I’ve been intending to blog about this all week but somehow not found the time until today. Last Thursday evening my dad and Gill arrived to visit for the weekend. I’d stayed at uni later than usual a few times to make sure I’d got all my work done in advance, which meant that I could take Friday off from self-directed study (I have to admit, Fridays are seldom my most productive study days anyway!) so mid-morning we set off on the train to go for a quick lunch at my favourite cafe and then on to the Birmingham Back to Backs for a pre-booked tour.
I was a bit anxious about fitting everything in, as the Warehouse Cafe doesn’t open until noon and our tour was booked for 1.30, so we power-walked across the city. Neither dad or Gill had been here for decades, so they commented on the many changes and also the things that hadn’t really changed. I didn’t really know Birmingham all that well when I was a child; we visited a few times for music competitions and I often changed coaches or trains here, but that was about it, so I hadn’t really thought about how much change there’s been. Thinking about it, though, there are several very obvious fairly recent developments: New Street Station, which is still a work in progress, the new Library of Birmingham, the Bullring which certainly doesn’t look particularly old! It’s funny how easy it is to take things for granted and assume they have ever been thus.
Visiting the Back to Backs is a sure-fire way to put paid to that idea. It’s a National Trust property, which consists of 11 back-to-back terraced houses; the last 11 in a city that once housed hundreds of thousands of houses built in that style. My dad says there are still some near where they live up in Yorkshire but they’re almost all gone here. There are four houses made up to represent how they’d probably have looked at different points in their history; the first one seemed surprisingly comfortable and spacious but it had initially been built as a normal house and then split in the middle later on. The others were purpose-built to house two families in the footprint of one building, and they were much more cramped and squalid. The tour guide showed us some photos of the buildings when they were being lived in and they were very sad; ramshackle, overgrown courtyards, broken windows, crumbling brickwork and rotten wood around the windows. Now that the houses are restored and well cared for, they look stylish and elegant but it’s easy to imagine how fast that collapses with a disinterested landlord and penniless tenants.
We spent an hour and a half there, and then went across the street for a coffee in Wetherspoons. Apparently the coffee is very good and reasonably priced, so Gill and my dad usually go there if they fancy a drink while they’re out. I can’t comment on the quality of the coffee personally, because to my astonishment there was no soya milk. I’ve been to cafes which can’t offer me vegan milk before, but they’re usually little independent family places, not big national chains. Sort it out, Wetherspoons! As a protest I refused their suggestion of fruit juice or lemonade, which I doubt will make the blindest bit of difference but made me feel better.
I’d invited my friend Susannah to join us for dinner, so we hurried off to the supermarket next to pick up a few things I needed for my planned menu. Frustratingly the trains were running terribly; from the announcements it wasn’t just our line, as several trains were entirely cancelled and many more were delayed. What with the delays getting onto the train out of the city, a bit of a malarky in the supermarket trying to find breadcrumbs that were more substantial than decorative dust (we went for sage and onion stuffing in the end) and then more train delays, things ended up being a trifle rushed. By the skin of our teeth Gill and I got everything cooked in time and we had a lovely evening crammed into my tiny flat and then decamping to their motorhome to introduce Susannah to the dog (who was not invited to the meal due to his enthusiastic tail-wagging).
On Saturday it was pouring with rain, but we still decided to stick to our original plan and go to the Nature Centre that I visited with my brother when he came to stay. We saw some parts that I’d not seen before (evidentally Xander and I had missed a section of the park!) and had a late lunch in the cafe which provided me with a delicious vegan burger. At least they said it was vegan; I wasn’t completely convinced since the first person we asked didn’t even know what vegan meant, and the second one solemnly informed me that even the ice creams were vegan (they were not), but I decided I was hungrier than I was suspicious and just ate it.
Sadly, while we were looking at the ocelot my dad got a phone call from his brother to say that his aunt, my great aunt Auntie Nan, had died. She lived in the same house that my granny, who died last summer, lived in – way up in the north of Scotland – so we spent a while trying to figure out whether it was possible for me to get up there for the funeral and adjusting our plans so that dad and Gill could go home before setting off again for Scotland. Unfortunately at such short notice train tickets to Scotland would have cost me over £100 in each direction, so I have once again missed a funeral for a close relative (the funeral was or is today – I’m not sure of the exact time).
On Sunday morning I left my visitors to sleep in and went to the church’s Animal Blessing service in honour of our namesake Saint Francis. It was a hilarious service – a few child-friendly hymns, a simplified sermon and then a long queue of parishioners and their pets formed for a blessing. There were lots of dogs, a fair few rodents in elaborate cages, and an intriguingly large cardboard box being carried by two children. I never found out what was in it but my money is on turtles. At any rate that took up most of the service. I had decided against borrowing dad’s large, boisterous, uncontrollable dog since I didn’t want to be responsible for the destruction of the church.
As usual at lunchtime I had a tutoring lesson, and then we bundled into the van and sped off to another National Trust house – Packwood House in Warwickshire. The reason for all this National Trusting, by the way, is that we all have membership so it’s a good way to have a day out without it costing too much. I really liked Packwood; there were lots of intriguing tapestries (including one creepy one with a man whose eyes follow you as you walk down the hallway, and a clever one which makes you feel like you can walk straight down the path no matter what angle you stand at) and the guides were friendly and funny. Dad and Gill realised they had been there before but various things had been changed or moved since then. I spent most of the weekend sniffling and sneezing but it was still enjoyable and the gardens were lovely. I left a suggestions card asking that the new visitors’ centre cafe have vegan cake – it’s worth a try!
Once we got back, dad and Gill decided they should set off home again to give themselves time to prepare for the funeral so I waved them off and went to evensong. It was really nice to have three entire days of weekend; I’m finding the course a little stressful, although I’m staying completely on top of the work by spending hours in the library, so putting it aside for a few days helped. One more week and then I have a week off for reading week, and after that we finally start attending placement on Fridays which I’m hoping will refire my enthusiasm. At the moment it doesn’t really feel like I’m training to be a midwife, more like I’m back at school just studying a lot of science.
And on that note, time to tidy my table and try and get a bit of work done. I’d intended to go into uni for study days and try to avoid having to work in my flat, and that is what I do on Wednesdays, but the hour of cycling that’s involved makes me reluctant to bother, especially with the half marathon so close (two days! Eek!). I seem to get a lot more housework done on Fridays than any other day, and if that means letting a bit of uni work spill over onto Saturday afternoon then that works for me.