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 Brontës 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.