Monday, June 23, 2014

London: Day 5, Thursday

At the fish and chips shop, weird "Non Brewed Condiment"

My lovely Hokusai mug

The girls in the BBC broadcast booth. They're sort of hard to see, but that's them through the window, at that darkened table. Actually the better view of them is in that top monitor, second from the left. (Ignore the dudes in the way-background.)

Two items on the agenda:
  1. The British museum,
  2. A private tour of the BBC (as per Day 3's invitation from Lucy).
The morning was clearer. We got a late start. By the time we made it to the middle of things, we were already hungry and decided to grab an early fish and chips lunch. (Yes, our diet does seem to have consisted almost entirely of fish and chips and Indian food. Not so bad.) We found a funny little no frills place run by eastern Europeans, not far from the museum. It wasn't a culinary pinnacle, but it was hearty and filling. (They didn't have vinegar for the chips (fries). They had variously flavored (excuse me, flavoured) things labeled "Non Brewed Condiment". What does that mean? Aren't most condiments non-brewed?)

The British Museum: I confess, I'm a culture-less Neanderthal. I tend to find museums overwhelming and exhausting. And the British Museum was especially so. It's a beautiful building, with a gorgeous sky-lit atrium, but it's enormous and so full of deeply culturally significant treasures that the head reels.1 Sarah, who finds museums invigorating, was on fire, eagerly traipsing from one beautifully chiseled rock to the next. The rest of us tried to keep up. We passed through the mob-scene Egyptian exhibit with its mummies. I did, myself, finally light on fire when I learned that the museum contained an original Hiroshige print2 (one of my favorites), and I dragged the gang up to the obscure back-of-the-top-floor Japanese exhibit (which included other cool stuff like a full samurai suit of armor) for a gander. After all the varied gazing and wandering, we finally settled back in the atrium for a respite. Gift shop: I purchased my sole London keepsake, a nice little mug with a rendition of Hokusai's "Under the Wave, off Kanagawa."3 Food court: They served espresso, which helped alleviate the museum-daze.

The BBC was the surprise treasure of the visit. We met Lucy in the lobby, where she signed us in and got us visitor's passes. (I don't think the BBC gets many whole families traipsing around its inner depths. As Lucy brought us through security, she joked, "And this is my herd," to which the guard quietly responded, "Large herd.") It's a tremendous building, the kernel of the old original building, which then, over the decades (as Lucy explained) received many ad hoc add-ons, growing in a sort of U-shape, and then, more recently, underwent a massive and successful modernistic resuscitation: a groovy many-story beehive of industrious news gathering and dissemination. (The standard format throughout the building was open-air workspaces, with each person having their own little station with a computer and a phone and whatever else they needed.4)

Lucy led us past the main TV news studio, with its anchor people in funny off-camera down-time. We wandered around the perimeter of the main giant news-room. Y'know how when you're watching the news and there's a whole bunch of people off behind them doing industrious-looking news gathering work? That room. (It's conceivable that at some point during one of the main BBC newscasts, we were teeny-tiny dots in the background.) She led us (again, as the lead sound engineer) into one of the small recording booths, where on the other side of the glass, one of those ladies with the perfectly polished BBC accents read a brief radio news clip, which turned out to be something about the rape and abuse of young women in south Asia, which made everyone in the booth feel a bit awkward. No worries. Then the sound engineer gave a not particularly coherent explanation of how a sound-board worked: it's very simple, just one part over and over, and once you learn the one part you know the whole thing. (I'm sure he's right. We just didn't know what he was talking about.)

We moved on. It gets blurry. We took an elevator (each of the elevators plays a different BBC radio channel) up to the groovy pop-music channel floor, where with-it looking young staff  whisked about. We travelled down to the international news floor, where each of the major world regions has its own section. Above each section was a teeny sign identifying it, but they weren't really necessary: one could pretty easily tell from the composition of the staff what region each section covered; the Africa section had lots of Africans, etc. Ultimately we wound up in the main (unoccupied) recording studio for the BBC radio world service. Y'know, the studio where the BBC news comes from. Lucy set the girls up with earphones and mics and coached them on how to do a proper BBC news sign-off. Pretty friggin' cool.

Ultimately our tour ended. We thanked Lucy, returned our visitor's badges, and went to the gift shop. Sarah broke some stuff, apologized profusely, and bought a BBC mug. I got more coffee at the little cafe. Outside, it started pouring rain. We split up, Sarah and Louise off for a bit of tween shopping; Mom, June, and I headed home to rest our tired butts.

It stopped raining. The gang reunited back home. Indian dinner up the street. (Yes, fish and chips and Indian; an archetypal dining day.) After dinner (I think5), we revisited the foot-crushing playground. I wanted to swaddle Louise in bubble wrap, but she mercifully didn't break anything. Then back to the flat for some vegging in front of the telly.6 And again, sleep, sleep, sleep.

1 Of course, most of this deeply culturally significant stuff is stuff from other cultures, which has caused plenty of controversy in recent years, with some of the aforementioned other cultures wanting their stuff back. There were some unintentionally funny placards in the Ancient Greece exhibit that danced around the subject, obliquely alluding to the controversy but then saying how fortunate it was that these artifacts had been spared the degradation they would have suffered in the polluted environs of modern Athens.

2 As mentioned in one of the very first Slimbolala posts, in my youth, I went through a passionate (and idiosyncratic) Hiroshige fandom phase.

3 In addition to being lovely, the mug is also one-and-a-half times the size of our other mugs, allowing it to contain an extra-large dose of caffeine. I've been using it religiously since our return.

4 It's funny, in one sweep of the eye, seeing so many people in their workaday mode: some dressed upscale, some  down, some eating their lunches at their desk, some chatting with neighbors, some intensely focussed, some looking at Facebook (though I speculate that the Facebook-looking might have been for actual social-media news-research purposes; the open-air workspaces didn't afford much privacy).

5 My journal got sloppier as the days went by, starting with  multiple detailed pages, ending with a few chicken-scratched bullet points.

6 The brain needed an occasional respite from the overload of the sights. The family we were renting from had a set of Simpsons DVDs, which were in heavy rotation with the girls during their off-time. (Go to Europe. Watch "The Simpsons".) That night, we briefly delved into local network television but could never agree on what to watch. I wanted to watch a special on "the worst British football team ever". (I know nothing about British football but found the show wildly entertaining from a socio-cultural point of view. (Ooh! Ain't I fancy.)) Nobody else wanted to watch it. On a new BBC-phillic kick, Sarah wanted to watch the BBC news. (It was — briefly — entertaining to see news broadcast from the very spot we'd been earlier that day.) Nobody else wanted to watch it. June wanted to watch some trashy British talent competition reality show. Nobody else wanted to watch it. We reverted to the Simpsons.