Monday, October 29, 2012

Winchester iv: the reckoning

Our fourth ever visit to Gilly and Darrell's in Winchester came after our stay in Norwich and via London:

We very quickly fell into our old slothful Winchestrian habits once we arrived, but this time had the excuse of our collective infirmity. I'd caught a cold from Sam in Norwich, which he contracted from Liam, which he contracted from some guy at work. From me it moved to Til, and then possibly Gilly, and Darrell was also home from work sick. This meant we watched a lot of TV and movies on G&D's beautiful projector, including sex-addicted Fassbending in Shame, the classics Star Wars parts IV and V (which Til hadn't seen before), the impressive Downton 'Downtown' Abbey, the surprisingly enjoyable Crazy, Stupid Love, the pleasantly bizarre Moonrise Kingdom, and the entire first season of Fresh Meat. Also we were subjected to the cheesiness of Strictly Come Dancing.

But we did manage to get in some activity before the illness really took hold. On our first day we revisited the New Forest with the latest additions to the Grundy family, their American spaniels Rufus and Barney. 

A pleasant introduction to Rufus and Barney.

Rambling about the New Forest.

Barney is a few months younger than his big brother Rufus and can't keep up with him when he goes tearing off into the distance, so instead he does this adorable thing where he waits for Rufus to start running back, hunkers down and tries to pounce on him as he runs past, as we can see below:

 'I'm a part of this as well.'

The next day was G&D's niece Amy's birthday, and we tagged along to their pub lunch after walking 'the boys' again. I still can't get over how good my hair looked that day. I literally wanted to lick my own face in the mirror. [That last bit was an interjection by Til, which she made without my knowing. What would you call that? A blape? Like, blog-rape? I'm going to leave it in because it's funny]. But what I was actually going to say was I still can't get over the risotto I had ...

Our waitress at the pub had a really weird accent I couldn't place. She said 'DessEURT' instead of dessert. We worked out she was a kiwi, which started us talking about accents. When I did an exaggerated Aussie accent, we noticed another waitress smirking and wondered if she was Australian too. As we were leaving she asked if we were from Australia, and it turned out she was from BULLI. What are the chances?

 Watching the dogs on the pre-prandial walk.

 A very English field across the road from the pub.

Some cows all the girls were cooing over until I guilted them for eating beef for lunch.

Backseat bandits. 

Our greatest accomplishments over the next few days were venturing outside for food and medicine. 

 Gilly's street, Clifton Terrace, the prettiest in Winchester.

 The upstairs of an amazing pasty place in Winchester. It's like a hobbit house.

I can't even stand up!

Some serious reading. 

The day before Gilly very kindly drove us to the airport to fly to New York, she, Tilly and I were sitting in the lounge room discussing our novels when Tilly said, 'Hey, where's all that water coming from?' It had been 'hossing down' all night, to take up an English expression, and it turned out a drain in G&D's backyard was blocked and it had filled up with water, which began streaming under the door. Unfortunately Gilly had to open the door to get to the drain, and this let even more water in. It was CRAY.

And it turned out we were lucky we were so sick, because otherwise we would've been at Gilly's friend's party and no one would've been there to see the flooding and it could've been a lot worse!

Note: the resolution of some of these pics sucks because I'm on crappy hotel wifi. Might fix it later.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Return to norwich - week two and a bit

I started my previous post by commenting on the shabbiness of my MJB Norwich accommodation. Since then I've risen and subsequently fallen off the ladder of MJB room quality. When I went to check out but mentioned I would still be staying in Norwich (with friends), they said they had a lot of rooms available and offered me a reduced rate, so I took it. This was much swankier.

Then from Wednesday to Friday of that week Til and I were supposed to visit Grandpa and Christine near Newcastle, but sadly we had to cancel. When I looked online to book another two nights, they were offering rooms in the most expensive building on the property, 'The Plantation', for 14 pounds per night down from 100, so I snapped those up obviously. 

The Plantation viewed from my previous room.

Unfortunately I didn't actually look at the room details and just assumed that if I was paying 24 pounds a night for my nice room, a room worth 100 pounds a night in the nice building must be better. This grim little box (the English seem to use the word 'grim' a lot; it's so apt) lacking a double bed, TV, or bathroom is what greeted us:

It's also right next to this charming little staircase to nowhere, an artistic statement right out of the Tate Modern (but more on that later).

Til arrived in Norwich from Sydney via London via Los Angeles on a Monday afternoon but, without any way to contact me, could only give me an approximation of her arrival time. So I waited outside the Cathedral for about forty minutes, amusing myself by taking photos of moss and bugs.

At one point I was sitting in the nearby bus shelter and I was approached by an Eastern European woman who had been arguing vehemently about payment in broken English with the fed-up reception staff earlier. She wanted me to help her lift her daughter's mobility scooter up the stairs into the hotel. I agreed, of course, although it was weird being in a country with enough old buildings that they don't all have disabled access. And also weird that she was wandering up the street to ask me instead of seeking help from the staff.

'You strong?' she asked in her heavy accent.

'Yeah?' I replied hesitantly.

Outside the hotel she designated me the heavier end and I lifted, but quickly put it back down when the older woman grunted with pain. 

'Are you okay?'

'No, not okay, not okay', she said squeezing her shoulder. I hoped it wasn't my fault somehow. But she said, 'Good, you strong.'

We managed to get it in the door and then she started blessing me and assuring me that Jesus loved me. 

Shortly after that I was back out on the street leaning against a wall conspicuously. I must have looked quite obviously like I was waiting for something, and while I was taking one of the above photos, a woman who had been sitting at the bus shelter came up behind me and excused herself.

'Sorry, were you looking to buy some books?' she asked me.

'Books?' I actually said. Like an idiot.


I looked down at the plastic co-op bag she was holding, which contained maybe two large children's books. 'Uh, no,' I laughed.

She said okay and walked back to the bus stop where she sat for a while before wandering off across the road to what I suspect may be a housing commission estate. Only when she was gone did I start wondering if she'd been offering me something else, if the bus stop was some kind of known meeting place for nefarious transactions and 'books' was a codeword.

But anyway, Til and I were eventually reunited, and we discovered that she had unknowingly smuggled a dead bee into the country in her undies. So if you hear of some biohazard or outbreak of bee disease or something in the UK, and the country is quarantined and we lose contact, it was probably all her fault. We celebrated Til's surprise successful anthophile smuggling with Italian in town.

A hyperrealistic reconstruction of the event rendered by Til's family back home when she told them about it.

Cool dipping garlic bread at the restaurant.

We slowed down in pace a bit this week. I'm a bit sick, so I'm a little too eager to just laze around doing nothing, but I still went to dinner with some of Til's friends and had a day out in London with my fantastic tourguide, Kim. We met at Embankment tube station and walked up the Thames, Kim pointing landmarks out to me along the way. 

Famous graffiti.

Some dude (Flame Proof Moth) playing in a beach chair on the shore of the Thames.

His album is called 'Women should be in charge'.

From the public viewing platform at the top of Oxo Tower (we had to steal through a very private-looking restaurant to get to it).

The Globe.

Southwark Cathedral. Just before this we had a surreal moment when a pair of Australian tourists from 'Malbin' asked me to take a photo of them eating kebabs.

After that we were able to enjoy lunch in the Tate Modern members cafe due to Kim's membership, and then we toured the gallery. I always tread the line between appreciation and cynicism with modern art. It does get a little tiresome when every artwork is just a subversion of some random assumption or attitude, though.

After that we navigated the insanity of the tube at rush hour to get to Brick Lane for curry with Nick, where I gave him Tim Winton's Cloudstreet, before going for a quick pint at a pub before I returned to Victoria Coach Station for my bus back to Norwich.

The next day Til, Sam, George and I met up at the University of East Anglia's bar for a few cheap drinks. Til and I were dying for a nostalgia dinner at Zest, and timed our arrival to allow this, but it turned out the website had led us astray and it closed earlier than it said. It was weird to be back. I felt very graduated. And, therefore, old. This sensation was exacerbated by the fact that it was just after 'freshers' week so the bar was full of eighteen-year-olds.

The day after that, Til and I organised trains and buses and reservations for the rest of our trip, then met up with Sam at Frank's and went back with him to hang out and watch The Social Network and chat with he and Chris.

Our eleven-dollar apple juice in Frank's. The waitress couldn't believe it when I asked for the whole bottle, but Norfolk apple juice is amazing! I sculled the whole lot in like five minutes last time I was here.

The next day Til and I went to the site of many pleasant mornings after from our last trip, the Copper Kettle, and feasted on breakfast food. I don't think we ate again until late that night we were so full. We've kind of made that a habit: pooling breakfast and lunch in a midday feast and then having a small dinner later. The next day we did the same at two separate little delis.

Super-indulgent chocolate croissant pudding at Louis' Deli.

More Bicycle Shop soup.

More pleasant Norwich graffiti.

Til's ridiculous meringue, which she couldn't finish.

 A blurry candid shot of the legendary Norwich 'Puppet Man'. 

That afternoon Til and I met up with Sam at UEA for a drink before Til went out with her old flatmates. She was supposed to ring me so I could meet them in town, but she left her phone on their lounge so I just chilled at the hotel. Then at midnight I realised I was STARVING and searched all over the internet to see if anywhere was open. I ended up finding a place that would deliver pizza and ordered some, although it was a fifty-minute wait. 

The delivery guy called me asking for directions to the hotel in an indecipherable accent, but I worked out that he wanted me to go out on the street to wave him down if he drove past. When I walked out I saw a car waiting on the side of the road and waved, thinking it must be him, but it was actually Til in a cab with her friends. Apparently they had just been discussing how she would let me know she was coming without her phone when Til saw me and said, 'Well, there he is ...'

After maybe five more minutes I walked a little way up the street to see if the dude was around the corner, and a beautiful big red fox trotted out from around the corner. Foxes are my favourite animals, and this was the closest I've ever been to one, so it was pretty cool. And yeah, eventually the pizza dude found us and we had a 2am feast.

On Tuesday night Til, Sam, George and I went over to Rob Perry and his girlfriend Hannah's house for what was essentially a latenight chat about topics as diverse as the state of the USA, night terrors, home invasion and Australian tourism advertising.

One thing I've been thinking about is how weird it is that we (Australia) seem to be so much in the social consciousness over here. There's Neighbours and Home and Away on every day, of course, but there's also a show where they give depressed UK families a week in Australia trialling three different lifestyles to see if they want to move there. Apparently it's the obvious choice for gap year students. And just now I saw a story on the news about our men's community shed idea being taken up over here. Then again, the other day I was reading the UEA student newspaper Concrete and they had an article about our same-sex marriage bill failing which misidentified (and misspelled) the Opposition leader's name as 'Mike Abbot' [sic].

On our second-last day in Norwich, we had one last coffee at Frank's with Sam, where we were joined by Rob and later Hannah. We were getting ready to part ways when it emerged that Rob and Hannah were going to dinner at the Italian restaurant chain Ask with a 50% off voucher code, so we tagged along with them.

After that Rob and Hannah very kindly offered to chauffeur the rest of us around Norwich, first to NS&P's for one last tea with George, Chris and Liam, and then to Til's old flatmates' house.

Among other things, NS&P's is a house of disembodied faces. This little number is still floating around after we last year took it out on the town with us to comfort ourselves after Sam's departure. 

 A pleasant addition to Ms Gellar.

 Spotted this little guy on the way out.

At Brydie, Jess and Helen's, we watched awful (hilarious) '80s gameshows and marvelled at the girls' wall of shockers and bucket list items. Then when it came time to go, Brydie was devastated and had to cry while comforting herself with Dominos pizza.

The next morning we met with Kim and Nick at The Bicycle Shop for a last breakfast before we left that afternoon. As you can see, it was quite a feast:

The journey to Gilly's in Winchester from Norwich was a bit crap, since we opted for the cheapness of the bus over the expediency and comfort of the train, but we eased the pain by reading Gilly's amazing book on the way, except Tilly was too sick and couldn't look at the screen so I ended up reading aloud to her half the way.

Anyways, more on Gilly's in the next blog