Northern discoveries

I made a couple of amazing discoveries up north this weekend.

1. You can buy simply gorgeous cocktails for under £5. [Truly a revelation for a London resident where such beauties are easily £10+.] In fact, another discovery (though not an amazing one) is that I can actually tire of drinking cocktails – only managing three before I longed for a Diet Coke to cleanse my pallet.

An elderflower mojito, something containing Earl Grey tea & tequila and my utterly delicious Bourbon Cookie with an actual bourbon biscuit on top…

2. Pubs, restaurants and other such establishments have slightly odd facilities in their ladies’ toilets. [Actually, they might have them in the men’s toilets, but I didn’t check.] Witness:

Yes, those are hair straighteners…in a toilet…in a venue where people drink. Any possible health and safety issues there?

Oh, and just in case you think I’m generalising, here’s another – so at least two separate establishments had them:

Clearly having poker-straight hair is of immense importance to ladies in the north-east – I wonder if it’ll catch on down here?

3. You can’t buy black opaque tights there, or any tights in fact. At least, it would appear that one can’t, given that I saw no one wearing any while out on Saturday night. But I think I’m going to return to that topic tomorrow…

Familial communication

Since my parents moved to Ireland six years ago, actual, in the flesh family gatherings have been limited to Christmas and special family occasions – weddings, relatives’ significant birthdays, graduations etc – and I get over to Belfast once or twice a year, but usually separate from my sister (so we can spread the joy of daughter visits a bit further). As a result we’ve developed a cunning variety of tag-team family contact, in which none of us are all together simultaneously, but manage to see pretty much everyone in a short period of time, something both my father and I will be managing in the course of the next week or so.

Tuesday night witnessed the closest my family gets to a four-way conversation these days. My father and I were sat together on a bus, he was on the phone to my mother (in Nottingham) and I was on the phone to my sister (in Tewks). A conversation about a friend’s GCSE results went like this:

Mum to Dad: Does Mim know what Meredith’s results were like? 
Dad to me: Your Mum wants to know if Mim knows Meredith’s results?
Me to Mim: What did Meredith get?
Mim to me: One A*, some As, a couple of Bs and a C
Me to Dad: One A*, some As, a couple of Bs and a C
Dad to Mum: One A*, some As, a couple of Bs and a C
Goodness only knows what the people around us thought about this ridiculous carry on! 
This week my Dad’s been staying with me, having a few days of being a tourist in London. Initially I laughed when I heard that his idea of London fun involved at least two libraries (the British Library and my very own Hogwarts – Dr Williams Library) and a lot of walking. It was only last night, while comparing our library cards, that I realised I really am a chip off the old block. [He’s the first person I rang when I was gifted a three-year ticket to the BL instead of the usual one-year, courtesy of my business card that proved I was indeed a ‘professional’ researcher!]

Our similarity was cemented with his choice of pub. We’d agreed to meet in London Bridge and I had a plan to take him to The George Inn – one of London’s oldest pubs – because I figured he’d appreciate the history and it’s opposite a branch of my favourite Turkish restaurant. When I rang him (in the midst of torrential rain) it turned out he was sheltering in a pub, the The George Inn to be precise – spooky! Those that know me well may also be amused to hear that he’d thought to look up the London Bridge area in the Good Pub Guide while browsing in Waterstones – always a researcher… 

Having said all that, given that he has a beard and bears an uncanny resemblance to Gerry Adams, the similarities end with libraries, pubs and research. 

Wash your mouth out

Continuing a series* of ‘random things found in pub toilets’:

A decanter of mouthwash and little shot glasses. 

Genius. I’m trying to work out if it was provided simply as post-dinner refreshment [I should probably clarify that I spotted this in a slightly swanky hotel bar/restaurant, not a grubby local] or because its clientèle were likely to be after a cheeky snog.

(Yes, I realise just 3 weeks ago I ranted about my hatred for that word, but ‘french kiss’, or something similar really wouldn’t have fitted the context in quite the same way. Also, perhaps I’m alone in making men brush their teeth/wash their mouth out before I let them kiss me? Is this why I’m single…?)

Incidentally, people look at you a bit funny when they come out of a toilet cubicle and find you taking photos. Apparently, it’s not really the done thing – but since when has that stopped me?

* I use the word ‘series’ lightly. There’s been one other post on this subject – regarding an exercise bike in the toilets of a pub in King’s Cross. 

Bicycles

The above photo is not really an example of my most brilliant work, given as it fails to accurately portray its subject and context. What you are looking at is an exercise bike (Alice is demonstrating how it is used) in the middle of a pub’s ladies’ toilets. Yes, in the toilets. See the sinks? The hand-dryer? The doorway into the cubicle? Terribly random. 
[Should you be female and wish to try out this bizarre arrangement, the pub in question is The Boot in King’s Cross.] 
This leads me nicely onto two totally separate bike related anecdotes…
(i) Reading on exercise bikes.
This is one of the more random 2010 Firsts on the right – last month I read whilst cycling at the gym for the first time. I’ve often watched people read on the bikes – usually it’s magazines or newspapers – and I’ve wondered whether they can really be working hard enough, seeing as they look rather relaxed. 
But arriving at the gym near the end of a particularly gripping novel, I decided to give it a go. It was amazing – I didn’t watch the time or the intensity levels, just pedalled on regardless. In fact, I went longer because after half an hour I still hadn’t quite finished the book. Note: reading is really not a good idea on a treadmill… 
(ii) A sudden desire to cycle in London.
I’m not a good cyclist. In fact, I am so bad that I failed my Cycling Proficiency test – I don’t know anyone else who failed it. (Though I did get full marks for the theory…) A rather bad accident aged 12 knocked my confidence and, while I’m very happy doing familiar routes back in Gloucester, preferably on my friend’s gorgeous ‘sit up and beg’ Dutch bike, I’m something of a liability. 
Last week I joined a new choir (there will be much blog fodder derived from this activity, I’m sure of it). It’s local, but as is the way with London, getting there involves either a half-hour walk or a bus. Leaving choir after my first rehearsal, a woman ahead of me jumped on her bike and cycled off towards The Roundabout of Death (as it’s become known in my driving lessons). Suddenly I thought that perhaps my bike would be better off here than in a Belfast basement, if solely for these weekly excursions, and wondered about finding a way of getting it over the Irish Sea.
Lest you be worried for my safety, one conversation with my mother put paid to that idea. Anyone else hearing the words “I’d be worried about you cycling in London” would assume maternal fear of the city’s traffic and roads. No, she was voicing her concern at my cycling capabilities and rightly so. [I’ve recently been  told that she misinterprets some of my comments about her on here, so I need to be careful to say the right thing.] 
Fear not Londoners (or those that love me and would hate for me to end up under a bus) I will hold-off on the cycling desires for now… 

Saturday night stories

To put these into context, I should explain that I’ve just spent the weekend in a sleepy Derbyshire town, doing ‘visioning’ stuff with the other leaders of OneSound, staying in a youth hostel type place & getting lots of work done.

1. The benefits of pianos in restaurants…
Dinner was at a rather random Italian restaurant situated underneath/in (we weren’t sure) a daycare centre for the elderly. (It was a small, small town.) When our food ended up taking an hour and a half to arrive, we did what any sensible gathering of musos would do – played around on the piano conveniently located next to our table.
Fortunately, the place was deserted apart from us (20 young-ish people) and 10 silver-haired diners. The music started off low-key – a bit of classic jazz to pass the time – but soon turned to musicals. A couple of us couldn’t resist a rendition of ‘Suddenly Seymour’, and pretty soon all had joined in.
Within minutes, a silver-haired lady came over with a request:
Could we possibly do ‘Shine Jesus Shine’?
Firstly, how did she know we were Christians?? We’d sung nothing religious! (Well, apart from something off the O Brother Where Art Thou soundtrack, but that doesn’t count.) Was it tatooed on our foreheads? Was there a holy glow about us? Or was it simply that we’d not left, despite the long wait for our food?
Turns out she didn’t go to church, but had been to a wedding recently where it had been sung and she’d really liked it. Of course, we obliged with that and a few others. (It’s kind of musical evangelism.) They danced, applauded and we eventually got to eat. Happy times.
2. The problem with visiting country pubs…
Sometimes strangers just aren’t welcome. After our eventful meal, a group of us went along to a local pub for a drink (or three). It was already the third time we’d been in since Friday and it had seemed quite normal. The others times, we’d been in a side room, but this time we went straight into the main bar.
It didn’t look odd, until a friend mentioned it was all men (at that point we had 5 girls and 2 boys). We giggled, took seats and our men went to the bar. Suddenly, a hush descended upon the room. Looking up, I realised every single man was staring at us. (It probably didn’t help that my extrovert friend Morv had chosen that moment to sit on my lap.)
It was difficult to establish whether it was simply the shock of 5 women arriving, or the fact that we clearly weren’t from ’round these parts’, but it was a distinctly chilly reception. We retreated into the side room and stayed away for the rest of the evening. There we discovered a couple playing scrabble in the company of a toy badger…I’m not sure what else there is to say about that.
All this, my friends, is why it’s good to leave the Big Smoke from time to time!