millionreasons: (marnie)
On Friday, we traveled west to North Devon (57% Leave). I got in a bit of a temper regarding the trains: the one to Exeter was fine, but then we needed to wait 40 mins for a local Pacer train (bus on tracks) to ramble the hour northwards, which arrived fifteen minutes after the last bus (19:47). So much for a unified transport system. We got a taxi, in which the driver, on hearing that we had come for a wedding, complained about people coming up from London to get married in a beauty spot. Considering the economy of Devon is 90% cream tea based, I didn't think she had much of a point. Anyway, we stopped at a B&B which was not exactly cheap yet still felt that margarine, fruit-free jam* and instant cofee were suitable breakfast ingredients. This is Brexitland.

* Give me Tiptree, or give me death.

The view though. We arrived in the dark and woke up to rolling dunes, only slightly marred by there being a whacking great golf course in front of it. We walked down half a mile to the wedding venue, a beautiful art deco hotel, gleaming white against the blue sky. I could imagine Agatha Christie turning up to sun herself on the terrace and solve a few murders.

The outdoor pool was closed, but I could see ghostly ladies in modest bathing costumes and swimming caps doing lengths before climbing out for a gin sling and a newly fashionable sun tan. The room, in keeping with this old fashioned charm, had marks on the table and floor, but a proper bathroom, with a proper bath. The service was as equally retro with a doorman, overly friendly/helpful staff and people who apologised when you got in their working way, which made me squirm a little. When we go away, we usually stay in B&Bs or, if abroad, pensiones: hotel life is odd to me. Eventually the groom and best man appeared, somewhat worse for wear having stayed up until 3 the previous night. After a short and sweet service, we drank prosecco in the gleaming sunshine, looking at the view.


The meal was held in a room like a liner, long and thin with beautiful mirrors. The wedding DJ who was surely in his twenties had a yen for the 70s: The Commodores, T-rex, The Sweet. It occurred to me that ten years ago, official wedding DJs played Motown, because the parents then were baby boomers. Now the parents of thirty-somethings getting married are '70s kids. Still, the floor fillled when he played Wham!, The Weather Girls, Madness and other 80s hits. There was also a photo booth:

Other wedding disco observations: Children will dance like the characters in They Shoot Horses Don't They, to avoid being sent to bed. James Brown is wasted on the over-50s. The bit where Lulu comes in in Relight My Fire is genius. It's still a toss-up between Dancing In The Moonlight and Mambo Number 5 as to the world's worst song.

The next day we took a bracing but sunny walk down the beach and used the pool and sauna, unfortunately this latter activity was cut short by an invasion of horrendous children. I admit to paedophobia, but these ones were hitting their ping-pong ball against the sauna glass and aiming to do a ten child pool bomb, aided and abetted by their responsible adult, taking a photograph. I can see why parents bring kids here (lots to do without needing to flash too much cash), but I can also see why people go on Saga holidays.

We got a cab back to Barnstaple and met up with Clare and Martin, Ange and Rob in a pub. Everything is shut so we go for a surprisingly nice lunch at Pizza Express, then it's back to grey old London.

millionreasons: (marnie)
Technology is great, isn't it? We can check in online for our flight, look up train times on the internet, buy tickets and then pick them up at the train station. Or alternatively, there's Gatwick airport where the automatic boarding pass readers don't work and there's a queue of 30 people and only one person to sort it out because they've got rid of all the staff because they installed automatic barcode readers. On the other hand, I wondered if it would be inappropriate to tip a cabin crew member €5 after he moved the woman sat next to me with a wriggling and potentially screaming toddler to another row, especially as said toddler had decided that she was going to hit me in the face with the safety instructions card. I felt my whole body relax when they shifted seats.

We are travelling by Norwegian airlines from London to Budapest, which makes no sense, but this is the international jet set, baby. In Buda, or maybe Pest, we take the airport bus, which doesn't go to the heart of the city, just dumps us at the end of a tube line, but it's not far from there on the rickety rackety tube-train, complete with art deco-style nipple lights.

At Blaha Luzja tube station, we walk past the fancy New York hotel to our hotel with art nouveau facade and cool doors. We are staying in the Jewish area, District VII, on the rive droite, or whatever that is in Hungarian (I manage to pick up two words: ettrem - restaurant and utca - street; otherwise everyone speaks English. The Lonely Planet guide writers, who love an untranslated menu written up on a chalkboard, would be sooooo disappointed here). There are still some signs of Jewry - the remembrance wall, kosher restaurants, hurrying Hasids, and the amazing Moorish synagogue - but this is also the party district, the Hoxton of Pest. We go through a 19th century arcade turned restaurant and craft stall hub and have fresh pasta with asparagus and truffles for a very reasonable £5 each. It's not quite Prague-in-the-'90s prices (30p a pint) but similar to east Berlin or Barcelona. The city makes me think Paris (long wide boulevards) vs Prague (quirky buildings), but as we wander the streets, it reminds me more of a chilled Berlin with bars a-plenty including outside hipster joints, where we sit with a sour cherry Polinka (schnapps), next to some tourists who say things like "you must do Turkey" and "Don't rule out Asia". Americans - half of 'em don't have a passport, the other half travel around getting on everyone's nerves.


There are also craft beer pubs and ruin bars (pubs set up in abandoned buildings). The daddy of these, Szimpla kert, is just round the corner from our hotel on Kazinczy utca; a multi-faceted joint with various bars, fairy lights, old cameras, toys, shisha pipes, a kangaroo and half a Trabant in the courtyard. You can purchase  Kazinczy Street t-shirts, although we only buy a pale ale and a plum beer. It's half Shoreditch half Camden, but without the entitled gak snorters of the former or the eurogoths of the latter. In fact, it's all very mellow until Liam's Stag Do Budapest 2016 turns up, at which point we depart.

We breakfast in the Tel Aviv cafe (hate the ruling government, not the people; take note Ken Livingstone) and wander over to the Danube and across the chain bridge to Buda, the old town. People have already started attaching pre-engraved padlocks to the bridge, as in Paris. We're now in tourist central, a hell of selfie-sticks, Hard Rock Cafe t-shirts, American, French, Spanish, Chinese, British accents. Yeah yeah, I'm a tourist too but at least I feel embarrassed about learning only one Hungarian word per day (today's is kafek - coffee). We wanted to go up in the triple deck Edwardian funicular but the queue is too long, so after wondering if we're too big to go on the horseabout, we walk up to the summit of Castle Hill: museum, castle, basilica, Fishermen's bastion (basically an add-on to the cathedral), looked over by the Liberty statue, which celebrates the end of the Nazi occupation and put there by the Russians. The other Marxist statues have been moved to a separate park on the outskirts of the city. Nicer though when we leave the main drag and just wander through the streets of yellow-painted slope-roofed houses, cats, trees, away from the tourist track. We visit a sculpture garden and then walk down by the Danube, back over the river, over a mini-Danube with an installation bridge, past some giraffes, past a statue of poet Attila József who self-drowned (the author of Gloomy Sunday was also Hungarian), past a Ronald Reagan statue (no Gorbachev) - Budapest sure loves its statues, although Dave is disappointed that there aren't any floating Yodas - past the Holocaust memorial, the Post Office, TV centre, Museum of Ethnography, the Gresham hotel: all of which are on the art nouveau trail, the faded grandeur we've come here to see, apart from it's not so faded. Budapest is on the up, baby! (apart from all the homeless people and the young folk leaving for Germany and Britain). We also go past the astonishing Parliament building (Pugin eat your heart out) and the Lapidarium, the basement museum of stuff that has fallen off buildings.

Budapest - 19 - 2016-05-16 13:23:56

We see a lot of posters for gigs - it seems that Budapest is where 80s/90s bands come to die - Iron Maiden, Placebo, Slayer, the Red Hot Chili Pepepers, and The Cure are playing here soon.

Budapest - 13 - 2016-05-16 10:28:23

We learn a new word - zarva, which means closed. It is Whit Monday, which is a movable feast, unlike in England. Or no feast as the coffee shop I wanted to go to, the oldest one in Budapest, is closed so we have to "make do" with the New York cafe, the Hungarian equivalent of dining at the Ritz, not Ritz prices, but not Hungarian ones either: coffee and cake for two costs about £30, but it is delicious and the surroundings are sumptuous. We need to eat off all the walking (almost ten miles by the end of our flanerie). Prices here are in Euros; even though Hungary is not in the eurozone yet, there seems to be a double economy running, although quotidian things like bus tickets are in Hungarian currency.

Later, we intend to go to a vegan bistro, but that too is closed, so we wander the streets getting Hungary (geddit) until we find a place that goes beyond the usual veggie pizza/pasta/burger potion (grilled white and green asparagus with strawberry and feta salad, breaded Camembert with roast apple and beetroot salad as well as a pistachio tiramisu and a £1 glass of Tokaj. Finom!)
We had intended to go to Gellert, Budapest's art nouveau spa, but the hotel has its own version which is nearer, cheaper and contains fewer people. We swim in the open air rooftop pool, looking over the domes of Pest. It's like the spa at Bath but without the hen parties swimming vertically, trying to keep their make-up dry. I don't quite get spas but it's a nice way to start the day and it feels good to be virtuous before breakfast, which is fortunate as we go to Panir, a cheeseburger joint, for brekkie. I don't mean meat and cheese, bit literal slabs of cooked cheese in bread buns with jalapeno jam or wasabi mayo or blueberry chutney. There needs to be one of these in Soho or Shoreditch right now. Afterwards, we go for a coffee in My Little Melbourne, a hipstery cafe where we settle in with flat whites until its time to leave for the airport. I do wonder if the proliferation of hipster cafes across the globe isn't just as bad as the McDonaldsification of all capital cities: the product may be better, the staff may be treated fairly, but it's still forcing one culture onto another. Hungary has a long tradition of coffee houses, should the flat whites be marching in? The coldbrew replacing the fekete? The pour-over taking over the black soup? You don't find antipodean coffee bars in Italy or Spain. That said, the coffee is much nicer than the one we had yesterday.

And then there's nothing left to do, but get the tube and bus and plane and train home again.
millionreasons: (marnie)
Back up north again, through the countryside all pink and green in the end of the evening. I read Jenny Diski, another person to die this year, although there will be no Saturday supplements or semi-official fortnight of mourning because she's just not famous enough. But the fact that she will write no more words means more to me than the fact that Prince will write no more songs.

We are here to see the Tour de Yorkshire (part 2) and we are lucky that the second stage not only goes through the village where my parents live, but this is the only day that the women are racing too. Since Wiggo dropped out (too nesh for South Yorks), the men's race has lost a bit of sheen, but I'm very keen to see Lizzie Armitstead, who is in the lead as they race through, coming within two inches of me, much to my fangirling. Spectating is a different proposition with no barriers, you feel their slipstream on your face.

Tickhill has certainly geared up for the event with yellow bicycles galore, bunting, flags and so forth. It's also the weekend of the scarecrow festival, with some crossover appeal:

Before the race starts, we have a coffee in Lottie's, which apparently used to be the storeroom of the card shop, which is now a fishmonger. Whereas Doncaster resists change, Tickhill seems to have aspirations to become a grand market town like Ilkley or even Beverley. When I lived here, there were community events, but they were organised by the church, the Scouts and Guides or the Lions (Rotary): Christmas carols, Remembrance Day parade, and so on, but now it feels a bit more....joyful. Where once there were faded boutiques for middle aged ladies, a knitting shop, a pie shop and a bakers where i worked for £1.75 an hour in 1990, there is now a deli, three cafes, an ice cream and sweet shop, a tattoo parlour (!) and an Apothecary Grooming Parlour (!!). Instead of a church choir, there's a ukulele group, kids called Rosco replace Lee and Melanie. The very idea that you can walk into the village and buy a flat white (!!!) is astonishing to me, who spent 1985 to, well, now, deriding the place.

We move up the village for a different view of the men's race, so that we can see them coming down the long flat Maltby road, and when they do, apart from a breakaway group of four, the rest of the riders are the entire peloton who mass together like animals fleeing a hurricane. On the pavement, you step back, feeling the force of the wheels. The coverage was a mess, the TV cutting out before they hit south Yorkshire, but "citizen journalists" were there.

When we do finally watch it on the TV, I find it funny how the French phrases have been retained ("La tete de la course", "Etape Trois") like olden day restaurant menus would list consommé and poisson.

Later on, we go out to Sheffield to see an Alan Bennett play, beforehand eating at Sheffield's oldest Italian restaurant. I'm glad a few more have opened since then - it was the opposite of Italian food. Instead of fresh vegetables, they were tinned or from frozen, the supermarket style base was thick and the whole thing was covered in cheddar cheese. I don't mind cheap 'n cheerful food (I regret the passing of Panton Street's Stockpot) but this was the same price as a woodfired sourdough goats' cheese and rocket in Lower Clapton. The puddings included that clasic Italian dessert, apple crumble, and you could order baked beans as a side. I had to console myself with prosecco.

Single Spies was two connected playlets (originally made for the BBC), the first, An Englishman Abroad, about Guy Burgess in Moscow, longing for England, and the second about Antony Blunt, high up in the Establishment, being quizzed about what and who he knew. Art surveyor Blunt is obsessed with a fake Titian, from which Bennett explores the notion of falsehood, but also uses the painting as a metaphor for revelation. There are two people in the original painting:

but when it has been cleaned, another figure appears on the right, the third man. However (and this is poetic license by AB), when the painting is X-rayed, a fourth - and fifth man can be seen. Some are visible, some have yet to be unmasked and some are hiding in plain sight.

I enjoyed the first piece more as the one liners were funnier, and also I do love fiction - or faction - about faded people whose time has passed. Burgess keeps asking about the scene back in London: "And how is Cyril Connelly? And Auden, do you see Auden?" - his references are hopelessly out of date.

The plays feature the usual Bennett pre-occupations: class, getting on (the secret service agent interrogating Blunt wants to better himself through art appreciation), the queen. Some of it seemed a little old fashioned - no-one really talks about Englishness anymore unless it's to take the piss. The notion of patriotism seems so odd nowadays: the problem the establishment had with the Cambridge ring was that they were traitors, they'd betrayed their country, rather than that they were Communists. The idea of my country right or wrong was strong. When I think of a patriot, I see St George's flags, a Help the Heroes car sticker, a Brexit poster; I don't think of civil servants. Then, it was all about the upper echelons of society sticking together. now it's the rich, of any class, who band together against the 99%. Money more important than country: these are the globalised super-class.

I enjoyed it more than the pizza anyway.

We take the train back darn sarf and go even sarfer, down to Jeremy and Tiia's place in Norwood. The weather goes from windy and rainy in the north, to too hot in their back garden as we eat Finnish food (we are celebrating Walpurgis, the spring version of Hallowe'en).

Today, we cycled over to Wanstead Park, the Hampstead Heath of the east, to look at the bluebells in Chalet Wood:

All photos by me, except bluebells by David, and Titian and Andrea dei Franceschi by Titian (or is it).


Apr. 26th, 2016 01:36 pm
millionreasons: (photo)
At Liverpool Street Station, I almost walk into Gary Windass, then, as we eat at Mildred's, I recognise that the curly blonde woman canoodling with her girlfriend and being made a fuss of by the waiter is Kate Tempest. I almost expect to see Alan Bennett or David Gedge hanging around Leeds station. We arrive in Marsden at half eleven, where the streets are dark and empty. Tanya leads us up the mountain hill to her house at the top of the town.

We've come up for the cuckoo festival, which dates back to ancient times 1994; it's a rite of spring, celebrating not just the bird, but the time the Marsdonians tried to trap the cuckoo in a tower but forgot to put a roof on said tower, so it just flew away. Although having discovered that the Hartlepool monkey hanger story is apocryphal, I no longer trust these local legends. The next village along is called Slaithwaite, pronounced Slawit, although you can only call it that if you were born there. I suggest Marsden adopt a similar parochial pronunciation, such as Moosden or Massden.

As well as the cuckoo parade, there is side show entertainment: local folk groups, an acid brass band doing Beyonce and White Stripes covers, the hill rescue people standing around not rescuing anyone (there also a local defibrillator to be operated by a member of the public under telephone instruction, which seems a way to replace the NHS with volunteers), singing children, craft stalls, home made jam stalls (£1.50 a jar!) cupcakes (50p!), charity bookshop (all fiction 60p!) belly dancing led by the local extrovert, donkey rides, maypole dancing, and morris dancing. Lots and lots of morris dancing, from epileptic riverdancing, to clean green and white maidens, to 1940s Morrisettes (I wonder if there should be some '80s dancers in deely boppers and ra-ra skirts) to the dark side of morrising, the frightening, greened up, steam-goth John Barleycorn Magpies in their flight goggles and black feathers. If Britt Ekland were to turn up during their dance, I'd be scarpering to Slawit.

I like the non-sexist nature of the Morris persons, there are mixed groups and men dancing round the maypole. There are also old men standing around old engines waiting to catch your eye so they can tell you all about them, a coconut stall, where you wonder if the no longer exotic nuts should be replaced with jackfruit or a pack of quinoa, a dissonant, out of tune ice cream van that sounds like it's been driven an evil clown, and a woman making candfloss in tribute to Prince. There's also a lot of pie and peas which seems to be a major Marsden obsession.

We repair to Crumbals (sic) cafe for teacakes (sandwiches) and tea and watch the grand finale of the cuckoo parade, which features everyone we've seen performing so far, like when everyone jams at the end of Jools Holland, as well as the climatic cuckoo and a giant St George with a webcam in his head to film the proceedings, not so much a Big Brother as an enormous one. Although Dave thinks he's meant to be King Arthur, as he has the Celtic sun symbol on his papier mache armour. But what's a mistaken saint/mythical king between friends.

We go round to Tanya's friend Dave's cottage where he regales us with tales of Luddite times, how the local metalworker made both the looms that enraged the weavers and the hammers they used to smash them.

Later, after Tanya lasagne, we walk back down to the town, tangerine lights slung across the valley. At the Socialist club, I'm disappointed that no-one is sitting around talking about Nye Bevan and the post war social contract, but it's possible that the band playing, 6 Months in Mexico references Trotsky's time in Central America. Unlike Joanne Joanne, they do do Rio, as well as Echo Beach, Footloose, I Love Rock n Roll and Run To You. When covers bands start doing songs from your youth, that's when you know it's the beginning of the end. We try to interpret the songs in a party-line manner:
I love rock n roll – I love the youthful overthrowing of the capitalist system, which marries idealism (rock) and pragmatism (roll).
Put another dime on the jukebox baby – Redistribution of wealth.
I love rock and roll – I love the upcoming revolution.
Put another dime and dance with me – Unity is powerful! Come together! If I can't dance I won't be part of your revolution!

In the morning, we walk up behind Tanya's house onto the moors up a hill in the sleety rain. Fuck your marathon, this is harder, rambling over brambles, past dry stone walls, willow trees, wild grasses, under a large, slatey sky. We go up to what looks to be a cairn, but is more likely a disused Yorkshire water building and peer down a hole under which the river rushes.


Back in the town we have Sunday lunch and a sticky parkin pudding at the Riverhead and then it's time to get the train. Marsden to Huddersfield, Huddersfield to Brighouse, Brighouse to Doncaster, Donny to King Cross, Kings Cross to Liverpool Street, Liverpool Street to Stratford, Stratford to what is starting to be Home.

Photos by David except the cairn/water tower.
millionreasons: (wine)

Stansted has tarted itself up. I don't mean that it's any more pleasant: we still have to queue for security (8 out of 17 x-ray machines are working), but now there's a posh duty free/shopping centre that you snake through to get a noodle soup at Itto (guaranteed polonium-free) or a glass of sparkling at the world's most depressing champagne bar.

Driving into Bilbao on the airport coach, we pass the stately, ship-like Guggenheim gallery and its attendant puppy, looking less floral than last time we were here and it's kind of odd to be back somewhere once visited and enjoyed but never thought you'd return to.

We are only staying overnight. In the morning, after trying to get full value from the breakfast buffet bar, we walk through the city to the bus station. I have definite memories of being in Bilbao, but it doesn't look at all familiar. There are trams now! It's odd how some cities imprint themselves on your consciousness and others don't. I could direct you around Edinburgh but Glasgow remains a geographical blur. I know the basic layout of Paris, but Brussels, which I've visited around the same number of times, is a mystery. I know the Grande Place and Avenue Louise but that's about all I can muster up.
We catch the bus through the Basque country, heading eastwards to Navarra. You forget how verdant northern Spain is when you're used to travelling through the southern vista of olive groves and goats scrabbling out an existence on the side of mountains. Here are firs and pines, a slate mountain, bulrushes, farmhouses, a distant spire, blue horizon hills, greying sheep, windmills whirlygigging, the grey sides of cloud-topped mountains, horses in fields, golden-beige cows, pylons moving across the green and brown countryside. The deciduous trees are barely yellow here, we've gone back in time two months - indeed, we've gone back in time two weeks as we turn our clocks forward to British Summertime. It's no longer dark at five. Towards Pamplona, it gets more industrial: a concrete factory, roadside bars, housing projects, a battery farm, cranes.

We check into our hotel, which is on an old town street of cafes and bars and go out to explore, eating salad and patatas bravas at one of the few places we can find that does anything sin carne. Dave, with the help of google translate, asks for the bill in Basque, which amuses the waitress for about 15 minutes. Basque is a weird kind of language, all Ks and Xs and Zs. A gelataria is Izozkitegia. What kind of a word is that for ice cream?


We wander, past the town hall where the architect thought: why not put angels and cherubs on the roof and then why not give them golden trumpets to blow? past statues holding menus, one of which is creepy, so obviously we do a photo - you can almost hear the locals thinking "Hipster doofus tourists". We're pretty much the only non-Basques here, there are a couple of German-looking people and some Japanese on a leg of the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage, but it's otherwise pretty empty, without that desolate out of season feeling you get in places that are just tourist-focussed. There's no winter here, it's 20 degrees. What would it be like without winter? A reverse Narnia? I can't quite comprehend it. Not to be hot, tropical, but just to be warm. Would I get bored of sunshine and start yearning for a bit of rain and fog?

Pamplona - 2015-10-30 15:09:02 - 05

We walk the old town walls (Ronda Barazzon), ending up at some Mediaeval houses and an early Hallowe'en display and then on to the bull run, from the pen up to the hill to the place outside the town hall where the dignitaries watch (there is a plaque to the "victims" of gorings), past a shop where you get your photos taken with a life size toy bull and can pretend to have been injured, a shrine to San Fermin, past the anatomically correct bull run monument, along Paseo Hemingway, past a bust of Hemingway to the bull ring, where there's another homage to Hemingway (there's also a Hemingway kebab house). I don't like the idea of bull fighting, and running with the bulls stinks of machismo (and masochism), but on the other hand, I understand ritual and tradition and the importance of those. Hemingway did describe it so evocatively in Fiesta (The Sun Also Rises) that I did want to go to experience it, although in real life I know I would find it frightening and unpleasant, a bit like Oxford street on the last Saturday before Christmas, with added animal cruelty.

Pamplona - 2015-10-30 16:17:51 - 17

Later, we wander the streets waiting for the restaurants to open, the sulphuric light giving a pumpkin glow. Our area of San Nicolas seems to be a party place, people sit in and outside of bars, babies parked in pushchairs, casually spilling out on the street, the bars are as much outside as in, there's no shouting, leering or pissing. The breaking down on the in/outside dichotomy is what appeals to Northern Europeans - British people are accustomed to spending most of our time indoors. Apart from a brief summer in the park, we move from house to work to pub, outdoors is usually something to be got through to get to the next place. A short stroll is about as much outdoors as we get without doing actual exercise.

We eat at Sarasate, one of Pamplona's two veggie restaurants, which is a relief after looking at identical menus of fish, chicken, duck and loin. They seem very keen on loin here. We eat tofu and potato soup, a weird dish of celery in blue sauce with walnuts (like a cooked Waldorf salad), followed by less bizarre main courses, - lentil 'meat'balls, and leek and feta filo pastry (with a delicious chocolate fondue for pud). A drink is included; Dave wants beer and I want juice. Nope, says the man, Wine or cider. Cider or wine. If you insist, Mr Borderline Alkie.

We meander around trying to decide on a bar, and end up back at the hotel, whose bar stretches out on the street and sit with a beer and an eighties power-hour on the jukebox (laptop) - Heart, Bon Jovi, Starship, Lady in Red, and other hair ballads until the barmaid puts on some generic house music and we go to bed.

Pamplona - 2015-10-30 17:14:24 - 26
We breakfast around the corner and take a walk up to the Citadel, the old fortified walls, now a nice park with old bits, a football match played by sharp cheeked South and Central Americans. Adjacent is the Parc Taconera, featuring peacocks, turkeys, turtle doves, ducks, hens, swans, and albino peacocks like some crazy version of the twelve days of Christmas, and some deer hiding from the birds. There are two matching arches at each side of the park, reconstructed from original stone work from the 18th century park, although the rest of the arch seems to have been made with breeze blocks.

Pamplona - 2015-10-31 13:23:13 - 31

Outside the town hall, people are doing some country dancing, with drums and a penny whistle. It seems reminiscent of Scottish country dancing, reminding us that the Basques are essentially Celts. We have a look around some giddy art nouveau buildings and wander into the cathedral, which, unlike cathedrals in other Catholic cities, has an entrance fee. Behind the counter, a notice displays the entrance prices of other European cathedrals, the most expensive is in Britain (Westminster Abbey). The cathedral is all clean neo-Classical lines and Corinthian columns on the outside, and high Gothic within: arches, rose windows, stained glass, a gold altar and silver religiousana. So much silver. All the silver. It's pretty magnificent (I am the world's most easily impressed atheist).

Pamplona - 2015-10-31 15:13:37 - 36

In the cloister is an art exhibition featuring a pink house that smells like Lush, a luminous history of Catholicism in Spain, a perspex model of the cathedral, some spooooooky skeletons that purport to be the bones of San Fermin, San Nicolas etc, and a room of scary Mary dolls. After we've finished the route we realise that we've gone around anti-clockwise, like devils. There's also a 17th century refectory, which in England would be the tea-room, but here is just empty.

Pamplona - 2015-10-31 15:19:14 - 38

We have risotto and salad in a Bistro just opposite until a loud family with sprawling kids and music on phones turn up, then mopeds start speeding around the square and a recycling van arrives for the bottles, so we walk up by the walls where there is an old fort and the archbishop's place for peace and quiet and sunshine.


Later, we go outside of the city walls which feels quite different: more cars and roads, fewer people, except for roaming gangs of kids in attempts at Hallowe'en costumes playing chicken in the street. We take the funicular down to Kafea Baratza, a microbiotic vegan place, which is nicer than it sounds with fake meat schnitzels, and kebabs with satay sauce, rice, salad and pickles. I have a blood cocktail (beetroot and apple) and seitan (Satan! Satan! Satan!) to celebrate Samhain. On the way back to safety inside the city walls, we pass a night-time fun run, not so much the running of the bulls as the running of the Mamils.

We have a cerveza y chocos caliente in the beautiful art nouveau Cafe Iruna in the main square, where Hemingway once drank. Of course he once did.
The streetcleaners have washed the pavements and San Nicholas feels fresh. We breakfast in a bakery and go get the bus for the start of this travelling day.

Dave and I have very different memories, I have no sense of direction but he remembers where everything is. I remember dates, names, addresses, phone numbers, PINs: information. I forget whole towns, I only remember places by feelings. We arrive in San Sebastian with a two hour window for lunch before the next bus and my vague feelings (it was on a pedestrian street) of the location of a cafe with a veggie menu that we visited in 2004. Dave remembers the location exactly, and amazingly, not only is it still there but still does vegetarian offerings. After lunch, I triple-check the time of the bus, only to discover that the tickets are dated 26th August, when I booked it, and not today's date. Something had to go wrong with these travel arrangements. Fortunately, the ticket office is open, the bus is not full and they issue us with new tickets in two minutes and I'm only €33 and some embarrassment down.

Adios Pamplona/Agur Iruna.

millionreasons: (marnie)
It takes longer to get to Marsden than it does to Paris, although some of this is waiting around in Leeds and then Huddersfield. On the London-Leeds train, a party of four women d'un certain age, sit and quibble with each other about who had the worst time in London and take selfie stick photos whilst downing M&S Bucks Fizz. On the Leeds-Huddersfield leg, a solitary empty tin of Carling on our reserved seat shows that someone's got the Friday feeling. Ah, the north. Its icy grip grasps me. A list of places once known but now forgotten scrolls past on the train screens: Catterick, Keighley, Skipton, Pontefract, Poppleton, Knottingley.

We travel through a series of handsome mill towns to Marsden. Tanya's house is situated on the edge of the wild and windy moors, her back gate literally leads onto the Pennines. From the front room, there is a vast view of the Colne valley: a massive grey sky with a flat green horizon, optimistic photovoltaics on roofs, a sheep farm atop the moor awaiting a Bronte to pop by, the M62 running like a fast brook to the side of the town.

It feels like we've gone back in time, not to the Victorian age, but in the year. In Paris, pollen-sniffly, it was if we'd gone forward a month: the cherry blossom had gone and the city was on the cusp of summer, here, the daffodils are still out and the magnolias are just coming into bloom.
In the morning, we walk down to the town, past the stunning mill, now lying empty. If this were London, it'd be home to artist's studios and arguments about gentrification. We stop in at Tanya's friend's house to feed his cat, and then onto the canal to walk to Slaithwaite (pronounced Slawit), the next village along. The canals lie below locks, murky-green, murderous-looking. In Slaithwaite, we visit the very charming Handmade Bakery and, as a special treat, are allowed to sit in the staff area, as there're no tables free in the dining area. We walk on to the centre of the town and visit a vintage shop, where the side tables, blown glass and old telephones look like I'm back in my grandma's house in Bramhope - it might quite literally be her stuff from the house-clearance. The rain is a constant drizzle and the wind is troublesome so we get the bus back to Marsden and visit a museum about how the canal failed (before being reborn in the 21st century) with a real indoor canalboat (and an outdoor one too).


In the evening, Tanya makes lasagne and we play board games, as well as a risqué question and answer game from the '70s, presumably used as an ice-breaker at Annabel's Party-eque dinner soirées; "Have you washed your neck?" "Would you like to come up and see me some time?" as well as "Do you still beat your wife?" and "Are you one of Those?". I expect "Have you ever been intimate with a native of a foreign land?" was rejected.The questionee has to pick an answer from a card e.g. "I'll tell you later" or "I have never been so insulted in my life", or, my fave "Gwaan wiv yer!" I imagine a modern version: "Does your milkshake bring all the boys to the yard?" "Can you slut-drop?" with "Fo Shizzle" and "Safe, yeah" as the answers.
The Tour de Yorkshire is coming through the village - it's official, signs have been put up. People gather in the forecourt of a garage where a swing orchestra plays standards and a caravan sells tea and coffee, hot dogs and home-made flapjacks, whilst a woman hawks tuna and rice (?) pasties from a tray. The Marsden Jazz Society hand out leaflets. Opposite, a family has set up a gazebo and a gas barbecue and are drinking in the almost coming out sunshine. Further down the hill, people are sitting in windows above white rose flags. "It's nice they've put flags out," remarks one woman, inconsequentially.. The tour is apparently a response to the popularity of le Grand Depart 2014, but it's obvious to me why Yorkshire folk would like watching road cycling - it's free. We watch the cyclists come round, slowly, almost anti-climatically, and we try to spot Wiggo or Kittel, but even with the leisurely speed needed to take the sharp corner, it's all a bit of a blue-black blur.


We have lunch in the Riverhead, where Dave invents a new dish - spring roll roast dinner, and look at the 3D map of Marsden and the kids playing in the beck, jumping from wet rock to slippery stone (this would never be allowed in Stoke Newington), before setting off to the Butterley reservoir, up hundreds of steps to the glassy water, the lonely boarded-up house, the sheep up the hill. Tanya points out the saplings she helped plant as part of the Marsden Tree Society (I'm starting to see that village life is a bit like the first term of university - you have to pick a society to join).

We wander past the zombie brothel from In The Flesh, the old mill cottages, the big mill villas, the new houses made to look old, the spooky looking Crow Hill, where the Crowthers, who built the mill, lived (possibly). The sun has come out and washed clean the hills, and suddenly the moors have definition rather than being a green mist. The piebald stone houses gleam grey in the sunshine.

Back in Leeds, the station is bigger and brighter than it used to be, there are sunshiney seats upstairs where you can watch the trains come and go, but I kind of feel nostalgic for the grime of yesteryear.

millionreasons: (wine)
Chantilly is Kettering. Arriving at the Gare du Nord, we assume Chantilly won't be on the Grand Lignes, which are trains to Lyon, Brussels, Amsterdam; instead we wander to the suburban lines, assuming the town to be the equivalent of St Albans, but no, it's back to the intercity area, where, after some wrangling with an obstreperous ticket machine, we have half an hour to wait for the train, which we waste pressing buttons - there are little machines dotted around the station asking questions: next to the twinned-with-St-Pancras piano: "A little music is nice, vous aimez?" and you press yes for yes or scan a QR code for no. "Your train is beautiful, vous aimez?" - well, French trains (TGVs aside) are pretty ugly but they are double decker, which is cool. Who needs Eurodisney when you have this much fun.

Chantilly is full of sandstone, shuttered, gabled houses and daisy-filled parks. We are staying at La Cantillienne guesthouse, a Belle Epoque townhouse, stuffed full of stuff from antique shops - old irons, weights for scales, a longwave radio, ancien bottles and jars. Perhaps people open B&Bs in order to house their purchases. It's very nice though and the ensuite is an actual bathroom and I understand everything the landlady says en francais. We wander round centre-ville, which is a bit like Cheltenham, a market town with posh hairdressers, patisseries, restaurants selling €30 truffle risotto, beauticians, and an English tearooms. Later, we eat at a pizzeria and have pudding with Chantilly cream, which, disappointingly, is just squirty cream.

The B&B's breakfast covers all bases - cheese and bread for Germans, muesli for the Swiss, croissants for les Francais, eggs for the English, cake for the Italians. It also turns out that our landlady speaks l'Anglais; she apologises for dropping the fried eggs on the floor ("Oeufs sur plat, pas oeufs sur plateau!") in part-English, which unfortunately adds credence to that English notion that all foreigners speak English, they're just pretending not to.

Chantilly's main attraction is le Chateau de Chantilly, a 19th century version of a 16th century castle, destroyed in la Revolution, but now restored to its former stately glory. You can go inside and look at some old paintings, the stables and a horsey museum (there is also a racecourse, Chantilly seems obsessed by le cheval, but it seems to have forgotten its old lace-based economy, there are no lace museums or shops), but we choose just to do the massive gardens, which includes fountains, lakes (one featuring prehistoric looking carp trying to steal tourist bread from ducks), English gardens, neo-classical statues of callipygian Venus and Cupid, a maze, hunting lodges and baby castles, follies, a picnic area where we lunch on bread and cheese and I watch a duck trying to eat a stick, a fake mediaeval village, and a wallaby enclosure, featuring an albino marsupial and, adorably, joeys in pouches.


We have a look in the town's very own Notre Dame, with its geometric stained glass, and then take afternoon tea at the English tearooms, which seems to be about a specific type of English person (magazines are Country Living and Landrover Monthly), as well as selling Cadbury's chocolate, National Trust lavender pouches, and flowered china teacups. The lemon meringue pie is worth the twee though.


We catch the 10.30 into Paris, noting that the SNCF station announcements jingle is the same as the first three notes as Smoke On The Water (the French McDonalds advert, to the tune of I'm Lovin' It, is "Venez Come Vous Etes" - come as you are. Kurt Cobain must be spinning in his mausoleum). We're staying at the same hotel as the last time we were here, the receptionist is more friendly and English speaking - Dave claims it's the same guy, maybe he's been on a course?

I've already done the Eiffel Tower, the Champs Elysées, the Pompidou centre, the Musée D'Orsay, the Arc de Triomphe, the Tuilleries, and the Louvre, so we set off over the river to the Rive Gauche, past the Panthéon, where a hotel claims that André Breton invented surrealism there, to the Latin Quarter, past Sartre and De Beauvoir's hangout, le Dome (I had wanted to go to Les Deux Magots, before I looked at the menu online and saw that a cappuccino cost €7).  We walk to Montparnasse, me trying to find the FNAC where Blueboy played in '94 (now gone and then on to Les Invalides, the Ecole Militaire, UNESCO and the Boule St Mich, which is really rather dull. I suppose famous London roads of the 1960s are not that interesting either - you go to Carnaby Street hoping to get fab gear and cool times, and it's just Caffe Nero and the Gap. The city seems so busy and tall after having been in a small town and we rest awhile in the Luxembourg gardens, looking at French girls dressed up in Japanese Kawaii fashions. I pay 50c to use the toilet, which is a cubicle in a cottage (not that kind of cottage) staffed by a woman who either hasn't slept for three days or is in the last throes of a fatal disease. My Tripadvisor review: 2/5. We eat at a tiny health food store where the other customers are old men (widowers?) and the server seems surprised to see us.

Paris est changée, it's less museum-like, now there are Thai, Japanese, Brooklyn-y vegeburger restaurants. We eat at this latter, along with several French people. Europeans, especially Mediterranean Europeans, like to rip the piss out of vegetarianism, but whenever I've been in French, Italian, Portuguese, Spanish veggie restaurants, they've been populated by natives rather than tourists.

In the 11th arrondissement, we find a friendly bar run by a woman in a t-shirt rather than a white aproned waiter. Paris feels like it's making more of an attempt to be Barcelona or Berlin, a city of young people, not just old ladies in maroon lipstick with tiny dogs. We don't see a moustachioed hipster on a unicycle but there are people on gyroscopes (Segways without the handlebars). We pass the Charlie Hebdo HQ with a small floral tribute outside (later I see the Toute Est Pardonée edition for sale on a news-stand for €10). We walk back to the 4e and attempt to get a drink in an American bar (no drinks without food) and then in a French brasserie (the waiter wants us to go inside because it's about to rain), and so end up in a Scottish pub off the Rue St Antoine, staffed by English people who resolutely refuse to speak French even when a local doesn't understand that you have to pay for food and drink before eating and drinking them, and an argument ensues. We watch the cricket on the TV: England sail to an easy win in Grenada. Alaister Cook eyes the ball as nervously and eagerly as Ed Miliband eyes number ten.

We breakfast in America, a diner round the corner from us (fortunately it's soul on the CD player, not Supertramp). Yes, it's touristy but there are yer actual French people in here as opposed to eating in the hotel which is all tourists. Still, we resolve not to do Subway and Starbucks today.

Set off to the Bastille, past the Sunday fleamarket to the Promenade Plantée, a cross between the Parkwalk of North London and the Highline in New York, an ex-railway line, now a Sunday jogging park. We walk the 4.5 km until we hit the Péripherique and the park sort of peters out. I guess you're supposed to go into the Bois de Vincennes but it's drizzling, so we take the tube to the Tuilleries and walk through the gardens to the Ile de la cité (the ice-cream arrondissement), over the Bridge of Padlocks (where some people have had their locks especially engraved for their trip). Past the Palais de Justice to have a set lunch in a creperie (salade, galette, gateau) and then it's au revoir, Paris; we watch France disappear, backwards.


All photos by David.
millionreasons: (pankhurst)
I went to Wigan through a landscape of farming furniture and rainbows.

2014-10-10 16.25.29_v1

On the Saturday we travelled to Liverpool, where I really liked the area between the Liver building and the Tate, not as touristy as the Albert Docks but with stripy boats, old industrial buildings that still stood for no other purpose than history, with no-one trying to turn them into a bar, the Gehry inspired Museum of Liverpool, and some Beatles stuff - disappointingly the Fab 4 cafe does not serve Lennon Latte or Ringo Ratatouille or even Stuart Sutcliffe Scouse stew. The shop upstairs sold Elvis memorabilia and Rolling Stones t-shirts. Like a One Direction emporium stocking Take That and JLS miscellanea.

The lambananas are still out in force.

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On Sunday, [ profile] richardbajor and I walked in the woods behind his house, lemonade sun shining up the trees, lake and the old mine shafts (some of the pathway is made from old coal). There was no-one around, not even a dog-walker. The landscape was similar to that of the lower Lea Valley but with none of the people.

We went on to Formby beach to see the red (or rather, brown to suit the season) squirrels and the beach, the windmills whirligigging on the horizon.

2014-10-12 14.38.05_v1
millionreasons: (pankhurst)
I like to get to train stations early enough to have time to meander round the shops, read some trash in WH Smiths, buy a sandwich and get on the train before the latecomers, so we're at Kings Cross twenty minutes before the train goes. Unfortunately, I need the loo and the queue takes 16 minutes so we're rushing through the station with four minutes to spare and much heavy breathing. I'm not a fan of fast moving.

Because Virgin has decided not to run any trains this weekend (going somewhere? In the summer?! Unthinkable!), we have to change trains in Yorkshire. But First TransPennine are still running tiny three carriage rolling stock, lined with people standing in the aisles for over an hour This is what happens when you don't have a unified rail system, just a load of money grubbing friends of Cameron running the railways. FTP has also managed to lose my reservation - they make look First Great Western look competent (perhaps the clue is in "First").

By the Pennies are beautiful, the dirty golden stone villages, the green and purple hills with the occasional divine burst of light as the sun deigns to come out. We pass Totley and Dore with its cricket ground where the lovely Joe Root used to play.

Into Manchester and then down to Castlefield. We walk along Peter Street, scene of the Peterloo massacre. Indeed, looking up at the plaque, we notice that it took place 195 years ago today. There are wreaths on the ground to commemorate the anniversary. Hopefully the Guardian is preparing its bicentennial pull out souvenir for 2019. Also in Castlefield is the (in)famous Free Trade Hall, and St Johns' Gardens, an ex-graveyard where William Marsden, originator of the Saturday half day holiday was interned. I like this area, I like the redbrick Victorian buildings contrasting with the modern steel and glass, the old station now a shopping centre, the old indoor railway market, now part of the Science Museum.

But we are here to do the Coronation Street tour. The old set is, much like the show itself, on a back street. There is very little fanfare. There's almost a make do and mend approach as newer frontages, such as Nick's Bistro and the "Weatherfield quays" flats, are just tagged onto the front and back of the studio building. The green room looks like a sixth form common room. The dressing rooms are a little more glam but minuscule. I would be a giant if I worked here.

First of all we see the indoor sets: Carla's old flat, the Duckworths, Gail's living room. The sets are tiny, everything is built at 7/10ths of normal size. The only permanent sets are the factory and the pub, where we sit in the snug and then go pull a pint. The optics contain water or apple juice but the peanuts on the wall are real. It's very odd to be sitting there. Everything is pretty threadbare. There is also a props room: Deirdre's specs, Becky's cowgirl hat, Carla's wedding dress, Hayley's coffin, the Roy and Hayley snowmen. Finally, with a flourish, we are allowed onto "the famous cobbles", aka the outdoor set, which is almost like a model village. We wander the guinnels, peering into the scruffy yards, noting that the trees and flowers are real. To my amusement, Gail's front door has the same patterned glass design as in our bathroom at home. "She should clean them nets," says one woman, looking up at the bedroom window disapprovingly. Some houses aren't "owned" by the main characters, presumably this is where the extras live.


Eventually, we walk back into town, into the High Gothic town hall, over Piccadilly Gardens, which has been tarted up since I was last here with the wheel and those mid-market eateries that cities so love (GBK Burgers, Cafe Rouge, Wagamama, Caffe Nero) but it still doesn't feel like a place to hang out in, too windswept, too desolate.

In the evening, we eat at the cordon vert Bistro 1847, choosing the six course tasting menu (fave courses: battered halloumi with smoked lemon curd and shallots pickled in gin; panna cotta with smoked fudge and mead).

We wander through the bright neon and loudly frying smells of Chinatown. I do like Manchester: gay-friendly, multicultural without the tensions of nearby Oldham or Burnley, artistic without being fey, independent without being inward, proud of its heritage whilst not being stuck there. The transport is great, trams go out as far as Altrincham or Ackrington, there are free inner city buses, whilst other buses are £1, all to convince you not to bring your car into the city centre. Mind you, I'm glad our hotel room faces an ugly building opposite rather than onto the street so we don't hear the 2 a.m. crowd. It's nice to listen to silence.

We eschew the hotel breakfast to go to Annie's, owned by Fiz from Coronation St. Exiting the hotel into the middle of the city in search of breakfast feels like we're in Europe somewhere. Annie's is a lovely place - all armchairs, chandeliers, low lighting, show tunes on the CD player, but the food (cold baked beans! £5.75 for a scone!) doesn't really live up to the prices.

We set off over down the River Irwell in the hope of getting to Salford. We can hear signs of life, cars, helicopters, but it's absolutely empty, no people, dog walkers, cyclists, joggers or doggers. The blackberry bushes are plump with fruit. I push buddleia out of my path. Further on, we find out why - the canal is closed off, so we're onto a dreary A-road only enlivened by an out of town shopping centre that we can't take a shortcut through as there are no paths. But eventually we get to the other Coronation Street: rows and rows of back to back red terraces, looking, satellite dishes aside, pretty much as Tony Warren would have seen it when he created Corrie back in the '60s. We pause for photos outside the now iconic Salford Lads' Club. There's a notice in the window about saving the club, with a £250K target. Surely Morissey could put his hand in his designer jeans and pull out some loose change for them? Or a donation box on the wall for everyone who's made this pilgrimage.

Salford definitely seems a city apart, no two Jägerbombs for a fiver or Cafe Rouge here. It's also a far cry from Salford Quays Media City and the Lowry. There's no-one about, the streets are empty, apart from a man who pops out from his house to pick up a can from the shop opposite, ignoring us. We're just the current in a long line of cultural appropriators.

We wander back down guinnels and gitties and the A road to the Science Museum where we discover that Manchester invented: planes, cycling, cotton, printing, newspapers, sanitation, computing, suffrage campaigns and railways.

Back into town for lunch in the Northern Quarter and ice-cream in Affleck's Palace (flavours: Chorlton crack (salted caramel and peanut butter), fennel pollen (aniseed) and pear & espresso (pear & espresso)). Afflecks is like Camden Market - in 20 years little has changed, although the shop where I bought a lava lamp in 1993 is now a bead shop.

It's 4 p.m. and we have two hours to kill. We try sitting in the hotel bar, but it's full of men here to attend the Fan Boy Three convention, which seems to be a magicks dungeons and dragons type thing. I have nothing against people embracing nonsense (hey, I was a goth for two years, four years after goth was over), but I do object to shrieking, snorting, shouting and slamming of the table by people who don't get out much, so we end up wandering the upper echelons of Piccadilly station like lost souls until the train.

Because, as mentioned, Branson is having a weekend off running trains to collects his publicly funded subsidies, and because the official route was via Sheffield cost £72 per single ticket, I've booked separate tickets, Manchester to Doncaster, Doncaster to London. Worried that the crappy TransPennine service wouldn't get us to Doncaster in time to do a ten minute change and because train companies take no responsibility for their passengers - East Coast conductors are known as the least forgiving on the network, presumably because they get commission on tickets sold onboard - I started panicking about missing the train, or at the very least my knuckles would be white every time the train slowed down, I ended up buying another set of tickets for half an hour later, figuring it'd be cheaper than paying walk-on prices. As it happened, there was no need for them, but this is privatised train travel under your government, Mr McLoughlin. I remember the blessed freedom of the Supersaver, now just a distant memory of no travel before 10 a.m., on bank holidays, or on Saturday in July and August. Of these sweet memories, my youth was made.
millionreasons: (pankhurst)

The temperature gage falls steadily as we leave London in bright sunshine - 25, 24.5, 23, 22, then we hit North Yorkshire and it drops to 15°C as the rain begins to fall and doesn't stop for 5 hours. It's grim up north and rather too late to remember that I hate camping. We enter a world of disorganisation: stewards who don't know where things are, victuallers who've brought bottles and cans, but aren't allowed to sell them because of health and safety and are forbidden to decant them because of licensing laws, toilets that have either water or soap but not both, hire bikes that aren't there when we try to collect them. There are golf carts to take us down to the pitch, but we have to wait ages because there're only two of them.

With the hindrance of the staff, we finally find the tent to pick up our festival of cycling wristbands. I try to take what I think is a free programme but "That's £5," snaps the woman. I suggest there be a sign stating: "Programmes: £5" and the woman glares at me. But Dave manages to blag some free tea.

The Tour is massive here. Flicking between Radios Hull, York, Leeds, Sheffield, all is talk of Le Grand Depart, or Le Reyt Grand Send Off. Bicycles are painted yellow and displayed in gardens. Red spotted, green and yellow bunting is stretched across houses. Tiny knitted yellow jerseys are in windows. It's the biggest thing to happen to Yorkshire since the Vikings.

We pitch our tent, by which I mean Dave pitches it and I disconsolately knock in a tent pole, badly. I'm not an outdoorsy person. It's safe to say that I’m an indoorsy person whose home comforts are necessary for well-being. I like a gentle cycle ride or walk in the sunshine, but you will not find me up Scafell Pike or even on a walk to the shops in the rain. And there's nothing worse than queuing for an uncleaned portaloo (I have pissed in too many portaloos this year. I intend to make 2015 the year of the proper toilet). I don't like being too far from a city or a microwave.

Fortunately, Naomi and Nathan have brought their caravan with its awing, which we sit in and, in the absence of decent festival food, we eat a pot noodle and chips and then go to bed in a thunderstorm and wake up with wet feet.

But the weather decides to perk up for the start of the tour. The view of the house and the lake is now great rather than grey. By the time the caravan has started to make an appearance, the sun has come out bright and hard as we sneak into the second line behind the barriers as the crowd cheers the police, the roadsweepers, the outriders, the support cars. These people should go stand at the side of a motorway, they'd have a ball. The gendarmerie are here, telling us not to cross ze road when ze cyclists ride past. I really don't think we need the French to tell us what to do, and in any case they should say "traversez pas la route". There are a few comedy Faux-Francais here in berets and plastic onions, as well as roadside signs for Fraises Fraiches, but no actual Frenchies.

The caravan is like a village fete with many trucks featuring waving people and giant fibreglass models advertising Haribo sweets, bottled water, McCain chips, fruit squash. They throw out freebies to the crowd, which we bay for (Dave catches, with Andrew Strauss like aplomb, another free pack of tea) and when the royal helicopter lands, people run to the other side of the field to catch a glimpse of Wills and Kate and the ginger one. We're the grateful plebs hoping for crumbs and a sighting of the king (to be). Maybe we do need some revolutionary French people here.

At 11.30, the ceremonial (i.e. slow) peloton goes by, still quicker than it is possible to spot Froome or a pre-broken Cavendish.

We go to find our pre-booked but unavailable bikes, watch the red arrows fly past, and then get a halloumi ciabatta at the Morrison's pop-up kitchen. I hate to admit it, but Morrison's provide the best food here. Otherwise it's depressing noodles for £6, chips, or a "burrito" (i.e. beans and onions in a wrap).

We set off on our bikes, following a group of people in the direction of Harrogate, up West Yorkshire hill and down North Yorkshire dale, although I am more the lanterne rouge than red spotted jersey. We stop on the outskirts of Harrogate at a parade of shops featuring a florist, a Chinese takeaway, a shop selling Tour mugs and a Co-op for much needed water and ice-cream.

Back at Camp Yorkshire, Dave moves the tent from under the tree to not under the tree, since some kids have brought down a branch trying to rescue their frisbee, interrupted by a tearful 7 year old who's lost her parents. I haven't mentally left London yet; as she comes up to us to tell her story, my first thought is: "Is this a scam for money?" Dutifully returned, we barbecue and drink and watch the red kites at night until the mists rise off the lake mingling with the smoke of a hundred barbecues as the sun goes down. In his slanket and wide brimmed hat, Nathan looks like a cowboy druid in the sunset.

After a cooked breakfast, we decide not to cycle 17 miles to where the tour is passing on its second leg from York to Sheffield and go instead on the time trial trail around the grounds, house and garden. Yesterday, Dave did five laps in 45 minutes - I manage twice up the hills, carrying the bike over a gate, past No Entry signs, over gravel and pot holes in about an hour and a half. At the top of the tour, I investigate the formal gardens and borders and wonder why the Earl and Earless Harewood don't maintain their roads properly. We ride back along the family trail: lake, waterfall, silent woods.

Go watch the last bit of l'etape on the big screen, to see Froome take the lead then lose it to Nibali (I believe we're going to see a lot more of him) and eat the last "bento box" i.e. some left over noodles and 4 pieces of sushi from a food stall. The festival has been kicking people out at 6 p.m., leaving us to make your own entertainment, but sending round security patrols to make sure we're not having too much fun. Today, closing time is at 5 p.m. (I thought festivals were supposed to end at 5 a.m.) and we repair to the pub just outside the grounds, which is not only a Sam Smiths pub but also does food - oh, not on a Sunday. They seem surprised and rather unaware of the people and potential just next door, but this is not the South, we are not an untapped market. I have an argument with a man about who's next to the bar, but it's the  opposite of how it would be in London: "No, you go first," "After you". We go back to the campsite and raid the rest of Morrison's, which is selling everything off at Yorkshire prices - two packs of halloumi for a pound! Prepared fruit, 50p! 6 bread rolls 25p! Dave barbecues the halloumi, Sophie cuts her birthday cake and then it's the final night of sleeping in the fucking tent.

All photos by [ profile] davidnottingham

In Bath

May. 2nd, 2014 12:48 pm
millionreasons: (pankhurst)
100 minutes to get to Paddington - go! We heroically battle it through the tube strike (top tip: the train line from Finsbury Park to Kings Cross) to get to the train station, making it with time to spare for croissant-eating before the train leaves.

We arrive in Bath and take the route down by the river, past warehouses and rusting bridges - the non-Georgian part of the city the tourists don't see - to our B&B (complimentary sherry on the dresser) and make our way out into the town via the Royal Crescent, the Circus and the Georgian garden, from which I can surmise that the Georgians weren’t that keen on gardening - it's mostly gravel. It's midweek in April, maybe come August it'd be hellish, but despite all the touristana, Bath still feels like a lived in city, rather than a set piece for visiting Americans and Europeans. It's not so York-y as York.

We lunch in the hipster cafe area (beards, baristas, burritos) and then meander down to the Roman Baths, which consists of the baths, Roman aqua-engineering, some curses presented to the Gods after clothes, jewels or slaves were stolen, left over Roman stuff that you could probably find in Londinium or Danum, a lot of French tour parties (I'd suggest the museum get rid of these, they don't add to the experience), spa water (dégolasse, according to the French teens), Celtic presents to the Romans, and ducks.

I find it fascinating that the baths, which have a Roman shrine to Minerva, were built on the site of a sacred Celtic spring, and just opposite is the Protestant Abbey. Religion meets water, once again. The piles of tiles used in the hypocaust look like pagan standing stones. The Romans used to make an offering to Minerva - wine or a small animal, the sacrifice was something important to the person making the offering, rather than the thing itself being self-sacrificing. Nowadays, people still worship water by giving away something important: making a wish as they throw coins into a Wishing Well or shopping centre water feature. Indeed, here we are encouraged to throw coppers into the sparkly green pool, shimmering like the northern lights (there are no $ notes like you find in the collection boxes of other museums). Interestingly, we are told that whilst the Romans tried to introduce cleanliness and their version of bathing to the world, it only stuck in Greece/Turkey, and was then exported back to Western Europe in the form of Hamams.

In the evening, we eat at the delicious Acorn restaurant; the only complaint I had was that the chocolate tart was far too large, by the end, I wanted to do a dirty protest with it, rather than eat it. We walk back through Victoria Park in a late, blue dusk; people are sitting, chatting on the grass. I wonder if folk bring disposable barbecues in the summer and whether the residents of Royal Crescent ring the police. I wouldn't want to live in Bath - it's too twee and expensive but I really wouldn't mind if my walk home was through Victoria Park.

The Botanical Gardens are empty. One of the things I like about other places is that you forget that high-density London living isn't the norm in other cities. Here there is no-one but us to admire the peace and calm, bluebells, tree sculpture, Jupiter's head, little brooks and pretty blossom trees. There's a notice outside stating that the gardens were a privately-owned Victorian affair (yet open to the public), but in the '20s, the management committee struggled to maintain it, so they handed it over the city. Such a difference from nowadays when public owned property and services are sold off to the private sector. I touch the giant redwoods, finding it reassuring to know that they will still be here long after we've gone, unless Bath sell it off to Capita and they start a logging subsidiary.

We venture into the Abbey, whilst a busker sings Cohen's Hallelujah in the square outside, which I find quite affecting, then meander over to the spa for a two hour session. There are 3 floors: a rooftop open air pool, a womb like circular warm pool in the basement and, in between, 4 different smelling (sandalwood, eucalyptus, jasmine, mint) steam rooms with a waterfall shower in the middle. I try to float off into a bubble and relax.

It's not that I dislike the spa, I just don't like the concept of a spa - it's for people who go on shopping holidays to Dubai and all inclusive resorts in the Dominican Republic. It's fake health for people who don't exercise. The permanently entitled: "I've paid for this so I'm going to...." The idea that because they've worked hard, they deserve this, that and the other, forgetting that other people work as hard, but for less per hour and so don't get life's little luxuries. I'm not a Communist puritan, but it feels that places made merely for relaxation make people soft and lazy. After two hours, I just can't be bothered walking up and down the stairs, so take the lift, I can't be faffed to swim, so use a float instead. Like when you hire a car and then a mile seems far too far to walk. An all ages hen party talk about their 1000 calorie per day diet - I want to suggest they just go swimming to burn the flab instead of nattering in the hot tub. It's also full of old people hogging the jacuzzi; I really think it's time that we revisit Logan's Run scenarios for the over 65s, before they over-run everywhere.

We eat lunch at a veggie cafe - I am so hungry that I don't even wait for the waitress to put both items of cutlery down on the serviette before shovelling food into my face.

Our last stop is a pilgrimage to the Bell Inn, which yesterday kicked out Nigel Farage. It's the sort of pub I can imagine Back to The Planet drinking in: adverts for festivals and the Anarchist Book Fair, dogs and kids running around, much smoking under the covered beer-yard. Not really a UKIP place. Someone has apparently set up a paypal account so people can buy the chucker-out a drink. "Prick" is the landlady's opinion of our Nigel.

We get to the train station and I'm disappointed that they've replaced the armchairs in the waiting room with screwed down metal benches. Jane Austen would not approve.
millionreasons: (pankhurst)
This is my first update of 2014. I have been doing things: Klee at the Tate, photos at the Portrait Gallery, afternoon gigs featuring French trip hop stars, birthdays (there are always birthdays), but none of these events inspired me to write about them.

Last weekend, I went to to Glasgow to see my erstwhile school-chum, Jin, along with other survivors of Doncaster's educational system, although my main mission was to persuade the Scots to vote no in the referendum, or, if no, to grant me asylum from forever Tory England.

I tale the train from Euston on Friday afternoon, the first time I've ever been up to the west coast by rail. Instead of Peterborough, Retford, Doncaster, it's Milton Keynes, Crewe, Wigan. Unfortunately, it's dark by the time we get to Warrington, so I don't get to see Carlisle in all its, um, glory, but Wigan looks impressive in the watercolour twilight. When we set off, it's lovely to see the countryside, all that space with nobody in it, but it gets boring looking at England: its grey and grim countryside, the outskirts of railway stations, red brick houses, water towers, ruined warehouses, container parks and out of town industrial estates. There's an awful lot of Midlands, and most of it is awful.

I discover that the best way to avoid getting irritated by all the people disobeying the rules of the Quiet Coach (first rule of Quiet Coach is: Quiet! Second rule of Quiet Coach is: Shush!) is to not book the quiet coach, then silence is a bonus.

In the toilet, there is an announcement: "Don't throw nappies, sanitary towels, junk mail, mobile phones, unpaid bills, your ex's sweater or hopes, dreams and fears down the loo." Nice try, Branson! If Branson had real chutzpah, he'd name a train The Simon Hoggart.

Arrive into Glasgow pretty much on time and, after discovering that Jin is waiting for me in the wrong station, we find each other up, meet Helena off the Wigan train and grab cabs back to Jin's West End pad, two floors (and a mezzanine) of a Victorian house, with nooks, crannies, mysterious stairwells, a disappearing cat and a Rennie Mackintosh designed (or at least inspired) stained glass door. We visit her shop, which is a commuter friendly five mins from her door, just near the bridge, stocked with craft beer and fine wines and delicious looking chocolates. The street is an A-road, but lined with Stoke Newingtony shops: artisan cheese, organic vegetables, cafes, and, um, Pizza Hut. We have a drink in a pub and a late night curry where the rest of the clientèle slowly disappears, leaving us to out in-jokes and schoolyard recollections, some true, some not. I go to sleep on the sofa and wake up with sciatica.

We have toast rather than Buckfast for breakfast and then take a pleasant stroll through Kelvinbridge park, which leads us to the city centre and the mixed charms of Sauchiehall Streets. Whereas Buchanan street last night in the dark with people and lights and alcohol was exciting and Kelvinbridge all dignified stone houses, Nash-style terraces, churches and the university, Sauchiehall Street is a little down at heel. We eat lunch at McSleazies, a bar Jin used to live above, which does rather good veggieburgers: not something I say too often. We spend the rest of the day meandering around kilt shops and then taking the clockwork orange (fast! cheap! reliable! not too crowded!) back to Jin's house to get ready for Burns' Night. The girls get dressed up, the boys more so:

Oran Mor, our venue, is a de-consecrated church just a little further up Great Western Road. We have a lovely Burns' Night meal (posh mushroom vol au vent, veggie haggis, neeps and tatties, and clootie parfait, which is Xmas pudding ice cream and not some kind of sexual act). I sit next to Andy, whom I haven't seen for a while. He tells me about his vicar dad who recently lost his faith: "But I think he was just preparing for retirement". He is now a locum Reverend, just doing funerals. We also talk about the app you can get in Iceland to ensure the boy/girl you're chatting up isn't related to you. "They should have one in Doncaster, it'd save a lot o'bother."

I retire, hurt, to the airbed whilst the others stay up drinking whisky. At about 3 a.m., I hear songs from A Chorus Line being

Catch the train from Queen's St to Edinburgh, then cross the Tyne in the afternoon sunshine, power-stations steaming blue, and on to Darlington, York, Peterborough, home.
millionreasons: (pankhurst)
We went to Broadstairs for an End Of Summer weekend, not knowing when we booked it that summer would have ended a fortnight ago. Good god, I might as well have stayed up north if it's going to snow in March and rain in September. Anyway, we did the traditional seaside things: walks on the beach, air hockey in the arcade (Rachel win), minigolf on the prom (David win), gelato in the ice-cream parlour, looking at the pretty beach-huts, drinking local ale in the local pub (which played a fine selection of 80s obscurities, from Pat Benatar to Nik Kershaw to Colonel Abrams. No Duran Duran here, oh no) and making note of all the Dickens themed things: Copperfield's B&B, Barnaby Rudge pub, Mr Bumble's antiques, The Old Curiosity Shop tearooms, Bleak House hotel. Unfortunately no Havisham Wedding Emporium, Marley's Secondhand Shop or Tiny Tim's Turkey Twizzlers Sandwich Shop.

We also ventured to Joss Bay to look at the Wheels and Fins festival, arriving in time to see the go-kart racing, which mainly involved standing behind hay-bales watching middle aged men narrowly cheat death whilst going down a hill in a contraption made of old bits of wood, cricket bats, things found in the garden shed and in one case, a shopping trolley. And a Last Of The Summer Wine-inspired bath-tub. Necessity is the mother of invention, but perhaps community enjoyment is its uncle.

millionreasons: (billie)

The "quiet" coach comprises one group of lads, one squally baby, one whining 8 yr old, assorted screechy teens and one annoyed Rachel. There needs to be some sort of introvert/extrovert test before people are allowed into the quiet coach. Or a mobile signal jammer. Or King Herod in a bad mood.

Yeah, yeah, I always start travelogues complaining about airports or quiet coaches, but I work in a noisy, open plan office and at home, the neighbours' favourite thing to do is DIY at 11.30 p.m., and the estate playground (screech scream) is on one side of the flat, and, on the other, assorted beeping minicabs, car alarms, and people who park on the road outside and turn their tinny stereo up to 11. I never get any P&Q.

Anyway. We're going to Worcestershire because it's there. And because I, we, have never been there and can now say that I, we, have been to every English county, including some that no longer exist (Avon, Middlesex, Humberside). Indeed, the St. George’s cross and union flags are out in force, the man with the massive three lions tat is showing it off; either this is UKIP Central or it's fete week in Malvern. We're staying in Malvern Link, which is Malvern suburbs and, we find out later, where the working classes were obliged to leave the train so that the middle and uppers could alight at Malvern, and, if they were staying at the posh hotel, walk (or get a carriage) through a tunnel (the worm), without having to view any plebians. We know our place, I suppose. Nowadays, Malvern Link is where people have classic cars, and regular bathroom and kitchen refurbishments.

It's boiling. We foolishly decide to walk up a giant, winding hill in the midday heat to eat at St Anne's Well, worth it for the surrounds, if not the pedestrian food (which seems to be sourced from Lidl). I did hope someone would be waiting with cold towels at the top of the hill - there wasn't, but we did plunge our hands in the spring water fountain.

We do the museum (Elgar, Bernard Shaw, Malvern bicycles, iron-age forts, Jenny Lind, the water cure (I get a vision of Last of the Summer Wine style Victorians going down the Malvern Hills in a bath-tub)) and the Priory, where they've kindly put on a choral performance for us (or maybe just a rehearsal) to have a  look at the Mediaeval tiles, the stained glass, the misericordia (mercy seat) and the wardrobe-like exit that apparently influenced CS Lewis (there's a gas lamp right outside).

We go sit in the pretty Priory Park awhile, watching the sprinklers watering (no hosepipe ban, no, not yet) the bowling green, and feeling envious of the grass. Too knackered to walk back, we get the very hot train from the Betjeman-esque Victorian rail station, all iron latticework, Brief Encounter tearoom and prettily painted pillars. We have a half-decent (no, 7/8ths decent) curry in Vasai and then look at ice-cream in the Co-op. Two Ben and Jerry tubs for £3 or 3 Magnums for £2? The latter, obviously. It's hot enough to justify ice-cream greed.

Having done Malvern, culturally, we get the train to Worcester and walk down by the river, up the high street, over college green  and into the cathedral. I'm not sure if it's sacrilegious to take off your shoes in a church, but I long to put my feet against the cold marble floor. I am no good in heat. We're not made for each other.

We have a Ploughman's in the cathedral refectory (cheeses for Jesus), which promises "a selection of cheese from Worcestershire, Herefordshire and Gloucestershire" - cheddar from Worcester Tesco's value range, cheddar from Hereford's Sainsbury's and Double Gloucester from Asda.

We get the train at 2.30 and are therefore just outside London as Andy Murray does it for Scotland Britain. I'll be able to tell my grandchildren that. My exceptionally polite and well-mannered children, who never shriek in the quiet coach.

In Belges

Apr. 25th, 2012 10:01 am
millionreasons: (Default)

The problem with the Eurostar is that any annoying people who sit nearby are not going to get off in a few stops hence. So when we were surrounded by a noisy inter-related group arguing in English with a French woman about seat numbers, I felt travel stress rising. As someone who can translate the word 'quinze', I felt I should interfere, but they sorted it out amongst themselves and then promptly fell asleep, instead of chuntering away on their mobile phones all the way to Brussels. Tired old people make the best travelling companions.

Through the tunnel into France, once a wonder, now almost boring, like flying above the clouds. Into a land where the clouds are that much fluffier, the oil seed rape more lemony and pylons look like strange, silent monsters.

Did picks us up and we go to get some traditional Belgian food - red and green curries and pad thai. Belgium doesn't look much different after its 2 years of governmentlessness, in fact people seem to behave more lawfully: no reversing out of underpasses or parking on roundabouts as we've witnessed before. Did says that the Walloons and the Flems still hate each other, however. Why not build a wall down the middle of Brussels? That worked well in Berlin, so I'm told (indeed when looking at the train times to Bruges, I had to select from the drop down list either Bruges St Pierre or Brugge Sint Pieter. Bloody Belgians!) I do like Brussels though, it's a big ol' dirty city with lots of different bits, some crap, some great (once you've left the centre), although Charl and Did have lived in so many areas that I still can't get my bearings. Now they're in the Hampstead of the city, Bois de la Cambre. Their Le Corbusier-esque flat is set at the edge of the woods. so I go to sleep looking at le foret and wake up curtainless staring at it like a Patrick Keiller film, trees blowing in the breeze, no-one to hear them if they fall.

After some negotiation, we all squeeze into the car (ickle Henry in his child seat), and set off for Bruges, spending the day wandering around the Medieval squares and alleys. I guess the way to preserve your Medieval heritage is to surrender to the Nazis. I've been here before, 10 years ago - oh how quickly it goes - and just remember it being very cold with a lot of chocolate shops. There are, surprisingly, still a lot of chocolate shops. I peak too early and buy a mixed 100 gms from a shop just off the Markt main square; I should've held out until the nicer looking places down by the river. After the Markt and the Berg we do lunch in a patisserie: goats cheese salad, chocolate mousse cake and a deconstructed hot chocolate (hot milk, a bowl of chocolate pieces). Dave goes for the house hot choc which also includes 2 biscuits, 2 chocolates, and both ice and whipped cream. And a profiterole.

The Basilica is shut so we don't get to see the Holy Sanitary Towel so walk along the riverside a while (spotting Did and Charl  on their boat trip, Don't Look Now style), in and out of churches and museums, past Rapunzel towers, crossing over Bruges's bridges, watching a Medieval procession (someone dressed as Mr Claypole pushing a modern rubbish cart is quite hilarious), sit and listen to the Belfry bells try to play Beautiful Dreamer, eat some trad. frites and mayo and make our way through the lovely park to the gare. We were promised 12 degrees and raining so I brought a winter coat and umbrella but end up burning my face in the sunshine.

I'm glad the Bruges-Brussels train is free (with the Eurostar ticket) since it's ridiculously crowded and we have to walk almost to Ghent before we find a seat. Tediousness in Brussels Midi as we have to go through the double passport control (to leave Belgium and arrive in "England") and even more tedious posh woman sat behind us who changes her baby's nappy (twice) at her seat. It's a pity the tunnel and the train roof aren't made of glass so we could see the fish and corpses of the Channel floating past.

Ten minutes before we're supposed to arrive, we're sitting at Ebbsfleet station, and then again at Stratford, because the UK Border Control have requested that the train stop due to congestion at St Pancras immigration. We end up being 25 minutes late. Here's an idea you can have for free, UK Border Control: Employ More Staff.

millionreasons: (wine)

For once I have no complaints about the train. It is timely, quiet (we even have French people opposite us talking about horses, rather than squally teens) and, most importantly, warm. Through a Surrey-scape of frozen lakes, icing dusted trees, sugar frosted fields, icicles hanging off bridges stalactite-style, glum looking animals poking for food, until the Wight Rider ferry which, amazingly, corresponded with the times of the London trains. We, however, didn't correspond with the time of the London train, sailing over Waterloo Bridge on the 76 just as the 11.30 was pulling out, which gave us an hour to drink bowls of coffee in Le Pain Quotidien, an over-priced Belgian bakery chain which nonetheless managed to be relaxed and efficient at the same time. Plus: fig jam.

Over the sea to Ryde where we took the rinkety-tink electric train to Shanklin and then the bus to Ventnor where Alice had hired a house for her birthday, a vast 4 storey Victorian mansion, really lovely, except there was no central heating so we had to huddle around oil heaters and a log fire, kindled with copies of the Daily Mail (it burns green; all the evil and jealousies and spite pouring out). It was fine for those who'd grown up in rambling 19th century houses with secret corners and hidden nooks, but I spent my youth in a 70s double glazed Barrett home. I have no idea of how to be cold indoors.

We ate jacket potatoes and watched The Double Deckers, me wondering who was now dead. We guessed Doughnut. We were right. I spend the evening re-reading The Growing Pains of Adrian Mole. Recently, it was the 30th anniversary of the publication of The Secret Diary of... Mangan of the Guardian stated that originally, she thought the book was a real diary and Adrian Mole had dictated it to Sue Townsend. I didn't think that, but aged 9, I didn't realise that it was supposed to be funny, I thought it was deadly serious and I very much identified with Adrian, despite him being a stinky boy. Anyway, I laughed and laughed and then cried because it's no longer the 80s. I did read The Wilderness years some time ago, but didn't like it because teenagers being unworldly and misunderstanding and self obsessed without self awareness is hilarious, in adults less so. I also realised that the book is as much about Adrian's mother as it is about Adrian with Pauline Mole as a stand in for Sue Townsend.

Saturday, we went for a wander into town, to the perfect curve of Ventnor's cove, past deco and faux-deco buildings and waterfall, to a beachfront cafe for coffee and then onto the Esplanade for a walk round the bay in brilliant sunshine to Bonchurch which featured an 11th century church, snowdrops, red squirrels scrambling in trees, a pond and a pyramid. Dickens stayed here, as did Swinburne, whereas Marx and Turgenev holidayed in Ventnor. Back in the town we have soup and coffee and bump into the others and venture onto the beach before wandering around, past the Potty the Pirate pub to the coastal cliffs before turning back.

In the evening, we have pasta, wine, throwing coal on the fire, listening to Ava's snores on the baby monitor which sound like the Tardis landing, games of What's This Chair in which you use a chair to mime an object. I considered doing tampon but settled for umbrella.

We wander, Everyday is like Sunday style, up the cliff tops to the Botanical Gardens which will look nice when plants are growing and down the steps to the adorably twee Steephill Cove, all fishing smacks, thatched cottages, boat houses, beach huts decorated with buoys, and a lighthouse. We clamber back up and have chips on the front before repairing to the house where Alice is having her birthday cake and tea before taxi-train-ferry-train-tube-bus back to London which, in its southern parts, is still covered in snow, like we've been abroad or something.

millionreasons: (Default)
Another weekend, another seaside town.

I'm going to be a little bit contrary and state for the record that I don't like the new-ish St Pancras station. Yes, it looks pretty, yes it has a champagne bar and a big snogging statue, yes it's easier to get the Eurostar than from Waterloo, but for other trains, it's a nightmare. I arrived 20 minutes early for my train and I needed all of those minutes to locate the ticket office - I ended up going into a coffee shop just to find a departures board. There are signs to trains and if you know that you need East Midlands trains to get to Nottingham or First Capital Connect to go to Luton (yes, the old Thameslink station was a train station in a toilet rather than a station in a shopping centre but at least it was quick to get to the platform), then you're fine, but I imagine tourists exiting the Eurostar and looking for their connection might be somewhat confused (especially as railway companies do seem to lose their franchises on a regular basis). But at least they can have a nice croissant in Paul's, hey. Eventually, after wandering up and down, I find the Southeastern section, buy a ticket for the high speed service, walk though yet more opportunities for shopping to the platform and set off on the comfy, spiffy, speedy train which sails through the English countryside at 160 mph until just outside Ashford where the electricity goes and we sit looking at a bank of weeds for 20 minutes. It sets off again for 2 minutes and then stops again for another 20. Eventually, we get going again, before they announce the train will be terminating early at Ramsgate. Bring back fucking steam trains: the one from Sheringham to Holt last weekend was perfectly on time. Never mind getting in Deutsche Bahn to run our trains, let the heritage enthusiasts do it; at least they care about trains, rather than subsidies and shareholder dividends. Of course, this isn't actually Southeastern's fault, it's the overhead cables that are causing the power outages, but a) they didn't need to stop the train at Ramsgate which added 10 extra minutes and extra stress onto the journey, b) they didn't offer mobile calls, drinks, or information about refunds and c) they didn't know what time the trains to Margate left Ramsgae (I texted David, who could easily tell me after a few taps on his phone).

Anyway. Finally arrive, not in the best of tempers and at first, Margate does not do anything to change this with its horrible towerblock, its closed down shopping arcade (the only shop left open is one selling bongs), its shut Dreamland, its beach-front Primark, its dodgy looking everything, but by the time we've walked around the swoop of a bay, had a nice meal in the art gallery cafe and walked up Kings Road with its vintage clothes and modern antiques and Tudor house, I'm softening to the place. I imagine that this is how Brighton was in the 70s before the Londoners moved in: a little bit grubby, a little bit alternative, a little bit run-down. We go to the Shell Grotto, a bizarre and rather wonderful place, 4.6m shells stuck with fish-glue in formations under damp gothic arches. There are many theories to the origins of this place; it seems to me that hobbyists have always existed.

Walk back down to the Turner Contemporary, and have a look at the galleries. Like the Tate in St Ives, there's a stunning window as you enter; this one by Daniel Buren, Borrowing and Multiplying the Landscape, stares out at and frames the sea.

Upstairs, I sit and watch Limit of Everything for ages, it's a majorette twirling her batons, a juggler with fiery clubs, a magic wand, a sparkler, turning shapes.

Also of note is Arcadia by Ellen Harvey, the flashbulb list seaside (arcade-arcadia geddit?) style installation outside and then inside, etched on mirrors show Margate landscapes. Apparently they're rebuilding Dreamland.

I also like Russell Crotty's work, creating pencil and charcoal cliffscapes out of scribbled seaside words.

Looking out at the sweeping seafront vista: the Georgian houses, the lighthouse, the remains of the Lido, the harbour master's house (now a tourist information office), the clock tower, the art gallery with its broad public spaces and crushed shell path, it all looks rather loveable.

We walk back down the promenade to the train station, passing T.S. Elliot's shelter where he wrote some of The Wasteland:

On Margate Sands.
I can connect
Nothing with nothing.
The broken fingernails of dirty hands.
My people humble people who expect

Cheer up, Thomas, at least you didn't suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous train journeys.
millionreasons: (wine)
On the Dalston/Shoreditch borders (Dalsditch? Shoreton?), I see a woman sitting on a roof in a wedding dress, a man in a union jack suit, two girls selling royal wedding cupcakes on the street, a bus driver in a white suit and a fascinator. People celebrating in their own way. So why can't I join in? I quite understand the need to get together and celebrate something British that doesn't involve Morris dancing or being mean to minorities, and I can even forget that the reason everyone is so excited is because it's ROYALTY and THEY'RE BETTER THAN US, but it's the news media saturation that I cannot bear. The Middle East is exploding, the NHS is collapsing, the student who had brain damage from a police baton has been charged with violent disorder, people are rioting over a new Tesco (!), but 25 minutes of each daily news broadcast are taken up with dresses and guest lists and family trees and cakes and carriages. It's like a frenemy giving you every single detail of their tedious nuptials every single day until you want to brain them with a baseball bat. Circuses to make us forget we have no bread.

I can't sit on twitter making comments like: "it would be hilarious if Pippa Middleton got her period right now", I can't be camp about it when people's jobs are at risk and benefits are being cut and the Tories' five year plan to turn the country into 1887 without the use of a Delorean is in full swing. I'm sorry if that makes me a po-faced party-pooping miserable git.

Actually, I'm not sorry.

Anyway, the train to Brighton is three quarters empty and the town city is full of sunshine when I arrive. There are hen parties wearing Will 'n' Kate t-shirts and some blokes in Queen masks (Liz, not Freddie) and a man giving out free union jack flags (I consider taking one in order to set it alight, but it's made of plastic) but otherwise the RW fever seems fairly low key. Meet David and go for a coffee at Taylor Street and wander down to the pier to sit with the old people.

Then it's David's belated birthday meal at the vegetarian and posh Terre a Terre, which is extremely lovely, even if I have to google some of the ingredients (crotin? Is this a carnivore plot to kill me?). I have deep fried courgette flowers with asparagus mousse and Dave has the poshest 'fish' and chips in the world - battered halloumi with crushed peas, vodka infused cherry plum tomatoes, and a quail's egg on a bed of sea vegetables. For pudding I have churros with two pots to dunk in, one of chocolate, one of vodka cherries; I combine the two to make black forest donuts. I love everything about the place except the menus which are A3 sized, like the ones you get in Giraffe or those other places which serve steaks, burgers, salads and pasta, with sticky toffee pudding and New York-style baked cheesecake for dessert. I suppose a detractor could point out that indulging myself at fancy restaurants when disabled people are being forced off benefits is as bad as royal wedding decadence, but then again, it's £74 at my expense, not £74 million at the tax-payer's.

We are staying at Emily's house, so go over there with a bottle of red and sit and drink it before meeting Steve and others in the pub. We go onto Fitzherberts where a band called The Rhinestoned Immaclates (sic) are playing. They are as dreadful as their name. I don't recognise the lead singer but apparently he is Noah Taylor, a famous actor. I think he should stick to being famous. However, later, when he's clearing up (no roadies!), instead of snapping at me for having borrowed his skull shaped shaker to use when I'm dancing to the DJ's eclectic mix of old blues, The Sonics, The Cure, Ian Dury, and the Beatles, he gives Dave the other one so we can both shake along (although he does ask for them back). Indeed, it's so relaxed here, people leave their bags and drinks unattended and apologise as they push past you. When I visit other people in other cities, they seem so grown up with cars and babies and marriages and proper jobs, but here people still have romantic dramas and go vinyl-shopping and consider 11 a.m. a reasonable time to wake up and the tattoo ink never runs dry. It's terribly tempting to buy a 2 up 2 down in a pastel coloured terrace in Kemp Town and settle down to retire, wandering the laines and eating at vegetarian cafes for the rest of my life.

Summer Set

Apr. 19th, 2011 10:13 am
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I got the idea of going to Cheddar from me old mucker Michael Portillo who visited the caves in the gorge as part of a TV programme on the Beeching cuts in the '60s. Unfortunately, I had forgotten this when I booked the train - you can't actually get a train to Cheddar, you need to go to Weston-Super-Mare and then get an hourly bus through Somerset suburbia to the actual village which seems to be the ultimate English tourist destination - chip shops, tat shops, tea rooms, beer and cheese shops for the grown-ups, ice cream and sweetie shops for the kiddies (we buy bottles of Bristol stout and wedges of cave-aged cheddar).

Eat a smoked cheese ploughmans before working it off climbing the 274 steps up Jacob's ladder and viewing point of the gorge. There's a cliff top country walk but we have caves to visit. Firstly Cox's cave which is son et lumiere-tastic with its classical music and soft coloured light sheen. The caves are a trillion years old (or something) and water has washed the stone down. No phallic stalactites/mites here, all is rather soft and curved and um, cavernous.

The next, interlocking cave is called The Crystal Quest which is populated by mannequins, scary flashing things and loud noises. It was made more realistic by some wimpish kids screeching ahead of us.The most terrifying bit was an out of work actor posing as a mannequin who put his hood on and went into action when he saw us. Anyway, we found the crystal.

Next up on our all you can eat tour is the Museum of Pre-history (and Cannibalism) which has a garden featuring Cave Man Joe (surely that should be Cave Man Ug?) who has a yurt, some herbs and a stone-age Motorola walkie-talkie amongst his animal furs, skulls, flints and bones. The exhibition is actually rather interesting, not just explaining the stuff every secular person knows about Homo Erectus leaving Africa but how we moved from being loose groups to tribes (who then waged war on each other, eating their victims) was due to evolving from being the hunted (by dinosaurs predators) to being the hunters, creating not only the need to form hunting parties, but also trust bonds. It also posits the theory that whilst still at the hunted stage, the group would sacrifice a weaker/older/younger member of the tribe to the packs of T-rexs wild animals, giving rise to the notion of blood sacrifice which made its way into Amharic religions. I like explanations of the myths behind religion, it's better for god-busting than Dawkins et al.

Anyway, we leave the museum for the final cave (or probably the first cave, we're doing the tour backwards) which is less flashy than the other caverns, this is the one with the gorgeous "St Paul's" and "Diamond mines" caverns. There are caves and rocks shaped like black cats, parrots, witches. There's also the cave-aged cheese, an etching of a mammoth and a rock pool which, if you look closely, resembles the reflection of an under-water village.

Finish the day with the open-top bus tour which runs through the village and around, giving us a view of the cliff-top goats, sheep and peregrine falcons and shows us the "Coronation Street" fault (it goes on and on and on), tells us a story of Edward of Wessex's hunting party running a stag off the top of the cliff, with beagles and other huntsmen following to their deaths. The King's horse pulled up short, saving him; this was seen as divine intervention, so he got a handy priest to bless the cliff - I really think he should have blessed the horse. Even more incredulously, one family lived in a nearby cave until 1910 (although the internet does not corroborate this story). Pity the 253 from Finsbury Park to Hackney isn't open top in summer, although I imagine there would be a few fatalities on Day 1.

Back in Weston, we check into our B&B and walk down, past the Nash-esque Royal Crescent, to the front where the sunlight bathes the golden glow of the Bath-stone architecture reflected in the sand, much as the sky is mirrored in the sea. After sushi, tempura and noodles at Yo-Ji, we walk back along the prom, the multi-coloured neon of the pier turning the beach into a striped rainbow.

The weather forecast said it would rain today. They were wrong; it's sweltering even at 10 in the morning. Walk up to Birnbeck pier-cum-RNLI station and around Knightstone: the Victorian theatre turned luxury flats. Onto the new pier where I beat Dave's ass at air hockey (7-4) and bump into my fave TV presenter.

There's a really horrible ride in which you are strapped into a giant robot arm and flung this way and that for several minutes, trying not to puke on the fruit machines below. If it were accompanied by Barney the purple dinosaur music, you'd be confessing all kinds of things in seconds. Spend the rest of the day sitting, mooching, eating seaside food (chips and vinegar, pasties, double-decker flavoured milkshake) and the seven hours until the train passes astonishingly quickly.

millionreasons: (wine)
The Virgin train uses T-mobile to provide their internet service - perhaps Virgin Trains don't trust Virgin Media. I don't trust Virgin Trains - the wifi is £4.90 per hour (free on East Coast Trains), their reservation system is vague or inoperative, and the Quiet Coach just seems to mean people make 2 or 3 calls on their mobile rather than gassing on them for the whole journey. When I am King of the world, the quiet coach will be policed by ex-Stasi agents.

We have to change at Birmingham International. The Virgin train is its patented 5 minutes late, but by the wonder of 3G interwebz, we can find out which platform the Telford train goes from - better than asking a staff member whose reply is invariably "Check the departures board".

Opposite us is a posh-ish man in his 50s accompanied by an aged parent, and a teenage Brummie girl. They are all going to Aberystwyth. Ms Brum engages Mr Posh in conversation, asking what amenities there are in Aber. He explains about the beaches and the geography and geology of both, and about the narrow gauge railway. What do you like doing? Oh, I like hanging out with my friends and going shopping, she says. She's worried about the water in Aberystwyth as she once went to Butlins in Rhyl and got a stomach upset from the hard water. He assures her that the water will be fine. She asks if there's a Wetherspoons because they do a good breakfast 7-9 a.m. and then start serving at 9 although that's too early for a drink, really. He thinks that there is a Wetherspoons but he's not sure if it's open on Sundays.

Listening to them is a delight, makes the journey speed past. For all my Anglophobia, I do love English people and their (out of London) friendliness, their mild concerns, their interest in familiarity. Their familiarity.

The reservation cards always make me wonder who will be in 'our' seat afterwards. Where is Borth and why are people from Shrewsbury going there? I buy a Twix from the trolley service, looking at the menu in both English and Welsh. You can't get popcorn in Welsh, maybe because there is no word for it. Pypcrn, perhaps?

My parents pick us up in Telford and drive us to Ironbridge where we are staying, just outside the town in Coalbrookedale, to celebrate their Ruby Wedding Anniversary. I ask them why they decided to have it here. Because we've never been here and we thought there'd be lots for everyone to do, is the reply. So nothing to do with Tesco clubcard vouchers then? Well, only partly.

My parents never do anything without checking they can use that they can use their Tesco clubcard vouchers first (in this case they part-pay for the hotel). Later on, there's a discussion with my sister who uses her points at the cash till which means they are worth less than getting the vouchers sent to her. I am unable to offer an opinion as I haven't had a Tesco clubcard since mine was stolen by someone in the Old Kent road store in 1998. I do have a Mouse & De Lotz loyalty card (a mouse stamp on a luggage tag).

The hotel has won a gold award for Green Tourism which seems to involve having low-energy light-bulbs and fair-trade tea. Problem with the concept of a green hotel is that much of environmentalism is about not doing things to excess, but when you're in a hotel you have a very full hot bath, you use two half mini-jars of jam rather than one, you turn the heating up and open the windows.

We wander the town, stopping off to sit by the Iron Bridge and the cygnet-covered river. People are always attracted to water, whether this is biological (our 80% water content), or ancestral (people made camps by the river for food - and then trade), or just because water is pretty, I don't know.

Later, we eat in a pub which is not too bad (for pub food). They are playing Heart FM which is irritating at first but then they go into Disco Hour - Gloria, Donna, Aretha, Diana, Sister. I love me some Disco Classique. My dad starts to quiz us about The Hollies and which songs we know by them (Carrie-Ann, He Aint Heavy). My dad is surprised that we know any, given that these songs were released before we were born. Those baby boomers and their cultural hegemony that they forget they forced on us.

Apart from one woman who is upset that I sat on the next table to my sister at breakfast, rather than waiting to be seated, all the staff are utterly polite to the point of apologising when I hold the door for the laden chambermaid, which makes me nervous. The problem with customer service in Britain is that it's so class-based. If you buy or use anything cheap, from Lidl to Ryan Air to Argos, the staff are often rude to you. Anywhere posh, they are cringingly deferential. In uber-capitalist America, all customer-facing people are polite; they want your tips. In ex-communist Eastern and siesta time Southern Europe, people don't care so much about being courteous. It's only in egalitarian societies such as Iceland or Australia where people making a transaction with you treat you as just another person, not better or worse. 

We are ferried in two trips up to Blist Hill Victorian Village which was a 19th century industrial estate of foundry, furnace and brick works and now has pretend drapers, grocers, pharmacy, fried fish emporium, chapel, stone-masons, pub, post office and so on. There are real-life people dressed up as pretend Victorians (but without rickets or pleurisy) who tell you true facts. I would have preferred mannequins and recorded info, but that's just me. There's also a bank where you can change real money into farthings and pennies (minted in 1973) to buy bread form the bakery, sweets from the sweet shop and various tat from the various tat shops. Some of it is extremely well done, the squatter's cottage and the surgery both have kitchen gardens growing yer actual herbs and vegetables (I'm not sure what they do with the produce as the cafes sell the usual pasties and pop 'n' crisps) and a proper horse at the blacksmiths. As a tourist attraction, it's well-thought out, engineering stuff for the dads, the olde worlde shops for the mums and animals and sweets for the kiddies. And parkin and a clay mine train for the Rachel. The latter is a 5d trip into the (replica) mine which is pitch black until a silhouette tableau of Johnny and his pa dahn t'mine is shown on the clay walls, complete with rats and lack of oxygen as the candles stuff out.

We wander up the inclined plane, an ex-tramway that you can walk up, and then back down, past the gospel carriage, back by the river to the car park.

The evening is spent in the hotel restaurant which has 2 AA rosettes, with (what we'll just call) champagne and amuses-bouches and having to send the wine waiter back three times find out the percentage volume on various bottles, My parents have two wine obsessions, one is the coldness of wine (under Stevenson sharia law, rose, white and sparkling wine served over 2 degrees celsius would be punishable by Liebfraumilch) and the alcohol content (over 12.5% is sherry, apparently). Anyway, it's a nice meal although Dave's starter of pea, feta and tomato salad comes without feta or tomato and when sent back, we are told they've run out of feta which seems the sort of thing a cafe down Dalston might say rather than a 2 AA rosette restaurant. I consider suggesting they drive to Telford Tesco (using my mum's clubcard) and get some more, but David settles for a goat's cheese substitute.

My parents tell, in offspring-embarrassing detail, how they met, dated and got engaged (my maternal grandmother's reaction, on being told that they were getting wed was: "But what will you do with the piano?" My grandma could make Blanche Hunt look like a gentle old tea-cosy knitting granny). They got married because, apparently, in 1970, people didn't live together, a point my mother makes as if people born three years later could not possibly understand. So true, when I watch Vera Drake I can't imagine the shame of a back-street abortion, now that they're available on the NHS. Ditto when I read The Colo[u]r Purple, I can't envisage at all how life would have been for a po' black woman living in the pre-civil rights era in the US. Later, I realise my mother was probably having a Larkin "just too late for me" moment. And immediately, rather than words comes the thought of high windows: the sun-comprehending glass, and beyond it, the deep blue air, that shows nothing, and is nowhere, and is endless.

Or was that just the view from the stopped Virgin train.

January 2017

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