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Saturday, September 27, 2003

Last Saturday, Jonathan came over to the hotel to pick us up in his car. Seems funny writing that about one's dearly beloved son. It makes him seem very mature - and us very old... 8-( Anyway, he'd come to take us to the flat he's buying with ChloŽ. The thought of a son with a mortgage also makes me feel horribly old. {8-( ChloŽ is a very sweet girl, by the way, and they make a lovely couple. Ahhh. 8-)))

The flat is nearby in the Westbury Park district of Bristol. Their flat is a part of one of those old stone-built Georgian houses I mentioned earlier. This means, of course, that there are no garages. The road runs down quite a steep hill and all the small front gardens have retaining walls in a terraced formation, i.e. the left side of the garden is about three feet higher than the right-hand side, so there is no possibility of creating a hard-standing area off the road. The road is thus nose-to-tail parking on both sides all the way down.

Jonathan and ChloŽ have been renovating and redecorating and now... "Their flat is really really cool!" This was added to my P.D.A. aide-memoire by the lad himself. {G} Well you didn't think I was actually remembering all this did you? They've certainly made a very good job of it and it is very stylish too. {cough}Ikea{cough} Very nice though. 8-)

After a drink and a chat to catch up on news, Jonathan drove us all to Chilcompton where we had lunch at the Somerset Wagon, which is the local hostelry for the company he works for. We ate al fresco as it was such a pleasant day - felt more like mid-July than late September. If this is global warming, it ain't all bad! {g} In the garden beside our bench table, there was a mulberry tree. This is the first one I've ever seen.

In the ladies' loo, there were humorous cartoons with captions like,

'So many men - so few who can afford me,'

and

'Chocolate, coffee, men - some things are better rich'.

Afterwards, Jonathan took us to Manor Farm which houses Occam, the company he works for. There was a wedding taking place at a church adjacent to the farm, so they were very fortunate with the weather. The farm itself has a collection of sprawling barns and outbuildings and in the centre of the farmyard there was quite a party going on with a large inflatable container full of foam and laughing children in swimsuits. Late September, huh?

The building which houses Occam is very old with battered beams full of woodworm. Someone there seems to like Kandinsky, judging by the number of large bright prints on the walls. Alternatively, someone got his hands on a job lot from a skip... Otherwise, everything is state of the art.

Jonathan did a little surfing to show off the ultra-rapid Internet connection he has. {envious scowl} Ours is positively steam-powered by comparison. He had a little look at my latest wallpaper and then called up a video of a new group called The Darkness. Vivien - of whom more tomorrow... probably - had told me about them the previous day, commenting that they are much like Queen in their younger days.

Their current hit was being played on the car radio on the way to Chilcompton and I have to say that the guitar solo definitely had the Brian May sound. The video was good too, and the lead guitarist was even dressed like Brian May in a white suit and with 'big hair'. Love long hair. 8-)

Finally, Jonathan found a jokes page. This one amused me:

"The other day, my husband bought me a mood ring to monitor my moods. When I'm in a good mood, it turns green; when I'm in a bad mood, it leaves a fucking big red mark in the middle of his forehead. Maybe next time, he'll buy me a diamond ring...!"

Hm. What does that say about me that it did amuse me?

We went back to Jonathan and ChloŽ's flat for tea and a chat. Their plan for the evening was to take us to the cinema. Before that, we had a Chinese take-away - duck with honey and black pepper sauce with boiled rice and chopsticks - while watching a programme called 'Fame Academy'. This was a sort of talent spotting contest with several 'professional' panel members passing comments on each singer, followed by a 'phone-in vote. The standard was reasonable, but I am clearly no longer 'with it'.

There were five contestants. I only registered three of them. One was a girl called Alex who, in a piece of video footage following her around an event, seemed pretty gormless but boy could she put a song across well! My vote - if I'd voted - went to a man called James who sang John Lennon's 'Imagine' beautifully and with real feeling. He could also sing in tune. The first panellist's comment was that it was "appalling". WTF?!!! He was really, really good!

The remaining 'performer' was called Peter. He looked more like 'Strewelpeter' and he cavorted about the mini-stage like demented puppet whose strings were plugged into the mains. That might explain the hair too! He didn't sing, he shouted - frequently out of tune - and he wowed the panel... Words fail me!!! 8-(

Then it was time to go. Before we went out, Jonathan presented me with a large photograph of himself juggling with clubs. ChloŽ's father had taken the photo which is now gracing my study. {beam} Sadly, we didn't manage to see her parents this time. They are Good Eggs. 8-)

The film we went to see was 'Pirates of the Carribean - the Curse of the Black Pearl' starring Johnny Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow - with a Spike* style English accent, Love - and the kind of panache that is camper than a row of pink tents. The film co-starred Orly Bloom as William Turner, the respectable son of Bootstrap Bill Turner, pirate, and Keira Knightley as the Governor's feisty daughter Elizabeth Swann - definitely my sort of heroine. {g}

It was rollicking film full of action, adventure, humour and brilliant computer graphics. For some reason, Jonathan had thought it was going to be a horror film, possibly because of the mention of ghosts in the T.V. Trailer. Whatever, it comes highly recommended by yours truly.

And so up the big wooden mountain to Bedfordshire... Oy!


* An 'English' vampire in the 'Buffy, the Vampire Slayer' series, m'Lud. American mastery of English accent has come a long way since Dick Van Dyke in 'Mary Poppins'. {BG}


Friday, September 26, 2003

It was fortunate that I'd set an alarm last Friday. That way I was awake - just - when some inconsiderate soul started operating a pneumatic drill just below our window. Just then, I was glad we were on the top floor! The workmen were erecting Belisha beacons at either end of a new pedestrian crossing which, at that point, only extended two-thirds of the way across the road as if they'd run out of white paint. Maybe they had.

As arranged, our friend Chris came over mid-morning. She doesn't normally do mornings either. {g} She lives in the Redland district of Bristol in a falling-down house. This is to say that bits of it periodically drop off. This time, it was the bay window. It's fixed now, though to qualify fully for the term, window, it still needs glass...

[As I type, a little coal tit is hovering outside my window, trying to land on the horizontal leading at my window. They don't call 'em birdbrains for nothing!]

Like her house, Chris is also in a falling-down state. This has nothing to do with alcohol, I must add, but to a virus which has been meandering around her system for several months and has currently taken up residence in her right knee, making going down stairs very painful. As I have a similar problem going up stairs, we did our best to avoid them.

Chris is the most amazing lady and a very 'Good Egg'. She's highly intelligent, erudite and well-informed on a wide variety of subjects. Having gained 2.1 honours degree in English literature last year, she has now embarked on an M.A. course in mediaeval literature, which includes the works of 'The Venomous Bede'. {BG} She also has an apparently bottomless supply of highly entertaining and often wacky tales of her experiences in fandom, specifically fantasy literature. These she tells in a deep velvety voice, like the time Neil Gaiman (also a Good Egg) rang her at 3 a.m., seemingly unaware of the time difference between the U.S. and the U.K., simply to ask what her favourite elephant joke is. ["What's yellow and dangerous?"]

After we'd nattered for about an hour and a half at the hotel - on the ground floor - we wandered off to Clifton village where we found a delightful little tea-room called the Rainbow Cafť which even has a rainbow-striped acrylic doorknob. There, we drank tea and drinking chocolate, and talked a whole lot more.

Chris then took us around some of the scenic parts of Clifton, past the Observatory which has a camera obscura at the top, and to an excellent vantage point looking towards the Clifton Suspension Bridge. Nearby is what the council map called simply 'Rock Slide'. It is a large, slaty-grey rock face sloping at just the right angle for children - and one terrified-looking adult - to slide down. The favoured route has been worn into a polished channel. No, we didn't try it.

We then returned to the Rainbow Cafť for more tea, drinking chocolate - and cakes - before Chris had to go home to take her younger daughter to her violin lesson. She returned to our hotel later on foot and we all went back to Entelia for dinner. Chris had the kleftiko, I chose afelia - succulent pieces of pork pan-cooked in red wine, cracked coriander seed and mushroom, served with sautťed potatoes and rice, while Rod went for manidaria yemista - stuffed field mushrooms filled with rustic ratatouille, topped with a creamy sauce and halloumi cheese and served with rice. This was all washed down with a bottle of Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon.

Afterwards, we wandered back to the hotel through the pleasant park that is Victoria Square. As it was still unseasonably mild, we sat on a bench where we were entertained by a number of people passing by in fancy dress as we continued our conversation. There were escapees from The Wizard of Oz and one, swathed from head to foot in tinfoil, seemed to be a spaceman - that or a Christmas turkey. {g}

Too soon, it was time to part but, as it was late, we didn't fancy letting Chris walk home alone, and so gave her a lift. Amazingly, Rod managed to persuade Selma to guide us back to the hotel, not that it was a long or difficult journey.

And so to bed again.


P.S. Shark-infested custard {g}

Thursday, September 25, 2003

A week ago today - Jeez, was it a whole week ago?! 8-( - Rod and I drove down to Bristol for a long weekend break. The weather was glorious - sunny and warm and more like July than late September. Amazingly - there's a first time for everything {g} - we didn't spend half an hour stationary in the fast lane of a motorway. This made for a pleasant journey, for most of the way anyway...

One of the selling points, when I bought my car over three years ago, was that it has satellite navigation. Sat. nav. is wonderful for towns or cities with which one is unfamiliar, especially if one is female and thus has no sense of direction. Give me a map and I'm fine. Without it, an unmarked crossroads is a nightmare, and yes, they do exist - also road signs which have everything on them except the place to which I am travelling. Oy!

So as we're hurtling down the M5, Rod driving, I set about feeding the hotel's address into Selma. Yes, we are sad enough to have given the sat. nav. equipment a name. {g} You might recognize the name as the computer who provides information and instructions in 'Quantum Leap' - according to Emily anyway. It was a long time since I'd seen the programme, but for the yoof of today, a satellite box comes wa-ay above a washing machine in the list of necessary household equipment.

Many, many years ago, when it first appeared on the paperback book shelves, I bought a copy of Terry Pratchett's The Colour of Magic, attracted initially by the late Josh Kirby's wonderful cover illustration. For those unfamiliar with this work - and you're missing a real treat if so - Twoflower, the tourist, has a box camera which, as this is a fantasy story, contains a grumpy little demon that paints the photographs very, very rapidly.

We envisage Selma, who has a calm and pleasant voice, as a little dromad or road nymph who sits behind the dashboard with piles of maps. Occasionally, if we deliberately or accidentally take a different route from the one she's given us, we imagine her frantically thumbing through said maps while saying in patient resigned tones, "Make a U-turn if possible..." as she recalculates the route.

However... Remember my car spent eight days at the garage recently? Yup. Selma wasn't working, or at least not properly. 8-O When I did, finally, manage to develop some kind of communication with her, she seemed to think we were "OFF ROAD". On the M5?!!! It's not like it was built after Selma was programmed!

So it was back to the map-reading for me. Fortunately, I'm reasonably good at it, and also fortunately, we'd decided to follow the motorway around the north and west of Bristol to the Clifton district where we were staying, rather than chugging through the centre of the city. Thus we had the pleasure of crossing Mr. Brunel's Clifton Suspension Bridge which is a rather beautiful structure that spans the three hundred foot deep Avon Gorge. The toll for this has gone up to 30p. which seems reasonable, especially compared with the £2.50 that I get stung for every time I cross the Humber Bridge. That's a spectacular structure too, by the way.

Map reading can still get pretty hairy when one's intended route is blocked from time to time by 'NO ENTRY' signs, and when road names have been boarded up at building sites... However, thanks to Rod's almost psychic ability to pick the right road, we arrived safely at the imaginatively named Victoria Square Hotel at the eastern corner of Victoria Square.

For the benefit of any non-locals reading this, Bristol is a major port built originally on a parcel of flat land between the River Frome (pronounced Froom) and the River Avon. This is actually a tautology as 'avon' means 'river', so that would be the River River then. {g} A little further downstream, the Avon flows into the Severn estuary which subsequently becomes the Bristol Channel. This waterway separates the southwestern peninsula of England from Wales. If you're interested in finding out more about Bristol, I found an excellent site at:



Sorry, Blogger doesn't seem to want to post a link today. 8-( So...:

http://members.lycos.co.uk/brisray/bristol/bold1.htm

The city is home to around half a million people and has a definite air of prosperity, which is fine until you remember that much of its earlier wealth derived from the slave trade. Bristol was at one corner of the Slave Triangle - trinkets to Africa - slaves to the Americas - cotton and tobacco back to Bristol. Thus, there are a large number of fine Georgian houses built of warm golden-coloured stone. The Victoria Square Hotel is one such. It is a three storey building with spacious rooms and lofty ceilings. We were on the top floor... There was no lift... I am definitely very unfit. 8-(

After a very welcome cup of tea and a rest after the journey - or more specifically, after the long trek upstairs - I made a few 'phone calls and made arrangements to meet up with friends and with our son, Jonathan and his girlfriend, ChloŽ. We thought we might eat in the hotel in the evening, but arrived at the dining room in the wake of a spate of guests. Faced with a wait of forty-five minutes, we decided to look elsewhere and went to explore the local neighbourhood.

Clifton has a cosy village feel about it - quite a high class village, judging by all the up-market jeweller's shops. It also has an interesting collection of eating establishments. We chose a Greek restaurant named Entelia which means 'perfection' according to our waiter, a young Bristolian called Stephen who could easily pass for a Greek.

Rod opted for kleftiko, described as "a large shank of lamb on the bone, traditionally prepared with herbs and spices" and served with vegetables and rice. Large it certainly was! I went for "vothino rollo". This was three beef olive roulades or strips of beef dipped in metaxa and wrapped in bacon with mushrooms and served with vegetables. It was delicious, and the vegetables were perfectly cooked. After that large kleftiko, Rod had no room left for dessert but I managed a paclava which looked like a Chinese spring roll. Unlike a spring roll, the crispy filo pastry was stuffed with crushed almonds and pistachio nuts in clear honey. It was most enjoyable. 8-)

And so to bed...