A Travellerspoint blog

July 2011

Home Again, Home Again, Jiggity Jig!

No prizes for spotting the movie reference! (Except a feeling of self satisfaction)

So here we are. A statue of Robin Hood, my parents red brick house, their stupid puddy-muddle of a cat and my wonderful Dobby-dog (who last appeared on this blog two years ago when I was transporting him from Slovakia to the UK, and who is now living with my sister).

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I'm back in Nottingham for a couple of days, a pit-stop more than a homecoming and one I was a little nervous about. This marks the first meeting of our two families, Haru's and mine, but from the moment we all sat down for a meal together in the hotel I knew it was going to be OK. Despite the language barrier, and my poor translation, it all went pretty well. A follow on meal the next day at my parents' house went even better - with several language free games and puzzles really helping people connect without having to talk too much (much to my relief). Our mothers have even become penpals now!

I had a few practical things that I really had to do while I was back. So the next day I dropped everybody off in the centre of Nottingham, armed them with maps where I'd circled a few points of interest, and told them to meet me in a couple of hours and off they went.

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Seeing their photos of that morning was quite amusing, as for me none of these buildings really seem that photogenic or worthy of a picture. Even Nottingham Castle is just a boxy house on top of a small hill that looks nothing like a castle, but then again I guess many Japanese people are equally amused by my choices of photography subjects in Japan, which are probably very common place for them as well.

After we met up again it was time for lunch. So, as I'm trying to make sure everybody tries good old fish and chips at least once during their stay, I took them to one of Nottingham's more interesting spots for a pub lunch.

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This is one of several pubs in England that claims to be the oldest (though their claim is a pretty strong one, to be fair). 'The trip to Jerusalem' (or simply 'The trip' as it's known locally) is reputed to have been a meeting place for those heading off to off heads in the Crusades, and the sword fixed to the outside of the building is said to be an actual crusaders sword.

Many of the rooms and passages inside are actually hewn directly into the soft sandstone cliffs that the building nestles against. This does give it a rather unique and archaic feel to the place. It also comes with a few myths and legends of it's own, like a chair that is supposed to make anybody who sits on it pregnant. If this works for guys as well I don't know, and I didn't get a chance to try as the chair is now too old and frail to be sat on, so bang goes my only chance at motherhood. A more famous myth associated with the pub is 'The cursed galleon', a model ship that should never be moved, because doing so tends to trigger a bout of supernatural petulance until it's put back in it's rightful place.

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Just around the corner from 'The Trip' is a small local history museum called 'Brewhouse Yard', which was actually closed on this day. However, we got to go back a couple of days later, with more of my family in tow, and show Haru and Tomoko around. So, for the sake of keeping all the 'Nottingham stuff' together, I'm going to add that here as well. Right now in fact!

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As you can see this isn't exactly ancient history, it covers what I guess you could call 'living memory', going back to not much more than just pre-world war 2. What it does do very nicely is recreate the atmosphere of those times with some quite hands on rooms set out like period kitchens, grocery stores, chemists... which was probably a bit of a busman's holiday for Haru and Tomoko as they are both pharmacists!

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In fact, at points, it all felt like a condensed re-run of our first couple of days in London with fine collection of old toys and even a rather nifty little Dalek turning up.

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Being built against the same sand stone cliffs as 'The Trip', Brewhouse Yard also has it's own fair share of caves which have served various functions over the years including a brewary, an air raid shelter and most recently a picnic spot for us poor hungry visitors.

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I actually have a personal connection with one of the items in this museum though, look at the peg rug under the bed in the last couple of pictures above. That was actually made by my Grandmother when she was a girl. How it came to be donated to the museum I don't know - but it's a fine example of an old technique of 'pegging' rags through a base to make a warm rug. It used to be in a different room, but now it's been put under the bed here to protect it a bit from further wear and tear - though they obviously didn't take crawling nephews into account when they came up with that plan.

It was odd seeing it, her rug, there like that. Every time I went back to the UK I always make a point of dropping in to see my Gran. The last photo I have of us together was taken in 2006 (when I still had long hair), though I took one final photo of her in 2009 when I was back in the UK just before going to Japan to start JET. Every time I visted her I always thought it might be the last time I'd see her, that's why I always took a picture. She passed away a few months ago. So it was nice that, in some small way, I got to visit her again this time. Goodbye Gran.

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OK that's enough chronologically inaccurate side stepping and emoting, let's get back to where we left off... in a pub eating fish and chips!

After lunch we had a parting of the fellowship, with different people wanting to do different things. So Nik and I ended up taking Haru and Tomoko for a short drive out to another of Nottingham's nicer spots. Wollaton Hall, a country house/museum with a deer park around it (though we didn't see much of the deer this time).

Interestingly I just read that the hall will be making an appearance in the next Batman film, playing the role of Wayne Manor (Family home of Batman's alter ego Bruce Wayne). A few days after we left several scenes were filmed here, including at least one involving gravestones - and, as Bruce going all moody at his parents graveside is an iconic reoccuring image in the comics, it's easy to guess what was going on there.

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Again, I've actually been here many, many times before, but it's always a nice stroll around the gardens and the lake, and always nice to take new people there too. It's a shame we didn't have time to go inside though, I'd have liked to introduce Haru to another childhood friend of mine, the stuffed giraffe with knees that have been stroked bare by generations of curious kids who couldn't reach any higher. Next time maybe.

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And that's all for today. Next time will be the wedding spectacular special (finally), but for now come on, move along now, there's nothing else to see here.

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OK - It was from 'Bladerunner'.... Happy now?
.

Posted by DKJM74 07:24 Comments (0)

The Path More Travelled

Being a blatent tourist in London

Our last day in London and our numbers have swollen from two (Me and Haru) to six with the arrival of Haru's mother (Junko), brother (Astushi), sister-in-law (Hiromi) and good friend (Tomoko).

We've got to get a train to Nottingham at around 4.30pm, and they want to see as much as possible before then. So we're setting out early and making our way over to the one of London's key tourist hubs. I'm taking them to Westminster to see Big Ben, the Houses of Parliament and the abbey for starters.

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It's not an area I'd go to on my own, I've seen it all before and it's easy to loose sight of just how interesting something is when it's commonplace for you. So, if you've grown jaded to your own country, I suggest acting as a guide to a group of foreigners as a way to help you rediscover things for yourself. For example, trying to explain just who Oliver Cromwell was, or the purpose of a gargoyle, in my lower-intermediate Japanese, was both challenging and fun (and I do love a nice gargoyle or grotesque).

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We didn't have time to go inside everywhere, but with the recent royal wedding having been big news in Japan it was the abbey that they really wanted to see - a place I'd never have visited by choice, but really enjoyed under the circumstances. In fact understanding much more of the history around the place and people connected with it I think I was much more absorbed than my guests and in the end it was them hurrying me out. Luckily there were only a few places where photography was allowed, or I'd have taken even longer.

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The next thing on their London wish list was Buckingham Palace, which they still wanted to see despite my warnings that there's not much to see from the outside; oh well, I'm just the guide today!

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So that's Buckingham Palace and Green Park checked off the list. What's the next request? A market and some shopping. Well, with more time I'd have taken them to Camden, but that's a full day on it's own I think, so we settled for Covent Garden instead. Just be chance we managed to turn up on a significant day for the market, as a new memorial stone for local residents who died in WWII was being unveiled that day. Apparently Covent Garden was the last of the London markets to have been provided with such a memorial, and the mayor was there to unveil it.

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Well I've done my best to cram as much toursity-Londonalia as possible into a few hours for my guests, but time's up we've got to catch a train! And after a wonderful bit of British Rail antics, we end up on a trian one hour later than planned, minus the seat reservations I paid for - why has this never happened once during two years in Japan, then happens on the first big train journey back in the UK? Still, despite the 'minor setback' we're on our way, and one step closer to W-day.

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Posted by DKJM74 06:36 Comments (0)

Quintessentially British

London, the Tate Modern and Doctor Who

So, I'm heading back to the UK for the first time in two years. This has been the pattern of my life for years now, two or three years spent abroad then a few days back in England to see family and friends, but it's a bit different this time. This time Haru and I are spending a couple of days in London alone, then some of her family will join us and we'll go up to Nottingham to meet the Mitchell clan. Yes, we're going to introduce our families to each other... well, we've got to really, not much time left. We're getting on the flight from Osaka to London, which means it's only 6 days to wedding day, yeah - it's about time our families met I guess!

We've got three days in London. The first day is for Haru and what she wants to do, the second is mine (and that's the two days I'll be covering today, day three I'll talk about later).

After about 12 hours (or four in flight movies and a Helsinki transfer) later we arrive in London find the hotel, grab a take away curry (we really are back in the UK) and go to sleep. Next day we're surprisingly fresh and ready to go.

Today is Haru's day, she likes modern art (in particular pop art), making it a quick and easy choice for her - The Tate Modern. So that's where we're heading, jumping off the tube near St. Paul's and then walking down across the Millennium Bridge.

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I've been to the Tate Modern a couple of times before and always enjoy it. I have a very simple approach to modern art these days based on pure instinctive reaction. Some artists, and schools of art I know a little about, and that knowledge can help understand some things, but it's my belief that you shouldn't have to read a thesis or statement of intent to be able to understand a piece of art. So I just let myself react - for example (in the collage below) the red netting steps and overhead screen in one of the installations made me laugh because I was thinking what fun it'd be to climb up and bounce around as if it was a giant trampoline, on the other hand the metallic coils snaking down from the ceiling looked very organic, despite their material, and made me think of Geiger and the Alien movie designs.

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Haru and I would just talk about was brought to mind by the whatever we were looking at, silly or serious, and in that way we really enjoyed it. The pieces I don't like are those that simply don't evoke anything for me. Simple as.

There's a wide variety of pieces in the gallery, from large installations and strange structures, to more classic (though still modern) style sculptures and canvases. Here's a small selection, of what we could see.

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Oddly, perhaps the best view of St.Paul's and the Millennium Bridge was from inside the gallery as well.

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After leaving the gallery and a spot of lunch, Haru just wanted to walk around and explore a bit. So I took her for a familiar stroll along the side of the Thames, down to Tower Bridge, before heading back to the hotel and crashing out.

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The next day was mine, and I'd got us tickets for the 'Doctor Who Experience' at Olympia (which meant changing trains at Earl's Court, where I used to live, and where I got my nose broken by a guy on crack - ahhh, the memories!).

If the words 'Doctor Who' mean nothing to you then shame on you! It's officially recognized as the longest running and most successful sci-fi show in the world and was once described as "quintessential to being British".

Anyway, the 'experience' is divided into two parts, the first part is a mini-adventure where the current Doctor (Matt Smith) appears on videos screens and guides you through as series of rooms (an intergalactic museum, inside the TARDIS, a dalek mother ship) where you act like a gang of companions trying to rescue the Doctor. The climax of which is a trip down a 3D vortex with daleks, cybermen and stone angels all trying to kill you - and this isn't subtle depth of field 3D, this is 'Let's make stuff stick as far out of the screen as possible' 3D.

The second part is an exhibition of costumes and creatures from the show. Here's a quick taster of the exhibition part, and if you're interested you can find a more extended write up about the Doctor Who Experience on my other blog here.

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The rest of the day was pretty much devoted to museums. At first we headed over to the 'British Museum', which is an impressive collection housed in an equally impressive building.

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We looked around a few 'classic' galleries (Egyptian mummies, Greek and Roman sculptures and elegant chronometers).

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However, as impressive as it all was, it left me a little cold. It is a great museum, but it was so huge and so full that I just couldn't connect with it somehow. So I suggested switching to the nearby 'Toy Museum' instead, which we did. Located in two old town houses joined together, the toy museum is much smaller, and quite tricky to find. When we did find it though I was happy we did, the loosely themed collections piled up in each room were wonderful, and unlike the packed 'British Museum' we had this place pretty much to ourselves.

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(Love these old toy theatres, made me think of The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus)

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(Proof, if proof be needed, that old dolls are just plain scary!)

I think that the toy museum was probably my favorite thing that we saw over these few days in London, mostly because I hadn't seen it before, unlike the Tate Modern or British Museum. I've even been to two earlier Doctor Who exhibitions, though the first time I was so young I don't remember it now. Given more time I'd have loved to explore some other lesser visited sites in London; see the old medical collages, or maybe do a tour of Highgate Cemetery (I'd love to do that). We still had one more day to go, but that evening my (soon-to-be) in-laws would be arriving, and the next morning I'll be playing tour guide to some of the more famous London sites then taking everybody up to Nottingham to meet my folks.

Posted by DKJM74 02:36 Comments (2)

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