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September 2017

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And now, some pictures from the Royal Observatory, Greenwich:


The statue of Major General James Wolfe, Conquerer of Canada, hero of the Battle of the Plains of Abraham, has a pigeon on its head.


Would you stand in line for 45 minutes to take this picture on the Prime Meridian?


Or would you just step back a couple feet before the line queue and do something like this instead?


The Octagon Room, part of the original observatory. This was the one built more for show and the impressing of high-ranking visitors, rather than sparse utility and functionality.


The Time Ball, indicating how it is presently not 1 pm.

Well, you know how Sundays work now. Here's the past week's mathematics blog posts:

Trivia: In 1883 the Strasbourg city fathers held a dedication ceremony for the new railroad station's lights. When the switch was turned on, rather than the 1,200 Edison bulbs lighting, there was a terrible explosion that blew out a wall. Kaiser William I was in attendance. (The German government, not unfairly, refused to accept the power plant, or pay for it, until considerable reworking was done.) Source: Empires of Light: Edison, Tesla, Westinghouse, and the Race to Electrify the World, Jill Jonnes.

Currently Reading: Capitulation, 1945: The Story Of The Dönitz Regime, Marlis G Steinart. Translator Richard Barry.

How about pictures from our day at Regent's Park?


Negotiations continued into the night.


Londoners spilled all over the lawn at Regent's Park.


Regent's Park kept delivering spaces like this, a sub-garden just off of a piece just off of the main garden.


[profile] bunny_hugger bringing the news of our pinball league to the good people at a 150-year-old subway station. Could also be used for her album cover.

I hope you liked. Given that, let me list the humor blog entries of the past week, in case you missed those:

Trivia: Seventy Martian craters, ranging in ssize from 4.8 to 120 kilometers in diameter, were visible in photographs 5 through 15 of Mariner 4. Source: On Mars: Exploration of the Red Planet 1958 - 1978, Edward Clinton Ezell, Linda Neuman Ezell. NASA SP-4212.

Currently Reading: Stealing the Elf-King's Roses, Diane Duane.

PS: At The Home Field, about the probability of that thing a few days ago when all fifteen home teams won.

So here's some miscellaneous pictures from Caen:


A part of the Castle at Caen. The tower just stands on a traffic island, basically, in the middle of town.


Above ground, a castle dating back to William the Conquerer's time. Below ground, a parking garage. It just looks like a tear in the fabric of reality.


[ profile] bunny_hugger looks at the art museum nestled within the castle's outer walls. The art museum dates to about 1970.


Peering down, very far, from the edge of the castle to the sidewalk maybe sixty feet below. This is why I never take my camera wrist-strap off.

And here's the stuff from my mathematics blog the past week:

Trivia: The Apollo 11 crew quarantine ended at 9 pm on Sunday evening, the 10th of August, 1969. A staff car drove the crew to their homes, individually. Source: First Man: The Life of Neil A Armstrong, James R Hansen. (Hansen's phrasing makes it sound to me like there was one car that had to make three trips. That seems weird but somehow in keeping with that strange mix of cheapness and lavishness that government projects seem to have.)

Currently Reading: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, L Frank Baum. ... You know, you forget just how much killing Team Dorothy does in the original book.

We had breakfast our last morning in the hotel's restaurant. We had forgotten how good their buffet breakfast was, until we went to it the day before. I may have overdone it eating Weetabix but it just feels so like a thing to do while in England as long as jacket potatoes and beans on toast aren't happening.

[ profile] bunny_hugger's uncle wouldn't be able to drive us to the airport, as he had probate court to get to. That's all right. We made our way through the Underground to Heathrow Airport, which we'd done before. Although this time since we were taking Air Canada we had to take a different and rather longer path to get from check-in to the actual gate. In fact, we were supposed to not start going to the gate until they gave us a half-hour warning; they just wanted us to be ... around ... somewhere else.

We did get put in an extremely slow X-ray screening line. I know everyone complains they're in the slow line, but I watched the many people getting through their screening while we waited, motionless. I'm not sure our screener had ever gotten to play with X-ray machines before.

Also in the long twisting path to get to our gate, we got onto an elevator, pressed the button for the other spot, and saw the other door open without the cab moving at all. I have no explanation for this phenomenon.

The in-flight movie options had changed since we went out, so we couldn't see Birdman after all that. I forget if it was on the way to or back from Europe that I watched The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Battling Battles while dozing off but it seemed to be going on an awfully long time. I did watch, while awake, Breathless and The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, which were things I'd always kind of figured I should have seen but never actually had. I am glad for seeing them even though they're not what I imagined, really.

I glimpsed several rows ahead of us someone playing the video game Crusader Kings III. This is the only time I've ever seen someone besides me playing the Europa Universalis line of games. I almost wanted to go up and hug him, except I had to suspect he'd have hated that as much as I would have. They're wonderful games but they're really not for everybody.

This would bring us back to Toronto, for my second taste of that country. This time around was less stressful, because most of it was spent in the American Customs Pre-Clearing Zone or whatever they call it. I'm not sure exactly. But since our connecting flight was to Detroit they shuffled us to an alternate corridor and put us in a series of long lines to long lines and apparently this came to satisfy United States Customs. It was nice, in Detroit, getting off the plane just as if we'd come on a domestic flight.

We had a similar impossibly long walk through Toronto for our connecting flight, on a plane that was not quite as tiny as the one we'd flown Detroit-to-Toronto. It did have a mere nine or ten rows, and put [ profile] bunny_hugger ``two'' rows behind us. The quotes are because ... well. Most of the rows were two groups of two seats each. The very last one was a single row of five seats, with [ profile] bunny_hugger put in the center, where her knees could be crushed by the drinks cart. This was labelled as a tenth row, rather than break up the AB-on-the-left, CD-on-the-right arrangement of seats that all other rows had. It's a weird little thing. The cockpit had a closed door so [ profile] bunny_hugger did not have to see what the landing looked like through the front windows. We know of no Fleetwood Mac fans specifically on the plane.

When we arrived in Detroit, since Customs didn't need us, we were with a longer than expected wait between our flight and the Michigan Flyer. And there's not really good places to sit around waiting for the bus at the airport. But we'd been through rather worse, and it wasn't more than three hours after getting to the airport that we were joyfully back home.

Trivia: The Central Pacific railroad had revenue of $22,939.36 for May 1865. Source: Empire Express: Building the First Transcontinental Railroad, David Haward Bain.

Currently Reading: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, L Frank Baum.

And how about a handful of more Chessington World of Aventures pictures?


Also in the Mexicana area, the Rattlesnake wild mouse roller coaster. Shuttered the day we went, as a result of the Alton Towers crash. It may be small --- apparently only fifty feet tall --- but the strong theming makes us particularly regret being unable to ride it.


From The Penguins of Madagascar stage show: the evil scientist whats-is-name has revealed himself to be an octopus, a neat transmutation trick done on stage by having the bundled-up costume fall apart to reveal tentacles. He's turned the lead penguin, whats-is-name, into a monster using an evil ray beam. This trick too is done on stage: the right wing bursts open to an inflatable claw, and while people are stunned by this, stage minions velcro googly-eyes, a long tongue, and those green sores onto the main costume. It's very effective.


Animatronic organ-player in the very dark launch station for the Vampire roller coaster.


View of the Sea Lion Square from the park. Center left: sea lion.

Since it is Thursday night or Friday morning, yes, I do want to remind folks of my humor blog and its contents. I have a humor blog. Here's the past week's contents. Thank you.

Trivia: Pope Gregory XII had to pay 12,000 florins to Antonio di Giovanni Roberti in order to redeem the papal tiara in April 1409. Source: Gold and Spices: The Rise of Commerce in the Middle Ages, Jean Favier.

Currently Reading: Love Conquers All, Robert Benchley.

PS: Lines That Cross Infinitely Many Times, on the mathematics blog, where I try to think of something I can call lines that cross repeatedly without being the same line. Do I succeed? You be the judge.

We would run out of time. Of course we would. We can hardly finish a museum as rich as that before the official closing hour. For that matter we skipped a movie entirely and there were probably other buildings we missed. We did get to the gift shop. There we found some postcards we could send back to our hipster bar, and to our parents. And better, they had stamps good for international postcard mail. I could have bought any of the books there. (To be blunt, I could probably have written some of the ones about longitude and its history.) But I ended up getting a T-shirt, proclaiming the Prime Meridian, and I'd wear that the first time we got back to our hipster bar. I figure it to do the kind of duty that T-shirts from obscure amusement parks will do.

We walked back through crowds of Londoners scattered on the grass, and didn't end up going back the way we came. We went for the nearer subway stop instead. This would take us naturally toward the Cutty Sark, too. That was closed --- it shut the same time Greenwich did --- but we could at least see it and walk around outside.

This also let us discover Harry's Original Sweetshop, the better to pursue our quest for oddball candies. They didn't have anything remarkably strange there, but we were able to pick up a couple of things, with the thought of snacks on the next day's flights. They did have a nice-looking carousel-themed tin of candies but that seemed too big and too marginal to get for the plane. Too bad.

We went back home, to our hotel, and filled out postcards. And stopped at a convenience store opposite the Underground station in order to buy Starbars. We hadn't gotten them yet that trip, and we didn't get enough. (As it would happen, we'd end up with more than £15 in bills and change left over when we exited the country. That's not too bad in terms of guessing how much spending money we would need, but the amount of it does offend [ profile] bunny_hugger who sees it as money we can't spend. And we could have got a dozen more Starbars with that, easily.)

We would have to mail the cards, certainly, but we knew where there was a postbox. That would be not far from the underground station for [ profile] bunny_hugger's uncle, whom we could visit one last time. We did call him to say we were coming --- I think this was the time the front desk clerk insisted we couldn't have the number right because we didn't have the area code, when [ profile] bunny_hugger had specifically looked up that the area code was not required --- but had to work to convince him not to pick us up.

This was because we wanted to stop in at the Waitrose supermarket also by the Underground station. He had casually mentioned one night how [ profile] bunny_hugger had been drinking the expensive coffee and then we were wracked with guilt for taking so much from him. He wasn't upset, mind you, and I know he didn't begrudge us that, but we felt like we should get some coffee at least, to thank him and to replenish his stocks.

It happens we couldn't remember what kind of coffee he drank. I was close in remembering the cans he had, although we picked up an espresso rather than a regular blend. It transpired he just reuses the can, and had been drinking some wholly different brand of coffee anyway. Well, the sentiment was there, and understood.

We'd spend the rest of the night there, of course, again in that mixture of casual talk and stabbing confessional and tech support. This was when we finally got his new telephone connected, something that required moving a bookshelf, so good thing I was there. It's also when we got his e-mail passwords finally all reset, for which I was not needed at all. [ profile] bunny_hugger's uncle spoke of himself as being at that stage where he has intellectually accepted some of the things he needs to do, such as to clear out their home of the things he no longer needs, but emotional acceptance still fails at the moment of doing. His mention of thinking how it would feel to have her coat wrapped around a stranger hit me hard.

It was a strange evening, a basically happy experience glazed with the fear that we might never see him again, or even might never see him in this place again. ([ profile] bunny_hugger's mother insists he ought to sell the house and move back to the United States. He spoke some of maybe doing that, only he wouldn't want to move back to Michigan, where his family is. The East Coast, maybe. If we could buy him the house just south of ours that might be almost perfect.)

He did say that we'd restored his feeling of living. What a responsibility to have.

Trivia: After 1916 the British government took over the importation of tea for the duration of the war, and imposed price controls on 90 percent of sales. The tea was divided into four (in 1918, three) grades for sale. Source: Tea: Addiction, Exploitation, and Empire, Roy Moxham.

Currently Reading: Love Conquers All, Robert Benchley.

The museum has the houses of the Astronomers Royal, at least up to the point that Greenwich's real work moved away. They're preserved in Old Rooms museum style, and the quotidian stuff looks like almost anything except that the names attached are instantly familiar to me and not to normal people. More interesting was the Octagon Room, used in the 17th century as the showcase observatory. One could do work there, and sometimes did, but mostly it was used as a showpiece for guests like King Charles II. It's not, by modern standards, that fancy a room; it's just the nice wood floors and panels that make it stand out, really. The room has some large quadrants, as well as Tompion pendulum clocks that could run a year without the weights being re-raised. The rooms are divided among multiple noteworthy Astronomers Royal, so the rooms are a progression of about two centuries of home living.

And then there's the less personal, more scientific part of the museum. This has the great story of longitude-finding and timekeeping, with all the highlights --- Admiral Sir Cloudesley Shovell's disaster, the Longitude Act, the Board of Longitude, the lunar and the chronometer methods of determining longitude. John Harrison's clocks, including H-1 through H-4, and K-1 and other icons of timekeeping. I thought the museum didn't make clear enough that the Longitude Act, and its promise of £20,000 for anyone who solved the problem of determining one's east-west position, drew out every crank in Europe for generations, giving them good reason to be skeptical of things like Harrison's apparently excellent clocks. [ profile] bunny_hugger thought that was explained adequately. Yes, the sympathy-powder dogs and the lightships firing canons were mentioned as crankier ideas about how to set longitude.

One of the interactive parts of the museum are pages for people to ``Design Your Own Navigational Instrument'', and then to clip them up for display. Most of these were drawn by kids and so they feature things like dragons maybe, or things that look kind of like telescopes, or there's someone who drew a dog. Someone wrote out 'Punks Not Dead' and hung that up. One guy drew what looks like Pac-Man facing a bar of chocolate with a pendulum swinging between 'good' and 'bad'. (Wouldn't you take pictures?) [ profile] bunny_hugger got into the spirit of the thing and drew a ship with a homing pigeon tied to its prow.

At some point astronomy blends into longitude-determination and into timekeeping and so the museum transforms into one about the keeping of time, with halls of clocks and panels talking about things like time-announcing services. One that I wasn't familiar with was a woman who carried Greenwich time to subscribers, giving them the chance to set their watches to her record of the observatory's time. And oh, the telephones, all set up with buttons to recreate the recordings of dialing for the current time. One of the exhibits was of an iPhone, ``on loan from Polly Richards'', as a mobile phone with built-in GPS receiver. It was dated ``about 2010''.

The Time Ball, by the way --- a bright red ball raised up and then dropped to mark the middle of the day, a time-setting ritual of the 19th century whose echo is the ball drop in Times Square on New Year's Eve --- had an interesting note in its plaque. The ball is not the original, and it's been damaged during renovations in the 90s. Apparently, workers didn't realize the Time Ball was to be restored to its pole, and so they used the thing for games of really large soccer. The ball's been fairly well-battered since, but was put back on the pole to be quite visible from a ways off. I'm honestly delighted by this; it feels so much like the casual way things of noteworthy historic import would be treated in the 1920s instead.

The last of the buildings we'd be able to get in was the series of observatories, from which successive telescopes and so prime meridians were set. I did not realize they had the telescope which James Bradley used to detect the aberration of light (and thus, prove the Earth was moving). But then everything in there is historic, and reminded me of astronomical or timekeeping or position-setting history. Much of it's great stuff, transit telescopes and other things that set how we understand where things are. Some of it is amusing or slight. Sitting next to one another are a Chinese alarm clock from about 1968, featuring a girl waving her Little Red Book, and a Bart Simpson alarm clock from ``about 1991'' that, according to the plaque, says, ``Yo dude, wake up and get out of bed!'', the way Bart Simpson naturally would.

We dared venture up some narrow stairs and the edge of the building to get to the 28-inch telescope part of the Old Royal Observatory, from which a laser shines at night to indicate the prime meridian's location. This is your classic observatory, and looks exactly like one should. It's used mostly for ceremonial purposes; the actual observing has gone over to skies with better seeing, farther from the City.

Trivia: Liberia sent a delegation to the 1884 International Meridian Conference, which chose the Greenwich prime meridian and ultimately standard time ased on that. It did not adopt standard time until 1972, despite its being the nation of registry for much of the world's merchant shipping, and despite its delegation voting in favor of the Greenwich meridian and standard time base. Source: Marking Time: The Epic Quest to Invent The Perfect Calendar, Duncan Steel.

Currently Reading: Love Conquers All, Robert Benchley.

PS: Reading the Comics, August 3, 2015: Things That Make Me Cranky Edition, some more mathematically-minded comic strips.

For Sunday [ profile] bunny_hugger proposed we do something we couldn't last time, and go to the Royal Observatory at Greenwich. Well, the museum there, since it's no longer a working observatory. When we were there in July 2012 it was closed for the Olympics, an event not actually happening while we were there. This was a long ride on the Underground, most of it above ground, and we got off at the wrong station because I was reading the directions.

The station didn't have turnstiles to get out, nor to get in. This is something I forgot to mention was true at the Chessington station either. Nobody checked our tickets as we got on, or when we were journeying back home. This felt most weirdly illicit. The United States model is so obsessed with the fear that someone might get something they didn't pay for that there'll be screening out of cheats, even when it would be more cost-effective to skip the checking. I suppose there's limited paths you could get onto and off of the system without a ticket, admittedly. And the European model is based on public transportation being a positive good, while the American model is that it's a form of punishment for people who fail to sufficiently car.

Since we started from the wrong station we passed a number of interesting spots we wouldn't have otherwise, including a splendidly 1950s-ish movie theater, a street fair, and a pleasant old church. It also took us near enough an ice cream shop, on a day finally warm and sunny enough, that we could get a 99 with a clear conscience. This is an ice cream cone with a Cadbury Flake chocolate bar stuck in. (A Flake is a very dry, very airy chocolate bar. I'm not sure the nearest American equivalent; a Twirl or a KitKat comes close.) It goes back to the 1920s and as you might expect the origin of the name is a mystery.

The walk up, and up, and up the long hill gave us plenty of chances to see more Londoners spilled out over the lawn, too. Finally we came in view of a Time Ball, held up on its post, and behind a dense pack of trees was ... a building. Part of the Observatory? We weren't sure, but we were also getting tired of tromping uphill so we went over to it. Yes, we were in the right place, a string of lovely old buildings with observatory domes on top. A statue of James Wolfe with pigeons squatting on its head. People taking photographs down the hill into London. People standing on The Line. People standing on line to get on The Line. A fellow playing Neville Maskelynne explaining the history of the observatory and how time and position relate to people standing on the On The Line line. Plaques explaining why there are several different Prime Meridians, not just The Line, and why the GPS readers people have put zero degrees longitude a couple hundred yards east of The Line. Older men in short pants and tall socks staring at their GPS readers and frowning. I'm making up that last detail but I stand by my claim that was totally happening.

We did not get on the On The Line line. It was way too long; they estimated it would be about 45 minutes to get up to the statue up front, where tradition dictates people take a photograph with one foot in the eastern and one in the western hemisphere. We did grab photographs of our feet on The Line, in parts away from the statue, which didn't take any special waiting.

This is, I admit, a bit of nerdly heaven. I was bitten long, long ago by the calendar and timekeeping and standard-keeping bug and there's no more satisfying icon of How We Measure Things than the prime meridian. Yes, there's the platinum-iridium block to denote the standard kilogram, sitting in Paris, gradually losing mass for no traceable reason. But that hasn't got the high drama of the prime meridian.

The museum portion explains much of the drama. I was well-acquainted with it and I'm proud to say I did not go explaining anything I was not specifically asked to explain. You have no idea how hard it is for a know-it-all to resist showing knowledge of everything. I would expect the crowd there to be two-thirds know-it-alls and one-third people who are somewhat interested and hoping they can avoid setting off a detailed explanation of how Jupiter's moons might be used to find the time.

Trivia: In 1878 Sandford Fleming proposed a prime meridian running 180 degrees of longitude opposite the Greenwich meridian, that is, along the line roughly followed by the International Date Line. (This would have the advantage of allowing the continued use of Greenwich as the prime meridian, as most world shipping traffic and the largest navies already used, without explicitly confirming the British convenience as worldwide standard.) Source: Time Lord: Sir Sandford Fleming and the Creation of Standard Time, Clark Blaise.

Currently Reading: The Complete Dick Tracy Volume II, 1933 - 1935, Chester Gould.

Sunday, so, how about some more Chessington World of Adventures pictures?


One of a pack of serious business types inspecting rides and referring to sheafs of paper and occasionally iPads. I do not know what he was up to, although I wonder if it wasn't tied to the Alton Towers crash and the working out of (I assume) operational changes to keep that sort of thing from happening.


And then suddenly in the Mystic East section was a Mer-lion. There's a plaque explaining its connection to the actual Singapore Mer-lion/s. There's not, as far as I can tell, iconic references to other former British Empire holdings in the park.


The Dragon Falls log flume. It doesn't mind having a drop that feeds right into the mouth of a Chinese dragon, even though there's really no way to have the car exit again that's logical and tasteful. We got less wet on this than we did on the Monkey Swinger swing ride.


In the Mexicana area, the Scorpion Express powered roller coaster. This too has a water element, shot from the scorpion's tail. There's also a fire column that shoots up. Also, yes, steampunk giant scorpion. It's a nice, speedy ride for all that.

Also, since it's Sunday, how about a review of my mathematics blog posts from the past week?

Trivia: The head of Father Henry Garnet, one of Guy Fawkes's conspirators, was placed on the London Bridge. It retained its color for twenty days, taken popularly as a proof of his innocence. Source: Old London Bridge: The Story of the Longest Inhabited Bridge In Europe, Patricia Pierce.

Currently Reading: The Complete Dick Tracy Volume II, 1933 - 1935, Chester Gould. Neat expectation-defying moment: the Villain's got Dick Tracy and Tess Truehart tied up in a burning cabin. Henchman suggests getting out of there. Villain acts like that's the craziest thing he's ever heard: he broke out of jail specifically to see Tracy dead, he's not leaving until the cabin's finished burning down. (He's not in the cabin, fair enough since it's rigged to collapse as it burns, but he is refusing to just trust that Tracy can't escape the ropes and fire.)

We walked up from Baker Street toward Regent's Park, passing along the way a double-decker bus signed ``WEDDING SPECIAL''. I'd never thought about renting a double-decker bus for a wedding. Still not sure what I think of it.

We entered the park to see lots of water, and many, many birds, and in the grass beyond just uncountably many British folk scattered on their lawn blankets. There was also a heron, sitting up close to a fence, staring back at a guy trying to take its photograph. This gave me a moment of worrying about our fish back home, but we had put a net over the pond and it's hard to figure a heron or raccoon doing much with that. (They wouldn't.)

Mostly, then, we walked around the park, toddling along past green spaces and trees and shrubs and flowers and all. Sometimes the line of sight would be broken up by gates, some gold-painted. There's a lovely drinking fountain that's itself a pretty substantial monument. It's even got spots for dogs to drink. The plaque on it says the fountain was ``erected by the Metropolitan Drinking Fountain And Cattle Trough Association'', fairly enough, as a gift of Sir Cowasjee Jehangir, Companion of the Star of India, ``A wealthy Parsee gentleman of Bombay as a token of gratitude to the people of England for the protection enjoyed by him and his Parsee fellow countrymen under the British rule in India'', inaugurated 1869. That's quite a bit for a fountain, yet I can't help feeling like there's probably more story yet there.

As we walked along we found a little side garden, tended into a strictly regular set of lawns and fountains and flower displays and the like. This was another lovely spot tucked within a series of lovely spots and we just sat and took in the quiet for a while. The day may sound like we didn't do much of anything, and I suppose that's so, or sort of so. It's more that we were just being present, rather than trying to do anything.

Walking along further we encountered not just a long pond and a little information panel explaining the species of birds seen in the area, but also a woman feeding some ducks. The ducks seemed unsure about their relationship with her. The woman explained she fed this particular set and talked about how upset she was that some of the baby ducks had gone missing. We could understand feeling that kind of close relationship with the wildlife.

We would stop off for coffee and tea, and the chance to sit and watch large numbers of people enjoying a lovely afternoon. As it happens we didn't get in view of the Zoological Gardens, but we wouldn't have had anything like the time for that anyway. Goodness, we spent quite a bit of time just on the street looking at the window of the Underground's former office for lost-and-found items. They'd put up things reportedly found on the line, and where they were found, such as an iron lost on bus 23 in 1936, a top hat left on Euston in 1950, a movie camera left in Camden in 1936, a suspiciously perfect set of Beatles records lost in 1969, a series of mobile phones, that sort of thing. The actual zoo would take us forever to see.

We went back our hotel so that we could meet [ profile] bunny_hugger's uncle for dinner. He wanted to drive over and pick us up, so we waited outside, near the Eight Bells again. There were some guys kicking a soccer ball around, cheering whenever the ball hit a bus (there were a lot of buses in the area) or especially when the ball rolled out of control and some passer-by kicked it back. I promised [ profile] bunny_hugger that if the ball came near us I'd kick it back. It never did. While we worried about them getting hit by a bus they seemed fine. They also reminded us of thinking that, just as Twitter will give out Verified Accounts, some folks need to be Certified Lads. The good kind of lad, in this case.

[ profile] bunny_hugger's uncle took us almost just across the river, to a spot near an historical marker for Thomas Cromwell. It doesn't explain his relationship to the place. Anyway, we went to a strikingly busy Italian restaurant, one loud enough that it was difficult for [ profile] bunny_hugger and me to hear one another, much less for him to hear us. It wasn't his favorite restaurant, but he hasn't been able to go back to his favorite, because it was his wife's favorite too. He still feels regularly stabbed with guilt for doing things, or being alive, when she isn't. And he doesn't know how to break the news to the restaurant staff.

This restaurant, Carlucci's, was packed, probably fair enough for a Saturday night in early June that's cool but not cold. We were also seated near one of those monstrously huge family parties that had maybe twenty people present, but enough of them were kids that it seemed like there were eighty squealing kids there. It captivated me how they could make such an awful mess, and yet the staff could clean it up successfully so quickly. Also, this means that [ profile] bunny_hugger and I have now been to an Italian restaurant in every European country we've visited together, without ever being in Italy, yet.

At dinner we did our best to talk about Chessington, and about our day at Regent's Park, although it was slow going. It was easier chatting back at his home, with some television show that I think was all about what kinds of wildlife was now visible in what parts of the country, and his cat wandering in and out of the house, occasionally acknowledging the calls of her name.

Trivia: The British Parliament passed 120 Railway Acts in 1845, 272 in 1846, and 170 in 1847. Source: The Company: A Short History of a Revolutionary Idea, John Micklethwait, Adrian Wooldridge.

Currently Reading: The Complete Dick Tracy Volume II, 1933 - 1935, Chester Gould.

Saturday we got up and attempted to get jacket potatoes at The Eight Bells and failed, as noted. This happens. We got plowman's lunches instead. And we noticed that among the wall decorations was a plate that's not quite the twin to ``His Majesty'', the Thanksgiving turkey plate we use as a centerpiece in November. It's a wild turkey in about the same pose, but a different setting, and that was a neat unexpected twin to see.

We had thought a little about going back to Chessington, which it turned out wouldn't have helped any as the same roller coasters would be closed still. And, by the Twitter and Facebook posts [ profile] bunny_hugger found, would be unimaginably packed. Similarly we had considered Thorpe Park, the rather larger park in the area, but we thought that might be too much to do in short order, and besides a number of their roller coasters were also closed in the Alton Towers accident aftermath. We settled on doing lower-energy, lower-commitment things.

So that's why we took the Underground to Baker Street. Our real objective was Regent's Park, since it is a nice spot and there's a Regent Park right by our house back home so who could resist the coincidence there? Something I think I knew once but had forgotten was that the Baker Street station was part of London's earliest subway system, and dated back 150 years. Part of the station still looks it, all mid-Victorian bricks and nooks and crannies and just gorgeous to see and move around in. It's got historical plaques and even replica seals of long-gone railway companies to impress the infrastructure-history enthusiast in all of us. Also a monument to the employees killed in World War I; I'd imagine there's a matching one for the Second World War, but we didn't see it.

Almost immediately outside the station is a rock-and-roll memorabilia/kitsch shop. This is good in case you need any Black Sabbath travel coffee mugs. In the shop window we noticed the box for a badly faded AC/DC tabletop pinball machine. That's the kind that's none too big, has a couple of sluggish pop bumpers, and doesn't really make any kind of organized sound or anything. But this did mean that we had technically speaking found pinball in England. (There wasn't any at Chessington so far as we could find.) This trifle gets more amusing since there is a modern AC/DC pinball table that we're occasionally haunted by at pinball leagues. As I say, technically, we found pinball there.

Of course there's the inevitable pop-culture draw of Baker Street, and I have to admit I was disappointed: I couldn't find a pillar box anything like a stone's throw from 221 B. Also, yes, there's a Sherlock Holmes Museum there, as well as a historical marker. I love historical markers for fictional events. I can't help it. And yet, yes, I've only ever been to Grovers Mills, New Jersey, in passing. There was a pretty substantial line to the museum and to having a photograph taken at the 221 B doorframe, so we skipped that. Neither of us is really enough of a Sherlock Holmes fan to make that the focus of the day. We are just enough of fans to wonder about the Mrs Hudson's Restaurant next to the place; wasn't Mrs Hudson an indifferent if not bad cook? We thought we remembered that much.

Also in the immediate vicinity was the London Beatles Store, and I don't know if that's coincidental to the rock-and-roll memorabilia store across the street. This was a cute, if packed, spot that didn't really have anything quite interesting enough to buy. [ profile] bunny_hugger looked with dedication through the postcards, though, because she had promised to send one to our hipster bar back home. The head bartender/manager is from London. Also apparently we've now got the kind of relationship with our hipster bar that we're expected to send postcards from London. We didn't find any there, but we'd keep the postcard issue in mind as we went touring about.

Trivia: The eighth month of the Babylonian calendar, Apindua, was dubbed Arakhsamnu in the Semitic calendar and Apellaios in the Seleucid calendar. Source: Mapping Time: The Calendar and its History, EG Richards.

Currently Reading: The Complete Dick Tracy Volume II, 1933 - 1935, Chester Gould.

PS: What I Learned Doing The A To Z Project, reflections on that big writing project.

It's Friday morning, how about a little more Chessington in photographs?


Entering the Transylvania area of Chessington World of Adventures. The Vampire roller coaster is the elevated track on the right.


And there's the Vampire roller coaster. Depending on whether you count powered coasters this was either the only one, or else one of the two roller coasters operating that day.


The Dragon's Fury roller coaster, closed for unspecified reasons. Also, the dragon animatronic to the side of the queue was apparently taken out for repairs, even though its claws and tail remain. The sign apologizes that the dragon's off having an adventure of his own.


S'truth! The gift shop inside is mostly tied in to the Wild Asia/Land of the Dragons attractions around it. But tucked within is a snake cage, one of those odd little islets of zoo embedded in the main park.


The Monkey Swinger is remarkably good-looking for being all greys and browns; it's a matter of looking like you mean to be nearly monochromatic. Not obvious here, and something that would've kept us from riding it had we realized it: water jets that spray up and soak the riders. If it were about twenty degrees Fahrenheit warmer and not so windy we'd have slightly less resented the water --- there was a lot of it --- but as it was, yeesh.

It's Friday morning, how about a review of my humor blog and stuff you missed from it since the last week?

Trivia: The normal staircase for the Santa Clara County (California) house built by Sarah Winchester (widow of the Winchester Repeating Arms factory founder) had 42 steps. Each step was two inches high. Source: A Splintered History of Wood: Belt-Sander Races, Blind Woodworkers, and Baseball Bats, Spike Carlsen. (It's not clear to me how much of that remains in the house; it's apparently managed to partially collapse at least once even in her lifetime, a century ago.)

Currently Reading: After the Reich: The Brutal History of the Allied Occupation, Giles MacDonogh.

Chessington World of Adventure has live shows. At least a live show, anyway. That's The Penguins of Madagascar Live: Operation Cheezy Dibbles, based on the Penguins who were part of the extremely popular series of short videos showing the flat-screen TVs at the store were all working. When we were younger [ profile] bunny_hugger and I were indifferent to the live shows at amusement parks; now, we're more interested.

The show would have the taste of mass-marketed entertainment slathered over it more obviously than did the shows at Cincinnati Coney Island or at Waldameer. Those might have been written by the Amusement Park Live Show Central Command, but they at least had to have the names of local park mascots plugged in. Here, the show starred the Penguins plus what I guess is a regular bad guy from the show, some tall-foreheaded mad scientist who's part octopus or can change into an octopus or something. But what the show loses in home-grownedness, and in being full of the kinds of references that marketing tells management are the sorts of subversive wacky antics all four sectors love, it picks up in having professional voice actors doing the voices, as well as in having costumes and special effects of a higher quality.

Particularly, the costumes were able to do some neat metamorphosis tricks. The mad scientist reveals his octopus side in a flash, live on stage. His jacket had been bundled tight around him, for the popular cartoon ``marshmallow on a stick'' body type. On cue that unfolds and flops out into a bunch of tentacles and this makes for a pretty solid effect. As part of the mad scientist's scheme to uglify the world he zaps the Lead Hero Penguin, who gets uglified on stage. The main trick of that is done by his right wing expanding into an inflatable scorpion claw; while the audience is dazzled by that he turns around and stage minions (dressed as I guess octopus women, though not as elaborately as the mad scientist) run up and velcro on googly eyes and a long tongue and some disturbing-looking green sores. It's a great effect and I expect to see inflating and deflating limbs appearing at furry conventions in the near future. Anyway, all ends with everybody de-uglified and there's a bunch of dancing and that's that.

Almost the last thing we would get to --- the park only closed at 5 pm, incredibly, for an early summer Friday --- was the monorail. This was also the hardest thing to find because while it wends through much of the park there's not much hint where the station was. It turned out to be from the castle at Market Square. We also had an odd last-minute delay as for some reason the monorail car we were waiting for had to go out empty; there was some muttering about something being tested, which was as much explanation as we'd get.

But the ride would give us the chance, first, to see much of the park from higher up; and second, to see more of the animal exhibits. We hadn't had the chance to get to the Sea Lion Square, for example, or the areas with large birds or their fossa, large cats, capybaras, or the like. We stil wouldn't get good views of them, since we were on the monorail, but we got to see them at all. Also to see the Aztec Temple hotel that's just off the park, and some of the bungalows where staff stay, according to the prerecorded park tour guide messages. It's a handsome park, and viewing it from above just emphasizes how good the place looks.

The last thing we got to was a final go-round on the Vampire, and the chance to prowl around the gift shop. Sadly the park didn't have what we'd really want, ride shirts or park shirts that we could wear back in the United States to mark us as oh Lord dear those kinds of people to amusement park ride operators. European amusement parks don't have adult ride shirts the way United States parks do, more's the pity.

But that all closed out the park, and we walked as slowly as I could get away with to the exit. There I noticed finally that it was possible to buy discounted next-day tickets, as we had done at Holiday World. I'd have suggested we try that in the hopes that the closed roller coasters would be open, but the ticket booths were all closed anyway. And as it happened the closed roller coasters wouldn't be open on Saturday anyway, and the park would be by reports much more packed. Still, it might've given us a chance to see the animals better.

So we wandered back to the train station, and from there ultimately back to our hotel. We didn't go to [ profile] bunny_hugger's uncle that day. We did go to a pub, the Eight Bells, that was just behind the hotel. It was a nice place, one we'd kept on seeing, and it felt friendly and open to tourists. It also claims to have been in existence since 1629, which I have to admit is a pretty impressively long streak. The 'T' on the Eight Bells name, on the pub's north end, had fallen over.

The menu had only a couple vegetarian items, but one of them was jacket potatoes and we were certainly up for that. They weren't, though; after some consultation they reported that the jacket potatoes had run out --- they're a lunch item, after all --- and we found other things to order. We would go back to the pub the next day for lunch, figuring to get jacket potatoes at the appropriate meal, but they didn't have them then, either. Perhaps they're less friendly toward strangers than they appear, and the first round of hazing is you have to appear a certain number of times before they'll let you order the jackets? This seems eccentric, but then, what else explains the potato absence?

Trivia: The Burroughs Adding Machine Company saw total sales of $655,329.42 for 1932. By 1937 they had risen to $8,163,404.29. Source: Before The Computer: IBM, NCR, Burroughs, and Remington Rand and the Industry They Created 1865 - 1956, James W Cortada.

Currently Reading: After the Reich: The Brutal History of the Allied Occupation, Giles MacDonogh.

PS: Reading the Comics, July 29, 2015: Not Entirely Reruns Edition, second of these since the last roundup. Most of the comic strips are repeats but my commentary is all new.

Chessington World of Adventures is strongly themed, almost like a type case for certain elements of Roller Coaster Tycoon games. Some of these themes are comically gentle, like the Pirates Cove. That had a neat little circular boat ride, the Seastorm, in which the boat cars occasionally swap around, so that you spend half the ride looking at your neighbor behind and half looking at your neighbor ahead. It's reminiscent of the Tilt-A-Whirl motion without being so unpredictable. That makes the ride less fun than a Tilt-A-Whirl, I suppose, but it's an unusual kind of motion anyway, and the boats are fun to see, and even christened with unique names, just the sort of thing a ride like that needs.

The Transylvania area's probably the best-developed. It's also where we got our real lunch, vegetarian burgers with fries and soda. It's really easy to eat vegetarian in Britain (and Europe generally, we've found). The hall was lovely with indoor trees and bats dangling from stuff, all the decor you need. I stopped on the way out to try answering their little ``Quick Survey'' on a mounted iPod, though the thing responded poorly. Possibly too many people with catsup on their fingers had been using it.

When we noticed there were areas called Wild Asia and then the Mystic East we started bracing for comically intended racist stuff. Is that itself a racist supposition on our parts? Perhaps, since all we had to go on for that is our sense that the English aren't quite sure yet why Ireland doesn't love them more. Also that one of the areas was called the Mystic East. It's, again, beautifully set up with all the stations and games and arcade and all that made to look like a little Chinatown. And then along the ride queue to the log flume --- not nearly as body-soaking as the Monkey Swinger, although moreso than the Scorpion Express --- were red signs with yellow text written in the Typeface Used For The Hours And Directions to Every Chinese Restaurant, with jokes of this order:

Man wearing polkadot not good at hide and seek --- he always spotted

Along the path the log flume takes you past buildings labelled as Mr Lee's Laundry and Chan's Cycles. Another building has a sign in that Chinese Restaurant Sign typeface, ``PEEK-ING TOM, [ Something ] Rickshaw Way''. (I can't make it out in my photo.) I don't think anyone's trying to be obnoxious here; it feels like the sort of thing that was an unexceptional joke on United States television up to about 1984 and that now we're embarrassed by.

The log flume's fun, though, and one of its major drops takes you right into a dragon's mouth. With the Rye Playland Dragon Coaster that makes two rides we've been on that send you into the belly of a dragon even though there's no way out that can be both tasteful and logical. Both sacrifice logic and you just end up outside again. We didn't get very wet from the log fluming, though there are water guns set up on the sidewalk outside the ride which passers-by can use for a pound. Fortunately we went through at a time nobody was shooting except one older woman who didn't seem to know how to aim. [ profile] bunny_hugger didn't even know when we'd passed that dangerous spot.

Among the Mystic East attractions, over one of the ponds, is a Mer-lion statue. It's even accompanied by a plaque explaining the Mer-lion's position at Singapore harbor, and like the small one at Mer-lion park it shoots water out of its mouth. (The large one on Sentosa Island shoots lasers from its eyes.) Why it's there still seems mysterious. As far as I know park owners Merlin Entertainment don't have any Singapore or Singapore-area parks. They have also got a replica of a Giant Buddha of Kamakura, Japan. The placard explaining it doesn't ever quite specify that this is a replica, which probably results in some local kids being retroactively disappointed when they find out this small theme park outside London hasn't relocated a bronze statue dating to 1252 AD all the way from Japan.

I don't want to belabor the point but it is a beautiful place. The park may not be very large. And its thrill rides are fairly modest ones. The roller coaster Vampire is essentially equivalent to The Bat at Kings Island, or Iron Dragon at Cedar Point, roller coasters that people who're afraid of roller coasters aren't afraid to go on. They have got a Disk'O, called KOBRA, a snake-themed counterpart to the Pipe Scream at Cedar Point, Le Grand Tournoi at Parc Festyland, or the Cosmic Chaos at Kennywood that nauseated [ profile] bunny_hugger that time. (That started the day down, but it would get back into operation before the park closed.) It's better-themed than those counterparts, though, except maybe Festyland's. It's very easy to picture this as someone's favorite park ever when a kid, and to think it's hopelessly tame as a teenager, but to come back and realize how thoroughly it's charming as an adult.

Trivia: Strontium was discovered in 1790 by a doctor working in a hospital lab in London's red-light district, not far from the location of Shakespeare's Globe Theatre. Source: The Disappearing Spoon, Sam Kean. (Wikipedia credits Wiliam Cruickshank and Adair Crawford jointly but notes confusion about the exact order of things; Kean doesn't think to specify who he wants to give credit.)

Currently Reading: After the Reich: The Brutal History of the Allied Occupation, Giles MacDonogh.

Though Chessington World of Adventures is divided into multiple themes, they aren't all equally lavish or popular. What looked like the best-developed and best-attended part was Transylvania, filled with child-friendly haunted-type attractions, as well as the lone operating non-powered roller coaster, the Vampire. This is a suspended roller coaster --- the cars hang from the track, above --- and in its original incarnation the cars were bat-shaped. That's long gone, alas, and now it's a floorless, the kind where you sit in swinging seats. This is a pretty good ride, still. It's graceful and smooth and swoopy, and at some parts you go flying just above the ground, making the ride feel all the faster and more thrilling.

It's also beautifully decorated. The launch platform is nearly pitch dark, with a giant animatronic figure of a man playing an organ. It's just as what you would expect from a classic horror movie even if you can't specify what one it did happen in. It swoops through very well-grown trees, always a bonus. And on the return leg it sweeps out over the Transylvania town area. It's gorgeous and well-placed, and a good ride.

The wait times were modest and we didn't think much about that. [ profile] bunny_hugger would see on social media that the next day --- Saturday --- there were waits of an hour or more for the ride. I wouldn't have imagined the park would be that much busier on a Saturday than a Friday. Though the roller coaster would also have to do the duty of taking in all the thrill passengers, since the other two roller coasters were still closed Saturday.

The other, powered, roller coaster operating was the Scorpion Express. That's in the Mexicana area, themed to the Old West Or So; lots of Old Missions and Wild West rides and games there. This is a short ride, that goes around its little track, mostly a helix, twice per ride. Again, though, it's well-themed. The entrance queue takes you around the artefacts of an abandoned southwestern mining town and warnings about the weird rumors about what's going on there. The centerpieces are an oil rig, with flame that shoots off at a good moment; and a large animatronic steampunk scorpion. That moves its tail a little bit, and it shoots water from the tail at the train.

Unexpected and not thematically necessary water elements were a recurring theme of Chessington rides. One that got, and horrified, us was on the Monkey Swinger within the Wild Asia attraction. This is your classic elevated swing ride, although rather than being painted garish and bright this was done all in greys and browns. It conveyed the impression of being a stone monument lost to the jungle. There was some water on the swing seats, but we took that to be left over from the intermittent light rains of morning. No; what it was from was jets of water that shot out, mostly at the person in the outer row --- in our case [ profile] bunny_hugger --- and on every single rotation. Not just a mist, either, but enough to soak us. It wasn't a sunny or hot enough day for this stuff.

They had an air dryer next to the ride, the kind that gives you several minutes of a warm stream of air in exchange for all the coins you have. But we got to that just behind one of those slow-moving confused family packs you seen in amusement parks, the kind where nobody seems to be able to quite coordinate the concepts of ``put in the demanded amount of money'' and ``stand inside the dryer booth''. We would end up spending so much time waiting for them to get started --- never mind to dry off --- that we gave up on mechanically assisted drying and went off on our own.

Threatening us with a water feature, but not actually doing the soaking, was the Rameses Revenge ride within the Forbidden Kingdom (Egyptian) area. This is a Top Spin ride, one of those long benches of seats that are rotated back and forth on an axis that itself spins, so that you go tumbling head-under-heel and vice-versa repeatedly. It's a ride that takes forever to load, but they make up for it with a good long ride time that's actually split in two. The first part locks the seats in place so you roll forward or back with the main axis, and after a few minutes of that they stop the ride and let people get off if they want. A couple people did. The second half of the ride, not just does the main axis rotate, but the seats spin along that axis so that you might be tumbling forward while the ride tumbles backwards. It's rather fun. The pool in front of the ride has jets obviously intended to spray water at people, but those weren't operating the day we went and we were thankful for it.

Bit of a mystery to this is that the ride is set in a pit, so that while you go up a good distance from the launch platform, you don't get very high above ground level. It's like they want the ride to be hidden from passers-by, which they might in fact have been going for.

Tomb Blaster isn't quite a thrill ride, but it's another thing in the Forbidden Kingdom. It's an indoor dark ride. It reminded us of some of the rides at d'Efteling, as it was a train progressing through lightly animatronic scenes. These had targets in them, and passengers are given lasers to shoot targets and maybe even make things happen. The launch station is a bit weird as it includes some voice calling for more civilians to shoot the monsters, which among other things seems to defy the point of something being a civilian. There was something odd about the whole ride --- which lasts seven minutes all told --- starting with the fact the Tomb Blaster name is just on a canvas sign strapped over the name permanently attached to the building. And the animatronics seem to be reacting more to something absent, rather than whatever the riders are doing.

[ profile] bunny_hugger learned what, later on. The ride used to be called Forbidden Tomb, and it used to outright tell a story. Specifically, it had animatronics that showed a corrupt Arabian tour guide trying to steal treasure, and ultimately being captured by mummies and sacrificed before a hard rock concert finale. The Arabian thief was taken out, but not much of the animatronics changed, resulting in the weird something-is-missing-but-what effect. And the truly delightful part of this is that the Forbidden Tomb existence of the ride ended in 2001. It's been Tomb Blaster for thirteen years now and they still haven't put up a permanent sign. It's delightful seeing that.

Trivia: Colorado and Wyoming are both four degrees of latitude from their northern to their southern borders. The northern border of Montana is also four degrees of latitude from its main, latitudinal, southern border. Source: How The States Got Their Shapes, Mark Stein.

Currently Reading: After the Reich: The Brutal History of the Allied Occupation, Giles MacDonogh.

PS: Lewis Carroll Tries Changing The Way You See Trigonometry, talking about some neat symbols he proposed for the basic trig functions. First of these since the last roundup.

Enough chatting; how about some Chessington World of Adventures pictures?


Fellow at Chessington World of Adventures changing the signs pointing to the parking lot's exit. We assume he works for the park.


Entrance to the Chessington World of Adventures park. If I'm not mistaken the woman in the center, wearing blue sneakers, is the one who gave us free admission tickets.


Hocus Pocus Hall. Formerly the manor house around which the Chessington Zoo, and later the World of Adventures zoo and theme park, would open. It's an engaging, child-friendly walkthrough haunted house.


The Market Square compass rose. The castles in the background lead to the elevated monorail ride. There's an arcade on the far left; no pinball. Middle left of the frame, [ profile] bunny_hugger.


A jackdaw waiting for us to give it some hot doughnuts or at least coffee. It would hang around a while and eventually go off and glare at us, dissatisfied.

And while it wasn't so busy a week as has been recently normal for my mathematics blog, there still were a fair number of posts. Did you see them all? Did you read them? You can, yet. Among the recent stuff has been:

Trivia: Mark Twain's Christmas 1890 piece for the New York World spoke of his hope that ``all of us --- the high, the low, the rich, the poor, the admired, the despised, the loved, the hated, the civilized, the savage --- may eventually be gathered together in a heaven of everlasting rest and peace and bliss --- except the inventor of the telephone''. Source: Telephone: The First Hundred Years, John Brooks.

Currently Reading: After the Reich: The Brutal History of the Allied Occupation, Giles MacDonogh.

We stopped for a little snack at the central Market Square. This would be hot doughnuts and coffee and tea and inspection by a crow hoping for doughnuts and coffee and tea. It also saw us through a light rain, the worst the day would have to offer. At the center of the Market Square is a nice compass rose, with rough directions to the Explorer Gate and the Lodge Gate (we'd come in through the Lodge Gate), and pointing to the various themed worlds of adventure --- Pirate's Cove, Trail of the Kings, Transylvania, Sea Lion Bay, Africa, Amazu, more. This is a park that takes its theming quite seriously, and it pays off. The park might be small but it's worth taking in, slowly.

Still, there was something worrisome when we entered the park. A sign warned that among the rides not operating were Rattlesnake and Dragon's Fury. These would be two of the park's three roller coasters. (Four roller coasters, if you count the powered Scorpion.) While we can enjoy a lot of a park, especially a strongly themed and well-kept park, to have two-thirds of the roller coasters down was heartbreaking. I hoped for the best: perhaps they might open later in the day. Just this happened to us at Holiday World, when the Raven started the day closed.

This especially hurt because the rides looked great. Dragon's Fury is some spinning car ride that looks quite promising. Rattlesnake is a wild mouse that's more heavily themed than we'd ever seen before; it's built into what looks like a Old West Mission building, and rides that roll into and through buildings are special thrills. We kept watching the monitors listing rides that were closed, and some went on and some went off, but these never came back on. A guard stood outside Rattlesnake giving people the sad news the ride wasn't open and he had no information on when it might be. We would have to leave the park without riding them, and goodness knows when we might ever get back to Chessington. I'd suggested we might go back, buying tickets, if need be; we would have two more days in the area.

As it turns out that wouldn't have helped us any. It transpired that Merlin Entertainments, the company that owns Alton Towers, had ordered the shutting of many of its roller coasters across all of its parks. This was apparently a response to something discovered in the wake of the Alton Towers roller coaster collision the week before. What's crushing is they had only ordered the shutting effective that day. If we'd gone to Chessington the day before, rather than see [ profile] bunny_hugger's uncle, we'd have been able to ride everything. I'm not sad we did spend the first full day in town with him, but it is a shame to have so much unfinished business at Chessington.

[ profile] bunny_hugger, as ever more perceptive of the ways of the amusement park industry, realized the probable reason for these rides being closed while we were still at the park. But she kept it to herself, not bringing the accident up where anyone might overhear her. Not obvious to us is why these rides and not the other roller coaster, Vampire, were closed. None of them are the same kind of roller coaster as the Smiler, on which the accident happened, nor made by the same company or anything. Our best inference was that they used the same kind of braking system, or perhaps used the same operational procedures, and that was the real target of the shutdown order.

While a big disappointment, admittedly, this was also the only one we had. And the park filled in the last bit of ``we always thought Roller Coaster Tycoon made this up''. The video game lets you put up scrolling-message displays just to report park names and whether the ride is open or closed. We thought that an understandable natural bit of fancy. Well, this really happens. Gorgeous.

More park reporting to come.

Trivia: Forrest Mars, cofounder of the Mars Candy company, would reconcile with his father when Frank Mars bailed him out of prison in Chicago in 1923. Forrest Mars had been arrested for plastering the streets with Camel cigarette advertisements without permits. Source: Chocolate Wars: The 150-Year Rivalry Between The World's Greatest Chocolate Makers, Deborah Cadbury. Also, as ever, a reminder: if someone's looking for a story pre-adapted to be a great dramatic soap-operatic mess, look to the Mars clan.

Currently Reading: After the Reich: The Brutal History of the Allied Occupation, Giles MacDonogh.

PS: Reading the Comics, July 24, 2015: All The Popular Topics Are Here Edition, getting a little rowdy, inviting friends, that sort of thing. Four.

PPS: Happy birthday Marissa Picard! I guess also [ profile] skylerbunny, but he'll never see that.

We didn't figure to go Alton Towers amusement park. We'd like to sometime. But we wanted to stick closer to London. (If nothing else we weren't sure how much [ profile] bunny_hugger's uncle would need us.) We were tempted by Thorpe Park, near enough the city. But we decided to go to Chessington World Of Adventures, even closer yet to our hotel. It was near enough we could get there on the Underground, albeit in stretches that mostly went overground. Still, to take the subway to an amusement park is almost perfect for the kind of people we are. We were excited. So were some young women who squealed as the train pulled up to Chessington North, despite the sign there warning to alight at Chessington South for the World Of Adventures. They apologized for squealing; we promised that wasn't necessary.

Though the Chessington South station is near the park, it's not at it, and we joined a small, slightly confused herd of people wandering that direction. We got to the front, and I noticed someone at the parking lot changing the direction of the exit arrows for Aisle B (``Binturong'') and the like. Other parking rows include M for meerkat and O for otter. There's not pictures of the animals at these rows, just the names of them. And they change the exit direction between the start and the close of the day, somehow.

As we approached the ``Welcome To Britain's Wildest Adventure'' entrance a woman came up to us and asked if we'd bought tickets yet. We hadn't. She held out a couple. I was steeling myself for, at best, someone hawking tickets and dickering over the price; at worst, someone hawking counterfeit tickets. She said to take them, and asked for nothing, and walked off after we thanked her, confused. The tickets were valid, and that's how we got into the amusement park for free.

It transpired that the tickets we got had been sold by some promotional deal linked with The Sun, and they could either be used that day or not at all, so the woman wasn't losing anything by giving them away. It's still a kind act.

Chessington World of Adventures was, once upon a time, a manor house, until the 20th century made that an impractical option. In the 1930s it opened up as a zoo, and in the late 80s turned into a zoo with an amusement park, soon to be an amusement park with a zoo. (Coincidentally that's about when Deer Park Funland changed to being Michigan's Adventure, though I'm not sure when they dropped the petting-zoo side altogether to focus on the amusement park business.) Both sides are still going strong --- the zoo just took delivery of a new fossa this week --- although it's easy to spend the day just in the park and see few of the animals.

For that we blame the short hours. Again, the park closed strikingly early, around 5 pm. It was a cool day and it rained a little in the late morning but, still. It was early June. By that time of year even Michigan's Adventure is open till 6 pm. We'd see some of the animals --- just past the entry gate are Asian short-clawed otters, behaving just as you'd expect --- though not enough.

The first attraction we went to was Hocus Pocus Hall. This used to be Burnt Stub Mansion, the original manor house. It had been redesigned as one in the 18th century; before then, it had been an inn. Before that, it had been torn down by Parliamentary forces in the Civil War, and before that, as you might imagine, it was a Royalist stronghold. Apparently its history can be traced back to the mid-14th century. Now, it's a child-friendly haunted house walkthrough attraction, with animatronics and 3-D paintings you wear glasses for and gremlins poking out around all corners, that sort of thing. There's a moral here but I don't know what it is.

It's a splendidly maintained spot, though. And there's gremlin-type gargoyles sitting outside the arches leading up to the house. We noticed the tail of one was broken off, revealing it was stone-painted wood. [ profile] bunny_hugger put the broken shard of tail back in its proper spot, so it wouldn't stand out.

Trivia: Charles Dickens's Dombey and Son sold better than 30,000 copies per monthly issue from 1846 to 1848. William Thackeray's Vanity Fair did no more than seven thousand. Source: The Age of Paradox: A Biography of England, 1841 - 1851, John W Dodds.

Currently Reading: After the Reich: The Brutal History of the Allied Occupation, Giles MacDonogh.

PS: A Summer 2015 Mathematics A to Z Roundup, a quick guide to all 26 of the A-to-Z glossary postings. Three.

Ahead of humor blog links, here's a few more pictures from Parc Festyland. Also, I'm not deliberately late; Livejournal went all Livejournal and refused to accept that I was logged in, or that my password was valid.


In the game room at Parc Festyland: Festy the Viking dragon dinosaur (?) plays video games instead of riding the roller coaster just outside. Quiet sarcasm directed at people who're in the game room at Parc Festyland instead of riding the roller coasters just ouside?


The Steeplechase-style ride at Parc Festyland. The horses are powered, rather than gravity-driven. The path winds through forest and there are statues along the way. Note the knight lurking just behind a bush, for example.


A pirate-themed water slide that people at Parc Festyland were going down even though it was (a) cold and (b) rainy.


I choose to believe that ``Local Technique'' is the name of Parc Festyland's official 80s hair metal band.

And now you know what comes next. Appearing on my humor blog the past week have been:

As ever you can add my humor blog to your Friends page, or you can add it to your RSS feed. I have no idea if anyone has ever done that, ever.

Trivia: The network television news pool for the coverage of Apollo 11 cost $750,000 and used 150 people at Cape Kennedy alone. Source: This New Ocean: The Story of the First Space Age, William E Burrows.

Currently Reading: After the Reich: The Brutal History of the Allied Occupation, Giles MacDonogh.

``These represent pears,'' [ profile] bunny_hugger's uncle said, as he dropped a pouch of dehydrated pears onto the table. The sentence, and its mix of truth and poetry, delighted us. I still smile thinking of it.

Over Christmas his wife died. Nobody expected it. He was devastated. He still is. They were expat Americans; while, I gather, she had a few relatives in the country, he hasn't got any relations. They have friends, certainly, but in a time like this you need a lot of support. We'd be the first people from his family who could even see him. The rest had been phone calls and Facebook messages and elliptic yet poetic e-mails that hinted at his despair.

Going in we were prepared for the case that he might have completely stopped taking care of himself, of the house, of the cat. We were ready to spend the day, or several days if need be, just tidying the house and putting it in livable order. Happily it was nothing near that bad. He might be a bit overwhelmed by the job of keeping a house in order by himself, but not hopelessly so. I admit I have a high tolerance for stuff being piled on tables or chairs, but, that's all a neat mess, if you take my meaning.

He got premade sandwiches from the supermarket down the street, for a simple and informal lunch were we might just talk. And we figured a lot of what we might do was to listen. There'd be a good bit of that. Seeing him --- we would see him nearly every day --- would be this odd mix of amiable chatter, some of it talking about our trip to that point, some of it talking about bits of family lore, interrupted by this nervous pause and then his talking about his depression.

He seems to be holding up to a brutal year. It isn't enough that she died. The barbed ends that come after life keep whipping back. There's paperwork, there's probate court, there's companies that need to slowly process the idea that a person who was alive and well twelve months ago is not now and never will be again.

And there's less formal things. He had a little while before our visit got what appeared to be an e-mail from Apple, reporting that someone had logged in to his wife's iCloud account and could someone please verify whether this was legitimate. That struck him with a particular sense of violation. So part of our visit was spent diagnosing notices like that. In this case, the notice seems to have been a phishing expedition. We explained the reasons we thought it so. He seemed to accept most that an actual e-mail notice from Apple would not have that curious not-quite-grammatical construction that phishers somehow always have. Just to be safe, though, we did help him through resetting passwords on his and his wife's e-mail accounts.

This got to be a bit of a logic puzzle, because he couldn't think of his old password, and didn't have an independent e-mail to which a reset password could be sent. There is a process for that, though, and apparently it isn't automated, or at least it doesn't claim to be.

He'd also hoped to get a replacement phone put in. The old phone was fine, but the answering machine on it still had the messages from his wife's hospitalization, and he didn't want that to be plugged in where an accident might delete them all. This I understand. (Also the new phone has larger buttons, which is probably for the best given his age.) This would wait until Sunday night for us to accomplish, and it required moving a bookshelf with books on it to do, so good thing I was there.

We had originally gone with the idea that we'd take lunch and visit as long as he felt comfortable. But he apparently felt comfortable with us around, that day, and he postponed his only appointment (taking the cat to the veterinarian) so we wouldn't be interrupted. We would spend the whole afternoon and much of the evening, talking and being present and eating and listening, looking at the birds visible from his tended garden (one seemed to be a parrot of some kind, surely a loose pet), or watching television (there was this friendly-competitive auction show that seemed several orders of magnitude better than its United States equivalents, possibly because nobody seemed punchable on it), just being there.

We would finally go back to our hotel. Playing on the news in the lobby as we got in was something about the previous week's roller coaster accident at Alton Towers. We weren't planning to go to Alton Towers, but the accident would affect our next day.

Trivia: In repudiating Mississippi's 1841 obligation to provide millions of dollars in bonds for the Union Bank of Mississippi, Governor Alexander McNutt proclaimed it offensive that the Jewish Baron Rothschild ``shall have a mortgage upon our cotton fields and make serfs of our children'', charging that Rothschild had ``mortgages upon the silver mines of Mexico and the quicksilver mines of Spain. He has advanced money to the Sublime Porte, and taken as security a mortgage upon the holy city of Jerusalem and the sepulchre of our Savior''. The state had 42 cents in its treasury in January 1841. Source: A Nation of Deadbeats: An Uncommon History of America's Financial Disasters, Scott Reynolds Nelson.

Currently Reading: After the Reich: The Brutal History of the Allied Occupation, Giles MacDonogh.

PS: A Summer 2015 Mathematics A To Z: z-transform, my last A-to-Z entry! This one comes from signals processing. Two.