On doing barbecue in England

A Manhattan in a bottle. This may have taken the sting out of eating barbecue in England.
A Manhattan in a bottle. This may have taken the sting out of eating barbecue in England.

They laughed when told there was a recommended barbecue place in Leeds, England, but hunger drove them to seek it out. However, they held me responsible if it turned out to be worst than cold mushy peas.

Kathy is especially upset when forced to eat American food in foreign places. Still thrown up to me is the worst desecration (in her mind) of all time: Eating in a McDonald’s on the Champs Elysees in Paris.

“We’re in Paris, for God’s Sake,” she cried — and has ever after and that atrocity (in her mind) happened back in 1992. No matter that we had hungry, crying children to feed: “We’re in Paris, for God’s sake.”

So asking her to eat American barbecue in England was a tough sell. Plus, we had to wait to get into Red’s True Barbecue. “This better be worth the wait. You’re never picking another restaurant again if this turns out to be awful.”

The Corn Exchange in Leeds is now filled with shops.
The Corn Exchange in Leeds is now filled with shops.

So the five of us (we are now traveling with Dave, Tina and Ben Carpenter) moseyed around the Corn Exchange next to Red’s until it came time to face the music (American rock ‘n’ roll) at Red’s.

A Manhattan served in a bottle smoothed the way for Kathy. A huge selection on the menu meant something for everyone. I chose “The Sleepy James.” It was the special developed after Red’s 2014 pilgrimage to the American South. They go each year and bring back something new to share with Leeds.

The Sleepy James comes from the Dodge Gas Station in Memphis, Tenn., and is named for a near toothless wanderer near the place. “Sleepy” rambled on about drinking moonshine since he was five but started making sense when the talk turned to techniques for smoking meat and fixing barbecue.

The Sleepy James involved waffles, barbecued chicken, bacon and greens. It was delicious. In fact, it was all delicious, according to my four sticky-fingered traveling partners.

I might get to pick a restaurant again.

Dave and John at Red's True Barbecue in Leeds, England.
Dave and John at Red’s True Barbecue in Leeds, England.

Many places visited, much to tell, not enough time to tell it

Blenheim Palace
Blenheim Palace

We have a lot of catching up to do: A visit to Blenheim Palace, drinking and eating in Leeds, walking the moors in Bronte country, hiking in the Peak District, tasting Bakewell tarts and returning to Oxford for a day punting on the Cherwell River.

The highlights of the past week were a hike along the Curbar Edge (in the Peak’s national park) and the punting (with the Carpenters’ son, Ben, doing the hard part, using a pole to push us along the river). The rest of it was just laughs with old friends, the excitement of some very close rugby games and excursions across some beautiful English countryside.

The only event that disappointed was a talk by Simon Schama at the Sheldonian Theatre here in Oxford. We had read an excerpt from Schama’s new book, “The Face of Britain: The Nation through its Portraits” and thought his appearance here in Oxford would serve two purposes: We would hear an interesting talk and we would see the inside of the Sheldonian. Mostly a waste of 20 pounds. The acoustics in the theatre, built in 1664 and designed by Christopher Wren, suck. Maybe Wren didn’t have a good audio engineer working with him. For one-eared John this was a total loss, Kathy thought she might have followed 70 percent of it and a woman we talked to on the street said she only got every other word: The . . .of . . .The . . .through . . . Portraits, or something like that.

The outside of the theatre is ornate, classic and one of the most interesting buildings in a city of interesting buildings. The inside is a theatre in the round with old, dark wood — nothing that comes near to matching the outside.

So there’s the one disappointment of the trip (besides the hassle with Vodaphone). One nay to a chorus of yeas for positive experiences.Owl fly

We had a lovely drive through the Cotswolds on the day before friends John and Trish went off to London. We stopped at nearby Blenheim Palace, built by John Churchill, later to become the Duke of Marlborough, who was awarded the estate by Queen Anne for his victory at the Battle of Blenheim, fought in 1704 in Bavaria and the key to keeping the nasty French and Spanish from joining forces to rule the world. A big step in advancing Britain’s effort to rule the world.Red fly

The Palace is also the birth place of another famous Churchill — Winston. Kathy and I got behind two tour buses entering the Palace and diverted to a display on Winston’s life. Very good on what they included, but there was not a mention of Gallipoli, a not-so-very-good idea of Winston’s in World War I.

The grounds of the Palace included a butterfly house where not only the butters fluttered but small birds also held forth. Could have stayed all day.

However, it was on to the villages of the Cotswolds, their funny names, the stone walls marking the fields and regrettably the many tourist shops that now inhabit most buildings in the towns.

There’s more to tell, but it will have to wait as we are off to Bath today with a new set of visiting friends, then on to Cardiff for the Wales-Fiji game, which could make or break England’s effort to stay alive in the tournament.

Wales beat England on Saturday night, 28-25, in a game England could have tied if they had chosen to take a penalty kick. Instead, they tried a “Japan,” opting to try for a try but failing to get it as Japan did in their win over South Africa.

Fiji has not won a game yet, but Wales went into the tournament with injuries and sustained more on Saturday night. So Fiji has a good chance, which would give England a fighting chance, if they can beat Australia this Saturday night, when we will be at a play in London.

Wait. We will be inside a theatre during the England-Australia game? Surely a mistake in the scheduling. This can’t happen, can it?

A look at what's to come: Hiking in the Peak District.
A look at what’s to come: Hiking in the Peak District.

U.S. coach frustrated by team’s second-half effort

Mike Tolkin, head coach of the U.S. rugby team, didn’t like the Eagles’ second-half performance in their loss Sunday to Scotland.

Speaking at the post-game media conference, Tolkin blamed the failure to sustain a winning first-half effort on poor lineout play, too many penalties and Scotland’s ability to keep the U.S. from pursuing the planned approach to the rest of the game.

Chris Wyles, the U.S. captain, told the media he didn’t think Tolkin’s assessment was too harsh.

Second-half letdown isn’t new to the Eagles. The U.S. stood 14-8 behind at the half against Samoa in its first game in the Rugby World Cup before giving up 11 points in the second half and only scoring eight more in the eventual 25-16 loss.

So what is it that leads to second-half letdowns? Tolkin blamed it on the lack of professional experience on the part of many U.S. players.

“Without professional play in the U.S., players don’t get those week-to-week tough games to harden them,” Tolkin said.

Which raises the question of how U.S. players can get the kind of professional play that Tolkin is talking about. The formation of a professional league within the U.S. seems a daunting task.

Where would the games be played? To collect admissions, control of the gate is needed, but most U.S. rugby games are played on open fields. So stadiums are needed. Does that mean playing on the narrow fields of American football stadiums?

Building stadiums for rugby seems an unlikely financial event at this time although some clubs are beginning to secure their own grounds. The Glendale, Colo., Raptors and Atlanta Old White come to mind.

Absent professional play in the U.S., prospective Eagles will continue to find it in other lands, where they compete for spots with players from Pacific Island nations.

Even if Tolkin had his choice of 15 players from the top clubs in Europe, Australia, South Africa or New Zealand, he would have the problem of getting them all on the same field enough times for them to jell as a unit. Another daunting task given the competing professional schedules and the practice needs in the run-up to the World Cup.

There’s still South Africa and Japan to play in this World Cup, but it’s hard not to look ahead to 2019 when the World Cup is in Japan. For now, it looks like developing players in the States and serving as a farm system for professional leagues in other countries may be the U.S. best hope for making it through pool play in a World Cup, which isn’t going to happen this time around despite Tolkin’s statement Sunday that the Eagles still intend to win in the two remaining games in Pool B.

In the first half, aggressive tackling by the U.S. caused several mishandles by the Scotland team.
In the first half, aggressive tackling by the U.S. caused several mishandles by the Scotland team.

U.S. leads Scotland at halftime but can’t hang on to win

Titi Lamositele of Bellingham is on top of the loose ruck as the United States has the ball out against Scotland
Titi Lamositele of Bellingham is on top of the loose ruck as the United States has the ball out against Scotland

The United States rugby team led Scotland 13-6 at halftime in their Rugby World Cup match but could not hold up to the Scot’s spirited attack in the second half and went down 39-16.

The Eagles are now 0-2 in pool play with South Africa and Japan left to play. Scotland has won both of their games and leads Pool B halfway through the competition. The top two teams will advance to the quarter finals.

Titi Lamositele of Bellingham bulled over for a try to lead the U.S. to a their halftime advantage on Sunday at Elland Roads stadium in Leeds, England. At 20 minutes into the game, the Eagles won the ball from a lineout, had it out to the back line where No. 8  Samu Manoa filled in to crash through the Scots’ defense. Stopped about five yards out from the try line, the U.S. won several loose rucks before Lamositele took the ball and pressed it into pay dirt.

The U.S. scored first just past a minute in the game on a penalty kick by Alan MacGinty. But Scotland took advantage of mistakes by the U.S. to take the lead 6-3 on two penalty kicks.

The Eagles’ hard hitting seemed to put the Scots off their game, and several mishandles kept them out of the try zone.

But in the second half, Scotland found ways to score from all over the field, from the back line on the outside, then from an inside back move. Then the forwards pushed over a try before Scotland got one more from their backs. The U.S. had steady possession at the end of the game, but their best chance was lost when Olive Kilifi of the Seattle Saracens lost control of the ball when tackled hard five yards out from the line. The knock-forward resulted in a Scotland scrum and a clearing kick to get out of trouble.

But

MacGinty added one more penalty before the half, which ended with the U.S. up 13-

Bellingham player leads U.S. in first half against Scotland

Hard tackles like this one by Thretton Palamo led to mishandling by Scotland in the first half.
Hard tackles like this one by Thretton Palamo led to mishandling by Scotland in the first half.

Titi Lamositele of Bellingham bulled over for a try to lead the U.S. national rugby team to a 13-6 halftime advantage over Scotland Sunday at Elland Roads stadium in Leeds, England.

The Eagles’ hard hitting in their second match in the Rugby World Cup seemed to put the Scots off their game and several mishandles kept them out of the try zone.

The U.S. scored first just past a minute in the game on a penalty kick by Alan MacGinty. But Scotland took advantage of mistakes by the U.S. to take the lead 6-3 on two penalty kicks.

But at 20 minutes into the game, the Eagles won the ball from a lineout, had it out to the back line where No. 8  Samu Manoa filled in to crash through the Scots’ defense. Stopped about five yards out from the try line, the U.S. won several loose rucks before Lamositele took the ball from the ruck and pressed it into pay dirt.

MacGinty added one more penalty before the half, which ended with the U.S. up 13-

Canada loses 23-18 to Italy

Canada played a great game and had their chances but could not finish a couple of tries with about 10 minutes to go, which would have given them control of the outcome. After that Italy had plenty of possession and the penalty kick with seven minutes to go pretty well sealed it.

It was the most points Canada had scored against a top nation since a 32-20 loss to France in 1999.

The game ended with Italy camped five yards out from the Canada try line. After three collapsed scrums, the referee awarded the Italians a penalty, but the kicker scuffed it off to the side and full time was called.

Pacific Northwest, home of North America’s best rugby

Canada vs. Italy about to kick off at the Elland Road Stadium in Leeds, England, the first rugby union international game to be played here.

Of the 31-man Canadian squad, 11 of them come from British Columbia. Five of the players on the U.S. side come from either Seattle or Bellingham, WA. Pretty much makes the argument that the best North American rugby is to be found in the Pacific Northwest.

The Castaway Wanderers from Vancouver Island have four players on the Canada team. The University of British Columbia Old Boys and the James Bay team from Victoria, B.C., each have two. University of Victoria, the Capilanos of North Vancouver and the British Columbia Bears each have one.

Barbecue in England? It’s on the weekend itinerary

American rugby fans can expect to be outnumbered in Leeds this weekend by the supporters of Scotland.

“Scotland will be the biggest group for Leeds with the U.S. a close second,” said Charlotte Rutherford, PR and Marketing Manager at Leeds City Region Enterprise Partnership.

Leeds is one of the closest game venues to Scotland in the Rugby World Cup, and Rutherford said the city will be filled with Scots arriving to cheer on their team in Sunday’s match against the USA Eagles.

Canada will play Italy on Saturday at Elland Road Stadium, the first rugby union international to be played there.

Rutherford noted that for the CEO of USA Rugby, Nigel Melville, having rugby union in Leeds is like a homecoming for him as he was born in Leeds.

Rutherford said Leeds is a compact city so that fans can visit a lot in a short time. But if you only have time to visit one thing, Rutherford suggested the Henry Moore Institute. The “VisitBritain” guide to the tournament says the institute celebrates sculpture and is named after Leeds College of Art’s most famous graduate. It says the institute is “part of the Yorkshire Sculpture Triangle, which is the largest collection of modern sculpture in Europe.”

Rutherford also suggested the Leeds Art Galley, which the guide says has a broad range of exhibitions.

For food, Rutherford was downright enthusiastic about Red’s True Barbecue. BBQ in England?

“Each year Red’s takes a pilgrimage to a Southern U.S. state and brings back what they have learned and shares it.”

See you there.

Random thoughts, from Regents’ roses to powerful plays

Regents Park in London.
Flowers were still in full glory at London’s Regent’s Park in mid-September.

By Kathy

We’ve just said farewell to our good friends Trish Espedal and John Sims, having had a great time together exploring, eating, discovering and eating some more. We’ve been busy enough to keep me off the keyboard til today, so I’m playing catch-up with a few random observations. To wit:

Roses in Queen's Circle in Regents Park.
In Queen Mary’s Gardens, “Singing in the Rain” roses.

The Wednesday before Trish and John arrived, I had my first day alone — to wander around London while John toured the town of Rugby. I began with a stroll through Regent’s Park in the heart of the city. It was amazing that, despite the constant cacophony that is London, I could walk just a few yards into this lovely park of 395 acres and feel serenity. Black swans gliding on a peaceful pond; willows gently weeping; birds chirping and cooing; curved benches under wooden arbors arranged in graceful arcs. And roses. Thousands upon thousands of roses in Queen Mary’s Garden. One more beautiful than the next, in every color and size, practically as far as you could see. I didn’t want to leave.

This gardener has a very green thumb.
Just inside the gate at Regent’s Park, a topiary gardener with a very green thumb.

But after a restful ramble of more than two hours, I was off to sleuth out the location of the Sherlock Holmes Museum — at 221b Baker St., of course. It was easy to spot, given the crowd of enthusiasts standing outside waiting to get in. The museum is really an old home, outfitted just as it might have been if Sherlock were really there. As visitors prowl through four floors of rooms set with period furniture, they’re treated to displays of everything from pistols and antique prints to the tools of the detective’s trade and wax figures posed in scenes from his famous cases. I was mostly on a mission to find a trinket for my brother (a Sherlock aficionado) — and that was more than easy to do!

Blustery weather turned to a torrential downpour that lasted the rest of the day. By the time I met John, I was soaked to the skin. I’d taken refuge in a great tapas bar for as long as I thought decent, and trolled through Selfridge’s and H&M long enough to buy some dry socks and warm up a bit. But I was worried. John and I had tickets to see “Kinky Boots” that evening, and I was still wet from the knees down. But once we were in our seats, I had on my new socks, and the lights dimmed, all was well. The performance was, by turns, hilarious and outrageous, pointed and poignant (I sobbed through the pretty much the entire singing of “I’m not my father’s son”). Theater doesn’t get much better than it is here.

It was equally fine a week later in Shakespeare’s hometown, Stratford-Upon-Avon. “Henry V” was on stage at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, and it was a treat to see it so well-acted, from the foppish Dauphin’s pratlings to the earnest king’s stirring “band of brothers” speech on the eve of battle. It was a fitting end to a day spent mostly at Bletchley Park, where, centuries later, the British waged a different war, laboring in anonymity to unravel the ultra-sophisticated military messaging systems of Hitler’s Germany. The work, recently highlighted in the book/movie “The Imitation Game,” is thoroughly explained through various media, including interactive games and recorded interviews with those who were there.

While the movie focused on the tragic story of Alan Turing, the exhibit takes a sweeping view of the whole enterprise. We see and hear stories of the painstaking work done not only by the nation’s brightest minds but also by ordinary folks: folks like the women who listened for hours on end to the tapping of Morse code, translating it to pages and pages of seemingly meaningless letter combinations that were then decoded by other teams. All worked for hours on end in dark, cramped, often cold huts, most not having any real idea what they were doing, and all under strict orders to keep silent about their activities — even to those in other huts.

I wonder if, in these fractious, more cynical, some would say selfish times, so many would sacrifice so much for so long — trusting their government’s word that it was being done for the greater good.

Trish and Kathy in front of our hotel in Brighton.
Trish and Kathy in front of our hotel in Brighton. This one’s for you Lynn!

Rise of second-tier rugby nations still seems a dream of the future

U.S. in action against Samoa.
U.S. in action against Samoa.

What to make of Japan’s 45-10 loss to Scotland Wednesday?

Last Saturday after defeating South Africa 34-32, the Japanese were giant-killers, hailed as the vanguard of second-tier rugby nations moving up to compete with the best in the Rugby World Cup.

That did not appear the case on Wednesday. Japan held the Scots to a 12-7 halftime lead and then added another penalty to make it 12-10 soon after the break. But from then on it was all Scotland, as they ran in try after try, picking up the bonus point for scoring at least four in a match.

Japan had little possession, lacked a defensive answer to the Scots and even at the end could not score a face-saving try despite multiple phases with the ball. That was a change from Saturday when they chose to go for a try and a win rather than a penalty kick and a draw. They succeeded then but didn’t have the power or finesse to do so Wednesday.

So what happened? Was the Saturday game a fluke? A very bad day for the Springboks and a tremendous day for Japan? Or maybe South Africa is not the powerhouse of years past?

On Wednesday, the Japanese were playing on four days rest after a bruising game against South Africa. They may have surprised South Africa but lost that element against Scotland.

Scots were playing their first game of the tournament Wednesday. They will face the United States on Sunday with only four days rest, but much of the second half against Japan saw many reserves on the pitch. The Eagles can’t count on much of a break from Scotland’s short turnaround.

Mike Tolkin, the US coach, said after the Sunday loss to Samoa that he wanted fewer penalties and a more steady game from the Eagles in their next game. The Eagles will need all of that and more this coming Sunday in Leeds.

After looking at the four tournament pools, it’s hard not to come away with impression that the second-tier teams still have a ways to go, despite what Japan managed last Saturday.

How things stand:

Pool A: Wales and England each have five points in the standings. They play each other on Saturday.

Pool B: Scotland has the lead with five points and plays Samoa on Saturday. Samoa and Japan each have four points, South Africa has 2 and the U.S. none.

Pool C: New Zealand and Georgia each have four points. The All Blacks play Namibia tonight. Georgia, which surprised Tonga in their first match, plays Argentina on Friday. Hard not to see New Zealand taking control in this pool.

Pool D: France clobbered Romania 38-10 on Wednesday and has nine points to lead the pool. Ireland picked up five points in its 50-7 win over Canada last weekend and play Romania on Sunday. The Irish could take the pool lead with a four-try performance on Sunday. With two teams advancing from each pool, this one seems a likely candidate to come down to the last pool match on Sunday, Oct. 11, when the French and Irish meet.