GREAT, GREAT BRITAIN: MONDAY
BBC (The British Edition): If all I got to do on my entire trip was sit in my hotel room and watch British TV, I would’ve been happy. The week we arrived was the start of the UK’s latest season of “I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here”, which flopped over here but is pretty much a national obsession whenever it airs over there. The “celebrities” are mostly washed-up British TV stars we’d never heard of, but that didn’t ruin the fun. Because it was still going on when we left, we’ll have to check out how it ends on the internets. (Go Sophie Anderton!)
Even better was getting to see “The X-Factor“, an obvious ripoff of American Idol/Pop Idol starring… Simon Cowell of American Idol/Pop Idol. One of the other hosts was Sharon Osbourne, darling of the British tabs. (Ozzy thwarting a jewel thief was front page news in the U.K. last week.) The big (and only) twist in “The X-Factor” appears to be that the judges each choose contestants to sponsor throughout the competition, although they still have to make the ultimate decision about who stays and who goes. In the episode we saw, Sharon got put in the tricky position of having to choose between two of her own contestants, the Diana DeGarmo-esque Joss Stone wannabe Cassie and eyeliner aficionado/goth rocker Tabby. Although Tabby was clearly the more talented of the two, Sharon flatly refused to cast a vote, vowing to quit rather than choose between her two darlings. Simon then considered voting against Tabby, whom he perceived to be the greater threat to his own contestants, but eventually decided to vote on merit, and Cassie got the boot. It was much commented on in the tabs that week, and it all had the obvious feel of a media event staged to attract attention to the show. In other words, I loved it.
Two Deckers of Fun: This being our first full day in London, we decided to take a tour bus, which would allow us to see the whole city in a few hours and decide which parts we wanted to go back to later in the week. The best part was that the bus came with not one, but two commentaries. One was provided by a live, professional guide who filled us in on fascinating bits of British trivia (i.e., Tony Blair actually lives at Eleven Downing Street) and the other was provided by a group of four sassy African-American women sitting across from us. They weren’t quite as insightful as the tour guide, but their enthusiasm was infectious. The only direct quote I can remember is “Oh, my God!”, but I’m sure Drew made a mental note of every word they said. Drew enjoyed them so much he suggested we follow them off the bus and tail them around for the rest of the day from a discrete distance. Not taking that suggestion is my biggest regret from the trip.
Our Jerry Springer Moment: Every day of our vacation, except for the first and last days, when we were traveling, we went to the theatre. Picking which shows to see was a big part of the fun of the trip, and we both agreed that “Jerry Springer, The Opera” topped our lists. My main problem with “Jerry Springer, The Opera” was that, while it knew Jerry Springer wasn’t a subject to be taken too seriously, it did in fact take opera very seriously. The show is sung through, and the score isn’t easily broken down into individual pop songs like most musicals I’m familiar with. Just when one catchy musical riff gets going (like the delightful “Mama Gimme a Smack on the Asshole”), it dissipates into something else. Act One is an operatic staging of a typical episode of the TV show, and it’s fun to hear a chorus belting out show titles like “My Mom Used To Be My Dad” and “I Was Jilted By a Lesbian Dwarf!”, even if it’s pretty much the same joke over and over. Act Two is set in Purgatory and features Satan and God fighting over Jerry’s soul. If that sounds hilarious, then maybe I’m not describing it properly. Or maybe I missed the joke. I get the feeling this is the direction a true opera would’ve gone, with all notion of character and story being sacrificed in order to explore some grand, esoteric themes, but to me it was just batty (not to mention dramatically unsatisfying). I guess I appreciated the satire of Jerry, but not of operas. I’m not necessarily proud of what that says about my tastes, but so be it.
London Got Game: Not only do they have different movies, music and TV shows in other countries, but they have different video games, too. The London Trocadero is a giant arcade near Picadilly Circus that has bumper cars in the basement. They also have slight variations on games we have here, like the Euromix of Dance Dance Revolution. But the best are the wacky games we don’t have here at all. (Okay, so it’s been a while since I’ve stepped into an arcade. Maybe we do have some of these…) My favorites were “Live Action Ping-Pong!”, a Japanese import whose theme song made clear the emphasis was on “Action!” and whose controls were virtually impossible to work, and the bowling game, where you tossed mini balls down a mini alley at mini pins and somehow a video screen was involved. There’s nothing better to me than crazy video games. Tokyo, here I come!
Oh, Calcutta!: The last time I went to London, I had yet to discover Indian food. Now, Indian food is just about my favorite, and thanks to some imperialist unpleasantness in the past, London is rumored to have some of the best Indian food outside of Bombay — or rather, Mumbai. (True fact: if you pronounce “Bombay” with a mouth full of curry, it sounds kind of like “Mumbai”.) On Monday night, we went to the Red Fort, an Indian restaurant in Soho that a friend had recommended to us. She had been there fifteen years ago, and as we were searching for it, we realized how foolish it was to assume it would still be around. But it was, which we figured was a good sign of the food quality, and we were right. Yum.
Penny Wise, Pound Foolish: I expected when we got to London that I’d spend a lot of time apologizing to Europeans about our crappy president, but once I was there I started to wonder if they owed me an apology. Their lack of confidence in our economy has trashed the value of the dollar overseas, and as a result, I got gouged on everything I bought. (Okay, in fairness, I’ll take that apology from you-know-who instead.) CDs that seemed cheap actually cost almost as much as their import price if bought in the US. One breakfast at a bagel shop (two bagels, one orange juice, one water) cost Drew and me the equivalent of $20 US. For bagels! Bagels!!!! (The one thing I did right: if you’re going overseas anytime soon, book your hotel online and pay in dollars if you can.) I was appointed the official treasurer of our trip because Drew was strangely intimidated by handling foreign money and couldn’t quite figure out which coins or bills to fork over in any given situation. I found it so amusing that I staged this dramatization of his discomfort with British currency: