I have been promising myself since, oh, February that I would blog more about my UK trip. I’ve mentioned very little so far… in fact, it feels a little surreal…. Anyway, I thought I’d do a short quirky one: the beer we drank! Since we drank a fair bit – and before you start making quips about being alcoholic, much of the beer there is lower in the alcohol than the beer here in Aus, so it doesn’t compare! Since we stayed mostly in smaller towns, we tried very hard to drink local beers; I went for those with unusual names, as you will see… and I decided that just the beer was really quite boring, so I’ve added in the best food we et too.
Sheffield: Tetley’s for J; Carling for me; an ambrosial Samian dessert wine. Christmas dinner with J’s relatives was totally unforgettable. The turkey!!
Windemere: Boddingtons (and a brilliant Chilean sauv blanc at a Mexican place). Tapas – brilliant. And a nice steak and Guinness pie at the pub.
Dumfries: Deuchars Pale Ale; Stowford Cider (not a fan); Timothy Taylor’s Landlord. Alex discovers that fish and chips and beans means baked beans. Not a lesson to forget. Also smoked haddock and spring onion cakes – very tasty.
York: Copper Dragon. Poached salmon and asparagus; J had venison and cranberry stew! Great Italian.
Llanberis: Bass Ale; Unicorn Best Bitter. A truly heroic Indian banquet at “Spice of Llanberis”.
Abergavenny: Reverend James; Brains’ Smooth; Rhenmeny
Crosley Heath (weirdest place we stayed!!): Henry’s IPA; Doombar Bitter
Oxford: Harp and Caffreys – both not cask, very sad; some Cypriot version of ouzo that tasted like it was mixed with metaxa… whoosh! and something random at The Eagle and Child, famous for bring frequented by Tolkien, Lewis, and other literary types. Magnificent Lebanese; brilliant tapas again.
Cambridge: Abbot’s Ale; mulled wine (from a machine! J will never, ever forgive me for making him order it for me…). Dinner at King’s College, thanks very much Bridget! Tapas, again, and noodles at Dojo’s.
Canterbury: some Kentish beer; Archers’ A Good Tern (truly!). Manoli’s Taverna – stupendous Greek food (apparently, in a building that used to be a stable, at which Ben Jonson apparently stopped!).
London: boring beers I didn’t bother to record. Take-away Indian for a colossal price.
So there you go. More random bits and pieces to follow… that’s a threat…
It’s been a very long time since we went to the UK, so finally… here are some pics, in public.
So today really felt like winter – which does officially start tomorrow, so I guess that’s fair enough. So, in an effort to at least look a bit cheery, I wore my lovely bright red jumper to school. It’s very nice and warm… and I haven’t worn it (naturally enough) since we got home from the UK. It still has little bits of fluff on it from wearing it underneath my puffy jacket when we were over there.
All of this, also naturally enough, made me think about our trip. It feels like such a long time ago – only January! – and sometimes I still can’t believe we actually went. When I am over the next couple of weeks (report writing, NatCon (woohoo!), more report writing…) I really will blog more about The Trip. For now, just let me sketch Christmas, which is something we’ve had occasion to talk about a bit recently.
So we must have got up at sunrise – like about 8.30 or so (actually I’m sure it was earlier than that, but you get the picture), and I think we had toast or such like. We were staying with J’s cousins, and once their daughter and her boyfriend had arrived we opened presents. They were so generous to us – we got genuine Sheffield silver spoons, and chocolate enough that basically lasted the next four weeks, and I got a really nice pashmina. Anyway, all of this brought us to late morning, at which point we all piled into two cars and went to the cousin’s brother’s place. There, there was the other side of the family (J’s cousins, who are brothers, married sisters…) – we drank champers, darling, and ate nibblies. For an hour or two. Then it was back into the car and back to where we were staying. This bit I remember exceptionall well, because it was probably a 15 or 20 min trip during which I was balancing an entire turkey, in a foil tray, in my hands. It was at least 5kg, and because there were thre large adults in the back seat, it didn’t actually fit on my knees. So I balanced it with my arms underneath, hands on the sides, trying to watch the corners so as not to spill juices everywhere (I lost it once, and poured some on Matt – the cousin’s son (who is our age… the cousin mentioned earlier is actually J’s dad’s cousin… confused yet?) – who kindly forgave me). When we finally got back, and the turkey was taken out of my arms, I cramped. And my arms continued to ache for the next 48 hours or so.
We finally sat down to eat a real meal at about 3.30 or so. There was turkey, and ham, and lots of salads, and vegies, and sauces… and French red wine… it was incredible. We had bonbons – nice ones. After sitting a little, we had dessert – there was Christmas pud, but also a chocolate cake, because it was someone’s birthday, and it was brilliant. Complementing that was one of the nicest dessert wines I have ever tastes: from Samos. Bet you can’t buy it here.
And then, because that’s not enough for one day, we played charades (pronounced sharaaaads…). Competitively.
It was one of the most amazing days ever. Certainly one of the most memorable Christmas days I’ve ever had – it was just so different. And that was our third day.
So we’ve been home for a number of months now, and sometimes I feel like we never went. So I’m going to start trawling through my diary* and write up a few bits and pieces. I’m going to start by listing all the places we stayed, with a couple of words about what I thought of them.
# Started in Sheffield, because that’s where J’s relatives are – we stayed there for a week over Christmas. The ‘burbs we were staying in were very nice; the city – basically just like any other city.
# Windemere, in the Lakes Country. World’s Biggest Tourist Trap. Nice enough town, but expensive… the lake itself was quite nice. I’m sure it’s lovely in summer and even more expensive and crawling with even more tourists.
# Dumfries. Once we managed to find somewhere to stay – long, and annoying, story – a nice enough town. Had a very cool bridge in the middle of town, built at some time just to transport some huge gun.
# Haltwhistle. Very little border town. Not much to say about it, really. Nice pub; Newcastle fans to the max.
# York. I loved York – because we stayed within the walls (at a scummy backpackers’… more about that later). I loved the Shambles – they were beautifully crazy, cool little shops, and the Minster’s spire above it all.
# yeh, then we went back to Sheffield for a night, to do some washing…
# Llanberis, in Wales (so glad we stayed somewhere with the aspirated l). Lovely little town in Snowdonia; surprising variety of food, and J fell in love with the bike shop.
# Abergavenny – another lovely Welsh town. And another glorious bike shop for J to moon over. This was a really nice town, in general – pleasant ‘burbs, nice town centre… I could probably live there.
# Crosley Heath. The weirdest place we stayed, simply because we were staying in the post office and the owner of the house… well. Old and a bit crotchetty, but quite nice to us; we got weird looks from people down the pub when we told them where we were staying… and the farmhand dude was a bit odd, too. The house itself was nice. The town was really a village.
# Oxford. As a city, my least favourite place in the entirety of the UK. Dirty, congested, impossible to park in the town centre – and maybe I’m a bit biased because we nearly didn’t go there, due to not finding somewhere to stay. Crazy bikes, crazy motorists…
# Cambridge. As opposed to Oxford, probably my favouritest town in the entirety of the UK. The town centre, anyway – didn’t spend any time in the ‘burbs. The colleges and the Backs are glorious… the Heath is wonderful, to have such a huge space for anyone to use… it was just so liveable.
# Canterbury. A very nice town – small, easy to get around.
# London! There is absolutely no way I could ever live in London. The ‘burbs are more like separate towns that just happen to connect – funny, that’s just what they are. Inner London was entertaining, for a short period of time, but I couldn’t live there or work there. Way, way too many people. And cars. And pollution. But it was fun.
* I kept a diary every day. Every Day. It became quite a chore by the end, but I’m glad I did it.
Ah, Easter. We love it because it’s a four-day weekend (five days, before Kennet, not that I know I know anything about that little deal, seeing as I arrived in Melbourne only a little bit before he was defeated and I was at uni anyway). Of course, it’s also the anniversary of the death of Jesus Christ, and for those of us who are Christian it is therefore a sobering time of reflection – and joy. I love Easter because it’s the anniversary of my becoming a Christian; I was eleven this year. Yay for me!
We took the opportunity this year to go away for Easter. J was in the musical at St Jude’s – well, he was playing trumpet, which I guess isn’t technically “in” the musical, but he was participating in it – and the last night was Good Friday, which I really don’t get (I’ve also always been amazed that it is Good Friday: I mean, as a Christian I understand why it is a good day, but still…). This meant we didn’t go away until Saturday morning, but that was ok, since I’m on holidays and he moved his day off from Friday to Tuesday so we still had four days.
The first night we had in the Grampians. We had lunch in Ballarat with the in-laws – they’re on Stage Four restrcitions (actually, they are on tank water, but the town is on the restrictions), and if there are no changes they’re looking at having NO water by December); it’s really scary, until you remember that this is Australia, people, and we SO have to get out of the European mindset.* Anyway, we then went to the Grampians, and met up with MG and his fiancee (which is a bit exciting – been waiting for that for ages). They took some pics, then we eventually ended up at Burrough (sp?) Huts, at about 7.30pm, which was totally infested with people. We had a BBQ and went to bed.
The next day, Easter Sunday, we decided we would see what the Little Desert was like. J has this mad plan of taking pictures in every single one of Victoria’s national and state parks… it will be interesting to see how that turns out. Anyway, we travelled the 100km or so, went past Dimboola (and Wail, with a really cool nursery that we could only see through the glass), and finally got into the Little Desert proper. It’s not really a Desert, is the thing. When the Wimmera River is in flow (there were only a couple of bits with water – the bendy bits, mostly, which must be a bit deeper), it will/would be a most spectacular area. We camped at Acles Camp Ground, at about lunch time. I read for a large chunk of the day, and It Was Good. And when there is water – well, as I said, it will be spectacular. This is somewhere I would definitely go back to. J took some pics in the evening – a number of them from the riverbed, since it was as dry as a road.
After the night at Acles, with just one other car about 100m away (although we could hear some hoons over at Horseshoe Bend…), we drove a little way into the Desert, but turned around after 20km or so after we couldn’t go much further. We then went back to the Grampians, aiming for the Mt Stapylton campground, but going via Mt Zero Olives first: I love the idea of visiting organic-y, exclusive type places like this. And Mt Zero is really nice: a fantastic setting, great produce – we bought some basil oil, mellazina olives (my world has consequently been substantially changed), and some beetroot&orange relish. We also had lunch there, which was delightful – great food, great view, reading and ignoring the dog who adopted us because we were stupid enough to throw the stick for it… until someone else arrived, at which time we were promptly ditched as being Too Boring.
From Mt Zero, we went to the Staplyton campground, where again we sat around reading and dozing until J went to take pics (and being interrupted by middle-aged rednecks who thought that only non-English-speaking backpackers would be our age and in a Landcruiser like ours. Not sure how to take that.). He didn’t end up taking many good ones, which was a shame. We did end up sharing our campfire with some climbers, who were sort of interesting: a 25-ish bloke who works for a climbing gym and is obsessed, and a 30-something dude who works in the steel industry and is possibly even more obsessed, spending most of his weekends in the Gramps so he can climb, and 3 nights at the gym, and so on….
The next day we went to Horsham, via Natamuk, which J had heard was an interesting little town; he was so wrong. Then we drove to Ballarat for the night; we got some good light around Mt Buangor, which was good.
So our time away finished Wed morning, very early (we got home at c.8.30am).
*One of J’s cousin’s has really bad hot water, in Sheffield (UK), so they leave their water running for fully five minutes before putting in the plug to do the washing. I nearly died of shock. And I really will post some stuff about the trip at some stage….
So we are home; actually have been for a few days. We were in the UK, for those who don’t know. Most of it was England, a bit in southern Scotland, and a bit in Wales. It was totally overwhelming. I will eventually get around to writing a bit more here, and put up a few (out of the 400 or so) photos here and on Flickr. But I just can’t, yet. It was too much. But I had a huge amount of fun, and saw pretty much everything I wanted to. And it wasn’t nearly as cold as I was expecting either, except for the last week when we were in London and it snowed. The snow lasted until past midday, so it was pretty cold.
Due to having holidays – hurrah! – there has been and will continue to be something of a lack in posts. Like a complete dearth of them. But then, I don’t imagine this will stress anybody out.
Went to Adelaide on Friday night, for my sister’s 18th the next day. It’s always nice to go home, although in no real sense is it my home; I haven’t lived there for almost exactly 20 years (scary; I just realised that), and I certainly haven’t lived in there current house. However, the fam is there, and more importantly the bed I’ve had since I came out of a cot is there, and very nice to sleep in it was too.
The party was fun: good way to see all the rellies (except the aunt who is in WA) at one time. It was, however, a bit freaky then to go out that night to a bar… with my sister (and her friends). I’m not sure whether I feel old or just bemused at the thought that my little squister is old enough to go out to pubs legally. I think it’s jsut weird. It got even weirder when the bro joined us… all three kids out drinking alcohol together?? Bizarre.
Having been on holidays, I’ve read a fair few books. Probably the best was The Cruel Sea , by Nicholas Monsarrat. My mum recommended this to me a very long time ago, and visiting her I finally decided to borrow it and read it. I knew basically what I was getting myself in for – WWII convoy ships would necessitate some drama and tragedy, because that was simply a reality of the situation… I’ve also read MacLean’s HMS Ulysses, which is on a similar subject, so I was somewhat prepared.
Mum had said this was the first book that she had ever read where she was sad to reach the last page, and I think I had the same feeling, although it wasn’t my first time. It is astonishingly well written; there were a few points where I almost cried – and that rarely happens. I was almost heart-broken at the end, both because it had finished and because the characters had suffered so much: and I know this was reality for many, many people in war.
The characters are fantastic, well drawn and realised. Monsarrat doesn’t fall into the trap of making all the combatants heroic, bearing up stoically under pressure and always self-sacrificial, which while painful to read sometimes made it all the more gripping, because they seemed so real, I guess. I appreciated the introduction to the novel: it acknowledged that while there were women affected by the events, the novel concentrates on the men just because that’s where the story lies, for him. However, I was quite shocked that he told the reader to expect the first ship to sink; I found that quite incredible, and I’m not sure whether it changed my approach to it or not… I guess it did, because I was always on tenterhooks, knowing that this could be their last convoy, that something could happen to them any time now.
A powerful, enthralling novel, anyway. Probably something that should be read by students of WWII and naval history.