Nine Important things to remember about Aging

#9 Death is the number 1 killer in the world.

#8 Life is sexually transmitted.

#7 Good health is merely the slowest possible rate at which one can die.

#6 Men have 2 motivations: hunger and hanky panky, and they can’t tell them apart. If you see a gleam in his eyes, make him a sandwich.

#5 Give a person a fish and you feed them for a day. Teach a person to use the Internet and they won’t bother you for weeks, months, maybe years.

#4 Health nuts are going to feel stupid someday, lying in the hospital, dying of nothing.

#3 All of us could take a lesson from the weather. It pays no attention to criticism.

#2 In the 60’s, people took LSD to make the world weird. Now the world is weird, and people take Prozac to make it normal.

#1 Life is like a jar of jalapeno peppers. What you do today may be a burning issue tomorrow.

Sorry – couldn’t resist sharing!

Signing off to go consider how I want to age… And ignoring all criticism as I do so…

The Soup Lady

Manchester Bombing at Ariana Grande Concert hits achingly close to home

Andy Warhol might have thought that everyone would have 15 minutes of fame, but for most of us – life is better lived outside of the limelight. So finding ourselves even remotely close to what may well be a history changing event like the Terrorist Bombing at the Ariana Grande Concert on May 22, 2017 is gut wrenching. It’s not our style. But it happened.

We had boarded the train in Lancaster and were headed towards Manchester-Picadilly where we are to change trains for York.

Again with the poor labeling – and despite our best efforts, we find ourselves dragging our luggage down the entire length of the coach to find our assigned seats.

Across from us sit a very quiet, very cute mother and daughter. We’re hard to ignore, so eventually they start to chat with us. The daughter has just turned 14 and as a birthday present – she and her mother are heading to Manchaster to go to a concert. They are going to be seeing and hearing Ariana Grande. Some brief chit-chat about how exciting this is – and how we should listen to her music when it turns out we have no idea who Ariana Grande is – and the train pulls into the station in Manchester.

Typically quick goodbye – hope concert is swell – and they head off toward the exit while we figure out where to catch the train to York.

Fast forward 20 hours – I’m lying in bed in our BnB in York when the phone rings – it’s my daughter Adrienne checking up on us. Where are we, and are we OK?

It’s the first we’ve heard about the bombing in Manchester-Picadilly – not a mile from where we’d been standing not 20 hours before. The Intepid Traveler and I let friends and family know we are ok – and not near Manchester – but it makes one wonder – were the daughter and Mom we met impacted – We are going to guess yes, because even if you were not hurt – you were still there and still scared.

Their pictures are not on the news, thank goodness – But worse news is still to come. We now know that in addition to the children killed or wounded, there were parents killed, two of them from York. And Sam, the son of our hostess, knows the York family well and is very upset and demanding retribution. It’s not an easy situation. The grocery store where the mother worked is collecting money to help the two young girls who are suddenly orphans – thru absolutely no fault of their own. We are sure this is 15 minutes of fame they could have lived without.

The British news is filled with reports on what happened, on the US leaks of information, on the British reaction, and all the museums we visit are implementing a tighter bag check policy. But this is not what bugs us.

We can not help but think that anyone, on either side, who thinks this kind of behavor will be rewarded by G-d is going to discover how very wrong they are. And until the entire world understands that ‘an eye for an eye’ leaves everyone blind, we fear that the world is moving not towards enlightenment, but into the Dark Ages.

I walked past a young lady today here in York who was wearing a face covering. Only her eyes were exposed, and for some reason I do not understand she threw me a very angry look. I wondered if she was angry at me, angry at life, tired of being judged by the actions of others, or if perhaps I’d mis-interperted her glance as angry when all it was was curious.

I hope we will never know.

Signing off – The Soup Lady and the Intrepid Traveler

Navigating the London Underground

Not simple this – not simple at all. First off – London is a very expensive city. Expensive to live in, expensive to eat in, expensive to travel around in. On the other hand – it does have a wonderful bus/tube system (don’t call it Metro or Subway – folks will look at you bewildered).

You can get anywhere you want by bus or tube – and while it might not be fast – you will get there. On the bus – you can only move as fast as the traffic – which is generally slow walking pace thru most of the inner city. On the tube, you move much faster – but there are frequent stops. From our lodging to downtown is over 20 stops – and we’re only in Zone 3. And there are no ‘express’ trains on the Tube lines. So it’s stop and go, stop and go, repeat and repeat.

On the other hand – the trains run smoothly. Very few of those jerks and bounces that are so hard on aging knees.

And it is clean – amazingly clean. In over 10 days of riding the bus/tube – I’ve seen someone eating on the tube just once. People are generally very polite, even during rush hour when the trains can feel more like sardine cans than transport. And there are trash bins – mostly 1/2 empty – everywhere. I’ve seen folks sweeping and picking up trash constantly. And the elevators never smell bad.

They even have toilets. And Lifts. Not in all stations – but often enough to realize it’s a reasonable thing to expect to find.

One thing about the lifts – the stations that have lifts have clear labels (the international wheelchair sign) to let you know. What they don’t tell you is if there will be escalators or just stairs at the other stations. That’s a huge difference – I do wish I knew which stations had only stairs – vs those that offer at least an escalator to get you up or down to street level.

But this blog is about the fares, not the lifts. And the fares are seriously confusing.

All over the metro there are signs advertising the ‘new’ capping system. The idea is that if you use the tube and the cost totals over 7.7 GPB on one day, the rest of that 24 hours is free. It’s a great idea.

Doesn’t work as far as we could tell unfortunately. We were averaging aound 10 GPB a day of money coming out of our ‘top-up to pay’ cards – I never spotted the cap being applied. Very frustrating.

They also have a 7 day travel card – and there’s a cap on the amount spent for 7 days. So one would assume that the cap and the card were the same. Not so. The card is a MUCH better deal if you are going to be staying outside of the Central area of London and will be using the tube/buses at least twice a day, occassionally during ‘rush’ hour. And of course you will be using the thing during rush hour. It takes a pretty amazing tourist to avoid doing that – at least in the afternoon!

Another reason the 7 day card is the better deal – it starts on the day you first use it. That means you can get 7 days from Monday to Monday, Tuesday to Tuesday – you get the idea. On the other hand, the cap only works from Sunday to Sunday. So unless you arrive on Sunday morning – it will never work out.

And here’s the most annoying thing about the CAP. Even if you qualify for a refund – you’ve spent more than 38.50 GPB in travelling around Zones 1-3, the refund only appears on Thursday of that week. So for a tourist – it’s a complete waste. You spend the money to front load the card, and by the time you get the refund- you are ready to leave.

If you even get the refund. We haven’t seen it yet. I don’t think it’s going to happen. And we spent over 90 GPB in one week before we smartened up and bought the 7 day card.

And it wasn’t for lack of asking! We must have chatted up 6 different agents on the tube line – each time getting a slightly different story. Only twice did we get the right advice. The gal at the Underground Information Booth at Victoria Station knew the ins and outs of the program, and she promptly told us – if you are here for 5 days or more – the 7 day pass pays! The gal at the airport information booth suggested it at first, but never clearly explained why spending 38.5 GPB up front was the smart idea.

Anyway – that 90 GPB is spent, and now we have the 7 day card – and life is much easier.

Signing off to go ride the Tube…
The Soup Lady and the Intrepid Traveller

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

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!

Parting Shots – Goodbye to London

I’m on my way back home to Canada – but I can’t help but leave you with a few more true stories of the strange things I’ve seen here in England.

Homeless Dog Sitter – we were outside of the V&A Museum (wonderful museum – highly recommend it), there’s a nice pedestrian area there that makes for very pleasant walking. It was right around 6:30 – and we saw the absolute strangest thing. An apparently homeless man was sitting with his arms around a large brown dog, holding a sign. “Just a man and his dog – Please be generous”. Ok – seen that before. But here’s the odd part. As we watched, another man, wearing a nice coat and looking quite established walked up to the man – no words were exchanged – but the man took out from under his coat a leash, a harness, and a dog jacket – proceeded to put the jacket on the dog, add the leash and harness – and then walked away. The homeless man turned around, and flipped over his sign.

What do you think that was all about?

Ok – Subway manners. In Korea they have signs indicating the locations sections of the metro cars designated for the older, the pregant, or the infirm. If someone sits in one of these sections by accident – the proper occupants will hiss at them to move away. Totally works. In London – it’s a bit different. The seats nearest the doors are all marked as special seating – it’s emblazoned on the backrests – and sometimes on the the window. But you don’t know where the doors will end up, so you are often trying to guess where to stand. But that’s not the subject of this story. I need a seat on the subway – the jerky motion makes my knees ache – so I always try for a seat – and I don’t mind asking someone who looks young and healthy – but has decided to sit in the special seats to get up. Not everyone who needs a seat is that forceful however – and we boarded a subway car with another older woman. I asked a young man to get up – which he did. Across from him – also sitting in a seat designated for older, pregant, or infirm – was another younger gentleman holding a briefcase. He made eye contact with the other older woman – and proceeded to shut his eyes and clutch his briefcase to his chest – faking sleep.

Really – you can’t be bothered to get up – and you are willing to fake sleep to aoid it?

Ok – Subway manners again. Remember that the special seats are for older folks, infirm – or pregant. But how do you know a woman is pregant? When I was in the market stall at Fenchurch Station – I noticed young women – some obviously pregant, some not so obvious – sporting a button that said – “Baby on Board”. I thought – that’s funny that they all bought the same button. But my daughter tells me that I’m wrong. In fact – Doctors give their pregant patients these buttons – which are distruted by the transit authority – to allow them to claim those special seats.

How cool is that!

One last story – then I’m off to a new adventure.

Brits are amazingly polite in general. I worry for the newest generation – but generally speaking they don’t like to say no. So when I was giving out samples of Crown & Queue Sausages (, if they didn’t want to buy something – they would fake an excuse. “I don’t get paid till tomorrow”, “How late will you be here – I’ll come back after work”, “I’m going to tour the market and then come back”. The last actually wasn’t a clear no – often they did come back – which they would announce! “Hi – I’m back – and you have the best sausages”. Actually – we had just about the only air-cured dried sausages – but I agree they were awesomely good. But here’s my favorite way for Brits to say – Thanks but no Thanks. “Will you be here tomorrow/on Monday/next week?”. At first I’d honestly tell them – Yes. But I quickly realized that was just another way of saying no. So I finally started to say either “No – today is our last day”, or “We aren’t sure yet – if you want sausages – you should get them now”. I’m a bit ashamed to admit that it is possible that some people – having been called out on their polite rejection – perhaps bought a sausage. Who knows for sure!

Ok – that’s it for my report from London. I had a really great time visiting with my daughter – albeit the sleeping arrangements weren’t always the very best. We managed to spend 3 weeks in extremely close company – and didn’t kill each other. We didn’t even have a fight. Must be a record of some kind.

We did have some laughs – did some Christmas Caroling – some organized – and some in the Market Stall, and we shared a lot of meals. But most importantly – we had plenty of bonding time to talk about this and that. It was fun.

Signing off to head home,

The Soup Lady