(N&P) Week 1
- Touched down back in Blighty on 3rd March, it felt a bit chilly after several months of baking heat. Family friends Breda and Sean opened their home to us for the first two nights back, feeding us with ham toasties, roast dinner and all things yummy, washed down with plentiful cups of tea! Ah, it was great to be back.
Thence we went to stay in Paula’s sister Katie and her husband Goshi’s new abode in Langley, which was all lovely. We spent a leisurely time with them and Dad, great to see them after such a long while, although home is always home and already I had slipped into the familiar lull of being there that at times I had to think hard to remember we’d been away at all! Whilst in Langley we took the chance to catch up with some more family friends: Ruby, neighbours Hilary and Dave, great uncle Michael and Dorothy and Peter.
Our London base was courtesy of Janet in Wimbledon, whom we thanked by attempting to cook up a Thai storm reminiscent of our recent endeavours at cookery school over there. We spent Saturday in central London
supping tea, lager and cocktails at The Big Chill bar followed by a long-awaited visit to the Standard Balti House
in Brick Lane, which lived up to expectations in service, taste and most of all, company! It was great to spend a good chunk of time catching up with friends from far and wide. Thanks for coming, one and all.
After a stop to say konnichi-wa
to Kurihara-san and Katie at the new Tokyo Stock Exchange London Office within a stone’s throw of St. Paul’s Cathedral, we were received with a warm Irish welcome as always at aunt Nonie and uncle Tony’s in Northampton, before heading to the Rowlands pile in Wallasey. Week 2
- Great to be met by Nick’s dad at the train station and not haul the rucksacks any further! We’d specially requested Shepherds Pie and real ale (well, Nick really), which were the perfect food and drink to come home to. The four of us went away for a couple of days, stopping in the village where the Brontes lived and wrote, and then later to Askrigg in Yorkshire. We did a 4-mile walk through the dales, even though it was grey skies and
rained intermittently. Roles were reversed between parents and children as Nick carried the waterproofs and dad said that he didn’t want to walk up a hill but we all made him. We also stopped at a pub that Nick’s folks first went to in the 1980s, got wet where the fields had flooded and saw RAF jets hurtle past. We stayed in a converted pub in Askrigg that was quaint in the best sense of the word, and the road outside rose steeply towards the distant hills. Askrigg’s church is 14th century, and has a bull ring outside; if any man wanted a fight, he used to turn the ring over. Then if someone wanted to fight him, they would put the ring back in its original position. Just down the road from there is the grocery shop from All Creatures Great and Small
where we got a sandwich 😊
The next day we went to the Wensleydale Creamery in Hawes, and saw the good stuff being made. The vat of curds and whey is stirred for a few hours, then the whey is drained and the curd knits together, becoming cheese. Apparently, 1 vat of 1000 gallons of
milk becomes 500kg of Wensleydale cheese within 4 hours (before maturation).
Back home, we opened our box that we had shipped from Vietnam in November, but unfortunately some of the ceramic noodle bowls were broken, and our lacquer photo albums were chipped - doh! Week 3
Easter! Nick's brother Ben was back for the weekend and they both went out into the snowy weather to play a bit of footy for old times' sake. The vicar at church on Easter Sunday was aged 80 and about to retire, having first preached at Wallasey URC almost 39 years ago to the day. The Easter Bunny brought Nick some real ale instead of chocolate, which was an inspired substitution. Paula was happy enough with chocolate. Uncles, aunts, cousins and friends came for dinner. Week 4
A fun couple of days were spent with Lynne, Toshi, Alisa (aged 5) and Amy (aged 2) in East Bolden in the North East, feasting on make-your-own-sushi and being entertained by Miffy and Mr. Men DVDs. It was weird doing the school run with Lynne and waiting in the playground for the kids to come out of class at the end of the day.
School looks so different when you experience it from an adult’s point of view...!
Kelly and Allan played host to us at the weekend in North Shields - including a trip to our old haunt, Durham, seeing Nick Megoran and Richie and Natalie over an afternoon of ale and a few rounds of dominoes in the Dun Cow. (Does that make us sound old?!)
Later that week, Nick caught up with Stefan, a fellow volunteer teacher in Malawi in 1998. They hadn’t seen each other for 10 years; it was good to hear his news over a coffee in Soul Café in Liverpool (run by one of Nick’s former Billington’s work colleagues) followed by a visit to some unexpectedly graphic art exhibition by Yoko Ono in the newly-refurbished Bluecoat Chambers. Week 5
- April 3rd saw us celebrating the 93rd birthday of Nick’s gran, Winnie Rowlands - still attracting the fans, evident in birthday telephone calls from as far away as Australia!
That afternoon we hopped across the Irish sea to Dublin, where bright sunshine greeted our arrival (later in the weekend we experienced snow and hail to balance things out…) Paula’s brother Simon and his girlfriend
Asa served up a Scandinavian feast of raclette cheese melted over as many potatoes as we could manage. We were under strict instructions to sample some of the accompanying white wine which acts as a digestif for the cheese. (Oh, go on then.) Sleep was preceded by a few laugh-out-loud episodes of Black Books
The next morning Paula jogged (partly to keep up with Simon’s walking pace) around Phoenix Park, Dublin’s premier green space. There were groups of deer sitting here and there, Mary (the President)’s House and a huge cross erected on a hill where Pope John Paul II said an open-air mass in 1979 to a congregation of more than a million. Later we enjoyed more blue skies as we all walked into the city centre along the Liffey river. The weather was so good we lunched outside then caught the train east out to Howth, a coastal town boasting several fish restaurants from where we got a good view out to the island called Ireland’s Eye
before the drizzle descended upon us. We took cover in a pub next to the Railway station, whose only downside was that they didn’t sell Tayto crisps (a throwback to Paula’s
family trips to Ireland) - disappointingly they had been replaced by a new-fangled brand known as Pringles. Back in the city we dodged the puddles as we hopped between the attractive Long Bar, The Porterhouse (chocolate truffle beer among its offerings) and settled in Gallagher’s Boxty House for eats. Nick’s beer munchies were suitably sated by ham, cabbage and colcannon and from experience Paula heartily recommends the dessert of Bailey’s and brown bread ice cream.
We took the coach from Dublin on Saturday morning to Moate, a town in the middle of Ireland, and from there we went to Mount Temple, to visit Paula's relations Kate and PJ. Mount Temple is a small village where the houses have no numbers, the postman just knows who lives where. So Kate and PJ's address is simply "The Cunninghams, Mount Temple...", although with the increase in Irish prosperity and resultant growth in house-building the postie will need to be a great social networker to be able to keep up. It was a great drive across the country from Dublin, the sun was shining for most of the way, the plentiful meadows were green and almost all the houses brightly painted. Many are
bungalows, a much higher proportion than in Britain, perhaps because there is so much space. The bus timetable made us chuckle; almost all stops were very rural-sounding, such as Outside Harten’s Gift Shop
Anyway, Kate always does the most delicious toasted sandwiches which we feasted on for lunch, along with tea - from the pot, of course, none of this teabag-in-a-mug business. Half-way through the cuppa, Kate asks if "you'd like to warm up your tea" (i.e. 'do you want more tea?') - a great expression I don't think we have in the UK. We got through buckets without knowing exactly how much. People also say 'ye' instead of 'you', and coincidentally Nick just read that we used to say the same in Britain centuries ago till 'you' somehow took over.
On Saturday afternoon, we went about 2km to visit Nancy, the eighty-something sister of Paula's great uncle Michael, on her farm. Nancy is a great Irish character, whose famous utterances include "Tea bags? Bags of dust, more like!", and "I don’t like going into supermarkets - they have all this music blaring out it makes you forget what you’ve gone to buy
in the first place"! We had more tea and cake in the farmhouse, in the company of Nancy's daughter Teresa and the two mad dogs that live there, always barking for the first 10 minutes after any non-resident arrives. It was the day of the Grand National so we all put a Euro on a horse but only Nancy's chosen one lasted the course. Her face lit up when she got the €6 prizepot, "That's grand", she said, "I've never won that much!"
We went back when we got the phone call from Kate that told us that our roast dinner was almost ready, which turned out to be delicious too. Nick had some whiskey then we headed to the local church for the half-hour 8pm mass. For a British person, it was an unusual time to go to church, especially on a Saturday; there were probably about 50 people there though, the younger ones dressed quite smart and smelling of perfume/aftershave, looking likely to be going on for a night out after. There was a certain commitment, on behalf of both priest and congregation, to moving through the mass at a good speed, evidenced by the priest saying
the next phrase while the congregation was finishing their response to the previous one.
We all headed to Egan's, the only pub in Mount Temple, which was doing a brisk business. We had an alcove, live music was playing, some people were dancing, and the black stuff was going down smoothly. Paula was munching her way through packs of Taytos
, savoring this return to her childhood carbo roots. "Enjoy Guinness sensibly" said the coasters, but nobody was. PJ was not happy when the bar stopped serving at the official hour of 01h00, when normally you can get a drink for a good while longer, but Nick was pleased at least to get a limited edition Guinness glass to add to his collection.
So around 01h30, together with Simon and Asa and Deidre and Paul (Kate and PJ's daughter & son-in-law), we went back to the house, where Paula brewed a pot of tea with 4 teabags for herself, as nobody else wanted any, and the gents had a dram or two. A full Irish breakfast the following morning was just the right medicine, followed by a ham and mashed potato lunch at Nancy's, where we were fortunate to
walk to in the sunshine (the weather was very changeable all weekend, at one moment sunny and warm but hail a couple of minutes later). We went to see the calves that had been born the day or two before with Tom, Nancy's son, before catching the bus back to Dublin. To complete the food-fest, we ate fresh fish'n'chips at Ryan's Bar on Sunday night, which had the added bonus of reputed to serve the best Guinness in Dublin (it was pretty good). Week 6
- We met up on Friday evening and headed over to Nick’s brother Ben’s flat that he shares with a couple of others in central London. It was Ben’s birthday and we celebrated by drinking champagne from pint glasses. Not that there was a lot of champagne, only that Ben didn’t have any other glassware. With a couple of his friends, we went for Thai food and a couple of drinks. It was his real birthday the next day, and we cooked him quite possibly the world’s best pie, made with lamb’s neck meat (slowly stewed in red wine) and a pastry from mashed potato and rice flour. It was delicious even if we
Nick and Nick
With the tools for Cairpirinha - apart from juicy limes.
say so ourselves.
That afternoon, we had an afternoon soirée at Paula’s friend Sonia (and fiancé Rob’s) place in Buckhurst Hill. Many of Paula’s friends were there and were soon chatting away, and the blokes - mostly brought together by their partner’s associations - all talked happily about football and the like.
We stayed in Ramona’s glorious flat on the Isle of Dogs, with its fab views over the Thames, and had Sunday Lunch with Louise and Pete, deliciously home-cooked by our hosts, hearing about their forthcoming nuptial plans.
With no work to go to, on Monday we went to Oxford to see Nick’s old friends Andy and Dan, with their respective partners Jo and Evonne. Dinner and a couple of pints was the order of the evening, and Paula was particularly pleased to see one of the real ales on tap was called “Tom Woods”, the name of another great uncle.
Back on the Wirral, Nick’s friend also called Nick came round, there was an attempt to recreate the caipirinha cocktails quaffed in Rio last year, they weren’t quite as good (“it’s the less juicy limes we have”, the other Nick explained), so Plan B
was put into operation, a pint at the local.
A couple of days later, with Nick’s folks and Uncle Chris and Suzie, we had a tasty Sunday Lunch in quite possibly the most old-fashioned place on the Wirral.
As it was our last week before heading off to NZ, Nick's folks asked if we would like to go anywhere particular, so we chose "Another Place" in Crosby (just north of Liverpool), a collection of sculptures by Anthony Gormley of Angel of the North
fame. It consists of 100 cast-iron, life-size figures, all facing out to sea, spread out along three kilometers of the shore, stretching almost one kilometre out to sea; it took the contractors three weeks to lift the figures into place and drive them into the beach on one-metre-high foundation piles. Each figure is 189 cm tall (nearly 6 feet 3 inches) and weighs around 650 kg.The weather was absolutely fantastic.
On the same day, we also called in at The Merton which is now an average pub but in the middle of last century used to be a relatively smart hotel, run by Nick’s mums’ parents. In fact, Nick’s mum (Georgie) lived there for the first seven
years of her life, and this was only about the third time she had been back since leaving. The kind bar manager even showed her round upstairs (which was the first time she’d been there since a child), and it was amazing for her to see the place which had been her home looking exactly the same (in shape) but now completely different. (See photos at the end for 'Then' and 'Now' comparisons).
On our last day in Wallasey, we had a brunch outside, starting in sunshine and finishing under a small umbrella in the rain.
We were planning to go down to London the day before our flight, on Sunday 27th, but the sad loss of Paula’s great uncle Michael, aged 89, meant that we went down a few days earlier for the funeral on Friday. Although Michael had been ill and his passing was not unexpected, he and Paula were close and his funeral was a moving time. We were pleased that some of his family from Ireland were able to come over, and together we gave Michael a good send off, both at the mass (where some of the flowers were shaped in a shamrock,
and another in the form of a pint of ale) and in the pub later.
We were staying with Paula’s sister and her husband, who were as always very hospitable. We finished packing in good time, but had some trouble with the luggage allowance. It was harder to pack for a new start in New Zealand with a 20kg limit than it was to go backpacking with just 15kg because of all the extra stuff we needed. Nick’s strategy involved using the deep pockets of his coat to carry (amongst other things) two guidebooks to New Zealand, a pocket radio, camera battery, and an MP3 player, so that in the end the coat weighed about the same as the hand luggage bag, and he also wore two belts, two watches as well as having picked all the gravel out of his flip flops to ensure no excess weight was carried along.
We went to the airport with Paula’s family friend Breda, as well as Katie, Goshi and John, who kindly gave us a lift, but who came primarily to make sure that we left the country. It is perhaps culturally significant that the last landmark we noticed as
we disappeared into the dark clouds over Heathrow was the shape of Slough’s Tesco (Britain’s largest?) megastore, alongside which was the architecturally-interesting 60’s Brunel bus station. More info on Another Place from t'internet…
In common with most of Gormley's work, the figures are cast replicas of the artist's own body. As the tides ebb and flow, the figures are revealed and submerged by the sea. The figures were cast by Joseph and Jesse Siddons Foundry in West Bromwich.
Another Place was first exhibited on the beach of Cuxhaven, Germany in 1997 and after that in Stavanger in Norway and De Panne in Belgium.
Another Place is a subject of local controversy in Crosby. Some consider the statues to be "pornographic" whilst others see them as beautiful pieces of art which have brought increased tourism revenue to the local area.
On the 14th Feb 2008, five of the statues were used in a costume design project by Edge Hill University students. This involved dressing the statues in various items of clothing replicating different costumes and periods, which were then removed as the tide came in.
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