It's Tuesday morning. This is the third day since we landed in the UK, and Gareth announced that he had three words for it: "Mis. Rah. Bull."
He is referring to the weather, of course - not the time we've been having. It's great to be back - Gareth's mum and dad couldn't be sweeter to Megan and me. Megan and her cousins have picked up right where they left off last summer, and we've all had a wonderful time hanging out with Gareth's brother, Dave, and our sister-in-law, Tracey.
But it's damned cold.
Ironically, I'm not as bothered by it. In fact, I would be disappointed if the weather was warm like the climate we left in California. But Gareth -- who lived here until his mid-20's -- seems a little surprised by the air's bone-chilling quality. I guess he'd forgotten. All during our last visit (when the temperature stayed mostly in the 80's), he was heard saying how he might be happy living here again. He's not saying that now. "Amazing how the weather affects your feelings about a place," is what he's saying now.
Bringing you up to date (If you viewed this journal before today, you'll find more details in the two previous posts):
Our arrival at Heathrow was uneventful and very much as I described how it would be in my very first post in this blog. The only thing really interested occurred when we picked up our car. The marquee at the front of the Avis building said "WELCOME" and then listed several customers -- including ME -- and directed us to go straight to our cars. No waiting in line, no dealing with the rental agents, no need to show ID's or credit cards. For once, it was exactly as promised.
But when we found our car, we decided it might be a bit too small. It's not easy selecting a class of car when you're not familiar with the models. What we had was a Vauxhall Vectra -- similar in size and appearance to a Chevy Cavalier. We needed to carry three large bags, three small ones and a booster seat for Megan. We decided to upgrade to the next highest model.
So I did have to go to the counter, where I was told that the next highest model available was either a Vauxhall Omega (of which I have no clue) or a Mercedes C class (which I am familiar with, and I don't think it's any larger than the Vectra). And she said that the rate for the upgraded car would be £680. Per week. This is £300 more than the rate we originally contracted for. And remember, that one pound is the same as $1.76.
"We're keeping the Vectra," I told Gareth. "Just make it all fit." And he did.
We made it safely to Cardiff around 5:00 PM (9:00 AM PST). Neil and Marion, Gareth's mum and dad, were happy to see us. We managed to stay awake and chat with them until around 10:00, and then retired to bed, blissful at the fact that we could now stretch out fully and sleep. We awoke on Sunday at 9:00, feeling little ill effect of the flight (this is largely due to the No Jet Lag tablets we took every two hours, chewable serotonin pills that work amazingly well). It was sunny and cold -- about 3 degrees Celsius (37 F), but it warmed up a bit as the day wore on.
Before we left, my friend Maggie told us she'd read in Business Week that Starbucks wasn't doing well in the UK and would be closing some of its stores here. So I was pleased to see that they were still operating on Wellfield Road, a few blocks from my in-laws' home. We got there at 10:00 AM - just as they were opening. ("Do you know what time they open in the States?" is a question Gareth and I find ourselves asking often here, including this morning, when at 6:00 he was wandering about the town, looking for a place to buy a newspaper. "Don't you know you're in BRITAIN?" my father-in-law bellowed back. And so it goes.)
We had tickets Sunday night to attend the annual pantomime production at Cardiff's New Theatre (which was built in 1906). This is a theatrical performance that has nothing to do with the art of mime, as practiced by Marcel Marceau. It's a slightly bawdy, very silly, un-PC dramatization of a fairy tale or fable, featuring men in drag, beautiful actresses, singing, dancing and villains you love to hate. Despite the risque jokes, this is family fare, and the children in the audience are played to and encouraged to warn the hero with boos and hisses when the villain is around.
It's a Christmas tradition in the UK, and I've wanted to go for ages, but have been disappointed each trip, as it's usually sold out weeks in advance. This time, we discovered we could order tickets ahead, over the Internet. So off we went.
In addition to snacks and drinks, the lobby sells all kinds of props and hats for the children in the audience. I bought Megan a "fairy set," consisting of a silvery paper tiara and wand. This year's production was "Aladdin," and was inexplicably set in China, which allowed them to deliver jokes like "You are the weakest Chink!" (I did say the panto was decidedly un-PC -- but that one even made Gareth gasp.) The star of the show was John Inman, who PBS viewers may remember as the poofy salesman in an old Brit comedy series called "Are You Being Served?" And yes, he performed the entire show in drag.
Megan spent the entire performance perched on Gareth's lap, with a look of delight on her little face.
(Read more about pantos here.)
As traffic was bad Sunday due to all the last-minute Christmas shopping, my brother-in-law, Dave, offered to drive us to and from the theater, and after the performance, we enjoyed a dinner of take-out Chinese at his house. I keep forgetting that the dish I know as Kung Pao Chicken looks a lot different when ordered in the UK (but it still tastes great).
Tracey (my sister-in-law) mentioned that she still hadn't started her Christmas shopping and would be getting to Toys R Us early, before the crowd, leaving the boys home with Dave. We decided to go together and let both men take care of the kids. So yesterday was a rare girls' day out for me and her.
Gareth (who graciously dropped me off at Cardiff's one Starbucks with Internet access) just called and is ready to meet for lunch, so I will continue this at the next opportunity!