Monday, January 29, 2001

Four days, four cities! Get Dick Mac To London Tonight!

This international lifestyle sure has its ups and downs!

What is most intriguing, beguiling, and dangerous is the twenty-four hour clock. I've been marching through life with the cavalier attitude that any idiot can figure out that 1300 is one in the afternoon and that 2020 is 8:20 P.M. Simple, right!?!?! Subtract 1200 from any time greater than 1200 and you get the twelve-hour (AM/PM) conversion!

Last Wednesday, I had to fly from London to Boston for a funeral. Not a happy occasion, but a necessary trip. I was able to secure a ridiculously expensive round-trip Economy ticket from Gatwick to Logan. The schedule looked like this: arrive in Boston WED at 1720, go to the wake, sleep at my brother's, go to funeral and internment on THU, fly out of Boston THU night at 2200, arrive in London FRI morning.

The brevity of my Boston trip was necessitated by previously booked reservations for Anne and me in Amsterdam. Tickets and Hotel had been purchased and were non-refundable; and our friends Bonnie, Marcel, and Cody, were expecting us. We had been planning the Amsterdam trip for months and were looking forward to it.

Like any American Irish-Catholic clan, my Mother's family is quite large, and we only seem to gather for funerals and weddings. Mostly funerals. With 40+ first cousins on my Mother's side, most of whom have spouses or partners, it is a rare treat that everyone of my generation (approaching 100 of us) is invited to a wedding. And my generation is old enough now, that two of my cousins are grandfathers; which means that some cousins have children old enough to also receive wedding invitations!!! You get the picture! So, funerals are where we gather most. It is exciting to have such a large family. When we left the wake on WED evening, we talked about how lucky we were to have such a great group of people as relatives.

Traveling to family events became much more complicated for me when I moved to New York; now that Anne and I are in London, it borders on ridiculous!

I ordered a car to pick me up at our apartment in The City and take me to Gatwick Airport, which is much further away from Central London than Heathrow. It was a long drive there, but we made it without incident. My flight, however, was delayed because of equipment failure. This is never reassuring; but, I made it to Boston at 1830. My brother, sister-in-law, and I made it to the wake in plenty of time. I then got to enjoy dinner with my immediate family, at my other brother's home, before getting a decent night's sleep. Thusday was spent at the funeral and internment, followed by a luncheon on Cape Cod. Timing is everything, and I was back in Boston at 4:30 (1630), resting for my flight at 10:00 (2200).

With a bit of time to spare, I called some friends, and even had a short visit from a friend who lives nearby. It was a very relaxing couple of hours.

My brothers got me to Logan at just after 8:00 (2000), which is exactly two hours before flight departure (the required check-in time for international flights). I prefer to be earlier than punctual so that any problems that might arise at check-in can be resolvd without the added stress of a time crunch; but, punctual is perfectly acceptable!

I was relieved to see that there was not yet anyone in line at the Virgin Atlantic counter when I strolled into Terminal E, because when the check-in staff is not hurried, they are more flexible and generous with seating negotiations. When I announced to the three assembled workers that I wanted to check-in for the ten o'clock flight to London, they stared blankly at me, all with jaws dropped.

Quickly, the supervisor avertered her eyes to the computer screen at which she had been working when I approached, and the two men began to bumble about and stammer while pointing at the video monitor and explaining that the flight was scheduled for 2020 (8:20), and was already boarded and about to leave the gate! I had misunderstood the time and written it down incorrectly! I had it listed as 2200, not 2020! My body temperature changed, my jaw dropped and everything went temporarily fuzzy! Fortunately, one of the men got right on a walkie-talkie and asked if I could be boarded. The response was an emphatic 'No'! I was now one of those idiots who failed to understand the 24-hour clock!

They were very sympathetic about my plight: there were no more flights out of Boston until Friday, which was too late to make my flight to Amsterdam! It took a moment before I snapped back to reality!

They checked the JFK to Heathrow flights and there were plenty of seats on a flight at 2305 (11:05). They checked the Delta Shuttle to LaGuardia, and there was a flight at 2035 (8:35). They became really excited and animated as they took less than three minutes to make two phone calls and rise to the challenge that became: Get Dick Mac to London Tonight!

I dashed (Really! I did! I RAN!) across the skyway from Terminal E to Terminal A, to the Delta Shuttle gate. It took just over twelve minutes (I'm not really much of a sprinter), which left eight minutes to purchase a ticket, find the Boston Coach counter to order a sedan, and get on the jet! (Without dropping of a heart-attack!)

I did it! I was on the Shuttle with two minutes to spare! Another passenger actually boarded AFTER me!

This flight would get me to LaGuardia at 9:35 (2135), leaving me 70 minutes to get off the Shuttle, to my waiting car for a drive across Queens to JFK, checked-in at Virgin, and board the plane. (You can not be boarded on an international flight less than twenty minutes before departure, so I lose 20 minutes there.) I didn't know if I could do it, but I was comforted by one particular thought: if I missed the last flight to London, I could sleep in my own bed at my New York apartment and get the first flight in the morning, which would get me to Heathrow just on-time to meet Anne for the flight to Amsterdam. I was so tired at this point, that I almost wanted to miss the last flight out of JFK and go home!

When the shuttle landed at LaGuardia, the pilot announced that there was a disabled plane at our gate and there would be a slight delay in deplaning! This slight, fifteen minute delay got us to the gate at 9:50, leaving only 55 minutes to complete the rest of the Challenge!

I found my driver and headed out of the Marine Air Terminal rather quickly. I told him the situation and he said he would do his best, but he was not certain he could get me to JFK Terminal 1 quickly enough to succeed. I remained calm! We talked about the New York drug laws. Fifteen minutes later the driver was happily explaining that he could not believe how little traffic there was on the Van Wyck Expressway, and that I might actually make it.

I got out of the car at JFK and tried to trot into the terminal and to the Virgin counter; but, I could barely walk with my scant luggage. There was a long queue snaking around the check-in area. One nice benefit to flying so much, is that I been promoted to the preferred flying club and can use the Upper Class check-in counters even though I am flying Economy. These counters are generally devoid of clientele and provide rapid check-in. Avoiding another f**k*ng queue in this condition would save my sanity, if not my travel plans.

My mouth was parched, my eyes were watering, and my hands were trembling when I handed the woman my ticket. I tried to speak, but nothing came out. She said: "Oh, Mr. Mac, we've been expecting you." I almost fainted! The guys at the Boston counter had followed-up and contacted JFK to tell them of my plight! I relaxed instantly and she asked: "Are you alright?" I nodded. "Sir, you are sweating and shaking are you sure you're OK?" I nodded, took out a handkerchief, wiped my brow, licked my lips and managed to asked if the flight was heavily booked and could I be bumped up to a better seat. This was a clear sign to her that I was not going to drop to the floor. Anyone who can enquire about a free upgrade cannot be too ill!

She could not upgrade me, but she gave me an entire row of four seats to myself. Ahhhh! A touch of luxury in economy!

After I passed throught the security checkpoint, I still had fifteen minutes before they even began allowing passengers to board the plane! I bought a bottle of water, some duty-free Chanel products, and looked out at New York and felt a little pang about seeing my apartment and my stuff and sleeping in my bed!

The flight to Heathrow was remarkably uneventful. The taxi ride to our apartment was almost boring. The rest I got before the rainstorm rolled in was fitful. The impossibility of getting a car to taxi to Heathrow during a heavy rain was only the icing on the cake! We made it to Amsterdam. Fnally, a weekend of shopping and eating and museums was mine, and I think that by next weekend, I might approach sanity!


Sunday, January 21, 2001

Darkness And Disgrace

Anne and I ventured North of London for the first time tonight. A taxi ride took us to a restaurant in Upper Street, Islington, for a bite to eat at Santa Fe, an American Southwestern restaurant. Though another restaurant in Upper Street had been recommended, we were not impressed with the menu and we managed to finagle a table at Santa Fe moments before their Saturday evening rush might begin. As we were guided to our seats, the hostess explained that we would have to be gone before 8:00 because the table was booked. Since we had plans for an event at another location in Islington, it was with pleasure that we agreed to vacate the premises post-haste. We were then seated at what has to be the ONLY non-smoking table in all the restaurants in all of London! How American!

After a hearty, but hardly memorable, meal we managed a taxi to shuttle us to The Rosemary Branch, a free house and theatre on the other side of the borough, which, according to its brochure ". . . first appears on Hole's 1594 plan of Finsbury Fields as an alehouse used by archers near the Shoreditch boundary. . . ."

The Rosemary Branch Theatre is currently showing "Darkness and Disgrace, a Musical Cabaret from the Songs of David Bowie," starring Des DeMoor, as the chansonnier, and Russell Churney, as pianist.

(BTW, this is my review that will appear in some form at BowieNet, next week.)

The small theatre was sparsely set for this two-man show which started with DeMoor sitting on a chair reciting "Future Legend," the eerie opening to Bowie's Diamond Dogs album. "Future Legend" is a post-beat pledge of post-apocolyptic allegiance to all that is decorative and shimmering, rife with canine sensuality and sexual tension, spoken over a proto-punk rendition of Richard Rodgers' "Bewitched." Who knew that two men with a piano and a couple of guitars could elicit Bowie's spirit with such simplicity. What followed made me want to giggle (which I later learned the actors would have enjoyed) as DeMoor launched into a cabaret version of the song "Diamond Dogs"! I've never heard the line "with your silicone hump and your ten-inch stump" delivered with such style!

The audience warmed-up when DeMoor spoke about how the show came into being and his own introduction to the music of David Bowie. It never ceases to amaze me when I hear other men of my generation tell their story of stumbling on David Bowie's show of bisexual transgender glamour and chic, because they tell MY story. Does every 40ish white guy Bowie fan have the SAME story?

DeMoor and Churney proceed to run through an amalgamation of Bowie non-hits from as far back as 1966's "The London Boys" and as recent as 1995's "I Have Not Been To Oxford Town."

Most poignant, is that at various intervals, the players speak to and about Bowie's fascination and personal experiences with the marginalization of the mentally ill and soceity's phobia surrounding mental illness. Churney quoted (free of sarcasm or gratuitous accent) an excerpt from Bowie's 1975 Playboy interview with Cameron Crowe where the rock god discusses his familiarity with mental illness. The medley of "All The Madmen" and "Buddha of Surburbia" became a housewide celebration of mental illness when DeMoor got the audience to clap along and sing 'Zane, Zane, Zane. Ouvre le Chien.' The duo's melding of these two songs is brilliant, and any die-hard Bowie fan would be familiar with the connection. Their stunningly creepy version of "Scream Like A Baby," which might be the best song ever written about medication and marginalization, gave me chills! The song "I Have Not Been To Oxford Town" was performed with the silouhette of prison bars surrounding the singer and again succeeded at eliciting sympathy about institutionalization.

"Please Mr. Gravedigger," released in 1967, was treated to a bit of role-playing, that lightened the creepy, murderous storyline of the song.

I do not mean to imply that "Darkness and Disgrace" is a flag waving demonstration to unveil the horrors of institutionalizaiton! Hardly! There was a dark side mixed in with all this fun!

A snippet from George Orwell's "1984," which was clearly the inspiring text for Bowie's "We Are The Dead," was read by both performers before offering the song. Again, the juxtaposition of a line like "I love you in your fuck-me-pumps and your nimble dress that trails" on a stark cabaret piano made my appreciation of Bowie's lyrical versatility run deeper!

Though the show is filled with songs that real Bowie fans would appreciate, not every audience member would be familiar with all of the cuts. So, as a treat, the show's encore is "Life On Mars" which even a Bowie neophyte knows enough to hum-along.

Other songs included in the two-act, 90-minute show include (chronologically, but not in order of performance) "Saviour Machine," "Width Of A Circle," "The Bewlay Brothers," "Lady Stardust," "Time" (a song that seems written for cabaret performance), "Sons Of The Silent Age" (performed quite differently than Peter Frampton), and "It's No Game."

I cannot say enough about this show. Every Bowie fan of any stripe in the London area, and those Bowie fans with the wherewithall to get themselves to London by 29 January, should take in this show.

After the show, we had the good luck to enjoy a drink with the performers who are charming, accessible, and enthusiastic. DeMoor and Churney happily shared their thoughts about Bowie's music, the story of building the show, and their creative interests. The honour of meeting the cast was ours because we had the good fortune of meeting the charming Blammo and Susan from BowieNet -- true stars in their own right -- who happily spent the last part of the evening talking music and politics and Bowie!

Dick Mac (alive!)
The Only Survivor Of The National Peoples Gang

Saturday, January 20, 2001

Sighs Matter

What are manners? Well, OK, who really cares? I know you're right! I guess I want to talk about how we treat one another in public. You know: how we treat strangers.

I think of it as all being very simple. It's about boundaries. I am not talking about some psychobabble concept that addresses how I spend money or drink booze or screw strangers! I'm talking about physical boundaries. You know the boundaries: You can walk to the edge of the cliff, but when you go one more step you plunge to your death! Plain old physical boundaries like fences and walls. I guess the basest level of manners is the physical boundary. I do not make physical contact with you, and if I do, I apologize, and vice-versa. This seems so simple.

Life in an urban area is rife with unwanted physical contact between strangers. Whether you ride the subway, shop in a supermarket, boutique or mall, walk the streets, drive through the centre of town, or live in an apartment building, you constantly come into contact with strangers.

In our self-centred culture, consideration for others has moved from being quaint and old-fashioned to being reflective of weakness or passive.

Not really wanting to admit my age, I betray that secret by offering an observation about a nightclub phenomena of my youth: In mid-seventies Boston, I had the good fortune to be, though not legally old enough to drink, regularly admitted to the nightclub that was our city's centre of the Glam scene. This was not a bar for the weak of heart! This scene was populated by Boston's demi-monde of bisexual-chic, homosexuals, transvestites, prostitutes, drug-addled Southie thugs, local trade, and rock-star wannabes all dressed in tight clothes and platform shoes. The scene was about being seen, and dressing up for the party.

As the years passed, the Glam scene spawned the Punk scene; though it wasn't called "punk," per se. It wasn't terribly violent at the beginning, more of a fashion and music trend. Platform shoes, long hair and fishnet stockings gave way to shorn heads, surplus military attire, and army boots. Lou Reed's "Walk On The Wild Side," David Bowie's "Rebel, Rebel," T.Rex, Roxy Music, New York Dolls, et al., were replaced with Sex Pistols, Dictators, Patti Smith, Television, Blondie, Iggy Pop, Voidoids, et al. The venues changed, and more often than not, DJs were replaced by live performances.

Then it happened! Frat boys and suburbanites appeared on the scene and IT was invented: slam-dancing! This must be the sorriest excuse for social interaction ever spawned in Western civilization. People were not really dancing; they were slamming against one another, and sin of all sins, touching each other's clothes! Today's hybrid, the Mosh Pit, has taken this form of entertainment to an extreme, with concerts requiring medical staff nearby just to assist those who have met their neighbours in this special way!

Now, I don't really give a shit if other people want to beat the shit out of each other; and, I guess the advent of the mosh pit provides those losers with a segregated space to pummel one another. My point is that the advent of slam-dancing and, later, the mosh pit, coincides with a breakdown of a simple social tool that has kept neighbours from destroying each other: manners!

I am NOT talking etiquette here. I don't think it would ever matter if everyone lost the ability to set the table properly, or ask a father for his daughter's hand in marriage, or RSVP a social event. I'm talking manners: the use of phrases like "excuse me," "please" and "thank you"!

What was my point, again? Oh, yeah! Those of us in urban settings live in a crowded environment filled with strangers with whom we must share subway cars, roads, stores, hallways, waiting areas, and other public places. As our population expands, all of these places have become more crowded. Longer lines, cramped buses, busier streets!

I have found that manners are a great help in these close quarters. Saying `excuse me' opens spaces I thought could never be penetrated! Nothing irritates me more, though, than hearing someone let out a big exaggerated sigh when a fellow citizen makes a blunder that results in discomfort or delayed service. It's so childish to let out a big sigh, especially if it is accompanied with a click of the tongue, because we do not like what is happening.

Unfortunately for me, the alternative to letting out a big sigh has often been to grab the offending person and shake them while screaming at the top of my lungs that they are stupid. I recommend AGAINST this method of communicating frustration (especially in banks, department stores and subway cars as there are often plenty of witnesses). Hmmm, maybe letting out a sigh would be better.

One rude trend over the past decade is the use of a backpack in place of a purse or briefcase. Now, the backpack is a brilliant invention: it allows a person to carry a lot of stuff in a comfortable manner over a long distance, while keeping the hands free for balance and more complicated moves associated with locomotion. The backpack was invented for people making journeys that include a certain amount of hiking, mountaineering, fording, and generally rugged activity. It is a brilliant device for these activities! I do not believe it is an effective tool for adults to carry Clinique products from home to office to restaurant to bar to home again.

When you carry a briefcase or purse, it is clear that it is taking up space either dangling from your hand or slung over your shoulder. This addition to your person is clear and learning how to accommodate it in a public place is relatively simple: hold it closer to your body to minimize the impact the object is having on those around you. Humans are remarkably adept at keeping their purses and briefcases, whether in their hand or on their shoulder, from intruding into the space required by others on a crowded street, elevator, or other public space. The presence of these accessories is obvious because they are generally in our line of vision. It is easy to accommodate something you can see.

For all of its remarkable benefits, the backpack (or the knapsack, as it was called when I was a Boy Scout) has one problem: deception. When in use, a backpack is not in your line of vision, and, therefore, is impossible to accommodate.

A woman who is five feet tall and weighs a hundred pounds requires a certain small amount of space in a subway car. Even when she has in her possession an extra pair of pumps, bad lipstick, eye-liner, mascara, blush, appointment book, address book, feminine hygiene products, tissues, nail polish, writing implements, an Humberto Eco paperback, portable CD player with selection of CDs, hairbrush, condoms, mobile phone and beeper, all strategically arranged in a purse, she requires a remarkably small amount of space on the Red Line! Well, OK, a six-foot, two hundred pound man carrying those same items in the same manner, also requires a remarkably small amount of space, even standing on the Green Line! This person can easily manoeuvre during rush hour to accommodate other passengers trying to board and depart the cramped car.

Take the same person carrying the same essentials in a backpack and all hell breaks loose. This petite or hefty human being has now doubled their space requirements and, worse, every movement they make is an intrusion on the people around them because they are totally oblivious of the impact their luggage is having on their neighbours. Worse, when their idiotic choice of accessory gets caught on the face of an elderly man standing behind them, they simply apply more force to swing their synthetic appendage free of obstruction! Ouch!

Tell me you haven't seen this! I have far too much experience riding public transportation in Boston, New York, and London, to believe that you have not seen this! If you've not seen it, choose the London Tube for your first experience. This utter failure of public infrastructure to accommodate the human body without the addition of a backpack would be humorous if it wasn't so embarrassingly sad; with a backpack it is a comedy of errors that even Dante could not have imagined for his circles of Hell.

So, you never take public transportation and you think that your backpack does not have this same impact. I offer the following!

You take your car everywhere! This choice is, no doubt, rooted in your experience of how unpleasant people can be on public transportation. So, you open your car door, toss the backpack into the backseat and make your merry way from home to work/school to restaurant to bar to home again. Your backpack has no impact on your fellow man because it is safely ensconced in your private space!

This brings me to another issue in the breakdown of manners in our culture: double-parking.

What is it in the human mind that says: "Gee, there are no convenient parking spots near my dry cleaner, I'll just put on my flashers and leave the car here in a lane of traffic. I'll only be a minute"? This can be only one of two things: (1) a form of mental illness bordering on psychotic, or (2) bad manners.

The most remarkable display of this idiocy is that stretch of Beacon Street, in Boston, from Arlington Street to Charlesgate East. Here is a street that has been designed with FIVE lanes, and it is constantly jammed with traffic, because so many drivers have turned two of the three driving lanes into extra parking! Let's not even get into the discussion of why a person living in the Back Bay would own a car in the first place!

Why the cities of Boston, Cambridge, and Somerville have continued to allow residents to park on congested urban streets is beyond any sane reasoning. I guess that sanity has never been a criteria for the decisions made by New England municipalities. On the other hand, the Town of Brookline very successfully discourages cars with their ban on overnight parking. The block in Manhattan where my wife and I have an apartment, allows no parking at all ever. I am loath to even pull over to unload luggage or bundles or people, lest I be fined (are you ready for this?) $200 and TWO POINTS on my insurance. Our street in New York never suffers from double-parking!

A brilliant solution! The neighbourhood in London where we have an apartment is in the "ring of steel" and allows no on-street parking anywhere. (I am typing this in London, which explains why the computer continues to `correct' all the words to the British spelling.) However, the reason for the ban on parking around our London apartment is rooted in twenty years of car bombs meant as a wake-up call to what is left of The Empire, as opposed to any logical urban planning. I digress.

The equivalent of verbally assaulting a double parker is the beeping of the horn. When I lean on the horn, I am letting everybody know that I think the offender is an idiot, much like grabbing the poor soul in the bank and screaming at him or her. There is a split second of self-righteous relief followed by embarrassment and possible arrest!

A total ban on parking certainly reduces the amount of double-parking! But, this is not the real problem. The issue here is that we are a culture of people who have lost all sense of our real place in the scheme of things! That simple social tool of manners that has helped human beings coexist for millennia has been abandoned in favour of getting what I want when I want it, which is NOW!

I am likely just as guilty as the next guy when it comes to being inconsiderate; but, I would never use a piece of camping equipment as a fashion accessory, and I don't double-park. I have decided, however, to stay out of prison by no longer throttling your pretty little neck when you whack me with your backpack and I promise I will not slam into your driver-side door when you double park. I will close my eyes and let out a sigh. Gee, that feels better already! I guess it's true what the girls say: Sighs Matter!

Friday, January 19, 2001

Another Week in London

Crossing the streets is still a major challenge. Though I try not to be adroit-centric, and I have always referred to Brits as driving on the 'other side' of the road and not the 'wrong side' of the road, I am beginning to think that I am too diplomatic in this regard. It seems that Brits want to Keep Right, too, even though their infrastructure is designed to Keep Left.

The confusion of keeping to the left or keeping to the right is epidemic here. Granted, I live and work in areas of London that are rife with foreigners (it is odd to be the foreigner in an English speaking culture); but, the problem is not just the direction the autos travel. People on the sidewalks and in the subways seem to want to Keep Right in an effort to avoid bumping into each other, and you see the confusion in their faces as they try to dance Left to stay out of each others' way. The tube stations even have signs that say Keep Left while everyone is veering to the Right! Now, these can not be ALL foreigners! A certain percentage of the population in London's financial District (The City) must be from the UK!

In some tube stations, all the escalators will be 'opposite' of what you expect and pedestrians will be all mixed up trying to avoid going up-the-down-staircase, and vice versa. Suddenly, you will approach a set of escalators that are moving in the opposite (correct) direction as all the rest, and the crowd of pedestrians attempting to manoeuvre around is like something out of a Bunuel film!

Fortunately, when dealing with vehicular traffic, the City government has taken to painting in the crosswalk 'Look Left' and 'Look Right' so that we know the direction from which the traffic will strike us.

I am convinced that I am not adroit-centric: I do not think that people SHOULD or SHOULD NOT Keep Right to help traffic flow properly; but, I think that people's natural inclination is to do such. I would like to hear from my left-handed friends if they find adroit-centric cultures to be gauche-phobic, and if they would be more comfortable in a British culture that has you Keep Left.

On another note: it snowed in London today. Or, at least it snowed 18 stories up. It was pretty to look through the snow at The Thames, and Tower Bridge, and the Tower of London. I'm still not adjusted to the antiquity of much of The City.

Visited the National Gallery. What a remarkable collection. We took pix from the front entrance which overlooks Trafalgar Square with Big Ben in the background. As far apart as everything seems, it is all rather close together.

Our apartment is at St. Paul's Cathedral, a few metres in from the Churchyard, half a block North of Queen Victoria Street. The Churchyard becomes Fleet Street, which becomes The Strand, which runs along the West End, past Trafalgar Square and becomes Pall Mall. (Total of about 1.5 miles.) Yes, it took me two weeks to figure that out!

It's easy to miss America! The challenge is (and an exciting challenge it is) to find all the wonderful differences that make London a great city. This weekend is Islington, just North of The City.

Next week, Anne and I are going to Amsterdam.


Monday, January 01, 2001


Well, it is a New Year in London, too! Happy New Year to you!

Sometimes it rains in London -- did you know that?

I arrived at our London apartment safe and late around noon on 30 JAN. My flight out of JFK had been delayed by two plus hours and I got out of the States just before that lovely storm. After a nap, I settled in front of the television (well, OK, the telly) with my lovely bride and tuned into CNN for news about the storm. Lo and behold, the first report about the snow was from Herald Square and the video clip was of our apartment building before they panned around to show Macy's! I think that the moon must be in the seventh house and Jupiter aligned with Mars, because little things like this keep happening to us.

It was 50F on New Year's Eve, and the little bit of snow that had fallen in Southern England was gone before I got to enjoy it.

Sometimes it rains in London -- did you know that?

Anne had made dinner reservations for us at Asia de Cuba, a restaurant at Ian Schraeger's St. Martin Hotel, in the West End. We ate from 7pm - 9pm and the feast was: Salmon and Citrus Cocktail, Beef Carpaccio Szechuan Salad, Braised Duck with Bok Choy and Apple-y fruit Compote, and Chocolate Sushi on Baked Pineapple with Passion Fruit Creme Fraiche. Remarkable!

We then retired to the champagne bar with three friends who also had dinner in the same room. The five of us carried on until 11pm, when they retired to some trendy disco for an overnight of dancing. Anne and I relaxed alone until it got to be midnight, then we joined up for champagne and/or seltzer (depending on your allergies) with a group of five Brits and Americans until about 130am.

It seemed like a sensible time to get home, so we left the hotel, made our way to Leicester Square just on time to see the tube station shutdown and a line of bobbies force the rather rowdy crowd back in the direction of the hotel. If you are moved one way or the other about Times Square on New Year's Eve, then you should (or shouldn't) see Leicester Square that night! We did not know that the entire West End would be barricaded and the tube shut -- hence, we had no means of transportation home. Although we live only about a mile from the West End (maybe less), I really had no idea which streets would take us to Strand, then Fleet Street, then St. Paul's Churchyard to home. So, back to the hotel we went.

Sometimes it rains in London -- did you know that?

The doorman remembered us, which is further proof that formal attire makes you stand out in a crowd, and he allowed us back in. His estimation was that the roads would be re-opened at 230am, and we could get home then.

We rejoined our little group in the champagne bar and continued our New York vs. London conversation about real estate, and salaries, and culture, and manners, and child rearing.

At 230am, I called the car service and they regretted to inform me that the roads would be closed until 4am!!! So, we decided to stay at the hotel. The room was not as grossly over-priced as I expected; unless you view it from the perspective that we used it for only five hours!

The St. Martin is a wonderful hotel in the vein of Morgan's at Madison and 39th, in NYC. Very hip, well appointed, contemporary and moderne. Comfortable -- perfect for a couple of big babies.

I called housekeeping for toothbrushes and toothpaste, and they admitted that they did not expect such a crowd overnight and they had run out of toothbrushes, I should call back in the morning. When I called back a few hours later therer were still no toothbrushes; but, housekeeping could transfer me to the gift shop to see if they had any. Now, I have stayed in many hotels in many different cities. Some have been dramatically inferior to the St. Martin and many have been far superior; some of my hotel stays have been drop-of-the-hat overnighters, others were business trips or vacations. At every hotel, I have been able to get basic toiletries (soap, shampoo, toothbrush, and the like) with no difficulty and at no cost. Though I was a bit surprised that a hotel of this calibre would run out of toothbrushes on New Year's Eve, I was relieved that the gift shop said they would sent two toothbrushes and a tube of MacLeans (how sixties!) right up for us!

Imagine my surprise when I had to sign a receipt for £13! This hotel was now charging me $20.00 for toothbrushes after we'd just dropped £1,000 celebrating New Year's with them! I am still a bit peeved about it, and a letter is already in draft form. I mean, I do not mind paying my fair share for goods and services, but there is something really dirty and vulgar about charging twenty bucks for toothbrushes. Generally, I do not complain to an establishment about policies and services, but I made my feelings known to the girl who checked us out and she was more embarrassed than I was angry -- but, she was not sophisticated enough to remove it from the bill.

It has been more than 20 years since I had to make my way home in the morning wearing the same clothes as the night before. It is a sensation that I will never enjoy. The only thing that made is palatable on 01/01/01 was that the quality of my clothes has improved so much over the decades! If you must be seen in public the next morning, trying to make your way home from the night before, I definitely recommend a tuxedo; people are much nicer to you!

So, I am settling in for a couple months in London. It's really a wonderful place.

Did you watch "2001: A Space Odyssey" yet?

God Save The Queen (we mean it, man!)