Why do we go to the Theatre? or The National Theatre in London Rocks!


Why do we go to live theatre? It’s expensive, it’s awkward, it’s sometimes uncomfortable – and it can be risky. What if we don’t like the play? What if the main actor gets sick and we are stuck watching a 2nd rate understudy? What if the guy sitting directly in front of us is 6′ tall and has bushy hair? Honestly – Live theatre is such a challenging concept if you think about it.

And it’s not just a challenge to the audience member. Depending on the play – anywhere from 1 to a hundred performers have to get ready to entertain us – ushers have to be preped to find us our seats, concessionaires have to get their goods ready – ticket takers and ticket seller have to be on their toes. Musicians have to tune their instruments, conductors study the score, tech guys get their acts together. And then there are the behind the stage crews – lighting, costumes, stage managers, props – the list goes on and on.

So again – why bother. Why not do as a friend of mine suggested recently – stay home and watch You Tube – it’s just as good.

But actually – it isn’t. Not to me anyway.

There’s a special thrill you get when you hand in your ticket and take your seat. There’s the sharing with the other members of the audience – what have you heard about this play – will it be good? Will it thrill me? Will it challange me? Will I understand the dialogue? (Not a trivial question here in London – I’ve now been to 2 plays I didn’t totally understand – and I’m sure they were in English.) Will there be something amazing happening, or will this presentation be ho-hum? Will the tall person in front of me slump down in their seat when the curtain goes up?

I love that moment of anticipation just before the curtain goes up. And I admit to loving live theatre in general.

I’ll put up with a lot of discomfort to get in as much live theatre as I can – and that’s a lot of discomfort. I have issues getting to the theatre – here in London that has meant using the “Underground” and then walking. And in more cases than I care to think – getting lost. I spent 2 hours wandering the dark streets of downtown London after a recent performance (which wasn’t that great to start with) because I couldn’t find the sign for the Underground. I ask you – why do they love to hide those things! You can walk right by them – and never know it.

But I digress from my topic – which is really about the play I saw two nights ago. It has a terrible title really – “The Pacifists Guide to the War on Cancer”. Doesn’t sound like it’s going to be upbeat, eh? But I found cheap tickets (in London – that’s under $20 a seat) – and it was being performed on one of the stages the National Theatre – which I know how to find! Cheap seats, easy to find stage – I’m so on top of this!

So ticket scored – I take my weary body to the theatre, hoping that the performance will keep me awake – unlike my last outing to a disaster called “The Dresser”. Ugg.

First – food. One of the things I love about the National Theatre complex is the bookstore and restaurant selection. There’s a coffee shop, and at least 2 restaurants – a ‘lower’ cost option called “The Kitchen”, and a slightly higher cost option called “House”. Ok – I scored a cheap seat – I’ll splurge on dinner. And “House” has a 22 pound Table D’hote. That’s about $30 US – so the cost of the evening is under $50. If the play is good – I’ve done well!

Dinner is amazingly good – guided by the bar waitress – I go with her selection of Hake. That’s a rarely served fish in North America – but I’m not sure why. It was divine. And it came with some vegetables – and not just potatoes either. And they were warm and properly cooked. For dessert (2 course meal – I opted for Main and Dessert – spank me now) I had what was described as Coffee Brule – a take on a Creme Brule but made with coffee – and served as a stand-up custard with two thin slices of Pastasho Biscotti. Oh Man – Score! Great food – awesome bread – delicious butter – and all within a price range I could afford. Best of all – I could hang in my comfy seat until the last minute – I was already at the theatre!

On to the Show. The Dorfman Stage is reserved for new productions at the National Theatre – an off the ‘end’ beginners stage if you will. It’s a flexible stage – offering the designers options like thrust, modified-thrust, standard Procenium, etc. This play was in a modified-thrust format – so my ‘restricted’ view cheap seat wasn’t horrid. Most of the action was far forward – and I could see very well.

The designer starts the show off by explaining that talking about death and Cancer is never easy – even if all of us will die – and 1 of every 3 of us will die from Cancer. So they opted to make it a musical – in hopes of getting some kind of an audience to attend.

Apparently it has worked – the reviews were quite good, and the main ‘stalls’ on the ground floor were full. The upper ‘restricted’ view seats were quite empty – which worked in my favor – I paid for a 15 pound seat – but ended up in a 20 pound seat. I’m ok with that upgrade.

The story line is interesting. A woman and her young baby – carried in a chest pack like the one my daughter wears – starts the show by explaining that she’s not sure why, but the hospital has called her baby back in for tests. She sure that she’ll wake up tomorrow and this will be a bad dream – but meanwhile – she’s doing as she’s been told – bringing her baby in to the hospital.

The baby is taken away – for those undisclosed, undescribed tests – and she is left waiting for something, anything to happen. What happens is that she runs into a variety of other folks in the oncology section – a pregnant woman having her in-vitro baby tested for cancer, a chain smoking older man with lung cancer, a son and his mother facing the likelihood that he will never father a child, a woman in the final stages of cervical cancer, and the like.

Thru music, thru props, thru great acting, and thru a believable – if horrid – story line, the cast explores the war on Cancer – from the perspective of the unwilling victims. Memorable songs include a Western Stomp done with the ‘hospital staff’ wearing cardboard bedpans on their heads like cowboy hats, and a couple of stunningly beautiful ‘blues’ songs sung by the glorious lovely gal with ‘cervical’ cancer.

I was particularly taken aback by a piece about friendship – which poignantly points out that for many of the patients – their best friends are now their fellow patients – because they understand what is happening emotionally and physically to each other.

The piece dramatically and emotionally ends with the cast coming on stage – no longer in ‘costume’. They sit on stage and talk about what it is like to die (in most cases – quite peaceful apparently) and then they invite folks in the audience to say the name of a loved one who is ill or has died of Cancer.

It took me 20 minute to get back enough strength to start walking back to the tube. The security guard found me in the ladies room during his closing routine – good thing too – otherwise I’d have spent the night locked in the theatre.

This is why I go to the theatre – to remember why we go to the theatre.

Signing off – The Soup Lady

London Scavenger Hunt – Oddities you must find!


I’ve been roaming London – or at least some parts of London for several weeks now – and have decided that my readers need a London Scavenger Hunt!

This is not a radical idea – there’s actually a game in London – the newest version is called “Mind of the Maker – a cryptic trail for 4 people”. They charge 60 pounds (that’s about $80 US) and you get a series of text messages that lead you arround London. Reading the fine print – you’ll walk about 3 miles – and it will take about 3-4 hours. I think it sounds awesome – but hardly 3 week old baby friendly! So here’s my quick and dirty version.

Find these in London:

1. Sleeping Policeman. These are omni-present and fairly easy to find. Just drive a bit fast on any of the London roads and soon or later you’ll be thrown skywards as you sail over a hump in the road. Some stretches have 4 or 5 between blocks. I guess when the speedlimit is 20 KPH – that’s around 15 MPH – you need to constantly be reminding folks – slow down!

2. The “Way Out”. What happened to old fashioned “Exit”. Why are Emergency Exits called – “Exits”, but non-emergency – run of the mill – you always go this way – exits called “Way Out”. Way Out of here – Way in to there… Not sure – but it’s pretty consistent. You won’t have trouble finding these. Start in any Tube (Underground) Station and look around.

3. “Guard my Parking Spot” – Parking is a challenge in London – and if you’ve ‘paid’ for a spot, you don’t want to arrive home to find some horrid person has usuped your space. So – how do you prevent this from happening? Well – here in London – they have posts that are positioned in the middle of the front of these ‘parking spots’. These posts are about 2.5′ high – made of metal, and about 4″ in diameter. What makes them interesting – besides how effectively they guard your spot – is how they ‘disappear’ when the owner arrives. I spotted at least 2 options. There’s a manual version – you stop your car, get out, unlock your post, fold it down into a nifty under the ground trench, get back into your car and then park. To leave, reverse the process. These ‘manual’ versions can be spotted by the fairly substancial locks they have on the sides. But there is also a remote controlled version. In this case, the parking spot owner presses a remote, the door to the trench opens, the post falls down into the trench, the door closes. Then the owner parks. Londoners are very very serious about guarding their parking spots!

4. Swans. And Canadian Geese. And Ducks. But mostly Swans. There are lots of Swans that call London home – and I’ve been told that officially they all belong to the Queen. If true – she’s not doing a wonderful job of feeding them – but it works out. I’ve spotted kids and adults feeding swans – which generally results in a avairy feeding frenzy. The London Pigeon population is clearly growing – and they target the Swans as feeding companions. Feed me, feed my Pigeon.

5. Odd Clothing Sightings. I mention this in another blog – but really – it’s worth listing on a scavenger hunt list. Find 2 people dressed for opposite weather. Bet it won’t take long either. I’ve seen folks in Fur Coats followed by folks in Shorts more than once, kids will wear all manner of odd things – from fairy wings to pink Tutus. And the T-shirt collection on display is amazing. I’m wondering if anyone in London throws away anything remotely wearable. Speaking of which – there is an awesome 2nd hand market in Deptford on Wednesday, Friday and Saturday. We stumbled upon it by accident – but it’s written up everywhere. It’s a hoot – and you can probably spot anything your heart desires there.

6. Brellies. Londoners love their umbrellas – and sport them constantly – regardless of the actual weather. Be prepared for rain seems to be a universal motto – that basically all Brits follow without fail. There are big ones, folding ones, silly ones, standard ones – you name it – there’s an umbrella walking someplace close by – just keep your eyes peeled.

7. Bobbie Hats (the dome shaped variety please). Amazingly – these have not gone out of fashion! While phone booths are becoming hard to find (who besides Dr. Who uses one anyway), Bobbie hats aren’t that hard to spot. I asked for the rules on Bobbie hats – from a friendly Bobbie on my way to the Southwark Fireworks – and he explained that they are only worn by foot patrol officiers – as they are uncomfortable in a car! And they are intended to prevent ‘bad guys’ from bopping the Bobbies on the head. I suspect that they are also protection from horse riding, sword wielding fighters… but that seems to be perhaps a bit too historic.

8. Grenadier wearing a Bear Skin – on his HEAD. My husband owns several of these hats – tall, and terribly imposing, they are the standard head gear of the Grenadier’s of the British Foot. I’d start in front of the royal palace actually – but I actually spotted one at Picadilly Circus. The Coldstream Guards famously wear these when on parade duty.

9. Buskers. Not as many of these around as I’d kinda hoped actually – but again a good starting place is Picadilly. There are also ‘musical’ buskers in the tubes – particularly in the sections with long walks – check out Green Park when you change from the Jubliee to the Picadilly line.

10. (A good Scavenger hunt always has at least 10 things to find) – a ‘local’ with a crazy name. This should be a ‘walk in the park’ objective – there are pubs on every corner – and apparently they all have crazy names! I can never walk past the St. James of Bermonsey without thinking of going to church – and I really can’t understand what the owners of the “Jolly Taxpayer”, the “Blind Pig” and most famously the “Hung, Drawn, and Quartered” were thinking. But famously crazy isn’t really important – it’s what hits you as odd that satisfies this hunt objective.

Signing off to go look for more ‘oddities’ in London – The Soup Lady.

Doing Air BnB in London – the great and the not so good…


Why am I doing Air BnB in London you ask? My daughter lives here, she has a 2 bedroom flat – surely that should be enough. But I want to give my daughter, her fairly new husband and my adorable new grand-daughter space on their own – so I opted to stay near, but not too near.

Sharing space with family is a challenge – but surely sharing space with strangers would be easier.

And in many ways it has been. I’m on my 2nd Air BnB location – out of 5 or so that I thought looked acceptable, and I’ve been very pleased. What I haven’t been pleased about is how challenging it’s been to get an Air BnB booking.

Lets look at the process.

In theory, you go on line, you zoom in on the area you’d like to be in, you check out the options. There are pictures (often so amazingly amature that you wonder if they even look at their pictures before they post them), there are glowing descriptions (everyone loves their home of course), and there are reviews. And prices.

First off – the prices. What you see when you zoom in are prices that are never in fact what you will pay when you book. Never. For some reason, known I’m guessing only to the folks at Air BnB – they don’t include their fee in the displayed prices. And even so – the prices are often off. $50 Canadian a night on the dispaly turns into $55 Canadian a night when I try to book. And then the Air BnB fee is added on top. Why? It’s clearly a mystery, but it is consistent. Every single place I tried to book changed price between the initial look – and the actually – book me now phase.

2nd – the reviews. I know folks are desperate to get reviews – and if you are new – your options are limited. So often I suspect you ask your friends to book a stay – and for the price of the Air BnB fee – they get to ‘review’ you. Bottom line – beware the glowing reviews – particularly if there is only 1 or 2. These might not be real. It’s really a process of reading between the lines. If the reviewer has no ‘creds’, and the reviewed has no ‘creds’ – be careful.

But more interesting are the honest reviews – and the owner responses. One place I considered seriously mentioned that there were animals, and a tolerance for pets would be appreciated. I’m Ok with pets. So I read on. One of the reviews (very critical) mentions cat poop everywhere, urine everywhere, and continued with a complaint that the owner was exceeding slow to return her money. The owner response was typical – she had warned the guest that her cat was suffering kidney problems and wasn’t in control of her bowels. Wasn’t that enough?

Nope Hon, I don’t want to suffer thru your cat’s bowel issues. Even with a warning – I’m not that much of an animal lover. Take your unit out of Air BnB until the issue is cleared up. What were you thinking…

Ok – so lets say you’ve found a place that looks good, it’s in the right location, the reviews are ok, and the price hasn’t increased too much between first look and booking – so you click the ‘book now’ button. Only to find out from Air BnB that you don’t actually have a booking. The owner has 24 hours to respond.

Ok – so you wait. And in my case – twice – you wait and wait and wait. Do these people not check their email? Aren’t the messages Air BnB sends sufficient? Do they not look at their messages? Aren’t they serious about being hosts? What kind of hosts can they be if they just don’t respond to an inquiry. I’m trying to give you money – at least give me the respect of a response!

And I have to tell you – saying that you’ve been on holiday and are sorry it took so long doesn’t really make me feel that much better. All I can imagine is that you’ll ignore my emails as we get closer to my arrival date. Folks – if you are reading this and doring Air BnB – reply to inquiries. I beg of you.

My first stay was pretty painless – I was looking for a fairly long stay, the price was right, the location acceptable – they got back to me quickly – so I booked. Place was exactly as described – what wasn’t described were a couple of relatively small issues. The one bathroom, which we shared, had mold and water problems – which I was willing to ignore – and despite being in a large apartment building – the flat was on 4 floors! Enter on floor one, down a 1/2 flight to the living/dining/kitchen, down 1/2 flight to the bathroom, down 1/2 flight to the two oh so tiny bedrooms. Another oddity – they have lived here for 2 years – but there are empty picture hanging things on the walls. Everywhere. Did they take off art they thought would offend me? I asked – nope – they just hadn’t gotten around to putting pictures up on the hooks left by the last owner. Guess plaster and paint was too complicated. But I survived – and was willing to rebook for another 2 weeks. But after saying OK, I got an email saying that the host’s uncle had decided to visit – no room at the Inn for me.

Back to the Air BnB drawing board. I found several options that would work – and since I don’t want to double book – I pick one – and say book now. I wait the 24 hours – no response. So I go looking for another option. Not quite as convenient – but maybe they will answer. I say book now. Air BnB says – hey – you’ve tried to book two places for the same dates – it’s a risk that you shouldn’t be taking – so cancel one. So I cancel the first one.

And of course – the first one – who clearly reads cancelations faster than bookings emails me back – oh, I’m so sorry – blah, blah. So I say – You were my first choice for location – will you accept my booking – because if you will, I’ll cancel my 2nd choice (who is also ignoring my email) and book with you. Two attempts to get clarity later – and the answer is no. I’ve decided I need my space to work in for that period. Now I’m wondering – was it something I said? Because if I go back on Air BnB he’s still showing availability. I have 5 star ratings as a guest – so I don’t think that was the issue. Maybe it’s my desire for no smoking…?

Anyway – you don’t want me, I don’t want you! So I wait for the other guy. It says on the listing that smoking is permited, and I’m very non-smoking. So I ask about that. Turns out it’s a shared flat – all the bedrooms are occupied by guests (the host lives elsewhere), and one of the guests is a smoker. So Nope – that one isn’t going to work out either.

Back to the drawing board.

There is one unit that is located according to Air BnB in the middle of a waterway. Which is odd. But the waterway is close to my kids – so I decide to give them a try.

Turns out they are literally 50 yards from my kids – they just don’t know how to use the locate me option on Air BnB. That’s cool. And they sound good. I share a bathroom (bummerj), but I have my own bedroom – they both work all day so I have my run of the flat, the location is perfect – and they are non-smoking. No reviews – but I’m getting a bit panicy and no reviews is better than fake reviews – So I book it.

Some back and forth about how to get me the key ensues. They are firm about my coming only after 6:00 PM – they work – and they want to meet me. They won’t leave the key with the conceige, they won’t give the key to my daughter – they need to see me. I’m thinking new to Air BnB – and sure enough – I discover I’m their first guest.

But they are doing most things right. I’m actually impressed. They give me a shelf in the fridge for my use, they show me where the plates are kept (oddly – this is across from the kitchen in a side board thing), and they offer me a drink when I arrive. My room is lovingly furnished Ikea style – but there’s art, and a desk, and a nice double bed. I’d have loved a warmer blanket (I might ask for that tonight), and it would be nice if the pillows were firmer – and I have no where to hang my towel when it is damp – but otherwise – I’m happy.

And they seem quite friendly. It’s a BOYB (bring your own breakfast) place – but they supply coffee and milk, I can help myself to sugar, and there’s even Rice Krispies if I’m starving. It works.

So all is well that ends well. I didn’t get my first or 2nd choice – but I think that was for the best. This place is great.

Signing off to go hang out with Abigail Louise… The Soup Lady

London like a Local


I’ve been in London now for almost 2 months – and am beinging to feel local. Or at least as local as a very foreign older lady can possibly feel.

I love riding my bike thru the parks around the flat that my daughter and her darling husband own – I feel like one of the regulars as I ride by the same people walking the same dogs day after day.

I know I’m getting to be local because my coffee shop gal recognizes me – I’m a cappuchino with 3 sugars and no chocolate! She sees me open the door – or even just park my bike at her bike lock, and she starts my coffee. That plus a friendly smile definitely builds repeat business!

And I’ve price checked my morning coffee – the range is 2 GPB to 2.7 GPB – and more $$ doesn’t mean more coffee – my local gal is the lowest price with the largest serving – another reason to make her my go to coffee place.

I even know where my closest bus and tube stops are. There’s several near me, which turns out to be typical of most of London. What is really nice are the electronic scrolling signs that list the next 2 to 10 buses – depending on the stop. In Montreal, you have to phone up – but here in London, it’s super easy. Just know your destination – and you know when the next bus will arrive. I particularly like when it says ‘due’ as the bus pulls up to the sign.

Other signs that I’ve become local – I know the panhandlers by sight. There’s one man with a dog wearing one of those cones around his neck that is particularly distinctive.

And I’m learning some Cockney! My newest lessons – Completely Nackkered if you are very tired, or Cream Crackered if you really want to sound local. There’s also Done and Dusted for finished. And just last night I got told that the expression Quid pro Quo is the origin of the term Quid for a 1 pound coin. No wonder I only understand about 1/2 of what people say to me!

 But there are things about London that still amaze me.

The weather for starters is very odd. It’s already November – and it really feels like May – or maybe early September. I can go outside without a fall jacket – although I’ve seen kids – and adults wearing fur already. Seriously – it’s just not that cold. It is however always damp. It doesn’t rain that often apparently – but every morning I wake up to fog. I rarely go out without my rain jacket, but I also rarely need it after about 10:00 AM.

Another interesting thing – even though my kids live in a very residential area – there is always noise outside. Apparently Londoner’s deal with this omnipresent sound by having seriously sound proof windows. Last night, well past midnight – someone outside was setting off fireworks! In early November? Apparently – this isn’t as odd as I imagined.

Guy Fawkes day is November 5th – and it’s bigger here than Halloween – which the stores are trying to build into an event, but with limited success. I saw some folks in costume, generally near bars and pubs and odd ‘hangouts’, and there were a few kids dressed up – going I’m guessing – to a party or community gathering. I saw no one going from door to door – not on the street, nor in the hall of our condo building.

But Guy Fawkes day promises to be special. We’ve gotten ‘free’ tickets to the local borough fireworks display – the gates open at 5:00 PM, and close at 6:30 with the fireworks set to start at 8:00 PM. In between I suppose we’ll be chatting wiht our neighbors or visiting the food stalls. We shall see. I’m excited, but in the end, I might be glad it’s walking distance and free.

Things I haven’t done – I’ve done no theatre since my grand-daughter was born on October 14th. Not surprising I suppose, she’s a bit fussy at odd moments to chance in a theatre setting. And we’ve been eating in. I organized meal delivery from a wonderful company called “Gousto”. It’s an on-line, we deliver the groceries, you do the cooking, site, and it’s been absolutely perfect so far.

There are lots of these services springing up here, there and everywhere. There are at least 2 here in London – one of which features Jamie Oliver ‘meals’. But we like ‘Gousto’. The website is very easy to use, and there’s at least 9 recipes to choose from every week. The pictures look yummy – and we’ve now had 6 of their meals – all at least 3.5 stars – and some getting into the 4.5 level. This rating is by my daughter – who is a chef – and should definitely know good food when she eats it. I’ve been doing the cooking – which is what is truly amazing. You must know that I don’t cook – I make reservations. So when the challenge is to create a recipe with instructions suitable for the lowest common demoniator – I’m the perfect test case.

My only complaint with ‘Gousto’s’ recipes is a simple one. I do wish they had a ‘Mise en Place’ stage – where you did all the prep work at the beginning, and then just concentrated on putting stuff together once you started the cooking. The recipes for GoodFood – which we use in Montreal – does it that way – and it makes it a bit easier. I found having to stop and peel and slice carrots half way thru cooking to be a pain.

But the meals have been yummy – and varied. We’ve had Beef Burritos, Asian Noodles, Minty Lamb Burgers, even Chicken Snitzel. All Yummy, all easy, and all fun.

Most importantly – it’s cut way way down on our need to eat out (much more expensive than doing these meals), and even on our need to order in (also more $$). I’m sure the local restaurants aren’t that pleased – but I’m very happy! And more importantly – it’s a lot easier with a 15 day old baby who delights in needing to be feed the moment I announce ‘Dinner is served’.

And the icing on the ‘Local’ cake – I got my hair done at a local beauty parlor. It wasn’t quite the same as I’m used to – they were equally as busy – but took no reservations, everyone was a ‘drop-in’. And they shampoo’d my hair 3 times – I don’t know why. Another oddity – the color took longer to set. Normally it’s 35 minutes, they left it for 40. But then they didn’t massage it in to the ends and let me sit for 5 more minutes – they just washed it out. Different.

I shall report on Guy Fawkes as it happens – meanwhile I’m signing off – it’s another day in the life of a little baby – and I need to be there for her!

The Soup Lady

The London Theatre Scene – So many options it’s amazing…


I can’t help being impressed with the London Theatre Scene. It feels a bit like NYC – so many options at so many different price ranges it’s almost too confusing for words. And it’s all in English – sort of.

Which is one of our first problems. We’re here for 5 nights, so 4 nights of theatre seems reasonable – but there are some issues.

1. Figuring out what to see.
2. Figuring out how to get tickets
3. Figuring out where the Theatre is
4. Figuring out how to eat dinner before a 7:30 show

Trust me on this – #4 on the list is pretty important. You can’t enjoy a play if your stomach is growling, and for some reason we’ve been getting a late start – aka late breakfast – every day. So lunch is delayed – we’re not hungry at 6:00 – and finding something quick to tide us over is a challenge. In the end, we decided to eat after the Theatre – which worked successfully twice. Hurrah for small sucesses.

But – ignoring our stomachs – lets just stay calm and carry on shall we?

Picking a show is a huge part of the fun, and there are dozens and doznes of options. There are the big shows – long running American Shows like “The Book of Mormon”, “Wicked”, “Mamma Mia”, and the like. There are popular NYC transplants like “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night” and there are chestnuts – “King Lear” or “Amadaus”. There are ‘big’ plays I’ve never heard of – “The Libertine”, “The Woman in Black”, “The Ghost or Who is Sylvia?”.

And then there’s the National Theatre who has three stages – and we found out – discount ‘day of’ tickets. Playing there was “Amadaus”, “The Red Barn”, and “A Pacifist’s Guide to the war on Cancer”. But the season constantly changes so you must check when you arrive in London. Coming up there’s Hedda Gabler, Peter Pan, Romeo and Juliet, and Love. They also have several ‘West End’ theatres which keep their longer running productions – like “The Curious Incident of the Dog” – which is on it’s 4th staff change!

In the tube and on the buses – you just see ads for the ‘big’ guys – and that spoke strongly of which shows are money makers, vs which shows are more about theatre.

Plus there are smaller theatres – ones harder to find out what is going on at because of the number of hits you get for the bigger shows. Time Out in London is an excellent fast resource (and it you sign up – they sometimes email you interesting discount offers). There’s also a great “off the West End” site to check out – http://www.offwestend.com – which bills itself as the ‘all em-bracing site for independant Theatre’. They cover an amazing 124 different theatres – none of them in the “West End”. Included on their list is the Old and New Vic, and the Globe. Again – sign up to be kept in the loop by email.

Getting tickets – ah ha – there’s the rub. The worst place in the world to get tickets is thru an on-line reseller. They are often priced much higher than the theatre originally asked – and the ‘time is running out’ pressure can lead to bad decisions. The best place to get tickets – in my opinion – is from the theatre box office – or at worst the Theatre’s website. Those are priced as the Theatre thought they should be – and represent a bargain over the re-sellers. Some theatres even release a block of inexpensive tickets on the day of the show to clear up any empty chairs. We ended up having to use wholesalers for 2 of our 4 choices – only for the National Theatre Performance of “Amadeus” and “The Curious … Dog” could I buy tickes from the theatre itself.

Now – back to our 4 actual choices.

Unlike the Intrepid Traveler, my husband wants to go to theatre that has been pre-approved to be worth his time. And that means either a story he knows, or a story that appeals to him on some inate level, or something that has won numberous awards.

This explains our picks:

The Libertine – a “West End” production in elaborate period costumes that tells the story of a morally questionable young gentleman and his ‘reward’. Given that the play is quite old, we expected that the moral judgement would be quite harsh. But our issue with this play was one of accents. Our British isn’t that good apparently.

The Book of Morman – another “West End” production – winner of countless awards – which after have seen the show makes me wonder about who exactly hands out these things. Maybe it was a bad year for competition. My advice, ignore the marketing – avoid the Musical.

Amadeus – an absolute stunner of a production with a live orchestra that wanders the stage – ‘acting’ as well as playing glorious music. But the killer part belonged to the young man (Luciani Msamati) in the role of the vicious Salieri. Words simply can’t describe how outstanding his performance was. Breath-takingly glorious production with an outstanding cast in a fabulous theatre. What’s not to love.

The Curious Case of the Dog in the Night – I’d seen this in NYC with my sisters – and loved it. The computer and light effects are stunners – and I found the story wormed its way into my heart. At first the plight of the young man seems outside of our experience – but he gradually becomes more clear, more open, more worthy of our regard. It’s a strong play that can work that magic on an audience – and while not the stunner of Amadeus – this was a good runner up for best night out in London.

It turns out finding the Theatres was super easy – The Map option on my iphone even shows me the fastest transit option – including locating the bus stops! We only got confused when we arrived at Piccadilly Circus – which has become a Circus of epic proportions. Thank goodness for Ripley’s Believe it or Not – it’s such an obvious landmark you can easily use it to rotate your body and map to find the Theatres.

So there you have it – what we saw – and how we found out was was playing – and what we thought of the plays we saw.

My advice – try the OffWestEnd.com website for listings, and call the theatre directly. And stay away from those mega shows. They are on their 3rd and 4th castings – the original performers are long gone – and even the crew is getting a bit tired. Do new I say!

Signing off to check on more theatre options here in London – The Soup Lady

H10 London – Mutterings about 4-5 Star Hotels


When is a 4 star hotel just not 4 stars?

What makes a hotel 4 stars anyway? I think that’s an interesting question. It’s easy to define 5 stars – over the top everything. But 4 stars – clearly you are almost there – just not quite. And from that perspective – maybe the H10 is a 4 star hotel.

But even if I start from the perspective that the H10 London close by Waterloo station deserves it’s 4 star rating – the next question to ask is – Why was I so disappointed in my recent 6 night stay?

And I was very disapointed. You don’t start a stay in a hotel disapointed – you start with high hopes and high expectations. And I admit to have had high hopes. We’d found this treasure on HotWire – and perhaps too good to be true sums up what went so very wrong. But I digress from my story – let’s start with checking in.

Our trip by Uber from London City Airport was long, but uneventful. The driver avoided all the congested areas of London – and for London, we made good time. We opted for the cab because we had so much luggage – in hindsight – using the wonderful London Public Transit system wouldn’t have been that hard – but that’s water under London Bridge.

Our arrival was painless, but there was a short line-up at the check-in counter, so we quietly waited our turn. A giant bowl with ice and drink pitchers caught our eye – wonderful – orange juice, cranberry juice, and champagne – just the trick after a long cab ride. And clearly what you’d expect from 4-5 star hotel. Perfect.

Disappointingly for 4 stars – no one at the front desk acknowledged our arrival – no quick glance to say hi – be with you in an instant – and no mention – help yourself to a drink. But they were clearly busy. So we helped ourselves and waited.

And waited.

Eventually – it was our turn – and only then did the front desk folks appear to notice us. Well – I guess it’s British decorum – although most of the staff was clearly not originally british. I’m guessing Spanish – based partly on the information about the hotel chain that was on display and partly on the accents and deamenor.

We’re given room 314. Were we demoted because we were ‘Hotwire’ guests – and thus were getting a deal? Maybe. But having what turned out to be the worst room in the hotel wasn’t completely unexpected – just disappointing. I admit that our nightly rate wasn’t insane by London Standards, but it would have rated a 5 star in Montreal or Chicago. And it was much higher than what we paid to stay in the 5 Star Trump Towers several weeks earlier. Plus – we were there for 6 nights – that’s a nice stay for any hotel! And I know the hotel offers tour bus deals because we saw several arrive and depart during our stay. So maybe it was just our travel stained look.

Back to check-in. Little in the way of information was given by the check-in crew. They were busy, working as fast as they could – so taking time to say hi, did you have a nice trip, I’m so glad you choose to stay here – just wasn’t happening. But they did impart the critical things – breakfast (not included in your room rate) is from 8-10 on the 2nd floor, and the WIFI password is written on your room key folder.

We go to the 3rd floor – to a room that is a sauna. Someone has turned the heat up to the max, and it’s hard to breathe. And rather alarmingly for a 4 star hotel, there’s a small but very obvious hole in the flooring right as you enter. Clearly what looks like tile that looks like wood is only thin laminte. But the immediate issue is the heat.

How do you turn down the heat? There’s a control on the wall – but we can’t figure out how to make it adjust downward. So we solve the problem by just opening the ‘window’. It’s actually a door sized opening, but blocked so it only opens about 2″ wide – too small a space for someone to get in. Whew – we’re just barely above ground level – so I’m happy to see that.

We also try calling the front desk – but no one answers the phone. Oh well – we know the front desk is busy – and leaving the window open for a while will do the trick. We did ask when next we walked past the front desk – only to be informed that all the thermostats were permanently set at 18 degrees – and the staff couldn’t change them. Hmm – really – 4-5 stars? That’s odd.

But back to the hotel and room 314. This is a very modern looking hotel – grey and white and black – and the room is exactly that. There is some interesting art, and the sliding glass door to the tiny bathroom is attractive. There’s no chest of drawers – we’ve learned the hard way that often hotels in Europe don’t provide these – instead there is a 2 sided closet. Hanging space with those horrid guest unfriendly hangers you can’t steal on one side, and widely spaced shelves on the other. The one shelf at eye level is completely taken up by a hotel safe, but we unpack successfuly. My husband’s clothes are living at knee level – but at least he has a shelf. The closet also offers up an umbrella (20 GBP if you take it), an iron, and a blow dryer. No cozy bathrobes, no slippers – none of the expected 4-5 star amenities – but at least we have the basics.

The bathroom has the smallest sink I’ve ever seen in a hotel room, but a lovely shower. Surprisingly – there are very few towels. 1 large bath towel, 1 hand towel, 1 face cloth. I’m guessing that this tiny room is generally offered as a single. But there are nice amenities in the bathroom – even a tooth brush and a shaver. No conditioner though – and I do like having conditioner. (When I compained on line about the lack of towels, the management response was predictable – I just had to ask. Which misses the point. I’m the guest – why should I have to ask for sufficient towels. This room is a double – shouldn’t the default be double towels?)

A desk squeezed in along a wall with a Fancy coffee machine, some ginger cookies, and a fair sized fridge with purchasable goodies rounds out the options in our room.

And there is a door to the adjoining room. This will prove the source of many problems later.

It’s not the nicest hotel room I’ve been in – but I know it’s London – and things here tend to be smaller and more expensive. I’m fine. The bed looks great – and we are not planning on spending hours in the room in any case.

I would have liked a hotel with some amenities – a pool, a hot tub, things like that – but in London – not really options. There is something below ground – I never ventured there to check it out – and later in our stay we found the 8th floor Sky Terrace – an outdoor space with an amazing view of the London Sky Line, and a handy bar. I think the below ground options might have been an exercise room and a Spa, but there was no mention of that during check-in – and if there was a guide to the hotel in my room – I never found it.

We opt to do the normal – arrive late and exhausted – things you do in a new city – we go by tube to visit my daughter and her new baby! Seriously – that’s why we’d come to London – and it was great. Our location is very nice – there’s a bus stop right out the door – and the major Waterloo station about a 10 minute walk away. Plus there are a variety of shops on the streets nearby. Lots of options and lots to explore in the morning. Location is perfect. So despite my minor issues with the room – I’m again having high hopes.

The next day we awake to the smell of bacon cooking. We’re right above the hotel kitchen, and with the window still open, it’s clearly time for breakfast. So we opt to check it out. There’s a buffet going on – plus an a la carte menu. Nowhere on the menu is the price for the buffet listed, and when I ask the gentleman who seated us – I get no response. He’s only interested in our room number. (ok – not 4 star here) I check out the prices on the a la carte menu – high for breakfast, but not insane – and ask again about the price of the buffet. Our waiter doesn’t know – so I ask again at the front desk. It’s 20 GBP. That’s about $30 US. Per Person. Nope – not doing that. So I eat a la carte while my huband has only coffee. They try to charge us for the buffet, we insist we didn’t have it – they correct the bill.

That’s enough for the hotel restaurant – I’ll eat elsewhere tomorrow.

As we leave – our hopes go back up! They have put out a tray of tiny dry pasteries and pitchers of OJ and Cranberry juice for folks to enjoy. That’s nice. And on the way out – the big bowl with iced juices is sitting out – so my husband gets a glass of 1/2 OJ, 1/2 Cranberry juice and annouces – delicous. That’s 4-5 stars. No free coffee – but I’m quite happy with the lovely touch of free juice!

We spend the day sightseeing – and come back to change for dinner. The maid has made our bed – but forgotten a pillow under the sheets. The bed looks hugely lumpy. How odd. And there are still very limited towels, so I guess news hasn’t gotten to housekeeping that there are 2 guests in this room. But the temperature is fine (the window is still open), and all is good.

No issues on night 2/day 3 – it’s night 3 when our problems really start.

When we return to the room on night 3 – we hear the guests in the next room checking out the adjoining door. They have opened it on their side, and can’t seem to figure out where it goes. There is loud discussion as to it’s purpose – but eventually they settle down and go to bed. We can’t tell from our side, but I suspect that they left the adjoining door ajar on their side – because the next morning at 5:40 AM we are rudely awakened by the sounds of someone on their side of the wall getting seriously ill. This goes on for almost an hour – eventually stopping at 6:35 by the clock on our bedside table. We go back to sleep finally – planning to let the hotel know at a more normal time.

When I go downstairs to report on the issue – the young man at the front desk responses with a very disbelieving ‘I’m sorry’ – and says – ‘We’ll check it out’. What – I’m telling you that we spent an hour listening to another guest vomit and you can only say I’m sorry. Is this my fault? Are you a 1 star hotel that caters to folks that get drunk and vomit normally? I’m not pleased. My husband helps himself to a glass of OJ and Cranberry juice – but I’m too upset. We walk out – and I turn around and walk back in to ask to speak to the manager. Another young man appears – listens to the story – and says – I’ll check it out. What exactly are you going to check out? Are you going to see if there are signs of vomit on the floor? Do you think I made up the story? What kind of construction allows for walls that thin?

I’m clearly upset – but we have plans for the day – and my husband steers me away from the ‘manager’ and out the front door. It is what it is.

Our plans for the day include some sight-seeing, and I’m going to be helping my daughter. We decide to meet at the theatre later that night – and when I arrive at the theatre (read my West End Blog), my husband explains that the manager had left a very nice note – appologizing for the problem, and offering us either a free breakfast or a room change. We clearly want a room change – I’m tired of smelling breakfast, and I don’t want to risk another paper wall experience. So as soon as we get back to the hotel after the theatre – we ask to change rooms.

The manager’s note has give me hope that this is a 4-5 star hotel – but our next experience at the front desk dashes it yet again. We hand the note to the unsmiling, very ‘unbusy’ clerk, who has clearly been warned to expect us. They are moving us to the 8th floor – an ‘upgrade’. She suggests that we go upstairs, pack our bags, take our bags to the 8th floor, then leave one of us on the 8th floor with the luggage and send the other one back to the front desk to hand over the old keys and get the new ones.

I’m stunned – again. Really. This is how guests are moved between rooms. Is she so busy she can’t bring the key to us? Why doesn’t she give us the new key and we’ll bring back the old ones when we finish the move? Oh no – they can’t do that is the response.

At this point the security guard (he’s not a doorman for sure – he’s sitting at the conceirge desk, but it’s way too late for him to be the conceirge) interruts to suggest that he will bring us the new key and help us move the bags. Just call down when you are packed.

That’s much better – but why didn’t the official front desk clerk think of this. What kind of training does this hotel give their staff about customer service that she thinks her suggestion makes sense? It’s a mystery. My husband drowns his sorrows with another glass of OJ and Cranberry juice – such a nice touch – and we head up stairs.

We make the move with no issues – and the new room is a definite improvement. It’s at a decent temperature from the start, there’s no adjoining door, and it’s a bit larger. Now we can slide past each other between the end of the bed and the desk, and the bathroom has a tub with a shower.

We settle in – and I’m feeling better about the hotel again.

Day 4 passes without an issue – and we even have a pleasant night. Whew – I’m back to feeling better about our selection.

Day 5 dawns like most days in London – a bit overcast and grey. I stop in on the 2nd floor to get a bit of OJ – but my husband prefers the iced OJ that is kept by the front desk. He goes to help himself – which he’s been doing regularly since we checked in – to be told – I’m sorry sir – that’s only for guests checking in.

Nice 4-5 star touch. We keep iced OJ, Cranberry juice and in the evenings a bottle of Sparkling wine visible to all guests – but we only allow checking-in guests to have some. If that’s the rule – I’m guessing a strange cost cutting measure since they provide exactly the same stuff on the first floor from 8-10 AM – then don’t make it visible to all guests. Put the bowl on the far side of reception – keep it in the closed off ‘office’ space, hide it under the counter. But if you’ve opted to make it highly visible – if a guest takes some – for goodness sake – don’t tell them to stop. That’s just plain mean.

I’ve stayed in many 4-5 star hotels that handed out free bottles of water to guests every time they passed the reception desk, I’ve had hotels at this level keep fresh fruit bowls available to all guests, I’ve stayed in hotels that provided afternoon fresh cookies to all guests, I’ve even stayed in hotels that gave guests (all guests) a ‘travel’ bag of goodies for the day – but I’ve never – until now – had a hotel rated 4-5 stars and costing at that level – tell me that something – anything – was for checking in guests only.

So – is the H10 London at Waterloo a 4 star hotel? Does Customer Service make or break a rating? Who is responsible for Customer Service Attitude. Should folks at reception make it their job to recognize guests staying more than one night and smile at them? Which guest contributes more to the bottom line – a one night stand, or someone who stays a week? Should front desk clerks discriminate between guests by price paid – folks who book thru the hotel website getting ‘better’ treatment then those using 3rd party booking engines like Expedia, Air BnB, or HotWire? What services can guests expect from 4-5 star hotels – should they be held to a higher standard than a 2-3 star hotel? Is great/bad Customer Service the fault/goal/responsibility of upper management?

And where does construction figure into the equation. If you look 4-5 star on the surface, but have construction issues like paper thin walls and tiny tiny rooms – can guests complain?

I’d argue that I’m not that fussy. I’ll forgive most lapses if I get a smile and a greeting. Recognize me as an individual, know that I’m a person too, live up to my expectations of basic friendly service – and I’m fine. I won’t hold construction issues against you. Don’t act like I’m in your way, that I made your day tough, that I’m making up problems, that I’m abusing the system by having a bit of OJ. I expect to be treated as a guest in your home. In today’s world of social media – you can expect me to publically call you out on your mistakes – so don’t make them! Everyone has bad days – but if you are on the front line in a Customer Service position – tough it out. Don’t ruin someone else’s day because yours is a bit rocky.

I won’t be going back to an H10 Hotel again for a while. And I’m not signing up for their club card either. And my ‘note’ to the manager has been ignored. Too bad – it had such great potential.

Signing off to find another hotel – The Soup Lady.

My Daughter is having a Baby – And I’m invited to Watch!


This is tremendously exciting – I’ve never ‘seen’ a birth – like my mother before me – the times just weren’t right for women to see their own children born. And while my mother tried her best to be there for me, it didn’t work out.

With my first – even my husband had problems staying in the birthing room with me. By asking to stay – he challenged the horridly old fashioned doctor enough to have the doctor pull off his gloves, toss them on the bed – and say ‘Deliver the baby yourself then’. Not a highlight. For my second, birthing rooms had just been ‘invented’ in Montreal, and you were allowed in only if you were deemed low, low, low risk. I was 8 days past due – and thus wasn’t allowed in. That left my mother sitting on the side lines while my husband and I went into the ‘operating’ space that was the traditional birthing room at the time. In 1983 – when my daughter was born in a proper birthing room with a bed and a rocking chair, my mother had become ill – and couldn’t make the trip north.

And of course I didn’t get to watch – I was way, way, way to busy pushing!

Fast forward to the birth of my 2 grand-kids. My daughter-in-law justifably wasn’t keen to have her mother-in-law in the room. So while I got to see my new grand kids within an hour of their birth – it was not the same.

But this time – the stars are actually aligning. My daughter and her darling husband are both very OK with me being present, and she’s signed up for a birthing center – a place dedicated to having natural – or what they call it now in London – Hydrobirths. I’m super excited.

To be sure I’m going to be present – I arrange to fly into London 2 weeks before her due date. Early enough to attend the last of her ‘birthing’ classes – and to attend an ‘active’ birthing session at the Barentine – her birthing center of choice.

It’s all about ‘relaxing’, ‘meditating’ thru the surges, thinking positive thoughts. I’m thinking – really? I don’t remember birthing as being relaxing! My husband and I had practiced and practiced my breathing techniques – and even so it was touch and go for a while. I did it without using any pain killers – 3 times even, but I wouldn’t say that learning to relax was going to help.

But times change – and my daughter and her husband seem so confident. I’m just thrilled I’m going to be able to see it happen. I can’t wait!

And the 8 birthing center rooms are glorious – double beds, bean bag chairs, squat stools, huge birthing pools filled with warm water, and mid-wives totally into natural, barely assisted births. Each room has it’s own huge bathroom – and a terrace outside to relax on during the quiet phases. Most of the mid-wives are warm and kind, we did hit one that seemed more – you must – then the others – but generally this is my idea of the ideal place to have a baby – and my daughter is delighted to be able to come here. It’s even fairly close to her home – by London standards. A 20 minute cab ride, or a 40 minute walk/ferry trip.

We are all ready. The bags are packed, the birth classes taken, the baby’s room set-up, and naturally – my Daughter is late. Very late. Suddenly we’re at 10 days late – and the birthing center is explaining that you can only have births there if you have started active labor within 14 days of her due date. Talk about pressure! The options, as per the mid-wife at the center, is either to start your labor – or be induced. So they are recommending that my daughter make an appointment to have an induction.

Talk about devasted – this is the last thing my daughter wants – but the facts are the facts. She’s late.

But again – things change – I arrive at their flat on Thurday of day 10 late – and she’s started labor at 5:00 AM. It’s mild, but it’s consistent. They are using an iphone app to time the contractions (this is so much easier than trying to use a watch and a pad of paper), and they are very consistently 1 minute long, but a bit too close together. She has an appointment at the birthing center (because she’s late – they are seeing her every 2 days), and we begin the long trek across the Thames to the center. But the news once we arrive isn’t promising. She’s in labor ok – but she’s not dilalted at all. Nothing to do but go back home and wait.

Now’s the time for all that relaxing and going with the flow routines. She’s having trouble keeping liquids down (we look it up – perfectly normal) – but Jamin and I are doing our best to keep her calm. We watch TV, we take a walk, we read meditions to her. The day goes by slowly, eventually Jamin goes to sleep, and I try to nap as well. At 2:00 AM she wakes me up – and we call the Barkantine for advice. They tell her the contractions are too close together to be effective – she must try to relax more. We wait another 2 hours – and she has her ‘show’. At this point we decide, with the help of the mid-wife on call at the Barkantine to go in.

When we arrive – they are just dealing with another birth – and the lovely back-up mide-wife that got called in a few minutes earlier settles us into our lovely birthing room. But my daughter is too much into labor to really enjoy the surroundings – controlling the ‘surges’ by breathing and relaxing is getting to be a huge challenge.

The mid-wife checks her out – announces that she’s at 5 cm, and doing very well. Things look great – until they don’t.

Her water breaks, and it’s not a clear liquid – it’s brown and green and very dark. The mid-wives explain that this means the baby, because she is so late, has pooped in the womb – and my dauther has now gone from low risk (acceptable at the birthing center) to high risk. They are transfering her from the birthing center to the Royal London Hospital – not al all her choice of locations – but there is no option. She’s going by ambulance to the hospital – and she’s going now.

For my daughter and her husband, the ride in the ambulance is a blur. The Barentine sends their mid-wife with my kids in the ambulance to ensure that the transfer works smoothly – leaving me standing at the side of the road, in London, in the dark – waiting for an ‘Uber’ to arrive. I’ve never called an ‘Uber’ in my life – so while the lovely folks at the Barkantine were dealing with the ambulance – one of the assistants used my daugther’s cell phone to get the cab. I’m really hoping this will work.

The good news – it’s only about 5:00 AM – and the streets of London are deathly quiet (by London standards). The cab arrives and drops me at the top of a one-way the wrong way street. Hospital is that way! I drag my daughter’s tiny suitcase to the emergency entrance – only to be told that I must go in another entrance to get to the birthing center. I drag myself and the suitcase back around the outside of this huge hospital – and spot the amublance technicians that took my daughter! I’m so relieved – they will know what to do. And they do! They stop an employee of the hospital, explain that I need to be escorted to the neo-natal high risk section – and now!

Up the staff elevator – thru staff only doors – and I’m facing a young security guard. What are you doing here? A quick explanation – and he directs me to room 17. There I find my daughter, her husband, and two mid-wives. The mid-wife from the Barentine is handing off my daughters case to another lovely yound lady – very Irish, very sunny – who will be taking over. They are consulting with a lovely young doctor – after all we’re now high risk – and the decision is to let my daughter continue her labor, with the help of a epidural.

The room is again lovely – but a lot more like a hospital this time. Which as it turns out – is a good thing.

The doctor explains, between very heavy contrations that my daughter is doing a great job controlling, that they are not concerned for her, they are concerned for the baby. The baby might have swallowed some of the poop – or she might have breathed it in. In either case, having her sooner rather than later is better. But my daughter is doing great with the contractions – they are willing to let her ride it out – but they are going to be monitoring both her and the baby continuously in case there is a problem.

So they do.

My daugher is in the late stages by now – well diluated and starting to want to push. The Irish mid-wife explains that the longer she doesn’t push – the better. The baby is working it’s way down the birth canal, and that’s a slow process on first babies. Time waiting now will work in her favor later. So my daughter is doing her best to hold off. With the epidural taking effect, she’s much more able to control the surges – but it’s not exactly easy.

At 9:00 AM there is a change of staff – our sunny Irish lassie is replaced by Sylvia – tall and obviously pregant – she’s all business at first – clearly preparing the room rather than chatting with my daughter. My daughter asks that she try for vaginal without forceps – and Sylvia fairly warns her that this will mean some serious pushing. The doctors come in to take a quick look – and tell Sylvia and my daughter it’s time to push – but if it takes more than 30 minutes – they are coming back with foreceps!

Sylvia waits till they leave – then tells my daughter – you can do it! Let’s get started. She helps my daughter into 2 different positions, eventually calling for a birthing bed with stirrups that will allow her to focus on pushing.

I’m standing watching the very tip top of the baby’s head appear as my daughter pushes, and then disappear as the contractions stop. Over and Over again this happens. Thru this Sylvia is amazing – and my daughter is amazing, and my son-in-law is amazing! Each time there’s a contraction – Sylvia gets into position to grab the baby – each time the contractions stop, and my daughter pauses to catch her breathe – Sylvia takes those moments to tidy and straighten – and get back into position.

Closer and closer the baby’s head gets. Each pushing session seems just a tiny bit more effective – until suddenly – amazingly – there she is! And just like that – with hardly time to breathe – at exactly 10:05 AM on October 14, 2016 – the baby is born! Abigail Louise Treeby has joined the world.

Sylvia hands the baby to my daughter for a split second – then grabs the scissors – clamps and cuts the cord, and takes the baby away. She instructs Jamin and I to push the call button while she works on the baby, immediately suctioning her throat with a tube no bigger than a fine needle. Within seconds there are 6 doctors in the room – all surrounding the baby. The head mid-wife – Molly – keeps reasuring my daughter that all is fine as they give the baby oxygen and rub her down. They suction her throat (she did swallow some of the poo), continue to give her oxygen, and then use a tiny throat tube to check that she is all clear. Thru this Abigail quietly coughs and slowly moves her arms and legs as she goes from blue, to grey, to pink.

I have never been so glad to be in a hospital – in the neo-natal High Risk section in my life.

Birth is a miracle. Health is a miracle. Life is a miracle.
I’m a Grannie X 3!

‘Old School Rodeo’ – Go Steers Go!


or – 95th Inter-Tribal Ceremonial – Day 2

Oops – turns out that Saturday night is the end of the Ceremonial – everyone except the Cowboys have packed up and gone home. So there’s nothing to watch but an ‘Old School’ Rodeo. Which – given that we came to Gallop to see Cowboys and Indians (sorry – so not PC) – isn’t really such a bad thing. So we find our shade sharing friends (whew) and settle in to watch day 2 of the Rodeo.

Actually – this is really day 5 – but we didn’t know that. So most of the top performers have gone home with the Indians. We are left with kids, clowns, and some teams that just won’t quit. But given our knowledge of Rodeo, and given that we were cheering for the Bulls yesterday – this will still work for us!

First up – kids riding wild sheep. Ok – I know you are thinking – really? But it’s true. The little kids (we’re talking top age of maybe 8) get to ‘wild ride’ a sheep. And trust me, the sheep are really not much more interested in having a rider than the broncos – but the broncos buck – sheep just stop and stare at the crowd. Never mind – the kids are a delight to watch – they hold up their free hand in an adorable replica of the way their Dads did yesterday – and one very brave kid tries to ‘spur’ the sheep on. To which insult the sheep reacts by immediately throwing him.

Then there’s the ‘Rescue’. One member of the team stands on a barrel while the other member of the team rides across the ring, hoists them onto the horse, and then gallops madly back to the ‘finish’ line. The top team was a father/daughter combo – the kid was maybe 8 – and small – and the dad just hoisted her up, swung her over the back of his saddle and then rode madly across the finish line with one arm wrapped around her for safety. Sophie was wild about this event, and wanted to know if Grandpa would try it with her.

Sadly – no.

Another super fun to watch event challenged teams of 3 cowboys to saddle and ride a wild horse around a barrel at the far end of the ring. This is a LOT harder than you can imagine. The horses want nothing to do with someone putting a saddle on their backs, so the cowboys have to start by getting the horses to lie down. There’s not a lot of time for being nice either – this is a drag out contest between 3 cowboys and a very mad horse! Only two teams manage to get the saddle on their assigned horse – and of those, one horse managed to throw the rider. So 1 winner, 4 losers – and life goes on!

Highlight you ask? The one-armed bandit. This is a cowboy with – tada – one arm – who has trained his long horn steers to – on command – run up onto the top of a trailer truck! Seriously – how do you think he managed to do that? His horse was also fabulously trained – he not only jumped to the top of the trailer – he allowed the ‘bandit’ to stand up on the saddle and fire his gun! With the steers mildly looking on as if to say – happens every day! He was so good that Victor had to tell him how much he enjoyed his performance when we ran into later that evening.

Other events included trying to ride a Bison, Cowgirl barrel racing, and team steer roping. More often than not – the winners were the Bison, the barrels and the steers! But a good time was had by almost everyone – I’m not sure that the cowboy that got thrown off the Bison – hard – had the best day ever.

We ended the day trying – once again – to eat dinner in Gallop. Turns out that all the Mexican restaurants close on Sunday night – leaving us with limited choices. So we checked out the El Rancho Hotel and Restaurant. It’s rated #5 in Gallop – which gives you a really good idea of how inspiring the food in this town has turned out to be. The El Rancho is old – seriously old – it’s been sitting on Route 66, living on it’s oh so famous history from 50 years ago for – well 50 years. I think some of the trip advisor reviews might date from back then. But it was open – and willing to feed us – and there weren’t that many options.

I spent some time looking around the hotel – which would profit greatly from a visit from the crew of Hotel Impossible, and then ate dinner in the restaurant. Too much food, served fairly quickly by an impatient wait staff pretty much sums it up. I can’t really recommend the food – except to say it solved the dinner problem, and I didn’t get sick.

We headed out towards Route 264 – which is pretty much a straight shot thru Navajo and Hopi Territory – ending at Tuba City. Our goal was the oh so beautiful Moenkopi Legacy Hotel. Why? It had a pool – and Sophie had been promised a pool morning. We knew we’d be arriving late – but our plan was just to hang the next morning – and then head on out to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.

We’d be changing time zones madly. New Mexico does Day Light Savings – so we left Gallop at 7:00 PM. A few minutes later, we crossed into Arizona, which does not do Day Light Savings – it became 6:15 PM. Then we hit Navajo territory – it’s 7:30 PM. About an hour later, we hit Hopi Territory – and it was also 7:30 PM. Finally we arrived at our hotel – and we were back in Navajo territory – and back in Day Light savings time.

Other than time zone changes – there’s nothing exciting to report on this part of our trip. The road was beautifully maintained, the sky was filled with an almost full moon – and we simply drove in tandam thru miles and miles and miles of barely inhabited country. One of my friends had given me several books and tape – and they made the drive pass by quickly. Soon enough we were at the Moenkopi – bedded down for the night.

Signing off – The Soup Lady

Gallop, New Mexico – a Train runs thru it!


Why are we in Gallop. Excellent question. High on my Must-Do list was Mesa Verde – and so we routed ourselves thru there. Read all about it in another blog. High on my hubby’s Must-Do list were cowboys and Indians – and on the weekend just after our visit to Mesa Verde – in Gallop – is the 95th Inter-Tribe Cerimonial, a gathering of all the tribes in the Four Corners area. And on the activities list were daily Rodeos! Clearly this was a Must-Visit opportunity.

All of which found us heading south past 4 Corners (yes I lay down on the 4 corners with my hands in 2 states and my legs in 2 states and my butt on the center – shoot me), past Shiprock – which is a huge weather blasted mountain that looks like – a ship on a rock – and is also a town that has an OK restaurant – we tried it out) on our way to Gallop. If there’s a city that is less appealing, but with more beautiful surroundings than Gallop – I’ve never been there.

First the scenery. We opted to stay in Red Rock State Park. Our assigned (apparently by random draw) site overlooked the dump station – but the oh-so-friendly campground hostess said that if we didn’t like the site she had picked for us, we were welcome to move to any other vacant site. So after meeting our extremely pleasant neighbors (Brits Alex and Thersa – here to teach High School English and Wood Shop for a year – and living in a campground) – and setting up our shade canopy – I toured the campground.

Score – a perfect site. Electricity and water – And a magnificant view. Honey – can we move? After a bit of negociation – afterall – we’d met the neighbors, and we’d set up the canopy – my desire for a view won out and we carefully moved. Now – our view is of the magnificant red rocks for which the campground is named. Bonus – there’s a huge family of Prairie Dogs that also call this home – they are such a hoot to hear and to watch!

A bit about the georgraphy – because it is truly cool. When the water erroded the weaker stone – it left behind what the folks here call fins. Tall (over 500 feet), thin red rocks that from the air must look like fingers reaching out towards the rail road that runs East West straight thru Gallop parral to oh so famous Route 66. We are camped looking at one side of the huge rock. On the other side of the rock – and completely invisible to us – is a huge amphitheater where they are performing the rodeos! Around another fin is the giant tent housing the dancing competitions that are part of the Inter-Tribal Ceremonial.

I admit that we then blew it. Instead of walking to the Ceremonial – we shopped and did Laundry. Now I must admit that we were pretty desperate for a laundry stop. And “The Laundry Basket” has to be one of the nicest laundrymats I’ve ever been in – but still. We missed out on the Friday night Ceremonial to wash clothes. Really?

Anyway – after the grocery store and the laundry – we tried – and I’m not joking – this was a try – to eat dinner at a Sonic. Why a Sonic? The large signs appealed to Sophie, and I didn’t have the smarts to say – nope. And besides, everything else in Gallop closes at 9:00 PM. Seriously. This town apparently rolls up the sidewalks at 8:30PM – sunset – we’re done. Note for future visitors – on Sunday there are no liquor sales – and the grocery stores baricade those aisles so you won’t make the horrid error of picking up a bottle and going to the cash.

Back to our visit – clothes clean, minimum amount of food in tummies – and shopping done – we head back to our RV and crash. Tomorrow is another day – and what a day it turns out to be.

Morning comes fast in the High Southwest. And we are splendidly located to get the full effect. Prairie Dogs run here, there and everywhere – yipping madly at each other at any signs of danger – which includes my lifting my mug to drink my coffee and the dog next door stretching! I try to take a picture – but they are too far away and too small for my iphone camera to take anything decent. Ah well – I shall just have to store the memory in my on-board system.

Breakfast – we’re pretty upscale campers. So French Press Coffee and foamy milk to create a delightful Cafe Aux Lait are de-rigeur. The rest of our breakfast is not so fancy – some fresh fruit (thanks Albertson’s of Gallop) and cereal.

The festivities next door aren’t scheduled to start until noon – so we spend the morning doing math and reading – then head over to check out the Indian events. There’s ‘gourd’ dancing – which is mostly ceremonial and reminds me strongly of religious groups all over the world – the men in the center bouncing on their toes as they chant – the women wearing ‘prayer shawls’ on the outer ring – joining in only after the men have gotten seriously into the grove. We watch for a while, intrigued by the clearly religious nature of the experience, Sophie gets a feather painted on her cheek, and then we head up to the Rodeo area.

The natural amphitheater has been improved with seating – both benches with backs, and ones without. The benches without backs are for folks that brought their own camp chairs – something that all the natives knew to do – and of course we didn’t. Something else the natives knew – there is no shade. And it’s hot. Hot, Hot, Hot. We’re super lucky though – some natives (broad term for both First Americans and folks who are local to Gallop) have set up a huge rectangular shade – too large for their needs – and they invite us to join them under the canopy. Whew – sun stroke averted!

The Rodeo is a fairly low key event, but then what do we know. The annoucer tries hard to get the folks watching to cheer on their favorites – but Sophie and I decide to route for the underdogs – the calves, the bulls, and the bucking broncos. We’re on the right side too – they win more often than the cowboys! We all agree that these are fun events to watch – particularly the barrel racing cowgirls and the bull riding. One bull even does a victory lap after throwing his rider in seconds. Too funny.

I get a lesson on making frybread (the oil has to be hot but not too hot – and you put a hole in the center to make sure that the entire bread turns a golden shade of brown), buy some kettle corn (too yummy – and too much – so I donate 1/2 to my shade sharing new friends), and check out the other offerings. The locals are selling all kinds of trinkets – Sophie scores earings for her sister – but I’m content to just look and see.

When the rodeo ends – we head back to the camper for a quick dinner of fresh boiled corn on the cob – and Sophie and I decide to go back to the Ceremonial. Victor opts to stay at the camper – a mistake! The Indians have finished up the religious portion of their dances – and are now totally decked out with feathers, fancy clothes, bells and chimes! The competition for best dancers has begun – and not only are the dancers in competition – so are the drummers and singers. We watch in amazement as group after group demonstrates their particular dance style. I text Victor to join us – and he arrives in time for the highlight – the teen boys doing freestyle dancing that is a combination of gymnastics and posturing to frighten the spirts. Works for me.

The drummers pound so hard and so loud that the speakers are overwhelmed. It’s incredible. I’m so glad we came to see this. Between groups of competitive dancers – there are free style group dances when everyone – from tiny tots to respected elders get up and join in. These free style dances are a whirl of color and costume – wonderful.

I’m intrigued by the use of feathers – particularly in head dresses and on as tail feathers. A vendor of feathers walks by – a small white feather is $50 – I can’t even begin to imagine the value of some of the costumes I’m seeing. This is living history on a grand scale.

After the dancing – there is the main ceremonial – which features ‘White Buffalo’. We’d assumed that this was a musical group – how wrong we were!

It was a White Buffalo. Huge, Somber, and Greatly Respected – he is welcomed to the arena by an elder who recites an ancient hymn to invite him, and his spirits into the lives of all attending. It’s a highly emotional moment – the folks in the stands are quiet – the sun is setting behind the red rocks – and the fires of the Ceremonial have been lit.

We watch as several groups demonstrate their tradtional dances – a Stomp dance from one Pueblo group, a butterfly dance from another. But it’s been a long day for us – and tomorrow promises to be even longer. So we walk back thru the red rocks to our campsite – admiring the sky, the rocks, and the quiet.

Signing off – The Soup Lady

Arches National Park – August 2016


Several LONG years ago I made a bucket list of all the things that I’d like to do before I die – or become so old and out of shape that I could no longer do stuff. One of my top items was visit all the US National Parks. In a motor Home. Camping. Taking my time to see them if not thoughly, at least as well as I could.

I know – so many problems with this as a bucket list item. First – time! These trips can’t be short – in and out – visits. By definition, if you have a motor home – you are a snail. And lots of the parks make it hard to drive around them in a house on wheels.

2nd – while many of the parks are located quite close together – they aren’t that close. So it not only takes time to see one park – it takes time to get from one park to the next.

And there were problems I hadn’t counted on. The first time we made an attempt to do this – we failed pretty badly. Which really is the subject of a blog all on its own. But this time – we did a lot better.

First – we allocated 3 weeks to just 5 parks. Already – this is a good move. 21 days, 5 parks – 4 days per park. Discount the travelling time – still 3 days per park. Should work, right. Well – here I am on day 7 – having done 3 parks – and I can tell you – you need more time. You need time to STOP. Don’t underestimate the need to stop. I’m wiped out – and as gross as this sounds – I’m really glad I’m in a non-primative campground with water, electricity, shade – and time to just write and think.

2nd – and this is huge – we not only rented a motor home – we rented a car! Yes it means that we are driving 2 vehicles between the parks – but that’s why they have books on tape, right. The advantages are huge. You want to go out for dinner – take the car. You want to drive the rim roads – narrow and winding as they always are in a National Park – leave the motor home safely parked at the visitors center – take the car! Huge advantage.

3rd – we knew that organization was key. You can’t do this and leave stuff here one minute and there the next. You will never, ever find it. Things need to have assigned places – and that’s where they will live for 3 weeks. Trust me – misplace your glasses – and you’ll be sorry for days!

So – on to Arches.

Important things to note – it’s August, it’s hot. And it rains. Don’t let them fool you – 100 degrees is hot. Hot, Hot, Hot. And you are going to need to drink water before you need to drink water. That’s the real challenge with walking Arches. You don’t feel thirsty – so you think – later. Then when you do feel thirsty – it’s a bit late.

As one guide quipped – the first sign of dehydration is grumpiness – Some people have been dehydrated most of their lives…

Another note – in August, in Arches – it’s crowded. Really mobbed. So avoid the major hikes, the major views, the major ‘highlights’. They are no fun shared with 500 of your best friends. The memorable moments here have been the ones we’ve done in our small group.

Best unknown hike – Brokern Arch and Tapesty Arch. Easy walks from the Devils Garden Campground – lots of parking – and no people! And no rules. You can climb up under the arch, take photos without limits – and probably not see another person. The begining of the hike is easy – if you don’t mind deep sand. You follow cairns (rock piles) from bend to bend until suddenly the arch appears out of nowhere. There are options for the return – you can retrace your steps – or you can opt for the more difficult and longer hike back thru the arch. We didn’t realize that the 2nd part would be longer and harder – but it was well worth doing – we scrambled thru fins of tall rock walls, climbed up stone steps, and generally were alone with the lizards. Such fun.

Best known hike – Fiery Furnace. You have to either sign up for the ranger led version months earlier – or pay a fortune to be guided thru the ‘Furnace’ by a commercial (but much more private) guide. It’s not a hike for the casual hiker – but it is fun! We learned to duck walk – one foot on either side of a carvass – to use both hands and feet to naviagate narrow passes – and had the option of doing a crawl thru. It was a hoot. And glorious beyond belief. If you have the time, have no fear of heights, and are in good shape – take a chance – take this hike. Oh – one more caution – you’ll need to be relatively thin. There are two narrow sections that just won’t work for wider folks – and you absolutely need good hiking shoes with grippy soles. And a hat, water, and suntan lotion.

Best ranger talk – We went to 2 of the ranger talks – and the best one was a total surprise. Called the Voices of Arches – it was a history of the 4 guys that did the most to protect and perserve Arches as a National Park that could be visited by thousands of folks in a single day. Well presented, and so interesting. Loved it.

Where to stay? We spent 3 nights in the National Park Campground right in the Park – 45 minutes driving distance from the Visitor Center. It was a relatively primitive campsite – no electricity or water hook-up, but it did have lovely flush toilets a short walk away, a picnic table, and magnificant views. One evening – the only clear one we’ve had so far – my 9 year old grand daughter and I just sat outside and admired the sky. The Milky Way arched over our heads, we could easily spot the jet liners criss-crossing out section of the world on their way to somewhere else – and we even saw several falling stars. This evening was well worth the price of admission. The red rocks were behind us, around us – and so close that you could reach out and touch them from the picnic table. That’s breakfast deluxe in my world. Sophie climbed and explored, and watched the lizard family next door go about their business of raising the kids. Rabbit sightings and Mule deer sighting were other highlights. Well worth the lack of showers, although the lack of AC was a challenge. It’s hot hot hot until the sun goes down, and it doesn’t really cool off till after midnight. And then of course it gets cold. But still – it was awesome.

So – one down – so many more to go!

Signing off to visit another National Park – The Soup Lady