Monday, March 20, 2017

review: Wonder Woman, the True Amazon



Wonder Woman: The True Amazon
by Jill Thompson, writer and artist
Jim Chadwick, editor
2016

So often I hear people say that Wonder Woman has had NO good stories told about her. I want to scream. Then others will list their Top 10 WW Stories, and again I scream, because they're usually quite recent stories, and very often quite awful ones. Yes, Wondie has had TERRIFIC stories... but not enough. Too often the staff given her does not respect her or just doesn't have talent and/or inspiration, and Editorial lets them get away with offering substandard material.

But now we were going to have a WW graphic novel! Oh boy! Graphic novels are for special, quality stories (unless they concern themselves with alternate-world scenarios which there are far too many of. But those happen to characters and groups that have had lots of great stories already told elsewhere).

Jill Thompson would be on Wondie again. This should be good! Judging from the hype and knowing her quirky style, I imagine this will be a fine kids' book. I mean: Jill Thompson! Wondie! Kids don't have access to the kind of comics I was able to revel in when I was young. Why, when I was VERY young, I had Kanigher/Andru & Esposito's Wonder Family tales to amaze me. They were PERFECT for kids of that era. This book is rated 12+, which is older than what I'd supposed. Well, let's dig into it and see.
Diana grows up. See? Kid-friendly stuff!
The first page is a lovely watercolor of Paradise Island. Then we’re introduced to the Amazons, who are five times stronger than men and brave in battle. We get a quick origin: 

The land of the Amazons is called “Amazonium.” (No, that's not treated as a metal here.) The king of Mycenae claims that Amazon queen Hippolyta has tried to steal his daughter away from him. Therefore, he sends Herakles to conquer the Amazons and take her Golden Girdle so the daughter will see the error of her ways. (In the actual myths, daughter Admeta demanded the Girdle for her own, so Daddy sent Herk to get it for her. Why change the myth?)

Herk declares war on the Amazons and we see lots of slaughter. Not kid-friendly! Well, the action and narrative were rather vague, so maybe it was okay. I was struck by the way Thompson had Hippolyta step back from her DUTY to face Herakles in combat and let some redshirt do it instead. This is not how things were done back then. Kings and generals fought each other in person; only the infirm and cowardly did not.

As more armies joined Herk, the losing Amazons sued for peace. Instead, Herakles chained the queen. Zeus watched and lusted over her, deciding to disguise himself as one of Herk’s men and go to her (how kid-friendly!), but Hera overheard and sent a ship for the Amazons to escape to, away from both her husband and Herk. A confusing scene involving a VERY large, distracting helmet shows us the queen slipping out of Herk’s grasp while he’s able to saw her girdle off her with a knife. (But not skewer her while doing so. ???)

Then we come to some pages about life in Themyscira, where the Amazons busy themselves with peace and the arts. But Hippy wants one thing more: a child. Every evening she sculpts a baby in the sands of the island and sings a love song to it. We see her song spreading across the ocean and up to the heavens, to Olympus itself. Everyone is charmed by it.

And I thought okay, forget all the violence and this is shaping up to be a very nice kid’s book. Lovely, magical stuff!

The gods are so moved by the song they weep, and their tears endow the sculpture with life. Diana is born! The nation celebrates and “they poured all of their energy into granting her every desire.”

This is Silver Platter Diana*, one that automatically got her powers without working for them. (FYI: I'm a firm believer in Amazon Training.) She is spoiled “and no one ever told her ‘no.’” Diana grows up a conceited bully. Her nation just smiles at her and makes things worse. She blames others for her misdeeds.

Oh no! This is an Alternate Universe Diana after all! Somebody kill me now.

When she hears of mysterious, evil creatures on the island, the now-grown Diana sets off to conquer them — and gain the treasures they guard. Her feats are celebrated except by Alethea, who tends the queen’s horses. She gives Diana the cold shoulder. Diana tries to bribe her, but Alethea says, “My friendship cannot be bought…. I am loved by a person’s honest actions and how they treat those around them.”


Vow to be Worthy #1
So Diana sets off to prove she does that more than anyone else. Then, when it comes time for an annual festival to commemorate the nation’s warrior past, Diana enters to win “for the champion is the best of all Amazons and must embody all of the qualities that Alethea admires!” (Though the championship seems to be a reward for physical prowess and not that plus good character.)

Interestingly enough, there are several others who are in Diana’s range of power and abilities, and she’s not sure of being the winner. During a chariot race she panics, decides to distract her competitors’ horses, and uses a magic horn to release the horrific creatures she’d once imprisoned. Though Diana crosses the finish line first, the creatures kill horses and severely injure Amazons. As the battle rages, the others try to protect themselves, and one, to protect Diana. That Amazon is ravaged by a monster and dies, while the rest of the monsters escape to all corners.
Alethea, acting honorably and bravely.

The story goes into detail about the terrifying injuries many Amazons suffered, and how horses had to be euthanized. Great kiddie material there. And of course the dead Amazon is Alethea.

Note how the language is definitely kiddie-level. Too bad the story and art are not.
The queen arrives to ask what has caused this horror, and all fingers point at Diana. The queen realizes that spoiling Diana has led her to this. “There must be an atonement.” (Of course the queen doesn't call punishment on herself or the other Amazons for having raised a kid this way.)

Diana makes a private vow: “Never will I rest until I have undone the wrongs I have committed… I dedicate my eternal life to serving others and using my gifts for altruism and not gain.” Yeah, like she paid attention to her first vow. And "altruism" is likely outside the vocabulary of a 12-year-old.
Vow to be Worthy #2
The next day, as the other Amazons yell at the queen to kill Diana, torture her, whatever, others ask what would Diana’s death serve? The queen calls Diana and garbs her in an outfit much like a regular WW outfit (and mimicking what Alethea had worn in the contest), with few exceptions. “This enchanted crown that you so coveted shall be upon your brow like a crown of thorns…” Why mention a Christian motif here?
Posing for the Action Figure in an outfit that declares her to be a pariah.

The the queen banishes her until she has paid for her treachery. We see her getting in a rowboat and eventually finding land.


So let me get this straight: Bad, bad Diana makes a vow that she’ll be such a good person that Alethea will like her. Then she goes crazy and deliberately unleashes a horror upon her sisters so she can win a contest. Then Diana makes a vow what she’ll be such a good person that dead Alethea will like her. Then she goes into the Outer World… End book.

Okay, the final panel says: "...And even now she wanders the world, defending the weak, righting wrongs and fighting evil. But those are stories for another day."

NO!!! Those are stories for a graphic novel! Stories set in the mainstream DC universe, showing us what a GREAT CHARACTER Wonder Woman is!!!! Not some story telling us that she's a sleaze.

Do we have ANY clue that this Diana will actually heed her vow? We’ve seen that vows don’t mean much to Diana. Why should we believe one small narrative panel? Why didn't we get PROOF that Diana had abided by -- or failed -- her vow? The plot completely lacks an ending.

This book is entitled Wonder Woman: The True Amazon. Yet it doesn't tell a story about anyone like that. If writers don’t want to write about Wonder Woman, why can’t they come up with original characters to write about instead of soiling established heroes? Especially ones who need all the positive, quality, respectful stories they can get?

By artistic and writing style, this would seem to be a book for kids — very likely kids wanting to know more about Wonder Woman. But this is not Wonder Woman. And the violence depicted is not kiddie material.

Part of the back material (there are a lot of “the making of this book” kind of pages) is “designing the Wonder Woman statue.” Perhaps this is the end-all: to give an excuse for yet another variant WW statue. (Yawn.)

Such a disappointment. Imagine if the book had been a charming children’s story about Diana growing up. Imagine if it had been aimed at middle schoolers, grade schoolers, high schoolers, or adults. (Choose one group and remember not to talk down to kids.)

It is a mystery to me why DC would not take the chance at a graphic novel to say: Look here! Here's the character you know! Here's a great, heroic story about her! If you're new to Wonder Woman, we'll show you why you should not only be interested in her, but excited with her legend. This story is true to her mythos, reiterates what the general public knows about her, and shows that she's still a vibrant concept in the 21st Century. Plus, did we say? -- it's a great story!

----
*Post-Crisis Diana was also (so unfortunately) Silver Platter Diana, as have been the majority if not all of the versions since. The early Silver Age WW was also technically Silver Platter (we saw the gods blessing her at birth, though that, like WW's "beautiful as Aphrodite, etc." intro lines, could be written off as hyped-up language written by a poet who didn't mind being smitten by jealous gods), though she often referred to (and sometimes we saw) constant physical Amazon Training. Even Wolfman's original screwed-up origin of Donna Troy mentioned the importance of Amazon Training. Being a mere female, WW often had to be shown as having not had to WORK, much less WORK HARD to be who and where she was. [Insert "loser" buzzer sound here.]

Superman didn't have to do a thing for his powers except sunbathe now and then. Batman? Had to WORK and train to keep his skills sharp. Which character is more popular, hm?

Monday, March 13, 2017

The next wave of medicine


I hate driving at night. You can't get me to go out on Saturday night, the night drunk drivers so love. But I attended an event for the Rhine Research Center last night, a Saturday. Usually they meet at the Whatshisface Theater, but this time they met at Dook's Episcopal Center. Funding problems? Well, this was their spring fundraising event. They're trying for $10,000. About 100 people attended.

For the first hour, we honored Dr. John Palmer, who's been editor of The Journal of Parapsychology for some 25 years or so. He received the J.B. and Louisa [pronounced with a long "i"] Rhine Distinguished Service Award.


Dr. John Palmer

Dr. Palmer was called the "rock star" of parapsychology. If papers came in to the journal whose methodology wasn't up to his standard of snuff, he sent them back for more work. The Rhines's daughter, Sally Feather*, talked fondly about him for a while, and others came up to do the same, such as Joe McMoneagle, the astounding remote viewer (and out of body traveler, though the two may be the same thing; studies are ongoing about that) who worked (works?) for the government in their now-somewhat-declassified "Stargate" section. (This was well before any Stargate sf stuff.) McMoneagle told us "the best science in the world is being done in the paranormal." It has to be exacting. It has to be replicable. It has to be SCIENCE.

The Rhine Center must have been a crazy place back in the 50s and 60s. People talked of the wild weekly parties they had. (Barbara Ensrud, the head of the Board of the Directors, mused afterward: "We need to have more parties.") There was one fellow who, every time he saw Dr. Palmer, tackled him (accompanied by others) and placed his hand on his forehead, bellowing (and here the guy telling the story also bellowed) "IN THE NAME OF JAY-ZUS! HEAL!" No matter how quietly Dr. Palmer snuck in, the guy would tackle him.

Funny stuff, congratulations, and best of luck and health to Dr. Palmer on his retirement! But that's not what we're here for in this column.


Like I said:
The Next Wave of Medicine

Guest speaker for the night was Dr. William (Bill) Bengston. I've raved elsewhere about his first book, The Energy Cure. Last night he told us that he didn't come up with that title; his publishers did. He insisted that energy has nothing to do with psychic healing, at least the kind he's investigating. However, "The Energy Cure" sells books, so that was that.

He first got into psychic healing when he was 22 and a psychic healed his back. He studied with the man for years, eventually becoming an expert in it himself, but was troubled because he didn't know how he was accomplishing whatever it was he was accomplishing.

In the meantime he'd been studying to be and eventually becoming a professor in sociology. For the past 30 years he has also been conducting rigorously scientific tests of "psychic healing." These tests can easily be -- and have been -- replicated around the world, over and over.




Last night he said that he'd gotten to the point where, if a test had been done 300 times with the same results, he didn't see a reason to do it the 301st time. He says it's time to put the studies into practical use.

What has been done mostly in the experiments, or at least that I've heard about, is injecting mice with breast cancer cells, far above the amount that are usually done in tests. The control mice live for about 20-some days. The others that are worked on... Well, they develop tumors. The tumors get ulcerated. Then the tumor implodes, completely disappearing. The mice are cancer-free.

The mice are injected with more cancer cells. They don't develop cancer. Blood from these mice is injected into infected mice. Their cancer disappears and, again, they never develop cancer again. They are IMMUNE.

This all comes from holding the mice cages. The infected mice gather around the holder's left hand. Once they've (the researchers guess) received the dose they need, they exit the mob. When all have received the dose, or when they're all healed, they ignore the hand. (Children will also do this, wandering away when they've had enough.)

In addition to mice, people have been included as being the healees.

Sessions have been done in shielding steel vaults with all kinds of electronic detecting devices inside. No energies have been detected. (The Rhine, which is conducting independent tests with the method, says they've detected "biophotons," but will test further.)

And get this: a person can "charge" some materials, like cotton and water. Those materials can be sent to a sick person and heal them. You can take the cotton material, cut it in half, give it to Person A with condition X, then cut the remaining material in half again and give it to Person B with condition Y, and Person C with Condition Z... and they will all be cured. The same energy can cure different conditions.

The talk last night said they were concentrating on various cancers and Alzheimer's, which get excellent results. Dr. Bengston showed us slides of how they check down to the gene to see what exactly is being affected.

The method is non-linear. This means it goes up and down. You can show a lot of healing one day, and after the next healing things seem to go backward, and then the next one heals things completely. Dr. Bengston is eager to begin experiments to see if one can heal illness retroactively. !

But wait! You don't need blood or cotton or water to heal. Inside those steel containers they made sound recordings during a healing session, which consisted pretty much of breathing or silence, I would suppose (maybe some innocuous chatting, because the technique requires one to NOT think about healing while doing it). When played to psychic sensitives, the sensitive could tell when the healing was taking place, as if a nova hard just gone off.

And other subjects were healed just by listening to the tape.


Is there an app for that?


It'll be coming up, if some tests coming through in the next few weeks hold with the theory. For 99 cents you'll be able to listen to your iPad and be healed.

Bengston said the scientific community and public attitudes are changing toward all areas of parapsychology. Younger people don't want to know about proof. They want to know what you can do with it. When Bengston speaks to doctors at universities, he finds that the smaller lecture rooms he usually is booked in have three times the amount of people trying to hear him than can be accommodated. Instead, video has to be set up so everyone can be seated in other rooms to listen. Before he leaves, he often gets invitations to set up experiments at that university, which is why he currently has studies going in ten or so universities around the US.

Again, energy healing has nothing to do with energy, he thinks. It's more a condition of CONSCIOUSNESS, which many believe to be the next HUGE thing in science. He talks of resonant bonding between healer and healee, as well as how placebos work, which seems to be part of this "meaning field" that psychic healing sets up. It is selected by consciousness. "Life responds when it has a need."

The energy in this method is radiated from the left hand. People who use this method for a while, though right-handed from birth, find that they've become left-handed. How cool is that?

And Dr. Bengston  says that he tries to choose non-believers or sorta agnostics to healing as the people who do the method. Believers don't do so well with it, which left me wondering how people who do this often and see positive results, don't qualify as "believers." Hm.

Dr. Bengston told us that because people who try healing with the intent of doing healing often get bad results, if we got sick, perhaps the last person we wanted to see was a medical doctor. (He's a really funny guy! Had us in stitches.) At this point, someone in the audience offered a well-known anecdote: When Israeli doctors went on strike, the nation's mortality rate decreased for the duration.

Anyway, a fascinating, fascinating talk with lots of slides showing test results (but not excruciating test results, as this was a talk for the Rhine supporters and not the medical establishment). The FDA will not be able to control a 99-cent app that does not promise healing but rather says, "try it and maybe it will work for you." Look for this VERY soon, and look for the studies to expand to illnesses besides cancer and Alzheimer's.

The Rhine has many studies in this area slated for 2017-2018. I want to join one of their healing groups, which is trained in (but not by) Dr. Bengston's methods (look up those here). But the Rhine is always struggling for funds. This spring they're offering a raffle with all kinds of keen prizes. The top prize is a trip to Tuscany, Italy. There are also trips to West Palm Beach, psychic readings, and Journal subscriptions, which I already get because I'm a member, darn.

Again, that website for the raffle is https://go.rallyup.com/rhine-1. Support the Rhine!
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*I looked up J.B. on Wiki to try to discover Sally's last name, and instead found this line: "Rhine's results have never been duplicated by the scientific community." Which of course is pure, 100% hooey. All the major divisions of parapsychology have been quite scientifically proven and successfully retested around the world, many for some 100 years now. Wiki does NOT like the Rhine or anything to do with parapsychology. They post lots of disinformation ("alternative facts") about it.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Time to get working!

Okay, so last year I made a solemn promise to myself to slow down, enjoy the world as time passed by, and to get out and do LOTS and LOTS of plein air painting so as to up my craft skills. Did I do that?

HAH! No.

This year I was brought to a halt by fairly major surgery. All treatment should be over on that in another couple weeks -- just some minor stuff left to do. (I'm fine now and will be even finer by mid-March.) But this meant I was sprawled in my blue LaZBoy for weeks, watching The Great British Baking Show and plotting about how very ACTIVE I'd be when I could get up again.

Guess what? Last Saturday was not only supposed to be crazy nice weather-wise, but Sunday was as well, in case I needed more time. I gathered up my supplies and took them into the back yard. I'm starting in the yard because it's been YEARS since I plein air painted, and couldn't quite recall what all was needed. When I took my first class in plein air, I wondered why "pack animal" wasn't on our list of needed supplies, because our teacher wanted us to bring along practically an entire studio of stuff!

Can't really complain, because she does FABULOUS work. But still...

I found the best view but rejected it because there was no shade for me or my canvas. A few steps away I set up in the shadow of my garden shed. I peered at the sky. The sun would be moving that way and the shadows would...

The dramatic scene!

Oh well. Finally got everything set up and began. Whoops, had to grab something else from the house. Now to start. Whoops, needed something else.

This is why we practice.

Anyway, by the time the shadows had moved so very, very much even I had to concede, I thought I'd gotten a good start on things.

The next day I was in the middle of a very good Regency romance. It was through SHEER, DETERMINED EFFORT that I pulled myself out of my LaZBoy and trotted outside. This time setup only took about 15 minutes.

After a little over an hour (that sun moves FAST!) (relatively speaking, of course; Earth goes around the sun, check, check) I signed the piece, cleaned the area, and went inside.

ACK!!! What had happened to my highlights? They were well down on the value scale. The next night after work I corrected them, added a bit more substance to my background, which had grayed down to nothing, put in some darker bits to add contrast, etc etc.

And here's what I got.
"Almost Spring," acrylic on stretched canvas
8x10"
Practice makes perfect. I'll be doing this a LOT during the year, and also working on those one-hour paintings that people say up your skills a lot faster than doing big paintings. Of course I still have big paintings on my easel to work on because I have to change out things at the Saratoga Grill in Hillsborough every two months. But it will get done, pretty much.

Now... What are YOU doing to increase your enjoyment of life and relish the passing time? I mean, besides reading Regencies and watching baking shows.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Anatomy of a Murder, I mean, Painting!

Happy Halloween!

If you've been reading my blog, you'll know that in July I travelled to England and Scotland. I love to travel! Regular blog-readers will also know that my previous incarnation had joined the US Navy to see the world, only to be stuck inside a cramped submarine during WWII. When the sub surrendered to the Japanese, he chose to commit suicide.

Is it any wonder that I like to travel? Now and then on this trip (having recently met my previous incarnation), I would stop and ask, "Willy [for that was his name], are you enjoying this? Seeing the world?" I'd get a distinct impression of pleasurable amusement from him.

I cheated. I cheated big-time. I blew up the original picture and traced it onto the canvas.
Didn't want to struggle through all that perspective and such. Bad, bad Strick!
Then again, one of my college profs, a big-name illustrator turned fine artist, always told us that
anything that brought us quickly to doing the actual art was entirely "legal." Yay!

I take SCADS of photos on my vacations! In the future, I'm hoping to have enough time to stop and do some plein air paintings. But this was a bus tour, and bus tours aren't set up to really see the countryside, much less stop for a couple hours so someone can paint.

There's no scarier thing in this world than a white canvas. Usually I do a bunch of random color
washes, but here I was experimenting with color as well as value. The values of the background
buildings and sky are opposite what they were in the photo. It was an overcast day, but
it was a BRIGHT overcast. I was trying my hand at "Playing God" within my painting.
**I** control the color. **I** control the value! Bwa-ha-haaa!

So I work from photos. I usually have a handful of shots of the same site to work from, but in this case I'd just turned around and there it was. I was on my way back to the bus there in England's Stow-on-the-Wold and didn't have that much time to lose. Click! I knew it would be a perfect shot.

Speaking of "playing God," I put a cat in that one window who wasn't there originally. Felt
so naughty! This is the "wait and see" stage, where I leave the canvas on the easel for a
few days (or in this case, weeks) so I can come back with fresh eyes and make final changes.

I love painting from my travel photos. It cements me to the memory and as my skills improve, I like to think that I'm bringing out aspects of the place that people don't usually notice.

I also hope that viewers will be immersed in the atmosphere of the spot. Perhaps they've been there. Perhaps they've dreamed of traveling there.

The final changes were mostly in that ochre archway on the right, toning it down and
tying it more to the purple side of the house. "Stow-on-the-Wold" (I
couldn't think of a snappier title), 18x24", oil on top of acrylic; stretched canvas.

Maybe they're like Willy and can never set out to see the wider world. However the world brings them to view my art, I hope they like it.




Thursday, September 1, 2016

The Brilliant Parade to London

We were back in England! Gretna Green was behind us so it was time for the Cotswolds and Lake District, both of which had marvelous scenery epitomizing what people think of when they think of England.
A large carpark surrounded by a charming town.
Stow-on-the-Wold had a huge parking lot in the middle of the town, but around that were picturesque shops and churches, and some lovely people to talk with. I found the most stereotypically cute tea room EVER and sat down to have the delicious omelet I'd been longing for all day (ESP at work?), while my dining companion had quiche. The tea was to die for. The perky young waitress said she loved my accent. Squee!

The sun played hide-and-seek, only coming out when I didn't have my camera ready. Still, I got in some great shots that I think will make eye-catching paintings. Give 'em the ol' Thomas Kinkade look, right? And of course I had an adventure in a public loo. This one seemed like a cave (its walls were stone), and it had giant push buttons inside to lock and unlock doors -- giant pushbuttons that were quite easy to overlook. Well, they were. And as for washing up afterward… Well, a little fumbling around and there was a niche in the wall where water gushed on if you stuck your hand in far enough. All this adventure for only 20p or so.

After that was… Wait! I missed Blair Castle back in Scotland. Well, you got the crazy farm tea in England noted in the Scottish section, so we'll just backtrack here.
Renovations and picture straightening ongoing at Blair Castle.
Blair Castle. I'd been admiring the UK's housing as we rode around. It all looked so very British, every bit of it. There weren't any trailers like back… Wait a mo. There's a trailer park, out in the middle of nowhere. Then we turned onto a private lane and went past a Boy Scout/Guides/whatever international jamboree, and there were more trailers (manufactured housing, as the guy who sold me my double-wide kept insisting), interspersed with RVs and tents.

Turned out all the permanent stuff was for short-term rental. There are lots of tourists who come through to hike, ride horses, and attend Boy Scout stuff on the grounds of Blair Castle. They can live on the grounds. The house/castle's facade is rather recent, though the insides are quite the mansion. Hillary took us into the lobby to begin the official tour and told us to be back at the bus by whatever o'clock was coming up.

The tour was fairly interesting, demonstrating do-dads and thingamabobs and portraits and restorations and new plaster decor over the centuries-old furnishings. But our guide was Asian, and she had a difficult time with quite a few places in her script.

I see where some UK folks could be worried about being "taken over" by furriners, and thus vote for Brexit. The vast majority of customer service people I ran into over there were not British and spoke with very thick, sometimes unintelligible accents. (I'm talking to YOU, Hass. Kidding!) To go out into what you deem your familiar world and be surrounded by strange languages can be frightening. Imho, service personnel should be able to speak understandably and understand me so they can, you know, be of service. (I think all employers should be required to own various Rosetta Stone programs, or belong to a co-op [perhaps a library?] where they can find the correct origin language and have their employees learn English. Keep the new employee in a non-service area until they're ready. Win-win!)

This lady had a SCRIPT she followed to conduct her tour. She knew what words were coming up. She should have had coaches to help her over the rough patches during training. I can see her being stymied by the odd question, but she should have been able to roll off her scripted speech like a charm. Instead there were many areas where she stumbled for words, and things like "mans" instead of "men" were spoken. Sometimes she couldn't get her paragraph out for the life of her and she had to skip ahead.

Give the lady more rehearsal and tutoring before she's set before the public, please.

But we got the gist of it. I kept looking at my watch, because whatever o'clock was fast approaching. Finally! The tour ended and I ran through the estate's bathrooms, skipping the souvenir room and the grounds and gardens were were supposed to have time to tour/appreciate, and sped up to the bus. One minute late.

"Forevermore, why are you running?" Hillary had the NERVE to ask me. I was the first back. Surely she should have known how long the tour lasted and arranged for us to be there longer so we could have a more leisurely walkabout? Ah, but this was Trafalgar.
Windermere
So anyway, back in England… Ah! Lake District! We went through a couple of towns located on lakes, but stopped for a few minutes in Windermere with just enough time to jump off the bus, go down to the shore and take some pictures. Lovely. There were swans and kids. And lots and lots of people.
Grasmere
Oh, just before that we were in Grasmere, home of William Wordsworth, whose work I don't think I've ever read beyond a couple lines here and there. But I saw his house as well as his grave, and his town is a lovely, lovely collection of white-walled cottages, tea rooms, and tiny galleries, with a stream burbling through its middle. Ahh!

Now we were on major highways, and we entered Manchester. The neighborhoods kept declining in quality. Closed businesses lined the streets. We circled one block and sure enough: our hotel. It was a nice enough hotel even if the service in the restaurant stank to high heaven. (The food wasn't great, either.) Few ventured out, though Hillary assured us that a splendid shopping center was just a few blocks down. Two women reported back the next morning that it was just run-of-the-mill, and that they'd encountered more than a few drunks and addicts along the way, while stepping over broken glass. Lovely.

A loud-mouthed Montrealer (noo! The idea!) in our party had had to find a drug store. "What did you need?" the loud-mouthed Australian (the lady who got such kicks out of bothering Robert) demanded to know the next day. "None of your business." "No really, what did you need? What? What?" Some people. Anyway, the Montrealer had asked at the front desk where she could find a pharmacy. "A what?" the desk lady asked.

"Pharmacy. Drug store. Druggist. Apothecary."

"I don't understand."

The woman tried to describe such a place and what items one would buy there. "Oh, a chemist!" the desk lady squealed. Montreal Woman didn't appreciate that. We saw quite a few places called "drug store" and "pharmacy" as we drove through town the next day, and NONE called "chemist." "What do they expect the guys there to do?" MW asked me later. "Have a lab and test tubes bubbling away behind the counter?"

Some service people like to see people squirm for kicks.

Anyway, we were all mystified at why Trafalgar had chosen Manchester as our stop. Why not Liverpool, which is just a few miles away? We'd all have been delighted (!!!) to take a Beatles tour!
Earlier than sunset. The picture doesn't do it justice.
We might have done that lunchtime, lock-in-the-loo farm in here (or more likely it was just before Grasmere) because the next stop I can think of was Bristol, a nice enough town. It seemed rather pleasant. Again, we were faced with a bridge at sundown that gave a romantically sweeping view of houseboats, etc. They had a statue of Cary Grant, who was born there.

We had an unfortunate walking tour with a Local Guide who ran her mouth incessantly, didn't bother to step around all the many groups who were making a racket for various reasons (playing music, arguing, yelling to be yelling, etc), and who took off at full-out Speed Force speeds. We finally grabbed her and begged her to stop so everyone could catch up. We told her in no uncertain terms that she had to slow down!

Almost immediately she resumed her rate and never bothered to look back except ONCE. She did so to tell us that she was a member of the local improv group and we should come to a show. When? We were foreigners on a bus tour! We arrived at our group dinner location (the place with the ice water I've told you about) completely zonked from the rush. I gave her a penny tip and hope she got the hint. I was not the only one to complain about her to Hillary. Rrr.
The Royal Crescent, Bath.

Interesting river, too.

The next day we had a bath. Wait. Oh, we WENT to Bath. We saw the great semi-circle of townhouses that you always see in photos and of course is always mentioned in those Regencies I read. Bath has the most consistent use of Georgian limestone in the WORLD (memorable!) and is a World Heritage Site. It's very cool. Very British.

Minerva likes to check out the bathers.
But it also has the baths of which it gets its name. The Celts first used the hot springs, and then when the Romans came through they enjoyed them and built a whole complex on top of them. That complex has been uncovered and restored, and it is a true sight to see. Read about the place here. Not only is it all ruin-y, but there are marvelous museum rooms scattered about with artifacts and movies. You can choose from an adult program (not that kind of adult, silly!) or child-friendly narration. Occasionally players in Roman costume will stroll through the baths to have their pictures taken. It is really, really cool beans. And the souvenir stand is great.

Garden along the river.
There's a famous bun shop in town and I happened onto that, not knowing it was so famous. Meh. A huge bun with sandwich fixings plunked on top -- how unwieldy. VERY tiny shop. Still -- quaint. The poor wait staff were running as hard as they could, and after I arrived a long line began to form at the front door.

It began to sprinkle as we waited for the bus to show up. We toodled off into the countryside, and along one rolling patch of green fields, I saw… a crop circle! Really! It looked like the Mickey Mouse Disney logo, upside down, one large circle with two smaller ones attached, with an antenna growing out of Mickey's right ear. When I got back and told my supervisor, he immediately Googled "crop circle" and "Stonehenge" (because that's what came next) and found pictures of a VERY elaborate crop circle just a little ways from Stonehenge that had been discovered… the day AFTER we'd been there. Mickey was nowhere in the design, unless he'd been part of an early version. Maybe a preliminary sketch?

Did I say… STONEHENGE???! That's right, STONEHENGE!!! It really exists. It's stones. It's BIG. And there are more stones around, and big ol' lumps of land and pathways and ancient roads. And stuff.
Some of the mounds that surround Stonehenge. They're not necessarily burial  mounds.

Ah, in focus!
Imagine: the ENTIRE POPULATION of England coming out on a Sunday to check out the place. They were ALL there. And the place could handle it. From one spot we could see the highway (we'd come in on a smaller country road), and that highway looked like the final shot of Field of Dreams, bumper-to-bumper traffic all proceeding toward us. The parking lot was big enough to handle it. There was a special bus parking lot with room for enough buses to take on a good-sized school district.

You stopped at the visitor's center (shoulder-to-shoulder people) (all polite) and got on shuttles, which took you halfway to the site. At the halfway point you could get off to take the path through the pastures and past all those lumps, which were burial chambers and such, as the path eventually took you to the main site. Or you could be like me and just ride all the way up to the site.

You can't touch the rocks unless you've got a special invitation to show up at a solstice. They have the place roped off. There was a guy!!! back there!!! right next to the rocks!!! and I wondered where the cops were until I noticed that he was dragging a hose with him and watering the grass. Well okay then.

I took a few thousand shots of the place and discovered halfway through that I was getting blurry stuff. My camera does that; it's some button that's easy to brush against. Someday I must read the manual. I can't see the screen well in full sunlight to notice, but I do try to keep track. Got it back in focus, and it turns out that only about five hundred of the thousand (okay, that ratio) shots were blurry. Besides, they're just rocks. When I do my paintings I'll still have the placement right.
Back in the day...

The visitors' center has really keen souvenirs and a nice snack bar (though they seem to like those white bread/mayo/cheese sandwiches), and I got about three minutes to take a couple pictures in a mock-up of what area housing looked like way back in stony days before I had to be back on the bus.

Then it was a highway into London and to our hotel. Our tour had come to an end. From then on I was on my own. I'd taken an extra 2 days to see the place.

I didn't plan so well. That's okay; I've learned my lesson. I'll return someday and see the place proper.

Now that I was away from the tour I could choose where to eat, and thus had fairly decent food, especially at this one pub about a mile from the hotel. It was Sunday, "roast day" at the pub, and I had roast pork and roast VEGETABLES and ahh! Things would have been perfect if the entire bus hadn't started coughing as we left Stonehenge.

I stopped at a pharmacy and the clerk called the pharmacist to puzzle out what I needed. A "sachet" was the same as a powder that you add to hot water. (Think Theraflu.) It kept me reasonably healthy except for a runny nose until I hit the plane home, at which point it became a cough until I got home, at which point it became the Black Death.

But London. Day #1 for me would be Museum Day. I had three, maybe four museums in mind, the least of which was the Victoria & Albert, but it was the closest. Day #2 would be touring the city landmarks.

The hotel concierge told me that oh no! I did NOT want to take the subway to the V&A. The on-and-off bus was the best choice. They had a special museum route. He got me a ticket (bet he got a considerable percentage, darn his evil soul) and saw me to the bus parked outside of the hotel. I had to make two changes before I got on the proper route.

It took me THREE HOURS to get to the V&A. It only took fifteen minutes to return on the subway from MUCH farther away. But that was three valuable hours of my touring day! I told that concierge OFF when I got back.

But in the meantime I did see the underwear exhibit at the V&A that everyone had told me was un-missable. It wasn't. The rest of the museum that I saw as I ran through handled fashion, and I'm CRAZY for fashion! and could have spent my valuable time drooling at that instead of undies, darn it. But at least the museum had a nice cafe, even if they didn't warn me that the odd-colored lemonade had ALCOHOL in it. It wasn't very strong, thank goodness. I was extremely thirsty but still only took a few sips. Why spoil lemonade that has fruit floating in it with alcohol? At least the salad was nice.
British Museum.
I took the subway (no fool I) to the British Museum, which isn't that close to the subway, so I got lost a few times walking there. But there I arrived, and WOW! They had stuff from ancient Egypt! Mesopotamia! They had the Elgin Marbles! The Minoans and Mycenneans!

THEY HAD THE ROSETTA STONE!!!!!

THE ROSETTA STONE!!!

Wow wow wow wow wow wow

Achilles killing Penthesilea, while simultaneously falling in love with her. The cad.
I need to go back and do the museum with some kind of soundtrack telling me what I was looking at. I kept thinking that I had to meet some friends for dinner, and how long would it take me to reach them because I KNEW I'd get lost again.

So I left sooner than I would have liked. It did take me quite some time to find the right restaurant -- even businesspeople a block away from it had never heard of it -- but I arrived an hour early. The staff let me sit at their farthest outside table to wait, though they didn't understand exactly what was going on and kept asking me if I wanted to order dinner. When the others came in ("That looks like a Rob Rundle," I decided as one man entered the restaurant), the staff didn't bother to tell me that my party had arrived.
Let's see. That's Jules Langley, Rob Rundle, me, Jules Clarke, Happy Hass Yusuf, and Gary Hellen. Right?
But eventually we were all there! We yacked and yacked and I so enjoyed it, despite the food. (I had a great salad, but it was a share-your-food thing and so I couldn't hoard it to myself.) These were Comic Book People, Legion of Super-Heroes fans all and members at some point of various apas, whether the American Interlac or the British Apa-247. (Adventure #247 was the first appearance of the Legion, you know.) Happy Hass Yusuf was the only one whose speech more often delved into unintelligibility, but apparently he was that way with the others as well, so I didn't feel so bad. They got me to write on FB that theirs was by far the superior gathering I had attended, and not the one with Martin and Steven. Hope those boys took it as the joke it was intended!

All good things and all that, and Jules L. accompanied me back to the subway so I wouldn't get lost and besides, she was going there as well. She explained quite a few things about the Tube and London as we walked.

The next day was Tour London day. When I'd purchased the on-and-off bus ticket (at 9 AM) the previous day, it was for two days, but the concierge had explained that I had only 24 hours to use the ticket to get a river tour as part of the bargain. I decided what the heck, I'm going to sleep in and miss my "free" ticket. I'd pay for the cruise. I deserved to sleep in once on my trip, didn't I?

I took the Tube to Westminster. The docks for the river cruises are there, but I went to the bridge first. THERE was St. Thomas' Hospital! Oh boy!

You see, I had written a Wonder Woman novel and part of it had her riding in the London Eye (there it was, right over there!) when chaos erupts. Bum bum BUUUMM! She breaks open her Eye capsule and runs parallel to the river, then jumps the bridge, while the chaos sets some cars afire in the parking lot behind St. Thomas', and she has to toss them about. I'd Mapquested St. Thomas' and there on my computer screen was the parking lot. Right there. Behind the hospital.

There was no parking lot.

Oh, there was one, but it was below ground, under a mini-park complete with trees. There was only a bit exposed to air along the edge. Argh. This would mean rewriting. I took another few billion photos so I could remember the setup when I returned to my computer at home and rewrote the scene. (Actually, it turned out not to need that much of a rewrite, phew!) (And if I'd just switched to Satellite View, I could have seen the setup from the start.)
Yes, it's a little blurry, darn it. I have a nice, sharp picture from another angle, but I like this angle. Besides, you know what it looks like.
After that I turned around and got to hear Big Ben chime the noon hour on the other side of the bridge. The full monty! Then it was down to buy a ticket -- only to discover that my on-and-off bus ticket did indeed still cover the cost! Yay! Stupid concierge.
The Globe Theatre
Very enjoyable cruise! The guide spoke clearly and the sound system was excellent. He also made a lot of good jokes. The most important thing we passed was the Globe Theatre, but both shorelines were full of fascinating sites. We finally came upon the Tower Bridge and Tower itself, and docked. I could have gone on to Greenwich and the Tidal Whatsis that keeps the Thames from going bonkers (I really wanted to see the apparatus, and not just because it had been featured on Dr. Who), but I had just this day to see London.
Tower Bridge
Rick Steves' tour book warned about the crowds for the Tower. I decided that I really wasn't interested in seeing a bunch of jewels. Instead I found a nice tavern for lunch and had Britain's favorite meal (no lie; statistics prove this), chicken tikka masala. What do you know? The English CAN make a spicy dish. That opened my sinuses! Tasty.

The day was wearing on. How best to see the sights? Hm. Hm. I get lost so easily... I'd take the on-and-off bus and just sit on top for one full round of the "touristy sites" route. After that I might fit in one or two special visits to whatever looked interesting.
And yet it never rained, though the skies turned BLACK.

Someone had told me to take an on-and-off tour, but to avoid the Original Tour like the plague. Guess what I had tickets for? My bus trip to the V&A had consisted of encountering nothing but friendly, obliging bus drivers. When people in wheelchairs got on, they took about twenty minutes to strap every bit of square inch-age of the wheelchair and sitter in. This happened several times; no wonder the buses took so long!

But that afternoon the driver was silent. There were stops to be made on our maps, but he missed many of them. One he stopped at about a block before the actual stop (there was that much of a line of buses at the actual stop), and I didn't realize that was Our Stop for that site and he wouldn't be stopping any closer. At about 2:30 London traffic just STOPPED. We'd go about five feet and stop. Eventually we'd move forward another five feet and stop. After a while I vowed that I'd get off at the first stop he made that I could determine was near a subway entrance. I knew the buses stopped running at 5:30, and didn't want to get caught on the far side of the city.
Couldn't get the timing right to catch shots of the REAL rush hour. Imagine about three times more people than this on the same amount of acreage. "Mass of humanity" = one large mass.

London was all starting to run together. We didn't get many "good" views of important landmarks, when indeed we came upon any. I missed the experience of a focused tour, with commentary I could concentrate on. The best I could do now was to get my exhausted self off at the Tower, a full circle. The time was about 5:00. I got lost finding the Tube entrance, but did find it eventually and went back to the hotel. There was a shopping center a few blocks from there and I decided to treat myself to a fancy dinner at Jaime Oliver's place there. Ugh. What a dump.

But London was done. Got up at dawn the next day and... well, the story of the trip back was in the introduction to all this tour stuff, right? Got home and collapsed for a day, getting sicker and sicker, and then on Friday was inundated with contractors doing their thang at my house.

What did I learn? Well, I'd like to go back to Scotland to toodle around leisurely and enjoy all the beauty, maybe with an easel by my side. I definitely NEED to go back to London because I missed so much. This time I'll plan for four full days there. I'll schedule a targeted tour, like the Harry Potter tour or a palaces tour, that kind of thing, for mornings, break for lunch and then hit at least one museum (I won't miss the Tate this time!) each day. If I have time for a minor museum afterward, so much better. It will be leisurely and there'll be lots of time to choose nice restaurants and tea rooms.

I've spoken a lot about how rushed bus tours are, but they're splendid at getting a quick overview of an area so you can tell what's worth coming back for. Now and then along the tour, I'd pause and ask William, my previous life who'd joined the Navy to see the world only to be stuck in a cramped submarine during WWII, where he died (I wrote two recent blogs about the past-life regression; check 'em out), if he was happy to see the world through my eyes. I got the impression that it would do fairly well. And of course, just last Saturday, a psychic told me that my soul job was to study cosmic cultures and report back to the "creator-god." I'm sure that entity will read this blog and add to the report.

I WILL be coming back for more British goodness someday. WHEN is that movie deal coming through? I'll need the cash to ride in First Class.



Monday, August 29, 2016

O ye'll take the high road, and I'll take the low road…

All this will likely not be in order unless I really check the numbers on the photos or the tour description. These are days 5-6 of the tour, plus a bit of #7.

Speaking of photos, let's begin with a nice one. I believe this gentleman's name was Kevin MacDonald, and we met him when we visited Stirling Castle. Well, not quite Stirling Castle. (Part of some of the oddities of the Trafalgar Tour were that they were more interested in timetables than touring, and touring Stirling Castle was something our schedule couldn't fit in, though we were RIGHT THERE.)

We were going to eat as a group in a restaurant just next to Stirling. Kevin met us and, after letting most of the ladies in our group have their pictures taken with him, gave a little talk about the place and how it was connected with William Wallace (the Battle of Stirling Bridge and the Battle of Bannockburn, both so emphasized in that British History for Dummies book I'd read. Hillary waved in the general direction of the countryside as we drove back down the mount. The historic sites were somewhere out there), and then walked us down to the restaurant, playing the bagpipe.





After we'd eaten, here came Kevin into our cramped parlor and began to play the bagpipes! It was EXCRUCIATINGLY LOUD!!! I dug into my purse for the ear plugs I'd brought for use on the plane over, but those plugs -- even with Amazon top-ratings -- did little to dim the sound. The poor people sitting even closer than me were holding their ears, except for the ones who were wasted.

After that he gave a bio of Rabby Burns and then recited a lengthy if edited version of "Tam o'Shanter," chewing every bit of scenery he could. Tremendous!

I was disappointed that we couldn't see the William Wallace memorial up close (it was visible on its hilltop a bit away from us), but also was curious to see the statue of him done up as Mel Gibson in Braveheart. But according to all-knowing Wiki: "The statue was deeply unpopular, being described as 'among the most loathed pieces of public art in Scotland' and was regularly vandalized before being placed in a cage to prevent further damage. Plans to expand the visitor centre [at the memorial], including a new restaurant and reception, led to the unpopular statue's removal in 2008."
THIS will scare the English out of Scotland!
Back to the beginning of Day #5...
A bit drizzly. That's the North Sea there.

St. Andrews was just above Edinburgh, and it was not only raining but thundering as we drove through. We stopped at the clubhouse of the historic golf course. You could see the North Sea just over there. I wanted to run over just to dip my toes into it to say I had been there, but I'm a good North Carolina girl and here if we're on a golf course and we hear thunder, we head inside. Even so, I think NC is #2 in the US for people getting hit by lightning.


We visited a whisky manufacturer, a family-run affair. Because of the rain, the stream that ran the equipment was threatening to overflow, but it made for pretty pictures. The process was interesting enough, and at the end they gave everyone but me drinks for a toast, and then led us into their little shop for large purchase and small. (Of course I ran into sharp criticism again about not drinking.)

These were terribly, terribly narrow country roads we were traveling. We SQUEEZED through a few turns in the middle of nowhere, and on occasion gave Paul, our driver, a round of applause for accomplishing the seemingly impossible. We visited a farm (actually, this was after Gretna Green, but I'm going to leave it here) for supposedly lunch, and discovered it was actually just tea. No one else thought the food was anything but good, but I thought it was pretty awful. I just hated to think that because the lady had made it herself. But this is her business: to feed the tourists as they come around. They served 1"-wide ribbons (no crust) of "sandwiches" with white bread, mayo and cheese, and maybe one kind had a few morsels of chicken on it. Then there were little finger desserts that didn't taste like anything except sugar. At least the tea was good.

Speaking of tea, the place had two outdoor toilets, looking like overgrown portalets. We made a line, and I was second in for the one on the right. The guy who went in ahead of me couldn't keep the door shut, so I made sure I shut it well when I went in. What had been his problem? I locked it because you go in such a thing, you lock it. Did my business, went to unlock the door… And it wouldn't unlock!

I WAS LOCKED IN THE LOO!

I WAS GOING TO DIE IN A LOO!

I turned that knob every which way I could, and shouted at the people outside of my situation. They shouted back instructions on how to unlock. Finally, after doing the same thing I'd been doing, the door unlocked. Whew! Of course no one else had any problems with it.

Must have been gremlins, I tell you.
Through the clouds, Ben Nevis rises to 4400 feet.
Somewhere in here we arrived at the Commando Memorial at Spean Bridge. The statue of the Green Berets that trained in the area during WWII faces Ben Nevis, which is the UK's highest mountain and was unfortunately socked in with clouds so we couldn't see it.

Eventually the sun came out and we wound up around Fort William or thereabouts, where we had time enough to find a very nice lunch. (British food is fairly fine as long as you're allowed to look for a good place yourself, though veggies were still rare.) Fort William was charming, and we took a look at the Caledonian Canal, which stretches 60 miles from Loch Linnhe in the southwest to Inverness, on a bay of the North Sea.



We went to Neptune's Staircase, which is a series of nine locks. There was a Hogwarts-type railroad running nearby for the tourists, and the neighboring village was so pretty I asked Hillary how house prices ran in this area. I mean, retirement's not far away. She assured me that homes were sky-high high in those parts. Too bad!

Glencoe is the site of a horrible massacre. My book and our tourist guide said it was another Highland clan, the Campbells, who killed the MacDonalds on orders from the new king. Yet I just watched a TV travelogue that said it was "redcoats" what done it. Well, check out the Wiki version, which seems a little of both.


But Glencoe itself is a lovely valley and then you drive into this GORGEOUS country of very high hills and waterfalls and people hiking everywhere! It's absolutely fabulous. I think it even has some hot springs. It made even me want to get off the bus, don some sturdy boots and my walking stick, and start strolling!

The other side of the mountains is pretty dreary, though.
Loch Lomond, the inn on the untravelled side.

I took a half-billion pictures for the rock formations and the cloud shadows.

From there we visited Loch Lomond, where we had a nice boat tour of the lake. Lovely high hills lead down into it, and I think that one side, which houses an older hotel, isn't served by regular roads. Our captain named a couple movies that had been made in the area, with scenes shot at the waterfall beside the hotel. I wasn't familiar with them.


Along a narrow local highway somewhere during this time the bus stopped so we could carefully troop out to a lake's edge and take some shots of Ardverikie Castle, which was used (among other media) in the BBC's Monarch of the Glen as Glenbogle. I'll have to check Netflix to see if it's available there.




Let's see. Stirling is close to Glasgow, so we must have taken those in that order. Glasgow had an interesting downtown in that any city's downtown is interesting, but I don't recall that much about it except that Robert almost got lost again, 70 feet from the bus. Hm. I think it was there that I saw the TARDIS.

Have I mentioned the STUPENDOUS room I had at the golf resort? iIrc, it was in the Stirling area. Too bad I was only conscious for about an hour in it. And that it didn't have air conditioning. I suppose perfection isn't possible. Bathroom's on your right; closet's on the left. Massive bedroom is straight ahead.

Jedburgh Abbey. They didn't have to open their windows at night and hope for a breeze.

Jedburgh: We got about 20 minutes to use the bathroom and check out the ruined abbey there, which we couldn't go into because it cost money (and time).

Finally in Scotland was Gretna Green, which I was really looking forward to. I read a LOT of Regency romances, and people in those are always trotting off to Gretna Green, which was just north of the border, to be married when they can't find a way to get married down London-way. In Gretna you could just show up at, say, a blacksmith's forge and he'd marry you off as long as you could scrounge up some witnesses. Scottish law allowed it.
The billboard I most remember (besides the one that gave the weather report: Chili today; hot tamale!) was the one that advertised the hotel at SotB as having "Heir Conditioned" rooms. Perfect for Gretna!

I was expecting a South of the Border-type tourist display, full of gaudy goodness. Gretna Green: North of the Border! (Pedro -- yes, I know he's completely un-PC, but his billboards are everywhere up and down I-95 -- is in South Carolina, just across the NC line.) Instead we visited a sedate shopping complex with a mousy museum (which you had to pay extra for) at the end. Nothing was worth taking a picture. I'm afraid what impressed me most about the place was the ladies' room.

You see, I'd been trying out black pudding that morning and the one before. "This is really, really bland sausage," I decided. My body hates sausage, but this seemed safe enough. Day #2 and my body rebelled. Quite suddenly. "Which way's the bathroom?" I yelled as we pulled into the parking space and I jumped off the bus.

The rest room must have had thirty-five stalls. No waiting! Afterward, I thought it was funny because Gretna would be a very female-centric place, so it was good they accommodated them.

Which reminds me: we stopped at one "service" (they call rest stops "service" on highway signs) that had a good 18 parking slots for buses. Inside the travel plaza was a number of fast-food restaurants, two Starbucks (I kid you not) (one was a regular Starbucks place and the other was hot drinks only), another brand coffee cafe, the ubiquitous video parlor, a travel electronics store… and a ladies' room that must have had sixty stalls! There was a guy inside helping a female employee direct traffic. (Signs warned of his presence.) For that one you had to wait, but the line moved VERY quickly thanks to the loo cops.

Speaking of bathrooms, and this blog seems inordinately obsessed with them (as one is when on a bus trip), I discovered a new system of toilet paper dispensing: like those small, square kleenex boxes, only on its side, affixed to a stall wall. You pluck one sheet at a time. You know something? I think it makes a LOT of sense, especially in a public venue, as it keeps things neater than usual.

ALL public bathrooms in the UK used those air dryers. I thought Mythbusters had proven that paper towels were more hygienic?

My point? What was my point? Oh, right: Gretna Green needs to be more showy. As in: show a little tastelessness! Have some fun with the concept!
Dinosaurs never hurt sales either! Imagine Nessie paying Gretna Green a visit. Tourist heaven!
And that was Scotland. Darn my note-taking anyway! I know I missed some good stuff, but hopefully have made up for it with pics.

Next: Back to England and then… London!