The UK Leg – Eastwood Plus

I would begin by going back to the very small hours of April 27. Su had set the alarm clock for 3:30am to make sure we would leave Mei Foo at 5:15am by taxi to Tsing I to catch the first train to the Airport at 6am, so as to make the 8am flight to Heathrow. As the alarm went, she mumbled, “Too early,” and promptly reset the alarm to go an hour later when we completed the final packing, had some food and set the house to evacuation mode. We left home at 5:15am alright, but couldn’t find a taxi downstairs after nearly 10 minutes, so that we had to lug the bags to Stage 4 to queue up at the make-shift taxi rank. We made the 6am train at Tsing I Airport Express Station and the flight which finally departed at 8:25am, our first in more than three years.

I was not in the best conditions the evening before. My left leg was still hurting and my thigh muscles in particular were rather stiff. I managed to ask Carrie, my physiotherapist, for an urgent slot at 4pm. She gave me some urgent treatment and confirmed that I was fit to fly, but that I needed to take care of myself and stretch those muscles regularly on the plane. It was a smooth enough flight, albeit rather long, taking 14 hours; and because it took Su longer to go through immigration; and another two and a half hours before we could meet Kenny at the arrival gates with our luggage. Su’s Samsonite bag, with its signature greyish purple colour which had served her for decades, had its handle almost dislodged and I had a slight problem off-loading it from the luggage carousel while waiting for Su. We spent another 45 minutes at the terminal for coffee and a quick bite before loading our luggage on Kenny’s Jaguar XF. It was raining and rather cool. My left leg was still aching, but with Kenny’s indulgence, I managed to ease myself reasonably comfortably into the front seat. The car began to roll at 6:15pm UK time and rather slowly at first because traffic was bad, compounded by increasingly pouring and heavy rain. In the end, the 120 miles trip to Nottingham took three hours, so that by the time we pulled up at the house in Eastwood, it was 9:15pm. Our hosts Mei-Mei and Patsy greeted us on the driveway in trench coats and introduced us to their tenants, Ana and Edward, displaced Ukrainians housed under a UK humanitarian scheme, as we got ourselves into the house, warm and cozily heated up. After the brief introduction, the couple retired upstairs on the note that they had work the next day and would leave the house by 7:30am so that it would be nice if we could keep our noise level down before we retired.

We tried, but soon we got into party mood. Su fried the vegetables Kenny bought from London as we opened the bottle of whiskey Kenny brought with him. We finally retired at 2am, by which time Su and I had not properly rested for more than 30 hours.

Back to Eastwood which is a township crouched atop of a windy hill with a population of under 19,000 and which had expanded rapidly during the industrial revolution. It is a former coal mining town 8 miles northwest of Nottingham and 10 miles northeast of Derby, on the border between Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire. Our hosts Me-Mei and Patsy moved to Nottingham some two years ago and had between them bought properties in Eastwood within ten minutes’ drive. Under the UK scheme, Mei-Mei had offered shelter and utilities in one of the properties to the Ukrainian couple and in return the government paid her first £350 and now £500 a month allowance. Now, there are two floors in the semi-detached structure. Ground floor comprised a kitchen which opened up to a patio and the principal entrance to the building, a toilet with an adjacent bath, and a rather spacious living and dining areas with a wooden staircase which led up to the second floor, which in turn comprised three rooms: the main and biggest bedroom which was taken up by the couple, and two adjoining bedrooms, one bigger with a double bed and a smaller one with a sofa bed. Su and I took up the bigger room and Kenny took up the other. All rooms were serviced by electrical heaters. The house was close to the town chapel, a post office, eateries and pubs. We had used once a Chinese restaurant called Dragon Wells which featured Thai food and was run by a Nepalese manager. We used the Lady Chatterley twice, which is a pub run by the Wetherspoon Group. The pub is in the vicinity of the birth place of D H Lawrence (1885 – 1930), the English writer, novelist, short story writer, poet and essayist, who had a controversial reputation for championing sexuality, vitality and instinct, and for his use of explicit language, as exemplified by his best-known novels, Sons and Lovers, The Rainbow, Women in Love and Lady Chatterley’s Lover. The house in which he was born, 8a Victoria Street, is now the D. H. Lawrence Birthplace Museum. He died in Vence, France amidst controversies, except that English novelist and critic E. M. Forster, in an obituary notice, challenged this widely held view, and described him as “the greatest imaginative novelist of our generation” while Nottingham has begun to celebrate his life and works annually since 2008, in Eastwood.

It was thus we had used Eastwood as our base to visit other attractions and sites in the five days, with young Kenny as our very industrious and hardworking driver, often under not so good weather or road conditions.

It was somewhat surreal waking up the first day in Eastwood. The body was aching in most parts, particularly the left leg. Su made her signature breakfast, with eggs, vegetable and some barely drinkable coffee. Mei-Mei arrived and we started off for Stoke on Trent to visit the Wedgwood factory and the Museum with items on loan from the Victoria and Albert Museum. We soon learnt that this English fine china porcelain and luxury accessories manufacturer was founded in 1759 by the potter and entrepreneur Josiah Wedgwood and was first incorporated in 1895. It soon became very successful in Staffordshire and was instrumental in promoting knowledge and reputation of British ceramic art and exporting its products across Europe, Russia and America. In 1987, Wedgwood merged with Waterford Crystal and in 1995 gained royal patronage through a Royal Warrant from Queen Elizabeth II. There were a lot to see, but we were somewhat tired out. We were not too impressed by the King Charles III mug which was selling at £19 each. Since we couldn’t get any food near the Museum, we landed ourselves at the Toby Carvery about ten minutes’ drive away. We decided not to do much the first day and ended up visiting our hosts’ other property in Eastwood. It was also a two-storey semi-detached structure, but bigger and with more bedrooms and baths. It also featured a large and well-groomed backyard with a standalone shed which operated as a multipurpose room for storage and other interests.

The next day turned out to be a very much sunny day and we had earmarked it for visiting Warwick Castle, Mei-Mei having pre-bought us admission tickets which were not cheap. We had also pre-packed food for an outdoor picnic lunch. The ladies had chosen the castle largely because Su had graduated from Warwick University.

The Castle is situated in the town of Warwick, on a sandstone bluff at a bend of the River Avon. The river, which runs below the castle on the east side, has eroded the rock the castle stands on, forming a cliff. It is a medieval castle developed from a wooden fort, originally built by William the Conqueror during 1068. The original wooden motte-and-bailey castle was rebuilt in stone during the 12th century. During the Hundred Years War, the facade opposite the town was refortified, resulting in one of the most recognizable examples of 14th-century military architecture. It was used as a stronghold until the early 17th century, when it was granted to Sir Fulke Greville by James I in 1604. Greville converted it to a country house, and it was owned by the Greville family until 1978, when it was bought first by the Tussauds Group and later in 2007 to the Blackstone Group, which merged with Merlin Entertainments. So much for background from the Internet.

The fine day must have attracted many visitors; and six or seven rows of cars had parked on a huge green field which was accessed through temporary traffic lights. The attraction was obviously meant for families with young kids and the notations and directions had been so designed. We managed to land ourselves on the only available bench overlooking the castle and the vast open field before it, and had our lunch. After a walk through the castle, we basked ourselves under the sun for a while and decided to move on, to Stratford-upon-Avon, Shakespeare’s birth place. We did the tourist things, including visiting a café, bookshops and again basking under the sun along the river. It rained on our way back and we ended up in the Lady Chatterley’s Pub for dinner.

More to come later.

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