i have adventures (sometimes)

Monday, 28 November 2011

The Only Way is Arguably Not Essex

Hey look! Today's blog has a guest star!

But she doesn't appear for another 13 paragraphs, so don't get too excited.

A few weeks ago, my lecturer sent around an email saying "There's a LADO workshop in Essex! Who's interested?". So, being the massive nerd that I am, I said, "Oooh, me!"

Well, actually, that wasn't quite how it went. Being the massive student that I am, I first asked "How much is it?" And when he told me that the fee would be covered and I could claim back for transport and accommodation, then I said "Oooh, me!"

So on Friday night, I packed one change of clothes and filled the rest of my backpack with food (logically, I know that there's food in Essex, but I never risk travelling without a large bag of snacks), and set off on an adventure to the South-East.

Four hours, three episodes of Doctor Who, and half a packet of Hobnobs later, I arrived in Colchester, which was dark, scary and seedy. It probably goes without say that I got lost and my phone battery had died, because that's how all my stories go, so let's just take that bit as read.

The streets were either terrifyingly empty or full of GANGS*, but I knew from the map at the station that my B & B was really close, so as a matter of principle, I refused to take a taxi. Not that I really had the option anyway, since when I approached a taxi driver to ask directions, he drove off as I raised my hand to knock on the window. Oddly enough, my very first thought was "No one would be that rude in the North!", which was when I realised that I'd become a Northerner.** My second thought was the more predictable "Well, screw you too." And so I trudged on through the darkness and thought happy thoughts about not getting murdered. Eventually a nice man in a Chinese restaurant told me the way, and after a lot of wandering around and loudly cursing the darkness, the lack of street names, and Essex in general, I found my way to my super classy B & B.

Yes, a B & B. The kind with a whole room all to myself! And a real bed! With a second bed in case I got bored of the first one! And a kettle! And free tea and coffee which I hardly stole because it would be too obvious if I took all of it I'm not that cheap!

It was THIS BIG!
With a cupboard big enough to sleep in! (I didn't sleep in the cupboard.)
Not even doing laundry and going to the bank made me feel like a grown up quite as much as staying in a B & B by myself. It's just not the sort of thing I do. I stay in hostels. I sleep on sofas. I drink tea from a glass. From a glass. B & Bs are on my list of accommodation options just below "find a night bus that goes in a loop". Considering that the room cost more than I spend on food in a week, I decided to make the most of it by having a tiny dance party.

I'm my very own flashmob!
In the morning, I dragged myself out of bed way earlier than any person who has had a tiny dance party at midnight should ever have to, put on my serious-adult fancy dress costume, fuelled myself with coffee*** and toast, and went off to the workshop. Thankfully, my lecturer and another linguist were staying in the same B & B, so I didn’t have to find my way there by myself, which is how I got to the university without getting lost even once.

Unusually, the workshop was actually as interesting as it sounded, which meant that I didn’t even have to pretend to pay attention. The talks were interesting, the tea and coffee were free, the people were cool, and I got to hobnob**** with other Master’s students and linguistic celebrities. And the fact that I successfully did so means that, yes, I talked to strangers. Again! I should wear my serious-adult costume more often. At one stage, I found myself making small talk in Zulu with a Senegalese man from Boston, which reminded me that the world is a very strange place. And I really think I prefer it that way.

I also settled a long-running debate once and for all by asking Peter Trudgill how he pronounces his name – it is Trudgill, not Trudjill – and not that anyone’s keeping score or anything, but I was right. You’re welcome, linguists of the world.

With my head full of interesting ideas and my bag full of pretzels from the snack table – my serious-adult costume didn’t for a second stop me from thinking like a student – I collected my bag from the B & B and set off for the other side of town to meet my CS host. I found my way to the station so easily that it was like it was mocking me, and then got onto a train which seemed to be going to the main station, but I was the only person on it and the platform didn’t have a number, so I really just had to guess. But there were teenagers on the platform, and they can smell fear, so I had to act like I knew what I was doing, which meant decisively stepping onto a totally empty train which looked nothing like something out of a horror movie, and then decisively sitting there. And decisively hoping that the teenagers would be gone if it turned out that the train wasn’t going anywhere and I had to get decisively off and find the right one.

But it turned out not to be a ghost train to hell, which was a relief. I made it to the main station, got predictably lost in the dark (you’d think that if the only way is Essex, it could at least be better signposted), and at last found my way to my lovely host Gundi’s flat, where she gave me soup and salad and I gave her Hobnobs, and there was much rejoicing.

Then suddenly, Emily! Because if I was getting to the South without having to pay for it, there was no way we were going to pass up an opportunity for very long overdue adventures.

At Gundi’s suggestion (that there was nothing to do in Colchester), we met up in Wivenhoe, once Emily had successfully performed the dance of the rail replacement bus service. It meant making a journey that cost the same as a real train trip but took three times as long, but she did it because we’re bros. Bros bros bros!

In Essex, they like to add mystery to signs and neglect to syntax.

BRB, filling my briefcase with picnic food and putting on my picnic suit.
It's almost not an exaggeration to say that there's nothing in Wivenhoe. It has a little waterfront on the river, a pub, a delicatessen, and two bicycles.

You can see almost all of Wivenhoe in this picture.
The main (read: "only") attraction was a pleasant four-mile walk along the river back to Colchester. (Of course, the downside is that at the end of it, you're in Colchester.) So we ate mince pies at the waterfront while having about a dozen conversations at once to save time, and then set off along the footpath in search of adventure.

It was a little windy.

The first part of the walk had that whole rural and idyllic thing going on, so we strolled along and enjoyed the sunshine, stopping to take photos and climb trees and eat the least-toxic-looking berries from the hedgerows.

Adventure point!

Black Rider! (It's ok; she didn't find me.)
We sat down for a picnic by the river, and by the time we got going again the sun was setting, because daylight is a scarce commodity at the moment, which of course meant that we got to do the scariest part of the journey in the scariest lighting. We left the pastoral scenery behind, and soon found ourselves in an area where everything seemed to be competing for the title of "Murderiest Place in Essex."

Is it here?
Or here?
Or here upon this blasted heath? So many places to die!
Nevertheless, we survived all the way back to Colchester Station, and I saw Emily onto her train and went off to find mine. I was halfway back to York before things started to go awry. Some sort of drama on the line to King's Cross meant that almost all the trains to and from Peterborough were cancelled or delayed. Mine was in the latter category, so I squashed into the waiting room with my fellow train delay refugees to wait for an hour. When it was almost time for my train to arrive, I realised that it had disappeared from the schedule. It didn't say it had been cancelled - it had just disappeared. Like a good Who fan, I made the reasonable assumption that it had been sucked through a rift in time and space, and got on the next train to Edinburgh via York instead.

Of course, with all the delays and cancellations, about three train journeys had been combined into one superjourney, without any increase in space on the train. I had to run the length of the train to get on it before it left, because there was literally not enough space for both me and my backpack to get on. I managed to find a gap and squeeze myself in, and spent the rest of the trip back to York sitting on my backpack on the floor. It was surprisingly comfortable (once enough people got off for me to be able to fold both legs at the same time).

I got back to York late, exhausted, and with a splitting headache, but relieved to be back in the place that is feeling more and more like I can call it "home".

Or at the very least, the place that I can call "less murdery than Essex".

*Well, men standing around in groups, which is close enough.
**Any minute now, I'll be rhyming "strut" and "foot".
***Coffee is my new vice. But I reckon it’s still better than heroin – cheaper, too! My newest accomplishment is being able to drink it plain. Coffee, not heroin.
****Mmmm. Hobnobs. Wait, what were we talking about?


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