Friends, family and Shakespeare in Love

The wind down to the end of my stay in the UK has been so busy that I’m going to need a rest when I get back to Toronto. I’m in Putney at the moment, mildly relieved that a friend has had to cancel our catch-up this evening. I’m worn out!

Thursday I went down to Leigh-on-Sea to meet Ellen and Dan for lunch as they live in Essex, not exactly close to Leigh-on-Sea, but close enough. Plus I had originally planned to be staying there that night but those plans changed. Ellen and I went to high school together (she was a year above) and I was one of the bridesmen at her wedding.

It was a beautiful day by the seaside and we had plenty to talk about, not least of which the impending birth of their first child (only six weeks away) and the purchase of a new house (Dan got the call while we were there to say that the exchange had gone through). Though both looked really good and it was such a great joy to spend time with them.

Getting back to London was a bit of a bother, stupidly deciding to take the District Line from Tower Hill during rush hour on a very hot and humid day. It took ages and was very uncomfortable. In the evening I had dinner with Jackie and Laura, giving us a chance to chat as there hasn’t been much while I’ve been here.

Friday Amy picked me up and we went for lunch and a walk in Richmond Park. This was also my opportunity to spend some time with Amy’s two-and-a-half-month-old daughter Elia, who’s very adorable. Another warm day but we enjoyed the gardens at Richmond Park and caught up on what’s been happening and what’s on the horizon. We also saw lots of deer resting in the shade, including many with antlers.

After lunch, I went into London to meet Leon and Alice (my uncle and aunt), as well as Jackie and her friend Tina. We went to the Crypt Cafe beneath St Martin’s in the Fields, which is a great place to meet, though wasn’t as cool as we were expecting. It was about 31 degrees in London with 80% humidity so the heat was really making me melt, especially as I walked from Waterloo Station to Trafalgar Square.

Leon, Alice and I then went for dinner with their daughter, Jo, and her boyfriend, Andy, at a place in Soho called Pho. Pretty good Vietnamese food, which was then followed by going to see the stage production of Shakespeare in Love. I’ve not seen the movie but apparently it follows it pretty closely. It was fun, even if the modern interpretation of acting and rehearsals etc was a bit jarring at first. The use of space was excellent and the way the stage moved about was impressive. It was laugh.

Saturday I caught the train down to Oxted as Leon, Alice, Jo and I were going to Alice’s brothers house for her and her sisters joint birthday party. Alice’s brother owns half a manor house in the country. It’s a bit place with a massive kitchen, about six or seven rooms (and just about as many bathrooms), and grounds. A perfect setting for gathering 41 of Alice’s family. I struggled with names after a certain point, though could absolutely remember the dog’s names (Alfie and Daisy).

There was a lot of food and plenty of drink to take us into the night. Sheila and Ian were also there, which I was really pleased about as it gave us time to catch-up. I talked to a few people I hadn’t met before, and told people I was an author when they asked what I did. It’s still a difficult thing to say. People were interested though and I was encouraged to talk to one of the younger relatives because he’s doing creative writing at university. I even sounded like I knew things.

Michael's house

Michael’s house

Me, Leon, Jo and AliceSunday I went for lunch with Leon, Alice and their friends in London. Jo and Andy were there too. I met more people, a few I knew from the last time I was here. Ate and drank way too much, but had a lovely time. Then I had to get across London to catch the train to Leigh-on-Sea for a dinner in my honour. This time it was with Sheila, Ian, Mary and Mary, Martin, Laurence and William. I was running late as all the trains were delayed but I didn’t get there much later than expected, so I was relieved.

We had dinner at a Thai restaurant, one of the few restaurants that are open in Leigh-on-Sea on a Sunday night. Even then, they close at 9:30 (and really want you out earlier). Leigh-on-Sea has upgraded a bit over the past year with new restaurants and cafes, turning it quite trendy, though you’d be hard pressed to find somewhere open on a Sunday night. Bizarre.

The meal was really good, probably one of the better Thai meals I’ve had outside Australia, which is a relief. Once again, ate too much, adding it on to the mountains I’ve eaten over the past two weeks. Definitely back on the diet when I get home on Tuesday, and of course, back in the gym. We had tea around at Sheila’s afterwards.

I stayed at Mary’s that night and in the morning we went down with her husband to their allotment. Last year it was impressive, this year it’s even more so. They’ve got about three half plots now which are pretty big and it’s bursting with life, colour and edible treats. Whitecurrants, blackcurrants, blueberries, plums, runner beans, courgettes, pumpkins…just to name a few. When Glen and I came here two years ago, he got inspired and made plots in our garden back home. I’m intrigued to see how our tenant has taken them on.

I met Sheila for lunch at one of the restaurants on the Broadway in Leigh, pleased to have the time together to chat. We then went to see Ian who’s doing up a car from 1928 (or there abouts). It is actually the car his parents owned way back when and he has a photo of when he was a young boy standing beside it with his parents. He’s fixing it up now, which is quite a product, but it’s a beautiful car.

I left Leigh-on-Sea about 3pm, a bit of a sad goodbye at the station, one of many during this trip. One (or a couple) of visits never seems enough, and without a planned return date, it makes the distance seem so far.

I’m now back in Putney. My bag is pretty much packed and ready to go for my flight tomorrow morning. Looking forward to seeing Glen. I’ve got a lot to do when I get home, continuing to write the sequel being the most pressing. But with that there’s a bunch of admin, some volunteer stuff and, oh yes, a wedding to finalise. It’s going to be a tiring but hopefully productive week.

And then, on the 29th, we head to Churchill to swim with Beluga whales. It’s all go here.

 

Monty Python Live

The main driver for my trip to England was to see Monty Python and Wednesday night it was upon me. Richard, his boyfriend Michaud, and I met and had dinner (fish and chips) at a nearby (and expensive) pub, before Richard and I took the train out to The O2 Arena.

The arena is smaller than I expected, partly because it’s hidden inside the Millennium Dome which is massive. We had pretty good seats, on an incline where we could see everything. Of course, we were far enough back that they were indecipherable to the naked eye, but they had screens so we didn’t miss anything.

The show was filled with the classics, of course, many of which are on a cd I own. They started off with the Yorkshiremen, with a few changes, but still brilliant. The Bruce’s, The Spanish Inquisition, Arguments, Spam, Albatross, and of course, the Dead Parrot Sketch, were a few that I can now remember.

They had plenty of songs too, adding a couple of extra verses to the penis song from Meaning of Life, and giving renditions of Every Sperm Is Sacred, It’s Christmas In Heaven and I’m a Lumberjack.

John Cleese’s voice is very faded, but understandable for his age. Yet, in comparison, Eric Idle sounds as much as he did back in the day, especially during the songs.

There were a few clips from the show, often to give Chapman a bit of a showing, but my favourite was the WI’s re-enactment of the bombing of Pearl Harbour. That is pure absurdity and just so wonderful. I’m looking forward to watching them all again when we get back to Australia.

The show finished on a high with a very good encore, and I was left with a very warm glow. I’m so glad I made the effort to come over and see it as it was definitely worth it.

It finished at 10:30 and then we joined the hordes to get to the tube station, which took 40 minutes. Still, it moved with relative speed and without fuss. I bid farewell to Richard at Waterloo and continued back to Putney.

Books About Town

Wednesday was a beautiful day in London, if a bit warm. It made a difference from the grey skies and drizzle over Wales. I stayed in for much of the morning, getting up late and doing washing. I think nearly all of my clothes ended up on the line, and it was a bit of a novelty to have them dry in the sun.

I didn’t have anything planned until the evening, when I would be going to see the Monty Python Live (almost) show, however, having a day free was great as it meant I could go and check out the books-as-benches around London, put on by Books About Town.

Church of Christ the KingPrior to leaving Toronto, I’d seen an article about these park benches that were designed to look like books and had been decorated/painted as such. They were in four main areas in London – City, Riverside, Greenwich and Bloomsbury – and there were maps for each of them. I set off about lunch time to check out as many as I could, except those in Greenwich.

First stop was Russell Square to check out the Bloomsbury books. The maps had pinpointed all the books with excellent accuracy so they were easy to find, and the distances they were spaced weren’t too far so it wasn’t a slog.

Russell HotelThe great thing about this campaign was that I got to see parts and things of London that I’d never seen before, and probably never would have. My first book was The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe in St George’s Gardens. It’s a park with gravestones in it, and, because of the beautiful weather, lots of live people soaking up the sunshine.

That was a bit of a theme of the day. Every green space I went to (and most of the benches were in parks) was heaving with people. I was staggered. Didn’t they have jobs and homes to be going to? They were all just lounging around, eating, drinking, laughing. And this was the middle of the day. (Ok, maybe they were on their lunch breaks.)

St Paul'sFrom there I saw a myriad of other books, stumbling across a giant cathedral (Christ the King I think) that had The Importance of Being Ernest in front of it. Only one bench that I looked for wasn’t there and that was 1984. It was out front of a university and had been damaged so was off for repair. Oh the irony.

A few of the benches were occupied with people but I asked everyone if I could have a photo and they moved. There were two I didn’t bother with: one with a breast feeding woman on it and the other surrounded by school children. I got photos of the backs of the benches though.

I found the act of asking people to move good for building confidence. When I got to the Riverside ones, there were quite a few occupied benches and I thought I’d leave them but fought that drive to run and so went ahead and asked. Everyone moved which was nice.

MinervaI really enjoyed checking out the sights on Riverside, many of which were around the city hall building, something I’d only seen from afar. The precinct surrounding it is well designed, with great views, excellent sculpture, and a water fountain play area. If I hadn’t gone to find the benches, it’s likely I never would have come here.

The last bench I saw was Paddington Bear, something that for me is so quintessentially English. I first read a Paddington Bear book when I was seven years old and we were here at Christmas. We were staying at Joanna’s and she had the books. That year I received a compendium of Paddington Bear books, which I loved. Then, when I came to England at 19, I stumbled across the Paddington Bear sculpture at Paddington station, so he’s always been a bit special to me.

Tower and CityI sat on his bench (one of only two I actually sat on, the other being one of the Peter Pan benches at St Paul’s) and asked another bench-hunter to take my photo. And that ended my search for benches.

There are still a few I didn’t see, apart from those in Greenwich, as they were a bit further out from where I was and I didn’t have a big affinity with those books/stories. If anyone’s in London while this is going on, I encourage you to keep an eye out for them. Some people had no idea they were sitting on books.

Tower BridgeBy the time I finished, I was worn out. The heat had gotten to me and I had a headache. The rides through the tube were torturous because the ones I was on were not air conditioned and there were a lot of bodies. I’d planned to meet Richard at his hotel at 5pm (he was coming to the Monty Python show with me) but I got there early and sat in the hotel bar, charging my phone, having a drink and cooling down. It was a nice way to end the day.

Anglesey: land of druids

Breakfast at the B&B was decent. I had poached eggs on toast, some fruit and some green tea, and was done and dusted by twenty past eight. Nikki texted to say her breakfast was taking a while so I walked into town with my luggage, met her and then we set off for day two of our Welsh adventure.

Nikki had already been out exploring as she was awake so early. She saw the fairy glen, which she said was pretty and idyllic. I’d had a bit of a walk before breakfast too but only for about fifteen minutes, heading down to the river and taking some photos.

I was alone in this gloomy forest and I can’t help but think of Midsomer Murders or Touch of Frost, or a billion other UK crime dramas. I didn’t stay long, as I’d given myself the creeps. It was breathtakingly beautiful down there though.

Our first stop of the day was St Digain’s church in Llangernyw to check out a yew tree which is the oldest in Wales and one of the oldest living things in the world. It’s between 4000 and 5000 years old. Staggering!

We rewrote our plans after visiting the yew tree as it had taken us longer to get there than expected. Roger, our sat-nav, couldn’t find the place we needed to go so we had to drive aimlessly for a bit and then I got reception on my phone so could find where we needed to go on Google Maps. So, after the tree, rather than heading south for a bit, we headed north to the coast to get on the lovely and wide Wales Expressway. We were going to Anglesey, home of the druids.

We crossed the bridge into Anglesey then went around the northern coast to Penmon to visit St Seiriol’s well. There were a few other tourists there, checking out the old and the new church, the dovecote (which was really impressive), and then the well (which was less so). By then it was lunchtime so we went further up the road to the point, looked at the lighthouse and had soup and cake at the cafe there.

From there we went to Bryn Celli Ddu Burial Chamber, a very ancient mound that has had something on it since forever. First a circular ditch, then a stone circle and eventually this mound. We parked the car and walked next to a field full of cows for five minutes until we reached the mound. I really liked it. It’s fairly well maintained (the grass is at least) and there’s a stone out the front with old engravings on it. You can also go inside it.

After this mound, we went to check out another one called Barclodiad y Gawres, which is built overlooking the ocean. There’s a beach here where people were spending their day (I don’t think anyone was in the water though), and after a bit of a walk along the cliff, you come across a burial mound. It’s been heavily restored with bricks and concrete but there are some old pieces still there inside. I really enjoyed the view and the sea air.

From here we drove to Holyhead, which is on the far west of Anglesey, and from there to South Stack Cliffs to try to see puffins. The sat-nav took us along more windy and narrow streets but we eventually made it. There are about 400 steps on South Stack Cliffs that take you down to the bottom and across to South Stack Island. On the steps, you can bird watch as there are a lot of sea birds here. Sadly there were no puffins that we could see.

I went down to the bottom of the steps but didn’t go across to the island as there’s not much out there. I then ran up 100 of the steps, and struggled up the remaining 300. I have very little stamina for cardio-vascular activity.

South Stack Cliffs was our last stop together for the day so we drove to Bangor early so I had plenty of time for my train and so we could get some food. We didn’t find a pub easily so we made the very sad decision to eat in the cafe at Morrison’s. It filled a spot but was definitely nothing spectacular.

Nikki dropped me at the station and we said our goodbyes. It’s been a great five days together, especially as it had been over a year since we’ve been together. I’m also very grateful that we’ve got the kind of friendship where we can be around each other so much over five days without killing each other. She’s now off to explore more ancient sites around Wales. Only three more months until we see each other again. (Oh god, only three months until the wedding!)

I caught the train from Bangor to Crewe at 7pm and then changed trains at Crewe for Euston London at 9:30pm. Initially I thought the train wouldn’t get in until quarter to midnight, meaning I’d have a real problem getting back to Jackie’s before the trains stopped. Thankfully, the time I had was wrong and got into Euston over an hour earlier than initially thought. It still took a while to get home with all the train and bus changes but I did get home before midnight.

Just as an aside, I took over 1000 photos over two days. Plenty are double-ups and errors, but still.

Trees, churches and wells in north Wales

One of the great things about this trip to the UK is having the opportunity to visit a small part of Wales. Nikki is doing about ten days in this part of the country, looking at a lot of ancient sites as research. As I’d never been to Wales before and was being offered practically a free ride through part of it, I joined Nikki on the long and winding roads.

Monday morning we left Harper Adams University at 7am, skipping breakfast and hitting the road to give us as much time as possible. We drove west out of England, eventually crossing the border into Wales.

With the change in border came the change in language and our vowel sightings diminished. Nikki had researched the Welsh language and attempted to impart some of her knowledge to me but I still pronounced ‘ll’ and ‘dd’ incorrectly (along with just about everything else).

Our first stop was a holy well belonging to St Winefride. (I almost wrote Winefridge. Wouldn’t that have been fun?) There’s a chapel at the site which was closed when we arrived, as we got there before 9am. We did a bit of a walk to find Bueno’s well, finding some ruins and deciding that it would do, when really Bueno’s well was much further around and in an even greater state of disrepair (so we were told later).

We went back to the chapel and went in as soon as it opened. The site is well known as a helling well, with lots of records and tales of people throwing away their crutches after a visit to the well. The chapel is old, the buildings surrounding the well are old too with some beautiful decorations. The spring went into a couple of different areas, one well undercover and looking quite gloomy and atmospheric, whereas the other was outside and looks like a plunge pool (that needs a bit of a scrub).

From St Winefride’s we trundled off to St Dyfnog’s Well. This was behind a church, through an archway, and into the forest. There’s a bit of stonework there that’s crumbling down, and the springs kept open with a terracotta pipe, however, it’s pretty picturesque, a forgotten place in the forest. We drank from the spring, the water pure and fresh (and hopefully we didn’t ingest some kind of parasite).

St Dyfnog’s Church is also very old, and I was impressed with the old wooden roof with its carvings, the very old books left to rot on the windowsill and the jesse window. All this in a little old church out in the middle of nowhere.

We then went through the horseshoe pass, over some mountains and stopped at the Ponterosa Cafe on the top. A quick lunch, a look at the gift shop, and then down the long and windy road towards Dinas Bran Castle. Nikki had in her itinerary to stop at Valle Crucis Abbey but we were getting short on time so we decided to skip it. However, on the drive down we passed it and it was too beautiful to go by, so we did a U-turn and went in.

Valle Crucis Abbey is a ruin but it’s picture-postcard-perfect. Old stonework, some walls, a complete roof over one area. Just beautiful and a great place to take photos.

From there we headed towards Dinas Bran Castle but it was only accessible by walking and it was on top of a very high hill, so we drove past. It looked pretty impressive from what we saw.

Next was our first yew tree of the day. We saw five really ancient ones (about a thousand years old or more each) in a churchyard. In pagan times when someone died, a yew seed was put in their mouth and then they were buried. The yew seed grew and these sites took on sacred significance. Pretty amazing to be standing next to (and sometimes in) a tree that’s older than Christianity.

Our next stop was going to be Pistyll Rhaedr, a waterfall that is one of the seven wonders of Wales. We followed the sat-nav and the sign, which took us down a very narrow road (one of many we’d already been down) that was one-way but had two-way traffic on it. We just kept going and I thought maybe we’d got it wrong, so we turned around and went back into town. Once there, I asked about it and we were headed in the right direction but hadn’t gone far enough. The first drive down that road was harrowing for both of us and the thought of going down it again was too much.

This is a good time to point out how insane drivers are here. There is only one lane available for two lanes of traffic so we drove slowly, especially when there is no way of seeing around a corner at what is coming the other way. We are obviously not Welsh because every one else is happy to zoom down these horrible little lanes at 50mph into possible death. It was horrible and stressful.

We then went to Pennant Melengell, the church of St Melengell, patron saint of hares. It’s another church that’s in the middle of nowhere but with lots of significance for the Welsh. The church had been restored in the past hundred years or so, but it’s a very old site, harking back to pagan days. There are plenty of old yew trees there. We also found some massive slugs and took great delight in taking photos of them.

It started to rain while we were there and didn’t really let up for the rest of the afternoon. We were due to check out a few lakes and another tree but time had gotten away from us and clear views were now impossible. We headed to Betws-y-Coed to check in to our accommodation.

My B&B was a bit further down the road from Nikki’s so we went to mine first – Oakfield House B&B – where I checked in, quickly changed and ran out again. We went to Nikki’s next, unloaded then went for dinner at the Pont-y-Pair Inn (we called it pontipines pub, after that kids’ TV show). We ordered some drinks to settle our nerves after the treacherous driving we’d done surrounded by made Welsh-people, and ordered a great pub dinner.

After we finished our meal and the waitress came to clear the plates, she also took away the £10 note and coins that were sitting on top of the table, despite us having already paid. So she wandered away and Nikki and I were a bit slow on the uptake but then wondered what had happened and how we were going to get the money back. Soon enough, the waitress returned with the money and a dazed look on her face, mortified at what she’d done. We had a good laugh about it.

We called it a night just after nine and I walked back to my B&B, which was about a mile down the road, singing Men of Harlech the whole way back. Being summertime, it doesn’t get late until 9:30 or later so I had a clear view down the rushing river. Bets-y-Coed is a beautiful place.

Romance Novelists’ Association 2014 Conference

I left Putney on Friday morning, braving rush hour traffic to push my way through to Euston Station. There I boarded the train to Birmingham, at which point I changed to another that took me to Telford. Getting out of the train and crossing over the bridge, I was overjoyed to see my friend, Nikki, waiting for me. It’s been over a year since I’ve seen her in person (we’ve Skyped) and Friday was the start of five days together.

First up on our itinerary was the Romance Novelists’ Association’s 2014 conference at Harper Adams University. When people ask me why I’m in UK, I first tell them that I’m here for the Monty Python Live show (which is true), and then follow that up by saying I’m hearing for the romance writers conference.

The sat-nav (who we’ve named Roger) guided us to the university, a lovely campus with on-site accommodation, fields, and livestock. We registered early, meeting the conference organiser, and then went to settle into the digs.

We drove the wrong way and had the biggest surprise of the weekend – a young emu running around the car park. It was safely herded between two people and a woman picked it up and carried it off. We never found out where it went or why it was there. We’re at an agricultural college but it wasn’t in an area where there were any livestock. Maybe it’s someone’s pet?

The accommodation was fairly simple student accommodation but had everything we needed – a single bed, a cupboard, a desk, block-out curtains and an ensuite bathroom.

After settling in, we took a drive into Newport to find some food (or at least, I bought food, Nikki just drove) and then made it back in time for the first session of the day. Over the next few days, we saw a variety of presentations covering craft, industry and research. Nikki delivered her presentation on the chemistry of reading, which went down very well, and talked about our Australian romance writers’ organisation. Lots of people came up to talk to her over the weekend, so she was something of a rockstar (but in a good way).

The meals were great. A wonderful array of choices at each meal and we got three squares a day. Plenty of people to chat to, making new friends and discussing the differences between the UK and the Australian organisations and the conferences. It’ll be interesting to see if the UK organisation looks into adopting some of the things we do.

The weather has been a bit weird. It’s been drizzling, or raining, or hot, and the temperature inside the buildings hasn’t really coped. The main lecture theatre was well air-conditioned (almost to freezing) but the other rooms weren’t cool enough, and the dinner on Saturday night was a little bit uncomfortable with all the bodies and complete lack of air conditioning. England really isn’t setup for hot weather.

Sunday we took a break from proceedings and headed out to look at Ironbridge, the oldest cast-iron bridge in England, built in 1779. It wasn’t too far away and is one of the local attractions. It’s a nice bridge, the village is quite pretty. Really, it was just nice to get away for a while. I find that at conferences, after a while, my brain gets full and I start to get itchy and think there’s nothing else I need to do but get on with writing. I haven’t done any since getting to the UK but I’m taking the time off and will attack the new manuscript when I return.

Returning to the conference in the afternoon, Nikki and I had a meeting, then went back to our rooms. I organised meet-ups for the coming weekend as I’m seeing about eleven people and hadn’t discussed when and where. I don’t think I’ve spent that much time on the phone since I was in high school.

Most people left the conference after lunch, dispersing to their various corners of the country, so at dinner there were only about 30 people. After dinner was the quiz, a tradition at the conference. It was brief, only two rounds, which was perfect. I was on a team of six and we won! Scoring well above the other five teams with 22 out of a possible 28 (I think). We won bragging rights and glory, which is good because my suitcase is stuffed.

It’s been a good conference, meeting new people and being in a generally positive atmosphere. It’s made me homesick for the Australian conference, which I’m already looking forward to in August 2015 in Melbourne.

I’m in London still

The past couple of days in London have flown by, thanks to the brilliant company I’ve had. Tuesday, surprisingly unjetlagged, I went for lunch with Joanna and Roger at Côte Bistro in Wimbledon. Joanna is a high school friend of my mum’s and Roger is her husband.

Having moved to Canada and done so much travel meant there were plenty of things to talk about, as well as hearing what had been happening to them, discussing Glen and my wedding plans, and just general catch-up.

The food was good, we polished off a few Kir Royales between us, and before we knew it, the restaurant was practically empty and the staff were going off shift. They dropped me off at Jackie’s and came inside for a cup of tea and so I could show them the videos from our Galapagos Islands trip.

The trouble with doing such a whirlwind trip is that there are so many people to see and only really the chance to see many of them only once. I felt very sad saying goodbye to Jo and Roger.

In the evening Jackie returned from Essex and Laura and I had dinner with her, having a brief catch-up before Jackie went off to her book club. I read most of the evening, and subsequently had half-awake, half-asleep dreams about the characters in the book and what was going to happen next. It was a restless night.

Wednesday morning I was up at a reasonable hour and heading to Winchester to meet mum’s cousin, Pauline, and her daughters, Verity and Nadia. Donna and I missed seeing them last time so I was very glad we had the opportunity this time.

The train journey down to Winchester was fast and smooth, and I read along the way. I arrived at 11am and Pauline and Verity met me soon after. I rather embarrassingly called Verity Nadia as I thought only Nadia was coming, this is despite meeting Verity last time. It was a cause where my brain hadn’t caught up with my mouth. (Sorry again, Verity!)

We met Nadia at the car then walked into the town centre and then to Winchester Cathedral. I had no idea that Winchester used to be the capital, but after reading a bit of the history of the place around the cathedral, saw that it was a really important part of the country. Old kings were crowned and buried here.

We went inside the cathedral, a stunning building constructed over three main time frames (Norman, early English, and Perpendicular). It houses the Mortuary Chests, six chests containing the bones of bishops, a queen and early kings, including Canute. Unfortunately, they were off-display, being restored or conserved or whatever. The high altar was stunning with a 15th century screen done in such detail. We also saw the Winchester Bible, a 12th century illuminated bible.

Along with all the very old bones of bishops who were brothers of kings and chancellors of the realm, there is also Jane Austen’s grave in the floor on the left side of the cathedral. We were there just as a guided tour group was standing around it and one of the men who works there was trying to put chairs out – over her grave. I thought that was a bit funny.

After a wander around, we went for lunch at the Slug and Lettuce, caught up on the news, of where I’ve been, of where they’ve been, and of the fox cubs they have in the garden. And of course we talked about the wedding and tried to convince Nadia to come over for it. :)

We walked back up to the train station at about three so I could get back to London in time to meet Noel. Another sad farewell at the station, though very glad to have seen the three of them during this trip. If only Australia weren’t so far away. I wonder if I can squeeze in another trip to the UK before we return to Oz…maybe this time with Glen.

I got back to Putney, showered, dressed, and headed up to Leicester Square to meet Noel, an Australian friend who I was in choir with in Perth years ago. We met for dinner with his boyfriend Marcus at Tokyo Diner, everyone getting the same thing – chicken katsu curry. Tasty food, busy place, recommended.

After dinner, Noel and I went to Tattershall Castle on the Thames for a friend of Noel’s birthday gathering. Tattershall Castle isn’t a castle at all, it’s a boat, but it has a great view of the London Eye and Houses of Parliament. The friends were all people Noel sings with in the London Philharmonic Choir, and were a fun bunch of people. There were even a couple of Aussies in there (from Brisbane, no less), called Angela and John.

Lots of good chats with people, I did the very naff thing of handing out my business card, which has the cover of my book on it. It proved a talking point, especially the guy on the cover. Still find it difficult to talk of myself as an ‘author’ but I’ll get used to it.

Most of the group drifted off over time, leaving Noel, Angela, John, myself and a Brit called Joanna to have one last drink on what was a pretty beautiful night in London. We left at about 10:30, bidding farewell to Noel with a big hug, then walking to Waterloo Station. John, Angela and I then had McDonald’s. It was tasteless and I had guilt the whole time I was eating it. That should do me for another five years. It was nice to just sit and talk crap for a while.

Then we caught the train home and I got in about midnight or just after. I think that’s a pretty good effort for me. As a result of the late night, I didn’t wake up until 10am on Thursday. Just as well I didn’t have any plans.

I was thinking of going to check out these benches that have been designed to look like books but considering the grey sky and the light drizzle, I was fine with staying in. Especially as it looks like the cold is on its way out.

Instead I Skyped with Glen, catching up on his news and then generally annoyed each other by being silly. I then had lunch, Jackie came home, we chatted, then she went out. I did some laundry, half-packed my bag for Friday’s train journey to Telford, and then got ready to go out to meet Charlotte and Joe.

We met for drinks at Ku Bar then on to a Chinese restaurant in Chinatown. Food was good but when we paid they didn’t give us our change, even though they’d included a service charge already and we’d asked for the change. When we did get the change, it was short so we had to ask again. What a cheek! Following dinner we went to Edge Bar in Soho Square for more drinks. We had plenty to talk about, running the whole gamut of conversation. It was a fun night, sadly over too soon and unable to continue on to a club because they had work the next day. All the more reason for Glen and I to return while they’re still in London.

We parted at the Underground and I was home and in bed by midnight. Up at 7:30, packed and ready to go up to Birmingham.

Goodbye, London, for a few days at least. Next stop: Romance Novelists’ Association annual conference and Nikki!