Tuesday, September 20, 2005

The English Trip (part two)

Next morning (now Wednesday, having lost most of Tuesday to the diverted flight), I see Marjorie for the first time and I'm thrilled - I haven't seen her since spring of 2001. We have a visit from Rebecca, their oldest daughter, and her daughter and my goddaughter, Emily, now 13 - we all have a cup of tea and a fun conversation and I present Emily with a HUGE bag of "scrapbooking" materials. It's a new hobby in the UK and most of what they have is imported from the USA at great expense; thankfully my good friend Sharon is a scrapbooker over here and we went shopping for things and she donated a lot of materials to the cause (yay! Sharon!) - Emily is beside herself! As they leave, Rebecca tells me that's she's taking me to dinner with her girlfriends on Thursday night (the 3 of them try to do this every week; it works out to about 3x a month) - okay, fun.

This is perhaps a time to talk about origins of relationship - WHY am I so connected to this English family?! Well, back in 1978, four months after getting married to Phil, we were planning to go on this rock'n'roll gospel tour of England; Phil had toured with this band 3 or 4 times already and the leader was his good friend. As it turned out, Phil got a gig at the Music Center (pit orchestra for "Pal Joey" with Lena Horne and he couldn't afford to turn down months of work for what was, essentially, a missions trip) but he still wanted me to go and they needed my voice (as it was, the band used a handful of my songs in every concert, so I was the most featured of the four singers and played piano and guitar much of the time). The set-up for this tour was through a small parish outside Gravesend which sponsored the tours by putting all the musicians and singers up in homes - so now, instead of needing a home to accomodate a married couple, they need a home to accomodate a single woman - but they need some mad English folk who can cope with the mad American! THIS is how I met Colin and Marjorie and we all hit it off famously - I have visited them dozens of times since 1978 and they've stayed with us twice; we took them all over the southwest, including the Grand Canyon and Yosemite, San Francisco, San Diego, and Catalina. They are lovely, lovely people who were profoundly grieved when Phil left the marriage. C&M's daughters, Rebecca and Rachel, were about 13 and 10 when I first came (Rebecca has also come to visit - Rachel has yet to come). In the course of some phone calls made before the trip, I realized that Bec's kids, Emily and Harry, are the same ages that she and Rachel were when we all met.

We made a run out to a local garden center and have lunch there (!! - see, we don't tend to have sit down cafeterias in garden centers) and shortly after we get home there's a phone call from Rachel and she wants to come by with her kids - apparently she'd come by Tuesday late afternoon (remember, I was supposed to land by noon) saying, "I've come to see the American!" Rachel is hysterically funny but so much of it is delivery - she has a wonderful wonky sense of humor and I love seeing her. All the kids are out of school since the school holidays have started - she took her kids, Rosie (6) and George (4) and a friend of Rosie's up to Bluewater, the largest shopping mall in the UK (well, it was - I think it still is - built in an old quarry!) where they were doing all sorts of special kid stuff - they all had their faces painted, except George had a lion face pained on his arm instead - good fun.

Thursday we decide to head out to Chartwell, a relatively local stately home (Churchill lived 30 or 40 years of his life there) and have lunch there, but we run into horrible traffic and eventually give it up, turn around and go the opposite way to Oad Street Craft Centre where we had delicious soup before rushing back home because Colin has to drive up to the outskirts of London and take his aged (nearly 90 years old!) sister in to one of the London hospitals for a regular appointment. The shape of Colin & Marjorie's life is rather challenging right now: they moved from Gravesend to a little community between Meopham and Sevenoaks and they're living out in the country (which they love - they adore driving around the country lanes) in a lovely little farmworker's cottage (a row of 4 or 5 small homes). But Colin is the youngest of 6 children with about a 20 year range in their ages and the eldest (this sister) has no children and therefore looks to Colin to step in with all that care, as does one of his brothers! Eeeep! But it's a real question - who will take care of the elderly without children of their own? So at the time they'd enjoy travel and their four grandkids, they've got lots of demands on specifically Colin's time and energy from elderly siblings.

Marjorie and I spend the afternoon in the garden, drinking tea and eating these lovely little chocolate "bites" from Marks & Sparks (lethal!). Colin wasn't late picking up his sister and it all worked out okay and he made it home so I get ready for dinner with Bec and her friends while Colin & Marjorie have fish and chips (!! - rats! I love fish and chips! almost as much as curry...). Bec picks me up and we drive up to an upscale Italian restaurant and meet up with her friends.

It's a lovely dinner (I started with a carrot and coriander soup - one of my favorites and not something you ever see here in the USA) and a fascinating conversation - these women have all been friends through school, so all of them remember the rock gospel band with which I toured and that became part of the focus of the conversation - remembering what it felt like to be 13 and excited about an American showing up to stay in your home, excited to be at a concert and see your houseguest performing. One of the women, when asked by her son why she was more than usually excited over a Thursday night dinner and she answered, "I'm having dinner with a rock'n'roll star!" You just never know how other people see you, especially from a distance - so while I'm uncomfortable with the description of myself as a "rock'n'roll star" I'm also flattered that I ever appeared to be one, even to that small community - amazing. Fun night, bright clever women sharing their lives with me - it was delightful.

Friday we have a bunch of errands to run - Colin realizes that he has to have the MOT run on his car before the end of the month, so we drive in to Gravesend and leave it with their mechanic, quite near the port (a part of town I never visited before!) and then we drive out to Bec's where all the family is getting together for lunch (except Daniel and Gary, the two son-in-laws; they're both working - poor fellows!) and we are busy eating lasagne and salad and drinking wine; the kids pile into an above-ground swimming pool in the back yard and a grand time is had by all. But *now* it's time to drive in to Rochester to pick up my rental car, drive back to Gravesend and pick up Colin's car from the mechanic. Turns out the computer-directions to the car hire location are *completely wrong* but, thank God (literally) we found the place anyway and I wind up behind the wheel of a Vauxhall Vectra. It's a *very* nice car, but larger than I would like. I follow Marjorie back through Gravesend to drop off Colin, then back through Meopham to their little community. We have a nice quiet supper and then drive back up to Bec and Daniel's so that I can have a little time with him, not having seen him since he rescued me at the airport Tuesday night! Finally we're back at C&M's and I pack up my bags, anticipating my early-morning departure for Gatwick airport.

Saturday morning the sky is clear and blue and then quickly clouds up and we kick ourselves for not loading the car while it was clear, because NOW it's bucketing down (it really is amazing how quickly the weather changes in England - I know everybody jokes about it, but it REALLY is true!). I check the computer for flight arrivals and learn Ellie's flight is about 20 minutes early but Michael's is more than an hour late. We load my bags into the car during a relative lull in the downpour and Colin gives me directions to the motorway; I put my big British road atlas in the front seat along with my bottled water (!! - through the years I have learned that changes in water are the hardest thing for my system to tolerate and I do much better if I just stick to bottled spring water) and then we all hug and kiss goodbye and the first part of my journey ends as I drive away from my friends in Kent.

The AP Article

July 26, 2005

L.A.-London Flight Diverted to Boston


BOSTON (AP) - A flight from Los Angeles to London was diverted to Boston early Tuesday because three Pakistani passengers were acting suspiciously, but nothing amiss was found and the three were released after questioning, authorities said.

United Airlines Flight 934 landed in Boston shortly before 3 a.m., Logan Airport spokesman Phil Orlandella said. Three people he described as Pakistani citizens were taken into custody and questioned.

All three were later released and no charges were filed, said Gail Marcinkiewicz, a spokeswoman for the FBI in Boston.

"The flight crew made an observation of their behavior which caused the flight to be diverted to Boston," she said. "It's all being resolved. They will be on another flight this morning for Heathrow."

Flight 934 is expected to depart for London later in the morning.

Police searched the aircraft and found nothing suspicious, Orlandella said.

State trooper Veronica Dalton said the three passengers had been "acting suspiciously and making the passengers nervous."

"The crew made the determination that they were going to land the plane in Boston," she said.

The three passengers were not identified.

The English Trip (part one)

What a great, amazing trip! Four weeks exactly from departure on Monday, July 25th to return on August 22nd, although it started oddly enough.

First, the shuttle service I called is one I'll never use again (kind of a generic service) - first, the driver was late and couldn't find my house. He phoned from in front of my neighbor's house and I told him to drive down to the first driveway on the right hand side, which he never did. In the meantime I was schlepping my bags to the front of the house - then I walk outside my fence and see him down in front of the neighbor's house, looking wistfully over the fence - bozo, there is NO driveway there! I wave and yell and finally get him to drive down to my place - and there's an extra person in the car - turns out it's his *girlfriend* - NEVER tolerate a driver who is your private car who brings his *girlfriend* with him! Flakey. He needed help getting through downtown L.A. and getting to the airport; just not a good driver.

Once on the plane everything seemed fine: I had dinner and a little wine and set about trying to go to sleep, as my approach to international travel is shifting into the time zone of the target airport as soon as I board the plane. I slept for awhile and then woke up, not quite sure what awakened me, but I sat there with a particular praise song fixed in my head, so I sang it softly (nobody can hear soft singing in the ambient noise of a jet!) - and then the pilot came on and announced that we had a navigational equipment failure and it wouldn't be safe to cross the Atlantic in that condition and we'd be setting down in Boston, shouldn't take long to repair and be back in the skies.

A few minutes later he came back and added, "When we land in Boston, please remain seated with your seat-belt fastened." Okay. Perhaps five minutes later, another member of the flight crew came on and made the same announcement and I think, "wait a minute, something's going on here." But I dismiss it; I'm just being dramatic (moi? dramatic?!). Then the same "remain in your seat with your seatbelt fastened" announcement is made a third time. Then a fourth time. By now I am quite certain something other than a navigational equipment failure is up and, sure enough, when we land, the first people on the plane are carrying assault rifles - which I expected. What I didn't expect was for them to remove a man from my own row (he was seated by the window and I was on the far side middle aisle). Then another man came on and tore apart his seat and environs. We're all sitting there, watching... turns out there were two more men taken out of coach (I'd upgraded to business class). FBI and Transportation Security Administration and local law enforcement are all talking, interviewing flight crew in the doorway, planning to bring in dogs to search the toilets.

Somewhere in there United Airlines and the feds decide to put us up in hotels for the night - it's now 5 a.m. in Boston and it takes them about an hour to get hotel vouchers arranged. I decide to leave my bags on the carousel and just take my carry-on (it contains all I need for the moment), which will give me an extra hour in the morning. We'll fly out at 11 a.m., so I need to be back at the airport by 10 - I got 3 hours sleep in a bed (yay! horizontal!), took a quick shower, and then from the airport I call Colin and Marjorie, my friends in England - we'd planned for me to take the airport bus from Heathrow to Gatwick (!!) and Colin would pick me up at Gatwick; there are no really convenient ways to get from Heathrow to Southeast England (Kent, basically) without going into London and I'd decided to avoid the Underground - at the moment, they're not allowing bags and I'm coming in with two pieces of checked luggage and a carry-on bag and I've DONE that in the past, jockeying for space on the crowded tube, trying to get from Paddington to Charing Cross. There is a stationlink bus which circles the city, stopping at every train station and the Central Bus Terminal (I have a cool story about the first time I used that bus - maybe I'll tell it later, if you're interested) - it's cheap and convenient for bags but it's sloooow. Now, arriving so late at night, it's unworkable and our plans to connect via coach from Heathrow to Gatwick is the best option - so I promise to phone when I arrive at Heathrow so Colin can get in his car and drive the hour or so up to Gatwick.

It's a zoo re-boarding the plane because, as far as the computer is concerned, we've already embarked so it can't generate a new boarding list - they finally generated an alphabetical list and we boarded alphabetically (!!) and took off closer to noon than eleven a.m. Considering that we should have landed in London seven hours earlier, we are running seriously late, but there's nothing I can do about it so I try to sleep a little on this second leg of the flight.

--It made a very strong impression on me that the captain apologized for lying to us about why we were landing in Boston; he explained that he didn't want to alert the passengers in question that they were under suspicion. He made it clear that it was his call to divert the flight, based on the concerns of passengers and flight crew, and he apologized for the delay in our travel.--

We arrive at a very empty Heathrow about 11 p.m. and clear passport control and customs very quickly; I hoof my way to the Central Bus Terminal (it's all underground and it sits between Terminals 1, 2, and 3 - it's probably close to a mile of walking). I've been informed that the bus will run until 1 a.m. or so, but it's now running once an hour, so I'd rather catch it sooner than later - I find the quay where the coach will load in 15 minutes so I call Colin and he says, "Don't get on the bus! Daniel (his son-in-law) should be there to pick you up!" So I ask him to phone Daniel and let him know I'm walking back to Terminal 3 and to wait! I am thrilled - how nice to have someone you know greet you at the airport (even if they initially miss you) after such a goofy flight experience. Sure enough, I come back up the ramp into the terminal and there he is, drinking a coffee and pacing.

It's raining lightly and it's nice and cool - we pile into his car (yet another in his collection of spiff Jaguars; he runs his business well and enjoys his perks) and drive down to Colin & Marjorie's - Colin is wearing his bathrobe and Marjorie is already upstairs snoring (it IS 1 a.m. by now, so that makes sense) - he makes me a hot chocolate, heaves my bags upstairs, and says goodnight.

Next morning I go online and read the coverage of the flight (United 934 on July 25th) - turns out passengers and flight crew were nervous about the behavior of these 3 Pakistani gentlemen (because one was in business class and the others in coach, they kept going back and forth between cabins, following each other in the toilet, etc.) and the captain make the call to divert the plane. They were questioned and released, put onto an earlier flight to London (so they got there before we did!) - I can't blame people for being nervous and I think it's better to be "safe" than "sorry" - but I never felt at risk, personally. The AP story follows...

More later--

Dorothy Sayers as Lay Theologian

Dorothy L. Sayers as lay theologian
My friend Laura Simmons is *now* a professor of theology at George Fox University - but when I first met her she was still at student at Fuller Seminary. We played on the worship team at church together (Laura plays great rhythm guitar! can double time 'way better than me!) and within a few years we were 2 of a group of 5 who started a creative arts support prayer group called "The Ninos" (with the tilde over the second n, I forget the html code numbers for it! So it's "neen-yos" and means "children" in spanish) about 8-9 years ago. Over the years the Ninos have become increasingly "heavy" in college professors, especially from Azusa Pacific University, and now the regular e-mailing goes out to about 20 different people and we routinely see 8 or 9 at a meeting, where we share dinner (themed foods - for instance, "animal food," "zoo food," "blue food," "Eat at Joe's" etc. - there's always some weird link to what's going on, what the nearest holiday is, what folks are going through, etc. - very entertaining! I once made a bas relief dragon out of garlic mashed potatoes and sliced sausages; I also made lunar landers out of corn-on-the-cob for a "moon food" theme... good fun), catch up a little, but mostly we pray for each other. From the very beginning, it's been a powerful prayer group and lots of good things have come out of it (God shows up powerfully!) - 2 people have finished their doctoral theses (Laura being the first), 4 books have been published, 4 more have contracts, and Lord only knows how many more are "in the pipeline." The most recent book published is Dr. Laura's "Creed Without Chaos - Exploring Theology in the Writings of Dorothy L. Sayers" and it's fabulous. For those of you who only know Sayers as the author of the "Lord Peter Wimsey" detective novels, this book will pique your interest in Sayers' nonfiction (wide, varied nonfiction writings). So - go buy a copy! You can get it on Amazon for under fourteen bucks (such a deal!)... Buy Laura's book HERE! and then let's tawk...