Friday, June 25, 2010

Everybody Loves Raymonds

We went to a London pub this week to watch a vuvuzela concert on their widescreen TV.

As misfortune would have it, the English soccer team was playing a World Cup match at the same time and in the same venue as the vuvuzela musicians.

The incessant drone nearly drove us mad. Not the drone of the vuvuzela, mind you. I’m talking about the English football fans’ incessant whining about their team’s inability to score a single goal against underdog Algeria.

We were in the U.K. because my daughter, Alex, had just graduated from high school and declared that she wanted to travel abroad as her graduation gift.

She seems to think that because she made good grades, earned acceptance to college, never causes any problems, likes spending time with her mom and dad, has wonderful friends, and behaves entirely responsibly that she is entitled to just about anything she asks.

OK, so I see her point.

I know just enough about the game from American youth soccer to follow the action, but one thing I don’t understand about professional matches is how an offensive player can intentionally run into a defensive player, flail his arms, fall to the ground and have the defensive player— who is simply standing there— assessed a yellow card.

The offensive player lies on the ground for several minutes, as if he’d been hit by a truck, and pretends to writhe in pain. He inevitably covers his face with both hands, though replays will show that he wasn’t actually hit in the face. I suspect it’s to hide his embarrassment at overacting.

Seriously, I’ve had more violent collisions with little old lady Londoners in the Tube and I somehow managed to stay on my feet.

Brits drive on the left, of course, but it is also local custom to walk on the left of stairs and escalators. The signs are everywhere, but this rule is particularly important in the fast paced confines of the Tube, and especially around sharp turns in the pedestrian tunnels.

The problem, of course, is the large crowds of American travelers accustomed to driving and walking on the right. I find the real decision to be whether you prefer to crash headlong into running Brits by breaking the rule and walking on the right, or to collide with onrushing Americans by walking on the left.

After several previous trips to London, I came to the somewhat counterintuitive conclusion that it is better to buck local custom and walk on the right. Brits are frequently smaller, and therefore easier to dodge, and if you can’t miss them entirely, they seem to absorb more of the impact in a head-on collision due to their slightly smaller mass.

(This logic doesn’t work with cars, so I advise going with local custom when driving.)

We took a bus tour into the countryside west of London and our first stop was Stonehenge. I have wanted to visit Stonehenge since the first time I saw photos of the site decades ago. The building of this amazing structure, sprouting up from the middle of a broad expanse of pastureland on the Salisbury Plain, began during the Bronze Age about 2500 BC. No one knows for certain how or why it was built.

The large stones were somehow transported 19 miles, possibly pulled over rollers by as many as two hundred men.

I imagined a man with a rope over his shoulder two hours into pulling that first 50-ton stone saying to his companion, “Tell me again why we’re doing this?”

We took a lot of pictures with my digital camera on this trip. I remember as a kid saving up to buy 12-exposure rolls of Kodak film for my Instamatic and painfully conserving each frame, but that isn’t a problem, anymore.

I have reviewed the technical specifications for several SD memory cards for my camera and devised an intricate scheme for selecting which size card to purchase— I buy whichever size costs twenty bucks at the time.

Twenty dollars once bought a tiny 128-megabyte card, but I recently bought an 8-gigabyte card for the same amount. After Stonehenge, my camera showed that I had snapped 156 shots and had room for 3,585 more.

Next time maybe I’ll just settle for the $10 memory card.

Our next tour stop was Bath, a town imaginatively named for the ruins of an ancient public bath fed by a hot spring, the only one in England.

(No, there is no English town of Toilet, at least that I could find on the maps, hosting the ruins of a great civilization’s public outhouse. But, the Brits hang large signs on empty buildings saying “TO LET” instead of the American “FOR RENT”, and they always looked to me like TOILET with the “I” painted over. American teens would spray paint in the "I". Maybe that’s why our signs say, “FOR RENT”, instead.)

A mineral water bath piqued my interest because I grew up in Dawson Springs, a tiny town in rural Kentucky that enjoyed a temporary boom near the beginning of the twentieth century from the same misperception that drinking and bathing in the mineral water from springs has medicinal value.

After about twenty years of rampant tourism, Dawson’s visitors apparently realized that, while a lot of medicines taste like crap, tasting like crap doesn’t necessarily make mineral water medicine.

Our tour guide at the bath kept talking about “the Raymonds” in a heavy British accent.

“Who were the Raymonds?” I asked.

The Saxons I knew. Even the Normans. But, the Raymonds?

“People from Rayme,” she answered incredulously.

I shrugged.

“The Raymond Em-piah.” She finally added with emphasis and a note of frustration.


The statues of the Caesars suddenly made a lot more sense, as did the Latin inscriptions. These were ruins from the Roman invasion of England.

Because of the ruins, Bath was packed to the hilt with tourists in cars and tour buses of all sizes. There were long lines at all six Starbucks. Bath is an amazingly popular tourist destination.

Apparently, what they say back in the states is just as true in England.

Everybody loves Raymonds.

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