Later that afternoon in Penzance I remembered that the old guy who sold me the cross stitch kits had recommended a look at the Admiral Benbow pub, because it had a lot of relics from wrecks on the Cornish coast, so I dropped into the pub, despite it only being around 3.30pm, and ordered a Scrumpy Jack. Turns out I’d ordered a PINT because when it was put in front of me, it was an enormours amount of cider. It was also quite hinkaholic, and when I lurched out of the pub half an hour later I was buzzing pleasantly – but then, alcohol and I are always wary friends. The pub itself was decorated in an incredibly busy marine theme – with the characteristically low ceilings & beams of buildings constructed several hundred years ago, when people were clearly quite a lot shorter than they are now. I must be a throwback, I guess! There were all sorts of dinky little marine things around – barometers, wheels, port holes. The effect was rather claustrophic – low ceilings, small windows, dark environment, every surface covered in stuff – but in a homely sort of way. I went back to the YMCA to sober up, and ended up needing to walk down to the Lidl’s supermarket (that’s really how it’s spelt, and the shop is sort of like Aldi, with weird brands, and no shelving) for an enormous bottle of water. It was dusk, and I thought I would take a little back lane down to the foreshore. I started to think that maybe it was not such a good idea to be alone in the back blocks of Penzance when I came across a group of teenage boys sucking on a helium balloon and asking inane questions of me in squeaky voices, then collapsing in giggling fits. It’s an odd juxtaposition – beautiful scenery, peaceful outlook, groups of teenage kids doing what teenage kids do. I had a similar experience in Milton Keynes, on one of the Red Ways (the walking/cycling paths all through Milton Keynes are paved in a kind of red pebble) – I came around the corner near the high school, smelt dope, and saw two boys swapping over bottles of beer and spirits into their rucksacks. Naturally I ‘didn’t see a thing’ and kept going. Who’s going to ask for trouble? On Sunday morning I left Penzance, to travel back to Milton Keynes to pick up my Britrail pass, which I had foolishly left behind – that particular mistake cost me ₤150, which is an immense amount of money in $A. There was no train from Penzance to Paddington due to track works, so there was a bus to St Ives, from where I could catch a train to London. As nothing much was open in Penzance at 8am on a Sunday morning, the best I could do for breakfast was an egg & salad cream sandwich from a sort of grocery shop – a decision which was to have dire consequences later in the day. I loved travelling by train through England – the tracks are lined with tiny little fields, all irregular shapes, delineated by hedgerows and dry stone walls, little cottages everywhere, and best of all, plenty of barges on the English canals. I even saw a few locks in use (the watery kind). Even the place names are evocative – St Ives, St Erth, Leighton Buzzard – all standard British names, but to me, they were odd but lovely. Sitting opposite me on the train was a final year law student, returning to uni after the summer break. He was trying to read what looked like a very dry text – concepts of law & justice – and he kept reading it for about three minutes, then staring out of the window for about ten minutes. I remember that sort of study. I hope his essay wasn’t due the first week back! I got off the train at Paddington station, then started to get the underground to Euston for the connection to Milton Keynes, but I was starting to feel most ill – probably from the (most likely old) egg sandwich I’d had for breakfast. I desparately needed a toilet, so got off at Oxford Circus, only to find that the tube stations don’t have public toilets, so I had to convince the guard to let me out of the station, despite my ticket being from Paddington to Euston. Then I got to aboveground, but Oxford Circus is awfully confusing and busy, and no toilets were in sight. Getting desparate by now, I finally discovered them – in the middle of the road, underground. I was sweating, shaking and definitely glad to see the toilet – sorry if this is too graphic for anyone, but I was REALLY ill. On Monday morning I trekked up to Stantonbury High School to use the pool at 7am, but one of their lifeguards hadn’t turned up so I just had to turn around and go back to Marjory & Verity’s place. Later that morning I caught the train to Penrith to stay a few days in the Lake District with Sue Grant, Mum’s friend from her university days. It was tipping down with rain when I arrived – apparently the same as it was when Mum visited last year, so we are the Watt rain fairies. We spent the evening looking at photos of Mum’s university days, and I played Sue’s piano for a bit – she’s got a great collection of sheet music. I also spent some more time working on my cross stitich depicting Cornish smuggling ships with red sails. The next day Sue drove me around the Lake District, after first doing some grocery shopping and dropping her Mum at the doctor in Keswick. Sue is writing a book about the history of the Newlands Valley in the Lake District, between, I think, Derwentwater and Buttermere, two of the lakes. We stopped at various times for walks and also had a look through an empty cottage with original beams, floors and fireplace that must have been hundreds of years old. The cottage had just been sold and was apparently going to be redeveloped into a Bed & Breakfast. We had lunch at the Swinside Inn, where Sue wanted to look at a dresser in the pub that was extraordinarily old. I had Cumberland sausage for lunch, as I was trying to sample local specialties wherever I went. When the Cumberland sausage turned up, I was a bit taken aback – it is served coiled on the plate, looking for all the world like a dog turd surrounded by mashed potatoes, carrots & beans. It was delicious, though, and that is the way that Cumberland sausage is normally served, so no one else would have commented, I guess. Sue also took me to Buttermere, where we had a chat with an ancient sheep farmer and sampled the local (delicious) ice cream. After that we headed back to the house (Sour Riggs), and I went for a walk through the forest behind the houses to Braithwaite. It was a good long walk, with lots of dinky little bridges over creeks and stiles, and one distressingly graphic poster asking anyone if they knew anything about dogs getting into the local sheep, with a colour picture of a savaged sheep. On Wednesday Sue took me into Keswick to download photos at Boots, and we browsed through a Jumper shop (that’s what it was called) and the Peter Rabbit shop – Beatrix Potter lived in the Lake District, before Sue dropped me at the station in Penrith and I began the journey back to Milton Keynes. On the train I was sitting opposite a gentleman who was making himself shandies – half beer, half lemonade, then burping constantly, as you would, I guess. He also tried to engage me in conversation, but as he appeared to be from Glasgow, I had immense difficulty identifying the sounds coming out of his mouth as English, let alone deciphering them and responding. That didn’t seem to put him off, though, as he kept talking at me, and I kept nodding & smiling, and wondering when the hell he was going to get off the train and leave my poor confused brain alone. At one point I swear he was telling me about the route a taxi took him through Glasgow, and seeing as how we’d already established, more by sign language than actual speech, that I’d never been to Glasgow, I’m not sure what that was meant to mean to me. I actually got a swim in at Stantonbury the next day, they had a lifeguard on duty, who apologised for the mix up on Monday, but swore it wasn’t his fault. Who knows. Anyway, got a good couple of kilometres done, and felt better for it. Verity & I then set off for Wallasey via Liverpool to visit Grandpa. As we’re both bookworms, we had our noses in books before we even left the station, and left them there until Liverpool Lime Street Station. We fuelled up with a big lunch at Yates’s, which is a chain of pubs across the UK. The meal was pretty dreadful – I had a chicken burger that was burnt, with a stale bun and wilted lettuce. Then on to Wallasey. Well, Grandpa is 95, very deaf and very blind. We sat there for a few hours, me doing my cross stitch, Grandpa nodding and Verity just sitting, with occasional bursts of shouted conversation. Old age looks dreadfully boring – Grandpa must be going stir crazy, unable to read, listen to the radio, play music. At one point we trooped off to the common room (Grandpa is in serviced accommodation, with his own flat) for me to play the piano, but the sheet music selection was pretty woeful, and falling apart. Luckily I’d had those few days with Sue Grant, playing her piano, because I could (mostly) remember a couple of pieces. It kept us entertained for about half an hour. Grandpa had booked the guest accommodation at Servite House for Verity & me – that’s where Verity learned that I snore. Marjory says it must be hereditary, because Mum does too. Verity & I retired early, exhausted after hours of nearly having a conversation with Grandpa. On the Friday Stan (Grandpa’s friend at Servite House) drove us all up to the Farmer’s Arms, a pub up the road, where we had lunch. I hadn’t thought about it, but if you’re blind, you can’t tell if the food on your fork has fallen off before it gets to your mouth. That must be very frustrating – it certainly didn’t look like much fun, but Grandpa said he had enjoyed his cod, chips & peas. I had bangers & mash with onion gravy that was actually very nice. That Friday night I was cooking dinner for Verity & Marjory, so on our way back to the flat at Milton Keynes we stopped off to pick up the ingredients. Verity has quite a long list of things she doesn’t eat, including many of the vegetables I cook with, so it took some thought before I could pinpoint a recipe that could be modified to mean that Verity would eat it, but I succeeded with a lamb chop and broccoli sort of stir fry. On the Sunday Verity & I went by bus to London (the train wasn’t running due to track work). I tell you, those bus drivers do a pretty good job. This one pulled off a three point turn in a narrow London street near Euston station with a coach – it was quite impressive. The Tube also wasn’t running (track works, surprise, surprise) but we did everntually get to the Planetarium – the goal for the day. Lunch was the first priority – after my experience with Yates’s in Liverpool, I wasn’t keen to repeat the experience with Wetherspoons, which sounded like a very similar establishment, so we went to a pub called The Globe, just across the road from Baker Street undergound station. I don’t recommend it, in fact, I suggest avoiding it at all costs. Any British pub that can serve Welsh Rarebit (fancy cheese on toast) stone cold doesn’t deserve to remain in business! We queued for half an hour only to find that the Plantarium really doesn’t exist any more. It’s been subsumed into Madame Tussaud’s, with only a ten minute astronomical show left. At £24 entrance fee, and as neither of us really wanted to see the wax works, we decided to give it a miss. Which left us in London with nothing to do. We dithered around a bit and then decided on Harrod’s, which in hindsight, was not the best decision we could have made – after all, the Natural History Musem, and all sorts of other museums are right there. The trip to Harrod’s should have taken 15 minutes by Tube, but thanks to some spectacularly off base navigating, it took an hour and a half, and showed us many parts of North West London I could have lived without seeing. So when we did get to Harrod’s, which, incidentally, is just a department store with inflated prices, all I really wanted was a cup of tea. No such luck – there was a queue even for a cup of tea at Harrod’s. So all in all, the day trip to London could have gone better. Maybe next time! The following day Verity & I went up to Coventry to see my cousin, her sister, Angela, her partner Jason and their son Kieran. I hadn’t met Jason or Kieran before and Kieran was pretty shy, but a charming little boy. He had just had his second birthday on the weekend. That evening, as a bit of a goodbye, thank you and happy birthday to Verity, I took Marjory & Verity out to dinner at their local Chinese restaurant, the Dragon Boat. I have to admit by now I was definitely ready to go home – I’d had enough of living out of a suitcase and wanted to be in my own bed again. My flight was leaving from Manchester, so I booked a hotel room for the night before, in, I thought, a hotel close to Manchester airport. No such luck – it was an hour south of Manchester, near a little town called Knutsford, actually in the middle of a truck stop on the M6 motorway. It was unlovely, and false economy, because the cab to the airport cost as much as I had saved on getting a cheap hotel room rather than one actually IN Manchester. Dinner was from Moto – the Marks & Spencer chain of motorway food stores. A sandwich and some figs – it was quite funny with the figs actually. I put them on the counter and the attendant looked at them and blushed and looked uncertain. I thought he didn’t know the price, so said that I didn’t know the price, sorry. Turns out he didn’t actually know what they were! Honestly, when I worked as a checkout chick at a supermarket, we were required to know what the shop sold – and we were tested on it. Young people these days! The flight home (well, two flights) were pretty standard, although I can say that compared to United Airlines, Singapore Airlines are gods. Nice food, on demand movies in the back of the seat, pleasant staff – apart from still being cramped into an economy seat with no leg room (and for me, that’s saying something). I had a swim and a shower at Singapore – that’s right, there’s a swimming pool at the airport, how lucky is that? Felt very much refreshed as I got on the plane for the last leg of the journey home – Singapore to Melbourne. My trip through Customs was complicated – I was slightly over the alcohol limit, so I had to ditch a small bottle of gin before getting to Customs, and AQIS were very interested in the boots I had worn horse riding and the shoes I wore in the Lake District. As the Lake District is basically one big sheep farm, the AQIS guy took my shoes away to disinfect them. One easy way to get your runners cleaned! The pine cone I had picked up in Colorado was confiscated and the stem of the wedding bouquet rose that I had pressed was also removed, but I got to keep the flower. And that was it! Through the barriers, there was Mum & Dad, waiting to take me HOME! A great trip, but I was really glad to be home.