Participants may feel free to correct any details I get wrong. I was in a daze the whole time and not taking notes as copiously as I usually do.
I know I've said it before, but the two people most responsible for my Barrowmania and therefore the trip are timbershiver who asked me to beta her Jack/Wilson fic before I had any clear idea who or what a Captain Jack Harkness was (I may have had him confused with Captain Jack Sparrow) and hllangel who became my Barrowman Guru after I'd seen the pictures and had the *GASP* moment.
The actual Odyssey came together the day of THIS POST when the Barrowman Panto/Burn in Oliver thing made it virtually impossible NOT to plan the trip.
Then in August, came Hubby's motorcycle accident, and the six month nightmare that followed, but somehow we got through it, I got the time off and on January 12, 2009, I left for the UK.
No karaokegal trip ever gets underway without a bit of drah-ma.
In this case, I met michelleann68 at the 16th and Mission Bart station and she immediately informed me she did not have her confirmation. The confirmation, I’d emailed the day we first made the reservations was mine. She’d thought she was on mine, but I ‘d had to make to separate reservations because of two different forms of payment.
She also hadn’t gotten any of the email updates that I had, which was how I knew our outbound flight-time had changed.
This gave us about 45 minutes from 16th and Mission to SFO to contemplate the following: Worst case scenario-I never made her reservation. Even though I remembered doing it and printing out a confirmation, there are plenty of things I remember doing which apparently never happened. If this was a case, I immediately decided I would whip out the credit card and get her a ticket on the flight, no matter what it cost. Best case scenario-I made her reservation, emailed her the wrong one and also managed to give Virgin Atlantic the wrong email address so that she never got a confirmation or any updates.
When that’s the best-case, you gotta worry.
We got to the International Terminal at SFO and went to the Virgin check in counter and there was a lovely man with a list of people on the flight. WE WERE BOTH ON IT!!! I kissed him. Seriously.
Aside from changing the flight time, the folks at Virgin had also messed with our seat assignments, which I had coordinated to be aisles across so that one of us had a center, which was totally not acceptable. We ended up with aisles a few rows apart, which was fine.
Killing time at the international terminal.
The flight itself took off on time, but was not pleasant for me, mostly because of the screaming baby and the fact that I couldn’t get to sleep. I had the seat next to me open but not the one next to that, so there was no real sprawl room and the two Benedryl didn’t work at all. This lack of sleep was soon to be a theme of the trip.
We arrived at Heathrow, and proceeded to go to baggage claim. Since we checked in reallyreally early, our bags were practically the last two out, creating that vague unease you feel as the carousel goes round and round and your bag isn’t on it. FINALLY the bags showed up. WHEW. Then we had to find hllangel, who we thought was going to meet us in baggage but we figured that was not happening so we went through the Perfume Zone i.e. Duty Free Store to the other side of the security gate and there she was.
At this point (and for the rest of the trip, really) I was in a daze and assumed that other people knew where they were going and just followed them, which seemed to work perfectly well.
Squeeeee-fest then turned into a schlepfest as we made our way to the Tube, bought tickets, went up and down various stairs and with one change, got ourselves to Euston Station, via a line that was going to Cockfosters. Between being exhausted having a mental age of 8, I found this incredibly humorous. At Euston, we picked up the tickets to Birmingham and michelleann68 had some fish and chips. I wasn’t ready to eat yet, and the sight of the mushy peas didn’t improve the situation.
The train to Birmingham was nice and quiet. I would have been able to doze off except for the loud chimes prior to each station announcement.
Check this out…the train skipped the stop at Milton Keynes. Just rolled right past it. Twenty minutes later, the train stopped. Just stopped. No announcement. Maybe another ten minutes. Then they announced that they’d missed Milton Keynes and would have to go back. Sorry for the inconvenience. No one that I told this story to in the UK was the least bit surprised.
We arrived at Birmingham and got out and for the first time I got a sense of how cold it was and how completely not used to being in a really cold place I was. Cold cold cold.
But we were met at the station by drunken_hedghog and swizzasnake and they were lovely, and sweet and funny and totally cool. So much LJ love.
They were so wonderful, I don’t even know how to describe it, especially as the schlepping continued to the Ibis that turned out to be not our hotel and into a cab to the one that was, which one of them immediately described as looking like a women’s prison. We ditched the luggage, temporarily ignoring the fact that our requests for rooms with two beds had not been fulfilled, and headed out for a little Birmingham by night, including the sight of signs for the panto everywhere, including the giant sign at the Hippodrome itself.
We had dinner at the Loaf Bar in the Arcadian, a big center with lots of bars, shops restaurants, where I learned (or remembered) something about eating hamburgers in the UK: You can’t get them done to order. OOPS. Oh well. Things were fine. I did have to be a whiney wench and move things from an outside table to an inside one. (Sorry swizzasnake.)
Afterwards, we walked back to the hotel and said goodnight to the girls planning to re-convene the next morning for sight-seeing.
hllangel and I were willing to deal with the single bed issue, but not the fact that we couldn’t get online. ARRRRGGGHHHH. The laptops wouldn’t work and the “on-screen” wouldn’t work because the keyboard was fucked up. GRRRRRRRR. We called down to the front desk and got Diego, who couldn’t get it to work either. Eventually he changed our room, which we also got changed to two twins, and EVENTUALLY I was able to get internet. hllangel’s Mac never did work, but we were able to get the screen thing working…until for some reason, the numbers decided to cap-lock so none of our passwords worked. KILLKILLKILL.
Checked LJ, EMAIL, posted a song lyric, downloaded Keith and Rachel, and tried to get some sleep.
This is me trying to sleep in Birmingham.
Step 1-Finally get warm.
Step 2-Realize I need to pee.
Step 3-Tell myself I don’t need to that badly.
Step 4-Realize I really have to.
Step 5-Get up and pee, which leads to being very cold.
I’m not sure I got an hour’s worth all together.
Next morning, dragged ass out of bed, into coldcold room and did a bare minimum of cleaning and headed downstairs to meet the girls for a day of sight-seeing followed by the Panto.
Once again we passed the Pagoda where we also met secondsilk, our LJ friend from Melbourne, Australia, who I’d given the Karaokegal Mission Mural tour earlier in the year, and who had since been traveling the United States and the UK. She actually decided to come to Birmingham to see the Panto, and be part of the Squeeee Odyssey, among other things, and tourmaline1973 who came in from Coventry.
She was a non-Barrowmaniac, among the gathering, and I hope our John/Torchwood/Panto-based SQUEEEEEEE didn’t get to annoying. She is a fabulous Housefrau, but the show had been on hiatus for over a month at that point, so there wasn’t as much to talk about.
We made our way to the War Memorial and the Birmingham Museum. We managed to spend hours in the museum, walking around, snarking various exhibits and eluding the competing hordes of school-children, one group in blue, one in red. I walked and talked and talked and walked and aside from the HAIR exhibit, I actually don’t remember much of what I saw, but I had such a great time doing it. I got a sore jaw from smiling. Everybody seemed to get on really well together, and by the time we went down to the cafeteria for tea, I was exhausted but so happy.
This is a joint picture of us and the other group of Panto-attending LJers we ran into. They'd actually gotten to meet John.
Whole lot of LJers going on
Post-tea touring included symphony hall and the bull pen. OMG, the Bullring. . That was just….OK, I’m a Jersey girl, or at least I used to be. I know malls. This was quite impressive, especially the Jelly Belly bull.
It’s either the stuff of dreams or nightmares depending how you look at it.
We went to the Rag Market so that secondsilk could get some yarn, and then we walked tourmeline1973 back to the train station, promising to reconvene the following evening after the matinee. swizzasnake, drunken_hedghog came up to the hotel with us, where we played the Keith and Rachel podcasts from the previous day. Sharing the Keith love and ESPECIALLY the Rachel love was a total blast.
Feeling slightly more rested we trooped down the hill to the Hippodrome for the Panto.
I knew what to expect. Kind of. Let me assure you there is no adequate preparation for John Barrowman in the flesh when seen from the 2nd row. As gorgeous as you think he is from seeing him on TV, he is a zillion times better looking that that.
As to the show itself, pretty much everything you’d expect and then some, including a few blown lines and what appeared to be some giddy ad-libbing.
There were also local jokes, some of which I got, some I didn’t, a panto elephant, magic tricks, ice-skating, John singing Every Little Thing She Does is Magic. A wonderfully hissable villain, an awesomely belty black singer playing a witch, a completely interpolated number from Spam-a-lot, double entendres, triple entendres, John’s bum, John’s basket. Can’t forget the obligatory man in drag and a song from High School Musical.
There was also a puppet and a ventriloquist. Aside from John himself, I’d say that Paul Zerdin (as Will Scarlet) and “Sam” were the high-lights of the show.
I’m not sure if this was the case with Jack and the Beanstalk (John’s first Panto two years ago) but in this show was completely written around John’s public persona including Torchwood jokes and so much gay innuendo I was actually surprised they bothered going for the happy ending with Robin and Marion.
On the other hand, I felt a little bad for John. We already knew we weren’t going to get to see him at the stage door. There was that throat infection that cropped up right after the radio brou-ha-ha and according to the contingent that got to meet him the previous day, John said he still hadn’t been feeling up to snuff. Let’s face it, the boy was sick and should have been able to take a day or two off. But he can’t/couldn’t. For one thing he knows he’s the attraction and people are coming in from all over the world just to see him and no understudy would be acceptable and as I said it’s all written around his persona.
I remember hearing an interview talking about the first year in Cardiff (Jack and the Beanstalk) where he got sick and his understudy had to go on for him, which makes me think that at least that one was more of a standard Panto which pretty much anyone could play. Now there’s no chance of that.
Clearly I would have been gutted to go all that way and NOT SEE HIM, but I felt really bad for him as well, especially the next day at the matinee when his energy was way down and he clearly felt less than fabulous, but the show must go on.
Even with no hope of John, (and missing the chance to yell at his car as it sped away) we went to the stage door and did in fact schmooze Paul Zerdlin and tell him that we laughed hysterically at him which was true.
Then we went to dinner in Chinatown at restaurant whose name I have NO IDEA of and no documentation to bring back. It was good though. swizzasnake came back and joined us although once again she’d already eaten, depriving us of the ability to buy her a good meal. We already had curry plans for the next day, so I warned to be make sure she was hungry for that.
At the Chinese restaurant, I learned that what we call entrees here in the US (main dishes) is not what they call entrees in the UK (starters.) Also that they’re not that big on the whole everybody shares everything technique, especially soup, which is more ubiquitous here. The food was awesome though.
Then we went to the Loft Lounge, which we had a tip might be fertile ground for John-stalking, despite the obvious fact that John probably wasn’t doing any clubbing and was more likely in bed, hopefully with Scott feeding chicken soup. In spite of this michelleann68,hllangel, drunken_hedghog, swizzasnake and I had a great time, just hanging out, schmoozing and flirting with Patrick the oh-so-adorable bartender.
So good a time in fact that when they basically called “last round” I thought it was a joke, and then found out it was 1:00AM. I couldn’t believe. I wasn’t the least bit tired and honestly thought it had to be earlier. swizzasnake and drunken_hedghog walked us back to our hotel for a final good night with a promise to meet the next day for curry! Can’t go to England and not eat curry, especially when I’d seen the "Tikka to Ride" episode of Red Dwarf just a few days before the trip.
Another few hours of the freezing/peeing/not getting any sleep process and we met up with the girls again, including the addition of Michelle’s friend samanthaowens, who joined us from Birmingham. Seven of us made our way to a Wondrous Place called Jimmy Spices.
OH. MY.GOD. All you can eat in several different cuisines including the elusive curry. They were very nice to us and only charged for about half of us as far as I could tell and also turned down the volume on the music when I asked them to. And yes, swizzasnake ATE!!!
Then we headed back to the Hippodrome for the matinee, with a side trip to Candie’s an old-fashioned sweet shoppe where we bought bags of candy including some amazing fudge.
Panto-the second time around. John was clearly suffering a bit. Energy down. Saw him coughing. The show itself was slightly less dirty, although the drag bits were still done to over-the-top perfection.
After the intermission, I moved up to an empty seat in the first row, so I got to see the gorgeousness of John as up close and personal as I probably ever will. The best part was that since for some odd reason, Panto doesn’t seem to have the standing ovation tradition, when I did stand up, John could clearly see me and waved RIGHT FUCKING AT ME!!! I’m pretty sure he saw me the previous night too, but for that one I was third row and off to the side. This time I was nearly dead center. It was really the John-related high-light of the whole trip. I KNOW HE SAW ME, even if I was just a blur.
(Since then, I’ve sent my program to his agent along with a get-well card and a request for him to autograph.)
I was honestly walking on air after that, and naturally we were off to the Loft Lounge again, joined by tourmaline1973 for our last night in Birmingham. We took over two couches, nibbled a sampler platter and kept talking and talking and talking. They even played John’s video for What About Us for us and we all posed under it.
Our new friend Patrick was back among us as well. He was heading out to see Rent, which was also playing at the Hippodrome, presumably giving John a much-needed night off. I noticed he was wearing a Loft Lounge shirt and asked if there was some way I could get one, fully intending to pay for it, if necessary.
This turned into a major scam, where I had to give Patrick a bag, which he snuck the shirt into and left behind the bar for me. But the important thing is…I GOT THE SHIRT!
We said goodbye to our Birmingham friends, which was kind of sad. Seriously guys, you were all fucking AWESOME.
Back at the hotel, Hannah and I had had to watch Keith and Rachel and check out fandomsecrets. By this time doing fandomsecrets together had been a ritual.
I spent a few more hours going through the whole freezing/getting warm/needing to pee routine, but by 2:00AM, I had actually gotten to sleep. At which point, Hannah, woke up, decided it was 8:00AM and woke me up, causing one of those adrenaline jolts that leaves your nerves jangling and a bad taste in your mouth. Even once we determined that it was 2:00AM and NOT 8:00AM, the chances of getting back to sleep were slim to none. So I was back to the freezing/peeing thing until it was time to get up and head for London.
I had some tea in the lobby and I think this was the day we looked at the TV set and saw the airplane in the Hudson River, although at that point we didn’t really get the big picture of what exactly had happened.
Yours truly was in a serious daze. I know we took a cab to the train station and then the train to London and that I did get some sleep on the train, but I was way out of it. One thing I had insisted on was the minute the train got to our station in London, I wanted a cab. No more schlepping the bags on the tube. We were super frugal in Birmingham and I’d had enough of it.
We got out at Marylebone and stood in line for a cab and the good times started rolling. The cab took us to Crown Plaza-The City, and upon our arrival, a spiffily uniformed fellow named Anton emerged with his big rolling cart to take our luggage up to our rooms. Rooms with big beds and big fluffy pillows and HEAT!!!!
There was the usual production about getting internet, but this time Sara, the assistant manager came up with her laptop to make sure it wasn’t an engineering problem. She put us in touch with the hotel’s IT department who talked us through reconfiguring our laptops so we could get through the firewall and FINALLY we both had internet service on our laptops. Whoooooo-hoooooo.
I was tired, smelly, and tied up in knots, and both michelleann68 and I decided to splurge on massages, so within a few hours of arriving in London, I had a long, hot bath, a great massage, and a blissful two hour nap.
(When I told hubby I got a massage in my hotel room, he said “I think that’s called a hooker.”)
Then it was time for a cab to the West End to meet kohlrimmedeye and see Oliver. We got there early and scoped out the stage door. When we asked some people where it was, they pointed at the rather large sign that said “Stage Door.” Out of said stage door came a woman walking two dogs, Bull Terriers, who I immediately decided must be the dogs playing Bill Sykes’ dog, and indeed they were.
We walked around a bit more and I confirmed that a reference to taking a moonlit walk down Drury Lane in one of my yuletide stories was a possibility.
In front of the theater, we finally met kohlrimmedeye, who was looking rather resplendent in her top hat and high heels and all-around fabulousity.
The show itself was incredible, in terms of performance and production. Rowan Atkinson completely re-invigorated the whole concept of Fagin, playing the camp and the Jewish and the pathos and the humor. His scenes with Burn Gorman as Bill Sykes were so awesome that fic was written within days.
Gallows Humour by paperclipbitch
Burn proved that you don’t need to be a Oliver Reed-type hulking thug to make Bill terrifying, while still managing to convey enough humanity so that Nancy doesn’t seem completely deranged when she sings “As Long As He Needs Me.”
Jody Prenger who won the I’d Do Anything competition to get the part of Nancy was excellent. Great voice, but not overly operatic. You believed that this Nancy was girl of the streets. The boy playing Oliver had the necessary sweetness. I thought the Artful Dodger was a bit lackluster, however Julian Bleach, who played the Ringmaster in From Out of the Rain and Davros in The Stolen Earth was the perfect creepy undertaker and also a creepy doctor.
The show itself has the inherent weakness of being a truly horrifying plot which culminates in the murder of a hooker, that’s still trying to be light entertainment, so the up-tempo hits are fun, but never quite take the edge off the darkness.
By the way, the dogs were fantastic. In the melee toward the end of the show, the dog runs all the way across the stage off-leash. Whichever one of the dogs did that, it was perfect.
Also….lots of plot. Lots and lots of plot. But what the hell. I SAW BURN GORMAN ON STAGE. IN LONDON!!!! He looked so happy during the curtain call. Yay for you Burn. If Russell and the Beeb don’t appreciate you, the West End certainly does.
I find it hysterical that one of the show souvenirs is a stuffed Bullseye, which is Bill’s dog. You know I had to get one of those.
The stage door. I got to shake Burn’s hand through the crowd by yelling, “I came from America to see you,” but Michelle managed to get Burn to pose with her Gingerbread Man doll, who’d been getting quite a bit of attention on the trip (yeah, I’m jealous) and Hannah went down to the end of the line and also played the American card. She got a long autograph, and a hug. (I’m really jealous.)
Proof that Gingey had a VERY EXCITING trip.
Hillangel and Burn
I'll forgive the waking up at 2:00AM...this, I'm not sure. :)
I did get to see Rowan come out of the stage door and got a picture. He seemed bemused by the whole thing, but still posed with Gingey before ducking into a car which had a nice subtle sign on it that said ‘Rowan.”
Post-theater dinner at lovely restaurant called “San Francesco” (sic)Great food, including a really wonderful potato-leek soup and calf’s liver, which is always a risk, but this was perfect. They were nice to let us in and by the time we left, they were ready to throw us out, but it was so wonderful. Considering how often kohlrimmedeye posts about not eating, my inner Jewish mother, was delighted to buy her a good meal. (Second only to getting to snog her.)
We walked her to a bus stop and then took a cab back to the hotel. hllangel and I watched Rachel and Keith, both of which were most devoted to the plane in the Hudson River (YOU GO, CAPTAIN SULLY!) and then despite warmth and big beds and fluffy pillows….I still couldn’t sleep. More of the bladder thing. At least, I didn’t freeze every time I got up, but I was still not happy and did not get a lot of sleep. At least not until we were supposed to be getting up around 9-ish. Hahahahahah.
We ending up meeting for a really nice breakfast in the restaurant (comped!) at about 1030AM, and then I did my travel agent duty by going on a site inspection tour of the hotel from Andrew Specker. michelleann68 came along and helped me schmooze and fawn, which considering the deal they were giving us was completely appropriate, and it really is a nice hotel.
Having dispatched the professional obligations, we reconvened in the lobby looking for and eventually finding petrichor_fizz, who had actually come in from Leeds to join the Odyssey. We got a cab to the British Museum and again with the assistance of mobile technology managed to meet up with kohlrimmedeye.
I was so happy to have this group together as well. All three were some of my earliest LJ Housefraus, and people I’ve shared long comment threads and/or gmail chats with.
We toured the British Museum for a few hours and as with the Birmingham Museum, I couldn’t honestly tell you a damn thing I saw, but I had so much fun doing it with them. A bit less of a rowdy group than the Birmingham contingent. I totally get the feeling that Birmingham is like Oakland, or Brooklyn. Someplace that has a bit of a “no respect” issue relative to the bigger, more famous City and therefore has to try a little harder.
Eventually we sat down because everyone was getting tired. We had a nice round of tea and sandwiches in the “court.” I did not want it to end at all, but it was time for timbershiver to get home and petrichor_fizz had to get back to her hostel in time to check out. I still can’t tell you how touched I am that everyone came out to be part of the Odyssey at some point. (OK, enough mush. For now, anyway.)
We said goodbye to timbershiver *sniff* and got in another lovely London cab with petrichor_fizz and kohlrimmedeye. petrichor_fizz's hostel was walking distance to our hotel but the clock was ticking so our good-bye was a little rushed. It was so good getting to meet you honey. *sniff*. kohlrimmedeye came into the hotel to see the melty clock in the lobby and check out our ever-so-posh accommodations.
Actually she was there for a viewing of Paul Zerdin’s DVD in michelleann68's room. Naturally we had some technical difficulties which required a call to the front desk. A helpful person appeared almost immediately and got us straightened out. I think it was like one button being pushed wrong or something.
The viewing proceeded, and while the material was just as funny as it had been in the Panto, it was really shocking how much of the act was bodily written into the Panto, including bits of business with the audience that were used in the show as “filler” during scene changes, which means Paul is in the same position as John-no way to take a night off. Which may be flattering, but has to suck too.
By that time (whatever time it was, I couldn’t tell you) it was getting late, so I walked kohlrimmedeyeto the tube station which was all of across the street. *Sniff*
We had a little downtime after that, before going out for our last meal in England, dinner at the Black Friar Pub. Michelle and Hannah hand a craving for Fish and Chips, but I didn’t think I could handle that much fried food so for some reason I ordered “gannon steak” and eggs, completely NOT getting that it was ham and eggs with fries. (Excuse me, chips.) It was good, if a bit salty and I did nibble a bit of the fish and chips as well.
We watched our last night’s worth of Keith and Rachel podcasts and I still couldn’t sleep. Luckily we had a real wake up call and we’d made a joint decision to spring for a car service to take us to the airport.
And of course, there had to be one last bit of Drah-ma, which was my fault, and which I’ll completely understand if michelleann68 never forgives me for.
I knew that Virgin had push up our flight time a little bit, but I thought it would be about a 40 minute difference, similar to our outbound flight and I had never gotten around to actually checking. We’d left ourselves plenty of time so 40 minutes would have been no big deal. Unfortunately it was more like TWO HOURS so after getting checked in we were instantly running for our lives and freaking out on the security line. We made it, but there was no time for duty free shopping or currency exchange, which is why I’m still carrying around quite a few pounds, aside from whatever weight I put on in England.
Flight home was pretty decent. No screaming baby, and I had two empty seats next to me. HOWEVER-Note to Virgin Atlantic-If you’re going to put a blanket and a pillow on every seat, why is it MY responsibility to get the unused ones on the floor before take off. And why can’t I have my blanket on my lap during landing?
Anyway, we got home and cruised through customs. I was such a good girl I took BART back to the Mission instead of splurging on another cab.
I had an amazing time in Birmingham and London. I’ll never forget everyone who was part of the Squeeee Odyssey and I love you like crazy, but I was so damn happy to be home, especially because the day I get back was WARM WARM WARM!!!
Here I am wearing my Loft Lounge shirt at the Mint.