Saturday, November 12, 2011

On the trail of vampires, werewolves and Time Lords…

(20th October 2011)

If I was going to run into The Doctor at any time of these travels, it was probably going to be between Bristol and Cardiff.

There should be a sign as you enter the city limits: You are now entering BBCland, watch out for flying TARDISes!

It’s here that the BBC films it’s two premier geek-culture hits, Dr Who and Being Human. So if there was a chance of walking into a blue police box that’s bigger on the inside, this was my chance and I was going to take it.

Bristol was my first stop in the UK; I arrived almost two weeks ago for a reunion tour with friends and family.

It got off to a good start outside the UK, in Vienna the weekend before, with Nancy who came over from Rotterdam. Neither of us expected the sudden cold so we spent a lot of time going from café to café, willingly eating ourselves into a stupor. The first afternoon we had lunch at 4 pm, dinner at 5.30 pm, cake at 7.30 pm, then a late night snack of Chinese dumplings at 11 pm. Now I wouldn’t want you to think we did nothing but eat indiscriminately, we had a list of things to do, a veritable mission:

1. See the Lipazane horses at the Spanish Riding School (tick, saw them going into their stables after their morning’s exercise).
2. Eat sacher torte (big tick on this one, and an extra tick for the cheery Sacher Hotel cloak room attendant who told us “Dressing-off the ladies is the best job ever!” as he helped Nancy and I remove our jackets.)

3. Attend a Mozart or Strauss concert (tick, tick, we attended a concert in the concert hall that the Strauss New Year’s concerts are broadcast from. Though beautiful and ornate it is a very very small space, TV really does make everything look bigger. There's also an extra tick for me for conducting an intense and entirely wordless flirtation with the trumpet player whilst seated in the upper galleries).

4. Eat cheese strudel (tick, between a Thai dinner at 5.30 and Chinese dumplings at 11 pm).
5. Find a ‘there are no kangaroos in Austria’ tacky tourist souvenir (tick, there is a surprising array of such memorabilia).
6. Eat schnitzel (tick for Nancy on this one, I opted for goulash).
7. See a German Shepherd police dog solve apprehend a criminal (our only failure, who knew Inspector Rex wasn’t a real crime fighter?).

So after three nights ( and LOTS of meals) in Vienna I flew to the UK. My suitcase was spot on for the luggage allowance but I was a bit worried all the strudels and tortes might have put ME well over the weight limit. Maybe the airlines allow for some extra poundage for travellers out of Vienna?

Once in the UK I’ve been travelling on a rail pass, bought in advance. It’s great, I don’t have to queue or book tickets, I wave my pass at rail attendants and jump on.  It’s a good way to travel for someone with my awful sense of direction, the train knows where it’s going so I let it do the work and get off in the middle of whatever city I’m visiting. Perfect for tracking down a recalcitrant Time Lord.

Day one was Bristol, which has an even bigger attraction than Dr Who: my friend Paula. And I discovered that you don’t always need a TARDIS to travel back in time, it’s three years since we’ve seen each other, but a plate of nachos for old times sake in a filmhouse café made the years disappear.

Bristol is an amazing city, the river runs through the centre of town and all the bridges made me think I was back in Venice. It has a thriving arts community, and I found a designer making steampunk inspired jewellery. I bought a small brooch made from an old beer bottle top, inside is a miniature print from an 1870s Parisian fashion magazine and tiny watch parts stuck in. I’m a big fan of steampunk, not having the faintest idea about technology I’m quite willing to believe alternative worlds where the computers and the Internet could have been powered by steam engines.

Bristol is also the setting of the first few seasons of Being Human, a BBC show about a vampire, werewolf and ghost sharing a house. Yes it sounds like the Comic Con version of the old 'an Englishman, Irishman and Scot walk into a bar...'. It can’t be a coincidence that it was full moon while I was there, and as I wandered around at night I did keep an eye out for werewolves in the park. I didn’t spot any supernatural beings, but I’m almost 100 per cent positive Jamie Bamber from Battlestar Galactica went past me at the train station, so it’s a obviously a stopping point for intergalactic travel too. 

Not far from Bristol is Cardiff, a mere hour and a half away. My friend Sean lives here and he arranged to take me on an impromptu Dr Who/Torchwood tour, taking me around the city sites where the shows are filmed. This involved taking the train down to Cardiff Bay, and to catch the one that had just pulled into the station we went from a standing stop to a sprint, racing each other up the stairs. We overtook an older man on the stairs, leisurely ascending, who told us not to run. Just as we similtaneously drew breath to be offended at his officiousness he added “I’m the driver, it’s not going anywhere without me.”

Our new friend the traindriver dropped us near the Bay and we headed to the outside façade of the Torchwood building. It’s here that my beloved James Marsters made a guest appearance, and was thrown across the set, sprawling on the ground. At first I was very excited about being in his footsteps, until I remembered that I’ve been up close and personal with him on several occasions now, the last one nary a year ago when he got rather an eyeful of my cleavage. Footsteps, that's for amateurs!

We figured the Doctor may be hiding out in some local bars, so we interspersed our tour with plenty of stops along the way, and as an upshot I was not feeling quite so tickity boo the next morning on the train to York. Fortunately it was grey and overcast (rather like my complexion that day) so I could settle in for a little nap on the four-hour trip.

York was a stopover to get a good night’s sleep for the trip to my old stomping ground, Edinburgh. Again time melted away the second the train pulled into Waverly Station, and for the next five days I threw myself into a proper reunion tour with friends and family in Edinburgh and Glasgow.  Much love to everyone who made this so special!!

But time doesn’t stand still though, as was evident from the presence of my two adorable new cousins, two year old Kenzie and three month old Kyle, the babies of my cousin Siobhan. My brain boggled at the idea of Vonnie being a mum. I first met her when she was a shy eight year old, all the way back in 1996 when I was living in an Edinburgh youth hostel. I remember her coming to visit me there, fascinated that I was sharing a room with seven other girls, and eyes wide at the amount of people coming and going from the hostel.

This time Siobhan, Kenzie and Kyle were part of a wonderful family dinner with my Livingstone and Pollock cousins, who for the past 15 years have been welcoming and generous with their vagrant Australian cousin. I was determined this time to break my history of ALWAYS being late for our family dinners, usually because of getting on the wrong train, taking the wrong road, or of having some weird ailment (burst ear-drum, facial paralysis, strained Achilles tendon, glandular fever to name but a few). Since I was staying in Glasgow this time, I actually made it onto the right train without a mishap, and arrived hale and hearty, for the first time in 15 years

After dinner we headed back to my uncle Alastair’s house and here was another reminder time doesn’t stand still. All through dinner Alastair had been telling us about the ‘Friend request’ he’d had for Facebook, and he made 16 year old Amber promise to set it up for him.

“That’s great,” his son Alan, said, “You can use it to get in touch with all your old school friends. Oh wait, you'd need a séance!”

And as soon as Amber created his account and explained how to use it, there was no stopping Alastair. “Right,” he said, “Now, how about this Twitter thing?”

Seriously, who needs an unreliable Time Lord when you can be in the here and now with your loved ones?

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