Saturday, June 27, 2009

More of the East of England

I've been on the move! It's wonderful and also vaguely unfortunate, as I really should be working on my thesis and not galavanting around the countryside. Ah well. The warm weather gives me no choice, really.

A couple weeks ago I visited the city of Colchester, which is not only the central city in the county of Essex, but also the oldest recorded town in England. (It was also the site of the uprising of Boudica, who is apparently very well-known. I am parenthesizing this because I had no idea who she was, and I'm still not clear enough on her or her legacy to feel like I'm qualified to explain to others. She apparently revolted against the Romans back in the first century A.D. People around here are shocked that I've never heard of her. Have you heard of her, dear reader? I honestly want to know.)

We spent quite a bit of time roaming the streets of Colchester, looking at their various churches and landmarks, but we spent the majority of our time there in the Colchester Castle Museum. It was interactive, and some of the activities were really very curious.

Slave for sale?

Oh. Sorry, I'm not interested in putting that collar on. Thanks.

Colchester also had a pretty intense witch-hunting period, and the Castle had part of the original jail preserved, so that visitors could get spooked, basically. Due to a hilarious narration playing from hidden speakers detailing the trial of one suspected witch, I didn't find it all that creepy, but it had a nice musty smell and it was sufficiently deep and dark to qualify as a dungeon that I would prefer to leave as I please. My favorite part of the museum, however, was this door:

Castle Door / Puzzle

I don't know what was behind the door, but I imagined that it was some kind of Alice in Wonderland riddle, in which the young heroine needs to put the door together before she can open it and get to the other side.

Colchester seemed a bit more urban than Norwich; I think it must be because it's halfway between here and London, so their proximity to the city probably makes a difference. A total of two crazy street-people talked to us while we were there, and I found it sort of refreshing; it was like being back in the Bay Area! I had sort of forgotten what it was like to deal with people who aren't constantly following the rules. Oh, and speaking of people who don't customarily follow the rules:

Iggy Pop / insurance

That's right; that's Iggy Pop. Iggy Pop! Doing an insurance campaign! The first time I saw one of these billboards I couldn't believe my eyes. I guess punk rock is responsible now. Or maybe not! - maybe they're crashing their cars a lot, and that's why they need insurance! That could be it too.

My second adventure in the East of England was taking a boat out on the Broads in Wroxham. The Broads are wetlands, a national park full of little lakes formed by the river as it makes its way out to the North Sea. It was extraordinarily beautiful out there, and we were able to rent the boat for four whole hours. It was amazing. It was a welcome break from the small world comprised of myself, my laptop, and my thesis. Even the sun came out to cooperate!

Riverside lighthouse.

It was lovely. There was an ice cream boat floating around, selling ice cream cones to anyone who wanted one, and there were kitschy riverboats and even strange old sailboats sailing down the river and through the Broads. For example:

"Southern Comfort"

Bridge Broad? Wroxham Broad?

There were Canada geese and swans, and some other strange birds standing by the side of the river that I didn't recognize, but that were awfully stately. Maybe I'll show you one, in hopes that you can name it for me:

What type of bird is this?

What is it?

And now, I can't help but get back to work. There are some fun things on the horizon, most obviously a trip to Paris coming up at the end of July; there are, however, little trips here and there that we'll take on mutual days off - well, I guess I have only days off, so I have to fight hard to structure them. In the meantime, wish me luck with my thesis, and good luck with any various summer heatwaves that may come your way.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Great Yarmouth. "Great" Yarmouth. Great!...Yarmouth.

So we went to Great Yarmouth. I have nothing more eloquent to say than...hmm. What a weird town.

This is the first thing we saw as we walked to the center from the train station:

Operation Claw: Knives Destroy Lives

Operation Claw: Knives Destroy Lives. I suppose the idea behind this is to get people to throw their unused knives and shanks into the bin, but there's some faulty logic at work here. First of all: what if the knife has already stabbed somebody, and this is where the perpetrator throws the evidence? Also: what's the impetus for someone to throw their knife in the bin? If you're the type of person who carries a knife as a weapon, what wave of good will and pacifistic emotion is likely to spring up when passing the weapons bin? I wonder how many knives they get every week. My guess is not many.

Moving on, though, Yarmouth turned out to be, well, very weird. A little history: it used to be a lively little fishing town, and then when they overfished the waters and could no longer sustain a whole town on the fishing industry, they put some energy-generating windmills in the sea, erected some oil platforms, and the "casinos," previously booming, started to decline. Now they're just shells of good times past, though they still give it the old college try.

Caeser's PalaceThe Flamingo

That's Caesar's Palace and The Flamingo. You could get it mixed up with Las Vegas, huh? So lush. Hilariously, all the machines take either 2 or 5 pence pieces, usually no more. They're generally filled with these penny-pusher machines that keep you hooked by spitting out pennies every now and again, just enough so that you don't walk away, because you're sure that even with slow progress, you might get that tin of mints or fishy keychain that teeters precariously near the edge! It's really very manipulative. There is also, however, ski ball, video games, air hockey, and this bizarre type of bowling, in which the pins hang on strings, and it's a recipe for disaster. Someone has even made a short video to really illustrate how strange this is.

The bowling is not the only thing for kids to do though - there are all kinds of fun things for little ones. For instance, Joyland:


Yes, that's all it is. And yes, it looks a little deserted in the picture; that's only because it's pretty much totally deserted. Brad claims that the first time he went to Yarmouth, Joyland was roped off because there was a dead body parked outside. I've opted not to share the picture. But really, for a town that sells itself as a shiny, family-fun destination, there were surprisingly few people about, and more often than not they had no children. There were a few children riding some sad-looking burros around the beach, and that's about it. Other than them, the "children" were mostly teenagers who roamed around as if, shockingly, they had nothing else to do.

Oh, kids could also do this:


Mini-golf! This course wasn't too bad, though just down the street was a course called The Arnold Palmer, which was basically a cement plot about the size of my living room, a few strips of astroturf with 2x4s between them, and a foam rock here and there. It was, in a word, depressing.

There were also fun rides for the kids!

"Fun" "Rides"

See, look at all those kids! The ride with the tipi in the foreground of that picture was a very dreary log-ride that went in one very short zig-zag; I don't know how many times around a kid would get to go for one token, because there wasn't a kid within a hundred feet of this thing.

A coworker of Brad's who actually hails from Yarmouth describes it as "dying", which seems about right. Come 6 p.m., almost every business closed its shutters, and the streets might as well have been overtaken by tumbleweeds. On our walk back to the train station, I imagined that the seagulls were probably killer birds who fed at dusk, and that's why everyone retreated into their homes. That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

All in all, though, it was fun, and a sliver of England that not many people see. There was a beach, I had some chips and ice cream, and I got to put my head into those weird wooden cutouts, and that's a good day in my book. Until next time.

britannia pier