Thu Apr 18 all over Portsmouth
It was time to do laundry. Note: that strange smear (between my face and my pants) is an artifact of camera flash on the mirror. It's not a strange vapor or anything. Really.
I took care of errands. There was the ceremonial changing of the pants. (Yes, I'd been wearing the same pair of pants for a week. It seemed easier than figuring out a French laundromat.) This was soon followed by laundry. I culled the worst photos stored on my camera. I bought a battery recharger compatible with UK outlets. (If you know me, are going to the UK, and want to borrow this, let me know:) The Southsea Backpackers Lodge no longer rented internet access to non-guests, but the nice lady there pointed me at something better: the Elm Grove Road shopping district. This area was full of shops and restaurants and internet cafes. I caught up on email, which was a wonderful cure for the homesickness I'd picked up in France. I surfed the web, delighted to be back in the world.
While I was culling photos in the laundromat, a stinky woman said to her skanky friend, "That's an interesting camera." Actually, I wasn't sure whether Stinky or Skanky was talking. But I knew that I wanted the stinky woman to go away, somewhere out of noseshot.
The French have a reputation for wearing too much scent. I didn't notice that--another stereotype shattered. While I was in England, I noticed a lot of women wearing far too much perfume. I think it's time for a new stereotype.
It was a good morning, if not wildly exciting. It was nice to wear clean pants. It was nice to have a conversation in English about something non-touristy (albeit, not wildly exciting: "Uhm, excuse me, how do you work this washing machine?"). It was nice to think that I could recharge my camera. It was nice to have a flavorful lunch at the Country Kitchen Cafe. I had a hard time understanding thick British accents, but it was much easier than understanding French.
Thu Apr 18 all over Portsmouth
In the afternoon, finished with errands, I idled. I strolled around. I walked past an arcade which offered an "American Simulator". I wondered what the simulator did. Drink coffee and say "howdy"? Probably the sign referred to American football. That didn't sound so interesting.
Thu Apr 18 Victoria Road-ish, Portsmouth
When he asked me for a cigarette, I didn't understand his accent and had to ask him to repeat himself. And when my answer included the word "Nope", that crystallized it.
"Hey, you're an American!"
I was an American and he was moderately sozzled. Thus, I had made a friend.
He asked me what I thought of England so far. I told him that so far I had just done laundry, but that had gone OK.
He told me that French beggars use needles. Perhaps he meant they use heroin. He stressed the importance of being able to spot an honest beggar.
For tourist activities, he recommended Winchester, because King Arthur's Round Table was there.
He wanted to visit Los Angeles and San Francisco because there was no motorcycle helmet law. He wanted to attend a big party in the USA. He also wanted to come to the USA so that he could use a shotgun on the cops.
He couldn't listen to punk music anymore. The music had made him too violent.
I didn't tell him that my guidebook said that the Winchester Round Table was a hoax. I didn't tell him that there was a helmet law in California. I didn't tell him that it was, in fact, illegal to shoot cops with shotguns, even in Los Angeles. I didn't tell him that I knew plenty of non-violent people who listened to punk music. I was amazed at how wrong this guy was about so many things.
Before I talked to this guy, if you'd asked me, "Do many French beggars use heroin?" I would have had no idea. After talking to this guy, I would guess that French beggars never used needles--just because he told me they did.
He said, "You fit right in! Everyone in Portsmouth looks like you!"
Okay, I'm willing to attribute that one to sarcasm.
Thu Apr 18 Monsoon Thali House, Portsmouth
At the Monsoon Thali House, I recognized most of the dishes, but I had to ask what a "balti" was. The waiter, who had figured out that I was a vegetarian, told me that they had meat. (Later on, I would find a place that had vegetarian baltis, at which point I would realize that I was still completely ignorant as to what a "balti" was.)
After I was done eating, the waiter said, "You appear to have enjoyed your meal, sir." And I said, "Yes, I enjoyed it all over the tablecloth and my shirtfront." Actually, I just said, "Yes, it was delicious. Thank you very much."
Fri-Sat Apr 19-20 Historic Dockyard, Portsmouth
If you're a Nelson fetishist, then Portsmouth is your Mecca. I'm not into Nelson, but I was happy to spend a day in a place with plenty of restored sailing ships, the Portsmouth Historic Dockyard.
In a museum, I learned that French prisoners of war were sometimes skilled craftsmen. They were forbidden to make lace, because local lacemakers couldn't handle the competition.
I learned that this area holds the world's oldest stone dry dock (dock number five). I spent the rest of the day trying to find the way to historic dock number five. Eventually, I figured out that it was off limits. You are not cleared to visit the oldest stone drydock in the world. You couldn't handle it.
Aboard the HMS Victory, I learned that if a sailor was sentenced to be flogged, he made his own cat-o-nine-tails. I guess he was motivated to make it soft.
The Nelson fetishists get to hear a lot about what happened to Nelson's body after he died. I perked up when I heard that the body was readied for transportation by preserving it in a barrel of brandy. I'm not sure if I was more surprised to hear about a pickled admiral, or the idea that they would have a whole barrel of brandy handy.
Preservationists were cascading polyethylene glycol over the water-logged wreck of the Mary Rose to replace the water with wax. In the Mary Rose museum, preservationists display historical artifacts salvaged from the wreck. There, a nice lady let me touch a preserved piece of the ship. It felt like waxy wood. I wasn't sure what I was supposed to get out of this, so I said, "Oo, it's waxy!" Also in the Mary Rose museum, I wrote the following in my notebook: "'Urethral syringe' ouch!" I can't remember what made me write that. Perhaps I've blocked out the trauma.
The most enjoyable thing I did was the historical walking tour. I asked the guard at the front gate about the tour and he said, "Oh, we're not offerring it today." What he meant was, "We haven't offerred that in a long time, and it was fraudulent of us to offer it to you."
The historical walking tour consists of an electronic device which plays an audio tour to you when you press in numbers. There had been numbers on signs posted around various places in the dockyard. Only one such number remained. The others had been taken down.
I didn't know this. I asked the nice lady at the gift shop about the tour, and she didn't know it was gone, she just handed me an electronic device and pointed me at the last remaining sign, telling me to look for more like them.
Of course, I didn't find any more signs. So I started pressing different numbers into the device. When I entered a number associated with a long-gone sign, it would play that part of the commentary.
So I tried looking for the signs based upon the commentary. I didn't find any more signs. But I was able to figure out where I was supposed to be for each stop on the tour. It was like a treasure hunt.
Fri Apr 19 University of Portsmouth, Portsmouth
As I walked in search of restaurants, two (Japanese, I guess) students passed me going the other way. One of them said, "Zenbu gambare." I thought, Hai, gambarimasu. I thought This is easier than France.
Fri Apr 19 Fat Jaque's Touchdown American Restaurant, Portsmouth
Fat Jaque's Touchdown American Restaurant offered a veggie burger, so they got my business. When it arrived, the veggie burger was something like a giant potato croquette on a bun. It was very effective at scalding the roof of my mouth, but probably not very nutritious.
I had french fries, too, which seemed a bit redundant with the burger. I asked for some catsup to put on the fries. The waitress brought me a serving thingy containing three little dishes. One held catsup, one held mustard, and one held mint chutney.
I thought about the "chutney" at the Spice Kingdom in Japan which had turned out to be catsup. I felt the karmic balance of my life's condimental experience righting itself.
Between that fried "burger" patty, the french fries, and the apple pie a la mode I had for dessert, this was probably my most artery-hardening meal of the trip. But it was worth it, for the discovery of fries with mint chutney. It was an experience worth risking one's life for.
What was the strangest thing about this yacht club building? Its color? Or the fact that it was so far from the water?
Sat Apr 20 Waterfront, Portsmouth
Saturday morning, I walked around some other historical areas of Portsmouth. For example, I smelled the Round Tower, which today stands as a monument of man's ability to pee on things that are several hundred years old.
Sat Apr 20 A Fistful of Tacos, Portsmouth
A Fistful of Tacos described itself as a Californian-style Mexican restaurant.
Apparently, to the English, Chevy's is California-style. That's sad.
I discovered this by eating dinner there. That's tragic.
Sun Apr 21 Southwest England
I almost didn't board the train out of Portsmouth. It didn't occur to me that I might need to press a button to get the train door to open. Fortunately, somebody else did.
It was a scenic ride. There railyards, high chalk cliffs, inlets with sailboats, a container freight port at Southhampton, oak trees, and farms.
I changed trains at Salisbury. The gents' there was closed "due to near-constant vandalism". I considered vandalizing a nearby wall, but contained myself.
On the next leg of the train I saw hills, stone bridges, hedges, streams and ponds.
I changed trains again at the Exeter (St David's) station. I bought a hot chocolate in a disposable cup. When I finished, I couldn't find a trash can. I finally asked a station attendant where they were. There weren't any. There was some military base nearby, and they didn't want anyone to hide bombs in the trash. In retrospect, I should have had some other beverage.
I boarded the wrong train from Exeter. One of my fellow passengers was a retired ex-conductor, and he directed me as to the best way to encounter my intended train.
From the correct train, I saw red cliffs (for which Devon is famous (so I must have been in Devon)). I saw rolling green hills with hedges snaking over them. In the fields I saw rabbits and sheep.
I talked to the guy selling beverages, who figured out I was American. He had been an engineer, and as such had travelled to New Jersey, North Carolina, Cleveland(!), and an Amish community. I was surprised to hear that the Amish had hired an engineering firm. He admitted that he'd just gone there on a day trip while he was working somewhere nearby.
The train stopped at Penzance and so did I.
Sun Apr 21 Georgian House Hotel, Penzance
I rang the bell of the Georgian House Hotel. Nobody answered. I'd just humped a heavy backpack up a hill, so I wasn't pleased at the idea of wandering over more of this city in search of lodgings.
So I wandered around to the back of the building, to the parking lot, hoping for another entrance. There was another entrance; more importantly, there was a kitchen window. The proprietress was looking out of that window as she washed dishes. She let me in. Her name was Monica. She had a room to rent.
We had a sort of conversation, that followed a strange pattern. Monica thought a lot faster than I did. She would say something. I would reply. She would then reply with something that seemed to me like a non-sequitur. When I asked her what she was talking about, she would explain her train of thought.
I might have pondered the social significance of a woman smarter than myself running a bed and breakfast. But instead, I just tried to keep up with the conversation.
She asked me if I'd read anything by Bill Bryson. I admitted that I had, but I was nervous. He'd written a travel book about Britain in which he had made fun of every place he'd visited. I couldn't remember what (if anything) he'd said about Penzance. If I said that I liked the book, would I come off as a smirky jerk?
Fortunately, he hadn't said anything about Penzance. He had done something wonderful: he had made fun of the neighboring town of St Ives. Specifically, he had compared them to Sausalito. Monica had been to Sausalito, and didn't think Bryson's comparison was apt. I hadn't been to St Ives, so I didn't have an opinion. I was just glad that my reading habits hadn't got me into trouble.
I thought back to another conversation. I was on a hike with Tom Lester, Jenny Greenwood, and a group of people that Tom knew. In my usual loudmouth manner, I'd said that I was going to spend some time in Cornwall. Suzanne (sp?), one of the hikers, said that she'd spent some time wandering around in Cornwall. She'd said it reminded her of Marin County. Except that in Cornwall, everyone was out of work.
If Cornwall was like Marin County and St Ives was like Sausalito? Where did that put me? San Rafael? I stopped thinking about it.
My room was painted a cheerful yellow. The breakfast room was decorated with modern prints. The Georgian House Hotel was a treat for the eyes compared with the dingy places I usually stayed at. And it was comfy.
Sun Apr 21 Penzance
Brown's wasn't open Sundays.
Dandelions Cafe wasn't open, and would close forever in four days.
As I walked around, it seemed as if Penzance was probably a hellish tourist trap at some time of year. I seemed to be there in the off-season. I wasn't 100% sure, though. It just seemed like there were an awful lot of places that wanted to sell me ice cream.
Ganges was open, and served me an okay dinner.
Sun Apr 21 Georgian House Hotel, Penzance
My camera batteries were running low. So I swapped them with some charged batteries. I put the drained batteries in the charger to charge up overnight.
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