A Sports Fan’s Travel Dilemma

When we planned this trip to France and England, I wasn’t focused on college football — although I hoped that the Ohio State Buckeyes would run the table, win every game to earn the Big Ten crown, and then play in the National Championship Game. Alas, the Michigan State Spartans foiled that dream.

So tonight, the Buckeyes play the Clemson Tigers in the Orange Bowl. Unfortunately for me, the game is being played in the evening, in the Eastern time zone, and I’m in London, five hours ahead. Here is England, the game won’t begin until about 1:30 a.m., and probably won’t end until 4:30 or so.

Even worse, there is no where to watch the game, even if I could stay up to do so. The fact is, American college football doesn’t make even a tiny dent in the British sporting scene. The big sports stories in England this week have been the fate of a Formula One driver who was injured in a skiing accident and the poor performance of England in some cricket match.

A few days ago Russell and I visited one of the casinos on Leicester Square that advertised a sports bar, just to see what they were showing and whether the Ohio State basketball game against Purdue might be on one of the TVs. Hah! Most of the screens were showing a tennis match — that’s right, tennis! — and the others featured soccer and a rugby match. Can you imagine any red-blooded American sports bar these days showing a tennis match?

So tonight, I’ll try to sleep while the Buckeyes play their bowl game, and I’ll probably toss and turn wondering how they are doing. When I wake up tomorrow the game will be over and I’ll see whether my team has righted the ship or ended the season on a two-game skid. One seeming positive in all of this is that I’ve set things up so that the game is being recorded at home, and therefore I will have the luxury of watching a known victory — or erasing, unobserved, a painful defeat, and watching a cricket test match instead.

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Standing In The English Rain

016We’ve enjoyed our trip to London . . . but if you are someone who is bothered by rain, this probably isn’t the place and time of year for you. It has rained every day we’ve been here, and you’ve just got to make do with it. I’ve learned that spending the worst of the storm in a cozy pub drinking a pint of the excellent Fuller’s E.S.B., for example, is a pretty good way of dealing with the English weather.

In contrast to Forrest Gump’s description of the different kinds of rain found in Vietnam, in London in January there seems to be one kind of rain — fat, wet, cold, soaking rain, and heaven help you if the wind is blowing, too. We’ve seen more mangled umbrellas stuffed into rubbish bins in London than you can possibly imagine, even though the Brits are very good about removing the trash every day. London’s weather seems carefully calculated to keep British umbrella manufacturers in business.

Cabinet War Rooms

036In the late 1930s, when war with Nazi Germany became increasingly certain, an employee of the British government was tasked with developing a safe underground complex from which the British government could conduct the impending conflict. The result of his work was the Cabinet War Rooms — or, because they became known by the name of the man who led Great Britain during the conflict, the Churchill War Rooms.

The rooms were locked after victory was achieved in 1945 and left undisturbed for years. Knowledge of the rooms was still restricted, but tours of the rooms were given to some VIPs, who were fascinated and urged that the rooms be made available to the public. As a result, the Cabinet War Rooms were opened to the public. Yesterday Richard and I paid a visit to the rooms, and it was like walking back in time.

031The War Rooms are located in the basement of a government building a block or so away from 10 Downing Street. The museum itself allows you to walk through the complex, looking at the tiny bedrooms and dining rooms and offices of the people who worked there, the map rooms with different colored yarn to denote Allied and Axis positions, and the offices where different colored phones linked the Prime Minister and head of British armed forces to the various branches of the British military. The entire facility very much has the feel (and faint smell) of a place that was locked when it was no longer needed and left undisturbed for years. It’s wonderful stuff for a history buff.

025One of the nicer aspects of the Cabinet War Rooms was a display at the beginning that showed pictures, correspondence, and in some instances video interview footage of the average British people who worked at this top-secret facility as secretaries, messengers, or code readers. These people kept the precise location and nature of their work a secret for years, risked injury and death by being at the center of London during the Blitz, and then went back to their regular lives after the war ended. It’s heartening to see that their important contributions to the Allied cause were recognized.

The Cabinet War Rooms also include a Winston Churchill museum that provides information about the brilliant and inspirational speaker who led Great Britain for most of the war, before being voted out of office shortly before Japan surrendered. Churchill’s speeches, uniforms, odd work habits, and relations with other world leaders are all addressed in the museum, which would be worth visiting on its own merits.