Monday, 26 December 2011

The Cambridge Folk Festival

The event of the summer for us had to be the Cambridge Folk Festival. It is a four day folk[ish] music festival that attracts large crowds and big names. Dave & I had bought our tickets for it back in February and had been eagerly anticipating four days of folk, especially once the lineups were announced and we knew who to look forward to. In fact, I was so excited that I even booked a day off work in order to ensure that I got the full festival experience (short of camping out there—our own bed may be uncomfortable, but it’s still better than a tent).

Wicker Fox!!!

Folk Fest lived up to all its hype. Each day was different but also special, and we felt as if we’d gone away on vacation instead of just away to the south of town (which, to be fair, still took about an hour each way  thanks to public transport). The first day of the festival I got off of work early and we took a picnic supper down to the festival grounds where we enjoyed, among others, performances by The Willows and by the Secret Sisters. When we weren’t listening to music we were wandering around with pints of ale (ah, England!) and trying on various funky types of headgear.

Friday was my favourite day at the festival. We got there for the early afternoon, when things were starting to pick up. The great thing about Friday is that only those people who are really keen to be there will actually go to the trouble of booking a day off of work. When there were gaps between shows we explored the festival grounds and went shopping at the festival booths. Grounds’ exploration found a duck pond, wild flowers, geese, and a bunch of teddy bears held hostage in a tree. Shopping led to David getting a crazy hippy [reversible] sweater—unbleached cotton with an embroidered tree of life on one side and supersoft, psychedelic wool on the other. I sourced various crazy skirts, and eventually settled on a dagged patchwork one. Then, tired of wandering around, we settled our picnic blanket near the stage where the best evening acts were and spent the night reading books, sampling various edible delicacies (pork & apple burger, mint & lamb burger, fresh honeyed almonds with orange & cinnamon), and dancing to wild klezmer music. It was so relaxing and so very different from the way our life usually is in England. I felt like I were twenty years old and back in Victoria, enjoying myself without a care in the world. 

Saturday and Sunday were the most crowded days at the festival. The biggest acts play on those days and it was chock-a-block for being able to move around. I don’t like crowds and in England there are few restrictions on outdoor smoking, so I was finding the combination of summer heat, sweaty masses of people, and stale cigarette smoke a bit much. However, on Saturday evening I got to watch the folk rock group Pentangle perform, and that made up for any discomfort during the day. Yes, we were standing at the back. Yes, some idiot screwed up the audio. But I had never imagined that I would get to actually see them in the flesh, and they played all the songs which I have known and loved for years: it was magical. 
Because of the crowds we decided to not stay long on Sunday. In fact, we only stayed for one act, which was the Portishead Fishermen’s Friends, a group of old seamen from Cornwall who performed various sea shanties with gusto. They told ribald jokes, they constantly insulted each other, and they produced beautiful music. Dave & I munched on cheese & pickle sandwiches, danced to some well known shanties, and decided that no other performance that day could top the act. So we caught a bus, went to a pub, and spent the rest of the day relaxing at home. Perfect ending to a perfect weekend. 

Saturday, 5 November 2011

May-July, or, Why we weren't "At Home"

My family’s visit was the precursor to a very event-filled summer. The last term of the year was rushing towards its end, culminating in May Week (in June), which is a week of garden parties, formal dinners, and balls. In the two months following my family’s departure, we had five out-of-town guests come by for a visit. On top of this, David was busy with his various projects and I was spending a lot of time down in London for work-related reasons. It was hectic but very fun. Highlights:

- Dave and I decided to take in the Cambridge Beer Festival. It is, as the name suggests, a festival of beers. We went on a Saturday, when the admission price was discounted. As it was during the day we didn’t have to brave any drunken hoards, which was a huge plus. We spent our pennies sampling ale (orange & chocolate porter counts towards one of your 5-a-day, apparently), perry (that’s cider but made with pears), and mead (spiced mead is We also split  a ham & cheese board in order to soak up the alcohol. This was a huge hunk of bread, carvery ham, and artisan cheeses. We had a great time and the whole event felt very English...and also very hobbitish (at least with the ale, ham, cheese, & bread). 

- My friend Hannah came up for a visit from London. We kept things fairly low-key, but on her last day here, she & I went to a concert at David’s college. The music was excellent (both opera & classical) and after the performance we feasted on strawberries & cream and pink champagne in Old Court. It was a very relaxing, summery evening and certainly got me into the vibe of May week/summer vacation.

- The Clare May Ball. This year’s theme was Alice in Wonderland, and it was a delight to see Old Court transformed into a true wonderland (complete with spinning teacups). Our friends, the Williams, were back from the USA for the ball and we had a lovely time with them & some other friends. It was raining, pouring at times, but that couldn’t dampen our spirits. My particular favorites bits this year were dancing to folk music, in the rain, while watching the fireworks; the nighttime puntride, this time complete with lots of bats; dancing to a very crazy klezmer band with some of my friends; and a very early morning stroll home with David. Dave & I left at around 5am this year, as all the performances were over and neither of us could hold any more food so there seemed to be no point in waiting for breakfast. I had had my fill on paella, thai curry, deli buffet, hog roast, mini donuts, cotton candy, and probably a bunch of other stuff that I’ve now forgotten. It wasn’t as magical as our first year, because in some ways we knew what to expect, but it was still a roaring good time. And coming home at a slightly decent hour meant we could go for brunch later when we woke up. 

- We had a couple surprise visitors. This did mean that I suddenly found myself throwing a number of dinners in a short space of time, but I reason that there’s no point in my spending so much spare time cooking if I can’t whip together a few excellent meals at short notice. The mother of one of David’s best friends happened to be in town, so we had her over for dinner and then she took us out to see Antony & Cleopatra, part of the Cambridge Shakespeare Festival. The following week, David’s supervisor from the University of Alberta was in town so we invited him over for supper. I was happy to finally meet the man who has always been so encouraging towards my husband, and it was an honour to get to make a meal for him.

- We took a trip to London. We spent the weekend at our friend Hannah’s. The original plan was to coincide one of David’s research trips with one of her book quiz parties, but it ended up working differently. Dave couldn’t get the books he needed in time from the library, so he ditched the library and spent the Saturday with me. I loved this, as I got to drag him around to the Glamour of the Gods exhibit at the National Portrait Gallery and to the V&A. We also did some used/rare book browsing on the way. Disaster almost struck at the V&A, however, when we discovered that they were sold out of Cult of Beauty tickets for the day. The very last day of the show was the following day, Sunday, and after that it would be gone forever. I had been hoping to see this exhibit on the aesthetique movement since I found out about it in March. Fortunately my husband handles change much better than I do, so he managed to fanagle a couple of tickets to Sunday’s opening, and Hannah is a very gracious hostess who had no problem with us disappearing the following day as well. So bright & early on Sunday morning we set off again for the V&A, where as an anniversary treat David surprised me with breakfast at the V&A’s glamerous dining room and then treated me to the exhibit, and I got my fill of art and the gift shop got its fill of my wallet. We made it back to Hannah’s in good time for the book quiz, and our team came in second, so it was a great weekend all ‘round. 

- As a beautiful ending to the social rush of May-July, our friend Harrison came for a [too short] visit. We had such a lovely time with him. He & David only stopped their chatter long enough to sleep each night. I was working for most of the days he was here, which meant that Dave took him around to all the bookstores & libraries & pubs in town! At night I’d come home and cook supper and we’d chat and just enjoy each others company. It was a really refreshing time. Nothing like having an almost-priest in the house to answer all your theological and moral questions! 

There is so much in here that I haven't mentioned. Looking over my pictures it was a very event-filled three months. We went on a pilgrimage/retreat day to Our Lady of Stone with our church; there was the CUHAGS feast, for which David wrote a Latin poem for the new president, our friend Pippa; we spent a Sunday afternoon buying books and chasing sheep at Wimpole Hall... I am surprised I managed to make it through alright with such a hectic schedule. Fortunately the Spring Cleaning was done before my family arrived!
Quoting Vergil & chasing sheep
Madam President, in her beautiful gown which I covet
David reading his poem to the CUHAGs assembly

Sunday, 23 October 2011

The Last of the Trip - Bristol, Cheddar, and Abergavveny

After Stonehenge we drove back to Clevedon, where we took a longish walk around town in search of Chinese takeaway. We passed a much needed restive evening, watching TV, eating Chinese, and reading books. I also briefly met up with my friend Zina, who lives in Clevedon, and we made plans to meet in Bristol the following day.

In Bristol we were able to take advantage of the Park & Ride, thus saving my sanity. Zina was a wonderful host and took us all over the city, and we even managed to see Georgian House, which is one of the few tourist sites in Bristol I hadn’t seen before. Mum & John were fairly tired of museums and historic houses by this time so they mostly sat and enjoyed the outdoor scenery whilst the three of us explored. Dad had really wanted to go see the house of a Brethren preacher who used to live there, but we deemed it too far out of town and instead Zina took us to see John Wesley’s chapel and lodgings. We arrived near closing time but the staff were incredibly kind to us and delayed their closing so that we could explore the building. Dad enjoyed wandering around the chapel so much that he neglected to see Wesley’s private rooms on the top floor, and I had to drag him up there and literally push him around so that he could see the most important sites before they locked up. He is very meticulous when it comes to reading every bit of explanatory text on walls, but I think he forgave me for propelling him along when I announced “and this was Wesley’s bed”. Like a pilgrim to a holy relic went my father, and he not even a Methodist!

Following our tour of Bristol we had a really late lunch at a delightful Italian restaurant which Zina led us to. It is one of those treasures that only locals know about, little hole-in-the-walls with incredible food. We sat in the upper room, which had a giant mural of Padre Pio on one wall, and feasted on pasta, pizza, and garlic bread. I think even mum was glad of the Italian meal, as we had kind of reached the limit on how much pub food we could stomach. We had a great time visiting, and I was really happy that my family could meet one of my English friends.

The next day was the last day of our UK tour. We managed to squeeze in three different cities, and two different countries! First, we went to the village of Cheddar, where cheddar cheese originates. The village is located in Cheddar Gorge and its cliffs are full of caves, making the village a popular choice for both cheese lovers and spelunkers. We fell into the first category, which meant we spent the early afternoon touring the cheese factory, sampling cheese (and Somerset scrumpy), buying cheese (and scrumpy), and eventually eating lunch. I think we eventually walked away with 6 different types of cheese (vintage cheddar, two garlic & herb cheddars, ewe’s milk cheese, Somerset brie, and jalapeno cheddar), roasted pepper spread, pork scratchings, and two jugs of scrumpy (medium & sweet). After a cheesy lunch of paninis at the Cheddar Costa Coffee, we started our search for the Bristol Blue Glass Factory.

The BBG is located off a little strip of highway just outside Bristol. It took us so long to find that we couldn’t stay for more than thirty minutes, but it was long enough to watch the guys in the workshop make a glass jug, which was fascinating (I love watching glass blowers). We then plundered the gift shop, and I was pleased to see that their prices were equal to what we’d paid the day before in the city for my blue glass cat. 
We decided to drive to Wales for supper, in part because we wanted to see Wales and in part because there is something delightfully glamorous about driving to a new country just to have a meal. Zina had recommended a trip to Abergavveny, and so we decided to take our evening excursion there. Upon arriving in Abergavveny, we promptly located the castle ruins and spent a good fourty-five minutes clambering over the broken stone. The setting was beautiful, especially in the places where we could look through the crumbling casements and into the green Welsh hills. The first rain of our trip came just as we were leaving our last tourist spot, which is certainly miraculous for the UK. 

On Saturday morning we drove back to Cambridge, leaving early so that we could arrive in good time for the John Cleese performance that night. The show was hilarious, there was ice cream at intermission, and dad managed to stay awake for the whole performance. We were all happy to have been able to see the comedic legend in the flesh. Then there was the vacation denouement. I went back to work, my family took a few day trips, and all too soon it was our last day together. David took us for a last tour of Cambridge, including a punt ride on the river which left John terrified. We finished the night by celebrating John’s birthday, and feeding him lots of Baileys as compensation for his terror of small boats/dirty rivers. 

It was a whirlwind tour, but it was so amazing to be able to see the United Kingdom with my family, especially when I think back to the days when we could barely afford a trip camping in Qualicum. 

Monday, 12 September 2011


The day we left Scotland we were off to a rocky start. John developed some sort of ear infection overnight and we spent the better part of the day a) trying to locate the Stirling A&E and then b) waiting to be discharged from the Stirling A&E. Eventually we got some drugs for him and were able to hit the road. Looking back there is definitely space to be grateful: for one, because we were at an emergency ward we didn’t have to pay for his drugs or doctor’s visit, and for another, we had no sightseeing planned for that day. Although we had a long drive from Edinburgh to Bristol it wasn’t *too* long.

Watching the landscape change on the drive was interesting, as it always is with long drives. There was lush greenery in Scotland, and then a seemingly barren dessert as we passed by Manchester, and finally a hint of water as we drew near Bristol. We arrived quite late at our Victorian hotel in Clevedon and, to be honest, I cannot remember much after we arrived, other than my & John’s luck in finding ourselves in a ridiculously giant room that had a double bed (for John) and a queen sized bed (for me). We didn’t have a view of the water, like our parents did, but our room was about three times bigger so we didn’t mind.

A lot was improved by morning, especially since John was feeling better. Since we had spent the previous day driving, I didn’t fancy spending a lot of time on the road. So we decided to drive to Stonehenge and spend an easy day exploring one of the wonders of the world.

The drive was going well, and our map (for once) made sense, when I noticed we had zoomed by our turn. After some navigating we located our ‘road’ again, although I was a little concerned that it wasn’t well marked on our road atlas. Nevertheless, that was the road stated in our directions so we took it, and there passed the most harrowing hour of my life. It was one of those delightful English country lanes, wide enough for 1.5 cars but accepting two-way traffic. It was full of curves and high hedges, which meant we couldn’t see the oncoming traffic. The ‘shoulder’ was pitted with potholes, and once when we pulled over to let an oncoming car pass it sounded like the car had gotten stuck in a hole. My cell phone wasn’t working and the road was just quiet enough that if we got stuck we could be waiting for awhile. And, if all this wasn’t harrowing enough, every so often a giant truck would come speeding around the corner. Mum was sure glad that her car mirrors could flatten against the car sides at the press of a button!

When we finally emerged on the other side I was quite shaky. Dad and John, of course, had spent most of that drive sleeping and were now wide awake and bothering me with questions. Juggling our map and our road atlas we tried to place ourselves in relation to Stonehenge. We were arguing over where our next turn was when I looked up and saw IT—on a strip of plain between two highways, the ancient stones stood in their solemn circle. I exclaimed, John shouted, we both started yelling to mum “go right, go right” and miraculously she found her road and with little fuss we arrived in the parking lot.

We had lunch in a picnic area just outside of the Stonehenge entrance, and then it was time to pay our fee and explore the stones. Going there was an incredibly moving experience for all of us. We spent a good hour or so walking around, listening to the audio tour, and marvelling that we were actually there. One of my favourite pictures from the day is one of mum sitting on a bench, sheep grazing behind her on the plain, and a dreamy look on her face as she sits looking at Stonehenge and the Salisbury Plain. It sums up the magic of the day.

It is so difficult to write about what we experienced. In one sense, it is a big circle of rocks and all the pictures and all the words you use just keep reiterating that point. On the other, it is so much larger than all that, and has inspired whole novels. How do you even begin to blog about that? I could have just sat and looked forever, letting my mind wander down imaginative twists and turns. So, slowly, we walked counter clockwise around the stones, and then found ourselves at the exit, pausing for one last look.