Tuesday, 16 July 2013


During my time in Durham, Nat and I took the train in to Newcastle and spent a day browsing the shops. It reminded me a bit of Glasgow for some reason--the stone buildings, the long boulevards, the brisk winds. We also took a turn about Primark and I found a reasonably priced navy cardigan which later proved very useful during chilly Swedish evenings.

Nat took me past an old marketplace and straight to a pizza shop serving pizza slices "as big as the ones in New York," I've been told by a trustworthy source. I was hungry, and one hot slice and an icy cold can of Coke did wonders.

This is actually in Durham, a picture of a church at sunset, but it was our walk home from the train station. 


I can't understand why he doesn't like me. 


After our excursion up the mountain, the three of us set out for Conwy, a little village by the sea with many, many little shops filled with curiosas and maps and souvenirs.

By then we were feeling a bit peckish and looked for a good place to rest our feet. Anna's Tea Rooms was wonderful, and we ordered the soup and sandwich. My sandwich was feta cheese and cranberry, a combination I can wholeheartedly recommend, should you ever be in the area. And since I was in England, I also ordered a cream tea which was unsurprisingly delicious. Francis, our resident Englishman, helped me polish off the pot and ate one of my fruit scones.

A tea room in red and pink

A bumblebee!

Children fishing along the pier with poles and buckets and string and nets.

Natalie took this picture of a seagull.

Pigeons along the roof

All in all, we had a splendid time. Eventually Natalie and I ducked into a souvenir shop and we each bought a map of the shipwrecks off the Welsh coast. It will go nicely with the other maps in my flat in Singapore.

Sunday, 14 July 2013

The Mountain

The three of us--me, Nat, and Francis--donned well-worn trousers and sturdy boots for our day ahead. We were going to climb a mountain, said Natalie, and we all followed her lead. Conwy Mountain is a scarp face of a hill and not very tall, but the views from it are lovely. I had no desire to lug my professional camera with me to its top, and Natalie let me borrow her camera phone instead, which made everything much easier.

Natalie took this picture. At the top of the mountain we could almost touch the clouds and we looked down into the sheep pastures and farmsteads and valleys of green forest.  

Together again! We have maintained our friendship over the years through fervent letterwriting and visits, as often as they are possible, and we have together adventured through Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, America (the very strange and foregin lands of deep-south Georgia), Sweden, Scotland, England, and now Wales. You can read her version of the story here. I cannot explain us--how we two old souls, vastly different in personality and outlook, have been pulled apart and pushed together over the years--all I know is that it is wonderful to have someone to share my life with, whatever the circumstance and geographic location.

This is Francis. You might remember him from my Edinburgh visit.

"Their pace has quickened."

We climbed almost all the way to the top, stopping only to tackle each other into the ferns. I had brought peach rings, courtesy of Rebecca Shang, and we ate them slowly, savouring their sweet chewiness as the wind tore at our hair and roared in our ears and the grasses rippled before us on the slopes. We came across an oak tree and climbed it, and swung from the low-hanging branches of a tree along the path, and Francis pointed out foxgloves and dreamed of his future garden and we all cried out at how lovely, how lovely it all was. 


I awoke the next morning in a youth hostel on a hill with views of the rolling country and the foamy seas in the distance. Francis, Natalie's beau, had picked us up the previous evening in the midst of a bone-chilling windstorm and driven us to our resting place. Now we were all awake to the new day, blinking at one another, surprised to see our reunion was not imaginary after all.

The seagulls were crying and wheeling above our heads, and the air was brisk and bright and clear, and there was only one thing that could possibly make this day better: pirates!

And I got my wish, because who should come stalking through the dining hall but Captain Jack Sparrow himself, in the flesh. The hostel was hosting a pirate themed party for some young scouts, and it was quite amusing to watch Captain Sparrow and his striped cohort go about their business, lugging boxes and setting tables and hanging up banners in the honour of the day.

Hey, Captain, what's your favourite letter? 
That be an easy one, laddie. Aaarrrrrggggh.

Chester! Crewe! Bangor!

Dear Friends,

Where have I been, you wonder? And I must apologize, deeply and sincerely, for not updating. But you see, I have been very busy not doing anything at all for the past week, other than reading through my dad's childhood collection of the Hardy Boys and unhelpfully pottering about the garden and trying and failing to write on my story. I keep thinking I'll get to my blog in a moment or find some sudden spurt of energy, and those fancies work very well in the imagination but not as well in real life. Furthermore I was hindered by the processing capabilities of my tiny blue computer and the lack of an internet connection out here in the woods.

However, I have at last found both the time and the means to tell  you all of my adventures, and I will do so from the beginning to avoid confusion. After I arrived in Heathrow, I had to wait for the 6.30 train that left from Euston station, London, which actually meant I had to take the underground from Heathrow to reach the appropriate station. My bag was large and cumbersome, and at one point in time I found myself staring disbelievingly at the flight of stairs that would take me to the Victoria line, and I must have looked sufficiently perplexed because a good-looking young Irishman asked me if I needed help and proceeded to haul my luggage up the stairs. I was very grateful and upon retelling this encounter to Natalie later in that very-long-day, she said, "I don't understand how everything happens to you. Everyone is so nice to you. That would never have happened to me."

I attribute it to my red hair and bow tie. Everyone loves a good bow tie.

No one can resist.

Pretty schnazzy for someone getting ready in an airport bathroom.

The underground was easy enough to navigate, probably because it is what inspired the Singapore MRT and I know that well enough, and you should be impressed with my lateral thinking. The train ride to Bangor, where I was to meet with Natalie and attend her conference, would have been much nicer had I not needed to switch trains twice. All in all I went from London to Chester to Crewe to Bangor in the beautiful, hilly countryside of Gwynedd Wales.

The train pulled up to Bangor Station, and I moved my luggage onto the platform through sheer force of will and then I turned to survey my surroundings. I was in a small train station on soil completely foreign to me, and I was completely and utterly alone. I was tired and being unnecessarily dramatic, and driven by some ungodly determination, I carted my luggage out of the station and into the pouring rain. I had directions to Bangor University, and the town is honestly one of the nicest little places you could imagine, but I was unhappy with the rain and the leaden skies, with the cold and the wet that by the time I had climbed a steep hill at a snail's pace, bags in hand, and wandered gracelessly around the cobblestoned streets of the town, I had stopped believing in a future altogether. There had never been anything but this inching along, this trudge-trudge through wet streets, my sopping skirts sticking to my legs in a mean-spirited attempt to fell me in my tracks. I was Elizabeth Bennett, six inches of my hem gone to the dogs, but I must say my version was slightly more fretful and self-important. And there was no Darcy to happen upon me and find my disarray charming.

After stumbling up the stone steps of the university and finding a bathroom in which to change my shoes and squeeze the water out of my skirt, I was finally welcomed by Natalie Jayne Moore, my dear, sweet friend of years and years, who stood in the doorway and just smiled, thinking of the time we (as gushing teenagers in the hot, tropical island of Singapore) dreamed of studies and conferences in faraway England. And that, I suppose, is why we do the things we do, why traveling from Singapore to Doha to Stockholm to Oslo to Heathrow to Euston to Chester to Crewe to Bangor does not seem like quite such an absurd idea after all.

A young American setting up the sound for her gig later in the evening

After the conference, we marched to a pub with a load of medievalists in tow, and escaped the rain for a few hours before it was off to bed. When I was again staggering out the door with my heavy luggage, a kind young man helped me carry it. He handed me my luggage with a question. "You leaving then?"
"Yes," I said.
"For the summer?"
"Yes," I said, not quite understanding.
"That's too bad. Well, have a good time." He waved and went back inside.
And Natalie gawped at our exchange and shook her head.

Medievalists drink wine. Of course.