Saturday, December 31, 2005

Index sticky: London 2005

Hi hi hi everyone! Or maybe I should say, hullo hullo hullo! It's me, Bully, here in London. If you're looking to keep up to date with my London adventures, this index page is the best place to start! It will show you my photo and blog updates and takes you to new stuff at the click of a mouse.

I'm having a wonderful time here. The only thing missing is you...yes, you! Now at least I know that you can keep up to date with my fun adventures in London. Enjoy!



I'll be can count on it.

Sigh. That is the sound a little stuffed bull makes when his holiday in London is so very nearly over. Oh yes, we may actually be still be in London technically as I type this up on my little atomic-powered bull-sized laptop in the International Departures Lounge at Heathrow Airport, but we'll be on our way home very very soon. Sigh.

Which is not to say today has been a sad and slow day, oh no sir, no siree bob's your uncle. To avoid the possible Tube Strike we were up and about, bags packed and checked at the front desk of the Copthorne Tara, our last complimentary breakfast of ham and buns and hot sweet tea under our belts (note: I do not personally wear a belt), and we were out into the bright clear morning, so much clearer and crisper than yesterday's soggy day. Our target: one of my favorite museums of all (and that includes everywhere, not just in London): The Victoria and Albert Museum.

V&AThere's a clever little "sneaky way" to get into the museum from the Underground tunnel, and we emerged towards the back of the museum, so even though our original intent was the gift shop, we were able to wander through a large portion of the V&A as we made our way to the front. I have a special fondness for the V&A that I probably can't do justice to in mere words; really, you ought to go there yourself! Go to see the amazing room of art forgeries that would probably impress even Lovejoy, or the extensive collection of fashions through the ages (Marshall was especially entranced by the moddy, Mrs. Peel-esque Mary Quant designs!).

Raphael CartoonsBut by far my personal favorite part of the V&A is the mind-bogglingly immense hall that houses the famous Raphael Cartoons. No, silly, these are not his drawings of Garfield and Blondie, but the fantastically huge full-scale designs for a set of Papal tapestries. I know very little about Papal things (except, perhaps, the Papal Bull), but I know what I like. You can stand in this cavernous room and gaze up at the billboard-sized art for hours; it's an illuminating and exhilarating experience. I highly recommend it.

As I do the V&A gift shop, which is almost as illuminating and exhilarating! Honestly, this is one of the best museum gift shops in London (second in my view only to the London Transport Museum gift shop), and whether you're in the market for designer jewelry based on famous pieces in the V&A collection or (on a little stuffed bull's budget) an amazing selection of postcards, you'll find wonderful souvenirs for yourself and gifts for friends back home here. There's a lot of replica Victoriana for sale here, and my favorite purchase today was a small pocket-sized set of picture cards which, when laid edge to edge, create a continuous and connected country scene no matter which order you put the cards in. I will be all the rage at home when I return with my Victorian picture cards...everyone will be jealous of me! Whee! But yes, I will let everyone play with them. Except for The Other Camilla, because she will steal or bend or eat them. (Shudder.)

Christmas Pizza!John's endless worrying about if we might get trapped at the V&A due to the tube strike was completely foundless, and we returned to High Street Kensington in plenty of time to walk through the back streets of Kensington towards a familiar and favorite restaurant: like our first meal in London, our last meal would be at always-delicious, always-dependable Pizza Express. In celebration of the season we split the delectable Christmas Pizza, with hot sausage and savory herbs. I think I may have found a suitable replacement for turkey dinner on December 25th next year! Naw, on second thought I'd hate to give up I will campaign to have them both.

We wander back along Kensington High Street, peeking in the windows and down the alley mews for the last time this trip: Look, there's Waterstone's! One more glance at W. H. Smith's! Oh, I will miss you, Boots the Chemists! And then the shuttlebus is there to pick us and our massive lumps of luggage up, and we're swept away, down the expressway towards Heathrow, and I stare out the back window at the receding silhouette of London and sniffle, just a little bit.

So I sit here now in the International Departures lounge, and that's not altogether a bad place to be: chock-a-block full of wonderful shops for last-minute souvenir buying, I at last empty my little change purse of the final few pound coins and buy some more presents for friends back home. And when I look longingly at the giant Toblerone bar in the duty-free shop and check my empty purse fretfully, John smiles at me and plucks up the chocolate, places it on the counter and pulls out a fiver. "This one's on me, Bully," he tells me, and the trip ends the way it began, but even better: with a yummy, yummy Toblerone, but better yet, with wonderful, joyful memories of a fantastic and fun holiday.

They'll be calling us to board our plan soon, and then the next time I set foot on the ground it will be in New York, and no one will be speaking in British accents anymore, and the soda pop will be Coke and not Lilt, and the subway announcements will say "Stand clear of the closing doors" instead of "Mind the gap," and I will be home, and London will still be in my thoughts and dreams, but not outside my window.

At the end of one of the Paddington books—an excellent series of stories about an intelligent and clever animal that goes to live with a friendly family—one of the characters comments quietly as Paddington leaves for distant shores: "He'll be back. You can count on it." And yes indeed, in the very next book he was back, and adventures continued, full of fun and excitement and delight. That's the way I look at London. I've been here before, and I'll be here again. I can't wait, of course, but sometimes the waiting, and the thinking, and the planning, and the dreaming are all fun too.

So cheers, London! I'll see you again someday. I'll be can count on it.

Tube strike!

Tube Strike! Aieeee!

Aieeeeeeeee! Tube strike! Those of you stuck back in Manhattan while lucky lucky me (and Marshall and John and Camilla and Olivia and her parents) have been traipsing through London have just gone through an extensive transit strike that shut down the New York subway and buses for three days, starting the day we left Brooklyn! Now synchronicity (thank you Mister Sumner for teaching me that word) rules the universe as a tube strike is due to start today at noon in London, on our last day here! It's no great shakes as we need to catch the shuttle to the airport in the mid-afternoon so we won't be out and about all around the town today, but to you Londoners reading my blog (and I am sure you all are), this little stuffed bull is full of sympathy for you, because even though I know a lot of you don't care for the way the Underground is run, it's absolutely essential for getting about London Town, especially on busy busy New Year's Eve night. Well, I wish you all the best of luck: keep your chins up and the number of a minicab service already programmed into your mobile, and don't be shy about walking around to get home: I've been walking quite a bit over my holiday and it's really quite lovely to wander the streets! Or maybe do what we like to do when we're home in Brooklyn: hit the supermarket in the afternoon to stock up on piles of lovely, lovely snacks and then spend the evening at home watching Bridget Jones's Diary.

Off we go into our last (half-)day in London! John is a big worry-wort about getting stuck somewhere when the tubes shut down so I'm sure he will be obsessing about it all day even though we won't be going that far. Stop worrying, John! It's a beautiful day and if we get stuck somewhere and miss our shuttle back to the airport that means we can stay in London s'more! Hooray!

Friday, December 30, 2005

If I Were a Rich(mond) Bull

I am nibbling on my little hooves in a bit of overexcitement, because this is the last full day of our London holiday and I wanted to get the very most out of it. And I did! You know how that guy (you know the one I am talking 'bout, don't you?) said that when you are tired of London, you are tired of life? Well, I am not tired of London life one bit!


Today was the first day of "typical London weather" that we have had since we arrived—it was rainy for most of the day which actually made it an excellent day to hop on the Tube (via the District Line) to head for Richmond, a delightful little suburb of London. With only a slight pause to slide myself into my waterproof macintosh and pop up my little umbrella we ventured out on this grey morning and down into the Underground for a long but lovely trip out the final stop on this branch of the District Line, which required buying complicated extension tickets for our Travelcards. I tell you, I do indeed love London Transport, but they could take a hint or two from the unlimited ride aspect of the New York Subway's Metrocard, where you can go out to distant, exotic Coney Island for the same price as going into Manhattan.

Tom and Barbara GoodBut it was well worth the extra expense, even for a little stuffed bull watching his pence and pounds quite carefully. The tube emerges from underground as soon as you get only a little way away from the confines of the Circle Line, so there is plenty of opportunity to press your nose (whether it has a ring in it or not) up against the window and look at London's green suburbs. There are lovely little suburban towns with tangled wild back gardens everywhere abutting against the railway lines. I was looking very very closely to see if I could spot Tom and Barbara Good's back garden, with their extensive self-sufficiency garden patch plus a goat, but I guess I was not heading in the right direction to see Surbiton, where they lived. That's a pity, because (I will tell you this only if you keep it a secret, okay?) I have such a little crush on Felicity Kendal.

The tube train pulled into the Richmond terminal in the late morning, and we splashed out into the rain and down the long High Street, but not before pausing to gape in amusement and wonder at quite possibly the best store window sign I have ever seen here or back home:
Free Freakoid!

I had better start drinking my cappucinos now if I want to get that free freakoid! (And oh my oh my, I really do!)

Lion and the UnicornWe were here with a double purpose for Camilla: there was a children's bookstore she wanted to visit, and since she had stayed in Richmond during her first visit to London years before, wanted to see if she could spot anything familiar. The first goal was of course an unqualified success, because if there's one thing that London does well, it's bookstores! After some short side trips into shops and a visit to the local post office, we found The Lion and the Unicorn Bookshop off a charming mews at the end of the High Street. Their friendly and knowledgable staff was quite patient with me while I raced around going "wheeeeeeeeeeee!" at all the exciting and delightful children's books, and we all came out of the shop with our purses a little lighter and carrying shopping bags stuffed of lovely books. (Don't tell Olivia yet, because she will be getting quite a few of them as presents!)

It was still raining a little as we emerged from the shop, and luckily around the corner was a little pub right on the Richmond Village Green where we had our lunch. There is nothing quite as delicious and satisfying as a hearty hot pub sandwich on a cold and rainy day, and if you still feel chilled to the bone, I do suggest sucking on a packet of that very very hot English mustard, which will fire you up almost instantly. The only disappointment about our lunch? We were too late to get any dessert. No sticky toffee pud for us! Boo!

Rather than walk back down the busy High Street, we wandered back slowly towards the Tube Station via Richmond's version of the Sneaky Way: alongside the Richmond village green for a while and then around the long line of charming houses and flats that I bet the tourists don't usually bother to see! We were searching for some sign of familiar memories for Camilla, who remembered staying in the Richmond College campus buildings on her first visit, but long studies of the faithful A-Z book and some lookin' around told us she was probably staying in completely the other direction at that time. Oh well! It is always good to explore a new part of the town, even if it is years and years later!

It was early evening when we arrived back at Kensington High Street, so we wandered up to the big house on Observatory Gardens to see what Olivia and her parents were up to! Of course she got to have some of her lovely new books right away, and Aunt Camilla cheerfully read many of them, in some cases over and over and over again, while the rest of us relaxed from our busy day.

Dinner tonight was quite an event for our last night together in London: we returned to the excellent British restaurant of our Christmas Eve's luncheon, Maggie Jones, down at the near end of Kensington High Street. Everyone had platefuls of lovely filling British food and there was much laughter and comaderie about how much fun our holiday had been, as we toasted the last night of our London adventure.

Now it is time to go to bed, but I am quite wide awake and staring out the window of our hotel room, just like I did on our first night here. Everyone else is snoring away happily, even Marshall, but I'm a little sad: I love London by night, and this is our last one. There's a light mist hanging over Kensington and just like it did on the first night, the last train of the evening rattles into the station below me. I like these moments: quiet and contemplative and relaxing, and soon I will close my little button eyes and even though I'm already in London, I'll dream of her rainy streets again. Tomorrow is our last day here, and I intend to make the most of it.

Goodnight, London! Goodnight, Bully-fans!

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Five, seven, then five/I review comics like that/Once more, with feeling

I liked when I did
Comic reviews in haiku

Let's do it again.

Here's some comic books
I bought at Gosh! in London
Comics are fun there.

X-Factor #1-2 X-FACTOR #1-2:

I like P.A.D.
I didn't read House of M
But I like this lots.

Characters I like
Are treated seriously
But they still are fun.


Wow! Giant issue!
One hundred fun-packed pages.
New tales and reprints!

Could be a classic
But I loathe those front covers.
Jeez. Greg Horn scares me.

Bart Simpson #27BART SIMPSON #27:

Don't have a cow, man.
Cowabunga! Eat my shorts!
And other Bart things.

Again and again
Bongo puts out (like this one)
A most fun comic.

Bully's London Book Club #2: Attention All Shipping

If you're a regular listener to the BBC (and if you are, you can be my friend!), you've probably heard at one point or another the bewildering (if you're neither Jack Aubrey nor Popeye) Shipping Forecast. This several-times daily seafarer's weather update is one of the most delightful and mysterious bits on the BBC: for me it's an ultra-relaxing way to wind down a long exciting day. Its smooth signature tune "Sailing By"...

...and the relaxing and hypnotic rhythms of the actual Shipping Forecast report (you can listen to an example here, or the actual most recent broadcast here) put this little stuffed bull to a gentle and happy sleep, dreaming of smooth sailing voyages and faraway places.

Yes, but what are those places? The Shipping Forecast reports upcoming weather in exotic regions most people have never heard of: far-away places with strange sounding names like Fitzroy. German Bight. Fastnet. Doggers. I've been to Banbury Cross, but I've never been to Forties. Where in the world are these places, and why is the weather so important there?

For the answer let's go to the BBC Shipping Forecast Page or check out the official Shipping Forecast map below:

Shipping Forecast

Ah ha! Or, as I should say over here, crikey! The map makes the mysteries of the Shipping Forecast a little clearer: each of the mysterious names mentioned so melodically over the medium-wave is a specific sea region surrounding the British Isles, an area of great importance to freight and shipping (and leisure) sea travel around Europe. That might address the mystery of the Shipping Forecast but not the magic: why does this short, pointless-for-the-most-of-us daily radio broadcast inspire so many thoughts of adventure and romance in its listeners? Charlie Connelly journeys to find out why in another fantastically entertaining book I've picked up on this trip, Attention All Shipping.

A tongue-in-cheek, light-humored, doesn't-take-itself-too-seriously travelogue that reminded me of Round Ireland with a Fridge (one of my fave travel narratives of the past few years), Attention All Shipping begins with Charlie's own personal infatuation with the romance and mystery of the Shipping Forecast since a small boy: where are these amazing-sounding places? As an adult he vows to discover exactly that: by visiting every single one of the Shipping Forecast's uniquely-named regions.

The book's light and fun—there's little grand social commentary and a lot of self-effacing humor—and is a wonderfully quirky voyage to various sea ports and communities around the various areas, visiting its peoples and places. A chapter on visiting the amazing Principality of Sealand is a stand-out, but he's just as chatty and entertaining popping down to Dover or Hamburg. Connolly doesn't take himself too seriously and in fact he's refreshingly casual about his goal: when a couple regions prove inaccessible, he settles for nearby areas that don't qualify "by the book" but certainly fill the bill thematically and spiritedly. In short, he travels the way I like to travel: with an itinerary in mind but the ability to change course at any time in search of something interesting. And in the end isn't that what the Shipping Forecast radio broadcast inspires in us all?

I give this book two hooves up; I could hardly put it down and if you like light armchair travel, you'll eat it up like saltwater taffy.

Gosh! Comic book stores in London oughta be...and!

Yes, comic book fans, you can buy comic books in London. There's many exceptional shops that stock American, British, and European comics around town. In the past I've been to the massive and somewhat overwhelming Forbidden Planet Megastore which is chock-full of SF, fantasy, and comics goodness but is a bit too crowded and busy for a little stuffed bull to be underfoot! So John and I took the advice of the good people at The Comics Journal discussion board and made it our quest not to miss the shop many have said is the best comic book shop in London: Gosh! Comics. And boy, was it worth the visit!

Bully at Gosh!
A very blurry photo of Gosh! with me in it.

Gosh! without Bully
A slightly less blurry photo of Gosh! without me in it.

(Here is a link to a much brighter and clearer photo of Gosh! taken by someone else. Nice job! That person is a much better photographer than I am. Thank you, STML!)

It's a small but well-stocked two-floor store of all the contemporary American comics plus a large selection of trade paperbacks and hardcovers, British and European comics, toys and trinkets and games and what-not, plus a very impressive assortment of British and London minicomics that John was very keen on! While I dashed about the store oohing and ahhing over all the goodies and checking to make certain I had enough pounds and pence in my change purse to buy those way-brilliant Asterix PVC figures, John had a nice chat with the store clerk about Fantagraphics Comics (which were very well-represented in stock at Gosh!) Seriously, the store's small but it's friendly and comfortable and has a lot of great stuff in it. I very highly recommend it not simply for the buying experience but because it's so darn friendly. Check it out next time you're there: it's easy to find, right across the street from the British Museum. (That's a great location, by the way—I hope they have solid strong foot traffic to match the location! That's the equivalent of a comic book store being located across the street from the Met in New York, which I bet would get it a lot of traffic!)

It was quite dark by then but still plenty of time to wander around the neighborhood and pop in another excellent store, the totally crowded but fantastic Playin Games, a wonderful game shop with board and dice and card and war games. Again, I was all around the shop, up and down stairs, pulling games off the shelves and seeing if they would be fun! I got a absolutely brilliant one that combines my love of board games and the London Underground in one: The Tube Card Game. It's a faster-paced, card-oriented twist on the old familiar "London Game" with nicely produced London Underground graphic cards, and it even comes in a cool plastic "tube." What's best about it is that there are also solo play rules, because as we all know, sometimes the hardest thing about playing a board game is getting someone else to play with you!

Finally, right down Museum Street, a few doors down from Playin Games, was the greatest restaurant in the world:

And so, as I go off to my favourite new restaurant, I bid you good day!


You know how much I love comics. You know how much I love games. And oh crikey, do I love me some pamcakes! So I'll leave you here with memories of me and my tall stack, ending the day with a hearty breakfast and plenty of syrup.

All around the town

Q: What's more fun than riding on the London Underground?

A: Nothing!

But the next best thing is riding on a London bus! And to be honest, London Transport has made it a lot easier to ride the buses these days with the addition of very clear and detailed route maps—much in the style of the famous Underground maps—at every major bus stop. That's why it was very easy to hop on the bus to Chelsea with John, Camilla and Christine this morning and head for London's best children's store, the justly famous Daisy & Tom. They have an amazing assortment of children's toys and books here, plus an enthusiastic, helpful, and child-(and little stuffed bull-)friendly staff, but best of all, they have an in-store carousel:

(Here I am riding on a chicken called "Tim!" I went around and around and around and around until I felt a little dizzy. Maybe I shouldn't have had that last biscuit at breakfast this morning!)

Camilla and Christine wanted to go baby clothes shopping then, but John and I had more excitement in mind than that! We wandered down the busy and trendy King's Road and finally hopped back on a bus heading back towards the centre of London. And from there we went everywhere!:

Trafalgar Square! This photo is by request of Chad, who wanted to see me with Lord Nelson. Here ya go, Chad! I am the one on the left.

St. Paul's Cathedral! Here is where I will get married to Keira Knightley someday. Mmmm...Mr. Bull Knightley. Sigh.

The Millennium Bridge! It is fun to be on and not nearly as wobbly as everyone says. Sadly, i did not spot Bridget Jones on it.

The Tate Modern Museum! It is not quite as spooky as this gloomy picture makes it look. They have a wonderful collection of modern art that i must admit I don't quite understand but the two gift shops were dead brilliant. I bought a pencil!

Shakespeare's Globe Theatre! Home to wonderful plays and dramatics but thankfully, no longer home to bull-baiting. Yikes! I'm glad that went away.

Greek food! Really, what better way to finish off a busy day wandering around London than with a hearty, juicy, lamb gyro?

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Winston Churchill didn't like staplers, and other fun facts I learned today

It's another bright blue sunny day in London—but c-c-c-c-cold! So I put on my big winter sweater and my bright warm duffle coat and put my hooves into my warm wooly mittens as we headed out onto the Circle Line to Westminster and off to one of my very favorite exhbitions in London: the Cabinet War Rooms located deep under the Houses of Parliament. What fun could it be crawling around in someone's basement, you ask? Well, a heckuva lotta fun, pal! These are the actual underground fortified headquarters of Mister WInston Churchill and his cabinet and military advisors during World War II: a safe place to run the country from during the Blitz. It's extremely-well preserved and renovated and gives you a very clear and fascinating look at how the British government was run in crisis. Most of the small underground rooms are preserved exactly as they were during the war, including tiny cots, work tables, meeting rooms, maps, radio rooms and plenty of interesting period signage reminding you yes, there was a war on: keep your mouth closed and be careful about what you do! I have long heard the saying "Loose lips sink ships" and I thought it was just something about being careful with the boats in my bathtub. Now I know what it really means!

There's a fascinating and easy-to-follow audio tour included in the price of admission that takes you room by room through the underground cabinet war rooms, and teaches you a good deal of history as well as admiration for Mister Churchill. There's a lot of period recordings of his voice on the audio tour, so it's a fun and educational way to get to learn more about the great man. One thing I did not know: Winston Churchill did not like staples! He would not use them or let his staff use them because he didn't like the noise that staplers made. Instead, every desk in the War Rooms had a handheld hole-punch called a "klop" and threaded tape to hold sheafs of paper together. (I think Mister Churchill was almost as fussy about his office supplies as Mister Rusin!) I've been here before and truly enjoyed it, but it was even worth going again this second time as many new areas have been opened up on the tour including new tunnels and underground offices, plus the all-new Churchill Museum, which taught me even more about the great man and was filled with all the latest in exciting new museum technology. (I liked the multimedia displays). Add to that a dead brilliant couple museum shops at the end with all sorts of WWII memorabilia and souvenirs: I bought a Biggles book, some ration chocolate, and a postcard of Mister Churchill giving his famous "V for Victory" salute to pin up on my wall. Then, back out into the cold morning London air. Were our London adventures over for the day? Not by a long shot!

You can't really say you've been to London unless you've seen London's famous Big Ben, so we strolled over back through Westminster so I could set my wristwatch by the biggest clock I have ever seen:

It's another picture that just screams: BULLY'S IN LONDON!

And then across Westminster Bridge to the startlingly modern and surprisingly large London Eye:

I heard there was a ferris wheel around here. Anyone know where?

Yowza! That thing's big! I'm a little afraid of heights so I was kinda secretly glad we did not go up in it. But you know who was up in it? Olivia! (note: not all by herself). We waiting for Olivia and her parents (brrrrrr, it was cold) to take their London Eye trip and then we walked onto the Hungerford Foot Bridge (which John says has really changed since he remembers dashing across it to get to the National Theatre in 1983: it is now on the other side of the railway bridge and an elegant suspension-type footbridge like the Millennium Bridge) back across the Thames. By then everyone had gotten a bit peckish (that's British for "hungry"!) so we headed into the guessed it...Pizza Express for a late afternoon lunch! They are always reliable and yummy and their menu is huge:

Gosh! I love Pizza Express.

Lunch really became dinner as we sat there for quite some time and relaxed. Afterwards John and I went off on a little adventure of our own to find one of the finest comic book shops in London, but more about that later! In the meantime, if you want to see the photos of our daily adventures (and you really should, you know), they are right here. Plenty of cute Olivia photos in this batch, folks, so don't miss 'em!

Where in London is Marshall?

Some of the more observant of you reading my London blog remember that I have a kid sister. "What happened to Marshall, Bully?" your constant emails have pestered me. "Did you let her come to London? Why aren't we hearing about her adventures? Do you leave her locked up in the hotel room every day? Say it ain't so, Bully, say it ain't so!"

Golly! Never did I know that Marshall had such a huge fan club among readers of my blog. I'm pleased you are all paying so much attention to a little stuffed cow!

Marshall has her own special agenda on this vacation and so she is not with us every day, but don't worry, she is having grand fun. Why don't you tell everyone about your exciting London activities, Marshall?

Why thank you Bully! Yes I shall. I hope you are not bored by me telling you briefly what I am doing every day, 'coz it is sorta girly and I know the people who read Bully's blog might not like all sortsa girly stuff. But I am taking horseback riding lessons! Hooray! Every day I get to go to Westway Stables, a wonderful horse farm in North Kensington just off Wormwood Scrubs. I am caring for a beautiful brown pony every day and I get to feed her and brush her and muck out her stable (it is a bit diff'cult 'coz I am so tiny and they had to get a special tiny pitchfork for me, but it was worth it!) and then I get to ride her around Wormwood Scrumbs Park under the supervision and training of the wonderfully pleasant and patient Miss Tuvey and her staff. They are all so nice and love ponies and horses even more than I do, which is a whole lot! I have even been learning to do some jump-riding like in those Dick Francis books Bully reads! I like jumping but I hope I do not get involved in a mysterious mystery like Sid Halley in that book. I like Wormwood Scrubs a lot too. It is very green and pleasant. I have to be careful I dont' wander over to the Wormwood Scrubs Prison at the south side of the park! I do not want to meet convicts and I am 'specially sure my pony does not either!

There are lots of little girls there too so I have been making friends. Many of them are just there for riding lessons but I find that taking care of my special pony is teaching me so much more about horses and e-ques-trian-ism than I can from just reading all my books back home. Yay!

In the afternoons I often do join Bully and John and Camilla for lunch but then it is back to the hotel where I meet up with my persn'l driver Mister Frank, who drives a very beautiful fancy and very powerful Audi A8. He takes me to all the fun activities I have been on while Bully is seeing the stuff he wants. Mister Frank always says "Respect the car and she'll respect you back," which sounds like very good advice to me. He is an excellent driver; totally an excellent driver. He's very very good at timing how and when to drive and he hardly ever hits a red light! Sometimes he goes kinda fast and it is exciting when some of the wheels come up off the road as he is turning a corner but he is always safe and gets you where you need to go very very fast! Also, he knows where all the good cafés are and he often stops and buys me a yummy yummy Orangina to sip while we are heading somewhere. Don't spill in the car, though! Mister Frank would not like that. I am very careful to never spill in the car.

One of my favorite places I've gone is Mystic Fairies near Hampstead Heath. This is an amazing activity center and toy and gift shop with all sorts of magic things that are fun for girls! (I told you it was girly!) I went and got fairy wings and had yummy light teacakes and got to meet Titania, Queen of the Fairies, who Bully says is from one of those Mister Shakespeare plays he like so much. Bully told me to watch out for Titania: 'parently she steals away small children (and little stuffed cows) if she takes a fancy to you and then you have to live in Fairyland forever and ever and ever. I like visiting Fairyland but I do not think I would like to live there as they do not have ponies or Orangina or my big brother. But Mister Frank held my hoof and did not let Titania take me away! Some of the other little girls on the tour went missing, tho'. They were kind of mean and had been pulling on my tail, so good riddance to bad rubbish.

That's what I do all day! Thanks for letting me use your blog to tell the Marshall-fans what I am up to, Bully!

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Bully's British Book Club: Egg Bacon Chips & Beans

Bully's British Book Club

One of my favorite things to do in London is to go to bookstores. One of my other favorite things to do in London is to go to restaurants. Now I can combine both in the newest installment of Bully's Book Club, except now it really is a "BBC," because it's now Bully's British Book Club!

Today I spent a lot of time and quite a bit of money too in the wonderful;, wonderful Daunt Books on Marylebone High Street. If you have never been there before, I highly recommend it! It's one of the best independent non-chain bookstores in London that I've been in. (I can't believe I've never discovered it before! That's one of the beauties of London...around every corner you can find something you've never seen before!) Daunt Books is an amazingly collection of books in a beautiful old Edwardian setting. You could browse here for hours! (I did!)

Daunt Books

It has an exceptional travel department located in the long double-tiered skylight gallery—in fact, Daunt is one of the best travel bookstores in the city. Go ahead and try to find a country they don't have travel books to! Go ahead! I dare ya! Well, okay, Latveria, maybe. But they're not only books that take you to far-away and mysterious lands, oh no, golly no, they're oh-so-much more. For example, it had a wonderful children's book section where Camilla bought some books for Olivia—lucky Olivia! John bought a whole bunch of Pocket Penguins. These are not tiny penguins that you can carry around with you, oh no! John is not the sort who would keep a penguin in his pocket, and neither should you, unless you are the type of person who pickpockets penguins like Togo (Bring him back!). No, Pocket Penguins are slim and inexpensive paperbacks to celebrate Penguin Books's 75th anniversary. They are only £1.50 each! As a little stuffed bull who is watching his pounds and pence, I find them very good value indeed. But the book that caught my eye and caused me to open my little British change purse to fish out my pound coins was a sleek and glossy litytle hardcover with the mouth-watering title Eggs Bacon Chips & Beans: 50 Great Cafes and the Stuff That Makes Them Great.

In this book, Mister Russell Davies went on a tour of Great Britain and stopped in a whole buncha cafes in search of the quintessential (thank you, word of the day calendar) British breakfast: fried egg, bacon, crispy chips, and baked beans. In each cafe he takes a lot of bright colorful photos of his meal (explaining for each one his admiration for the mix and arrangement of the four basic British breakfast food groups as they are placed on his plate), the cafes and their settings, signage, menus and condiments (there are some lovely photos and descriptions of the many arrangements and assortments of condiments on each café table, celebrating ketchup, salt, pepper, and the delicious, delicious British brown sauce).

Mister Davies gives a little bit of history behind each café, but the histories I like best are the ones that are personal: places he stopped at with his family where he has a funny anecdote about his wife and kids with him. He pays wonderful attention to the details we all subconsciously think about in a café: "What should we look for in a really good EBC&B?" "What's the best table to sit down at?" "Is it okay to read someone else's newspaper?" "Why is the word 'omelette' misspelled as 'omlet' on the menu board?" "And why does 'Heinz meanz beanz'?" All this and much, much, more. I also give Mister Davies top points for recommending one of John's favorite London cafes, the Sandwich Bar on Brooks Mews (just around the corner from the White Hart). While the White Hart may be closed, the Sandwich Bar is still open, and they still serve as delicious and comforting an EBC&B platter as they did in 1983. The only thing missing from this excellent book? A scratch-and-sniff section! Or, judging by the way my tummy has been rumbling as I read this book, a scratch-and-eat section!

Finally, the author has a delicious-looking blog with even more fantastic and colorful EBC&B cafes, including some submitted by readers. I am going to go home and take photos of the Park Slope Chip Shop and send them in, just to show him that us Yanks can do a pretty good EBC&B too! (Not to mention those yummy, yummy deep-fried Mars Bars!)

You know how they tell you not to go grocery shopping on an empty tummy? Well, if you pick up this wonderful book, and you should, make sure you don't read it on an empty stomach! Even just writing this blog entry, I'm totally starving for hot runny egg, delicious chewy bacon, crispy golden chips, and a mess o' beans right now. Let's go get some now!

Photos: Marylebone High Street

Marylebone High Street

Here are photos of our day's excursion to Marylebone High Street. How can you see them? By clicking right here!

The perfect day starts with snow and ends with Shakespeare

Wow! I don't think there is a more exciting way to wake up on a December morning in London that sliding open the curtains on your hotel room and finding out that it is snowing!

And oh my! It snowed and snowed and snowed, really really hard!

For less than five minutes.

And then it stopped and the sun came out.

Huh? That was the fastest snowstorm I have ever seen! I knew London was a busy, busy metropolis, but who even know they were too busy for a full-fledged blizzard?!?

On the plus side, that meant it was cold and crisp but bright and clear when we stepped out of the Copthorne Tara after our fortifying breakfast of Wheetabix and cheese and tea. Off we went to a place in London that I have never been. Can you believe it? That's there's a place in London I've never been too before? Believe it! There's lots of places I haven't discovered yet, and that's one of the great joys of London—that there's a surprise around every corner. So off we went on the Circle Line (in an anti-clockwise direction!) to one of my very favorite Underground Stations of all, the wonderfully Victorian-y Baker Street station. It is so full of rich historical Victorian goodness that you almost expect to find Mister Sherlock Holmes riding up the escalator with Doctor Watson and calmly puffing on his meerschaum pipe. (No smoking on the Underground, Mister Holmes!) And in fact you'll find a lovely statue of Sherlock Holmes just outside the station:

If you turn to the right and walk up Baker Street you will soon come to 221B, and there you'll find the amazing Sherlock Holmes Museum which I highly recommend. But our path was taking us in a different direction today and we turned left to walk down the very busy Marylebone Road and then onto Marylebone High Street, home of some amazing shops! We had a specific destination in mind to start with: Camilla was quite keen on going to the Emma Bridgewater Shop to pick up some of her very favorite (or, as they say over here, favourite) pottery. But oh no! Holiday closures continue in some British stores even on the 27th, and I'm sad to say that the Emma Bridgewater Shop was closed, which was a bit of a disappointment to poor Camilla. But she soon cheered up when we found the very designy and elegant Conran Shop (home of some wonderful gifty items that were beautiful but much too pricey for my poor little change purse—plus, they had a whole lovely china section I was not allowed in because of that whole "bull in..." thing!), an amazing bookstore called Daunt Books, a very nice Oxfam Shop with a huge number of books and records, The Little White Company, where Camilla bought some lovely children's things for Olivia, and then we had a refreshing and relaxing lunch at one of our familiar but favorite places to nosh, Pizza Express. Why, I even got to visit (okay, okay, stand outside) the offices of jus' about my favorite broadcasting company in the whole wide world, BBC London:

Why, if you don't think that the Marylebone High Street is jus' about one of the most wonderful shopping streets ever...well, you're jus' plain wrong, mate!

Visiting seeing the BBC London offices on such a bright blue day put me in a fine mood to stroll to the nearby BBC Broadcasting House on nearby Portland Place, the true home of the BBC and a great grey battleship of a building that can be seen all the way down the wide street to Oxford Circus. I've been here before and highly recommend it: they have an excellent tour of the studios with some fun interactive broadcasting activities you can participate in. Sadly Broadcasting House is closed for renovation (I'll see you again after 2010, Broadcasting House!) and so is the excellent two-level BBC Gift Shop which I was quite looking forward to. There's a much smaller BBC Shop located in nearby Margaret Street, but it's a bit of a disappointment after you have been to the big one. It's still well worth a visit if you're a Beeb fan like I am, but I can't recommend it with my "highest Bully rating" until it moves back into its bigger location. Most of the small shop is taken up with BBC DVDs which are a thing of wonder—if only I could watch them at home on my Region 1 DVD player I would be leaving the shop with an armful of DVDs! I bought a few audio CDs and a BBC pencil, but I was a bit disappointed they did not have more souvenir mechandise with the BBC logo on it. I was ever-so hoping I could buy a small Bully-sized sweater that said "BBC" so that when everyone asked me "What does that stand for, Bully?" I could answer "The British Bull Corporation." Please get right on that, BBC!

We dropped by Leicester Square to see what plays we could get into that night, and hooray! There were tickets available for my favorite Shakespeare play, Twelfth Night. I was so excited I could barely wait! We headed back to the hotel and then had a lovely dinner in the friendly and festive and oh-so-French Café Rouge restaurant just off Kensington High Street. How French was it? It was so delightfully French that I had French onion soup, French fries and French dressing on my little side salad. (Plus: Le Coke.) There was only one disappointment about Café Rouge: that I was not waited on by Amélie. I kinda expected her to be there; it was 'xactly the sort of place she seemed to work at. I wandered around the restaurant and poked my head in the kitchen and looked in the bar to see if she was there, but I couldn't see her anyway. Oh well, maybe it was just her day off!

I always enjoy going to the Royal Shakespeare Company, and this was a bit of a treat because not only was it my favorite play (although I am partial to A Midsummer Night's Dream too!), but because it was the first time I got to go to a RSC play at their new location in the Gielgud Theatre in busy busy Shaftesbury Avenue. It's smack-dab in the middle of the West End theatre district which is quite a difference from all those many times I saw the RSC at the Barbican Centre. It looks like the RSC has abandoned their major space in the Barbican Centre—they had a nice modern theatre there in the 1980s but the Barbican is so far off the beaten path, and there's so little else to do around the area, especially after dark, that this may have been a smart move. I won't miss running for the Barbican Station tueb train after a show, but I will miss the large RSC gift shop at the Barbican, and following the painted yellow line on the pavement around Shakespeare Towers to get to the theatre there. It was like following a treasure map, and the treasure was a great performance!

But you still get that great performance at the Gielgud! Twelfth Night was great fun; it was a semi-modern dress version that put Viola in a new-wave outfit that made her look like Adam Ant. I dunno is that is what Mister Shakespeare intended but that's one of my favorite things about a Shakespeare play: you can be playful and fun with it and dress it up and change its setting but it's still an amazing story with memorable characters and incredible language. If you think you can't understand or won't appreciate Shakespeare, I really must recommend that you see a live play one day. Shakespeare meant his plays to be seen and experienced, not read, so don't cheat yourself out of one of the greatest pleasures of literature by not attending a live performance. Even if you have trouble following the language or the cadence of the actors' lines, you'll soon capture the rhythm of it, and you'll find yourself at the edge of your seat, and laughing along with the funny bits. Also, you can dress up Malvolio like Uma Thurman in Kill Bill, which is worth the price of admission all by itself!

This perfect day ends with a chocolate bar from a Tube station vending machine, a lovely treat as we head home to the hotel after a busy and pleasant day. The air is cold and clear. It might snow again tomorrow and make it another magical day—but even if it doesn't, this day is one to remember.

Monday, December 26, 2005

Requiem for a pub

Hullo folks: John here taking over for a moment from Bully to write an entry in his blog.

When I was a college student here in 1983, penniless but hungry, there were two ways I could eat cheaply: buy the 19 1/2p cans of Heinz Beans and eat them up in the flat at No. 51 Gloucester Terrace--or I could head downstairs, loop around the back of the building and dodge into the White Hart on Brook Mews, visible from my bedroom window six flights below.

It was my first and favorite pub, my local, my haven. I learned to drink warm, bitter beer and Guinness here. I ate countless meat pies and sausages and chips at the bar or tucked away in the wooden booths towards the back. In 1983, the beer was cheap (50p for a pint, 95p for a Guinness) and the food was affordable on my stingy student's budget that couldn't even afford a two-zone Travelcard, but I wasted enough money in the bewildering fruit machine arcade games that I never got the hang of. The place was always full of American students, only a few of which were ones in my program, and Australian workers. I drank elbow to elbow with them. My lifelong love of the pub, pub food, pub culture, pub people began here and has never died.

Today I walked down Brook Mews North to find the White Hart shuttered, boarded up, closed and abandoned. Brook Mews seemed even more of a ghost street than it had twenty-two years ago. The Internet—something I'd never dreamed of in 1983—tells me it closed about two years ago, in December 2003, twenty years or so after I first set foot in it. I doubt many will have missed it. It really was never an exceptional pub by any standards; even then I considered the Swan a better pub (and the Swan gets mediocre reviews at best from pub guides on the Internet). But the White Hart was my local, and one of the first things I realized about pub culture was that even in London, through thick or thin a man sticks by his local.

I ate and drank in this place, laughed and fell in love and wasted time and money and don't regret a pound or a moment of it. I've written fiction about the White Hart that said it would remain open forty years from now and beyond. It won't, of course, except in my Dream Country of a London that is always the way I left it, in those days when I was young.

I doubt there will be any other requiem for the White Hart, 31 Brook Mews North, London W2 on the Internet at all. But this one's mine. Tonight I hoist a pint and toast the White Hart. It is missed.

--jld, 26 December, 2005

Seeing my new photos is as easy as a walk in the park!

Eager to see what I've been up to today in Kensington Gardens and around the famous, famous Gloucester Terrace where John used to live in 1983, oh-so-many year ago? Then just click here!

Boxing Day: it's not what you think it is.

Hi hi hi from London! Happy Boxing Day to you. Now, back in the States, maybe you don't know what Boxing Day is. That's cool. I'm gonna tell you all about it in this post.

When I went to bed last night, all tired from a long and wonderful, lovely London Christmas, John said to me, "Don't forget, Bully: tomorrow is Boxing Day!" Well, I could hardly sleep after that! Would you be able to? I think not! All night long visions of famous British pugilists like "Nipper" Hampston, Drummer McAuley and Mushy Regan danced on the canvas in my dreams. What would be happening on Boxing Day, I wondered? Would there be exhibition matches of boxing skill in Trafalgar Square? Would souvenir candy boxing gloves be given to all the chldren in the streets? Oh, I hoped so, I hoped so, so very very much!

When I hopped out of bed John asked me why I was doing little excited punching motions in the air. I told him not to worry, I would not hit Marshall or anyone smaller than me on this Boxing Day! That's when I learned that Boxing Day is actually a day of fantastic sales in all the shops across the United Kingdom that are open today. Fantastic savings of 50-75%, as the television adverts on ITV tell me. Well, as you do know, I am a little stuffed bull with a good eye for value for money so this seemed like an especially good day to be out and about.

As it turned out we actually spent a lovely day in Kensington Gardens instead of going to all the sales, which is just as well, because apparently all the stores and the streets to go shopping in looked like this! I would hardly even be able to move throughout those many many many people! (Maybe that is why they call it Boxing have to hit people to get through the crowd!) I could not manage to squeeze myself into such a big mess o' Londoners, not even for great values on everything I didn't get for Christmas. I don't know how the Queen does it.

Seriously, here's what Boxing Day is all about actually. It is also the feast of St. Stephen, so when you are singing "Good King Wenceslas looked out / on the Feast of Stephen," you are actually singing about Boxing Day! Me and Marshall like to sing that song this way, actually:
Good King Wences's car backed out
On the feet of Stephen
Anyway, instead of braving the sales, we took a stroll through Kensington Gardens to the other side up by Bayswater and met Jonas and Christine and Olivia for lunch at the Swan, one of our favorite pubs. (Although they did not have Sticky Toffee Pudding this time! What's the matter with you, Mister Swan?) But before we met at the pub we wandered around where John used to live in 1983 when he was a student: up and back through Brook Mews, where you could his bedroom window six flights up (and the ledge he used to walk down six flights up to see Mary Emerton. This was long before he met Camilla, I should point out! That ledge looked dangerous and I can only imagine he was blinded by either exceptional foolishness or a big fat crush on Mary Emerton. Silly John.) Then we looped around the front to walk down Gloucester Terrace and pose by No. 51 for photos. It's not much to look at now, and actually John says it was not much to look at then. But it was home, and it seemed very special to him. I like that there are parts of London that have so much personal history for you that you have to go visit them again and again even though there is nothing to see. That's part of the magic of London and the wonder of it all, and on a grey cold Boxing Day, that's worth a hundred store bargains to experience.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Fa la la la la, Christmas photos

I hope all my friends in America are having a wonderful Christmas!

Instead of lying on the couch sleepily digesting your turkey dinners, why not waddle over to the computer and click through to my photo album of Christmas Day! There are lots of photos of Olivia and her new friend, Kensington the Cat! (And very few of me and Marshall, but we had a wonderful day. Thanks Father Christmas! You're as good as Santa Claus any day!)

Olivia loves London, too.

Someone kindly asked for news about how Olivia is enjoying London! The answer is, quite a bit indeed! She is prone to announce "Welcome to London" several times throughout the day. She likes riding on the trains and has many questions that I enjoy answering because I know a lot about the London Underground. She wants to know if we get off now (no, Olivia, this is not our stop; we have three more stops first) or if we can get on the train (No, Olivia, this is a District Line train and it goes to Wimbledon. We want a Circle Line train.) She say a man dressed up as Father Christmas standing on the train platform and declared "Santa!" She did not want Santa to see her when he came Christmas night down the chimney but as she was fast asleep she did not even notice when he snuck in to deliver her Christmas goodies.

She is enjoying most every part of London. I missed when there was a mean little boy who would not let her play in the sand in Holland Park (mean boy! Mean!), but aside from that she has been happy and curious. She likes looking in the shops and eating in the restaurants. Last night for Christmas Eve dinner we ate at Khan's of Bayswater, a very busy and exciting Indian restaurant. The waiters gave toys for Christmas to each of the children in the restaurant and Olivia got a miniature pool table which she was playing with today with Aunt Camilla. (She let me and Marshall play with it too!) She enjoyed the rice and nan bread at the restaurant and has especially been loving English sweets—she got a special cake with a butterfly on it and some hazelnut creme sticks which were very good. She was very fascinated by the oranges at Mark & Spencer's Food Hall, even though she does not like oranges!

Her favorite part so far seems to have been the carousel at Covent Garden. She went on it (twice!).

She got many fine Christmas presents this morning, including many books and a hat with a Union Jack on it and some stuffed animals and a marble-and-tube set and Marshall and I gave her some play food from Sainsbury's. It's pretty cool: it's all British grocery play food. It makes my mouth water just to look at it! She seems to like her stuffed cat that John got her a lot.

She is taking her Christmas day nap now but I'm sure there will be many more Olivia adventures!

Wishing all of my readers a Happy Christmas from London!