Charlie Fern's Ink

Do what you say. Say it in color.

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Name: Charlie Fern
Location: San Diego-Austin-Washington-London

Charlie Fern is a former White House speechwriter who runs a full-scale communications consulting, PR and speechwriting firm. Ms. Fern is also an adjunct professor who teaches public relations at St. Edwards University in Austin, Texas.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Day Two: Cannon in D+

....or, Better By Chocolate (BBC)

I have developed a theory: if you maintain a sunny disposition and fiddle around with something long enough, it’s bound to improve. Take the Cannon camera, for instance. After its losing battle with the floor yesterday, most would have put it away and given up hope on digital vacation pictures. But not me. Rather than accept my misfortune, I ignored it and carried on as usual, snapping photos and taking movies. And what do you know, the Little Cannon that Could began, very slowly at first, to capture my own sense of optimism. Call it denial, but I call it progress: By pudding time, nearly all was well, and the camera was humming along, digitally speaking.

The British are that way, you know. They have a proud history of refusing to frown in the face of adversity. They've shown the world the proper way of going on about their business. Even in times of war we've found them having their morning tea, stepping around potholes in sidewalks or bumping along the Underground while reading the Times; stopping off to top off with a pint, and heading home at night with an "All's well that ends well" in their step.

I rather like the theory: Refuse to accept that things are as bad as they really are, and things are bound to get better.

Case in point: You're looking at pictures taken roughly 24 hours after the Cannon crashed to the marble floor and nearly lost its lens. Yet it appears to be on the mend. No, really. I think it’s going to be allright. Neither Elliot nor I need red-eye corrective adjustments in the photo accompanying this blog. In fact, Elliot’s eyes have never been more photographically accurate.

Maybe all the Cannon camera needed was a walk in the park.

[Today we took our second walk in the park. I spent an hour following paths and enticingly-worded signs -- "Peter Pan" This Way; "Princess Diana Memorial Playground" That Way; "Kensington Palace" This Way; "Princess Diana Memorial Fountain" That Way -- yet I didn't find a playground, statue or monument until we were a few feet away from the exit at dark. There it was, in the dark, a few feet from the exit – mere yards away from the gate that I'd entered twice before: A Playground. We may journey back there tomorrow in time for lunch. I will wear something other than heels.]

Back to the camera: Throughout the day I continued to take photos. I manually fiddled with the lens itself (which won’t retract), pressed buttons, slid sliders, turned options on and off, and finally found my way to optimum performance in a controlled setting: the "Macro" button. Lo and behold, in the lobby of the hotel, photographs started improving, bit by bit. I have both witnesses and evidence, which you shall see on these pages.

I wonder how many other appliances will get better if you simply refuse to accept that they’re broken, take them along with you on walks in Kensington Park, and lavish them with attention for hours on end. Wouldn’t most everybody's disposition improve under similar conditions?

The only thing that seems to have gotten crankier is the Sit-N-Stroll. It has not taken to the cobbled streets and bumpy sidewalks of Kensington. On more than one occasion it has utterly refused to move another inch, and I’ve had to carry both it and its passenger (Elliot) until they were rested enough to carry on on their own. The stroller is now parked dejectedly by the door of our room, its wheels brown and muddy from a horse path we plowed across when I’d lost my way from the sidewalk in the gardens.

In other news, the tap water in our hotel room is heavily chlorinated -- a fact that becomes increasingly obvious the longer the water runs. Not enough chlorine to bleach clothes, I hope, but I am a bit concerned about washing my hair in it. The good news is that Elliot’s sippy cup is soaking in a warm bowl of it, and it should be sterilized by morning.

That brings me back to another part of our conversation with the cab driver from yesterday, who’s growing smarter with each passing blog. He told us that England has grown by 30 million people, but the infrastructure hasn’t kept pace. In fact, more people are required to live on the same amount of water as they had 40, 50, 60 years ago. They get their water from the sky, he says. And the sky isn’t making any more of it. God forbid they have a dry summer. They’ll have to start importing it, or building desalinating plants. There’s some wisdom in London’s cabbies. Folk wisdom, maybe, but relatable nonetheless. Should have asked what the old chap’s name was.

We saw trains today. Great Western High Speeders, I call them. Elliot is very excited about riding in one on Thursday. He also wants to get on an airplane tomorrow.

After the outing at the park, I ordered just about everything on the menu in our hotel restaurant’s exterior lounge, including but not limited to: Full tea (a pot of tea with a three-level-tall tower of finger sandwiches, biscuits, puddings and cakes; and hallelujah, clotted cream and jam); a bowl of broccoli-British-cheese soup; lamb and curry and naan; a basket of bread with butter; a pint of Guinness; and water. Brian, our model of moderation, restraint and good temper, had a single-serving course of dinner.

Afterward, the three of us shared a fabulous chocolate “pudding”: a bundt-cakey-thing filled with warm chocolate pudding, settled just-so on top of a small puddle of coffee-flavored cream, speared with a pure chocolate stick, and situated next to a shot glass filled with frozen coffee-flavored ice cream that was delightfully chewy (no, really. delightful). Sort of like what you’d expect if you’d frozen coffee-flavoured clotted cream. Wait a minute….

It’s difficult to describe clotted cream. One day when it’s not 4 a.m. in London, I’ll attempt to do so.

I enjoyed every minute of dinner(s) and dessert(s), and it was around this time that the camera started feeling better, as several subsequent photos turned out quite nicely.

We finally pushed away from the table and set off for a quick tour of Paddington station (en route to another grocery store in the station). I left the lounge feeling thunderous, groggy and whimsical. My hips asked for a cigarette.

At the grocery store I purchased items for breakfast and lunch: more fresh fruit, honey yogurt, rice-strawberry something or other that I mistook for yogurt; milk, stunningly delicious, fresh orange juice, bananas, and items from the shelf that were so cleverly worded that I couldn’t bear to leave the store without them.

I snapped pictures of “extremely chocolatey” something-or-others (above), and “wobbly worm” candies.

We found a Cornish pasty shop just a few feet from the trains, and I took pictures of both the shop and the trains. I am saving my first pasty-eating experience in 5 years for Cornwall, though. Some things are worth the wait.

Monday, October 22, 2007

London Crawling

We've been in London less than 24 hours and already, excitement. While we were waiting to check into the hotel (lovely, by the way - Hilton Paddington), Elliot helped me destroy our $350 Cannon digital camera. (What happens when a rambunctious toddler collides with his jet-lagged, sleep-deprived mother: Marble Floor = 1, Cannon = 0. The camera was instantly rendered useless). I'm heartbroken but undeterred. The incident reminded me that I should be writing this stuff down somewhere (like, here). Course, there won't be any photos to go with the stories.... so I'll have to write even more colorfully than usual.

It's glorious here in London -- about 65 F, sunny, and only a slight breeze - so most of the trees still have their leaves, which are changing colors. We're staying in Bayswater, which is essentially one neighborhood east of Notting Hill, (which means one neighborhood closer to downtown London). Bayswater and Notting Hill are adjacent to Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens - on the north side. We spent about an hour strolling along Bayswater Road admiring the "crafts stores" (local artists line their paintings along the iron fence of the gardens on the weekends, I guess) and then we wandered into the park, which was bustling with humans and critters. Elliot fell in love with every dog he met. They were all friendly and barked with a British accent.

Craig Ferguson is right about the war between the grey and red squirrels. (See his show from last week:

The grey squirrels have taken over the UK (apparently they invaded England by way of ships that sailed over from America). On our walk through Hyde Park/Kensington Gardens, we saw nothing but grey squirrels (and one suspicious-looking fellow that was mostly grey, except for a distinct swath of red that ran the length of his dorsal side, or back). Our cab driver confirmed that, indeed, the former stow-aways have nearly decimated the red coats. Said they drop from trees, land on people's heads and bite them - guerrilla warfare style.

What kind of vermin would plan such an attack on poor unsuspecting British and their beloved little furry red coats? What's worse -- after I did some online “research” on the subject to investigate whether Ferguson wasn't stretching the truth just a wee bit to reach the punch-line, I discovered a National Geographic article (link below) that says the grey-squirrel invaders might have carried disease across the Atlantic, which could be contributing to the demise of the native reds.

"Competition over food alone is not a mechanism of sufficient strength to account for the rate and pattern of red decline and gray squirrel expansion," said Daniel Tompkins an ecologist formerly at the University of Stirling in Scotland. "The virus may be the missing component from the explanation," he said. Bolstering this argument, is evidence that a current outbreak of the same virus may be decimating small remaining strongholds of red squirrels in Mersyside, northwest England."

I'm no history buff, but this is starting to sound rather kharmic, isn't it? The American "experience" played out in London's very own Rodent Theatre.

Then this, from somewhere else online:

A question of breeding

The Forestry Commission's recently announced plan to wage biological warfare on the grey squirrel population is especially welcome in Plant a Tree Year. The grey squirrel, a creature of the deciduous forests makes savage depredations on our precious replacement stock of hardwoods. Immature oaks, beeches, sycamores and other broad leaf species are stripped of their bark by squirrels, apparently expressing sexual frustration and not hunger.

Attempts to control the squirrel population by the gun have so far failed; the squirrels effortlessly step up their rate of reproduction as soon as a shooting campaign appears to be taking effect. So now the Forestry Commission will investigate the entire reproductive cycle.

The work is being undertaken primarily on behalf of private landowners; all but seven per cent of the commission's vast forest lands are coniferous, providing a last ironic refuge for Britain's dwindling population of red squirrels. If science can contain the grey, it might even come up with a means of encouraging the precious red.

I'm not sure who has the better sense of humor -- Craig Ferguson, God, Mother Nature, or National Geographic, but only those curious or bored enough to research this topic would get the joke.

I digress.

Great news on the camera front: It won't take photos (the shutter, auto focus, zoom, and anti-wobble functions were knocked off-kilter), but it apparently still records passable videos. At dinner, I captured Elliot donning a British accent with his first on-video pronouncement: "Aren't I clever? I'm using a straw!" Successful on the download, as well...we can see AND hear it. Brilliant.

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