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Boston and Bicester

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On the Thursday of April 17th we left for Boston, Lincolnshire (after which Boston, MA was named and a few miles down the road is New York) with Max's parents in order to visit his grandfather during Easter weekend. I've been to Boston several times before to visit Max's grandparents and once in 2000 for his grandmother's funeral. I'm not thrilled with the Lincolnshire area - it's very flat and mostly crop fields and the occasional RAF airbase for as far as the eye can see. There are many villages and a few beautiful cathedrals and churches, oh and of course the cheap and tacky seaside towns that are the epitome of the British beachfront. Lincolnshire also has the most dangerous roads in Britain as most of the people seem to drive like lunatics (the death count is 26 people so far this year). The church in Boston is called "The Stump" and it is supposedly the tallest parish church tower in England.

lincolnshire countryside the stump

Like usual Jackie cooked most nights. One evening as a starter she cooked a real Yorkshire pudding (Max's grandfather is from Yorkshire, so he knows best. ;) Useless fact: usually Yorkshire puddings in south England are cooked in small tins. Real Yorkshire puddings are cooked in a large pan and the bottom is left slightly soft - this is what the women used to fill their husbands up with before the main course so they would eat less meat. (Delia gets it right.)

We took some day trips to Skegness, Hunstanton (aforementioned cheap and tacky seaside towns), Lincoln (while in the Lincoln cathedral we happened to run into Philip's jolly cousin, Barry), and Sandringham (where one of the queen's many residences is located.. how many castles does one woman need anyway?)

Barry and Grandad

The Lincoln cathedral (even cathedrals have their own sites these days) was one of the largest I had ever been inside, rivaled only by the cathedral in Antwerpen, Belgium (which is filled with paintings by Rubens). The Lincoln cathedral was built in 1092 and was damaged by fire in 1141 and an earthquake in 1185. The central tower collapsed in 1237, and after it was rebuilt its spire blew down in 1549. The cathedral is still under constant maintenance and recently some of the roof crumbled, which is why much of the ceiling is covered in plastic sheeting, casting a blue light on the interior. As it was the day before Easter the choir were practicing and filled the space with beautiful echoing voices.

lincoln cathedral lincoln cathedral

holocaust memorial lincoln cathedral

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the bishop's eye lincoln cathedral

war memorial war memorial flags

new zealand stained glass seeking the nw passage

Grandad was his usual self, very talkative and active - especially for a 91-year-old. Amazingly he didn't start right into the World War II stories immediately (he and his 7 brothers all fought in WWII on the front lines and all of them lived, which was practically unheard of), but saved them for our last day there while sitting in a 16th century pub in Frampton. I've heard many of his stories before, but they're always entertaining even if the small details seem to fluctuate with each telling.

We drove back to London on Monday and took Max's parents to lunch at the pizzeria we went to a few weeks ago and after lunch they drove on to Southampton.

Saturday the 26th we went to Bicester to visit our friends Jocke and Caz. Biscester is a 30 minute drive north of Oxford. Normally we would only have to catch 2 trains to get to Biscester, but typically the lines we needed were closed for maintenance so we had to catch 3 trains and a bus close to Oxford where Jocke and Caz picked us up. Jocke is our Finnish friend who moved to the UK a few years ago and Caz is his girlfriend who's currently enrolled in university in Birmingham, but she spends most of her free time in Bicester. Jocke has a housemate, "Nobby", who I've met once before. Nobby is about 5'5, and used to be in the British army (I'm not allowed to say what part of the army). He fought in the first Gulf War and witnessed the "Highway of Death" in person and has many other grim stories. Despite his required secrecy about his past he is very easy going and friendly, although I think most people get the feeling he's not a person to seriously piss off. :)

never.again.We played a lot of Xbox and drank a ton, which is typical of time spent with Jocke (the Finns love their drink ;), Jocke and Caz cooked us dinner, and then we went out to the pub for a few hours. The next morning we were (or at least I was) nursing a nasty hangover so the only thing for it was to go to Tracy's, the greasiest spoon in Bicester. Even all the greasy American diners I've been to came nowhere near being as greasy as this place - the grease permeated the air. Hiding in an obscure alleyway it was very much a local greasy spoon for local people. We all shoved our misgivings to the back of our minds and ordered "John's Mega" which was the biggest full English breakfast I've seen. When we made our order the woman behind the counter picked up the phone to call John, who was next door at the betting office. He cooked our breakfasts as fast as possible in order to get back to the betting office to see how his ticket fared. I could only manage to eat my bacon and eggs, the sausage was suspect, and I took one bite of the deep fried bread. I washed it all down with a hot cup of tea and waited for the grease to congeal in my stomach like lead. I vowed to never eat again. If you're ever in Bicester it's an experience not to be missed.

Jocke and Caz drove us to Oxford to catch the train. It was the first time I had ever seen Oxford and even though it was just a drive through the centre I'd like to go back someday to explore it further. We had to catch 4 different trains home.

I don't tend to take photographs of people, especially strangers, because I hate invading other people's privacy and making them uncomfortable, but I couldn't resist with this couple after I watched them blissfully kissing goodbye for over 10 minutes before the train departed.

oxford, briefly aww
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On April 30th, 2003 08:07 am (UTC), radegunda commented:
thanks for this - my husband is from sleaford in lincolnshire...it's certainly a very impressive cathedral, awesome in the original sense of the word...

& i love that goodbye kiss!
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On May 1st, 2003 04:14 am (UTC), nomi replied:
I don't think I've been to Sleaford, although we might have driven through it at one point because it sounds familiar.

They were charging £4 to go into the cathedral and at first we weren't going to go in, but I'm glad we did once I saw the crumbling ceiling.
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On April 30th, 2003 08:17 am (UTC), localcharacter commented:
Oxford is a beautiful town; I visited there 4 or 5 times while my brother was at school. Ask around to find some friend or family who goes there, so you can get inside the colleges without doing the tourist thing. The high street is OK; a pilgrimage to Blackwell's is essential; the museums are at their best in the dark and dusty corners—but it's the college yards, back alleys, river parks, and right-of-ways that make Oxford what it is. Perhaps it won't seem fundamentally different from any other college town, or any other small English city, but it's the model for all the rest.
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On May 1st, 2003 04:31 am (UTC), nomi replied:
Around what years did you visit? When I first came to the UK I avoided Oxford like the plague because it was only a few months after I had broken up with my boyfriend in Vancouver and he had just taken a job in Oxford. I think the coast is clear now. :)

Thanks for the tips, I'm mostly interested in the dark and dusty corners and back alleys anyway. From what I saw of the architecture it looked fairly unique as far as small English towns go. The only similar looking towns in South England that I have been to are Bath and Salisbury.
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On May 1st, 2003 07:29 am (UTC), localcharacter replied:
Let's see, I guess it would've been '93-'97 or so. The architecture is different because all those rich important colleges hire big names (back then it was Christopher Wren, now it's Richard Rogers). But what's fun to see is that all these classic examples of important architecture are used every day by college kids—they may be at Oxford, but they still get drunk and climb roofs like college students everywhere. In a way it's a college town despite the beautiful buildings.

I haven't seen that much of England, but Chester is definitely another town not to miss.
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On May 2nd, 2003 10:22 am (UTC), nomi replied:
There tends to be a lot of grumbling about "reckless and obnoxious" students in pubs, and in general, wherever you go in England, especially in pubs near us since we're so close to Kingston University. I noticed when we drove through Oxford that all the walls around the student dormitory buildings were topped with razor wire, so it doesn't seem to differ much. You hear a lot of stories about students doing crazy stuff, but the worst seem to be the more upper-class schools - similar to the frats and sororities in America.

I haven't been to Chester, or really anywhere in mid to Northwest England. Max wants to take me further North to Kingston-upon-Hull where he grew up, but that's on the East side. I don't have a huge desire to see Liverpool or Manchester, but I just looked up Chester and it looks like a nice place to visit so maybe we'll make it up there sometime (we're planning on getting a car again soon so that'll make it much easier!)
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On April 30th, 2003 10:04 am (UTC), pry commented:
I love train stations for a number of reasons. They are such amazing places. I take a heap of photos whenever I'm at a good one. I have a bunch from Paris I should post sometime.
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On May 1st, 2003 04:20 am (UTC), nomi replied:
I love train stations and airports, for both their architecture and people watching.

Yes, you should post them.. by the way what happened to your Paris post?
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On April 30th, 2003 10:36 am (UTC), sorrento commented:
Wow, that very last one is great. In my morbid filmmaker manner, i thought if this was a screenplay i'd add "and then she punches him in the stomach."
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On May 1st, 2003 04:18 am (UTC), nomi replied:
hehe no punching, just kissing and hugging for over 10 minutes. You'd think he was about to travel abroad or something by the way they clung to each other, but he got out of the train only two stops down the line. ;)

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On April 30th, 2003 03:47 pm (UTC), steveeeee commented:
i drove through biscester today!
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On May 1st, 2003 04:16 am (UTC), nomi replied:
I'm not surprised that you didn't stop. :)

(although how could you miss out on probably the greasiest spoon in the UK?)
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On May 1st, 2003 04:27 am (UTC), steveeeee replied:
i was in a hurry to get to milton keynes, and i only read your post when i got home...but i wasn't really in the mood for greasy food at the time.
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On May 1st, 2003 04:34 am (UTC), nomi replied:
I figured, I was being facetious. I wouldn't recommend Tracy's to anyone
unless they were in the mood for a heart attack. :)
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On May 1st, 2003 05:54 am (UTC), andyroyal commented:
Just looking through random Londoners' jounrals and I stumbled across yours. It's a wee bit of a conincidence that you'd just made an entry about Boston, where I was born and grew up! Did you go up Boston Stump? You get a pretty amazing view from up there and on a clear day you can allegedly see Lincoln cathedral. As for Skegness it is amazingly tacky, though you get used to it when you can't afford to go anywhere nicer, and the beach at Hunstanton was covered in jellyfish last time I was there.
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On May 2nd, 2003 10:31 am (UTC), nomi replied:
That is quite the coincidence! :) We never went up the Boston Stump, I didn't know you could.. I'll have to suggest it next time we visit.

Skegness was tacky, but it's a kind of fun tacky. I ordered some curry and chips there which turned to be a huge mistake, but I liked wandering through the maze of arcades. While in Hunstanton I did the touristy thing and bought some Hunstanton Rock. Were they stinging jellyfish? The beach there is incredibly flat, I'd hate to be caught on it when the tide rolls in.
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On May 5th, 2003 05:52 pm (UTC), andyroyal replied:
Boston Stump's a bit of a climb, 365 steps I think and it's up quite a tight staircase so its not for the claustrophobic. Worth it for the view though.

The arcades and all the other tacky amusements are probably the best things about Skegness, I seem to remember that the arcade on the old pier is quite good.

I don't know about the jellyfish really. They were all washed up on the beach so you could only see the tops, the tentacles were hidden underneath. My sister stood on one ("I thought it was a squishy rock!") and was fine.
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On May 8th, 2003 05:04 pm (UTC), khalinche commented:
This is mad. First of all, you show up on the list of people who have the most common interests with me. Then you have the same name as an old friend, so I click to see if it's her. Well, it's not, it's you, but as it turns out you're cool anyway and you've just been to Bicester, which is where my boyfriend comes from and somewhere I visit at least once a year (when I can't avoid it, her her). I wonder if it is the same Caz we know? The Caz I know is half Jamaican, loves football and sometimes hangs out with an old hippy called Ken (my boyfriend's dad)

Bicester, for me, is nice for its proximity to Oxford (and thus the Pitt-Rivers anthropology museum) and because Ken lives there. Otherwise it's really a total dump. It's a good place to stay for a couple of days at the very most. We stayed there for almost a week in November and I went insane with boredom.
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On May 9th, 2003 06:15 am (UTC), nomi replied:
Those are some pretty crazy coincidences. If you visit Bicester are you familiar with the horror that is Tracy's? :) I don't believe it's the same Caz, however. This Caz lives in Birmingham and takes mechanical engineering at the university, she only visits Bicester on weekends to see her bf & she's not half Jamaican as far as I know.

Pitt-Rivers antropology museum? I would like to visit that someday. We're hoping to spend a weekend in Oxford soon, or maybe in Bicester with our friends and take a day trip to Oxford.
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On June 23rd, 2003 11:29 am (UTC), gulch commented:
Next time you're in the Lincoln area, give us a call if you have time - Sheffield is only about 30 miles away, although I'm not at all familiar with the country to the East of here (everyone in Sheffield seems to be familiar with the Skeggy holiday experience).

I wouldn't write off Manchester and Liverpool though - both well worth visiting. Gill and I had a very cultured night in Manchester, and my sister lives in Liverpool, which has just been chosen as European City of Culture 2008. Both have excellent art galleries as well!
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On June 25th, 2003 04:02 am (UTC), nomi replied:
Sure, we'd love to meet you all! When we were in Boston I remember thinking we weren't too far from Sheffield. Ah, Skeggy. According to Max that's the real British beachfront experience, not "posh" old Brighton. :)

I admit I'm pretty ignorant when it comes to Manchester and Liverpool. I know next to nothing about them except that Max lived in Liverpool and didn't enjoy it very much at the time, but I don't think he had the opportunity to really experience the city. Sometime we're going to a tour of mid to north England, starting at Hull and Grimsby where Max grew up and possibly some camping in the Lake District.

European City of Culture 2008 and excellent art galleries? Well I'll definitely have to give them a chance. :)
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On June 25th, 2003 04:51 am (UTC), gulch replied:
I thought the art galleries bit would get your attention :)

Tate Liverpool here and Manchester Art Gallery here. My grandma used to live near Manchester when I was a little kid, so I spent some early years around there, but hadn't been back in two decades until recently, was amazed how much has changed. An IRA bomb destroyed the city centre a few years back, which has led to lots of new development, some really nice stuff. Liverpool is pretty rough in places, but it's definitely coming up in the world, and my sister who's lived there for ten years now has long sung its praises.

Lake district should be beautiful - we may be going there in a fortnight. We went on a camping holiday next to Consiton (Coniston Hall Campsite) a few years back, had a wonderful time, our friends brought a wigwam and two Canadian canoes with them. We were just the other side of some trees from the lake.

Beware of rainfall though - one morning one of the kids got up early then came back into the wigwam and said "dad, the lake's in the woods". "Ollie's daydreaming again" we all thought, but no, the lake was indeed in the woods. The entire campsite was flooded - there were tents floating in the middle of puddles 20-feet across. The tiny stream-let in the middle of the campsite had turned into a 10-foot wide river which engulfed the small bridge where the track crossed it - we watched as car after car trying to escape the campsite plunged off the side of that little bridge. The farmer's landrover was kept busy all day towing them back onto the track.

We were about the only ones with the perseverance to stay on at the campsite, and were very glad we did (although we had a terrible day - our car wouldn't start - the others went off the cinema while Gill, Rowan and I snuggled in a sleeping bag in the tent, reading stories and listening to the rain all day).

Don't stay on after the tourist season though - this book, one of my all-time favourites, tells you why not. A sinister story of the dark and chilling side to the Lake District.
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On July 11th, 2003 06:20 am (UTC), nomi replied:
I'm not sure I should be putting more galleries on my list when my ones to see just in London is already so huge. ;)

It sounds like you've had some good times in the Lake District, despite the rain (although I don't mind rain, snuggling down in sleeping bags is the best). I have heard of camp sites flooding there before. When we were in the Vendèe region of Northern France during January all the campsites were completely flooded. A valley near Luçon was transformed into a vast lake. Apparently flooding in that region is a relatively new occurrence within the last few years and none of the houses' roofs can withstand it. Definitely a sign of the climate change happening all over the world lately.
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On July 11th, 2003 02:40 pm (UTC), gulch replied:
We went to Brittany the next year, to escape the rain. Imagine our glee when, the day after arriving at the campsite, we got caught in a downpour, our gazebo tent blew away, and we had to dig trenches to stop out other tents from flooding.
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