Category Archives: uk
Back in England, the pursuit of Banksy continued. Whilst London appeared to be a bit too much of a widespread maze in which to get lost, Bristol – Banksy’s hometown – seemed the better option to seek out some of his work. Real life work in real life places. No prints this time.
It was to be a trip centered on technology. There are benefits, apparently.
D-man, a long time fan of Banksy’s work, downloaded the Banksy Tour iPhone app. We wove in and out of city traffic, up dead-end streets and down bustling suburb highstreets in our hire car, tapping coordinates and street names into the sat nav and scanning sides of buildings as we drove by.
Some works no longer existed, others were carefully preserved. It felt a little like a grown-up treasure hunt. Each time that we finally found a piece I was filled with an indescribable bubble of something, not too dissimilar to joy or satisfaction, maybe, and we’d park up and go and stand and stare for a few moments, occasionally muttering critiques too insignificant to report.
Maybe the most gratifying part of this urban adventure was spotting unknown works that may or may not have been anything to do with Banksy, pieces that acknowledged his style, themes and timing.
Because in amongst a sea of scribbles and expressions, there are some conscious pieces, pieces that are angry and articulate and beautiful, and they’re not all by Banksy.
- On the Banksy trail in some random little art town in the Netherlands (travelola.org)
- Show me some Melbourne street art (travelola.org)
- Map of Bristol street art (bristol-street-art.co.uk)
- Bristol street art project (bristol-street-art.co.uk)
- Bristol street art tours (wherethewall.com)
- Banksy’s war on London: in pictures (telegraph.co.uk)
- Banksy mural encroached on by rival street artist (telegraph.co.uk)
- Everyone is Banksy in Bristol (fathomaway.com)
The northeast of England is, despite what anyone might say, full of hidden beauty spots, should you care to look.
My visit back to the UK coincided with the start of summertime and I wanted to show D-man a little of my English life. We had left Stroud and Gloucestershire behind, crossed through seven counties in five hours and were now cutting through the northern section of the North York Moors.
Five minutes away from our destination I stopped the car and stood and gazed over the fields of my childhood, this green valley of protection and dry stone walling. Down there was my family home, down there were my mum and dad and many of the people who knew me through my growing up. It was the first time I’d been back to the North Yorkshire Moors National Park in nearly two years and I felt a flutter of excitement. Spring sunshine sealed the feeling.
Some days later I headed over to Farndale to catch the end of the daffodil season. Like the dwindling display of flowers, the crowds too had left this beauty spot, and we walked quietly and undisturbed through puddles of squelch alongside river banks loaded with long grasses, wild garlic and forget-me-nots. The river ran brown and swollen and spilled out over the pathway.
Moving on to more historical and quaint sights, I took trips out to Saltburn, Robin Hood’s Bay and Whitby. From winding mazes of tightly packed streets through to pirate graves and a history of smuggling, I was transported back to my childhood.
Finally, a drive to York saw us dodging ambling sheep and took us past the Millennium rock and along the Roman road past Castle Howard. The city streets resonated with tourists and shoppers and echoed with the click of cameras. We sat down to a British pub dinner at one of the oldest inns, right in the heart of the city, glimpsing York Minster through gaps in the cosy courtyard.
And then before I’d had time to consider touching the Roman heritage of Hadrian’s Wall and the wild beauty of the Scottish borders, to trek the coast-to-coast route or amble up the landmark of Roseberry Topping, our time up north was over.
The northeast of England is, despite what anyone might say, full of hidden beauty spots, should you care to look.
Dangerous, stupid or just a bit of English fun? It’s definitely one of the more bizarre British customs that I’ve come across.
Bad press surrounding the cheese rolling competition held annually in Gloucestershire had seemingly promoted the event. Any publicity is, well, publicity, I guess. Local and international competitors gathered, ready to run a race down a near vertical strip of pitted farmland and claim victory in front of an adoring – and somewhat tipsy – crowd.
Take Kenny Rackers, for example, a 27 year old who travelled over from the US with only one thing on his mind: to win. ‘I came 3,000 or 4,000 miles just for this race,’ he told journalists. ‘I trained a long time for this and got hurt on the hill practising. I came three days early and I took a bad spill, but I came to win.’
Having ambled up along a winding road into what felt like private farmland, I just made it in time for the end of the first race. I nestled my way in to the front of the crowds and there stood Kenny, clad in stars and stripes and holding high the mighty cheese. ‘I came over specially for this and I did what I had to do to win,’ he said. People queued to get pictures. Celebrity cheese chaser. Nice work.
I looked up at the top of the hill, some 200 metres away. Clustered with squatting people, it looked as though they were having to hold on to tufts of grass to avoid falling down. Occasionally someone did. The photos, quite frankly, do not do the steepness justice. Coopers Hill has become infamous for this one day, once a year. The rest of the year, though? Pah. Mountain goats, maybe?
I watched the next race, a flurry of tumbling bodies, bouncing bodies. The cheese, replaced this year by a foam replica, hit a chunk of earth and split off to the side. Legs struggled to keep up with downhill momentum, tumbles followed tumbles and tripped others up. At the finish line men walked around dazed, a blend of naked torsos and smudged mud make-up.
And so it repeated and repeated until I watched a man flip and then stop still. He tried to shuffle, but then lifted his leg. His foot stuck out sideways, and a sea of people groaned.
The crowd, revved on a good dose of bystander adrenaline and cider blur, started to disperse to the tune of an ambulance siren. Paramedics brought out the stretcher and the health and safety boohoos rubbed their hands in delight with the ammunition newly granted to them.
Another victory for sensibility over tradition? Let’s hope not. At least the grandmother who had until this year provided the cheese could rest assured that the police wouldn’t be knocking on her door, again. ‘They threatened me, saying I would be wholly responsible if anyone got injured,’ she told the Telegraph days before the event.
Yet the appeal of the event doesn’t seem to be fading. Thousands of people still climbed up to Coopers Hill to watch the somersaults, and plenty of people still entered the competition knowing full well the dangers involved. Like the running of the tar barrels in Ottery St Mary, this event has associated risks. What’s wrong with the competitors taking some responsibility for themselves?
So is it dangerous, stupid or just a bit of fun? Quirky, sure. I’ll go with that.
- Cheese rolling at Cooper’s Hill (official website)
- American flies in to win Gloucestershire cheese rolling contest (the guardian.com)
- American wins Gloucestershire cheese-rolling race, despite health and safety warnings (metro.co.uk)
- Kenny Rackers, Making America Proud From 4,000 Miles Away (averagenobodies.wordpress.com)
Sun blazing down on us, a bitey breeze keeping things cool, it was one of those perfect British days where you drink in the freshness of the air and turn your face up to a lightly white streaked sky.
Marching across the green grass fields of Gloucester towards a spring festival at an alternative education centre, I felt cheery being back in the UK. If I’d known that within a few minutes I’d be playing the moon in a zodiac demonstration and introducing D-man to my yearly childhood practise of maypole dancing, then maybe there would have been an even bigger bounce in my step. Maybe.
England, my sister said, was showing me its best side, a gold explosion of dandelions and sunshine, new life bursting out of branches and the otherside of a wintertime, warmth finally giving all its inhabitants some vitamin D therapy after two long, wet summers.
England, my sister told me, was persuading me to not give up on my home country, totally.
The following day brought more moments in amongst the greenery, this time within the grounds of an imposing country manor. We walked off a locally sourced Sunday lunch and played poohsticks on a trickling stream where swans and cygnets persisted to paddle against the current. We ambled up past crumbling stone buildings and into yet more green fields, nodding good afternoon to other walkers.
And it all felt, well, quintessentially British countryside. Far from the rugged and somewhat aimless adventuring I’ve been doing in the last two years, it was not without charm.
With the myth of the venomous daddy longlegs truly busted, the only deadly creature I’m aware that we have in England is the adder, a slithery snake of a thing often seen sporting a brown zigzag overcoat.
‘Just ‘adder’?’ asked D-man, ‘not ‘death adder’?’
‘Erm,’ I thought quickly, racking my brain for any hidden information that might boost the reputation of our only venomous beast. I found nothing. ‘I’m pretty sure it’s just an adder. But it can kill.’
Rewind back from this conversation, maybe ten minutes in time.
Having been in the UK for less than a week, D-man and I had trained west from London and were now enjoying a British springtime walk in the woods overlooking Stroud in Gloucestershire. An early summer sun shone down through spindly branches on which bright green buds unfurled and leaves leftover from last autumn lay crunchy underfoot. D-man suddenly stopped.
‘What?’ I asked.
‘I just saw something. Do you have snakes here?’ He didn’t move.
‘Yep. Where did it go? What did it look like?’
D-man pointed to a heap of dead branches and leaves. I rustled the pile with my feet, but he pulled me back.
‘Careful!’ he said, ‘Get away!’
And there it was: the different attitudes that Aussies and Brits have to snakes. For me, having grown up in England, the sight of a snake is a cause for celebration. On the few occasions that I have seen grass snakes and adders I have sat and watched and followed them when they moved.
D-man, an Australian through-and-through, has grown up with regular sightings of some of the world’s deadliest snakes and has had a healthy fear and respect instilled in him through snake awareness classes in school and real life survival tales of friends of friends.
Would the adder have come for me, had I disturbed it? Possibly. Would I have died, had it bitten me? Probably not. What I didn’t tell D-man was that no one has died from an adder bite in the UK since 1975. Instead I let him run with the idea that I was both curious and courageous in my pursuit of a snake sighting.
Or just completely stupid. And totally, totally un-Aussie.
- Adder bites in Britain (British Medical Journal)
- Bitten by an adder – ‘the doctors were worse’ (The Independent)
- Should we celebrate or mourn the death of Britain’s only venomous snake? (The Telegraph)
- Vipera berus (Wikipedia)
- Snake bites (National Health Service/NHS)
- Australia’s 10 most dangerous snakes (Australia Geographic)
- How to Become a Snake Charmer (reed.co.uk)