Eltham Palace, a Medieval Festival and NEON!

I spent a rather varied day yesterday. I discovered a medieval tournament was going to happen not too far away so I caught a train, then light rail, then a bus, and arrived at Eltham (pronounced elt-am) Palace just after the event started. I hadn’t really thought about the fact that the thing was going to be held in a field so I only ended up staying for two hours (hay fever) but they were very enjoyable!

Tickets to the tournament also entitled everyone to wander around the buildings.

Eltham was originally a church, then a royal residence for one of the Henrys, then fell into disrepair. At the beginning of the 20th century it was bought by a very wealthy couple who restored it and built on a stunning art deco house.

They were keen entertainers and everyone from politicians and royalty to movie stars came here to get away from it all. The ceiling in the photo above was my favourite part – not lights, it’s a glass and cement dome.

However much of it was damaged in the Second World War and the owners moved away. Eventually it was taken on by the National Trust and is used today for a range of events including weddings.

The tournament was happening in a field out the back and so I had a wander around, watched the falconry show, and chatted to the guys in the beer tent who told me that rubbing nettles on myself might cure my hay fever. Nice try, I said, and didn’t.

I drank some rhubarb cider…

And ate a traditional medieval burger…

And listened to some story-telling…

Then it was time for the main event! The jousting!

The jousting was an entirely authentic experience (well, as much as could be). The four men and horses who performed the jousts were professional jousters, which I didn’t realise was a thing, and I learned ( in the beer tent) that each horse cost a thousand pounds to insure for the day.

The jousting, once the talking-it-up and the make-the-crowd-hoarse-with-cheering bit was over, was quite fast paced and very impressive. The rules were explained and everyone in the crowd got right into it.

If my eyes hadn’t been filled with pollen or grass seed or whatever I would’ve stayed all day.

Before I left I had a walk around the interactive tent-displays and chatted to various stall holders about how they got into doing what they were doing and historical accuracy and the SCA (Society for Creative Anachronism, a global medieval revival group that I was once part of) which is not very big in the UK, since they probably had all their historical recreation stuff in full swing before the SCA got going in America.

After leaving Eltham I caught a dizzying array of public transport to Walthamstowe. Even though I had to change buses and trains a bunch of times the longest I had to wait was 10 minutes and having Google maps to direct me at every stage made the whole thing so painless I couldn’t help but reflect on what a difference technology has made to travel in the last two decades.

I was in Walthamstowe because I’d read there was a neon store that was Instagram-tastic.

And there was.

God’s Own Junkyard was terrific.

It was glorious. I love lights and colour and this place immediately lifted the spirits.

I think I heard someone say all the signs were for sale!

When I win the lottery I will come back.

There was also a craft brewer and a gin place next door. If you have time and you’re in east London on a weekend I highly recommend making the trip and trying the apple pie, which I feel goes well with something as all-American as neon.

Cambridge: Gardens, Churches and the Beer Festival

I’ve made an effort to see a few things that I didn’t do when I lived in Cambridge. So before I get into the Beer Festival here’s a couple of things I did when I wasn’t taking advantage of Andrew’s washing machine, tv and couch.

Kings College Chapel

Despite the fact that this is one of Cambridge’s most iconic buildings I didn’t even consider going in until one of my co-workers, Tim, came here a few years ago and I saw pictures of the inside.

It’s £9 to have a wander around. There are side rooms with informative displays but the main attraction is the long room and it’s astonishing fan ceiling.

The big dark thing in the middle of the first photo is an oak room divider that was donated by Henry VIII. I think it’s awful but my opinion seems to be in the minority. It houses the pipe organ and keeps the riff raff in the back half of the chapel out of sight.

When visiting these kinds of edifices it always pays to look for amusement in the small details.

I don’t know what led up to this scene, but this guy’s thinking ‘I have made a terrible mistake.’

This guy looks like the textbook definition of ‘chief executor’. Or possibly ‘grand vizier’ .

The Cambridge University Botanical Gardens

I wandered down here before our first Beer Festival session. Beautiful.

The gardens were much bigger than I expected and full of students, draped like cats over every available sunny bench and table.

The gardens have lots of ‘rooms’, as well as actual rooms in glasshouses. All are well-labeled and interesting.

The chronological bed was a concept I’d never seen in any other gardens.

I had two favourite parts to the gardens. The first was the lovely scented garden, which is a bit hard to share on a blog page.

The second was the way that grass/meadow plants had been left to grow into islands and borders around perfectly manicured lawns. The contrast of soft meadow and smooth green was delightful. Also difficult to really convey in photos but you’ll just have to trust me.

I sat for a while and read my book – Great Expectations. If anyone had told me how funny Charles Dickens was I would’ve read it years ago. Although perhaps I wouldn’t have appreciated it then? Who knows.

The 45th Annual Cambridge Beer Festival

One of the longest-running beer festivals in the UK (and probably the world.. outside Germany maybe?) it is put on by CAMRA, the Campaign for Real Ale society, who are a group that works hard to promote small scale brewers and keep traditional English Pubs out of the hands of criminals who gut the insides and replace all the dark wood with IKEA pine board or worse – turn them into offices.

The Cambridge Beer Festival is no small deal. It runs for six days, two sessions a day (12-3 then 5-11) and costs £3 to get in (per session), unless you’re a CAMRA member, which costs £20 per year and gives free entry to all their events.

I attenedd the festival with Andrew, who is thrilled to have my company.

This year we’re here on Tuesday evening and then both sessions Wednesday as I’m off to Belfast on Thursday.

I decided to approach my cider and perry choices this year (beer is revolting) in the same way I choose horses at the races – amusing names.

So far I’ve had ciders called ‘Virgin on the Ridiculous’, ‘Weasel’s Wevenge’ and ‘Monk and Disorderly’. I also tried one called ‘Ghandi’s Flip Flop’ but it was revolting.

Of course it’s not all about drinking. There’s an outstanding cheese counter too.

And don’t forget the pork pies. There’s also terrific curries, roasts and fish and chips.

Could anything be more British?

We were even first in line on Wednesday – and what a line it was.

If you’re ever in Cambridge at the end of May, and particularly when the sun is shining, I highly recommend going, it’s a great day (or six) out.

Nottingham (again) and a Beer Festival (again).

For someone who can’t stand beer I spend a lot of time at beer festivals. Although if you take away the beer there’s nothing about beer festivals I don’t like. The people are great – they’re down to earth, span all ages and wear silly hats. The atmosphere is laid back, there’s delicious food, new things to try and everything’s cheap. The only way they could be improved is a liberal application of sunshine.

Cheers!

Luke and I drove up yesterday and met Matt and Lucas at the festival. The Cambridge beer festival was the only one I’d known anything about and I’d been impressed by its scope. However the Nottingham beer festival was even more extensive. Approximately 1100 different beers. Lucas pointed out that about a mouthful of each would still equal 33 litres of beer to drink. I don’t think there’s that many individual beers produced in the southern hemisphere. On top of that there’s over 200 ciders and perries.  There was also a fantastic range of food options, from cheese platters to zebra burgers.

Just part of the cider selection.

We stayed for about four hours then headed to England’s oldest pub, ‘The Trip To Jerusalem’, which was almost under the beer festival, as it is partially built into the hill on which sits Nottingham Castle, where the festival was held. We had a drink there then moved on to the Canalhouse, which is a pub with a section of canal in the middle and bridges to walk across. After that we stopped at the Vat and Fiddle, which is attached to the Castle Rock Brewery. After that we wove our way back to Matt’s  (some weaving more than others).

Friday we took a break from the festival in order to drive out into the countryside and… drink more beer. We stopped at a pub called The Unicorn for lunch and then visited a farm shop. Farm shops in the UK are big sheds full of local, top-shelf produce. They almost always have venison, fancy sausages, pheasant and whatever is in season plus jams and chutneys and posh shortbread etc. They, foolishly, had an untended bowl of chocolate covered almonds out for people to try and I ate quite a few before Luke’s frowns shamed me away from them.

It was a rather miserable day so we ditched our plans to visit the extensive Clumber Park and went to see a cathedral that, fortuitously, was filled with the sounds of an army band (although they sounded more like an orchestra to me) rehearsing for a performance that evening. They were very good.

Cathedral interior, right before I was told ‘no photos without a permit’. AGAIN. Bah.

The boys decided to do their own beer tasting at home that night and bought a range of beers to share. We watched more Archer, ate a roast chicken and then went to bed early (well, earlier than we’ve been going to bed lately). ready to face another day of festival on Saturday.

Here Comes The Planet 35 – England 09

We meet up with our friend Justin in Saltburn-By-The-Sea, in my personal favourite episode of Here Comes The Planet thus far!

Justin was the first Couchsurfer Amanda hosted, and whilst in Melbourne he also came along to our Samsara 2012 party (although I have no footage of that, here’s some footage from Samsara 2011). He was keen to return the hospitality, and did so in spades! We had a fantastic time with him and his mates, as you’ll no doubt be able to tell from the video. Apart from a great tour of Saltburn, he took us out to an excellent club night being run by a mate of his, as well as a joint birthday party where there were tasty noms, numerous games (some of which no one knew how to win, especially not the person making the game up as they went) and a lot of padded wrestling. We’re already looking forward to the time we can all catch up again. 🙂

Also, if you’ve never considered taking up dinghying as a hobby, Burno makes a compelling case.

Cambridge Beer Festival.. this time with pictures!

After 2 days of loitering around and getting in for free, yesterday Luke and I finally got some work at the beer festival – and work we did. We started at about 2pm and worked through til nearly 10pm. We started off on the mead and wine counter, then did some glass washing, then when the festival reopened at 5 we were back to the mead counter but then Luke was taken away to serve beer after a bit.

The indoor area before opening. Over 200 ales on tap.

I had a great time with my lovely manager (actually the deputy but the real manager never showed up while I was there) Jo who was really friendly and thoughtful and organised. At the end of the night I told her what a great manager she’d been and she looked shocked ‘Really? What did I do?’ but it’s hard to put into words just how good it is working for someone who isn’t a raging ego maniac, a control-freak micro-manager or useless hippy – like half the people I’ve worked for at Rainbow (an Australian festival).

Working on the mead counter was very enjoyable. My knowledge of mead has gone from zero to better-than-most in one day. I tried nearly all the meads we sold. They ranged from very light to dark and there was a Christmas mead, which tasted exactly like Christmas, if Christmas was made of honey. There was also a blackcurrant mead, which wasn’t bad. We also sold perhaps 10 wines, all made in the UK. I didn’t even know wines could be made in this sort of climate.

The mead selection with the tiny wine (all English) fridges below. Uncorking wine was my least favourite job.

I think our stall was different to most, in that nearly everyone who came up hadn’t tried mead before and wanted advice. This was a bit daunting as I didn’t know anything, but all people really want is to try a couple and decide for themselves. Quite a lot of people were shocked or disgusted by how sweet it is and made funny faces, particularly a group of Japanese people.

A pork pie and a cheese plate. There was a terrific selection of cheeses – sadly not all were put out simultaneously. I’m still waiting to try a scotch egg. Toni – tried a Wensleydale with cranberries. Delicious!

I’ve saved up my tokens that we get for working and bought a few more in order to acquire a couple of bottles of mead for myself. I think there’ll be one to send home (at least!) and one to have here when a bunch of us get together in Edinburgh in July.

Cambridge

I lived in Cambridge in 2002 and coming back has been a trip down the proverbial memory lane. We haven’t actually been into town yet and I’m curious to discover how sharp my memories of the place are. Just being with Andrew and the whole Englishness of the suburb he’s living in is almost like déjà vu.

Last night we went to a lovely country pub owned by Andrew’s former boss and met up with a bunch of his workmates, quite a few of whom I’d met years ago. It was like a window into what life would have been like if I’d stayed. If the food at the pub was anything to go by I’d definitely be a lot fatter. Chicken, camembert and cranberry pie – so good!

The pub was called The Golden Ball and it was everything a pub should be. Lots of wood paneling and red carpet, a fire was going and there was the constant hum of conversation. There were even little pots of original edition Trivial Pursuit cards on each table. Sitting there, with a group of nice, funny people my age was just so comfortable.

We stayed til nearly midnight then Andrew decided to leave his car and a friend of his, Andrea, kindly gave us a lift home. We fell (gently) onto our air mattresses and had a solid night’s sleep.

….ooo000ooo….

This morning we walked back to the pub to pick up Andrew’s car. It was a beautiful hour or so’s walk through the countryside. We saw horses, a prize winning village and many daffodils. We couldn’t help but remark on how much better it was than walking in Slovakia, what with the easily-identifiable path and signposts and the general lack of snakes.

We decided to stop back into the pub for a quick drink and then drove into Cambridge where it was raining then sunny then raining then sunny and altogether quite like Melbourne. Everything looked pretty much as I remembered it. Including the hordes of people clogging the footpaths.

Luke got a long-overdue haircut, Andrew and I bought lollies at the market and then repaired to a charming, old-school pub for drinks. I found two ciders on tap that I hadn’t tried before and had a half pint of each before Luke came back.

 

We went for a wander around the city centre and now we’re back home at Andrew’s thinking about what to have for dinner and what our plans are going to be for the next week. Everything hinges on hearing back from Matt and whether we’ll have a car or not.