Sunday, March 19, 2006


Angela Lansbury Travels & Speeches

Angela Lansbury Author, Travel Writer & Speaker
Angela Lansbury
Author of ten books including: Wedding Speeches & Toasts; Unforgettable British Weekends.
Travel articles for many magazines and newspapers.
Radio and TV broadcasts worldwide.
English tutor.
Writer of 0n-line books and articles.
English teaching and speech mentor.

Travel Stories
High In Shanghai:
    When I visited Shanghai in 2000 I stayed in the Grand Hyatt, then the highest hotel in the world. Was my rosy view of Shanghai due to the fact that I stayed in such a glamorous hotel?
No. Shanghai is still my favourite city and the Shanghai people, even the machines installed by unseen well-wishers, seem as concerned about my welfare as I am about theirs. I am glad my taxi driver in Shanghai, like taxi drivers in New York, is protected from robbers by a plastic screen. I am protected by a robot voice which reminds me to fasten my seatbelt. But there is no seatbelt.
    We race along under the impressive monorail carrying the world's fastest train. Shanghai taxi drivers speak no English so you need a map or a handy bilingual business card showing your destination written in Chinese and English. The driver needs the Chinese. You need the translation into English to that when you have two or more cards in your pocket you know which one is the next exciting place you are visiting.
   Your hotel concierge writes your destination on a card, like in Hong Kong. At the end of your taxi journey an efficient bilingual ticket machine noisily pushes out a bill. Everything is unnervingly, yet strangely exhilarating, maybe because everybody is so happy. Wouldn't you be happy if your city had progressed from a city of bicycles and Thirties architecture to a thriving city of 16 million, full of cars and skyscrapers covered in neon lights?
   My best friend recalls how a taxi driver was annoyed at being cut up by another vehicle. The taxi driver waited until the next traffic light, then jumped out and beat up the other driver, shouting and hitting him on the nose. My friend wondered what to do, sneak off and look for another taxi driver, who would also speak no English. Impossible. She stayed. Her driver came back, said nothing, because she could not speak Mandarin, and drove her to her destination.
At the weekend we drove to the pretty lake district of Hangzhou. As we sped along the motorway, traffic overtook on both sides. Our driver decided to go faster, speeding along the slow lane's hard shoulder.
   Hangzhou is another city of skyscrapers and traffic. The Western lake is thronged with Chinese weekenders cycling around the lake and walking along the causeway over the humpbacked bridge.
   On a restaurant terrace overlooking the river we ate Beggar's Chicken, cooked in a lotus leaf from the lake. The sky was grey with pollution and the grey water did not suggest fresh lotus leaves, but the chicken was so succulent that I shall spend the rest of my life scanning Chinese menus searching for Beggar's chicken.
   Back in Shanghai, being nearly thrown through the windscreen twice is a bit alarming, but each day watching traffic having near-misses from a distance is hugely entertaining. Every morning I sit watching the amazing traffic far below the window of our service apartment. From the 23rd floor of The Hong Kong Plaza skyscraper, I can watch the chaos at eleven intersections, more amusing than Nintendo. Cars in the fast lane decide at the last moment to turn left at the junction, diagonally across four lanes of traffic.
Drivers force their way through crowds of resistant pedestrians, six abreast. Pedestrians on zebra crossings are an easy target; the white makes them more visible. So, in order to avoid running them down, the cars speed up and screech their tires to frighten the walkers and hoot loudly.
   Ten years ago Shanghai had six lanes of motorcycles. Now the cyclists are all driving cars and coaches. Like cyclists, buses weave in and out, only stopping if they meet mirror-image vehicles head-on in the middle of the intersection. When nobody can move, there is nothing you can do except hoot loudly, as loud as you can to be heard above the other twenty vehicles also hooting.
   Pedestrians are unphased. If you worried about life expectancy, you would never cross a road.
I loved the former French quarter, which became the Jewish refuge in WWII. From the Jewish Museum I took a walking tour, guided by a Chinese man who had lived through that era. He led me out into the middle of the six-lane road and stopped, not to avoid the trams, trucks, coaches and cyclists, which dodged around us, or forced us to leap aside, but to point to various landmarks including the art deco cinema. What with traffic noise, my eyes being on an approaching bus, I was having trouble understanding the unfamiliar pronunciation of English, so I had difficulty concentrating. My guide said, "I watched John Rain. Do you know John Rain?" I nodded to show I was listening, even though I wasn't. Eventually I was able to assure him, "Yes, I know of John Wayne."
   My guide was in his eighties, so he probably didn't have long to live anyway, but I was hoping to live at bit longer. I insisted on returning to the pavement prematurely.
    We walked around the streets crowded with Chinese people, all black-haired. I was the only blonde, blue-eyed, pale-skinned Caucasian for miles. I lifted my camera to photograph lines of washing hung between the trees along the roadside, and local people, who obligingly looked towards me. I gradually became uncomfortably aware that the main tourist attraction in the area was me.
   You don't tip taxis in China, nor waitresses, just like in the heyday of the Communist era, tipping is not done and suggests at best bribery, at worst corruption, and nobody wants to lose their job. When my American friend tried to tip, the waitress returned the money indignantly. Tipping is an insult. In Shanghai the only girls who are given tips are sexy go-go girl dancers.
   A favourite winter food is snake. At a Toastmasters meeting we were told that there would be a ten-minute break for 'a drink and a snake'. It took a second to realise that we were being offered a drink and a snack.

Malaysia's Twin Towers
   In Kuala Lumpur we visited the Petronas Towers. Such a thrill for me, as I'd seen them in the film starring Katherine Zeta-Jones.
   The trip up to the viewing platform is so popular that you have to queue for timed tickets. While waiting, you can walk around the basement exhibition which explains how the towers were constructed. The base is a traditional eight-pointed shape, consisting of two squares at different angles.
   The base of the towers is an ultra-modern shopping complex with glass-sided lifts. We stayed in the hotel next to the complex. This is Muslim Malaysia and at breakfast a Saudi woman with her face covered in a veil is attempting to eat breakfast and remove crumbs from her skirt. The hotel staff are mostly Chinese and waitresses slink around in erotic slit-sided skirts and cheongsams.

  In Singapore I went to meeting of Toastmasters, to practice public speaking, hear speeches, network and make friends.

Speech in Shanghai
Training in Singapore
Advanced Toastmaster Silver.

Work in Progress
Speeches for Advanced Toastmaster Gold.

I am writing a set of five novels based on the history of my family. I have completed the draft of my first book, working title Heime's Escape, which begins in 1880 in London's East End.
I have just started the second book, based on the lives of my late parents.
My third novel, The Mad Musician, is based on my late uncle Arthur Gerard.
My speech about him begins: 'My beloved uncle Ronnie caused trouble from the day that he was born until the day that he died, trouble to his mother, trouble to his sister, who was my mother, and trouble to his niece, me.'

I am also preparing:
E-book on giving speeches.
E-book on writing CVs.
E-book encyclopaedia.
E-book on quotations.
See my webpages : (This has links through to my books on Amazon.) (Pages on: Travel; Jewish travel and quotations. Short story; opening chapter of humorous historical novel Second Marriage, Second Chance.)
I am also in the section on about us in

We are doing improvisations, rehearsing for our Graduate Showcase. One of the guys on my course is gay. I'm wrong. Three of them.
One of our improvisations was 'introduce the speaker on your left as if you hate him'. I don't hate anybody and find rants difficult. One of my colleagues said, if you can't think of something you hate, just talk about what annoys you. I would never sabotage anybody deliberately as a compere. I think it is the height of bad manners and reflects badly on you and embarrasses the audience. However, the hate-filled compere scenario worked well, producing a couple of laughs.
The guy on my left was bisexual.
I said, 'This is my good friend, on a day when he's not feeling so good. He's gay, so half of you will like him.'
He stood up and said sourly, 'I'm not gay - I'm bisexual!' ROFL.

My comedy course is above the Enterprise pub beside Marine Ices opposite Chalk Farm station. My colleagues have their Graduate Showcase there on Monday night. I am listed for the following Sunday.
We used to meet weekly above the Victoria pub near Mornington Crescent on Tuesdays. I recommended the course, if only as a means of exploring how one feels about the first excercise, high status and low status. Do you want to pretend to be a king or a servant? Do you actually feel natural in that role or do you like sending it up?Very relevant to the dominant submissive, male female, boss employee roles in life too. The course costs £354.
My friends from Toastmasters were also on a similar course costing about £110 at the City Lit. That course had a waiting list of 16 people last time.

Publishing and Copyright
I'm about to start selling e-books. Publishers keep sending me contracts saying I'll indemnify them for any losses if we ever get sued. (Mainly for copyright.)
If I'm going to bear all the losses, I want a bigger share of the profits.

The Wedding
I went to a brilliant Orthodox Jewish wedding on Sunday at the Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue in Notting Hill. Such a pretty little synagogue with stained glass windows and a blue dome in the centre of the ceiling. Although there was a women's gallery the women were seated downstairs on the right of the wedding canopy, called a chuppah, which had white flowers twined up the four posts and a silky canopy like a four-poster bed.
The ceremony started with the bride circling the bride seven times and ended with the seven blessings recited by six rabbis. Not the usual one of olden days, not the opulent three, but six.
At the reception at the Cafe Royal near Piccadilly and men and women sat together at the dinner tables seating up to 14. The women were given fans.
Between each course the band struck up with rousing music and the bride raced to her side of the potted plant barrier. We women are chased after her to join in the hora and other dances resembling the Gay Gordons. Men and women were dancing separately but the bride was lifted on a chair above the potted plants so she could wave at the groom who was lifted on a chair on his side and there was much hilarity. A traditional way of ensuring that absence makes the heart grow fonder. ROFL. All that vigorous dancing sets the dopamine running through your veins. The bride was ecstatic and so was everybody else. Such a delightful day.

Monday Breaking The Board
My son Anthony is helping launch a charity called Quest. When he was at school at Merchant Taylors a guest speaker caused a sensation by giving a talk on martial arts during which he demonstrated breaking a board with his bare hands and he got the boys to do the same.
So one of Anthony's contributions was to organize boards for people to break at the first Quest meeting. I went to the dress rehearsal last week when three of us listened to the talk and the two others broke the boards. I didn't and my son advised me not to.
However, on Monday night he had bought thinner boards and this time I attempted to break the board. You do a dry run first, lifting your arm and bringing your hand down on the board in the correct spot at half speed - you might be advised to bring your hand down flat, not sideways. To everybody's surprise and shock, mine as well as theirs, on the dry run I smashed the board straight through.

Boiler Check on a Boiling Hot Day - Thursday 15 June 2006
The gas boiler check was done today.
The inspector does a CO CO2 ratio check. He said it was.0001 parts per million, and compared with others of the same model at that age, about 25 years, it is very good. If the reading is above .004 you have to strip and clean the boiler.
He said the old boilers are more reliable than the new ones.
I commented, "The gas company keeps telling me I need a new one."
Though not necessarily as good as new boilers, the man said the old boilers were reliable.
But the new ones are half the size and fit on the (back) wall.
He explained that the black 'soot' at the top of the cupboard is not smoke but heated dust because the cupboard is overheating due to lack of ventilation. To prevent that we could simply leave the cupboard door open.
I asked, "How long will this boiler last?"
He shrugged, "Who can tell?"
I queried, "How will I know when it need replacing?"
He said, "It will leak, a puddle of water on the kitchen floor. And you'll have no heating."
(I quipped, "And then I ring the gas company - but they say they are busy!")
He checked the radiators for corrosion. He said you can see when they are going rusty. The radiator most likely to go first is the one in the bathroom. The radiators are all fine. The peeling paint on the bathroom radiator is merely cosmetic.
He said I should ask the insptectors to come back in winter to balance the radiators. You have to run radiators for two hours and he did not have time to hang around two hours today. (Couldn't he have done another job and come back?)
He said I wouldn't want the heat of the radiators on today anyway.
He turned the thermostat up and said the heat was coming through on all radiators.
He said there's a 'balance' on each radiator. The lounge radiator is probably the last on the circuit. If you leave all the radiators on full, the heat races around the first one and does not reach the end of the line; so that's why our lounge is cold. We have to block off the first one the most, then the next a bit less, and leave the last one on the circuit full on.
That's the most useful information I've had. I never knew that. Now I know I don't need to spend thousands on a new radiator. If I did it would make no difference.
I just need to phone the gas company to balance the radiators (free if I'm on the higher maintenance tariff). If not, we could probably do it ourselves.
I'm so glad I asked. If you chat to maintenance people you always learn something useful which you probably would not get if you rang the head office.
Love from Angela

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