12 May 2013


British people can occasionally be spectacularly stubborn. They call it being "bloody-minded," a phrase that, when I first heard it, sent me into uncomfortable, nervous giggles, as I imagined a sort of visible stroke, gloopy brain muddled with blood.

This bloody-mindedness means that once you've decided you're going to enjoy something, you don't just force yourself to do it no matter what-- it means you're going to force yourself to ENJOY IT. To my friend Geraint, this means that when you've planned a picnic, even if it rains and hails on the day of said planned picnic, you will still go. You will sit in the car, in situ, and eat your damp sandwiches and your cold Scotch eggs, with your mum and your brother and sister and you will enjoy yourself.

I don't know if it's because I'm American, or because I'm from a town that can generally expect better weather sometime soon... but I just don't buy into this.

Consider this, from my friend and former flatmate:
And this response:
I mean, seriously. What is going on? How is there an entire nation of people deciding to have fun and then somehow managing to force themselves into having it despite all circumstances pushing against them? It's an act of will that I simply don't have the effort to manage.

I'm American. I like the sun and warm days and I will WAIT to have a picnic or a barbecue until a sunny warm day comes along.

If they don't come along, I will go without. Enjoy a warm living room and a cup of tea and a duvet, instead. Because these things, the picnics, the barbecues, they are not worth the effing hassle without lovely weather. But that's my take. Pretty much everyone I know in this bizarre country does not agree and can attest to happy childhoods spent wearing raincoats and gloves, standing in blustery wind, eating rainy food, because we are on a picnic and you will be happy about it.

When my friend Tommy invited me to a birthday weekend in the Lake District, I was a bit worried I'd have to take on some bloody-mindedness, for group harmony. They might not let me just sit by the fire in the cozy cottage and drink tea and read... they might cajole and coerce me into  some wet, hail-ridden, muddy, cold fell walking. They might all tell each other what a lovely time it was, and how it wouldn't really be better if it were warm and sunny, because it wouldn't be really British, or something. And then they'd look at me, expectantly, wondering when I was going to join in the group delusion. And I'd have to pull one of those faces that looks like a smile but is actually a grimace and say, "This is great! Happy Birthday, Tommy! Let's eat some damp food now!"

Luckily, this didn't happen. Instead, a huge group of Tommy's friends, about 13 of us in total, had a lovely weekend with some beautiful crisp sunny weather. We did a stunning walk up Helvellyn. I didn't go all the way up Helvellyn.

Gorgeous. We stayed in a very remote cottage in Coniston. It used to be a slate and copper mining town, and its lake has been used many times for setting the world water speed record. Donald Campbell beat his own record in 1966, getting to 320 miles/hour, and then immediately lost control of the hydroplane and lost his life.

The views from our cottage were breath-taking.

Our second day there was a bit grayer, so I decided I didn't want to go canoeing. I decided to take a suggestion from Jonti's mother and go to the Ruskin Museum. John Ruskin was a leading Victorian-era art critic, who championed JMW Turner. Ruskin owned Brantwood, a house on Coniston Water, and lived there for years. Apparently, it's a beautiful old home, turned into a museum and art gallery.

But I didn't go to Brantwood. I got confused and went to the (somewhat misleadingly named) Ruskin Museum. I would argue this museum is incorrectly named because it is actually just a bunch of rooms filled with stuff vaguely related to Coniston.

It is an excellent horrible little local museum. I highly recommend it. The room devoted to Coniston doesn't feature any sort of general history or chronology. It's just several unconnected displays: Copper! Slate! A poem someone wrote about Coniston! A boat that inspired a book about Coniston! 

There's a room about Donald Campbell and his hydroplane, the Bluebird-- with interactive touch screens! The slide titled 'A Generous Man' had me and Claire in fits. Rather than a list of Campbell's charitable work or donations, it was just a list of gifts he had given people. For Christmas once, he had cowboy suits made for a friend's sons. An acquaintance's wife enjoyed a poem he recited and wanted a copy of it-- so he stayed up all night to type it out for her. I mean, what. a. guy.

Creepy mannequin hands in the Bluebird room.

A fantastic provincial museum, full of wacky curiosities. It's what I imagine a Stars Hollow museum would be like. Brantwood might be a better museum, or even an actually good museum, but it's probably not at all funny.

Throughout the weekend, we also saw our fair share of adorable sheep.

They really are sometimes just black! Some of you, who grew up in rural Britain, already know this. I'm a city girl. I never realised there was actual fact behind children's songs.

I made new friends (hey y'all!), and I really enjoyed breathing all that crisp air. I'd like to do more fell walking this summer. 

The night we all got into the hot tubs and drank sparkling wine (which we insisted on calling 'champagne,' because maybe we did get a little bloody-minded, after all) was one of the goofiest experiences I've had in a long time. 

It was a lovely weekend, and I can't wait to visit the Lakes again. Though, since that weekend, the weather has taken another turn for the worse, suggesting that weekend might have been all the summer we'll get this year-- meaning, if I want to go to the Lakes again this year, I just might have to get a little more bloody-minded.