Happy new year! I am back in Chicago – in cold, cold Chicago – after my first Christmas back at home in four years. Usually I sorta skip past Christmas itself on this blog, but to mark the occasion I have some actual Christmas photos for once. While in London we also saw Oslo, a play about the Oslo Accords between Israel and the PLO which began as a secret, unofficial backchannel. I learnt a lot about the process, although of course it is somewhat marred by the fact that there is very obviously no peace at the end of it. In a more upbeat spirit, I hadn’t seen Chicken Run since it came out, and it is amazing. Not enough to put me off chicken pies (I had many pies in the UK) but I did start playing the soundtrack on a loop.
Not pictured: all of the games! From racing the cars inside the Christmas crackers – crackers have really upped their game since my day – to the brutality of Scrabble and, of course, the tradition of charades and my Christmas Quiz. (I don’t think I did too badly as there were no physical injuries.) We also played Codenames, Room 25, Citadels, Coloretto and that one when you have to work out the name stuck to your forehead. Oh, and we watched Doctor Who together! Although it was all a bit ponderous this year, and left me more impatient than ever for a fresh start with a new Doctor and her new adventures.
Christmas was wonderful, basically. Special thanks to Carolyn for hosting us, and to my mum for inadvertently doing some of my present wrapping for me.
After Christmas, Randi and I decided to spend a couple of days in the Peak District before New Year. Our journey there was the most British affair ever, as our train slowed to a halt due to ‘horses on the track ahead’. Network Rail had apparently sent a team to herd them away, but as we inched closer it became apparent that the train was going to perform the herding duties itself. On the one hand, it sorta beggars belief that we have literally had railways for longer than any other country and still cannot figure out a way to build a horse-proof fence. On the other hand, we were in no rush and it gave us an impromptu couple of hours to wander around Sheffield. I’d never seen Sheffield before, and it was nice!
Not as nice as the Peak District, though, which was beautiful and perfect for hiking. We did the famous ridge walk to Mam Tor, which offered great views and also an opportunity to experience some sustained and aggressive hailing for the first time. The next day it snowed, and we did some more gentle walking around Hope and the surrounding villages. It is difficult to successfully ‘stick to the track’ on a public footpath through a field which is completely covered in snow, however. Not even if you have a map.
I’m never able to see everyone I want to see in my visits home, but I did pretty well in the final few days. Randi and I had lunch at Portobello Market with Sanna, and then lots of pasanda and London Underground gossip with Simon on Brick Lane. And on New Year’s Eve, Josh and Anna hosted us and Robert for a quiet night in together. We were much less energetic than we used to be – no midnight pillow fights, just wobbly selfies – but it was exactly what I needed and a perfect way to ring in the new year.
Given that temperatures in Chicago are reaching -20°C, I do somewhat regret accidentally leaving my coat, hat and gloves behind in London. But on the other hand, it was great motivation to rush to REI and stock up on the most warming winter clothing imaginable. So hit me with your worst, Chicago. I’m ready.
For the second week of our trip, we embarked on Dom’s Complete Railway Tour of the UK (Abridged) using our magical BritRail passes, which grant non-residents an unlimited ride on trains across the country. It does feel like a scheme set up in the glory days of British Rail and then buried under a carpet, as the passes you get haven’t been updated in almost 20 years, but weirdly the merest glimpse of one is enough for a ticket inspector to decide not to bother investigating any further. And so, thus armed, we set off for our first destination. (It’s worth noting that our B&B in Bury St Edmunds was several centuries older than the country I’m writing this from.)
Our next stop was a rather wet and windy Cambridge: partly for the history, partly so I could pop into the bookshop. After a day of sightseeing and sheltering, we were joined in The Eagle by Mandler and Calaresu – two of my supervisors from uni – who were kind enough to make time for a drink and some catching up. This also proved to be Randi’s opportunity to try fish pie, which she took up with relish.
(Deviation: I do wish ordering at the bar was more of a thing in the US.)
Heading up north, we impulsively changed trains for Scarborough – which I’ve never been to before – and spent an afternoon at the seaside. There’s not a huge amount to write about Scarborough – and at one point I may have been over-ambitious in my expectations of the cliff lift “tramway” – but it was very nice to stroll along the beach and see the castle from a distance.
Our best B&B was in Durham, because we were hosted by none other than Katie “I live here” Self! The three of us had a great time together touring the city, while also finding time to stuff ourselves with a pretty representative sample of my British food longings: Indian curries, English breakfasts, jacket potatoes and lots and lots of biscuits. It’s not about food being fancy, guys, it’s just about food being great.
Talking of great: bowing to Randi’s repeated requests to see Edinburgh, we headed there next and were equally blown away by how beautiful the city is. Along with the castle, I ticked off a couple of things I didn’t manage last time, including a fantastic walking tour and a hike up Arthur’s Seat.
And of course, I checked back in with my old friend David Hume.
Finally, we headed to Windermere in the Lake District, which was a perfect place to walk and relax at the end of the holiday. There were sheep. There were cows. There was a bus which cost £4.20 per-person. Most importantly, though, there were stars at night – and it’s been a while since I’ve been in proper darkness, able to lie down and look up at the milky way.
So, that’s it: a condensed account of a whistlestop tour, which hopefully did a good job at selling the country to an American. The tourist board can thank me later.
Michele is here! And after a week of English breakfasts, a magical everlasting Indian takeaway, Russian books in Waterstones Piccadilly, pubbing with Vlad south of the river and the British Library’s exhibition on the Georgians (spoiler: they were like us but wrote in longer sentences and with fewer emoticons) we escaped the city for Valentine’s Day weekend and headed first to Salisbury.
The next morning, we took the train down into the New Forest and began our hike from Brockenhurst to Burley. It turns out that the advisable, direct, ‘sane’ route between these two villages is a pretty boring trek by the side of the road, so we made a detour off into the woods and were soon embroiled in an adventure of mud, slippery logs over flooded rivers, fallen trees and wonderfully helpful fellow travellers. By the time we arrived it was almost sundown, but it was with a great sense of achievement that we collapsed into the wonderful deer room, revived ourselves with pub food and watched Robin Hood. Y’know, Disney’s Robin Hood – the awesome one with the music from the Hampster* Dance.
(*Yes, it was spelled this way.)
I went on holiday
I started out not far from home at all – in the Corrib, in fact.
Then headed down south, just a little…
…before winding up in Gloucester, where the pace of life was a little slower…
…and my two lovely hosts made me feel very welcome indeed.
Then on to Wales!
Which was half luscious spring
and half snowy winter, just slightly higher up the mountains.
And finally, after some years, returned to good old Cofton Hackett
and had plenty of drinks in the Oak Tree, catching up.
(Also this month! Abbi hosted a wonderful dinner party, Sophie popped up briefly in London, Caroline and Louise threw the most well-catered flat warming party I’ve ever seen and Mother Majesty aced another gig.)
So, these were some little bits from our great time in Edinburgh. We also: tried to keep a straight face while a woman thought she felt a ghost in the underground city (“there’s cold on my face…”), wandered breezily into the Scottish Parliament viewing gallery, discovered the totally awesome Museum of Childhood, poked around in the medicine cabinet of a Georgian house and – and I really wouldn’t joke about such obvious mental instability – ended up having conversations like this:
“Pronoun verb pronoun!”
“Pronoun verb pronoun, qualifier!”
Now, one thing you should know about going on holiday with Lucy is that she’s an absolute Adam Smith fiend. It’s forever Theory of Moral Sentiments this, Wealth of Nations that… obviously I did eventually drag her off to an art gallery occasionally, but it was a tough fight. To keep her pacificed I will therefore also include the following photo, although for reasons of political impartiality it will naturally be appropriately balanced:
(And now I’m struck with an irrational fear that someone will take the above seriously… look, to prove I was joking, here’s me with the Batman to Adam Smith’s Robin to show that it was all me really. Ah, Hume. Now there’s a man who wouldn’t have felt cold on his face.)