And then it was time to leave. Helen made a lunch for the road, or, in my case, rail, (which had yogurt, and fruit, and chocolate, and all things good) and Randy drove me down to Penrith. It was a wonderful stay. Now I understand why Jenn loves the Lake District and I've got to know my other relatives better. Additionally, I've discovered my other godparent. We visited Chris's godparents once (and then I visited them myself), so I always knew they existed, but it never occured to me to wonder about mine and now I've figured it out - my uncles have this distinction. I am also an uncle. But not a godparent (wouldn't that be scary).

Godparents everywhere who might be reading this shouldn't take this as a criticism. The concept of godparents isn't just a European/Western idea. When I was in Haiti, Sasha was telling me that she's really not ready to have children; she's not married, so this shouldn't be a problem, but we understand what she means. Despite this, several people were vying to have her as a godparent to their children and she was really trepidacious about it - in Haiti it's a life long commitment that can even extend to paying for the child's schooling. Godparenting is probably a more necessary thing down there…

I'm in Penrith early, so that gives me time to poke about the castle. (See, I told you I'd get too!)
Then I head over to the train station and wait. I can't relax. I know… I know I'll have to be ready! Ready for the train! Because it won't stop for long. Oh no, because these trains - these trains are on time, baby.
But, you know, maybe it's just that I've been here too long. Or maybe, it's that I've become jaded. But the magic is wearing off: a voice comes on over the intercom. The voice tells me that the train has encountered technical problems. That the train will  be  late.


This is England where all the trains are on time. In a blind panic… I panic. Then I spit in my eyes, but the train is still not there.

(The astute reader will notice that this moment was foreshadowed here, here, and here.)
Fifteen minutes later, the train pulls up within seconds of its revised arrival time. Maybe it was just a fluke.

When the train gets to Birmingham, I get off all filled with plans to hitchhike down to Bristol. After spending fifteen minutes collectively getting out of the station and orientating myself, I walk for an hour along Bristol Road (is it Birmingham Road when it arrives in Bristol?) before realising that, really, this is getting me nowhere. In order to get anywhere, you have to get to the edge of things, where all the many strands of people's journeys weave together into a thick fibre of commonality; since Birmingham is a very big city, it takes a long time to weave this strand.

Feeling that my weaving skills aren't up to par today, I'm carried by a sudden whim to catch the next bus, which takes me back downtown in about ten minutes (futility…). I consider calling up Glenys, but, for some reason, I feel the need to keep moving. I pause by the Bullring for a quick picture with the Bristol Bull (reminding me of Hunter's prey in Gaiman's "Neverwhere"). The picture is taken by a slightly awkward Arabian girl with a very nice camera; she seems to be assisting an older gentlemen who we'll nickname The Professor, not that we'll ever refer to ever again… Picturified, I purchase a ticket for the next train out.

While I'm waiting for the next train, I reflect that there's something slightly sinister about the attention paid to safety here in Britain…

The unthinkable happens, again: the train is late. While I'm sitting there stupified - clutching James Harriot, whose tales of a simpler, better time are a bastion of support at moments like this - the older lady waiting next to me reaches into her handbag and pulls out a book. Apparently oblivious to the stupifiying properties of our situation, she shows me that she too cries James Harriot's "timeless stories" with her because the train is "often" late. I nod, filled with a feeling of sinking dread - my vision of a country where trains are always on time bursts like so much diesel smoke spewed from a roaring locomotive.

As the dark cloud of my bright dreams disperses in the afternoon air, a conductor comes jogging up telling us that we should get on a different train. I can no longer see even wisps as I walk to the platform he indicates.

The train I get on is over-crowded and I sit on the floor as we rumble through the English countryside. Non-chalantly, a group of three college kids near me chat about their hitchhiking escapades and I find that I have no jealousy or wonder at the content of their conversation. The difference between us on this day is one of situation, not character (though there are differences there as well). Having realised this, I am simultaneously led to an understanding of my respect for certain other people I've met - a thing I'd longer wondered about.

After a longer-than-usual journey (due to the uncomfortable seating arrangement), we arrive in Bristol and I realise that I have no idea where to go and, since I've had no internet, whether or not anyone is expecting me. I sent a message saying I'd be coming today, but wasn't able to receive a reply. It's at times like this that I apply a fool-proof navigational plan: I count off three people and the third, if they look like they know where their going, I follow. I trail my unwitting guide for more than a mile before inquiring about the university's location and, sure enough, it's just a few blocks away.
I wander up the long hill towards a tower and, remembering that my professor does something involving engineering, seek out that building. Engineering is found without too much problem and I wander in, trying to find him. This turns into my sitting on a couch, in an abandoned building, at ~17:45, wondering if I should just go find a hostel. But no! I'm committed to getting to at least his office door today and, thus committed, I flag down the random person strolling past.

The random person turns out to be the head of the department and takes me to Steve's office. Steve somehow recognises me, perhaps it's the backpack or perhaps it's some grace or air which says "American Glaciologist in Training"; regardless, Steve looks up and says, "Ah, Richard. I was just expecting you." We walk over to a local restaurant where we discuss the project over beer and flavoured club soda (there being no root beer).

I'm offered a project working on automated analysis of satellite radar imaging to detect flood-plains, but turn this down telling Steve that I'd like to take my work (which has recently seemed very computer-orientated) back to something that requires physical interaction… something outdoors.

We end the meeting on this note and I wander down to the hostel for the night. The nice, big, clean, new, waterside hostel which is full-up. They direct me to the opposite end of town. I pass through a mall with a captivating roof and then onwards through bad neighborhoods and windy streets where I cannot find the hostel. I'm directed to the Salvation Army by one helpful person and then, by another, to a nieghborhood where booming rock music emenates from windows where tattoed smokers lean out over the street.

Finally, I flag down a jogging girl. She gives me self-evidentally flawless directions to the hostel, but what really impresses me is that when my glacier work somehow comes up she calls me on the lack of glaciers in Bristol and sticks around to hear the explanation, rather than running from the "scary stranger". How different this city and this person is from others I've seen.

I check into the hostel, which is seedy, with creaking stairs, hidden in a back alley, above a pub (just my sort of place, really) and drop off to sleep.

Check if this is a private message just for Richard:

Jen - Monday, July 06, 2009 at 12:09:01 (PDT)
I hate to break it to you little brother but England is woefully short on Root Beer. As in, it's pretty impossible to find it. Sorry!

Richard - Tuesday, July 07, 2009 at 12:49:46 (PDT)
Alas, I'm finding this out, sisterfer.

Mom - Friday, July 17, 2009 at 13:14:11 (PDT)
It is amazing how all your unplanned adventures and last minute travels always seem to turn out for the best--you are so watched over by the powers that BE.

Matt - Tuesday, August 11, 2009 at 22:27:33 (PDT)
Alas it is pretty much impossible to get root beer, or still lemonade in Britain, I've been trying for years and still failing to locate some