26 June 2013


Eventful times, dear reader, make for a very uneventful blog.

I do not, when I am busy, even bother to tell you about the times I get 10 people over to my house for board games. I do not have the time to write about the day – it was a wonderful day – I made 6 people watch Don, the Bollywood classic, starring Amitabh Bachchan in a double role. It should have a better theme song.*

One of the reasons I love living in the UK is having fairly regular opportunities to see one of my favourite musicians: Billy Bragg. You might remember I once even got to meet him! He was annoyed at the state of American cheese.

A few weeks ago, I got to see him play again, this time at a lovely little Northern Quarter venue called Band on the Wall, so named because of this former use of the wall.

Jonti had never seen Billy Bragg live, and it was just after his very last exam, so it made for a great celebration. I didn't get to find out if Billy's had a better cheese experience since I last spoke with him about it...

Last weekend, Jonti and I decided to take a short holiday in the Lake district. We stayed at a quintessentially quirky and strange British B&B. It seems to be an obscure law of B&Bs that they must be run by unusually odd people, with unusually odd taste in wallpaper.

But we didn't have much time to worry about where we were staying, because we were out on lovely, lovely walks.

The first day, we left the B&B around 7pm, having enjoyed a post-lunch, late afternoon nap. It stays light until about 10pm up in the Lakes during summer, so we had hours of daylight left.

We decided on a short walk up to Orrest Head. 

A nice view, but we were only there for about 5 minutes before that ominous cloud blew over us and we got stuck in a rather ridiculous downpour.

After waiting for it to lighten up, sheltering in the trees for about 15 minutes, we realised that rivers of mud were beginning to form and it wasn't going to lighten up at all. We made a dash for it. I immediately lost my footing on a wet flat rock and fell hard smack on my arse. No awesome bruises to show you, unfortunately.

The next day, we were worried the weather might be ugly again, so we bought me a waterproof jacket (with extremely unfashionable hood!) and waterproof trousers (proven to make you look at least 20 lbs. heavier!).

I wasn't thrilled at how puffy they looked, but I knew I'd be happy to have them if it started raining on our walk. I certainly didn't want to sit around in the B&B just because of a little rain.

Weird custom of pushing pennies into a dead tree.

When we started walking higher, though, it seemed we weren't going to need the waterproofs after all. The sun started coming out, the clouds began to burn away.

There's really no point walking if you're not going to stop halfway, get a pint, enjoy a good background tractor and let a 'morning coffee' sign grow out of your head.

Sometimes, there's a really weird vibe to English tourist towns. The whole local economy of the Lake District relies on tourism, both international and domestic. And so, a lot of people work in bars and cafes... but they seem to really resent tourists. Jonti and I ended up sitting outside having this drink not only because it was a gorgeous day, but partly because of the cold silence we faced when we walked in the bar. Like coming through the squeaky double doors of a western saloon, dust and tumbleweed fluttering in behind us, and everyone looking at us suspiciously.

Beautiful canopy.

After about 5 hours of walking, just as we finished a lovely picnic lunch of olives, bread, cheese and Jonti's homemade ginger cake, the rain started up. We got our waterproofs on. I expected to hate how they felt, for them to be an uncomfortable hindrance.But I was surprised. It turns out wearing waterproofs while it's raining feels rather like having a superpower. It's raining? No worries! I'm going to keep tramping about outdoors without worrying about having sticky jeans for the whole day after! I DON'T EVEN CARE IF IT RAINS ALL DAY. I'm just going to ENJOY THIS CAKE.

As we were heading home, Jonti suggested a detour by way of Wigan to have a Father's Day lunch with his dad.

Even though one of my best mates in Manchester is practically the King of Wigan (or just the patron of its libraries, whatever), I've never actually been to Wigan. I was excited about visiting, and about seeing Wigan Pier, even though I'd been warned it was a bit rubbish.

We tried to visit a museum devoted to a very large Mill Engine, but we either a bit too early or a bit too late. Considering the opening hours, though...

So, the whole thing about Wigan Pier is that there isn't one. Or there was one, but we don't know where it was. Or it wasn't a pier at all, but a sort of loading dock, where coal was tipped into boats along the canal. It was destroyed and sold for scrap as Wigan's industry died... so largely, Wigan Pier is about British industrial decline, the downfall of the North, and the lack of itself. About its own death.

However, helpfully, Wigan council have built a replacement for people who would like to have their picture taken with Wigan Pier. Obviously, it's probably not in the same place as the original loading dock was, because we don't know where that was.

But still.

Look at me, with Wigan Pier. 


And! That's not all! On Monday night, Jonti and I went along to see David Sedaris (!!) read from his new book. He was so friendly. David Sedaris is one of my major heroes; he inspired me to start writing nonfiction and set me on my path to radio as well, in a way. I've been listening to his voice for years, in audiobooks, on This American Life. His voice is incredibly familiar to me. I know the tone and tenor of it, the phrasing and pacing. On Monday night, hearing his voice actually come from someone, his voice suddenly embodied, was a strange and wonderful experience. I was in awe for the first few moments.

And after the reading, he did a thoughtful, intelligent Q&A. I asked a question about radio and writing. His answer was fascinating. He talked about how writers set a mood with words, but radio producers want to set a mood with music. About editing stories down for time. About working with themes, and how difficult that can be sometimes. He talked about being an American who lives in England, and how, in the countryside, everyone is just really happy to talk to him about how much they like America and how they went on holiday there once and it was amazing. I think he finds English countryside dwellers very sweet... and I think they're probably very different to English tourist-centre dwellers. I told him my story about the girls in Kings Lyn who forgot that Americans are real people.

Later, when he signed my book, he elaborated on his original thoughts on radio, saying he doesn't do This American Life much any more, largely because he thinks other people should have their turn on it and get the exposure he got when he needed it.

He was so friendly and lovely; it was a fantastic way to spend an evening. He asked no one to take any pictures or video that night... but I will always have this.
* Such as 'Strangers! Identical strangers!' sung to the theme song of the Patty Duke Show.

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