My First Trip to Britain
December 7, 1993
My flight was pretty nice...I should say flights. It was rather disturbing, however, to notice that six hours after I left my apartment, I was still on the ground in Atlanta. (My route to my parents' house was taxi-shuttle-plane-plane-plane-car. I'm still not entirely sure what route my luggage took.) The flight from Atlanta to Washington was uneventful, except for the fact that I discovered they now have radio broadcasts on some planes. The flight to London was fine -- the main problem was the smoke. Even though I was in a non-smoking section, the lack of circulation mad the air pretty bad several hours into the flight. I felt kind of nauseous. They were showing Searching for Bobby Fischer on the flight, but after the sound in my earphones got really bad, I decided it would be worth the lack of aggravation just to rent it when I get back. Also, my seat was near the lavatories, so people waiting in line kept blocking my view.
Once I got to Heathrow, the fun began. They announced that they had a special express transfer procedure for United passengers continuing on British Midlands flights, and that we should talk to a United agent after deplaning. Upon deplaning, I saw no such agent, so I followed the signs to "Arrivals and Transfers". After walking for a while, I discovered there were no United agents around, and I needed to pick from several ways I could go. I picked "Transfers," and noticed that British Midlands was in Terminal 1, so I took a bus to that destination. Once there, I went up to the British Midlands transfer counter and asked where I needed to go. For reasons I still cannot explain (except possibly a general distaste for Americans), the agent told me to go to Terminal 4. So I got on another bus. Once I got there, I saw nothing that looked like where I was supposed to be. (In general, I could only walk so far in a terminal before having to decide if this is where I wanted to go through customs.)
I then resolved to go back to United and ask where I was supposed to be. (About an hour of my 2 hour and 20 minute layover had elapsed by this point.) I noted they were at Terminal 3, so I got to take another bus at this point. Upon arrival there, I discovered to my chagrin that no United agent had materialized in the last hour. So I took off my Georgia cap, in the hopes that someone would mistake me for a Briton and offer assistance. After another minute of wandering around and looking bewildered, I heard someone say, "Can I help you, luv?" Music to my ears. After I explained my problem, she asked where I needed to fly to. "Leeds," I replied.
"Leeds, England?" she asked.
After I said yes, she explained to me that I needed to go through arrivals, not transfers, re-check my baggage, and then go to Terminal 1. (When I checked in in Atlanta, they had told me that I'd need to re-check my baggage in London.) Foolishly, I then asked what other Leeds there was besides Leeds, England.
"Oh, I don't know," she said. "I thought there might be one in America." Not wanting to ask why she though I had flown from Washington to London to take a British Midlands flight back to the States, I thanked her and headed off to arrivals, where I had to get my passport stamped.
Once I was herded to the person in charge of this, I was asked how long I planned to be in England. I answered, "a month." Noting my "occupation" on my landing card, she demanded to know how exactly a student came in possession of a whole month off. When I told her it was my winter break, she said, "Oh, it's a proper break then?" (which I didn't quite understand) and then insisted on seeing my return ticket.
I went to baggage claim to re-check my luggage. By this time, of course, they no longer had my flight listed on the monitor, so I asked a United baggage person where I needed to re-check my bags. She told me that I didn't in fact have to check my bags, and the people back in the States got confused about this sort of thing all the time. I don't think this had anything to do with the fact that my luggage arrived in Leeds about 10 hours after I did, but I could be wrong. Anyway, I set off for Terminal 1.
This time, however, I walked through an underground tunnel to get there. I passed a surprising number of people with American pro football (gridiron) sweatshirts on.
After picking up a copy of the Sunday Times and a Coke (the latter from a Burger King), I boarded my flight. I was the last one on before it left. Once aboard, I enjoyed a scrumptious breakfast of an omelette, a banger, fruit and a biscuit(1). The flight was my first real chance to view the English countryside. I was struck most by how thoroughly un-modern everything looked. From the air, it was easy to tell that this was not America -- all the buildings, even new ones, look like they could have been built hundreds of years ago. I've continued to notice that on the ground.
After I arrived in Leeds and filled out a "Property Irregularity Report," my parents drove me back to the village of Glasshouses, where they live. Even though the weather has been rather dreary (the sun peeks out occasionally), and there is very little daylight (seven hours, and the sun never gets very high in the sky), the countryside is quite beautiful. Everywhere you drive (on scary, narrow roads), you see fields with two-hundred-year-old stone walls enclosing pastures where sheep graze. Some of the sheep have part of their wool painted, which looks pretty goofy.
The village of Glasshouses (population: two or three hundred) dates back to the early 19th century, when a mill was moved here, although there were settlements here as far back as the 14th century. Pateley Bridge, a nearby town of several thousand, is a good bit older, and there are other villages nearby which date back at least to the 11th century, if not before. The Nidd River flows through this area, so this part of North Yorkshire is known as Nidderdale.
To an American like me, it seems odd how close together these villages are. I wondered when my parents sent me a message about walking to Pateley Bridge for dinner one evening, but now I can see it really isn't much longer of a walk than from South Quad to Zingerman's, in Ann Arbor.
Anyway, I spent Sunday waiting for my luggage to arrive, watching TV, and napping. By the time my luggage arrived at 8 pm, I was ready to go to bed.
Monday morning, I woke up around eight, had breakfast, and headed off with my mother to the base where my parents work. We had an ID made for me which will allow me to get on and off the base, then we went to the PX, the library, and the travel agent. We had lunch with my father at the club at the base (my mother took off the day; my father worked). There's a shuttle from the base into Harrogate (90 cents or 50 pence). Since my parents had never used it before, my mother and I decided to try it out. We ended up in downtown Harrogate for about two hours.
We found the train station. We'll be going there Saturday morning to catch a train to York, and from there to Edinburgh. My parents got us first-class tickets, so this should be pretty cool. We also found out that it's fairly inexpensive to get tickets to nearby cities. It's 3 pounds and some pence for a day return ticket from Harrogate to York. I definitely want to do that some time, since I hear York is a really neat city. I discovered when I got home that a day return ticket means that I have to leave after 9, and come back after 7. Since it gets dark at 3:30, I may splurge and get the regular ticket.
We also found a bus company office, where we discovered that there's a bus that goes from Pateley Bridge to Harrogate and has a stop in Glasshouses, so I can take that if I don't want to go into the base with my parents. I also got some bus schedules for trips I could take in the area, but I haven't figured out where most of the places they mention are.
We then looked around in a couple of shops and went grocery shopping in Safeway. I wanted some cereal for breakfast, so I got "Sultana Bran". As far as we can tell, a sultana is a raisin. We'll find out tomorrow morning. Wait...the American Heritage dictionary defines sultana as "a small, sweet, seedless raisin of a kind originally produced in Asia Minor." Well, in addition to the wife, daughter, mistress, etc. of a sultan.
We caught the bus back to the base, and then drove home. I read until dinner, and then took a nap until eleven, when "NFL Big Match" came on British TV. It was an hour version of a gridiron telecast, followed by fifteen minutes of highlights from other games and commentary from the guy who plays the RA on "Saved by the Bell: The College Years."
Since then, I've been reading e-mail (some things it's hard to do without) and writing this. Tomorrow (if I can get up early enough), I'm going to do laundry and walk over to Pateley Bridge. They have the Nidderdale Museum there, but unfortunately, it's only open Sundays during the winter. My father lent me a map he has of local footpaths. In addition to the fact that I want to see the countryside, after coming here and discovering how much I weigh, I think I need the exercise.
My father says that a sergeant who works for him is going to try to
get the base to open up the club on New Year's Day so we can watch bowl
games on Armed Forces TV. I think I have a pretty good chance of seeing
the Hall of Fame Bowl then, since it's the first game on, at 1630 GMT.
I was quite pleased to discover that Wisconsin vanquished State in Japan,
to keep Ohio State away from the roses. (I'd be dead over here without
CNN.) I got a message from Cheryl
saying that she'll be able to get a Rose Bowl sweatshirt this year after
December 7, 1993
I got mail yesterday here in England. As soon as my mother picked up the mail, I knew one piece was for me. How did I know this? It was addressed to "Dr. Jon Grantham". It had been forwarded from Ann Arbor to Maryland to England. What a way to get mail that I should have gotten in Georgia.
Another Britishism I've discovered: jacket potatoes, instead of baked potatoes.
I woke up rather late today, as a result of staying up past four last night. After I took a shower, I had breakfast. I'd say the difference between Sultana Bran and Raisin Bran is more in the bran than in the sultanas. Then I did some laundry and watched TV (wait...it gets better).
I decided that my clothes could dry without my help (not entirely true -- I needed to run the dryer again to get them dry when I got back), so if I headed out after taking them out of the washer, I could make it to Pateley Bridge and back before it got dark.
My father had told me how to get there the previous day. I headed down a rather steep and slippery footpath near the house, then down a road to a bridge. The bridge crosses the Nidd River. I then took a footpath that goes along that river all of the way to Pateley Bridge. To keep warm, I had my Georgia cap on, and the hood on my jacket up. I soon discovered, however, that I could see only directly in front of me, which spoiled the whole reason for the walk. So I took off my cap and only used the hood when the wind was especially bad.
The scenery along the river is really great. I know I've been describing the scenery with those kind of adjectives a lot, but that's how it looks -- really cool. In addition to the mighty Nidd (OK, it's not that mighty), there were a lot of trees, farms on the hills in the background, and the omnipresent stone walls. I saw ducks, sheep and some roosters on the walk. I don't know if I've seen a rooster before. Chickens yes, roosters...I'm not sure. They were actually crowing, "cock-a-doodle-doo." I took a couple of pictures; I hope they turn out well. At one point in the river, there are waterfalls and an overhang you can climb up on. If you climb up on it, you get this magnificent view of an old manor house across the river, set off by some trees. It was the one thing I stopped to stare at a second time on the way back.
The walk to Pateley Bridge took about 40 minutes. I had planned to go to the newsagent there and pick up some stamps, postcards, and maybe a newspaper or book. As I was walking down the main street, however, I noticed that all of the shops were dark. I knew British shops close early, but I thought two-thirty was a little ridiculous. Then I noticed the door to one of the shops open, so I wondered if it was some weird British energy conservation practice. Once inside the newsagent, however, I discovered that the power was out in the whole town of Pateley Bridge.
I then discovered that British people sound cool doing anything, including bumping into each other in the dark. Since I wasn't entirely sure I could figure out where I needed to go to get stamps, etc. even if it were light, I decided that task could wait for another day, and I headed back to Glasshouses. It rained and sleeted part of the way back, but I didn't really mind. I think the inclement weather actually makes the scenery more attractive in some ways, because the clouds and the sun peeking out provide interesting contrasts. I guess I'd feel differently if it were completely overcast.
Then I came back and watched Monday Night Football (on Tuesday afternoon). What was sort of odd about the telecast was the way they cut things out without telling you. I thought they were doing a pretty good job of not missing any action in cutting a three hour telecast down to ninety minutes. Then I discovered that what I thought was a 7-0 first quarter game was, in fact, a 16-3 third quarter game. Something pretty neat was that you could adjust the audio to get the game in English, German, or Dutch.
After my parents got home, we went back to Pateley Bridge for dinner
at The Pump House. We were the only ones there -- I guess the British like
to eat late. I had the roasted chicken, along with a jacket potato and
some vegetables. Then we came back here, and I've been goofing around since.
Tommorow I'm going to go back to Pateley Bridge. My father told me about
another footpath called the Panorama walk that's supposed to be kind of
famous. Maybe Thursday I'll go back into Harrogate.
December 8, 1993
For some reason, despite getting to sleep at around ten last night, I slept until almost noon again today. Maybe it's jet lag. Or maybe I'm just lazy. I don't care; I'm on vacation.
So I set out again to Pateley Bridge at about one. This time it was raining fairly steadily, so I got thoroughly drenched rather rapidly. I took the same path as yesterday. The manor across the river looked less impressive today for some reason. Perhaps the swollen waters of the Nidd distracted one's eye from it. This time, when I got to Pateley Bridge, the power was on. I went into a newsagent and bought a map of local footpaths, a few postcards, and the Daily Mirror.
My favourite story in the Daily Mirror was "REVEALED: The girl in bed with Mr Blobby". (She turned out to be his wife.) They tracked down the guy who plays Mr. Blobby, a popular children's character, and exposed his true identity. Isn't that sort of like telling everybody that Bruce Wayne is Batman, and by the way, here's directions to the Batcave? He had no wish to be identified, so as not to spoil the children's fun. I discovered from a news report on TV that Mr. Blobby has the number one single in the UK. You can place bets at 3-1 on its being the number one single at Christmas time. I want to find some place you can make these bets and put a quid or two on "YMCA" (a 33-1 longshot).
Reading English newspapers in an interesting contrast to reading American ones. Apparently, European newspapers don't adhere to an ideal of impartiality, so most stories have some sort of overt slant to them. The Daily Mirror seems to be a pro-Labour tabloid. They'd print reports on Tory government activity under the heading "It's Sick" and devote a considerable amount of the article to Labour's response.
I then went to the Post Office and got a bunch of 35p stamps. I managed, with only moderate difficulty to communicate what I needed the stamps for, so now that I know the proper denomination, they'll be much easier to buy in the future.
I attempted to take the Panorama Way back to Glasshouses, but I got confused and didn't. My father told me the directions in terms of two churches along the way. I think there was an additional church that he didn't account for. So I ended up walking most of the way along the road. Still, the view was nice, except for the rain obscuring much of the dale. Today, I saw ducks, sheep, and a horse (bearing a woman). No roosters. I think I'm going to try to take my walks more in better weather from now on.
When my parents came home, we went up to the base. We bought me a number
of things at the PX -- waterproof boots (my sneakers are drenched), gloves,
film, and socks. I'm going to look for a spray to waterproof my jacket
and backpack in Harrogate. We then went to the club for a Mexican Buffet.
It was pretty good. I met a number of people who work with my parents.
December 9, 1993
Once again, I couldn't drag myself out of bed much before noon. This time, my excuse was that I couldn't get to sleep last night until past two.
My father came home for lunch at noon, and then we went back to the base. I took the shuttle into Harrogate, where I arrived at noon. I wandered around in a mall for about half an hour. This fits in with the way Benj and I travelled across the US twice, and always seemed to end up in a mall somewhere. I can report that while the British may have a tactical edge in wall-building and sheep-herding, they don't in mall-running. It was like a fairly lame American mall. In the record store, they were playing an REM song on the PA system; I felt like I was back in Athens.
Before I left, Benj asked me to look for bootleg New Model Army videotapes, CDs and cassettes for him. (New Model Army is his favourite band.) I haven't located anything but non-bootleg CDs, but I realized while in the mall that he wouldn't be able to play the videotapes, since they're PAL, the British TV system, and not NTSC, the American one. I suppose he could wait until my parents come back and use their dual-standard VCR, or pay someone to copy it, but...
I soon came to my senses and left the mall. I decided to head out for the Royal Pump Room Museum, which showcases the spas that made Harrogate famous. It was OK, but not great. I'm not quite sure why anyone would want to soak in (or drink from -- blech) the sulphurous waters, but I guess doing so was believed to be good for you. The springs which fed the baths were discovered in around the sixteenth century, and grew in popularity over the years, especially during the nineteenth, with the addition of rail lines. Harrogate became sort of a resort town, where the famous would come to hobnob and soak up some sulfur. Lord Byron and Alfred, Lord Tennyson were two visitors, in addition to a laundry list of royals.
After the Second World War, people suddenly realized how putrid the water smelled and stopped going to the baths. I guess only one is still open; I didn't go. The resourceful populace of Harrogate turned the city into a convention mecca, instead. I think this whole resort/convention history has made Harrogate rather bland, unfortunately. Because they cater to out-of-town visitors, the shops and pubs lack a certain amount of character. Most of the stores I went into seemed like Britishized versions of American mall stores. No exciting used bookstores to explore, no inviting old pubs. (There were old pubs, but they looked bland).
I think next time I'll just take the train into Knaresborough. That looks more interesting. And I found out a return ticket (return=round-trip, in case you didn't know) there is under £2.
As I wondered around looking for a place to eat, I found a Pizza Hut. Despite the fact that this would continue a tradition Benj and I have of eating at Pizza Huts hither and yon (especially yon), I feared the jeers of my friends if I told them of eating there. So I decided to look for something more traditionally British. Since it was nearing time to return to the base, I decided to look for a pub or restaurant close to the bus stop, so I wouldn't have to find my way back there in the dark after I ate. Unfortunately, there was no place to eat near the bus stop. Doing all of this (and wandering into several shops -- I did get some waterproofing spray) wasted enough time so all I really had time to do was to go back to the mall and get a pair of muffins.
Trying to salvage something British out of this, I got a blackcurrant muffin (the other was pineapple). I discovered that blackcurrants have a rather strong taste, although not unpleasant. They do tend to overwhelm other tastes, though. The other day we had a fruit mix that tasted odd; eating this muffin identified currants as the culprit.
During my trip to Harrogate, American that I am, I managed to pick up a couple of pieces of gridiron information. The first was First Down, Britain's only gridiron weekly. It did manage to give me coverage of some Thanksgiving weekend games I had missed while in the states. The stories about local games were interesting; the British who play are gung-ho about the game, if outnumbered by more traditional footballers. Weird Britishism Note: They use the plural form of verbs for teams, even when giving the team name as a city. Example: "Washington have gone to the NFL version of hell." Those wacky Brits.
I also picked up, for a mere 99 pence, a copy of the 1992 World League of American Football yearbook. Favourite quote: "What confuses most new watchers of American football is the large number of extremely large men who appear to be tackling each other with the ball nowhere near them. What is actually going on is blocking."(2)
Today's tabloid experiment: The Daily Record. This turned out to be a Scottish tabloid. I don't know if its Scottish nature accounts for its relative blandness compared to yesterday's paper. The most daring article was "Randy Kings," which reviewed past royal affairs, in light of the Prince's recent trouble. I don't know how much you've gotten a chance to follow it, but there's a big row (the British love using the word "row") over some parts of the Church attacking Prince Charles as unfit to be king, because he is an adulterer. It turns out that his great-great-grandfather had an affair with the great-grandmother of Camilla Parker-Bowles, his lover. The Record contained a cartoon of someone asking Mr. Blobby to become king.
Speaking of the good Mr. B, I saw his CD in a store today. The lyrics are rather goofy. I may buy it at a future date. You can tell he's hit it big; I saw a Mr. Blobby rip-off character called Mr. Flubby or Mr. Boogley or something like that. (Further research turned up "Wobbly".)
This evening, my parents and I went to The Bay Horse Inn for dinner. We didn't get the Christmas meal. There was a large meeting of some society there; they did. After a while, they all put on silly hats -- crowns, like the type you get at Burger KingTM. My mother asked why; the waitress said they came with the Christmas meal. My mother asked what the hats were supposed to represent; the waitress couldn't explain.
I decided to be adventurous and get the Christmas pudding for dessert. My father got the chocolate biscuit cake. Halfway through dessert, we figured out our desserts must have gotten switched, so I can't tell you anything about Christmas pudding.
The Bay Horse Inn is in the town of Burnt Yates. According to one source
I read, this name may be a contraction of "Border Gates". I'm not sure
what kind of goofball would make that sort of contraction. (Who are the
ad wizards who came up with this one?)
December 10, 1993
I've decided that "Yorkshire" is the best description of where I'm visiting. Before I left, I tried describing it to people as near Leeds, or near Harrogate, if I felt like stretching their knowledge of English geography, but the best description is really "Yorkshire." The Dales don't really have the same association to cities and towns that most American locations have to nearby cities. Also, the local paper we get is the Yorkshire Post, and the most striking thing about the region is the scenery -- something conjured up less by "near Harrogate" or "near Leeds" than by "Yorkshire."
I got up bright and early this morning in order to walk to Yorke's Folly with my father. Unfortunately, rain was pouring down and winds were gusting heavily, so we didn't make it to Yorke's Folly. We went across the Nidd, to the town of Bewerly (pronounced boo-er-ly), to Pateley Bridge, and back along the road to Glasshouses. I just looked up the fact that a glasshouse is either a glassblowers' mill or a greenhouse. Makes the name make a little more sense, I guess. Now how about the nearby villages of Smelthouses and Blubberhouses?
Along the way we saw some cows in a huddle (it really looked like they were about to break for a long pass play), some sheep that didn't know better than to come in out of the rain, and some pheasant. We also saw a 499-year-old chapel, built by one of the last abbots of the nearby Fountain's Abbey. His name was Marmaduke.
After I took a short nap, we went to the kennel where they're quarantining Cleo. She's gaining weight from when she first moved in -- she's up to 10½ pounds. She weighed 18 when she left the States. I felt really sorry for her, cooped up in that kennel. She shook when I held her. She also devoured the chicken we brought for her -- at least her appetite's back. Only a month and a half until she gets out, though.
On the way back, we stopped at the base. In the tradition of using real names whenever possible, I'll call the base Menwith Hill Station, or MHS for short. I asked my parents, and they don't mind if I share that meaningless tidbit.
We then stopped at Ye Old Oak Inn for lunch. It is in the village of Low Laithe. As far as I know, there is no High Laithe.
After we got back, my father, my mother and I hiked up to Yorke's Folly. I discovered how really out of shape I am, but I got to try out my new waterproof boots. I now have a blister on my right little toe.
Yorke's Folly consists two (formerly three) stone pillars at the top of the dale that were built some time in the last century by peasants. Apparently the Yorkes wanted to help out the poor people of the Dale, but they didn't want just to give them money -- they had to work for their money by building these stone pillars. The most impressive aspect of them is their complete absurdity.
This time I saw more ducks, roosters, rabbits, horses, and of course -- sheep. One right by me let out a "baa" that scared the bejeesus out of me.
We then headed to Pateley Bridge, where I visited the news agent. This time my tabloid survey led me to two tabloids, because two featured Mr. Blobby on the cover.
The Daily Mail is the first conservative tabloid I've encountered. You may recognise it from the Beatles song, "Paperback Writer."
"His son is working at the Daily Mail,
It seems to take itself fairly seriously (but not so seriously that it can't have Mr. Blobby on the cover). I identified it as conservative because it has an article blaming the recent murder-suicide in San Diego on the introduction of women into the US military. In this case the woman who was the object of the jealousy was in the Navy.
Blobby headline in this paper: "Blobby lobbies No 10 bobby." (Mr. Blobby was at some benefit at No. 11 Downing Street, and walked over to No. 10 to knock on the door, where he was photographed with a policeman.)
I also picked up The Sun, the second conservative tabloid I've run across. This one I identified as conservative because it contained an article comparing the female astronaut who helped fix the Hubble Telescope to some female caregiver and concluded, "This is where women are needed, not a million miles up in space." The Sun is an interesting mixture of conservatism and sleaziness. (Maybe that's a new classification system: conservative/liberal, sleazy/staid, Scottish/not...) Headlines include: "LaToya: Mum called Jacko damn faggot,"(3) "My C-cups are full of Fullerton (And nothing else...not even potatoes)," and "I haven't had sex for six years either, so I know how Di feels." This is also the first tabloid I've run across that has one of the famous "Page 3 Girls" -- pictures of topless women on the third page. The caption does not tell us whether Lisa Bangert (from Manchester) aspires to be either an astronaut or a caregiver.
The Mr. Blobby headline: "Mr. Blobby Does a Good Jobby at The Sun."
The inside features numerous pictures of Mr. Blobby cavorting with members
of their staff. I've been cutting out Mr. Blobby headlines and pictures
and sending them on postcards, with little explanation, to Benj. Today's
postcard was a picture of Mr. B with the Page 3 Girls (they were fully
clothed -- Mr. Blobby was naked), and the caption, "Booby." When I come
back, I'll probably bring him the Mr. Blobby CD.
December 13, 1993
Well, I'm back from Edinburgh. Sad news: Mr. Blobby has dropped to Number Two, kicked out of the top spot by teen heartthrobs Take That.
We got into Edinburgh at a bit past noon on Saturday. Sad to say, I slept through most of Northumbria. What I saw didn't look that much different from Yorkshire, except fewer stone walls. The train ride was pretty neat; the first class accommodations, while not spectacular, were enjoyable. There was a kid on the train who, a few minutes out of York, asked, "Are we in Scotland yet?" A few minutes later, spying some buildings, he asked, "Is that Edinburgh?" At least he wasn't an American, or I would have been horribly embarrassed for my nation.
After we checked into the King James Thistle hotel, we searched for a place to eat. We finally settled upon the hotel restaurant (after the nearby Boston Bean Company proved crowded). In what I would come to view as a typically Scottish experience, our waiter, Mahoumed, made a joke to me in French that I didn't understand.
Sometimes I feel a bit guilty about not eating "real" British food a
lot, but there really isn't too much authentically British food -- not
that you'd want to eat, anyway. No haggis for me, thank you. Maybe the
style -- with pubs and all that -- is more part of the British tradition
than the actual food.
December 14, 1993
Boy, am I hungry. I walked around Nidderdale for almost three hours today, and I haven't had a proper lunch (is that anything like a proper vacation?). My parents called a few minutes ago; they're going to go shopping at the commissary, and then we'll have dinner.
Anyway, I was saying that I thought the British didn't seem to have a real native style of cooking. I mean, back in the States, you go to French, German, Italian, and even Spanish restaurants, but how often to you see an English one? In contrast, the British seem to have a fascination with every type of ersatz Americana they can produce.
Sunday afternoon, we ate at a restaurant called, "Tex Mex". Its logo was a watermelon. Huh? Anyway, the food was pretty good, if different from Mexican food I've had before. It confirms my theory that if you use the right ingredients, you can make Mexican food any way you please. I had "Steak and Salsa."
So, let's see, Saturday evening, after I had some sort of chicken kabobs at "Eurofry," we went to see Les Miserables at the Edinburgh Playhouse. The Playhouse is the largest theatre in Britain. I could have dealt with the second-largest theatre in Britain and slightly more elbow room. They really packed people in there. Nice surroundings, though.
The play itself was wonderful. I noticed that this cast seemed to have heavier accents than the London cast. (My parents subsequently bought the CD. Thus I was able to make the comparison.) But they were wonderful singers -- I think I became anti-spoiled after years of listening to Michigan students perform. I mean, the Michiganders were good, but none of them could hold a candle to these people. It was also interesting, in that this was the first musical I can remember seeing where the whole thing was done in lyrics, with no purely spoken dialogue.
On Sunday, we walked up to Edinburgh Castle. It was really impressive -- this huge castle on an extinct volcano in the middle of a city. The site had been home to some sort of fortification since about 1000 BC, but most of the castle dated from either the 14th or 15th century. The one older part was a chapel from the 12th century. I guess the English king who razed the castle would have felt guilty about getting rid of the chapel. The chapel itself wasn't too thrilling. We also went to a Scottish military museum in the castle, and inside the castle dungeon/armory, we saw Mons Meg. Mons Meg was (is) a gun they used to use to lay siege to other castles. It's about 500 years old. It became obsolete after a century or two. After being used for ceremonial use for another hundred or so, it burst. They then just dumped it somewhere. Sad, isn't it? But they've restored it, and we got to take a look at it.
We started walking down the Royal Mile, but it started to rain and sleet, so we headed for Tex Mex. That evening I went to Eurofry for dinner again.
On Monday, we walked the rest of the Royal Mile and went to Holyrood Palace. It was a lot like the White House tour I went on a year ago, except the White House tour was lame. Obviously, the people who ran it were catering to people who were looking for something like Holyrood Palace, but couldn't get their butts over to Scotland. I would have preferred them to emphasize more our democratic heritage, like the press briefing room, than to see Nancy Reagan's china.
Anyway, we got to see a bunch of old paintings and tapestries. One King had commissioned an artist to paint all of the King's ancestors. The artist, not being big into research, made up a lot of the ancestors and painted all of the portraits to look like the King himself.
We also saw works of art by members of the Royal Family. I felt sorry for some of them -- it looked like sometimes they had doodled something on a napkin, and somebody had snapped it up and framed it. On the other hand, Queen Victoria seemed to have a lot of talent for painting. Prince Charles, by contrast, has another thing about which he should feel embarrassed.
We walked around Edinburgh for a while, then returned to the train station and went back. This time I stayed awake through Northumbria, although it did get dark part of the way through. Once again, the trip on the Edinburgh-York leg was great, but this time there was trouble from York to Harrogate. What should have been a 20-minute trip became a 105-minute trip, as some signals were out or something. I guess it could have been worse; after Harrogate, they were serving the rest of the line to Leeds with buses, because of flooding. So we missed the MHS shuttle and had to take a taxi. There was some snow scattered on the ground on the way back to Glasshouses.
The snow continued this morning, but undaunted, I set out for another walk this afternoon. Once again, I walked along the river to Pateley Bridge. The Nidd was really ragin' with the snow runoff today. The artificial lake, created to help run the old Glasshouses Mill, was partially frozen over. Quite a shock for a Georgia boy. (Less so for the Michigan one who still dwells within.)
My original plan was to walk along the river, and see where I got. I found, however, that while the dale looked beautiful covered with snow, I didn't have the best vantage point down by the river. So I walked a bit past PB, and then cut back to it, and uphill. I was planning to try the Panorama Walk, but snowfall and approaching darkness convinced me to leave it to another day. Still, I did climb up pretty high, and I found the Pateley Bridge cemetery.
The number of 18th and 19th century headstones and memorials amazed me. There were memorials erected in the late 18th century that had later been inscribed with the names of descendants all the way to the mid-20th century. There may have been headstones from earlier than the 18th century, but I'm not sure. The 18th century ones were faded so as to be hard to read, and there were ones that were completely faded. I came back down to the road, and headed back to Glasshouses.
I sent off a postcard today to Margaret (who thinks I'm a spy). Instead of, "The moors are quiet this time of year," I wrote, "The dales are cold and quiet this time of year." I had originally intended to use the former, but since I'm not really on a moor (near one, not on one), I would feel guilty about using it. Also, it's hard to find a postcard of a moor -- who would build something on a moor where you could sell postcards? I was troubled that changing "moor" to "dale" would make the phrase lose something, until I hit upon the idea to add the "cold" part.
On the issue of tabloids: my father found the Daily Express on the train to Edinburgh, so I examined that. As I remember it, mildly conservative/mostly staid. It didn't have the paleo-conservatism of the earlier papers, though. And nothing on Mr. Blobby.
The Sunday Times (definitely not a tabloid, though paleo-conservative) had an article examining the implications of Mr. Blobby. They said that Americans only think the British are cultured because we don't see the crap that makes up 90% of their TV -- we just see the cream, like Brideshead. The last sentence was, "The flying ducks are still on the wall, and wobbly Mr. Blobby is number one." I cut that out and put it on a postcard for Benj.
Today I bought the Daily Star. Analysis: mildly Labour/very sleazy. It was the second paper that had a Page 3 Girl. Its lead story was about the legal trouble a former Page 3 had gotten herself into. Incidentally, I saw some place a reference to "Page 7", which may have indicated male pin-ups, but I have seen none. The reason I use the term "mildly" about DS's political leanings is that while it seemed to have little respect for the Tory government, it seemed to be fairly traditionalist, in a sleazy sort of way. It's hard to explain.