Tag Archives: England

8-foot-tall Lego Man Beached in Florida

-Neethu Ramchandar

He’s an 8-foot-tall, 100- pound fiberglass “Lego Man” who was recently found washing up to the shores of the Siesta Key Beach in Sarasota, Fla.

And apparently, He’s the newest beach bum in town.

On October 25th, this Lego Man caught the attention of many when Jeff Hindman lugged it to shore during his morning stroll. Lego Man’s  unexpected arrival was documented and shared with the world through YouTube as spectators dropped by.

The Lego Man, standing nearly a head above his finder, had no note or explanation attached, but his shirt read “No Real Than You Are”.  Initially it was speculated that this was a PR stunt by Legoland, however those rumors were denied by Julie Estrada, a company spokesperson  speaking to the Los Angeles Times.

Rather the statue was created by a Dutch artist named Ego Leonard. The Sarasota Police report explains that the name was inscribed on the back of Lego Man’s shirt. Leonard’s website, although mostly in Dutch,  explains that he believes he lives in a virtual world.

“A world that for me represents happiness, solidarity, all green and blossoming, with no rules or limitations.”

The website shows pictures of the Lego Man around the world as Leonard has also dropped the statue onto the shores of Zandvoort, Holland and Brighton, England.

Online he also asks viewers to share with him what they think is beautiful in their worlds, and he displays pictures and stories of those who have responded. The website even has a link to purchase Lego Man’s “No Real Than You Are” shirt.

For now, the Lego Man remains in the custody of Sarasota police. He will remain there for 90 days under the protocol of lost goods. Only if his owner comes forward will he be released. The Sarasota Herald- Tribune reports that Ego Leonard sent them an email speaking as though he were Lego Man.

“I am glad I crossed over. Although it was a hell of a swimm,” the email said. “Nice weather here and friendly people. I think I am gonna stay here for a while. A local sheriff escorted me to my new home… In case people want to take me on new adventures, just that you know, I have been invited to stay here for 90 days, everybody is welcome to show me all the beautiful surroundings while I am here.”

If Lego Man is not claimed by Leonard within the 90 day limit, he will be released to Hindman who claims that he plans to sell the art piece on Ebay.

Photo taken by Jeff Hindman

Dresden

– Truman Capps

A few weeks ago, I visited London’s Imperial War Museum, which is basically one giant monument to the fact that if you live in the world, England has tried to kill your ancestors (or maybe even you—holla back, Ireland!).

In the basement of the museum was the Blitz exhibit, where groups of tourists were herded in small groups into a little faux World War II era bomb shelter which would vibrate slightly while recordings of explosions played, to simulate the experiences of Londoners taking shelter from Nazi bombs. Afterwards, a little door opened and we were ushered out into a replica of a bombed out London street, which would have been a very powerful moment had the whole thing not looked like it had been built out of cardboard boxes by someone who had never been to England.*

*So as rides go, I’d rate it below Disneyland’s Great Moments With Mr. Lincoln, but above everything at Great America.

What I found most interesting about the experience, though, was that a group of German tourists about my age was in the exhibit with us. As I watched them sitting in the fake shelter, listening to the fake bombs dropped by fake Germans, I thought, Yeah. How do you like them apples, bitches?

And when we stepped out onto the fake-destroyed street, in spite of its crappiness I wanted to turn to the Germans and yell, “Look what you did! Look what you did! Go back to your weinerschnitzel and your disturbing pornography; your kind aren’t wanted here! I hope the in-flight movie is Inglourious Basterds!

So even though the Blitz exhibit wasn’t great, it was sufficient to inspire me with blind, ignorant hatred of other nationalities, which is, I suppose, as good of an English history lesson as you’re going to get.

This whole situation got turned on its head when I visited Dresden.

Dresden is a charming little city of about 500,000 along the Elbe in Germany, perhaps best known as the place that got the absolute shit bombed out of it by the Allies late in World War II. It was during this bombing that Kurt Vonnegut, at the time an American prisoner of war, took shelter in the basement of Slaughterhouse-Five, an event which inspired his book, Slaughterhouse-Five.*

*Or, as I like to call it, Not Cat’s Cradle.

Historians estimate that the bombing and resultant firestorm in Dresden, a cultural center that was of very little military significance, killed between 24,000 and 40,000 people, most of whom were civilians fleeing the war. To cap off this grand historical douche-chill, the rail yards and factories on the outskirts of town, which were the only significant elements of the Nazi war machine in the area, weren’t targeted. It was America’s first foray into wartime assholery; fruitful years in Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq lay ahead.

While the basement of the Imperial War Museum is a record of the Blitz in London, virtually all of central Dresden is a living record of the city’s destruction at the hands of Americans. At the center of the city, there’s a new cathedral that’s a replica of a cathedral destroyed in the war, partially constructed out of rubble of the first cathedral.

In the museum downtown, there’s a lot of information to be had about just how many priceless works of art and architecture were lost in the bombing. On the February 13 of every year, the anniversary of the bombing, the people of the city come together to protest war.

Needless to say, Dresden was sort of an embarrassing place to visit as an American. Whenever I would sheepishly ask a waiter if he or she spoke English, I always thought I could catch a glimpse of a steely look in their eye that said, “Oh, well—an American, here to survey the damage. Bad news—if you drop incendiary bombs on your currywurst, we’re not bringing you another one.”*

*This could also just be my reaction to the German language. At one point during my stay, I tried to walk into a bar that was in the process of closing. The manager came around the bar and briskly explained to me, in German, that they were no longer open, which was a traumatic experience for me because no matter what you’re saying in German, it sounds like, “I WILL CRUSH YOU!”

The city’s destruction gave Dresden a chance to rebuild, which they did in a variety of postmodern styles that now make Dresden something of an architectural landmark. While they still remember the past, it looks as though the people of Dresden were able to move beyond it and focus on the future. Hopefully the next time I’m looking at a piece of World War II history with a German, I’ll be able to do the same thing.

Do you see what I did there? Metaphor. You’re damn right I’m a journalism major.

Truman Capps uses metaphor extensively on his blog, Hair Guy.

Bath

– Truman Capps

Pronunciation is a difficult issue over here. The English tend to assume that their pronunciations are inherently more correct than ours, so they’ll laugh at you if you ask for a kebab (pronounced keb-ob) instead of a kebab (pronounced keb-ahb), and won’t understand when you talk about aluminum foil as opposed to al-oom-in-e-um.

This was also true during my program’s excursion to Bath, a small town in Southwest England. When English people asked me what I was doing that weekend, I would say, “I’m going to Bath”  (as in, splish splash I was takin’ a), and then, so as to avoid any confusion, add, “Or Bath.” (long A sound English pronunciation). The consensus from most people I talked to was that I was giving the matter too much thought, as I often do.

Bath is probably best known as the site of an ancient Roman bath, situated over the town’s hot springs (which are some of the only hot springs in the whole UK). Romans occupying England back in the day would flock to these baths to socialize, enjoy the naturally warm waters, and argue about whose idea it was to leave central Italy for a cold, drizzly island that was prone to occasional Viking attacks.

Bath still trades pretty heavily on this history, as evidenced by the spiffy museum they’ve built around the ruins of the ancient Roman bath complex, as well as the adjacent gift shop and café built over what I can only imagine are the ruins of the ancient Roman gift shop and café. It was a Friday, so the museum was packed, particularly with a rambunctious group of French middle schoolers, who were living proof that all large groups of middle schoolers the world over are eye-gougingly annoying.

The baths at Bath had religious purposes, as well. What I found most interesting was that angry Romans would inscribe curses against their enemies onto thin strips of lead, which they would then fling into the baths in hopes that the gods would honor their wishes. They had a bunch of these translated curses available on display, and I was struck by the fact that all of them seemed awfully petty for members of the civilization that conquered basically everything in Western Europe. Most of the curses were from people asking the gods to give other people bad luck because they’d stolen some minor valuables or had gotten a bit snippy about who had the best slaves. All I’m saying is, I expected a little more from the people who built the Pont du Gard.

On the way out, they offered us a complimentary glass of water taken from the thermal spring. Apparently the water in the spring fell as rain as long as 10,000 years ago, and then spent the intervening millennia seeping through the Earth, collecting underground, and then getting boiled back up again by geothermal heat – this should’ve been an indicator that this wasn’t going to be one of my better hydration experiences. The water tasted about like water tastes when you leave your Nalgene in the back of your car for several hours on a hot day. So, for the record, whether it’s three hours or 10,000 years, water just does not keep very well.

Adjacent to the springs where large numbers of men used to congregate and bathe together, the Anglicans built a giant church in 1156.

Cathedrals in Europe are like Taco Bell in America – they’re so plentiful that you never have to go too far to find one, and after a while you almost stop noticing them. You can only be totally blown away by high ceilings, fan vaulting, and stained glass so many times. Unlike Taco Bell, cathedrals usually have no drive through, although if you’re willing to wait inside, the Anglicans do make one hell of a Seven Layer Burrito.

We continued our walking tour through the city, looking at the various 18th century buildings and (mercifully) bypassing the Jane Austen museum when it started pouring down rain.

We took shelter in the lobby of the Bath Fashion Museum and one of the girls in our group suggested that we tour the fashion museum while waiting for the rain to stop. The girls all thought this was a great idea; the male contingent was not as enthusiastic. However, the rain refused to let up and we had nowhere else to go, so…

OH YEAH!

LOOK AT THESE GLOVES! DO YOU SEE ALL THESE GLOVES!?

This already wonderful educational experience was not improved by the presence of the same group of obnoxious French middle schoolers, who may well have been stalking us as some sort of urban commando training. They went capering back and forth through the fashion museum, as uninterested in The Evolution of the Scarf as I was, until I bumped into a knot of them in the ‘Interactive Display’ room.

This was a room in which reproductions of Victorian era corsets were available for visitors to try on. In the room in front of me, a few dozen French boys and girls were chaotically doing just that, fighting over the available corsets and struggling to tighten them on to one another, all under the somewhat helpless gaze of a chaperone.

I spent a moment watching French 11 year olds prancing around in Victorian era underwear before making my exit, checking over my shoulder for Chris Hansen, just in case.

Truman Capps has been further documenting his shenanigans on his blog, Hair Guy.

Battersea

-Truman Capps

When my friends heard that I was going to England, a lot of them gave me advice on the best Beatles-oriented places of interest to visit. In many ways, it’s like the pilgrimage sites throughout France – back in the day, religious tourists would visit each cathedral and view its holy relic as a means to feel closer to Jesus. There’s a similar amount of hoopla surrounding The Beatles over here – there are guidebooks and ‘Beatles reality tours’, which offer to take rock music pilgrims to various sites around Liverpool and England that were key to The Beatles’ meteoric rise.

Some of my friends mentioned that they visited Abbey Road the other day, and I wondered if traffic could even move on the street or if that crosswalk was so choked with douchebag photo-op tourists that they had to set up some sort of roadblock.

All this resurgent Beatlemania is rather awkward for me because I suffer from a condition known as Not Being A Huge Beatles Fan. No, I’m not one of the four people who doesn’t like The Beatles – “Penny Lane” and “Hey Jude” are great songs, although I could go without ever hearing “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” again – I just don’t love them as much as everybody else.

I’m a Pink Floyd man myself, and for Pink Floyd fans, London offers its own set of pilgrimage sites, albeit seedier and more underground than The Beatles’. First among them is Battersea Power Station.

Pink Floyd’s Animals, 1977

Built as a coal-burning power plant in the 1930s, Battersea embraced the art deco design standards of the day and rapidly gained popularity as one of residents’ and architects’ favorite buildings in the city. It was called a “temple of power,” which is fitting, because it’s the largest brick building in Europe.

If the building looks familiar to you, it’s probably because you’ve seen it in movies. In Children of Men, it’s the futuristic ‘Ark of the Arts’, where the British government stores famous artwork as various other nations collapse into chaos. In the MacGyver TV movie The Lost Treasure of Atlantis, Battersea stands in as an Eastern European military base. And in The Beatles’ Help!, Battersea appears briefly onscreen, subtitled as ‘A Famous Power Station.’

For all this notoriety in music and film (a MacGyver TV movie, people!), Battersea is not exactly a tourist-friendly destination. When I arrived in Battersea Park, a once-seedy area smack in the middle of urban renewal, I found the entire power station surrounded by construction fences, preventing me from getting anywhere close to the building.

I only got this by sticking my camera over a fence

When you think about it, I suppose that’s a good thing – Battersea has been more or less abandoned since 1975, and knowing Englanders’ penchant for drunken public urination the walls of this place, it would probably have completely eroded by now were it not for the fences.

In one of my attempts to gain access to the site, I ran into a guy sitting on a park bench by the Thames, eating his lunch with his back to the massive landmark behind him.

“Excuse me,” I said. “Do you know if there’s a way to get closer to the old power station?”

I pointed to it for good measure, and when he turned to look he seemed almost surprised to see the largest brick building in Europe, as though it had snuck up behind him.

“I couldn’t say,” He shrugged, and turned back to his jellied eel and haggis sandwich.

Having grown up in Salem, a town largely bereft of landmarks (save for The World’s Largest Puddle of Standing Water), I have a hard time understanding how people can live among so much beautiful and famous stuff without periodically clutching their heads and yelling, “JESUS CHRIST, GUYS, HAVE YOU SEEN THIS SHIT?” I suppose, living in London, you get desensitized to history and culture after a while.

Au revoir, Battersea – perhaps we’ll meet again someday, when you’ve been converted into luxury condominiums.

Truman Capps blogs about all the other stuff he’s been doing in England on his blog, Hair Guy.

Waking up in England

– Truman Capps

How can I concisely describe my initial impressions of England without sounding like a total idiot?

England looks exactly like it does in all the movies made in England.

England is distinctly English, if you know what I mean.

Everything in England is different from everything in America – it’s like a whole ‘nother country over here!

God damn it…

Specifically, everything is smaller. The houses in England – even in Harrow, where I’m staying, a bedroom community that is more or less London’s equivalent of Beaverton – are far smaller than any I’ve seen on the West Coast. In many cases the houses are jammed wall to wall in a tight row, and few (if any) have front yards.

I feel pretty lucky, because my host family set aside two rooms for the American students; one spacious and open, and the other one slightly smaller than my walk in closet back in Portland. Because I showed up first, I got the larger room, forcing my housemate to live in a room that makes an elevator look huge and breezy.

My room, which I’m already doing my best to crapify.

Cars are also smaller across the board, because fuel is more expensive    here and so car designs tend more toward fuel efficiency and less toward “just so you know, my dick can be seen from space” like they do  in the United States. Cars are streamlined and compact. There are no  trucks, and essentially no SUVs. Even the police drive the sort of cars  you’d expect someone’s mom to drive, albeit with a pretty garish  paintjob.

On the flip side, though, London itself is huge. The city’s official population is 8 million, but according to one of our professors, that grows to 12 million every day as people commute into the city for work. That’s 4 million people, which is more than the population of Oregon, flowing in and out of the city every day. That means that at noon on any given day, one out of five people in England are in London.

And unlike Los Angeles and the greater LA County area, which boasts a larger population but sports uniformly deserted streets, London actually feels like a huge city. The streets are thick with people – joggers, cyclists, businessmen, families, the elderly, dog walkers, tourists, and ever-ubiquitous maintenance workers (who all wear day-glo yellow reflector uniforms).

One thing London is short on is homeless people – I’ve traversed a fair  amount of downtown over the past couple of days, and so far I’ve only seen  one bum slumped against a building. Compare this to Los Angeles, where  bums are often the only people who aren’t driving, or Portland, where in Old  Town I’ve had rival bums fight one another for the right to panhandle me, or  Eugene, which Matt Groening once described (speaking through Futurama’s Bender) as a candidate for the ‘biggest hobo jungle in the  quadrant.’

The lack of bums could be explained by the fact that everything in London is  more expensive – a fact that even native Londoners such as my host family  agree on. A pub I visited yesterday was charging 10 pounds for fish and  chips, and houses an hour away on the Underground outside the city still cost in excess of four-hundred thousand pounds. The high prices are a double whammy for Americans, too, because currently the pound is worth about $1.50. This results in twofold outrage when at a store – an American sees an unreasonably high price for something he needs and is shocked and appalled, and then multiplies that price by 1.5 in order to figure out how much he’s actually spending.

The pub of which I speak

Over the next few days, I’ll be doing my absolute best not to accidentally spend myself into financial ruin. Then, I intend to do some legitimate sightseeing so that I can write about it, instead of continuing with this Jerry Seinfeld observational bullshit.

Truman Capps maintains a personal blog, Hair Guy, where he posts additional updates from his time overseas.