Wednesday, August 13, 2008

England Trip - August 13th, 1983

that's me on the right in front of the Cleese townhouse
Today was our last full day in England. The trip organizers suggested we visit the Portabello road market, but Tom, Melissa, Marc, and I ended up going to a rare bookseller in Soho. A man on the street selling bootleg George Harrison cassettes recognized us as Yanks and tried to sell us some music but we didn't buy. The bookstore was amazing, a trove of used and rare books on multiple floors. Marc inquired about a specific title that his father wanted, military history perhaps, a shot in the dark he said, but they had it!

Later that day we visited an unusual group of people. I can't remember the exact circumstances, only that it was late afternoon, and they served tea and someone made a speech. There was an elderly lady, much like a Monty Python pepperpot, only older, and she wore a medal given to her by the Queen. A middle-aged man and a woman ran this place, but I don't recall the occasion, only that they told us that John Cleese, of Monty Python fame, was their neighbor. Marc and I perked up. Yes, they said, he ran lines in his back garden where they observed him more than once. Connie Booth, his collaborator, wife, and co-star in Fawlty Towers, was also seen in the town home adjacent to this mysterious meeting hall.

Marc and I walked around the corner. We hoped to see John Cleese but we didn't. We took pictures of ourselves at the gate. Neither one of us dared ring his doorbell, though Marc faked the intent in the photo that featured him (he's the gent in the black jacket).

Our farewell dinner was meant to be special. I donned what dress-up duds I had left in the suitcase, cashed my last batch of American Express checks, and rode the tube to an Italian bistro run by Spaniards in the Northern suburbs of London. We ate orange and green pasta, a personal first for me, and I thought it was quite a novelty at the time. This meal was a bit more expensive than our typical supper, but it was worth it. We drank wine and kind words were spoken all around the table.

Marc, Tom, Melissa, and I stopped for a drink at a nearby pub after dinner. The bar was next to a local police precinct and squad cars went by while we stood outside the front door. Cops walked past us on their way to work but nobody cared that we pubbed it up out front. It was a warm, clear evening and a bittersweet event, our last night together in the U.K. I hope we toasted England and each other.

I asked the bartender if any famous people patronized this pub, since we weren't far from the Cleese flat and he nodded. "Kelly Monteith," he said. "Who?" I asked. "Kelly Monteith." I'd never heard of Kelly Monteith and I told him so. "Well you ought to know 'im," he said. "He's a yank."

It turned out that Kelly Monteith was an American comedian who scored a BBC TV show in the late 1970s. I happened upon an episode at some point and it was pretty lame. He was doing a bit about escalators, addressing the audience directly, and remarking about how the escalator hand rail moved faster than the stairs, a bit I'm pretty sure I heard somebody else do first in America, but with old Kel sequestered in the UK on the BBC, his writing staff "borrowed" it, or perhaps it was a funny coincidence. The bartender assumed I'd know Monteith, the fellow Yank. This was a dissonant fact that amazed me, how certain cultural fragments rose to the forefront, like the KC and the Sunshine Band single on the jukebox, or the George Brett pine tar game mention on the news. Even KMBC's Christine Craft made the BBC with her accusations of sexual discrimination. That was a different night in my travels, but one time in the hotel room while I watched TV before bed, I saw video of the Kansas City skyline. "That's Kansas City," I said, though I was alone. The BBC ran the story and picked up some B-roll of the Channel Nine local news open package. George Brett, Christine Craft, Kansas City, all there in the news, and yet the average pub patron was oblivious to them. Toto, Dorothy and friggin' Kelly Monteith - they knew about those icons.

Another memory fragment: Tom and Melissa departed and Marc and I went to another bar. This suburban pub featured a snooker table. I had never seen snooker before and I found it fascinating. No pockets at all and an array of solid white and red balls. The table was a local attraction. Serious players eyed the action from all corners of the room. One British wrinkle that I didn't get: patrons were required to put money in a coin box connected to the lights. The snooker table featured a large bank of lights and every 15 minutes the lights shut off, often in the middle of a shot. That produced some choice cockey rhyming slang from the players. They said, "Knickers and hickeys, go the bells of St. Rickey's. Escalator comedy bit thief, goes the American Monteith." And so to bed.

No comments: