Sunday, July 06, 2008

Nelson Mandela and The Rest of Our Story

Today I will finish up my story of our time in London from June 23-28th. As I have said before, it was a glorious week with many highlights. I mentioned before that going to Wimbledon helped me to remember that there is still fun and good in the world because it was just a wonderful experience and was done so well. And I mentioned that there was also another highlight. It was the greatest of them all. Brit Boy and I saw Nelson Mandela! (smile) That was a glorious experience that neither one of us will ever forget. But I don’t want to skip ahead too much here. I still have the day before that to tell you about. So I will pick up where I left off last time.

On the Thursday morning of that great week, we woke up and took our time getting going. We had had an early wakeup on all the other days, so this day we decided to chill a bit. We got up at about 10am, got dressed, and then headed to the tube station. We topped up our Oyster cards at this point at the machine there. We figured that it would be best to do it then when the station wasn’t busy and there was a long line. After we put more credit onto our Oyster cards, we headed on our journey to Piccadilly Circus.

Piccadilly Circus is a wildly frenzied place, full of throngs of people and activity. There are tourists and native Brits all walking around this way and that together and I love the feel of it. I am usually not one for crowds of people, but in some situations like this, I feel it is the only way to go…you feel a part of everybody else. I like it there. You feel like you are in the middle of the action. It is touristy in bits, but what’s wrong with that? (smile) We like it a lot. It is like a playground to us.

We went to the area to have our nice lunch, or as Brit Boy calls it, our “slap-up meal”. This is his Brit-ism for a nice meal. (smile) We went to our favorite steak place for our splurge of the trip. We had been eating inexpensively the rest of the time so that we could spend a bit more to have our special meal. This place is becoming a bit of a tradition for us. It is not terribly expensive there, but it costs more than McDonald’s. (smile) Anyway, we had our splurge.

We had the same waitress as we had back in April, which was nice. She is always good to us. Brit Boy and I both had the steak and fries/chips, along with a nice green salad that we shared. For our appetizer, Brit Boy had potato skins and I had shrimp/prawns that were as light as a feather. Both things were so good. For dessert, we both had a slice of strawberry cheesecake that was divine. Here is a photo of mine before I dived in.

After our nice lunch, we headed to the tube station across the street. We went to the Victoria & Albert Museum. There is a tunnel from the tube that goes right into the museum and some of the others around there. Along the tunnel, there was a busker/musician who was playing his guitar beautifully…sort of a jazzy, classical feel to his music. He was great. I dropped a few coins in his case. Brit Boy noticed that the busker also had a sign telling about his website. It was cool….an age-old music tradition meeting new millennium technology. Gotta love it. (smile)

We went to the Victoria & Albert (V&A) mostly to see an exhibition of memorabilia of The Supremes. It was fabulous. The gowns were amazing and timeless. A lot of those dresses that were from the 60s still could look fabulous if worn now. There is something about dresses from the 40s, 50s, and 60s that transcends the particular decade and will always look good. There were programs, photos, and all kinds of artifacts of this fabulous group of ladies. Mary Wilson had held onto a lot of this stuff, so she put it all together and now we have this great exhibit to see. I heard her in an interview here where she said that she didn’t throw anything away from that time. Thank God for her. (smile) The exhibit also had film of her and others talking about Motown and The Supremes. There was also a bit of archival footage of Martin Luther King Jr and things about the Civil Rights Movement as a background to give a feel of the times when Motown and The Supremes were doing their thing. It showed just how massive their achievement was and how it shaped history. They altered the perceptions of many in the rest of the world. The Supremes were elegant and all of the girl groups after them have a great example to follow. The Supremes were at their height before I was born, but I grew up hearing their music like everyone else and I think they were wonderful. The little girl in me just wanted to break into the exhibition cases and try on all of the clothes. (smile) As a former wannabee fashion designer, I was loving the fashions and the music is classic.

Whilst at the V&A we also looked at the costume collections, the jewelry, the photography, and sculptures. We were only allowed to take photos in certain areas. Here is a photo of some busts in one of the galleries. It is a lovely place.

Here is the outside of the V&A. Very stately.

After we came out of the museum, we decided to take a walk to Hyde Park since it was a nice day. We sat on a bench for a while and looked out across the lake. It was quiet and peaceful there and you forget that you are in the middle of a big noisy city. Hyde Park is probably my favorite place in London.

We watched the little blue paddle boats going across the water and then decided to give it a try ourselves. So we paddled out on the lake and I must admit that at first it was a bit unsettling since the wind got up and the currents were dragging us sideways when that was not the way we wanted to go. (laugh) I kept hoping that we wouldn’t spring a leak. But eventually things leveled out. We both loved it though. It was the perfect way to spend an afternoon. Whilst we were there in the park, we could hear them practicing for the Mandela concert the next day. Here are a couple of photos of us in the middle of the lake.You can just about see the edge of our blue paddle boat in the second photo.

Then we took the boat back to shore and walked over and had ice cream from one of the stands in the park. We found another bench and sat watching guys and a girl roller-blading and doing tricks. Along this same stretch of road, vans were going back and forth with VIPs inside of them to and from the concert area. We didn’t see anyone though. All the windows were blacked out. It was a fun time though. We bought sandwiches and potato chips/crisps from a stand at the tube station and headed back to our hotel.

On the walk from the tube station to our hotel, they were having a concert at Wembley Arena, which is next to Wembley Stadium. We couldn’t tell who was performing, but the crowds around there seemed excited. We kept walking to our home away from home. (smile) We watched the big Euro 2008 football/soccer match…I sort of read and watched. Brit Boy was really into it. It was a good restful evening. The next day was Mandela. We couldn’t wait!

The next day, we got up with the great expectation of seeing Nelson Mandela. The concert wasn’t until around 6:30pm so we had some time to kill. We took our time getting up. We left our hotel at about 11am and headed to McDonald’s down near the tube station to have brunch. Then we left and took the tube to Green Park.

Green Park is a lovely park too and has lovely mature trees and is fabulously…well, green. (smile) It is a peaceful place to hang out. Brit Boy and I found a bench and sat there to take all the beautiful nature in. We talked and then the rain came. First it was light, so we were fine with that. We are both immune to bother about light rain now. (smile) I am a recent convert now that I have been here a while. Plus, the trees are so big and thick that the canopies of leaves sort of act as an umbrella. But soon the rain came down too hard so we hopped back on the tube and went to Oxford Street. We figured that we could find some shelter in one or two of the many shops along there.

We wandered around Borders for a while. This store is my paradise. I love reading. Brit Boy enjoys it there too. We also popped in to a few boutiques…can’t forget the inner fashionista. (laugh) We didn’t buy anything because we didn’t want to be weighted down at the concert and also we were trying to be frugal.

Soon the rain let up and stayed that way all the way through the concert later. We walked along to Hyde Park in excited anticipation of the concert. We queued up with everybody else and waited to be let into the gates. We eventually got inside and claimed excellent spots near the front of the crowd. They had a circle right at the stage cordoned off for people with gold circle tickets, but we were right behind that group and had a great view.

We sat down yoga-style on the grass and took in the scene. We were sitting next to a fellow who had come over from Germany just for the concert. He was nice. He asked me if I would hold his spot next to me and I said sure. So he went to get a drink. He had a piece of yellow plastic that he sat on, so I used that to hold his spot and I placed our binoculars on top of it. He was gone for quite a while and I thought that he might have found somewhere else to sit, but a while later he came back. He told me that if the rain did come that I could have his other piece of plastic to cover us since I had held his place. I thought that was so nice and so in tune with the vibe of the event. Miraculously though, it didn’t rain. The sky looked quite ominous at several points, but it held off. Here is a photo of the stage before the concert started.

Soon the concert got underway and everyone stood up. The concert was great. Will Smith and his wife Jada Pinkett Smith helped out with the presenting and Will at one point came out on his own to get the crowd going. He said that he had to get in on the action since he was introducing all of the other acts and he wanted to see if he still “had it”. (smile) Well, Will still has it. He was great. He did a bit of one of his hits and then he did a bit of the theme tune from his show “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air”. I was singing along through it all. It was great. (smile) He really rocked da house!! The crowd loved it.

Eddy Grant was also great and had a sing-a-long with the crowd. He looks the same as he did in the 80s and can still do his thing. He is a great performer and is going on tour again. He brought lots of life to the stage. Here is a photo of him in action.

Simple Minds was great. I loved it when they did their song from years ago, “Mandela Day”. They also did “Don’t You Forget About Me”. It was great because they were one of the acts from the very beginning who worked to raise awareness of Mandela’s plight and what was going on in South Africa. Here is a photo from when they were on stage.

The Children of Agape Choir were wonderful along with Annie Lennox. Their song was so stirring to the soul. They sang with a raw, beautiful power. Annie Lennox is one of my favorite singers and she is also one who has been fighting the good fight for years on behalf of those involved in the 46664 campaign. She showed a photo and talked a bit about this little girl who was an AIDS orphan and had AIDS herself. Her face was gaunt and she looked as if she were on the brink of death at such a tender age. Then Annie showed the other photo of this little girl, who was hugging Annie, and she looked like a totally different child. It showed the power of what the access to proper AIDS medication can do to save lives. The little girl is not cured of course, but she has been given a chance. It was a powerful illustration.

The Soweto Gospel Choir was wonderful too. They were a great addition to many of the acts that were on stage. They were dressed in beautiful brightly-colored outfits that just popped out at you. They were glorious to see and hear. Beautiful voices. Josh Groban was great. He has an amazing voice. Emmanuel Jal is a great hip hop artist who was a child soldier in Sudan. He is now performing music about reconciliation and hope and he is very talented. He really got the crowd going with his set too.

I really enjoyed everyone and there is just not enough room here to talk about all of them. I wish that I could. (smile) They had a great line-up. There were artists from all over the world and they were wonderful.

In the middle of the concert, there was a pause for the great one. Will Smith came out and introduced Mr Nelson Mandela. Here is a photo of him coming onstage.

Both Brit Boy and I were very moved by this moment. I was overcome with such joy at that moment when Mr Mandela or as they call him “Madiba”, came out to speak. I instantly welled up with tears because I knew that this was surely one of the greatest honors of my life to see him. There was a hush that fell over the crowd of nearly 50,000 people. Mr Mandela is coming upon his 90th birthday now, so of course he has to take it slow as he walks, but I know that he was determined to come and speak to us. He had traveled a long way to come to England, but he did so in order to help out the 46664 campaign and the work it does and also to be there for everyone to honor him on his 90th year of life. It was amazing, but you could just feel all of this love in the air when he was onstage. The air changed. It was wonderful. Mr Mandela gave a short speech, but every word vibrated all around us. And what I took away from it is what the slogan of the concert said, “it’s in our hands”. It was like he was saying, I have been on this journey my whole life and now it is your turn to do what you can. And I thought yes. He has done so much for humanity and if anyone deserves a rest, he does. I hope to be as able as he is when I am 90 years old. I figure that all of us were amazingly lucky to be able to see him and hear him. I know that it has validated and awakened some plans within me to help others. I just felt like he was passing the torch to all of us to do whatever we can to help others in whatever way we wish. I can’t be Nelson Mandela, but I can be me and do things even if it is in little ways. I have always sought out this path in life and now I just want to do even more. (smile) Brit Boy does too. The 46664 campaign is one great way to help others.

Near the end of the concert, Brit Boy and I decided that we needed some air and we were hungry, so we squeezed our way away from the front and went to the food stalls. The crowd was more dispersed back there. We went to a food van that was selling foot long hotdogs. The van had car license plates from the US all over it and it just so happens that one of the license plates was from Georgia…my old stomping ground. (smile) We ate our hotdogs and watched the concert from further back.

We made a run for it right near the end of the concert to beat some of the crowd heading to the tube station. Others were thinking the same thing. The security let us out of a side gate which was coincidentally the same side that we had been sitting along the day before, watching for VIPs. So in a full circle moment for the week, who should we see leaving out of this side gate but Boris Becker!!!! He was only a few feet away from me. (laugh) So Mr Becker was "thisclose" and I was thrilled. Back in the day, he was a fave of mine. I decided to not run up to him for an autograph because it was dimly lit over there and I didn’t want him to think we were going to attack him. (laugh) It was enough to just see him again. I took it as a good sign and a full circle moment that we had seen him twice…once at the beginning of our adventure at Wimbledon and once at the end of the glorious week at the concert. Maybe I will get an autograph one of these days! (smile)

The next day was Saturday and we headed home. We checked out of our hotel and walked back to the tube station in the hot sun. It was great though. I had become very brawny over the course of the week and pulled that bag like it weighed nothing even though it didn’t. I know that we must have walked thousands and thousands of steps by the end of our trip. We both joked that it had been like being on a wonderful marathon across a continent or two. (smile)

We took the tube to Victoria Station. We had a couple of baguettes and a drink. We then headed around to the coach station. Brit Boy and I were talking about the fact that the coach station is tiny and not even big enough for the amount of people that come through there.

We took our coach/bus back home and then got a taxicab back home. We both crashed on the sofa with a dopey smile on our faces. We were so happy to have had such fun and we were so tired. But I tell you, I will take that kind of tired any day, when it is due to such a wonderful ride like we had through that glorious week.

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