This weekend I was in the sunny climes of Norwich for H's birthday. I took the train instead of driving because it meant I was able to finish off my Java book and/or sleep for the entire way. (The amount that I didn't know about basic Java was surprising given my current projects at work. Next, I need to find something on Java EE 5.) It took longer, but the cost in petrol would have been comparable. This time next year my 16-25 rail card will have expired, at which point my rail fares will leap upwards by 50%, which will be a major blow, but that's life, I suppose. At least I'll finally be able to stop using that passport photo of myself from about eight years ago. When I had hair. The other plus point to not driving: there's hardly any street parking available outside H's house. Oh, and it helps keep my mileage down.
We went to the chip shop for dinner on Friday night, and I've not visited a proper British (if Chinese-run) chip shop in years so I'd forgotten that there were critical differences between the chippie and late night food outlets more along the lines of the "Van" of which all Cambridge student partake. For one thing, the line is the same length, but people get served in strict sequential order, which takes an age, instead of ordering, having it written down, and waiting for their name to be called, which is swift and also positively sociable. We British are famed for loving queueing, but we're not married to it. For another, the question "open or wrapped" caught me by surprise. I'm going to take these chips and walk away and eat them, what's the difference? Just give me my chips. There was the absence of pineapple, even though it was on the menu. There was the fact that everything you get from a chip shop is deep fried, meaning that a "beefburger" is just a deep fried patty, with no bun. There was the fact that ketchup costs extra, and she gave me the wrong change. Everything about the transaction was broken and hanging loose and barely working, I felt like my brain had been subtly toyed around with. Give me my Van.
H's housemate/landlady Donna had her boyfriend and his two young kids around for dinner - he turned up at the chip shop and requisitioned some chips and sausages for this purpose. The man expressed some cogent opinions on Avatar - it was predictable and became boring towards the end, like a cake made of icing - and appeared to be a thoroughly wonderful father. We trawled around Norwich by car for some time, collecting H's friend Ally from the other side of the city and then P from the station - he had come up straight after work whereas I had had the day off. The first pub we visited was rammed to the gills with people enjoying very loud live music. I vetoed staying, which, in retrospect, I regret - one song, at least, would have been nice. Still, the second pub did at least have standing and breathing room. What with Ally being a good few inches taller than even me, P found himself in the bottom half of our group, height-wise, which he found highly disconcerting. P teaches mathematics at what must surely be the toughest school in South London, and always has a million stories and kids' jokes. "What do you get if you cross your dad and your mum? Not you, you're adopted." But you have to be careful who you tell that one to.
Saturday had been sketched out pretty carefully the afternoon before. The main aim was to go for a walk on the coast and visit some pubs out of H's Good Beer Guide. After a sizeable fried breakfast which involved some bargain black pudding, P, H, H's friend Sarah and I got off at the end of the line at Sheringham, and visited the Windham Arms (in Wyndham Street - yes, the spelling is correct on both of those) for lunch. The ales on tap were excellent and the sausage and mash were good too. Ally and his girlfriend (fiancee now, actually) Hannah turned up after lunch, and the afternoon was mostly spent following my single instruction, "LEFT", i.e., traipsing west along the coast towards Weybourne, first picking our way across innumerable rounded grey stones under the orange cliffs, then breaking left and up onto the grass path along the top. The walk was bracing, but the sky was rather overcast and the scenery was uninspiring at best. We passed Weybourne Windmill and again veered left into Weybourne where we visited another highly recommended pub, The Ship. This one, I was less taken with. The place has very sparsely located seats and only one table. Most of the seats are arrayed around the pool table, which was in use when we arrived. The result was that, with only eight people in the pub, it was completely full and there was nowhere to sit.
The original plan had been to visit The Dun Cow in Salthouse but this was more than twice the distance and quite frankly I would still be walking now if we had. Instead we consulted the rough timetable that I'd scribbled down from the internet on Friday afternoon, and headed south, to the nearby North Norfolk Railway station, to catch a steam train. It seemed to be a special Gala event of some kind - there was memorabilia for sale. I spotted some antique videotapes, and leafed through an incredibly in-depth discussion of Norfolk railways dating from many decades ago. The journey back to Sheringham was enjoyable and we waved to everybody - most of whom probably see steam trains passing them every day of the week, but some of whom were good enough to wave back - but the journey was also incredibly brief and suffered from the same uninspiring views as our original outward trek.
As luck would have it we were just in time to catch the train back to Norwich. P and I slept for most of the way, because after that we had to go and meet up with H's other friends Rob (Sarah's boyfriend) and Will and watch the second half of some incredibly uninteresting England/Scotland rugby game which ended in the most tedious of draws. And after that was H's birthday curry. I don't like curry, so after some consultation earlier in the day I'd been advised to go for biryani which comes with the curry separately, but as luck would have it it turns out that I don't like "vanilla" biryani either. Or poppadoms, which taste horrible but I can't stop eating them because I'm hungry. Basically, I have given Indian cuisine my best shot, and I hate it. Such is life. There was more pub action after this but we were all flagging; it had been a high-mileage day.
Sunday was mainly movies. We traipsed around Norwich looking for microfibre towels. P headed home via some tortuous route which avoided Ipswich which was closed (no jokes here). H and I watched Casablanca, which I'd never seen, but was highly enjoyable, pleasingly dense in its construction and wittily-written. We watched Moon, which is a highly competent science fiction flick and an extremely promising directorial debut for Duncan Jones, although I did get the entire plot on the first pass and actually guessed much of it far in advance (although, I do write this stuff myself on occasion). We watched Frost/Nixon, which was pretty good, but it was getting pretty late by this point. I left Monday morning, locking the house up after H and Donna had already left for work.
So it was a productive long weekend and I met some new people, I guess? I write this particular blog entry mainly as a trigger point for my own memories rather than as something for you, the reader to enjoy. Sorry.