Category: england

Late November

Late fall is a rusty crown on tree tops as the first white dots cross the sky line and disappear on the cracking pavement. The first lights twinkle in branches and building tops as the sun sets. Our breath takes shape in the air. I remember this feeling; the first snow, the cusp of winter. The anticipation of what’s to come - the cold nights and warm lights and the scrapbook moments.

Today is laden with memories of another day. It is a slow motion reel playing on the walls behind us as we talk about how things have changed in the last two years.

A day spent with her reminds me of a weekend two years ago, with cold and winter hanging in the air of another city, another country. London, 2009: an adventure in small indulgences. Champagne, high tea and the best of brownies. A misguided attempt to walk the city in brand new heels. A failed venture to eat dessert for dinner. A hilarious experiment in balance on ice; we were skating at the Tower of London and she fell when I fell, to laugh with me on the ground.

In late November, I think of how time passes. How can London be two years ago? How can we be where we are now? How are we going where we’re going?

Late fall, or early winter: it’s the first of many snow falls. A different country. A different day. But still an adventure in indulgence, filling the walls of spa with the same chatter, despite the “Silence Please” signs all around us.

Chandra and I at Westminster Abbey, 2009

One word

Based on my recent success with writing stimulus packages (NaNoWriMo), I’ve been looking at a few similar sites like 750words.com and, recently, reverb10.com.

Reverb10 is designed for bloggers, to give them a prompt for each day in December. I thought I’d give it a try, though my entries will be sporadic at best next week when I’m in England for graduation, I’d like to try to get into blogging again. So, here goes!

December 1 One Word.
Encapsulate the year 2010 in one word. Explain why you’re choosing that word. Now, imagine it’s one year from today, what would you like the word to be that captures 2011 for you?

Adventure.

2010 was an adventure in all possible senses of the word. It was exciting, new and occasionally terrifying. It was quite often about putting one foot in front of the other, following the bread crumb trail only to be derailed by a siren. But the most important part of any adventure worth having is the journey, not the destination. And that was my 2010. It took me many, many places and really, it’s not about where I ended up. I hope.

Beginning.

I would like 2011 to be about beginnings. New projects, a new career, a new life path, a new home. Maybe even a new city. Maybe even a new person. I would like to begin as many things as possible in 2011 so that I can spend 2012 and onwards completing them.

In a song…

I’ve been listening to Kate Miller Heidke on repeat and it reminds me of September.

I listened to her music endlessly from about September until December, and it brings me right back to where I was then. Jury’s out on whether that is a good thing or not.

The songs I have loved all remind me of times in my life. Death Cab for Cutie’s Plans reminds me of first year. Something Corporate always brings back high school memories. Vienna Teng, Jason Webley and Damien Rice remind me of Ireland. Ingrid Michaelson reminds me of my last year of my undergrad.

Besides smell, music is the thing that most triggers my memory. It’s strange how songs can be shaped and changed by our experiences and the things we associate them with. I can’t listen to one of my former favourite songs at all anymore, because it reminds me of an ex boyfriend I would rather forget.

So I’m listening to Kate on repeat and I think I’m a little stuck in the past.

When I see I’ve had enough
And the seas are getting rough
I just need time
Til everything is back to normal
And everything is as it should be
If everything is less than you hoped for
Everything’s okay by me

-Shoebox by Kate Miller Heidke

A love affair

The cure for anything is salt water - sweat, tears, or the sea.

~Isak Dinesen

I lick my lips and taste salt. The water rushes towards me and I dance away - acutely aware of my clumsiness because how can any human have grace when compared to the sea? The waves crash angrily against the pier. The wind sweeps by, carrying with it the smell of the ocean. I close my eyes and breath in deeply.

I am having a love affair with the ocean. It has been going on for years. It started long ago with waves and fresh water, the beautiful crisp smell of a lake on the breeze. It’s culminated in this - I feel better when I’m around water. In Galway, I lived minutes away from the ocean and beside the river. And when I got lonely or sad or a little too drunk, I would walk down to the infamous Galway Bay and listen to the swans fight, watch the waves crash into the rocks. Suddenly, you feel small and your problems unimportant. You feel freer, imagining that you can hitch a ride on the wind and explore the seemingly infinite ocean.

northsea1

Last weekend, I had my first encounter with the North Sea. It was beautiful. The waves were so strong that they crashed into the Pier and sometimes splashed over. It was cold and windy, but it was awesome, in the truest sense of the word.

tynemouthpriory2

I spent longer in Tynemouth, on the coast, than I had planned. After exploring the Priory for a couple of hours, I decided I need to explore the coast. So I climb down this small staircase from the Pier and picked my way through seaweed and stones to watch the waves crash against the rocks.

I started picking up rocks to keep as a reminder of my trip - the beach was full of round pebbles, smoothed by the restless sea.

rocks1

On the other side of the Pier was a small bay where people more adventurous than I were sailing, and a small boat rental place to serve them. But there was also a mass of rocks, covered in seaweed, and the ruins of something at the bottom of the cliff. I decided I wanted to walk over. It was treacherous.

otherside

I slipped and tripped and had to be very careful. The worst rocks were the ones covered with the slimy green seaweed, because if you stepped on it wrong you slipped and lost your balance. I only had one slightly scary experience, though, when my foot slipped and ended up wedged between two rocks. But I caught myself, and remained largely uninjured. Thankfully.

By the end of the day I was windswept, cold and hungry. And far too late to go explore St Mary’s Lighthouse like I had planned. But it was worth it. The North Sea made me feel better, the trip reminded me why I was here - to explore.

sea

For whatever we lose (like a you or a me),
It’s always our self we find in the sea.

~e.e. cummings

The Road Less Traveled

How many of us spend our lives in a city we barely see?

It’s the same old story. Jaded by life, we go through our days with blinders on. Without the energy or the interest to see or do things. To explore.

There’s so much in Ottawa and around that I have never seen, and I lived there for 22 years. There was tons in Galway that I never saw in my four months there. I remember walking to work one morning in Galway, following the river back behind the Roisin Dubh, watching the swans and the garbage float side by side. And suddenly I was struck by the fact that, even though I was on my way to crappy job too early in the morning and even though it smelt like vomit and stale beer, I was in Ireland. It was so easy to forget. To concentrate on hating my job or on what club we were going to go to that night.

This time, I made a decision to change that.

I made a list. It’s a whole page of places to go around Newcastle. Most of them are either in the city or on the Tyne and Wear Metro system.

My best memory from Ireland was when we crawled underneath the Blarney Castle with only the little flashlight from my keychain. Because we were terrified and had no idea where we were going or whether we might get thrown out before we got to kiss the Blarney Stone, but we were there. In this little passageway underneath a castle. People had been there before - the bottles and garbage everywhere proved that. But in a place so chalk full of tourists, for that moment it was ours.

blarney

This weekend I became an adventurer. Living in alone in a new city is terrifying and lonely at times, but I made this decision for myself and I know that I can love this. So I went exploring, to distract myself from the small ache of loneliness that followed me to London and back again.

This weekend was Heritage Open Days in Tyne and Wear. Tyne and Wear is the area of between the two named rivers, including Newcastle, Gateshead and Sunderland. They were offering special tours of many places that weren’t normally open to the public, and even the places that were normally open were free. I admit that I forgot about it entirely on Friday, and slept in quite late on Saturday. But I still managed to make it to three places on Saturday and one today.

One of the buildings I saw, Alderman Fenwick’s House wasn’t normally open at all. And the highlight of my day on Saturday was the Bell Tower at St. Nicholas Cathedral. I had gone to St. Nicholas the first Sunday I arrived in Newcastle. It’s a gorgeous old church, and I walked around inside the seemingly deserted building for a while on my way back to my flat. I returned on Sunday for two reasons. The first was that it was close to the Holy Jesus Hospital, which I visited before it, and the second was that the Heritage Open Days booklet promised a display of the oldest books in the Cathedral’s collection.

stnicholas

I arrived just in time for the magic words.

“So I guess you all want to go up to the tower then?” The guide said to the gathering crowd. I immediately tried to blend into the group. I definitely wanted to go up to the tower.

stairs

The staircase up the Bell Tower is impossibly narrow, steep and dark. The first place we got to was the Bell Room. From here, the Bell Ringers (who have trained for years to be able to do this) use the cords to ring the eight bells in elaborate sequences which produce the tunes you can hear for miles from the Cathedral.

bells

We had to leave our bags here, because the staircase got narrower from then on. Right before we left, our guide rang one of the bigger bells. As we climbed the staircase, the sound buzzed through the tower. The walls trembled with the vibrations. We stopped briefly at the Bellfry to watch the huge bell swing back and forth.

We continued on to the very top of the Bell Tower. Heritage Open Days is the only time they let the public up this tower. And so we stood, where not so many had stoof before, looking out at the city of Newcastle from perhaps the highest point in the city.

newcastle

You should know, I’m terrified of heights. But as I looked up, my back pressed firmly against the stone wall of the Tower, I knew it was worth it. The climb. The shaky feeling in my knees as I glanced at how far away the ground was. I was looking up at the spires of the Bell Tower, from right below. From the centre. From a spot that so few people had before.

tower

I’ll continue the next part of my weekend adventures tomorrow, with my first trip to the North Sea.