Tuesday, June 27, 2017

UK Day 6–In Which We Meet the Village Drunk and Almost Flip Our Canoe.

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This may or may not be our fourth Cream Tea…

The district of England known as the Cotswolds is well known for being picturesque, but Bradford-on-Avon is definitely next level gorgeous. Many of these villages have concealed services so there isn’t even a power pole or telephone wire to mar the view of ancient buildings and narrow cobbled streets bursting with flowers.

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We wondered the tiny streets checking out the shops and various Very Old Buildings, the best of which is a Saxon Church that dates from 700AD. This is one of the best known examples of an intact Saxon church in England.

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It was a hot day and so we spent some time in the cool interior soaking up the atmosphere.

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Travis was, of course, overcome with the spirit.

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It did feel a little Game of Thrones in there, and I kept expecting the Man With No Face or whoever he is to show up dragging a blind Arya Stark and going on about  how ‘A Girl must not blah blah blah’.

After doing our church duty, the next obvious thing to do in a quaint English Village is to have a picnic beside the River Avon, of course, so we did exactly that. The picnic was much like most picnics except that we had the added benefit of the village drunk as entertainment, as well as his sister.

I was trying not to let them see me take a picture of them... He’s the one who looks a bit like Robert Plant from Led Zeppelin.

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We struck up a bit of a conversation over my use of the garbage bin which apparently is rare, according to him. The rest of the conversation went like this (really – this actually happened!):

Me: Have you caught any fish in the river?

Robert Plant: Av ownly just got ‘ere. My ‘obby is acshully berd-watchin.

His Sister: And ‘e downt mean the flyin’ kind.

Both: AHHAHAHAHAHAHAHA HAHAHAHAH

Me: Right hahaha of course.

Robert Plant: Do you want to  ‘ave a cast? Do you fish?

Me: I don’t but my son does. He fishe….

Robert Plant: Is that him (gestures to Travis) he can come and ‘ave a cast if he wonts?

Me: Oh no no, he’s my friend and that’s my daughter and her fri…

Robert Pant: It’s awright, you don’t need to explain to me.

Me: oh no really it’s…

(Robert Plant’s sister has a coughing fit)

Robert Plant to his sister: Don’t go doyin’ on me luv. If you do, I’m just goin’ to stand you up in the telephone box and run away anyways.

Both: AHAHAHHHAHAHAHHAH HAHAHAHHAHAH

Me: Well nice chatting with you two. See you later!

We had another group encounter with Robert Plant a few minutes later and he was actually very helpful  in directing us to our next activity which was, of course, canoeing down the Avon-Kennet Canal with a stop at another VOB first, the local Tithe Barn.

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The barn dates form the 12th Century or something like that and is a fantastic example of a Very Old Barn. A local theatre company were right  in the middle of set construction for a production of Romeo and Juliet which opens in 3 nights, which didn’t stop Travis from getting into this very old sarcophagus that was just outside the doors.

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Time to move on…

We walked down the canal to a local launching/mooring spot and got set up in our canoe. It was very easy and there weren’t any requirements for safety equipment and no long list of rules, just an advisement not to actually touch the canal water as it is disgusting, which it kind of is…

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I was paddling up front, Travis was steering (and I use the term loosely) in the back, and Zoe and Terra lounged around in the middle. All went smoothly and we enjoyed a leisurely paddle up the canal, even making it as far as the local aquaduct, which is basically a bridge for boats that in this case, travelled over the River Avon below and also a set of train tracks. Everything went well until, on our way back, we had an incident with some brambles and a dead rat floating nearby and we all nearly flipped the canoe. We had only just recovered from that close call when we found ourselves right between two boats approaching from each direction. I’m pretty sure the first boat were day trippers as the women started shrieking at us to move out the way (which we were) and at the boat coming the other way to also get out the way. There was a bit of chaos, and then it was all over and we were back on our merry way. We were obviously not going fast enough for Terra however as she quickly fell into coxswain mode and was barking orders at us to ‘HOLD’ and to do a ‘POWER TEN NOW!’ and ‘FASTER’.

We made it back to port without further incident and back into town just in time for tea at yet another fantastic old tea house.

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Never miss an opportunity to check your hair…

At some point we also hiked up a fantastic example of a hill and bought groceries at fantastic example of a grocery store before getting into our fantastic example of a car and driving home to our fantastic example of a cottage.

I’m sorry to report that there were no dead badgers today due to a road safety campaign recently introduced by the local badger council and a series of PSAs aimed at young badgers to teach them about road safety. Terra is still in the lead in Pub Legs and Travis is still winning at Hill Forts. Who knows what tomorrow will bring in the exciting world of driving games!

Shanks for preening,

Cheers,

Jane






Monday, June 26, 2017

UK Day 4 and 5–In Which There are Donkeys, Fossils, and a Giant Hamburger.

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When Travis asked me a few months ago if we could go to a Donkey Sanctuary in Devon, I was happy to go. And so we set off at the crack of 11am (bit of a late start) and drove two hours south west to the seaside town of Sidmouth in Devon, home of The Donkey Sanctuary. As we approached, the excitement in the car was palpable and I had to restrain Travis from getting out of the car before I had even stopped the vehicle. 500 donkeys live here, rescued from various places of misery and brought here to live out their lives in peace and quiet. Well, peace, anyway.

We weren’t the only ones at the Sanctuary – it was actually really busy there. Who knew donkeys would be that popular. Anyway before I knew it I was being whisked off to view this pen of donkeys and that mule and then back over here to see another pen of donkeys that were allegedly different than the first pen. Somehow, two hours passed in what I will admit was one of the most charming and peaceful places I’ve been to in a long time. I also learned more than any one should ever need to know about donkeys, mules, and also hinnies. What’s a hinnie, you ask? Apparently, a mule is the offspring of a male donkey and a female horse, and a hinnie is that of female donkey and a male horse. That is sure to come up at Quiz Night so you’re welcome.

The place is full of signs like this which many people were reading with great seriousness. I think some of these donkeys have a fan base – the place is extremely popular and even had an overflow car park.

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The good folks at the Donkey Sanctuary want to make absolutely sure there is no way you will get lost while trying to find Walter and Timothy.

There are also many attempts to get you to adopt a donkey (by way of a monthly donation in a certain donkey’s name). They really pull out all the stops with posters like these all over the place:

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Enchanting?

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I’m not exactly sure how Zena’s inspiration manifests itself in all of us but I’ll give it a go.

Much of the walkways around the grounds are lined with commemorative plaques from loved ones of the dearly departed who, I am assuming, loved donkeys. This was my favourite:

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I’d like to know exactly what our Leonard was up to allowing so many to have such fun with his physiology. Dorothy certainly appreciated it. Dear old Len.

I’m sure there’s more to be said about donkeys but I can’t quite think what it is at present as it turns out that after a while, one donkey is much like another.

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Suffice to say, Travis LOVED the donkeys, especially this one – he was a giant breed (the donkey, not Travis) whose name escapes me just now – you’ll have to trust me.

We finished the tour off with some time with the elderly donkeys and also the blind donkeys. Apparently, a blind donkey will bond with a seeing donkey, who will actually lead the blind donkey around by its collar. I didn’t actually witness this happening but I’ll believe it.

Reluctantly, we said our goodbyes to the donkeys as it was time to move on to the beach.

The coast in this part of England is known as the Jurassic Coast. Huge cliffs line the beaches, revealing 185 million years of geological history in the form of deposits,fossils and geological features. Our destination was Charmouth, another seaside community a few miles east of Sidmouth, where it is easier to find your own fossils.


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We are a competitive group and so a race was on to be the first to find a legit fossil.

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It was harder than I thought to find a fossil and no one was having much luck. I was happy, however, to find this fossil of…the Lorax? 

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Eventually we did come across some fossils thanks to some locals who felt sorry for us and basically put them in our hands.

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Zoe was the real winner though as she actually found a real fossil which I don’t have a picture of as my camera battery died.

By now it was getting late so I had to forego my plan to swing by the town of West Bay where I was planning a re-enactment of the scene from Broadchurch where Danny’s body is found at the bottom of the cliffs; I was going to be David Tennant, Zoe was going to be Danny and Travis was going to be Miller, while Terra played Beth. Anyway it didn’t happen and instead we went the wrong way in town and happened to see this building instead so it was all worth while:


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Catherine of Aragon being, of course, the first wife of Henry VIII, and King Charles II being, of course, King Charles II.

My life now complete, we headed for home where we had a late dinner which featured, among other things, a giant hamburger that we made to fit the Sally Lunn Bunn that you will recall we had purchased in Bath the day before (keep up, people keep up). It was actually delicious.

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It was a bit of a late night but that didn’t matter as we all had a day off today from touring around and spent it embracing cottage life by doing a puzzle, watching Harry Potter, going for a walk through the fields, and getting Indian food takeout. We did have a moment of hilarity at the Indian takeaway place when Travis asked a woman where we could get some groceries in town as everything seemed to be closed. In the UK, a garage is where you buy gas and is pronounced gah-ridge.

Travis: Excuse me is there a supermarket in town that is open?

Woman: Probably the gahridge convenience store is your best bet. The petrol station up the road. Wot you afta?

Travis (not wanting to say toilet paper): Oh just a few things

Woman: yeah the gahridge is likely best. Just go up the road, turn right, then turn left, then bear left then go over the bridge and then turn at the brewery and then turn left and come back over the bridge and turn left and right at the same time and you can’t miss it.

A few moments passed while we try to figure out what she just said.

Travis: So it’s Garry’s convenience store?

Woman (looking confused while Zoe and I cry tears of silent laughter in the corner): Erm…it’s the petrol station…the gahridge? Petrol station? you go up the road turn ri…

Travis (interrupting: Oh ok so Garry’s convenience. Yes I think we have the directions. Thanks very much.

Woman (still looking confused) Right. You’re welcome.

Fortunately our food arrived and so were all saved from further awkwardness although I was laughing so much I could hardly pay.

We’re back in the car tomorrow for a trip to the Cotswolds.

Ranks for teething-

Cheers,

Jane

PS – By the way the score for Dead Badger is now Jane 6-Travis 1. Terra still leads in Pub Legs despite some tough competition from Zoe and Travis. Tomorrow will bring fresh territory so we should see some big increases in scores.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

UK Day 3–In Which There are Baths, Biggus Dickus Appears, There are Very Large Buns, and We Stop by Jane Austen’s Place.

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It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a large empire in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of more land. And so it was that that from 43–410 AD, the Romans (no, no, ‘Wo-mans’) occupied what they called Brittaniae and what we call Britain. Archeological evidence of their occupation is all over the country in the form of Roman roadways, bits of old walls, fantastic mosaic floors of ancient villas, and hoards of Roman artifacts found in farmer’s fields across the country. One of the most spectacular sites can be found in the city of Bath, where the Romans took full advantage of three natural hot springs that bubble up to the surface, by building a huge spa, complete with various pools and a complex system of pumps, piping and drains.

The pools were built in 50-60 AD under the emperor Claudius and were named Aquae Sulis after the Goddess of dark damp places. They fell into disrepair after the Romans buggered off in 400AD and were gradually buried over the centuries by whatever it is that buries Very Old Buildings until being rediscovered sometime in the 1800’s. Today it is possible to see the original Roman structures, including original lead pipes that are still functioning (come for a swim, get lead poisoning too!), and a lot of what I like to call Very Old Stones. It’s impressive enough on its own but in true British fashion, an elaborate museum experience has been created around the pools, replete with an annoying audio tour system that aims to be as complicated as possible. Still, it’s interesting stuff, and one never ceases to be amazed by what the Romans have done. If you need more detail, you should watch this: https://youtu.be/uvPbj9NX0zc

Anyway, in an attempt to help us all feel like we were actually in a Roman bath, there are a series of hilarious video scenes of Roman life projected on the walls. I say hilarious even though I don’t think they were meant to be hilarious, which of course makes them even funnier. At one point during what appears to be a discussion between what looks like Mother Theresa in sandals and bare legs, and a friend, the friend leaves and a man shows up wearing what can only be described as a large phallic symbol on his head. I kid you not:

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We can’t hear the discussion but I imagine it went something like this:

Mother Theresa: This is the fifth day in a row that you’ve worn that hat, Biggus.

Biggus: What hat?

Mother Theresa: Think of the children, Biggus, think of the children. And their mothers. You’ll upset their mothers.

Biggus: They seem to like it when…

Mother Theresa (interrupting): I don’t want to hear it, Biggus, just get a new hat. And fast.

Biggus: I think it’s quite fetching. And beside, I have a wife you know.

Mother Theresa: Yes yes, Incontinentia, I was just speaking with her. She doesn’t like it either. Asked me to speak to you about it.

Biggus: Well that’s part of the problem. I find that when I wear the hat…

Mother Theresa (interrupting): Biggus, I don’t want to hear about it, I told you. Now, why don’t you go for a swim or something. And take off the hat, for goodness sakes.

Biggus: How about a massage?

Mother Theresa: Fine! Just take off the hat!

We later come across Biggus and his friends getting a rub down by three men wearing what look like terry towel loin cloths. Thankfully, Biggus has taken off his phallic hat for the time being. That’s him in the middle.

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I’m not sure what they were thinking when they made all these silly movies, but I suspect it has something to do with lead exposure. It is very damp everywhere and a bit mungy and the water, all 1170000 litres/day, comes out of the earth at 46C (which is a very hot hot tub). All that moisture makes things a bit slippery. No one is allowed in the water due to high concentrations of lead, and the presence of bacteria. Plus, it’s green. Green plus swimming pools equals not good. Still you are allowed to sit right beside the pools as long as you obey the signs, like this one:

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  1. Do not dip your hands in to the spaghetti
  2. Do not climb the walls
  3. No feet in the spaghetti either
  4. Ice creams, French fries and sugary drinks are bad for you
  5. You are permitted to fall backwards on to the uneven ground, but only if you are careful

After all the museuming, we sat by the pool just long enough to avoid inhaling any odd amoeba or flakes of lead that were floating by.

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It was time to leave and obviously, time for a giant bun. Fortunately, Bath is home to Sally Lunn’s Bunn Shoppe, which has been in existence in Bath since the 1680’s. The house is even older: 1482 to be exact, but it’s been a bunn shoppe and specifically Sally Lunn’s Bunn Shoppe since 1680. A Sally Lunn bunn is slightly Brioche-like and slightly Giant-Hamburger-Bun-like and is served toasted and slathered in basically whatever you want: jam, lemon curd, smoked salmon etc. I highly recommend them.

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There was a bit of a line at first so we went downstairs to the museum which was equal parts creepy and awesome:

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They don’t make the bunns down there anymore, I hope, but you can buy a bunn in a box, which of course we did.

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When we got back upstairs, the line was gone (pro tip: just wait it out – it’s fast moving) and so we sat down and enjoyed bunns and tea, while looking out the window and making Zombie faces at the people down below:

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After disrupting everyone else’s tea, it was time for me to drag everyone to see Jane Austen’s house. If you didn’t know, 2017 is the 200th anniversary of her untimely death at the age of 41. Jane and her family spent 4 years in Bath. Her house, at #4 Sydney Place, is nondescript and is now, I think, a vacation rental, but I loved the idea of walking the streets that she walked and knew so well. As it turns out, Ms. Austen was also a regular customer at Sally Lunn’s.  I will admit to having a giggle at the thought of Jane Austen enjoying Sally Lunn’s Bunns. Or something like that.

I digress.

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Bath is a beautiful city and very easy to walk around. Unless you can’t read a map, like, it would seem, all four of us. And so it was a circuitous route that we took back across town, taking in the sights along the way including the Cathedral, which is gorgeous:

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and this random old abandoned abbey which just happened to be in the middle of town:

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There is great shopping in this town (Pro tip – check out Southgate where there are outside sitting areas with lawn chairs and beer stands for those of us who prefer to people-watch instead of shop) and the Georgian architecture is really stunning.

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I also spotted the Queen having a bit of a read and a cup of tea in the window of her flat.

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On the drive home I spotted another dead badger and so it’s Jane 3- Travis 0 for the dead badger game, but Terra is out in front on the pub legs game (first to spot a pub where the name indicates a certain number of legs ie: The Two Goats would get you 8 points) with Zoe in second place and Travis quickly moving up the ranks (although that’s not going to help if he keeps being the first to see pubs like The Slug and Lettuce, like he did yesterday). We had dinner at the local pub which was delicious if slow and was complete with appearances by the local villagers out in all their finest for a Friday night at the pub. They are all caricatures of themselves without knowing it and make for excellent people-watching. The highlight of the meal was an excellent sticky toffee pudding for dessert, which I think contributed to another night of blissful sleep in the deep dark countryside.

Thanks for reading and come back tomorrow for donkeys and fossils.

Cheers,

Jane