Sunday 31 October 2010

Sunday Dinner

Today I needed to take myself out. Trouble was, after I read for a while, drank a cup of coffee, and looked at the clock, it was 2:00 pm. The shops close at 4:00 pm on Sunday and I really wanted to do a search of antique shops to replace the beautiful green tumbler I broke yesterday. This isn’t just any tumbler; this is probably 1930s depression glass, which is now very expensive. I noticed there are two left in the cupboard, so someone else broke the other one probably, but still, I need to replace it. I feel quite sick about it. I was draining nugget potatoes and one dropped out of the pot, right into the glass and smashed it. I know, what was the glass doing in the sink when I was draining potatoes?

I jumped on my bike, despite drizzly rain, and headed off across the foot path and over the river towards the cathedral. The trip doesn’t take more than fifteen minutes, but by the time I got there, the antique shop I had in mind was closed anyway. By now it was seriously raining and windy and I noticed a little pub called “Take 5,” which isn’t a very pub-sounding name, but I thought it looked cozy. The sign out front said they did a Sunday roast, which was exactly what I was hankering after. But the sign also said they were serving from 12 noon – 3:00 pm. I waffled, then locked up my bike and went in. I asked if there was any chance I could get the meal and she said she’d check, which she did, coming back and saying yes. I was so relieved. I really felt the need to feed myself well today. Last night I had the last of the soup, and it was definitely past its prime.  

The pub was cozy, with a fire blazing in the hearth. It probably dates back to the 1800s and it’s right across the street from the arch into Norwich Cathdral, which of course dates back to the 11th century. I ordered a glass of white wine, having decided on the roast pork with turnip mash and parsnips, roasted potatoes, and apple sauce. Just like I would have made at home on a blustery Sunday afternoon. It was unbelievably good, and I realized it was the first excellent meal, aside from Chris and Mary Laxton’s roast chicken dinner when I first got here and Pip’s roast pheasant of two weeks’ ago. It was time to spoil myself. I even went all out and had the homemade lemon sorbet, which was excellent, followed by peppermint tea. I’ll definitely go back there when I feel the need for more comfort.

So back at the flat, just as the light is dying, and back to the books. I have to write a short essay arguing the case for or against writing about a contentious issue. We were supposed to have read “A Very English Hangman – The Life and Times of Albert Pierrepoint ,” the last hangman in Britain, but the library copy was loaned out, and I certainly wasn’t going to pay good money to buy it. It sounds like a dismal story, which of course is why we’re being asked to write an essay about writing about people like Albert Pierrepoint. It makes me wonder who will end up writing a biography on Willy Picton. What kind of a psychological disposition would you have to have to delve into that story? And who would want to read the details about the horrific demise of all those poor women. I know it’s part of human nature, the good and the evil, but I choose not to delve into the dark side of life. Reading a biography like that would affect me for weeks. I remember years ago (1980?) going to see “The Elephant Man” with Marc, and every time I thought of it over the following few days, I cried. It’s hard to be reminded of man’s inhumanity to man (more politically correct: humans’ inhumanity to humans). It’s nightmare material.

Friday 29 October 2010

Venturing Out

One of the things I love about my schedule here is to be able to indulge that part of myself, part werewolf, part bat, that keeps me up until the wee hours of the morning, usually 2:00 am, but then makes it impossible for me to wake up early like everyone else in the world. I usually squint at the alarm clock at around 10:00 am. By the time I've had coffee, made some breakfast, read some course material or part of a required book, showered and shaved, it's noon or later. Today the sky was heavily overcast and I looked out willing the clouds to break up and reveal the sun, but nothing. Just heavy grey clouds. I'm used to it though. I come from Vancouver.

When I bought my new bike on Wednesday, I locked it up at the university and said goodbye until next week. But today I found myself missing it, and thought it not an outrageous idea to take the bus to the university and cycle back to the flat. The bus ride from here to the university usually takes 50 minutes. I looked at my watch and did the calculations. I could be riding back in the dark if I wasn't careful. I stalled. And then I thought what the heck - if it got dark before I arrived back on this side of town, I could just lock it to a post somewhere and jump on the bus. So off I went. I got to the university and there was Douglas waiting for me. I unlocked him and jumped on, feeling such exhilaration! I made my way back towards the city, or at least in the general direction. Before I knew it, there were road signs pointing to The Cathedral - the only reason the city exists is the Cathedral. Off I cycled, feeling more and more confident. I arrived at the Market Place, which I've become familiar with from my Saturday meanderings. Now I flew past like Lance Armstrong, heading towards the railway station, five minutes from the flat. But there was still enough light that I thought I'd rather cycle down the path along the banks of the River Wensum, so I headed in that direction. The road took me past the law courts and to an opening where the signs pointed to the foot path. Suddenly I came into a car park right next to a very old pub. I couldn't believe it when I saw the sign - "The Adam and Eve." I was in Norwich in 1975 with Mickey, wanting to give my sister the experience of another culture (which it certainly is), and we were taken to the Adam and Eve by a friend, who mentioned that it was the oldest pub in Norwich, dating back to the 12th century. You actually have to lower your head when you walk in the door because in those days people were much shorter than they are now. So to find the Adam and Eve purely by chance was a big thrill. There were groups of people chatting happily outside, it being Friday night and happy hour, and as much as I would have loved to have locked up Douglas and partook in a glass of wine, I resisted and comforted myself by saying I'd go back another time, when I didn't have to ride through the dark streets of Norwich towards the railway station under the influence of at least one glass of wine. Not a good idea.

When I got home, I called Nan and we had a long chat about the plans for our road trip. She'll be here in less than a week, and I'll have finished all the reading and writing for the courses just before the reading break, so we can head off without a care in the world. We're going to drive to Bath first, stay overnight in a hotel, and then head to Cornwall the next day. I haven't done this trip since Marc and I came here with Geoff when he was five - it was 1978. My memories of that time were happy, especially around taking Geoff to places that he found exciting, like the paper mill at Wells and the caves at Wookey Hole. But I realize that Marc and I too did not have a shared idea of happiness. I remember him taking Geoff off to do the laundry at the local laundromat and me heading off to "The Cobb," the long pier that meets the Atlantic, trying to look windswept and forlorn as the French Lieutenant's Wife in John Fowles' novel, which I'd just finished reading.

Tonight I passed Morrisons' - the local "Safeway" and decided I needed something nice for dinner - it's Friday night after all. I chose a small piece of Atlantic salmon (which I've become rather fond of). I knew there was one glass of red wine left in the bottle at home, so quashed the urge to buy more.

Came home to emails from distant lands - David in Mexico and Jill on Gabriola Island. I'll save them to read over a cup of tea and some ginger oak cookies from Morrisons' (for dessert).

Wednesday 27 October 2010

A Very Exciting Day!

Today the sun shone down on me. It was literally a sunny warm day, with just a light breeze. Felt more like August than the end of October. I didn't really have to go to the university, but there was a one-hour talk about choosing titles for dissertations, so thought it might be interesting. It was only slightly interesting.

I also wanted to check out the bike auction that the Norwich Constabulary was putting on. I got there early and had a chance to view many of the few hundred bikes they were going to auction off. There was one I particularly took a shine to because it was one of the few that a) had mud guards and b) had not only a basket, but a back trap and a bell. It also had five speeds and was a pretty pinky mauve colour. It wasn't too long before "my bike" was lifted onto the platform for the bidding war, which consisted of me and one other person. I won and got this little jewel for the incredible price of £35! I was so thrilled I immediately took it for a spin around the lake, known locally as the UEA Broads.

I saw a rabbit, several people walking their dogs, and a few fishers with their large khaki golf-style umbrellas fishing at the side of the lake. There are signs asking people not to swim there because of the dangerous depths - all very exciting! I then reluctantly locked up my little beauty (had to buy a lock, darn it) and thought it would be a good idea to notice any identifying brand names (not that I wouldn't spot her by her lovely basket) so I'd be able to find her amongst the sea of other bikes when I came back. I was quite shocked to see the name "Douglas" across her V-frame. All these little signs that keep people in my mind (and my heart, I guess), lest I should forget them.

Spotted another very quaint British sign today near the big field alongside the lake. They were warning people with dogs that there will be a "Sparkles on the Lawn" evening, meaning they'll be shooting off fireworks on Hallowe'en. God I love the Brits!

I decided that since I was on campus anyway, I'd check out the Sports Centre for the first time. It's actually the largest sports facility in the UK. The young woman at the counter was very warm and helpful and gave me a brochure outlining all the facilities. The cost is minimal - £6 to join and £1 to go to the gym or take advantage of any of the other many facilities. I plan to take yoga until pilates starts up again in January. The services to students here are amazing. UBC is good, but I don't think it offers as much and at so little cost.

I came home to an email on my UEA account from a woman in my class inviting me for coffee sometime because she realizes I'm alone here and wanted to let me know I really wasn't.  So, I not only got a new bike today, it seems I have a new friend too.

Tonight I celebrated with a glass of red wine and a bowl of the delicious soup I made last night - a concoction of Sunday's left over beef roast, parsnips, potato, celery, corn, and kidney beans. Not only nourishing but delicious.

Now I have to buckle down and read Elizabeth Gaskell's LIfe of Charlotte Bronte (1857) which I've downloaded free from the Gutenberg Project. I've made a vow not to buy any books while I'm here, at least if I can help it. It's the library or the Gutenberg for me. I just got rid of six huge boxes before I left Vancouver, and realize it's a little bit of an obsession with me - buying books. I really think it's time to stop accumulating "stuff" and feel I've made a very good start with this "end of year" resolution.

Thursday 21 October 2010

Comings and Goings

October 21, 2010

Today is my father’s birthday, bless his dark soul. He would have been 89, if he’d lived, but that would have been too much for him or anyone else in his orbit. Anyway, happy birthday, Dad - I hope you found peace.

I’ve been in Norwich for almost a month now, and am feeling much calmer and more confident. I’ve stopped losing things (touch wood), and I’ve lost that deer-in-the-headlights look. A nice rhythm has taken over my days – up (not early because I don’t go to bed early), coffee, write, read, take the bus to the UEA on the days I go there, lunch, library, seminars, coffee, home again. The reading is heavy in more ways than one. I was happy to leave behind Plutarch and Suetonius, but they’ve been replaced by Aubrey, Dr. Johnson, and Boswell. Thank god most of these books can be found electronically so I’m not having to lug them around in what has become known as “my office” – a sweet square bag on rollers I got for half price at Debenham’s that perfectly holds my laptop and books. I look and feel a little like a flight attendant, but it does the job. My neck was complaining to my shoulders and I didn’t want to end up looking like the Hunchback of Notre Dame.

I’m amazed at how much I’m still enjoying the solitude of my life. I talk to other students and contribute at the seminars, but other than that, it’s back home to this wonderful flat and the refuge it offers. I can look out the massive windows to life going on outside, but I don’t have to be there. Yesterday there was heavy wind and hail, but I sat happily tapping away on my laptop while it lashed at the windows. And there is nothing to distract me from the required reading for the courses, because there’s no TV. Night before last though, I felt the need to come back into the 21st century, so I browsed through iTunes and downloaded “Sex in the City.” It was just the ticket – pure eye candy (in more ways than one!).

Last weekend I ventured out and took the train to Hampshire to visit Pip and Selina. It took four hours, but I read the whole way there and back, so didn’t feel I’d lost any valuable time. They were their usual wonderful selves and we had an evening with their friends for dinner, then a fabulous lunch the next day that Pip prepared – roast pheasant with red current jelly, roast potatoes, brussel sprouts (my favourite – no, really), washed down with lots of red wine, followed by apple crumble for desert. Kim and Kalid, old friends, were there, as well as a new couple I hadn’t met before, Rosy and Richard. Pip got me back to the train at Basingstoke JUST in time for the return trip to Norwich. Literally, I got on the train, sat down, and it left the station. Geez.

Nan is arriving in two weeks’ time, which is perfect because it’s reading week at the university and we’ll have some time to visit. In fact, she’s renting a car so we can drive not only to Hampshire but to Cornwell as well. I’m very excited about this because it means I can meet Stella, Anthony’s first and only wife. I’ve pretty much decided to use Nancy Patterson as the subject of my dissertation, and she's agreed. She’s had a fascinating life and it will make interesting reading. Not only that, but the way I came to stay at her place was positively prophetic. She and I now keep in regular touch by email and she's invited me to come to Morocco for Christmas and stay in the desert with her and her husband Daoud. I thought at first, I can’t do that, I don’t have any money. But then gave it a little more thought and concluded I couldn’t not do it.  The flight there is cheap - $300 – and when I get there I can spend ten days with Nancy, interviewing her and working on my dissertation. It should be quite the trip. These are the instructions she gave me to get from Marrakesh to her place…

The cheapest way to get to DSB is by the CTM Bus. It costs 200 dirhams each way and leaves Marrakesh at 11AM each day from the CTM Terminus which is on the outskirts of Kesh near the Rail Station.  It is about 50 Dirhams by taxi (10 dirhams= 1 euro) and takes about 1/2 an hour. Buy a ticket to M'HAMID. BOUNOU is 4 KM before M'hamid and is a “request stop” so you tell the driver to stop at “BOUNOU" when you get on and also later on just to remind him. The Bounou Bus Stop is right opposite our front Gate.

There is a good enough restaurant in the terminus so give yourself enough time... and if you are early have a coffee and a relax. It is a good modern coach, but does not have an onboard toilet.  It makes several “comfort stops” on the way where there are loos. There is a lunch stop of about 1/2 hour in the mountains at a place in the High Atlas called Taddert just before the Tichka Pass. There are restaurants that have nice individual tagines ready for serving and plenty of time to eat. The Driver always counts head carefully at each stop so never worry about being left behind. The Bus then stops halfway at Ouarzazate where there is a loo and a lot of people off and on the the Bus. Then on to Agdz where there is a coffee stand and a loo. Then through the Draa Valley to Zagora (where a lot get off)     and another loo. Then onward to Tagounite, the last “town” of sorts before the desert..... I am not sure about loos but there is a “restaurant” which probably has one.  About 40 minutes later you will get to Bounou where we will be waiting with a drink and delicious supper at about 9.30 to 10 ish....................and some welcoming music.

So I’m all set then. Must remember not to leave my bag on the seat of the bus when I go to the “loo.”  One of the things I will do when I’m there is take a camel trek across the desert at night and gaze over the undulating dunes illuminated by the moon and coruscating stars. Not a bad thing to do at Christmas.

Here’s a photo from Nancy’s terrace at sunset, Dar Sidi Bounou, Morocco:

Sunday 10 October 2010

Solitary, But Liking It

I've been in Norwich for exactly two weeks tonight, and have spent most of my time alone. It amazes me how comfortable it feels. I talk to the cashier at the grocery till and students in my seminar groups, but other than that and one evening spent with Nan's friend, Chris, and his family (my new friends) - it's been just me.

The flat where I live is spacious, open and bright, with windows looking toward the city centre and the famous spire of Norwich Cathedral. But here on Kerrison Road, it's quiet and while not far from the bustle of Norwich, feels like it.

I've finished my first essay and emailed it off to the prof just this evening (it's due tomorrow). While it probably took me only about two days to write it, I spent five days reading the material - Suetonius' Twelve Caesars and Plutarch's Parallel lives. I guess it makes sense to go back to the early biographers in order to study the modern ones, but it was a very tough slog and I'm glad to be done with it.

Yesterday, after finishing the reading and before I started the writing, I went into the city centre to soak up the energy of Saturday shoppers. It's great to actually recognize people from the university, and makes me realize that this city (it's a city, not a town, because it has a cathedral), is not very big.  The walk along the Wensum River is a real pleasure, the path making its way up to a lovely old square next to the cathedral. The houses there look like something out of an Ivory Merchant film adapted from a Jane Austen novel.

I look forward to the day when I feel settled enough to have some visitors - once I get the feel for my schedule. There are so many places to explore and it would be fun doing it with someone from home.

Next Saturday I may take the train to Hampshire and visit Pip and Selina. She called me on Friday and invited me down and it's hard to resist. It's probably a four-hour train ride, but it would give me the opportunity to read some of the books on the long list required for this course, and it would be so good to catch up with them. I haven't seen them for about seven years.

The sun was shining today, but I stayed in, except for taking some long deep breaths on the terrace. I needed to focus on this essay and feel so much better getting it out of the way. Now I can face the week with renewed energy.

Happy birthday to brother Jack tomorrow. And happy birthday to our mother on Tuesday. How lucky was she to have you for her birthday, Bro! Best wishes and lots of love.

Cheerio from Mo