Having now returned to normality (and New Zealand) with a bump; I’ve been talking to friends and family about my trip. Amongst the many beautiful, powerful, amazing things I saw and experienced there are also lots of little moments that, for one reason or another, have stuck in my mind. Some are positive, others not so much – but all will stay with me. Looking back, they have a lot to do with food and the eccentricity of British plumbing, so in no particular order:
1. Taking a bath at one of the B&B’s where I stayed and finding that the dial-thingy that released the plug didn’t work and I couldn’t drain the bath. I had to bail it with a tumbler to remove enough weight of water to manually lift the plug. Do you know how many glasses of water it takes to fill an average bath? Neither do I; I lost count when my arm started to get really sore.
2. Trying to find a good coffee. This began badly with a long conversation in a Northampton cafe about the differences between the latte and the flat white on the menu. Despite the duration and complexity of the discussion (enough to provoke the man behind me to suggest I just order tea); the drink that arrived actually looked and tasted like a terminally anemic cappuccino. My quest ended with an interesting tiered concoction in Hampton which comprised a layer of milk (about 70 percent of the volume) a layer of coffee (about 15 percent) and a layer of froth (the final 15 percent). In between, I must give honourable mentions to the Olive Branch Cafe in Alnwick, the Food for Thought Cafe and Deli in Burntisland, Fife and Prego in Harrogate.
3. Eating a fish supper watching the sunset in Lower Largo.
4. Going to the loo in the middle of the night at the retirement village where my mother lives. I pulled the wrong cord and instead of turning on the bathroom light, found myself in total darkness with an alarm sounding and a disembodied voice asking if I was alright. I had accidentally called for emergency help.
5. Trying to use the shower at the same place and not being able to figure out why there was no power to the unit. Neither my mother, the village manager or a visiting tradesman seemed to know what the problem was and it looked like a maintenance call would be made until one of the cleaners mentioned that the power for the shower was an innocuous – and unmarked – orange switch in the suite’s bedroom. Well obviously!
6. Remembering that crisps and mayonnaise-heavy coleslaw are regarded as “salad” in many British cafes.
7. Walking into the local store in a tiny Scottish village, looking for locals who might remember or know the branch of my family that lived there; and finding everyone present was from Coleshill in the Midlands (strangely, a place I worked in many years ago).
8. Watching the Millenium Bridge in Newcastle raised. A beautiful piece of architectural engineering.
9. Taking a shower in one hotel, only to find that the rubbish design of the wet-room drainage meant that the water flowed into the bedroom. A time-consuming and frustrating process of trying to report this and get it fixed ultimately proved fruitless. Warning; if you book into the Ramada Encore in Gateshead, take gumboots and waterproof luggage.
10. The camaraderie of the would-be internet users staying at a hotel near Durham that advertised free wifi, but failed to point out that it only worked in the carpark. To the dozen or so other hardy souls who joined me on that Sunday night holding our phones and tablets aloft in search of connection – I salute you. You represent the best of British; that self- deprecating, gently mocking British humour and stoicism that got the nation through the Blitz, the Thatcher Years and internet blackspots of County Durham.