Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Dinner before La Bête

Still catching up on some blog notes and photos:

We picked up our tickets to La Bête with an hour to spare before curtain time. Scarlett and JohnD had spotted a sushi restaurant nearby they wanted to try. Robin and I went to a nice little Italian restaurant across the street from the theater that had a pre-theater menu designed for those of us in a hurry, going to a play. 

While waiting for our spaghetti I pulled out the small sketch book Robin gave me and did a quick sketch of Mark Rylance, using an iPhone photo I had just taken of the play's poster across the street. Robin wrote a note on the sketch (she knows him), tore it out of the sketchbook, and took it to the backstage door of the theater to have it delivered to Mark.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010


One of the highlights of this trip was to learn exactly what gobsmacked means. This comes straight from Lynn, our friend and Oxford scholar, and verified by her husband Neil who knows a thing or two about gobsmackedness.

When something is so brilliant that you involuntarily get wide-eyed and smack your hand over your gob (your mouth), you're "gobsmacked."

I assumed it was just a goofy, meaningless expression, but nooooo, the British have put a lot of thought into this one. Refer to the attached scientific illustration.

Playing with IPad ArtStudio

The nine hour flight from Heathrow to Houston is the first chance I've had to play with ArtStudio, an app for iPad. The lack of control drawing with a finger on the touchscreen, plus the bumpy motion of the plane, makes for a more primitive and crude sketch, but that's often better than laboring over a more finished one.

Not a great likeness, but you probably guessed who it is, even without reading the caption. And some of you probably guessed Kiki or Louise Brooks.

Drawing session at the Tate Modern

Now that I'm on the flight from Heathrow to Houston I finally have a chance to write some blogs I didn't have time for before. Sometimes we were too busy, sometimes too tired, but most of the time just low quality WiFi service (yes, you Starbucks) or none at all.

I don't have WiFi on this flight (what is this? The dark ages?), but I'll post a few entries as soon as I get a chance, perhaps in Houston.

The drawing session at The Tate was run by two people from something called "drawing London." Just my luck, they decide to get artsy and experimental on the night I attend. Like having the models move continuously, or hold a pose for 30 seconds or so. Or 10 seconds. And no chairs or stools, just sit or kneel on the floor. For two hours. The art materials supplied are a hodgepodge of crayons, dried up markers, pencil and chalks ready for their last strokes.

But hey, it's The Tate, it's after hours, there's a naked model standing in the middle of the room. So I started drawing as fast as I could. Which wasn't anywhere near fast enough. I moved to the other side of the gallery where another model was holding her poses a little longer. But still, by the time I'd drawn an angle of the leg or arm, or two eyebrows for gawd's sake, the model would turn and completely change the pose.

At the end of the class, everyone put their drawings on the floor to show. I took some low- quality, bad-lighting iPhone photos of my favorite ones, including one of the only two of mine that I bothered to keep, titled "Brown paper with masking tape."

Even though I didn't get a lot of good drawings out of it, it was a unique and memorable experience, and a super cool gift from Robin.

Boat House furniture design at Cameron House in Scotland

Monday in London

Monday had more than it's share of tube rides and Underground stair-climbing. We tubes into London, visited The Monument, a 202 ft tall column with stairs to an observation platform at the top. 202 feet away is where the Kings Bakery was located on Pudding Lane, where the London Fire started and burned down a large section of London (late 1600s?).

We crossed over to the south bank of the Thames and found The Golden Hinde, a replica of the ship that Sir Francis Drake used to circumnavigate the globe between 1577 and 1580. A golden hinde is a golden deer. The harbor where it's docked was a free harbor for people associated with the nearby church.

From there we tubed to the National History Museum, an amazingly beautiful building with some amazing exhibits, and then, a block away to the Science Museum. We didn't have too long at either museum because we were on our way to London's West End to see La Bête, a play starring Mark Rylance (creative director and actor at the Globe theater for its first ten years), David Hyde Pierce, and Joanna Lumely.

Scottish Tartan hat

In the Cameron House gift shop.

La Bête (The Beast)

Another unforgettable night of theater, this time at The Comedy Theatre, located in London's West End (legendary theater district), near Piccadilly Circus (the Times Square of London).
The play starred Mark Rylance and co-starred David Hyde Pierce ("Nigel" on the TV show "Frazier.")
Originally written in 1992, its revival has been selling out, mainly due to the Rylance performance, which is remarkable. The story is set somewhere around the 1700s (I think). David Hyde Pierce plays a playwright and his acting troupe who are sponsored by a wealthy princess. The leader of the troupe has been ordered to add Rylance, another actor/writer, to the group, to the horror of the current leader (Pierce), because he detests the Rylance character with a passion, knowing him to be an arrogant egomaniac who never shuts up and never stops praising himself.
When Rylance makes his entrance on the stage (after Pierce has ranted about how insufferable the Rylance character is), Rylance launches into a fast paced non-stop rhyming monologue of self praise that lasts at least 20 or 25 minutes without a pause, while the other two actors on stage just stand there with their mouths agape. Rylance's portrayal of the buck-toothed, offensive, bombastic egomaniac is hilarious, brilliant, and pretty darn mind-boggling.
it's a relatively short play, about an hour and a half, with no intermission. The set design, costume design, and lighting were fabulous. Three curtain calls and a standing ovation.
Above, a sketch of Mark Rylance, in character, using the ArtStudio for iPad app.

Theater patrons on the tube late at night after a play

Gotta get home before the tube stops running.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Merton College

Scarlett and JohnD wait for Robin to come out of Merton College.

The Bear

Heading to some refreshment before we catch the bus out of Oxford.

University Park

Punting on the river that flows through the gigantic park.

Our picnic group enjoyed a lovely afternoon in Oxford while the rest of England watched the World Cup game between England and Germany. When we left the park later that afternoon we passed a couple of sullen, slightly drunk blokes. Robin said "Who won?" One of them grumbled back "Don't ask!"


Return to Oxford

Today we navigated our way to Oxford (walk to Uxbridge, take the Tube
one stop to Hillingdon, catch a bus to Oxford).
We met our Oxford friends, Lynn, Neil, their son James and daughter
Louise, for a picnic in Oxford University Park, a huge park on a
scenic river with punting boats floating by (punting is standing at
the back of a flat bottom boat and using a long pole to push yourself
After spending the afternoon in thr park, we went to The Bear pub for
cider and beer, then caught the Oxford Tube bus back to Hillingdon
where we'll catch the Tube back to Uxbridge.
I'm blogging from the bus now, using the onboard WiFi.
The photo is of a statue of William Herbert, son of Mary Sidney, in
the courtyard of Oxford's Bodleian Library.

Return to The Malt Shovel, Uxbridge

Last night we had a very nice meal in the outdoor garden of the Malt
Shovel. Dogs are welcome here. The regular customers pictured here
bring sheepskin beds so their dogs can be comfortable while the humans eat dinner.
Everyone agreed that The Malt Shovel is superior to the pub a little
further down the canal, Water's Edge. Much. In every way.

The Bonnie Bonnie Butts of Loch Lomond

This painting at the Cameron House reception desk illustrates how we
Americans have always misunderstood the title of this popular song.
When you're here in person and realize what a common site this is, the
song's title starts to make sense.

Search YouTube or iTunes for great versions of the song "Loch Lomond" by the great Scottish band Runrig.

Fairy Trail, Carrick golf course, Loch Lomond

A nice little wooded trail next to one of the fairways.

Ben Lomond

Ben Lomond. It's not just a tiny hamlet in southwest Arkansas.

Located on the northeast side of Loch Lomond, it's nearly three thousand feet tall.

Cameron House

Sampling a blonde ale in the Cameron bar, reading a interesting book, and enjoying the loch view.


A cool thing about kilts is that when you're not wearing them you can put them on the wall for art. I tried this with my jeans but it just didn't seem to work.

A canal stroll

We walked to Uxbridge from the Brunel campus to meet Scarlett and JohnD as they returned from Bruges.

After a disappointingly mediocre dinner at a pub recommended by the bed and breakfast host where Scarlett and JohnD are staying (the breakfast at the B&B was even worse than the pub he recommended), we strolled along the Cowley canal on the way back to the campus.

Canal scenes

Friday, June 25, 2010

Back in Uxbridge and catching up

WiFi/email problems have made it difficult to keep the blog up to the same pace as our activities. Some of the problems are due to my blog site,, having some compatibility problems with the Safari browser on my iPad, making it difficult to compose articles on the blogger website ("Compose" mode is not supported on the site when using the version of Safari that's on the iPad). And I can't transfer photos from my camera or iPhone to the iPad because the adapter I need from Apple is sold out and back ordered and won't be available for another several weeks. So I've been limited to shooting photos with my iPhone, emailing them to myself, picking up the mail on my iPad, saving the attached photos to the iPad, then writing a blog entry in iPad Mail and attaching photos to the message and emailing it to my account. Sometimes the photos don't get thru.

Now that we're back in Uxbridge, I don't have access to WiFi here on campus. To use my iPad for blogging I'll have to find a pub or coffee shop that has WiFi. Right now I'm on Robin's computer in her room.

I accomplished one of my goals for Scotland, I ate haggis. It's included in the Full Scottish Breakfast. It wasn't a large serving, but it was satisfying, especially if, like me, you don't get haggis but maybe once every 5 or 10 years. The good thing about haggis is, every 5 or 10 years is often enough.

Our train from Glasgow got back to London late last night, we took the tube to Uxbridge, walked the 1.5 miles from Uxbridge to Brunel and got here around midnight.

Today we're putting together some booklets (applying transfers of graphics that Robin designed to some moleskin notebooks) for a summer class that will be taught by Lynn Robson, Robin's friend and former Oxford tutor, at Oxford's Merton College. This afternoon we'll walk back to Uxbridge's town centre and meet Scarlett and JohnD at the Tube station, as they arrive from several days in Bruges, Belgium.

We haven't decided yet on tomorrow's plans, but on the list is renting a flat boat on the local canal, going to Bath, or to Wilton House (one of Mary Sidney's estates) and Stonehenge (which is near Wilton House).

Updates later. Cheers.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Cameron House on Loch Lomond

Our lodging on Lake Lomond is at the Cameron House, an estate dating from 16th century, although a castle keep with secret tunnels to the loch and in the opposite direction have been here since the 1200s. The main building has been expanded to include much more lodging, swimming pools, spa, restaurants, etc. The grounds include a marina, a boat house bar and restaurant, separate lodges for families or groups to rent, and two golf courses.
Both yesterday and today we've been exploring the property, having some drinks in the nice bars with nice views, and checking out the restaurants. Today we took the shuttle to the main golf course, Carrick (named for the guy who designed the course), walked around, took some photos, and had a pot of tea with scones, jam, and clotted cream in The Claret Jug (the club house restaurant). On our walk we noticed a strange tree sculpture on the edge of a forest. It looked like someone had cut down a tree with three trunks, turned it upside down, planted it in the ground, and carved a mystical spiral symbol on it. We walked under the branches that seemed like an entrance, realized there was a path thru the forest that led to other nature sculptures and brass plaques along the "fairy trail" that had poems on them.
Maybe all golf courses have fairy trails. I'll ask Ces, my personal golf consultant.

Dude, Zero Degrees Longitude

Greenwich, located on the zero degree meridian, is the home base for setting time around the world. We took the short train ride there from London and visited the Maritime Museum and the Royal Observatory, which played an important part in one of the most important discoveries and technological advances in our history: how to calculate with accuracy your longitude position while at sea. Latitude, your distance from the equator, can be determined by measuring the distance of the sun (or the Polar Star) from the horizon at noon. For many centuries sailors had no way to determine longitude, their position East or West from a given point. This led to a lot of costly mistakes in lives, ships, and treasures. In the late 1600s many monarchs began offering fabulous rewards for anyone who could solve this problem.
The Royal Observatory in Greenwich was created by King Charles II, specifically to work on this problem, since a detailed and accurate mapping of stars, planets, and other heavenly objects seemed to be the obvious path to explore. He appointed a young scientist named Flamsteed to be in charge.
It was known that an accurate clock could solve the problem, enabling a navigator to compare the time at his current location to the time at his port of departure. But clocks were not accurate or dependable at the time. Nor were they portable. At sea they would stop working or give incorrect time due to motion, changes in temperature, barometric pressure changes, damage by storms, rust, etc. So most scientist concentrated on mapping the stars, advancing the science of astronomy in a giant way.
An unknown watchmaker named John Harrison built an amazing clock that looked like a Rube Goldberg device. It was made of different metals so that when one piece contracted due to the environmental conditions, it's effect was offset by another piece that expanded. It didn't have a pendulum, and it wasn't affected by motion, and even though it was large, it was far smaller than other clocks. Over the years, he built a second version that had improvements and was smaller, but it still looked like a big two foot cube. He kept working, and years later morphed it into what we know today as a watch, about the size of your hand.
All this took over 40 years, all the while battling important scientists who tried to discredit him as a nobody with no formal training. Finally, as an old man, he collected his prize money and seafaring ships were able to plot their positions accurately. And it was during this project, mapping the stars and the eclipses of the moons of Jupiter, that the speed of light was first discovered.

Walking the zero meridian line at the Royal Observatory in Greenwich, the starting point for East and West. The metal strip goes straight to the telescope in the observatory where Flamsteed and his assistants spent years mapping the stars.

A flower garden at the Royal Observatory.

One of the clocks created by John Harrison. What kind of epiphany did he have to leap from this to a device that looks like a pocket watch you can buy today?

The Royal Observatory from the park grounds. The round ball on the left spire drops to the bottom of the spire at noon every day. Navigators and captains on nearby ships on the Thames could see the observatory on the hill and set their ship clocks to the correct time at noon, before they set out to sea. If your ship's clock is inaccurate by several minutes, your navigation can be off by a hundred miles.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Glasgow train station

The sign says "30p per visit."

Sorry, but I don't think I can p 30 times per visit.

The Tate Modern

Upon returning from Greenwich, we stopped for dinner at Young's, a great pub next to the Tate, then Robin took the tube to the hotel as I checked in at the Tate for an after hours drawing session.

Photo: signing in to drawing class.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Tate Modern tonight

Life drawing class tonight at the Tate Modern.

But first, we're off to Greenwich to visit the largest maritime museum in the wooorrrrrld!


The groundlings don't usually have to do this. The black fabric was there throughout the three hour play. Actors and musicians occasionally popped up from underneath.

The giant wheel structure was there just for this production also. Chains hanging from it held big caldrons of fire (good for witch scenes) that rotated around the stage, or sometimes a black, semi-transparent curtain. Pretty fancy stuff for the usually minimalist Shakespearean stage.

Trafalgar Square

The column in Trafalgar Square is a good example of what I think should replace the obelisk on the Santa Fe Plaza. It would make a nice landmark that's visible from anywhere in Santa Fe. A great tourist draw too.
This column's statue is of Lord Nelson, one of three British commoners to have a state funeral. The other two were Winston Churchill and Philip Sydney (Mary Sidney's brother).
Nelson was Admiral of the British Royal Navy in 1805 at the battle of Trafalgar, where 27 British ships defeated 33 French and Spanish ships. The French and Spanish lost 22 ships and the British lost none. Nelson, however, was killed in battle. The battle changed Napoleon's plans to invade England. Nelson remains England's biggest naval hero.
Trafalgar Square is at the entrance to the National Gallery and the National Portrait Gallery.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Sidewalk artist

Near the Millennium Bridge.

Ship in a bottle

Trafalgar Square, outside the National Gallery.

Sunday, Part One

This morning we met Robin's cousin, Danny, and his family for breakfast at a nearby Hilton. They've been staying in the English countryside and are taking the chunnel to Europe for more sightseeing.

This afternoon we went to the National Portrait Gallery to see lots of great portraits, including The Tudors and a contemporary collection.

Next we made our way across town to the St. Paul tube station where we crossed the Thames on the Millennium pedestrian bridge to the Globe Theater neighborhood. After a fast, delicious dinner at Tas Pide, a Turkish restaurant across the street from the globe, we went to see Macbeth at the Globe. A very good production, viiolent, bloody, and lots of screaming. Lots of the Groundlings (the standing room audience around the stage) had to stick their heads thru holes in a fabric surrounding the stage. Actors and musicians occasionally appeared thru a hole in the cloth.

Getting ready for a big day tomorrow: a trip to Greenwich and an after hours drawing session at the Tate Modern tomorrow night.


Saturday evening we all had a rendezvous at the New London Theater on Drury Lane, where, according to Robin, the muffin man lives.

The play was great, as in " Wow, that was one of the most amazing things I've ever seen." It's a story about a farm kid and his horse, and World War I.

This from the author in the program notes: "So I conceived the notion that I might write the story of the First World War as seen through a horse's eyes, a horse that would be reared on a Devon farm, by the forebears of the people I knew, a horse that is sold off the farm to go to the front as a British cavalry horse, is captured by the Germans and used to pull ambulances and guns, winters on a French farm. It would be the horse's eye view of the universal suffering of that dreadful war in which ten million people died, and unknown millions of horses."

The horse (and other animals) is a life sized puppet controlled by several puppeteers. The photos from the program show how stylized the horse puppets are, but the effect is amazingly real even though there's no attempt made to hide the puppeteers (two under the horse, one standing next to the head, and sometimes another one or two at the back of the horse). In the bottom photo, the man standing behind the horse's neck is not an actor - he's a puppeteer manipulating the head and neck movements.

An unforgettable night of theater.