Saturday, July 22, 2006

Our Time in Cornwall

Cornish FlagAfter a couple of days with Mark's sister, we drove the 266 miles to Cornwall. Cornwall is in the south-west of England. The Cornish flag is a white cross on a black background. The local language (which I have never actually heard anyone speak, but appears on town-name signs) is Cornish.

The Cottage

Click here to watch the videoMark in the kitchen and Emily in the sitting roomWe stayed in a tiny little two bedroomed cottage -- barely larger than a static caravan. It was a lovely little cottage, but very dusty. Antihistamines and inhalers were needed to get us through the first couple of days. However, a bit of vacuuming and a couple of days of airing it out made it a lot better.

Cornish Pasties

LaurenMark and Emily enjoy Cornish pasties

Mark and Emily eating Cornish pasties in HayleWhat is a trip to Cornwall without Cornish pasties? OK, one can buy them pretty much anywhere in the UK, but nevertheless, when in Cornwall one must have Cornish pasties. It's actually an unwritten rule.

Hayle Estuary

Mark overlooking Hayle estuaryMark, Emily and Lauren at Hayle estuaryHayle is a small town on the mouth of the Hayle River. When the tide is in, the beach is fairly extensive. When the tide is out, the entire mouth of the river becomes one big beach.

St. Erth

The street where we stayedSt. Erth churchWe stayed in a tiny cottage in St. Erth. I love looking around old churches and St. Erth happens to boast a nice church that was built in the year 1211.

St. Michael's Mount

Mark, Emily and Lauren at Marazion with Saint Michael's Mount in the backgroundView of Saint Michael's Mount harbour from the chapel

Click here to watch the videoSt. Michael's Mount is an island at high tide, but is accessible by foot at low tide. At it's top there is a medieval castle. St. Michael's Mount has a sister island in Normandy called Le Mont St. Michel. When the tide is high, one accesses the mount by boat, from the mainland town of Marazion. I have visited St. Michael's Mount three times now (caught up with Le Mont St. Michel, which I have also visited three times so far) and have never yet walked across the causeway -- perhaps next time.

St. Ives

Emily and Mark at St. Ives harbourA street in St. IvesSt. Ives is a very bustling and touristy little fishing town -- good for pubs, shopping, cream teas and crabbing (off the harbour wall). After some lunch and shopping, we decided to take a boat ride to see the seals that tend to inhabit the rocky outcrops that lie just off the coast. We had the bonus of having a few wild bottle nosed dolphins swim alongside the boat for a while.

Lauren on the boatMark on the boat

Dolphins off the coast in CornwallSeals off the coast in Cornwall

Cream Teas

Although one can actually have a cream tea anywhere in the country, there is something quintessentially Cornish about the cream tea. Scone, jam and clotted cream come together to create a fat, sugary, artery-clogging version of heaven.

Coastal Walks

The church at ZennorCornwall is great for scenic coastal treks. Some don backpacks and walk from youth hostel to B&B. We did a circular walk that brought us back to the tiny village of Zennor, where we had parked.

The inside of the church at ZennorZennor itself boasts a lovely old church with a Norman tower, that dates back to 1150 AD, although previous churches on the same site are known to have existed from as early as the sixth century. There is also a lovely old pub (13th century) that serves good, old fashioned, hand pulled, real ale (all the more lovely after having been in America) and is famous for having D.H. Lawrence live there. The village is also home to a number of dairy farms and Cornwall's oldest privately owned museum.

The coastal walk to Pendour CoveWe went on a very beautiful coastal walk along the cliff tops. There were some beautiful coves en route In the pub at Zennorand if the tide were out we would have spent some time on their beaches. As it was, we just enjoyed the view. Back at Zennor, we rewarded ourselves with a well deserved pint or so of real ale at the Tinner's Arms.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

On the Road

After landing at Manchester airport and picking up our hired Peugeot 407 estate (wagon), we had to tackle the task of re-familiarising ourselves with British roads. For the most part, we get used to it quite quickly. It's pretty much second nature, but there are mistakes and moments of madness and terror that leave fingernail marks in the dashboard.

When we first started driving in the US, we would find ourselves naturally veering to the right if we did not concentrate on staying in the centre of our lane. This time, as we're back to driving on the left, we find ourselves veering left. Although we've had a few near misses, thankfully neither of us have hit the curb yet.

A single lane Cornish road
A Single Lane Cornish Road
We have also had to remember to change gear -- both our cars in the US are automatics. Thankfully, the driving instruction in the UK is so strict that before one can be in a position to pass their test changing gear must be as natural to them as breathing. In fact, I feel that being able to change gear makes me feel so much more in control. In an automatic, one is at the mercy of the car. One cannot overtake or pull out quickly. A car has to have a big engine to be able to manage to accelerate quickly. In a manual car, one can knock it down a gear to speed up the acceleration. I happened to be the one driving when we hit the infamous bottleneck at the M5-M6 bend (almost any British reader will know what I mean) and it felt good to have a clutch again. Now and again, however, we would stop at a junction, then wonder why the car won't go; before realising that it's still in fifth gear.

Chapel Hill, St. Erth, Cornwall
Chapel Hill,
St. Erth, Cornwall
The most difficult thing to get used to is the narrowness of the carriageways and parking spaces; and the speed with which people drive down them. Before I took my driving test, I did a lot of driving in Cornwall and thought nothing of nipping down these little Cornish roads at 50-60mph. The other day, I was crawling along at about 20mph (and this wasn't even on one of those single lane roads with passing places, but a national speed limit single carriageway road). I'm driving like a learner driver.

I don't like driving at the best of times and it would be quite easy for me to sit back and leave all the driving to Mark. As an effort of will, I make myself sit behind the wheel now and then because, in years to come, I don't want to be so unfamiliar with driving on British roads that I can no longer do it at all. I'll have got used to driving in Britain again just in time to return to NC, where I will have to re-learn driving on the right; on big, wide roads with no lane discipline.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

The Temporary Re-Anglicisation of Emily

Home is where the heart is
Something a wise man might once have said

Wherever I lay my hat, that's my home
Something Marvin Gaye once said

The past week has been a hectic one, getting packed up for our trip to England. This is our second trip home, the first having been for Christmas/New Year last year. We were unable to book an affordable direct flight, so ended up having to bounce via Philidelphia to Manchester.

We left home at just after midday (ET) to get to the airport in time, but the plane from Raleigh to Philidelphia was about an hour late, then the plane from Philidelphia to Manchester was four hours late. They boarded us about an hour late; sat us on the plane for an hour; un-boarded us and provided complimentary meals at the airport restaurants; then loaded us onto a different plane (the original one had fuel valve problems that they could not fix); then we sat around on the runway for another half hour or so waiting for the weather to clear. Eventually, we took off at midnight -- twelve hours so far and we were only just leaving Philidelphia.

We reached Manchester at midday (BST) on the following day, where we had a lovely couple of days being wined and dined by Mark's sister and her family. We then drove down to Cornwall, where I am now sitting in a cozy little cottage, in an idyllic little village that is fairly close to the sea. We had lunch at a motorway service station and dinner at Ye Olde English Pub.

Our plan is to have a week's holiday (vacation) in Cornwall -- just the family, followed by two weeks of visiting family and friends, then another week's holiday in Shropshire with my sister and her family before flying home.

"Hang on a minute," I hear you ask, "is England home, or is America home?" The answer is that my heart is fairly and squarely in England, but my bed is in North Carolina. I love being home, but I'm sure that by the end of this month I'll be ready for my own bed.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

The Final

Well, here we are at the end of another World Cup and what a final to watch! First France take the lead with a penalty by Zidane. Then, Materazzi equalised in about the twentieth minute or thereabouts. The score then stayed 1-1 for the rest of the ninety minutes and throughout extra time.

The most amazing thing was that towards the end of extra time Materazzi and Zidane had some sort of verbal exchange which resulted in Zidane head-butting Materazzi in the chest and getting a red card, so missing the last ten minutes of extra time as well as the penalty shoot out. Zidane went straight to the dressing room without passing go or collecting 200 Euros, so didn't even see the end of the match. I don't know what Materazzi did or said, but it must have been pretty bad for Zidane to react like that.

Italy won on penalties (Trezeguet's shot hit the crossbar and missed), so the trophy goes to Italy. Zidane did not come out to get his second place medal along with the rest of the French squad. It's a sad way for him to end his time on the French team.

Here are my other World Cup blog posts:
My Wallchart
The Patriot Game
It's Coming Home...
World Cup Coverage in the USA
Hurry Up England, Come On
England Through to Quarter Final
The Quarter Finals
The Road to Berlin

The World Cup backgroundIt is now, with some sadness, that I remove the special World Cup background from the blog and return to the usual Union Jack alone. For posterity, here's the image used for the World Cup 2006 background.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Independence Day

A couple of days ago, it was the Fourth of July -- American Independence Day. I wasn't able to blog on it at the time as our internet connection went down and we only got it back this morning.

So, I hear you ask, what did you, an English family in North Carolina, do on Independence Day?

A firework above one of the houses in our neighbourhoodThe answer is that it took us a while to get with the programme. At Thanksgiving, we were invited to partake by an American family, but for this public holiday we were left to our own devices. We could see that all the shops started selling fireworks and firework vendors began to crop up on various street corners. Apart from this, not much else seemed to be happening and we were too pre-occupied with the World Cup (what with the first of the semi-finals being on the fourth of July) to look into attending an organised event. I was only really made aware of the occasion because some businesses seemed to be closed for the day.

We spent the morning pottering at home, then the afternoon watching the Germany-Italy match. After the match, we went to the pool which was open despite it being a public holiday. There was not much special there either, except that someone said that there were various families planning to set off fireworks that evening.

That evening, after dinner, we decided to go for a walk around the neighbourhood to see if we can spot any fireworks.

Click here to watch the videoIn the UK, there are two main celebrations that are associated with fireworks, both of which occur in the winter. One is New Year and the other is Guy Fawkes. People tend to celebrate Guy Fawkes in one of two ways. The first way is to attend a public event -- an organised fireworks display that one would pay an entrance fee to attend. Such an event usually takes place in a field with a few hot dog/burger stands dotted around the edges. Children hold sparklers and such an event should be a lovely festival-like atmosphere. However, I always found that standing around in a muddy field, in the rain, feeling cold always took the edge off it for me. As a result, we always favoured the second method of enjoying Guy Fawkes, which is to get some beer in, invite a few friends over, fire up the barbecue and set off some fireworks in the back garden.

We expected that firework parties here would be similar private affairs, which to some extent they were. However, there was also a real community feel about it, similar to the feeling I got walking around the neighbourhood at Halloween. Many families were setting off fireworks on their front drive. This is probably because many of the back gardens on this estate are wooded and/or have no back lawns or patios. As we walked past, people would greet us with a "Happy July Fourth", which is how most people around here seem to refer to the festival.

Fireworks in the middle of the streetThere were also what seemed to be impromptu gatherings in the middle of the street, such that approaching cars would have to turn around and head back the way they had come. People would just bring our some folding chairs, some beer and some fireworks. Then they'd just take it in turns setting off their fireworks. There was one particular crossroads with a particularly large gathering. The entire occasion had turned into a street party.

My only concern was the lackadaisical attitude to safety. People thought nothing of going and lighting fireworks that were right next to already lit fireworks. I also saw many young children lighting fireworks with little adult supervision.

All in all, it was a lovely warm summers evening with the air filled with that smoky smell of fireworks that we all love.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

The Road to Berlin

So, here we are at the semi-finals. By the end of tomorrow two teams will have made it to the final in Berlin. The remaining two will be heading to Stuttgart, where they will be playing for third place (although I'm not sure why they bother with third place as nobody really cares).


Although end to end, it was still 0-0 after ninety minutes. The match went into extra time (called "Over Time", or "OT" for short, on ESPN) and I was certain that it would go to penalties. Germany are good at penalties and would have probably quite fancied their chances in a penalty shoot out (called "Penalty Kicks" or "PKs" for short, on ESPN), especially as Italy tend to perform poorly in penalty shoot outs.

Germany's hopes were dashed (even more so as they were playing at home) when Italy came in dramatically in the last two minutes of extra time with TWO goals. A fantastic finish. I had thought that the final would be Germany-France, but have been proved wrong. I was neutral in this match and if Italy can squeeze a couple in after two hours, then well done to them.

As far as tomorrow's match is concerned, I'll be rooting for France.


France are through to the final with a penalty from Zidane after Ricardo Carvalho tripped Thierry Henry up in the penalty area. The score remained 1-0 throughout the rest of the match. So, the final in Berlin is Italy-France.

The Third Place Playoff

Germany beat Portugal 3-1, with Portugal managing to get one in towards the end of the ninety minutes.

Here's my wallchart.

How to cope without British TV and Radio: Wimbledon Supplement

Here's another post by Mark:

In a series of posts, I have discussed strategies for UK aliens who are missing British TV and radio, How to cope without British TV and Radio; Part 2; Part 3; football supplement; cricket supplement; cricket supplement update (see also the related post World Cup Coverage in the USA). The excitement of the World Cup, and England's recent exit (the ultimate antidote, England fans, if you haven't already listened to it, is found in Baddiel and Skinner, Podcast 11: The Britishers are Coming Home), have delayed the necessary supplement on Wimbledon coverage (but see, of course, Viola's post on Wimbledon).

If the TV coverage is anything to go by, Americans appear to like tennis more than football, but only a little more. I am quite surprised about this since I had expected the USA's success in tennis, and its many famous stars, to generate some real enthusiasm for the sport. Now it may be that my perception here is a little warped because we are talking Wimbledon. Perhaps the US Open will get much more coverage and publicity when that comes around. In the UK, we get obsessed with tennis for a fortnight every year, the Wimbledon fortnight, and the rest of the year we don't care. Maybe it's the same here when it comes to the US Open. Anyway, in the mean time, one can watch Wimbledon on telly without too much trouble. Here in North Carolina, one of the networked channels, NBC, shows Wimbledon live every morning until 1 pm (6 pm in England), and then coverage continues on ESPN2, which is one of the sports channels available on cable. The commentary, analysis and interviews are pretty good and there is a full American presence at Wimbledon, not the skeleton presence ABC Sports and ESPN have in Germany for the World Cup. The only annoyance is that the NBC coverage, which is supposed to be available in widescreen High Definition, is not, at least here.

Inevitably, we want to supplement the American coverage with some British perspectives from the good old Beeb, and with Wimbledon it turns out that this is particularly straightforward. All of the FiveLive Wimbledon coverage is available to international users on-line, though if you try to listen to the commentary while watching NBC or ESPN, the radio commentary is about 5 seconds behind the pictures (the opposite of the cricket problem, where the Willow TV pictures are behind the TMS coverage). This came in handy when the American TV coverage were not showing Andy Murray. FiveLive also has a Live Webcast, which is fun but I have not yet found a way to get the picture in broadband quality. On the other hand, the BBC Sports Player (follow that link to get the Broadband version) has an excellent news, clips and highlights service -- strongly recommended.

[Post repaired 30 June 2008]