan-subs that make it worse (or is it...better?) Man - I really wish *I* had a magic bracelet that would give me pajamas with super powers.- [M&C]

  • Pow!: Music video for a catchy little French ditty about comic strips as sung by Brigitte Bardot & Serge Gainsbourg called Comic Strip. Fear not if you don't understand French...Brigitte Bardot's sections are the best part...and are easily understood. - [LF]

  • A New Must for My Wardrobe: This concert t-shirt.. - [P]

  • Whizzball: Puzzle game - allows users to build their own levels (although I'm plenty frustrated by the levels they've already got, thanks). - [SH]

Posted by Sarcasmo on Monday, January 23, 2006
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Sarcasmo's London Diaries - Part the Fourth (Call the Police, There's a Madman Around)   

I am the walking, talking model of inertia. No, really; if your child took me to school as an exhibit for the science fair, he or she would likely win first prize. This is because, on the one hand, I am dedicated to my laziness; a Sarcasmo at rest (particularly if she already has her pajamas on, no matter what time of day) is going to stay decidedly at rest.  Conversely, a Sarcasmo in motion will stay in motion...especially when there's much to be seen and precious little time to see all of it.

Throughout my vacation I found more places on foot than I did on public transit, walking continually until my leg muscles and the balls of my feet literally burned from use, and then pressing on to walk some more. Sometimes I felt as though there were little engines in my ankles, spurring my feet ever onward despite what the rest of my body had to say on the matter. Often, when I'd hit the mid-day point, my joints achingly stiff from hours wandering in the cold, a little voice in my head would say: "Hey...psst. You know you're on vacation, right?  Many people actually rest on their vacation. But no, not you.  You've gone from sitting on your behind eight to twelve hours a day and walking one or two to the exact polar opposite.  You realize your body isn't accustomed to this sort of athletic nonsense.  Look - there's a Starbucks over there.  Why don't we go in and have a long sit - maybe read a little.  Nobody would think any worse of you for spending some portion of your holiday vegetating.  There's nothing wrong taking an afternoon to lounge in your hotel or maybe at the cinema.  It's not like you have to take on London like a Tourist with a Vengeance, spending every waking moment seeing the sights.  Keep this up and your feet are going to fall off, you know.  It's bad enough you hauled yourself out of the hotel at the crack of dawn.  Have you never heard of sleeping in?..."

One interal-monolouge-come-tirade1 later - I'd decide my inner whiner was correct; I was a bit stiff from the cold.  So - I'd generally stop in Starbucks, get a hot chocolate for take-away, and get back to pounding the streets.  My day 4 was no exception.

I started the day at Madame Tussaud's wax museum; a diversion for which I was particularly excited.  I fell in love with Tussaud's wax museums (despite Vincent Price's Professor Jarrod) after dragging my sisters into the Amsterdam museum years ago.  A large part of that love, certainly, is due to the artistry of the figures; their verisimilitude is astounding - often times unnerving.  After posing with Dickens, I had to apologize because I nearly bowled over another female patron I nearly didn't notice because she was well shorter than I am. After saying, "Oh, I'm sorry," I realized the woman in question was Queen Victoria. More than a little embarrassed by my error, I quickly amended the situation by saying "Oh, I'm sorry, your majesty."  Which brings me to the other reason I love these museums so much; I have yet to see a single patron maintain their stodgy grown-upedness in one.  Eventually everyone succumbs to the "oohs" and "aahs" and "look at this!" and "hey - take my picture!  No, wait - pretend I'm whispering something to Ringo." How can you not love a place that turns everyone into a big kid?

You may recall that I recently went through the live-action haunted house in Tussaud's Vegas2 all on my own. Well - need I say that when I got to Tussaud's London and saw that they too had a live-action haunted house show (serial killers this time) - that I naturally upgraded my ticket so I could go through - and that once again I was made to go through all on my own? Prior to being admitted, the host cautioned me not to touch the actors - and said they would not touch me - but that they would get very close in order to scare me.  I, in turn, cautioned him that I would likely going through the whole thing screaming like a little girl, to which he replied "Do what you like, love." 

And scream I did.  When the gentleman said they would get very close, he wasn't kidding.  No sooner did the door shut leaving me in near utter darkness than three of the loosed manics circled-round me in a ring-around-the-rosies manner, holding hands and chanting. I was utterly stymied and petrified into inaction.  Once I finally was allowed to pass - well - let's just say there was loads of screaming and running - and I had to tell at least one psycho to "be nice for Mommy" (better not to ask).  My heart was thudding so hard when I; did escape, I had to spend several minutes in the infamous Chamber of Horrors - studying the waxy faces of dead French revolutionaries and watching a victim of the guillotine have his head repeated chopped off in order to calm myself.

It was fantastic.  I sort of wish I'd gone through a second time.

Failing to remember that my ticket to the wax museum also included admission to the attached Planetarium, I simply left the museum after riding The Spirit of London in order to meander over to nearby 221 B Baker Street to visit the Sherlock Holmes museum. I must admit - it was a good homage to the famous detective - and an interesting look inside a Victorian home.  However - when I found myself taking a photo of the hat, umbrella and cane in Watson's bedroom, I had to give myself a reality check. " Why am I taking this photo," I wondered. These were props, just a hat, just an umbrella and just a cane - easily purchased virtually anywhere. Watson certainly didn't use Watson - like Holmes - never lived in that house - they're being fictional after all. I blame my enthusiasm on the rest of the group I entered the museum with - a stoic German woman slightly my senior - and a gaggle of young Japanese girls3 who were full of nervous energy. When the bobby at the door told us that "Dr. Watson will see you now," one of Japanese women literally jumped up and down and clapped her hands with delight...and when Watson later invited her to sit in Holmes' chair and try on Holmes' hat in the sitting room - well, frankly, I thought she was going to swoon dead away. I have to admit her excitement was a bit infectious. The gentleman portraying Watson later explained the museum saw a fair share of Holmes fans from Japan. In fact - he even spoke a little Japanese. He and I also chatted a bit about the US of A. He had kind things to say about Philadelphia (having spent a day and evening here - by way of New York) and felt that the New York City subways looked "half-finished" - but they were probably more efficient than the Tube (the Tube's shortcoming being largely political in origin) and a variety of other things. Come to think of it - the good doctor was charming (if slightly cheeky) gentleman, and did demonstrate a wide range of knowledge, so maybe I'm not quite so silly for having taking a photo of his hat after all. He may not have been the real/ficional/doctor/narrator/crimefighter/sidekick...but hey - he was close enough.

I'll estimate that I left the museum around 10:30 in the AM - and my only engagement for the day (meeting the lovely and talented Katie from Shiny Shiny for tea near Piccadilly Circus) wasn't until 5PM - which left me several hours of aimless wander time. That in mind, I just picked an arbitrary direction and went. In time I found myself outside The Wallace Collection - a private home turned museum, which, along with being a nice surprise to run across - did the very great favor to my budget by being free. After walking through the rather sumptuous galleries, I made my way to the Anthony Powell exhibit. I'll admit that I previously had no knowledge of Powell or his writings; and therefore much of the exhibit held very little personal meaning to me. However - having had the opportunity to see the painting that inspired his 12-volume comic novel, I felt it only right to stop by the museum shop with the aim of picking up volume one to read for myself. Alas - many others before me must have done the same - for as the museum had volumes two-twelve for sale, they were sold out of volume one. As bookless as I had entered4 I left and continued on my journey.

Eventually, I found myself on Oxford - and from there Regent Street, Soho and - eventually and rather unexpectedly Piccadilly Circus - and several hours ahead of schedule. It may amaze you that I made it down Oxford and Regent street so quickly - but I had one very distinct advantage: I am not, by nature, a shopper. As a past time, I find it rather abhorrent. So, as I did enjoy the energy and look of these areas, it was rare I was tempted to actually go into any of the shops. I did go into Hamley's - a mind-boggingly enormous toy store on Regent Street - to (unsuccessfully) seek out a souvenir for my nephew - but otherwise I was happy enough to remain on the street side of the windows.

Being as I was in Piccadilly, I stopped by one of those rush-ticket booths to see if I couldn't get a cheap ticket for a show that night. Unfortunately - the only show they had tickets for that I was interested in seeing was Chicago with Linda Carter (and even then only because I'd seen the posters all over town which said "She's a wonder"), but that was playing on Strand and not in the West End. So, instead, I took a walk around the area to see what was playing in the zillion of theaters there - and settled on Otherwise Engaged because I saw from the marquee that it starred Richard Grant - an actor whose work I've always enjoyed. Now - knowing the huge dork I am - I ask you to try and imagine, if you can, my joy when I purchased my ticket and discovered Grant was co-starring with Anthony "Giles - the sexy, bad boy vampire-fighting librarian" Head.5 Did I maybe do a little happy dance? Frankly, I'm not certain - but let's face it - it's likely. Another stall-area ticket in hand - I decided to spend some time exploring the immediate area - which - through a random series of turns and mis-steps stumbled me onto Trafalgar Square, St. James' Park, Chinatown - and even outside Buckingham Palace.6 Not too shabby for having absolutely no clue as to where I was going.

As I was so unexpectedly early to the area - and being afraid if I wandered too far off I might lose myself in an entirely different part of the city and miss my appointment - I eventually gave into my whiny voice and stopped in a Starbucks just outside Green Park to sit, have a coffee, and do some leisurely reading. However - I found I had to do said reading while holding myself as still as possible because, when I took my coat off to sit down, I discovered my brassiere had somehow managed to unhook itself - and I was stuck with no elegant way to fix the problem until I was able to visit the ladies room upon leaving. Mind you - this is the only time during my trip that this sort of undergarment malfunction happened - so I can only blame it on the fact that I gave into my lazy impulses when I clearly should have been using that time to absorb as much as the city as I could. It was back to hot chocolate to-go for me for the remainder of the trip.

When the time came, I did find the appropriate location and had a really lovely (albeit too short) tea and chat with Katie - whom I quite unfairly quizzed about the places I absolutely shouldn't miss while in London. (Really - if put on the spot - could you do that for your home town? There are certainly plenty in Philadelphia - but I don't know how I'd pick just a few). After we parted I found myself with about half an hour until to kill before seating began for the show, and so I ducked into Waterstone's to track down a copy of Anthony Powell's A Question of Upbringing (success) and to see if I could find some special edition of Anansi Boys that isn't going to be made available in the US-(failure). Then I repaired to the Criterion for the show. It wasn't until about a week after I returned home that I learned that Waterstone's location is, allegedly, the largest bookstore in Europe. I can't say I'm surprised - I nearly got myself lost trying to get out of there.

As for the play itself; I am so delighted that I once again splurged for good seats (I may have to start making that a habit). Despite the couple next to me who drank and giggled inappropriately throughout the show - I thought the performance was tremendous. Grant has received mixed reviews for the show - but I thought he was fantastic - and after an initial wave of "OMG IT'S GILES" I entirely forgot that Anthony Head had ever played anyone other than Jeff; I was entirely engrossed in the production. I must say, however - despite the fact the dialog was nearly painfully funny - I have difficulty classifying this show as a comedy. I did, as advertised, laugh throughout the show - and yet I left with quite the shattered heart. I will have to seek out more work by Simon Gray; I despair that I'll never be able to write that way. If I could discover his secret (and appropriate his talent) for balancing wit and pathos, why I'd be a very happy writer indeed.

1 And, generally, seven or eight passed Starbucks - much like home they're everywhere

2 Speaking of which - if any of you were concerned about me after my little Tussaud's Vegas wedding-chapel incident in November - you'll be happy to know Clooney and I reconnected in London and remain very good friends; as good as wax figure and flesh-and-blood girl can be.

3 To be fair - they were really just younger women- but as they were considerably younger than I, it makes me feel less hag like to call them girls.

4 Which is to say not entirely, as I had The Paris Review of Books for Planes, Trains, Elevators and Waiting Rooms in my bag.

5 Mind you, he's on the marquee too - I just didn't come to the theater from that side. If I had, I would have made up my mind to see the show that much faster.

6 Although - to be fair - I didn't realize I had seen Buckingham Palace until much later, when I conferred with my map to find out what that big building behind the Victoria Memorial was. I'm clever and observant that way.

7 Which I may have read about or possibly imagined entirely. I'm still not sure.

Posted by Sarcasmo on Monday, January 23, 2006
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Friday Follies   

Posted by Sarcasmo on Friday, January 20, 2006
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And for the record   

No, I don't actually think the world needs a play-by-play of my entire vacation. But I do, so I've decided to use this blog for it's rarely used purpose as a personal diary. Fear not - only a few more days to go, and then I'll get back to posting silly, senseless links and things.

Patience friends, patience.

Posted by Sarcasmo on Thursday, January 19, 2006
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Sarcasmo's London Diaries - Part the Third (Wherein Our Hero Goes to Pokey...Three Times)   

Thursday was the first day I really felt that I had started my vacation the way I wanted to. Armed with only my map and my voucher for the Tower of London, the day was mine - without time constraints or bus drivers pre-arranged pub lunches. Here was a day where I could wander easily and freely - able to follow the byways and sidepaths as the mood struck me.

Perhaps it was all this terrible, terrible freedom that subconsciously led me to repeatedly seek out the cool, solid lock-up on Friday, three separate times.

Two different friends, upon hearing my intention to journey to London told me, "You must go to the Tower of London and take the Beefeaters' tour. They tell you all the gory details and plot and intrigue and murder. You'll love it." I suppose it says a lot about my character that this was the primary response of two different people (who, as far as I know, do not know one another). And even more about my character that they were right. The Tower of London was my first stop of the day, and I spent several hours there. I thought it was fantastic.

I don't mind admitting that I had a rather visceral reaction when I emerged from the Underground to be see the Tower of London immediately before me. Here was a building, the construction of which begun almost 900 years ago - a site renowned for its fortitude and grisly history - appearing like a medieval mirage in the middle of a city street. A thrill ran through me - starting in my gut and arching outwards to a near giggling giddiness. I had difficulty maintaining (what passes for) my decorum.

That may seem like a strange reaction to those of you who are native to London - or really any European city; but try and understand we have nothing comparable here in Philadelphia. Sure - you can come out from the underground station for our Blue Line in Philadelphia (which, ironically, is our elevated train; it just happens that it runs beneath the streets in the city proper) to come face to face with Independence Hall - certainly a building of some historical resonance in the USA...but nothing that's survived so much for so long. Maybe it's the years of getting lost in Brit Lit that made the Tower of London evoke so a powerful reaction from me, or simply my strange compulsion to lay my hands on history. Either way, there it was, this mighty fortress, and I was going exploring in it. I'm getting a little thrill just remembering it now.

I did take the Beefeaters tour, as recommended. I count myself quite lucky, because my tour was conducted by Derrick, the Tower's Raven Master, who was very entertaining...and because my tour group had about 30 people, and we were told that summer tour groups can sometimes count in the several hundreds. I even got to (briefly) see the current Constable of the Tower of London (so briefly, in fact, that I doubt I could pick him out in a crowd). Apparently, he's the only man in England (probably the world) who can see the Queen without an appointment (although I am guessing Prince Philip and other members of the family Royal have similar rights). I think that would be a terribly tempting power to abuse. If I were Constable of the Tower of London, I think I'd just drop in to say "Hiya!" to Her Royal Majesty all the time.

Clearly, I wouldn't hold on to that post for very long. (And, considering the Tower's reputation, perhaps not even my head).

Once the guided tour was over, I wandered about on my own. I visited the rooms Richard III's two young nephews were imprisoned (and likely murdered) in. I visited Edward's personal apartments (staffed that day by a few folks in Medieval garb talking about Medieval life, which gave the rooms a very Disney feel), saw the Crown Jewels (they were...well...sparkly. I don't care for jewels really - so I can't say much more about them...except I bet their terribly heavy to wear), wandered the battlements, peeped the city through arrow slits, visited the rooms where Sir Walter Raleigh was kept as a gentleman prisoner, went through the many centuries of history in the museum areas, brushed my fingers over graffiti carved into the stone by prisoners of centuries past (what is it about mankind that we must make our mark on absolutely everything?), and saw the small garden where a few, select friends of the King were permitted the opportunity to be separated from their lives in a small, private ceremony rather than in a raucous party-like atmosphere across the way (it pays to have friends in high places). This is also where I saw the first of several Guy Fawkes related exhibits. (I was surprised to see so much dedicated to the story of Guy Fawkes - but I eventually worked that last year was the 400th anniversary hist attempted Regicide and bombing of Parliment.) I really liked the tabloid style signage they used in the Tower's exhibition...and I learned quite a lot about the event..particularly that Fawkes wasn't the ringleader. So of course I now need to find a book about Robert Catesby, the true mastermind of the plot, to add to my reading list. I'm not quite sure why he isn't the one being burned in effigy each November. I wonder if he would be pleased or disappointed to know that it was Fawkes, not he, who earned perpetual infamy.

One thing I did lots and lots of in the Tower of London was walk up and down tightly winding, stone spiral staircases, which I found nerve wracking to navigate; constantly clinging to the railing. I have no idea how ladies of the court ever managed them in those long, heavy dresses. Had I tried them in long skirts, I would have tripped and broken something for certain1.

After I was done with the tower, I crossed the Tower Bridge with the aim of following the Queen's Walk along the Thames with the eventual view of visiting the Globe Theater. However, my inner bloodthirsty self, whose need for gore was not assuaged by tales of execution and murder, was soon distracted by signs advertising the "London Dungeon" - and so I toddled down Tooley Street. When I arrived at the dungeon gate there, I discovered what was clearly a cheesy, tourist-oriented amusement.

"Now, Sarcasmo," I admonished myself, "you're above this sort of thing. Surely you'd rather spend your time (and budget!) on actual history and legitimate diversions, and not on hokey tourists traps."

"Well yes," I countered, "that's true. But it's a cheesy, hokey, haunted-house type horror-based tourist trap."

"Oh, right. Suppose you'd better go in then." And go in I did.2

I have to admit I was rather impressed by the London Dungeon. It proved to be less of a haunted house and more of an interactive theater journey through some of the terrors London has faced. And by interactive theater - I mean they forced members of the audience to participate whether they wanted to or not (I, for example, was made to stand in the docket and face a judge...although I never did learn the crime I was meant to stand accused of...apparently my having been American was criminal enough). The whole thing was a bit on the cartoonish side - although when you're dealing with things like the London Fire, torture, the plague and Jack the Ripper - you've only got two ways to go...slightly cartoony or dismally bleak and gory - and bleak and gory rarely does well in the tourist trade.

One thing that really impressed me was the fact that they used appropriate lighting in each venues. Medieval settings had actual candles in the candelabrum; while gas street lights burned in their makeshift Whitechapel. The lighting really tickled me...especially since I noticed the candelabrum in the throne room at the Tower of London was set with electric candles. Hooray for cheesy (and surprisingly educational) attention to detail.

After the dungeon, I continued on...passing the bridge stairs where Oliver Twist's Nancy was said to have met her untimely end...which frankly gave me a bit of a chill after my spiral staircase fantods. I read the plague with interest, but chose not to climb them.

Further along, I spotted this unhappy fellow dangling above my head. Turns out the area where I was walking adjoined the original site of the Clink prison (as in "Put him in the..."). There was a museum (private, not government funded), and I decided to pay the five pounds to check out. Here is where I had my first indication that I may have accidentally been adopting a local accent (and likely not a good one either), because while chatting with the ticket salesperson (who I believed was also the proprietor as he was a little over helpful and a trifle anxious to provide informational tours) I made a comment about the weather and he said it was "one of the perils of living in London." And believe me, when I talk with my regular voice, you can spot me as an American a mile off - not likely to be mistaken as someone who lives in London. By this point in my trip, my ears had re-trained themselves to be indifferent to the British accents - so whereas I might notice regional differences, I didn't really notice anyone's accent as being out of the ordinary. (Although I could, at this point, pick an American accent out of a crowd with an alarming, Steven Austin type alacrity.) This - no doubt - is because I suffer from that dreadful American vice of finding British accents dead sexy...and if my ears hadn't re-trained themselves, I would have gone into major sensory overload, fainting from sheer joy.4 Furthermore it is an unfortunate truth that I tend to pick up the cadence of people around me...a fact I like to blame on my love of language and my constant need to try out new words and sounds. It is likely that the rhythm of my speech was altered from its norm (in fact, someone here at work noticed me still doing it the other day)...but I really hope I hadn't accidentally affected an accent as well. For one thing, I don't really do accents (not well, in any case) and for another, I'm always afraid when I do end up doing it (accidentally) the person listening to me will think I'm making fun of them rather than recognizing the fact that my subconscious has rather more control of my language and other motor skills than it probably should.

My potential lack of linguistic social graces nonwithstanding, the Clink museum was small and interesting...although I think it would have been more interesting if I hadn't just been to two other attractions that dealt with what it meant to be a prisoner in the London jails. I did get to handle an actual iron ball and chain; which was (I'm happy to say) a new experience for it. It was actually quite a bit heavier than I had imagined.

Having made my egress from the Clink, I decided I had had enough of stocks, chains and fake plague rats for one day, and instead turned my sights to the theater. I first stopped at the re-imagined Globe for a tour (and which also had a Guy Fawkes related exhibit to coincide with an RSC production on The Strand). After the watching my breath turn chill under the open air theater for a while, trying to imagine the grounds crowded with the rowdy hoi polloi while bored, wealthy patrons hollered down to the actors from the Lord's boxes, I thought I'd try to find the Old Vic, which, as I seemed to recall from my earlier map study - was in the general area. And, more importantly, where was playing the one show I absolutely had to see while I was in London.

To my very proper, erudite readers who hold the theater and theatrical arts in utmost regard, let me share with you the fact that that night I had the honor to see Sir Ian McKellen, that great Shakespearean actor, tread the boards of the Old Vic.; and his performance that evening even more exquisite than expected.

To everyone else let me squeal at you with unfettered delight that I saw Sir Ian McKellen appear at the Old Vic as The Widow Twankey in a Panto production of Aladdin. It's no secret that I'm a Panto fan...and the fact that I got to see my first English Panto production in London - and that Ian McKellen was part of the cast made me a very, very happy girl indeed. (And did I get to see him recite the line "One ring to rule them all..." right there, live on stage? Oh yes, my lovelies, yes I did. And not only is the man a consummate actor, but he can do song and dance...and he has killer legs as well. I don't believe I'll ever be able to look at Britannia without seeing Sir Ian again. Or, for that matter, any member of ABBA.) The production was (I thought, in my limited experience) surprising lavish - with some fairly spectacular sets and effects - all of which was uproariously taken in by the audience. We really have nothing like it in the US. I just loved it to pieces. It made me wish I could afford come to London for the Panto every winter. I'm so glad I indulged myself and spent the extra money for stall seating. And, made me eager to see more theater while I was in London...a fact for which I am eternally grateful (even if I didn't get to hiss at anyone in any of the other productions. There should be more hissing at the villains in live theater. This is a fact of life of which I am certain.)

The one downside to this very, very good day (other than the fact I managed to get on the right line but wrong train on the way back to my hotel...thereby taking an unexpected tour of some Underground stations) was that my day was so full I wasn't able to meet up with someone I had hoped to. Next time around, for sure.

1 Another reason I think they freaked me out so much was because as a kid, I often had this morbid fantasy that I would die falling down a flight of stone, spiral stairs in a tower (either running from some unseen danger or by being pushed), my long hair fanned out around my face. That memory came flooding back to me in the most chilling of ways everytime I stumbled on those steps. I had been having frequent instances of deja vu for a few weeks before the trip, and I began to wonder if maybe my end wasn't near. Of course, in those (likely Hammer-inspired) dreams, I was usually wearing a long, white dressing gown and (if I'm not mistaken) also a vampire...and as neither or those variables were in place, I should have known I was safe. Still gave me the creeping fantods though.

2 I am afraid that I did pay for the silly, souvenir photo. I don't often waste my money on such things...but you will notice that up until this point, there are no photos of me in London, and I thought it might be nice if I had proof that I was actually there and wasn't simply hiding in my apartment, downloading photos of London landmarks from the Internet. (The reason for no photos of me is two-fold. (1) I really have no interest in posing in front of landmarks. (2) CCTV cameras are everywhere in I figured there are likely hundreds of images of me in and around the London if someone really needed hard proof, they could probably just write the British government a nice letter and ask for one.)3

3 Apparently, London has the largest percentage of CCTV cameras in the I was a bit surprised to see how popular the "reality" show Big Brother is over there. Not only do they show Big Brother with some frequency, but there are also chat shows based around it - and it is recapped it on the news every morning. I would have thought that with some many spy cameras about the place, something like Big Brother would be somewhat less palatable to the public. Turns out not. Also, can someone tell me if MP "Gorgeous" George Galloway gets voted off? I picked up so much Big Brother news secondhand that I now care how he comes out the other side of this publicity stunt.

4 I'd like to pretend I'm kidding...but when I first arrived and was sitting in Heathrow, recovering from my jet-lag and fainting spell, I can only hope I looked the cool, seasoned (if slightly pale) traveller on the outside, because on the inside I was buzzing as though the British Tower of Babel exploded in my head; or like I had fallen asleep and woken up inside my cable box with the station stuck on BBC America. I thought of my friend (and fellow Anglophile) babyraven often on this trip...but I most especially wished she were with me at that moment, because I think she might have understood my ridiculous giddiness at this point in my journey.

Posted by Sarcasmo on Thursday, January 19, 2006
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Sarcasmo's London Diaries - Part the Second (Where the Demons Live and They Do Live Well)   

I have always shied away from bus tours. For myself, I prefer to explore places on foot; as I have a penchant for sideling down any alley or side street I come across just to get a look at what's one the other end. Bus tours, I was quiet certain, meant more time on the bus than off it, being led about rather than permitted to explore, and, worst of all, operating on the schedule of a group. However, when I booked my trip, I noticed the travel agency offered an all day bus tour to Bath and Stonehenge. I was quite desirous of seeing Bath (the site of a hot spring at which the Romans, Normans and Victorians had built baths) - which is someway outside of the London area; as I have friends who had gone on a previous trip, and had come back with tremendously beautiful pictures of the area. The trip was listed as a "Full Day at Bath and Stonehenge," and although Stonehenge was not really high on my list of things to see, I figured we probably wouldn't stay there terribly long, which would likely leave me several hours to poke around Bath.

Here is what I learned about bus tours - they mean more time sitting on the bus than being off it, they much prefer to lead you around to one specific location than to let you explore, and, worst of all, you are at the mercy of the guide and group. I shouldn't complain too much really; our guide was terribly interesting as she described points of interest as we drove through the country side (although she did have a habit of mention books related to the areas we were in (ie: Tess of the D'urbervilles or the works of Jane Austen (who lived in Bath for a time)) and then following them up with "So-and-so made a movie based on that book, and I really recommend you see it." By the third or fourth time she did that, I wanted to shout out "Or, you know, you could read the book," but I bit my tongue, as I didn't want to be left on the roadside for dead in Pennsylvania, England. (Also, I hadn't known before that Roman Polanski made a film version of Tess of the D'urbervilles. I'll have to check that out.)

As it happened, despite what my voucher said, the excursion was for Stonehenge, Salisbury Cathedral and Bath - none of which are especially close to one another - and so we were left was far too little time to look at anything, really. Had I done my traveler's due diligence, I would have seen that there was a train from Paddington Station (a short walk from my hotel) to Bath - which would have allowed me to spend the day there at my leisure. Next time I'll know better.

On the plus side, I did get to see Stonehenge.- which is pretty spectacular in so much as it exists, it having been largely untouched despite the wooded area around it having been cleared for farming and that no one knows what it's for. (I rather wish I could have seen it when it was surrounded by woodlands.) We were handed a leaflet by our guide and given forty-five minutes to look at the mighty henge - which was plenty long enough for me as we actually had to stand well back from the site itself. (Had we been able to get up close to it and walk through and touch it I imagine time would have gone a bit faster for me.) Despite having told myself I wasn't going to bother taking photos of landmarks while I was there, (after all, there exist zillions of photos of Stonehenge, Big Ben, etc) already - I found myself with camera in hand, shooting the thing from all angles. However, as I don't really do souvenirs, I did resist the urge to purchase things like Stonehenge Socks and Megalithic Fudge from the adjoining gift shop.

Of course, someone in our group didn't feel that 45 minutes was enough time to look at Stonehenge from a long way off - and so we left nearly 1/2 hour late - putting us well off schedule.

Our next stop was Salibury..and it's about here that I made myself unpopular with the tour guide. She mentioned that in Salisbury we'd be stopping for lunch, and that although we could, of course, eat where we'd like, the tour company recommended a particular pub which had a set menu for the tour group with three choices, and which they could call in ahead so it would be ready when the group arrived. Not that we were obligated to, mind you, but it certainly was the easiest option. When she came around for my order, I told her I'd go ahead and sort things out on my own when I got there. I am the only one on the tour that did so.

When we got off the bus, she took me aside and recommended that I go right into Cathedral and have lunch at the cafe there. I sort of smiled and nodded, planning on perhaps grabbing something I could eat while I walked from a nearby cafe and thereby getting a chance to see Salisbury. However, when I learned that the 1 1/2 hours we had in Salisbury was meant to include lunch as well as the tour of the Cathedral, I gave in and went into the Cathedral Close as they wandered off to the pub. I'm glad I did, actually. I quite liked the residential areas within the Close - and the time on my own afforded me a chance to stop and take photos of the exterior whenever the mood struck me. When I was done, I had a quick soup in the Cathedral cafe, and went to entrance at the appointed time to meet up with my group. When I inquired after them, I was told they hadn't yet arrived, but as I was with them I could go right in. In the end, the group was 20 minutes late (seems there was some hold up at the pub) and basically had about 15 minutes to explore the medieval cathedral and - additionally - view the best of four original surviving copies of the Magna Carter - which is housed in the adjoining Chapter House. So not only did I save a few pounds on lunch, but my rebellious ways also gave me some much appreciated exploration time. (Although, honestly, I could have spent all day there. Although I am not religious by nature, I do have a particular attraction to places of worship; it's something about their celebratory solemnity, I think, and the great care and beauty with which they are usually constructed. There was also something about the - not to sound too new agey but - energy of Salisbury Cathedral. I don't know what to call it exactly, but I felt something similar when I visited the Buddha in Japan; but I didn't feel anything like it at St. Paul's or even Stonehenge.) It's a really beautiful place and quite an old city. In the end, it was my favorite part of the day.

It was quite interesting seeing the Magna Carta as well. 3500 words in small script on a piece of leather parchment; and completely legible (if you read Latin, in any case). I can barely write 20 legible words on lined paper with a ballpoint pen. Script is one very lost art.

When we finally did get to the very beautiful city of Bath, we were dropped off at the Roman baths, given an audio tour set and told we had an hour and a half. Mind you, there's a Jane Austen Centre in Bath that I also wanted to go - not to mention walking around to be done - so I took the fast-track "highlights" portion of the tour - which still took 45 minutes - then fled the baths to go look around the city. (Our tour was meant to include a cup of water from the baths, put the pump room was closed. Which is just as well, as I've from various sources that it was rather disgusting. I don't really see the point in drinking the waters anyway, as I quite thought the point was to bathe in them. I did, however, surreptiously dangle one of my fingers in the water - so my index finger, at the very least, can claim the honor of having taken the waters at Bath.)

I more or less jogged through Bath (which is quite hilly) to locate the Jane Austen Centre, only to discover that the museum experience started with a guided tour - and by the time the next one was starting, I was going to have to turn back to rejoin my bus group. So, despite my rule about not buying anything on vacation I could normally get at home, I treated myself to this mug, because I really liked it. I did, however, manage to resist that 90 gazillion things the shop sold (including painted portraits!) portraying Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy. (Strangely, one of the reasons I was so anxious to go to the Austen Centre - other than the obvious fact that I'm an Austen fan - was that I really hadn't planned any literary outings, which seemed like a bit of a waste since there was so much of literary interest in the area. I needn't have worried, because it seemed everywhere I turned I saw the house of some author or another. Jane Austen, Samuel Johnson, George Orwell, etc. Although I did miss out on the Dickens house. That'll need remedying.) In the shop, I was delighted to find (especially after a whole morning of Miss "See the Movie") several teenaged girls all but swooning over the rare books and purchasing Austen by the handfuls.

A helpful hint for you all - when wandering around medieval cities - avoid using a church or abbey as a your focal point of reference. There is bound to be more than one of them...and that's only going to lead to confusion in the end. Luckily, I did make it down the hill and back to Bath abbey in time to get the bus back into the city.

I alighted from the bus at Harrods' - which was one of the available stops. I did so for two reasons. (1) Several people told me I really should go to Harrods''s, just to see it, even though I'm not really a shopper. (2) I remembered from my midnight map studying the previous evening that Knightsbridge was just South of Hyde Park - and I knew I could cut through Hyde Park to Bayswater Road - and my hotel was just off Bayswater. Harrods''s certainly was ...something. With it's Egypt room and escalator- it rather struck me as very Vegas Luxor-like - if the decor for the Luxor had been undertaken with anything resembling "class" in mind. Also - Harrods''s struck me as particularly singular as it is the only department store I've ever been to that has it's own gift shop. As in, a special shop where you can buy Harrods''s items. Very strange.

I wandered around Knightbridge a bit more (skipping past Harvey Nick's as I was department-stored out by this point). Eventually I made the necessary turn and pressed on towards Hyde Park - which did me the favor of being exactly where I had expected it to be. Unfortunately, despite it being merely around 7PM, the area was much, much darker than I had anticipated. And although the park seemed as though it was well-lit; I estimated a light post about every ten feet - the fact of the matter was I could barely see five feet in front of me - so the lights weren't much help. To make matters worse, the path I was following ended before the park did - and I had to choose to either press through in the dark, or to follow the bike path along the Serpentine walk. Surprisingly, my common sense surpassed my stubbornness, and I decided to stay where there were people...even if I couldn't see them very well.

As I walked along the river in near darkness, I found myself quite glad I didn't make it to the Jack the Ripper tour I had been considering the night before. I don't think my overactive imagination needed any assistance

It should come as no surprise to you that I got a little lost in the park, which is, in fact, enormous. Thankfully, it became evident to me that I was going the wrong way when I turned on to a bridge that was taking me across the river I had just followed. I soon found a map in the park and righted myself...but in the end my little short cut ended up taking me well over an hour. I ended my evening at an Indian restaurant on the same block as my hotel, who disappointed me by not having any samosas available; only what was on in the buffet. (Food played a rather large role in The Namesake - and having read it from cover-to-cover on my way over, I found myself absolutely desperate for samosas.) I knew I should have just picked up dinner at Harrods''s Or, at the very least, treated myself to a hot chocolate from their chocolate shop.

Posted by Sarcasmo on Wednesday, January 18, 2006
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Kitchen Needs   

How much do I need this? I believe it is "very much indeed." (JWB)

Posted by Sarcasmo on Wednesday, January 18, 2006
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Sarcasmo's London Diaries - Part the First (Guess Who's Back - Back Again)   

Hello, hello all (or - that is - all two of you who hung around waiting for me to get off my arse and post again after an extended vay-cay). I am back, although slightly later than intended...and have just finished sorting through the photos1 I've taken of my trip. I'm recently showered now, and in my pjs, and, quite frankly, still suffering from a wee bit of jet-lag, so I'm not quite sure how much longer for consciousness I am this evening.

However, I do intend to post about my trip, whether you want me to or not (hey, it's my blog remember?) - and have decided for simplicities sake to break it up into a series of short(er) posts rather than one long one. This is for a few reasons:

  1. It is for the benefit of those of you who read Sarcasmo's Corner with an aggregator, so my rambling rambliness doesn't push everything else off the page

  2. It's for my own edification, as it will hopefully help me make heads or tails out of my stack of ticket stubs, my receipts, and my little notebook of hastily scribbled, mostly illegible and entirely unorganized notes (which say things like "2K BC - Beaker People," "Dead Maid's," "Blackstreet? Brickstreet? Blackroad? Brickroad?"

  3. I really don't have the sort of attention span necessary to condense my trip down into a single post. (This isn't a side effect of the jet lag. This is my usual way.

I will tell you on the outset that my favorite way to discover a city is to get lost in it; and therefore most of what I found and explored I did through aimless meandering, half-recalled rumour and just plain luck. All in all I saw more than I thought I would and not nearly as much as I wanted to. I kept my food budget on the very cheap (mostly cafes and take-away) - which allowed me to see four (four!) shows while I was there; a Panto, a drama, a comedy, and thing. (I'd call it a ballet, but the dance wasn't ballet-style.) I'm very excited to have seen so many excellent, London theatrical productions, but I also find it a bit strange and sad that I've now seen four London shows - and I've still never seen any on Broadway - and New York is only a short train ride away! Perhaps even stranger (and sadder) - one of the reasons I attended the theater so often on this trip (other than the fact that I love the theater and London is a premiere theater city) is that it gave me something to do in the evenings. Because although I will go on tours and to movies and to the theater, and - in fact - even fly to another country to vacation on my own without a second thought - I simply wasn't willing to go out dancing all on my lonesome. I know Weird.

As you can see, I'm already Blabby McBlabberton, and I haven't even really gotten to the trip yet. So, I'll start at the very beginning - my departure - or, as I like to think of it - The Frogurt is Also Cursed Incident

My flight was a red-eye, so I spent the day preparing for my departure by exchanging a sizable pile of American money for a considerably smaller pile of British cash; doing all my dishes and laundry; packing; mopping my floors; changing my linens, and generally making every effort to exhaust myself so I'd sleep on the flight and ensuring that I'd get to come home to a clean apartment. After I triple-checked that my oven, my burners, and all my faucets were firmly turned off (I have this abiding fear that I'm going to leave my apartment with these things still on - thereby effectively burning down and flooding my home simultaneously) I found myself with still with several hours to kill. I decided to head off to the airport in advance, as all I was doing was sitting around waiting at home - and I could just as easily do that at the airport. I figured getting there early for an international flight meant a much shorter time spent waiting in line for security. Here's where the Frogurty part of my adventure begins:

  • Since I was leaving so early, I decided to walk to the train station and get the train rather than take a cab - the train being a more frugal option. As it happens, my monthly bus pass is also applicable towards travel to the airport, so instead of paying $25 or more, getting to the airport was free. (Woo-hoo!)

  • When I got the to airport, I found out my flight was delayed nearly an hour, which meant that instead of being nearly 4 hours of early for my flight, I in fact had 5 hours to kill. (D'oh!)

  • I managed to pack enough clothes, shoes and etc. for the week in only my messenger back and a carry-on suitcase, so I didn't have to worry about checked baggage. (Woo-hoo!).

  • Unfortunately, I packed the bag too heavy, and ended up having to check it anyway. (D'oh!)

  • Since it was my first time flying with this airline (and the ticket lady was feeling nice) I was upgraded to business class. (Woo-hoo!)
  • To fit everything in the carry-on suitcase, I had to wear my bulkier items - namely my all-weather boots and my blue jeans. Not only is this terribly gauche (especially when undertaking international travel) but it also required me to remove my shoes during the security check - which is a huge pain in the ass - especially since there's no elegant way to put them on again once without getting in everyone's way once you've managed to get everything else you own from off the conveyor belt. (D'oh!)

  • Because I was so early, there was barely a line at security, and, despite having to remove my boots - everything went pretty quickly and I managed to both remove and replace them without falling over.. (Woo-hoo!)

  • About three hours into The Namesake (which I borrowed from poppy and which I was enjoying) - I heard my name called over the airport loudspeaker. As I struggled to search for a white courtesy phone (since I couldn't hear the instructions that followed my name) I worried frantically about why they were paging me. My first concern was that something horrible had happened to a member of my family. However, my family has a long standing policy about vacations, which is essentially - "Don't call me unless it's to tell me the house is on fire. And in fact, don't even call me then, since I won't be able to do anything about it from where I am anyway." So - family crisis being neatly taken off the list - I could only assume that they had found some mysterious, illegal substances in my luggage. This was surprising to me - as I hadn't even packed a nail file for fear of inciting the wrath of air line security - let alone anything obstensibly illegal. When I hied me back to the ticket counter (which meant I later had to return through the security line and remove the boots again, grr...) - I discovered that my luggage had been deplaned and my emergency contact (my Mom) contacted to pick it up, as the airline had received a call from their reservation department informing them that I was not flying. When I asked them who called, I was informed that they were under the impression that I had, in fact, telephoned and removed myself from this flight. Needless to say, this caused some concern on my part - as I was fairly certain that I hadn't blacked out while I was reading at the terminal gate and placed the call. This led to all sort of 11th hour shenanigans in which I made my poor mother (after calling to let her know nothing was wrong and I was still going away) to call London and make sure my hotel was still expecting me. Furthermore, I spent and several subsequent hours wondering who had made the call and why they would want me off the plane. (Was it a prank? Was someone trying to sabotage my vacation? Did someone I know have advance knowledge about a scheduled plane disaster, and were they trying to make sure I was safely out of the way? Was the CIA planning on kidnapping me and replacing me with a sleeper agent while I was in London - and did they ergo have me called to the ticket counter on some fictional task in order to make a positive ID and confirm what I was carrying, packing, wearing? Or was the airline employees apologetic suggestion that there was a mix-up with the names the most likely solution?) It was troubling, to say the least. (D'oh!)

  • For my troubles in the deplaning incident, I was moved up to a business class bulkhead seat (Woo-hoo!)

  • My bulkhead seat was next to a woman with a squirmy infant.(D'oh!)

  • The infant was surprisingly well-behaved, and slept for most of the trip. (Woo-hoo!)

  • I, however, did not sleep for most of the trip, no matter how hard I tried. About an hour outside of London, I went from groggy, cold, and stiff from sitting still in an attempt to sleep to groggy, very warm and slightly nauseous. Since the captain turned off the seatbelt light just as I was shoving off my blanket to try and get cool - I thought I should make my way to the restroom to splash some cold water on my face. I made it about half-way before grabbing hold of the head rests on either side of the aisle and kneeling as though I was waiting for the young woman in the pink sweater who was coming down the aisle in my direction (and suddenly looking at me very strangely) make me a Knight of the Realm - but the fact was I was trying to get my head to stop swimming. Next thing I know a stewardess is picking me up off the floor. Nothing like swooning into a dead faint in front of a plane full of people. You thought wearing rain boots and blue jeans was bad? Let me tell you - fainting in the aisle...way classy. (D'oh!)

  • My little brush with unplanned unconsciousness earned me a long row in the back all to myself (I think it was the crew seating) for the remainder of the flight, were I was free to drink sweetened tea and wait for the colour to come back into my cheeks for as long as I felt necessary. (Woo-hoo?)

Nothing like starting my London adventure with a bona fide whimper. And a thud.

Luckily, the rest of the day went just swell. I got to my hotel - where they were expecting me, got checked in and went for a wander around the neighborhood. This largely involved stomping through Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens - (the later end of which was about a half-block from my hotel) but I also took some twists and turns through the Paddington, Bayswater, and South Kensington neighborhoods - just to get a feel for the area in which I was staying. After having a late lunch, I made my way back to my hotel and fell asleep for a few hours. When I woke it was 11PM - too late to go back out and find something to do - and too early for my jet-lagged self to go to sleep. So, I spent the next few hours in a strange combination of dozing, watching really awful late night tv, and having sudden fits that required me to turn on the lights, pull out my borrowed map (thanks Tracker!). flip through my guidebook, and figure out what was around. Strangely, I think studying the map in this fugue state did something useful to my brain - because the map was more often in my bag than out of it during my travels - but I several times during the week I seemed to find things with a strange sixth sense. (Sure, sure, the fact that London is easily the most well-marked city I've ever been in certainly helped - but how many people accidentally blunder into Islington just exactly when they need to be there without knowing exactly where they need to be? I'll venture a guess at "not many.")

Right - so now that I'm back it also means I'm back to my everyday tasks - and I do, unfortunately, have some work I need to do. If I'm still awake in a hour, I'll likely bore you all with a run down of day two. You can decide for yourself if that's a "D'oh!" or a "Woo-hoo!"

1 Two notes on the photos: (1) I've also broken them down into groups by day - so if you're looking for some kind of context for them, you might want to wait for my blog post about it. (2) I have a tendency to take photos of things that are personally interesting to me, but which may have little or no social significances. This includes (but is not limited to) graffiti, displays, and faces on statues, and architectural detail. I warn you only because there's loads of photos of things that aren't anything special really, it just so happens that I enjoyed them.

Posted by Sarcasmo on Tuesday, January 17, 2006
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