Thursday, 26 April 2012

All good things...

Mayhaps, dear reader, this shall be the final blog entry of my overseas adventure. I am sitting in a hotel near Feltham station, very close to Heathrow Airport. I have just had my first shower in nearly 60 hours and am feeling fresh as a daisy, and Sean is out gallivanting with Will for a final hurrah. It feels really, really odd to know that this time tomorrow we will have been flying for a few hours, and even weirder to know that a few hours after that, we will be home. I have missed Melbourne and all my friends and family back there, but I will miss the UK/Europe dearly as well. Some of the most memorable moments of my life have occurred in the last 14 weeks and I have been stunned and amazed by the people I have met and the experiences I have had. Meeting up with friends and family was a great way to break the trip up and, injuries aside, I wouldn't change a moment of our itinerary. I am literally down to about 3 pounds (I may weasel some breakfast money from Sean tomorrow) and have chucked a whole bunch of clothes/toiletries that I don't need clogging up my suitcase on the way home. Today was busy, but in a good way, beginning with actually chatting to the girls in our dorm and finding out they were actually really nice, then meeting Will at The Globe so I could do a quick, final shop, before having some drinks and talking about everything Shakespeare. We made our way to the hotel with no trouble and right now I am luxuriating in a comfy bed, a clean, private bathroom and our own space before we are herded into economy class tomorrow (fingers crossed for decent seats. I plan to use the crutches to elicit sympathy). Thankyou everyone for all your support and good wishes and joy in our experiences through Facebook, Skype, this blog and everything else we have managed. I shall see ya'll shortly!

Wednesday, 25 April 2012


Okay, so last night we went out to a really delicious Indian restaurant for dinner and then decided (after a brief pub stop) that we wanted to see a movie. The only movie we seemed to agree on was The Hunger Games, so we headed to Camden. We stopped at The Cultured Cow for some tastily hipster frozen yoghurt, and witnessed a bag-snatch. So uncool. I felt really bad for the customer, it had just been sitting on her table right next to her arm, but the guy was so quick. Ugh. Anyway, The Hunger Games turned out to be better than Sean and I expected (possibly because as we were entering, a guy came out complaining loudly to his girlfriend 'That was TWILIGHT! I just watched bloody TWILIGHT!'). We were back at the hostel just after 12 and our roommates, who we have not met, were already asleep, and got rather snippy when we woke them. Might I point out, we were not bashing around the room like elephants, we were tiptoeing and kept the lights off in order to be respectful. Geez Louise. Anyway, they got up and left for the day at, I kid you not, 3.30 in the morning. And both Sean and I managed to keep our mouths shut when they woke us. Sigh.

Anyway, today we got up and found a hotel near Heathrow to spend the last night of our trip in. We are both too tired to put up with being uncomfortable the night before we get on a plane, so hopefully this means a god night's sleep and a decent shower. Yay! Then we headed to Covent Garden to see Matilda. My goodness. I don't know if I have ever seen a better show. First of all, I love the book, and I think Roald Dahl was a sort of genius. And all my favourite bits of the novel were included! Tim Minchin is also a sort of genius, and this is reflected in the amazing soundtrack. But it was the kids who completely won me over. Not just Matilda, though she was obviously the standout, but Lavender and Bruce and little Eric, and all the other children were so full of energy and character and when Amanda Thripp got thrown by her pigtails I thought I would die of laughter. And then there were the adult performers. First of all, the extremely funny Michael Wormwood was played by the same actor I saw four years ago on the West End in the Lord of the Rings musical. He played Samwise Gamgee and it was BIZARRE to see him as this tv-obsessed dumbo who couldn't string a sentence together. Mama and Papa Wormwood were wonderful - extremely funny and ridiculous and completely owning every second of it. And they were so rude to poor little Matilda, but they didn't hold back and neither did she. Miss Honey was suitably gentle and sweet, with a perfect voice and a really lovely stage presence, but, perhaps obviously, Miss Trunchbull was the best. Played by a dude, but he didn't play it as a joke 'drag' routine. He just played her as a complete sadist, with a very quiet, dangerous voice, very true to the book. Absolute WINNER of a costume too :) The script included many of my favourite Dahl-ian insults and a couple of extra characters thrown in that really added to the stage version. I would recommend this to everyone, whether you are a theatre fan or not. You will laugh (oh, you will laugh) and you may even shed a tear, as I may or may not have. Oh, and the set involved hundreds of books and alphabet letters. So. Awesome. Anyway, still buzzing off the feeling of Matilda, we went to Masala Zone for our second curry in two days and had a great dinner. Now we're back at the hostel. 2 more sleeps til we hop on the plane!!

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Back to Londontown

Yesterday I was extremely lazy. I pretty much read, watched television and ate yummy mozzarella, tomato and avocado salad that Anna made. We went for a walk to the pub for dinner and then went for another walk to another pub for a pint. Anna and Nige and Sarah-Jane have been such great hosts. We left just before lunchtime today and hopped on a train back to London. It was our last National Rail trip for the holiday...weird. Now we're in Generator hostel in London. The next couple of days will be interesting ones, but its not long now until we hop on the plane. That will be interesting to, with my legs being the way they are. Attempts to get moved to a seat with better leg room haven't proved too fruitful. The quest continues...

Sunday, 22 April 2012


We got up this morning (myself a lot slower than Sean, as usual) and Nige, Anna and Sarah-Jane kindly took us in the car to Tynemouth Market. We went on a biiiig walk, with some beautiful views of the river and looked through the market which conveniently included a book fair...before having lunch in front of the ruined castle and priory, all in brilliant sunshine. We drove home along the coast and it reminded me of the more beautiful parts of the Mornington Peninsula.

I had a nap when we got home, and Sean and Sarah-Jane had slinky tournaments down the stairs. The girl is only five and is being taught about Monet, and has thus produced a vast quantity of Impressionist drawings. Amazing stuff. Nige's parents came over and we went down to their allotment, which is their plot in the community gardens where they are growing heaps of vegies, herbs and even hops! (Nige runs a micro-brewery). Then Nige's sister and brother came over and we all had Sunday dinner with vegies from the allotment, and rhubarb crumble, also made from allotment grown ingredients! Nige's mum used to be the children's librarian for Newcastle and knew authors like Jacqueline Wilson before she was famous. Sarah-Jane and I made Lego masterpieces and later we watched Crazy Heart (SJ was in bed by then) before I headed upstairs myself. In another staggering display of generosity, Nige and Anna have insisted we stay another night, free of charge. Bless this house!

Saturday, 21 April 2012

South Shields and Newcastle

After a day in which Sean went exploring and I stayed home because of my swollen knees (but I found Pottermore and then it wasn't so bad), we had Chinese food and red wine with Nige and Anna and chatted and laughed at bad TV. Then this morning, we headed into South Shields. South Shields is not far from Newcastle (about half an hour on the metro) and Sean's grandfather is from there, so it was a special place to visit. We had a great time hobbling up the very trendy shopping district until we got to the ferry docks. We went for a walk along the waterfront, and Sean took lots of pics, before we got stuck in a rainstorm and ducked into a nearby pub. We then whiled away the next hour or so, chatting to the bartenders and two regulars about travelling and the UK and Aus and history and leather repair (Dad!) and beer and all manner of things. There were also some old photographs around the pub of what the area used to look like, which was pretty special. Once we made our farewells, we went for a bigger wander, all the way down to Ocean Rd, stopping to look in the pet shop, and even a small museum of South Shields (though it was closing and we only got as far as the gift shop). At about 6, we met up with Michael, Sean's great-cousin. He was really, really lovely. It's always weird meeting up with someone you have never seen before, but he was really warm and inviting. We had a few beers (cider for me) and talked for at least a couple of hours. On the way home my knees packed up from a day of walking. Even with crutches and compression bandages they couldn't stick it out the whole way home, so I went back to the house and Sean went and got us delicious Indian food for a late dinner. Cheers!

Thursday, 19 April 2012

Singin' In The Rain

I have now sent home 7 packages, and I hope that will be it! Yesterday we did some routine errands - finding a post office, booking Matilda tickets, calling Sean's relatives in South Shields - before heading off to the West End to see Blood Brothers. The box office people were kind of unhelpful, but to cut a long story short, we didn't get to see it. No matter, we wandered down the street, just to see, out of interest, if there were any reasonably priced seats available for Singin' In The Rain. Neither of us had ever seen the movie or the show - I know, terrible of us, really terrible - but we ended up getting seats for 25 pounds (they were classed as 'restricted view', but we had no trouble with the view at all). After an insanely delicious dinner at a Mexican place, we took our seats in the auditorium. I loved it!! The dancing and the chorey were just mental. I'm not a dancer, but I know mind-blowing steps when they're done in front of me and this stuff was so good it hurt. Particularly, of course, the climactic numbers in the actual rain. The first four rows of the audience got a generous soaking, but we were safe back in row H. The girl who played Kathy was the standout, but we saw the Lina Lamont understudy and she was wonderful. I'm so glad that our first Singin' In The Rain experience was a production of such quality and magnitude. Afterwards, we hightailed back to Shepherd's Bush to make sure we got in before Tim and Helen went to bed. We thanked them for having us, though there is no way we could possibly repay them for their kindness, and wished them luck for Egypt (exciting!) before dropping into bed. This morning we got up, packed up and headed to King's Cross where we caught a train to Newcastle. We are staying in South Gosforth in a place we found on airbnb. Our lovely hosts are Nigel (away at the moment) and his lovely wife Anna and their beautiful daughter Sarah-Jane. And their cat, Buttons, who I shall be taking back to Aus with me. Sean and I went for dinner at a nice Italian place, had a quick pint at the pub, and came back for an early night. Phew!

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Potter, potter, pott-er, POTT-ER!!!

Okay, so it's been another few days between blogs, but that is because I haven't done too much. My days have pretty much consisted of lying down at Tim and Helen's and watching television and reading books and hobbling around Shepherd's Bush just for 20 minute stretches and this is because my legs are still really freaking painful. Sean came back from Germany on Monday after a brilliant weekend at Volksfest in Nuremberg and I'm really glad he got to do that, because it sounded like he had a brilliant time. Volksfest is a beer drinking festival, which makes me glad I didn't go, because there would have been very little for me to do! Anyway, yesterday we had to actually get up and out of the house because we had booked a tour for the Warner Brothers Studio Tour of the HARRY POTTER FILM SETS!! It was pretttttttty exciting. We took the train and then a big Harry-themed shuttle bus out to Leavesden. It was packed. You walk into a giant foyer with enormous prints of all different characters around the side of the wall. I had paid for a digital guide, so I collected it and promptly realised while they call it a 'digital' guide instead of an 'audio' guide. It's an iPod touch, filled with stacks and stacks of photo galleries and audio tracks and short films and visitor's information, covering everything you could possibly want to know while you are there, from how they trained the animals, to the costumes designer's sketches for the Yule Ball, to where the toilets are and the souvenir shop.

After lining up for ages, you enter a room where they show you a short film about the producers and the development of the films and how they swept the world. Then you get led into a cinema, where they show  you another short film featuring the three main actors and their stories of 'growing up' in the studios. It is full of scripted cheesiness and I loved every second of it. And then, AND THEN, the curtain rises and you see the doors to the Great Hall. You enter through these and then you are there. The Great Hall. Where it all began. I nearly wet myself. All throughout the hall (and the rest of the exhibition) there are mannequins wearing the actual costumes used in the films. The actual props adorn the actual sets and the floor of the Great Hall is made from actual stone. Such. A. Cool. Place. For anyone thinking of going (and I highly recommend it to you all), make sure you book a relatively early time. Bearing in mind it takes a while to get to Leavesden, I would book a tour before midday. We booked ours for 4pm and the place closes at 7.30. It's not long enough. Not if you want to see everything, read every placard, watch everything playing on every screen, do the Quidditch photo op, watch each and every item on your digital guide and have time to look in the souvenir shop. It is easily and definitely worth your money, but if you are one of those people who needs to go through it slowly and thoroughly, you will need a long time. Once you head out of the Great Hall, you go through a giant room with all the interior sets (it used to be an aircraft hangar, that should give you an idea of the size of this room). We saw make-up and costume stations, the Hogwarts gates, the Yule Ball table dressings, the Gryffindor boy's dormitory, the Gryffindor Common Room, the Mirror of Erised, the Fat Lady's portrait, all the featured character's wands, props from Lupin's classroom, not to mention an enormous cage filled with props and set pieces from all eight films (including brooms, books, suits of armour, chandeliers, Horcruxes, the Time Turner, the Deluminator - pretty much any prop you can think of was available to see). We then continued on and saw Dumbledore's office (one of my favourite and most detailed sets), the Potion's classroom, the Burrow, the Portrait Wall, Hagrid's Hut, the animal training station, huge doors including the ones to the Chamber of Secrets, the vault in Gringotts and Hogwarts Castle itself, Mad-Eye Moody's chests, the Gringotts vault mobile thingy, Sirius's flying motorbike and plenty of Quidditch props and brooms. We saw the Triwizard Cup, the Golden Egg, and the Goblet of Fire. We saw sets of the Ministry of Magic atrium, Umbridge's Office, the Magic is Might statue, and the Vanishing Cabinet. There was also an enormous set of shelves with issues of the Quibbler and the Daily Prophet, all manner of textbooks and Weasley's Wizarding Wheezes products, even the letter from Lily Potter to Snape. Also in this section is an opportunity to get a photo on a broom. It's all against a greenscreen and they really make it look like you're flying and all. But we couldn't do that bit. Sad face :(

Once you finish in this epic hangar of Potter-awesomeness, you head out to the backlot where they have more big pieces of set/props, including ones you can actually sit in eg the Ford Anglia, Hagrid's motorbike and the Knight Bus. They also have number 4 Privet Drive, the house at Godric's Hollow, a huge piece of Hogwarts Bridge, Tom Riddle's gravestone and the giant chess pieces. Also...they sell Butterbeer!! We had to buy some, even though it was too sweet to even finish a cup (I think it may have been creaming soda...with cream...). Once we mined the backlot for every photo op possible, we headed back inside and went through the model rooms. This is where they created all the masks for the goblins, all the animatronics and movable things, as well as all the models for the special effects. So (get ready for another list), we saw Inferi, the Death Eater model that the DA used for practice, Bathilda Bagshot, Fenrir Greyback, mermaids, werewolves, Dobby, Robbie Coltrane's animatronic face for his size double (creepy), dead Voldemort baby thing from King's Cross (creepier), Hedwig, the Monster Book of Monsters, all the models of people's bodies for when they were dead/cursed/underwater, Aunt Marge blown up, Charity Burbage, the Basilisk, the Hungarian Horntail, Thestrals, Buckbeak, and giant spiders among a million other things. There was an informative short film playing with some of the people in charge of making these models, with Warwick Davis who played various roles. Then, onto the final part of the set displays - Diagon Alley. You walk up the cobbled street between the shopfronts that you've read about and seen on the screen and a piddly little camera simply cannot do it justice. But seeing all these places, dressed to look just perfect, makes you feel happier than ever that you've read the books and seen the films. Ugh. Harry Potter is the best thing ever. EVER. Anyway, once you're out of Diagon Alley, you head through some rooms with some really stunning art on the walls. There are not just sketches, but full-blown, enormous paintings and sculptures that were used while developing concepts for sketches. The exhibition finishes with an enormous, ENORMOUS model of Hogwarts. It's filled with fibre-optic lights and real stone and all manner of things that make the detail simply extraordinary. Again, there is no way to possibly do this justice with a camera, so you'll all simply have to visit yourselves. Cool. I didn't buy anything from the shop, amazingly, but I have a souvenir guidebook that I paid for with my ticket to remember it by, as well as about 4 million photos, which are now on Facebook. Enjoy!!

Friday, 13 April 2012

Portobello Market

So the last couple of days I have been chilling at Tim and Helen's apartment, which has been really relaxing. Sean jetted off to Germany for a few days yesterday and I went for a walk around Shepherd's Bush and watched lots of episodes of 'New Girl' and 'Grey's Anatomy'. Today however, I went to Portobello Road Market! I have been wanting to do this for years, and I thought I may as well go today, when I had the whole day free and could go at my own pace. It was really lovely weather, all warm and sunshiney and I managed to not spend very much at all - I bought a couple of tiny things and some tasty food from the stalls. They had some beautiful clothes and handbags, reeeeaaaallllyyy difficult to resist buying, not to mention some wonderful pieces of jewellery, but I managed to stick to my policy of just looking at the majority of things. There were plenty of antique bookstores, which were nearly my undoing, but I have to remind myself of baggage weight limits as well as cost. One guy had a stall with some early editions of Peter Pan and Wendy. He was asking around 85 pounds for each, but my goodness, editions like these were priceless. One day. When I'm a millionaire. I stopped for lots of rests and read Room by Emma Donoghue, which is brilliant, and had dinner and conversation with Tim and Helen when I got home. I am tired, but in a comfy way, not a meanly exhausted way. Until tomorrow, folks!

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Oxford :)

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, 8 April 2012

Dreaming spires

Firstly, for anyone who might be interested, but more for myself, a sort of 'virtual souvenir' if you will, here is the website for Thynghowe, an ancient Viking meeting place discovered in Sherwood Forest. The darling woman who took us through St Mary's Church yesterday is on the committee who look after it.

So! Today we woke up and had breakfast. Sean, thankfully, is feeling a bit better. He was still very tired and sore today, which for anyone who knows him, is not like him at all, but he still managed to drive us from Edwinstowe to Oxford after bidding farewell to Liane and Sunnyside B&B, as well as the two other lovely guests (Liane also cooked the most amazing devilled mushrooms on sourdough. I could have eaten six helpings). Once we arrived in Oxford, we met our host (who we found over airbnb, but he also uses couchsurfing,com). His name is Louis and he is the most lively, friendly and accommodating person. He lives alone in his semi-detached house that is crammed full of books and desks and decoration and life. He has a really lovely and comfy room upstairs for us, and endless knowledge of Oxford and the area surrounding it. He is taking us to see a final rehearsal for a theatre company he is in and is a keen cyclist, who also has a bad knee and is adamant cycling will help it. We couldn't have asked for a nicer welcome.

Once Sean had had a bit of a rest, we jumped on a bus into Oxford city centre. The bus drivers were all really helpful when we got confused with tickets and stops and everything, and Oxford's reputation as one of the friendliest cities we have visited was cemented by the porter at Christ Church College. He asked us where we were from and then proceeded to tell us about a dear friend of his, an Australian who he had met while working - she was a tourist - and he had then gone to stay in Brisbane with her for a month. Once I had spent money on unnecessary books, we made it back to Christ Church College for Evensong. Gah. So much beauty. The choir sounded - and yes, I'll say it, because it's true - heavenly. It was in the stunning cathedral and I was awed by the sound of the music. It didn't matter that we were almost too tired to hold our heads up, or that my knees were sore from standing up constantly. I am so glad we went. I got my fix of soul food, and it was particularly important being Easter. Simply glorious.

Afterwards we had a quick wagamama dinner, being very careful of Sean's stomach, before jumping on the bus back home and climbing straight into pajamas and straight into bed. It is ten PM here and Sean is already snoring. Bizarre!

Saturday, 7 April 2012


(PS. Yesterday we drove through the Pennines and there was snow everywhere and it was stunningly beautiful)

However, today was also wonderful. We were up early to take advantage of the enormous and delicious breakfast provided by our lovely host, Liane, over which we chatted to the other people staying here, a retired couple from the seaside (so quintessentially English and adorable). Afterwards, we got ourselves ready for the day and headed back to the Sherwood Forest Visitor Centre. We watched a video on the history of Sherwood Forest, which covered everything from pretty much the Bronze Age, Robin Hood's time, through the Dukeries, right up until today where efforts are being made to preserve old customs and conserve the remaining forestry. Then we walked up to the Major Oak again and took more photos, went through the walk-through exhibition they had on the folklore of Robin Hood, grabbed a drink at the Forest Table restaurant and went back to the Major Oak where I had a go at shooting a longbow. I missed the target every time, until we were told to shoot a deer and I got it right in the business end. Also, I was probably older than everyone shooting by about 15 years. That's how much I wanted to have a go and I'm so glad I did. While I ran - hobbled - around being an outlaw, Sean tagged along because he's lovely. I bought up big at the gift shop and then we drove back into the main village to grab a small lunch, because we were still quite full from our enormous breakfast. We walked to St Mary's Church on the High Street, rumoured to be the church in which Robin Hood married Maid Marian. We took some photos of the churchyard, and just as we were leaving, the sweetest, friendliest little old lady came up the steps with the altar cloths over her arm and asked if we'd like to come in and look around. She let us in and took us on a tour, showing us the difference in the walls and the arches that mark the various additions to the building over the centuries.  There has been a church on the site since 633 AD and the first stone was laid for the current structure in 1175. She showed us the hidden face in the stained-glass window and a Parish Map, constructed by the local community and it looks like a big quilt. Her passion for her church and her country's history was obvious, but so was her passion for people. I love these moments while travelling the best, when a completely unplanned and spontaneous interaction with a stranger can make your day.

After we got back to the B&B and had a wee rest, we hopped back in the car and drove another 1/2 mile in the opposite direction to Edwinstowe and went to Rufford Abbey, an old monastery and country house. It's fallen into disrepair, but it is now possible to walk around the ruins and the grounds. We didn't have too long here because we went quite late in the day, but we still saw plenty of it and it was quite beautiful. After this we drove down towards Clipstone. Several people have told us about Time Team coming to do an episode on the ruins of King John's castle, located in a paddock off the main road. People said it was nothing special, but it was worth a photo, so we parked and walked a little way back to see it. It really just looks like an ancient wall sticking out of the field. But y'know. Still older than any building in Aus! We headed back to the B&B because Sean was starting to feel a bit sick. We thought it might have been the sausage roll he had for lunch. I think it might have been that exactly, because it's a few hours later and the poor guy has been thrown up several times. I got him some ginger ale and water, but there's not much else we can do for now. He feels a little better now after bringing it up, so here's hoping for a good night sleep. Cross your fingers for us, everyone!

Friday, 6 April 2012

Robin Hobble and her band of slightly maimed men.

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

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

Tuesday, 3 April 2012


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

Sunday, 1 April 2012


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