We took a family trip up to Lichfield this weekend. I don’t know if I can give a “review” of a city-break as a whole, but if I can: I give you five stars, Lichfield.
Maybe it’s just because we’ve none of us had a night away from The Green… pretty-much since we moved in, last year. But there was something magical about doing things reminiscent of the “old normal”.
It’s not that like wasn’t plenty of mask-wearing and social distancing and hand sanitiser and everything that we’ve gotten used to now: there certainly was. The magic, though, came from getting to do an expedition further away from home than we’re used to. And, perhaps, with that happening to coincide with glorious weather and fun times.
We spent an unimaginably hot summer’s day watching an outdoor interpretation of Peter and the Wolf, which each of the little ones has learned about in reasonable depth, at some point or another, as part of the (fantastic) “Monkey Music” classes of which they’re now both graduates.
And maybe it’s that they’ve been out-of-action for so long and are only just beginning to once again ramp up… or maybe I’ve just forgotten what the hospitality industry is like?… but man, we felt well-looked after.
From the staff at the hotel who despite the clear challenges of running their establishment under the necessary restrictions still went the extra mile to make the kids feel special to the restaurant we went to that pulled out all the stops to give us all a great evening, I basically came out of the thing with the impression of Lichfield as a really nice place.
I’m not saying that it was perfect. A combination of the intolerable heat (or else the desiccating effect of the air conditioner) and a mattress that sagged with two adults on it meant that I didn’t sleep much on Saturday night (although that did mean I could get up at 5am forageocachingexpeditionaroundthecity before it got too hot later on). And an hour and a half of driving to get to a place where you’re going to see a one-hour show feels long, especially in this age where I don’t really travel anywhere, ever.
But that’s not the point.
The point is that Lichfield made me happy, this weekend. And I don’t know how much of that is that it’s just a nice place and how much is that I’ve missed going anywhere or doing anything, but either way, it lead to a delightful weekend.
As if we hadn’t been busy enough the weekend before last and the one before that, there’s more that I’m only just getting around to blogging! It was only when I thought about writing this up that I realised how much I’d neglected to write about already (and had promised people would be “coming soon”). So, without further ado; here’s what Ruth, JTA and I got up to last weekend.
Aside from our two attempts to conquer the Dunwich Horror (both attempts were failures, although the second was ever so close, ending with Ruth’s character in a one-on-one deathmatch with a Great Old One), our major event was a trip down to London on Saturday. After all, since the move to Earth, London feels like it’s pretty-much on our doorstep: so there’s no excuse not to take in a bit of culture once in a while in the heart of the capital. Of course, when we say culture…
Ye Old Cock Tavern
We started out in Ye Old Cock Tavern on Fleet Street, because – hey – early afternoon is a perfectly good time to start drinking on a weekend. They did some pretty good chips, too, which we picked at as we drank our pints and watched a crowd gather for a wedding at the church up the road, nestled between the old newspaper buildings.
Next up was Volupté, a burlesque club with a bi-monthly lunchtime Afternoon Tease. We started with a few fabulously-mixed and ludicrously ornate cocktails: only the first of many. The bar staff are simply entertaining to watch
Aside from the ongoing stream of cocktails (I particularly enjoyed the Porn Star Martini – which I’m seen drinking in the picture above – I don’t even remember what was in it, except that it came with a “shot” of champagne to drink before starting it), Afternoon Tease consisted of:
An extraordinarily erotic, genuinely tantalising peacock dance from a young lady going by Vicky Butterfly. She later returned for a second, different performance; not quite so arousing but equally mesmerising. That’s her in the picture, above.
Volupté’s special take on traditional tableaux vivants – gateaux vivants: a wonderfully mischievous woman posing behind little more than suspenders and a cake (with a fabulous parody of M&S food adverts gone by).
Scones and tea
A Miss. Rose Thorne, performing a tribute to Doris Day; and I can honestly say that I’ve never before seen a pair of gloves removed with such… deliberate choreography. Very impressive.
By the time we staggered out into the afternoon sun, we were very entertained and quite spiffingly drunk. Volupté gains my recommendation, although I shall have to check the state of my bank account before trifling with their cocktail bar again!
The Golden Hinde
Next up, we made our way over the Thames to visit the replica of the Golden Hinde, the ship in which Sir Francis Drake completed his famous circumnavigation of the globe.
Yeah, it’s just a big boat (and not even that big). Ruth was pleased, though, but she is almost a big a fan of boats as she is for optimised road junctions. Of course, not to break the theme, we stopped for a drink in each of the two nearest bars to the vessel, as well as a snack to give us the energy for the next leg of our adventure, when we whipped out our Oyster cards and zipped down to Hammersmith for…
Penn & Teller
Yes, thePenn & Teller, during their 4-day-only visit to the UK (the first in 15 years), doing their usual mixture of magic and comedy in their in-your-face style, in a spectacular London show. If you’ve gotten this far down the post before you realised how awesome my weekend was, well, what took you so long?
I couldn’t even pick out my favourite part of the show. Perhaps it was one of these:
Teller “drowning” at the end of the first act as part of a card trick (yes, really!) gone wrong.
A whole series of fabulous tricks done with evidently-confused members of the audience (especially the one with the woman they had blindfolded and throwing knives towards Penn, and narrowly missing – it was all done with electromagnets, see?).
Stunning examples of cold-reading done using jokes randomly selected from joke books, with a predictive “hot reading” twist at the end.
The thought-provoking ending, in which Penn (between bouts of fire-eating) asks the audience to think not about how they do what they do, but why, along with some clues related to his experiences as an audience member of various shows.
By remarkable coincidence, Sundeep and her partner, Ashley, were also at the Apollo to see Penn & Teller! Wandering back from the bar during the intermission we just bumped into her. As she doesn’t blog these days, for the benefit of those who might be wondering: she’s doing well, still on maternity leave and looking after Vanessa, her daughter (who’s looking quite cute in many of the billion or so pictures she carries around with her on her phone), and both are happy and healthy. Ashley – whom we hadn’t met before now – seems nice: he has a certain rugged-but-cute French look and he works for a very worthwhile charity, both of which give him good points in my estimation.
After leaving the show, we were peckish again, so we went around the corner to a cramped but wonderful-smelling Mexican restaurant for a round of Mexican-style tapas, which was delicious. By this point, we were just about ready to settle into a bus for the long but comfortable journey home, when…
Penn & Teller, Again
…wandering back, we spotted a small crowd of people near the Apollo. Wandering over, we discovered that Penn & Teller themselves were hanging out with folks outside the theatre, signing things and answering awkward questions.
Needless to say, we hung around for a few minutes and got the chance to meet the magicians themselves.
Ruth – perhaps as evidenced by her expression in the photo, above – did her usual thing when in the company of a celebrity (as those of you who knew how she behaved around Lloyd Kaufman will know) of becoming a giggling little girl. She also managed to make a fool of herself by mumbling a question about the stage lighting to Teller, to which he didn’t have an answer (not a result of his on-stage muteness, though: he’s certainly happy to talk in person).
Meeting some of the most fabulous (and eccentric) magicians in the world is perhaps the best way to end a night out in London. But there was one more stop on our journey as we worked our way back to a Oxford Tube stop (avoiding the Circle Line, which wasn’t running):
Yeah; perhaps not actually the highlight of the night, but as we were passing, Ruth insisted that we should get one more photo – for Adam‘s sake:
In case your eyes aren’t up to it, or if you’re simply unable to recognise this iconic London landmark, that’s the White City BBC Television Centre in the photo.
We got back to Oxford a full 15 hours after we’d first left: considerably more exhausted, more drunk, and merrily surfing the buzz of all the fabulous things we’d gotten up to over the course of the day. Sunday became very much a day of rest (and recovery) – we’re not as young as we used to be, as I discovered to my horror during my last party-sized jaunt into the capital. Exhaustion aside, however, this was a fantastic day out.
How’ve your weekends been? Not as legendary as mine, I’m sure.
Went to Alton Towers on Friday for the first time in years, along with Ruth, Annie, JTA, and his sister Harriet. Highlights include:
Actually wandering around the towers, as opposed to just spending time on the rollercoasters. Who knew there was a ruin in the middle of the theme park (yes, I know, we all knew, but who actually bothered to look before now).
Getting straight to the front of every single queue. I’ll tell you what; if you ever go to a busy theme park, take a friend in a wheelchair. It doesn’t actually matter whether or not there’s any reason for them to be in a wheelchair (so long as they’re able to move around enough to get in and out of rides), because – at Alton Towers, at least – they didn’t even bother to look at the medical notes we’d brought; they just had bits of paper to sign and then we all got “helper” armbands.
And you know what’s great about those armbands? They mean you can wheel your friend in through the exit of pretty much any ride you like, and skip the queue. With busy rides like Nemesis (still perhaps the best-designed rollercoaster I’ve ever been on, overall) and Air, it’ll save you hours of your day to never have to queue, and it’s a lot cheaper than buying those controversial “queue jump” passes. I suppose that’s probably how we found the free time to tour the towers.
We squeezed in all of the water rides early on, because we didn’t know if it was eventually going to rain or not (it didn’t), and if it didn’t, we wanted the maximum possible amount of time to dry off afterwards. Which would have worked as a plan, if it weren’t for the fact that Harriet, Annie and I had to board the log flume at a special “maintenance” station (where they were able to park the wheelchair), and because they didn’t put our boat back into the maintenance station on our way back, we ended up going around twice (much to the confusion of Ruth and JTA, who’d just de-boated and were waiting near the bottom of the big drop at the end to see us splash down and get off ourselves).
Shweet ickwe baybey gooshes!!! Yeah. And here’s a picture of a confused-looking mummy goose. Later, we encouraged kids to throw bits of their overpriced hot dogs to the (huge) carp in the lake so we could watch them fight over it with the ducks. It’s easy to find entertainment in just about anything when all the rides are closing down for the night.
The relatively new aquarium/”Sea life centre” thingy, which actually turns out to be really, really, quite spectacularly good. They’ve got a petting zoo where you can play with hermit crabs and shrimp and things; stingrays and sharks that they have a “feeding time” for, and lots and lots of glass (including an underwater tunnel through which you can walk. Of course, being Alton Towers, they’re not going to let the fact that what you’re at is an aquarium stop them from selling you a ride photo, so they take a picture of you on the way in, as shown above. If we look confused in the picture, it’s because we didn’t know we were about to have our photo taken until literally a split second beforehand – we thought that we were being told where to stand in order to put us “out of the way” while they made provision for getting the wheelchair into the building.
And finally (simply because I didn’t get a picture – the one above is Creative Commons – thanks, alundavey!), I suppose I ought to mention the awesomeness that is the new ride, Rita – Queen Of Speed (stupid name, though). This hydraulic launch (though it looks like a LIM-launched one, and certainly uses magnetic braking: wonder why they didn’t go the whole hog…) rollercoaster really does have a fabulous feeling of acceleration: jumping from a standing start to 100km/h in barely over 2 seconds is quite spectacularly eye-watering.
Also, I think Ruth is in love with that rollercoaster. She sighs whenever I mention the name, Rita.
So, a rich, full weekend, between that and all the other bits and pieces I got up to. From tomorrow I’m up in Preston for a few days, then off up to Scotland for a week or so. I’ll blog on the move if I can.