Sunday, January 14, 2007

2007 UK Tour (Leg One) Part Two

At the party I was lucky enough to hear about the most fabulous object, the alarm clock I must have. It includes the voice of Stephen Fry saying various things upon one's waking such as, "I am so sorry to disturb you, sir, but it appears to be morning. Very inconvenient, I agree, sir. I believe the rotation of the earth is to blame, sir." What better way to face the morning?

We, however, faced the next morning with some trepidation and no Stephen Fry, as we had been up so late and got rather a slow start. The Brookses dropped me off at Regent's College before heading off on their visits and I settled into my little room at the college where I had first been after my freshman year at Michigan State. Things have changed a bit in the intervening years, oddly enough.

But I had no time to dwell as I was off to Great Dunmow (pictured above), land of the medieval flitch trials, so that meant a trip off to Liverpool Street to jump on the express train to Stansted. After some humorous misunderstandings I finally caught up with my pal Bogie and had a lovely pub lunch with the whole Bogie clan (not to be confused with "bogie" and yes, when in Britain I do try to visit only the people whose names begin with "B"), then lots of lively conversation until rather late -- and of course, I came away with a handful of entertaining disks to take away (thanks again!). Next time, I have to come while it's still light out enough to see the wonders of the garden -- and the rest of the village. Then it was back to Stansted, on the train and then through the darkened park to my little room. The ducks called still at midnight and the song birds awoke me in the morning. Life could be much worse.

The meeting began the next morning, where I met some colleagues from my college (yes, have to go across the pond to meet folks from across the street, so to speak). While chatting with some other affiliates, I found that some were going to see a performance of Spamalot! Ooh -- I knew I had to see if I could get a ticket. I didn't think there would be any performances on a Monday night, but there was, hurrah! Yet again, sitting in the gods, but all I really missed was a tiny bit of Tim the Enchanter's head during his first arrival (accompanied by the usual sense of vertigo while climbing to my seat). What fun -- I hope to force Gene to see it too when he comes along in May (you will go to England in May, Gene, we are all mesmerizing you with this thought -- others feel free to ignore, unless you too would like some of the action-packed fun!). What makes the show so much fun even for people who have all Python dialogue memorized is the rearrangements of material into new juxtapositions and the silly show-ness of it, which of course is central to making it a musical. Just like the original "Camelot" number, Idle's script skewers the conventions of musicals then uses those same conventions to make a satisfying show that works both as a comedy and, yes, a musical. There's something deeply joyful about a huge crowd of people singing along (twice!) to "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life."

On the second day of the conference, a speaker mentioned the current show at the Tate Modern, "Test Site" by Carsten Höller, part of his Unilever Series. I had to go! Giant slides that stretch from each floor to the bottom of the Turbine Hall (you can watch live video of the ends of the chutes on line). I got my tickets and headed up to the third floor slide. You have to get on a little canvas sliding cloth with a sort of pocket into which you thrust your shoed feet, then fold you arms, tuck your chin and slide. It's odd, the sudden sensation of falling then the sort of ribbing that slows your descent before you pop out onto the main floor, blinking and disoriented. The fourth floor slide gives you more of that strange and helpless sense of falling and even more dizziness, but by the time I got to the fifth floor the lines were shorter and the padding greater (like skater gear for elbows, and a recommended hat which no one took). I actually looked out of the slide as I went down -- more dizzying, but I was finally able to enjoy the view rather than just worrying about falling. Highly recommended.

There was a dinner at the college that night -- which turned out to be rather a swanky affair for which I was entirely unprepared and felt terribly awkward and uncomfortable (although my immediate seat mates proved entertaining). It was held in the library at the longest table at which I have ever sat and had lovely food and too much wine. It was so much nicer to go back to Hanwell and the comforts of a friendly home (after I finished all the shopping I needed to do). We finally had our GBK dinner and it was terrificly tasty. Then a relaxing evening and an easy-going morning before I had to finally pack up my bag and head home in the wind and rain. Many thanks to my friends (especially Brad and Liz and Sophie!) for making my trip another fun one.

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