Archive for August, 2009

Cooling the Tube

Air conditioning on the Tube! I never thought the day would come. What a pity that it’s scheduled to happen nearly two years after I left.

I will have to regale future generations with tales of the summer heat waves that lasted up to five days. The mercury would rise beyond 32 degrees Celsius (about 90 degrees Fahrenheit).

Articles would fill British newspapers about the heat on London’s public transport system: it was illegal to transport livestock at the temperature on the Tube.

The locals were outraged. But anyone who had lived or travelled during the summer in the Middle East, or even parts of the US, called the Brits heat wimps. 90 degrees may not be scorching, but it makes you appreciate air conditioning.

I’ll miss those signs outside most Tube station entrances, advising riders to carry a bottle of water to keep cool, putting the onus on the passengers, rather than on the station management.

Heat waves were unusual in London when I was living there, but we really felt them when they hit — nothing, from our flat to our local Starbucks, was air-conditioned. (Our closest cinema was, but not every theatre within it. That governed our movie choices).

So a temperature controlled Tube will open a whole new world of cool. But it will only debut on four lines — so we old-timers will still have somewhere to ride if we want to feel heat.

Movie Mayhem

We were overwhelmed last night by a new sense of freedom that you can only find in the US: the marvel of movie shopping. We went to the movies before we had decided what to see: Time Traveler’s Wife, Inglorious Basterds, Julie and Julia or Taking Woodstock.

As is often the case with US movie theatres, our local has a liberal ticket policy, so we were able to draw the decision out until the end of the last preview.

Unlike cinemas in the UK, where each theatre in a multiplex is guarded by a ticket taker, last night’s theatre in Atlanta was a free-for-all. I had grown accustomed to the strict policies in London: you had to present your ticket to prove you actually had a right to enter that particular theatre.

Then, you had to be escorted by the usher to your seat assignment (yes! They assigned seats). You would think that people would sneak out of their assigned seats once the usher’s back was turned. But no. People would remain in those designated seats for the duration of the film.

Even when people climbed over them, or sat directly in front of them, or right next to them, Londoners would stay put — never mind that there were empty seats a few rows in front or behind them. I do think this phenomenon has something to do with Britain’s iron-clad class system. People are told what their place is, and that’s where they stay.

Here in the US, people tend to strive to rise above their station. We bought tickets for Taking Woodstock, in a snap decision prompted by the long line behind us, then quickly changed our minds after reading a negative review on my husband’s Blackberry.

So we walked over to the theatre showing Time Traveler’s Wife, which looked a bit empty. Inglorious Basterds had already started, so that left Julie and Julia — a movie that my father had advised was a chick flick, but my husband agreed to see anyway.

It was about to start, and the theatre was full, which promised to be a fun viewing experience. Who wants to pay $10 to sit in an empty theatre when you can enjoy the crowd reaction down the hall?

The move enabled us to get away from a man who had taken it upon himself to remove a thread from the back of my husband’s shirt while we were standing in line. This incident greatly irritated my husband. We left the perpetrator behind in the Taking Woodstock theatre.

Grounded Travel

Now that I have had several experiences of being stuck on the tarmac for more than an hour with my rambunctious toddlers protesting loudly, I have a special appreciation for this article on Yahoo! News.

And I thought I had it bad. An hour and a half is nothing compared to the 11 hours those poor JetBlue passengers had to wait in 2007.

Transatlantic Health Care Debate

This Economist article does a good job of explaining several aspects of the debate over which is better: the US, or UK, health care systems.

But after laying out many statistics and surveys, it concludes that both need a lot of help. So the debate continues….

Flying Kids, Part II

We are revising our strategy for boarding a plane with our two kids, both under the age of three. While we used to stand poised by the gate, ready to be the first to leap onto the gangway as soon as boarding began — or even before boarding began (after all, we are “passengers who need extra assistance”) — we will now hang back a bit.

This is not just because we often find ourselves assisting our nearly three-year-old with lengthy potty trips in the run up to boarding time. Nor is it because we want one last Starbucks trip before getting onto the plane (although that has happened at least once).

We finally realized that as thrilling as it is to have first dibs on the overhead bins, the less time you can spend on a plane, the better. This is especially true on a Friday evening in August, when you’re flying from Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson airport to New York’s LaGuardia. We are now veterans of this route, and it seems to be plagued by delays.

When our flight was pushed back by about an hour and a half this past weekend, we wished we had savored a few more minutes in the terminal, where our son was toddling between travelers’ suitcases and legs, and our daughter didn’t have to contend with illuminated seatbelt signs when she wanted to hit the potty.

So now, we will take our time walking to the gate. We will not panic when we hear the announcement that our flight is boarding. The hour-plus we spent stuck on the tarmac with two crying kids was a cruel reminder that kids do not like to be strapped into a seat. Next time, we’ll have to think about driving…

Flying kids

We are mulling the idea of a long weekend at the beach, but are wary of driving six hours with a nearly three-year-old and a 15-month-old.

Business class fun
But then it occurred to us that we have schlepped them both on six transatlantic flights this year, ranging in length from six to nine hours. The drive should be a cake walk.

But I suppose it’s what you’re used to. At first, we were surprised to hear that my one-year-old needed to take off his shoes and put them through the x-ray machine. The soles of the shoes are only two-inches long, so they seemed to be an unlikely place to store explosives.

Now, we know what to expect. We invented a game out of putting my daughter’s stuffed bunny through the x-ray. She enjoyed it so much that she explained to her little brother that there was no need to cry — horsey would emerge intact from the other side of the machine, too.

Airport fun
In the terminal, we kill hours hiding behind chairs; playing “chase me” through the throngs of other travelers; chatting with other toddlers; and taking numerous trips to the potty.

Many airlines let us, and other families with small children, board first. But not all do (ahem. Delta!). After a five hour delay for our flight from New York to Atlanta this past Christmas, we were disappointed that the check-in staff insisted that we wait until our zone number was called to get on the plane.

Luckily, our compassionate fellow travelers let us cut the line. It is key to get on the plane early, and secure scarce overhead space for car seats, etc., and to get the kids into the seats without battling the crowds in those tiny aisles.

Once on the flight, my husband and I take turns walking up and down the aisle with our one year old. Our two-year-old, now a seasoned traveler, is content to watch the in-flight entertainment, and to gorge on snacks that the kind British Airways flight attendants give us.

By hour seven, we are ready to “de-plane,” as they say in the captain’s announcement. Those last two hours are the toughest. Hats off to anyone who flies longer than nine hours with kids.

Organic Myths

In my daily trip to Trader Joe’s today, I noticed a packet of organic pop tarts. They were nestled in between the frosted mini wheats, and the organic strawberry corn flakes.

I had come to assume that “organic” means “healthy.” But as someone who is intimately familiar with the hard frosted coating over sweet gelatinous filling that constitutes a pop tart, I know that they are the opposite of healthy.

While living in the UK, I became an accidental organic fan. In our local grocery stores, most food seemed to be organic, whether a shopper was looking for it or not.

So in my first trip to Publix and Kroger here in Atlanta, I was surprised by how little seemed to be organic. I like that Trader Joe’s has a wide array of organic products, so that’s usually where I go. I also enjoy their free samples, and 80s tunes.

But if their organic label includes products like pop tarts, perhaps I don’t understand exactly what organic means. Maybe it’s not synonymous with healthy.

I know that organic food is supposed to contain less preservatives than its non-organic counterparts. But that’s not always a good thing. I got a nasty surprise when I opened a brand new pack of organic English muffins from our local health food store.
Moldy muffins
Maybe preservatives would have kept the mold at bay on those muffins…

Helter Skelter

My favorite parts of the Paul McCartney concert in Piedmont Park last night were the old songs — from his time with the Beatles, and even Wings. The rest of the 50,000 plus crowd seemed to agree. They were almost quiet during the many new numbers he played, mostly during the first hour of the concert.

But perhaps they were just subdued by the pouring rain.
Helter Skelter
I was pleased that Sir Paul played Helter Skelter. It reminded me of an interesting fact I learned during a recent UK visit. “Helter Skelter” means more a state of chaos, or the Beatles’ song — it also refers to a spiral slide.

That makes the song seem much more innocent — despite its eerie history.

Our 2 year old had a grand time playing on the slide pictured at the local Notcutts garden store.

Who knew?

NHS Love

I am surprised by the level of anger directed towards Britain’s National Health Service. But I am shocked to see how vocal Britons are in supporting it.

Everyone I know in the UK has an unpleasant NHS story, usually centered on overworked nurses, and overcrowded hospitals — both problems that afflict the US healthcare system, too. But complaining about your own system is one thing — hearing criticism from across the pond goes too far, I suppose.

That’s why I don’t understand why certain Republicans call the NHS “evil” — if they ever lost their jobs, and health insurance, where would they be? For all of the NHS’s issues, at least it’s committed to helping everyone, insured or not.

When you read about Tory leader David Cameron calling NHS doctors and nurses “miracle workers” because of the care they gave his disabled son, you know they’re doing something right.

It’s been a long time

I didn’t think that too much time had elapsed since I left London. When I visit, I feel like I never left. But then sometimes, I see something that reminds me that eight long months have passed since I moved back to the US.

I remember Jude Law’s hairline being much more robust than it is now.

And when I was walking through the West End, on my way to pick up theatre tickets, I realized that I just don’t live there anymore. I was looking for Drury Lane, but ended up on St. Martin’s Lane. I had to walk into the wrong theatre to ask for directions to the right one.

The very helpful box office staff at the Noël Coward Theatre, current home to Calendar Girls, offered me a map, which I turned down. I thought: “I lived in London for eight years! I need no map.”

And yet, I managed to get completely lost on my way to the New London Theatre. It was an entertaining walk through Covent Garden, yet frustrating, because I could remember a time, which doesn’t seem too long ago — back when Jude Law’s hairline stretched down to his forehead — that I knew my way there without a map.