Sunday, October 14, 2018

An Army On The March

And if the darkness is to keep us apart

And if the daylight feels like it's a long way off

And if your glass heart should crack
And for a second you turn back
Oh no, be strong
Walk on, walk on

What you got they can't steal it

No, they can't even feel it
Walk on, walk on

- U2
Couldn't let the fall season pass without acknowledging the efforts of an ever-growing army of walkers who took part in this year's Jimmy Fund Walk on the historic Boston Marathon course, and in particular, the herculean efforts of two of the generals in Annie's Army, Jackie and Heather.
For more than 15 years, members of our extended family have been taking part in the fall classic along the roads of Wellesley, Newton, Brookline and Boston, covering the back 13.1 miles of the Boston Marathon race course.  For several of those years, we had our Commander-in-Chief Annie leading the way, smiling and high-fiving all the supporters along the way, garnering cheers for her courageous battle against leukemia.  But we lost Annie to the disease on July 26, 2016, and while her footsteps can never be replaced for the event, her two biggest walking buds still carry on the journey in her memory.
Jack and Heather walk now to support Annie and all of the people (and families) who have battled against so many various forms of the disease.  It's unimaginable how many lives have been impacted by the disease.

This year, more than 8,000 walkers pounded the pavement to help raise more than $8.5 million to support the folks at Dana Farber in their efforts.  Thank you to each and every one of them.

But thank you especially to these two besties, who share a lot of laughs, blisters, and sometimes tears along the course.
Along the way, as you can see, they pause to give a pat of support to the Jimmy Fund warriors highlighted on the mile marker posters
It's perhaps ironic that our favorite stretch of the course is on the access road that runs parallel to a stretch of road that is the LEAST favorite stretch of road of almost anyone who's ever run in the actual Boston Marathon itself - Heartbreak Hill.
This year, several of us ran legs of varying distance on the course, with almost all of us connecting on the road between the Newton Fire Station and Boston College
Right before we started up the hill, we collected members of the Nicholson Clan and their friends, as the army's numbers swelled - welcome Andrew, Katie, Ben, Beatriz, Don, John, Cindy, Cheryl, and Zachary!
Heather really, really, really, LOVES Heartbreak Hill
Zachary, Cindy, Ben and Beatriz even logged some steps running up the legendary mountain
The last time Ben ran this hill on Marathon Monday in April, it was raining SIDEWAYS!  He wasn't smiling then, but his spirit was just as strong
Strike a pose, everyone! 
As always, Jack and Heather had to pause for their annual Annie pose before heading into Kenmore Square's Victory Mile!
One mile to go!
Boston Strong, and Annie Strong to boot!
The finish line! 
Ran into my fellow St. Joseph's High alum, Bill Mahoney, with his fighter/survivor walking partner Laurie!
And yes, because I know everyone frets through this every year, Andrew was able to score his cupful of clam chowder at walk's end.  The poor boy was nearly wasting away after his efforts on the course, but we made sure he got the sustenance he needed to get him to his next meal waiting in the wings.
Again, thanks to everyone who supports Jackie and Heather's fund-raising efforts every year.  It's our little contribution to the never-ending battle.
And it's one these two buds are more than honored to carry on in Annie's name!

And I know it aches
And your heart it breaks
And you can only take so much
Walk on
walk on

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Downton Abbey Road

Finally, the girls were about to visit the place they'd waited years to see in person, the site of one of their favorite TV shows, Downton Abbey.  To get there, though, we had to log a lengthy train ride, and to get there, we had to pass through Paddington Station.
Paddington is a central London railway terminus, one of its busiest since it first opened in 1838.
The children's book character, Paddington Bear, was named in honor of the station.  In the Michael Bond books, the bear is found at the train station, have arrived from somewhere in Peru, along with a note pinned to his jacket reading "please look after this bear."  The girls did their shift looking after the bear, sitting alongside the station by Marcus Cornish alongside Platform 1.
And from there, we were off to Hampshire, England!
The day provided everything the ladies wanted for a number of reasons, the most important of which we'll get to at blog's end, but for starters, it was the perfect backdrop for these two proper ladies 
So the actual castle's name is Highclere Castle, country seat of the Earl of Carnarvon, but the home itself provides the backdrop and filming setting for the hit PBS show.
The history of the home dates back centuries, but most of the rebuilding of the home was carried out in the late 18th and early 19th centuries by the Carnarvon family, who converted the previously standing red brick house into the classical Georgian mansion that it is today.

The Carnarvon family lives in Highclere during the winter months, and return to their cottage on the grounds in the summer months, when the castle is open to Johnny Foreigners such as Jack, Heather, and I.
Mister Bates just opened the door for Heather to come on in.
 No photography of any type is allowed inside the castle's rooms, so we'll see you when we come out!
And here we are!
Naturally, us left-footers as the Granthams might have called us, had to have tea and scones in the basement of the castle.  Not sure if Mrs. Patmore was the founder of this feast.
The castle currently features an exhibit about Egyptology, since one of the home's previous earls sponsored the excavation of several tombs, and himself accompanied the archaeologist who discovered the tomb of Tutankhamun in 1922.
My own little archaeologist was especially excited about that historical section of the tour.
We didn't have our own valets or footmen, so it was up to us to make our way around the grounds on our own.
Time to explore some of the 5,000 acres of the property.
First up:  Jackdaw's Castle, which was built in 1743 by Robert Herbert who had inherited the castle from his mother.  It was built using Corinthian columns salvaged from Berkeley House in London. For me, it gave me my Samson moment.
For Heather, another opportunity to look beautiful and give me some modeling shots.
Bernadett, take note!
Out back is Highclere's Secret Garden, and yes, it did serve as the locale for the 1987 film of the same name.
A quick smooch for the Lord and Lady before we move on

So, a parting note about most likely the most rabid Downton Abbey fan you'd ever meet, Jack's sister Annie, who sadly passed away two summers ago.  Anyone who knows her, knew her as Lady Anne when it came to Downton.  She obsessed about all of the character interactions, developments, and drama that the show provided every week.  She'd have her cuppa tea each week to accompany her viewing.   Heck, she even wrote a weekly blog about it, and it's still linked to the right of this post.
Annie and Jack made a trek to England as sister-buds back in the 1980s, but for this Highclere visit, it was a chance for Jackie and Heather to experience the tour and remember all of the scintillating and raucous debriefs they'd have with Annie after each episode.
She couldn't make it there in person, but she was certainly there in spirit with her two buds, and truth be told, we brought a bit of Downton back via some wildflower seeds to help solidify her connection.
This visit was dedicated to Annie, our own Dowager Countess!

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

There In The Beginning, And In The End - the Cavern Club

Sadly, our Beatles tour bus dropped us off at our last stop, the world-famous Cavern Club.  Sadly, because I could have ridden on those wheels for hours, listening to the tour guide's stories supplemented by a Beatles soundtrack, and checking out the childhood stomping grounds of some of my favorite musicians of all time.
The Cavern Club first opened its doors in a cellar at 10 Mathew Street in Liverpool on January 16, 1957, featuring the Merseysippi Jazz Band playing before a crowd of more than 500 fans of jazz.
On August 7th of that year, the Quarrymen Skiffle Group debuted, a six-man band led by one John Lennon.  Paul McCartney would make his debut with the band there the following January.

Then came Thursday, February 9, 1961, when the Beatles, now consisting of Lennon, McCartney, George Harrison, Stuart Sutcliffe and Pete Best on drums made their debut at the club.   They would continue on as the club's signature act.

That November, Liverpool businessman Brian Epstein, the owner of a nearby record store, stopped by the club for lunch and saw the Beatles for the first time.  He offered to become their manager and secured a recording contract for them by the following June.
In all, the band would perform there 292 times.
Then four lads from Liverpool left their hometown for global stardom, the Cavern Club was elevated to legendary status and became a weigh station for hundreds of other artists.
Who else played their tunes from this vaunted stage during that ensuing decade?  Oh, a few other musical acts known as the Rolling Stones, the Yardbirds, the Hollies, the Kinks, Elton John Black Sabbath, Queen, and my other favorite British band, the Who.
A respectable lineup.

Here's where the story reaches heartbreaking proportions.
The club closed in May of 1973 and was demolished.  Yes, you read that right.
It reopened across the street, in a new address, but the original fell to the bulldozers.
And it gets worse.  In 1985, new owners of the club decided to wipe out the Beatles legacy, thinking the group had run its course, and opted for a disco.  Shockingly, it failed after just over one year.
Cavern City Tours bought the club in the 1990s, and began restoring it to its former glory.
McCartney would return there for a concert in 1999.
Adele performed there in 2011, a fact not lost on both Jackie and Heather, who were quite pleased to see their fave performer's name adorning one of the bricks in the club wall.
Happily, whilst there, I got to raise a pint in honor of the four lads from Liverpool, as a solo musician played his afternoon setlist on the iconic stage, complete with, of course, some Beatles covers. 
For those of you who've come along for this Magical Mystery Tour ride, I hope the pics helped give a taste of the flavor of the most nostalgia-filled, emotional, and inspirational bus ride I've ever had the pleasure of taking part in.  Music historian and fellow Beatles buff Paul Marion frequently quotes bucket list items in terms of  wandering the annals of music history.  Rarely do I indulge in making such a list, as life has so much to offer, it seems nigh impossible to create a list that would encompass everything I've wanted to drink in or experience, especially with my family by my side.  (Though a pilgrimage to Asbury Park and the Stone Pony with Andrew a few years back did foot the bill.)
But in this case, with the Magical Mystery Tour, I'm willing to add one colossal CHECK to that list.

We're Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band
We hope you have enjoyed the show
Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band
We're sorry but it's time to go
Sgt. Pepper's lonely, Sgt. Pepper's lonely
Sgt. Pepper's lonely, Sgt. Pepper's lonely
Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band
We'd like to thank you once again
Sgt. Pepper's one and only Lonely Hearts Club Band
It's getting very near the end
Sgt. Pepper's lonely, Sgt. Pepper's lonely
Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band

And finally, with a nod to my favorite of the Fab Four, John

If the sky that we look upon
Should tumble and fall
And the mountain should crumble to the sea
I won't cry, I won't cry
No I won't shed a tear
Just as long as you stand, stand by me

Monday, May 28, 2018

Nothing To Get Hung About - Strawberry Fields Forever

Living is easy with eyes closed, misunderstanding all you see
It's getting hard to be someone but it all works out
It doesn't matter much to me

Let me take you down, because I'm going to Strawberry Fields
Nothing is real and nothing to get hung about
Strawberry Fields forever

Our Magical Mystery Tour continues....
The origin of Strawberry Field dates back to just after the Civil War, when the property was owned by a rich ship owner named George Warren.  He built a gothic mansion on the site, complete with the wrought iron gate, gardens and flowers.
Strawberry Field was the name of a Salvation Army children's home (nee orphanage) opened in 1936, near John Lennon's childhood home in nearby Woolton, which is a prestigious middle-class suburb of Liverpool.
John remembered the grounds fondly from his youth as a place of escapism and his own "secret garden."
His Aunt Mimi, whom he lived with nearby, tried to thwart him from visiting the grounds because she thought the setting would be a bad influence on the boy who'd been abandoned by both his father, and later, through a second marriage, his mother.  When Lennon was a baby, his father Alf abandoned them, and his mother Julia hooked up with another man who didn't want John in the picture at all.  John was shipped off to his mother's sister's home in Woolton.  When John and his Aunt Mimi would  argue about his going to Strawberry Field, John would reply, what are they going to do, hang me?  Ergo, the line - nothing to get hung about

No one I think is in my tree - in Lennon's own words: "What I'm saying, in my insecure way, is 'Nobody seems to understand where I'm coming from. I seem to see things in a different way from most people.'"
Yeah, there's days I get where he's coming from
Again, another surreal moment as we drove down the roadway approaching Strawberry Field and had the song piping in overhead, as seen here in this quick video:

The children's home was closed in 2005 when there was only three children remaining in the home, and the property has essentially been abandoned ever since.
Lennon left money in his will to sustain Strawberry Field.  His widow Yoko also made donations to the home to keep it open.
  The Salvation Army is now planning to reopen Strawberry Field to the public for the first time in decades, allowing visitors to explore its grounds.  It's going to feature a new training center for young people with special education needs.  Thankfully, it will also feature an exhibition space dedicated to the history of the grounds.
Truth be told, the pitstop at Strawberry Field was somewhat startling, depressing, and a stark reminder of the need for us to preserve history.  The morning we were there, we were one of two busloads of tourists visiting the site during a 15 minute span.  I found myself thinking it was a missed opportunity for a fund-raising campaign.  I would have gladly made a donation to help preserve/restore the green space if there was a functioning visitor's center at the site.
I've been to the American version of Strawberry Field in New York's Central Park across from Lennon's Dakota apartment, as you can see, and seriously, it has more of a feeling of respect, homage, and tribute than the authentic article.
Here's Mendips, the house where John lived with his Aunt Mimi at 251 Menlove Avenue
An interesting fact from our tour guide - see the blue plaque beneath the window?  The English Heritage only allows for the affixing of those award plaques when the subject of honor either reaches 100 years old, or has been dead for 20 years.  Lennon's could be posted in 2000.  Harrison's can be placed on the home seen in the previous blog in 2021.
Thankfully, Yoko Ono bought the property and it was was eventually protected by the United Kingdom's National Trust and preserved as a museum.  Paul and Martin took the National Trust tour back during one of Martin's summer holidays home.
Yoko Ono visited Lennon's home just a couple of weeks back and shared this pic on her Instagram account, with the caption "I feel John here with me...I love you John. Yoko'"
Supposedly, Lennon wrote Please Please me here in this room
John's tough childhood would continue, as one day, his mother came to visit him here at this house, but he wasn't home.  As she left, she was struck by a car while crossing the street and killed. John was 17.  The driver of the car, an off-duty policeman believed to have been intoxicated, beat the charge, and according to our Magical Mystery Tour Guide, it's that incident that many believe fostered Lennon's distrust of authority.
Just a few blocks away, is one of Paul's seven Liverpool homes, at 20 Forthlin Road, said to be the favorite of his family's during their years in Liverpool.
This too, has been protected by the UK National Trust. Lennon and McCartney allegedly wrote I saw Her Standing There here at this location

Paul's mother, Mary, died of cancer when he was 14, and that death, coupled with the death of Lennon's mother, was seen as a traumatizing experience that bonded the two even closer.
McCartney said the impetus for Let It Be was a dream he had about his mother, about 10 years after she died, in which she came to him in troubled times, bringing him peace.

Hearing Let It Be as we drove the streets between McCartney and Lennon's home was another in a series of unforgettable moments on the tour.

Here's a quick video clip of that moment:

Next up: the tour's final stop, an underground cavern