March 9, 2003

Beginning of the Road

By Dane Sorensen


Cabin fever seems such a prevalent problem in Ely this time of year. It drives people to do the strangest things, such as voting for silly resolutions or turning your basement into a Miami nightclub with fake palm trees. Others are lucky and book a flight out of Duluth and head to warm climes in Mexico or the Caribbean. My wife and I were starting to feel stressed out ourselves and had strange urges to write editorials in favor of genocide and oppression, but luckily we found a unique destination to cure us of our lack of warm weather.

Rather than follow the crowds to those southern areas of tainted water and bad tourist trinkets, we headed for the United Kingdom. Specifically, we enjoyed the cities of Edinburgh and London. Our primary purpose was business, but we did not let that deny us of the possibilities of some fun. Our hopes were that the weather of late February and early March were not out of some grim Dickens novel where the cold wind would go through us to the bone. To our delight we found the weather in both cities very similar to what we get in Ely in May.

May in most of the United States is much like June, except in Ely. Despite our hopes for an early Spring, we always seem to be the last to see green grass and green leaves. Edinburgh in February has the green grass, as they never really lost it in the first place. The deciduous trees are bare, but with temperatures in the 50's and many bushes still sporting green leaves, the town is very lovely to visit.

Having been in Edinburgh last August, it was remarkable to see how similar February and August are. Edinburgh is a lot like Duluth, in that it never gets very warm. A typical August day is in the high 60's. Last August we sat on a public bench and enjoyed a lunch while people watching. The last week of February we did the same thing. The only difference is I wore a Spring jacket from JD Mills. In February it was also less crowded in the stores and deals are to be had everywhere. As a bit of spontaneous fun we bought tickets for the Broadway Production of "Beauty and the Beast" one morning and were able to get seats 5 rows back from the stage. Afterwards, we had a drink at the pub next door and talked with several of the cast, including the lovely "Belle".

London was even more of a Spring treat, with temperatures reaching as high as 62 degrees. Hotel prices ran about half what they do in summer. Good seating at the East end plays are also very easy to find. On average we were never more than 10 rows back. One play that was very unusual was Boy George's musical entitled "Taboo". For those who have forgotten, Boy George was a big hit in the early 1980's and a regular subject for most tabloids due to his "in your face" queer look. He loved wearing kimonos and face makeup all the time. His girlfriend was named Marilyn (as in Monroe) and was a transvestite. By the mid 80's he was arrested for drug use and had snorted a small fortune up his nose. "Taboo" is in one of London's oddest theaters, in that it is situated under a Catholic Church. His musical is autobiographical and leads you to the conclusion that his Father was to blame for everything. As his music was entertaining in the 80's his play of today is as well, but it is intermixed with all the brutal elements that make for a really messed up life. "Taboo" is like a musical version of watching a Jerry Springer show where white trash parade their problems for 30 seconds of fame. If you want to feel good about your family, see "Taboo."

Unlike a lot of tourist towns in the off season, everything in London is open. The only crowds in London are still those that take the Tube. The subway or "Tube" is probably the finest underground system in the world. My only complaint is that if it were in the USA, by now it would have been updated to not have so many stairs to use. Sometimes in order to get to your train, you would have to go up and down as many as 5 sets of stairs. Most sets were made of at least 5 or more steps, a real pain for those who are hauling luggage or who have walking problems. Even in stations that have been remodeled in the last ten years I see no attempt to make it easier for anyone with a disability. Ramps and lifts are present in all major department stores and offices, but the nationally owned Tube is at least 40 years behind the times. Normally, we slug it out with all those steps with our luggage when we leave for Gatwick. This time we got smart and took a taxi to Victoria and skipped the pain, stress and sweat of dealing with all those flights of stairs. Otherwise, we saved both time and money by hopping onto the Tube in our jumping around London.

After going in winter to the UK, I would never hesitate to go again during the "cold" times of the year. It may feel cold to the Brits, but to someone from Ely, it felt like mid-May. I'll take shopping in Harrods any day to sitting on a crowded beach working on skin cancer. 80 degrees is very much overrated. I will choose 60 anytime. Cheerio.


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