Thursday, 7 August 2008

not really in a writing mood, but doing it anyway.

One whirlwind week in Stratford-upon-Avon. (Despite the mouthful, one must distinguish [with hyphens] from plain old Stratford which is apparently a London tube stop).

My first day in town was spent recuperating from the long trip from Stockholm. Man, planes really suck. Even though you think it's quicker than, say, swimming, by the time you get to the train to get to the airport, get to the aiport, check in, wait around for a while, your plane is delayed, actually take the flight, get off the plane, get into the city, get out of the city again, it's been like 32 years and you realise you've just lost a lot of good-living years, but on the upside, totally skipped a couple of wars and a recession. ANYWAY. So on Thursday I was taken on a little walk around the city, stopped for a quick beer in the Dirty Duck, and tried to figure out how many of the actors on the walls we recognised. I was also introduced to a new (to me) English soap called Hollyoaks which has terrible plotlines but enjoyably cheerful cinematography. And ex-Bill actors.

On Friday we travelled out to a little town called Moreton-in-Marsh (Despite the mouthfull, English towns, like thesis titles, require punctuation) in the Cotswolds. This was really an exercise in 'sometimes the journey is the destination' as the long bus ride through beautiful landscape is the bit that I remember best. When we arrived we had lunch in a local pub where I introduced Sarah to cider (rather impressively since I'd never had it myself) and we found a delightful little gourmet shop where we stocked up on olives, unusual jams (apple & thyme, banoffee) and a smoked onion. Yes a smoked onion. And why not? Back in Stratford we visited Shakespeare's classroom, since it's fortunately summer holidays and they were using it for a public art exhibition (normally it's still a classroom). In the evening we went a-drinking at No. 1 Shakespeare and the Caz-bar for Adrienne's farewell.

Saturday started off with a trip to the farmers' markets right in the centre of the city, and we added smoked sliced meats, garden sweet tomatoes and bottles of sasparilla and dandelion & burdock. We also ducked into the (sublime) local cheese shop (Paxton & Whitfield) where I told the salesman that we wanted cheese for a picnic, anything good sir, I'm not picky, just sell me CHEESE and good cheese at that. He announced that this scenario was what made his job (nay, his life) worthwhile, and proceeded to charm us with his Jordy wit and stock us with delicious cheeses. Probably I should have married him right then and there, but fortunately, having missed my chance in Stratford (-upon-Avon), there is another branch in London. We sat at the top of a double decker bus to get out to our destination of Coughton Court, a strange experience as you can't see the driver and it feels like you're on an automatic bus, speeding along tiny rural laneways. The view is definitely better from the top though. We picnic-ed in the gorgeous grounds of Coughton Court, and then went for a walk through the 15th century, catholic stronghold tudor estate. In the evening we went to Kate's for dinner and had delicious marinaded veg wraps (which I am totally going to try to recreate at home) and (appropriately) watched 'Get Over It' - a film adaptation of A Midsummer Night's Dream.

On Monday I had my first toasted sandwich for months and months and (what with local tomatoes, real Red Leicester and lovely thick slices of christmas ham) it was almost a religious experience and I considered marrying it. In the afternoon we visited Hall's Croft which was the home of Shakespeare's son-in-law, a surgeon. We looked at some dresses in Aspire and had scones at the Crabtree & Evelyn cafe. In the evening we had Indian for dinner at Hussain's, and then I helped out being door-girl at the unofficial International Shakespeare Conference, organised by Gary Taylor who is apparently like, way famous, so I am unashamedly name-dropping even though I do not know enough about Shakespeare studies to know him from Horatio. Anyway, it was quite a good deal in the end, because I was saved from dancing and people brought me drinks.

Oh hallo! I skipped a whole day in there. Sunday comes after Saturday normally, right? Right. So Sunday we visited Anne Hathaway's house (as in, Shakespeare's wife, not the Hollywood actress named after her) at Shottery and had yet another lovely English lunch at The Bell, and more cider (raspberry & lime this time). We ganked some apples from Anne Hathaway's garden in preparation for a crumble and in the evening watched an Agatha Christie's 'Towards Zero' on telly.

So Tuesday now. We went blackberrying along the canal in Wilmcote and had lunch at the Mary Arden pub before visiting Mary Arden's house which is actually 2 houses. The first is the one they *thought* was Mary Arden's house up until 30 years ago or so, and the second is her actual house. WHOOPS. The former is done up like an Elizabethan farm, with animals and people walking around in costume and demonstations on things like shoemaking and cider pressing. The latter has been left as it was when the last occupant left in the 70s - although she had still been living as if it was still the early 20th century. No electricity - cooking over a fire, keeping foods in the cellar, clothes through a mangle. In the evening we made a crumble with the proceeds of the blackberrying and the filched Anne Hathaway apples and I went to see the Royal Shakespeare's Company's production of Hamlet. That was really excellent, and I'm sure an evening I'll remember, as it occurs I'm unlikely to see Shakespeare done better. David Tennant (Dr. Who) was playing the lead, and I recognised a lot of the other actors mostly from The Bill. Which just goes to show there is still value in it, if only becuase it's a good way of keeping up with the who's who of English theatre, as well as the stars of tomorrow. Uh-huh, it's totally justified now. Right.

Wednesday was heading off day, but we managed to squeeze in a visit to the local church (at the end of Sarah's street) where Mr. S is buried. It's actually quite a lovely church in and of itself and it was a nice visit.

My feelings about Stratford-upon-Avon are a bit mixed actually. It's a small place and I think in a week I probably got a pretty good feel for the place and saw most things. But I liked it so much, I'd love to go back someday, even though I'd be doing the same things over. I'm also glad I'm not a Shakespeare scholar (it seems a pretty obsessive lifestyle) but I am glad that I know as much as I do, becuase it made the things I saw really enjoyable. I feel like rural England would be a lovely place to live, because even if your town is very small, there's nice rambles to go on, and it's a small country so you're never a huge train ride from something exciting, but there's quiet to come home to.

But, now I'm in London.


Lauren said...

Wait wait wait, the Princess Diaries girl lives in Stratford (upon-Avon)? No way!!

(Kidding. But that would be kind of awesome.)

Is the port-a-loo still in the graveyard of the church where Shakespeare's buried?

m∃ said...

Um, didn't see one. But I think they've finished most of the building works, and are back to raising money for the next lot.
There's a massive tomb outside that says 'William Shakespeare' on it though, and then you realise that all the other writing (probably 'great great grandson of William Shakespeare's next door neighbour) has faded with time. Funny.

Drift said...

For someone not in a writing mood, that were some good writin' Em. Are you going to publish this blog the olde fashioned way when you're back? You should.

m∃ said...

Aw, thanks Drift! What a nice thing to say! I'm thinking of making my favourite photos into a book, but hadn't thought of putting words in there too...

Anonymous said...

Hi Emily :) I love your blog. You could totally publish it/ be a travel writer. I'm also very jealous of your Stratford-upon-avon-with-a-long-name-and-not-the-tube-stop experience. You did everything! Food, wonderful historical sites and blackberry-ing! That sealed it. You rule.
love Cassia