Last weekend, I went away for a bit. My girlfriend lives in the historical city of Winchester, and I thought it was about time I went and visited her flat for a change. (I won't go into the ins and outs of how I ended up going out with someone who lives a hundred miles away. It's probably not a very interesting story to the innocent bystander.)
Seeing as I can't drive, going to Winchester means putting myself through the delights of train travel. Ooops! I typed the word 'delights' when I meant 'pure fucking misery'! That always happens! So, last Friday, I packed my bag and headed for the Pritzker award-winning New Street Station.
Anyway, as usual, the train was delayed, but only by about fifteen minutes, which, these days, is seen as a bit of a result. I got on, and some cheeky mare was in my reserved seat. At first, I felt bad about getting a fairly attractive young lady to stand up for me to sit down (it goes against all the rules of public transport etiquette my mother installed in me) but then I had a change of heart because a) I had paid good money for that exact seat and b) I'd been at work all day and my legs were aching so bollocks to feeling bad about turfing a young woman out of my seat. I might have felt differently about it if she was pregnant, but she wasn't up for that so she had to stand, I'm afraid.
At the next stop, Birmingham International, a bunch of ladies got on who had heard of the notion of private conversation but decided it wasn't for them and proceeded to talk very loudly to each other. It was some kind of hen party, but they seemed a bit too posh for 'L' plates and inflatable penises. They instead had decided to go for a professional bra fitting, and then go back home to drink wine and eat 'mature cheddar and red onion' flavour crisps. See, I know all this because they said all of this very loudly. Posh people tend to talk loudly, I've found. Even their crisps were posh. Can't have boring old 'Cheese and Onion' like the plebs, oh no! 'Mature Cheddar and Red Onion' for us! Hooray!!
Anyway. I'd normally find posh women talking about bras and breasts and being felt up by other ladies quite arousing, but one of them had a slight Northern Irish accent, and this reminded me of Gloria Hunniford, and the thought of the Open House presenter being felt up by a 'butch dyke' (my fellow traveller's words, not mine!) put me right off. They all got off (oh, hang on, maybe I should put 'disembarked' in case I get accused of having a one-track mind!) at lovely Leamington Spa, the foot bath of the Midlands. The rest of the trip was fairly quiet and incident-free and I managed to finally finish the 700-page George R. R. Martin novel I've been reading on-and-off for about a year, and disembarked myself at Winchester, where I met up with my lovely new ladyfriend (I get brownie points for calling her 'lovely' on my blog, she does read it, so that's eight readers I've got now!) unloaded my bag at her flat (that's not a euphemism, by the way.) and went out on the town.
Now, we have historical buildings here in Brum. There's Aston Hall, Blakesley Hall, and Soho House to name three. But Winchester has them everywhere. You just have to throw a stone and you break the window of somewhere historical. Not that I did that. I realised that I was no longer in Birmingham and throwing stones at windows is not considered polite in the civilised south. Anyway, that Friday, we had a couple of drinks in the Royal Oak, which claims to be the oldest bar in England, it being there since 1002 ad, although I had my suspicions that the fag machine wasn't the original. Still, having a couple of pints in a thousand year old pub is cool. In fact, the whole High Street is cool, every building looks old, spoiled slightly by the modern shop signs stuck to them, but you do need to know if it's Boot's the chemist and not another museum, I suppose. Later on, we ended up in that very old and traditional boozer called O'Neills where there was a band on that consisted of four mid-life crises playing cover versions. Still, it was a good laugh. We played 'Celebrity lookalikes' and drinking with us were Paul Bettany, Owen Wilson and the Dairy Milk Gorilla.
Saturday was spent doing sightseeing properly, by daylight. I had a butcher's at the outside of the Cathedral. I didn't go inside, as they were charging people a fiver. Bollocks to that. Round the back of the cathedral was, you guessed it, more historical buildings. There was the Deanery, which is a history mishmash-it has a 13th century Norman vaulted porch, with a 15th century hall on the left of it, and a 17th century Long gallery on its right. Across from this are the ruins of the Norman Chapter House, and the Garnier garden, which is supposed to be a tranquil place, but had three very loud American women in it when we visited it. It is a nice place though, but there was no sign of the Laboratoire Garnier. Maybe it's a secret lab buried underground, like in a Bond movie, and Dean Garnier is down there sitting in a plastic egg-chair stroking a persian cat whilst overseeing the construction of a Doomsday machine that will aid him in his scheme to take over the world. Probably not, as the Dean's been dead for over a hundred years. That'd be ace though, wouldn't it?
Also, we looked at the Cheyney Court, a 16th century building that the bishop used to live in, apparently, and nothing to do with the current Vice-President of the United States.(I know it's spelled differently, never let that get in the way of a joke, however low-quality it is.) Then, we had a lunchtime pint in an old pub called the Wykeham Arms, which has a sign outside asking you to turn off your mobile phone. It's full of old desks and other memorabilia from the nearby Winchester college and had the type of old men drinking in there that you can imagine own blazers with masonic badges on them. After that, we looked at an old-fashioned bookshop and then we decided to get some lunch. Whilst walking back past the cathedral, my lovely (more brownie points) new girlfriend asked what I'd like for lunch. Now, those of you who know me personally know that I hate making decisions and tend to be fairly non-commital. I like to think of it as 'going with the flow' but the people around me think of it as 'fucking annoying'. So, I replied by just saying 'food'. An old man walked past us and said 'Good choice!' to me. So, I thanked him and he smiled. We ended up going for a pasty. I was starving and it was just the ticket. Haute cuisine or what? We saw more lookalikes passing by the pasty shop, Vinnie Jones, Julie Walters and that bloke with the curly hair from The Blue Lagoon.
After that, we looked at really extortionately priced organic chocolates at a shop called Montezumas, where we tried some free samples that were fucking disgusting. Then we went to look at the statue of King Alfred the Great (the Saxon king who basically united all of England, fought off the invading Vikings, but is most famous for letting some sponges overcook.) but you can't have your picture taken in front it, as there's a bit of road there. There's a little bit of paving behind it, so if you want to say to people whilst showing them your photos 'There's me by King Alfred's arse', you'll be in your element. It's an impressive statue, though, a lot bigger than I thought it was. We then went to the park opposite, which had a playground and a sundial that doubled up as a fountain. After that, we noticed there was a book fair on at the Guildhall (another impressive historical building that has all these heraldic shields on the outside of it. It also has a sign telling you that noon is actually five minutes and sixteen seconds later than Greenwich says it is), and no romantic weekend is complete unless you've been to a book fair, so we went in. I paid for us both, to which the man in charge of the entrance said 'ah, a gentleman, eh?' with a conspiratorial wink which seemed to say 'you're in there, now, mate!' So, if you're single, take a lady to Winchester and spend fifty pee on her, that seems to be the way to get some action, apparently. As usual, I was looking for comic-related stuff, and there was a few old Beano and Eagle annuals, a big book on Dan Dare, and a book on the history of comics that they wanted £17 for (no way!). There were some graphic novel anthologies based on the work of SF great Ray Bradbury, that were limited editions, signed by Bradbury and all the artists that had done the strips, all of them very famous artists, but there were four of them, and they were thirty quid each, a bit out of my price range, I'm afraid. There were also quite a lot of books on the occult, including The Book Of Magick by Aleister Crowley which seemed a bit out-of-keeping with the generally Christian vibe of the city of Winchester. We left without purchasing anything. What a waste of fifty pee. After another pint a watching a bit of the England-Ireland rugby match, we went back to the flat and had a lovely evening, interrupted by my constant journeys up and down five flights of stairs to go and have a cigarette outside, and once managing to lock myself out of the building in the pissing rain, because of the fiddly keys.
On Sunday, after a nice full English at a subterranean cafe, they weren't charging anyone to go into the Cathedral, so we went in and had a nose. Apparently, the big stained glass window of the cathedral got smashed by Parliamentarians, but the parishioners of Winchester collected all the bits and put them back in, albeit in a haphazard manner, so the window is now like a giant abstract collage, which is cool. The cathedral is an impressive building, even to a dyed-in-the-wool atheist like me, and it always strikes me as amazing what was achieved in the name of faith in times gone by. The thing that strikes me about the cathedral, though, was how obsessed by death it all was. There's a few tomb-effigies, gravestones in the floor, and lists of those lost in wars engraved into the walls. There's also boxes, that look like treasure chests dotted about, that contain the remains of holy men. There's also Jane Austen's grave, on the north side of the nave, which makes no mention of her writing at all! This is rectified by a big brass plaque telling us all about her literary work on the wall next to her final resting place. So, all in all, an impressive place, a bit morbid, but hey, it's a church!
We get to the train station later that Sunday afternoon, and guess what? Yep, my train is delayed! This is because of vital repairs on the line to Southampton. that's what the announcements said, anyway. Every five minutes. Eventually, I'm told that my train will come in as soon as the (heavily delayed)train that's at the platform now buggers off. Thing is, this train isn't moving. It's staying there for ages. Then, two British transport policemen turn up. They go on the train. They come off again. Two other coppers turn up. They all go back on the train and they all come off the train wrestling a large pissed-up Scotsman to the platform floor. He starts shouting obscenities at the coppers. The residents of Winchester looked shocked. I don't think they've heard the term 'fucking English copper cunts' before. They bring him into the waiting room where we were standing, and the arrested man keeps shouting at me 'Hey! Big yin! Take a fuckin' photo! This is abuse! Abuse! Assault!!' and so on. Also, because of the fracas, his trousers had slipped down round his arse, which he had cut in the fight, and was bleeding profusely. Not really the image you want to take away with you from a weekend away with your girlfriend. Anyway, after another mental episode when the police had taken off his hat; "Gies ma hat back!! See when these cuffs come aff, yous cunts are all deid!! Big yin! Take a photo! Cunt's got ma hat!!", they managed to take him away, and move the train on, so my one could come in. Lovely. The weekend had ended on just the right note!
Anyway, Winchester is a lovely place, and I recommend it. Just don't go by train.