I’ve always wanted to visit the U.K., and during the Kenya trip last year it was really quite frustrating to be there — we were flying British Airways, and had layovers at Heathrow in both directions — and not be able to leave the airport.

This time, we’ll be on KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, and so this year’s City I’ll Miss Actually Seeing will be Amsterdam.

Sibling pride

My sister, a single mom with three kids, has been taking some online courses from a community college. One of them was a speech communications class. She asked me for advice several times while putting together presentations, but I was really impressed by how much work and thought she was putting in — and that’s in between her job and a busy sports schedule for all three of the kids.

She got her final grade today; she was expecting a C but hoping for a B.

What she got was an A.

Speaking as her big brother, I am very proud.

The good, the bad and the ugly

John, Paul and Frank
I’ll let you sort out which one is which.

Seriously, this is me, Pastor Paul Mbithi and Frank Schroer tonight in Tracy City, where LEAMIS threw a surprise American-style birthday party for Pastor Paul before he and Grace return to Kenya later this week. My parents and I drove up for the party so that they could meet Paul and Grace (and some of my other LEAMIS friends). A good time was had by all, and we watched a terrific DVD that Kylene had made up for her partners of last year’s trip photos.

I’m excited about Kisii this fall, but I will really miss being able to work with Paul and Grace, who are two remarkable servants of God.

Hitchhiker’s followup

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the GalaxyGeorganna, a fan of the “Hitchhiker’s Guide” books who doubts she would enjoy the movie, expressed some puzzlement at my previous comment about Zaphod Beeblebrox’s two heads. She noted no two-headed actors in the cast list, after all.

I’ve only seen snippets of the old BBC TV series of “Hitchhiker’s,” but if I recall correctly they used a crude physical special effect to put a second head on Zaphod’s shoulders. The new movie handles things a bit differently. Zaphod appears normal most of the time, but when his second head is referred to, he leans his (primary) head back and a second “head” — little more than a face — appears about where his throat should be. The effect is annoying, and doesn’t ring true to what’s being referred to in the dialogue, even for such a bizarre and whimsical concept. However, Zaphod’s second head is removed and held for ransom at one point in the movie, and so we don’t have to worry with it after that.

Phisch, meanwhile, has the opposite problem. She asks if the movie would be at all accessible to someone with no knowledge of the books.

To be honest, I have no way of answering that question. I’ve read and re-read the books so many times since 1981 that there’s no telling how much I took for granted while watching the movie. I know the story so well that it’s hard for me to even imagine watching it from the point of view of a novice.

On the other hand, I think you could get much of the humor even if some of the plot twists left you scratching your head on first viewing. And the special effects will be much more effective on the big screen.

So I guess I’m not being helpful at all.

More on Hitchhiker’s

The one reservation I had about the “Hitchhiker’s Guide” movie is the special effect for Zaphod Beeblebrox’s second head. It didn’t really work for me. I didn’t mention that in my earlier review because it almost seems like a quibble — and maybe it is. But I just ended up mentioning it on a message board posting and figured I’d better mention it here too.

And thanks for all the fish

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the GalaxyI told my Kenya teammates this weekend it was a measure of my commitment to the trip that, for their sakes, I was missing the opening weekend of a movie I had waited 24 years to see.

I was too tired to take in a movie after returning from training on Sunday, but as soon as I left the office today I got in the car and headed straight for Tullahoma, to take in the 4:10 showing of “The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy.”

I was not disappointed. The filmmakers have deftly captured the whimsy and the basic plot of Douglas Adams’ book while making it work on its own level as a movie. My brother in California, another fan of the book, and I talked about this a week or two ago. He pointed out that purists have little grounds to complain about plot changes — after all, Adams’ book differed from his original BBC radio script, and Adams’ TV script differed from both of them. Adams had worked for years on the movie script; after his death, another writer brought it to completion.

The biggest difference between the book and the movie, as a million other reviewers have already pointed out, is that the romantic tension between Arthur Dent and Tricia “Trillian” McMillan — only hinted at in the book — has been turned into a full-blown romance; the movie ultimately pivots on Arthur and Trillian’s relationship. I can live with that and think it made the movie more entertaining and accessible to a mainstream audience without running too far afield from Adams’ tone.

Of course, if this turns into a movie series, it means that somewhere down the line the plot will diverge even further from the books. In the fourth book, “So Long, And Thanks For All The Fish,” Arthur finally finds his soulmate — and it isn’t Trillian.

Anyway, the “Hitchhiker’s” movie is perfectly cast. Mos Def and Sam Rockwell, in particular, may not fit what I had imagined of Ford Prefect and Zaphod Beeblebrox. But in some ways they’re better than what I had imagined. Martin Freeman as Arthur and Zooey Deschanel as Trillian are terrific, and so is Bill Nighy as Slartibartfast.

The voice-over talent deserves special praise: Alan Rickman is Marvin the android (By Grabthar’s hammer he is!), Helen Mirren is fine as the voice of Deep Thought, Thomas Lennon (“The State” / “Viva Variety” / “Reno 911”) is perfect as Eddie, the sickeningly cheery computer voice, and Stephen Fry, last but not least, is the ideal voice of the Guide itself.

John Malkovich has a terrific cameo as a character developed by Adams especially for the movie. I kept waiting for him to reappear; they must be saving that for “The Restaurant at the End of the Universe.”

I just hope I don’t have to wait another 24 years.

A sudsy tale

Soap-making is normally a very precise formula, and the ingredients must normally be measured by weight. But, due to some miscommunication, we didn’t have a kitchen scale on Saturday when Carolyn Schussler started teaching me the cottage industry that I will teach in Kisii. So we had to guesstimate based on Carolyn’s experience. But there were a couple of unknown factors — the lard we used wasn’t the nice, white lard Carolyn normally finds in her own local store; it was more of an off-white color and had a slightly softer, slightly-grainier consistency. Also, the wooden spoon we used to stir with obviously had some sort of food residue deep within; it turned a dark color and seems to have been responsible for a very slight scum on the surface of the melted soap.

Me, making soap

Maybe that’s why I have such a serious expression in this photo. Even so, I learned the basic process. I have a batch of soap curing; it may be just a tad softer than it is supposed to be, but it was enough to teach me the basic idea. It must cure for two months, of course, until all of the remaining lye reacts with the fat and the soap is no longer harsh and caustic.

I’m hoping to go and visit Dave and Carolyn in Mississippi one weekend this summer for some more intense training. Carolyn and I have been teammates on both of my previous foreign trips (Nicaragua in January 2003 and Kenya last year), but this was my first opportunity to meet her husband, a really delightful guy who assured me that I was just as Carolyn had described me.