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UNCLE JACK'S WEBLOG
Sunday, January 29, 2006
Gung Hey Fat Choy everybody!

    Our penultimate day in London happened to coincide this year with Chinese New Year's Day which ushers in the Year of the Dog. (If you happen to own a Pekinese this is your year). Chinatown is only a couple of blocks away from our apartment so it was easy for us to mingle with the approximately 200,000 people from other parts of the city who descend on Soho for this event every year (and also easy to escape).


      We will celebrate the new year quietly tomorrow night with a last dinner at our favorite Chinese restaurant, Y Ming, where the crispy duck is without equal in London.  Early Tuesday morning we head for Heathrow for our flight to Rome and then catch a train to Naples where we catch another train for Sorrento. Tuesday will be a long day but it will be worth it to see the sun again and to bask in temperatures which might reach 60 if we are lucky.  Weatherwise London has been the pits.


     The management of the Antiche Dura hotel in Sorrento has promised high speed wireless internet in our room which is like going to heaven after enduring five weeks of frustrating dial-up connections.  Stay tuned for lots of pictures from Sorrento, Pompeii, Herculaneum, Amalfi, the Isle of  Capri and other attractions of the Neapolitan Riviera as they call it in the travel brochures.


      



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A small part of the New Year's Day crowd in Gerrard Street in the heart of Chinatown which is part of Soho.

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The boarded-up storefronts in the background signal the demolition (soon) of that building to make way for a modern Chinese Mall. Developers have been trying to ram this through the Westminster planning department for years and have finally succeeded.

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Festivities in Trafalgar Square required three masters of ceremonies speaking three different languages: English, Cantonese and Mandarin. About 80,000 Chinese people live in London.

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The Mayor of London has run most of the pigeons out of Trafalgar Square but a few of them always turn up for special occasions like Chinese New Year.

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As always the military recruiters were on hand to offer young people free trips to exotic places like Afghanistan and Iraq just for signing up.

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We were delighted to see this little yellow Mini on the way to Wigmore Hall this morning for a concert by the Nash Ensemble. (Our last visit to the Wigmore this year)

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This racy looking Mini was parked in Camden Passage yesterday where we did some antique shopping before seeing Sam Shepard's incomprehensible play "The Late Henry Moss" at the Almeida Theatre.

posted by Uncle Jack at 3:37 PM

Comments [4]



Wednesday, January 25, 2006
London January 25, 2006

      It was exceedingly cold again today---ideal weather for our annual visit to the Victoria and Albert Museum in Kensington.  "Queen Victoria's Attic" as it is known to the locals is one of the world's greatest repositories of stuff and always fun to wander around in no matter how many times you have been there.


    



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One of the two main entrances to the V & A.

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Interior courtyard. Last year at this time it was all torn up but now it's ready for summertime visitors.

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Part of the old original building facing the courtyard.

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An ornate interior stairwell in the original building with tiled stairways and floors and frescoed walls. No expense was spared by the builders back in the mid-nineteenth century.

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The silver hall contains the largest collection of silver objects in the world---over 12,000 pieces, some of them truly spectacular.

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Like this monumental wine cooler.

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And these three lions.

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John Millais grew up to be a famous painter. He did this large oil when he was 15 years old.

posted by Uncle Jack at 5:06 PM

Comments [4]



Tuesday, January 24, 2006
The CRC bears watching

    Nothing very interesting to report from London in the last couple of days so Uncle Jack would like to pass on a letter he received from Ray Midgett yesterday.  The letter will (hopefully) be published in the local papers soon but in case you don't have access to them here it is:

 

 

For years, Dare County officials and other government leaders have told us that beach nourishment is intended for rebuilding the public beach and protecting public infrastructure . In no way, they say, would oceanfront property owners benefit, by being able to build on formerly unbuildable lots after renourishment has been paid for with public funds.

 

Well, guess what, folks.  A story printed in the January 14, 2006 issue of the Raleigh News & Observer says, "... the state panel that sets coastal policy wants to reassess the rule and perhaps relax it, making more beach land available for development."  Of course,  they are referring to none other than our 15-member Coastal Resources Commission, which has, among its members, Nags Head Mayor, Renee Cahoon and former Dare County Commissioner, Doug Langford, both strong proponents for beach nourishment.

 

What does this mean for the Dare County taxpayer?  Well, listen to Mayor Harry Simmons of Caswell Beach, who is past president of the North Carolina Shore and Beach Preservation Association and current president of the American Shore! and Beach Preservation Association; two groups that, given the chance, would pump beach sand from here to Raleigh. In the article, Simmons said, "...the question is not whether more property could be developed, but what is fair for (oceanfront)  property owners.  Vegetation that grows up on renourished wider beaches should be used to measure setbacks."

 

Now, do you hear the train-a-coming?  

 

Todd Miller, executive director of the environmental group, North Carolina Coastal Federation, is trying to combat the move.  "...our concern is, once we open this up, there is a lot of pressure to use renourishment to make unbuildable lots buildable on the oceanfront," Miller said.  

 

  Meanwhile,  the "special interests" on the Outer Banks are telling the working families, to pay the sand tax first; and not worry, because one day the oceanfront investors will get huge assessments from our county commissioners.  And, they will continue to tell you the latter will never benefit from this endeavor.

 

There's no doubt where I'll mark my ballot on February 7th.

 

Ray Midgett

Southern Shores


 

posted by Uncle Jack at 12:18 PM

Comments [8]



Sunday, January 22, 2006
London January 22, 2005

     As everyone probably knows  the big news in London for the past couple of days has been the plight of  a bottle-nosed whale that somehow got confused and swam up the Thames to the heart of  downtown London.  After running aground several times in the shallow river rescuers tried to carry it back to the sea on a barge but it died en route.  The saga of the unfortunate cetacean was the front-page story in every newspaper (including the Guardian) this morning and it was truly heart-rending.


     A Guardian reporter heard a mother explain to her child that the whale had been separated from its pod.  Later the mother was overheard explaining that it wasn't the whale's iPod that was missing but rather its family and friends. 


       When not whale-watching Uncle Jack and Mrs. U.J. have continued to soak up culture for the past few days.  On Thursday afternoon they watched a magnificent performance of  Robert Bolt's prize-winning play "A Man for All Seasons" at the Royal Haymarket theatre.  It has supplanted Shaw's "You Never Can Tell" as their top-rated play of this season.  It doesn't have a happy ending (Sir Thomas More gets his head chopped off  for standing up to King Henry VIII) but it surely was inspiring.  


     Rain prevented a trip to the Bermondsey fleamarket on Friday but they did catch a noontime jazz session at a nearby pub.  This weekly event draws an enthusiastic crowd of superannuated traditional jazz lovers but the music, unfortunately, just isn't very good. New Orleans has spoiled us.


     Saturday was sunny and bright all day long (or more accurately all day short) so we strolled over to the Wallace Collection to view a special show of memorabilia from the life of  the English writer Anthony Powell, author of the twelve-volume saga known collectively as "A Dance to the Music of  Time".  Neither Uncle Jack nor Mrs. U.J. has read any of his books but they are now inspired to read them all.


      The Wallace is Uncle Jack's favorite small museum in London and not just because of its fabulous collection of  Bouchard nudes.  It never ceases to amuse him that paintings like these (which make Playboy centerfolds look timid) were proudly displayed in the living rooms of proper English families in the 19th century but would be considered pornographic in some circles today.


     This morning they plowed through a few sections of the Sunday Observer before heading for the British Museum to look at Roman antiquities in preparation for their first visit to Rome next month.  After two hours of browsing he can say with complete certainty that they are not yet ready for Rome.


      It was sunny again all day today.  Londoners were wandering around in a daze and so were we.    


     


 



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Plaque sighted on the way to the Wallace Collection.

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The Wallace family lived in this handsome house in Marylebone for a couple of centuries and then left it and its contents with a huge endowment for the enjoyment and edification of the public.

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Original old 1960's Mini in mint condition parked on Marylebone Lane near Biggle's sausage shop.

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Roman soldier's body armor made from crocodile skin. Is kevlar really any better Uncle Jack wonders.

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Exquisite mosaic floor from a Roman house featuring some familiar sea creatures. You can't get anything like this at Home Depot.

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The basement jazz parlor at the Spice of Life pub. Last year the smoke would have been thick in this room but now it is strictly no-smoking, as are many pubs in London.

posted by Uncle Jack at 4:32 PM

Comments [3]



Friday, January 20, 2006
Sand Tax Referendum

    Uncle Jack is sorry that he and Mrs. U.J. cannot afford to fly back from Rome to vote for repeal of the County sand tax but he did take time to write a letter to the local papers which he hopes will get published before the referendum takes place in February.


     Your comments are welcome as always.


To the Editor:


Inasmuch as the League of Women Voters is unlikely to weigh in on the forthcoming sales tax referendum I would like to try to fill the information gap by providing my own Voters’ Guide for Dare county citizens who may not have yet made up their minds on this issue.


Question: Who should vote AGAINST repeal of the 1% county sales tax earmarked for “beach renourishment”?


Answer: If you own oceanfront property in Dare county, especially in Nags Head, Kill Devil Hills and Kitty Hawk where most of the money would apparently be spent (although nobody seems to know for sure) it would probably be in your best pecuniary interest to vote against repeal. This is especially true if you are more interested in prolonging the economic life of your property than you are in preserving our beautiful beaches in their natural state. There is always a possibility that dumping millions of dollars worth of dredge spoil on our existing beaches will prevent some structures (maybe yours!) from washing away quite as soon as they will otherwise and as long as other people are paying for most of it you don’t have much to lose (except for the pristine natural beach that now fronts your property.)


Question: Who should vote FOR repeal of the 1% county sales tax earmarked for “beach renourishment”?


Answer: Every thinking voter in Dare County who does not fall into the category described above.


(End of Voters’ Guide)


I would be the first to admit that my Voters’ Guide sounds a bit facetious but I believe that it comes much closer to the truth about “beach renourishment” than most of the self-serving (and expensive) propaganda with which various special interest groups have flooded the county recently.


It would take a book (“The Beaches are Moving” by Dr. Orrin Pilkey of Duke is a good one) to refute most of the half-truths and outright untruths contained in these blatant efforts to frighten Dare county voters into embarking on a never-ending fool’s journey.


In the end it probably boils down to what you believe about the present and long term relationship of barrier islands like the Outer Banks and the ocean which has been besieging them for millennia and which will continue to pound away at them (probably with even greater ferocity) into the foreseeable future. If you believe, in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, that we mortals can draw a line in the sand at this particular moment in geological time and stop the ocean in its tracks simply by dumping and redumping countless millions of dollars worth of dredge spoil in front of our existing oceanfront follies from now until Kingdom come, then by all means vote to keep the tax.


If you have taken the time to educate yourself about what has happened in other communities where vast amounts of money have been squandered in futile efforts to keep the ocean at bay---or if you have simply watched over a million dollars worth of imported sand “go to sea” right here in Dare county in the past couple of years---you will surely vote to repeal this senseless tax.


Jack Sandberg


Box 554


Nags Head










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Your tax dollars at work in previous efforts to stop Mother Nature in her tracks in South Nags Head. Fortunately this mess has all been washed away.

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Berm-building at a cost of millions. Another expensive exercise in futility. Most of the trucked-in sand in South Nags Head has long since washed away. What a waste.

posted by Uncle Jack at 4:08 PM

Comments [9]



Thursday, January 19, 2006
London January 18, 2005

      It has been another gloomy, drizzly week in London so far but fortunately there are plenty of interesting things to see and do to take a happy tourist's mind off the weather.


     After doing a heavy shop on Tuesday morning (veggies and fruit from the Berwick street market, beer and wine from the Tesco,  fish from the Chinese fishmonger who is sandwiched between two theaters on Shaftesbury avenue, and bread from Paul in Covent Garden) we took in a free noontime concert at St.-Martin-in-the-Fields church.  The excellent pianist was a young lady from Greece named Evi Giamopoulou who played some Debussy and Liszt and a rousing "Ionian Suite" by a countryman named Xadjidakis (whose name gave Uncle Jack's spellchecker fits for a moment).


      Unaccustomed to being in church Uncle Jack mistook the kneeler in front of him for a footrest and accidentally knocked it over just as the pianist was ready to begin her first number.  It sounded like a bomb going off in the hushed room but she recovered quickly which is more than Uncle Jack can say for himself. St. Martin's is a hotbed of musical activity all week long with many free daytime performances and several evening concerts at very reasonable prices.  Sir Neville Marriner's ghost can be seen hanging about from time to time.


      Earlier today (Wednesday) we strolled down to Somerset House on the Thames near Waterloo Bridge to peruse three special exhibits that are now showing in the Hermitage Gallery rooms.  One was a collection of 18th and 19th watercolors by the likes of Gainsborough, Edward Lear, William Cruickshanks and J.M.W. Turner, mostly of English pastoral scenes.  Lovely.  (One of the major benefactors of the Hermitage Gallery is a Russian oil billionaire named Khodorkovsky who recently went to prison accused by President Putin stealing the people's money.  No such claims have been made about the English National Lottery which does the same thing in effect)


     In another room 36 recent watercolors by the contemporary English artist David Hockney of bucolic scenes in his native Yorkshire provided an interesting contrast, not only with the work of the earlier artists but also with his own previous work which is very modern and often enigmatic.


     Also included in the modest price of admission was a collection of astonishing work by Italian artisans, mostly 18th century, who made elaborate pictures of all kinds out of colored stones.  They have to be seen to be believed but even after he has seen them Uncle Jack is mystified as to how they could have been made.


       Returning home from Somerset House late this afternoon they paused for refreshment in their favorite London pub, the Nags Head in Covent Garden near the Royal Opera.  It was starting to fill up with the thirsty after-work crowd when they arrived but a comfortable booth was still available in which they could sip a couple of half-pints of the dark stuff before resuming their uphill trek to Soho Square.


       With less than two weeks remaining in London their thoughts have begun to turn toward Rome which is terra incognita for both of them.  If any readers have suggestions about the best area to stay in, restaurants, etc. we would be most grateful to receive them.  Thanks. 


       


    



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Newshounds clog the sidewalk in front of the Football Association's headquarters in Soho Square where yet another hearing on yet another scandal took place earlier today. If it isn't drugs it's something else.

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Public ice-skating rink in front of Somerset House which operates through the month of January. The building once housed government offices but now is mostly occupied by galleries, including the Courtald.

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Sikh and ye shall find. A turbaned skater enjoys the rink at Somerset House.

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Exterior of the classic Nags Head pub at dusk. (4 p.m. and it's almost dark already)

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Inside, though, it's always cozy and bright.

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A group of Nags Head pub regulars hard at work developing their beer guts.

posted by Uncle Jack at 4:05 AM

Comments [7]



Monday, January 16, 2006
London January 16, 2006

   Saturday and Sunday were uncommonly nice days in London (meaning it didn't rain) so Uncle Jack, Mrs. U.J. and Emily made the most of them.  After a visit to the National Gallery on Saturday morning they looked in at the Russian Festival in Trafalgar Square but did not stick around because it looked more like a beer blast in the making than an authentic cultural event.  (The rector of St. Martin-in-the-Fields church which adjoins the Square complained that it would turn the area around the church into a public urinal after dark but his pleas went unheeded by the Westminster Council).


     While in the Square they saw for the first time the extremely controversial sculpture which now occupies the previously empty "4th plinth".  (The other three support statues of various English notables).  It is called "Alison Lapper Pregnant" and the story of how it came to be there is fascinating.  Uncle Jack does not have room here to explain but if you would like to learn more he suggests that you Google "Alison Lapper Pregnant".


     Mrs. U.J. snagged three half-price, front-row tickets to a matinee performance of George Bernard Shaw's "You Never Can Tell" at the Garrick Saturday. It turned out to be the most completely satisfying of all the plays we have seen so far. We laughed ourselves silly.


       Mrs. U.J. and Emily went shopping on Regent Street on Sunday while Uncle Jack plowed through the Sunday Observer which presents at least as big a challenge as the Sunday New York Times. There is much political turmoil here at the moment with both the Tories and the Liberal Democrats selecting new leaders who will try to mount a challenge to Tony Blair's Labor Party when he decides to step down, possibly during the coming year.  A piece by an Observer writer on New Orleans in the aftermath of Katrina was as perceptive as anything Uncle Jack has read on the subject in any American publication.


        Emily reluctantly headed for Heathrow this morning while he and Mrs. U.J. took a big red bus to the Tate Modern Gallery across the river from St. Paul's Cathedral. The Tate Modern is London's major repository of contemporary "art" and is always a source of amusement and bewilderment for them.  The special show at the moment is of the work of the strange late 19th century French artist Henri Rousseau whose forte was large paintings of  jungle scenes even though he never left Paris. The paintings are rather wacky but much more appealing and accessible than most of the alleged art in the Tate Modern.


     Rain returned to London today but from what he has been reading on the OBX message board he should not complain.  There is no snow,  the temperature is in the high 40's and the wind is not blowing out of the north at 30 knots.  Not bad at all.


 


 


 


 



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Alison Lapper Pregnant.

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The clock at the Swiss Centre in Leicester Square. Every hour on the hour it puts on a wonderful show with a parade of figurines like these.

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Karl Marx lived in this flat on Dean Street in Soho when he wrote "Das Kapital". He couldn't afford to live there today and neither could Uncle Jack.

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The south facade of St. Paul's is now being cleaned and is concealed behind a plastic curtain upon which a picture of the building has been painted. God presumably knows how they did it.

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The "Millenium Footbridge" connects St. Paul's with the Tate Modern which is the former power plant with the tall smokestack straight ahead.

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The enormous turbine room of the Tate is now occupied by this "sculpture" by one of Britain's most prestigious artists, Rachel Whiteread. Looks a bit like Ice Carnival in St. Paul but it's all plastic. Lottery dollars at work.

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The main entrance to St.Paul's, all spanking clean after a good washing that took well over a year to accomplish.

posted by Uncle Jack at 3:26 PM

Comments [6]



Friday, January 13, 2006
London, January 13, 2005

    Recent activities include a visit to the Tate Britain yesterday afternoon,  a play by Luigi Pirandello at the ancient Playhouse Theatre last night, a concert at the Royal Academy of Music this afternoon and a sumptuous dinner at Y Ming,  an excellent Chinese restaurant in Soho tonight.  Tomorrow the National Gallery and a Russian Festival in Trafalgar Square.  Never a dull moment in London Town, even when the rockfish aren't running.



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Tourists pose in front of the Tate Britain gallery after perusing a show of works by Toulouse-Lautrec and Edgar Degas. The Tate is on the north bank of the Thames near the Vauxhall bridge and it's free to the public.

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This showroom near the Tate Gallery caught Uncle Jack's eye as they passed by on the bus. He has seen more Minis in London in the past few days than he saw on their two trips to the west coast and back last summer.

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This fabric shop on Regent Street is London's answer to the Cloth Barn in Manteo.

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Uncle Jack's only begotten daughter, Emily, poses outside the Sherlock Holmes pub on Northumberland street on the way home from the play last night.

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As a tourist attraction the pub has put together a recreation of Holmes's study and filled it with artifacts identified with many of his stories. Emily, a Sherlock Holmes scholar, recognized many of them.

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Lunch of gorgonzola cheese, walnut rye bread and Guinness in a Marylebone High Street pub before the concert at the Royal Academy of music. A feast fit for royalty.

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The Royal Academy of Music on Marylebone Road where some of England's finest student musicians give free concerts every Friday at noon.

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Biggle's famous sausage shop on Marylebone Lane where Mrs. U.J. picked up some Cumberland sausage for tomorrow night's dinner of "bangers and mash"---a traditional English favorite.

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Biggles is a national treasure and Uncle Jack can only hope that it won't go the way of so many specialty food shops in London that are being killed by the spread of supermarkets like Tesco.

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Blagdon the Fishmonger occupied these premises for over a hundred years until recently. Now it's a cutesie upscale children's clothing store. Sigh.

posted by Uncle Jack at 4:29 PM

Comments [4]



Wednesday, January 11, 2006
London, January 11, 2005

     Uncle Jack is pleased to report that it stopped raining at about 10:30 this morning and the sun came out and stayed out until it set at about 4:30, the longest period of  decent weather we have enjoyed in the past two weeks.


     It would have been a nice afternoon to go for a walk in one of London's many lovely parks but having had no warning of clement weather they spent it instead in the darkened confines of the Gielgud Theatre on Shaftesbury Avenue watching a delightful revival of  Agatha Christie's "And Then There Were None" (known as "Ten Little Indians" in the days before political correctness took hold).


      The play has absolutely no redeeming social value but it was the most completely enjoyable one we have seen in the past two weeks.  The acting, the plot, and the stagecraft rivalled the Theater of Dare in their perfection.  Another of  Agatha Christie's creations, "The Mousetrap",  has been running in London for over 50 years and Uncle Jack would not be surprised if this one did, too.


       Uncle Jack's only begotten daughter, Emily, arrived yesterday after a gruelling flight from San Francisco. She had recovered from jet lag enough to mush throught the rain with us last night to the White Hart pub to hear the marvelous jazz clarinetist Wally Fawkes again but alas it was not to be.  Since last Tuesday night the heavy hand of the Westminster bureaucracy had intervened and forbade the White Hart from offering live music until such time as they have procured a license to do so. Inasmuch as there is no profit in providing a venue for traditional jazz Uncle Jack would guess that they will forget about it. Sad but true.


      After that disappointment they trudged through the rain to a lovely old pub in the neighborhood called the Fitzroy, hoping to down a pint or two in congenial surroundings.  Alas the place was packed with young people, most of them smokers and none of them bookish from the looks of  their tattoos and piercings. So much for a night on the town in Soho.


      Tomorrow, weather permitting or not,  they are off by big red bus to the Tate Gallery for a show of London paintings by Degas, Toulouse Lautrec and Sickert, followed by dinner at their favorite Chinese restaurant in all the world---Y Ming on Greek Street in Soho.


     Pictures at 11.


    



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Our favorite stall at the Berwick Street outdoor market. After 200 years in the same location in Soho the market is now threatened by a redevelopment scheme.

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This unusual art work is on display in the window of a shop front undergoing renovation on Greek Street. It will probably wind up in the Tate Modern gallery and eventually sell for thousands.

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The parking police in Soho don't fool around. This car was lifted from its illegal space by crane. Parking fines are a major source of revenue for the Westminster government.

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This cheese shop on Shorts Gardens street in Covent Garden is a favorite of Londoners. Our clerk when we bought a hunk of Stilton this morning was from Philadelphia.

posted by Uncle Jack at 4:01 PM

Comments [2]



Saturday, January 7, 2006
London January 7, 2006

     Uncle Jack has been reminded of the post office motto this week as he and Mrs. U.J. have continued their headlong pursuit of  culture through rain and sleet and dark of night. There is so much to see and do in London that they cannot let themselves be intimidated by the weather.


      They did get to the Donmar theater on Thursday night to see Ibsen's mordant play "The Wild Duck" performed by a stellar cast.  According to the program notes Ibsen thought of this play as a "tragicomedy" but it was hard for Uncle Jack to discern anything remotely resembling humor in it.  It ends with the suicide of an adorable 14-year-old girl whom the audience comes to love dearly in the course of the evening.  Being a Swede himself, Uncle Jack has always thought Norwegians were a little strange and this confirms it.


     Yesterday they mushed through the mist to make their first visit of this trip to the National Portrait Gallery down Charing Cross Road near Leicester Square. Thanks to the generosity of  National Lottery losers the Portrait Gallery, like all of  Britain's great museums and galleries, is free to the public.


     They took in a couple of the special shows that are running right now but will save the rest for next week when Uncle Jack's only begotten daughter Emily will be visiting. He has always wanted to see an original Van Gogh self portrait and this is his chance.


      This morning they once again defied the elements and made the ten-minute trek to another of the neighborhood treasures, the British Museum,  where they spent two hours perusing the paintings, drawings and etchings of  one Samuel Palmer, a great (so they say) 19th century British artist whose special interest was bucolic landscapes full of  sheep and shepherds. Something tells him that Uncle Jack is going to enjoy the Rubens show at the National Gallery a lot more .


     Stay tuned.  He is going to try to take a few clandestine photos of some of the lusher Rubens nudes which he will be happy to share with his art-loving readers.


 


     



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The modest entrance to one of England's great treasures, facing Charing Cross Road almost directly across the street from another---St. Martin-in-the-Fields church.

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Entrance to the British Museum. Fortunately the roof doesn't leak so umbrellas are not needed inside.

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Part of the Great Hall of the British Museum. One of the most stunning public spaces in all of Britain if not the world.

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Part of a typical Saturday crowd at the British Museum. The place is so huge it can accommodate thousands without feeling crowded.

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Even on a crowded Saturday morning it is possible to be alone. ("I'll meet you under the horse"?)

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The magnificent Reading Room. This is where Karl Marx wrote "Das Kapital" because he couldn't afford to heat his grungy flat in Soho. It is now one of the better Wi-Fi hotspots in town.

posted by Uncle Jack at 2:40 PM

Comments [4]



Thursday, January 5, 2006
London Jan. 5, 2006

     Uncle Jack and Mrs. U.J. have been so busy pursuing culture while trying to stay warm at the same time that he has neglected his weblog for the past few days.  The sun is out this morning for the first time since they arrived over a week ago so they may be able to get in some recreational walking today.


     Fortunately the theaters and pubs (most of them anyway) have central heating so they have not been deprived of cultural pursuits. Yesterday afternoon, for example, they enjoyed a matinee performance of  a revival of  John Osborne's great play from the 1950's called "Epitaph for George Dillon" which deals with the timeless problem of the  artist's struggle to be true to his artistic vision while trying to make a living.  No happy ending but beautifully acted by a wonderful cast.  Woody Harrelson would have been totally out of his depth in this one.


     They spent Tuesday night in a pub called the White Hart on Drury Lane listening to and talking with two marvelous jazz musicians named Doug Murray and Wally Fawkes.  Doug is in his seventies and plays the piano (he was a trombonist until a smoking-induced bout with cancer of the larynx left him with a hole in the throat through which he now talks with the aid of an electronic voice-box).  Wally is one of  the U.K.'s best jazz clarinetists whose illustrious career in jazz is preserved in the 90+ recordings on which he can be heard playing with every great British group of the past 60 years.


      Wally is 81 but still plays with the energy and creativity of a man half his age and he doesn't look a day over 70.  Uncle Jack has been a fan of  Wally Fawkes since he first bought one of his disks 25 years ago and it was a real thrill to finally meet and hear him in person.


      What Uncle Jack didn't know is that Wally is even more famous in Britain as a cartoonist than as a musician. His work has appeared in major publications over here for decades under his nickname "Trog".  Failing eyesight forced him to give up his cartooning a couple of years ago but as he said, he never learned to read music so it hasn't interfered with his ability to make music.


     Wally and Doug will be back at the White Hart next Tuesday night augmented by another famous English jazz man, trumpeter John Chilton who has been playing alongside Wally for the past 50 years or so.  John Chilton is also a very well-known writer on jazz who has produced definitive biographies of several titans like Sidney Bechet, Louis Armstrong and Roy Eldridge.  Needless to say Uncle Jack and Mrs. U.J. will be there.


      Tonight they are off to the Donmar Warehouse theater to see the widely acclaimed revival of  Ibsen's "The Wild Duck" which has been completely sold out for its entire run.  Intrepid Mrs. U.J. got to the box office this morning just minutes after somebody returned two tickets for tonight's performance.  Miracles like that are enough to make a person forget the inclement weather.


     Almost.


      



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Wally Fawkes in full cry, pint at the ready. He consumed several during the three-hour session, all contributed by appreciative listeners like Uncle Jack and Mrs. U.J.

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The Al Quaida Scimitar and Baton Corps of Greater London marched in the New Year's Day parade. Those flailing blades were a little scary. (Actually Uncle Jack didn't know who they were).

posted by Uncle Jack at 8:46 AM

Comments [4]



Sunday, January 1, 2006
Happy New Year

The new year in London got off to a great start today as it always does with the annual New Year's Day parade,  a three-hour extravaganza that brings thousands of spectators to lower Regent Street and Piccadilly.  Fortunately the rain held off for the whole duration and a good time was held by all---including Uncle Jack and Mrs. Uncle Jack who took enough pictures to fill up the Elph's entire memory.


      He will send some more of them the next time he gets access to a broadband connection. The three pictures below took an eternity to upload and he no longer has the patience required to deal with dial-up speeds.


     An amazing number of  American high school and college marching bands took part in the parade.  Apparently the band booster clubs spend the entire year raising funds for this trip to London.  Uncle Jack shudders to think about the logistics involved and the responsibilities borne by the chaperones.  One excellent band came from Appalachian State University in Boone and another from Bristol, Virginia high school.


     Last night's gala New Years concert at Wigmore Hall was a delight.  The King's Consort choir sang the Brahms New Liebesleder Waltzes as well as some songs by Edward Elgar and a mass by Thomas Tallis.  We got home in plenty of time to watch the fireworks over the Thames at midnight.


     A very Happy New Year to all from Uncle Jack and Mrs. U.J.


 



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Not even the Lord Mayor goes out without an umbrella in London in January

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Garfield appears to be just as popular over here as he is in America. Further evidence of the decline of the west.

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This gent was part of an antique bicycle group who showed off their mastery of an assortment of old one, two and three-wheeled bikes. There were several near collisions in our vicinity but no casualties.

posted by Uncle Jack at 11:25 AM

Comments [7]




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Except for short hiatus in Baltimore Uncle Jack has lived in Nags Head for over 45 years. He was a columnist for the Outer Banks Current and its successor, the Outer Banks Sentinel, for 20 years. A collection of his columns is available from Amazon Kindle under the title Uncle Jack's Outer Banks. He and Mrs. Uncle Jack, aka Sue, live in South Nags Head whence he observes and sometimes comments on the passing parade.
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