1

Every Night is Saturday Night

I am opening this second blog post with a heartfelt appeal to the people of the UK on discovering that the USA is caught in the grip of the most horrific epidemic since Cholera wiped out half the country in the 1830s.

It’s the dreadful practice of shouting ‘dilly dilly’ whenever you drink beer.

I am aware that the Bud Light advert has just appeared in the UK and that there will be a strong temptation for those with little mind of their own to catch the bug and start hollering it at every opportunity; and Saturday nights, stag parties and (heaven forbid) Hogmanay are all in very real danger of becoming little more than advertising events for an insipid beer.

Don’t let it happen. Dilly, dilly is a nursery rhyme in the UK – the advertisers have stolen this phrase from Lavender Blue and turned it into a drinking game, referencing our medieval history (a la Game of Thrones) in an effort to infest our minds and force us to buy Bud Light. I have already witnessed one British family with a round of this lemonade substitute toasting the Mississippi sunset with a chorus of ‘dilly, dilly’ and it was very uncomfortable indeed.

Of course I may be too late as the disease is highly infectious and a whole weekend has passed since the advert appeared in the UK. Sadly I can tell you that, if you do find yourself shouting ‘dilly, dilly’ you will more than likely lose your friends, your job, your partner, your children and (eventually your mind). You will die a lonely death in a metal skip in an alley-way amongst half-eaten Chinese food and urine soaked cardboard boxes.

I have seen these people in New Orleans.

The choice is yours.

Anyway enough preaching, let’s talk food.

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‘Ali there’s a moose in the bathroom!’

On day three of our Norlins visit we started the day by walking up to the French Market and wandered amongst the trinkets and crafts on display. My eye was caught by a multi-pack bag of beads for two dollars, three multi-packs for five dollars, and I mused over why someone would purchase so many strings of plastic beads. Then I realised that Norlins has that age old tradition of offering beads-for-boobs described in my last blog entry. Aha! I thought. So a bunch of lads on a stag party (or other male bonding event) can hoover up some cheap beads and take part in a great feminist tradition AND indulge in gross misogyny as the same time. It’s genius.

Remember now – no dilly, dilly.

In actual fact throwing beads has a more innocent and satisfactory aspect which I will come to later.

We couldn’t find a decent bit of scran in the market so we returned to Jackson Square where we waited twenty minutes for a seat in Stanley’s Bistro.

I had the Stanley breakfast which is Oysters in Corn crumb with poached eggs, ham and hollandaise on a muffin. Very nice. Sixteen dollars worth of nice? Not really.

My dearest wife had another locally named dish which turned out to be scrambled eggs, toast, bacon and over-fried tatties. They had a very sweet cinnamon flavoured signature dressing which we asked for a sample of and it was graciously provided at the cost of 50 cents plus tax. It was both sweet and tasted of cinnamon.

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Stanley Breakfast – Oysters with poached eggs, ham on toasted muffin

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Scambled eggs ‘under’ toast, fried tatties.

Truthfully it was a nice breakfast but not as good as Ruby Slipper and it sat rather heavily for most of the morning torturing me as the saturated fat content made an assault on my heart. We walked it off by making a visit to Congo Square to stand in the stead of the creators of modern music.

I don’t think it is overstating it to suggest that we inhabited the same space as those who crafted the earliest rhythms and sounds of rock and pop music. Of course similar things could have been happening all over the USA, fusing tribal drum beats with classical instruments was probably always going to happen, but jazz is a New Orleans thing. You can sense its connection to the place. The fact that is played everywhere today shows its importance. There little else being played – it has grown here and has matured here.

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A traditional jazz parade in Congo Square

And jazz is the start of blues is the start of rock and roll is the start of rock is the start of funk and on and on.

But we were hungry for a deeper history of New Orleans and we were booked to visit the Whitney Plantation at mid-day.

Now it takes around five hours to get to the Plantation and, while I am about to tell you it is not very good value for money, it is very hard to do so with any humour. It’s not very good value for money because, not only is it badly presented (at least ours was), a tour operator is profiting from something that should probably be a compulsory part of the education system. Sadly there is a cost to confronting the reality of slavery and I can only suck it up on the basis that people have suffered far greater problems than being screwed over for a few dollars. I just wish the money was going elsewhere.

I am only going to post two pictures of the Plantation visit but I will make an observation on the tour guide. He was very passionate about the need to learn lessons, the need to understand that education ended slavery and that we should pass that to our children (if they want to get on in the world – stay in school). However, he had little else to say to us and we were left wondering  what is was we came two hours out of New Orleans for. I knew all that already.

What I can relate to you is that the humidity was crazy, we were falling over with the heat and the insects in the air were making gumbo out of our bare legs. We saw the tall sugar canes and sensed the challenge of harvesting it with hand-held scythes with your life on the line as the only motivation to work. We saw beautiful little statues of children each representing a person who had lived on that Plantation and we saw their living accommodation. We saw the master’s house by contrast.

As a firm believer in the evolutionary truth of our existence (not to deny a God of some sort) I was taken by a comment that our first tour guide made (the one who Voodoo’d us into a graveyard yesterday). He told us he was once challenged by a white man on the street who asked him ‘do you ever think about going back to your roots in Africa?’ Born in New Orleans he looked at the man and said ‘do you?’

We got back to New Orleans around four thirty and took ourselves to the spiritual home of jazz, Preservation Hall. Lined up tightly on benches with about fifty others, no drinks or food allowed, we were treated to some incredible traditional jazz by five very talented musicians. The twenty dollar fee was supplemented (rather amusingly) by a five dollar request fee – and they didn’t play much other than requests!

I loved this place – it is legendary of course – and I paid a crazy price for a t-shirt just so I could show the world I’d been there.

Now we decided on the advice of the local woman who guided us to the Whitney Plantation to add two things to our day. The first was our dinner location – Mothers on Poydras Street where I chose to try the Crawfish Etouffee, a traditional New Orleans favourite, while my good lady plumped for the Jambalaya, also a taste of the South apparently.

A taste of the toilet might be more appropriate!

Okay, a little unfair. It actually tasted not too bad – but look at it!

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Crawfish Et-blerghhhh-oufee…..!!!

The restaurant is the catering equivalent of the Preservation Hall, basic with absolutely no frills. Sadly the produce on offer wasn’t as nice to our stomachs as the jazz was to our ears.

The second recommendation was much more fun.

Frenchmen Street is not in our guide book and we’d have missed it if it hadn’t been for or local contact. It’s an insane place. Not like Bourbon Street – that’s for drunk tourists – this is the local jazz haunt. It’s where it’s at!

We looked into a few bars where there were great sounding bands in every one. You couldn’t choose. But that was fine, because when we got to a corner there was a street band mixing up brass with Cuban rhythms and a street party started right there in front of our eyes.

It just happens like that.

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Crowds starting to gather for impromptu street party

 

We passed a shop selling gothic and voodoo charms on the way back and I was amused by a sign on the door. It read – ‘carpe noctem’.

How’s your Latin?

Today was our last day in New Orleans.  We headed out to get the St Charles Street car to Washington Square to explore the Garden District. This involves looking at big houses we can’t, and never will, afford.

But first!

We brunched at Ruby Slipper. I had Croque Madame – ham with béchamel between two toasted slices of Brioche, an over-easy egg on top and a side of fresh fruit.

My lady companion had the exact same thing she had last time. See previous blog for amusing reveal of that feast.

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My five a day along with some kind of giant loaf cut in two

Sadly the sweepings from the Bourbon Street gulleys I had consumed last night were still swirling around looking for the exit from my stomach – and I couldn’t finish it all. It was delicious though.

We walked round Lafayette Cemetery which turned out to be free to get in. In fact you’re dying to get in (ahem). We heard someone calling the cemetery’s the ‘cities of the dead’. It’s a good description – there are posh houses and old run down ones in amongst just like the city itself.

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A street in the city of the dead – slightly run down area.

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Large house in the city of the living – very posh area

After looking jealously at the big old houses with wrought iron fences and balconies and stuff we wandered into Audubon Park and took a stroll down through an avenue of giant oaks and listened to the musical humming of a local insect – Cicadas – all the way to the …  closed zoo.

We didn’t really want to go to the zoo anyway but we both needed a pee.

So we then wandered up a couple of blocks towards a park I had spotted on the map where there would surely find a place of rest near the Mississippi.

A slight error of navigation meant that we had to back track a little and we headed south with the sun beating on our backs and the Cicadas buzzing a little louder in the background.

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When we reached the little park it turned out to be a deserted baseball pitch next to an industrial area where tourists are not meant to be at all.

With the sun melting our poor little heads and the friggin’ Cicadas making that constant bloody buzzing noise that would drive you to murder if you had a knife at that very moment, we plodded wearily back the way we came.

Thankfully a lovely air conditioned bus was exactly where I expected it to be and we managed to jump on board before we collapsed in a heap at the side of the road.

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Not the bus but I forgot to show you the lovely street car

Now the bus route was meant to take us to Mardi Gras World but it turns out Mardi Gras World has only recently moved to this side of the Mississippi – and they haven’t gotten round to adding pedestrian routes to it yet. This resulted in me and my poor wife (who really, really needed to pee by now) having to work our way across the interstate into an industrial yard belonging to a haulage company and beyond that to the back door of a warehouse which, it turned out to be, was a new location for Mardi Gras world.

But it was worth it.

We peed for half an hour!

No really, the experience at this place is fantastic. You get to see the workshops for the props and the floats and, after an hour’s tour, you can spend the rest of the day exploring the warehouse taking pictures to your heart’s content. Twenty dollars? Happy with that.

You can then get the provided shuttle bus back to your hotel like the way you are meant to in the first place.

But the story of Mardis Gras is worth touching on. It’s a non-profit event, no advertising allowed, not televised anywhere in the world and it is paid for by those who take part. The tradition is that you take part in order to spread a message of giving and you must be masked to anonymize yourself on the floats. This is where the throwing of beads actually comes from, the feminist movement just hi-jacked it so they could show their boobs.

The thing about Mardi Gras is that it officially goes on for weeks – finishing before Ash Wednesday – but it really goes on in New Orleans all the time. Every night is like Saturday night, and every Saturday night is like New Year. It’s an absolute buzz.

My final little video last five minutes so you can bow out if you want – but the kids will love it. These are all the pictures from the Mardis Gras warehouse with some street jazz to accompany it.

I nearly said ‘dilly’ dilly’ to end there…..

1

Parading About the Place

We are two days into our trip and New Orleans has gotten into our bones already. It’s completely addictive.

But it’s really hard to describe and I am certain my pictures are going to fail to give you a full understanding. I’m going to have to try some of my pseudo-philosophical codswallop to evoke the sights, sounds, smells and the vibe of the place.

It’s a fact that I have taken more video than snaps (forgive alligator reference) and that is because a still image just doesn’t cut it. The city is filled with movement and sound. You can’t ‘get’ it without that.

So here’s my attempt to bring New Orleans to life for you.

Let’s start with the jazz thing. That’s why I came. I wanted to catch the bug, to see why it all started here and just how important jazz is.

Jazz originates in a place called Congo Square just off the French Quarter in New Orleans. It’s where slaves were permitted to spend Sundays and where they started to fool around with their music.

Now bear in mind that all music at this time was either classical (using traditional instruments); or something more primitive used to fire up the blood prior to battle, hunting or mating rituals. The African American fusion of classical horns, basses and woodwind together with drums and percussion provides the main ingredients. Then we add this simple, repeated blues sound that makes it so easy to listen to.

That has to come from the bloody heat!

Bear with me while I divert a moment to the New Orleans accent.

The people of New Orleans have some unbearable heat and humidity to suffer. It’s really tiring and you don’t want to waste energy on anything at all. And New Orleans folk certainly like to take it easy – hence ‘The Big Easy’. And this seems to extend to their use of vowels and consonants.

Some examples….

New Orleans has way too many vowels so it is simply Nuorlins (roll the u and the o into one if possible). Dollars are dolla.

In fact the vowel ‘o’ is actually harder to say than ‘a’, so very often ‘o’ is replaced by’ ‘a. Nuorlins sounds more like Narlins and dolla is dalla.

The French founded Norlins so there are other possible origins to removing vowels (think gateau) but I am convinced from listening to the locals that my theory is right. It’s the bloody heat.

Now back to jazz.

Why bother with more than one chord progression when one works perfectly well for a millions songs? You can mess about with the notes all days long, but never divert from the simple easy going 12 bar blues sound that everyone is familiar with.

We have heard a lot of jazz the last couple of days. Here is a sample proving that the Slosh is not only performed in Scotland.

 

Our first morning was spent looking for something nutritious for breakfast as we had suffered from 10 hours of airline food the day before. After considering some light continental fare at ten dollars in the hotel we walked to the more usual first port of call for tourists in New Orleans (pronounced Norlins remember) – the Cafe Du Monde.

This cafe is famous for its cafe au lait flavoured with chicory and its square doughnuts called beignets. You get three of these for a handful of dollars and they come fresh from the fryer loaded with grease and covered an inch deep in icing sugar to help the grease enter the arterial system more quickly.

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A light breakfast to start the day.

After breakfast we went to a local tour vendor to make some significant financial decisions based on the advice of a man on 20% commission. More of that to follow.

We then decided to walk into the French Quarter to leisurely wander round the streets and marvel at the architecture. The first street we turned into was home to the Voodoo Museum and, surprise-surprise, they saw us coming!

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The Queen of Voodoo just out of the shower.

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‘See you later Alligator’

So we were drawn by some spiritual longing for enlightenment into a tour of the museum and a walk to one of New Orleans famous graveyards.

You have to admire American entrepreneurialism (god knows how the folk here pronounce that!). They suffer a bit of vandalism in their local graveyards and decide to charge admission to prevent it. It’s twenty dollars to get in – AND you have to have a guide. He or she costs whatever … plus tips.

I developed a theory in the middle of the night (or mid-morning UK body clock time).

When we come to any holiday destination seeking new experiences, we have a tendency to want to do the stuff we have seen others do in the movies, or on the TV in documentaries etc. We don’t really make up stuff ourselves. We go into the graveyards because there was a shoot-out there in a film we once saw, we go to a swamp in an air-boat become James Bond did.

And I thought that’s the secret of American entrepreneurialism. If it’s in a movie – people will pay to do it.

So could we be better at this in Scotland? Could we block off the best viewing areas in Glenfinnan and charge £20 to see the ‘Hogwarts Express’ pass across the viaduct? Could we lock the gates of Greyfriars Graveyard and charge people to come in?

Speaking of movies, it seems the actor Nicolas Cage had a tomb built in the graveyard we visited and he may or may not choose to be entombed here.

Our tour guide who used some kind of Voodoo to spirit us off the street talked a lot about very little and the main focus of our graveyard visit was to the presumed resting place of one Marie Leveau who was known as the voodoo queen of New Orleans in the bygone era when people believed in such tosh.

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That bag is the presumed resting place of twenty seven of my dollars

I then went to buy an unnecessary hat which will never see the light of day when I return to the UK.

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For lunch we broke things up a bit and had a wonderful waffle tub of ice cream from Kilwin’s followed later by an alligator sausage with chilli and a roast Beef Poboy.

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Is that an alligator in your pocket or are you just pleased to see me?

That second half of our lunch was taken aboard the steam paddle boat, Natchez.

Now as much as I love some trains I have to profess that the weakness is more about the engineering than the numbers or names of the engines. I’m not a complete geek!

So the steam engine running this incredible boat took as much of my attention as the Mississippi (pronounced Misipi but slightly drawn out). It’s fantastic.

There was also a jazz band paying aboard and other stuff that I won’t bore you with.

Our day ended with a walk round a shopping village (yawn) and a jazz parade which we followed all the way to Bourbon Street (we’ll come back here later where there will be boobies and other dreadfully hedonistic stuff happening). These jazz parades are like the funeral parades you have seen in the movies and people hire bands to take them around the city for all sorts of occasions now, weddings, hen and stag, staff party etc. We have seen at least three over the weekend.

People will pay anything to do the stuff they have seen in the movies!

For dinner we followed bad local advice and went into a place called Popeye’s. It tasted like Popeye had squeezed it out of a spinach can, sucked it through his pipe and spat it out onto Bluto’s beard before we ate it.

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Shrimp and chips, deep fried with a scone. Never combine these ingredients ever!

Today (day two) I started the day by running three miles around the French Quarter just to sweat the grease out of my pores. I certainly lost a lot of water in the process as the humidity was still 90% before seven am. It was slow but I was proud to have it mapped on my running log.

We then walked to Ruby Slipper in Canal Street for our breakfast. I had the Southern Breakfast which combines grits (porridge I think) with fried eggs, crispy bacon and a scone (called a biscuit for some reason), while my delicate flower of a wife could only manage the French toast….

… with cheesecake filling …

… and mango ….

… and crispy bacon ….

… and maple syrup.

Oh and a cup of tea.

It was marvellous.

 

Today’s main event was a swamp tour out in Lake Pontchartain. No point me trying to describe this for you. It was an amazing experience. See video for some tiny glimpse of the sights we saw.

Lunch was a cookie ice cream from the gift shop. I was still working on the porridge filled scone.

The swamp tour takes most of the day so when we got back it was as near dinner time as dammit and we had heard about a Chicken Festival taking place in town.

Now I know how jealous you must be feeling just now. How can I be so lucky to have been in New Orleans just at the time of the Chicken Festival? I know – I know! What can I say – I was born lucky.

At the Chicken Festival we enjoyed eating some chicken and then we moved back into the city for some dinner.

Oh sorry – we did listen to live jazz at the Chicken Festival after we had eaten some chicken.

We walked up to the French Market and came back down Royal Street where most of the Spanish Colonial architecture is. The ironwork is wonderful and a lot of the areas are lit by gas lamps giving the place a wonderful old world vibe.

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Spanish Colonial House in French Quarter

As the evening wore on we settled on a cafe/bar in Bourbon Street where there was a live jazz band playing and we took a table near the band for our Club Sandwich and Tuna Croissant – both called something more Louisianan on the menu.

As we headed wearily home we meandered through the hedonistic centre of New Orleans, Bourbon Street, where we witnessed the wonderfully quaint (and apparently feminist) practice of showing ones breasts to a group of drunk men on a balcony in exchange for a chain of beads. Female empowerment is such a wonderful thing to witness in the flesh.

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Some actual female empowerment.

Giddy with the sights and sounds of snapping alligators, jazz singers, festival chicken fillets and other mammary enhancements, we headed for our hotel stopping only for a gambling-averse gawp at the Harrahs casino next door and frozen yoghurt dessert from the hotel.

Two days in and I’m starting to get it already.

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Adopted son in New Orleans

0

Bye bye Ali

Amber alert

Pack your blogs its holiday time again for the hungriest couple in Scotland!

Tomorrow we set off for New Orleans leaving storm Ali to you lot (there’s irony there somewhere).

And this year our American adventure takes us on a musical journey as I chase my dream of understanding the origins of rock n roll (I wake up in a cold sweat most nights fearing I will never know).  We’ll be taking in jazz in the South, then head to Nashville to let some country into our souls with a side trip to Memphis, Graceland and Sun studios.

If we don’t find the origins there we’ll console ourselves by eating a lot of good ole American fast food.

After that it’s on to Washington DC and New York for the second half of our trip. There we will … do other stuff. And we’ll definitely eat more food.

So join us please if you fancy hearing about all the exciting things we will see and do, the music we will make pretentious appraisals of and the food we will guzzle gluttonously.

 

4

Driving Miss Daisy Too Long

Tuesday of week two was a travel day. Loads of miles between our campsite in Cornwall and our destination site in Dorset just outside Dorchester.

Now on the long motorway miles we like to amuse ourselves by either playing Camperaderie or listening to old eighties tunes on the radio. Sadly it is pre-season and camper vans are in short supply on the roads just now so you can’t get your score above two or three before you get distracted and start talking about something else.

And our little USB pen drive containing hours and hours of the very best music of the eighties will not recognize the little slot in Daisy’s radio. So Ken Bruce helped a bit but much of the time was silently watching the temperature gauge and getting tense about other drivers.

Now there is amusement in getting tense about other drivers if you come at it from the right angle.

Warning – the following few paragraphs may offend – depending on what car you drive.

To start with I like to suspend reality a bit and imagine myself, my dear wife and my treasured Daisy to be alter-egos.

The Scooby Doo gang fits very well as there are so many villains on the road and we are the only innocent people with top notch driving skills. I am sure you are too.

Daisy is the Mystery Machine, obviously. Our two selves are Fred and Daphne (or Shaggy and Velma depending on how you see us). We could also be Fred and Velma or Shaggy and Daphne – and I am up for opinions if you care to chip in.

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My good self and female companion

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Alternative personae which we do not identify with

No-one is Scooby because he’s at home being looked after by Sabrina the Teenage Witch (all grown up – not).

Now the villains of our story are other drivers. We first look at their crime, work through the clues and then pull off their masks to reveal their true identities.

Villain 1

This fellow is coming up behind me in a supermarket car park. I see a parking spot in the right and move the Mystery Machine over to the right, preparing to swing left in preparation for a reverse park.

Suddenly I hear the roar of two oversized exhaust pipes and the dastardly fellow rips past on my inside causing me to swerve back to the right. I honk the horn and he and his mate are seen laughing at their incredible feat of speed in their Ford Fiesta with blacked out windows.

The two oversized exhaust pipes are clearly indications of sexual inadequacy and he will no doubt turn to surgery in later years and become villain 3 (below).

The Clues

An inability to understand the rules of the road regarding undertaking – suggesting a younger generation of driver.

The presence of a laughing friend in the car to offer endorsement of the villain’s crime.

The blacked out windows so no young teenage girl can see that they are overweight, quite ugly and far too old to get into a car with.

The Reveal

Yes, it’s Terry the Twenty-Something, apprentice mechanic and boy racer.

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Typical boy racer

Villain 2

On the motorway we come up behind a Dacia Duster travelling at roughly 58 miles per hour. The Mystery Machine is running quite nicely at the moment and this is not quite fast enough for her. Daphne is impressed by my skillful driving and I am keen to show her just what this machine can do. I pull out for the over take.

I kick the speed up to 62 mph and start gaining on the Dacia.

I suddenly seem to be struggling. But wait! The speedometer reads 62 mph.

I give it some more and start gaining again.

Hold on! Again we are struggling. The speedometer reads 65 mph and still no progress.

What on earth is happening?

I put it to the floor and we are neck and neck with the Dacia at 68 mph for ten seconds until finally, with an extra injection of power, we pass it at 70 mph.

The Dacia then drops back and I can hear an evil laugh in the air amongst the roar of the tyres.

The Clues

It’s a Dacia Duster.

The Reveal

Yes of course. It’s Mr. Fifty-Something-Best-I-can-Afford.  This cad does not like to be passed by an old camper van one little bit and suffers an inferiority complex about his car. He has previous convictions for leaving a ridiculous gap in a queue of traffic despite the possibility that someone behind him might need to take a junction in that gap, and for hugging the middle lane on the motorway.

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Typical Dacia driver

Villain 3

We are on the dual carriageway tootling along at a gently 55 mph. There is hardly a car in sight either in front or behind.

Suddenly a back Audi is on my tail. It just appeared out of no-where and is sitting less than three millimeters from my rear bumper – presumably riding the slipstream. There’s no reason for it being there, the road was clear to overtake.

It pulls out to make the overtake, leaps forward and then pulls in directly in front of me approximately three millimeters from my front bumper. I am able to read the name of the garage who supplied the number plate.

Suddenly the Audi accelerates and it is in the far distance before I can blink.

Daphne gasps with an excitement I will never be able to bring to her. My eyes drop in sadness – a little ashamed of my portly old van.

The Clues

It’s an Audi

The Reveal

It’s that old villain Dr. Must-be-a-Lawyer-or-Salesman-or-Other-Self-Centred-Dick-Head. He cannot resist the temptation to show off the back of his better-than-mid-priced luxury car to the female in every car he passes. He builds up the tension by hugging the back of his prey, unsettling the driver so he isn’t sure what to do. He then springs forward and shows off his tail feathers to the female sitting unsuspectingly behind.

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Typical Audi driver

There were other villains of course, and they would all have got away with it if it wasn’t for us pesky kids!

Now saying all that, our journey went well enough right through to Exeter where we stopped off for a few hours.

Exeter turns out to be a lovely place with loads of interesting history. We looked in at the Cathedral and looked back out again when we saw it would cost us twenty quid to enter. We then rattled round the charity shops and decided to visit the Medieval Tunnels Exhibition.

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What strange creatures lurk in Exeter’s sewers.

This was great fun for six quid each. The tunnels were built in the 14th century to hold the water pipes for the Cathedral (yes only the religious people got fresh water). The tour takes you right under the city inside the narrow tunnels and you really do feel like an adventurer for a few minutes. You even get your knees dirty if you want, as the tunnels are less than a metre high at one point.

Exeter has lots more to offer than we had a chance to see. Lovely looking restaurants and olde worlde pubs. We had to keep on the road though.

 

A mistake we made was popping into Honiton on the basis that the internet said it was the antique capital of the South. It should have said it is the antique of the South. It’s better named Horroton.

The antique shops were all closed, despite declaring they were open. And all the other shops, allegedly modern retailers, had more dust on the stock than the antique shops did.

It seems no one buys anything in Honiton. I reckon the antique shops are just the modern shops of some bygone time that have transitioned into antique shops. They start as ‘The Latest Gadgets Sold Here’ to ‘Last Year’s Stock to Go’ to ‘Memorabilia’ to ‘Antiques’.

If you open a shop in Honiton you will need a three hundred year lease in order to clear your first stock.

After that we endured one of the worst traffic diversions we have ever suffered in Daisy.

Now driving Daisy is not a one man (or woman) affair. It’s requires the skills and knowledge of two, the cooperation of the vehicle and the love of God to boot. Her gearing system, for example, is variable depending on the atmospheric conditions and luck. To ensure a successful journey the engine must remain cool enough to not burst a pipe, but warm enough to maintain good engine compression. Road conditions play a huge part and therefore a navigator’s skill is essential. Sybil, our satnav has been made completely redundant and the more finely tuned skills of my dear wife have taken over. She drives Daisy too you see – only from the passenger seat.

When a diversion takes you through every small town in Dorset and its neighbouring shires, the constant stopping and starting plays havoc with Daisy. The gears start to change like the starways at Hogwarts and you have to be agile to ensure you can keep on the right track. The fan kicks in every few minutes and the coolant begins to boil. She needs to be rested every so often and our own temperatures begin to rise.

Nonetheless we made it into Dorchester a little late and suffered the attitude and arrogance of a camp site manager who felt it beneath him to come out of his office an hour later than anticipated to check us in. I noted his Audi parked out back.

But checked in we were, next to the toilets with a view of the waste sluice.

It’s only one night.

We ate well this day. A light lunch with cream tea in Exeter at Shauls Bakery and dinner at the Junction Pub in Dorchester. Fine fare and we liked that it was the second pub with the same name this trip.

 

Wednesday was another long travel day. It’s heading home time so this is how it will be from now on.  We stopped at Bere Regis though because it has a funny name and because there’s a large reclamation yard with loads of stuff you don’t really need but can’t help wanting anyway.

We didn’t need two stone Griffins for the garden and a dragon shaped gargoyle thing that will become the top of a bird table. The dragon will either provide our little feathered friends with protection from our large ginger Tom cat or scare the living daylights out of them. Either way we will enjoy seeing it in the garden.

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This way to throw away good money on old stuff you don’t need

I do love a good haggle so we knocked forty quid off the ticket prices and felt good about our achievements before setting off, five stone heavier, for Hereford.

Because of navigation errors for which only one person can be blamed – me – we took most of the day to reach Hereford. But we chanced upon a great little roadside café called the Den outside Shepton Mallet where we had a late breakfast/early lunch.

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We knew the name but could not put our finger on why we knew it until we came through the town. Shepton Mallet is not, as my wife mischievously suggested, where they make big hammers – it is the home of Somerset Cider and the closest town to Glastonbury Festival were some it is drunk.

We then searched in vain for North and found it by heading South first, turning back and then going in the opposite direction.  It’s actually a failsafe method of finding North and only adds a few miles on the motorway that you could do without.

Anyway we got to Hereford at the back of three and decided to check in at the campsite first before making out way into the city. We weren’t going to get the sights of Hereford now and I only really came here for one thing anyway.

The cows.

Or rather, the Beefy Boys burger restaurant.

We prepared our pitch, went for some light exercise to stretch the stomach, and took Daisy back out onto the open road.

We were lucky to get in to the Beefy Boys which is famous in the region for its exceptional burgers. And they ARE exceptional. Best I have had in the UK.

I had the classic Beefy Boy Burger and my lady companion had the Mexican Burger (it’s got chilli, guacamole and stuff in it).

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El Mexicano Burger

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El of a Burger

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El of a night on the lash?

With a single side of fries between us and two cokes it was a bargain at twenty four quid. A tenner less than Byron and a better burger.

Sadly you have to go to Hereford for it. And Hereford not really close to anywhere. It’s kind of to the right before you get to Bristol, another place you aren’t really likely to go to.

Our journey comes to a close in the next two days and I do not foresee much more than travelling with a short stopover in Kendal.  I plan to visit the Lomo kayak shop in Glasgow on the way back but there won’t be much of interest to you there.

So this will be my last entry before I start up again on the New Orleans trip in September.

Until then….

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Carry on Camping!

 

1

Surf and Turf

The last two days in North Cornwall have taken us over plenty turf (some old and some new) and we have really enjoyed watching the sea from the wonderful coastal path. It’s been a little windy and overcast, but it’s been warm and the landscape is quite dramatic in these conditions. My photos don’t do it justice.

We were determined to return to Portwenn again this year (Port Isaac if you don’t watch Doc Martin – you sad, sad individual…) and so we ignored the dreadful mist and hit the road early to get a little of the Doc’s medicine.

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The edge of Port Isaac from the spot where the Doc saved his aunt after a funny turn

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My paltry little Cornish Pasty with Doc’s house in the background.

We didn’t overstay our welcome in Portwenn. It was just a joy to be there again though.

We had an appointment to keep at another location we missed out on last time due to considerable amounts of overeating. This was not going to happen again so we walked out little socks off to build up an appetite and ate very little until we got to Padstow.

Padstow is known locally as Padstein because he has so many restaurants in the place. You can get everything from fast food a la Stein to high cuisine.

Rick Stein’s fish and chips were well worth the wait. It was an unusual restaurant experience – we arrived bang on opening time with a big queue outside. We then got in to the restaurant where everyone sits at bench tables (we sat in the window so we could hide our chips from passing chip-snatchers). Then the waiter took everyone’s order (everyone in the restaurant) before placing the check in the kitchen. Lucky it was fast food because I was getting twitchy waiting for the grub.

He doesn’t own this shop though.

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and it’s blooming marvellous.

 

These pictures really don’t do them justice. On the left toffee, popcorn cheesecake and on the right raspberry and coconut sandwich. We ate this AFTER the fish and chips. Dear God, we were stuffed. We could not walk any further so off to the pictures.

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The IMAX theatre at Chez Daisy.

Our campsite was near Newquay and so today we decided to walk off all our calories by taking the coastal path to the town and feast lightly.

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Surf along the coast

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A little cove with more surf and rocks and stuff

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My meagre Cornish Pasty for lunch

We had ice cream of course and watched surfer dudes and dudettes doing surfing stuff on the many beaches along the coast.

I loved Newquay. It’s a little tired looking in the town but the tacky amusement arcades and cheap bucket and spade vendors kind of fit the whole seaside holiday thing. The best of it is the many beaches and the caves at low tide. We were blessed to be there at just the right time.

Now you will remember (if you are an avid blog follower) that last year we had a bit of a lark at Durdle Door.  Try saying it and you will remember it.

Swedish Chef? The Muppets?

It appears that Newquay at low tides if thoroughly durdled with doors, and caves too! It’s a joy to muck about on the beach.

Join me for a durdle round this door…. (music added to keep your interest)….

And for your final delight I was overjoyed to capture a Red Kite hovering on the cliff-side yards from our path. I just managed to get the damn iphone to open up and record t catch it dropping on its prey. It’s a bit of a Where’s Wally image but I could not resist sharing it.

Sadly we leave Cornwall now but heading to Dorset for a night tomorrow and then its the long road home.

A final thought though. I wonder where you are on this.

As I have enjoyed the English countryside so much I was tempted this afternoon to make a purchase of a little English flag to pop into my backpack in support of the team in Russia (don’t all scream at once!).

My good lady almost collapsed on the ground in front of me, mortified at the very idea. In truth – the fact that I had even suggested it appeared to create an air of despair and horror in her entire demeanour. Our relationship, normally happy and loving, was suddenly cold and distant for a few moments.

What is this deep rooted fear of the English being successful?

Tonight I was reminded of why. Listening to the local radio the DJ commented on the ongoing match against Tunisia (1-1 as I write).

‘I guess there can’t be a single pub in the UK this evening that isn’t packed with football supporters.’

Those were his words.

No flag for me then….

 

1

Rock Climbing

Our travels were to take us next towards Devon where we booked in for three nights at the Lynton campsite on the North coast.

En route we decided to take a look at Stonehenge because we had never seen it and felt that most people, at least once in their lives, have to consider this mystery from close proximity. We set Daisy’s fridge to manual, removed the chocks and let the throttle bring her up to a nifty sixty five (only dropping to 40 on the hills or to annoy the hell out of the locals).

The good news about Stonehenge is that it costs £20 a head to get in!

Yes, you guessed it. English Heritage allows Historic Scotland renewal members to get in for free.

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Particularly smug bastards

Now we spent over £20 on two scoops of mush called Stone Hot Pot for lunch so it wasn’t that big a saving. We also had a rock cake that looked like it had been baked by Neolithic man.

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Stonehenge is an enigma apparently. No-one can fathom why it was built.

I can.

More of that later.

When we arrived we noticed there was a small gathering of travellers encamped nearby and two police vans protecting the commercial opportunities this national treasure offers its entrepreneurial owners from them.

Why?

Well next Thursday is summer solstice and that is the very best time to sacrifice your youngest daughter, her pet lamb and six chickens from the farm down the road. It is also the case that the fertility of men is increased if they dance naked around the stones – and any child born thereafter will have the power to travel through time.

Or something like that.

I don’t think there’s any real mystery to it.

Imagine for a moment you are part of a thriving farming community in Neolithic times. You tend to your crops diligently and you protect yourself from the elements inside a lovely mud hut with an en suite cow shed.

The most important thing in the world to you is to know when to plant crops, when to harvest them and when to start storing up food for the long hard winter nights. You need a calendar.

Now scholars are not averse to the suggestion that Stonehenge (or any other henge for that matter) is a means of noting the time of the year. They are aligned with the longest and shortest days and, at any given time of the year, you could easily go along at sunrise or sunset and get a cracking good estimate of how long you have left before the weather is going to turn cold and you need to get the heating back on for the winter.

‘Ridiculous!’ they say. ‘What about the fact that it took 400 men 14 days to drag just one massive stone 130 miles from Wales? That can’t just be for a clock!’

Okay, so let’s rewind.

You need a henge for your community to tell the time of year for all the above reasons. The most obvious solution is to use trees or smaller rocks to build a circle that will indicate the seasons just as well as the massive monoliths we see today.

What happens?

Well the neighbouring tribes who wander by see some lovely trimmed wood or well selected stones that would do very well as construction materials for their new homes. To hell with the trouble of cutting down our own in the forest! Let’s just snaffle this lot!

And when the villagers challenge the culprits what do they say?

‘Don’t know what you’re on about, squire. Got these trees/stones from the forest myself. You can’t prove it.’

So how do you stop this happening?

Get really, really BIG stones! And ones from so far away that they cannot possibly be mistaken for local ones.

Tough one to deny now!

‘Where did you get that 24 ton, 30 foot high lump of rock you are using to hold up your washing line mate?’

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Non-portable calendar

 

Is it really so hard to imagine that Neolithic man would not be able to pull together 400 men for a few month to build something that won’t be stolen for the next 2500 years? When it is something so important?

Nowadays we are happy to take years to build a large civic facility. How many people does it take to build a new school?

How long is it taking to dual the A9?

We loved Stonehenge, but only at the price we paid. Not sure it was worth £20 to see.

We then headed to Lynton campsite arriving just around 5 p.m.

Being a particularly stunning location we decided to set up our windbreakers outside so we could sit and take in the view.

Unfortunately my wife forgot to pack the mallet.

‘Hold on!’ you cry. At least the women amongst you do.

Now this goes all the way back to Neolithic times too – and is no mystery! When a man marries a woman he enters into a sacred, mutually beneficial arrangement that cannot be broken and should never be misunderstood.

She gets protection from sabre toothed tigers and marauding Vikings and we never ever have to remember to take anything on a trip ever.

Fortunately the man camped next door showed sympathy and lent me his mallet – which his wife had dutifully packed.

Now Lynton village is not too far to walk – but the campsite is at the top of a hill (and a big hill at that) so it takes about half an hour to get there and the rest of the day to get back.

Now its funny how you can brim with confidence heading downhill early in the day – never giving a thought to the return journey. You don’t mind that the owners of a Christian retreat called Lee Abbey allow you to walk half a mile before telling you that you are not religious enough to use their path to the coast and make you turn back.

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They say the meek shall inherit the earth! The sheep in their field must be praying for the day they can crap in their beds.

And we thought nothing of climbing Castle Rock to view the distant Welsh coast alongside the mountain goats of Devon.

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Our first day therefore was spent scaling hills and exploring this hilly little village and its neighbour Lynmouth which is accessed by a unique water powered cliff railway. Very exciting!

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The tracks of the Lynton and Lynmouth Railway

Now there is no attempt to be funny here. I love trains. It’s my saddest and most geekiest attribute. There is no electricity or fuel involved here. The two trains are counterbalanced so when one is heavier than the other it comes down while the other goes up. And in order to vary its weight it uses water from the river to fill the tanks of both trains. The bottom train now starts spilling out water making it lighter than the top one which then comes down. It is perfectly engineered and is quite a work of art.

You do worry about getting a burst though. I am sure it has brakes.

Now speaking of works of art, the cream tea at a little cafe called Charlie Fridays is the best we have enjoyed bar none. I have to say, passing the little cafe at the top of the railway, we saw an exceptional looking scone too but we had already demolished a dairy by the time we saw it.

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Dear Lord!

That was lunch – we couldn’t take any more. We shopped a bit and then made our way up the hill for the next three days and nights before taking on oxygen for the final push back to the campsite. Okay, maybe a slight exaggeration. We were home by the evening and fired up the BBQ for some dirty campsite burgers made with almost-out-of-date bargain mince from the local Londis and a side order of Doritos. Best burger of the holiday!

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Dirty burger from the campsite

For the next day we planned to take Daisy to the village of Clovelly which so many people have told us is enchanting and a must-see when in Devon. It’s a conservation area, privately owned and (you are not going to believe this) subject to admission fee!

Yes, it costs eight quid to walk into this village which has a single cobbled street winding down to the harbour and a tarmacadam one tucked away in some trees so you don’t know that he locals can get their cars down to the beach.

Now it is lovely!

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But not 16 quid worth of lovely.

And the ice cream at the harbour was not three fifty worth of anything,

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Oh dear!

So we went for a dip to make up for the disappointment.

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Actual live sketch of us heading into the sea by local Clovelly artist.

Now we also visited Ilfracombe today which is a large seaside town with some lovely views. The most intriguing thing I found here was a Damien Hirst statue at the harbour.

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On this side of the statue it is a pregnant woman standing on a pile of law books. She is called Verity.

On the side you cannot see it is the woman with her skin stripped off. I could not photograph it as the section of harbour was locked up. You can see a bit on the leg peeled back.

I think it is fascinating. The locals find it hideous apparently but it is anything but. It is revealing – the truth (Verity) is that we are all pretty hideous with our skin pulled back. We have to get used to that or change our perception of what looks beautiful.

What absolutely looks beautiful is my dinner from tonight.

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This was at the Exmoor Manor Hotel and Beggars Roost Restaurant. It was pricey by my standards but this belly of pork was marvellous. We had to walk four miles of hills there and back to get it though!

Tomorrow we head into Cornwall for a long awaited appointment with Rick Stein’s fish and chip shop.

1

Famous Places & Famous People

We travelled South to Oxford and decided to stop for the day in Stratford-Upon-Avon to prepare for the experience by getting some culture into our pleb minds – after all that salt-of-the-earth-nonsense we swallowed in that Liverpool.

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Stratford, for those of you who skipped English at school, is the birthplace of William Shakespeare. That’s the poet no-one understands and everyone pretends to like.

 

It’s a pretty enough place – but it was obvious from the over-inflated prices that we were in tourist-ville. Three quid for a single scoop of ice cream that tasted 90% of ice, 10% of the last ice cream scooped and 0% of cream.

And to see inside Shakespeare’s house? To enjoy the privilege of seeing the writing desk of the man who tortured several billion school children over three or more centuries, you had to part with £20 of the money you earned doing a job that did not involve any requirement for you to say ‘verily I comeft from far lands to unblocketh thy loo’ or ‘I amft afraid, verily, that thy automobile needeth a new carburettor.’

You could say we ‘suffered the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune’.

Anyway we got our picture taken in front of the house instead.

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Can’t afford this one? Not so smuggeth now….

We then wandered along to the riverside in search of greater inspiration for our culture-hungry minds and were torn between exploring the Royal Shakespeare Theatre archives for his lesser known soliloquies or sitting on our arses in a boat for forty minutes.

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So it was a lovely boat ride up and down the Avon looking at houses we will never afford, healing our jealous dignity by assuming them to be drug-dealers or, worse, bankers.

We finished our day with a quick visit to the Holy Trinity Church where Shakespeare was interred along with his wife Anne Hathaway and some other relatives that did not star in The Devil Wears Prada.

Being inside a church you did not have to pay to get in – as long as you had the gall to walk past a very large church elder whose quiet voice and reverent smile belied the 20 inch forearms he bore, tattooed with the four Horsemen of the Apocalypse each drinking Guinness from the skull of a Scotsman.

If you couldn’t do that it cost £6.

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Totally inappropriate picture of someone’s last resting place.

So having seen the grave we skipped town just before our three hour parking ticket ran out and we headed to Oxford, brimming with culture and theatrical luvvie-ness.

Our campsite in Oxford was just a mile and a half from the city centre, which was great as we could walk in and not pay for any transport. It also allowed us to walk through the lower rent area of the city, where most of the houses had been given over to student lets or abandoned to the homeless. Looking at them you could not tell one from the other.

Now whatever subjects they are teaching at this elite University, I can absolutely assure you that none of them require any knowledge of cleaning dishes, clothes or windows. The sights we saw!

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Student motto inside public loo. 

There’s a stark contrast when you get into the city though, the male students are wandering about in dark suits, shirts and ties and sporting roses in their lapels. This is a tradition, we were told. Students on their final exams wear suits and display a different coloured flower depending on what stage they are at.

At first I thought the females students had to wear dangerously low cut dresses and skirts so short you could carry out a cervical exam just by bending down to tie your shoelace. But it seems these young ladies were just the guys’ hookups. The female students were similarly business-attired, they just didn’t parade around the town with underage girls in tow.

Dinner on the first night was at Byron Burger which is far better in England than in Scotland because they are permitted to cook their burgers pink. In Scotland we have to eat them well done because we are NOT English. Yes?

No thanks.

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Pink Byron burger.

For lunch next day we went to the Covered Market and ate some very nice flat breads with smoked salmon and cream cheese.

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Next we visited the Bodleian Library in Oxford because a) it is a very old library full of culture and stuff, b) it let us have a look inside the University and – most importantly c) it was where Hermione worked out what Fluffy, the three headed dog, was guarding in the first Harry Potter film.

I cannot show you a picture of this library because we were not allowed to take pictures and the beady-eyed librarian had spotted me and my devious ways the second I entered the room. He never took his eyes off me til I left.

Mad-eyed moody!

This was at the entrance though.

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Very dull statue outside Bodleian Library where the more interesting stuff is….

And this was just inside before the photo ban kicked in…

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 A box

We then wandered over the street to see an exhibition of J.R.R Tolkien’s drawings of Middle Earth including the original of his dust cover for the Hobbit. This was a real thrill because I am a genuine fan of the books.

The films? Nah.

Tolkien was a student and professor at Oxford and the exhibition gave a great insight into what a true geek he was. The original geek I would call him. He spend his life creating Middle Earth including the construction of Elvish languages and detailing the landscape in very technical mapping terms. A mad genius.

And speaking of made up languages.

There are lots of people who come to Oxford I am certain, from all walks of life. But it is fascinating to discover that, while not required to wash anything ever, they are required to learn a new way of conversing with each other in the pub.

The Oxford language has only three letters – A, F, H and W. It’s most common word is

FWAH.

It is so common that the unlearned ear can only ever make this word out, repeated incessantly – fwah fwah fwah fwah fwah fwah fwah.

There is a strong nasal quality to the accent of course and, if you listen long enough you can make several distinctions.

Sometimes, when laughter is called for, they mix up the letter and there is a burst of – HWAF, WAF, WAF, WA. It quickly settles back to fwah fwah though.

There is only one interrogative pronoun – a wha?

They never miss the ‘a’ in front – it is lengthened slightly and the voice pitch rises a little. You can easily tell a joke is being told by an Oxford Student in a pub. It goes:

Joke teller – A wha fwah fwah fwah fwah?

Audience – A wha?

Joke Teller – Fwah fwah fwah fwah ….

Audience – HWAF, WAF, WAF, WA!!

The HWAF section is usually led by the joke teller him (or herself) and it is louder than anything else in the pub – as a rule.

Like some of the ancient languages there are clearly some words that don’t exist and, very occasionally, you can grab a snippet that makes sense. Common words you might recognise are archaeology, pint of cider and apple mac.

We ate dinner at the White Rabbit (C.S. Lewis was also a student at Oxford). This pub is a student and professor filled backstreet pub with amazing pizza. £25 for the two pizzas, two pints (diet coke) and a side salad!

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Who pulled that out of the hat?

To finish our Oxford day we saw ‘The Final Curtain’ at the local theatre. This is a new Sherlock Holmes story starring Robert Powell who was Jesus of Nazareth if you are of my generation and was in Casualty for the rest of you; and Liza Goddard who was in Give Us a Clue for those of us who saw the eighties, and also in Casualty for everyone else.

It was not very good.

What was fun was that we got to sit after the show and listen to the actors talk rubbish about all their luvvieness and thespian achievements while we sat lapping up all the stardom in front of us. An after-show chat with the stars!

My wife banned me from asking if Liza Goddard thought she or Una Stubbs was the better captain in Give Us A Clue, so I had to try to think of a better one. Also banned was asking Robert Powell if he was up for a sequel to Jesus and I was not permitted to flirt with Liza Goddard (that woman is as enchanting as ever).

There were some crap questions for others so I am not so sure my ideas were so inappropriate. One guy asked the actor who had clearly had ripped off Dr Dawson from Basil  the Great Mouse Detective for his portrayal of Watson if he had used any other actor for inspiration. No, he lied. It was all his own. Like there was never going to be a member of this Oxford audience who had watched the Disney film! Poor gamble – I saw right through him.

And Robert Powell made more mention of his Shakespearean credits than address the huge plot holes in this current offering. ‘What was going on in the last scene?’ someone asked. ‘Ah yes! We mean’t to cut that out. It doesn’t make sense does it?’

Nope! You should have stopped at ‘the game’s afoot!’

Now I finally worked out a great question to ask. It had lots of insight and would have drawn out some interesting takes on the theme of the play, but the interview wifey called a halt to questions just as I was about to overcome my shyness and blurt it out.

I seethed all the way home.

Una Stubbs was clearly better!

 

1

Chinese Puzzles

I am certain you have been anxious to find out if we made it to Liverpool. Did my sheer bloody mindedness, sticking plaster and rusty hose clip see us safely down the M74, M6 and that other road to that Liverpool?

I can certainly say is that staring at a temperature gauge for three hours is a real conversation killer. We didn’t say much other than…

‘How does it look now?’

‘It seems to be fine?’

‘Now?’

‘A bit high.’

‘How is it now?’

‘A tad to the right of the little light in the middle?’

‘What does that mean?’

‘A little hotter than I’d like it to be?’

Short period of silence.

‘How is it now?’

‘It’s down below the little light in the middle.’

‘That’s good then?’

‘I guess.’

‘Do you want some water?’

‘For me or Daisy?’

‘You.’

‘No.’

‘Some fruit pastilles?’

Now it’s not that we normally fill our travelling hours with a riveting discourse on the merits of unilateralism as it relates to foreign aid or on the benefits of stringent rules on international monetary policy, but we do usually have a chat about something other than the position of a vehicle temperature needle.

‘No fruit pastilles for me please. They night spoil my concentration.’

‘Fine.’

So for three hours of tension (like no human has ever had to endure) we pushed on to our campsite in Rainford just outside the land of Scouse.  We had breakfasted on dreadful rations from Harry Ramsden at Abington services and set off just before eight. I had already been through the entire journey in my sleep so it was like a repeat of the whole journey. Daisy arrived water-tight and running like a dream just before eleven.

Phew!

Oh hang on! We still had to get pitched, find the trains, get to Liverpool and find the World Museum before our one thirty slot.

Now Bridge Farm in Rainford is a bit of a campsite-in-development, but at £15 a night its location for accessing Liverpool cannot be surpassed.  The train station is five minutes from the gate (the Bridge in the title being the Railway Bridge over the station) and there is a regular service from Manchester that takes you to Kikby and with one train swap later you are in Liverpool in 40 minutes.

Okay, Okay! Yes we made it to the museum in time for our slot to see the famous Chinese Terracotta Warriors.

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This is no place for tacky selfies!

When I think that the day before we were considering staying in Abington to wait for a professional repair and abandon our day in the city I shudder at the very idea. Daisy is a miracle!

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Confucius say ‘man who values silly van more than wife will have no cake’

And the Chinese Terracotta warriors are another blooming miracle. Nothing I can write here can help you appreciate how these ancient treasures affect you. None of the pictures taken will ever give you a sense of how incredible it is to stand in the presence of something that was crafted over 2000 years ago. It’s a terrific exhibition and I was left at the end wondering how a place like Liverpool could have ever attracted such a display.

Well you just need to spend a sunny afternoon in Liverpool to understand. It’s a fabulous place!

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Now there are those who know me who might be thinking – no way would he criticise the place anyway. There’s a fiery Scouser of some explosive capability he knows who would destroy him with a glance if he was nasty about this place.

Well that’s true.

But I don’t need to lie. Look at me at the Cavern.

Look at the lovely beach …

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.. er well maybe not so much,

We had our lunch in the cafe at the museum and that was forgettable. We had an ice cream by the riverside and that was equally forgettable.

What was NOT forgettable was the city and the positivity of the people. I couldn’t understand a word they were saying but they all seemed really upbeat.

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‘Any chance you know how to send a text on this thing?’

Now I like to understand a culture if it speaks to me and I find Liverpool quite fascinating. Like Glasgow the city has strong Northern Irish connections, a ship-building history, an intense football rivalry and a river with more shite in it than fish. There’s a strange kind of pride in the people that is a mystery.

I think I got a flavour of where they are coming from by visiting the Maritime Museum. The exhibition on the Lusitania is very revealing – there is a Glasgow connection here too. A passenger ship built by blood, sweat in tears in Clydeside provided passage to and from the USA from Liverpool and was sunk by a German U-boat in 1915 killing dozens of local people. You get a sense of Liverpool from knowing how there is an underlying bitterness at losing children caught in the crossfire of idiots from the South arguing over who has the biggest …. Uboat.

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Propeller from Lusitania.

But with all that difficult history Liverpool is on the rise. The city is developing, there are really cool parts to it and the people are welcoming, friendly and full of character.

Really full of character!

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Stop horsing around!

Anyway – enough of this philosophical and sentimental tosh. You want to know what I ate.

We ate at the Junction Pub in Rainford which is a pretty decent inn ten minutes from the campsite. I had a steak cooked (by myself) on a slab of granite straight out of their oven. I could only blame myself if the steak was badly done. It was perfectly done.

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My good lady had chicken goujons with the inevitable ‘hand-cut’ chips – as is the new trend. A wee bit of salad on the side and some dressings. Perfectly adequate for £25.  On Monday’s the starters are free so we had some haloumi fries and pate which we mixed and matched.

Today we are heading to Oxford for two nights.

1

She was hot!

No – the Rolling Stones did not play their 1983 single ‘She was hot’ at the Murrayfield concert we attended on Saturday….

…but that’s not where I am going with this title anyway. Nor is it anything to do with this Carry On Camping moment from the showers at one of our first stops.

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Oo-er missus! Is this the gents?

The girl who was ‘hot’ on our first weekend was – of course – Daisy.  More of that later.

First of all I have to mention the troublesome traffic in Perth and my utter contempt for the roadworks planning team who have failed to keep up with my summer itinerary and have placed a mile of cones leading up to and beyond the Broxden roundabout. Not only was this very dull – it stopped me accessing the Broxden Farm Carvery at precisely the right time for my lunch. I had ages to wait for food!

But I was cheered up by the cheesecake!

Sadly I have lost the picture I took of it so here is the online version of it

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It is flippin’ enormous. It’s a fiver for a slice, near as dammit, but it feeds the family. Or me.

We also had some soup and a rather excellent Yorkshire pudding rolly-up thing that had roast beef and gravy in it.

That was our lunch. We then set off for Edinburgh probably carrying a bit more weight than usual. Daisy was feeling the heat I guess, sitting bored in traffic for ages, not getting to come in for cake, having to carry us after we ate the cake. She’s a van for heaven’s sake – why do we personify her? It’s not like she has feelings! Or does she?

We then took the bus into the city – leaving Daisy to cool off at daughter number two’s flat in Cramond. There was no real plan here, but we decided at the last minute to go to the castle. We have been Historic Scotland members for many years so the £17.50 entry fee did not worry us!

castle

Smug Bastards!

The shower picture at the top of this blog is actually in the cells of the castle where we visited for the first time. It was an eye opener!

eye eye

After our short visit to the castle we made our way to the Rolling Stones at Murrayfield.

Now when we bought out tickets for the Rolling Stones we did so thinking we’d better do it soon before they collapse and die of old age. Mick Jagger is 74 after all. We really thought it was probably a final chance before they are forced into retirement.

Well I can see them going for ten years yet!

Mick Jagger looks like a twenty year old – at least from the distance we were away from the stage.

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He strutted about the stage for over two hours, ran up and down that runway and bounced about like an adolescent on speed. The support act, Richard Ashcroft (the Verve) finished his set with ‘The Drugs Don’t Work’! I’m afraid they blooming well must if the Stones are anything to go by.

Now it wasn’t all plain sailing for these senior rockers. There was a shower of rain before they came on and everyone on the crew had to run off to the changing rooms to get every towel in the stadium so they could dry off the stage. I’m guessing they were worried about slips and trips. You’d have thought Ronnie Wood’s hip would have forewarned them about the bad weather but there you are.

There were also a few towellings in between songs, crew members running all over the stage. If I hadn’t seen the earlier rain shower I’d have thought Jagger was prone to a bit of incontinence they way they were wiping up after him.

Anyway, the Rolling Stone were immensely good and I see little chance of them stopping taking the roof off venues for some time to come. The last time I came to Murrayfield was to see Madonna bomb with her MDNA tour. She had the arrogance to think she could fill a stadium and play nothing but new songs. Twit! The Rolling Stones gave us all the right stuff – from Honky Tonk Women to Satisfaction – it was a blast.

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Top class cuisine at the Rolling Stones.

Our food before the gig was the delights on offer from the mobile vendor village (it was situated between the defibrillator village and the zimmer park). The only good thing about this was the fact that I asked for chips only and they thought I wanted cheese on top. I saved £1.50 on that sprinkling of cheddar!

We took the tram back to town and then bussed it to daughter number two’s flat for the night before our long journey south.

Long journey south?

repair

‘F*^&%*&%&G Camper vans*

According to google Abingdon, is a historic market town and civil parish in the ceremonial county of Oxfordshire. There you can see the beautiful Abingdon Abbey, visit the Town Museum and walk for miles along the lovely Thames Path.

Abington in Scotland is a motorway services village just off the M74.

Guess which one we reached?

So Daisy, a little tetchy after we travelled on posh trams, buses and ambled round castles without her, decided to blow her top about three miles short of the lovely little … er …. slip lane to Abington. The temperature was looking a bit high for quite a while and me ignoring it hoping it would go away turned out to be a poor mechanical diagnostic assessment. Out came the AA (this is a repeat of last year isn’t it?) and a short section of rubber pipe popping off appeared to be the culprit.

However, the AA man (lovely and helpful as he was) decided that he could not effect the repair at the roadside and advised the charming nearby village as a suitable stop-over while we waited for the local garage to open in the morning.

But I have tickets for the Chinese Warriors and I want to see Liverpool and I want cake and things!

Abington is not a suitable stop over for any amount of time. The local hotel? Closed. The local campsite? £20 – no wifi unless you buy a coffee at the local cafe – and it closes at five. Other facilities? Nope.

We decided to effect the repair using sheer bloody mindedness and obtained a length of hose that could be cut to size. I wriggled my frame under the chassis of our beloved Daisy and patched her up perfectly (I think).

We ran her to overheating point to check the seal and … she overheated.

No leaks though – she kept the coolant in this time. The damn fan wouldn’t kick in though.

Our dilemma….

Do we abandon our lovely trip into England-shire and get relayed back home and seek a last minute break (don’t worry – you will still be part of that adventure!).

Or do we chance it?

Late update – after some fuse fiddling and switch bypassing – for some odd reason her fan started to kick in. She appears sealed and cooling normally.

I’m on the edge of my seat. What will happen?

Ah yes! Finally. We decided to return from the quaint little village of Abington to the services where we booked into the Days Inn so we could shower, eat something other than tinned soup and prepare for our next push early in the morning. We have a half one appointment with the Chinese Warriors in Liverpool and – with courage, daring, six bottles of water and a spare hose clip – we intend to make a damn good try to get there.

Dinner?

Whatever….

pie

Harry Ramsden at Abingdon … yawn…

 

 

 

4

Driving Miss Daisy Too!

It’s that time again! Two weeks just me, Daisy and that other lady in my life heading on to the road to find adventure, new experiences and lots and lots of cake.

If you are of a mind to join us I will be posting regular updates over the two weeks. Hopefully you might get some travel tips, become jealous of the food I am eating and have the odd laugh.

Daisy is on the charge as we speak, trembling with excitement on the drive outside. She passed her MOT without studying a single day, I have touched up her paint so she looks pretty for all the Mazda Bongos she might come across, and her tank is filled to the brim.

First stop is Edinburgh tomorrow night. The Rolling Stones play Murrayfield and we have our tickets in hand. Then it’s off to Liverpool!

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