We chose a great time to go to England (although to be fair the timing was not our choosing, it's all Tim's fault) we flew in on the Friday and the rioting started on the Saturday - was it something we said?
Our arrival at Birmingham airport was not the most pleasant, we were late because we'd been delayed leaving Germany (some faulty seat belt or something necessitated the complete change of a seat - goodness knows why because I'm quite sure that if a plane crashes the seat belt does little other than keep the bodies in the seats to which they were assigned so facilitating identification) and then because the United Kingdom isn't part of the Schengen agreement we had to queue up to get through border control, there were at least three plane loads of passengers and two immigration officers and lots of empty desks, it was like trying to get into the U.S. except we didn't get finger printed.
First meal out was chinese (of course) a weird little place in a back street of Stratford (upon Avon, not a suburb of London) with paper table cloths (and no hot towels to cleanse greasy fingers - which didn't go down well with MIL, just as the paper table cloths woudn't have been in favour with FIL) but the food was great, even salmon in a black bean sauce which I've never had before, I commented to the chef about it and apparently they get lots of chinese coach tours in who like to have fish.
Saturday was the surprise birthday lunch for my sister in law Rachel, it turned out that the only surprise was that none of us knew that she knew...some people are better are keeping secrets than others I guess*. It was a lovely lunch despite it not being oriental (it was my mission, whilst outside of Germany to eat as much oriental food as possible) in any way, shape or form - can't have everything I guess!
Sunday was English eccentricity at its best. The guys went golfing, Jas and I snook off for a bit of crafty retail therapy and MIL stayed home preparing the bbq food** for the late afternoon's bbq feast. We returned in time for the wine opening, helped set the table (that could well be an over exaggeration, I remember standing next to the table and pointing out where place settings were missing...) and then prayed for the rain to stay away while Si & FIL hovered over the bbq to stop the outside of the huge fillets of pork overcooking (being burnt to a cinder) before the inside was done. The end result was perfect, a lovely meal with great company, but looking at the photos now, it all looks so quintessentially "English".
Monday, and I moved on to my parents for one night with the children, while Si flew home (someone has to work after all, in order to keep me (and the children) in the manner to which we are accustomed!) so whilst Si was eating cheese on toast at home we were taken out for a delicious thai meal.
Tuesday afternoon and to Ben's relief we drove on to our last stop - my friend Alison's. Ben, up to this point had alternated between "bored" and "very bored" but was coping with such dire straits because he knew he had 48 hours at the end of the week to spend with Alison's son, Christopher. The two boys are both 14, have known each since forever and are both equally computer literate. They game together over the internet, talking via headsets about everything and nothing, we were no sooner through the front door than Ben had disappeared into the black hole of Chris's pit, emerging only when summoned for food.
It was Monday and Tuesday nights that the rioting spread to other English cities outside of London and it seemed as if Al's and my carefully planned shopping trip to the Bullring in Birmingham might be under threat.
We needn't have worried, if anything the rioters made our shopping trip easier by keeping everyone (with more sense) away. The car park was deserted, the shops quiet, we didn't even have to queue at the noodle bar in Selfridges (unheard of) we got everything we'd planned to but maybe left earlier than we would have under normal circumstances, it just felt a bit freaky. Around 3pm a couple of the shops had their security shutters lowered already and although we didn't feel threatened or unsafe, the atmosphere was...tense. As we drove out of the car park (which was even emptier than when we'd arrived) we saw the entrance had been completely closed off, you could get out but there was no way in. According to news reports the whole centre shut at 4pm.
Our last meal in England was a good old take out curry - bliss, but now I need to get some serious hours in down at the gym to undo this three weeks of over indulgence, I hope I can manage to fit into my jeans in time for autumn, which is surely just around the corner judging by the weather.
Contraband brought back in the spare bag included Walkers salt and vinegar crisps, prawn cocktail Skips, chichen bisto, self raising flour (x2) mixed spice (x2) Galaxy chocolate bars, Bassetts Liquorice Allsorts, Jelly Babies, Milky Way Stars, Jelly Tots, Tootie Frooties, a fairy cake bun tray, M&S undies and a heap of English magazines - none of which I would die without but none of which can be found here (apart from the flour, but the s.r flour in the chinese supermarket here just doesn't seem to work as well as that from Sainsbury - why is that?!)
* no names, no pack-drill.
** I invited MIL to come shopping with us but she said she'd be far too busy with bbq prep. - I guess I'm incredibly lazy, because to me a bbq is when Si stands over the meat (sausages/burger/chicken if we're feeling adventurous or maybe kebabs from the butchers) and I throw together a salad, some couscous and possibly potato wedges - we're talking an hour's prep, max.