A Travellerspoint blog

March 2009

Around Grenoble

sunny 12 °C
View Europe 2009 on NZBarry's travel map.

Why Grenoble? When I looked up where you can fly to from Birmingham on Easyjet (I won’t do Ryanair, I find them obnoxious and have so many random charges, soon to include use of the toilet, I have no confidence they’re cheaper), it was either Grenoble or Geneva and that was it. £43 return is still a bargain by reference to what I normally pay to fly.

Birmingham International Airport certainly adds a comedic touch to flying. I had arrived nice and early, with a big warning on my boarding pass that the gates close at 17:55 – if you’re late you don’t fly. So I get to the gate area about 17:20 – there is a sign saying “Don’t come down to the gate until we call you”. Fair enough, but then I find another sign “This is a silent airport. We do not make announcements.” Then the monitor says my flight is “boarding in 30 minutes” i.e. after the gates close, according to my boarding pass. It would have been nice to find an Easyjet staffer to get clarity but, until boarding starts, there is no gate to go to. I am damn lucky I didn’t take it as gospel, because after about 10 minutes, the message was suddenly “boarding now”. Funnily enough, I was first onto the plane – I went out through the gate to the accompaniment of the fellow behind me saying “we paid 12 pound for priority boarding and we’re not even first on”.

Despite their budget nature, Easyjet was fine to fly and even provided a moment of amusement. Going to France they of course needed safety announcements in French, but it soon became obvious that my French was far superior to that of the cabin attendants. They’d play a tape to get the French announcements then have anxious heads cocked and whispered conversations while it played, as they worked out whether they played the right one.

My hotel, the Trianon, is in an interesting area – lots of little cafes and bars and an assortment of shops, all at the ground floor of four storey apartment buildings. I arrived too late for anything to eat from these cafes, so wandered into the centre of town and found a burger place, basically a French version of Maccas, I’m afraid. I saw nothing specifically visually spectacular, just a pleasant area. That seems to be the case for all of central Grenoble, so only took a couple of photos:
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Sunday was a disaster, eating and entertainment wise. Why did no-one tell me that shops mostly don’t open on a Sunday, and only the kebab and pizza cafes do? My hopes for a nice French dining experience were dashed – as it happens, even when they were open, I didn’t do much better. The menus seem pretty generic – steak, chicken, salads etc - or very expensive. So lets not mention what I ate in Grenoble.

Monday evening I went off to see Harvey Milk – curiously, Grenoble seems to have at least as many English films as Birmingham, and a wider variety, along with other international films (plus a good range of French films). Milk was a pretty impressive character – after years of repression, he moves to San Francisco, randomly starts a shop (“Castro Camera”) and not only comes out as gay but kicks off an entire movement (at least according to this dramatisation of his life), ending up as, essentially, a city councillor. I came to enjoy Sean Penn’s portrayal and became engaged in his fight for rights. I do wonder if Anita Lane, the fundamentalist Christian who had started the counter-movement to revoke anti-discrimination laws, was as horrible as portrayed in the movie.

Tuesday was an early start – I (quelle surprise) had a train to catch, to Turin. I was looking forward to a trip by TGV through the mountains, but it wasn't all that: the train was surprisingly slow, and the mountains were peirced by a long tunnel.

I knew virtually nothing about Turin, apart from reading on the internet that it is the home town for Fiat, Lavazza coffee and Nutella. What I found when I arrived was a very gracious city,
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with an inner centre largely untouched by any impulse to development. Although it is ostensibly set out in a grid of solid looking stone buildings, built around the palace
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this pattern was frequently interrupted by piazzas so at almost every corner I’d have a surprising and pleasant sight.
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Occasionally there would be a scary one
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– trams and cars would come out without warning

Here, I had no problems at all finding authentic local food, although the menus completely bamboozled me to the point I still don’t quite know how to order a coffee to meet my tastes. So evasive was the language that I even had trouble finding the gents in one particular restaurant – while I thought Donna was woman, what looked like Vomini also made me think of women. My first meal I got round the problem by the good old method of pointing at what someone was eating and hoping for the best. In another, I could point to the kitchen staff what I wanted them to make for me and another they had all the meals lined up in a cabinet (and could explain them). Best of all was the concept of Apertivo - after work, bars put on a buffet. You go in, you buy a (slightly expensive) drink but then you help yourself to what can be a substantial meal - a lot of food was like the Spanish tapas, but there were main course type meals as well, such as a delicious seafood risotto steaming away in a large flattish woklike pan.

But I finally came face to face with an Italian menu in quite a fancy restaurant, no English speaking staff, nothing to point to, nothing on display. All I had to guide me was the ability to eliminate olives, and to recognise a few basic words like wine, tomato, meat and black pepper.

Not that this helped very much – I ordered something that had linguine, white wine, black pepper, no olives and got this:
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(yes, they gave me the wrong dish – I’d thought the pasta didn’t look like linguine but, hey, what do I know). For my main, all I could work out was grilled meat, and got this
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I did envy the woman at the next table – she had an enormous salad built around what looked like a small castle made out of pastry. Every so often, it seemed to me that I was catching some sort of movement from above me; sure enough this “lady” was waving
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I stayed in the Turin youth hostel, which was not particularly flash, but was in amongst an area dominated by posh houses and major churches,
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It worked out pretty good as a place to work, as during the day it was deserted. On the Friday I did take some time to go see the National Film Museum, which is in what was the tallest brick structure in the world
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To be honest, the museum was less than I’d hoped. Quite a few little spaces set up like film sets showing snips of movies to suit
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with the road runner one being the funniest
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The main event was the grand hall, set up with a couple of screens, showing snippets of various films connected together by themes (such as song and dance)
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majorly comfortable chairs
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and a very static display that claimed to tell the combined history of film and TV
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Back in Grenoble, I finally managed to find an authentic French meal for dinner – galletes (a sort of pancake from Brittany) and crepes. I also saw the Watchmen movie.

Reading

I managed to read through the Watchmen graphic novel, which resolved into a relatively straight-forward narrative, if you discount a couple of levels that don’t add very much (which is exactly what they did with the film). The basic idea is that there is a community of costumed heroes, crimefighters but lacking special powers, and one super hero (Dr Manhattan) who, thanks to an accident in a nuclear plant, has power over matter (although not, it seems, sufficient to change his colour away from blue) and sees all moments in time at once. He is the American ultimate deterrent against nuclear war.

I’m no expert with comic book heroes, but it seems to me that they are traditionally engaged in the age old fight of good against evil but in the world of the Watchmen, the heroes face a problem similar to that faced by Bulgakov’s devil under Stalin – what if there is no unambivalent good to preserve? You might need to take extreme measures for the good of humanity - save society from itself. Dr Manhattan's world view is that there is no difference in substance between dead people and live ones - they all have the same number of particles.

I also read Damon Galgut’s The Good Doctor – a book from South Africa which one the Booker a few years back. I am not sure who “they” were, it isn’t made clear, but they established areas of land for the black South Africans, which was supposed to have services established equivalent to areas occupied by the Whites. This book was set in post-apartheid South Africa, in a hospital set up in the capital of one of these lands, one that has not found favour with the locals so hardly anyone lives there, let alone uses the hospital. The main characters are two doctors - one from the old days who has trouble dealing with the new, and another young doctor, full of idealism and ready to change the world. But is it ready to change, when the ghosts of the old way are still around?

This was a quick, one day read, so I had to resort to the emergency supply on my laptop - Wilkie Collins' The Lady and the Law. The lady in question finds there is a deep secret to her husband, one which makes him flee her in shame when she finds it out - that a Scottish jury had found it "not proven" that he poisoned his first wife. Valeria loves Eustace, so of course he is innocent, and this must be established.

Writing

Up to now, I have been engaged in reading and preparing a literature review (some 50,000 words worth) but this week, I finally started writing up my paper. I was able to put my head down, and by the end word count had gone from 0 to just under 10,000 words.

Posted by NZBarry 06:02 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

Goodbye England

Don’t panic – it is just for a week! Tuesday I had my bookclub – more than 30 of us showed up. This time, I’d read the book, Brady Udall's The Miracle Life of Edgar Mint, so could participate properly. I’m not sure how it happened, but I was talking to this American beside me during the break, and she asks “what do you teach?” ... “aren’t you a professor?” This confused me, as I don’t think I’d shared that information with her – turns out that unlike everyone else, who thinks my beard means I’m homeless, she thought it meant I was a professor. Nice lady! Very nice, actually.

I had yet another play to go to, this time down in London so off I went on Wednesday afternoon to see Brian Friel’s Dancing at Lughnasa, set in 1930’s Ireland (featuring one Andrea Corr (of the Corrs) and Niamh Cusack) and loosely based on Chekhov’s Three Sisters which, oddly enough I saw in Dublin many years ago and featured Niamh Cusack (along with her two actual sisters). The story was pretty much “its tough to be five single girls of a certain age in 1930’s Ireland, made worse when your near mad brother who is a priest but has lost his faith, become a pantheist, has just come back from Uganda” but I really enjoyed the fact that it was performed in the round – I was sitting one row back from where quite a lot of the action took place. The one odd thing was that they had a narrator, the son of one of the sisters, looking back from years later, odd because (a) he told a lot of the story that then was played out on stage anyway and (b) his younger self was part of the play, but instead of having a young boy play him, he provided the voice but was effectively off stage. But lots of fun, particularly when Gerry (father of the young boy and a charming but useless larrikan) is around. Lughnasa, by the way, is not a place, it is a pagan harvest festival.

So, again because of the night train being cheap, I had a working day in London, in the Westminster Reference Library, a nice quiet place and close enough to a particular hotel that I could use their wireless internet. Thanks. I had planned to go back to the French place I enjoyed so much last time I was in London, but was distracted by a coffee shop, from the window of which I spied a particularly busy Malaysian cafe across the road – very nice food and a constant turnaround of happy customers. That left only time for a leisurely visit to Foyles and it was time to wander off and catch my 10:00 train.

Dinner was also the highlight of my Friday – I went to this Chinese restaurant near the station. Even though its name (Red Chilli) made me think it would not be up to much, it had fantastic duck pancakes – a huge mound of duck meat, cucumber juliennes and some other unidentified vegetable; that was just my starter! I went home very replete indeed.

After spending most of Saturday at work, it was time to go.

Reading: very little, just the first chapter of Watchmen, the graphic novel put out in the 1980’s which has just been made as a film, one salon.com at least rates very highly. This is my very first graphic novel, and I find it an odd experience as it has a number of story lines, with the text from some running into the pictures from a different storyline, i.e. character a and b might be talking, we see them doing so in one box, but then in the next box, we see characters c and d doing whatever, but still get the speech bubbles from a and b. A bit freaky, but it produces interesting resonances. Making a film of it could be a challenge!

Posted by NZBarry 10:39 Archived in England Comments (0)

More Manchester

all seasons in one day 8 °C

My reason for coming to Manchester was a play on, in a theatre in the basement of the library – Sir Tom Stoppard’s Rock’n’Roll. It ran from 1968 to 1989, basically taking a prominent song from each year, and then having a couple of vignettes of life in the characters in that year. For those who don’t know, the significance of these years is that it represents the period the former Czechoslovakia was under communist rule. In England, we have old Max who is still committed to the communist cause, whereas back in Czechoslovakia, we have Jan who is ostensibly a communist but really only believes in rock’n’roll and the freedom to choose your own hair length. Both see him imprisoned under the communist regime. He would far rather live in Cambridge. So, there was a fair amount of politics in the play, and a bit of satire on what the freedoms of the UK have come to, but there was also lots of fun as well, and, of course, musical references – particularly Pink Floyd and Syd Barrett, the Rolling Stones (the climax of the play is when the Rolling Stones get to play Prague) and an obscure Czech band called Plastic People of the Universe, who are invested with huge symbolic value as intensely engaged with the battle for freedom. It is the kind of play I’d like to see again, or at least read its script, because it was fairly intense.

Going home, I had the pleasure of watching a group of young men give one particular young man a good kicking, to the point he wasn’t moving. The locals in the kebab shop with me simply commented “man down” as if this is routine for Saturday night in Manchester. To add spice, there was a major altercation in the hostel – some fellow who hadn’t checked in or paid still couldn’t understand that he couldn’t come in and hang out, wanted to tell the fellow on duty his life story. Things must have got sorted out – about three he came into my room.

Sunday, I went back to MOSI and had a good mosey. I struck it lucky – they have all the machinery of a textile factory onsite,
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and I was there when they had it all going and made some calico from raw cotton. At least three words we might use today were explained as coming from the lingo used in textiles: trash is the bits of fluff that come off when raw cotton is first cleaned, then shoddy is the cotton strands not long enough to be used. Cotton gets incorporated into long soft ropes which are put into cans for transfer to the looms - the person who does this, guess what, carries the can.
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Apparently in a big Manchester textile factory, they’d have 50 times the machines that are in MOSI and they’d be three times as big as this one
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The John Rylands Mill at Ainsworth, for example, had 600 looms. Wow! (He was the biggest employer in England at the time.)
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Here is a wee clip of it working - one of the most dangerous jobs in the factory was held by the fellow who had to nip in and sweep before it completed its cycle

The main function of the museum was to show how important Manchester was to the industrial development of England and the world - the planes I posted yesterday were all built near Manchester. Something else built here was the first stored programme computer - it doesn't look much like a MacBook!
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Even earlier was the differential analyser, which I can't even begin to understand; all I could understand was that the fellow who made it was inspired by the loom
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As part of the museum, they have the oldest surviving railway station in the UK, although the building has mostly been turned into a container for museum displays, rather than set up as a railway station. There was a wee train
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I don’t know how they did it, but they even had smells appropriate for the displays – which I first noticed when I went into the sewage and toilet area. I was amused by the story of a pretty huge scam wrought upon the good people of Manchester in around 1810; they gave a contract to some peeps to lay water pipes. The Manchester and Salford Waterworks company decided upon stone pipes knowing that when water was run through them, they wouldn't hold the pressure. No worries, because they laid the various streets in stages and then found out that they didn't actually connect with each other.

One sequence of displays I liked was showing the development of the kitchen thanks to more sophisticated electrical products
1930
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1950
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1970
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This took much of the day, so I didn’t get to do much shopping, although I found that some of Manchester’s musical heritage is still in place – four local record shops are still going strong, and then there is this magnificent emporium run by a couple of old geezers,
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Found a cool place for dinner, an underground noodle bar called either Tampopo or Tampopa, depending on what you looked at (“Manchester’s first and still by far the best” according to the quote from the Guardian plastered over the entrance) – big long shared tables, one of the best Pad Prik Gai’s I’ve had in years, with big juicy rings of chilli and Beer Lao. The staff made the place – very sociable, even if it meant they might spend five minutes yakking to a customer or each other.

Saw a French film in the evening, The Class, which took in a group of real school kids, 13 – 15. It is billed as fiction, based on a novel, but felt much like a documentary. No one involved was an actor - the teacher was played by the novelist (who had been a teacher) and then the kids were just regular school kids, although from various ethnic groups. It seemed pretty real to me – culminating in a big bust up in class, which saw one fellow expelled after he lost his temper and another student was injured. The most interesting feature for me was how teacher was always right, even though he was obviously in the wrong – starting the row by calling two of the girls skanks (or "putains" in French, which is rather less ambiguously inappropriate).

I scored a £4.50 ticket back home, but only by taking a night train so spent Monday working in Manchester – first in its public library, then in the John Rylands library, set up by his widow to remember him.
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Curiously enough, I “know” John Rylands
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in the sense that I have been teaching something involving him for years - he had a bit of a dispute with the neighbour about some water that escaped.

Wandeing around Manchester, I found another building that was as inconguous as the Hilton,
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even more so when you know it is the Civil Justice Centre (courthouse to the rest of us) - it has the largest suspended glass wall in Europe. It is a little unfortunate; as I was walking around the end, it looked for all the world that the building was covered in scaffolding, which is not a good look.

Reading this week was Richard Powers’ The Echo Maker, which was only really alright. I’ve managed to collect several of his works on the strength of people raving about him, but this is the first book by him I have actually read. It starts with a major car crash – who or what caused it is a mystery which develops throughout. But it has an odd consequence for the driver; he wakes up with unimpaired memory, but when he sees his sister, he does not match her with his memory of her and thus thinks she’s an imposter. Maybe the slightest physical change from what he remembers does it, but he doesn’t forget all – just his sister, his dog and his house. The last two, he can accept as replacements, but not his sister – so he’s always asking “what have they done with her, where is she...”. This freaks the poor sister out no end, so that she doubts her own reality. Into this comes the celebrity shrink, he really does get involved at first just to have fodder for a new book, and has a bit of a melt down when he realises how far he has gone from the idea of heeler. Meanwhile, xxx is getting worse, thinking there is some huge conspiracy against him. As a counterpoint are the cranes which, despite having bird brains, can remember enough to navigate half way around the world every six months.

Posted by NZBarry 16:36 Archived in England Comments (0)

Manchester

sunny 9 °C

A fairly quiet week. Tuesday I went home relatively early, as my plan is to have at least one meal a week in Lichfield. This time it was in a Mediterranean restaurant called Ego, which served up the most delicious shrimps I’ve ever had. I don’t even know what inspired me to get them, as I’m not a great fan as I tend to find them pretty insipid in relation to the effort required to get them out of their shells. These were already shelled, juicy and very tasty. So was the main, a Moroccan lamb dish on couscous – unfortunately there was not a huge amount of it.

On Wednesday I had another night in yet another hotel in Wolverhampton, the former Quality Hotel, suddenly not because the Quality Hotel brand holding company went bust. Quite a pleasant spot. This time I was in town because I wanted to see kiwi singer Ladyhawke, who was playing support for Brit band of the moment The Ting Tings at the Civic. At the door I asked when things were starting, as I’d not eaten, and was told “they come on at 9:30”. Turns out she was either malicious or thought I’d said “Tings” when I asked when things were started, because when I got back, Ladyhawke was well into her set and VV Brown had come and gone. I have no idea what I missed by not seeing her, but Ladyhawke was doing a pretty standard rock show. A couple of the most catchy songs on my radio are Ting Ting songs, and they did put on a good show – a fairly quirky, energetic sound from just the two of them.

Thursday was another drinking session with my temporary colleagues and a bunch of PhD students in the campus bar, which stuffed up my eating plan completely – I had to make do with yet another ham and cheese baguette from the station. But I was able to put the plan into action on Friday. I don’t quite know what got into me – I was working on a piece that needed quite concentrated thought to get straight, so worked a bit late. I was very surprised to be sitting in Strada, this restaurant the Guardian said had fantastic pizzas and see that it was 10:30! My last train is at 11:15 and I’d not yet received my food, so I was a little worried. But all went well, and the pizza was very good, so I went home happy.

Not so happy in the morning, but. An early start on the bike to get to the station in order to be in town for an 8:00 train to Manchester. Found the hostel, which is right beside one of the canals
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One of the sights that dominates Manchester (and gives a good landmark) is the Hilton, which is the tallest residential building in the UK. It makes for a pretty stark contrast with its surroundings:
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A fellow at the hostel sent me off up the street for breakfast, walking up Deansgate, I was impressed by this building
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It is the former rail goods shed, slightly renovated and turned into shops and a cinema, and presently for sale. The breakfast was as good as promised, made even better by the addition of a tea cake. Going up to pay, I was doubly bewildered. First, by the fact that the woman (who I had already noticed was aesthetically pleasing) gives me this long sustained smile that has my knees turn to water. To add to the confusion, she then starts talking to me, and what she says is absolute gibberish – she may as well have been saying bishneewahpoopoo for all I could extract from what she was saying. One of us had to be mad, I decided.

Turned out, she thought I was Romanian and had been speaking to me in Romanian – all because she’d noticed some Romanian currency in my wallet. Poor girl, must have been missing home to be so keen to see a presumed countryman.

It was pretty much a weekend of wandering – through the town centre with its wonderful town hall
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and circular library.
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There is a downside to circular libraries - this one had fantastic acoustics, so not only could one hear a pin drop but also the echoes that reverberated around the inner sanctum. The outer ring was OK, however, and I was able to work quite peacably there. The Art Gallery was pretty standard, apart from the top floor which was given over to modern designs, particularly chairs
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Yes, these are both chairs! I would have liked to have tried the one on the right. The one on the left, which looks like a pair of jeans IS a pair of jeans, but there is some sort of folding contraption contained within them that let them prop you up. Crazy! Reminds me a little of Huxley's pneumatic pants.

One of these days, I must stay in a hotel like the Midlands Hotel
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Later on in the afternoon, I paid a visit to the Museum of Science and Industry (MOSI) – a huge five building complex near the hostel. I only made it through one – aviation.

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This is a replica of the first plane to fly in the UK, made by one A V Roe, who went on to form the AVRO aeroplane company. They made this, which has to be the world's smallest airliner (it had ONE passenger seat!
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AVRO did get to make bigger planes, such as the Lancaster bomber (this is actually a derivative, the Shackleton surveillance plane)
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I think this might be the tiniest plane I've ever seen (and don't think I would fancy taking it up to 30,000 feet (or even 30 feet))
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I did like this - I wonder if I could get my brother to make me one, it looks like fun
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A couple of other random images from the aviation display and I'll stop for this post:
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Posted by NZBarry 15:18 Archived in England Comments (0)

Around Stratford

sunny 9 °C

Saw a fairly odd movie with my film group, SMS Sugar Man, set in Johannesburg. The entire action takes place over Christmas eve – if you know that “sugar” is the term used for a prostitute in this part of the world, you’ll know a lot about the movie. Basically, the sugars are a bit disillusioned with their lot and want to quit the game. The storyline gets immensely tangled, with hits being arranged, one sugar man being set against another, two of the sugars deciding they love each other... The thing that makes this movie different is that it is the first movie released that was shot entirely on mobile phones. There were only four of us from the film group there, yet we managed to cover all bases in terms of reaction. One fellow declared it to be the worst movie he’d ever seen, which caused another member to leave because she really liked it. I thought it was trying to be too many things at once – shooting a movie on cellphone would suit one with lots of action and short takes, and it had some but also tried for high art and at times seemed to have scenes that were just for the titillation of the director.

On the Wednesday, stayed in town at the newly opened Hatter’s Hostel (voted by Hostelworld to be the best chain of hostels in the UK) but this one wasn’t up to much, too new basically. Did have an interesting encounter with my two young Spaniard room mates – they insisted on us posing for a bunch of photos (and some will know how much I hate that). The reason I’d been in town was to see Emmy the Great, at the Glee Club, which had the most noxious set of rules I’ve ever heard, including making people wait for a break in performances if they needed a toilet, and threatening all sorts of dire things to people with cameras. All of the bands made a point of mocking these. The first two bands were OK, but I was very impressed by Emmy the Great. She struck me as a folk singer, but had odd intonations and pacing of her singing – turns out she’d flirted with the anti-folk movement. But what got me was the songwriting – my only complaint is that there were too many songs to take them all in, I needed to listen to each several times but instead had another song to listen to. Easily fixed – I’ll buy the CD when I see it.

Then on Thursday, I did something that might surprise, even shock some. I bought a bicycle, a mountain bike to be more accurate. It probably won’t surprise that I bought it off Ebay, so it cost a mere 26 pound (it cost more than twice that to get helmet, lock, light etc). Two reasons – the long walk to and from the train station, and the fact that I hadn’t really sorted out very much to do for the weekend. So I decided upon a weekend in Stratford, with a trip up to Warwick to see the Castle on the Sunday – a 22 mile round trip. Went down after work on Friday, back to the YHA, had a lovely dinner at the flash country hotel across the road and was set. Saturday, I was a little disturbed by the fact I started reading the Guardian at 10:00 in the morning and didn’t finish for three hours! Pretty relaxed day all round, really.

After getting back from a wander around on the bike (and retrieving the phone I left at the RSC theatre last week), another surprise: I watched a game of rugby. England and Ireland were playing in the six nations. Not a very good game – the Irish kicker missed most of his goals, the English team did a lot of faffing about. The thing that made it particularly interesting was that we had a school group from Ireland in the hostel, and about twenty of the girls were watching the match, and giving generally insane commentary. Their theory on why England was doing so badly? The stupid level of attention they were paying to not mussing their hair. Have to say, the one time an English guy made a break for it and actually scored, his hair did move quite impressively.

Sunday was the big mission – ten miles on a B road up to Warwick. I nearly gave it up when I learnt that I could get there and back by bus for 3.50, but I went for it. I don’t even know when I was last on a bike, probably when I lived in London, so it took some adjusting – the hard seat, my general ungainliness, the quite minor hills that would dramatically retard my progress. But, although I had two stops for a breather, I biked the whole way, no walking. And I have to say, the trip was worth the effort and more, starting with lunch, one of the best pub lunches I’ve ever had, lots of lamb and seven different vegetables at the Zetland Arms in Warwick.
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Then there was the castle itself,
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which conformed to all my imagined castles – turrets
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and walls
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I was a bit daunted before starting on the walk around the walls, as there was a sign saying there were something like 600 steps. I thought there might be that many just to get to the top in one go and my heart quailed, but luckily they meant for the whole deal, and half of them were going back down.

Of course, there were dungeons, including the uber-dungeon i.e. the dungeon under the dungeon under the dungeon where they put the really bad people and forgot about them. The good old Duke of Warwick had one King in the second dungeon down (and another locked up in London somewhere): he really was the power behind the throne for quite a long time. Now the main dungeon area has been populated by wax models (the castle is run by the same people who run Madame Tussaud's), showing the various stages of getting ready to fight:
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Upstairs, there were naturally some grand rooms, such as the Great Hall.
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They had set things up to replicate a big dinner party that had been put on in 1898,
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This sort of house is obviously good for parties of people who don't really like each other very much, as they were well spread out. Being 1898, it was a bit disconcerting to see Winston Churchill and Queen Elizabeth
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there.

The place is HUGE, so I didn't even take photos of all the rooms, but I liked the library
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and the Duke's bedroom wall
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which must have taken many man hours to make.

A couple of views from the castle:
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Afterwards, I was curiously reluctant to get back on the bike, so wandered the town, found a Caffe Nero, read their newspapers, so that it was after 5:00 before I left. Going back, I actually had a signed cycle path to follow, all the way back to Stratford, which I knew went near the hostel. Somehow, and I still don’t know where, I came off the cycle path and was on a normal country lane which ultimately fed into an A road i.e. one grade down from a motorway. So there I was, pitch dark, with a fairly good volume of traffic and five miles the wrong side of Stratford. I just put my head down and rode the whole way non-stop.

Dinner was in an entirely empty Chinese restaurant in a wee place called Tiddington, a ten minute walk from the even smaller place containing my hostel called Alveston. Later on, back in the hostel, things got really uncomfortable. There was this guy, I’d talked to him quite a bit, he’d even offered to share his dinner with me. We were in the TV room, and there was a woman in there – he and she got talking about music and the like, all very civil. I wasn’t paying a lot of attention, but I couldn’t not when he started really laying into her, being completely abusive about her profession – she went to get the manager, he left. Not the best way to finish what had been a nice peaceful weekend in the country.

Reading this week was for next week’s book club – Brady Udall’s The Miracle Life of Edgar Mint. He is this wee native American kid who gets his head run over by an mailman’s Jeep. His mum does a runner at that point and he’s left to fend for himself – he spends a fair while in a hospital, then gets caught up in a school for the detritus of native Indian society – all the kids who have nowhere else to be, regardless of tribal affiliations are thrown into this school, and its horrible. Of course Edgar survives, but lots of terrible things happen to him and his mate, mainly by the school bully destruction testing him. Then he’s rescued by Mormons and everything is sweet for a while – but there is this character, Barry Pickney, who has been in his life ever since the accident and threatens to stuff things up badly. It is my second read of the novel, and I still love it; my favourite bit being the day he starts to use the typewriter he’s been given and learns the joy of communication.

Posted by NZBarry 06:25 Archived in England Comments (0)

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