Thursday, 10 March 2011

Back to the Blog

It's been awhile since I've written in my blog,  so there's lots to report. We had reading break at the university last week, and after the last class I went to have cortisone injected into my trigger finger. Very painful, and I didn't think it had worked, but am feeling some relief from the locking. Now when it locks I can unlock it by extending the finger, whereas before I had to unlock it with my other hand. I've bought a squishy yellow ball from a toy store (it has a happy face on it) which I squeeze to exercise both hands in the hope of fending off any more repetitive action injuries.

On Thursday I took the train to Wales to visit my long-time friend, Frankie. We first met in 1973 when she came to Vancouver from the UK -- twenty-one, fresh-faced, and ready to take on the world. She'd just been married and arrived with her new husband. I was pregnant with Geoff and working as an office manager in a small architectural firm on Howe Street. Frankie heard there was a job coming available and arrived for an interview. We immediately became friends. Thirty-eight years later and much water under our bridges, we had lots of to talk about. We last saw each other 18 years ago in London. She hadn't changed a bit and she said neither had I. How nice is that.

She and her partner Tony picked me up at the train station in Hereford after my eight-hour journey from Norwich. It wouldn't have been so bad if I could have just stayed on one train the whole way, but I had to change four times. For some reason my bag was quite heavy and I found myself lugging it up the stairs and across the bridges over the tracks to get on the right platform - more than once. You'd think if I were travelling in one direction, the train would always be leaving from the same track, but no. It was quite a work out. At one stop, Birmingham I think, I was told the train would be leaving from Platform 1B, but intuitively decided to ask one more train attendant when I was standing under the 1B sign, only to be told it had just been changed to Platform 2. I had to grab my bag, heft it up the stairs and across the bridge to the other side, with one minute to spare.

After I boarded and sat down, trying not to breath like I was on my last gasp, a shaved-headed man about forty sat down opposite me. He had on a black t-shirt with "Police" written on the sleeve. Another man wearing the same t-shirt sat across the aisle and it was obvious they worked together. The bald-headed man said he was racing out of the precinct to try and make a meeting with his son and teacher for a parent/teacher session when the sarg asked him to come and have a look at some human remains. He told the sarg he had a meeting to get to and could he ask someone else to look at them.

Here they come, off in the distance.
Given it was reading week and I was supposed to be reading, I had brought books with me. But it was hard with all the fascinating conversations going on around me. And the scenery was starting to get interesting too. I looked up from my book to see a goat in a field climbing up on the seat of a small tractor, trying to make himself comfortable. Then I glanced up just in time to see the sun peek out from behind a cloud and then disappear again. The route I took was Norwich, Peterborough, Leicester, Birmingham, and then Hereford where Frankie and Tony met me. I got there two hours before they were due to arrive from Llandrindod Wells - an hour's journey away - so I walked into Hereford. There was something strange about the town, or city I should say, as it has a cathedral. It had one very old building - "The Old House" -  right in the middle of it, but everything surrounding it seemed quite modern. The Old House was built in 1621 and is one of the famous black and white timbered structures from the Jacobean period. There are lots of these houses in Shrewsbury, where I went many years ago with my brothers. The Hereford Cathedral is home to the Mappa Mundi - the oldest map in the world. I would have liked to have seen it, but there wasn't enough time.

I arrived back at the station just before seeing Frankie come walking towards me, calling my name. It was wonderful to see her looking so well and meeting Tony who is warm and friendly and a perfect match for her. They said we would stop on the way back to their place and have dinner in a pub, so we drove to Titley, home of the Stagg Inn, a beautifully maintained pub that is part medieval. It was dark when we arrived and the place glowed with soft light and shining waxed floors. A fire burned in the grate - definitely the quintessential English pub. We ordered a glass of white wine each for Frankie and me, a pint of beer for Tony, then enjoyed delicious steak sandwiches with chips and coleslaw. I couldn't have been happier. Here's the website if you'd like to have a look at the pub:

We arrived at Frankie's place in Llandrindod Wells and had another glass of wine before Frankie showed me to my room. She lives in an old Victorian hotel - Barcourt - built in 1905, which belongs to her parents who are in their nineties and live down the hall and up and down some stairs in another flat. They haven't run it as a hotel for about thirty years. There's a twin hotel next door which belongs to Frankie, left to her by her grandmother. She had it renovated into three flats and rents them out. We left her cozy, firelit sitting room and made our way up some stairs and through a door that took us out into the other (colder) part of the hotel. We walked down a very long hallway, at the end of which was my room - No. 7. Frankie then told me to follow her and we went back down the long hallway where she showed me the toilet, then up some stairs and down another long hallway where she showed me the bath. We said good night at the juncture where she left to go back to her flat. I managed to find my way back to No. 7, but when I headed out to go to the bathroom had some trouble remembering where the hell it was. Also, when the hall light was turned off - the switches being at the far end of the hall from the room - I was cast into complete and utter darkness. I felt my way along the wall until I arrived at my door. It was all quite exciting and I thought how fortunate it was that I'm not afraid of the dark.
See how good we are?

Anyway, I slept soundly in my big, comfy, flowery duvet-covered bed. In the morning, after coffee and granola, Frankie asked me if I'd like to take a drive into Hay-on-Wye, about half an hour away. It's exhilarating driving through the countryside in Wales. When I first visited this part of the world, back in 1986, I was struck by its incredible natural beauty. We drove through softly rolling hills, over the venerable River Wye, and past lush green fields with sheep grazing everywhere. There were hundreds of new lambs sticking very close to their mothers. The gorse hedgerows are ancient and are all the fencing that is necessary for keeping in the sheep. Still, the farmers let them out to graze on the grassy verge of the road, which is a bit scary. Frankie said they're seldom ever hit.

Ponies with attitude.

We arrived in Hay-on-Wye, and although it was a cloudy day, I could see why this is such a favourite tourist spot. This is where the world famous book festival is held every year. Frankie invited me to come back and stay for a week during the big event, which runs from May 26 - June 2. I just may take her up on that. My last two essays are due on May 13th, so what a wonderful way to celebrate. When we drove into the parking lot at the edge of town and Frankie went off to find the pay parking kiosk, I amused myself meeting some dogs with their owners and two spunky horses who were interested in the dogs - a great photo op.

The town is full of second-hand bookshops and antique stores, all of which I think we managed to visit. We stopped for a quick lunch of humous, olives and toast and then hit the shops again, spending a total of seven hours in this little jewel of a town. Here's the website for the town and festival:

In the evening, we went to dinner in the bistro at the hotel where Frankie has worked as a manager for twenty-odd years. Her two sons, Nicholas, aged twenty-five, who was visiting from Cardiff, and Ryan, aged thirty, who has his own flat in Barcourt, joined Frankie, Tony, and me for a sumptuous meal of Welsh beef burgers and chips or Welsh steak and chips. Her third son, Jason (twin to Ryan), was in London so I didn't get to see him this time.

Frankie standing under a leek.
In the morning, Frankie drove me and Nicholas back to the station in Hereford, Nicholas heading to London for a job interview and me to Norwich. When we got there, we found out there was a trade union work action and there would be no trains leaving Hereford that day. After a brief panic about what to do, we found out that in fact there was a train that day, but not until 1:30 pm. So off we went to see a few sights and have a quick sandwich and a coke at Marks and Spencer.

I didn't get back to Norwich until 9:30 pm, and arrived at the flat to find Nancy and her friend Robert enjoying a cup of tea so I joined them. Nancy came back from Morocco the day after I left for Wales. She needs to have some urgent dental work done and felt they'd do a better job here in the UK. So now I have a flat mate again. I related my journey to them and they told me about their day trip to Cromer on the coast and that they'd had a feast of fish and chips which were the best they've ever had. I must plan a trip to Cromer.

Self-portrait showing off new haircut.
Yesterday I went to get my unruly hair cut and was very pleased with the result. My pregnant haircutter was away sick, so the manager took me on. He's been cutting hair for over 22 years and it was obvious. I felt the need to take self-portrait.

Now back to the books. At the moment I'm reading "Memoir" by John McGahern - a touching, lyrical story of a young man growing up in Ireland in the 30s and 40s with a brutish father and a loving, gentle mother. The Irish certainly know how to tell a story. The course work is so much easier now that we've arrived at the 21st century autobiographies, which are infinitely more entertaining than the early Victorians.


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