Saturday, July 21, 2007

You think you have it bad ...

One week in England and it's fair to say it's not been our finest of trips.

Changeable weather at best and, on Sunday and Friday, monsoon-sized downpours. Ben has a hugely irritating mouth infection and our house in Ludlow has been letting in water. It took Sarah five hours to get back to London on Friday, escaping entrapment in the many flooded towns of middle England by the skin of her teeth. We saw half a day's cricket at Lord's today between the downpours.

Still, let's be thankful. Here are two other travelling parties that fared worse than us.

The first is the family group that booked our house to celebrate the parents' ruby wedding anniversary.

The children made it but the parents marked 40 years of wedded bliss with 85 others on blow-up beds in a school in the small Gloucestershire town of Ledbury where they were stranded by the floods, missing the special dinner they had booked at one of Ludlow's finest restaurants last night. Yet today when I spoke to the wife, she was hugely cheerful and completely without bitterness.

Worse perhaps was Chris Anderson of Wired/Long Tail fame. His Holiday from Hell as described on his blog needs no embellishment:

I'm just landed back in the US after what was, hands down, our worst vacation
ever. It was supposed to be a nice week in the UK with family, a week
in Normandy with the kids to speak French and then home. But everything
went wrong. We knew things were going to be funky when we tried to do all the
flying on frequent flier miles and could only get coach seats with extra stops
on inconvenient days, including red-eye legs. And we knew that I wouldn't have
Internet access in France (scary!). But it got oh so much worse.

I'll just list some of the catastrophes and you'll get a sense of my last 19 days. First,
that weird rash I had on my arm just before we left turned out to be Lyme
Disease (from a tick bite three days earlier). Fortunately the
rash looked like a blood infection in the hours before we got on the plane
so I went to the ER and they gave me an antibiotic prescription, which happens
to be the same way you treat Lyme Disease. So there was nothing to do but just
suffer what turned into a full-body rash, a fever, flu symptoms
and chronic joint pain. But that lasted for ten days, during which I was
just useless.

Then there was the small matter of the rain. It rained Every.
Single. Day. For 19 days. It rained in England (widespread flooding, and the
wettest June in history). It rained in France (also the wettest June in history,
and a good start on the wettest July). When we got back to England, it rained
some more. Those of you who tried to watch Wimbledon have a sense of what it was like.

Then the airlines lost our luggage TWICE. Once permanently. We had to
wear the same clothes for two week and share two toothbrushes between six
people. (Yes, I know we could have bought more toothbrushes, but they were eight
euros each at the airport and we refused on principle).

Then the youngest girl got head lice.

Then airports were attacked in the UK, so every check-in turned into a two-hour ordeal. The kids refused to speak French.

Indeed, despite a whole week of drilling in that very country, the youngest one still couldn't even remember the word French.

Now I'm at the airline lounge in Boston, waiting six and half hours for my flight home to San Francisco.

The only good that came from this fiasco is that it was so decisively terrible that I may never have to go for a whole-family vacation in Europe again. It's road trips to Tahoe and the beach from now on. Hurray!

Monday, July 09, 2007

The great outdoors

The days have long been good and warm here but now the evenings are following suit.
So time to join the open air cultural pursuits that make Barcelona such a fine place to be at this time of year.

First to the Montjuic Castle which sits atop of the city, for Sala Montjuic where they show a series of around 20 films on a big outdoor screen during July, all in original language.
5 euros to get in, 2 euros for a seat and Moritz beer and Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream on sale.
We went to see Singing in the Rain en famille. Ben fully in accordance that Make 'Em Laugh better than the title song and indeed, probably the best song and dance routine ever made. Smart boy.

Then last night to the Festival Grec, a summer series of plays, music and dance set mostly, but not exclusvely in the stunning Greek amphitheatre (above) in the same park. Gorgeous flower gardens, and as ever, they do these things well here with food and refreshment stalls dotted around the grounds.
Our schedule meant that last night's was the only event we could get to at the Grec and much as I love jazz, Medeski Scofield Martin & Wood, were several miles the wrong side of freeform funk for my liking (and make that several hundred in Sarah's case).
You half expected John Thompson fromJazz Club on The Fast Show to come on at and say 'Nice'. But you could never beat the setting

Friday, July 06, 2007

Goodbye to George Melly

'George Melly the jazz singer, author and raconteur who has died aged 80, leched, drank and blasphemed his way around the clubs and pubs of the British Isles and provided pleasure to the public for five decades' - The Daily Telegraph.

It would be remiss of me to let the death of George Melly pass without any comment.

The phrase 'They don't make them like that anymore' is much overused but that is truly the case with Melly. Apart from being a wonderful jazz singer, he was in his day one of the keenest chroniclers of popular culture, an expert on surrealism, cartoonist and general all-round icon of the louche pop/jazz/art demi-monde that was London and in particular Soho in the 1950s and 1960s.

His hair-raising lifestyle, long on drugs and multiple sexual personas and rather shorter on the feelings of others, is beautifully chronicled in the memoirs of his long-suffering wife Diana which will make the perfect summer read if you haven't got hold of it already.

I saw him many times in concert, always in his pre-Christmas residence at Ronnie Scott's, always finding time to go in case each gig might be his last.

As the years of good living took their toll, George's sets became ever shorter until the last one where he did about 20 minutes tops, sitting down wearing a rather sinister eyepatch. But he never failed to leave without several standing ovations from a packed house of devotees.

You then staggered out from Scott's to the Bar Italia across the road, stinking of cigarette smoke and having had too much crap wine and appalling food (the club is rather more upmarket these days). On more than one occasion one of our party was truly tired and emotional because, as Goerge might have said 'Someone had done them wrong' and they had attenpted to heal their wounds with too many office party gin and tonics followed by too much of the club's cut-price Valpolicella.

But it always was the most wonderful way to start Christmas in London.

PS Plentiful obits including The Guardian and The Times, which also supplies the following priceless piece of information:

'At school, Melly wrote, he once seduced the future Sunday Telegraph editor Sir Peregrine Worsthorne on a sofa, but he said that he found a 78rpm record by Bessie Smith was far more satisfying.'