Posts Tagged ‘vacation’

Revisiting North London

Archway and Crouch End are a stone’s throw from Highgate so I decided on Tuesday that a) it was time to pay back the kindly residents of Highgate the money I owed them b) that I’d like to be back in that part of London again as it was so lovely.


These areas have been described as Highgate and Hampstead’s ‘poor relation’ but I shunned this as posh nonsense. People looking down their noses at the lowly, slightly rougher areas on the other side of Archway Road. But there were ancient woods and spooky pools and interesting history to get my teeth into. So I set off, snacks in bag, swimsuit and towel under arm, to revisit North London. I couldn’t wait.


It started well. I left Archway tube station and headed straight up Archway Road to Archway Bridge, otherwise known as Suicide Bridge. It has been known as various things over the years, including the Bridge of Sighs (presumably for the same reason).


As I headed under the bridge and up the high street, lots of things were closed or a bit falling-down-y. One church looked a bit out of place, like the Pope had decreed that it must be built to look a bit like a cool casino, to try and attract more people, by convincing them it wasn’t really a church. I expect just inside the door, there were huge plastic palm trees. I didn’t look though.


I kept going and reached an amazing looking book store called Ripping Yarns, that I didn’t trust myself to go in. There was also a hairdressers called E. Scissorhands, which I thought was quite cool. It was around this time that I received a text message from BBC News. It said that the UK had won a gold in the men’s triathlon…. NO! NO THEY DIDN’T! NO! BECAUSE SOMEONE TOLD ME IT’S TOMORROW! I had planned to go tomorrow to watch it. If I had known I definitely DEFINITELY would have gone. Instead I was in stinky Archway, looking at closed down shops and odd churches. Damn! Damn it. I hate Archway. I hate the Lympits (as my cousin’s son, Theo, calls it). I can’t believe the Lympits let me down by being on the wrong day.

Ok, calm down, Laura. Stop freaking out. It’s not the Lympits fault. It’s yours, for not double checking what someone told you. Archway is lovely. Stop acting like a child. And stop stamping your feet and shaking your fists in the air. You’re in public. Calm down….

After I had regained my composure, I searched online and found out that the next free event is on Saturday, it’s the walking race. Most of the route is unticketed. I will go to that. Pheeewwwww! And that way I can get a photo at least, unlike the cycling, where I just got blurry colour streaks and crowds.

Shortly after my hissy fit, I turned off Archway Road into Highgate Wood and was plunged from slightly run-down high street into deep woods, full of animal sounds and tree varieties. Believe it or not, this wood has been here for hundreds of years. It was mentioned in the Domesday Book in 1087, as ‘Hornsey Woods’. (The Domesday Book, for those who are sure what I’m talking about, was commissioned by William the Conqueror after he had invaded England to find out who owned what land etc.)

Another amazing bit of Highgate Wood trivia is that a Roman kiln was found here recently! This is the section they have in the small cosy visitor’s centre. It was a kiln which had been in use between 140 and 160 AD which was, according to the blurb, the ‘fourth and last phase of the Highgate pottery sequence’… Don’t ask me what the first three phases of the Highgate pottery sequence are though.


Next to the visitor’s centre is a playing field where Rod Stewart used to play football as a young man. The current football team who play there are not doing so well though. In ‘Tree Top News’, the Highgate Woods newsletter, this season is described as one where ‘the wheels have come off the cart’….!


The woods have been carefully managed and have varieties of birds and bugs that are extremely rare in other parts of London, such as stag beetles (also bred with success on Putney Heath, a destination of another of my walks).

After trying two or three times to leave the park, I finally found a gate and crossed Muswell Hill Road and over into Queen’s Wood, which made Highgate Wood look like an open field. The trees were so tense. Apart from the pathways, I couldn’t see very far into the woods at all. I quickly descended from the busy, loud road, down to the dark spookiness of a deserted paddling pool, which has been fenced around for years apparently. What it is still doing there is a mystery.


Queen’s Wood is alive with tumbling raspberry bushes…


..and beautiful plants which I had never seen before and had no idea of the name of. The trees formed a solid canopy over me with small spots of sunlight breaking gently through. After wandering about marveling at this ancient woodland for a while, I headed out and onto my next point of interest, the Park Road Leisure Centre lido. In I went, paid my £4.50 and asked which direction went to the outdoor pool. The woman behind the desk didn’t seem that bothered whether I was there or not and mildly irritated that I should be asking her anything like the direction to the pool. When I got outside the pool looked huge! I got my camera out and took a few photos…


…when all of a sudden, from my right, a voice yelled “OI! STOP TAKING PHOTOS!” As though I were trying to break out of a maximum security prison unit. What? And who was this person without enough manners to come over and say “Could you stop taking photos please?” instead of yelling from the other side of the pool, as if we’re thuggish teenagers on the street or something. It really threw me, given that on my Highgate walk, everyone was nice as pie and super generous. I was only a few roads away from Highgate… what had happened?

And that’s when I understood what they meant when they described Crouch End as the ‘poor relation’. Ohhh…… That’s what they meant.


I put my phone away and went to the lockers, my lovely day of woodlands and history marred slightly by this unexpected rudeness. I changed and put 20p in the locker and got the key thing out. It was one of those which is attached to a bracelet which you can put around your wrist while you swim. As I tried to put it on, I realised it was broken. Dammit. I went back to the lockers, put the key in and waited for my 20p to come back out so I could put all my stuff in a different locker. But no, the 20p did NOT come back out. It didn’t show any signs of even pretending to come out.

This was going rapidly downhill. The Crouch End/Archway walk now had two black marks against it’s name, within the space of three minutes. It was annoying that it happened there, at the swimming pool. Usually that’s the best bit in my day. Especially on a day out and being in a different pool, it’s exciting. This swimming pool incident was not exciting.

Eventually I got in the (freezing) pool and started swimming. As it’s much bigger than the outdoor pool I usually swim in and there were no little markers between any lanes, I had no way to tell where I was or which direction I was moving in when I was doing backstroke. Hence I proceeded to swim all over the place like an idiot. You’d think I was allergic to straight lines or something.

In the following diagram, I am the one at the top, ready to set off from the side of the pool. The person below me is a man who can swim in a straight line and must have been very annoyed/amused having to share the pool with such a moron.

After my first right turn, I heard shouting and looked up (the blob on the picture) and the lifeguard woman was shouting at me, “Wrong way! You’re going the wrong way!”

“Thanks!” I shouted back, embarrassed and corrected myself. Just before I got to the edge of the pool, I checked again to see if I was going in the right direction. I was. So I leant back again and did a few more strokes to get to the edge of the pool. And a few more. And a few more again. Somehow, after checking my direction, I had turned widthways and was swimming across the pool instead of up and down it.

After this shambles of a length, I reverted to breast stroke for the remainder of my swim. At least I could see where I was going then. It was a really lovely pool actually. Shame about my first few minutes there being quite rubbish. As I left, I went to the woman at the desk and politely told her a made-up story about being a new resident in the area, I love swimming, I swim every day, I was looking for a new pool to go to every day, being yelled at by the lifeguards was not the nicest way to be welcomed, I had lost my 20p in the locker and while none of this was major or life-threatening and while I was not one to make complaints usually, I just thought I’d say that this had been a distinctly unpleasant first visit and I was quite disappointed. She said sorry and that she’d talk to the lifeguard but then again, she was the person who had been annoyed when I asked her how to get to the outdoor pool so I didn’t think she cared that much. “It’s ok, it’s not your fault,” I said, more graciously than I felt, and left to continue my walk.


I headed to Crouch End Broadway and found bakeries with lovely looking treats and more bookshops, which I didn’t go in. It was hard though. I stayed on this road past the clock tower and just kept going, passing a school called Coleridge Primary School! He was everywhere up here. I even saw an old old fountain with a quote from him on it. I passed Faraday House, as in Michael Faraday, the scientist. He used to stay in the area a lot too.

I soon found myself out on top of Archway Bridge and it looked much higher up than it had looked when I was down on the road, looking up at it. The view into London was amazing. Again, it doesn’t translate onto a photograph very well but here it is. You can see some of the tall buildings like the Gherkin and the Shard, that were in my photo taken from the viewpoint on Hampstead Heath.

After this, it was time to repay some of my debts. I crossed the bridge and continued down the road, coming out opposite Waterlow Park, which I had passed at the beginning of my last walk here. Turning right, I reached the bookshop in a minute or so. If anyone has forgotten, I bought some books in this bookshop which cost £23.95 but I only had £23.75. The woman wouldn’t let me pay by card, but said I could just bring her the 20p later. I didn’t get back to the shop before going home and haven’t been in North London again since. I felt pretty rubbish about promising to bring it back then not doing so. So I was back to keep my promise. As I entered the shop, the woman was sitting behind the desk.

“Hi, I was here about three weeks ago…” I started.

“O! And you’re back! How lovely!”

I was amazed. She remembered me. She knew exactly what I was talking about when I started to explain.

“Yes,” I said, “I’ve brought the 20p, sorry it’s taken so long!”

She was lovely about it, said hadn’t been thinking about it and thank you for coming by again.

After this, I headed down Highgate Hill and back to Archway station and home, to sit around thinking about how disappointed I was about missing the Lympits triathlon.

Signs of the times?

It’s that time in the week again, time for the guest blogger to take over….

“Forthwith this frame of mine was wrenched
With a woeful agony,
Which forced me to begin my tale;
And then it left me free.”
(Keep reading to find out where these lines are from if you don’t already know.)
I went on holiday recently; it turned out to be a real assignment. Congratulations to the weather which had been very wet for many weeks but which gave me a rain-free, hot, sun-filled week. I visited Norfolk, in a part of the UK called East Anglia, and stayed in a cottage in a small village called Ringstead: it’s a few miles inland from the seaside town of Hunstanton popular with traditional holiday makers. I soon became aware that there are many signs which are meant to give info but sometimes don’t actually say what they mean or don’t say it correctly. On day one (actually a Friday), I took a walk round the seafront there and, in the fairground which had closed because of earlier bad weather, I was surprised to find the following:

Can you see the mistake? Go on, look again if you missed it.
A short distance away was this one:


Apart from the obvious danger of getting into a barrel, can you see the (4) mistakes in this one? Not too hard, eh? Easy to see how kids pick up the bad habits when they do their own writing.
By the way, did you know there is an Apostrophe Protection Society in the UK? It’s actually been featured in a prog on TV some years ago. Here is a quote from their site:
“We are aware of the way the English language is evolving during use, and do not intend any direct criticism of those who have made mistakes, but are just reminding all writers of English text, whether on notices or in documents of any type, of the correct usage of the apostrophe should you wish to put right mistakes you may have inadvertently made.”
Although I am not a member I do think they’re making a very valid point and if they don’t highlight the issue who else will? Check out the “Examples” tab on their site ( and look at some of the howlers – including stuff written by teachers!
Back to the pics. Well, clearly I was on a roll. I’d been going for only 10 mins and had two signs bagged already. I could see another one on a fence in the distance so ran over to see what it said:


Doh! No mistakes and after me eagerly running all the way over.
Then further along the Promenade was this one:


Now I know some people might say you should beware of Cliff Richard but after asking the locals it seems no-one knew who this Cliff Falls guy was. Anyway we had a lovely walk along the beach under the overhanging red rocks and we waved back at all the people who were shouting and waving at us from over on the promenade. We couldn’t tell what they were saying but we thought – this seems to be a really friendly town.
A couple of days later I was in a Craft Centre and came across this one:


Pointing to the sign, I suggested to the Craft Centre lady that perhaps Harry could help. She was not amused. Oh well…
However, was wondering if LLM might want to apply. Why? Well, it seems she might be good at it. If you read her blogs regularly you will have come across the following examples (there are more):
31.7.12 – An Admission – “I pottered over, friendly mission face on….”
27.7.12 – I came, I saw, I passed – “After work, I pottered off home….”
20.7.12 – To Aslan’s Mountain with a wisdom stick – “As we pottered along, admiring the views….”
13.7.12 – Searching For Agatha – “…and potter about in the countryside for a while.”
I like that expression “to potter” or “potter about”. It gives a real sense of relaxed meandering; while others frantically push and shove or drive manically you are in no rush, plenty of time to look around and take in the landscape (or townscape). It speaks of a detached air, of being happy in oneself, unconcerned with the normal daily grind. Yes, pottering about is good. I must have a go at it.
Just across the road was this:

You know what happened? I went in and…… that’s right, there were no ancient mariners! Fancy having a pub just for ancient mariners. I reckon they’re probably a dying breed! (By the way the verse at the start of this post, if you hadn’t guessed, is from Coleridge’s The Rime Of The Ancient Mariner.)
On the Sunday, we went to a Flower Festival in a nearby village. At the entrance to the church we saw this sign:


Yep, you’ve guessed it…….. inside there were no guide dogs….. just loads of people!
There were a number of historical displays inside. This one was about the Norman Conquest. I approached with caution believing it might be one of those things which when people get close it suddenly jumps out at you (and shouts something scary) because there’s a real human being inside who was just keeping very still. There wasn’t……so it didn’t. (I suppose if a person had had an arrow stuck in his eye it would have been quite hard to stand still):

Now apparently the idea that King Harold II (Harold Godwinson) was killed (1066) by an arrow in the eye comes from the pictures on the famous Bayeux Tapestry. However, it also shows what some believe to be another figure also representing Harold being killed by a sword. So it might have been arrow, might have been sword or could have been both.
Another display sign was this one:


Can you spot the mistakes this time? (I count three. Did you get them all?)
Towards the refreshment area and other stalls was this one:


Just one this time. (Apologies to American readers who, I know, do spell it this way).

On Tuesday we went on the Wells to Walsingham Light Railway. The sign told me this amazing fact:


I was impressed – the longest 10¼” gauge in the world! Where did the idea for that width come from? You might think it must be one of those Victorian oddities from long ago but surprisingly this one was built only very recently (1982). You probably won’t be surprised to know that there is actually a Ten and a Quarter Inch Gauge Railway Society and there is a website if you’re really interested.
Thanks to the Wells & Walsingham Light Railway for permission to use the following two photos from their website (as mine didn’t really come out that well).
We travelled on the blue engine. It was called the Norfolk Hero (began in service in 1987 & named in honour of Admiral Lord (Horatio) Nelson. He was born in 1758 in Burnham Thorpe, just 5½ miles west of where the railway starts & 9½ miles east of the village where I stayed):


There is a second engine (new in 2011) called Norfolk Heroine. It is named in honour of Edith Cavell, a British nurse who worked in Belgium during WW1, born 1865 in Swardeston near Norwich in Norfolk. She was shot, in Oct 1915, by the occupying German forces, for helping prisoners escape.


Also nearby was the following warning sign:

You might have to enlarge it but it’s typical of the signs organisations like this have to put up because of the (blame and) claim culture which infects everything these days. It’s a steam train, it runs on coal, it puffs out smoke – what do people expect? However what I didn’t expect was to get hit by one of “the smuts” in a very painful place. Just 15 mins into the journey I suddenly found myself blinking like mad as a piece of smut (prob coal dust) blew into my eye causing me to rub like mad to try and get it to the corner where I thought it wouldn’t hurt as much. Apart from that it was a really enjoyable day out on the little train.
Here’s another ‘spot the mistake one’:


Easy that one? Hope the art was going to be better than the spelling. (I wouldn’t still be there to find out though.)
I like this one because it’s a good pun-like trade name:


Check out the barber’s name in line 4. Hair salons and barber often do call themselves distinctive names. An unusual one I remember from some years ago was called – “Curl up and Dye”.
I’ll finish with one from the main road in the village where I was staying:


It gave me a good laugh anyway. Again you’ll need to enlarge it to see the small text but noteworthy bits are: the price – one quacker, published by – Eggsactly Newspapers and the motto (top right) – “Out for a duck, not run down”. And there are two of them near to the pond. What wags these local rustics are, eh?
I’ve decided – I like signs, especially when sometimes they DON’T say what they mean, sometimes when they’re just fun to read and sometimes when your response is tongue-in-cheek. I didn’t intend to take pics like this but, after the initial spots on day 1, looking for more just became routine. You’re probably asking yourself what assignment was he on about at the beginning of this post? He’s not mentioned it at all. Can you see it now? What assignment? (Do you see what I did there? What a sign meant – haha).

Budgeting in Laos

A few years ago, some friends and I were travelling around South East Asia. We had just crossed the border from Thailand into Laos and were staying in the capital city called Vientiane, on the banks of the Mekong River.

When we first arrived there, I think we had come in by coach and it was quite late in the evening. We just wanted to drop our stuff somewhere and go and eat. We weren’t really big on the whole planning-ahead scene. We loved the carefree nature of just turning up and seeing what we could find. So we hardly ever pre-booked hotels or anything. Sometimes it ended us in some pretty sticky situations but, on the whole, we preferred it. It suited us because we didn’t always know when we would be moving on, or where to.

So this time, we got off the coach, wandered along the front and saw somewhere which looked quite nice (we usually made do with ‘a bit grotty’ but this time we went for ‘quite nice’ because we were too tired to keep looking).

We go in, ask for a room for three and are taken to a really nice, quite plush room with wooden furnishings and a generally lovely ambience. It was a bit pricey but we agreed that we would just stay one night and find somewhere cheaper the next day. We still had a few weeks of travelling left and not a lot of money to do it on.

So the next day, around midday, we packed up our bags again, shouldered our weights (mine was getting ridiculously heavy by this point as I kept collecting books faster than I could read them and pass them on), paid our bill and told the owners we were leaving. As we stepped outside of this lovely comforting enticing hotel, the heavens opened….

We trudged the streets, getting more and more soaked, looking in any hostels, B&Bs or hotels we could find. We walked for maybe an hour and found a hostel with a room for three people which already had five hundred fleas in it, another place with a cockroach in the bath and some other places more expensive than the one we just left. I think we saw a few which just looked quite old and about to fall down. The entire time, it rained.

Fed up and getting quite grumpy by this point, we stopped in a little cafe to dry off and get something to eat. The afternoon was arriving and we hadn’t had anything, having not suspected that finding a room would prove so difficult. We started arguing a little bit with each other. This person needed to stop being so fussy, they were only fleas. And that person needed to relax about the big crack down the wall, what’s the problem, it probably only lets a little draft in. What’s a cockroach in the bath? We won’t bathe then, no big deal. And who cares if the room smells like urine? You’re getting too fussy, we’re on a budget here!

After skirting around the obvious for a long while, we eventually all admitted it. We had nowhere else to go but back to the same hotel we left an hour ago. We’d come full circle in our search and as we left the cafe, we realised that we were just around the corner from the hotel.

Sheepishly, we shuffled around the corner and approached the hotel. We sneaked a look in the front and, sure enough, the same people were at the desk. Earlier, they had asked us why we were leaving and we had explained that we were students on a budget, we needed somewhere more affordable.

We hung around outside for a few minutes, deciding who should lead the walk of shame back to the reception desk. I think I was nominated in the end and we re-entered the hotel, quietly explaining that we would like ‘a room for three, please.’ Of course they recognised us. With huge smiles on their face, they took down a key and lead us back to the exactroom we had left an hour ago and told us to make ourselves at home….

When we left the hotel a few minutes later, desperate to put some distance between ourselves and our shame, the rain had stopped and the sun had come out. And it stayed pretty sunny for the rest of our stay in Vientiane at that hotel.

The thing with names

As a person who’s always thinking about words and how they sound, I quite naturally think about how names sound together.

Let’s say there’s a couple and they’ve got quite rhymey names, like John and Jean, or something. I’m not too keen but it’s kind of ok. It’s when they start having children that’s the problem. The first child they call James, so that’s ok, he’s also rhymey. John, Jean, James. So they’ve got a nice little cutesy family unit, all beginning with J. Then they have another child and call him Colin. No! No, you can’t do that! By the divine laws of naming, you’re not allowed! Because now Colin is total reject. It’s like you’ve said to him, ‘We’re all best friends and really close and a great little family with our J names and you, you’re the extra, you don’t fit in, Colin.’

I know a family who the father and mother are ‘G’ and ‘O’ and the child is ‘O’. So their names are GOO. And the dad is a bit out of things cause he’s the G. This family’s names upset me.

In my family, we’ve all got different first letters and different last letters. So that’s fine. If all the family have the same sound at the end, apart from one, it’s a bit mean, but not as bad. Like Hannah, Sarah, Gemma… and Bob.

Also if just two people in the family have the same letter, I feel it creates a closer relationship between them, to the exclusion of everyone else. So if there’s a Jane, Bill, Emma and Julie. Jane and Julie are a bit closer to each other than in their relationships with the others, because of their name closeness.

That’s mental isn’t it? Is this the ramblings of a demented woman with word-OCD? I realise that obviously, people’s relationships aren’t based on the matchiness (yes, that’s right, matchiness) of their names, but I can’t help noticing it and thinking about it!

Ok, I think today I’m coming across like a psychopath. Hmm. Will try to appear more normal again tomorrow.