Thursday, July 31, 2008

London in Bits: The Eye

The London Eye is a giant ferris wheel located on the banks of the Thames. It gives brilliant views of the city, and our hope had been that if Monday were a clear day, we would ride it that afternoon. Even at £15 a pop (thank goodness Trey gets the student discount and the kids ride free) this attraction is constantly rocking with queues that make you think twice. After emerging from the darkness of the aquarium and taking one look at the Eye's queue, we decided to head for an early dinner with the hope that coming back at the normal dinner hour would see a shorter line. Our theory proved correct and within just a few minutes we were jumping into our own bubble for a ride round the wheel. The Eye never stops to let passengers on or off. Instead it moves so slowly, taking an entire 30 minutes to complete the circuit, that you can step on and off safely without disrupting the revolution.

I am not afraid of heights but standing in a little glass capsule that hovers more than 400 feet above the water took some getting used to. The boys really enjoyed it, and we got some incredible aerial photos of the city which would otherwise prove impossible, and, astonishingly, the London Eye was the one place in the entire city that was air conditioned!

Words no mother ever wants to hear at the top of the London Eye with another 15 minutes to go to reach the bottom: "Mommy, I have to go peepee."




Tuesday, July 29, 2008

London in Bits: Aquarium

Trey will love this title. Every time the word "bits" is used he giggles like a school boy. Something about the word sounds so prim with a sometimes euphemistically tawdry nuance. I was becoming overwhelmed by the sheer volume of pictures and videos taken that needed to be documented here on top of the packing and sorting and other such moving delights facing me over the next couple of weeks, so I have decided to isolate out the major sights we saw in London, nice bite-size chunks that seem manageable to this scattered brain.

After flying into Luton Airport, taking the bus to Victoria Coach Station, boarding a local bus to our hostel, getting booted off because there was already a wheelchair on, waiting for the next local bus to get us to our destination, feeding the children an unmentionable number of ginger nuts to keep them from losing the plot at this point, and finally landing in the shadow of St. Paul's Cathedral we were more than a trifle tired, but we had most of the afternoon ahead of us and with pre-paid Aquarium tickets, it was essential that we get a move on quickly. The London Aquarium is located on the south bank of the Thames River almost directly across from Houses of Parliament and Big Ben (yes, I know Big Ben is the actual bell inside and not the clock tower...whatever, it's semantics), and for anyone visiting London with small children, of whom we appeared to be only one of two other families, it is an excellent pit stop if a tad pricey. What is it with aquariums and their outrageous ticket prices? It was worth every penny, however, as we all enjoyed it at our own level.

Addison quickly made friends with a little Finnish boy and, without delay, he began imitating his words, eliciting the following comment from the boy's father: "He speak very good Finnish!" Kids just have the ear, don't they? Here is some video of them admiring the shark tank together undaunted by, or perhaps completely unaware of, their speech barrier.

video

The shark tank was magnificent and could be viewed from two stories.

A star fish.

Coral.

The boys mugging in front of the North Wind who looks suspiciously like a Green Man.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Wedding Bells

Congratulations to my brother Nathaniel on his upcoming nuptials. He and his now fiancee Joanna got engaged this past Tuesday in Fairmount Park. A total romantic, he packed a picnic dinner where he popped the question followed by an outdoor concert at the Mann Music Center featuring Tchaikovsky and then fireworks. I heartily approve!

Well done on the ring, bro! How could you be refused?

We're Back

We're back in Aberdeen and what would be more appropriate than flying into freezing cold dreich from sunny warm London? It was a fab trip. Too many photos and tales to tell with the current mound of laundry and chores awaiting, but I promise a full account.

Favorite comment on our trip...

Addison: (following an announcement by the pilot on the PA) Is that Captain Piccard?

OK, yes, the Star Trek indoctrination has already begun.

Runner up...

Addison: (during the plane's descent into Luton Airport) The plane is itching my ears.

And here are a few photos to hold you over in the meantime. It's good to be back, my dear readers!

Addison enjoying ice cream with Big Ben in the background.

Davis high atop the Thames on the London Eye.

The Holloways in front of Westminster Abbey.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Off to Buck Palace

This evening Trey and I were working on the final touches to get ready for our 3-day jaunt down to London tomorrow. I was outside disposing of charcoal ashes from our latest barbecue when our next door neighbor popped his head out and told me he'd be cutting his rhubarb soon and giving me some. I have been eyeing it enviously for some time now and he has very generously offered it to me since he and his wife don't use it at all. I told him we were away for the next few days down to London and our little conversation went something like this (imagine a THICK Scottish accent):

Jim: London?!? To see Buck Palace and the Millennium Wheel?

Me: Yes.

Jim: (grinning sheepishly) I have to tell you a story. I was there a few years...well, when I was much younger, and I hadn't had too many experiences with Americans back then. I was walking around and a lady comes up to me and says (here he breaks into an excellent Texas drawl), "Excuse me. Can you tell me where Buck Palace is?"

Me: (laughing with embarrassment) No!

Jim: Buck Palace she says. And I say to her, "You mean Buckingham Palace?"

Needless to say, when I got inside I said to Trey, "Do I have a blogworthy story for you!" So off to Buck Palace it is for the Holloways. The weather is looking amazing. Warmer and warmer with each passing day in the week. We're actually going to enjoy temperatures in the 70s! I have to pinch myself. I haven't been that warm in 2 years. The journey will be a long one. A cab to the Aberdeen airport, a plane ride to Luton, a bus to Victoria Coach Station, and then another one to our hostel across from St. Paul's Cathedral. Tomorrow afternoon we plan to visit the London Aquarium (already have the tickets) and if the weather stays clear ride the London Eye. Both seemed like reasonable activities for children who will have been traveling all morning.

There is internet access at the hostel, but I have a feeling the computers will often be in use. I'm not planning to bring my laptop either, so you probably won't be hearing anything from now until we return on Thursday evening. We have not had a proper family holiday in over 2 years, so I am more than a little excited. I feel like a kid again. All that's left to do tonight is pack tomorrow's lunch and some breakfast munchies for the kids. Pray for us when you think of it, especially that the boys will hold up well with little opportunity to nap. We are keeping expectations modest with the hope that we can only be pleasantly surprised.

And so I bid you cheerio and leave you with a few pictures of the boys from the past few days to make you smile as they do me.

Look what trouble did while Trey and I were packing this evening. He pulled everything out of our junk drawer and found the perfect little seat.

Astonishingly it fits both of them. No, I only dress them alike occasionally, and, yes, it gives me more pleasure than it should.


Friday, July 18, 2008

The State of Our Soul

"Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch'intrate."
Abandon all hope, ye who enter here. ~ Dante Alighieri's Inferno

The church in Scotland is in a very sorry state. Something like only 3% of the population attends church regularly. A land once known for her Christian giants, such as John Knox, now labors under the weight of post-Christian apathy. It is a new mission field, one which poses a mountain of monumental challenges. It is one thing to go to unreached people groups. It is altogether another to go to those who have been given light and rejected it. The legacy of poor church attendance and religious indifference is the consistent closing of churches, beautiful edifices built for the purpose of worshiping our great God, which now lie crumbling along dual carriageways or, better yet, converted into pubs, gyms, and restaurants.

Soul is a perfect example. This church, located just across the street from our own, Gilcomston South, has been transformed into a restaurant/night club with a casino upstairs. Upon entering and seeing the artistic way the establishment has incorporated the religious decor with a modern eatery aesthetic, the bar front and center, the focal point around which the whole revolves, you can't help but call to mind the scene in the Temple with Jesus and the moneychangers. While I am so glad they didn't tear down this beautiful house of God, my heart grieves for its new and utterly mundane purpose. The pulpit is now a DJ booth, the pews have been removed to make way for bar tables and intimate lounge areas. All the while the stained glass has been left intact, a bizarre reminder of what once was.

The food is fantastic. Sarah and I first visited there while she was here a few weeks ago and then Trey and I returned on Monday for a repeat performance. With Sarah I had seared scallops, which I haven't had in nearly two years, and they were cooked quite possibly to perfection accompanied by a tomato and basil salad. This time with Trey, we both got the 8 ounce fillet with a side of pepper sauce, a pyramid of onion rings, and a cup of shoestring french fries. I have never had pepper sauce before, but it was something like a cross between au jus and butter with loads of spicy black pepper, the perfect accompaniment to red meat and fried sides. Needless to say, the plate was licked clean.


The bar, flanked by what once was a balcony.

Soul: a sense of being, a quintessentially existential definition.

The scallops.

The sisters at the end of a lovely meal.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

The Scottish Boardwalk

For a long time now, our regular walks along the beach promenade have been a bit of a tease for me. I hail from the home of Atlantic City, Wildwood, and Ocean City, miles of crowded beaches known for their bustling boardwalks and saltwater taffy. The smell of sea air mixed with funnel cake and french fries transports me back to my childhood summers, and to further heighten the experience, Aberdeen's Fun Beach, a mini boardwalk experience, even includes rides. In all the time we've been here, we had yet to dabble in this Scottish version, but Addison has been quite taken with the ferris wheel for a while and in preparation for the London Eye it seemed wise to give it a whirl. Although frightfully expensive and about as cold as you might expect on a March day, it was well worth the effort and engendered more than a couple of tears when it was time to leave, not Trey I promise. Addison rode the "calapidder" twice, and despite what he claims, I'm not sure it qualifies as an actual roller coaster. Nevertheless, he clearly has conquered his fear of the rides. We briefly contemplated doing this last summer, but Addison's sudden quiverings and tremblings at the noisy equipment and blaring music quickly changed our minds. Davis was a bit tentative when we first arrived, but he settled down. Ah, the even keel of the second child.

video

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Fire on Crown

Wouldn't you know it. Last night as Trey and I were on our way out for a lovely and presumably quiet dinner together at Soul (more on Soul in a later blog) we found ourselves in the midst of another situation a la Glasgow. Just a few streets away from the church-turned-restaurant a four-story apartment building was on fire and a woman had to be rescued from her flat's balcony. As we passed the scene we could see smoke pouring out of the roof. Thankfully, no one was seriously injured. You can read all about it here.

Our timing is impeccable.

Monday, July 14, 2008

The Invading Animal Kingdom

So yesterday I'm hanging wash to dry before we head out to church. Trey is upstairs with the boys getting dressed. I've left the back door open, as is my custom on semi-warm days. As I turn around to re-enter the house, laundry basket in hand, a tawny-colored cat slyly whisks out the door, over our garden wall, and into the neighbor's garden. In case you missed it, the cat was IN my house. If you know me well, you know I am NOT a cat person (see this post) not to mention my fierce feline allergy.

I'm quite stymied by the cat's boldness, but it seems to be a disease that's catching. Either that or we're doing something that is luring various and sundry wandering creatures to our steps in vain, or not so vain, attempts to get inside. What are we doing wrong? Two days ago the same thing happened. Trey and I had just finished putting the boys to bed. We were going to take a few minutes to enjoy the quiet evening from our front steps. We open the front door to a loudly meowing black cat who stubbornly refused to leave. We tried to get the thing to scat ultimately growling, yes growling, at it to leave our area. Cats are not welcome.

The crème de la crème, however, was back in early June. A friend was over helping me prepare for the NCT sale that weekend. We finished late, and as we opened the back door into the dark evening to escort her to her car, a dog bounded into the kitchen. I was so taken aback that I acted out of pure instinct and kicked (for which I've caught a lot of flack from friends here) the creature saying, "Get out!" In my defense, I didn't know who this dog was. Hello, rabies! Turns out it was just a local dog whose careless owner lets it roam freely. I am not an advocate of such a laissez-faire approach. So animals beware. If you try to come into my home, you may be karate chopped. Consider yourself forewarned.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Speed Bumps

You may remember more than a year ago, Trey attended a town meeting for Old Aberdeen. Among other things the traffic situation on our street (Orchard Road) and the ones surrounding the University (College Bounds and University Road) was discussed. The parking situation was one issue, but of more significant consequence was the speed with which cars careen down these little streets. I had no confidence anything would be done. Oh ye of little faith, for just a few weeks ago workers began installing speed bumps on our street to slow the progress of would-be racers.

They've also installed new speed limit signs on the street, 20mph.

These bumps at the entrance to University rode have taken more than a few motorists by surprise. They fly around the corner only to be forced to throw on their breaks. I love it!

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

A Good Report

I took Davis for a weight check today, which I haven't done in 3 months. I was hoping to see our health visitor and say goodbye, but as she was on holiday in Italy, I'll be going back probably in August for one last weight check. The news, however, was so encouraging. Davis is now 22 pounds, 6 ounces and has increased in percentile again this time from the 9th to the 17th. Unbelievable!

Warnings Continued

Thirteen warnings photographed, three left to find. They are: smoking seriously harms you and others around you, smoking can cause a slow and painful death, and the pièce de résistance, smoking can damage the sperm and decreases fertility. Did you know that little tidbit?



The quest continues.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Veterans Day Parade

Last Saturday Aberdeen held a Veterans Day Parade along Union Street, which was rather timely for us with the 4th of July holiday just a few days off. Although the weather started out drizzly and unpleasant and slowed our progress to the parade route, thankfully it didn't deter us altogether. Just as we rounded the corner approaching Union, the sun burst forth and the promised RAF Nimrod MR2 roared overhead. The picture above came from the internet since it all happened so fast while we were walking that I didn't have time to pull out my camera and take the shot. The sound was both deafening and thrilling.

The highlight of the day's events were the abseilers who scaled the face of the Town House. I've included some video at the end of this post which shows them in action. It was truly impressive.

At the top of the Town House, something producing copious amounts of fake smoke or steam added effect and urgency to the abseilers' mission.

A few of the veterans well enough to walk in the parade. Seeing these brave and decorated soldiers caught me completely off-guard. I welled up with emotion, in part I'm sure, because my own grandparents fought in World War II and it made me think of how brave they were and how proud I am of them. When I look at the statistics from that conflict, I am staggered. 418,000 American soldiers lost their lives fighting the Axis powers. 450,000 Brits, including 67,000 civilians were killed. Unbelievably, that pales in comparison to the lives lost in countries like Poland where 16% of the population was annihilated, 5.6 million dead. The total for both sides stands at just over 72 million people, rendering it the deadliest and most destructive war in human history, snuffing out nearly 4% of the WORLD population. 72 MILLION. My mind can't even wrap around that number. I studied World History in high school and at university, and I still had no idea at the utter devastation. I look at my boys and think about what it must have been like for mothers to send their sons off to war knowing that they might not see them for years or maybe ever, and I pray with every fiber of my being that we never again see war like that.

My grandmother, Alma Davis, who passed onto glory four years ago in April, was a WW II veteran like these ladies. She was a WAC, what they called the women who were part of the Women's Army Corps of whom it was said by General MacArther that they were his "best soldiers", that they worked harder, complained less, and were better disciplined than men. Eisenhower said that their "contributions in efficiency, skill, spirit, and determination" were immeasurable. I am not surprised.

video

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Legal Tender

Photo courtesy of Nick in exsilio at flickr.

After Trey returned from Cambridge, one of the stories he told me was about a colleague from Edinburgh whose Scottish banknotes (paper money) had very nearly been refused at a shop in Cambridge. The merchant had looked askance at the money as though it were Monopoly currency and had said with disdain, "Do we even accept this?" I was shocked since Scotland is part of the same United Kingdom that England is and they all use the same currency. However, further probing, including a conversation with my sister who had worked at Blackwell's in Oxford, yet another store which would not accept Scottish notes, revealed that, indeed, the money issued in Scotland is not actually legal tender.

What? How is this possible? Well, here's the explanation:

Millions of pounds' worth of sterling banknotes in circulation are not legal tender, but that does not mean that they are illegal or of lesser value; their status is of "legal currency" (that is to say that their issue is approved by the parliament of the UK) and they are backed up by Bank of England securities.

Bank of England notes are the only banknotes that are legal tender in England and Wales. Scottish, Northern Ireland, Jersey, Guernsey and Manx banknotes are not legal tender in England and Wales. However, they are not illegal under English law and creditors and traders may accept them if they so choose.

In Scotland and Northern Ireland no banknotes, not even ones issued in those countries, are legal tender. Scottish and Northern Irish notes are 'promissory notes' (defined as legal currency), essentially cheques made out from the bank to 'the bearer', as the wording on each note says. They have a similar legal standing to cheques or debit cards, in that their acceptability as a means of payment is essentially a matter for agreement between the parties involved, although Scots law requires any reasonable offer for settlement of a debt to be accepted.

Well, that makes me feel a little better, but a word to those of you who live in Scotland and are planning to visit England on holiday this summer. Don't bother bringing your Scottish notes. Hit the cash machine across the border to avoid the risk of monetary refusal. Glad to have found this out before our adventure to London.

66p

Buckhingham Palace released the following press release on June 27th as part of their Royal Annual Public Finances Report:

The Treasury contributed the equivalent of 66 pence per person in the country - less than the price of two pints of milk or a download to an ipod - to enable The Queen to carry out the duties of Head of State, Buckingham Palace announced today at the publication of its annual report of royal finances.

The detached observer in me has to laugh at the immediate justification given in the press release for the prima facie piddling expense of 66p per person. Let me paraphrase, "Don't get too outraged, fellow Britons, especially all you hip youngsters with your white ear buds and iPhones. It costs more to download an MP3 than to keep the monarchy solvent." Of course as that same detached observer, I find the British monarchy quaint and a bit curious, but there are those in the blogosphere whose ire was brought to the forefront by the 5% increase to sustain an institution they believe to be an obsolete carryover from the days of King Arthur. In the acerbic words of one commentator:

Whatever one thinks of the Windsors, the monarchy is a truly absurd anachronism. Queens and princes are for children in a fairytale world. Republics and freely elected heads of state are for adults.

Ouch! But think about it a little more deeply. In an age when equality is preached, what sense does it make that the rite of birth qualifies someone to rule? Of course no real power is vested in the monarchy here, which then begs the question what exactly are UK taxpayers paying for? An extravagant, sheltered lifestyle full of restrained hand waving and token public appearances? Tourism generated by all those silly Americans who find the crown so intriguing of whom I fully admit I am one? And although 66p per person doesn't sound like much, that then adds up to £40 million per year plus security costs. What could that money accomplish beyond its current designation? Is it really being spent in the best way possible?

And so the debate continues as does the monarchy and, I suspect, will for many years to come. After all, this is the land where tradition is a high virtue and, it could be argued, the crown is tradition itself. So let the masses speak. What do you think?

Friday, July 4, 2008

No More Kings

One of the pleasures for me of a cross-decade marriage is the education I have received in all sorts of cultural mediums I knew nothing about. It started with '80s music and has ranged beyond to 1970s School House Rock videos now easily accessible via YouTube. Trey showed me this one in particular many weeks ago, and the minute I watched it I knew I had to post it on the 4th of July. Incidentally, the indoctrination has already begun for Addison. The child's range of musical expertise ranges from Manilow's "Copacabana" to Carly Simon's "You're So Vain" with a little Michael Jackson thrown in. Never too early to start, right?

And on a related although more serious note, in the coming days I am going to post on the issue of the monarchy in Britain. A report came out a few days ago that the crown costs the UK taxpayer £40 million per year, not including the £6 million for security. The news only added fuel to the fire for those anti-monarchists who would love nothing more than to see Buckingham Palace turned into a museum, especially in these hard economic times. All I have to say is, "Happy Independence Day"!

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Warning

Sarah left this morning after a wonderful 3 week visit. While she was here, she started a little project to see if she could photograph all the sundry cigarette warnings on packs littered throughout the city. I've already blogged extensively about this topic, so I'll let the photos do the talking.


My personal favorite.








She was able to find all but a couple of the warnings two of which we just found yesterday on a walk back from the beach for more kite flying. She hasn't sent me those images yet (she's still en route home), but I will add them later to this post so keep checking. I have yet to see the photographic warnings which are reported to begin this year. Stay tuned for them. Oh, and on the bright side, we threw away all the discarded packs like dutiful citizens.