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 http://www.holkham.co.uk/.

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 http://weeklyhoroscope.com/ 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?

Wednesday 8 June 2011

Rod Stewart Live!

Morrisons is a cultural phenomenon in Norwich. Whenever there’s a big event across the street at the stadium, whether it be the Norwich Football Club hosting an opponent or a music performance like Rod Stewart’s tonight, the place is heaving with people, either lining up at the café near the checkouts for a quick bite beforehand or wandering down the aisles looking for treats to take to the big show.

I’d planned to cycle to Morrisons to do a bit of shopping, not realizing Rod was performing in just a few hours. I have to pass right by the stadium to get to the grocery store, so out of curiosity, I cycled amongst the festive early crowds gathering in front. I then realized there was a whole section behind the stadium I didn’t know about, a temporary junk food haven, set up only for special events. I cycled past food kiosks with names like “The Finest Burger Bar (Hot Dogs Tasty and Hot,” “Hog Roast - The Great British Pork,” “Jilley’s Jacket Potatoes (Freshly Baked),” and everywhere in the air hung the enticing aroma of frying onions, so reminiscent of the PNE. People freely strolled around drinking beer out of clear plastic cups. I almost bought some fish and chips from “Friar Tuck's” kiosk because they actually looked really good. I thought for a moment too about buying a ticket and joining the happy crowd, and went to the ticket window where I was told there were still some left, going for £64. I just couldn’t justify the cost though.

Feeling right at home with this demographic, I pushed my bike through the crowd towards Morrisons. These people were mostly in my age group – some a bit younger, some older, some middle class and well dressed but there was a good smattering of the endearing Nearly Normal Norfolk Folk to save it from homogeneity. I saw a woman of about 75 with bleached and permed hair wearing red patent high heel shoes and bright red capris topped with a white cardigan, tottering smartly towards the stadium doors like there was no tomorrow.

After a quick pass through the food aisles at the grocery store, I headed out the doors with my Morrisons award winnng fresh linguine and “new” puttanesca sauce. Scores of people were sitting on benches in the sunshine, tucking into chicken legs dripping in BBQ sauce or stabbing at their macaroni salads with little white plastic forks, serviettes opened and flapping in the wind under the plastic food containers balanced on their laps. Some people, not so small in stature, perched themselves on concrete curbs in the parking lot, smoking, drinking, and laughing with friends, waiting for the event to begin across the street. And it was only 5:00 pm – at least three hours to show time. I worried they weren’t pacing themselves and would all peak too early, picturing a bunch of nodding off fans in front of poor Rod as he pranced across the stage, belting out all his old faves.

Once back at the flat, I opened the front windows when the show started and could hear the crowds singing and cheering alongside The Legend. Across the street, neighbours were standing on their front steps, enjoying a fag and tilting their heads towards the stadium. But the music was barely audible above the intermittent police sirens screaming along Prince of Wales Road, and I could just catch snippets of songs – a warbling version of “Tonight’s the Night” – enough to feel a stab of nostalgia, then “Sailing,” followed by a distorted “You’re in My Heart.” I reluctantly closed the window against the night sounds, and kind of wished I’d splurged and bought a ticket.

Thursday 2 June 2011

Discovering New Places

Yesterday I took the bus out to the university for the third meeting with my supervisor, Helen. I felt encouraged by her feedback and probably should have gone back to the flat to do some writing. But it was a bright sunny day and the wind had died finally, so I took Douglas out of the bike shed and headed in a completely new direction. Thea had lent me her detailed map of Norwich and the surrounding area and pointed out a section southwest of the city that forms part of the broads and where she said I'd find miles of cycling paths. I'm glad I saved this for the warmer weather, because it was an amazing treat. Within twenty minutes of leaving The Factory, I was in open country, breezing past fields of cows grazing on the one side, and on the other the Wensum River, sparkling through the trees. And it's all so close by! I'm embarrassed to say it would be like riding from UBC to Kits Beach (without the hill). It also felt a little like cycling through Pacific Spirit Park, only with a huge lake in the middle and without the thick evergreen trees. After awhile, I took a turn and went into the Whitlingham Country Park, where I immediately spotted baby swans and ducks. There was a fence around this section to protect the birds from over exuberant dogs, so I poked my lens through the links to get an unadulterated shot.

As I made my way along the path, I stopped to read an information board that told me I was standing at a special spot - the convergence of three rivers, the Yare, the Tas, and the Wensum. The sign explained that prehistoric ancestors regarded the river confluences as sacred, and this was especially so because there were three not two rivers coming together. It really was a calming place to stand and think about what it must have looked like in those days, back in the 5th century, with the Saxons and Angles forming a peaceful, industrious community. Cycling further along the path, I came to another information board explaining that this was once Millionaires Row and the home of Jeremiah Coleman, the mustard king. He not only built the mill here (1814), but throughout the area he built cottages for the workers, some of which still survive today. I would kill for one of those cottages.

Good ol' Douglas.
Continuing along the path into the marshlands, I came across a rush "screen" for watching birds without disturbing them, and then went on until I found myself joltingly at the underpass for the A47, surrounded by graffiti embellished concrete and the roar of traffic above me. I turned around and hightailed it out of there as fast as I could, doubling back to the pristine lakeside. It was now 5:00 pm and still warm and balmy, and I didn't feel like heading back to the flat. So I took a turning towards Trowse Newton, a tiny village with two pubs, a church, and row of houses overlooking a green. The sign outside the White Horse Inn said they do a special curry night on Thursdays - £10 for dinner and a drink. I may just cycle back and take advantage of that sometime soon. The village was built by - who other than - the Coleman family. The sign in front of the church said Trowse parish "is the deanery of Brooke and the archdeaconry of Norfolk. I love it.  

As I reluctantly headed back towards Norwich, I thought I should stop and take some photos of the neighbourhood outside The Factory, a bit of a contrast to the countryside. So here they are...
Neighbourhood pride.

A very determined California poppy
growing out of the concrete.
Entrance to The Factory, my home for the year.
The Factory with the Norwich Football Club in the distance.
Nancy's flat is the one under the "C".
Setting sun casting shadows.
The end of a beautiful day.