IN LONDON FOR THE START OF THE MILLENNIUM (or, should this really be labeled "In London for the Start of the Year that Falls Just One Year Short of the Start of the Millennium"?)
What's this, Linda?
Well, that is another question, isn't it? A few days ago I know I mixed things up a bit with my goings on about where the year (millennium one or not) actually starts. I came down on the meridian at Greenwich (largely for self serving purposes); though there is no end of special interests groups that feel that 2000 makes its formal bow at a very precise point in their own back yard.
Of much tinier concern is where (or when?) do I end my Star of Bangkok journal; yes, at what point does it rightfully taper into what Linda and I are doing in London? Since we were still in Bangkok on the 27th, albeit for less than an hour, does the stuff done that day fall over there, or are those words the start of a new chapter over here? And, since Greenwich time is seven hours earlier than that at The Oriental is that a factor that I should ....
Shut the fuck up, Alf!
Well ... yes, I suppose this really is an editorial discussion best left out of the text. I'll just leave December 27th where it was and reprint it here. How does that sound?
Just do it! Jesus ...
It was really early this morning when we left Bangkok. Thai #910 pulled back from gate 27 exactly on time, at 12:45AM. For all relevant purposes Linda and I were the only passengers aboard this Boeing 747. Because we were traveling on a weekend that fell between major back-to-back holidays the entire first class section of the plane was empty ... apart from us. For almost 6,000 miles and 13 non-stop hours the nose cone of this plane was ours. Normally, the front section of the aircraft would be loaded with returning business people who had successfully convinced their bosses and their families that they had some legitimate trade to conduct in Thailand. Not tonight.
One drawback to taking this nocturnal arc through Asia and Europe is that the only thing you can see of the world below is the moving map. Rangoon, Delhi, Moscow and Hamburg are but words on a screen. The movie choice is pretty much the same as what you get on any LAX to Shanghai flight. The in-flight magazines all run the equivalent genre of free-lance articles ... and their ads offer the identical brands of smokes and Scotches at pretty much the same dollar prices.
Dawn dawns late in London at this time of year. We had already checked into the Inter-Continental Hotel when the sun pretended to come up; by that time it was after 8AM. And, that same sun is going to say goodnight before 4PM: an eight-hour working day.
Our clock is 7 hours away from Bangkok, and 5 hours on the other side of Fort Lauderdale. We'll be living at this midway point until January 4th. Perhaps we are so awfully jet lagged that we'll sleep through any of the terrorist's activities that are planned for Americans this holiday season. Actually, I'm rather sanguine about being in London even if our State Department wants all of us to fret about being near crowds. I just can't see the Taleban authorities tipping the Millennium Ferris wheel into the Thames. And, I think that Pakistani grudge holders have better things to think about than interrupting the Queen's opening of the Millennium Dome. As my daughter, Annie, so sagely put it: "maybe they'll crumple the Seattle Space Needle into a pile of flaming rubble ... a surprise finish to the night of planned fireworks."
NEWNES, in full stride now that he is on home turf:
For those of us who have raised eyebrows at Childermas Day, Wescott, has an off-stage helpful whisper:
The 'Bambini Martiri', the babies of Bethlehelm put to death by King Herod in hopes of the Messiah's being among them, are sometimes regarded as the protomartyrs, instead of St. Stephen.
Protomartry! Certainly on the cutting edge, so to speak. Nice word.
The headlines in today's THE TIMES:
"The historic status of Greenwich as the home of time is to be assured for the new millennium under a scheme to make the London site the global time-keeper for the Internet."
"Tony Blair will this week announce the creation of Greenwich Electronic Time - known as GeT - to act as an international standard for all electronic commerce."
"The move will provide a 24-hour clock for Internet traders and users around the world in the same way that Greenwich Mean Time has helped travelers to keep time since 1884. Then the world's 25 leading nations agreed the need for a single time reference based around a uniform nautical and astronomical 24-hour day."
"The project will give all Internet companies and consumers a single time standard."
"All e-mail messages and e-commerce transactions already carry a 'time stamp' based on Co-ordinated Universal Time - the modern equivalent of GMT. But most computer clocks have software which converts e-mail and message dates into local time. Supporters of GeT argue that although this is suitable for personal e-mails, it is not workable for worldwide trading."
THE TIMES, as the newspaper of record, also reports that today:
I know we went to sleep last night only a few hours after the sun did. But, we made up for it by beating the sun to horizon this morning by more than an hour. After our sluggish night on the arc from BKK to LHR we were eager to see what the millennium organizers had done to our favorite river.
The north side of the Thames is in about the same condition as when we last left it. The Tower and the Tower Bridge mercifully have not been prepared for 2000 television coverage.
But over on the south side of the Thames the riverside pedestrian conditions have been improved: the awkward and unattractive detours that kept the river bobbing in and out of view have been largely eliminated. The one serious bend into the "brickier" part of this former dismal dock area has an historic treat at the elbow. Comfortably out of sight and hearing from the early parishioners of Winchester, there lurked the Clink. The Clink was a "zero star" prison for the better part of six centuries (from the eleven hundreds until 1780). The successive Bishops of Winchester owned this grim dungeon; to the credit of the proprietors, its involuntary tenants ranged from priests to prostitutes. The area of London that it served was also the fatherland for the sports of bull and bear baiting, whoring and gin quaffing. Not surprising, it too was the best venue from which to watch Shakespeare move his characters across the stage of the nearby Globe Theatre. Today The Clink is a museum worthy of a contemplative visit. Nooses, leg chains, iron balls, metal boots, caged rats, body cages, stockades and comfy chairs are tastefully displayed in varying degrees of use. Linda looks unhappy in her chair, don't you think?
I first saw it from the air. A couple of months ago, on an approach to Heathrow, I looked out of the window and saw it while it was still in its gangly teenage construction "years". Though today was the first chance that I had time for a proper peek at the British Airways London Eye ... this really huge new Ferris wheel on the Thames, just opposite Westminster. It is the fourth highest structure in London ... and there is nothing nearby to obstruct the panoramic views that it promises riders. Each of the glass capsules will hold more than a score of people for the single 30-minute revolution. However, it won't be spinning people until later on in the month. Pity! But Linda was pleased that workmen were still tightening the nuts on the thing, as she hates these whirly toys.
Now, this is a little aside that has nothing to do with London, per se. There are not too many things about travel that really piss me off. Sure, I think it is outrageous that hotel laundry services charge more to wash one pair of socks than it costs to buy three new sets of them. I can easily get socks at Marks and Sparks and just throw them away when they become used. But, phones are a different matter. Here at the London Inter-Continental Hotel the men who set the sums are particularly coy when wording the cost caution card that, in this case, is roped right to the receiver. In gentle italics it assures the guest caller that telephone services are complimentary when the room phone is used for communicating with "in house phone companions" (calling another room?). "Voice mail service" is free, as is a "wake up call". "Call screening" and "call divert", likewise cost nothing. Presumably, every other use of the phone will find its way onto your bill at checkout time. For pocket book guidance, the user is reminded that a call home to the USA is metered at about $6.00 per minute. If your kids live in Japan keep the chat short as the meter clicks over the units at twice that pace.
Incidentally, they wash socks here at the Inter-Continental for $3.75 a pair. Silom Road street vendors sell them new at three pair for a dollar.
Alf, that's enough. How much did you pay for our fucking air tickets?
NEWNES touches my own life with this:
Linda Lindburg, the mother of my five children, used to baby-sit Harold Urey's kid. This curious link to NEWNES happened in Leonia, NJ sometime back in the '50s. Hmmm ... now that I put the dates together ... Urey must have postponed breeding until his declining years; or, maybe that discovery of heavy water came during his prodigy years.
NEWNES moves on to something of wider world interest:
A group of highly trained ferrets is to help to set up a millennium pop concert in the battle against the clock.
The three ferrets are to lay power cables under a royal park, where digging up turf is strictly forbidden, to ensure that the British Gas Millennium Party in the Park in Greenwich is seen by television audiences of a billion people.
The team, lent by the National Ferret Association, is expected to work until the deadline on Friday. And Charlie Gardner of Initial TV, which is televising the event, said: 'They are a great help, we would have been lost without them.'
The state of emergency was called when organizers found that rods could not push the cables through as the tiny tunnels frequently bend and dog-leg. The ferrets - Beckham, Posh Spice and Baby Spice - are making light work of that dirty, fiddly task.
Eased into tiny nylon harnesses with wires which are then attached to a rope, the animals run into a series of ducts which wind under the stage like rabbit runs, leading the cables with them. These are the passages that will carry the TV, video, sound and light cables to broadcast music by Simply Red, Eurythmics and Brian Ferry on New Year's Eve.
The ferrets instinctively make for any hole in the ground and are enticed to the end of the duct by a slab of smelly meat.
"The project director, Tim Marshall, employed the same tactic when co-ordinating television pictures when Prince Andrew married Sarah Ferguson. 'We used the ferrets to run cables between Buckingham Palace and Canada gate, as well as between Westminster Abbey and the Queen Elizabeth Conference Centre,' he said.
THE TIMES, in its "Hours of Darkness" section, helpfully aids the blind with:
As the end of the year approaches, Wescott swells lengthily about his beloved saints:
This great man's father grew rich trading in the Near East. Perhaps his mother was a Saracen whom the merchant brought back with him. Evidently, by nature, Thomas A'Becket was meant to be a hero of history. In his youth, King Henry II's magnificent boon-companion, he went into battle with seven hundred well-mounted knights. Gifts of horses, birds, raiment, and plate, were showered upon his favorites. The young king rode on horseback into his dining room, jumping over the tables to sit beside him.
His ordination and investiture were acts of favoritism or religious policy; but no sooner had he become Arch-bishop of Canterbury than the king's mistake was apparent. Sacred responsibility and dignity suited the dark ambitious man better than royal favor. Dressing his very soul to play the new part, he spent the rest of his life contesting the right of lay-courts to pass judgment upon churchmen, writing, traveling, quarrelling, in exile, in danger - incidentally defending English liberty against the uncertain, un-English throne, and hindering the unification of England toward which the Norman kings selfishly but beneficently strove. A martyr to the dual cause, he was finally murdered at the altar in Canterbury by noblemen apparently acting for their furious ruler, the martyr's former friend.
It was Henry VIII who brought the royal power to perfection and gave England, before any other country, an imperturbable, highly centralized government; and it is fitting that it should also have been he who rifled St. Thomas' tomb and burned his body, three and a half centuries later. Meanwhile, Canterbury had been the most exciting and profitable place of pilgrimage in Christendom.
Dearest reader, this afternoon while browsing through the January, 2000 issue of Tatler magazine my attention drifted easily and naturally over to the travel section. In a special supplement the magazine assumed the Herculean task of ranking the 101 best hotels in the world. I was not at all surprised to find that Becky's chateau was listed as one of the five best hotels in the world in which to spend a wonderful long weekend.
TATLER: TRAVEL GUIDE FOR THE MILLENNIUMChateau de Vault-de-Lugny
"A 15th-century chateau with a 13th-century dungeon (don't ask), entirely surrounded by a moat. Restored by the young Elisabeth Matherat-Audan and her late father, it is a pastoral idyll with 12 bedrooms, in immaculate parkland with ducks, geese and those chickens with feathery trousers. A note reassures the guests that none of these is on the delicious menu, 'since we regard them as our pets'. Near the pretty medieval village of Vezelay (from where the crusades were launched) and, even more fascinating for some of us, slap bang in the middle of Burgundy. The Chablis is ambrosia."
"This is an excellent Eloise hotel - just the place to take children on a grown-up weekend. It has 32 acres of parkland, and there's rafting and kayaking within 15 minutes of the hotel, and mountain-biking and fishing. Elisabeth Matherat-Audan is really organized about children (there's a children's menu), but don't think this is a child-like place - it's just that she is thoughtful. The driver who collects you from the airport or station will speak English. Stay in Le Roy, the king's bedroom, with its open fireplace, dressing room and massive four-poster bed. Also rooms Vezelay and Noyers."
This afternoon when I telephoned Annie about the details of the January Chateau d'Oex trip, one word led to another and we ended up toying with the idea of going to Iran after we pack up the balloons. Are any of the other Erickson children interested in this adventure?
From THE TIMES:
Sky Related Stuff:
London Lighting Up Times: 4:59 pm to 7:06 am
Water Related Stuff:
High Tides at London Bridge (with heights in metres)
Other Bits of Stuff:
Wescott, you're on:
For breaking the image of Jupiter, this bishop had his hands cut off and was forced to look on while his deacons were tortured to death, which was harder for him than to die himself. With his handless arms, he blessed a blind boy, and restored his eyesight. The Governor of Tuscany, Venustianus, who had ordered his mutilation then asked to see him, having sick eyes himself, and was cured and converted, with the women of his household. Thus, in a cycle of infirmities and cures, the faith spread, as if by a sort of contagion. In this instance, the emperor put a stop to it by having them all killed.
More useless human dribble from NEWNES:
Followed by really boring events:
This morning is terribly gloomy. Yesterday's weather forecast suggested strongly that today would be a repeat performance: cold but sunny. But so far it is just as boring as my journal. We have to get out of this hotel ...
We did ...
And then there is that question about that little brown stick ... you know, the one that crept into one of my monologues near the end of my November stay at The Oriental. Yes, this is a loose end that needs tying up before the year ends. Did anyone guess this one right? Remember it? The stick was about the size of a wood match ... sort of like the kind of match that real old people once gingerly used to light the pilot lights in those ancient long forgotten kitchen gas ovens.
Go take another look at it. Somewhere around here I have a photo of it lying next to a box of hotel matches; and someplace else there is another picture of it propped up against a door. That second one was a real clue.
It is a little telltale tool that is cleverly used by The Oriental floor staff to tell if a guest is still in his room, or has once again come back into his room. If it remains propped up against the door this makes it odds on that the room has not been entered or left since the stick was first tipped upright. And, if it doesn't stay put? Then someone has either opened the door or a little mouse has kicked it over to spite the staff.
Good night ... save your matches ... they may be useful on Saturday.
A GRIM AND GLUM LONDON
From today's THE TIMES:
"Year 2000 celebrations descended into farce last night as the Millennium Wheel was declared unsafe for passengers, 3,000 Dome guests were left without tickets, and a rainstorm was forecast for midnight."
"Hope that crowds of three million would pack Central London for Britain's biggest party tonight are looking wildly optimistic."
"Tony Blair will still perform an official opening ceremony for the broken London Eye wheel, which will then turn all night without any passengers. The wheel, which dominates the capital's skyline, was declared unsafe after a clutch mechanism on one of the gondolas developed a fault, which risked it slipping. British Airways, which owns the 35 million pound sterling wheel, said: 'It will be open to the public as of February 1.' A disappointed 250 competition winners due to ride the wheel will be compensated with a 'champagne party' and a pair of return flights to the destination of their choice. The cancellation of tonight's rides is the latest problem to beset the wheel."
"London will be damp and miserable as midnight approaches, weather forecasters said. Outdoor parties in the South East, South Midlands and parts of South Wales will be threatened by downpours. The North and West of England should be dry tonight after cloudy skies earlier in the day disappear. The last day of the century will begin with fog and icy conditions affecting high ground and sheltered areas."
"The Dome's final preparations for tonight's opening ceremony were becoming increasingly confused as the deadline loomed. A full dress rehearsal planned for last night was cancelled at the final minute, leaving the audience largely stranded because the Dome's Underground station had been closed."
I feel fatuous! Shortly after reprinting the above piece from THE TIMES I flipped to my favorite section of the IHT: that little part of the paper that peeps back into the dusty pages of the IHT to see what the editors thought was important or relevant way back then. Three quarters of a century ago one young man had bigger worries than whether the Millennium Wheel would spin or if the Dome would be toasty.
NEW YORK - The evening rush was over and Anthony Delia, change-maker in the subway station at Bleeker Street, was resting. A young man approached Delia's booth. "Buddy," said the man, "I would sure appreciate it if you'd give me a cigarette." Delia was surprised but he gave the man a smoke and a match. "Thanks a lot," said the smoker. "It's awfully cold, isn't it - awfully cold everywhere. I think I'll get warm. Goodbye." He put a nickel in the slot and walked out of sight. Minutes later an express slowed down. Motorman Joseph Wendling had felt a shock. He found the body of the young man. He had lain on the track and his head and legs were severed by the wheels. There was nothing in his pockets, not even another nickel.
A helpful suggestion from THE TIMES, for viewers with flagging 2000 interest:
"Turn to Channel 5 if you want to escape wall-to-wall coverage of the new millennium. While other channels are offering events from around the world, the fifth terrestrial channel will broadcast a karaoke quiz show and the soft porn film Emmanuelle."
Looking from our hotel window, the only hint that the new millennium is but tick-tocks away is a big fat tethered helium balloon that is getting ready to kiss Big Ben.
Oh my God! The horror of it all! The dreadful despair that struck like lightning! The catastrophe that no one expected! Dearest, dearest reader, please don't look at this troubling film clip [960k MPEG] unless you are primed to see an appalling accident: one that surely snuffed out the lives of someone's dearest loved ones.
This afternoon Linda and I wandered down to Green Park ... a bucolic dreamland…normally an oasis of peace and joy nestled just seconds away from Buckingham Palace. We went there to join with others in this near holy celebration of the coming of the new century. Happy families bubbled everywhere. Hungrily munching on spicy corn dogs and fluffy cones of pink cotton candy, Linda and I paused to watch two proud parents tuck their adorable twins into a little ride called "Tiny Tea Cups For Toddlers".
It started so innocently. The Tiny Tea Cup started its gentle rock, the twins squealed with delight, the young Mom dabbed at her tears while Dad sniffed proudly.
Then something went horribly wrong!
Just as the twins hugged themselves with childish glee and giggled infectiously, a control wire snapped; the Tiny Tea Cup hurled skyward like the untoward champagne cork. Surely the tremendous G-forces must have instantly driven their little skulls right through their shoes. If this terrible acceleration didn't reduce their small bodies to an unrecognizable gel, then the horrible snap of the restraining cables unquestionably must have done that trick.
Happy New Year from London! [901k fireworks MPEG]
NEWNES got carried away again; every January 1st it is always the same thing for him ... the years at Queen's College must have been good ones for Collison. Read this and tell me what you think.
Needle and Thread Ceremony
NEWNES again steams on with:
And, all of this before he even reaches the boring bits:
Wescott's saint surely hoped for support from more than just the performers: his good idea, unfortunately, ripened long before it was ready for the viewing market.
Telemachus, an Eastern hermit, came to Rome and tried to stop the mortal dueling of swordsman in the arena. He was stoned to death by the bored and indignant public, and later this sort of entertainment was abolished in his honour.
According to THE TIMES the days in London are getting longer:
This morning the moon got up at about the time that we set.
This afternoon we got up at about the time the moon set.
At all other times we could be found at the hotel buffet.
Forever useful NEWNES points out:
Every Sunday, it seems, THE TIMES like to wax on about what we can see in the evening sky. Obviously, these words are not just jobbed out of an almanac; they seemed to be penned by someone who cares about gazing. This quaint little section, descriptively called THE SKY AT NIGHT, immediately precedes another helpful service from THE TIMES. Snappily entitled MOTORWAY WORKS, this "guy" bit has practical things like "M1: South Yorkshire, bridge strengthening work between J34, carriageway reduced to two lanes."
ORION rises in the east at nightfall and stands proudly in the south at 23:00, the line of ORION'S BELT pointing down to SIRIUS, the brightest star in our night sky. The giant planet JUPITER, in the constellation PISCES and twice as bright as SIRIUS, stands some 45 degrees high and due south at 19:00 GMT this evening, moving to set in the west at 01:45. SATURN, 11 times fainter in ARIES, lies 15 degrees left of JUPITER and follows it across the sky. MARS, half as bright as SATURN, shines with a reddish hue about 20 degrees high in AQUARIUS in the south-south-west at nightfall, sinking to set in the west-south-west at 20:15. VENUS rises at 05:15 to shine brilliantly in the south east before dawn. Medium speed meteors of the QUADRANTIDS shower should be plentiful tomorrow night, particularly after midnight as they diverge from a point in the east sky, below and left of the handle of the PLOUGH.
Wescott's second saint of the century was an odd duck:
This Macarius, a fruit-vendor in his youth, was one of St. Anthony's pupils. The skull of a pagan spoke to him, and said that green apples were deeper in hell than the pagans, and unregenerate Christians deeper still.
Linda, are you awake?
Hmmm ... yeah, I guess.
Don't you think that we ought to get out of this hotel for a bit? Like, aside from the 7th floor furnishings in this building and maybe the steamy stuff at the buffet table ... well, the only other things we've seen in London for the past 24 hours have been the insides of the elevators.
I suppose ... . What time is it?
It's a little before noon.
What about doing one of those London Walks? That would be good exercise, wouldn't it ... besides, I could check out the shops on the way. Really, what was the point in going out in the cold yesterday? Everything WAS closed.
Linda, today IS a Sunday!
Does that mean the malls are closed?
Well, the stores here usually do stay closed on Sundays.
Come on! Let's get going. There's an interesting walk that starts in about an hour and a half from now. I promise you ... you'll like it.
OK. What's it all about?
London is, as they say, an egg with a double yolk. One of those yolks is Westminster. The other is the old City of London. This - needless to say - is the City of London Grand Tour. It's a primer. One to get you started. It'll give you an overview...from the Tower of London to St. Paul's Cathedral. You can't do better than that for a jumping off point and a final destination. And what comes in between is just as dramatic: twisty little alleyways and nooks and crannies and a secret stretch of shoreline that'll give you a thrilling view across the river to Shakespeare's Globe Theatre. Seeing this London is like hearing music you never would have known to listen for.
Hilary is a Historian, Soroptimist, and a professionally qualified Blue Badge and City of London Guide Let alone a Supermum! Into the bargain, she's unquenchably cheerful! With her very English eye for the idiosyncratic and her sense of humour - to say nothing of her sense of history - she's a star turn.
Wescott ropes us one troubled fellow for today:
Because Thuratius was born without a face and had one foot sewn on backwards his superstitious parents understandably thought that he was a curse from God. At the drop of a coin they sold him to a peddler of candles. For the next fifteen years Thuratius served as a lid for the peddler's traveling trunk. The peddler was otherwise cruel to him and taunted him with rude remarks.
Once, while hinged to the trunk, Thuratius felt the hand of God on his crooked foot. When he looked to the sky he saw his foot being carried aloft by a covey of hairy angels. The peddler, never at a loss to turn a trick into a coin, gave up his candle trade, bought a tent and billed Thuratius as the Divine Provider of Holy Feet.
Lucillia of Varga took pity on the plight of the peddler and bought him a new tent. This so enraged Thuratius that he vowed to never again speak. For the next sixty years he remained mute. To this day Purgia honors this saint with a parade each January 3rd. Only the 'dumb' may join in the procession.
NEWNES coughs up:
Geez ... with all the bizarre stuff that happened on this day in history we are just going to shut down.
Bye London. We are going to fly home today.
Next: London Postscript