September, October madness

WE HAVE MOVED HOUSE! And it’s a beautiful wee flat in the very trendy area of The Shore, in Leith. Some lovely friends were moving to Belfast and looking for tenants, and it’s worked out so well. It’s an extra few minutes on my commute every day, but it is more than made up for by the view of the water, the swans, the ducks, the gorgeous bars and restaurants and the extra space!

I’ve been very busy at work and with the Jane Austen Literacy Foundation, so I have let my writing practice slide and have been procrastinating like a star with some fabulous television (Strike, The Crown, and brand new Outlander, Will & Grace, and Broad City!). I’ve also been reading up a storm, cat-sitting, studying Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Jacobites, voting with a big fat YES online for that ridiculous Australian marriage law survey, attending a meeting of the Richard III society (for a fascinating discussion of Perkin Warbeck), going to an event at Waterstones with MARIAN KEYES (and managed not to cry all over her this time), rejoined the walking group (I used to be learning to run, but I prefer walking!!), and attending a friend’s baby shower (just in time – she went into labour three days later).

We’ve used the last of the ‘summer’ weather to have a BBQ at Leith Links, and two weeks ago we headed down to Tweedbank in the Scottish Borders. The Tempest Brewing Co. has an Oktoberfest event, and we were lucky to have a friend from Australia visiting as well. A good day was had by all, including an excellent selection of food trucks and stalls, quality cider and gin, and one of the best cover bands I’ve heard. We also said farewell to Sean’s sister after having her floating around Europe for two months. But we’re going to be in Australia in eight weeks, so it doesn’t feel quite as devastating as the last time we said goodbye!

Finally, the lovely Bec and I took a road trip down south. We stopped in Crosby to visit Belinda & Andrew, as always, lunched in Chester at a BEAUTIFUL restaurant called The Botanist, and then headed to an absolute utopia known as Gladstone’s Library.

My parents had bought me a voucher to stay the night – it is, I believe, the only residential library in the UK. It was clean and comfortable accommodation, but the library itself was simply magnificent. Historic, quiet, beautiful, and enormous. There is a lounge for residents with an open fire, lots of squashy armchairs, and an honesty bar, where you can read or chat or play board games. They have an onsite restaurant that serves breakfast, lunch, dinner, and afternoon tea – you can basically live there full-time and you would never need to leave. They offer scholarships and bursaries, a vibrant events program, and the friendliest staff. I think it’s a magic place and I can’t wait to get back there one day, hopefully for a longer stay!

The next morning after breakfast we jumped in the car and drove deep into Wales. We stopped for photos at Llyn Tegid and headed through the middle of Snowdonia National Park to the seaside town of Barmouth. This was a gorgeous little place, even while covered in mist and a light rain. We went into cosy gift shops, had lunch in a pub, and bought a banoffee pie milkshake for the road. After this, we headed back to Betws-y-coed, a picturesque village I had visited with Marnie and Mum several years ago. Drenched in rain, it was beautiful as ever. We drove back that evening to Belinda & Andrew’s place.

After brunch and a long walk along Crosby Beach to take pics of Antony Gormley’s Another Place, we jumped in the car and drove back to Scotland. It’s always a brilliant feeling crossing the border. It feels like home.

 

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Lovely Crosby

I really like Liverpool. It’s not a particularly tourist-y city, and obviously many would argue that it’s not as pretty or exciting as London or Edinburgh. But because we have family friends here, I’ve spent quite a bit of time here over the course of my travels. Our friends live in Great Crosby, which is a lovely suburb north of the city, only twenty minutes by train. Crosby Beach is famous for it’s work of sculpture by Antony Gormley, Another Place.

another place

A half hour walk down the road brings you to Little Crosby, the sweetest little village you ever did see, with all the charm of rural English life while only being a stone’s throw from Sainsbury’s and the train station.

little crosby

We have spent the last few days applying for jobs online, eating delicious home-cooked meals, catching up with our friends, walking (in insane wind and rain on Monday), watching Anne of Green Gables (yes, yes, YES), and buying waterproof jackets and shoes.

captain

crosby

Today we attempted to open a bank account. Pro tip: Pay the damn fees and open one before you leave Australia. Far easier. Hopefully tomorrow will yield kinder results…

Oxford :)

Alrighty then! Big update to handle here, I will just start by saying that we are now safe in London with Tim and Helen. People’s generosity just bowls me over sometimes, and I have definitely experienced that with Tim, Helen, Belinda, Andrew and many other people we have met on this trip. We drove from Oxford to Liverpool this morning, after Louis sent us off with a great breakfast and plenty of food, then Andrew picked us up from the car hire place, took us to lunch with Belinda, then dropped us at Lime St Station where we caught a train to London and made our way to Tim and Helen’s. Phew! However, the previous few days were spent in Oxford and went something, like this:

After Sean woke up on Monday feeling better – he slept for over 12 hours – we got up and had a late breakfast with Louis. He drew us up an itinerary which we could stick to, or just use as a loose guide, and it proved to be extremely helpful. Right before we left, I got a phone call from Dad and it was really, really good to hear his voice. I hadn’t spoken to my family for quite a few days so it was a lovely surprise. We hopped on the bus and began our day with a visit to the uni souvenir shop, just ‘cos, and a quick drop in to the tourism centre to get a map. I had my heart set on a walking tour of the city, but alas, it was not to be as my knee was still extremely painful and I couldn’t walk too quickly. We headed to the Radcliffe Camera and after a few snaps we went to the Bodleian Library, where the Divinity School and the Duke Humfrey’s Library were both used as locations in the Harry Potter films! We booked a short tour (30 minutes) for later in the afternoon, and headed off to the Turf Tavern (via Oxford’s very own ‘Bridge of Sighs’). After a quick drink and a sit, we went back to the Bodleian Library where our tour guide took us into Duke Humfrey’s Library. I can’t possibly remember all the interesting facts that were crammed into this tour, just know that it was extremely historical, in a room used as the Hogwarts Library. The books on the shelves were over 400 years old and all users of the library (including Kings of England) have never been permitted to remove a book from the library. You can see the ancient cataloguing systems and chains which they used to attach the books to the shelves. After this, we went into the Divinity School (some of you may recognise this as the Hogwarts infirmary and that hall where Ron danced with Professor McGonagall). Again, we were bombarded with history, and were taken through the symbolism in the room’s architecture, but I can hardly remember any of it! It was terribly interesting though, particularly the room’s history as an exam hall. The student would stand on one podium, the tutor on the other, and the Regent Master sat between and would grade the student. The student could be asked any question – any – from the course they had just finished, even if it was a seven-year course or longer. The student had to answer, as though they were writing an essay, and the Regent Master would pick their answer to shreds to see how they could defend their argument. Exams could last as long as three days and the public was let in to view, and were permitted to heckle. Funnnnnn times. It has now been used, for many, many years, as the hall in which the students prepare to graduate.

Once we finished here, we walked to the Eagle and Child pub for some quick pics. This was the pub where the ‘Inklings’ (who included C.S Lewis and J.R.R Tolkein) would meet to discuss what they were writing. Extremely exciting history for a literature nerd like me! We finished off our sightseeing with a quick peek in Waterstones, before taking the bus back. Louis came to Wetherspoon’s with us for dinner and then we had a nightcap, chatting very late into the night before crawling into bed again!

 On Tuesday we were up pretty late again (we’re on holidays! We’re allowed!), but once we had bussed into the city centre, I posted another package home (Mum, Dad, that’s six in total!) and went to Alice’s Shop, which is famous for being the place where Alice Liddell bought her sweets. Alice Liddell was the real-life inspiration for Alice in Wonderland, and the shop is full of beautiful souvenirs. I got some earrings…Yay! Then Sean headed off to the Pitt Rivers Museum (which he highly recommends) and I headed into Christ Church College. I saw the famous meadow and the beautiful cloisters, as well as the dining hall and the staircase leading up to it. Both of these locations have also been featured in Harry Potter as the Great Hall and the staircase where McGonagall receives them in the first movie. Hyyyyyyperventilation ensued! I also saw the cathedral again – despite going for Evensong on Sunday night, I wanted to walk around properly, and saw some beautiful windows and monuments as a result. The shrine of St Frideswide was a definite highlight (as was the toilet in the bottom panel of the stained glass window depicting her life. Somehow I doubt a Saxon princess had plumbing that advanced…see facebook for evidence). I lit a candle for my family, and I saw the watching loft, and the window of Jonah and Ninevah, George Bell’s cross and the window in which Edith Liddell (sister of Alice) was allegedly used as a model for one of the figures. There was also a video showing on the history of the college and a gift shop, in which I managed to restrain myself. I walked out, past the library, which was sadly closed to non-members.

I then wandered back up the street, stopping to buy The Big Issue and look in a really beautiful stationery shop, before visiting the church of St Mary the Virgin, where the Oxford Martyrs, Cranmer, Latimer and Ridley were tried. The church was having renovations done, but was still worth a visit. I then walked through the Covered Market and the Golden Cross Shopping Centre, stopping for a truly delicious banana and nutella milkshake from Shakespeare’s Milkshakes, before meeting up with Sean again. We went down Cowley Rd, searching for the highly recommended Atomic Burger, before discovering it was closed (but I bought books from an op-shop, so it wasn’t a total waste). We grabbed a pizza for dinner and then met Louis and jumped in the car. He took us to a rehearsal for Blood Wedding, a show put on by the Oxford Theatre Guild who are an amateur company. Louis builds sets for them and the show opens next week and we saw a full run. In addition to being wonderful because it was like being back at home – they rehearsed in a church hall, there was a long production meeting and everyone goofed around when they were offstage – it was a stunning show. Some brilliant, BRILLIANT actors. And some really great staging decisions. I’m only sorry I couldn’t see the finished product at the Oxford Playhouse! After that, we headed back for cheese on toast and more chats, far too late, having a marvellous night. Dad called me again and it put me in a great mood. I am really grateful to Louis for his hospitality!

Robin Hobble and her band of slightly maimed men.

Our last couple of days in Liverpool were lovely. Sean and I walked around – hobbled around – Crosby and we went out to wagamama for dinner with the McGuiness clan on our last night. The next day Andrew and Luce took us to pick up a hire car and we got a zippy little Renault Megane and Sean drove us to Manchester! We stayed in a really nice little hotel in Radcliffe for the night, and took a tram into the city centre to meet Aaron, Katie and Kimberley for dinner. This was excellent. Aaron and Katie had offered to take me round Manchester while I was in Liverpool but I ended up being too crippled to take them up on it, so last night we went to Pizza Express and caught up with their wedding plans and with Kim’s eventful stay in Derry. Manchester seems like a really nice city and I was sorry we couldn’t spend longer there, but we checked out this morning and drove to Edwinstowe, right on the edge of Sherwood Forest. After getting a bit lost a couple of times, we arrived at the Sunnyside View B&B, which I highly recommend to anyone wanting to visit the area. It is so friendly and personal and our room is GORGEOUS. It’s like something out of a novel. I insisted we drive to the Sherwood Forest Visitor’s Centre, but I’ve saved most of it for tomorrow. Today, we just looked in the gift shop and walked to the Major Oak, where Robin Hood and his Merry Men used to meet up to steal from the rich, give to the poor, and be general outlaw types. The tree is freaking enormous, but you can’t get very close to it, because of the erosion caused by too many visitors. Also, in April, too many trees are bare. I really want to come back in the height of summer when everything is leafy. But it was a nice walk, and I want to do it again tomorrow to shoot a bow and arrow….

For dinner tonight we walked for about two minutes to a pub called ‘The Robin Hood’ and we had heaps of food for a pretty decent price. Then we sat at the bar for ages and talked to the staff because it was a crazily quiet night. They were really lovely and welcoming and we’ll definitely go back tomorrow. We got home and I discovered my knee has pretty much doubled in size again. This sucks because the pills I am taking are killing the worst of the pain, but they are also meant to be anti-inflammatory. Instead, my knee is getting bigger. And the doctors told me to stay active to help my back, so that’s why I’ve been walking on it so much. GAH. Really getting on my nerves now. But at least the pain is being treated.

Recovery

I had a really nice couple of days, just not doing anything except taking painkillers and resting. My hip feels so much better. My knee is still swollen, but not as painful. Yesterday, Sean arrived from London!! It was so good to see him again and we have been busy trying to work out the remaining weeks of our trip and what we will do. This morning I went to the hospital again, for a session with the hospital physio. She gave me some exercises to do to strengthen my legs and back and advised me to not rely on the crutches. So I ditched them for today and it’s been surprisingly easy. Not perfect, but far less painful than I would have expected. Also today, Luce arrived back from New York! We went to a really cute and quaint little cafe and Crosby while she told us about it and we were served by the most friendly, cutest, lovely little man, who was extremely attentive and wanted to make sure everything was just perfect for us. Lovely 🙂 Bedtime now!

Better

Today was much better than yesterday. I didn’t take the codeine, so I didn’t throw up, but the painkillers I did take have been pretty effective regardless. We went for a long drive to Southport to buy some paint and screws for Belinda and Andrew’s bathroom renovations and Andrew’s woodworking (including a marvellous set of cupboard doors he whipped up and which I have admired greatly and frequently despite claims to the contrary). Southport is a lovely, beachy town full of Victorian architecture and beautiful promenades. We went to The Courtyard for lunch and I had wonderful broccoli and cheese soup and delicious ginger beer and cake to wash it down. Then we came home, stretched out in a patch of sunlight to read and snooze, and then watched Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince (and the Titanic mini-series but it wasn’t very good). Bliss 🙂

Vomit

I had an extremely lazy day today, just resting and taking tablets like the doctor told me. I finished a Jodi Picoult novel and watched some television and ended up vomiting quite a bit, probably because of the codeine, which I haven’t done for quite a long time. It was just as disgusting an experience as I remember, but Belinda and Andrew took really good care of me. So I possibly will go without codeine for the rest of my (fingers crossed) recovery. I shall soldier on. Yahoo.