It's not a perfect metaphor.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Catch my disease.

From Scotland I came to Lancaster, a small town in the north-west of England. See, it doesn't feel that small to me except everyone here knows each other. I was sitting in the town square during the Saturday market eating curry (heaven, FYI) and two sets of people sat down either side of me and started chatting all of a sudden. I figured they were just friendly, like how in Inverness everyone said hello to me all the time, but no; if you sit down in the town square in Lancaster on a Saturday you will see someone you know sitting next to the strange girl with the Harry Potter glasses. Crazy.

So I arrived here from Edinburgh last Wednesday and stayed with the most outrageous family. Nine-year-old daughter is Harry Potter, book and Hitchcock obsessed and completely Hermione-esque (Ugh, British kids. So uncultured.) and seven-year-old son couldn't stop talking about Avatar (though he'd never seen it)and had an allergy to keeping still that caused him to street dance and randomly hug his mother. So if these children weren't horrible enough, their parents were just dreadful. Always asking me if they could get me a cup of tea, joking around, giving me maps of the town and suggestions for places to go. It was driving me mad. Anyway, I had to get out of that obviously toxic environment and I'd already arranged to stay with someone else for a couple of nights so wasn't that a relief.

While staying with the aforementioned family I went to see the castle and the museums and the local vegetarian cafe (come on, I couldn't not), whereas my new host is a young person into music and late nights (how risque!). Unfortunately I wasn't much in a way to experience either as I have caught, from poor baby in Edinburgh, her cold. I should be grateful as I experienced her two illnesses separately and she had them at the same time but waaa! I don't like being sick! But before my throat completely gave out I was taken out for dinner on Friday night which was loverly, a charming old-fashioned restaurant looking onto the canal- I'm not even teasing, that's what it was- and, frankly, peer pressured into trying several desserts. What can I say? My night sucked.

Saturday is market day basically anywhere in England which makes me way too happy. I spent quite a while wandering the now stall-covered inner streets of Lancaster and actually buying fresh fruit and vegetables for a change (novelty!). Oh, and stopped to smell the Indian food which you just have to do if you're able. It's amazing. So that strenuous activity left me basically exhausted so I spent the rest of the day reading and pottering around before eating dinner early and going to bed in the same fashion. I was sincerely disappointed to miss my host's gig though as he is touted as an amazing musician and I really wanted to see him play. Throats will be throats though.

Yesterday was productive. I made pancakes in the morning while everyone else was still sleeping (because they are so much more rock and/or roll than me) which were gratefully received in the afternoon when people woke up or came back from their gig the night before in London (which is three hours away). The uncoolness of me in comparison to these people is unfathomable. It cannot be fathomed. My debt to my host done, I then accepted the invitation to see a place called Hawes (the pronunciation is apparently hilarious and, truthfully, it did keep my host amused all afternoon). It was a gorgeous little town and we took lunch/afternoon tea in this adorable cafe that was like something out of a 1940s movie. Or just a movie starring Keira Knightley that's based in the 1940s. Either or.

I then went to see some other people whose contact details I was given by Denise, this time it was her son and his partner, and they took me to this great blues night that's apparently been running for years. It's all these people that sit around and just shout out songs or tell each other what to play and then they just do (play, that is). It's amazing and though I know less than nothing about the blues (I mean, I was smiling the whole time I was there) I had a really good time and was very impressed.

Today I'ma drop off my backpack for safekeeping with that abominable family I first stayed with, have lunch with another of Denise's friends (she has too many, I think) and get a train to Manchester to see if I can have as good a time the second time round as I did the first time. Wish me luck, I suppose, and also clear sinuses.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Scotland, Part 2.

I got the bus to Inverness. The thing is, Scotland is a beautiful place to see regardless of how, so the journey was beautiful. There were literally snow topped hills and beautiful rivers and quaint little towns. Everything was a postcard. But bus journeys themselves are frightful so while I distracted myself with the amazing scenery it was still hell. It was around four hours of not being able to read without getting travel sick so just eating crackers and staring out the window.

Once I checked into my hostel- which looked like a nightmare but since I was paying less to stay there than I did for my bus ticket I had to just deal- I found the smallest cafe I could with basically no one in it on the outskirts of the city centre. There I sat, read, ate soup and watched the news where I discovered all the business about ash cloud chaos. The thing is, I couldn't bring myself to panic or worry or regret whatever all the air space closure was going to mean for me. I think that's a positive. All I thought was "I guess I should start planning to spend more time in the UK." I wandered about, went back to the hostel and had the worst night yet.

My bunkmate was an obese Turkish man with what I can only assume was the flu or something. And his was the top bunk. I'm gonna let you imagine that night rather than describe it because I don't think I can do it justice. Whatever you come up with in your mind is most likely correct.

Surprisingly I was pretty beat the next day. I suppose sometimes getting no sleep can do that to you. So instead of getting on a bus to go see the battle ground of Culloden or even the Loch Ness, I walked along the River Ness for hours and hours. I was in a daze, and Inverness felt like somewhere I would have gone with my family, so I felt rather homesick. It's been less than a month since I left home but that really kicked in there. I did end up calling my parents that day, and going back to that same cafe. I must have been in the mood for something familiar. I just read some more and went back to the hostel earlier than I would have liked. I didn't have the energy to go out and was resigned to another horror night. I think I'd also begun massively overeating at that point as a reaction to all the stress which felt eerily like year ten so I was pretty miserable despite the beautiful river and what the walk along there did for my feelings about the trip. And then Pride and Prejudice and Zombies saved my night.

I'd been reading it while drinking a cup of tea and when I went into the kitchen to put away my mug this German girl practically leapt on me. I was terrified at first but she just started asking me these rapid-fire questions; "do you like it? I think the English is sort of hmm. What do you think?..." She had been working in Glasgow and her two friends from Germany were visiting. They were also eating with their American roommate. All four were incredibly intelligent, thoughtful people, and- as seems to be the case a lot here- wanted to hear my take, as an Australian, on everything from racism to MTV to the Australian Aborigines to Glasgow. We talked for hours and it was very eye opening.

The next morning I got the train to Edinburgh (much more agreeable) to stay with a friend of a friend of a friend who had been nice enough to offer. She had a sick 6-month-old baby so we stayed in that afternoon and her friend made us dinner that night. It was a relaxed place, I felt, and I was able to actually sleep with two eyes closed after all the hostel-ness of the previous week. The next day I lounged around until mid afternoon when I decided to go out and, purely because it was right in front of me, climb Arthur's Seat. Blimey, it was hard but so gorgeous. Oh, and of course- it seems like it's always the way- there were all these New Zealanders at the top. I come all the way across the world to meet more people from the Southern Hemisphere.

That evening, though, was horrendous. So, um, I can't not write about this although it was possibly the worst moment of my life. I felt ill after dinner and went to bed early, only to wake up later and get up in time to vomit all over the spare bedroom floor. Seems I'd caught the baby's bug. Well, I don't think I have ever been so mortified and despite my host and hostess being incredibly good natured about having me stay an extra couple of days while I slept it off, I still think I am possibly the worst guest ever. I was sick only overnight and then forced by my weak arse body- that just gives up after the slightest hint of trouble- to sleep for another twenty four hours. I felt strong enough on my last day in Edinburgh to go into town and catch up on what I'd missed, namely the tail end of the Royal Mile, but mostly my second visit to Edinburgh, though I try not to regret it or associate the city too much with retching, was far less successful than the first. So on Wednesday I bid adieu to the family who had so graciously allowed me to come, get sick on their floor, and leave, and came back to England.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Scotland, part 1.

Gawd, this is ridiculously overdue. Apologies, all. It is also in no way edited or drafted or thought out so expect some seriously longwinded and terrible stories in here. Now that I've got you interested...

Edinburgh. It's hard to explain why but I really love this city. The second I got off the train its brilliance punched me in the face and since then it's only intensified. I was lonely my first twenty four hours here but that wore off. I met a guy in the hostel (don't start teasing me and making those repulsive "oooh" noises yet) who was training to be a walking tour guide around the Old Town and who reminded me so much of Tam. Steve was all theatrical and big-gestured but at the same time really caring and friendly and, anyway, when I told him I had nothing to do my second day in Edinburgh he offered to take me on a tour himself since he would already be practicing with a couple of friends anyhow. He listened to all my crazy babbling enough to know that I was a crazed Harry Potter buff so as well as showing us the traditional stuff (Greyfriars Bobby's statue, the Meercat Cross, Lady Stairs Close...), he also took us to certain JK Rowling-attended places and told stories of how she would look out from the Elephant House cafe, across Greyfriars Kirk Graveyard, see Heriots School and dream of Hogwarts. Oh, and before the grand tour he took me to a Candy Shop that I swear was like a real-life Honeydukes. The tour ended late in the day on the Castle-side hill of Princes Street Gardens among the daffodils, on a very sunny day, and Steve was regailing us with the very long, very hilarious story of the theft (or reclamation, if you think about it) of the Stone of Destiny (the italics are to indicate the voice and gestures Steve used each time he said it) in 1950 by a couple of young, crazy rebels. I slept off the excitement of a day's walk around Edinburgh before a free dinner in the hostel kitchen which is where I met Claudia and Lola.

I'd already met a couple of really nice people the day before and, well, familiarity is key so I went and sat with them. Then in walk these two girls and we invited them to sit with us and got talking and from there it just got awesome. They were from London, both studying and had only known each other for a little while before they decided to take a trip to Scotland together. I dunno, that just sounded rather great to me, to leap in with a new friend and continue to get to know them while you're getting to know a new place. They each had these ambitions and goals but at the same time were open to all sorts of things and I felt really lucky to meet them because, really, this trip was about meeting people like that. After dinner we had a game of Scrabble (their idea) which I won (I have the scrap of score-keeping paper to prove it) and then went off to bed. They were checking out in the morning and having one last day in Scotland and I felt truly disappointed after meeting these really impressive, interesting people who it seemed I was only going to know for one night. And then morning came.

I was sitting in the kitchen/dining room again, on le computer (becoming a sad sort of pattern, really) and in walks Claudia. She looked happy to see me- I have no idea why- and said that on their last day in Edinburgh she and Lola were going to Edinburgh Castle. I asked if I could come along (I'm not normally that forward but these girls were cool, damn it!) and soon enough we were off toward said Castle with Steve in tow. Yes, I saw Steve a lot in Edinburgh. But he was so entertaining, even just in general conversation, and I said with a sense of pride (as I imagine girls often do about their boyfriends. I say "imagine" because evidently it's a pleasure I've never experienced but oh what a useful analogy it maketh) "yeah, he was my tour guide yesterday." Steve left us somewhere on the Royal Mile (most awesome street ever, FYI) and off we went to Edinburgh Castle. I know we weren't paying with blood as centuries past saw visitors to this castle do but whoa, that entrance fee. Anyhow, the place is extraordinary and we spent about five or six hours there which may or may not have been due to my chattering the entire time. You know me, you be the judge. There is so much history there (I know; duh. But still!) and it was nice to experience it with people as intelligent and insightful as Claudia and Lola who knew when to just be silent and take things in and when to make jokes. Ah, timing. A charming trait in a girl. Maybe one day I'll get some.

Anyhow, our day was basically gone after we left the castle so we went in search of many things; deep fried Mars Bars, cash points, things to draw... It was nice just to have been with people for the day. We hung around, ate baked potatoes, sat in bars... and eventually it was time to say "so long". Claudia and Lola went off to catch their bus home and left me with the hope that I might see them again next time I'm in London.

While Claudia was talking to me that morning, I had asked her which city I should go to next. She was somewhat surprised, but when I posed the question of either Inverness or Glasgow, she suggested the latter. So the next morning I checked out of the hostel early, left a couple of books to replace my theft of the Unbearable Lightness of Being (I wasn't finished yet!) and headed off to get the train to Glasgow. There's really not much good to say about my two days there. I wandered around aimlessly and alone and felt depressed, I suppose. I discovered Kelvingrove Park which I visited both days because it was one beautiful spot in a dreary city. I loved the Museums and the Necropolis was strangely captivating. Mostly I drifted while I was there. I agreed with Claudia that the architecture was pretty and I have to say that maybe there is more to see in that city, I just didn't look deep enough, but I don't know if I care enough to find out. To quote Ross Geller; "Yeah, obvious beauty's the worst. You know, when it's right there in your face. Me, I like to have to work to find someone attractive. Makes me feel like I earned it."

So here's the part where I throw caution to the wind, disregard who may or may not be reading and just write how I feel about what happened. The first night in the hostel in Glasgow (and it was the very cheapest one I could find), I felt very lonely. And then this guy started talking to me. He'd seen my book on Scotland and, being Scottish, he wanted to talk to me about where I wanted to go and should go and could go and all that. I was so relieved to find someone to talk to, I already felt less alone. He would have been at least fifteen years older than me but obviously still young-feeling to be staying in a hostel that bore such a striking resemblance to a University share house. We talked for a long time about my plans and this bled into his travelling experience and then just life in general. After staying with someone who had been very perceptive and asked all sorts of poignant questions, only with the interest of understanding me better, I was used to answering all sorts of curious enquiries with honesty. But this began to feel less and less like my previous experiences and when the questions turned to my sex life- as if I have one, ha! But anyway- I suddenly felt completely out of my depth. I was in a communal lounge room with so many people surrounding me but here I was with someone who was starting to make me feel really uncomfortable and for some reason I just couldn't extricate myself from the situation. Up until now I still haven't been able to decide whether it was him or me that made this whole situation feel unbearable because, really, he seemed to just be a naturally friendly and unashamed sort of person. Regardless, I was relieved when all of his talk of my own and his sex lives eventually subsided and, thankfully, he went to bed. Amongst it all though were these nagging questions in my head; "what does he want with all this?", "why are you so scared?", "what would you do if it wasn't all innocent and harmless?" And I had no answers. Because I was on my own on a side of the world where I love no one and am loved by no one and am safe only as long as I make sure of it. And this was a low, low level danger but one that, for whatever reason, I felt keenly.

My lesson of not talking to strangers wasn't learnt very well because after spending the next day as I had the first (before I met this man that night), all alone and wandering aimlessly, I met a woman that night named Betty. She was from France but had done a sort of trainee teacher exchange in Glasgow a while ago and was visiting some friends. She told me what I had assumed, that it was a gorgeous city if you saw the right parts of it, and basically talked me through what I could expect to feel both while I was travelling and when I was done. She was lovely and, like many of the people I've met so far, was very kind and patient with me, enduring my naivety and badly-thought-out notions of basically everything.

So Glasgow wasn't an entire failure, or I refuse to believe it one, because of what I learnt. There were the teachings of a seemingly unfriendly city, and of people like the man I had such an ill-fated conversation with, that showed me what this trip could inevitably be at times which is something capable of crushing me with loneliness and fear . And there were those of people like Betty and of Kelvingrove Park; both of which are patches of loveliness in an otherwise grey place.

This was all a bit emotionally and mentally exhausting, so more to come soon on Scotland when I have time and feel able to do so.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

After years of stormy sailing.

We had a cooking day in Manchester on Tuesday. I was genuinely really sad to be leaving on Wednesday, I had the most amazing time with my hostesses. Tuesday night was all curry and cake and talking until 3:30 in the morning. I really want to go back to Manchester before I fly over to Toronto, both to see those two and the parts of the city I missed out on first time round.

The train ride to Ulverston was pretty. Really pretty. I was picked up at the station and taken out to a little village and a little house in which lived a little family. They were really lovely people, a husband and wife and three-year-old son, and I was always either talking with le little boy or walking in beautiful places. On Thursday I saw market day in Ulverston (I love those things!) and caught the bus to Furness Abbey which is almost 1000 years old and is absolutely incredible. The history of that place is ... wow. On Friday we climbed up a massive hill and overlooked the beginning of Lake Windermere. Bloody brilliant. Oh, and I was taken out for an English beer that I thoroughly failed at drinking. Ugh. Awful stuff. Speaking of, I still haven't tried Marmite. I've heard extremely mixed reports and though I really miss Vegemite I am trying not to be that person who travels overseas and then looks for stuff from home. So Marmite it is. Eventually. When I work up the will to sample it.

I decided while staying in Ulverston to hop a train to Scotland, not entirely sure why, but I am really happy that I'm here. People in the hostel are friendly, even if I'm not. I spent a lot of time walking and sitting around Edinburgh yesterday, watched the sun set on Calton Hill and wandered down Princes Street. I am staying opposite the Balmoral Hotel where, I was informed, JK Rowling wrote the last Harry Potter book. Yeah, there's my Harry Potter reference, I am still a nerd. Last night I turned down the opportunity to go out drinking and stayed in. If I am completely honest; I stayed in, drank tea and read the Unbearable Lightness of Being. I am trying to be more fun, I really am, but I couldn't stop reading after the first twenty pages and, to be honest, pubs have just really not proven to be my thing. I'll try harder tonight, I promise.

I know that after I admitted what I did last night just above this will sound weird but I felt really lonely yesterday. I've had a couple of those moments in the last few days where I am suddenly not entirely satisfied with seeing these beautiful sights on my own. I'm loving it here, and I mean really, but so often I think "Oh, ____ would love this" or "It'd be nice if ____ was here". Back home I'm totally fine spending hours, days, on my own but here I've gotten needy. And yet I can't change who I am and I'm not this friendly, outgoing person who will talk to anyone and everyone and find friends wherever they go. I hide away from people even when I'm desperate to talk to them and they seem like someone I would really like. A guy who met me for five minutes immediately asked me if I liked watching Daria. A few of you will know why that was so bitterly funny to me.

I'm going to try and be social today. Wish me luck, I suppose.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

On re-learning how to be vegetarian.


I was driven from Deb's to a train station during the mid-morning and bought my ticket to Manchester from a kindly ticket inspector. Train rides in England are incredibly exciting to me. They're just so exotic! But no, the countryside is gorgeous and I was passing snow-topped hills which was incredible to me. It was making the freezing cold day (did I mention I didn't pack a coat?) totally worth it just for the promise of a possible snow fall closer. I changed trains at Sheffield and almost froze to death on the platform (and thoroughly enjoyed the experience). I ended up walking out into Manchester in the mid-afternoon and getting incredibly lost on my way to the bus stop. Lost in Manchester though, is the best kind of lost. I found my way eventually, got the bus and found myself standing in Rawtentstall at 4 in the afternoon waiting to be walked to the next home I would be staying at. I met two really friendly teenagers with completely terrific accents who took me up several winding hills, across cobbled streets and past yet more old-style pubs (gawd, there are so many in this country) and into the warmth of their living room. In that room, I cannot say I have ever been so relieved to be without boots, backpack or frostbite. And almost all of a sudden, it was snowing outside the window. In an English village. In the afternoon. Curled up on a couch. I was watching it snow softly.

When the whole family had arrived home,they were awfully polite to me and endured my ugly Aussie twang while we ate dinner, watched Happy-Go-Lucky- cutest movie evar, I think- and played board games (I love that they play board games after dinner here!) and I constantly had to ask about the rules and make embarrassing tactical mistakes. Needless to say, despite my obvious skill, I went to bed a distant runner-up.


Though it had snowed on Wednesday, the snow didn't stick to the wet ground so it was not idiotic for me to walk out, once again without a coat, to go shopping in the morning;dressed as I was in just a familiar colourful jumper and weathered boots. I wandered the little market and bought a men's jacket that would be warm and not too cumbersome from a charity shop. When I got back, the Mister of the house figured out how excited I was at the prospect of the moors nearby and offered to take me on a guided tour. I enthusiastically accepted and a group of us set out to wander an environment not dissimilar to one in a certain girl's favourite Bronte novel (Oh, Heathcliff!). There are photos of that experience that will be coming very soon but, wow, it was amazing. I like snow, guys. I like how it feels under my feet and in my hands and how it looks and everything. Everything. It's pretty and the stuff on the moors was a huge novelty. These poor British kids just smiled obligingly while I ran around, ecstatic about a weather event they have witnessed all their lives and resented when it gets in the way of their weekend plans. Very patient people, they were.

We came home and eventually I began work on dinner which was a far more vegetarian affair than I had originally envisaged. Story of this trip, really. I have gotten back together with my old lover, cheese, and am kind of rather happy about it, despite the Carrie-level guilt about cheating on veganism, my Aidan. The dinner was, eventually, well received and dessert was Nigella-style honey cupcakes (yes, Kat, she is the Queen. I will kiss her ring or smell her glove or whatever, the cakes were a massive hit). I don't know what was more damaging; the food that probably enlarged my waist exponentially or the British shows we watched, including an addictive soap called Hollyoaks and a disturbing adolescent game turned "must see" television (Snog Marry Avoid). What can I say? It was awesome.


I was able to play Geeky Tourist Hiker Girl on Friday (a role I quite enjoy) when I went on long walks and drives with the Mother and Father of the clan. I saw the remains of a stone mill at the top of the world's longest and steepest hill- I may just have used hyperbole for dramatic or comedic effect. So sue me.- and the view from the top, as such, of the area I had been staying in. It was quite spectacular. And cold. But mainly the former. I witnessed Pendle Hill and was exceedingly glad I was not encouraged to be its latest enthused climber. I also visited the "Singing Ringing Tree"; made of pipes and less musical than, apparently, normal.

And then there was the evening meal; my discovery of Indian take-away in England. All I can say is "wow". I must have eaten my weight in greasy but delicious food from plastic containers. But that's hardly behaviour I reserve for coming to England and trying their food so I don't know why I reported that here as though it was newsworthy. Apologies, really.


Unlike Wednesday's day of travelling, my journey from Rawtenstall back to Manchester was forty minutes. I discovered my new hostesses, a wonderfully friendly mother and University-aged daughter and talked for hours with the latter while the former went to a rehearsal for her gospel choir's performance. I attended it that night and was incredibly impressed. There must be similar groups in Melbourne, but I never went to any performances like that before. I wonder why that is, because I thoroughly enjoyed myself.

Speaking of thoroughly enjoying myself, I was taken for a night out with the younger hostess in Manchester. Despite being dressed like a lesbian high school Art teacher from inner city Melbourne, I was treated like every other glammed up, beautiful girl I was with and had a genuinely fun night.


Wow, nachos are good after a night that ends at 3am. Hostess the Younger took me out to see the quirky side of Manchester (think Brunswick/Chapel/Smith/etc Street spread over several streets) at this great little bar in the city. We just chatted to her friend for hours and went home to a- gratefully received- home cooked meal.


Hostess the Elder took me on a tour of iconic Manchester today. United Stadium and the Cricket Ground. The Imperial War Museum blew my mind, so powerful and such an amazing message in some of the exhibitions. Oh, and I was taken to see the most humungous shopping centre I have ever seen. It made Chadstone look tasteful and tiny. A sort of wonderful experience that made me re-appraise my description of my Mum's penchant for retail therapy; seriously, Mother, even this place is out of your league. You ain't even imagined consumerism like this. The place was jaw-dropping though and I am at least happy I saw it. Once again,pictures soon.

Ironically, the movie I was taken to see at a local artsy theatre that night was Samson and Delilah. I hadn't seen it before- I am a bad Arts student, I know- but I really loved it. Just as powerful, if not more, than I had been told it would be. And then we came home, discussed it for ages and discussed it some more. Hostess the younger had joined us and our conversation evolved and continued until 2:30am.

I really have been talking a lot to people since I got here, all sorts, and I really enjoy it. Time is slipping away from me in the long conversations I'm loving. Some, like in the movie I saw last night, are not with words or even with people. I feel really, really blessed to be experiencing all this and I hope this entry explained that even minorly effectively.


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