31 October 2010

Happy Nijaween 2010!

Dear friends,
We here at TEAET (blugh, is that really our acronym? It's like a dirty palindrome) want to wish youse and yours a Happy (and spooky) Nijaween 2010. Nijaween Down Under has been a beautiful day, especially nice if you're a leafy plant. The predicted thunderstorms only just arrived at 6PM after a sunny day. Now our little green friends can cool off and drink heartily! (Sorry, been gardening a lot.)

Our big family has now been split up and scattered all around this globe of ours, and it makes celebrating things like birthdays very difficult. But I hope you'll all join me in a virtual, international surprise party for Nija as she turns 29...

Happy Birthday, my darling. Long live the queen!

And a special Happy Birthday to Nija's mom Smita, too...you are missed on many continents.

29 October 2010


I apologize for the cheesy title. I thought of it because Craig recently put me in the mind of Donnie Darko with this video, and so I remembered Sparklemagic.

When I was at the Hulme Community Garden Centre for Apple and Pumpkin Day, I picked up a good handful of lovely looking peppers. Some Scotch bonnets, some jalapenos, some delicious looking finger red peppers. They offer their produce for donation, not sale, as they're a community centre, not an official farm.

I got my heap of peppers home and thought, "Right. Now what do I do with them?"

So you see, Picklemagic.

It was only enough for one small jar of pickles with one clove of garlic. But I reckon if I'd tried to pickle up the 7 or so jars Craig and I normally did in Sydney, my flatmates would have sued me for harassment via vinegar.

I cheated, as I always do, and starting eating them the day after putting them up–you're supposed to wait a week for full pickling. They are already some of the tastiest peppers I've ever eaten, especially on some cheese toast.

And I need to send a big thank you to Craig-- I just received an early birthday present. I'm listening to the News Quiz Show on Radio 4 as I type. Thank you, my dear. It's lovely. It's just wonderful to have a radio again.

25 October 2010

Just One Month--

And I've already seen parts of Manchester that even people who live here haven't seen.

My new friend Michael has begun introducing me to people with "She's on a mission to know everything about Manchester in one month." And he might be right. I don't like feeling uncomfortable in a city, not knowing where things are, how to get to them. I don't like feeling intimidated by places, by bus systems, by general unfamiliarity.

When we moved to Sydney, we did a lot of exploring, but we also took it easy. We have two years, we said. Maybe more. We'll see it. After awhile, this city will feel like a place we know.

And by the time I left, we had only been to the North Shore three times. When we heard about cool bars up there, the sheer effort and struggle of getting there kept us at our local instead. And when people here ask me how I liked Sydney, and I tell them I found it hard to know that city, that it felt sprawly and enclaved, that it felt like Atlanta, that you needed a friend, with a car, to really see a lot of it– they understand why I like Manchester so much. Though not many of the people in my program agree with me, some of the other students I know do agree, and these are the people I find I have the most in common with right now. You see, these are the people who say, "Walking tours??! How can I do them, too??"

It's been just a little over a month since I was left on my own in this quirky town. I don't know everything about it. But I do feel very comfortable here. Since my last post, I've done another two walking tours, both brilliant, but honestly, one was a little more so than the other.

Last Saturday was Red Manchester-- run by newmanchesterwalks.com, this walk took us around to various sites of protest, worker's troubles, and general radical interest. Of course, I took no pictures nor notes-- so I only remember a few things.

The Clarion group began the most influential Socialist newspaper in Britain, and it all started with a group of people riding their bikes through the Lake District, the Clarion Cycling Club. The newspaper had a women's column almost from the very start, I believe, which is pretty radical even for a paper today, hey? They ended up starting a cafe, as well, which was then on Market St. The building is, of course, gone, but the city has commemorated Robert Blatchford's Socialist Cafe with a charming T.K. Maxx. Pretty much a T.J. Maxx with fewer "irregulars." Check out this article by my mate Michael for more on the Clarion movement-- they were a really fascinating group.

I saw where Engel's factory was, on Southgate and wandered down quiet alleys. I went in The Royal Exchange, where Engels led the ugly side of his double life, all dressed up and watching the price of cotton rise and fall on the old clapper sign that's still survived, despite the building being bombed a few times. The walk ended at the People's History Museum, overlooking the river between Manchester and Salford, just across from what used to be the New Bailey jailhouse, where the Manchester Martyrs were killed not for committing a crime, but for being Irish. See, the cops couldn't find the exact Irish people who had committed the crime right then. So, they killed these ones instead. As you do.

We walked down Deansgate, and passed the truly beautiful John Rylands Library. It's part of University of Manchester's library system now, but it was built in 1900, and it holds some amazing collections.

The walk ended at the People's History Museum, which I'd seen already with Craig. But it was nice to wander through again. The only problem with the place is that there is a lot to read on the walls... and as I get older and my eyes get crappier, I find it's a strain. But that's my only complaint. Wattage.

The next day, I dragged my new pal Ryan with me to see a play that Michael and Bernadette had invited me to see. This was very exciting; I hadn't been to Salford yet. This is the river that separates Manchester from Salford.

And the former Salford Cinema is the sort of sight that makes me want to explore Salford more. Sadly, I think it's a Pentecostal church now, or something.

The play is called Striking the Balance, and it was held at Islington Mill. It was fun and goofy, and super well-acted, if a bit sincere for my taste. I know it's ridiculous to want less sincerity, but I can't help it. Craig thinks it's hilarious that I can actually be offended by sincerity sometimes. This play, though, it wasn't offensive in its sincerity. It was actually pretty good, about the ongoing struggle for equal pay for women. One of the actors brilliantly played a character who is DEFINITELY NOT inspired by Alan Clarke, and any seeming similarity is purely coincidental, of course. Alan Clarke was a British conservative MP, who was a strong supporter of animal rights, though not bothered in the least by the mass human slaughter going on in Sri Lanka due to British arms sales. "Curiously not," he told John Pilger. He showed up at work ahem... "incapable," which is how MPs accuse each other of being drunk, because they're actually not allowed to call each other drunk. What a government, hey? Anyway, apparently, Clarke was a right character, super racist and self-obsessed enough to publish not one, not two, but–that's right–three memoirs! And the actor who played Margaret Thatcher was pure genius; he put on a wig and a pants-suit, and sang and cha-cha'd like you know Margie would. I thought it just as well a bloke was playing old Ironbutt, because no self-respecting woman would ever want to get inside that shriveled rusty skin.

During the intermission, Michael showed me around an exhibition at the mill, put on by the Working Class Movement Library and the artists at Islington Mill. Some of the pieces were from the WCML archives, and they were brilliant. Check out these board games!

We think it's meant to be a Rockefeller armwrestling with Marx.

Another night this week, I went out to see Hammer and Tickle at the King's Arms, which is also in Salford. The movie was decidedly less awesome than the pub. But the pub was really great. Nice beers and a friendly atmosphere. A beautiful screening room with a domed roof. Oh, my friends. You have so much to see here.

On Tuesday, I again dragged poor Ryan out to another walking tour: Underground Manchester. Absolutely fascinating. Manchester, it seems, has six rivers running underneath it, through man-made canals and tunnels. We stood over the site of the American nuclear bunker, though no one's allowed in, of course. It's now used as a telephone exchange. Ed, the tourguide who is quickly becoming my new best pal, though I have to pay him GBP 5 every time I see him, showed us pictures of nuclear bunker released by illegal urban explorer groups. You can see some here.

We saw where the Rochdale canal actually goes under the city! And we descended deep into the city's belly, with our torches and hushed voices. Once a canal, the water was pumped out after railroads became the hot new transportation phenomenon. The remaining dried-out tunnels were then used as air-raid shelters during WWII.

 These places are sealed off, and you can–theoretically–only get access on one of these tours. But, clearly, the urban explorers have made some progress here.

This part of the tunnel used to be dry, but the water's been creeping in for a while now. You could take a raft and cross it, but the cops say the water's not exactly... safe, and anyway, you couldn't pay me to get in an inflatable raft on that water. It's smelly and creepy.

Remnants of the posted signs still remain from when this place was an air-raid shelter. Smoking wasn't allowed, and the people sleeping there had to show GOOD CONDUCT. Can you imagine, coming from work every night to these dark, dank, cold tunnels to sleep with thousands of neighbours, just for basic safety? War: what's it good for?

Then we came back up, to sweet fresh air and the sunlight of the city, to see clearly, that we had just been underneath the Great Northern Leisure Centre, which I think used to be a train station. Maybe?

And along Camp St., we were charmed by the neat-looking old buildings.

And the lovely little park was charming, too.

Until Ed told us that this lovely little park grows over a mass grave. During the Industrial Revolution, Manchester's small churchyards suddenly couldn't cope with the dead. So they opened a pit, and if you were rich, you would have a lovely funeral with flowers and a coffin, and you would buried in full splendour. And as soon as the last mourner left, they'd dig you up, throw your body in the pit and sell the coffin back to the funeral home. If you were poor, well, you just got thrown in the pit without any splendour. When they were building the underground canal that we had just walked through, they actually decided to divert the canal just to avoid this park, and of course, its graveyard.

On a brighter note, today was Apple and Pumpkin Day at the Hulme Community Garden Centre! It's (only?) two quick buses and a short walk from my place to the Centre, so this was the first time I gave it a go. And it's lovely.

Renata, Craig: you will love this. I could kick myself for forgetting my camera today, but I got a few shots with my phone.

They have a little shop where they sell pots and seeds and grow-your-own implements. They take donations for their produce, and they sell loads of starter plants. They have a garden in the back, and they're building their first strawbale building as a classroom. They've even got a rooftop garden.

See how they grow things in the old boots? I've never seen a better use of old boots in my life. I'll definitely go back with a better camera soon. Maybe next weekend.

Other than that, my course is going well, I think, if maybe a little boring right now. I'm working hard, though, and finding my constitution generally agreeable to this amount of reading and work and trying to see the city at the same time, though I won't attempt the hour-long walk to Salford again any time soon. One month down... another 11 to go.

10 October 2010

Up then, Brave Women

It was a mild and windy Sunday, 10.30am. I was waiting on Manchester's Cross St, near the Manchester Wheel, which is a sad sort of London Eye, only much smaller and with no queues whatsoever. I was staring up at the Printworks, which used to be a publishing house for newspapers and is now a clubbing centre with an IMAX theatre, some chain restaurants and a dodgy-looking bar called "Old Orleans." Or maybe I'm not remembering that correctly. You see, I was distracted by the 12 or so people abseiling down the side of the building. This is not what I'd signed up for.

I was looking for the meeting point for a walking tour on radical women's history in Manchester. The tour was titled "Up then, Brave Women!" and I wanted the tour. I didn't want the tour to involve harnesses or hooks or the Printworks.

Luckily, someone noticed how out of place I looked; the consternation on my face gave me away. "Over there," she said, pointing down the street at a group of people about 200 feet away.

I wasn't sure whether I could detect a whiff of distaste in her gesture or not. Probably not. Probably she just didn't want to be holding a clipboard on a Sunday morning administrating a heap of teenagers scrambling down a building.

Led by Michael Herbert, who assured me there would be no abseiling at all, and who is a historian with the Working Class Movement Library, the walk took us through the medieval part of Manchester, or what's left of it. Chetham's School of Music is next to Chetham's Library, and Chetham's Library is amazing. Old and dark, books in alcoves behind iron gates, it wouldn't be out of place in a Harry Potter movie. Dumbledore's private book collection. Engels and Marx used to read here and write and study– you can still sit at the very table where they sketched the beginnings of an idea that changed the world. And there Michael let us in on the people who aren't often remembered: the Burns sisters, the women who showed Engels around the working-class districts of Manchester, showed him the slums and horrible living conditions of the working class. They gave him the fuel for his theories. Mary Burns and Engels had a covert relationship, never marrying, but living together just the same. Engels didn't believe in marriage; he saw it as unnatural and unjust. After Mary died, Lizzie Burns became Engels' "wife," but he never really credited them in his work, and given they never wrote their own stories, they are largely forgotten. Michael described the frustrations of history. I marvelled at the fact that I had been a (poor, very poor) Communist for a few years and had never heard of these brave women. I don't suppose I really read all that I should have, though.

We walked through the sites of the early co-operative movement. Turns out MCR is the home of the first official co-ops as we know them. Can you believe I moved here before I knew there even was a Working Class Movement Library? Before I'd heard about this whole "home of co-ops" thing? Tell you what: so far, the weather hasn't been too bad, and with history like this, I've been getting along with this town just fine. Just fine.

Michael told us about Robert Owen, one of the founders of the co-ops movement. As we stood by the romantic statue of him outside the Co-operative Bank, I pulled out my handy-dandy pocket street map to try to remember where we were. Women involved in the co-operative took it upon themselves to make reading groups, to come together and work. Women's fight for suffrage began in the co-operative, and it was a serious one. Emmeline Pankhurst fought for suffrage with militant passion; when arrested, she began a hunger-strike, and in her autobiography, she describes the trauma of force-feeding: "Holloway became a place of horror and torment. Sickening scenes of violence took place almost every hour of the day, as the doctors went from cell to cell performing their hideous office."

At the Manchester Cathedral, he told us about Ann Lee, the founder of the Shaker movement, which eventually told hold in America. After four stillbirths and four children who all died before they were 6, she began claiming she had visions from God, and she began the Shaker style of prayer. Which is loud and involves dancing and shouting. She believed in gender equality, and she didn't ever want to get married, and this sort of thing made a lot of men uncomfortable. As it does. Below is a picture of Michael outside the Cathedral; it seemed he mostly spoke off-the-cuff, just pulling interesting stories out of his head. Engaging tour guide, to say the least. He has dates in his brain, my friends. Dates in his brain.

Eventually, Michael asked me where I was from, given that most Mancunians don't need a street atlas to get around a town that basically has 6 main streets. We got to chatting, in between walking tour stops, and as we headed toward Town Hall, he asked me to join him and his partner for a coffee after the tour. Being the kind of person who has to do walking tours alone, because I'm interested but don't know anyone, and furthermore, being the kind of nerd who absolutely loves history, libraries, and anything to do with books, I gladly accepted. A historian, a librarian, the exact person who knows all the neat stuff I want to know about this town, invited me out for coffee. I couldn't believe my luck.

In fact, only a few days prior, I had been walking along with Craig and unwittingly revealed my naive sense of a truly good world. "But Craig," I said, "People should know the names of amazing librarians! Why aren't there really famous librarians, you know, like household names??"
Craig smiled at me, his eyes soft and misty. "You're right, my dear," he said. "That would be nice." And in his voice, I heard something I haven't heard in a long time: someone protecting my view of the world from harsh reality.

The Free Trade Union Hall is now a Radisson Hotel, where Labour Party folks stay when they're in town. They're trying, you see, to forge a connection between themselves and the radical history of working class Manchester. And by using the word "forge" there, I'm implying forgery, not hot hard thankless skilled metal work. The Free Trade Hall is nothing to do with current right-wing definitions of "free trade." It began as a meeting place for the Anti-Corn Law League. The Corn Laws were British protectionist policies, keeping foreign-grown corn out of Britain until British corn prices rose. Ordinary people couldn't afford the food, and began an opposition. Only the facade of the current Free Trade Hall is original. The rest was damaged in bombing, so the Radisson just tore it up and slapped a box-hotel on the back. At least the front looks nice. And it's near the site of the Peterloo massacre, where cavalry charged, sabres drawn, into a crowd of peaceful demonstrators calling for parliamentary reform. Interestingly, because the Labour Party were conferencing during our walking tour, we were unable to visit the site of this historic battle for democracy. Guards kept us out, of course, keeping the politicians safe from our historical curiosity.

Overall, the tour was brilliant, and not least because I made some cool friends. Also, Michael shared an abridged version of the walk with me, so when you come visit, we can do a historical re-enactment of my walk.

Since that tour, I've been out to a movie with Michael and his partner, Bernadette, and they've introduced me to more amazing people. Example: Fergus, who just happens to be a librarian at Chetham's!! Maybe I can talk my way into a special tour. We'll see--

Later in the week, I took a Tales of the Manchester Dead tour, which was also fascinating. Beginning at St. Ann's church, tourguide Ed showed us the gravestone of Thomas Deacon, which calls him "the greatest of Sinners and the most unworthy of primitive Bishops." I reckon it might be the most insulting tombstone in the world. St. Ann's is a beautiful old church, with several of its original gravestones propped up against the building.


We walked around Town Hall, taking a look at dear Albert who died of cholera, and we passed under this beautiful bridge, which reminded me, just a little, of Cambridge's Bridge of Sighs.

Ed told us about the Moors murders, and the strange things under L.S. Lowry's paintings. He told us that the famous red pillar box near the Arndale that was the only thing to survive an IRA bombing unscathed is a duplicate-- the real one did survive the bomb unscathed, but broke during site clean-up. He took us by the building where the last death penalty in England was issued. The beautiful Peace Gardens, created to assuage Manchester's guilt over its role in the development of the Bomb. In fact, Manchester was the world's first nuclear-free zone. 

All things I will show you, my friends, when you come to see this amazing town, dripping with history, every dark nook filled with nerd-out potential, if only we remember to bring a torch, or better, some matches.

Also, my nephew tells me Manchester has a Legoland, so I can't imagine what more enticement you could possibly need.

This is the former school board office, currently being used as a temporary city library, because the current one is under renovation until about 2013 or something. It's a beautiful old building, called Elliott House. I realize this post might be a bit library-heavy. And I haven't even mentioned some of Manchester's heavyweights-- ah, well. You'll have to remain in suspense.
Apart from the big stuff, the science and the history and the nice weather lately, there are little things around Manchester that pocket my days with little joys.

As I wander around campus and town, I find myself surprised by the Northern Hemisphere things that I haven't seen in over two years. Leaves, in the autumn, they are technicolour.

I find myself surprised by the hilarious vague copyright infringement.

I really love Manchester's Town Hall.

And Manchester's canals are absolutely lovely.

 This is one of the Deansgate Locks, clever water-control devices that allow boats to go downhill. I'm sure Jeremy could tell me more.

A house for ducks, along the canal.

A fat cat that lives in my residence hall, named Zorro, who looks a little my own little boy, Gabriel, the poor little bugger.

 And the sudden, breathtaking sights.

But there are things here that make me ache, as well. When I talk to Craig in Sydney, and he tells me about a ginger toddler named Mira. A ginger toddler that I absolutely adore, who has blue eyes and loves to spin and has two of the best parents in the world. When I talk to my nephew and niece in Atlanta, and they tell me they've won prizes in Hindi class for storytelling (congratulations, again, guys! I'm so proud!). When I hear from my sister about her recent battle with a mouse in her house. When I think about Craig. At all.

These are the times I try to remember all the reasons I had for doing this. These are the times I send sad emails to my friends.

A few days ago, I got a response from my dear friend Judith. "Be of good courage," she wrote. "A year will fly."

And I thought about the brave women of Manchester, of Sydney, of Atlanta, the brave women in my own family.

These are the times I try to be like them, a brave woman. Of good courage.

Up, then.

05 October 2010

Jungle Room. For real.

What feels like ages ago, at the beginning of 2010, Craig and I wandered away from our island home of Australia to lurk and peer into the wonders of South Asia. Both our flights into Bangkok and out of Phnom Penh stopped in the Kuala Lumpur International Airport. As those of you who read the blog regularly already know, the night we spent in KLIA was one of the worst we'd ever had. Only to be topped by our last night in Kratie.

But, I did mention the KLIA Jungle Room, and some folks have asked me what the hell that is. And fair enough. I mean, what kind of oxymoron is that? You can't put a jungle in a room. A jungle is wild. By putting it in a room, well, you're definitely not talking wild anymore. You're talking more... unruly garden.

So, the Jungle Room is part of the airport. You walk through a door, and suddenly you're outside in stifling humid heat, on this little enclosed boardwalk, in a sort of ceiling-less fenced-off area filled with plants and trees, but you can still see the airport through the trees. It's netted, to keep birds out, I assume. And there are jungle plants everywhere and a waterfall, and they even pipe in wild bird sounds. It's a nice–albeit oxymoronic–addition to an airport.

And as Craig went by KLIA on his way to Sydney from Manchester, he took some snaps.

And I haven't stopped writing the blog altogether-- I've just been busy, reading, getting my first week at school over, making dumplings, doing walking tours, and generally falling in absolute love with this town.

But the bad weather hasn't kicked in yet, so you'll have to wait to see how much I'm whinging in December!

From Monkey Hangers to Mancunians

The day after our jaunt through London was a Saturday, and a beautiful Saturday at that. After breakfast with Ann and Geoff, Nija and I packed up our kit and we all went out to wander through Hertford's lovely Saturday markets. Cheeses, olives, bread and other goodies abound, and Geoff even got himself a nice, furry new pair of house slippers at a bargain price.

Once I pack up for a trip, I get very antsy to go. But I was glad that I managed to keep my impatience in check, as when we sat down for a coffee in town Tim and Kate (Ann and Geoff's youngest and his wife) popped up. They were out for the Saturday shopping and we were happy to catch them before we left town. While their girls Kitty and Ruby sacked the local Claire's, we shared coffees, shortbread, and laughs (at the girls' expense, especially).

But the time came eventually, and we said our misty-eyed goodbyes to Ann and Geoff and Hertford. A warmer home exists nowhere else in England, and I'm glad to know that Nija's a short train ride away whenever she feels like she's been wandering alone in the dark North too long.

We followed the road north out of Hertford and away from London. THE NORTH, the roadsigns read, as though it was a country of its own. Having recently read Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, I couldn't help but call up its image of the North: a shadowy and boggy place, seeping Old Magic, the realm of the Raven King! (Good lord, I'm a grown-ass man! What an embarrassment.) We cut our swath along the highway, through Sherwood Forest (or what remains of it, anyway) and intermittent showers. A double-rainbow was spotted (all the way across the sky) but despite my love of rainbow-spotting, I didn't make a big deal about it because that's SO three months ago.

Along the way, a serendipitous case of drowsiness and a full bladder induced me to pull off at the town of Grantham, Lincolnshire. Driving into the town, we discovered that Grantham is the birthplace of that Isaac Newton of modern conservatism, Margaret Thatcher. It so happens that it's also the schooling site of that Isaac Newton of physics, Sir Isaac Newton. Here I pose in direct sunlight with the crotchety old salt himself.

I imagine that had it been Newton in the flesh, he would've said, "You knowe, yon blinding sunlighte appeareth whyte, but verilie is composed of all God's colours."

"Shut yer face, Newton, you insufferable berk!" I'd have said. "Quit muckin' about an' gimme some sunnies." 'Cause that's how I roll!

Nija noted that she thought it might look like Newton was making a nasty face, but I disagreed. Turns out she might have been right, and that it could have been the sculptor's attempt at realism. Newton was no friendly character and showed a ruthless drive for prestige. As Stephen Hawking puts it in his biographical snippet on Newton at the end of A Brief History of Time, "Newton was not a pleasant man," and was, to say the least, guilty of abusing his personal and professional relationships in his battles with John Flamsteed and Gottfried Leibniz. Hawking even points out that as the Warden of the National Mint–charged with rooting out counterfeiters–Newton sent several men to their deaths at the gallows. Of course, he was Isaac Effin' Newton, so you have to give him some credit. Or, to put words on Hawking's screen–as it were–"Newton was a tool, but without tools there'd be no mechanics."

Please note that you just read the funniest joke for nerds ever written (the runners-up can be read here) and if you don't get it you should thank your lucky stars.

Beyond us lay Hartlepool, but not before we happened to skirt the Ferrybridge Power Station in West Yorkshire.

This plant (Ferrybridge C, officially) went online in 1966 with a generating capacity of 2GW, the highest of any coal-fired plant in England and the first 2GW plant in all of Europe. The Wikipedia also tells me that it's specified to fire 800 tonnes (800,000 kg) of coal per hour at full blast. And look at those cooling towers! The largest of their kind in Europe. Are you excited? It's a behemoth of an artifact of our coal-dependent past, and hopefully not a glimpse of our future.

Speaking of which, Hartlepool (pronounced "HART-lee-pool") in County Durham in England's northeast was born around when Muhammad led his followers into Medina and for years was a monastery, market and port town, but its current incarnation is all down to the stuff that still washes onto its beaches:

Coal, coal, coal! The railways brought the stuff from South Durham to Hartlepool to be shipped all over England starting in the 1830s, and this allowed it to become a regional centre of industry, especially shipbuilding. It was important enough for the Germans to shell in the First World War One. It's also the home of Andy Capp!

Nowadays the industry has faded and Hartlepool is more of a quiet seaside town, and it's the home of some of Nija's family friends, radiologists at the local hospital whom I'd met when they were in Atlanta years ago. Nija had just seen them over the summer and was excited about dropping in. They invited us up for a night and treated us to wonderful hospitality and a tour of the town the following day. We saw the aforementioned beach (tremendous tide):

and got a hint of the town's shipbuilding past:

This ship, the HMS Trincomalee, was actually built in Bombay in 1817 and is moored at the dock of the Hartlepool Museum, a charming little free museum that even had an "exhibition" on tea when we visited. This consisted of some construction-paper cut-outs of teapots, some photos of celebrities with pithy tea-related quotes (Tom Selleck with "A man without a mustache is like a cup of tea without sugar") and some history of the British love affair with tea. They also had a few really old bones dug up from the ancient abbey. Score!

But none of this can compare to Hartlepool's true claim to fame: during the Napoleonic Wars, the story goes that a French ship sunk off the Hartlepool coast. The only survivor was a monkey dressed in a French naval uniform. The ignorant Hartlepudlians supposedly mistook him for a French officer and executed him at the noose, thereby bestowing upon their progeny the sobriquet of "Monkey Hangers" for all time.

Now, whether this actually occurred is a topic of an inevitable serious academic debate, but the H-pudlians have taken what amounted to an insult on as a point of pride. They've even got a statue in the monkey's memory:

In a bizarre twist, the man who dresses up as the Hartlepool FC mascot "H'Angus the Monkey", Stuart Drummond, was elected Mayor in 2002 campaigning as the monkey and on a platform of free bananas to schoolkids. He was then re-elected in 2005, making him the first mayor in England elected to a third term and therefore the most popular mayor in English history. How do you like them bananas?

Alas, we had to leave Hartlepool after a very short visit. It was on to Manchester, to Nija's new home, and to another adventure.