millionreasons: (wine)
I have been doing other things. Some weeks ago, during the rainy season, we went on a wine tasting in Sussex, near Bexhill. I didn't realise until we arrived that they only create sparkling wine and the vineyard was thus full of people doing tasters for their wedding and old folk talking about their trips to France. Mind you, wherever you go in England, there're old people on day trips. I preferred it when OAPs stayed at home, knitting and occasionally heading out to the WI to moan about the youth of today. We learned several things: to protect the grapes in the spring, they use thousands of large candles to warm the air, that wine shouldn't be served ice cold (5°C for white) and that red shouldn't be served room temperature, unless you have a pretty cold room (15°C), and that some sparkling wines use white grapes and some red. Traditional champagne is a blend of Pinot noir (red), Pinor meurnier (red) and Chardonnay (white), which perhaps explains why I'm never really reet fussed about champagne. I'm a cheap and cheerful Prosecco girl (although out of the five in the tasting, the wine I liked the most was the expensive 100% blanc de blanc vino). I also learned that the reason a cava cork went directly into my nose after I'd fiddled with the metal casing when we were in Barcelona was because it wasn't cold enough.

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We went the weekend after the weekend after Brexit and I could help but see everything through that prism. The winery used French machinery, because no-one makes it here. They rely on specialist grape picking Eurolabour, who move up through Spain and Italy, then France and Germany, and finally Britain through the summer.

I also went to the Serpentine Pavilion on the hottest day of the year, which, come to think of it, I did last year. There's something about heat that makes me want to go sit on the Central line. On the way home, I spent quite a lot of time sitting in the air-conditioned Stratford library, considering moving in until it was all over.

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Last Saturday, we went to Hastings, where there was rather a chill breeze blowing. I came here twenty years ago for a bank holiday weekend and thought it was a shithole. At first glance, my opinion didn't change: people hanging around with cans and arguments, a recreation ground bulldozed for a shopping centre, the usual high street. Then we mooched our way into the old town and I changed my mind, this was Brightonified, but Brighton of a few years ago where junk shops didn't charge London prices and you could make a living off of a second hand book shop. We had lunch in a friendly cafe, then walked to The Stade, which houses the Jerwood, as well as a sort of fisherfolk area. The blackened huts used to store nets and ropes but now stand as a memento, a tribute, a memorial. There's no harbour here so the remaining fishing boats have to be dragged down to sea.

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We went onto the pier, which I remember from 1996 hosting a load of olde pre-war slot machines. They're all gone and the pier has been poshed up with little huts selling artisan coffee and a gift shop selling repo posters from Hastings's heyday. I am annoyed at the gentrification until I read in the little museum that the pier burned down in 2010 and has only just been rebuilt. The shop sells postcards of the fire.

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Instead of paying the reasonably hefty fee to go into the art gallery, we played minigolf on the only internationally recognised crazy golf course in Britain. Indeed, behind us was a man with special clubs who chatted to some other guys about playing crazy golf in Dubrovnik and who was attending a championship game in Lisbon next month.

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We took the East hill lift (funicular) up to the top and wandered around a bit, finding the (locked) castle ruins, before going down for chips on the prom Marine Parade, and to see then the Nuns at the Albion, part of the Beatwave festival - for those who believe the 60s were the best decade. The Nuns are Britain's premier all-female Monks tribute act and they rock like heck. After that it's Los Fantasticos, four grey-hairs with guitars, skull-covered black shirts and a trumpet. They play surf music, which owes a lot to Mariachi bands and nothing to Brian Wilson. After that it's time to go home because I don't trust the train not to abandon us somwerehe near Orpington. We avoid a visit to Flairz, Brtiain's premier Flares 70s bar tribute pub.

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millionreasons: (london)
Last Saturday, we went to Gravesend. The latter was a lot nicer than I expected. I wanted industry, bleak riverscapes, urban blight, and I got all that in Tilbury, where our train landed.



We went to the Elizabethan fort, near where ER I made her "I may have the body of a weak and feeble woman etc." speech. There are no Elizabethan or even Tudorbethan bits left: it was mostly Georgian. I was mostly fascinated by the officers' quarters in little terraced houses, the large room with fireplace and night stand, like a posh B&B. We read that the private soldiers were sleeping 18 to a dorm, some sharing beds. Most of the terraced houses are cordoned off, people are living here now.

The other cool thing was the long dark spooky tunnel, which was the magazine (i.e. the storage unit for the artillery). I could feel all the dead soldiers down there.

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We took the ferry over to Gravesend, which is actually a nice little Georgian town despite its a) name and b) reputation. We had lunch in a tearoom, saw the statue of Pocahontas, visited a Sikh temple, wandered the windy lanes and um, went to the shopping centre. As in Hartlepool, it feel that with a bit of investment, Gravesend could be great. A tall ships festival, a Pocahontas parade, a Kentish food market, a nature reserve. Something.

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All pics by moi, except the dodgy guesthouse.
millionreasons: (marnie)
On Yorkshire Day, we went to Kent, which, despite what my mother claimed, wasn't shut*. We took a trip from Queenborough on the Isle of Sheppey: a suprisingly nice Victorian port with a Dickensian harbour (one can imagine Magwitch rising up out of the marshes, and a press-gang** catching the drunken sailor unawares in the Old House pub), littered with boats, one olde sailboat is complete with photovoltaic hub, and the Grain Island power station lurking in the background. A plaque next to an anchor tells us that we're looking out at Dead Man's island where Napoleonic prisoners of war were interred and then buried. The right of way is permitted by Abbot Labs, which is behind us: I wonder if their half-pig half-human experiements will rise, zombie-like, to flee to roam the marshes, ending their undead days on Dead Man's island.

Redsands Sea Forts - 03 - 01-08-2015 10:55:19

Anyway, we're here to do a trip out to the Red Sands sea forts on a fishing smack run by a man only known as the Skipper and his first mate Mark. The boat takes almost two hours to get there, as the forts turn from black spots on the horizon to old fashioned Hollywood tripod cameras to alien landing crafts to At-Ats frozen in time on a post-climate change Hoth to strange, huge, physical, rusting hulks collapsing into the sea. The clouds blow away and we sun ourselves on the deck. The Skipper kept mentioning that the charity that runs the tours needs £30,000 to renovate one of them to use as a hotel (hopefully not a prison for migrants). We saw a posh Tea Clipper from Whitstable on their tour, but we have to ignore it as they are the arch-rivals of the Skipper and Mark. There is also a small red boat, basically a dinghy with an engine, that has attached a rope to one of the forts and we can see a figure running around on the roof. I think it's urban explorers (maybe this is the cool new thing to do now that Bill Turnbull has decried tombstoning), but the Skipper is convinced that they're thieves, asset stripping the edifice. We circle around them for a while as Mark shouts that he's called the PLA (Port of Lonon Authority) who'll be out to get 'em. Eventually we set off back to the harbour and have chips in the town (we're at the seaside, after all), before getting the train back to London.



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Redsands Sea Forts - 27 - 01-08-2015 13:38:29

Redsands Sea Forts - 07 - 01-08-2015 11:43:56

* She even said that the Eurostar wasn't running due to the migrant "crisis" - I'm thinking of booking the care home for her now.
** Georgian, rather than Victorian
millionreasons: (men)
England made me, but England frustrates me. I want to write a long complaint about trains and you, yes, you have to read it. In ye olden days of the early '90s, if you wanted to go anywhere, you rocked up to your nearest train station and bought a saver (valid after 9.30 a.m. Mon-Fri and bank holidays) or a super-saver (valid weekends apart from Jul and Aug). Then privatisation happened. Now, I don't think that privatisation was wholly a bad thing. Obviously it's 95% a bad thing, but it did open up new routes: for example, when I lived in Sunderland (1991-95), the only place you could go to was Newcastle, but now you can travel directly to such exciting cities as Liverpool. Ditto, there used to be a Doncaster - Manchester train every two hours, but now they are more frequent. Also, if you book 12 weeks in advance you can buy cheaper tickets than twenty years ago. It's the suckers who don't book 12 weeks in advance that are paying for the rest of the service, probably me shelling out £200 to go to Doncaster if and when (when) my parents fall ill.

Adverts for train services are all: Look at this beautiful countryside, overcrowded Londoners, but you can't do anything at the last minute because the weather looks good. You have to plan, you have to book, you have to search for the cheapest offers, you have to spend 45 minutes negotiating with the computer (and the printer, because that's another way train services save money by charging you to print tickets). We decided to go to Dunwich, the city that fell into the sea. Dave wanted to cycle some of the way so that meant buying three different tickets. Because it cost £26 (single) to go to Sudbury on one line, he decided to go to Manningtee, which is a few miles away, but £10 cheaper on another line run by the same train company. When he got to the station, they told him he couldn't take his bike on the train because he'd got there too late and the guard's van was locked. No-one seemed to care that he'd booked on that train, even the next train's conductor, who, on some lines, get commission for charging people who are mistakenly on the wrong train. Having a guard's van and being able to safely leave your bike is great, but every other train in the whole of the south east has a carriage for bikes and wheelchairs. There was no information at Liverpool Street to indicate this, in fact the man at the ticket barrier told me "Carriage D" (as per my ticket), but didn't say: take your bike to the guard's van at the front. The trains were British Rail stock (BR was stamped on the window that you had to open to unlock the door from the outside) and were made in the 1960s. According to a train nerd at Liverpool St, they were about to be decommissioned in the 90s, considered unsafe, but not under the new privatised companies who carried on using them.

We've had trouble going east before. A few years ago, Jo had her fortieth birthday near Wickham market. The last train before the "rush hour" kicks in was at 2.30 p.m., i.e. two and half hours before people normally leave work. I couldn't even get to my reserved seat, the squash was unbearable. One time we went to Southwold, the train back from Darsham was cancelled so we had to wait TWO HOURS for the next one. The conductor told us off for being on the wrong train. At Darsham there are now TV screens, but a few years ago there weren't, and it was up to the taxi driver whose office was next to the station to come tell us there was a replacement bus. No bus turned up and anyway, we had bikes with us. We pointed this out to the ticket inspector and his response was "Well, I'll let you this time," as if he were doing us a favour letting us travel two hours later then we wanted. On British trains, you are treated worse than a Ryan Air passenger.

The day didn't get much better as Dave got two punctures shortly after we set from Darsham to the coast. He walked and I cycled alone, ending up at Dunwich Heath, which was beautiful, desolate, loomed over by Sizewell B. It wasn't as bleak as Dungeness, dotted as it was with holiday apartments, National Trust tearooms, and sandy heather, but it reminded me of it in its stark prettiness. Dave had gone to Dunwich village with its ancient ruins, friendly but limited greasy spoon caff and helpful cyclists. On the way back, it started to rain. There's nothing more tedious than cycling in the rain and I'd have cancelled the planned day out if the forecast had indicated rain. But no, we couldn't do that, because we'd paid for train tickets and my Doncastrianess is not going to let me flush £30 down the toilet.

When we arrived at Darsham, soaked through and shivery with half an hour to go to the train, we espied a plant nursery with a café (the only one in the area; Darsham station doesn't even have a Pumpkins). After locking the bikes, walking through the gardens, going into the shop, and right to the back of the building where the café was located, sitting down, THEN they said that they were closing "so we have time to clear up", forty minutes before the advertised time. If there had been a sign or a closed door or even some indication that 5 p.m. closing actually means 4.20 p.m., I would maybe have felt less aggrieved, but instead, I slid into a massive strop against England and its hopelessness. It feels like you're either stuck in noisy, over crowded London with its amenities, or you make an effort, hindered on all sides by train companies, to go into the countryside where's there nowhere to buy a a puncture repair kit or a coffee at 4.20 p.m. and it just rains constantly. Yeah, yeah, this is first world problems, but I checked my privilege and I was heavy with PMT, so all of this complaining is justifiable.

I haven't even started on Virgin trains.

Poop Show

Apr. 21st, 2015 08:54 am
millionreasons: (london)
I enjoyed our trip to Abbey Mills last year and so was interested in Crossness pumping station’s Open Day. This was a different kettle of sewage though, a full grown tourist experience with a café, bric-a-brac stalls, local history society and people dressed up in Victorian garb (incongruously teamed with a mobile phone, a packet of crisps, a high viz vest). There was even a Victorian goth in purple lace hanging around the basement. At these things, I expect a few old men who wanted to be engineers, but there are always families (a family fun day out to a sewage pump!) and even some Young People: the ones sharing our minibus from the station had a definite whiff of hipster about them. I am not really concerned with engine specifications but I’m always interested in How Stuff Was, how things operated in the olden days, how London was before investment bankers and the aforementioned hipsters took over. And it looked very beautiful:

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(Photos by David).
millionreasons: (london)
The bloke (and he is a bloke: he comes off like a cross between Windsor Davies and Al Murray) who takes us 'round the brewery is A Character. Tells us about his life in Abbey Wood, his marriage, his epicurean tastes. He names one of the Northern Irish visitors "peanut" and makes jokes about the Italians. He's one step away from calling the women "sweets" and the men "geez". He takes the piss out of Tripadvisor review. He gives Dave and I a free additional glass when we own up to being vegetarian.



Usually on vineyard or brewery tours, you get the history, the marketing, the "why we're different", their method of alcohol production before the booze so your whistle is wet, your anticipation is high, you exit through the giftshop after the free drinks, but here we drink for an hour (London lager, pale ale, California pale ale - my orangey favourite - Yakima red and chocolatey stout) whilst smelling the different types of barley and hops (which look like hamster pellets) before hazily wandering around the stainless steel beer factory. It seems a bit of a health and safety risk to allow slightly pissed people near heavy machinery.

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Afterwards, we fill up on school dinner stodge from Goddard's, and end up, away from the tourists and family groups, in the Yacht, watching the air go dark and the lights come on over the river.
millionreasons: (marnie)
On Saturday, we did the first trip of the year out of London, and the first cycle ride, which I thought a terrible idea (in fact, I fully expected that we wouldn't do it as it would be pissing it down - or snowing - but it was a bright and brilliant day): I like cycling when Spring has bloomed and you can spot the flowers and buds and lambs and feel the change of the season in a way that you can't in the middle of the city. Stopping for a short break is unpleasant when it's 5°C, and picnics are out of the question. But the West Sussex countryside looked pretty - instead of lambs, there were llamas and rather than cheese and pickle sarnies, we ate in Pooh Corner, which was more a tweeshop than a teashop, themed as it was around everyone's favourite ursine and his Ashdown Forest chums. Even the bread was Pooh-shaped. But the food was both nice and cheap and they didn't mind me sitting there whilst the boys went up a hill and down a slope in the search of 100 Aker Wood and I sat and read a Richard Brautigan novella until a man asked me to vacate the table.



We ended up in a tiny village just as the sun was staining the countryside yellow and found a pub before it got dark to refresh us before the long train ride back to London.
millionreasons: (pankhurst)
We've been to Brighton twice already this year, but didn't do any Brightony things like the beach and the Laines and stuffing my face with the finest veggie food BN1 has to offer. So to rectify this, we went down there on the rickety crickety Thameslink train, oh, and to see some gig that Dave's friends were putting on too.

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Brighton is different. You think it's basically Zone 9 of London, but they have their own customs. Here, every other girl has blue, green, or turquoise hair, to match the sea. Heterosexual men kiss each other on the lips by way of greeting. B-town's symbol is a broken pier. They have an Indian-style temple for a stately home. People have their own power source - at the gig, many of the punters are dressed up in personal fairy lights. When someone starts shout-singing The Twelve Days of Christmas in the pub, someone else tells him to shut the fuck up - but no fight ensues.

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Carnival

Jul. 22nd, 2014 11:27 am
millionreasons: (pankhurst)
Saturday, we went to the mysterious East, aka Walthamstow. We visited several nice pubs, a brewery on an industrial estate (Dom commented that when he'd visited the similar London Fields brewery, some black people passing said: "White people'll drink anywhere! They look so happy!"), through the Village with its cute cottage and half-timbered houses, and finally The Chequers, which I last drank in on 6th August 1995, the day when the pubs were allowed to open all day on Sunday. Then it was an old geezer boozer, now it's a hipster hangout. Walthamstow is basically Dalston and Stoke Newington but with half the people. We also visited this wonderland:



Sunday, we ventured to the garden of England, cycling from Sandgate to take the dinky Dymchurch, Hythe and Romney railway to Romney Sands, passing pheasants, corn, wheat, pigs, sheep and rabbits racing the train on the misty Kentish marshes. It's great that railway enthusiasts keep this line alive, but I couldn't help feeling that it shouldn't be left to the public to provide public transport.

We took the winding shingle path of buddleia and blackberry brambles onto the nature reserve. We were there to have a traditional summer's day out to look at pre-war spy equipment, the sound mirrors of the marshes. I was very surprised to find out that these monoliths were built between 1928 and 1930 - somebody was already predicting a Super War. People caressed these modern neolithic structures, stood at the 200 foot wall that did indeed reflect sound; Dave's voice bounced off of the top of it, making me suspicious that there was a hidden mic within the wall. The largest one looked like a spaceship crashed onto the marsh. If civilisation ended, future generations would think that these were our sacred objects of worship.



We walked back and stood in the rain waiting for the mini-train to take us back again. This time, it's a steam engine.



Steam trains are exactly like you think they will be, with their ch-ch-chuff, poot poot, the romance (and sulphur stink) of the smoke, the sooty-faced man with the red kerchief and peaked cap stoking the engine, another man with a fancy lens and rainware taking photos. I've come to the conclusion that you're not truly British unless you carry a kagool with you at all times.

We biked it back to Folkestone, one of the few south coast promenades you can cycle along (at Frinton, they took a very dim view). I'm not so much King of the Mountains as Queen of the Flat Surface. The outskirts of Folkestone house lovely clapboard, Victorian, modernist, art-deco buildings, and the town itself has a nice olde section of tea-rooms and restaurants, none of which were open. We took the water-lift to the top of the town; disappointingly, it's not called Folkestone's Funnest Funicular, but the Leas Lift.

Back on the main train, HS1 made me feel like I live in Germany (apart from the time it broke down and I sat outside Ashford for an hour - then it was like Italy). It seems to make everyone happy, the staff member at Stratford International was the cheeriest, most helpful guy I've ever encountered at a train station. He even called me 'madam' (and Dave 'buddy').

millionreasons: (cake)
On Friday it was my birthday and we went to the cat café in Shoreditch, which I had to book 2 months ago, such is the desire for hot pussy* in this town. There are 11 cats, and we managed to subject about 8 of them to strokes. None of them was particularly interested in being petted although they didn't seem to mind it - my fantasy of meeting that special cat who'd know me instantly was dashed as the felines wandered around, mostly ignoring people. Fortunately a mad cat lady in waiting was at hand to tell me each cat's favourite toy and to hand out cat treats with which to bribe them. My favourite was Loki, who at least looked reasonably happy when I chucked his chin. I realised that because there is food (and running water), then the cats do not associate humans with being fed, and so there's no reason to play up to them.

Considering that young kitties like to play and older cats like to sleep, I did wonder if they will have to start some kind of replacement scheme as time goes on. I did like the fact that it wasn't a normal cafe, you could wander up and down the stairs, sit on the floor, and un-Britishly invade other people's space to steal their kittens.

* sorry



Afterwards, we got onto the canal and cycled down to the Olympic Park. Usually, it rains on my birthday. As I've detailed on these pages over the last nine years, it always blows a gale on 16th May. But not this year - bright sunshine bounces off the water.

I am happy to remember that I was very much agin the Olympics for various reasons that I won't repeat and very chary about the new park, which I considered an empty promise. However, I do like the area now, it's reasonably cycle friendly, pretty empty and quite well-tended. It reminds me a little of the City of Science and Arts in Valencia. I'm all for public space. Also, unlike during the Olympics, you can access it from the canal, and the swimming pool is only £3.50!



In the evening, we went to the Clapton Hart to meet various people for birthday boozes and rather nice food. Pub food is either over priced or Wetherspoonsy, but I've eaten twice at the Hart and both times it has been pretty, pretty good (this time = asparagus and roast tomato tart with salad (and chips)) and their preferred condiment is Henderson's Relish. By 10.30, I was flagging but after some furious table footballing, I managed to duke it out 'til 1 a.m. at which point I told everyone they should go home, although most people ignored me and were still there when I left.

Sunday, we cycled to LB Bexley, the borough that London forgot. It's basically a crap bit of Kent. Cycle Route 1 took us from Greenwich down to Erith, which houses London's only pedestrian pier. Apparently, people used to come here on day trips from the city. The route takes us through tourist land, near-countryside, the industrial heartlands of Lewisham, the terrible stink at Crossness pumping station, the sugar factory and the astonishing feat of engineering at Woolwich, through windy alleyways, a fast main road, flat wide cycle paths and narrow lanes. At the end of the pier are fishermen and a poignant plaque to Frankie.


We eat at the town's only café, Mambacino, which does a nice line in 90s dance and strawberry smoothies and then go to the railway station, where a man lets me have his paper travelcard for free. The people on the river know how to give.

Watfordia

May. 2nd, 2014 08:04 am
millionreasons: (pankhurst)
Last Sunday, a trip to Watford. No, it wasn't a cruel and unusual punishment, it was a 10 mile walk down the Chess Valley and along the Grand Union to Robyn, ex of the Lexington,'s new pub, which was darling.



The route went through Rickmansworth: the Hampstead of Herts, all half-timbered houses, low-beamed pubs and chi-chi bakeries, into woods awash with bluebells, past a house with a wooden garage, and through Watford's town centre, which is much as you'd expect. I had hoped to meet fadedglamour, but t'was not to be. It turns out that her sister works right opposite the pub though. London's a very small place.

millionreasons: (pankhurst)
Good Friday, I'm miles away....We travel to Sussex via a literally circuitous route: Canonbury to Willesden Junction to Clapham Junction to Horsham. The first thing we see is a giant, purple, open-top UKIP bus with no-one on it. We are entering enemy territory. We start off on the Downs link, an ex-railway line, now a rather gravelly path, where we go past bluebell woods, piebald lambs in fields, Christ's Hospital, and West Grinstead (I didn't know there was a west of Grinstead), where there is an old train carriage, with a model showing the railway before it was an ex-, then onto Partridge Green to eat chips in a beer garden.



We quit the railway path at Steyning to cycle through this pretty market town (sample local newspaper headline: "Llamas police rare ducks"), past Bramber castle, and then back on it to go through the Downs to Shoreham, which is the anti-Brighton: an olde fashioned seaside town with industry, boats, a sewage farm, and rotting hulks playing loud music; I like it.



In Brighton, we meet up with the others, and sit in pubs until it gets too late. Train back to Blackfriars, where we cycle through an empty, black City to Liverpool Street to catch the penultimate train home. We've done 32 miles and everything aches.

Albion

Oct. 23rd, 2013 09:33 am
millionreasons: (pankhurst)
I should write about what I have been doing so that when I look back, October wasn't all about Babes in Toyland and Curve. Well, I went to a wedding in a church. The reception was also in a church, but was a little more pagan: we were Bottom in a glade, it was all twigs, lights, food growing in pots, home-made bread, preserves and pickles.



Last Saturday I went to meet me mate Trace in Warwick. We haven't seen each other since 1995 but we are much the same. She now has two children, one of whom called me 'Angel' because he couldn't pronounce Rachel. I am not a child-friendly person, but that stuff is hard to resist.

Tracy had comp tickets to the castle, which isn't just an olde building, it's a Whole Tourist Experience, with funny mannequins, jousting, falconry, out of work actors doing 'hey nonny' and 'gadzooks' etc. I kept looking out for Steerpike and Mr Flay. I don't really know the West Midlandss very well; one thinks of heavy industry, but Warwick was adorable, all half-timbered houses, independent shops, cafes. Probably loads of UKIP supporters as well, but that's the price you pay for living in the countryside.

millionreasons: (pankhurst)
On Sunday, we went to Cambridgeshire. We sort of went by mistake - some time ago, we visited the St John's museum in Clerkenwell and next door is a locked garden, a memorial to the Docwra family. I looked them up on the interwebs (that we have now) and found the garden of Docwra's Manor, near Royston and thought I'd go and have a look. But it's not the same family, or if it is, it's much removed. But it was lovely, it was great to see some autumnal colour:


Next door was a handy tearoom, the Teacake, which did surprising sandwiches (hummous, chilli and roasted pepper, guacamole feta and beetroot) and we sat outside in the teagarden, not drinking tea. It was splendid. Often, when I go to these towns and villages, I think how nice it would be to live in a peaceful place, but the good thing about London is that you can visit the countryside and then come back. A taster. I know country ways though, I picked up windfalls in the gardens and put them in my bag. I know that's allowed.
millionreasons: (pankhurst)
On Sunday, we went to Harrow, which I'd recommend if you want to go to the countryside without all the hassle of leaving London. Indeed, on the Metropolitan line, it only took about 15 minutes from Kings Cross. Apparently if you go one way, there's a shopping centre, with all the usual stuff, but we went the other, up hills, through playing fields, down ginnels, gittys, snickets, alleyways. Playing fields with no playing, it was common ground, space. Neither of us could believe that developers hadn't tried to house build here. Lone dog-walkers mooched. Trees waved in the wind.

At the top of the hill was a cutsey village, cottages, a green, a pub; it was like Highgate without the 4x4s, people who work in TV, and Cafe Rouge. There was a school uniform shop, a deli, and a tearoom, where we had a cream tea amongst tourists and mater and pater treating little Tristan and Sebastian to some tucker. The school uniform shop featured boaters and blazers, top hats and rugger shirts, but we didn't see any posh brats wearing the top hats, as they are supposed to do on a Sunday. We peered at the school buildings, saw the place where the first fatal car accident happened in 1899 (it looks a tricky bend), Allegra Byron's grave, and Byron's favourite spot. From the top of the hill you could see London as Byron never did: the BT Tower, the Wembley arch, the twin towerscapes of Docklands and the City. We poked around the church with its leaden spire. I felt like Betjeman in Metroland.

On the way back, an old diesel Metropolitan line train pulled in, all burnished wood and polished handles. "It's the Hogwart's Express," exclaimed one woman, and indeed the whole place was slightly storybook. The sun burst out as we walked back over the fields, turning the damp autumnal day into late summer with the wave of a weather wand.

Netherland

Aug. 4th, 2013 10:35 am
millionreasons: (pankhurst)
To Canvey Island via Fenchurch Street station. I like Fenchurch St: it's a bit secret, hidden, plus it has free toilets and it's like a provincial station: pasty shop and a burger bar, no Paul's Patisserie or Paperchase.

Canvey doesn't have a train station, so we have to get a bus that runs along the side of the estuary: views of boats in mud and Tilbury docks. We get off the bus at the wrong place and have to walk down roads of boring bungalows. Canvey was flooded in '53 so a lot of the houses are modern monstrosities, no cute clapboards, or ancient fisherfolk cottages here. We walk along the high sea wall, built after the floods, past the sea pool, the benches and the Labworth Cafe.


People have referred to Canvey as being other-worldly, old-fashioned, but I don't think those people have been to Lincolnshire. It's very similar, from the only place to eat being the chippie, to the street of amusements, to the high street of charity shops. The ex-Woolies is a pound shop. It's pretty much the same as Sutton on Sea or Mablethorpe, another hinterland on a Dutch-drained marsh.

Sojurn

Jun. 9th, 2013 09:59 am
millionreasons: (billie)
Yesterday we went to Faversham, which is a slightly down on its luck market town. It's got the busy market, the olde houses, the cobbled streets, and the tea-rooms (where I eat a 5 (!) cheese Ploughman's), but not the fancy emporiums. It's all mobility scooters and charity shops. But we're here to cycle in the countryside, a 16.5 mile ride (which turns into 13.5 as we miss out the diversion to see a "boutique B&B") through the ruralscape of cow parsley, wisteria-covered cottages, vicarages, fields of lemon and sunshine smelling oil seed rape, oast houses, apple orchards, a dappled wood, fields of beet and leek, clapboard houses, hedgerows full of purple  flowers. At the end, my bum, thighs and knees hurt like crazy. This exercise lark is well over-rated.

We cycle back from St Pancras through Barnsbury to Stoke Newington, but I don't start sneezing until we turn onto our road. My hayfever, like everything else this year, is two weeks late (it usually start on spring bank holiday weekend) and it seems to react to the local allergens, i.e. as a child in South Yorkshire, it was oil seed rape that set if off, but now I can cycle past rape fields with impunity. Now it's the damn London plane trees that suck in all the pollution and release it with the pollen. I'd vote in any London mayor, even UKIP, who'd pledge to chop them all down.

Burn down the plane trees,
Hang the sycamores,
Because the pollen that they constantly store,
It fills my nose up with sneezes,
Hang the blessed plane trees

I didn't take any photos, so here's some I took from the internet:



millionreasons: (london)
Last weekend, we went to two festivals. Saturday was the 1-2-3-4 Fest in Shoredich park. I hadn't intended to go as four-boys-with-guitars bands are soooooo last century, but as I was walking along the road in Hoxton, I bumped into Delia and she had some free tickets. I ended up leaving at 7 p.m. because I was bored of garage-rock, goth-wave, and grunge. The toilets were nice though, portakabins rather than portaloos and posh handwash instead of that vile sanitiser stuff. I think I'm at an age where I'd rather go to one of those middle class with kiddies festivals out in Suffolk or Devon or something. I went home and watched The Proms do Broadway, which was much more my kind of music.

Sunday was more to my taste - an ice-cream festival round the back of Kings Cross. I was quite upset when the old gasholders were removed, but I have to admit that The Back Of Kings Cross (or N1C as it known) has been developed in quite a decent way and now provides a rather cool public space. As for the ice-cream, I'd been warned the queues were horrendous, but it wasn't too bad; I waited 10 mins for a delish greengage and hazlenut cornet for a mere couple of quid from the excellent Sorbitium.



Yesterday, we had a little trip out to Leigh-on-Sea, into the old town with its fisher-cottages and tea-rooms and then out along the prom to Chalkwell. I like the Essex landscape, the big skies, the mix of industrial and rural, the mudflats, the sparkling tide. I'm not sure the Essex folk really do it for me though, three variations of Olly Murs saunter toplessly past, talking about how the Old Bill are after them, white fat men walk with tiny, pretty Thai women, the accent grates on my ears. On the way home, a drunk man rings up all his mates to tell them that he's on the train "and rat-arsed" and then starts arguing with his girlfriend who calls him a cunt, he calls her a dick and threatens to drag her off the train by her feet when they alight at Barking.



millionreasons: (Default)
Out of that London for a countryside walk through Berkshire: Marlow to Bray along the river. Much of the Thameside path is marked with really vile houses, the vulgar rich are so tasteless with their turreted car ports, green copper bell towers and castellated frontages. Money is wasted on the wealthy. We stop at three pubs which get progressively posher, first the rather fun Bounty pub at Bourne End, which is shaped like a boat-house and has a bar like a ship. It also has annoyingly wacky signs ("Twinned with Chernobyl," "Independent Republic of Cockmarsh", "The beatings will continue until moral improves" - you don't have to put up silly signs to work here, but it helps), but serves draught ginger beer, trad. pub food (burgers, soup, cheesy chips - British nachos, as John puts it) and has a nice sign outside saying they welcome muddy boots and walkers can use the loos without buying a drink.



We amble on to Maidenhead, through Cookham, past residences where the tree-houses are bigger than most people's flats, red trees, geese, cows, swans, locks, the river still as a lake, to the next pub, actually a posh bar where Tanya and I take the papers and sink into the sofa whilst the others sit outside and smoke. 7.5 miles in and onto Bray, the light getting darker, my feet getting sore-er, the blisters growing their own pustules. We pass under the rain, steam and speed bridge, where we can hear the trains above (but see no rabbits).



We can't cross the river at Bray Lock, so have to carry on to cross over the M4 and back, past Monkey Island, past the Fat Duck which is a tiny whitewashed cottage, only the fact people were reading the menu on iPads revealing it is a very posh restaurant, to the Hind's Head which is also a Blumenthal establishment and has a expensive menu to prove it, but as the kitchen isn't open yet, it just seems like a lovely olde worlde low-beamed country pub with local ales on tap and pics of the queen in the toilet. Republican or no, one doesn't want old Liz looking down on you when you're having a wee.

No-one wants to walk in the dark back to Maidenhead so for £1.25 each, we get a big cab back to the railway station. This is probably the best bargain I've had all year.



millionreasons: (Default)
I love a list, so here are the places I want to go to this Spring, Summer and early Autumn.

Miltons Cottage, Chalfont St Giles
!The Hatch! and Theydon Bois
Ruislip Lido
Cobstone Mill, Turville
Milton Keynes and Bletchley Park (I want to see the concrete cows)
Hatfield Forest
The Billericay Bluebells
Heartwood Forest, St Albans
Ashdown Forest (for pooh sticks)
Mersea, Westcliff on Sea, Leigh on Sea
Mayfield Lavender Farm
Chateau Dorking
Red Lion Vegetarian pub, Great Bricett
Sissinghurst, Cranbrook

*
In other news, it appears that fifteen (15! how can this be so??) years on, I am going to become a student once again. I am filled with ambivalence.

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