September 22, 2012

Journey to London

I’ve dumped about 1,000 pictures, including some video, that Cynthia and I took on a recent trip to England into the movie up above. The movie lasts about 90 minutes, and includes shots taken from our seats in tour buses. The shots from the buses may or may not be any good.

Departure—The flight left on time from Dulles on Wednesday, September 5, 2012. I'd expected to be terrified during the flight, and had asked the doctor for an anti-anxiety drug. He prescribed Ativan (lorazepam). When I looked it up, I found that one of the side effects is that it seems to affect memory. If I understand correctly, it inhibits the formation of memory, so I chose to remember whatever panic I felt. Oddly I was not terrified on the flight out.

Arrival at Heathrow was a bit of a pain. You're greeted with signs that point to "Baggage Reclaim," and you walk all around the terminal for 15 or 20 minutes before you get to the luggage delivery points. We finally got our luggage, and the car that we'd arranged for met us, and took us to the hotel.

The Hotel—We stayed at the Hilton at Green Park. This is near Hyde Park, the Green Park stop on the London Tube, and near the Ritz Hotel where Fred romanced Ginger in Top Hat. The hotel room was small, essentially a bed, night stands, a small desk, and a bathroom. The plumbing took a bit of getting used to. The hot water in the shower will only come on if you've previously started the cold water.

The hotel is near a number of shops and restaurants that are part of Shepherd's Market. We ate at several of the restaurants, and liked L'autre, a Polish-Mexican restaurant; Sofra, a Lebanese/Middle Eastern restaurant, and Da Corradi, an Italian restaurant. There are also a number of shops and pubs there. Across the street on Curzon St. is Heywood Hill, a book store of an antiquarian bent. The staff is very polite, and very helpful.

September 6, 2012. Hop On Hop Off Tour—This is a two hour, or slightly longer, tour. Our guide had a mild obsession with Harry Potter, and subscribed to one of the Shakespeare heresies, i.e., the belief that someone other than the man from Stratford wrote the works attributed to Shakespeare. People afflicted with that belief are best treated by humouring them, and keeping them away from small children. The tour covered most of the major sites in London, but we did not get off. After we got off we went to Harrod's. Tea at Harrod's is a great experience. The food is good, and a number of tourists were so enthralled by the presentation that they were observed to photograph the deserts.

Route of trip:

September 7, 2012. Leeds Castle, Dover, Canterbury, Greenwich—This was the first of several tours that we took. Most of them involved travel via bus. Unfortunately the buses do not have toilets. We'll get into that later on.

Leeds Castle, is near a village called Leeds in Kent. There is a city called Leeds in Yorkshire. There is a good deal of distance between the castle and the city in Yorkshire. The castle is touted as the most beautiful in Europe. The grounds are nice, and the swans are pretty. Whether it is more beautiful than a French chateau or one of Leopold's Bavarian fantasies I leave to the gentle reader to decide.

Dover is famous for the white cliffs. They are spectacular, and on a good day, with good visibility, which ours was not, you can see France across the Channel. Dover faces Calais, and the point is called the pas de Calais. It was this point from which the Allies were expected to launch the cross-channel invasion. Fortunately, for civilization, if not the German armies, the decision was made to cross at Normandy. Dover was also the site of much of the aerial combat of the Battle of Britain. The memorial to the airmen of the war is very moving, very poignant.

Canterbury is the site of the famous cathedral where Thomas Becket was murdered. The claim is that Henry II in exasperation yelled out "Will no one rid me of this turbulent priest," and that four of his knights, without his knowledge or consent, went off and killed Thomas. More skeptical people might be inclined to say that's the official story, but not the real story. Becket's body is no longer there. The relics are no longer there. Henry VIII in his campaign against the Catholic Church destroyed the relics, and confiscated the wealth of the churches and monasteries. He then promptly wasted the money on war with France. Henry, need I say, was not a great general, and lost all the remaining English possessions in France. The fact that Henry managed to lose to the French, of all nations, should be sufficient evidence that he was not a good general. In the process he impoverished the people who had livelihoods that were dependent on the monasteries, and caused local recessions and impoverishment, while passing the loot onto his cronies and supporters.

The cathedral itself is nice enough. It has not been retro-fitted with pews, which are an invention from later times, but uses folding chairs for its services. You can see the spot where the martyrdom took place, and the place that contained the body and relics. The city of Canterbury is pleasant, but it seems to be dependent on the associations with its departed, in all senses, archbishop. Another claim to fame of Canterbury, but one which for some reason it does not emphasize, is that it was the birthplace and school for one of Shakespeare's greatest competitors on the English stage, Christopher Marlowe. Unfortunately, England, while home to many great playwrights and novelists, emphasizes Shakespeare to the exclusion of Marlowe, Shaw, Ford, Dekker, Middleton, Fielding, Sheridan, et al.

Greenwich is 0°, all longitude, East and West, starts from there. Just as there are places along the equator where it is possible to straddle North and South, so it is possible at Greenwich to straddle East and West. We didn't do this. By the time we reached Greenwich we were too tired to do anything except sit down. We were also too rushed to do any exploring.

The tour concluded with a boat ride along the Thames. The boat was also used for commuting, so we had to dock periodically, and take on more passengers before proceeding to the next point. When we docked for the last time, the tour guide was nice enough to help us get a taxi back to the hotel, and advised us to get Oyster cards to use on the Tube.

September 8, 2012. The British Museum—We went to see a special exhibit devoted to Shakespeare. Now most of our museum going in the US has been in DC, and the huge national institutions such as the National Gallery (DC), and the Smithsonian, do not charge admission, nor do they ask for donations, nor do they usually charge for special exhibits. While the British Museum, the National Gallery, and Tate Britain are nominally free, they do ask for donations. Typically they ask for £4, and they may ask for £1 for floor plans. Admission for special exhibits is over £10 per person for seniors.

The Shakespeare exhibit is interesting, but as with all museum exhibits that are heavily promoted and attended there were too many people standing too close to the exhibits for too long a period of time.

The museum permits picture taking in the regular exhibit area, so I grabbed over 200 shots of ancient sculptures from Greece, Assyria, and other parts of the Old World.

In the evening we dined at L'autre, a Polish-Mexican restaurant. It's small, very intimate spot. They offer wild game, including venison and wild boar, and fish, including sea bass. The drinks menu included one called a tatanka, made with bison grass vodka. For those who don't indulge in exotic vodkas, this is apparently plain vodka that has been flavored by soaking bison grass in it. It's not as strong as it sounds. A recipe for the cocktail can be found here.

September 9–10, 2012.Mass, the National Gallery, illness—Cynthia and I sat in front of some guy with a persistent cough on our bus tour to Leeds Castle, et al., and she awoke with chills, and general aches and pains. I was feeling okay, and went to Mass at the Church of the Immaculate Conception on Farm Street. This is a Jesuit church, and despite the reputation the Jesuits have in the US did not seem to be as bad as their American brethren. After Mass Cynthia was still not feeling well, but she said it was okay for me to go out, so I went to the National Gallery. When I got there I was starting to feel ill myself, so I didn't enjoy it as much as I might have.

The National Gallery in DC is organized more or less along historical lines. Gallery 1 is medieval paintings, gallery 60 is Impressionist or Cubist is whatever. The NG in London is also organized along similar lines. However, they added a new building in the 1990s, and the Medieval art is in the new wing, which has galleries numbered in the 50s and maybe the 60s. The wings are connected, but navigation through the building is a pain. I was getting progressively more tired, and eventually just hit the major highlights, The Rokeby Venus, Mars and Venus, and a few others.

I was sick by the time I got back to the hotel. We had been scheduled for a trip to York on Monday, the 10th, but we had to skip the trip. Most of Monday was spent in bed except for a trip to the pharmacy in Shepherd Market. I picked up vitamin C and Zinc, which are supposed to boost the immune system, and help fight colds, for Cynthia and myself. I had also abraded my feet, and picked up some bandages. In the States you can walk into any drug store and buy Neosporin™, an antibiotic first aid cream, without a prescription, and use it to treat minor scrapes, cuts, and burns. In the UK all antibiotics require a prescription. (Oddly though you can buy bandages with antibiotics embedded in the bandage. You can also buy Tylenol™ with codeine, or the equivalent, over the counter.)

September 11, 2012. The Taming of the Shrew—This was at Shakespeare's Globe, a reconstruction of the original theater. Unlike the original, it is furnished with restrooms. The seats are backless except for the last row in each section. You can rent cushions for your glutes, and back support gadgets. Both are better than nothing, but neither is as good as a modern theater seat.

Probably more people read Shakespeare than see his plays acted. As a consequence his reputation as a poet and writer of speeches, which are anthologized and acted in isolation from the total drama, is probably greater than his reputation as a writer of funny, knockabout farces. Shakespeare's plays are largely missing stage directions, so much of the expressive detail, and comedic business has to be supplied by the director and by the actors. In the case of Shrew there was a good deal of slapstick action, such as bucket's being kicked whenever a dead parent was mentioned, or fights between Katherine and Petruchio.

The Globe is worth going to, but do not book the yard tickets, those are standees, and do book tickets that are in the last row of the section so that you have back support.

September 12, 2012. Paris—This was an early morning trip. We got to the tube before the first train started running, and were greeted by a couple of mice who scurried into depths of the station. The train was a Eurostar train, an example of which is shown over on the left, that travelled at about 186mph through the Channel Tunnel, or "chunnel," as it may or may not be known, to Paris. The trip takes about 2.5 hours, and is moderately comfortable. The train is equipped with restrooms, unlike the buses. It also has a drinks/food car that will supply soft drinks, wine, croissants, and other necessities.

Route of Eurostar:
The train arrives at the Gare du Nord station. Our guide went into near ecstasy over the wonders and beauties of the Gare du Nord, which had been built by Napoleon III, one of France's failed emperors. In actuality the first thing that you notice about the Gare du Nord and about Paris is that it stinks to high heaven. It's rather reminiscent of Loudon Wainwright III's greatest hit, and is just stinking to high heaven. The second thing you notice is that there are a lot of sex shops along the way.

The guide rushes you along in the bus, and then you're more or less dumped at La Tour Eiffel. The fact that such a proudly male protuberance is described with a feminine article probably goes a good way to explaining the deficiencies of the French. Be that as it may, we were given the chance of continuing with the tour, or regrouping later at the train station. Given that we'd gotten lost at Canterbury, we opted to stay with the tour. This was a bit of a disappointment, because I'd wanted to visit Pere Lachaise, Notre Dame, Les Deux Magots, and Cafe de Flores, as well as a French bookstore or two. No such luck. We had lunch at the Eiffel Tower. The attendants were rude. We were not used to the exotic bathroom routines of the French. Apparently when entering a public restroom it is customary to pay the attendant for tissue and soap. Now how a civilization can consider itself advanced when its old women serve in such degrading positions is beyond me. The American system, which does not use attendants for such necessities, is far superior.

Upon exiting the Eiffel Tower we did a boat trip along the Seine, which is picturesque and pretty. The boats were named after a variety of Parisians. Ours was Jeanne Moreau, one of my favorite French actresses. Subsequent to that we were dumped at the Louvre. By that time we were too tired to move out of the basement, and went to Starbucks, which was uncomfortable. I checked out some cologne at Lalique. They wanted €65, well over $100, for a bottle which is available from Amazon for $37 (Lalique By Lalique For Men. Eau De Parfum Spray 4.2 Ounces) So no sale there. The Comedie Francaise has a bookstore in the basement of the Louvre, and I was going to buy a DVD of Dom Juan by Moliere, but it was not subtitled. So I wound up spending €3 for a copy of the play in French. The salesgirl did not seem to understand that I could read the play, if I read it slowly. I tried to make a joke by comparing myself to La Hire in Shaw's St. Joan, which fell over flat. I might have had more luck if I had said Saint Jeanne, or if I'd added d'arc. In either case I'm sure she thought poorly of me.

The Apple store is located in the Louvre. While we were there the iPhone 5 was announced, and there was much cheering.

When we returned to London, we were trying to find a taxi. A kind gentleman offered to assist us, and took us to what he assured us was a better spot. We gave him some pounds for his services, and about 20 for what we assumed was a flat rate that he negotiated for the taxi. Unfortunately, we still had to pay for the taxi. We'd been hustled, and the guy took advantage of our tiredness and exhaustion.

September 13, 2012. The Medieval Banquet—This is one of those tourist things that will sometimes get good reviews, and other times will get very poor, hostile reviews. While it's doubtful that it's an authentic feast such as Henry VIII or Elizabeth would preside over, it's not as bad as some reviews will lead you to believe. The food is chicken, roast beef, some vegetables, and wine. Beer is available on tap. The entertainment is enthusiastic, and while some of the costumes, such as that worn by the young lady on the left, are scarcely medieval, the acts seem to be, from the little I know, typical of what might have been performed. It's enjoyable as long as you don't expect an authentic reproduction of some historical banquet.

September 14, 2012. Stonehenge, Bath, Cotswolds, Stratford-Upon-Avon—This was the most physically exhausting tour that we did. It's about 2 hours from London to Stonehenge, another 2 to Bath, another 2 to Stratford, and a further, though final, 2 from Stratford to London. That's 8 hours of discomfort in a bus that has no leg room.

The most exhausting tour:
The weather at Stonehenge was cold, and we were not really dressed for 60° weather. We were wearing windbreakers, or light jackets, but were still chilled by the wind. In many respects, a cold, overcast day, one that evokes thoughts of a dim past, human sacrifice, thoughts of Stravinsky's Sacre du Printemps, and all of that may be the best time to visit Stonehenge. It was moderately spooky. We, and the rest of our tour group, were horrified to learn that during the Great War, World War I to Americans, that the RAF used Stonehenge for target practice, and that there are bullet holes in the great stones. This was prior to Stonehenge becoming a national monument, an event that happened in the 1920s.

We lived for many years in Reston, VA, one of the so-called "new towns," along with Columbia, MD that sprang up in the States back in the 1960s. Reston has an Architectural Review Board that approves things like house colors, door styles, and generally exerts a conformist pressure upon property owners. Bath is, like Reston was originally, pretty much a one or two man operation. Two architects, John Wood the elder, and John Wood the younger, are responsible for most of the Georgian architecture in Bath. The result is a consistent style that is fairly limited in pigmentation. That is largely the result of the use of local stone in building. The overall impression is one of great beauty. The abbey, which is in the center of town, is filled with light, and the details of the ceiling will take your breath away. Unlike Canterbury Cathedral, or Westminster Abbey, which seem more geared for the tourist trade, or for ostentatious display of piety, if I were looking for a place to pray and reflect, Bath Abbey would be it.

Our trip through the Cotswolds was just that, a trip. We didn't stop. We then proceeded to Stratford-upon-Avon. This was towards the end of the tour, and consisted of a brief repast, a strawberry scone and champagne, followed by one of the guides giving brief renditions of scenes from Shakespeare. We then entered the birthplace. One of the local guides said photography was permitted, so I snapped away. On the second floor we were told that photography was not permitted.

Stratford is a prime tourist site, and is worth a longer visit, but the tour did not allow us to explore other buildings associated with Shakespeare.

September 15, 2012. Westminster Abbey & Ripper Tour—Cynthia wanted to rest in the morning, so I went to Westminster Abbey by myself. Photography is prohibited inside the Abbey, and the Abbey is not free. There is a rather exorbitant admission charge, something that you will not find at St. Patrick's in NYC, or the National Cathedral in DC. I was under the impression that the Anglican Church in the UK was state supported, in which case asking for an admission fee seems to me to be outrageous. If it's not getting tax money from the government, it still seems to me outrageous that it should demand large sums for viewing the abbey. The abbey, in the choir and the sections actually devoted to prayer and service, is a gorgeous space. The other areas, where kings and queens, and noted people are buried are less gorgeous. There are a number of memorials, some of them rather ostentatious, to fallen soldiers. While I was there I saw the graves of:

I probably saw a few others that I didn't note.

The abbey, in its more public and ceremonial role, seems to me to be more an example of ostentatious piety rather than genuine devoutness. The memorials proclaim the outer devoutness of those, like Darwin, who were inwardly doubtful, or of varying degrees of piety. I actually prefer Bath Abbey to Westminster.

Admission at Westminster Abbey is £16 for adults, £13 for seniors, and £6 for children over 6. This is $26, $21, $10, respectively at current (Sept. 29, 2012) rates.

The Ripper Tour. This was a tour through the darker side of London. Tyburn is no longer in existence, but the place of execution is marked, as is the spot where William Wallace, aka Braveheart, was executed. The tour went through the East End of London on a Saturday night. There were a fair number of bar patrons, and assorted wenches, of possibly dubious morals, out that night. That area still has the feeling and atmosphere that one might associate with 1888 London and lowlifes on the prowl for a good time. I should note that this is probably colored by the tour that we were on, the time of night, and our general non-swingingness.

The tour bus for this event was the most comfortable one we rode in London.

September 16, 2012. Tate Britain—After Mass we went to see a pre-Raphaelite exhibition at Tate Britain. The gallery is nominally free, though they do ask for a £4 donation, and £1 for a map. Since we had already paid £25 for admission to the pre-Raphaelite exhibit, we skipped the donation. Many of the pictures I remembered from an earlier, free, exhibit at the National Gallery in DC. A few I'd heard about, but never seen, notably Pegwell Bay by William Dyce. After the pre-Raphaelite exhibit we moved on to some other rooms. There were some nice paintings by Hogarth up, but sadly there were none by William Blake, who does have a sizable presence at the Tate, I believe. There was also one, in another room, by Sargent, whose Repose at the National Gallery in DC is one of my favorites.

September 17, 2012. Windsor and the Tower of London—This was a short tour. It had originally included lunch at Harrod's, but the tour company had to modify it for some reason. Windsor is a short distance from London. The big trouble is getting out of London, or getting back to London in a car. It is probably better to grab a train to Windsor than to do a bus tour. The castle is huge, and there is a lot to see. Must see sites include Queen Mary's Doll House, which is exquisite, and the state apartments. In St. George's chapel you can see the grave of Henry VIII and Jane Seymour, and mutter a silent curse upon Henry for the devastation that he brought the Church and the realm.

The Tower is another must see site. The jewels are fabulous, and the torture chamber is something to threaten misbehaving children with.

This was our final tour in England. The tours are fine if you're short, with little tiny legs, and don't take up a lot of room. If you're older, with an aging prostate, or big and gangly like many Americans, you may find the seats too close together, and the stops to take care of excretory needs too infrequent. This may mean that you choose to drink very little water. This is a mistake. Inadequate hydration can lead to other excretory problems aside from what you might think. I won't say any more along those lines for fear of upsetting delicate readers. On the other hand, if you're young, and your bladder works well, and you don't mind the short leg room, do one or more of the tours, and mark points that you want to visit on your own.

The big drawback to touring on your own in London and England is driving in London traffic. This is worse than traffic in DC or along Route 3 in Spotsylvania/Fredericksburg, VA. You don't want to drive in London, so either do trains, or take the tours.

After we returned from the tour, I met with Donal, who I knew slightly from an Internet mailing list that I subscribe to. We had a pleasant time chatting about Shaw, the Webbs, the LSE, and other topics of interest.

September 18-19, 2012. Last day in London and return flight—The next day was spent packing. We had dinner at La Corradi, an Italian restaurant in Shepherd Market. I'm not sure if Lenin ate there, but there was a picture of him on the wall, along with a number of other celebrities. At least there wasn't a picture of Che. Despite this, the food was good.

The next morning we were picked up at 6:30, and driven to Heathrow. We went through security without any problem. TSA in the States is obsessed with exercising dictatorial powers, and forces people to either be subjected to a pat-down, or go through backscatter x-ray machines, which are dangerous and not properly maintained. England uses a standard metal detector followed by pat-down and wanding if you set off the detector. I wore metal braces that set off the fool thing, so I got the pat-down and wanding. We then were seated next to some lady who saw my book, an anthology of Anglo-Saxon poetry, and made the standard comment about how someone she knew was forced to read Beowulf, and they hated it. I was going to ask if this ever happens to people in other disciplines, but I suspect it probably does to people in mathematics, philosophy, chemistry, etc.

The plane was ready to take off on time, then the pilot came on to announce that there was a problem with the cargo door. It took 2 hours of repair work, paper work, and bureaucratic ineptitude before we took off. We arrived about 2 hours late, and were picked up in the middle of the DC rush hour, and had to travel along 495 and I-95 during the worst part of the day. We went to bed about 8:00 our time, 1:00am London time, after having gotten up at 4:00am London time. 23 hours without a nap. That's the longest either of us has stayed up in years.

General Comments

Money—We ordered pounds and euros through our bank. I was disappointed when they came. There's a place in Goldfinger, the book, not the movie, where James Bond says that the old £5 note was among the most beautiful notes in the world. Neither the pound nor the euro is particularly attractive. The paper is flimsy, and the anti-counterfeiting strips are pretty evident. Having said that, I should add that the British mint produces exceptionally pretty coins, and I got a £5 proof commemorative of Chruchill. My sons got commemoratives of Big Ben.

Politeness—I only encountered one rude person in London, though some people do rush along the pavement in great haste. On the other hand most people in Paris were rude. I would have no problem with the idea of learning French for an extended visit, but they seem to expect you to speak flawless French even though you're only there for a short visit. I have no way of knowing if this is true, but I griped to someone that I was pretty sure that if I went into a store in St. Petersburg, or Moscow and bought a DVD of Eugene Onegin that it would have subtitles. Only the French, who have been a failed nation since June 18, 1815, are that arrogant.

Drugs—Some drugs that Americans might expect to be readily available, such as Neosporin™ are not available because they are antibiotics. Now I have diabetes 2, and I was told to be careful with scrapes and abrasions to my feet, particularly the underside. I was told that an injury, which might be treated with a bandage and some Neosporin™ could become infected and lead to amputation. Now I haven't had that happen, but it seems to me that if you require a consult with a GP for a drug that has minimal side-effects, no abuse potential, and is not high on the list of drugs with diminishing effectiveness, that you must raise insurance and medical costs. On the other hand, the Brits seem to allow the over-the-counter dispersal of medications with codeine, which is addictive, and could conceivably be gateways to morphine and related opiates.

I should note that a check shows that the Tylenol™ preparations with codeine that are available over the counter are low dose preparations. Moderate and high dose combinations require a prescription.

Transportation—I've already said that the tour buses are uncomfortable, but how about the transportation that Londoners use? We didn't use the doubledecker buses that abound in London, except for the hop on hop off tour, which is run by a private tour company. We did use the tube, and we did use taxis. The tube is pretty much omnipresent in London. You can find stops within a couple of blocks in most of Mayfair, and other parts of London, at least in the areas where tourists go. We didn't go to outlying districts, such as the rather humorously named Cockfosters, which is one end of the Piccadily line. (Heathrow airport is the other.) The first thing you need to do when you get into London is go to the tube, and buy what's called an Oyster card. There is a £5 deposit, which you get back when you turn in the card, and put on a few pounds, maybe £40 to start. You can then travel pretty much anywhere in London. The government actually has a site that will help you use public transportation to get around. Go to, and you'll find a relatively helpful transportation planner. This will work on an iPhone without too much hassle. When you get to your destination there are frequently, not always, but frequently, helpful people from Transportation For London (the tfl in the URL given above) who can help you find your destination. There are also maps at the tube stops.

If you get lost, or have difficulty finding the tube stop in the dark, you can usually find a taxi without too much difficulty. The taxis we took typically had seating for three. There is more headroom in the taxi than in a standard sedan back in the states, so it's a little tricky for tall and somewhat decrepit Americans to get into and out of the passenger seats. The drivers were usually polite, most were somewhat talkative, and were usually interesting to talk to. They also seemed better educated than some of the taxi drivers in DC and NY. There is no medallion system, such as they have in NYC, but there is an exam on "knowledge of London," and it can take 4 years of study to pass it.

Food—English cooking has a bad reputation, and it may be deserved, but I can't swear to it. Starbucks is almost as ubiquitous in England as it is in the States. We had breakfast almost every morning at the Starbucks on Piccadilly near our hotel. I usually had a doppio, double espresso, and a cinnamon bun. Almost as omnipresent in England, though I don't think it's hit the States yet, is Caffe Nero, which is oriented more towards Italian food than Starbucks. Caffe Nero has very refreshing frappes, and decent sandwiches. We had lunch one day at a French restaurant/cafe across from the Ritz. The food was reasonably priced, unlike what you might expect at the Ritz, and the staff was pleasant, unlike the servers at La Tour Eiffel. Moderately priced restaurants that offer a variety of cuisines seem to abound, as well as restaurants that cater to expensive tastes. There is at least one restaurant that specializes in caviar. Needless to say we didn't give that one a try. If you're feeling rich, however, or you have a special sweetie, the restaurant, does have a website that sells salmon, caviar, and other delicacies. Be aware that 75 grams (2.5 oz.) of foie gras will set you back €21, about $27, and an ounce of caviar will start at about $50.

TSA & Airport Security—TSA makes you go through the backscatter x-ray machines, or choose to have a pat-down. The x-ray machines, despite TSA's proclamations to the contrary, are not proven to be safe, nor are they shown to be effective. I should note that a general rule of thumb for evaluating the truthfulness of government agencies is: Do they have an interest in lying to you? Since the answer is invariably yes, then any government proclamation should be evaluated as possibly true, but probably false. In other words they may be telling the truth, but it is in their interest to lie, so it is better to treat any statistic as being slanted in the government's favor.

In the UK, except at Manchester Airport, and I understand they are being discontinued there, the x-ray machines are not in use. The Brits do a pat-down, which can be embarrassing, but is better than being exposed to ionizing radiation of an undetermined dosage. It is noteworthy that the Brits have, since 9/11, had exactly the same incidence of successful terrorist incidents involving planes as the US. 0. The less costly, lower tech procedure is just as successful at catching terrorists as the invasive, embarrassing, high tech procedure.

Perhaps TSA needs to re-think its procedures. Perhaps TSA should be abolished, and its agents sent to Afghanistan where they could do something useful.

Love—Dr. Johnson is right. When you're tired of London, you're tired of life. Despite the rushing around, and despite some of the problems, I loved London, and England, and would go back again in a heartbeat.