Thursday 28 April 2011

Easter in Wield

Selina picking flowers for the lunch table.
My lemon cake decorated by Lauren.
It seemed like no time at all after Sally left that I was heading down to Wield on the train - Basingstoke actually, the nearest station. Good thing too because it filled the hole left by her departure. Tom, Pip and Selina's youngest son, was there to pick me up after the five-hour trip. This is my third trip since I came over to the UK last September and I'm getting the hang of it. I leave Norwich Rail Station, take the train to Stanstead then get on the Underground Jubilee Line straight to Waterloo Station. From Waterloo I board the train to Basingstoke. It's then about a twenty-minute car ride to Upper Wield and P&S's idyllic home in the country, always action packed with young adults coming and going. Even though it seems like a good opportunity to read and write on the train, I have to pay attention to my stops, so I don't get much done. Never'll all come together soon, I keep telling myself. The essay I'm writing on Virginia Woolf  is heavy and quite depressing - "Shame, Melancholia, and Narcissism in Virginia Woolf." At least the publishing essay will be more uplifting. I'm calling it "Blogging Along the Information Highway." Both are due on May 12th, so there's no time to lose now. Nancy returns to Morocco on May 4th, so I'll put my head down and go full speed then. I'd much rather sit and chat with her than go into Woolf country, but I'm finding time to do both.

From top to right: Selina, Jean, Lauren, Elizabeth,
Pip, Emi, Tom, me, and John.
Arthur trying to decide whether or not to heed his master's
call. (It's fuzzy because of the long zoom I used).
When I got to Wield, I was taken almost immediately to friends, Khalid and Kim's, for a lunch and a swim. I chickened out about the swim though. Funny that I used the verb "chicken." My legs were as white as a fresh-plucked chicken and as skinny as said bird's legs (Are those your legs or are you riding on a chicken? Doug once asked me). It was fun watching the others though, and K&K's twenty-two month old short-haired retriever, Arthur, who I fell in love with because he reminded me so much of Molly, just two months older than Arthur. A bouncy fellow who finally collapsed under the table with sheer exhaustion from all the excitement. Khalid cooked the BBQ lunch, which started with pork spareribs (produced by a local pig farmer) with a piquant sauce, then moving into juicy beef burgers and pork sausages (from the same farmer). This hefty non-vegetarian meal was accompanied by a tossed green salad and glasses of sauvignon blanc. K&K have bought a 15th Century house that they plan to enlarge. The land is spectacular with views of the rolling Hampshire countryside. I would like to say more, but the essays are waiting, so I'll just include lots of photos.

Anyway, the next day in Wield we prepared for an Easter luncheon to be held outside in the sunshine. And the weather cooperated completely. Besides myself, there were two other guests staying at the Geddes' - Lauren (working in London) and Jean (living in Oxford) - two very fun and vivacious women. I was spoiled, having been given the coveted spare room in the annex, complete with my own bathroom and television. I luxuriated in the huge comfortable bed with a fluffy duvet with cool white cotton sheets and white linen pillow cases, taking in the warm, fresh country breeze that wafted through the window all night.

David and Emi, brother and sister enjoying
their time together.

Pip and daughter Emi.
Altogether there were ten of us for lunch, and then one of David's friends - Bison - joined us afterwards.  We started with prosciutto with mango, spring greens and a light basalmic dressing. Next we tied into the roast turkey with chestnut stuffing, roast potatoes, creamed leeks (from the garden), and bread sauce, served with a crisp white wine. All this al fresco, which to me is the only way to eat unless there's a howling wind and snow.

I brought a Moroccan lemon cake my friend Thea once served at her Moroccan dinner for our class. She generously gave me the recipe, which I must say is the best cake recipe I've ever tasted and ranks right up there with Cec Phillips' lemon chiffon cake, served at all the family birthdays for many years. This one calls for two large lemons to be washed, boiled and pureed. You mix sugar with egg yolks, beat the egg whites and fold in crushed almonds with a touch of baking powder. You bung the whole thing into a springform pan, cook for 45 minutes, and voila - superb! I like it because it has no dairy, but it's also perfect for anyone who is gluten intolerant. It's going to become my standard party cake (if Thea doesn't mind - at least I'll be another country). We served it at the luncheon along with a gorgeous rolled cream-filled cake sprinkled with almonds (and enjoyed with more wine). After lunch we headed off for a much needed walk along a footpath across fields and towards the bluebell wood. Later on that evening we made a trek across more fields to the Yew Tree Pub, an institution in Wield and a place where I've spent many happy evenings over the past twenty-eight years. (It's where we celebrated the night before Pip and Selina's wedding in 1985). We had a drink and then went back to P&S's for a very light supper. After being in Wield for a few days, one needs to fast for about a week. Still, it's all worth it. The following photos are a bit out of order, but can't spend any more time putting them right. Hopefully, the captions will serve to explain what's going on.

A walk to wear off our lunch.

Emi finds a friend.

Padstowe isn't impressed with Emi's new friend.

A moment communing with horses.

Selina, son David, and Padstowe in the bluebell wood.

Mo and David heading back.

Emi after her brothers poured water on her head.

Emi looking at the leaves and debris that came out of the
water bucket after her brothers poured water over her head.

Selina and Padstowe.

From top to right: John, me, Tom, Emi, Padstowe,
Selina, David and Pip.

Youngest Geddes son, Tom.
(Jamie was away at school).


Bubbly in the sunshine.

David sprucing things up for the party.

Emi and Lauren enjoying the pool at Khalid and Kim's.

The pool with house in background.

Pip, Emi and me at Khalid and Kim's lunch.

Rapeseed fields next to Khalid and Kim's.

Before the lunch.

Pip looking somewhat bemused with his 70s
 radical young man digital printout.

David heading back home.

David and Godmother Elizabeth
Champagne in the bluebell wood.

Zillions of blue bells.

Me in front of a blooming sorbus tree.

Tuesday 19 April 2011

A Perfect Break

A typical Vancouver scene in Norfolk
After our adventurous trip to Cambridge and Ely, I decided Sally and I should stay closer to home for awhile. Besides, we only had the car for the weekend, so from Monday to Friday we planned to see Norwich by foot. We walked the 2 kms into the city and breezed through some shops, had a grilled veggie panini at the Forum, and visited Norwich Castle, which I'd never seen before. It's full of art, natural history displays, and costumes from days gone by. The natural history section has stuffed tigers and foxes and lion cubs, which was all a bit off putting. Those were the days when men travelled to exotic places and killed animals so they could bring them back as specimens and put them in museums. I must say though, the exhibits were very educational and hands on. Sally even tried out a display where if you pushed a button you could smell a fox's natural odour. I opted not to. When we'd had enough of looking at stuffed animals, I thought it would be fun to take in a film at Cinema City, but the ones showing were all rather grim and we didn't feel like watching anything sad. Instead, we went into the warm and inviting wine bar and enjoyed their fabulous juicy Angus beef burger topped with caramelized onion jam and served with home cut fries - all this paired up with a delicious cabernet sauvignon from Australia. We then walked back to the flat to try and burn off some of the calories.
My cozy corner

The next day, after a good night's sleep, we hopped a train to London at 10:00 am, picking up a #11 bus at Liverpool Street Station and heading to the National Gallery with its staggering collection of art. We strolled through hall after hall, gazing up at the paintings until we felt dizzy. My favourite was Monet's Bathers at Asnieres with its hazy, veil-like quality. Sally liked Finnish painter Akseli Gallen-Kallela's Lake Keitele, a haunting scene of wind-whipped water on a calm lake. Viewing the still life paintings of food made us hungry, so we located the cafe and ate a sandwich for sustenance before braving the gallery once more. When we felt we'd had enough, we ventured out onto the busy London streets, and wandered through shops, braving the crowds on Oxford Street, until it was time to hop a bus and head back to Liverpool Street Station and the train to Norwich.

On Friday, I called my favourite car rental agency and asked for a pick up, which went smoothly. Before we knew it, we were heading out to the North Norfolk Coast, a direct route out of the Enterprise Car Rental's parking lot. This time we had a shiny blue Peugeot with just enough room to accommodate our bags. Sally had to take everything with her because after the weekend trip, she was heading straight back to Norwich Airport for her return trip to Vancouver.

Wednesday 13 April 2011

A "Short" Road Trip

On Friday I took a cab to the Enterprise Car Rental place and was offered a zippy little Renault for the amazing weekend special of £11 per day - same price as the cab one way from the flat. The young man at Enterprise pointed me in the direction of the airport and off I zipped, arriving just in time to greet Sally as she came through Arrivals. When we got back to the flat we enjoyed an early dinner with Nancy, then Sal went off to bed for a good night's sleep. She woke up raring to go and, after a quick breakfast and general directions to Cambridge, we began our day trip.

It was spectacularly sunny and warm and as we headed south and west into the countryside, taking in the quintessential English spring. The blossoms were out in a full chorus of colour – the pink apple and cherry blossoms contrasting with the white flowers of pear and plum. In my opinion, spring is when the English countryside puts on its finest show. The bright yellow gorse offers a startling contrast to the paler shades, as do the vast fields of rapeseed. Animal life was in abundance too with herds of the ubiquitous black and white Holsteins grazing in impossibly green fields, adorable spring lambs cavorting around their mothers, and regal pigs standing in social communion near their sties. We stopped at a petrol station because Sally wanted to buy a map so she could see where we were going, and off we went in the direction of Ely.

Horses grazing with Ely Cathedral in the background.
Strange looking birds near the River Great Ouse.
I’d heard the cathedral at Ely was breathtaking, and so it is. Known locally as “The Ship of the Fens,” this gothic structure, built by William the Conqueror in 1083, rose majestically into view above the "flat and watery landscape" as we approached it from the east. We found a free public car park and started exploring the town by foot, first visiting the cathedral and being gobsmacked by the nave with its stone-vaulted ceilings and exquisite paintings. At one point in history, Oliver Cromwell got his knickers in a twist over something political, and for twelve years wouldn’t allow any Catholics to worship in the cathedral, using it instead as a stable for his horses. What a meanie. I would have liked to have visited the Stained Glass Museum, but we wanted to see Cambridge as well, and time was running out. I’ll go back and check it out another time before I leave the country though.  

Punting on the River Cam.
We were getting hungry at this point so stopped at a simple but promising-looking cafe where Sally ordered a chicken sandwich and I chose egg and mayonnaise. I have never seen plainer looking sandwiches in my life - plain brown bread, very fresh though, filled with the chicken or egg. Not a pickle or a lettuce leaf in sight. We had a glass of water to add to our spartan meal, paid the bill and left. Before leaving the town, we walked along the River Great Ouse with crowds of other people enjoying the summer-like weather, and ambled through sprawling antique stores and along paths and streets lined with charming stone houses.  When we felt we’d stayed long enough to get a taste of the town (city actually, because it has a cathedral), we walked back to the car and pointed towards Cambridge, just 12 miles away. 

More punters on the River Cam.
Cambridge is such a vibrant city with its student population and lively outdoor eateries and parks. The place was buzzing with activity as we parked the car along the road and walked over the footbridge into the centre of town. I'll certainly come back here again before I leave. We had only an hour or so to enjoy the place because I wanted to be back in Norwich before dark, not being familiar with the roads at night. I drove through a roundabout and took what I thought was the only road north in our direction and all seemed well. We were chatting happily away when we realized, some time later, that we were almost at Nottingham, long past any turn off for Norwich. Sally checked the map and we took the next exit heading in the general direction of the east coast. A drive that should have taken an hour and a half took four hours, and we arrived back in Norwich at 11:00 pm, in the dark. Live and learn.

Saturday 9 April 2011

London Again!

Students at UEA basking in the sunshine.
This week involved a bit of tidying up loose ends - handing in a 400-word proposal for my dissertation, writing a small piece to submit to the UEA Anthology, and of course the wind-up party for the Autobiography module, which was great fun. And now to the essays. But first I'm taking a short break to show Sally around town. She arrives from Vancouver tonight for a ten-day visit and I'm looking forward to a nice diversion before I really have to buckle down with the writing - 25,000 words altogether.

Heading to Holroyd's talk.
Yesterday I took the train to London with Thea to attend Michael Holroyd's presentation on Biography and Portraiture at the National Portrait Gallery. It was a sunny day in London with a warm breeze blowing - the sky incredibly blue and surprisingly fresh, and the trees are just coming into leaf. Before meeting Juliet at "The Crypt" restaurant across the street from the gallery - a fascinating subterranean eatery with ancient memorial stones in the floor dating back hundreds of years - we had a chance to zip through the NPG and look at some of the modern portraits. I could easily spend a day there and look forward to going back and visiting the upstairs where the older portraits are hung. The Crypt is a good place to eat - very reasonably priced and good food presented buffet style. I had a pork chop with polenta, grilled eggplant and red onion, and said yes to the delicious gravy the man generously poured over it all. Thea and Juliet enjoyed a creamy mashed potato and cabbage pattie with grilled vegetables - "bubble and squeak."

Speaking of squeak, Thea and I noticed a small mouse running around under the tables, adding to the authenticity of being in a crypt. Years ago, I took Darin to the wax museum in Gastown. It was in a below street-level, dark cellar-like space. He was only around eight years old and like all young boys was quite impressionable. He kept whispering to me that he was getting scared and that he was sure one of the wax figures had moved. Then we saw a rat run along the edge of the brickwork surrounding the crypt and yes, he was right, I spotted a small movement from one of the wax models - an actor dressed up to look like a wax figure. We both screamed and ran out the exit, which was luckily close by. I remember thinking that an older person could easily have suffered a heart attack after a trick like that. Maybe that's why the place closed.

Portrait of Thea by me.
After eating, Thea, Juliet and I walked across the street to the NPG and followed the crowd down some stairs to the Ondaatje Wing, a small, very comfortable tiered-seating theatre, beautifully designed with slat cedar walls. View it here:

With Michael Holroyd was Michael Barclay, host of BBC's "Private Passions." They talked about how writers or painters approach biography or portraiture and how they are influenced not only by their subjects but by their own life experiences. Holroyd emphasized his point by showing a slide of his portrait by Michael Reynolds. In the painting, Holroyd's expression is very sad and resigned - not at all the impression one gets when meeting the man in person. Holroyd learned later that Reynolds was dying of cancer when he painted the picture, and the expression Reynolds brought to the portrait reflected that. An excellent way for Holroyd to illustrate his point.

National Portrait Gallery

When we left the theatre around 8:30 pm, it was still light outside - a warm, pleasant London evening, with a sliver of new moon hanging above Lord Nelson's statue in Trafalgar Square. Thea and I jumped on the #11 bus for the short ride to Liverpool Street Station and the train back to Norwich. We had time to grab a coffee and a tea at the station before the train left and, once aboard, settled down to reflect on the day, read our books...and sneak in a wee snooze.
Portrait of me by Thea.

Tombs in the restaurant.

Saturday 2 April 2011

Spring Cleaning

Today I learned that I'm getting a small refund on my income tax. Such a relief, given I thought I'd owe Canada Revenue something. I'd cashed in an RRSP last year and that seldom makes good financial sense, but my tuition for this Master's program offset any owed taxes. I have to think there's some sweet reward in that. If I hadn't made the huge decision to come to the UK and study (some would say "foolhardy"), I would actually owe the government money. But I followed my passion and now I'm getting a small financial reward for my efforts. The personal reward can't be measured.

Today was a day for reflecting, probably because I decided to do a thorough cleaning of the flat. Why? Because I have an essay due next week. When I was working on my Bachelor's degree, Darin and Geoff would come home from school, smell the Mr. Clean, the Pledge wax, and the bleach still lingering in the air, and say, "Do you have an essay to write?" I'd go into avoidance mode, clean everything in sight, and then sit down to write. So that's what I'm doing today. The other thought that came to me as I applied teak oil to the counters was how fortunate I am to really have no other concerns or distractions while I'm here studying, except for my work with the UBC Writing Centre and some small editing jobs. Everyone else in the program has a family - husband, wife, boyfriend, kids at university, but I have only myself to tend to while I'm here, so I can focus completely on my studies without feeling I'm neglecting anyone or anything. I'm the only one in the program who can say that, and I realize it gives me quite an advantage.

Nancy left for London yesterday for another dental appointment - the first of several over the next few months - and then she's off to Kent to visit a friend for the weekend. That's why I decided to plunge into the essay and do a bit of spring cleaning. Sally arrives next Friday for a visit and Nancy had planned to be back in Morocco by then, but there's room enough for everyone at the flat and it should work out fine.

I woke up this morning and decided to spoil myself with a good ol' English fry up, and it looked so good I took a photo. Decided against the fried bread in consideration of my arteries.

I've finished cleaning, now to the essay. But that a dust bunny on the book shelf?