I laughed at Travel Editor Lori Rackl's account of seeing the band The Killers in line at an airport in Mexico, and it made me think of my own recent star encounter here in England.
Joe and Kevin Jonas take fan questions during the "intimate" pre-concert sound check event, attended by a lucky few hundred little ladies.
I have the good fortune (misfortune, some might call it) of being distantly connected to the Jonas Brothers. Now if you are a normal adult here in England, you would scratch your head and say, "Should I know who the Jonas Brothers are?" From what I understand about America, this is not the case, as one cannot escape the squeaky clean teen singing sensations. In England, however, the Jonas Brothers are known only to two groups: pre-teen and teenage girls (namely those who get the Disney Channel on satellite tv); and their parents.
I am well-acquainted with the Jonas Brothers because my very talented cousin Ryan Liestman is their keyboardist and he travels the world with them. Ryan and I lived in the same neighborhood when we were small and spent hours playing together, but now I get to see Ryan when the Jonas Brothers come to the UK. Last week they came to Birmingham, about an hour's drive from Nottingham, and so a couple of us made the trek out to see Ryan. And his band.
When we arrived at the National Exhibition Centre (a large arena), it was three hours before the show and I called Ryan to say we'd arrived. He sent the tour manager out to meet us with backstage passes because, apparently, even he is recognized by those teenage girls here in England. As I walked past the lines of girls waiting to get in, I tried not to catch their eye as they glared at me and my shiny backstage pass.
We had a great time hanging out with Ryan and seeing the backstage action at a major show. The Jonas Brothers are currently on a 6-week world tour and travel with 15 semis of sound, lighting and staging equipment and, we were told, this is their small, pared-down set! Not to mention there was a whole fleet of tour buses. After we spent several hours with Ryan, he headed out into the arena with other band members to the screaming accompaniment of thousands of girls, and we groupies made our way to our seats. The concert was fun, but after only a few minutes I realized it was a very big mistake to forget the ear plugs. I hadn't realized just how earth-shattering a teen girl's scream can be, especially when multiplied by 10,000. No wonder nobody could hear the music at the Beatles concerts.
The Jonas Brothers (including, most importantly, my cousin Ryan Liestman, who is their keyboardist) played the National Exhibition Centre in Birmingham, UK. It was fun to see them and especially my cousin Ryan (he's the one on keys) but the screams of thousands of teenage girls reverberated in my ears for days to come.
On the drive home we mere mortals discussed how surreal the entire experience had been, and the next day I rushed into work with photos and videos on hand to show my friends.
"Look," I bubbled, showing off the pass and photos to a knot of gathered colleagues. "This is from going backstage at the Jonas Brothers concert last night."
There was no gasp, no shriek, no cry of "Oh, my daughter is going to be so jealous!" I merely looked up into a sea of blank faces.
"Should I know who the Jonas Brothers are?" one of them asked.
What is E-Day? E-Day is Exam Day, as in the day I take the UK Driving Exam. Mine is on Saturday, 25th July at 8.10 am and my instructor is picking me up at 7 am for the obligatory hour-long practice beforehand.
Thank you to all of you who've posted your own transatlantic driving experiences on my previous entry. I feel your pain! And, yes, the driving lessons are very expensive, as are all of the parts of the licence process. I've spent literally hundreds of pounds when including exam fees, and that's with only about 8 lessons total (not bad, really, as my instructor assures me I'm now capable of passing the test). I don't know how British parents who pay for their children to learn every aspect of driving from an instructor ever afford it!
I should note, however, that my competitively priced instructor Tim Elmer has been fantastic and that I am definitely a better driver now than I was before (but come on, I drove for 14 years in the States with no problems, so I wasn't that bad). In order to pass the UK test, drivers here do need to reach a high standard, which is only a good thing.
We'll see if I manage to pass the first time ... I do hope so as my pocketbook can't afford another booking for awhile! I also hope that my slightly dody little secondhand car (a gift from a wonderful friend) actually survives long enough for me to take it out solo on the roads. What a day that will be!
I haven't posted on this blog in two weeks, and when I realized this fact the other day I groaned aloud. Posting, you see, is work, especially when one is usually posting about one's own life.
Pausing on my way across a railroad bridge in Edinburgh
It'd be easy enough for me to post a few comments and links about the fascinating political revolution that's going on here as newspapers publish quite shocking details about expense claim abuse by elected members of parliament (the Speaker of the House was forced to step down for the first time in 300 years...longer than our Constitution has been in existence).
Or I could post solely about the amusing cultural differences between America and Britain, some of which still have the power to shock me and others. A recent example is when a male American visitor found a piece of litter on the floor and offered to "toss it," thereby sending all listeners into gales of laughter--except for me, who was thoroughly confused until a friend explained under her breath that, over here, that statement does not necessarily mean throwing the litter in the trash can. (Sorry, can't write the slang translation here, so look it up).
However, the last two weeks have been especially intense for me because of a few frightening family illnesses back home in Arizona (which I can only follow from afar and with anxious phone calls and prayers) and also because I've had to make difficult decisions about the future.
I'm happy to announce that both family health situations seem to be resolving in a hopeful manner for both my grandmother and my as-yet-unborn baby niece. I can also now announce that I've made a major decision for my future--I intend to settle in England for the next several years. I actually made this decision quite awhile ago, but have been waiting for several matters to resolve so that I am able to do this in a way that fits my visa and economic needs. I'll post more about that decision in the future (trust me, it wasn't easy....leaving one's home is never easy, no matter how much one feels called to a new home), but I hope it explains why posting light, frothy comments on this blog that was supposed to follow my one year abroad in England has become increasingly tricky.
Yes, life has been an adventure since I came here in September 2007, but adventures always come at a price, as I'm sure most people who've had them will admit. However, I can solidly testify that, despite all of the pain, frustration and homesickness, this adventure has been absolutely worth it.
A few incidents covered in the British press this week have got me thinking about free speech.
I read yesterday about a 5-year-old girl who was admonished by her teacher for discussing religious topics with her classmates. The girl's mother recounted the incident in an email she sent to several friends, asking them for prayer. However, the email ended up in the prinicipal's hands and, since the mother is also a receptionist at that school, she was faced with losing her job for making "allegations about the school."
The incident has opened a firestorm of discussion about religious freedom, especially that of Christians, in a land that still allows Christian prayers and faith to be taught in its state-run schools.
The second thing that got me thinking was a minor controversy raised by television comedian Jo Brand, after she made rude comments about Margaret Thatcher on a BBC programme. Viewers complained about Brand's comments and the BBC was left defending its decision to air the show. What Americans may not realize is that this most recent furor follows several decisions on behalf of the BBC to discipline or remove other presenters (Jonathan Ross, Russell Brand and Margaret Thatcher's daughter Carol Thatcher) after they made controversial comments.
It's difficult for me to know exactly what to think about this BBC situation. Were these presenters on American programmes, I'd say that they have the right to say what they like. However, the private corporation employing them would likewise the right to either support or fire them at their own discretion. No doubt the decisions would be driven by the bottom line (and, of course, meeting minimum industry decency standards), as expressed by the programme's viewers. But these presenters all work for the BBC, which is a government institution funded directly by the people of Britian. (Everyone with a television must pay a hefty monthly TV licence to receive the television signals). The impression I get is that anyone working for the BBC has to make sure his or her comments will be palatable to the majority of the population.
Clearly there are big differences between this religious incident and these media cases, and I can see that people on both sides of each controversy have reasonable grounds for their opinions. But all of this just gives me the impression that I have to be much more careful here in England about what I say at home.
Being in Britain may often be very similar to being in America, but then things happen that make me realize it is a very different cultural climate, after all.
Call me a cynic, but I don't exactly understand how this "historic agreement" between Zimbabwe's president Robert Mugabe and members of the opposition party (including Morgan Tsvangirai, who stepped down from the presidential race after Mugabe's political party went on a rampage of murder, torture and rape) is going to make much of a difference.
Hyperinflation is currently at more than 2 million percent (after Mugabe's government "paid" its own outstanding bills by simply printing more money), food has disappeared from grocery store shelves and Zimbabweans are fleeing into other countries. About a month ago, a couple at my church shared about a phone conversation they had with a friend in Zimbabwe who runs an orphanage. She was telling them how it costs more than $30 U.S. dollars to buy basics like a pint of milk or a loaf of bread. And that was a month ago. I can't even imagine how much worse the situation is now, because the cost was rising day by day when she told us about that.
Obviously we cannot lay all of the blame at Mugabe, although he bears the lion's share for piloting Zimbabwe into a land of extreme poverty and financial crisis. The political climate is clearly ripe with corruption, and Mugabe simply leaving office wouldn't change everything.
I suppose this agreement to work with members of the opposition party to turn things around is a step in the right direction. But as the BBC story I linked to above makes clear, recovery is going to be a very long, very hard journey--if indeed it comes.