A Fortnight (well, almost) in London

Between Bangkok When the Leaves Turn and
Bangkok for the Holidays

December 1-11, 2001

Saturday, December 1, 2001


Tomorrow we'll be in London.1 Aside from a change of planes at Heathrow, this will be Watcharee's first trip to the United Kingdom.

Come back tomorrow ...

1 It's a scheduled 12 hour non-stop flight from Bangkok to London; perhaps longer if we don't fly over Kabul.

Sunday, December 2, 2001

Watcharee in FlightVery late last night we flew BA's (British Airways) flight 10 from Bangkok to London. It was the second leg of a long haul from Sydney (for others; not us). Anyway, these midnight flights are actually quite nice; once on board you can fold into sleep and wake up in time for breakfast ... after that it's just another 4 or 5 hours (2 movies) before landing at Heathrow.

We are staying at the Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park (which used to be the old Hyde Park Hotel).

Another breakfast.

Another sleep.

Monday, December 3, 2001

The view from the porch is ... well ... more 'urban' than our one in Bangkok. But, we are right next to Hyde Park and we ARE here for the 'turning of the leaves'.

Though we have only made one 'stab' so far, the search for Mellisa (a mysterious girl from September 1999) has found nothing. Watcharee in Hyde ParkShe is missing from her regular phone kiosk; and there are no bits of her to be seen on the ground.

The Millennium's great ride ... do you remember it? The one from late December 1999; the one for "tiny tots"? The "tea cups" that went disastrously out of control ... resulting in the excruciatingly dramatic death of two adorable twins? Yes, you do! Well, it is gone. It's been replaced by something as weak as celery broth.

Nearby the London police are looking for Asian culprits.

Our afternoon visit to the London Transport Museum was the highlight of the day. The 'map room' ... where old copies of London transport maps can be seen ... was the 'topper'.

Of course, we followed this up with a real-life ride on these wonderful machines through their wonderful tunnels.

Today, I will take Watcharee for a visit to a London bank: Barclays, Ltd.

Tuesday, December 4, 2001

"The ingredients used are sourced from the finest specialist suppliers across the British Isles. Our kippers and haddock are naturally smoked without any additives, free range eggs from Sussex, black pudding from Scotland, specially made sausages from Kent, home made jams, marmalades and jellies, muffins, breakfast scones, breads and yeast breads." Introduction from the Mandarin Oriental [Hyde Park, London] room service breakfast menu.

"REAL PHOTO" 'Tart card' from London telephone kiosk.

"7584 1128" 'Tart cards' from London telephone kiosk.

After the promised (and exciting) visit to Barclays, Ltd., Watcharee and I went to Chung's Chinese restaurant for lunch: seaweed, sesame-shrimp toast, and poached fish. Since 1983 this has been my favorite Chinese restaurant in London. It's right across the street from the side entrance to Selfridges; the Miss Selfridges part.

The search for Mellisa turned up no trace of the woman. Alphabetically, Lucy and Luana were the closest.

On the way back to the hotel we walked through the Rose Garden in Hyde Park. By 4:30 in the afternoon the sun had already been down for half an hour.

Though Morton's skills are not needed on Fleet Street,1 his black pen was borrowed by the girl at 07 870 524 707.

This morning's International Herald Tribune reported that the last flight of TWA took place on Sunday: Honolulu to Saint Louis. From now on TWA2 will only be an asterisk in the balance sheet of American Airlines.

1 Not the Bangkok Daily News.

2 TWA, an acronym for Trans World Airlines (originally, Transcontinental and Western Airlines; before Howard Hughes renamed it in 1950). For further information, see Florida, June 2001.

Wednesday, December 5, 2001 (The Birthday of the King of Thailand)

Harrods: cameras, sleeveless blouses on women and backpacks of all sorts are banned at the door. But, pork products are still available in the Food Halls. "God is Great" is the holiday theme.

A strange religious poster is seen at one of the tube stops on the Bakerloo Line.

St. Paul's and the OXO tower can be seen from the south side of the Thames.

The London Eye is still turning.

The (New) Taj Mahal restaurant has taken a strange turn.

Looking into the 'caves' in the search for Melissa only finds cheap imitations.

The Spa/Gym at the Hyde Park property of the Mandarin group is small but creative.

Thursday, December 6, 2001

The London Eye

The London Eye!

Friday, December 7, 2001 (60 years after Pearl Harbor)

How English:

Prince Albert.1

Queen Victoria.

A London shop window, decorated for the season.2

1 Albert in his FDR pose.

2 File photo of Patpong girl from a Christmas past.

Saturday, December 8, 2001

The Cameron Balloon factory in Bristol hasn't changed very much since my last visit a couple of years ago [back when CB3 was still lying limp on the floor of the sewing room].

Yesterday Watcharee and I took the 11:45 Great Western from Paddington to Bristol: Cameron Balloonsa 90 minute train ride through the west country that ended just about on the Welsh border. No 'in-flight' emergency forced us to look for the alluded to ... but, well-hidden ... escape hammer.

The balloon factory is housed in an 1837 redbrick building that probably has not changed much since its first tenants walked into the place; I know it looks the same as when I first saw it in 1988. By comparing the pictures that I took yesterday with the ones from the days of CB1, CB2 and CB31 ... well, there are some new faces and some new balloons and a few new machines ... but the basic stuff is still in place.

Of course, the factory's 'morgue' (of over 4000 balloon 'rap-sheets') is getting bigger. Incidentally, Sian Jones,2 as we speak, is working on the design for CB4: a curious but artful combination of elephant-polo-ladyboy-Patpong-corkscrew themes.

The rest of the Cameron factory is made up of special departments or dedicated chore floors:

1 Days of LeeAnna, Jean and Linda.

2 In January, Sian will again be with us at Chateau d'Oex. In hand will be fresh sketches for CB4.

Sunday, December 9, 2001

Last night Watcharee and I went to Nobu: a Japanese restaurant that, even in Japan, has no peer.

The Screwmaids

Today ... well, perhaps the morning should be just passed away ... in bed ... with the Sunday papers. It's cold outside. There is no real need to go anywhere or do anything.

But, dear reader, do you remember the problem that I faced over a year ago ... when trying to come up with an explanation for CB-3? Well, since Friday's visit to the Cameron Balloon factory I have been worrying about CB-4. Though its design has not yet been cast into iron, the sewing machines at some time will need to start their work.

Right now I want to revisit a conversation that I had with my friend, Porn. Though spoken quite a while ago, her words were wise ones ... timeless in a way.

To set the stage: CB-3 was a done deal; it was only its public presentation that haunted me. Perhaps in a measure of overkill I had my Bangkok printer roll out several hundred multi-language explanations of what the Screw Maids were all about.

(Porn, frowning at the translation): "German really doesn't recognize the pluperfect subjunctive."

(Alf, defensively): "Actually, I relied on the automatic translation service provided by Alta Vista."

(Porn, sniffing dismissively and jumping to the next paragraph): "I thought you spoke Spanish! Your use of the 'familiar' is not proper when referring to saints of the church."

It was all starting to unravel. Hoping to avoid tedious explanations with human translators, Screwmaid Saint CardI had unwisely relied on a machine to put the foreign words into the mouths of my ScrewSaints. Apparently the English description of their saintly life didn't always morph into the proper turn of phrase when the Portuguese or Italian buttons were pushed.

My doubts first started to percolate as I walked out of the printer's office. It was then that I noticed that all five buttons had robotically translated the "Isle of Wenk" as either "Isola di Welk," "l'ile de Welk," "Insel von Welk," "Isla de Welk" or "Isle de Welk." If my monolingual eye picked up that with barely a blink, what darker errors lurked in the more nuance-haunted world of conjugations, familiarities and genders?

The girls of Patpong would surely know! Like wizened Istanbul carpet hawkers, who can fleece you in any living tongue, the girls at the Super Queen pride themselves on their skill in juggling languages without missing a beat.

(Alf, his pride shrinking): "But, can an Italian reader make out what it means?"

(Porn, shrugging): "Just barely."

(Alf, holding on with little hope): "The French one?"

(Porn, with cocked head): "An insult!"

(Alf, resigned): "The Portuguese?"

(Porn, tossing her head): "I'm better at spoken Portuguese. My weakness lies with the pen. But, your translation does look a bit wooded ... or, forced."

(Alf, shifting the subject slightly): "Forgetting the wording for a moment, what do you think of the theme?"

(Porn, laying the holy card on the bar, tits and ass up): "What do you mean? I gather that you are trying to convince the people on the ground that your balloon ... the one with the nude chicks on it ... is some sort of flying shrine. Right?"

(Alf, evasively): "Not exactly. I like to think of it as more of a Holy Envelope ... a flying billboard, reminding people that there are other saints worthy of their worship. That the big names in the business ... the Marys, the Josephs, and the Mathews ... really don't need all those genuflections and burnt candles. It's the little folks out there ... the lesser saints that need some Windex on their windows."

(Porn, laughing): "HAHAHAHA ... Why don't you have another contest? Find yourself a pair of pretty saints with big tits. HAHAHAHA"

(Alf, thinking): "Hmmmmm ... a search for a "screwsaint" ... or, maybe a "saintscrew" ... no, "screwsaint" has a better ring to it."

(Porn, laughing harder): "Get some Patpong lady-boys! They are cheap and you can lose them in the Italian countryside when you are finished flying." 1

(Porn, warming up to the idea): "Maybe you should get a Bishop's hat for Mike."

(Alf, brusquely): "That's enough, Porn! The screwsaint search idea is a good one ... never mind the other stuff. Though the Bishop's hat idea I sort of like."

1 Emphasis added.

Monday, December 10, 2001

Merry Christmas; Ramadan, too; also, Hanukkah!1


This is our last full day in London. The only thing on our menu is "Cats" ... the play. Susan and I saw it a little over three years ago when we came to London. It's worth seeing again. I'm sure that Watcharee will love it.

We'll be back in Bangkok on Wednesday.

1 "God is Great!"

That's what they said just before they drove the airplanes into the buildings.

As I write this, CNN, in my background, is talking about understanding Islam; how the 'western' world needs to learn more about the Islamic faith ... and how little we know about what Muslims believe and hold dear.

Rather than look deeper into yet another dangerous superstition isn't it time to wonder about those among us who still believe in the Christian and the Jewish myths? Instead of being amazed at why people in far away places wrap their women in rugs and pound their own foreheads in the dirt five times a day, shouldn't we instead worry about those evil ones who are living among us ... the ones who want us to believe that some childish unwed mother is also the mother of the universe; the ones who would hold us to the foolish notion that some ancient beard points the way to heaven or hell.

September 11th should be the anniversary of the time when people everywhere started to question why anyone should ever be encouraged to believe the nonsense that the world's three great superstitions have been feeding to the poor, the weak and the stupid. Marx was right about religion being the opium of the people.

"God isn't!"

Tuesday, December 11, 2001

Every year Christie's (London, South Kensington) holds two corkscrew auctions. Today is the winter one. Though there were a few pieces of interest, I didn't stay around to bid. Only a few club members were there (Frank Ellis, of course) ... plus an assortment of dealers. Unfortunately (or, fortunately), e-Bay has eaten deeply into the offerings found at traditional corkscrew auctions.

But, in a day or so, Christie's will have another auction: one that best fits into the niche created by the Steele Papers and Bangkok's forensic science museum. When I get back to Bangkok I'll post some bits from my walkabout in that sales room. In the mean time, here are a few snaps from the official catalog. It's all quite gory: in keeping with the best of Si Quey's Place.

OK ... next stop: Patpong!

PS London phone kiosks are the leading edge in phone booth e-mail technology. However, the tarts still lack "@" addresses.

PPS Even the Underground (subway) stations are equipped for e-mail on the go.

A few last looks at London before we leave ...

London Panoramas

Tuesday night and Wednesday morning, December 11 and 12, 2001 (In Flight)

British Airway's flight 009 from London's Heathrow Terminal 4 to Bangkok's Don Maung Terminal 2 took 11 hours and 45 minutes.

In order to best avoid the nasty bits around Tora Bora and Jalalabad, our Boeing detoured south through Turkish airspace and then came back north again via India ... exiting (per normal) at Calcutta.

Next: Back Home in Bangkok

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