Thursday, December 31, 2009

Hearing the adhan after curry -- another slice of London life

My sister INGER and I took the Circle Line to Aldgate Station this morning so we could stroll down BRICK LANE.
The center of the BANGLADESHI community in LONDON, it was largely devoid of the tourists that otherwise fill the streets and the Underground trains.
After we browsed the nearby Spitalfields Market, we reversed our travels and walked to 89 Fieldgate Road and TAYYABS -- one of London's most celebrated places to get CURRY.
We dined on fabulous SOUTH ASIAN food -- saag alou (creamed spinach with potato), karahi chicken, a couple of veg samosas and two orders of scrumptious tandoori nan.
It was absolutely delicious.
When we left the packed restaurant, we heard the adhan -- the Islamic call to prayer -- for the nearby LONDON ISLAMIC CENTRE.
It was a great moment that unveiled yet another aspect of London life.
Soon, we'll be getting back on the Tube to head for Westminster and the NEW YEAR'S EVE FIREWORKS.
Happy New Year everybody!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

A busy day in Covent Garden

Wayne Rooney, Michael Carrick and Rafael have scored and MANCHESTER UNITED lead WIGAN, 3-0, at half time of the PREMIER LEAGUE match on BBC RADIO 5 LIVE.
I am listening to the match as we relax in the flat, following a busy day in LONDON.
INGER and I spent the day in the area of COVENT GARDEN.
Here are a few of the highlights:
1. Neal's Yard Remedies was one of the first UK shops to promote aromatherapy. While browsing the essential oils, I spied the following small sign:
"Myrrh. Blends well with frankincense."
You know, I have read that somewhere before...
2. The London Transport Museum (pictured) presents the story of travel in the capital, from horse-drawn omnibuses to the most modern tube train car.
3. Hope & Greenwood's in Russell Street is a shop specializing in traditional British sweets, such as jazzies, sugar mice and sherbet lemon. If you visit London, you should visit.
4. If you stumble upon the Lamb & Flag pub in Rose Street, do stop in for a pint and lunch. The historic pub is located on a "street" that isn't even really an alley. I ate a sausage and fried onion sandwich that was terrific.
5. Neal's Yard Dairy is a traditional cheese shop, filled with huge rounds of cheese and staffed by cheesemongers wearing aprons and matching caps. We purchased Keen's cheddar, Gorwydd Caerphilly and a West Country cheese called Finn.
We're going to eat the cheeses with bread for dinner tomorrow night, after our visit to the LONDON EYE but before returning to the Thames for the fireworks.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Who knew tying my shoe could be such a thrill?

What a day.
I strolled across the ABBEY ROAD zebra crossing in honor of THE BEATLES, danced a panda dance when prompted at "ALADDIN," London's top-rated pantomime and popped in to the BRITISH MUSEUM to have a look at the ROSETTA STONE.
My proudest moment, however, occurred with the simple act of TYING MY LEFT SHOE.
Well, I didn't tell the entire story:
I tied my left shoe sitting in the ENGLAND DRESSING ROOM at LORD'S CRICKET GROUND (don't worry, the England cricketers are in South Africa on a tour).
Imagine Fenway Park crossed with the Baseball Hall of Fame, and even that combination pales in comparison with Lord's.
INGER and I enjoyed a guided tour of it this morning.
Lord's is the home of cricket, the sport that captivates millions around the world, from India to Jamaica and from Australia and South Africa to England.
"It's the mecca of cricket," BRIAN LARA once said of Lord's, where officials maintain the laws of the game, first played more than 400 years ago.
The tour group, including Australians, South Africans and only a pair of Americans (that would be us), sat round the visitor's dressing room as well as the home dressing room. Top players are a superstitious lot, our tour guide informed us, and he went round the room, telling us all which top overseas players traditionally changed at our seats.
The Australian Justin Langer changed where my sister sat.
The aforementioned West Indies legend Lara (think Barry Bonds without the taint of steroids) sat at my spot.
I can't even begin to tell you how thrilled I was to learn that fact.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Two minutes of sheer joy at Brisbane Road

We enjoyed two minutes of sheer joy this afternoon, followed by about 31 minutes of "oh, dear.."
By "we," I mean supporters of LEYTON ORIENT.
The O's fell to SOUTHEND, 2-1, at Brisbane Road today, and my sister INGER and I were among the 5,680 in attendance.
After slurping BOVRIL and eating my STEAK AND KIDNEY PIE, we watched a goalless first half notable for Orient's tentativeness on the ball.
The second half began promising more of the same, until Orient's Adam Chambers opened the scoring in the 57th minute.
We shouted ourselves hoarse in the North Stand.
The warm glow didn't last long.
The Southend supporters in the East Stand were able to cheer two minutes later, when Adam Barrett sent the ball past Orient goalkeeper Jamie Jones.
The O's didn't look likely to reclaim the lead, and Alan McCormack scored Southend's second in the 74th minute -- the ball seemed to trickle over the line for the goal.
By the end of the match, there was a dreadful feeling that the Southend supporters were correct when they sang: "This is why you're going down."
Inger and I stumbled upon the pub we wanted to find -- THE COACH & HORSES -- as we walked back down Leyton High Road to the tube station.
We downed a pint, and bloke playing snooker asked me what I thought of Orient's chairman, Barry Hearn.
I wish I could say that sort of thing happens all the time at home.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

"... and after we watched the Iranian protest march, we shopped at Tesco's"

It's been a busy first day in LONDON, but it's not over yet.
My predawn arrival thrilled me. Our Delta flight flew into the capital from the southeast, and I recognized a succession of landmarks from the air:
1. The Canary Wharf development.
2. Tower Bridge.
3. The London Eye.
4. Big Ben's illuminated clock face.
5. Wembley Stadium.
After spending an *eternity* in the queue for passport control, I hopped on the Heathrow Express to PADDINGTON and hailed a cab to 58 CHEPSTOW VILLAS, the flat where we are staying.
My sister INGER showed me around the neighborhood this afternoon. We walked along the shops on Portobello Road (pictured), as well as those around Notting Hill Gate.
I wanted to feed the swans in KENSINGTON GARDENS, but I didn't have any bread crumbs. We rested at THE CHURCHILL ARMS, an Irish pub in Kensington Church Road.
Arsenal played Aston Villa on the pub television, and the place erupted when Cesc Fabregas scored the first of his two goals in a 3-0 Gunners win.
Now, we're preparing for our fancy dinner at Corrigan's Mayfair, while listening to Hull City v. Manchester United on BBC Radio 5 Live.
I may never leave.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

"... and a partridge in a salad"

We'll be celebrating the birthday of my sister INGER in fine style this weekend, with a dinner at CORRIGAN'S MAYFAIR, a celebrated restaurant located about 2 1/2 blocks west of the American Embassy on Upper Grosvenor Street, LONDON.
We'll be celebrating, but I am not sure what exactly I'll be eating.

Inger forwarded me a menu, and I have never heard of half the items.

"Steamed brill?" (Turns out it's a flat fish.)

"Grilled langoustines?" (Some people call them " Norway lobsters.")

"Marinated ceps?" (Unfancy name: "Mushroom salad.")

The menu items I can identify make me blink in a "did-I-read-that-right?" style.

"Oxtail ravioli?"

"Grouse pie for two?"
"Braised pork cheeks?"
"Salad of partridge?"
"Saddle of wild rabbit?"

As I read the menu, I began to feel:

1) Like the simple country folk I probably am.

2) A bit crestfallen. What is there to eat here?

Then I read:

"Roast cod, Jerusalem artichokes, red wine --" ahh... "-- and bone marrow." Errr...

Perhaps I should just skip right to the dessert menu and the black figs and port with mulled wine sorbet.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

I'll be searching for you, P.G. Wodehouse

I really only want to find one item when I peruse the shops in LONDON (in a few days).
I want to find a collection of P.G. WODEHOUSE stories in relatively good shape.
That's because the collection of Wodehouse stories I have owned since adolescence is in relatively bad shape.
Whole sections of the paperback "THE MOST OF P.G. WODEHOUSE" have separated from the binding and there's an inch-long tear on the front cover.
This wouldn't matter, except these stories helped fuel the ANGLOPHILE tendencies that are sending me to the U.K. in the first place.
The Drones Club, Mr. Mulliner, Ukridge, Lord Emsworth and even Jeeves stories are included in these stories. You remember "JEEVES AND WOOSTER" on PBS, don't you? It starred a pre-"House" Hugh Laurie and a pre-Twitter celebrity Stephen Fry.
If I don't find anything else during the next couple weeks, I want to find a Wodehouse collection.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

England faces travel chaos and "Operation Stack"

Travel chaos continues in the UNITED KINGDOM, a mere week before I travel there.
Today's news involves northern FRANCE as much as the U.K.

More than 2,000 people have been evacuated from four Eurostar trains that were trapped in the CHANNEL TUNNEL for up to 16 hours after breaking down due to the cold weather.
Storms that struck southeastern England yesterday have now impacted France. Motorists are warned to avoid the M20 MOTORWAY, where authorities have initiated "OPERATION STACK."
Kent Police and Port of Dover authorities declare an "Operation Stack" situation when lorries must be parked the closed motorway when the Channel Tunnel, English Channel or Dover ports are blocked by bad weather or industrial action.

The motorway could be closed for days.

I wonder how it will be when I arrive in LONDON?

Friday, December 18, 2009

Spare us the gritters with a week and a day to go!

I leave for LONDON in a week and a day, so I am keeping my eye on a pair of forecasts for BOXING DAY.
ACCUWEATHER predicts "a morning flurry; otherwise, cold with low clouds."
I can live with that.
Across the pond,
THE WEATHER OUTLOOK suggests "an increasing risk of snowfall, especially in northern and eastern areas."
In case you haven't heard, heavy snow today has closed schools, slowed road travel and cancelled flights in portions of the U.K. Gatwick and Luton airports were both closed for periods, while Heathrow remained open but with about 70 cancelled flights.
A week and a day to go, and I am crossing fingers and toes -- please, no bad weather!
Spare us the