How Romantic Can August Bank Holiday Get?

The August Bank Holiday weekend is at its best when (a) it doesn’t rain and (b) you get propositioned. Three years ago, I spent a sunny day at the seaside with an old friend I hadn’t seen in a while. We were outside the Red Lion Hotel in Cromer when I rashly asked what he’d like to do next.

Red lion by Matthew Strickland

“If I tell you, you’ll slap me,” came his response.

Reader, I married him. And this Bank Holiday weekend we returned to East Anglia and the sand and the sea to revisit that day.

It was very romantic and very English.  Now I will share some of the very Englishness of the Bank Holiday with you, starting with Cromer pier

Cromier Pier, Norfolk

What’s a pier without a proper end-of-the-pier show?

Cromer end of the pier show

It starts at 4pm on Saturdays, instead of the traditional time of 2.30pm, according to two disgruntled pier show veterans who told me over their limp sandwiches how the change in schedule had spoilt their day.

Fish and chips are staple fare. Belly not bursting yet? The No 1 fish and chip shop also sells ice cream.  

No 1 Fish and Chips, Cromer

Windbreaks are de rigueur. Somewhere not far away, there’s usually a man with a knotted hankie protecting his bald pate. 

windbreak

Very few UK towns or villages have no war memorial.  This one’s in Burnham Market.

War Memorial, Burnham Market, Norfolk

A select few sport decorative village signs. There are more of these in Norfolk than in any other county, but Suffolk comes a close second.

Freckenham, Suffolk

Some have pink-washed houses (the colour’s less pretty when you realise it’s from pig’s blood). 

pink washed house, Swaffham Prior

And pubs complete with ornamental signs and wonky walls. 

Red Lion pub, Swaffham Prior

We caught a traction engine idling outside this one. 

The White Swan, Stow cum Quy

Sunset in late August comes all too soon, so it was time for one last bit of Englishness.  

chicken tikka masala, Saffron Brasserie, Cambridge

I know. Chicken tikka masala was probably invented in Glasgow. It may no longer be the UK’s favourite dish, but it’s the perfect end to a nostalgic day. 

***

PS You might enjoy more quintessential Britishness on the Romaniacs blog.

Easy tweet: How English can a Bank Holiday get? http://wp.me/p3uiuG-13S a romantic look back with @DrCarolCooper 

An Englishman in New Jersey: Part Two

New Yorkers think of New Jersey as their outside toilet, especially if, like the Daily Show’s Jon Stewart, they came from there originally.

Actually, New Jersey is my favourite state, but it takes a bit of getting used to. How did my thoroughly English husband manage his week-long venture into the unknown?

NJ causeway

He couldn’t get what the natives were saying. We had just passed through the toll on the turnpike where I was relieved of about three bucks. “What’s that she said?” he wanted to know.

“She asked me how I was today, and whether we were from England.”

He rested his head back and closed his eyes. It was too puzzling. A little lady who sits sweating all day in a tiny metal booth gives enough of a shit to ask you how you are and whether you’re from England? 

“Welcome to New Jersey,” I said.

By en:User:Mr._Matté [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

We’d packed way too much stuff.  All we needed for the week was Bermuda shorts and flip flops. And swimsuits, obviously, because between the beach and the pool, we practically lived in them.

One afternoon, two guys were splashing about in the motel pool, alternately hugging and trying to drown each other. I was worried. “He trying to kill you?” I called out.

He surfaced to reply, “Nah. He ain’t gonna hurt me. We’re brothers.”

If you’ve ever heard of Cain and Abel, that’s no consolation.

My husband remarked later, “They didn’t look much like brothers.”

“Perhaps one of them’s adopted,” I suggested.

Just when you think you’ve got the hang of the language, someone breaks into Spanish.

Yep, Spanish is an American language too. However, a sign saying PISO MOJADO is neither an instruction to empty your bladder, nor an explanation of how the floor got wet.

It’s obligatory to visit the legend that is Conte’s Pizza

inside Conte's Pizza, Witherspoon St, Princeton NJ

It has the longest bar in Princeton and ranks as one of the top 33 pizzerias in the nation.  I always have everything on my pizza. Saves a lot of hassle trying to decide.

Also I stop by the drug store on the way there. Saves a lot of hassle later.

Tums assorted berries

Jet lag gets worse with age. Even the modest time difference of five hours left us dazed, drowsy, disorientated, and puffy from fluid retention.

Luckily you can buy melatonin pills at CVS or Rite-Aid at the same time as Tums. Do they work? I have no idea. Some people swear that drinking urine is just as good. Tell you the truth, I had no idea we were that confused.

You may see flashing lights in front of your eyes.

I swear they weren’t there in Norfolk. That’s because they’re fireflies.

You need a permit like this to go onto the beach.

Barnegat Light beach badge 2015

And then you have to show it when asked.

The same goes for your driver’s license. None of this English namby-pamby seven days to produce your documents. Which makes it just like the beach badge, only you can’t get out of trouble by paying five dollars to the Highway Patrolman.

NJ is a highly dangerous place.

We took our lives into our hands and set out for a walk by the Delaware and Raritan canal, though not its whole length as I couldn’t manage 70 miles. We certainly needed the big stick my husband had brought along to protect us. There were nettles galore, even the odd dandelion. Couple of people cycled past and said Hi. A bit further on, a family of turtles sunned themselves on a log. It was bloody terrifying.

old tree by Delaware and Raritan Canal, NJ

Restaurants are family joints. Although it’s probably best not to ask on arrival, as my son once did, “Is this the restaurant owned by the Mafia?”

Here’s what we found parked outside one of them. We had to wait for our table, so we hung around watching people leave. 

Corvette Stingray

The trashy trophies on the sugar daddies’ arms. The Mercs and the Stingrays. The guy putting the hood up on his convertible before driving off, so the wind doesn’t blow his toupee off. The scene could have come straight out of The Sopranos.

Yep, all the stereotypes about NJ are true, and then some. But I would say that. You won’t hear a thing from me about the art, culture, or history because I don’t want the world discovering how good it is.  

 

An Englishman in New Jersey

It always irks me to hear Newark’s Liberty Airport described as being one of New York’s airports.  New Jersey, as any fule kno, is not New York. True, it’s only a short train ride to Penn Station. But it’s equally just a short ride to the heart of the most underrated state of them all.

Rand McNally map NJ

The chemical stench that hits you on the New Jersey Turnpike is enough to put most people off, but I know different. It’s my favourite state.

Admittedly the favourite bit doesn’t begin till some hours after landing. It also relies on my taking the right route onto the NJ Turnpike first time, not ending up in Elizabeth, NJ, where I always have to do a U-turn at the Gulf station. The petrol pump attendant – there’s no self-service gas in the state – is used to me now. “You again, eh? Have a nice day.” But after that you need to step on it. If you hang around in Elizabeth, you get offered crack.

A Christmas pudding can delay all this, as it did when I last brought one in my carry-on. Americans don’t have Christmas puddings, so I was bringing one over for a friend. On arrival, the screening contraption did not like it one bit. Two Homeland Security officers approached. “Ma’am, is this your bag?” They gave me a stern look. Actually I don’t know if they do other kinds of look.

“Yes, it is. And I know what the problem is,” I said, reaching towards the bag to extract the pudding.

“Step away from the bag!” one of them bellowed.

Sainsbury's Christmas pudding

“But it’s only a Christmas pudding.” Idiotically I added, “Here, I’ll show you.”

“Ma’am! Step away from the bag!  I’m not sayin’ it again.”  Her partner reached for his holster.

I got the message. They didn’t want me to blow up the pudding. And I didn’t want a bullet through my chest.

As carefully if it were a landmine, the two officers extracted it from my carry-on.

I finally got a chance to explain.

They were sceptical. “You mean you all eat this in England?”

I confirmed that we did, every Christmas day, though we generally got it out of the plastic first. 

They said it was mighty heavy, ma’am. Yes, I agreed. Indigestion was usual, especially when you’ve already stuffed yourself on the main course.

They let both pudding and me through, all the while shaking their heads and averring that you learn something new every day, ma’am. Ain’t that the truth?

wedding day 2013

This year I brought no pudding, but I did take my husband.  It was high summer, and the flight was full of Camp America kids, except for the seat the other side of us, where there was a walrus, snoring and taking up two arm rests.  

Welcome to the United States of America, they say at Liberty Airport. We had ample time to savour the warmth of the welcome during an hour and a half waiting in line to exhibit our passports, in a hall without air con.  

What did my very English husband find most disorientating in New Jersey?

1 The language.  As half my family is American, conversations with them were a challenge.  Americans do use many of the same words as the English. But then they do and pronounce them all wrong and use them to mean different things. ‘Chips,’ for instance, are not fries. They are crisps. And ‘being sick’ only means you’re ill.

Most puzzling of all, ‘breaking up’ has nothing to do with the end of term. This may explain why, when OH asked if they’d broken up, my 15-year old niece flushed bright red, and said Mommy didn’t even know she had a boyfriend.

2 Then there was the food.

He’d never had grits before. They tasted, he discovered, a bit like semolina.

Smuckers strawberry jam

You can use Smuckers preserve or maple syrup to make ‘em sweet.

Old Barney's Hot Sauce

Or you can smother them in Old Barney’s Hot Sauce if you like your tongue on fire.

A short stack is just two pancakes. But they make them pretty big at Mustache Bill’s Diner.

Mustache Bill's diner, Barnegat Light

Either you take them back in a box if you don’t eat them all. Or, if you do, you go back in a box.

So taken were we with Mustache Bill’s that we queued up (translation: waited in line) for up to an hour to get in. And the OH was desperate to emulate him.

seaweed to look like a moustache

3 The beaches, contrary to popular belief, are not covered in medical waste.

Though there may be sharks. Nobody’s been killed by a shark here for nearly 100 years, but they’re around, or rather one in particular is.

FreeImages.com/ChatrinORockerz

Mary Lee is a thoroughly modern shark with her own Twitter account @MaryLeeShark and over 87k followers. We think she’s pregnant. Hard to tell as she’s a tubby lady, weighing in at over 4 tons, hence, people say, a real Jersey girl. She’s been tagged by OCEARCH so we know she gets around. The East Coast is Mary Lee’s usual hunting ground, though she has been as far afield as Bermuda. Well, a gal needs a decent holiday now and again. 

Did we encounter any sharks? Did The Mob get us by the canal? And was my husband brave enough to uncork the hot sauce? Find out in my next post.

Easy tweet: NJ is underrated, as @D‘s partner discovers An Englishman in New Jersey

Eight Things I Got out of a Trip to Cornwall

How I missed you, Cornwall!

It had been a while since we’d had a proper pasty, sampled Cornish Rattler, clambered over slate cliffs, and stumbled over discarded surfboards on Polzeath beach.  A refresher course was long overdue.

The lessons began before we got there.

1 Don’t take the road past Stonehenge.

Stonehenge sign

By the time you spot this warning sign, it will be too late, because you’ll be stuck on the A303, which has been a single carriageway at Stonehenge since time immemorial, just as the Druids left it. In front of us was a Bedford van spray-painted with hippy daisies and fuelled only by flower power. The guys in the back of the van gave us cheery peace signs as they sat cross-legged in air-conditioned comfort (aka holding hand fans).  We were lucky. Behind us was a broken down Austin Maxi, complete with a couple in 80s style dress trying to get it going again.

As we inched along, we had ample time to speculate on what a henge is, and why, according to popular culture, you get a different number every time you try to count the stones. It may depend on what you’re smoking at the time.

"Stonehenge back wide" by Frédéric Vincent - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Stonehenge_back_wide.jpg#/media/File:Stonehenge_back_wide.jpg

2 You always forget something, no matter how carefully you pack.

On one trip, we’d omitted to pack bookends, much to the distress of my eldest son, then 7 years old, who found he had nothing to hold up the extensive collection of Usborne books he had brought. 

This time it was toothpaste, an oversight easily remedied by visiting the Spar shop in Boscastle, where we also chatted to the locals and their dogs. After that, we had some of the local falling-down juice. And left the toothpaste in the pub.

3 It’s always rainier and windier than you remember.

Wind turbines, photo by Martin Boose

The number of wind farms had doubled since my last visit, and the rainfall had gone through the roof. Quite literally, in the case of the Boscastle flood of 2004. On August 16, 440million gallons of water swept through the town, flooding nearly 60 properties and destroying several of them.

This is Boscastle now, which shows how well it has recovered.

Boscastle Harbour from the bridge

4 There are huge numbers of saints.

Like Saints Hydrock, Petroc, Enodoc, Buryan, and of course Austell and Ives. Some of them are exclusively Cornish, while others arrived via other parts of British Isles. There are even more here.

As you might expect, there are also many churches, most of them small, beautiful, and well worth a visit.

5 Don’t wear flip-flops on cliff walks. 

Slate is slippery when wet. On a windy coastal walk you might want to invoke one or two of those saints I mentioned.

photo by Jeremy Grundy

6 Cornwall is the most haunted part of Britain.

There are said to be haunted jails, streets, castles, even hotels

I didn’t see any ghosts in Jamaica Inn myself, or a single smuggler, just tourists enjoying a hearty Sunday roast. We did however stay in one of the haunted hotels. While I am personally highly sceptical, I can report an unearthly noise outside our door early in the morning, around about the time the staff delivered our newspaper. What are the odds, eh?

7 Take lots of coins, because any place by the sea requires money for parking.

And places away from the sea often come with a sign like this.

cheap camping sign

As thriving as tourism appears to be, further inland towns like Bodmin have hit the buffers. Industry has gone and the heart seems to have left these communities, at least judging from the dilapidated houses and bored teenagers hanging around. Sad sights, and I don’t know what the answer is.

8 All the same, some of the most beautiful places are inland.

bridge in Cornish village

No, I’m not giving away the location of this village. All I’m saying is that it’s not by the A303.