Monday, September 21, 2009

Ipswich, Canterbury & the most cyclists I have ever seen at once.

It's been most of September since I got back from Edinburgh, so I must have a few little trips & events to write about. Hopefully the blog editor behaves itself this time. I've now worked out how to work around the annoying changes to Blogger - apologies to those that receive this twice.

A day or so after I got back I was off to Ipswich for a long weekend staying with Te Puke & Palmy friends – Louis & Emma. They have been in the UK for a little over a year & seem to be quite enjoying living in Ipswich. It was great to catch up - & quite like I remember flatting: generally eating, watching sport & a bit of mountain biking. Louis & I loaded the two bikes (it's good to know bikes can fit in Micras with the seats down) & set off north-east for Thetford forest. My first singletrack in the UK this visit. I see now why Suffolk is known for being flat – we didn't exactly have a lot of climbing to do. There were four different trails, apparently of varying difficulty, & we did the two “hardest” ones. It was great to be out riding in the forest & there were plenty of people out & about (but not too many on the tracks). We managed to occupy ourselves for three hours & Louis did heroically when the seat on his borrowed bike worked the bolt loose & kept tilting up at the front. There were some nice little bits of flowing singletrack, but these were few & far between & generally the trails seemed poorly designed. I got quite excited when I saw these signs -– warning of almost certain death, but in the end it was less challenging than the Diamondback/Dipper in the Redwoods & one small part of it was quite fun. Nonetheless, it was great being out & I more than happy to go out for some doubletrack around some woods closer to Ipswich on Sunday afternoon.

The two weeks since then have been spent organising things, brief bike rides (two hours) locally & the odd trip in to London to see sights (National Gallery & Portrait Gallery were very good – must go back to see the majority of exhibits that I didn't have time for; back to the Imperial War Museum; really enjoyed poking around Campden Markets & wishing I had a budget that extended a bit further) & friends.

Two weekends ago was a big family get together for Trish's (the second cousin I'm staying with) birthday. It was great to catch up with quite a few people – most of whom I had met last year. I have since seen photos of our trip in 1987 to the UK that I have not seen before – the infamous Renault 11 makes an appearance & I was a lot cuter.

Saturday last, Trish & I took a pleasant little day trip to Canterbury (a certain line from The [real] Office keeps coming to mind). After lunch, we took a look around the Cathedral (didn't see Blackadder around or Baldrick trying to sell dubious relics). In some respects it was another great big cathedral (more of which I'm sure I will see) – but I was surprised at how it kept on going, it was a lot larger than I expected on first sight. Afterwards we took a stroll along the river in part, & then around a lot of the old walls of the city. It was warm close day & there were plenty of people out enjoying the weather & I was surprised at how many teenagers & students were around.

Yesterday was the Mayor of London's Skyride. For six hours in the middle of the day, a loop was closed off that went from Tower Bridge, along the Embankment to Trafalgar Square & down The Mall to Buckingham Palace. Coming back the other half of the loop split off & took in St Paul's. I biked from home in Sidcup & met up with a small group three and a half miles down the road. From there we set off for Greenwich & met up with hundreds of others. Biking from there & over Tower Bridge it started to get chaotic with so many on bikes taking over the roads. It was great joining (as it turned out) sixty-five thousand other cyclists in the city on what was a beautiful day. Of course, it was rather congested & slow going – but no one seemed to find as there were bikes everywhere, not cars, taxis & murderous buses. A great range of bikes on display – fixies, roadies, a few mountain-bikes, town/city bikes, unicycles, penny-farthings, even a pedal-powered piano, clown bikes & best of all – kids everywhere on little bikes, trailing bikes having a ball. Six hours & thirty-odd miles later, I was pleased to make it home exhausted.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Shows & the highlands

On the long way back to London from Edinburgh now, so here I am again. I think I last added to this the day after the tattoo (saw it on TV last night, was still a spectacular show). I started to get a bit more organised in determining which shows I was going to see about this time & since then have seen plenty of comedy, a bit of theatre, some music performances & a circus & I wasn't disappointed by a single one of them. But more of some of them later.

Monday last week was of course the twenty-fourth & being so far from home & friends & family was a little strange. But it turned out to be a great day (it didn't rain at all for starters) – I tagged along with Thomas as he went to visit his mother up near Inverness for the night. Thomas was great at showing me little things off the beaten track as we went through the highlands; it was particularly nice to spend a bit of time checking out the estate & village nannied for Thomas' family quite some years ago. The heather was out in full force & it smelt divine. Managed to fit in a bit of a walk up a hill to get a cracking view of Newtonmore & the surrounds.

After dropping in on an old school friend of Thomas a little further north at Aviemore (which apparently has very good riding, I must return some time in the not too distant future) we arrived at Sally & Alan's in time for a great venison dinner. Sally & I hadn't seen each other for over twenty years (so that of course means I don't remember too much from then), so it was great to catch up & share stories of our family (stories set presently or in the past) & travels.

We returned to Edinburgh the next day, on a different route to which travelled north – calling in at a couple more friends' houses. This was a tiki-tour that Dad would be proud of – we stopped when we saw things of interest & we went for a couple of walks. I don't really remember the path we took home – but I think it was east of the previous day's roads. I do remember that we went to Balmoral, but didn't get invited in for tea in biscuits. Also early in the day we checked out the historic battlefield of Culloden – very interesting to see it & learn a little Scottish history – this was the site of the last battle in the Jacobite Rising in 1745.

The rest of that week is a bit of a blur of a lot of shows & late nights & walking to & from the flat (my only nod to exercise for a while). Two of the theatre showing I went along to were hour long soliloquies. Both were retrospective from the end of each of the characters' lives. The first was in the shoes of Richard Burton, a very-well known (I had never heard of him) Welsh actor – who was one on the list of “has been married to Liz Taylor”. Not being able to convey what it was like – I'll just say it was a great performance & an hour of just one person talking flew by. The second was in a very small room with about fifteen filled seats in one of them most out-of-the-way venues I had been to yet – well out of the normal venue district, up many floors & unusually we were fed tea, coffee & biscuits while waiting. I digress, we were sitting in a small dark room with the door shut, when who should charge in ranting & raving at 10.30 but some one bearing an uncanny resemblance to Adolf Hitler (we did know this was coming, but I like a bit of build-up)? For over an hour, we had Hitler in his final moments underneath Berlin pretty much summarizing his dreams, achievements, failures & thoughts on many subjects & people – on a factual side it was a very good summary of all that he did (except for the obvious bit of it being in English - thankfully). On a dramatic side (not that I can pretend to know much about the arts) it was a moving performance & as well as the megalomanical tyrant, we could see at times that Hitler, somewhat disturbingly wasn't completely different from the rest of us – a time to consider how it all happened & could it happen again. Talking about the rest of the comedy & the Moscow State Circus (no animals – but I was impressed by the show & acrobatics) that I saw seems a little bit frivolous after that – but I thoroughly enjoyed the rest of the festival.

However, I was all show-ed out by the weekend – so doing a little family history research for Mum was a welcome change. I was looking for anything on one of my fore-fathers (I'm not even going to guess how many “greats” are involved) – on Mum's maternal side – who was originally from Italy but was in Edinburgh for a decade or two or three at the beginning of the nineteenth century. I went to four different archives, enjoyed the hunt & looking at documents that looked as though they hadn't seen the light of day for a hundred years. I had moments of discovery (I am waiting the report of how much worth they had), walked around quite a bit of central Edinburgh where my ancestors lived, worked & hopefully had a bit of time for play (I don't think they had mountain-bikes back then, poor souls) & managed to find the church where some of them were baptised & married. It was nice to be doing something different & putting my brain to work for the first time in a while).

The break for the archives was on Sunday, when Thomas & a mate of his, Brinky (who had recently spent the best part of a year in NZ – good stories), were going kayaking. I was happy to tag along & get out in the wilderness & be shuttle-driver (good karma, do unto others & all that) for them. We drove north to the Linn of Tummel (Thomas & I had stopped here on the way north the previous week). The guys put their kayaks in just below a hydro dam & just before about fifteen whitewater rafts went in & I had about an hour to kill before they would go over the falls of the Linn. On the drive down, I saw another group of rafts & kayaks just before I got to the Linn, so I enjoyed going down & seeing them go over the falls. The rafts went over the ~two-metre falls OK – except when the guide standing on the rocks before the falls twisted them around; then they all fell out & capsized & was most amusing & made for some decent photos.

While I was waiting for Thomas & Brinky, I wandered down the road a little & picked some more delicious chanterelles (Thomas & I picked a lot of these delicious yellow mushrooms on Monday). Eventually, the rafters, an earlier group of kayaks & Thomas & Brinky came down the river. I enjoyed being warm & dry as I watched many go over the falls & quite a few end up in the drink. I had my camera on multishot & ended up with way too many photos – here are some of the better ones.