Tuesday, 7 August 2007

History.

My feet hurt like you wouldn’t believe. This has been an intensive few days. My American is, how shall I put it, a very fascinated tourist and is not at all fatigued by sight seeing.
Would you have believed for instance that it is possible to visit the Barbican in Plymouth and walk only 400 yards in four and a half hours? Well believe. I have been up alleyways and back roads, up terraces and steps that have led to antiques, artistes, galleries and gardens. In her defence though, being with someone so passionate about ‘old things’ one sees the same things that one as looked at a million times through new eyes. We picked up a Historic Walk leaflet in the information centre and it was fascinating – well to us it was, her son and my eldest two groaned with ennui. Typical, once they were fed pasties, fish and chips and an ice cream or two, their interest in the past 500 years waned and the temptations of Virgin Records and Primark beckoned so, we bade our farewells and immersed ourselves in the Tudors and Elizabethans. To be honest once we’d looked around the antique market for an hour and a half, my back was beginning to ache and so, as she looked around the Elizabethan House I sat by the receptionist and read the reams of leaflets I’d picked up. By the time she emerged, eyes shining with historical facts, I was able to direct her to the Tudor House, Palace Vaults and Elizabethan Garden. This little oasis of calm and serenity impressed even me. It is so hidden and quiet, set back well away from the hustle and bustle of sweaty, half dressed tourists. They look Neanderthal and sadly, very British.
Whilst I died of shame regarding my kinsmen, Mindy, my American friend was for more interested in the masonry of the ancient Plymouth and we had to give, seemingly, every piece of stone and step our full attention.
As we picked our way down the cobbles and back onto the Southside Street, it was late afternoon and Plymouth Gin distillery beckoned.
“Oh my heavens!”, remarked Mindy. Yipee, I thought, a chance for a sit down and a long cold, recuperative drink. Unfortunately gin was the furthest thing from her mind.
“Look at this darling art gallery!” and in she went. I was beginning to feel like the kids and my steps had decidedly switched from a stride to a truculent trudge. Reluctantly I followed her but her enthusiasm was infectious and I succeeded in another 45 minutes of rifling through prints and paintings. The gallery owner couldn’t have been best pleased because at the end of it all, Mindy found a print that had originally been for sale at £40 and was in the reduced pile for two quid. By the time it had been wrapped carefully for its journey to America, the owner must have spent more on cardboard, bubble wrap and Sellotape than the measly sum she made for it.
“Oh how kind of you”, said Mindy, politely.
“Don’t worry, we try to be nice to our colonies”, replied the owner dryly.
Finally, I coerced her into the Gin Distillery but only because it had Franciscan Monks on its side and was thus an ancient building.
“Oh my heavens!” she exclaimed for the hundredth time that day as we entered its cavernous foyer.
“It was lodging for the Pilgrim Fathers before they set sail for America”, said one of the guides.
“For real? Wow!” A long chat followed - as it does with everyone she meets and by the end of which I am sure the guide was on her Christmas card list - before I finally dragged her up the stairs to the cocktail lounge.
“Two G&T’s”, I said perhaps a little too quickly, but I wanted my order in before she changed her mind and we went in search of more culture. It was the best G&T I have ever had. Genuinely: long, cool, tasty and made professionally. Highly recommended.
Twenty minutes later and we were back in the heat and sunshine.
Westward Bound?”, she read, “Oh do they sell postcards?” but before I could warn her that it was a fetishists shop she was immersed in PVC, whips and all manner of sadomasochistic toys and costumes. “Oh my heavens”, she said once again, almost tripping as she ran to get out, “I hadn’t realised you Brits were quite so open about your sexual peccadilloes”.
“Hey, don’t include me in that, I’m strictly a once a month, good Protestant girl” I laughed.
The following day, after a breakfast of dry toast and a double-dipped- tea-bag cup of tea, (she is convinced that the caffeine is released on the first dowsing, thus the bag can be used again in its de-caffeinated and thus, acceptable state. I ask you.), we all eight of us took the train to Calstock. All cynicism aside there is something very touching seeing a stranger literally moved to tears by the beauty of one’s country.
“I would be happy forever to be surrounded by such beauty”, she said quietly, wiping the tears from her cheeks as she watched the river and Tamar Valley unveil itself, “I have never seen anything like it”. The day only got better if a little more strenuous and we walked or should I say mountaineerd to Cotehele House. As there were so many of us, it was prudent, if painful to take out an annual membership, consequently after a day with the Tudors we spent the next with the Georgians of Saltram House where the superlatives continued apace.
Beachcombing, rock-pooling and crabbing under sunny blue skies have only served to deepen her love of the Westcountry, along with pasties washed down with cider. Sadly today is the last day and we are going to Ye Olde Worlde Tesco. Well it is Elizabethan of sorts…

14 comments:

white wang said...

Dear Alice
I was very interested in your account of Plymouth's Barbican, an area I know well, but a little shocked and surprised to learn that a bondage emporium has opened there. What would Sir Francis Drake, our former mayor, think of nipple clamps and bottom plugs being openly sold, a mere quarter mile from where he played his historic game of bowls? I shall be writing to my MP
yours sincerely White Wang
P.S I do believe that the word 'peccadillo' should in fact be correctly spelt 'peccadildo' when used in this context.

sally's hubby said...

Many memories stirred. I've got vague recollections of a nightclub at the Barbican which we used to call the GX - short for Groin eXchange (can't remember its real name) - and also of a pub right on the harbour which had live trad jazz on Sunday evenings. All a long time ago now.

Your American friend would be well suited to our French friends. As we were guests with them, we were in no position to demur at the route marches around various historical and cultural spots. Not really our idea of a holiday activity, though, when it was likely to be the only chance of a bit of relaxation for the next 12 months. Sorry, Ghislaine, if you're reading this. But I really hope you're not!

Alice Band said...

White wang - Sir Francis Drake and his ilk I fear, were no strangers to the subjective delights/horrors of the odd butt plug. As for peccadilo, I think the RRP is £17.99.

Sally's Hubby - I only made it once to the GX and luckily ecsaped without in fact exchanging my groin with anyone else's. The nightlife of the Barbican has actually had soemm kind of transforamtion with regard restaurants etc - although still patronised by the occasional drunken sailor and his tatooed moll. My I hasten to point out that I am not one of the tatooed.

belle said...

Gosh, I remember tales of the GX from my training days at HMS Drake!
I know you are tired out but it does make you look at our country in a new light when overseas visitors react in such an enthusiastic way!

Sally Lomax said...

!!!! Hubby was going out with me when he lived in Plymouth!!!!!!

It brought back memories of Toulouse and Pairs a la French friends for me too.....

What a laugh!

Mary Alice said...

There is nothing as refreshing as a nice G & T!

Alice Band said...

Belle, Sally and Mary Alice - I am going camping this morning with all the family and all their friends. I am sulky about it because I ought to be in France alone..

Sally Lomax said...

Have a good camping trip! I can relate to sulking about the wrong sort of holiday, as per my recent post.

You'll have fun when you get there...

Mopsa said...

As an ex-Londoner I so relate to the experience of taking round awed visitors to see the sights. But how do they keep up their energy? I flagged by the time the second Beefeater came into view. And I never thought about taking them round Soho for thrills - how naive of me. And what I must have missed.

enidd said...

enidd is surprised that these visitors always want accompanying. she would have thought that kind of mooching is best done alone - and then share the g&t later.

belle said...

when we first moved to Scotland, people descended on us with demands to be shown the sights. 'cos the Highlands are a bit bigger than Plymouth or London, we gave up after a while with the guided tours. I took to leaving 'exciting things to see and do in Glasgow etc' leaflets in the guest bedrooms and let them choose where and how to get there! all part of the experience, I said!

Alice Band said...

mopsa (Welcome), Enidd and Belle - Luckily my husband was on leave and thus able to look after the younger chidlren whilst I took my friend and her son out and about. It was good fun but next time she wants to bring her husband and hire a car. Thing is with Americans - sorry any AMericans but they mostly freak when they see a 'stick shift'! Have any of you seen the Amazing Race? I love it - but the contestants always come unstuck when they need to drive a manual gear car - these are the same people who can eat all sorts of shit and who seem to have no fear. Bizarre. MAybe I should apply!

Broker said...

I think it is very apt that there is sex shop in where the GX used to be.....

Alice Band said...

Broker - Why? Have you had need for a sex shop whilst at the GX?!