A Weekend Up North

Saturday, 30 July 2011
Another weekend spent away, this time it was in Manchester to visit Luke's dad and his family, and finally get around to celebrating our marriage. We left a few hours after Luke finished work, hoping to escape some of the horrendous Friday night traffic. While the traffic was better than usual, it was still awful (M5 and M6 are never fun, especially on a Friday after work). It didn't help matters that our sat nav was going absolutely bonkers trying to take us who knows where. At the very end of the journey, by some sort of miracle, it finally told the truth - but by this time Luke was taking no notice of it and we ended up in West Manchester, the exact opposite of where we needed to be. This added nearly another hour to our already tiring journey. So it was three and a quarter hours before we finally made it to the hotel where Luke's dad had put us up for the weekend. I thought I'd crash as soon as my head hit the pillow, but it was a restless night, probably made so by Luke deciding to watch what appeared to be some thriller with Matthew McConaughey and Al Pacino.

Raspberry and Bits.
I felt much better the next morning. After a full-English at the hotel and a quick gym and sauna session, we met up with his dad, Lesley, and Luke's half-sister, Georgia. They took us to a delightful pub for lunch called The Cross Keys in a town they are thinking of moving to, called Uppermill. It was in Uppermill that I learned a new English phrase, which is becoming increasingly irregular. This happened at an ice cream van when Georgia asked if she could have one with 'raspberry 'n bits', which I found out just means raspberry sauce and sprinkles (or 100s and 1000s as they're called here). I don't know why they don't just call them sprinkles instead of inventing multiple ambiguous terms for the same thing! I have since asked around with people back down South, and have concluded that 'raspberry 'n bits' is most likely just a Northern thing. Whatever you'd like to call it, it was my first time having it, and it was lovely. I also had mine in an 'oyster' which is not in fact a mollusk but a type of cone shaped like an oyster, but then covered in chocolate, coconut, and the inside filled with marshmallow. Never have I found ordering ice cream to be so complicated.

Georgia, Luke, & Dougie

That night, with Georgia left in the care of Lesley's parents, we went for a very nice meal out at Albert's Shed in Castlefield, a neighbourhood of Manchester. We were joined by Luke's grandparents (Malcom and Charlotte), Uncle Gary, Aunt Julie, Julie's husband (Dave), and their two kids (Sam and Sophie). It truly was a spectacular meal, I had rabbit gnocchi for my starter and venison with a port/blackberry jus as my main. After dinner, we made our way to a pub just around the corner that had been there since the Victorian era. It still had little buzzers, which didn't work of course, to call staff to your table. I don't know why they don't do that any more, but I suppose they would be misused by some drunkards. 

Throughout our time at the pub, a group of about six or seven kept staring at us and would not look away. I met a couple of their stares hoping in embarrassment they would look away, this did not work as they continued staring. The last straw was when  Julie, Dave, and the kids had to leave to catch the last train home. They begin mocking our conversation, imitating our voices. One continued to stare by this time I'd absolutely had it. I asked him if I could possibly help him with something. To which a look of shock dawned on his face as if he'd only just realised that yes in fact I could see him. "No, probably not," was his only reply. "Then wind your neck in." Within two minutes, their party had left and I felt a little vindicated for being made to feel like a zoo animal for an hour.

The next day was an absolutely lovely day. Whether in England can be a little temperamental, but on days like last Sunday you remember why it is you put up with it. The sky was a clear forget-me-not blue and the sun was warm enough to warm you but not unbearable. To make the most of it, Luke and I took Georgia and her little friend, along with Louie (the dog), Luke's dad (Dougie) and Lesley on a walk around the old railroad track. I of course, expected this walk to have as the location implies an old railroad track, it did not. Apparently the track was removed long before Luke's or my time, to make way for a public footpath, which are another thing I love about England. The day ended sunning in the garden with a beer and a sausage sandwich before Luke and I made our way back down South. The perfect end, to a lovely weekend up North.

Remembering Norway.
22 July 2011

Erin x

Beautiful Briny Sea

Friday, 22 July 2011
Beach Huts in Torquay
This past weekend marked another English first for me - my first time visiting the English seaside. It is a trip that has been planned and postponed many times over the past few months for various reasons but finally it can be ticked off the list. The purpose of the trip was for me to meet Neil's parents, who moved down to Babbacombe in Devon some years ago, and whom Luke visited often as a child. I wasn't sure what to expect of Devon, which is often referred to as "the English Riviera". After visiting though, I can see why Devon has earned that reputation, certainly there are elements of the Cote d'Azur in the architecture of the town. There is one noticeable exception that makes the English Riviera different than the French - rain. While there were a few bouts of blue sky, for the most part it rained the whole weekend. It was that annoying light drizzle that makes an umbrella seem silly but without one leaves you covered in a fine mist. Of course, this weekend Devon is expected to have the best weather of the whole country. Not a drop of rain in sight. Isn't that always the way!

Golf Pro
When we arrived in Torquay on the Friday, the first thing we did was head for a practice round of crazy golf. Crazy golf is a tradition of the English seaside, I just didn't realise how much of a tradition. I have never played so much crazy golf in such a short span of time, three games in one weekend! After our practice round, of which I came last of course, we headed to the arcade, another thing that Devon is abundant with, but not before a quick pit stop at Chandlers Chippy for what were quite possibly the best chips I ever had. At the arcade we amused ourselves on a series of racing games, the best being virtual motorbikes on which I won both games, no one wanted to play after that. I say they were terrified of my victories. However, everybody's favourite was an air hockey table, where we played rounds of boys vs. girls. There were a couple of close matches, and had we not run out of tokens I'm confident Nic and I could have beat the boys as they were getting too confident and careless. The arcade also boasted a "casino", and I use the word casino is the lightest sense. It only served as proof of how very different Vegas is from England.

Paignton Pier

The next day I met Neil's family which consisted of his dad and mum (Jack and Vivian), sister (Sharon), and her husband and young children (Paul, Matthew, and Francesca). All of whom were very nice and made me feel quite welcome. After cups of tea at Jack and Vivian's, we headed to Paignton's pirate-themed crazy golf course. One thing can be said for me as a golfer, I am very consistent... consistently rubbish. Of our little group, which consisted of Neil, Nic, Luke, Jack, and I, I came in last place. After crazy golf, we went to Paignton's Pier for some more arcade fun. Nicola and I amused ourselves in one of those photo booths and I got into a disagreement with a man who wouldn't let me on the giant slide. There was an age limit of fourteen but I told him I probably weighed less than some fourteen year-olds and to make my case pointed at the mammoth boy going down the slide. Probably not my greatest moment but I wanted to play! Then the four of us returned to our hotel to take advantage of the gym, swimming pool, and steam rooms. Then it was time to get ready for dinner with Jack and Vivian at the Marina Restaurant. The Marina Restaurant provided one of the worst, but in some ways best, part of the weekend. It was by far, the worst dining experience I've had in a very long time. 

Nic and I after we just arrived - still smiles!
We had a table booked for eight o'clock but weren't seated at it until twenty-past nine. The staff for the most part ignored us, living drink unfilled and us very thirsty. Luke's and my main meals came out twenty minutes before the starters had even come out and were then placed under the warming oven to get a nice film over them. They completely forgot about Vivian's starter and we were still eating when they took our plates away. Everyone complained, it was utterly ridiculous. There was a couple in the restaurant who refused to pay their bill because of the experience. The manager called the police on them, and when the told the police the story the officers said fair enough and left them to it. The reason I say it was the best, is because it was so abysmal it was comical. I felt like I was in a farce and was just waiting for someone with a hidden camera to come out and tell his the game was up. So if you are reading this, and plan on spending any time in Torquay area, don't make the Marina Restaurant one of your stops.

The funicular
The final day consisted of one last game of crazy golf in Torquay, I won't bother telling you how well I did, you already know. I did say I was consistent. After crazy golf, and a pick-me-up latte, we went to Babbacombe Beach. To get down to Babbacombe Beach, we had to take the funicular. This brought memories of Pau (where I lived/studied in France) back. Pau also boasted a funicular, which took you from the train station to Boulevard des Pyrénées. Luke and I combed the beach, we were hoping to find tide pools and little creatures in them. Unfortunately we did not, although we did find a tiny starfish in a small rock pool and a rather sizeable crab on the beach. 

Looking for creatures.

Beach combing
Teignmouth Pier
After Babbacombe we made our goodbyes, but for the four of us our adventures in Devon weren't quite finished. We made one more stop in Teignmouth. Teignmouth was probably my favourite place we visited, it reminded me in a way of southern California. It seemed more relaxed and laid back than the other places we visited, and the only arcade that I saw was on the pier. The clincher for Teignmouth was the ice cream. It was a last minute decision to stop at Jane's Ice Cream and Luke was some. I almost didn't have any but my god am I glad I did. I would go back to Teignmouth just for that ice cream! In exiting Teignmouth, Neil took a detour to Wear Farm, a place Luke spent two or three weeks at for many summers during his childhood. It was fun to see the memories of the place come back to him. While some things have changed he said, there were a number (like the corner store) which remained exactly as they had during his childhood.

I would say that my first trip to the English seaside was a great success, filled with lots of fun, laughs, and endless jokes about battered sausages.

Erin x

Mine! Mine! Mine!

Quintessentially English's July entry for Happy Homemaker UK's Post of The Month Club.

Crocodile Rock

Thursday, 21 July 2011
The following is a photo montage of our weekend away in Devon with Neil and Nic. We went so I could meet Neil's parents as they were unable to attend our wedding reception. It was a thoroughly enjoyable weekend with a lot of laughs. Expect a post on it shortly.

Erin x

Station X

Tuesday, 19 July 2011
Bletchley Park, or Station X, is the historic site of the codebreaking centre which helped to secure a victory for the Allied Forces during World War II. It is asserted that were it not for "Station X" the war would have lasted for at least another two years. Winston Churchill himself called the codebreakers the "geese that laid the golden egg". And last Wednesday, I was fortunate enough to go and see where it all happened. For it being such a massive part of history, Bletchley Park appears to me a place that time forgot. Considering the nature of the work done at "Station X" was kept silent until the mid-1970s, I suppose this is understandable. And it wasn't until 2004 that Bletchley Park was opened as a public museum.

The Bletchley Park manor house

But before Bletchley Park was a code-breaking centre it had been a Victorian mansion belonging to a wealthy London financier. Originally an old farm-house, the eccentric style of the manor is due to the family's love of travelling. They would go abroad, find a house they liked the look of, and when they came back add an extension in that style. In looking at the manor house it is quite clear to see each of the different extensions, and although they are all quite different it does seem to work.

The working Bombe reconstruction
The codebreakers arrived at "Station X", as Bletchley Park became known, in August of 1939. The most famous of these workers, was Alan Turing, the head of the section for responsible for German cryptanalysis. Alan Turing developed a number of techniques for breaking the Germans ciphers, such as the bombe, a machine which allowed the codebreakers to decipher the Enigma machine (which the Germans believed to be uncrackable). Achievements such as these are what helped bring an end to World War II.

At the conclusion of the war, Churchill ordered that every scrap of evidence was destroyed. This is most likely due to the fact that England did not want their former ally the USSR to know of Bletchley Park's wartime accomplishments. Thankfully a number of photographs survived, and using these a number of working reconstructions of the machines have been created. I tried to make sense of these machines, but failed miserably.

Two days after my visit, the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh came to unveil a memorial statue to the work done at Bletchley Park. The ceremony was attended by some of the surviving codebreakers and would explain why I saw a number of workers fervently painting sections of the property. It appears Bletchley Park is finally getting the recognition it deserves. 

Erin x

This post is dedicated to my Grandpa - who has probably read every book on World War II in existence and whom I thought of the entire time while at Bletchley Park. 

For more information on the history of Bletchley Park please visit the BBC History Page.

Hounds of the Baskervilles

Tuesday, 12 July 2011
I went for my job interview yesterday, my first proper one in the UK. From my perspective, it went well - no curve ball questions, I didn't feel like I was under the microscope, and the ladies I was interviewing with were lovely. We actually had a few laughs. The only awkward moment was at the end when they both offered their hands to shake at practically the same time and I didn't know whose to go for first. It was laughed off though. I had to giggle at myself, for at one point the woman, who would be my direct supervisor, asked if I felt intimidated by working with foreign languages and for a split second I thought she meant British English. It was a blonde moment of mine that thankfully wasn't stated out loud. I hope I get the job, I'll be proper gutted if I don't.

Currently, I'm staying with Neil and Nicola and of course my favourite boys, Oli and Doogal. Doogal is currently snoring at my feet and Oliver off in a huff somewhere because Doogal wouldn't stop licking his ears. Bless, even dogs have disagreements with one another. These dogs never cease to put me in a good mood, you giggle just looking at them. They are after all Basset Hounds, with ears that drag on the floor and more wrinkles than the Queen Elizabeth II. (No disrespect intended to my dear Queenie.) And when they bark they sound like a couple of seals. Which would explain the odd dream I had last night about working at the 'seal reserve' with seal pups. Although perhaps not the dream I had about helping Angela Lansbury in a Murder, She Wrote mystery. Enough of trying to interpret my dreams, I'm off to the supermaket to pick up something for tea tonight. I'm cooking!

Erin x
and Doogal *lick lick*

The Silver Lining

Friday, 8 July 2011
My life these past few months has been a never ending cycle of looking for jobs and sending out CVs, with to be honest not much feedback. I've had a couple nibbles that never really went anywhere, a few emails saying sorry you have not been successful, but mostly just a lack of response. I did have one telephone interview, the woman had a lot of positive feedback on me but said unfortunately I didn't have quite the experience she required but would like to take me on in the future.

Today I had a proper bite, finally. I found the job yesterday, quite by accident, and applied. It was fantastic role for a global company based in Milton Keynes using all of my skills. I was really keen and decided I would send a follow up email today, just to make sure they'd received it. I got a response quickly saying that in fact yes they had received my application and would be very interested to have me in for an  interview. RESULT!!! This girl now has herself an interview for Monday afternoon! Everyone keep their fingers crossed.

As it happens, Luke is most likely going to have an interview next week, but in Manchester - the other side of the country! Wouldn't that just be our luck.

Erin x

The Apprentice (T.G.I.W.)

Wednesday, 6 July 2011
Rebecca Black and Katy Perry need to forget about Friday, it's all about T.G.I.W. (Thank God It's Wednesday)! One step closer to the weekend, but more importantly The Apprentice is on telly tonight. I can already hear the theme tune, albeit in my head. I remember watching series one of the original US Apprentice, with Donald Trump with my mom. Let me assure you all, the UK version is 10x better! Largely in part that I don't have to see Trump's horrible ginger comb over in every boardroom.

I think I may actually cry when this series is over and I have to wait another year to watch it. And with only six candidates left now the end is near! Most of my least favourites have gone now, except Natasha (who fingers crossed will exit this week). Here is a quick look at the six candidates left:

"Global Business" Melody
It actually wouldn't surprise me if Melody killed for this opportunity. She's like a tiger, going after what she wants, perhaps a little too aggressively. And of course she's always talking about how she runs a global business.

"That's Not Fair" Suzy
In the first few weeks I felt bad for Susan, she never seemed to be allowed to get her ideas across. Now, she just irritates me. Any statement anyone makes against her, including Lord Sugar, is deemed as "unfair" in her eyes.

"Golden Girl" Helen
If The Apprentice was a horse race, as demonstrated on The Apprentice: You're Fired. Then Helen would be the horse to bet on. She hasn't lost a task yet and is rather laid back compared to most of the other candidates. But could her winning streak make her careless? At this point I think she's too far in the lead to not see the final, if not win the whole thing.

"Bad Attitude" Natasha
She's made some poor decisions in the past weeks and her survival at this point is based on pure luck rather than actual merit. I don't think Lord Sugar rates her, and if she's brought to the board room I think she'll be gone.

"Jedi" Jim
Or as Alan Sugar would call him "The Incredible Bull-Shitting Man". At first I thought he was brilliant, the way he was able to get customers, clients, and even colleagues to seemingly bend to his will. But his jedi mind tricks are getting a bit tiresome and he can be a bit manipulative.

"Absent Minded Inventor" Tom
Ah, poor Tom. He really is a sweet guy but definitely a bit absent minded. Last week he held the board room door open for the ladies, which I thought was very cute. Only problem, he's more a goldfish than shark. That being said I hope he makes it to the finale.

Only 3 more hours to wait!

Erin x

Viva Italia!

Tuesday, 5 July 2011
Luke and I returned from Florence, Italy on the 23rd of June and I'm only just now getting back into the swing of things. My last load of laundry is being done as we speak, but clothes from the week since Italy have piled up. I blame Luke, as I asked him to pick up clothes soap and he kept forgetting.

I know I usually just write exclusively on my English life, but this counts as it was my first official holiday as an English woman. It was an absolutely fantastic holiday but "A picture is worth a thousand words." And with that adage I hope you enjoy the video!

Erin x

Born on the Fourth of July

Monday, 4 July 2011
It was on this day in 1776 that the Continental Congress officially adopted the Declaration of Independence declaring independence from Great Britain. Of course, it took a little thing known as the Revolutionary War to really get the message across to the Brits. Thankfully they don't hold grudges and we have that "special relationship" that allows us to be friends today.

Uncle Sam (United States) and John Bull (United Kingdom)
Uncle Sam and John Bull

All over America this day will be celebrated by thousands of barbecues (I can practically smell the charcoaled hot dogs) and red, white, and blue cakes. Inevitably, after one too many beers drunken renditions of patriotic songs will pop up, which let's be honest are must better than their sober counterparts. My friends favourite was the highly inappropriate theme song from Team America, which if you're easily offended I wouldn't bother looking up. Alas in the United Kingdom, the Fourth of July means none of these things and I'll have to go another year without my hot dog and drunken renditions.

The Fourth of July saw the birth of a nation in America, but in the United Kingdom it was the birth of another great. On this day in 1862, in a rowing boat on the River Thames, somewhere between Oxford and Godstow, Lewis Carroll was telling a story that got curiouser and curiouser by the minute to Alice Liddell and her sisters. This story would become the basis for Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, one of my all time favourite books.

John Tenniel's A Mad Tea Party from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland
John Tenniel's A Mad Tea Party

So less we forget, today we celebrate the birth of two greats - the United States of America and Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. A truly great day to celebrate!


Erin x

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