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Published: January 19th 2010
Traditional red telephone boxes in Durham
I assume they are for show, why would you need 6 public phone boxes in these days of mobiles?
Britain, Britain, Britain!
After 14 long months of adventures in South East Asia (largely Vietnam, but also Thailand and the Philippines), it was finally time to return home to our little island off the coast of France. 14 months is quite a long time, probably too long, and we were very pleased to get back to Blighty and our friends and families, particularly during the festive season - so off we went on tour!
Stop 1: Brewood and rock
After our night in the hotel in Stansted (where I enjoyed my 1st cornish pasty since October 2008) we set off by train to Wolverhampton. Unsurprisingly, my O2 SIM card had expired over the year and we bought a new one in the airport and spent the 1st part of the journey texting or calling people to say we were home. The rest of the journey was spent staring out of the windows of the train into the novel English countryside. Not a paddy field or conical hat in sight.
On arriving back in Kate's village of Brewood in Staffordshire I had an extra treat in store. Kate's brother, Mike, had bought tickets to see
Them Crooked Vultures play in Birmingham! Kate stayed home with her parents and I set off for the gig. It was excellent! After all that time in Asia I was really missing seeing live rock music. Thanks Mike! After I got over the fact that everyone crowded around me was uncommonly tall and the price of a pint was staggering, I enjoyed every minute.
We had a great couple of days with Kate's family catching up with everyone and soaking up the Englishy Christmas atmosphere. I even braved the outdoors to go for a run along the canal on the frosty ground wearing shorts. How crazy would my Vietnamese friends have thought me? Actually, I did feel a bit crazy as my hands went numb and my lungs began to hurt from the ice cold air. Hmm. It's a lot different to running in 30C, humid Vietnamese air...but I'm not sure which is more "pleasant".
Stop 2: Horden and snow
After a few days it was time to pay my family a visit so we headed further north, bound for County Durham and my hometown of Horden.
Before leaving Vietnam we'd talked to students
about coming back to England for Christmas and they were all convinced we were going home to a winter wonderland of snow, snowmen, one-horse open sleighs and Victorian gentlemen throwing open the windows of their bedroom and hurling a whole gold crown to an urchin below and urging them to buy "the finest turkey in all of London!". Or something. We talked them out of this, telling them (probably in a very British, cynical way) it hardly ever snows for Christmas. It'll probably drizzle on Christmas day and the first snow we'll see will be sometime in January when it will just add the phrase "TRAFFIC CHAOS" to the daily newspaper. How wrong we could have been for winter 2009... Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow...
It started around Yorkshire I think. Our National Express bus started passing decidely white areas of countryside. It got colder too. We stopped for a wee break near Sheffield and the ground was icy and a thin covering of snow lay on the verges. And it was freezing. A temperature I hadn't experienced for many months bit into me as I left the coach to browse magazines in
the service station. I'd almost forgotten the world could be so cold as I'd spent days in Vietnam whinging "it's a bit chilly today!" at 20C when I was forced to actually wear something on my upperhalf around the house.
We continued up the country and the snow got thicker and prettier and made us feel all the more festive. By the time we got to Sunderland it was pretty icy and cold as my sister, Sharon and my nieces, Elisha and Sara, picked us up from the bus station.
The first night was spent at my mam and dads', where I had the obligatory tumbler of whisky and we tried to catch up on the last year's goings-on. I also had to meet a grown-up Bob the labrador. As an adorable Andrex puppy just before I left he had pounced on me from all sides and left me with numerous puppy tooth marks in my hands. Now, as an enormous bear-like (or camel-like, according to my mam) beast he's suddenly afraid of strangers and spent the first night I was there barking at me from the relative safety of under my parents' bed.
The following night
over a field in Horden
we were planning to go round my sister's house and go out to the pub to see a band. She only lives 3 miles away so my dad was going to drop us off. Then the snow started around teatime. Big snow and lots of it started to pile up on the roads and in the garden...and it didn't stop. Given that the street my parents live on can be pretty hard to get around on when icy I told my dad not to worry about it and said we'd order a taxi. I tried, but none were running due to the weather - cars were already getting stuck. So, sadly I had to call my sis and tell her we couldn't make it. We'd travelled from the other side of the world, from Vietnam to England without setback - and now, as snow fell, we couldn't travel 3 miles to my sister's house!
Snow! In December! Well, it'll probably melt by Christmas though, right...?
It didn't. Apparently, so far this winter has been the coldest for 30 years. I can honestly say I've never known the snow lie for so long.
For anyone reading this from a colder climate, yeah, I know, we're big softies and, just as I would snigger at Vietnamese friends in Haiphong complaining about the cold in the equivalent temperature of an English summer's day, you're allowed to mock England - but we really aren't set up for such prolonged cold weather. As was evident in the "TRAFFIC CHAOS", closed schools and general doom-mongering that followed.
It seemed everything stopped in the rest of the world as the news was suddenly dominated by stories of snow. The jack-knifed lorries, the pensioners burning books for warmth, the homes without power, the dwindling grit supplies and of course, the heartwarming storries of kids enjoying sledging and snowman-building. The river Tees even froze - I thought it would be too full of chemicals. And then on to the weather forecast and the usual "more snow on the way". Meanwhile, people sat at home and said - "How come Sweden (insert any other presumably colder country here) copes with snow so much better than us?"
Well, it did make for a beautiful Christmas.
And will it mean that England will experience a scorching summer??? I have no idea why
it would. But everyone seems to be asking this as if it means we're owed one. To be fair that will probably lead to hosepipe bans and widespread sunstroke and dwindling water supplies and people grumbling "There's hot and then there's too bloody hot!" and "How come Spain (insert presumed hotter country) copes with heat so much better than us?".
Ah, the weather. We love it really. We are British afterall.
Tis the season to be jolly
Me and Kate went separate ways this year for Christmas - her heading to her parents again (on a freezing cold morning - did I mention it was -10C??) and me staying in the northeast. Nonetheless it was great. In Horden I ate lots of turkey, drank the occassional snowball (you're allowed to do that at Christmas without compromising your masculinity) and watched festive TV. Bob the labrador slowly got used to me and we went walking in the snow. On Boxing Day I had a reunion with some mates from school and we did a pub crawl, which was excellent.
And before we knew it, it was New Year's Eve.
New Year in
So me and Kate met up in Leeds and drank and made merry at Phil and Lisa's house. The very same Phil and Lisa who came to visit us in Haiphong. Phil cooked us food and very soon his huge-lensed camera had made an appearance. So, as you can see, we retaliated by taking an extreme close-up of his face. Then it was for a rowdy sing-song of Auld Lang Syne, a pop outside to see some fireworks...a few more beers...and then bed, well into the 1st morning of 2010.
Come new year's day the festivities were far from over. A text arrived from our mate Mark saying he was popping into his local in Leeds for a drink at 11am while he walked the dog! We arrived decidedly later than this and had beers and food before heading to his to play the old Nintendo Wii. I must say, following a few pints my Wii tennis abilities were badly affected. I wonder if Venus Williams has the same problem.
Soon the festive season wound down and we were left to spend a bit more time with family and friends, again managing to get around England
Kris and Rach
In a pub in Loughborough with a red light.
by public transport in the snow drifts and black ice.
Meeting Abi and Rachel in Loughborough
Very close to the end of our trip to England we managed to arrange a night to meet with Kris's university mates - Abi and Rach. Rach lives in Loughborough and we converged on her place on Friday night for fun and frolicks. The pictures are included!
Again, our wandering ways mean that we depend on friends and family to put us up when we come back to the UK, so THANK YOU and happy new year to our families of Kirbys and Lloyds and to our friends the Allens (Mark and Helen, that is!), Phil and Lisa, and Rach who all let us stay at their places and generally took care of us! Needless to say, when any of you ever find yourself in Vietnam, you know who to call. We leave for Asia on Wednesday the 20th of January. See you later!!
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