Sunday, 16 August 2009

Here, There and Everywhere

So, that was the home stretch of my stay completed. Lots of eating and relaxing. Dad was raving about a TV programme called The Street (which, according to IMDB, has been going since 2006) and I managed to catch an episode at Mum's. It was indeed a most excellent, hard-hitting drama. Also played a lot of omweso as I bought Mum a board for her birthday.

On Tuesday 4th I began my whirlwind comeback tour of the UK. It began with a train to Bath Spa, where my good friend from uni, Graeme, picked me up and took me for drinkypoos. Had a lovely time wandering around. It's a beautiful city, full of old Georgian buildings and quirky shops. We went to a most excellent little pub and sat in a rowing boat, which had benches and a table in it, positioned in a small pond. He taught me how to play backgammon.

On the Wednesday, Graeme cooked me one of his legendary vegy fry-ups with halloumi cheese (squeaky cheese) and we went to Bristol to another boat called The Apple, which is a cider bar on the Avon. We met up with another friend from uni, Vikki, who got married to Dai in Vegas whilst I've been away. We drank Brother's Strawberry Cider, then went into town and met up with Dai for more drinks, a Subway, and more drinks :op

Was a lovely evening and we caught the last train home to Bath around 11:15pm. The next day was laaaazy. Graeme took me to see his workplace, then we had a leisurely drive over to Stroud to meet some of Graeme's friends: a talented drama teacher called Em, and her equally talented partner, who makes reconstruction costumes for films, musicals, and U2 tours. Also met their friend Fi, who I did an astrology chart for last year. Always nice to meet people you read for and find out that you were accurate. It was a lovely evening, Graeme was a whiz in the kitchen again, but I drank waaaaay too much (did you know they now do Castello del Diablo in double-bottle measures?) and ended up visiting the basin later in the night. Strangely, I felt absolutely pucka the next morning. Talking of pucka, Em had an extremely funny track that some band had done by slicing up clips of Jamie Oliver doing his cookery programme. May have been Cage - but I can't remember. It was hilarious, I've been searching for it on YouTube ever since but to no avail.

The next day I got a National Express coach to London (nine pounds with online advanced booking!) and a bus up the road to Camberwell, where Jo & Pierre (my next door neighbours from Rwanda) live. They brought me chocolate, I took them waragi :op

Had a fab night in their gorgeous apartment, and went for drinks at the local multi-story car park which had been converted to a rooftop bar for the summer. You could see the whole of London from up there. It also sported a modern art exhibition. As we left, we went down the internal ramps and looked at all the stuff on display. Great idea for disused space. Took some photos, which I’m sure will follow shortly.

We ended the night at a local Turkish restaurant. The food was divine, but I heard myself saying something I would never have thought I'd say in a million years. I was complaining about too much service!!! From one extreme to the other: in Rwanda no service, in Camberwell too much! Two Turkish waiters took it in turns to come and check on us literally every 10 minutes. One started with small talk: "Are you having a good evening?" but then carried on into full-blown conversation: "Where abouts are you from? Oh yes, lovely part of the country..." He asked us twice if we wanted a fan as it was a bit warm, then brought one anyway even though we'd declined. It was quite funny.

The next day, I hopped a bus down the road to Lewisham to catch up with Cassie and Sean. Cassie's a really close friend from uni, and her husband Sean used to work with my ex Phil in Reading. Phil and I were witness and bridesmaid (respectively) at their wedding and they've had a little boy, Ryan, in the time I've been away. He's the most adorable guy in the world, though rather cheeky. Oooh look, new person... *smack* - hand on boob! :oO 

Cassie's a bit knackered, though. She's a nurse, and she'd been on night shifts, meaning she got home and looked after Ryan all day too - about 30 hours without sleep. She'd had some sleep the night before I arrived though, and we all went to the park over the road for a picnic. It was really lovely, and we came home with beer, take-out, and Blade: Trinity. They thought it was better than the second, but even thought the second was somewhat pretentious, I still felt it was better than this. The acting really did fall flat in parts, but lo and behold, Ted Bundy was very watchable and didn't look at all like a mass murderer with all that facial hair and styling gel ;)

Was sad to leave them the next day, time goes so fast. The whole trip caught up with me a bit and left me feeling rather sensitive when I got to the ticket office at Lewisham station. It was quite noisy and, when I asked for a one-day travel card, I thought the guy hadn't heard me and that he'd said "what?" So I repeated "one-day travel card please," to which he retorted, "yes, I know what one is darling, but which zones?" - really snide tone of voice. I said I wasn't from London, I didn't know, and all zones please. He then wouldn't believe I wanted all zones and kept asking where I was going. I said I didn't know, and he said he was trying to save me money, again in a really overbearing voice. I stuck with "all zones" so that I didn't have to worry if I wanted to go somewhere outside the centre. I sat feeling tearful all the way into London. Gimp.

I felt like I needed time-out, so I made the most of the travel card and went to Charring Cross, where I jumped on a tube to Leicester Square. I had a vague idea that it would be really nice to go to the cinema, and they have really big ones in Leicester Square, but when I got there I kind of changed my mind and ambled in the direction of Chinatown.

I kept on going until I got bored and hopped a number 25 bus to Oxford Street, but almost immediately leapt on another bus to escape the crowds. I ended up in St. Paul's, where I stopped to admire the cathedral and walk around the gardens before grabbing a Subway and heading back to Oxford Circus by bus. I stopped to brows HMV and then headed for the underground, where I bought a pen and piece of paper from a kiosque guy called Muhammad so I could keep track of my journey. It turned out that his family live in South Africa and he pops back occasionally.

I took the Northern Line to Baker Street, only, when I surfaced again, I was right in the middle of a line of riot police and a thousand blue-and-white striped Chelsea supporters chanting at the top of their voices from an adjacent pub. Thought I'd best leave them to it, so jumped on another bus to Euston Station. Unable to spot any cinemas en route, I tried to think of what else I'd like to do with my day and suddenly The National Portrait Gallery sprung to mind. I'd always wanted to go, but never been. So I asked someone at Euston which bus I needed and he directed me to the number 91 stop to Trafalgar Square, where I bought an ice-cream and wandered to the gallery.

I love portraits. The really old ones from the early ages to around the start of the 1800s. They have a fantastic little headset that matches numbers on the paintings, giving you a guided tour for only two pounds. The top floor was my favourite place ever, I could have spent hours there, but I only had about four before closing, so I forced myself to be selective. I've decided my favourite portrait in the entire gallery is the one of painter James Barry.

Having said that, my heart gave a little flutter when I entered the room and saw Mary Shelley, Byron and Percy Shelley lined up together. Although I've never read any Mary Shelly, I loved both Byron and Percy's work in my mid-teens. Shelley's The Cloud is still one of my favourite poems ever and I'd like the first four lines of the last stanza as an epitaph one day (not just yet though!).

It gave me a thrill to see them all up there - the pictures always used on my old Wordsworth Classics tomes. I bought Byron's on a postcard in the shop, but was somewhat disappointed that they didn't have cards of Mary or Percy. It would have been nice to have all three. I also enjoyed seeing the Bront√ęs in paint, etched by their brother. Especially the cracked one of Emily, which is quite haunting. I guess I like portraits so much because they are the closest thing to glossy magazine pictures of your idols, only they tended to be far more talented and intriguing than those who appear in glossy magazines nowadays, known for their literary ability rather than their latest film releases; enigmatic in what was never known, rather than splattering everything across the front pages. Says she, who keeps a blog...

So, I had a lovely time at the gallery and treated myself to game pie and ale at a pub down the road: The Coal Hole, before walking over Waterloo Bridge (the title of one of my favourite war movies ever) and looking down on the National Theatre, where they have a huge fake lawn outside. Also a giant table, lamp, and sofas also made to look like hedges with loads of real people sitting on them. From there, I took the 171 bus back to Camberwell. Buses have become so much easier since they installed an automated system to tell you where you are.

Felt I got fair use out of my ticket. Chilled out with Jo, Pierre, and the TV.

The next day, I was back on the buses to Angel, to meet up with my second cousin Alx and her lovely husband Pob, who got married two weeks after I left the country. Alx sent me a wonderful parcel of goodies last Christmas, so I reciprocated with Rwandan goodies. Had a lovely night, went for a beer in Angel where we bumped into one of Alx's colleagues (who also happened to be Errol Brown's daughter) and then they took me to Wagamana's noodle bar. Was a bit spooky though, at their home in Hertford they have the same floor as Jo, the same cushion as Jo, and the same piano, but in light wood rather than dark... weird.

Had a lurvely time, then went into work with Alx on the train the next day, got a bus to Victoria and another train to Birmingham New Street to meet Dad. We drove up to Carlisle to see my Aunty Jean and enjoyed a day of trundling around the Lake District to Ullswater, Keswick and Cockermouth via Castlerigg stone circle - one of my favourites :)

On the Friday, we drove back down to Birmingham. I did quite a bit of the driving and regained my confidence. People often get nervous about motorways, but I prefer them to country lanes, you can always see what's ahead and you're all moving in the same direction :)

From there I got a train to Long Buckby. I pulled in just as Mam did. We went home to get Merrick and had a big steak dinner down The Pytchley. We didn't go to bed, as I needed to be at the airport by, so we sat up watching TV and drinking coffee. Left around 3am, Merrick drove us.

An exhausting but most excellent gallivant.

Country Gal

Hollowell Reservoir

After Mum's Birthday on the Friday, I spent Saturday chilling out with my nephew, Damian, who remembered me even though he was four when I left and is six now! My brother was also there - pictures of both at the Sunday Family BBQ.

Couple of brief things I forgot to mention from the first week: my friend Daniel Moses was on the flight out of Kigali with me. Live here long enough and you're guaranteed to know someone on every flight - small world.

I also failed to convey the sheer wonder of my first hot bath. I'm more of a shower gal, but I felt a proper soaking was required. It was more of a slow steeping actually, with plenty of Lush bubble melt. The water was brown when I got out, and all that colour I thought was a suntan...well...

Mum's also got a bath. A veeeery big bath. It's one of those full-on jacuzzi jobbies with underwater lighting. I like the blue light. Feels like you're bubbling away in a cauldron. Great stuff, and perfect with a nice glass of wine.

I also had a wonderful time wandering the fields down to the Duck Pond, and across to the reservoir. The landscape's changed a bit, though. Someone's built a new housing estate on the country lane leading to the fields and, at the other end - Hollowell Reservoir - a family of minted toffs have moved into a house built on our old neighbour's land, and they've put up a security fence!!

This means that you walk around the water, then you can't get back onto the main road unless you know the code. Which I didn't. Thankfully, a car came up behind me so they opened automatically, but it's a wonderful example of the horribly prissy rich twonks who move into villages and think they are more important than the land they're living on. A return to the days of lairds and peasants: huge big walls around their sudo-mansion, dogs, CCTV cameras, security gates on a public access road - disgusting. One of the locals up the pub was saying we should protest: take it in turns to superglue the code pad. He reckons after replacing it a few times they'd give up on the idea. Whereas I don't agree with vandalism, it's a sorely tempting notion. More money than community sense. The land was there before they were born, it'll be there after - why do they feel the need to go dictating who can walk there and who can't? Generations have enjoyed that particular walk, then they move in and spoil it for everyone.

Other than that though, everything's as I left it. Nice thing about the countryside, add a few horses here, a lamb or two there (or llamas! apparently they make excellent sheep guards) but nothing much every really changes. It's a beautiful constant.

I also spent a day walking around Market Harborough as I needed to see Ed and pick up some dreadlock materials for Lies. He runs Dreadworx, which is a fantastic company for all your dread-head needs. [NB 2013: sadly now defunct] He first started it from the village we grew up in, but has now got his own shop in Harborough called The Black & White Board Stores: 26 Coventry Road (opposite the Co-op, above the dry cleaner's). [NB 2013: also now defunct]. He sells everything from snowboards to mountainboards, and a whole range of accessories.

Also managed to fit in a dentist appointment. I've had a twinge in my gums for a while, which I put down to a wisdom tooth coming through. I managed to find a lovely dentist in Harborough, through The Three Swans pub and over the road. They saw me within the hour. They confirmed it was just a wisdom tooth cutting and said that my teeth were in excellent condition. The apprentice was amazed that at 28 I have no fillings, and asked what my secret was? To which the dentist ventured "brushing and flossing?" I nodded. "Works, doesn't it," he said with a smile. I've always been lucky with dentists. Last time I hadn't seen one in five years and got the prognosis: "immaculate" :)

To celebrate, I went straight back to The Three Swans and had a delightful meal of chicken stuffed with apricots and chestnuts, wrapped in bacon. Stopped just short of rubbing it on my face, and washed it down with half a Bombardier.

Also had fun driving. Merrick, Mum's partner, is a driving instructor, and took me out for a wee spin. I felt nervous as hell. I only passed my test a year before leaving. In that time I became an extremely confident driver as I had to commute every day. Twenty months out of the driving seat is a long time though, and I felt extremely nervous. Despite never having driven in Rwanda, I actually did end up trying to drive on the wrong side of the road - twice! No fatalities, thankfully. :oO

We also went to Lubenham to have dinner with Mum's friends David & Kate, who have a son, Harry, about the same age as Damian, so they played whilst we had a BBQ and drank wine. Was a lovely evening.

So, that was relaxing. I spent a lot of time in awe of Broadband. Overdosed on YouTube and photo sites. One of the world's greatest luxuries.

Saturday, 15 August 2009

First Week Back

Gloucester Folk Museum

Right, time to begin the catch-up I suppose :)

Dad and I had been planning my return trip for about three months before Mum’s Birthday. I used the Socor travel agency in Kigali, up near KBC bank. On the whole they were pretty helpful, although, when I finally went to buy my ticket, I did feel somewhat invisible as everyone in the room carried on their conversations as if I wasn’t there. They focused on office gossip rather than on the customer and then they lost my phone and e-mail address so sent my e-ticket to Martine because we’d been booking our flights together and they remembered her contact details.

I had no idea what happened to my tickets as Martine had limited internet access, so she didn't forward them instantly. I ended up having to go all the way back to their office to sit there with my laptop whilst they re-mailed it to me from the other side of the room. Bit of a pain in the arse, and completely defeated the object of e-tickets saving time over printed tickets, but, essentially, the details were right. Although the price had gone up considerably in the two weeks between my first quote and actually buying the tickets, I was starting to get excited.

The weeks flew by and I got a taxi from town to come and collect me at around 4pm on Saturday 18th July. He stopped to refuel at Gikondo garage and I feared I might die before reaching the airport: chatting away on his mobile and idling his engine whilst the tank was being filled! The gods of health and safety were on holiday themselves that day ;)

But, we got there, and I started smoosing in duty free. I met a woman from Capacitar International who works with trauma victims and knows Father Murenzi and the Komera Centre, and another lady who is a haematologist and trains people how to use specialist blood testing equipment at the hospital – she even trained Pierre. I sat next to her on the plane and we spent most of the journey chatting about life, the world, and everything.

[NB 2013: She also taught me that the fastest possible bleed-out occurs in alcoholics. An aortic aneurysm or something similar. Fascinating stuff.]

I got to Kigali airport just as the sun was starting to go down, and treated myself to a large glass of Amarula Cream whilst watching it from the comfort of the big leather sofas. I couldn’t really imagine what I was going back to because it’d been so long, but I enjoyed watching the people and the traffic going past: a lasting image of the place I was leaving behind.

The flight was pretty uneventful: Kigali to Brussels via Entebbe, then a quick 20-minute hop over to Heathrow.

I was horribly underwhelmed by Brussels Airlines, though. The food was congealing and, in this day and age, having tiny monitors down the central isle on a long-haul eight-hour flight is just not on. Kenya had personal entertainment systems and the food was much better. Kenya Airways, in my not-so-humble opinion, earned their slogan: “The pride of Africa” (for their safety record if nothing else) but I would have expected much more from a major European provider. Their staff could at least have cracked a smile instead of the glum back-of-a-bus expressions they touted.

When we touched-down in Brussels, I saw rain for the first time in two months. It was a wonderful sight, but one that sadly lost its novelty value over the coming weeks.

On the hop-over flight to Heathrow some guy had sat in my window seat. Usually, I wouldn’t make a fuss over such things, but it was my first time home in almost two years - damn right I was pushing him to the isle. I sat with my nose pressed up against the glass as we did a spectacular descent over central London: Canary Wharf, that giant pine cone thingy, the Mayor’s Office, Tower Bridge, and all the way down across Kew Gardens – it was spectacular.

Dad and Marilyn were waiting for me on the other side of customs with a banner and balloons. They bundled me into the car and took me for a full English breakfast at Reading Services (glam, eh?). It tasted divine, but the first thing that blew my mind was the speed of traffic on the motorway! Well, firstly how big and shiny all the cars were – and how numerous – and then how fast everyone was driving! Took a good couple of weeks for that to wear off. Little bullets of multi-coloured alloy fired along a straight tarmac barrel. Scary.

Dad lives in Gloucester within easy walking distance of the centre of town. I spent the first couple of days just wandering around in a total daze. It was p’ing it down with rain, which quickly lost its appeal; the cold, wet, grey kind of rain. At least in Rwanda it has the decency to throw in some thunder, a bit of lightning, and a mud slide – and it’s still warm enough to drink a beer outside. Rwandan rain is just more sophisticated than that half-hearted, continuous drizzle stuff we get in the UK ;)

I quickly bought shoes and some clothes and tried to unwind by attending a singing bowl meditation at the local hippie shop, which was a mistake. I thought it would relax me and help me to unwind, but it didn’t. I used to go to FWBO Buddhist Centres when I lived in Croydon and Colchester, attended the Metta Bhavana and Mindfulness meditations and got a lot out of them, both experientially and socially. This one was a bit odd, more like listening to a one-woman concert. I like the bowls when they run the wood around them and they hum, but the gonging of them grates on me. 

I’m just getting into the vibe when ‘clunk, ping ping, clunk’ – it’s like trying to drift off to the chimes of Big Ben in miniature. Didn’t do it for me, and I wasn’t quite ready for the obligatory general chit-chat about whose nephew’s done what, who shops where, or what the papers say about climate change. I’m glad I went, but I was also glad to leave. I took a wander down the road and sussed out Gloucester Folk Museum, which was good for a couple of hours.

I also treated myself to going to the hairdresser, which is something I do about once every six or seven years. Only, I almost tore my hair out trying to find one. Some new EU directive says that hairdressers aren’t allowed to dye your hair without doing a 72-hour patch test, which includes any products you bring with you. This same ruling also seems to have led to a national henna crisis, as shops like Body Shop stopped selling it as they feared they couldn’t test the product accurately, or something to that effect. So, not only could I not find the henna I wanted, I couldn't find anybody willing to do it even if I could! Although, oddly, Lush still sell it, but I wasn't sure what you did with the bars.

Thank heavens for hippie shops and Barton Street. One box of ‘mahogany’ henna powder and a Jamaican hairdresser equalled the best conditioned hair I think I’ve had in years. It was lurvely.

I always get fed well at Dad’s. He and Marilyn are great believers in decent veggie fry-ups and we went to our favourite Indian where we had a meal just before I first flew to Rwanda. It was a lovely, relaxed way to begin the holidays. Then, on the 24th, we did Mum’s Birthday and I stayed on with her.

Oh, and, after all this time, I finally got to see the third Pirates of the Caribbean. Thanks Julie, I fair enjoyed that :)

Monday, 3 August 2009

Mum's 60th Birthday

L-R: Friend from the village, Merrick (Mum's partner),
Community Police Officer, Mum, me, Aunty Patsy, Aunty Helen, Aunty Muriel.

As briefly mentioned before, I'm currently in the UK for a month - for the first time in 20 months - to surprise my mum for her 60th birthday, which was Friday 24th July. It was all a bit hush-hush, hence nothing blogged about before. I snuck out of Rwanda on 18th July by Belgium Airlines via Brussels. Not at all impressive, the food was yuck and there was no personal entertainment system on an eight-hour flight! - Kenya Airways are much better.

Touched-down in the early hours of Sunday morning and saw rain for the first time in two months, at Brussels. A sight that has since lost its novelty value ;)

Dad and Marilyn were there to welcome me with balloons and a banner :op

I'll write more about my first reverse-culture-shocked week later. This is just about birthdays.

Mum had been planning a barn dance for months, so we drove down and booked into the Holiday Inn at Rugby, got changed and went over. It went like clockwork. I'd promised to be at home (in Rwanda) on Friday morning so that she could talk to me before the party. Obviously she couldn't get hold of me because I was in the UK and the SIM didn't work. Thankfully, last time we talked, the MTN network went down, so she's used to not being able to reach me due to the poor service. This was the one time I've been grateful for it.

So, Dad and Marilyn went in first and told her they had a surprise for her - they had me on the phone. They got her sitting down with her back to the door to talk to me and whilst we were talking on the phone, I walked up behind her. Classic :)

Had a lovely time dancing, though remained shawled-up as I was freezing to death in the hall. Loads of old friends there, and family. There's a video for those who are interested, courtesy of Dad who is dancing with Mum. I'm dancing with my uncle, Les (Patsy's husband, parents of the Young British Dancer of the Year 2008, my cousin Billy).

The community bobby popped in halfway through to see who was using the hall. As half my mum's friends are probation officers and magistrates, he fitted in perfectly. 

There's also my dad's version of events on his blog too :)

Also, Nobby of Nobby's Brewery, our local micro-brewery based at The Ward Arms, brewed up several kegs of his finest, so beer, wine, and oompsidaisey flowed freely that night.

The next day was recovery. Dad and Marilyn dropped me off at Mam's in the morning as they headed off back to Gloucester. On the Sunday we had a family BBQ, continuing the celebrations.

Merrick, Aunty Patsy and cousin Emily on the patio

Harry, my nephew Damian, and my cousin once removed, Felicity

Damian and Felicity on the bouncy-castle
Family friends Hannah, Harry and
Kate with my brother William

Family friend Barbra, former Mayor of Camden, with my cousin Rosie
Mum's childhood friends Sue & Jan

Aunty Lucy (Rosie & Emily's Mum)

Me stuffing my face after a
hot shower and a glass of red wine!
So, after all of that partying there was just enough time to enjoy a day out at Foxton Locks on Aunty Helen's boat Celia (this is an old photo) with Harry and Damian...

...before my step brother William's 22nd birthday on 2nd August :) 

We took him out for a meal and a drink. Birthdays all round. I've managed to pile on 2lbs in the fortnight I've been home and the trend is set to continue as I head off on a tour of my favouritist people tomorrow: Graeme in Bath, Vikki in Bristol, Jo in Camberwell; Cassie, Sean and little baby Ryan (who I’ll be meeting for the first time!) in Lewisham, back to Camberwell, my cousin Alx and her hubby Pob in Hertford, then across and up to Carlisle with Dad to see Aunty Jean and my cousins, then back to Northamptonshire and off to the airport in the wee hours of 15th. Thus far, I’ve only been reclining in Gloucester with Dad & Marilyn, and here with Mum & Merrick, so the next few days will be quite hectic but hopefully a LOT of fun.

I shall update further if I survive :)