A Prairie Home Companion with Garrison Keillor

GK's Travel Diary
Here, GK keeps in touch while on the road.

Home—March 9, 2004

There was no time to write on Monday. Up early and off to the House of Lords where my old boss at Faber Matthew Evans had arranged for us all to have a tour and lunch and then watch a debate on the subject of judicial reform, which is a hot issue right now. Matthew is a Labourite going back to childhood and is uncomfortable being addressed as Milord and in fact seems a little uneasy about the whole nobility business with its royalist touches and the dim cathedral-like atmosphere but the Blair government has severely reformed it, casting out most of the hereditary peers and moving toward making it an elected upper body. It has long served a purpose as a sort of public forum where issues can be aired and debated before Commons is ready to take them up. The tour, conducted by a Welsh tour guide, had a definite royalist tinge and was all about ritual and where the Queen sits when she gives her speech at the opening of Parliament and where she dons the crown and so forth. The chamber itself is long and narrow and for this debate it was quite crowded. The controversy has been front-page in the papers for days. Unfortunately I had to hop on a train to Brighton to do a show at the old stables of the Prince Regent ---- his old summer castle is there by the sea, with its dome and its turrets ----- one look and you realize where Walt Disney got the design for the castle at Disneyland ----- where the Prince went for assignations and such. Got back to London around midnight, then up early for breakfast with Malene and Peter and Marius, and then a quick cab trip to catch the train to Gatwick and get on the plane. Eight hours home, which isnít bad when you have a lot of work to do, and it was good to get here. Snow on the ground and spring some distance away, but hereís where the heart is and my girls and the radio show, so here I am. And now that I'm here, I'm heading out to California.

London—March 7, 2004

Took the train up to Bath, a lovely town on the London-Reading-Bristol line with an abbey church and a Wife of Bath Cafť (guess which nationís tourists thatís aimed towards?) and a magnificent Guildhall from which the town is run by a council and where I did a show in the Great Banqueting Hall to about eight-hundred people, part of the Bath Literature Festival. A terrific crowd and crystal chandeliers and grand oil paintings around the room of grand seigneurs and magistrates in ermine robes and swords and stuff. Very ornate. A man introduced himself to me afterward and told me that wherever he goes people always ask him if he is me. I gave him a good look and didnít see the resemblance and it was disheartening to think that people were seeing me in him. Iíll bet guys walked up to Cary Grant all the time and told him the same thing.

Walked to the train station to catch the return train and bought a box of sushi from a cafť near the station and took it aboard the train and the third piece I ate was bad fish and I spat it out and didnít eat anymore and have now waited two hours for the projectile vomiting to start and it hasnít. Sat with my brothers and sister and had a two-hour conversation about family history ----- this trip is turning into a seminar ----- and waited to vomit and didnít. So I guess Iíll go to bed. Tomorrow is Parliament and then Iím ready to go home.

London—March 7, 2004

Another long breakfast discussion this morning, family history and a lot of footnote material, discussion of our beloved Aunt Eleanor and how magical she was, and Uncle Bobís role as oldest boy in the family and how he had to be the foreman on the farm because Grandpa was old and make the other kids work. Delved into other topics ----- will Martha Stewart be allowed scissors in prison? Can she decorate her cell? ---- but mainly spoke about family history. Talked about making a family website, to which people could contribute historical material. Discussed the problem of keeping our family focused on history when we have such a strong evangelical tradition and this distorts history by selecting only those bits of history that lead to a clear spiritual moral ---- e.g. Joe Crandallís drowning in Trott Brook that led our Dad to a personal commitment to Christ ---- and eliminate all the stuff that is confusing ---- e.g. human nature.

Came back upstairs and took a shower which is a confusing experience here. One should not be irked by such a small thing, one should focus on larger spiritual things, but English plumbing is in its early experimental stage, I believe. Lots of pipes and tubes and faucets and gizmos, but you get the water going out of the shower head and the temperature keeps changing. And tiny adjustments of the faucets produce vast temperature swings. You crank the cold faucet down 1/360th of a full turn and the water goes from arctic to volcanic. A man hates to spend fifteen minutes taking a shower, for crying out loud. At home in the land of the free, we have showers with two controls ---- a knob that sets the temperature and a knob that controls volume. You leave the temp knob set at 100 degrees or so (thatís Fahrenheit, pal) and when you jump into the shower, you simply crank on the water and there it is. Two minutes and you jump out all pink and happy and youíre done. Why is this not possible here? And who can I put that question to? Tomorrow we pay a visit to the House of Lords, courtesy of an old friend from Faber who is now the Labour Whip for Lords, and perhaps I shall mention this to His Whipness if the conversation should tend in the direction of personal cleanliness. Or godliness.

My niece Jackie came over, who lives an hour from London and owns a glassware shop. Itís odd to be related to somebody with that accent, who refers to motorways and lifts and pronounces bath bawth. But then she comes from the southern branch of the family that fled the winter and took off for Florida forty years ago. They have their own odd accents and theyíre all Baptists and if you should mention George W. Bush around them with less than religious reverence, they get all quiet and squinty. He is to them the Apostle George and all of his works are good and pure if only we have the faith to believe. So we all have our little peculiarities, everyone except me. I am a journalist, an empty slate, and I simply record the lives of others and pass on information, a public service, like the phone company.

London—March 6, 2004

A long talk over breakfast this morning about family history and our parentsí elopement and marriage and the schism in the Plymouth Brethren in 1948 that divided our family ---- all of these things fascinating to us and not so to our spouses and deadly boring to our children, and thatís why you take a trip with siblings. Our spouses wouldíve been up and away from that breakfast table and off to the Tate Gallery or the Elgin Marbles or the Glass Daffodils at Denham Palace but we are happy to sit and natter about kids we knew on the West River Road in 1955 and so forth. I will not bore you with the details. When you marry, you leave your father and mother, as Scripture says, and you beget and start a new family, but somewhere inside us we are eight years old for the rest of our lives and that is why you hang out with your siblings.

We go to J.M. Barryís play ďPeter PanĒ this afternoon, speaking of being eight years old, and supper with the British wing of the family tonight. (At an Italian restaurant.) Except brother Stan is going to a football game. He is, for reasons none of us can understand, a passionate soccer fan and is going to take the Tube out to a distant suburb and sit quietly in the stands among drunken burly obscene men, some of whom will get into a brawl and others will vomit on themselves, and there will be arrests and an item in the paper (9 INJURED IN TWITCHLEY GREEN RIOT) but heíll enjoy the game. Which will probably be a 1-1 tie.

Last night I got lost on the Tube trying to get to Hammersmith and arrived late at the theater for ďOliver TwistĒ and missed the orphanage part ("Please, Sir, may I have more?") but the rest was absolutely splendid, a new adaptation done in a lovely and utterly earnest melodramatic style, not campy at all ---- how could it be anything else? ---- and Oliver of course is a stuffed owl but Mr. and Mrs. Bumble are good parts, and the Fagin was really magnificent. A fabulous villain, sneering and prancing and wheedling and cozening and stalking the stage. You looked at him and you just wanted to be that actor, having the chance to sneer like that and do that creepy voice. By George, American theater is short on really good evil characters. And when Bill Sykes is caught after murdering Nancy and hauled away, and then a trap in the ceiling opens and the actor comes dangling down with a noose around his neck, slowly turning, the rope audibly creaking and groaning, Sykes dead and stiff ---- Oh it is so good. But Fagin is a great beautiful crŤme brulee of a part. I regret that I have never created a really good villain. I am going to work on this.

London—March 5, 2004

Busy busy. A reading last night at Foyle's bookshop on Charing Cross Road to about a hundred folks tucked into the gallery on the 4th floor, near Military and Art and not too far from Humor. About half of them seemed to be Americans, some college students on their Junior Year Abroad from Smith and Wisconsin and Stanford and Michigan, and some Americans married to Brits. And one lone Norwegian, young Anders from a little town north of the Arctic Circle, tall, dark, pleasant, here to study theater.

Afterward went to Wapping to visit my daughter Malene who is finishing a novel and at work on a biography of Hans Christian Andersen. And her husband Peter, a violinist just home from tour in the States. Took a cab back to the hotel and thought the driver said, "Fifty pounds," which seemed steep to me, but heck, I'm a midwesterner, I don't argue with these people, and I don't want to look like a piker, so I handed him fifty and he looked at it in astonishment and handed me back thirty-five. Fifteen pounds. Big difference.

Worked non-stop on the book this morning before and after a trip to the BBC TV studios to do four and a half minutes on one of those morning news shoes with a man and woman co-anchor, just like in the U.S., and then more book revising, and then to the BBC for a couple interviews, one with a writer named Francine Stock, a lovely intelligent soft-spoken woman who's written a couple novels, the most recent is Man-Made Fibre, which I mean to read. Waiting to go into the studio to do the interview, I sat for fifteen minutes and overheard six big fat old Brits standing around pontificating and blowing and showing off for each other in their most theatrical accents and I wanted to slap them, each one. But didn't. And Ms. Stock, who is all Brit herself, made up for the aggravation.

A play, "Oliver Twist," tonight and then "Peter Pan" tomorrow with Malene and Peter and their little boy Marius and then something else happens.

A boring report. Sorry. Will try to get hit by a cab or something interesting.

Travel Diary Archives

European Book Tour 2004
Tue, Mar 9—Home
Sun, Mar 7—London
Sun, Mar 7—London
Sat, Mar 6—London
Fri, Mar 5—London
Thu, Mar 4—Glasgow/London
Wed, Mar 3—Glasgow, midnight
Wed, Mar 3—Glasgow, p.m.
Wed, Mar 3—Glasgow
Tue, Mar 2—Paris
Tue, Mar 2—Berlin/Paris
Mon, Mar 1—Berlin, a.m.
Sun, Feb 29—Berlin, p.m.
Sun, Feb 29—Berlin, a.m.
Sat, Feb 28—Berlin, p.m.
Sat, Feb 28—Berlin
Fri, Feb 27—Berlin, p.m.
Fri, Feb 27—Berlin, a.m.
Thu, Feb 26—Berlin

European Tour 2001
Sat, Mar 10—Dublin, 2 a.m.
Fri, Mar 9—Dublin
Thu, Mar 8—Dublin
Thu, Mar 8—Dublin
Wed, Mar 7—Dublin
Tue, Mar 6—Dublin
Mon, Mar 5—Berlin/London
Sun, Mar 4—Berlin, 4 a.m.
Fri, Mar 2—Berlin
Thu, Mar 1—Berlin, p.m.
Thu, Mar 1—Berlin, a.m.
Wed, Feb 28—Berlin
Sun, Feb 25—St. Paul
Mon, Feb 19—St. Paul

Rhubarb Tour 2003
Mon, Sep 1—Louisville, KY
Sat, Aug 30—Oklahoma City
Fri, Aug 29—Santa Fe, NM
Wed, Aug 27—Medford, OR
Sun, Aug 24—Seattle
Sat, Aug 23—En route from Sacramento to Seattle
Thu, Aug 21—Over Iowa

All Entries
March 2004
February 2004
September 2003
August 2003
March 2001
February 2001

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