Thursday 11 August 2011

Edinburgh, Norwich, and Home

There hasn’t been an opportunity to post an update on my blog since Nancy and I went off to Edinburgh, so here’s the gist of our travels.

We boarded the train at Norwich at 10:00 am on August 4th, and six hours and many miles of vast rolling landscape later, we climbed off in Edinburgh. The late afternoon was warm with intermittent sun and cloud and we walked the ten minutes from the station to our B&B – the Craighmoss on Pilrig Street, owned by Isabelle and Harry, two very friendly and welcoming Scots. After depositing our bags in the room, we walked back into town and the buzzing energy of the Edinburgh Festival – pipers staking out their turf on almost every corner and blasting oh so familiar tunes – Scotland the Brave, Dark Isle, Flowers of the Forest, Amazing Grace. After wandering around for a couple of hours, we found a quiet and inviting bistro at “The Scotsman” – the 19th century building that was home to the newspaper of the same name. We ordered a gin and tonic to start (served by attentive Russian émigrés), eventually moving into the food – smoked mackerel for Nancy, hot and crisp fish and chips for me, paired up with a glass of perfectly chilled sauvignon blanc. We got back to the B&B around 10:30 pm and I fell into my bed, sleeping soundly until waking up and checking my watch, realizing we had to quickly get downstairs for the 8:30 am last call to breakfast. I went for the full monty – bacon, eggs, sausage and grilled tomato with toast. It’s a good thing we’ve been walking our feet off. 

Before we left Norwich, Nancy had touched base with an old friend named Jan, who was passing through Edinburgh and we arranged to meet her at the art gallery. She was waiting for us at the entrance at the appointed hour of 1:00 pm and after greetings and hugs, we made our way into the inviting minimalist café inside the gallery and ordered a bottle of pinot grigio to start. The food was excellent too. Nancy and Jan both chose the grilled veggie sandwich and wild mushroom soup, while I opted for the humous with onion jam and oat cakes. The two women had lots to catch up on, both being desert adventurers with a fascination for Morocco, its music and dance – and the mysterious Berbers. 

After lunch and a quick look around the gallery, we hailed a cab and went back to the train station where we said goodbye to Jan as she made her way to her train to York and we went off to explore the city. I’d never been to Edinburgh before and was impressed with its imposing ancient architecture, the green sweeping bluffs that guard the city to the north and the sparkling views of the North Sea in the distance to the east. I’m not sure how many visitors pour into the city during the Festival, but the streets were moving throngs of humanity, representing almost every nationality on the planet. And everyone seemed to be smiling and enjoying themselves. I was excited because in just a few hours we would be taking in the Royal Military Tattoo. It was not a disappointment. The mass bands that marched in from the shadows of the castle drawbridge, piping and drumming, sent shivers up my spine. Soon the sun set behind the castle and lights came up to illuminate the façade, changing colours and casting images on the stone. At the end of the evening, high up on the castle ramparts, the lone piper began playing a haunting tune called “The Parting Glass,” and I cried. 

We braved the crowds that poured out into the dark street at the end of the performance, made our way back to the B&B and fell into our welcoming beds.
Next morning, after another fortifying breakfast, we checked out of the B&B and headed off to find the house of Nancy’s friend, Vashti Bunyan. Vashti had invited us to dinner and an overnight stay with her and her partner Al at their impressive Victorian home just blocks from the B&B. We wheeled our suitcases along the sidewalk until we came to the right house and pushed the buzzer. Vashti and Al had just returned from a holiday in Greece and looked tanned and fit. While I’d never met her before, I’d heard lots about her from Nancy. Vashti was an old friend of Nancy from the 60s and she became well known for her song “Just Another Diamond Day” which she produced with the Rolling Stones. She and her partner Robert, also a good friend of Nancy (the one who launched his sailboat in Broadstairs in an earlier blog), took their horse and Gipsy caravan from London and headed to the Isle of Skye back in the late sixties, basically leaving civilization behind. Now in her sixties, Vashti is still beautiful and has resurrected her singing career. She and Al were incredibly warm and welcoming and they held a dinner party that night with three other women friends (one of whom also stayed the night but who left before anyone else was up), which went on until well past midnight. Next morning, Nancy and I sat with Vashti and Al around their large dining room table drinking coffee and eating fruit and granola while Nancy and Vashti reminisced about the sixties, recalling one story about Vashti walking down Liverpool Road in Islington in her bare feet, leading her horse. She’s a remarkable woman who ended up raising three children in the wilds of Northern Scotland, all of whom went on to become successful too. It was hard to pull ourselves away from this cozy room and the fascinating stories, but we had to catch our train back to Norwich, so reluctantly bid our hosts goodbye. If Vashti comes to perform in Vancouver, as she did during the Winter Olympics, I’ll certainly be in the audience.

So Edinburgh was a huge success and delight (despite Nancy’s luggage going missing, but which met us back in Norwich). I was thrilled to have experienced the Tattoo and really pleased that Nancy had agreed to come with me. I wouldn’t have met Jan and Vashti and Al otherwise, who all added something very special to the trip - a reward to myself for submitting my dissertation and completing all the requirements for my Master’s. After two days in Norwich running errands and arranging to have three boxes of my belongings shipped back to Vancouver, I got up at 5:00 am on Tuesday to meet a taxi in front of The Factory and Nancy and I tearfully said our goodbyes. We still have Skype though, and there’s that book to collaborate on…

My return to Vancouver wasn’t as fraught as my arrival in the UK almost a year ago, but there were certainly some frustrating moments. After flying from Norwich Airport to Amsterdam, I learned that the plane was overbooked and I was bumped to a flight leaving Amsterdam three hours later, flying via Seattle. I was compensated though, which went a long way towards soothing my ruffled feathers. Predictably, my bag failed to show up in Vancouver but we were reunited 24 hours later.

I’m back in once piece, happy to be home, and amazed that my time in Norwich is now behind me. I’ve had one hell of a year, spent time with old friends and met some new ones. At the end of September, I’ll get my results and will hopefully be able to put “MA” after my name and say “Mission Accomplished.”

Wednesday 3 August 2011

All Done!

What an amazing feeling! Yesterday I took my USB to the library and printed out and bound my dissertation, then took it over to the newly-renovated Arts 1 Building and submitted it to the proper authorities. Yahoo! I had accepted an invitation to lunch with Michelle and Felicity at their place in Hellesdon a couple of weeks ago, thinking I would be finished, but I'd spent an inordinate amount of time over the past few days doing finicky things like my appendices, so there I was, trying not to rush at this point, but looking at my watch and realizing I was going to be late getting to them. I waited at the bus stop but after fifteen minutes decided to hail a taxi because I was already almost an hour late. Once I got there though, everything was fine. Felicity sat me down and handed me a cold glass of white wine and I said, Yes, please!

A toast to me - Michelle and Felicity in their garden.
What a fabulous way to celebrate the culmination of a year of study and hard work. We sat in the sunny garden, talking about the year Michelle and I have just completed and eating the delicious lunch Felicity had prepared. I got there at 1:30 pm, but didn't leave until 6:00 pm - there was so much to say and we knew this was goodbye.

This past week has been such a pleasure. On Friday evening I met Francesca for a cocktail at "The Bird Cage" - a very Norwich bar in the centre of town. After that, we were hungry, so I suggested we head off to Cinema City for a meal to celebrate her 24th birthday, which is coming up on the 6th. The restaurant and bar at Cinema City is my favourite place to eat, as I'm sure I've mentioned somewhere else in this blog. I wish I'd thought to take a photo. The flickering candles, stained glass windows and old stone walls make you feel like you're dining in some ancient castle. The food was excellent and the conversation never lagged, as we talked about everything under the sun. Even though I'm older than her mother, Francesca feels like a contemporary. I'm going to miss her.

All grown up.
On Sunday, I met Thea at our usual coffee place on the river - Costa. Thea is one of the kindest most gentle people I've ever known and I'm so grateful to have met her and shared a friendship over this past year. She has definite plans to come and visit me in Vancouver with her partner David, maybe next year, and I'll take great pleasure in showing her all the sights of my home town. After I left her, I rode my bike back to my favourite place along the river in Thorpe. The newly-hatched swans are now full grown but the Angus cows in the fields haven't changed a bit, except the calves have blended in with the adults. I rode along the path which now has all the signs of late summer - fireweed, buddleia, red poppies and Queen Anne's lace, waving in the warm breeze. Every time I ride this way, I wish I had access to a kayak so I could just slip into the water along the banks of the Wensum and glide around with the swans. But at least I have my bike, good ol' Douglas, a constant companion on my solitary ventures into the countryside.

So I've made some lasting friendships during my year at the UEA. Michelle will likely be staying on in Norwich, and for sure Thea will, but Francesca is heading back to London in September to think about her life and the direction of her career. I know I'll stay in touch with them for the rest of my life.

Last night when I got back from Hellesdon, Nancy was here with Ken and Maxine who just returned from their trip to the Norfolk coast. Nancy was preparing a savoury Moroccan tagine with lamb and veggies - the best she's ever made. Before we sat down to dinner, she popped a bottle of perseco and we sat on the terrace (only the second evening of the summer that it's been warm enough to really enjoy) and celebrated the completion of my Master's. Tomorrow, Ken and Maxine head back to their home in France and Nancy and I jump on a train for Edinburgh. I'm excited about going to the Royal Military Tattoo and hearing the piping.  I'm especially looking forward to seeing and hearing the lone piper playing from the ramparts at Edinburgh Castle at night. Bound to be a weepy moment.

Thursday 28 July 2011

Nottingham and Back

Another great experience renting a car from Enterprise. They arrived at the flat on time to deliver the car and Nancy and I started our journey to Nottingham to visit Chris – an old friend who “got scuppered” by a stroke a few years ago and is wheelchair bound. He now has a team of five women coming in and out, looking after him – probably one of the reasons he seems to be thriving.

We started our journey without the benefit of SatNav (satellite navigation for those, like me, who have to ask), but with a good road map. I followed the road signs and Nancy followed the map, and between us, we got to Chris’ place in four hours without getting lost. When we arrived at his somewhat dilapidated old house, we were greeted by him and his long-time partner Rosie, who immediately opened a good bottle of perseco and, raising our glasses, we toasted all our friends. One of Chris’ caregivers, Ruth, delivered a meal she had prepared at her own home. We started with smoked salmon with small round potato pancakes and crème fraise served with the bottle of Italian rose Nancy brought. This was followed by roast lamb and a green salad of butter lettuce and watercress, washed down with a very decent merlot-shiraz. We topped it all off with poached peaches in a delicious wine syrup served with Ruth’s "famous" pistachio nut Florentines, and Chris surprised us all by ceremoniously opening a bottle of 2003 Chateau Rieusse sauterne. I didn’t pay attention to the labels on the first three bottles of wine, but the sauterne was so absolutely heavenly with the poached peaches, I decided to make a note of it. At nearly 1:00 am, my eyes were closing, so I bid everyone goodnight and slipped upstairs and along the dark hallway to my assigned room.

The next morning Chris was in his bedroom, but wheeled out to say goodbye to us. Before we got completely out of Nottingham and on the road to Norwich, we felt we needed some breakfast (given it was almost noon) and stopped at a place with an almost full parking lot – always a good sign. It was slightly reminiscent of a Denny’s, but we were hungry and not fussy at that point. The restaurant, called appropriately “Eating Inn,” was warm and welcoming and you just knew comfort food was on offer. There were families celebrating birthdays or just enjoying Sunday brunch, and we were shown to a table in the corner, next to an old man who was stooped over his plate, just about ready to tuck into his roast beef and Yorkshire pudding. He greeted us with a lovely smile and a “bon appetite,” and after we ordered – Nancy chose the chicken and mushroom pie with chips and peas and I went for the scampi and chips with peas – he started a conversation with us. He talked about being in Germany at the 1936 Olympics as a young student, when Jessie Owens won the 100-meters race, and he recalled how Hitler saluted the crowd and left immediately, clearly unhappy about a Black man winning the race. After he finished his meal, he said how much he enjoyed talking with us, slowly moved into his coat, put on his hat, grabbed his cane, and said he was going to walk the mile to a friend’s place, a woman who wasn’t “doing too well.” He told us he used to walk much further, but he was 90 now and it was getting more difficult. We both felt lucky to have crossed this man’s path. We were also struck by the incredibly friendly people in the restaurant – smiling and saying, "Ta loov...yaw rawt?"

The drive back to Norwich was quite spectacular, with the sun shining on the vast, flat fens. I feel I really know my way around now, and coming in to Norwich from the North was familiar and reassuring. And there is nothing like the freedom of being behind the wheel of a car after you’ve been riding public transit for months.

Even though I’d planned to have my dissertation completely finished today, some more material has come to light and I’m now going to spend the weekend integrating it into what I already have and getting it ready for printing and binding on Monday. I’ll take a breath on Tuesday and Wednesday, then it’s off to Edinburgh on the train Wednesday. So excited!

I finally downloaded the photos from the Wield Olympics and the picnic near Hungerford, so here they are…

David, Tom, Emi, Jamie and Pip

Tom doing "dress up"

Emi and friend Jack doing "dress up" (Flick with ball)

Emerald and Frosty

Jamie (not looking like the Army guy he is)

Frosty posing

Now really, Jamie!

The boys absconded with Selina's surf board for their bar sign.

Apples for the summer

A "plastic" boat waiting to go through the locks.

Jean's picnic lunch

Jean and Selina preparing the picnic.

Punters at Oxford.

Frosty playing "Beer pong"

The other team

Tuesday 19 July 2011

A Small Pause

I haven’t managed to keep my blog going and finish writing my dissertation, but hopefully I’ll get in a few more posts before I leave England, closing the chapter on my amazing year in Norwich.

I’m now about half way through my visit to Hampshire with Pip, Selina and the kids and it’s been the usual whirlwind round of dinner parties, picnics, pub lunches and walks in the fields with Padstowe. I’ll feel sad when I say goodbye to them on Thursday, as I'm not sure when I'll see them all again.

At the start of my break, last Wednesday, Nancy and I got on the train at Norwich and made our way down to Basingstoke where Selina met us. As usual, a fabulous dinner was produced – homemade cream of tomato soup with basil, followed by chicken marengo, roast potatoes and kale fresh from the garden, and some very decent bottles of wine. The next day, Selina drove me and Nancy to friend and artist Anna Pugh’s place about an hour away, and we spent the afternoon looking at Anna’s finely drawn and brightly coloured prints, mostly celebrations of the English countryside, going for lunch in the local pub, and walking through the fields with her rescued greyhound, Flick. Selina and I then left Nancy with Anna, where she stayed the night before heading back to Norwich. We then drove to Hove for a visit with Selina’s mother. She’s going to be joining Selina for a week’s summer school at Marlborough, something I was invited to do, but I just couldn’t justify the cost, given I’m going to Edinburgh on August 4th for two days. Pip and I are driving to Marlborough this evening to have dinner with Selina and other friends who are taking courses like Qi Gong, Tai Chi, and life drawing.

On Saturday, the Geddes boys held a big “Wield Olympics” which was an impressive day and evening of raucous competitive games with about forty of their friends. Everyone was decked out in costumes from various countries and each team was responsible for bringing the food from that particular region. Luckily, the rain held back for most of the day – we’re having the same unsettled weather as Vancouver and it's not feeling like summer.

The next day, P&S’s friend Jean prepared a magnificent lunch of smoked salmon, quail eggs, asparagus salad, bread and wine, and oat cookies, which we ate alongside a canal near Hungerford, watching the canal boats making their way through the locks. Again, I took photos but don’t have my camera connection to upload them to my laptop. I’ll post them at the end of the weekend.

This coming Saturday, Nancy and I are renting a car and driving to Nottingham for a visit with her old friend Chris. Once back in Norwich, I’m going to add the finishing touches to my dissertation and submit it. I must admit I’m afraid to let it go, but know I must. I remember taking flying lessons near Walnut Creek in California back in the late 80s, and when it came time for me to land the plane by myself for the first time, I resisted, until my instructor said if I didn’t land soon, we’d run out of gas. I wish I had that kind of impetus facing me right now. Once I submit, I’ll try and relax. While I’ve had a fabulous time in Hampshire, awareness of that final commitment is always there in the back of my mind. The trip to Edinburgh on August 4-5 to see the Royal Military Tattoo will be my celebration to myself.

And then it’s back to Vancouver after almost a year away. I feel like the astronauts must feel after they’ve had a long spell at the International Space Station. Re-entry is going to be a bit of a mental adjustment. Still, I’m excited about going home and seeing all the wonderful people I’m lucky enough to know in my life.

Tuesday 28 June 2011

A Very English Birthday

Selina and Mo
My birthday came and went, and what a fabulous time I had. Pip and Selina drove all the way up from Hampshire on Friday to celebrate with me (a four-hour trip), arriving at noon for just an overnighter. After adding their generous contributions (a big chocolate birthday cake, mint chocolates, and bottles of wine) to my picnic basket of lemon/ginger chicken, Cec’s potato salad, fresh veggies with humous, and fat pimento-stuffed green olives, we were off. It was fine day, as it always seems to be on my Mid Summers Day birthday. We first drove east to Great Yarmouth and then wound our way up the coast to Cromer, where we found a shelter above the beach and out of the wind to enjoy our picnic lunch.

After having our fill of food and sipping a glass or two of Perseco rosé, we packed up and pointed the Discovery in the direction of Holkham. All three of us had just finished reading A Scandalous Life – the biography of Jane Digby by Mary S. Lovell, and wanted to visit the country home where this wonderfully wild adventurer spent most of her childhood – at least in the summer time. Their house in London was probably as big or bigger.

Selina and Pip
When we got to Holkham we first walked down to the famous beach where Shakespeare in Love was filmed – a broad, golden expanse of rising dunes with the greeney-blue ocean beyond. When you turn and look back over your shoulder, you see the road that leads past the gatehouses to the imposing wrought-iron gates of Holkham Hall. 

It was after 6:00 and when we got there, but a man who emerged from the gatehouse said we were welcome to park the car and go through the smaller gate if we wanted to walk around. What a treat – we were the only obvious people around on these 3000 acres of manicured lawns and shady woods. We passed herds of deer grazing – the sign said there were over 800 hundred of them – and saw swans languidly floating on the calm surface of the lake. I tried to imagine which one of the possibly 200 bedrooms Jane’s would have been and imagined her riding her horse through this treed landscape every morning after breakfast. For better photos of Holkham Hall, go to

Holkham Hall - Jane Digby's digs during the early 1800s.
After what probably amounted in total to a two-mile walk, we made our way to the car and took the slow route back to Norwich along narrow country lanes, past endless rolling fields of new crops. When we arrived back in town, Pip and Selina insisted on taking me out for dinner, so I suggested the only place I know – Cinema City! The food was delicious – Selina and I had lobster and crayfish wrapped in nori and shared a bottle of crisp, chilled New Zealand sauvignon blanc, while Pip, as designated driver, had a non-alcoholic beer with lime and a creamy fish pie. When we got back to the flat, we stayed up late and reminisced, even though I’d just seen them at Easter. Old friends never seem to run out of things to say to each other. Before I fell into bed at the end of a perfect birthday, I turned on my computer and read my emails with all the birthday wishes from family and friends at home and further afield - a perfect way to end the day.

In the morning, I made us a breakfast of coffee, streaky bacon, eggs, fried tomatoes, and cheese scones, which was enough to sustain us for the whole day, almost. We drove to the city centre and toured Norwich Cathedral, wandered through the narrow shop-lined lanes, and before long, it was time for Pip and Selina to bit me adieu and make the return trip to Wield. I didn’t feel sad saying goodbye though because I’ll be seeing them again in two weeks when I’ll head down south by train and spend another few days with them. 

There was no time to feel lonely either after they left because Nancy arrived back from Morocco on Sunday evening, looking fabulous and tanned, and we’ve had a great time ever since catching up with each other’s news. Her timing is perfect because I’ll be able to ask her to fill in any blanks I might have with my dissertation before submitting it to the UEA middle to end of July. Because I have only a few weeks left here in the UK, we’re planning to take a couple of trips by train before I head back to Canada - Edinburgh being one destination. I'm so happy that Nancy has agreed to come with me to the Royal Military Tattoo at the Edinburgh Festival, August 4th to 6th, which I thought I'd be doing alone. 

Sunday 19 June 2011


When I woke up this morning, instead of getting up right away, I opened the book I’ve been reading, May Sarton’s Journal of a Solitude. This book massages the soul, and it’s just the right medicine after the events of the week. Later, when I was relaxing over coffee, I went to the Vancouver Sun’s website, as usual, and was happy to read the touching accounts of people coming together and trying to erase from our minds the shameful images of that night. There are so many heartwarming stories of people who heroically tried to calm the mob and were injured in the process. I think we'll recover.

Humour helps when everything seems bleak. I happened to visit Daniel Dowd’s horoscope site yesterday and got a kick out of it because I read it after all the terrible events of the week. Sometimes it just pays to say, “It wasn’t my fault…blame it on the planets.” (Take heart, those who allowed themselves to jump into the post-game fray.) I’m reprinting here as it appears on his website at because I think it’s quite amazing and worth sharing.

“There is a HUGE Total Eclipse of the Moon on Wednesday.
Lunar Eclipses are known to rock people at their deepest emotional levels... They tend to affect the more personal areas of life... (Solar Eclipses tend to be more about world events)... This one coming up on Weds is of a very long duration... That means its effects are going to be extremely powerful, so get ready for the madness to begin. Impulsive and erratic... People saying & doing the goofiest of things... Putting themselves & what matters most to them in jeopardy over insane split second decisions... Do yourself a favor, don't be that guy!! hehehe... This Eclipse is going to be extra intense because it occurs between Gemini (communication) and Sagittarius (wisdom)... It's the kind of pattern that causes people to ignore truth and cling to fantasy/illusion instead because accepting truth usually means making major changes in our lives.

This eclipse could bring out a lot of aggression and what could be core-level evil in some... Nearly every planet is located in powerful positions in the chart... The energy itself causes people to become very self-absorbed and then when you add in inflated egos & aggression, things can get out of control very quickly... When you see that happening, or when it's clear someone is trying to start an argument, you would be wise to get out of the way before they unload all their pent up anger and resentments upon you. It can all happen so fast too, in the ‘blink of an eye.’ 

This could prove to be one hell of a week.”

You can say that again, Daniel!

Thursday 16 June 2011

Embarrassed for My Home Town

What a bleak morning, to wake up to the news that Vancouver was in chaos again after our team failed to claim the Stanley Cup. I stayed up until 3:30 am here and listened to the game on Radio 1040, falling asleep disappointed, like thousands of other Canuck fans after the Bruins scored into an empty net. When woke up, I went straight to The Vancouver Sun website and saw the result of that loss. I felt sick. I saw a photo of a young man stuffing a shirt into the gas tank of a police car, ready to light it. It looked like a war zone, like Libya or Syria or Egypt these days, but it was all about a hockey game, not about a fight for something as worthwhile as democracy. How sad is that.

I was over here in the UK the last time this madness gripped the city. In 1994 my brothers and I were here on vacation and while we enjoyed a pub lunch, Jack went outside to a phone box to call home. He came back in and announced they were rioting in the streets of Vancouver after the Game 7 loss to the New York Rangers.

While Vancouver has become a sophisticated, “world class” city, there is still the element of mindless physical violence fired by alcohol that goes back a very long way. It reminds us that while we have all the trappings of a civilized city, there are those mutants among us who haven’t yet progressed to a level of intelligence required to live in an advanced society. It’s sad to think that all the camaraderie Vancouver experienced during the Olympics was wiped out in a few hours of mindless destruction by a minority of marauding Neanderthals. How can we fix it?