Our last dash to the UK was a little hectic. The prime reason to be there was Katy’s 40th and Ed & Emma’s wedding, both in Southwold, Suffolk. We also had to pick up a bunch of stuff from various places around England and get it to our removers in Swindon, whose 5th job for us was to ship some of the furniture I had inherited from Mum back to Oz, so we decided to put some of the stuff we weren’t in a hurry for in there too (if you ever need a remover in the Wiltshire area, you can’t go wrong with Kingsley and the team at New Horizons).
We spent the first night with Mel in London (after dashing around town trying to get cameras repaired and finding shoes and hats for the wedding), enjoyed a great curry, some lovely Guinness in a proper boozer on a long spring evening (it made me rather nostalgic about London), then did some ridiculous dancing back at Mels.
Then it was off to Southwold. I didn’t know the area, largely because it’s friggin hard to get to. Our first stop was Ipswich to pick up my morning suit and that’s a town that doesn’t make you want to hang around. As it was a hot day, shirts appeared optional and the shirtless option is invariably taken by those who really should stay covered. There was also a group of about 15 old people standing around the car park ticket machine, getting militant about the new machines that required them to punch in their cars registration numbers first. Those that could read the instructions couldn’t remember the numbers, and those who got that far couldn’t see the letters and numbers on the keys. It was carnage. Those in the queue entertained each other with car park ticket related stories, like the time Mabel went to the hospital for a 4 hour appointment, but it only took one hour……and she’d already payed for 4 hours parking. Fascinating……. It was an interesting way for me to spend 15 minutes of my finite life….
Getting closer to Southwold, we could why people love it, and when I went on a run the next day beside canals, through fishing villages and along the the Southwold promenade, I had my love for the English countryside reinforced.
It was great catching up with the family for Katy’s birthday on night one. Besides Nic, Jodie and I, it was exclusively Lewis and Caths immediate family so we felt very privileged to be invited. It could only have been better if Katy was there too!! That’s right; a very ill husband and a very young child was a combination not compatible with a flight from their home in Milan. Lets hope we can do something before her 50th.
The wedding the following day was pretty much the perfect English wedding. It had all the right ingredients; a beautiful church, a sunny day, a reception in a converted barn set in English farmland, great food and booze, superb speeches (the Best Man really, really nailed it), some great bad dancing but most importantly a bride and groom who clearly loved each other, were best of friends and had lovely friends.
It was great to see John, Pauline, Caroline and the extended family and it was also the first family gathering I had been too without Mum. As she was a big character there was something missing. The slight tension between J and Mum, and constant trips to the bar to ensure Mum was topped up was also missing but I think we would have all preferred to have her celebrating with everyone else.
J ensured that the evening ended in style. On return to the hotel, feeling a bit peckish, she and Nic mounted a restaurant raid, figuring that cereals and stuff maybe left out overnight. The good news is that she was right. The bad news was that the doors were alarmed..... Think wailing noise, owner having to come out and me coming downstairs to see the staff checking the CCTV. J fessed up and they had a reasonable sense of humour about it. It reminded me of kitchen raids in Officers Messes we used to mount as drunken, young, hungry officers.......... Quote from a chef, shouted in the kitchen ‘And the fuckers have nicked all the bacon as well!’.
The wedding and Southwold
From Southwold we made a dash across to Bristol for a night with Guy and Lou. Guy had been a little unwell and a little grumpy at the Tower, so I was determined to see if the grumpiness was related to the illness or a new permanent state. Fortunately it was the former. It was lovely to see them both, Georgina and the Rampe, pride and joy; the garden.
Then a final night in the UK with Nik and Jacqui in Netheravon. Tom and Fiona also came over and we had a pleasant evening BBQ (and it stayed warm and sunny), chatting, drinking and having an occasional jump on a trampoline. There, I ‘enjoyed’ my last run in the UK. Netheravon is on the edge of the huge military training area of Salisbury Plain, a place I know well. It’s a bit of a obstacle for most people as live firing and fast moving armoured vehicles provide plenty of hazards so often you can’t use the roads on the edge of it. To cut a long story short, at the 10km point with two to go, I found myself blocked by red range flags and two choices; another 10km running or asking Jacqui to come and pick me up………. Thank you Jacqui.
After a nip into the storage centre in Swindon, we hit Gatwick and on to the African stage of our adventure with a flight to Kigali in Rwanda on Rwandair.
In the past I have concluded that it is possible to love two, very different countries. The one you live in and know best is rather like the love one can have for a wife or husband; it is a deep down love that has been formed over years of getting to know them, understanding how they think, seeing the wonderful stuff as well as the less wonderful bits. The other country is a bit like a mistress; you visit rarely, have fun and get to ignore all the bad stuff.
The history we have had in the UK has helped to ensure that I have mostly seen it as the wife but this may be changing.
We loved the couple of weeks we spent there. The most fantastic bit is catching up with friends and family; seeing Nic in Birmingham, Jacquie and Nik in Netheravon, Mel and David in London, the whole gang at dinner in the Tower of London, the Booth/Tod clan at Andrew’s 90th at Mike’s house in Lincoln and our friends and neighbours around our lovely cottage in Devizes.
We also had a really strong feeling of what a lovely country England is; the countryside is stunning (and there is a lot of it….. those who say ‘We’re full’ clearly haven’t seen anything full), the history that is everywhere is incredible (Lincoln, and particularly the cathedral, was a real highlight). We also noticed how many pleasant people there are; working in bars and shops, chance encounters, staff on trains. Pretty much everywhere…. Even EE mobile phone shops. I guess they have always been there but when you live somewhere you don’t notice them, only the miserable bastards who appear to hate their jobs.
Out and about in England
It was great to see the cottage; it is a really, really beautiful house, in a lovely village in a very nice area. Our feelings were helped by the beautiful spring day we saw it on, a day which the estate agent remarked ‘is the best day in weeks; it’s been shit’.
Devizes and the Cottage
In Birmingham we ate a shit load of curry, all of which was lovely and pretty much everywhere, I drank a shit load of Guinness, all of which was lovely too.
Our time in London was a real highlight. We were lucky enough to be able to stay with Mel and David, south of the river near the Tate Modern. Since we lived in London 10 years ago, this area has gone from being somewhere that was ok but not a must visit, to a really vibrant area, helped by The Shard being on it’s door step. There are amazing new bits (near Tower Bridge), lots of revamped old bits, food trucks, interesting bars, shops etc and a really, really nice vibe.
On the other side of the river, the new buildings in the city were a real surprise and now, rather than The Vibrator being the biggest building in the area, it is dwarfed by many others, most of which are impressive feats of architecture. It is a very changed place and still one of the most interesting cities in the world (I hope the loss of £1tn and 6000 jobs due to Brexit does not effect the place too much).
We got the chance to see two plays whilst there. The first was in the Bridge Theatre and was called Always Alice which was completely unknown to us and turned out to be completely captivating. The second was Follies at the National Theatre (we would go and see just about any NT production in the NT). Neither of realised it was a full on musical…….we really should pay more attention to these things. It was a good musical, cleverly done and enjoyable, but not really as much of my cup of tea as Always Alice was.
Dinner in the Tower of London was fantastic. To have such a place to be able to get together with friends is very, very special. This one was a really international affair, with Carolyn and David coming from Oz, Fiona from Tunis, Mo and Bridge from Jerusalem, Kevin and Suzanne from France/Oz and the rest of the gang being spread out in the UK.
The Yeomen of the Guard, who come in to explain then guide us through the Ceremony of the Keys are always good and on this occasion he has fantastic, really bringing the ceremony alive.
From there we headed to a public loo………….. The Bermondsey Arts Club is rather hip converted ladies loo. Cool people with big beards go there, drink complicated cocktails and listen to cool music. They were delighted to have 20 old people in black tie turn up and pretty much dominate the 50 person bar. Some left. Those that stayed had a real treat. Mel took control of ‘the sounds’, blasting out cheesy hits from the 80s, 90s and naughties and soon everybody forgot they were cool and we all danced like lunatics until it was time to go.
Tower of London Dinner
London is a place that it is very easy to party in, which probably explains why, on our last night, I found myself ‘making shapes’, standing on Mel and David’s dining table, dressed in shirt, shoes, swimming shorts and goggles, recapturing a memorable night in Sydney in 2009 after celebrating me accepting my first job in Australia. This kind of behaviour is only ever acceptable with the mistress…