So, we are going to get up really early and get on the Tube to Heathrow. It is about a 45 minute trip and the stop is right in the terminal, so we don't have to worry about parking or anything like that. We get up really early and give ourselves two hours to get there. When we leave the Jesmond Dene, it is cold and dark. We get to the train station at about four thirty ...
to find that it wasn't open.
The Underground station is closed. And it is cold and dark.
We walk around the station a couple of times, looking in vain for someone that we can ask about the time table. I cannot even believe that I managed to not check the departure times. I just figured that the train would be running early.
I was wrong! Ack! As we wander around in the dark, looking fruitlessly for a door that is open, I finally spy an early morning worker as he comes into the station. He says that the station opens at five.
It is a cold wait and I am glad for both my scarf and my glovies. Had I known that we were going to be standing on the street corner, I would have grabbed a cup of tea or something. The gates finally open and we sprint down the steps, suitcases bumping along behind us. We finally get to the platform and are informed that the train should be there in about twenty minutes. I calculate and think that, as long as there are no more delays, we should still be okay.
We amuse ourselves by watching the mice.
Or maybe they are rats. I couldn't tell.
I would give some valued body part for a cup of coffee. The morning commuters trickle in and I bounce in place, becoming more and more anxious. A half an hour passes. And then another. The station is filling up and I begin to feel like I need to establish that we are getting on first, because we have been there the longest.
As I sit there, I realize that I have badly misjudged things. The train leaves its first stop at five am, but King's Cross is not the first stop. It is a middleish stop, which means that when the train finally gets to the station, it is pretty full. We struggle onto the train, suitcases in tow, and settle in for the 45 minute trip to Heathrow.
We travel in sort of grim silence. We are tired and hungry and crowded and probably going to miss the plane. At some point, it is clear that we are going to miss the train, no maybes about it. I feel awful. I am a terrible trip planner.
We get to Heathrow, just in time to have missed our flight. The terminal is awfully familiar -- it looks just like the last time I was here and missed my flight. I cannot believe that I have flown exactly twice in London and have missed the flight both times.
We swap out our tickets with no difficulty and with no added charge, which was really nice. We go through security, and the tone is a little different here than at other checkpoints. There are guards, armed with machine guns, because there has been some sort of security incident and there is a terror alert.
Well, Wry sets off the alarms ... again. He has set off alarms each and every time that he has gone through a check point, for various reasons. This time, he sets off the alarm because he has forgotten that he has his swiss army knife in his carry on bag. I cannot keep my mouth shut and make some comment about it, and Wry gets tight-lipped with me, as he is clearly not having a good time getting searched. I decide that I am not going to wait for him and, well -- I am pretty sure that I flounced away. We get separated and I sort of hope that he worries about me getting to the proper gate. The fact that I am pretty self-sufficient nips this hope in the bud. He is going to be completely unconcerned about me, all on my own in a foreign country where they speak the language and I have made most of the travel plans. Sigh.
I spy the familiar balloon-skirted restroom signs and am once again in better spirits, because I am in the UK and the bathroom signs are not the same as at home.
I get to the gate and I get a cup of coffee and a sandwich. My outlook changes dramatically with the hope of caffeine, and I get Wry a sandwich as well, tomato, cheese and basil, because I am back in charity with him. I get out of line and offer Wry his sandwich. He has managed to procure a Coke Zero. People start queuing up, preparing to board, and we notice that there has been a change in gates for our flight.
There is no way to really describe the next series of events, because words will not convey the flavor of those events. We are told that we have to go to another gate, and quickly, because our plane will be leaving shortly. Everyone hustles and we get almost to the gate and are turned away, and are told that we have to go out and go through security again.
Now at this point, the entrance to the gate and our awaiting plane is about twenty feet away, through the gleaming glass doors. We protest, in vain. At this point, the entire plane load of people are getting a little grim. We walk all the way around and go through security. Wry is turned away because he has the Coke Zero that he bought in the secured part of the airport. He throws it away with a little more force than necessary. All of the passengers protest the rigorous searching, because we just came through and we are all getting seriously worried that we are going to miss our plane. Surely they will not leave without any of us?
The forced march continues and I am just about done in. My foot is sore and we have been walking as fast as we can for almost a half an hour. We are almost at the gate -- we are on the other side of the gleaming glass doors when we are told that we cannot get through this way -- people explain that we have had our gate changed, something that the security guards did not know about. I think that we are going to have a full-fledged riot on our hands. I sink onto the steps to catch my breath. You have to love the British -- they were not going to take this cavalier treatment lying down. The guards relent and we are allowed to go through. Another few minutes and we finally board the plane.
It has been a long four hours, but we are finally on the plane. We are given breakfast, which is sandwiches and yogurt. And hot tea. Mmmm. It is fine for me, because I like egg salad sandwiches, but Wry cannot get a sandwich that doesn't have mayonnaise, so he declines. I gave him my orange juice and yogurt.
The flight was uneventful, but once again, we are flying into Edinburgh, and it is wiiiindy over the Frith of Forth. This is the part of the flight that gave me my new-found anxiety about flying last time I flew into Edinburgh. Understand that I have been flying since I was six or seven -- at that age, I remember flying by myself, sitting in the front next to the flight attendant, looking at magazines and admiring my shiny plastic pilot wings. I have never been afraid of flying -- ever. But on the last entrance into Edinburgh, there was so much turbulence that I thought we were going to crash ... really.
This time is worse. It was so windy that the flight attendants looked scared -- which is never a good sign. After something close to an eternity, we land. It is so windy that the plane, even when it is on the ground, is rocking like a boat on the high seas. I have never been in a plane that is rocking like that -- I have visions of getting blown over and distract myself by taking a picture out of the window.
I would like you to note the brilliance of the blue sky. It is as bright and clear as a day at the beach. Where is the rain? Drizzle? Mist? Sigh.
We navigate our way with no difficulty and get our bags and hope on the bus that will take us into the city proper. I have texted Rowan to let her know that we are finally in Scotland.
Wry looking over the map -- we are sitting at my preferred spot, which is the very front of the double decker bus.
A picture for Rowan.
What is really interesting is that it is so bright that it is almost painful. The sun streams in through the bus windows, and we begin shedding layers like arctic explorers getting to the beach. I actually have to fish out my sunglasses because my retinas are being seared.
It is hot and now I am sweating. I fish out the Coke Zero that was not confiscated at the security checkpoint and Wry and I share it. I had remembered it as I was going through, but was not about to call attention to it at that point. I did not feel too bad, because I bought it in the secured area and never opened it.
Leaving the airport.
It looks like it has rained at some point.
I am taking this picture, partly to show an average street and to show that we are really in Scotland. And to show what the sun blazing through the window looks like.
I am happy to be back -- there is a very familiar feel to the streets.
And nice architecture.
We get into the train station and start looking for Rowan. We find a seat and wait for her outside of the bookstore. Finally we see her get off the train from Dundee and we greet each other happily.
I am up early, wanting to look respectable, and so stuffing my adipose tissue into the low-rise bootcuts which Trinny and Susannah so heartily recommend. Nevertheless, for bellies at the extreme end of the hernia spectrum, like wot I have got, the flab-grabbing fashionistas suggest wearing the aforementioned style in a size bigger than one would normally wear. I tried this, but they fell down. I guess this means I am a true sphere, and have no hips.
So…I am going for time-honoured flab-stuffage. And a baggy top. And boots with unfamiliar heels. Cos they look nice, even if I can feel my ankle joints dislocating, just by looking at them. Much as they look nice, and are tolerated in some remarkable and mysterious manner by other people, I am not amongst them. The cortical map for heels has always spontaneously combusted, and refused to become a behavioural norm. (Unlike too much toast and marmite.) But – I digress.
Today, I am meeting Bob and Wry in Edinburgh. I am excited to meet them, and looking forward to seeing Bob again. She is a fab travelling companion, full of zap, curiosity, and pep. I have wondered if the source of her energy lies in her parabola of sunny curls. If I sneaked up behind her and chopped them off, would she become a listless slob like me? Bob allows me to liberate the ‘mums can still have fun’ aspect of my psyche. And she makes me laugh, and think, and laugh some more.
I am somewhat anxious about meeting Wry, as I am always anxious about meeting new people, and hope to make a reasonable impression, rather than the burbling unfocussed individual who tends to surface on such occasions. I am a little socially uncertain, but I have sort of met Wry already, if not in material form, and know him to be a very fine kind and sincere person, who thinks around things in an independent manner. He has a very funny, clever blog, and, although he likes a good ponder now and then, he doesn’t have to skate in concentric circles, until he hits the point he wants to make. Unlike me.Bob says:
So, after finally sorting ourselves out we walk up and out of the station -- it is full of nice memories of when Rowan and I were here last time. Rowan and I are chattering, with Wry chipping in. I was not really concerned about whether they would hit it off, because I know both of them pretty well, but of course, I am a leeetle concerned. My husband is reserved and Rowan has a touch of social anxiety -- and I know that Wry is hard to read sometimes.
For some reason, I can't remember why -- I think it was because Wry had the map to the hotel and he was turned around and we were going back to ask directions. Anyway -- for whatever reason, we were walking back down the ramp into the station, Wry and Rowan walking ahead of me. I was pretty far behind them and I could see the two of them -- Rowan talking animatedly and Wry listening to her, head cocked, with a slight smile on his face. It was the look he gets on his face when he is secretly delighted by something that he is hearing. I am very happy -- two of my favorite people have hit it off.
While we are in the station, Wry begins his photojournalistic exploration of Odd British Advertising. This is the first entry.
I don't think that you should allude to the fact that spending time with your family makes you want to stick knitting needles in your eyes.
We set off and it starts to rain. Finally.
The stage is set. I am meeting Bob and Wry in Edinburgh. And the foldy-up timetable doesn’t marry-up with the online one. So I am late. :/
I text Bob from the train, unaware that she is not getting my texts – that they are rocketing across the globe, only to find no-one at home, and are grumpily trudging back, only to be stopped and searched at some ethereal border post for confused telephone signals. (The funny text thing persisted for a while, until the jet-lagged signals re-acclimatised. I thought that only happened to people!)
Bob and Wry are sitting waiting for me. Bob is her old self, and I shake hands with Wry. We set off in search of the hotel, under a lashing icy deluge.
Now…I am fighting off the urge to bundle my far-travelled friends into a black cab, and zoom, if pricily, towards our dry and cosy destination. However, I quench this unadventurous impulse, as Bob and Wry appear to be lurching towards the nearest bus stop, with their heavy luggage. They are game for throwing themselves on the mercies of the public transport system, and so I square my wet and rapidly solidifying jaw, and follow suit. It is veeeery cold. I have no gloves, cos we don’t tend to wear them over here. We try to pretend that it is not really freezing. That the agonizing pulse of blood returning to frostbitten digits is just, well, a breeze. The British hold out against the Winter Coat, for as long as humanly possible. It is some sort of bravado, but I am not in a position of adequate clinical detached-ness to offer a feasible hypothesis as to why. I live here, and I subscribe to the prevailing inappropriate clothing ethos. Brrrrr.Bob says:
All I can say, is -- I wish Rowan had bundled us into a cab. As it was, we walked and walked and walked ... looking for the hotel. The thing is, the hotel was supposed to be about a ten minute walk from the train station. You were supposed to be able to throw a stone from the station and hit the hotel. Alas, this didn't happen. And the locals had no idea where Hill Place is. We walk around and around and finallllllyyy find Hill Place, tucked away on a little cul-de-sac. The young men in the Blockbuster told us to look for the KFC sign on the corner. It is with a deep sense of relief that we spy the red and white sign and take the right turn.
I don't think that I have mentioned that it has been raining the whole time. A lot of rain. Pouring down. It is with some relief that we finally check in. We sort out who goes where and do a little bit of unpacking. The rooms are nice -- modern with flat screen TVs and fluffy duvets. One odd note is the bathroom door -- which is glass. Not the door to the shower, but the door to the bathroom. It is an odd, jarring note.
But everything is nice and fresh. It rained so hard that it soaked into the suitcases, so I laid some things on the towel rack to dry. We are all hungry and ready to explore. We will not do any serious sight seeing today, but I need a hat.
Once we are all sorted out, we decide to set out and get some lunch. There are a lot of interesting little restaurants.
After a bit of back-tracking down the dreich and rain-lashed streets, we find the hotel. It is very nice, very modern, and tucked in-between a row of elegant Georgian buildings. It is a good choice. It was nice to watch Bob and Wry stop and peep in the little shop windows, and to watch the companionable way they drift apart and meet up again, without harbouring large wodges of resentment that one has had to wait for the other to catch-up. This is a new experience for me, and I am doing my Miranda in “The Tempest” bit, whispering, “O Brave New World, that has such people in it.” I am glad to have my wandering twitch, borne of experience, challenged by the relaxed meanderings of my braw transatlantic pals. That is how things should be. And for any major drifts, there is always texting.
I have pretty serious drifting tendencies. But I am workin on it.Bob says:
As we are walking along, I spy a fish monger with anglerfish in the window. I have never seen one in the flesh -- but they made an indelible impression on me when I saw them on Iron Chef. I cannot resist taking a picture. Rowan resists tugging on my arm.
Anglerfish are wonderfully grotesque.
And there was a shop selling Scottish hares.
We discussed a lot of places as we walked along, but I was struck by the restaurant with the sign that advertised Scottish and Thai food. How can you go wrong with that?
We drop our bags and go in search of lunch. There is an interesting-looking Thai restaurant, and I am devouring the images the description of the dishes conjure up, before they hit the table in their steaming and fragrant tureen. Michty…that soup is good. Bob is snapping the décor, and I am sort of cringeing, but trying not to show it. She can tell, however. Somehow, she can read me like the proverbial book. (And we British are supposed to be impenetrably impassive.) Ah weel…Scots may not be quite so natural at it. Bob is chuckling. I know that she knows that I will be grateful sometime down the line, to see her pictures, and relive the culinary delights, even if in 2D. Oh for Womkavision! Oh to be a synaesthete in more than just seeing colours for letters and numbers. I want another plate of what I ate.
I knew that Rowan was cringing a little, but I really liked the light fixtures and the colors. The owner did not seem to mind.
We have a nice chat over lunch. I am stealing interested glances at Wry’s Blackberry, wondering what model it is. I have become a dreadful phone geek. It is nice to be in the company of others of the tribe, nevertheless. Peeps who would not be offended if I were to send a text during our conversation.
I begin to get a little jittery however. It is becoming clear that my lunch-mates are going to actually leave some of the blissful food uneaten. I am not as full as I could be. I have had enough, but there is some left. I have room for it. I gibber and point, as Bob and Wry get into their coats. Bob tells me that we have enjoyed what we’ve had, and prods me towards the door with a purposeful finger (well, perhaps she didn’t quite, and will put that down to artistic license. But she will leave it in, as it is funny.
We had a very good lunch and start to leave, replete. I am still wandering around, looking at the decor. It is a little odd, with modern colors and some movie posters. Near the back, I spy the restroom.
I could not help but take a picture of the facilities, because they are sort of quintessentially British. How in the heck are you supposed to wash both hands?
What you can't see is that if you were to actually use the toilet, your chin would be resting on the sink. Funny.
We start walking around, just looking at things -- on a hat-hunt.
The cold drives us in search of hats and scarves, and we examine the ancient and modern examples of the genre, as we trawl the gems on offer in the little charity and hippy shops near the hotel. I am reluctant to buy one, in spite of the cold, as I look daft in hats. People have always told me that I “don’t have a hat face.” I am quite glad, not to have a face like a hat, but the comments sort of stuck. I might go the whole hog and get a balaclava, as anything else tends to sit on my head like a pea. I seem to have a rather big head.
Bob is keen to prove that I can actually wear a hat, and that they don’t sit like the proverbial pea, if you pull them down over your eyes, so that the woolly bits make yer corneas scream. She adjusts the varied chapeaux to the requisite angle, and I sort of feel the way I did when I tried lying on a memory foam mattress, in a furniture shop, and felt I was being eaten alive by the thing. (Echoes of grain silos in Witness.) Bob is a sensible hat adjuster, I am sure. I am just not a good adjustee. Even though the consequence of going bareheaded in Edinburgh in the depths of Winter risks me being hacked out of an ice-floe by some irritating TV archaeologist, a couple of millennia down the line. Wry asks me if I am an “Autumn or a Winter”, which is funny. I tell him I am a nuclear winter, as this sort of sums up the arid wasteland of my success in finding a hat which I can tolerate. Bob finds a nice hat and scarf, which suit her, and I get a nice brown drop-stitch scarf, which I am grateful for. It is bone-numbingly cold. Finally, I find a cosy black fur hat in a charity shop, and Bob persuades me that it is nice. In order to fend-off my knee-jerk protests, she tells me that it is indeed so fine a piece of headwear, that she would have it herself, and get me something else in exchange. I am instantly mollified, and become secretly proprietorial over the thing. No way is she going to have it. No way, Jose.
We had the best luck in the shop that had the Iranian store owner who was listening to Mexican pop music. It was funny. Rowan and I make selections with all of the seriousness such an event deserves. Wry stood back and made amusing comments. Rowan insists that she does not look good in hats, but she is completely mistaken. I got not one, but two hats.
I love charity shops. I guess I could have travelled club class around the world and back on what I have spent in them over the years…but I have found some real gems. Well, not real gems. Or I could now travel around the world, club class. But you know what I mean. The cornucopia of discarded treasures catapults me into a wonderful meditative relaxation, and time stands still, as I muse over the items. I know I will kick myself for passing them by, but there you go. Bob finds a nice tartan scarf for Wry. I am trying to persuade her to buy a woolly one, but it is a bit too old and booly. (That is a Dundee word for being covered in bools, which are marbles, or balls.) Bob has a funny word for old and tatty and grungy, but I can’t remember it.
I am still regretting passing up the gazillion decibel Seventies alarm clock, and the rainbow-coloured canvas bags. (The latter objects, though I loved them, came in too many appealing variations, to precipitate an actual choice. Suffering from gorgeous fair-trade hippy-bag acquisition-angst overload, I turn once again into the biting wind. Oh for decisiveness-gene therapy.
Another in the Odd Advertising Series.
Across from our hotel is the Royal Surgeon's College and what might be a church. We will look at it tomorrow. We go back to the hotel room to relax a little before dinner.
Wry needs to recharge.
This is a picture of our bathroom. I am not trying to be a complainer, but it is oddly nonfunctional. There is no shower curtain and the glass comes out just enough so that the floor gets wet. I think that I actually prefer the Jesmond Dene -- dinky shower and all.
And the water is yellow. Really yellow. Not tinged yellow. I call down and am assured that the water has been tested and is perfectly fine. The woman at the front desk said it had something to do with peat. I am not buying it.
We decide to take a walk and go have some dinner.
Rowan thinks the place looks dicey, but I have read good reviews and so off we are going.
I am enjoying my day very much. Evening meal becomes an issue, and we cast an eye over the various local eateries. I am hoping for a return to the Thai place, but Bob is keen to be a bit more adventurous. She spots a utilitarian Indian restaurant, with melamine tables and a brightly-lit window. It looks sort of basic to me – not that I am looking for pricey places. No siree. It is just…I am sort of phobic about a lot of melamine tables in a small space, and bright lights. Perhaps they remind me of an enforced visit to Pizza Hut, lang-syne, where my order of “extra tomato” involved three semi-opaque slivers added to the unappealing offering before me. It is probably a fear of Seventies deep-fried-dom, from my youth. I am not adverse to a bit of deep-frying, but I don’t like things reheated too many times. Somewhere, in the dim and distant past, I have been forced to eat re-fried fish batter to the power of thirty-seven. At a yellow melamine table with fixed hard plastic bucket chairs. I tell Bob the place looks scruffy. She insists that it is not, and finds my protestations funny. We are going. I anticipate a little schadenfreude, when the pakora turns out to be brittle and dry.
I completely ignore Rowan's distress, and hope that the food will be good. The restaurant is filled with families and it looks like a place that locals eat at. The food is Indian and is very good -- spicy and filling. We enjoy a leisurely meal with interesting conversation and lots of laughter. It is nice to spend the evening with Rowan -- it is easy and relaxed, lingering over the last bits of naan.
I enjoy my meal, and the place gets pretty busy. The other diners look like people eating on a budget, but who expect a good standard of wholesome fare. The jury is still out over the pakora, which may have been a little brittle in places, but hey – it was very good value, and plentiful, which is a big plus in anyone’s book. A nice spicy filling portion, and money left-over for tomorrow’s jaunt. I am chattering on, nibbling, and I realise that Bob and Wry have finished, and that it is late. It has been a really nice day, and we retire to the hotel. I buy three outrageously expensive tiny bottles of diet coke from the bar, to take up to my room. The barman kindly loans me a bottle-opener. I feel very happenin, somehow. The bathroom is very smart, all marble and chrome. I tiptoe about, trying not to sully anything, but definitely on a pampered-high. I have to admit to nicking the individual bottle of Body Shop-lookalike “sea-kelp” shampoo and conditioner. Just as a wee reminder, ye ken. I still have them!
Tomorrow will be a busy day -- we have cathedrals to see and castles to visit.