LUKE: I’ve already written two posts about Winchester. How can I possibly come up with another title?
TILLY: What were the other ones?
LUKE: ‘A vindication of the rights of sloth’ and ‘Winchester II: return to gilly’s’.
TILLY: How about … ‘Winchester 3: darrell’s revenge’?
LUKE: I’m so calling it that!
And there ends the significance of the title of this post. In no way did my friend Gilly’s husband Darrell exact any revenge during our stay in with them in Winchester … that I’m aware of …
Anyway, the reason for this, my third return to Winchester and the abode of the Grundys, was for Gilly Grundy’s G-Themed Fortieth Birthday Costume Party!
This party was during the first weekend after classes finished at uni, so we didn’t have very long to put together G-themed costumes. We were brainstorming and I said we could go as Graham Gooch, which made Tilly think of going as goon! This would be significant because, while she was a foreign student at UOW, we younguns introduced Gilly to all sorts of awful cheap goon drinks by which she was continually disgusted.
Apparently only one cognitive leap away.
It was then simply a matter of deciding which form of goon would be best: Fruity Lexia or Berri Estates box? Goon Sunrise? Should we attempt to drink a goonsack every night until the party and wear a suit made of blown-up goonsacks? Goon Commandos with goon box helmets? We decided going as giant goon sacks would have the maximum effect for the minimum effort and price. We went around Norwich searching for electrical tape, thermal shock blankets and something suitable for nozzles, and were serenaded on our way by two buskers, one of whom was naked to the underwear, who sang something about us looking like lumberjacks as we passed because we were both wearing flannos. This is why I love this city.
Typically, we were still finishing our costumes thirty minutes before the party, on the train and in Winchester train station, where we attracted all sorts of looks and questions.
Plastic wine tumbler/goon nozzle stickers on her eyes.
But the final result was worth it:
Goon sack costumes.
The party was awesome. Our costumes were a conversation starter, since the English don’t use the word ‘goon’ and therefore our costumes’ ‘G’ connection (sounds rude?) had to be repeatedly explained. People kept telling us they could hear us coming, ’cause the thermal blankets rustled so much – we also had to spend most of the night outside to prevent overheating; those things retain ninety per cent body heat!
There were some really terrific costumes, among the best of which were Gilly’s parents’, Galadriel and Gandalf, and Gilly and Darrell themselves, Lady Godiva and the Grinch.
They made the costumes themselves if you can believe it.
‘Goons. Hired goons.’
After the party we stayed a couple of days. Sunday was a beauty, and we went for a walk to G&D’s allotment, and then to the Black Boy for some drinks.
Til being cooperative.
Like something out of an Angus & Julia Stone film clip.
A bumble bee on a wet-the-bed before the massacre, which left flower blood on our hands for days (had to pull them all out by hand). Out, damned spot!
While we were sitting outside at The Black Boy, two people started looking up at the sky. Til worked out that it was just a parachuter, but a couple more people started looking so I started taking photos and pointing and saying, ‘I’ve never seen anything like it!’ until there was a line of six or seven people all trying to see what it was.
The Black Boy was the really cool English pub I said I should’ve taken photos of in ‘Winchester II: return to gilly’s’. So have some now as a redress:
There was a game where you had to swing a ring on a chain onto a hook. I was too impatient for it, but Til got it.
Hours of fun.
‘I’m really into this cup and ball now.’
Once again we balanced out our lazy, movie-watching days with day trips to Oxford and around Wiltshire. We made a special stop to see the shark house on the way into Oxford, which was everything I always dreamed and MORE!
The house across the road is called ‘Sharkview’.
We had lunch in the White Horse again, and oh my God the food. I’m instituting a rule from now on that if something on a menu says ‘Chicken, mushroom and white wine sauce’ I MUST eat it. Also the cheesecake was the best I’ve ever had. I have this theory that the measure of a dairy product is how much it can be compared with another kind of dairy product. ‘This milk is so good it’s like cream!’ ‘This butter is so good it’s like cheese!’ ‘This cream is so good it’s like yoghurt!’ and so on. This cheesecake was so good it was like icecream.
My favourite place of the day was the shop that Elisa and Gilly found when they visited previously. It was like heaven. What is it about that certain kind of product, that stationeryish, leather-bound, handmade, old-timey kind of crap that appeals so much to us writers!? I never wanted to leave!
Our other daytrip, through Wiltshire, organised by amazing trip planner Gilly, took us to Stonehenge, Lacock, Salisbury and the New Forest. Stonehenge was Stonehenge. Pretty damn cool for a bunch of rocks in a field.
‘Oh, we can’t touch it, dad! It’s behind a velvet rope!’
‘The veeelvet roooope.’
Lacock is an entire village owned by the National Trust which hasn’t had any new buildings in two hundred years, so it’s constantly being used for TV shows and movies – it was Meryton in the BBC adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, and the abbey was used for parts of Hogwarts.
Gilly reenacts Lydia’s admiration of a fabric in P&P.
The whole town was obsessed with the word ‘quintessential’. Every book I picked up in the giftshop used it – ‘Jane Austen, the quintessential English writer’, ‘Tea, the quintessential English tradition’ – and there was even a shop in an old house called ‘Quintessentially’:
Looking through Quintessentially’s secondhand book collection was pretty amusing – it featured Anne, The Princess Royal – A Princess for Our Times (1973), and Our Princesses and their Dogs (1937).
In the abbey.
After Lacock the camera ran out of batteries and we sang our way in the car from Alanis Morissette to The Eagles in Gilly’s iPod until we got to Salisbury, only to find that the award-winning fish ’n chip shop we’d come for had closed down. But we found another, and also FINALLY some nice crusty fresh bread, of which I bought two loaves.
From Salisbury it was Enya to Howie Day and we were in the New Forest, so called because William the Conqueror declared it his new hunting ground in 1079, where horses, ponies, cows, pigs and donkeys roam free. We drove around and went to a pub before heading back, by which time we’d come back to Miss Morissette, presumably much to Tilly’s dismay.
The next morning we were off, after probably my favourite Winchester visit yet! Fear, all you travellers, the wrathful, grinchy revenge of Darrell!
Luke from UEA in the UK here, sharing some amusing instances of English politeness.
Linguistically speaking, politeness is marked by lower lexical density (spreading the same message over more words), like the difference between ‘Go away’ and ‘Excuse me, but if it would be amenable to you, would you be so kind as to please consider moving in a direction that is oriented away from my current situation?’
Well, I’ve found signs and packaging to be interesting markers of this kind of politeness in English society. From this:
to the ‘lightly salted tortilla-flavoured Mexican-style maize crisps’ that we would call ‘corn chips’, to this:
or the email I got from UEA Accommodation the other day:
‘we politely remind you that taps are turned off by turning them clockwise.’
Then, of course, there are the times when they aren’t so polite:
– Oscar Wilde on conversations about the weather.
Luke here again, with a quick post concerning meteorology.
The English and their weather. In the presentation we had on our orientation day, they gave us some tips on integrating into English society, one of which was not to introduce ourselves to strangers by name straight off but to talk about the weather. This instruction became kind of notorious among incredulous exchange students and local students alike. I think they miscommunicated their idea there – they should’ve specified this was for strangers at the bus stop. Don’t stride up in your cowboy boots and rhinestone belt and say, ‘Hi, my name’s Bill. Pudder there, pal.’ I don’t think the advice was meant for use with class- or flatmates.
It’s funny – I’ve noticed that really prevalent among the English is this attitude that ‘people just aren’t meant to live’ places. Anywhere hot or cold, anywhere that storms, anywhere with poisonous animals or floods or ice or humidity or mountains – basically anywhere outside of the hundred or so square miles that comprise the United Kingdom of Great Britain: people just shouldn’t live there. They simply aren’t meant to. I’m sure this is due to the fact that Britons happen to inhabit the only place on Earth where literally nothing can hurt you, where the most dangerous animal is the semi-poisonous, at best, adder, and the wildest meteorological swing is between lukewarm and temperate. As if we can all find somewhere as mild and sterilised as Britain to live. And a lot of British, especially older ones, are happy to look at Asia and Africa and say people aren’t supposed to live there, but they certainly don’t want any more Asians or Africans around (a lot of racist grandmas and grandpas around).
You hear a lot of moaning about English weather, but honestly it hasn’t bothered me, and I’ve been here through winter, since December, although I did miss most of the snow. And now that it’s spring there’ve been quite a few nice days. It was funny at first – 16 degrees and everyone drops what they’re doing to go outside and just be out. They appreciate it more. The field outside my kitchen window looked like a beach on the warm days we’ve had lately.
Luke Bagnall from UEA, UK here, writing about all the feasts the ethnic diversity of study abroad has resulted in!
Just before Tilly and I left for France, we went with our American friend Sam to a party in the flat of one of our fellow UOW exchangees, Bettina, where we met Caroline, a USYD student (who we’d actually met before at Barbara’s games night, but not properly). Exchange is complicated, isn’t it?
Anyway, Sam, Til, Caroline and I all left the party at the same time and ended up standing outside Bettina’s flat so long talking and trying to say goodbye that we just ended up going upstairs to Caroline’s kitchen and talking until about four in the morning, despite the fact that we were supposed to be on an early train the next morning.
Caroline is a French speaker, and has family there, and when she heard we were in Grenoble she asked us to bring back some French mixture of Champagne and cider that she had enjoyed in the region. We then decided to have a French party upon our return where we would try the mixture and sup upon cheese and fruit and crackers and the like.
When we planned to have this meeting on Thursday night, we didn’t realise that Thursday was actually St Patrick’s Day, so we ended up celebrating the Irish day in a very French way.
I wasn’t expecting St Patrick’s Day to be as big a deal here as it was. I guess the festivity increases with proximity to Ireland. The Square at uni literally reeked of beer – you could smell it from miles away. It was really fun. I think society should have more days of celebration, like the Romans. I loved the fact that everyone was wearing green. I loved the thought that everyone who was wearing green had made that little effort when they were getting dressed that morning, in concert. There’s something cool about it.
Before the French celebrations began, we went down to the Blue Bar to watch the UEA Take Me Out that Caroline had signed herself up for. The English LOVE this trashy show, so the turnout was incredible. The bar was packed. We joked that if the same thing was done at UOW about four people would’ve signed themselves up and it would’ve been an awkward DIY affair at the unibar with minimal viewers. This is what UEA’s version looked like:
This dude’s ‘skill’ – knocking a cup off his friend’s head with a football.
Then it was time for ze food. Apparently the drink wasn’t as tasty as it was supposed to be because the only one we could get was ‘brut’ or ‘strong’, which doesn’t taste as good.
Tilly showing us how it’s done with her waitress skillz.
Caroline uncorking her first bottle of Champagne.
Only a week later, we attended a curry night at English friend Kim’s house, where her housemate Avani whipped up a curry storm! It was amazing in scale and taste:
The curry was followed by games, including Pictionary and Scrabble. I’d like to brag that I lead ‘my’ team, ‘Luke Lucas and the Couch Potatoes’ to glorious victory!
I then retired while the expert Scrabblers showed off. It was an amazing display of wordmanship, as can be seen below. And yes, parquet can be used as a present tense verb!
Soon after curry night was a Vietnamese night hosted by some of Caroline’s friends, where more incredible food was thrown before us and another good night was had by all.
We tried out some wines on special that were somehow Chardonnay/Chenin Blanc/Semillon and Pinot Noir/Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot all in one? They were SUPER WINES!
Tilly models the super wine.
Finally, the other night Caroline, Barbara, Dave, Megan and Bianca were having a vegetarian pasta night to plan their Morocco trip, and Sam, Til and I decided to crash it and join them (because Sam and Bianca are opposite-gender equivalents of one another and had to meet).
More cuisine than anyone can handle!
Luke Bagnall here once again, realising, having written this post already, that it probably won’t be as interesting to anyone as it is to us, but it feels like it needs to be told, dammit! I give you
the latest travel disaster of the trip so far: the journey from Les Deux Alpes back to Norwich.
The first leg of this journey went smoothly, the worst part being when we had to move from one bus to another and I’d been asleep. It really went sour when we arrived at Stansted Airport with only two British pounds between us. That’s fine, we thought. We’ll just get some cash out at the airport. Oh wait, no, Luke lost his wallet in Ireland and now has no cards, and Tilly has no money in the account she can access with her card.
That’s okay, we think again, they have internet at airports. We’ll just get on and Til can transfer money from one of her accounts to the account she can access and then we’ll be fine. So we spend one of our two pounds on ten minutes internet access. But for some reason the computer WILL NOT LOAD Til’s internet banking page.
We decide to explain the situation to one of the people behind airport help desk in the hopes that they will lend us their computers for thirty seconds to transfer the money. But of course they don’t. They tell us to go and try another internet access point run by the same company. Obviously those computers didn’t work either, so we went back to the desk a second time and asked again, thinking this time surely they would show some human compassion and let us use their computers for a SECOND. But no, British customer service proves itself once again to be shocking. They couldn’t really have cared less, despite the fact that their stupid advice had left us stranded in the airport, bereft of our last two pounds. Instead of helping us they directed us down to the nearby swanky Radisson Blu hotel to ask them for help. Great work there, Stansted Customer Service.
Thank God for the rich. They could afford to let us use their lobby internet access point despite the fact that we weren’t staying there.
That night we stayed at the Days Hotel Stansted, resting and recovering for the next leg of our journey. The plan was simple. Tilly would leave at six in the morning so she could catch the Stansted Express and the tube to get across London to the ski shop to return her gear, then meet me back at Victoria Coach Station for our one o’clock bus. I left a couple of hours later, catching the Stansted Express to London Liverpool Street, from where I was supposed to catch the tube to Victoria Station. Seemingly a simple task, but no.
Liverpool Street accesses three London lines: the Metropolitan Line, the Circle Line, and the Hammersmith & City Line. Trains for the last two lines both leave from the same platform. I knew this as I rushed down to the platform, but I was so ahead of time that I thought I may as well just get on the train sitting there – if it was the wrong one I could always just catch the train back.
I sat in my seat, anxiously looking out the window. If the next station was Aldgate, I was on the right train. If it was Aldgate East, I was on the Hammersmith & City Line and going the wrong way. It was the latter.
So attempt two. I get back to Liverpool Street and arrive on the same platform once again. Usually you can tell where the next train to arrive is going by the electronic signs that hang above you. But they only tell you the ultimate destination of the train, not the intervening stations, so if you have no knowledge of London trainlines, you need a map, of which there were none around AT ALL. The next train arrives and I stick my head in to hear the ‘next stop’ announcement; there isn’t one. I’d noticed on my way back from Aldgate East that trains have the same coloured railings inside as the lines on which they travel. Clever, I think. This train has yellow railings, the colour of the Circle Line. Good. This one should take me to Aldgate.
Nope. Aldgate East again. SO FRUSTRATING. HOW ARE YOU SUPPOSED TO KNOW WHERE THE TRAIN IS GOING!?
At this point it’s a choice between going back to Liverpool Street again and chancing whatsoever the next train may be, or just taking the District Line from Aldgate East, which also goes to Victoria, but which takes a lot longer and will probably make me late.
I go with District Line because if I end back up at Aldgate East again I might just go mad.
I emerge from Victoria Station, FINALLY, having followed a sign that said ‘Exit’ and ‘Victoria Coach Station’, which I think is convenient. On the surface I search further for a sign directing me to VCS, but to no avail. How can they guide me so cossetingly to the surface only to abandon me like this? I find a map which has VCS on it, but of course, there’s no street signs around to tell me which street I’m on and the map is consequently pretty useless.
Til calls me, very annoyed because she had apparently been trying to call me the whole time I was in the tube and because she had JUST missed the bus to Norwich herself (THANK GOD – I would’ve been in so much trouble if we both hadn’t have missed it) due to a couple of travel disasters of her own, including the Stansted Express taking half an hour later than it should’ve, the ski shop being closed until nine, several tube lines being cancelled, and a typically overenthusiastic British set of directions from a policeman.
After hanging up, I decide the only way to get to the coach station is to circumnavigate the train station and see what streets surround it. As soon as I get to the other side, though, I find signs directing me to it anyway. So misleading! Why on EARTH would that sign clearly reading ‘Victoria Coach Station’ have lead me to an exit on the OPPOSITE SIDE OF THE TRAIN STATION TO THE COACH STATION!?
Long story short we have to buy new tickets to Norwich and wait an hour or two. This means that we will not make it to uni in time to hand in our Creative Writing assignments at three, and probably not before the submissions close for the day at five, meaning we’ll have to hand them in the next day and incur a 10% penalty instead of just 5%.
When we do arrive at uni, though, we find that we still have fifteen minutes to get it in. We rush to the library to print them and do so, but for SOME RIDICULOUS REASON the printer just prints out ten BLANK PAGES instead of my assignment and has the audacity to CHARGE ME FOR IT! AHHHH! HOW do these absurd travel disasters keep happening!? HOW does everything manage to go wrong all at once!?
With five minutes to spare, Til prints hers and I go back to a computer to print mine again. Til got hers in literally at the last minute and I missed out. Luckily I explained the whole situation to the illustrious Trezza Azzopardi and she granted me an extension.
Thus concludeth travel disaster #4, the most recent and hopefully LAST travel disaster of our exchange trip!
Luke Bagnall writing on me and my girlfriend Tilly’s snowboarding trip to the French Alps during Reading Week.
More bludgey degrees the world over appear to have at least one thing in common – a week off from classes in the middle of semester for no determinable reason, usually called something vaguely suggesting productivity (‘Reading Week’, ‘Study Week’, ‘Postgraduate Week’) but never actually living up to that suggestion. Kind of like the Patriot Act. Anyway, in the UK, this week is especially superfluous due to the miniscule amount of contact hours we have, so Til and I decided to put our Reading Week to good use by spending it snowboarding in France.
We had a massive journey through London to ski shops and such before we left, and I found the train advertisement below pretty amusing:
I like how the Australian expression is the big one in the centre.
Les Deux Alpes featured on the board in the English snow shop.
From Grenoble airport we had a massive trip in a pre-booked taxi which for some reason left its meter on the whole time, causing us occasionally to pass nervous glances at each other as it crept towards 280 euro, hoping the driver wasn’t going to try and make us pay when we arrived.
That first afternoon we met our roommate Jean-Paul, another Aussie, then went for a ‘splore.
Surrounded by les boulangeries!
Cool roof snow
Random fox! Babelfish says: Hey!!! Made as me … Smile!!! But our French-speaking friend Caroline says: Hey!!! Do what I do … Smile!!!
We were feeling pretty French by this point. Every time I heard someone speaking it I’d get one of the four to five French songs I know (‘Champs-Elysees’, ‘Ta Douleur’, ‘Radio Song’, etc.) stuck in my head. Like how I almost racistly think of that Just Car Insurance ad voiceover that goes ‘Jhia, ru’ or something when I hear Asian languages. Also at this stage we were hungry, so we decided to have a French feast. It was amazing! The bread! The cheese! The BUTTER!
That night we were s’posed to meet the rest of the people doing the package and our guide person thingy in the bar. We headed down to the hotel bar looking for a rowdy pack of Australians, but they were nowhere to be seen. Then this Canadian girl said hi unexpectedly, and I confusedly said it back, to which she replied ‘I don’t know you but I can see you’re from Australia from your jumper (I was wearing my uni hoodie). Are you on the Topdeck tour?’ Ten seconds later I caught up:
Turns out she was the guide person thing, Chrissy. For some reason this awkward exchange repeated itself like, four times over the week, each time for different reasons. She spotted us from a chairlift and waved one day, but was all geared up and far away, so that took a good thirty seconds (who else could it possibly have been, Luke? You’re in the middle of the French Alps, for Christ’s sake), and then we ran into her in the bar and she had her hair down for the first time, so I didn’t recognise her again!
Chrissy was sitting with Jean-Paul, and informed us that we three comprised the entirety of the tour group. Three people! Apparently she often gets numbers as big as forty, but we had three! We were a bit surprised, but it turned out to be good ’cause we could go places we couldn’t have if there were more of us, and Chrissy and Jean-Paul were really cool.
We made plans to meet up again later for some guided exploration and went upstairs to have dinner. All our meals were included in the package, which could’ve sucked, but thankfully the foooood wassss incredibllllle. Different stuff every day, but always delicious, always baguettes and icecream. I cannot communicate in words the awesomeness of three French-cooked buffet meals a day. I ate so much that despite all the snowboarding and the cold weather and such, I stayed the exact same weight. The food in general in Les Deux Alpes was really good. There was the incredible lolly shop where we accidentally spent 15 euro, and Crepes a Go Go, where Tilly and I devoured caramel- and cheese-drizzled crepes respectively.
Also, they drink cider from bowls!
Til and Jean-Paul being led by Chrissy
The Polar Bear – an English pub.
Then there was the actual snowboarding. So good. It’s going to be pretty crap going back to Perisher after that. I improved substantially while I was there. Finally got the proper motion down, under the keen tutelage of our instructor Nancy, who had to keep translating her instructions solely for our benefit, and who could never remember the word ‘above’. But even Tilly learned some stuff from her (Til’s gone to the snow every year since high school started).
We were a bit worried at one point that Nancy was spending so long explaining things to the French people in our group, and then kind of just talking for thirty seconds to us, but Chrissy explained that it just takes longer to say things in French, as evidenced by these signs:
And while we’re on the subject, we found this display pretty funny:
On the Tuesday night, Til, Jean-Paul, Chrissy, her friend Owen and I all went out for a big one. Got a bit messy, learned some good drinking games, danced, and played with the camera:
‘Fingers in the middle!’
Til and I with Jean-Paul and Owen.
At one point some green face paint emerged from somewhere, and I narrowly averted having it forced upon me. For some reason I’ve always had some irrational aversion to face paint, even when I had my Lion King fifth birthday party and Mum made me an awesome Simba costume – she convinced me to let her paint my face like a lion and I could wash it off if I wanted afterwards (thinking I’d be convinced by how awesome it was) but I insisted I wash it off. Tilly wasn’t so prudish, but she paid for it the next day when she couldn’t get it out of her eyebrows and she was wearing orange so she looked like an Oompa Loompa, moreso than this picture reveals:
‘What do you get when you guzzle down sweets? Eating as much as an elephant eats …’
That’s okay though, ’cause judging from the picture further above I looked like a giant smurf in camo on the slopes.
While we were out I kept noticing things different about the drinking culture in France. All the bar people drink while working, but they’re all just generally more … responsible? Maybe that’s why we have such strict laws in Oz. At one point I saw the bar girl filling up this keg with beer – it was kind of like a gigantic transparent tube with a tap, and I thought ‘here we go’. But no, the gentlemen who bought it simply kept it next to them, refilling their glasses politely and drinking it in a responsible amount of time. I was floored. In Australia, the sole purpose of such a contraption would be to pass it around drinking it as fast as possible and sculling it beer-bong style. Later that night I saw some guy buying a massive bottle of Champagne at the bar, which wasn’t weird until I saw him taking it back to his table. It was four young guys with Champagne glasses, taking photos of themselves. Not allowed in an Australian bar, haha. The men also all kiss each other hello. Often on the lips. So different!
On the subject of diverging cultural conceptions of acceptable masculine behaviour (haha): they’re really into their foosball over here, apparently instead of pool? Can you imagine four beer-bellied, tattooed, shearing singlet-sporting Aussie blokes crowded around a foosball table in a pub? VBs in one hand, handles in the other? We were just sitting next to a foosball table and these three French guys asked us if we wanted to play. Jean-Paul, being a more experienced European traveller than I, immediately declined. I was on the verge of accepting when another one turned up, making their number an even four – and lucky for me ‘cause they have CRAZY skillz. It would’ve been pretty embarrassing.
I think it has something to do with passion – that’s why the Europeans love soccer so much. We’re too cool; laconic. Emotive displays make us cringe. We’re embarrassed by the idea of a sport where scoring is so rare that it necessitates explosive outbursts of joy, a sport that encourages you play-up your injuries – it’s just not cricket (hardee har har). Aussie men need a pub game where they can stoically stand back, an approproate distance from one another, drinking their beers, taking stock, and casually sauntering up and knocking a ball into a hole with a big stick, not the intensity of foosball, squeezed in around a table yelling. Maybe it’s all the pulling and spinning and gyrating of those little knobs that doesn’t appeal to us, I don’t know.
Their clubs reflect this kind of thing as well. Obviously there’s all the Dance RNB Hip-Hop Pop stuff we get in Western clubs, but there’s also this weird kind of ballady folkie empowering anthem type-stuff that’s sung in some European language which gets a reaction out of them that the other stuff doesn’t. They all stand around in a circle swaying and singing along and waving a pointed finger around in the air for emphasis. It’s kind of cool and kind of cringey, I think because it’s related to something that was in fashion for the rest of the world in the nineties, which originated in Europe but never died out there. I got some footage of this on my iPod, but once again this site doesn’t allow mp4 uploads.
I think the clubs we went to were more fun/nostalgia-oriented and less cool-oriented. Let’s just say I thought I’d danced my last Macarena when I stopped going to school discos, and I had no idea I remembered all the words to ‘Mambo No. 5’.
The morning after our big night, I slept in, but Til’s been too ingrained with the Australian Snowtrip mantra of ‘Must … make the most … of this ridiculously priced venture. Must … get up at six … and come home at six.’ I decided to take it a bit easier, ’cause the only two times I’d been to the snow before, I’d had trouble with my knee and leg cramps, and the longest of those was three days. I lasted fine, but Til burned herself out a bit and had to ease off towards the end. Anyway, that morning while we were all floating around in the half-consciousness of hangovers, still in bed, a girl appeared at our window (two storeys up, but there’s a roof between it and the next building) and started talking in French. We were like, ‘Sorry … Anglais?’ and then she just jumped through our window and out our door. It was pretty surreal, but she did it again a few mornings later. We figured she was from next door and went out onto the roof to smoke and got locked out by her friends, but I guess we’ll never really know … *wist*
The window (doubling as a fridge).
At some point we went to a trivia night held in French, which was challenging, but we came in like third or fourth place with the help of Chrissy’s translations. Apparently the hotel decides based on the turnout at the trivia night whether or not all the ski and snowboard instructors put on a sketch show, and since it was so packed, they did. It was mostly really physical humour that we didn’t need to speak French to get, so it was great. There was one sketch, though, where a guy walked out onto the stage with a rope trailing behind him. He turned around and began talking offstage, as if he had an animal tied to it. The animal turned out to be a dead, skinned hare which he proceeded to swing around the stage by the rope, occasionally hurling it out towards the audience, chunks of gristle flying everywhere. French humour.
Awkward but entertaining audience participation.
Another night Chrissy arranged for us to get discounts going night time snowmobiling. I decided I wasn’t going to tell this story here … for the shame. But I guess I am, so oh well. We walked up to these skimobiles and this French friend of Chrissy’s, named some Gallicised version of David like Davide or something, who runs the skimobile thing told us how to make it go and how to make it stop and to lean when we’re turning and that was about it. He asked if any of us had any experience with quadbikes, which I had, and said that we should be the ones driving up the mountain ’cause it’s more difficult, and our partners should drive back down.
So off we went. About five minutes in, mine and Til’s skimobile went right off track. I couldn’t see a thing because I didn’t realise there were two layers of visor on the helmet and I had both down, one being a sun shade, and also we were at the back of the convoy getting everyone else’s dust. So the French dude came down and set us back on course.
The track wound up the mountain Mt Ousley-style, and we’d been driving for about twenty or thirty minutes and still hadn’t reached snow – there were sparks flying off the bottom of our skimobiles. At each of the bends in the run one of the leaders would stop and wave us past to make sure we didn’t go careering off the mountain. So when we came to yet another turn in the anfractuous track and the French dude had stopped, I just assumed that’s what he was doing. It then became apparent he was telling me to stop, which I did. He stormed over and told me off a bit for not listening and then started telling us about how dangerous the next part was. He made it sound so dangerous that we started to wonder whether we should be doing it at all. When I said I had quadbike experience I meant in a field or a bush track, five years ago, not a fricking mountain! A mountain with no snow on it, no less.
We did end up just going back down. Pretty embarrassing. Chrissy said she’d never had anyone not be able to do it before. I didn’t think I was that hopeless, so I wondered if it had something to do with driving a skimobile for the first time without any snow, and Chrissy confirmed that the snow had never been as dried up as it was at the moment and usually the whole track was covered in it, so that could’ve contributed. Anyway, I’d rather be embarrassed than dead so there you go, haha.
On our last day in Les Deux Alpes, we were going up for one last snowboard. We were waiting for the bus when I looked down and noticed a gaping hole in the snowpants I’d borrowed from Rob Perry, a friend from UEA. It was right in the crotch, and all the insulation was exposed. There was no way I could snowboard like that, so my last day was ruined by a wardrobe malfunction. I felt really bad ruining Rob’s pants, so I went around Les Deux Alpes asking various ski shop employees if they did repairs and if they could fix it. I kept having to ask sheepishly ‘… Pardon, Anglais?’ to which they would reluctantly reply ‘Oui’ or ‘A little’ before spreading their hands and shaking their heads in reply to my question. Finally I thought to ask if they had any idea where I could get it fixed and they said to ask at the tourist centre. By some amazing stroke of luck, the woman at the counter was a seamstress herself, and said she’d fix it for five euro and I could pick it up at four. So that was lucky, but it still meant I had to sit around waiting instead of snowboarding on my last day in the French Alps. But at least the bus back to the airport had a window ledge!
And so ended our very productive study week. I hope everyone else got as much reading done as we did!
Luke again, this time posting about my return to Cork for my friend’s birthday.
If the first travel disaster of the trip was Tilly’s flight being delayed so that she arrived on Christmas Day, when there happens, absurdly, to be no public transport in London (even Wollongong has Christmas Day public transport) so that she had to pay seventy pounds for a cab to where we were staying (see ‘Some things that happened in london); and the second was when our train from Edinburgh to Newcastle was about to depart and we couldn’t find the place to print our tickets so we had to buy more on the train (see ‘English hospitality and castle tours’), then my journey to Ireland for my best friend Charlene’s birthday was certainly the third, and the worst yet.
Let me set the scene. It’s Wednesday and I have an assessment due at three in the afternoon and a train to London at three-thirty. Naughtily, I skip my class in the morning in order to finish the assignment and hand it in with plenty of time to print it out, submit it, pack for Ireland, print out my Ryanair boarding pass, and pick up my train tickets which I’d had delivered to the university for my convenience. I finish my assignment and go to print it out, but the university printer network is temporarily down. That’s okay, I think, I have so much else to do that I can come back in two hours when it’s back up again. I ask the guy at the front desk in the library if he knows anything about when they will be back up, and he replies that I’ll have to go and see the IT Helpdesk; he knows nothing abouti t. That’s RIDICULOUS. The line for the IT Helpdesk is twenty-people long. As IF the Helpdesk wouldn’t be in communication with the MAIN RECEPTION so they could answer that question.
Anyway, then I head to the post room, where I’ve never been before. I give the man my student card and ask if there’s any mail for me. There isn’t. Huh, I think … Odd. They should’ve arrived like, yesterday. Then I remember that we paid for the tickets on Tilly’s credit card, so they might have been delivered under her name but to my address, because I definitely put my address on there. I call Tilly because they probably won’t give something addressed to her to me. She doesn’t answer. I call her a further twenty-eight times. She doesn’t answer. Since there’s nothing else to be done, I head back home to pack my bag and write a plaintive status update, which Tilly sees and calls me.
We meet back up again at the mail room and she sees if she has any mail under my address. She doesn’t. I decide to call the train company and tell them my tickets haven’t been delivered, but I’m in the middle of uni with none of my details or reference numbers so the guy isn’t very helpful, and I end up running out of credit halfway through anyway. I buy more credit and call from my room. He insists that they have been delivered. I return to the mail room once again with Tilly and this time we try her address and her name, in case they saw her name addressed to the wrong flat and put the mail in what they thought was the right one. There’s no mail for her at her address either. By this time they’ve seen me three times in like, two hours, and I just decide to explain the whole situation. Then he informs me that for registered mail it’s my responsibility to check a separate list. HOW WAS I SUPPOSED TO KNOW!?
Anyway, the tickets are there but it’s now quarter to three and my assignment still isn’t printed. We go to the computer labs in case the printers are working there, but they’re not. I decide it’s best to just go to the English Lit office and ask them what to do, since no one else must be able to print their assignments either. On the way I call a taxi to arrive at three to take me to the train station, but the lady on the phone says I’ll want it now if I’m going to make it through traffic by three-thirty. This means I have to bolt to the office because the taxi is on its way. When I get there, the receptionist tells me the library has been taking down people’s details and saving their documents to be printed and collected later, with notes explaining why they’re late. But this doesn’t help me because I have to leave NOW. As a sign that the universe still loves me, my lecturer for that subject somehow happened to be outside the office photocopying things at that exact moment, and I flustered at her until she agreed to accept my assignment by email, thank GOD.
I then RUSH to the place I’d arranged for the taxi to come to, and despite all that, I miss my train by a minute. I thought I was screwed but I hadn’t counted on the politeness of the English. I explained my situation and the lady at the desk gave me a free ticket. Bizarre. That would never happen in Australia. If you miss your train you miss your train. Harden up. Drink some concrete. Rub some dirt in it.
Anyway, from here on out things settled down and started working out for me. Little did I know my good luck wasn’t to continue, but more on that later.
The only thing I was really worried about at this point was that I hadn’t printed my Ryanair boarding pass, an offense for which they make you a pay forty pound fee. I somehow needed to find a place when I got to London where I could access the internet and print it out – but at six o’clock at night? I couldn’t even do that in Sydney, let alone a city I had no idea about. My first objective was to find a cafe that had free wireless, which was surprisingly difficult. A calm had fallen over me, however, because of the way everything had worked out with the previous disaster. I felt at one with the universe (haha), and was enjoying the experience of being alone in London on an adventure.
When I emerged from the Underground, there was a man standing there with a megaphone saying things like, ‘Do not ask questions like “Who created God?” Leave these to the theologians … Please carry on towards your next material purchase’ etc. It was really entertaining and he had a bit of a crowd around him. I recorded some footage on my iPod but I don’t think this site lets you upload mp4s.
I eventually found a Pret cafe (which I really love: they’re really quirky and they’re either genuine or canny in their environmentally friendly marketing) that had free internet, and googled ‘printing internet access London’. I found a nearby internet cafe and navigated my way to it slowly. I think it was called the Galaxy Internet Cafe or something, and there was some pretty cool street art around:
On the way back I came across these kind of art exhibition things and nearly went past, but then I made myself go in and have a look and start a conversation with someone. I did it, but once again I didn’t account for the differeing national character. Where the English politeness had helped me before, I now ran afoul of Londoner standoffishness. Pretty sure if someone who was obviously a backpacker came up and started to have a conversation with someone in Australia they’d be up for it, but they seemed kind of weird about being approached. Still glad I made myself do it though.
I stayed that night in Stansted because my flight the next morning was really early – like, five or something. Somehow, because I’d been staying up so late recently, I thought it would be a good idea to stay up all night because it’d be easier than making myself go to sleep early. This was a plan doomed from its outset. I ended up having an hour of sleep and desperately wanting more.
And now, the sad conclusion of my bad luck: I arrived in Cork, met Charlene at the airport and instantly began talking the way we do. While doing so I wandered around taking photos haplessly, not realising what I’d done. I’d lost my wallet.
Appreciating a dew-covered statue of a hurler during those last moments of innocent joy …
Obviously I went all around the airport talking to people but to no avail. And I got really pissed off because of the dismissive way the staff on the whole treated me. It just wouldn’t happen in Australia. They wouldn’t just say ‘Sorry, nothing’s been reported’ – they’d suggest what you should do next, who you should talk to, where you could leave your phone number. So frustrating! Service is so bad on this side of the world!
Anyway, that was a really crap way to start my trip in Cork. But I got over it eventually. It was the credit cards I was most worried about, and they’re all sorted now. I lost about a hundred Euro, but that was the worst of it. In those last minutes before I realised I’d lost my wallet I took the picture below of a crow sitting on a sign, but as I took it, it flew off, which augured my bad luck ‘flying off’ because after that I was all good.
Losing my wallet though, did force a temporary stop to my travelling giving campaign. Right before I left I watched an interview with Australian philosopher Peter Singer, where he talked about his aim to change the culture of giving so that donation was an ordinary thing – something which you would expect any decent person to do. You could meet people, conceivably, and casually say, ‘Oh, so who do you donate to?’ I really like this idea, but if I’m going to donate to one organisation I want to do my research and work out which cause suits me, which one I really want to give my money to, and I haven’t done that yet. I can’t really explain it, I suspect because it doesn’t make sense, but I feel a kind of guilt being in someone else’s country and being better off than them. Here I am, a visitor, a traveller in London and there’s a homeless man whose country this is, and I’m better off than him. I just made a promise to myself that, while travelling, I would give something to everyone who asked it of me – even if it’s just always the smallest coin in my pocket (although I think giving single pennies away is more insulting than anything else). I know it’s irrational, but I don’t think giving can really be a bad thing, so I’m happy to keep doing it. It’s either homeless people, charity workers, or buskers, so the money’s never going somewhere it shouldn’t.
Anyway, onto actual Cork. This was my second visit, and Charlz and I basically fell into our old habit of waking up late, wandering around the city, going somewhere for breakfast, then spending the day until dinner in a cafe somewhere drinking coffees and hot chocolates. I’ve really missed our seven-hour conversation marathons in Gloria Jean’s back home, so we had to take advantage of the time we had. It’s hard spending so much time in cafes, though, because they don’t really have the flat white over here, and back home it’s the standard staple caffeinated drink. Without my flat whites I don’t know what to order. Lattes are pretty close, but they come in big effeminate glasses and I feel like an idiot. And cappuccinos? Eh, I don’t really like froth. Luckily, I think the flat white is starting to take hold. I’ve seen it on a few menus with a ‘New!’ sticker next to it, such as at Eat in London. They had it in the Cork Costa, but it was obviously really new and they were trying to fan the flame of its success. They had a deal where you could try it and if you didn’t like it you could have your regular coffee free, but they wouldn’t let you have it in any greater quantity than a small because of the risk, haha.
This time I made a point of taking a photo of Mr Connolly’s bookshop. Lonely Planet has named him as an integral part of Cork’s culture, and he’s a very interesting man. He resents being turned into a tourist attraction, and while I was talking to him (because Charlene knows him) he told someone off for trying to take a photo of him without his permission. I was therefore a bit apprehensive about taking this photo, in case he thought that’s what I was doing, but I got away without getting in trouble.
That’s James Joyce out the front, there.
On Charlene’s actual birthday we followed much the same routine as usual, going to cafes and stuff.
Entertaining nonsensical tryhard sachets.
A disappointing iced coffee – the Europeans just don’t get it.
We also went out to dinner at Charlene’s favourite restaurant, Scoozi’s, where I gave a brief speech in an attempt to embarrass her.
Anyway, I think this post’s gone on long enough!