Solipsism and Me

Idle reports from an idle fellow

Wanderings 2012

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In mid November 2012, we abandoned our house in Victoria Road to the builders and set off on an itinerary involving frequent returns to Nottingham, and extended stays in many major European cities with names beginning with B. Suitcases were trundled to and from buses, trains, and planes; hotels and other forms of temporary accomodation were sampled; tooth brushes, slippers, phone chargers and other first world necessities were accidentally mislaid across Europe. This blog entry summarizes the unrolling of this sequence of displacements …

20121113_150519 On November 14 at 14h precisely and accompanied by rumbling suitcases containing a week’s as yet unbesmirched washing we walk down Victoria Road to the bus stop; take the bus into town; walk to the station; train to Paddington; tube to St Pancras; Eurostar to Paris Nord departing 1501; RER to Cite Universitaire; walk around the edge of Parc Monceau to 8 rue Amiral mouchez, arriving at 19h in time to receive the keys from the charming Hari, an AirBNB user who is renting her flat to us.

The flat is warm, has a nice little kitchen, functional wifi, a comfy real bed and a grand piano. Large amounts of book and other personal effects are hidden behind curtains and there is a pleasing air of chaos barely controlled. The next ten days are a kind of experiment to see how we cope with living in Paris together, with me working and Lilette being the angel in the house. I think moderately well : at any rate I got to the office in rue Lhomonde a couple of times, where I mostly agonized over the preparation of a new(ish) TEI training course, but also collected a few personal remnants such as a towel and a coffee pot, on the understanding that a definitive end to my time with the TGE was fast approaching, and Lilette discovered the pleasure of having a real butcher and a real baker within walking distance. We went out for an excellent Mauritian dinner together before L succumbed to a nasty cold and had to stay in bed for a few days, recovering eventually well enough to visit the Bazar d’Hotel de Ville for some desultory christmas shopping,


Shopping at the BHV

and for a walk to the Marais for some interesting Jewish dinner. Monday to Thursday I gave the aforesaid new(ish) TEI Training course for the Cahier consortium at the Institut Linguistique de France, conveniently located down the road from the flat: on which I have reported in another blog.

Saturday 24th November we tidy up the flat, collect some cheese and other goodies from the local shops, and head back to London on the 13h13 Eurostar, arriving eventually to find 111 Victoria Road is dark and cold, eviscerated, and barely habitable. Some degree of panic ensues as we wonder where to spend the weekend, with a phone battery failing, and no room at any local hotel. Fortunately we are invited to dinner at the Rahtzes this evening. They are kind enough to offer us a room in their basement, and access to wifi to sort myself out. Sunday, we check into the Royal Oxford Hotel down by the station, where there is heating, clean towels, wifi, and a comfy bed to be had, and I plot our next move. We have grandparenting duties in the East Midlands at the start of the week, but how better to spend the rest of it than on an impromptu visit to Barcelona? Thanks to the wonders of the Internet, I book some accomodation and several train tickets, before going out for a well earned brunch at the Old Jam Factory, whence we trundle our suitcases onto the train for Nottingham.


No stroll through the Jardin des Plantes is complete without a visit to this statue of Bernardin de Saint Pierre

We’re parachuting in to help on the occasion of Little Louis’ visit to hospital on the 27th November for some long overdue maintenance work on his navel. Not much seems to be required other than reassuring noises, cleaning the kitchen floor, etc, and the navel procedure went well. So we repack our bags, and set off bright and early on the morning of the 28th to take the 0936 train from Nottingham to St Pancras, the 1225 Eurostar from there to Paris Nord, the metro to Paris Austerlitz, and the 1857 Elipsos sleeper train from there to Barcelona, in that order, with ample time for a little stroll through le Jardin des Plantes, a cup of tea, and some sandwiches in between. The Elipsos when we got on it was as comfortable as you might suppose, with a proper dinner in a proper dining car and an obsequious cabin attendant.


Exterior of our apartment block in Barcelona

The sun was shining in Barcelona, and the apartment I’d booked turned out to be really rather nice: modern furniture and fittings in an art deco apartment block. We collapsed into its huge comfy bed and snoozed some more, before later sallying forth to find shops and restaurants and enjoy our first genuine Spanish paella in a long time. Ah, Barcelona! A beautiful city, and I have only one little chore to complete before I can really enjoy it: I have promised Laurent a draft of an article for the 1st December and no longer have any excuse for postponing its completion. So I spend the first few mornings and evenings banging away on my keyboard till that is done and we can concentrate exclusively on exploring the entirely delightful markets and museums of this splendid city, with its intriguing architecture, its spectacular hills and monuments, and its confusing metro system. We spent quite a lot of time gawping at the Museum of Catalan Art which is an extraordinary work in itself but also full of gawp-worthy paintings and sculptures; quite a lot padding around the Joan Miro museum which was showing an interesting exhibit on the successors of Jackson Pollock; and not nearly enough at the Parc Guell, where Gaudi lived and played his pianola. We got sore feet, behaving touristically, enjoyed chocolate and churros, and eat several more paellas. See Flickr pages for some more photos.

This inexplicable little chap stands guard outside Olton Station.

This inexplicable little chap stands guard outside Olton Station.

This touristic idyll came to an end on 5 Dec. We took the bus to Barcelona Airport, and then a Ryanair fly, of which the least said the better, to Stansted. From whence, by train to Liverpool Street, across London by tube to Marylebone, to Dorridge — a godforsaken spot whence Chiltern Trains refuse to proceed — and eventually to Olton, where we are to be accomodated by Lila’s other grandparents. An interesting journey, but maybe only if you are interested in the ongoing dire effects of privatisation on British rail services. Never mind, we have arrived in good time for another nice dinner and another comfy bed.

Next day is a day for taking Lila and Sarah out for a bit of shopping, notably to buy Lila a new buggy. We visited Birmingham’s famous German market, thus inaugurating a series of such experiences. gluhwein, scarves, gloves, gingerbread, sweets, wooden toys, health-giving crystals, mechanical toys… get em all here at knock down prices. Lunch was vaguely Mexican, but none the worse for that, and in the evening we treated Richard and June, our fellow grandparents, to dinner at a local curry house, which seemed to go down well.
On the 7th and 8th Dec we are supposed to be babysitting Little Louis again, to facilitate another Aistagusha gig, so off we go on the 1030 departure from Olton, via Moor St, and New St to Nottingham once more. More christmas shopping must have taken place, but we seem unaccountably to have missed the opportunity of visiting the Nottingham German market.

On the 9th December I celebrate my 66th birthday by not celebrating it at all; I’m on a train going from Nottingham to Oxford via Derby for most of it. Back in Oxford, we assess the state of 111 Victoria Rd which is now much more habitable, if you don’t mind the absence of a floor in the kitchen and the lack of space to sit down in the dining room, which is full of all the things taken out of the kitchen. But the heating works, and it’s possible to cook, and wash clothes so we camp out there for a couple of days, doing laundry,  repacking for the next phase, and having discussions with our builder.


Lilette reflects on eponymous resto in Bordeaux

The 12 December we’re on another train, this time headed for Gatwick airport, where we have a plane to catch for Bordeaux. Why? Because I agreed months ago to give a talk at a corpus linguistics conference there (appeals to my ego never fail). The talk’s nearly ready — it’s a slightly updated version of one I gave ages ago, so delivering it is more of a logistical than an intellectual effort. We arrive in time for a nice dinner with the conference organizers and I dutifully spend Friday at the Goethe Institute listening to various varyingly interesting linguisticky presentations. Thomas Schmidt is present and agrees with me that we really ought to be doing something more on the TEI/ISO activity front, real soon now. Things run late at the conference, as they usually do, and I excuse myself (and her) from the formal conference dinner on the grounds that Lilette is not feeling well and I need an early night. Then we go out for a nice quiet rice-based diner à deux down the rue St Catherine which (it transpires) is as significant in Bordeaux as its synonym in Montreal, i.e. it’s full of restaurants and bars. There’s a bar called Lou and a bit further on a cafe featuring art nouveau advertising for Lillet.

The next day (14 December) was a long one. It began with me dutifully taking the tram out to the University Bordeaux III campus, which is of course, miles from anywhere, and almost entirely deserted. It continued more or less as follows:

  • 09-10 : search for conference, try to get projector working, find coffee etc.
  • 10-11 : give talk;
  • 11-12 : sneak out of conference, return to hotel, collect luggage and wife;
  • 12-13 : walk across town with luggage taking in amusing trompe l’oeuil effects;
  • 13-14 : catch tram to station; fail to get lunch but enjoy sunshine;
  • 14-17 : TGV from Bordeaux to Paris Montparnasse;
  • 17-18 : bus from Montparnasse to Gare de Lyon;
  • 18-19 : wait for Thello to get itself organised, following the demise of the only first class sleeper carriage on its night train to Bologna;
  • 19-20 : watch a small drama on board said train occasioned by some of the other would-be first class passengers being accidentally left behind on the platform;
  • 20-21 : dine on dubious lasagne and plenty of wine in largely deserted restaurant car;
  • 21-06 : manage to sleep somehow in a third class couchette, my dear.
This statue of Nettuno is one of the enduring pleasures of Bologna

This statue of Nettuno is one of the enduring pleasures of Bologna

In Bologna, as the day breaks, Daniella drove us to her flat from the station (at 0630!) and let us sleep some more, before taking us up to the Ospedale Maggiore to visit the unfortunate professore Aston, confined to a ward on the 12th floor, with a magnificent view over the railway station which alas he cannot see, since as a result of an accident at the weekend he cannot even roll over in bed; the prognostication is somewhat gloomy but we do our best to cheer him up. It seems he will walk again, though not for many months.  Thanks to Daniella, we also learn how to use the Bolognese bus system, how delicious tortellini in brodo can be, and generally reacquaint ourselves with the charms of that walled city.


Dinner in classy restaurants like this one (Donatello) is another






Why are we in Bologna? aside from the obvious reasons, I am here to sit on the jury before which a thesis on computerization in epigraphy is to be defended, at the request of the candidate. I have managed to read quite a lot of the thesis and also poked experimentally at some of the websites it references, so this shouldn’t be too hard, even in French. The Franco-Italian PhD thesis defence ritual is to take place on Monday 17th in the afternoon, and there will be cake. There is also quite a nice lunch for the jury beforehand; the candidate acquits herself well,  and there is  a splendid dinner for all concerned afterwards, at a classy Bolognese restaurant, paid for by the candidate’s long suffering  but proud parents.

Job done, we are free to do as much more Christmas shopping as our suitcases can bear (tortellini, salame, parmigiano, panforte…) before regretfully taking an Easyjet flight back to Gatwick on the 20th, and thence by train to Oxford, since the house is habitable enough at last for us to offer Elizabeth and Al a bed for the night, as well as ourselves. There is still no proper floor in the kitchen, but at least it’s possible to sit at the dining table and dine, which we do.
On the 22nd we set out for Nottingham through the flooded Midlands and get as far as Derby, at which point it seems that an exceptionally large puddle near Beeston has caused suspension of all train traffic between Nottingham and Derby. This is annoying, though not as annoying as the confusion it causes at Derby station where none of the harassed staff seems to know what is going on for the next hour or two. We join a flock of disgruntled travellers in pursuit of trains that are announced and then cancelled and buses that are promised but do not appear, as the night grows darker and the drizzle continues. Careful attention to announcements pays off, and we are amongst the first members of the flock aboard a replacement bus which does eventually materialise, fill up, and depart.

Special Ruby Red Cake made by Sarah, photographed by Elizabeth, and enjoyed by all

Special Ruby Red Cake made by Sarah, photographed by Elizabeth, and enjoyed by all

We are relieving pressure on space at Belinda’s house by staying at the Westminster Hotel, famous for its huge rooms, comfy beds, hot showers, and bizarre internal architecture featuring too many stairs. Belinda and James, to say nothing of little Louis, cope admirably with the bedlam as the massed Burnard-Walkers and hangers on assemble for yuletide jollity, peaking at 14 people and a dog for Xmas lunch. Foresight has provided us with a rota to decide who is responsible for washing up, cooking, and entertaining on each day, so no-one has any excuse for feeling sad, and no-one does. The 23rd, being our ruby wedding anniversary, Lilette and I are agreeably surprised by a red cake made by Sarah, and a pomegranate tree; see my photos (or Belinda’s, or Elizabeth’s) . And the 27th, after the traditional huge lunch at Walker Seniors, we zip back to Oxford for another couple of days repacking and plotting the next phase: an escape to the west country in the new year.
On the 30th, we set off to Bristol Temple Meads, and from there to Pam and Philip’s elegant and comfortable house in Kingsdown, where we put an end to our wanderings for the year, watching fireworks and Chinese lanterns explode all over the cityscape and drinking lots of prosecco. In 2013, we plan to proceed further West, but that’s unquestionably enough for the present.


Written by Lou

January 6, 2013 at 15:07

Posted in Biographical

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