September has come.
It is hers whose vitality leaps in the autumn,
Whose nature prefers
Trees without leaves and a fire in the fire-place;
So I give her this month and the next
Though the whole of my year should be hers who has rendered already
So many of its days intolerable or perplexed
But so many more so happy;
Who has left a scent on my life and left my walls
Dancing over and over with her shadow,
Whose hair is twined in all my waterfalls
And all of London littered with remembered kisses.

- Louis MacNeice, "Autumn Journal"


The Great England Trip: Volume II [continued]

Volume II: The Lake District (Part 2).

Thursday. We'd been in the Lake District for three days now, and nothing untoward had occurred. I hadn't lost my wallet, Izzie hadn't developed diarrhea from the oranges she'd been living on, neither of us had fallen over a cliff, neither of us had fallen into one of the lakes. We hadn't stepped foot in any pubs, we hadn't been attacked by birds, we'd had only minimal contact with our landlord, we hadn't had wild animals come into our room when we smuggled takeaway in. We'd seen lots of wonderful things and been to lots of wonderful places. We were in the zone. 

You know what? 

It couldn't last. 

On Thursday, we decided we'd try out the Cross Country Experience that all the Lake District leaflets kept going on about. The Cross Country Experience is just another term for, Catch-your-own-bus-and-boat-and-cycle-or-walk-tourist-but-don't-expect-us-to-organise-any-tours-for-you. That's what Iz claimed anyway. 

Which suited us just fine. We'd both been wanting to go to Coniston to see Brantwood, where Ruskin lived. After another salty breakfast (I didn't admit it to Iz, but I would have DIED for some cereal. However, it had, by now, become a test of endurance) we optimistically set foot on the streets, clutching our trusty map (it hadn't failed us yet) tightly. 

"Right," said Iz, by now established as the official map reader (I'd long ago given up on making out what the various squiggles meant). "We're going to walk down to Lake Windermere and take a ferry across it. From there, we're going to take a bus to Hawkshead." 

"And maybe stop at the cafe for a coffee," I said, in what I hope was a casual and don't carish tone, thinking of the cute waiter. 

"Maybe," said Iz, who has never been known to turn down caffeine. "From there, we catch another bus and that should get us to Coniston and then we take the ferry across Coniston Water and once we get across Coniston Water, we'll be at Brantwood. Right?" 

"Right," I said enthusiastically, hoping she knew what she was doing because I sure as hell didn't. "Right-o." (For emphasis). 

The ferry and the bus all did what they were supposed to, and we reached Hawkshead in a relatively serene state of mind. We went into the cafe, I got ignored by the cute waiter again, and over pots of hot peppermint tea, we discussed all we'd done so far. 

Iz has a wonderful theory on people who choose to live in the country. "They are unnatural. They are unnatural because history has shown that the natural progress of man is movement away from the country, towards the city. To want to move from city to country, on a permanent basis, is to go against history. And to choose to live in a country town is worse, because it's neither the country nor the city." 

"Maybe it's both," I said, trying to be open-minded.

She gave me a look and I subsided meekly. 

We reached the Coniston bus stop around noon. Looked around for a couple of signs that would point us the way to the lake, but didn't see any. Just rows of cheery little houses. Not a soul in sight except for a woman jogging past with her dog. 

"I hate the country," I'm not sure who voiced the words, but the sentiment, at that moment, was mutual.

We soon realised that it was a straight road and, considering the direction our bus had come, we'd have to walk up it. Naturally. It seems to me that one of the universal laws of life no one ever tells you about, is that you always have to walk up mountains. Eventually there's a down, but it's never close enough.


We walked for a while and came to what I assume was the town centre because we were at crossroads. Also, there were at least four people in sight. And a sign saying, Coniston Town Centre. There was another sign, an arrow pointing to the left turning saying, Coniston Water. So we followed the arrow. 

We got to the lake fifteen minutes later. There was a restaurant at the edge, with mostly outdoor seating, and practically every table was full. So I suppose the town was empty because everyone was busy eating lunch at what seemed to be Coniston's only eating place. Figures.

While I was busy thinking rude thoughts about the people there, Izzie walked to the dock and she was now standing in front of a sign, with a look of horror on her face. 

I walked towards her and once I drew near, she pointed towards it silently. Takes a lot to silence Izzie. 

Ferry to Brantwood, it said, 1 pm. 

"That'll give us time to eat," I said happily. 

"Read on,"

I read on. Ferry to Brantwood. 1 pm. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday. 

They'd left Sunday out. That was understandable. Sundays are usually left out. But something didn't seem right to me. I read it again. 

"They've forgotten Thursday," I said, finally. 

Izzie gave me a look. She's quite proficient that way. 

"Fuck," I said, because no other word could adequately describe my emotions just then. 

"Fuck," Izzie said. 

"Fuck," I said again, quite enjoying this game. 

Another look, and she turned towards the restaurant. 

"We could eat," I said hopefully. "And then see if another boat will take us over. There's a ferry ride at 1.30." 

This suggestion was met with approval and we found a bench by the lake and got down to the serious business of eating. 

1.30 rolled around, as did a ferry. We made our way to the dock and asked one of the boat's staff if it was stopping at Brantwood. 

"No can do, love," said the man. "We sail around the lake and don't stop." 

Another man, in a sailor cap, must have noticed our devastated expressions because he came towards us and asked if there was a problem. We explained our dilemma - we'd come all the way from Windermere, part of the Cross Country Experience no less, only to find that what we wanted to experience (i.e. the thrill of wandering through Ruskin's house) was denied to us, because it was Thursday. 

"Tell you what," said the man, after a pause. "We'll stop the boat briefly at Brantwood and let you girls get out. We can't anchor so you'll have to jump across the water a bit, but you're young and you look relatively fit, so it shouldn't be a problem." 

Our thanks knew no bounds. This man had only one eye (the other was closed in a Popeyesque manner) and he had a bronzed, lined face. Very blue eyes. Well, eye. It didn't surprise me when I heard the other man address him as Cap'n. 

Cap'n ushered us on board and, finding ourselves surrounded by octogenerians (it was a ride around the lake after all), we made our way to the prow. It was nice standing there in the sunshine and the wind, and I fell into a reverie which I was jolted out of by an announcement on the loud speaker: Now folks, we're approaching Brantwood where  the writer John Ruskin lived, and we're just going to stop here for a brief moment to let two young ladies hop off. Concluding we were the two young ladies, Iz and I made ready to depart. The boat was brought as close to the dock as possible, but there was a foot of water in between. One of the staff (not the Cap'n, sadly) helped me climb onto the edge and I leaped across ungracefully, landing on the dock feet-first thankfully. The octogenarians gave me a round of applause. Iz was not so lucky. She slipped and nearly fell into the water but managed a strange half  jump and landed, arms and knees on the dock. She was given an even louder round of applause. We waved to the boat, and everyone (including the Cap'n who was in hysterics) waved back and then it sailed off. 

Brantwood was incredibly ugly. The interiors were nice - especially the front two rooms which had been turned into a bookstore and gift shop - and I had a lovely time roaming around Ruskin's study pretending I was him. The gardens were beautiful but the exterior- ugh- I cannot even begin to describe its hideousness. I won't. 

After we were done, we decided, since we had our trusty map in hand, to walk all the way back to Hawksheade. The map made it look relatively simple and we thought it would do us good to take in the Lake District on foot. We set off optimistically. Naturally, the road wound its way upwards. 

Forty minutes later, sweating profusely, having hurled abuses at a group of innocent cows for being cows, we were reaching the top of a hill. 

"I'm going to run up it," I said determinedly. 

Iz made a strangled sort of sound behind me - it could have been a snort of disbelief, a snatch of laughter, or a heartbroken sob, but I ignored it and ran. 

Reached the top and collapsed on the road. A shooting pain encircled my chest and I wondered if I was living my last moments. Izzie joined me a few minutes later and, having ascertained that I was not going to die, we looked around. The road continued going up, but towards the left, was another path, framed by trees, looking shady and cool, going down. 

"Let's go left," I said immediately. 

"We don't know that it leads to Hawkshead," argued Izzie. "We could end up back at bloody Brantwood for all we know." 

"What does the map say?" I asked. 

She looked at it doubtfully. "According to the map, both lead to Hawkshead but in the middle, it kind of peters out." 

"What do you mean?" 

She showed me. There were strong lines connected the places and, we could make out the spot where we were currently standing, but both roads dissolved in the middle into a series of dots. 

"What do the dots mean?" I asked. 

"I dunno," 

We debated what to do. Both of us were tempted to take the friendlier looking path, but neither of us wanted to get lost and walk around for hours, so we summoned our courage, and kept walking. You'd think, because we'd finally reached the top of a hill, we'd get to walk down a bit, but oh no, the road dipped a little - just a little - and then continued its way upwards again. The sun was out in all its glory, the wind had decided to abandon the world, and the occasional glimpse of a calm blue lake did nothing to alleviate my despair. At one point, I did consider running towards the water and jumping in with all my clothes on and staying there until helicopters came to fetch me, but in the end, common sense unfortunately prevailed, and I trudged on. 

We met no people on the way though a couple of cars occasionally passed us by. We walked and walked and walked. Walkedandwalkedandwalkedandwalked. We didn't see any signs reassuring us we were on the right path, we didn't see any signs of human habitation, we didn't even see any cows. It was like the entire world had abandoned us, leaving us only with the road ahead and the sun on our faces. 

Finally, we reached a point where the road split in two. There was a sign, pointing to the right, telling us Hawkshead was only a mile away. We'd given up talking to each other a long time ago, so we just carried on in silence. Things got better slowly. The road started travelling downwards, we saw more houses, the sun wasn't as strong, the wind came back from wherever it had disappeared to. 

We finally reached Hawkshead and made our way to the bus stop. The next bus that would take us to the ferry was ten minutes away. It was also the last bus. We congratulated ourselves on our perfect timing and headed to the cafe only to find it was closing. We should have known - it was past 5 pm. Went back to the bus stop and sat on the curb. Waited and waited. And waited. No bus came. The town had suddenly emptied out. It looked like a ghost town. Finally, twenty minutes later, with no bus in sight, we were forced to conclude that the country had played a nasty trick on us. 

We decided to call a cab. Luckily, there was a number printed on the bus stop sign. As Izzie waited for the call to connect, still swearing under her breath, I heard the phone ring across the street. 

Izzie: Hello?

*Voice from post office across street*: Hello. 

Izzie: *slightly bewildered at both voices that seemed to be talking to her, on the phone and from the post office* I think we've missed the last bus and we need a cab to take us to Windermere. 

*Voice*: Where are you? 

Izzie: The Hawkshead bus stop. 

A man suddenly stuck his head out from the post office and waved at us. We waved back. "If you can wait for about fifteen minutes," he yelled, both at us and into his phone (Izzie moved her phone away from her ear and winced), "I'll organise a ride."

"Cheers," said Izzie, and we both collapsed back onto the curb. 

"That was strange," I said. 

"It's the country," Izzie said, in a resigned tone. "And the north of England. They eat their chips with gravy. Mental." 

I didn't see what the chips had to do with anything but I later learnt that there is a huge battle between the north of England and its south. The north insists on eating its chips with gravy, the south thinks this is indecent. I suppose you have to be English to get it. 

After fifteen minutes, the man from the post office stepped out, locked up, and beckoned to us. It soon transpired that he was the intended taxi driver. He told us that he'd drive us down to the ferry and we could take that across to Bowness because it would be cheaper, and it would also get him home in time for his tea. We agreed. 

On the way there, he and Izzie chatted a bit. At one point, he looked at me (I had my sunglasses on) and asked me if I was Japanese. I made a non committal noise. There's no escaping some things.

The ferry that was to take us to Bowness, it transpired, was generally used for transporting cars across the lake. Iz and I waited quietly while three or four cars rolled onto the deck of the ferry, and we followed, less spectacularly, on foot. It moved very slowly and dropped us off at an unfamiliar pier. 

"This isn't where we usually get off," said Izzie, looking around, as the ferry began to move way. The cars, supremely unconcerned, revved up their engines and sped off. It was the two of us alone. Again. 

We walked, cut across a field, and after about twenty minutes, came to the dock we usually stopped at. It was only a forty minute walk to Windermere from there. Got back to the hotel, made tea (lots of tea) and watched Kindergarden Cop on television.

"At least," said Izzie, as we climbed into bed, "we're leaving tomorrow. Nothing else can go wrong. Nothing. It's over. One more horrible breakfast and we're back in our safe old city," 

"Unless our journey home turns out to be a disaster," I said sleepily. 

It was something I really should have left unsaid. 


The Great England Trip: Volume II

Volume II: The Lake District (Part 1)

Given what happened in Stratford, Izzie and I approached the Lake District with no small amount of trepidation. Sue dropped us to the station; we had to catch a train to...my memory fails me...let’s call the place X, and from there, grab a local train to Windermere. The journey was uneventful  (I slept through most of it) except for a few brief moments of anxiety when we had a five minute gap between the two trains and we both needed to – uh, relieve ourselves – and the loo was as far away from our platform as could possibly be expected at a train station in the middle of nowhere.

We both discovered that we have a possible career in sprinting and we made the train to Windermere in time.

We were also the only people on the damn train.

We reached Windermere and, to our relief, saw people. Well, tourists. I’m not sure if they count as humans. The B&B we were staying at was only a five minute walk from the station (it may interest you to know that to walk from one end of Windermere to another takes less than twelve minutes) and so, carrying our bags, we huffed and puffed our way there.

As soon as we entered, we nearly got run over by a pack of Japanese kids. We went into the office and Andrew (the B&B owner) was there to make us feel at home. He did this by thinking I was Mexican and bitching about Mexico for seven minutes, finding out I was from Calcutta and referring to it as the Black Hole, implying Izzie was a moron because she couldn’t add one hundred and twenty three and forty six off the top of her head straight away, and telling us that if we smoked or brought takeaway into our room, we’d get chucked out.

“Especially curry. Curry smells, and birds come in. It’s happened before” he said, looking at me.


He disappeared for a moment to fetch our key, and I started reading a couple of posters pinned to the door. They all proclaimed how the British government was trying to shove multiculturalism down everyone’s throats and how Britain belonged to the British, goddamnit, and it wasn’t fair to let non English speaking Asians dilute Britain’s great culture.

He then came back in and introduced us to his wife.

She was Japanese and couldn’t speak English.

Turned out the Japanese looking kids belonged to him too.  

People are strange.

Anyway, Iz and I dumped our luggage in our room (a little on the frilly side, but decent) and decided to explore. This basically translated to finding food since we hadn’t eaten all day, and everything in Windermere was shut since it was ten past five and apparently the entire town (for want of a better word) closed at four thirty. We walked a couple of miles until we reached the neighbouring town of Bowness which looked a little livelier. According to the signs, nothing shut till six.

Found a nice little restaurant, ate (a lot) and then walked down to Lake Windermere, one of the Lake District’s main attractions, and also, the largest lake in England.

It was beautiful but my god, the birds.

There were ravens, pigeons, gulls, ducks, geese and swans. I did my best to ignore them and I even sat on a bench close by to a pack of geese that were being fed by tourists (raving lunatics) until three fat pigeons wandered over to me and started pestering me.

Iz caught up with me eventually and since it was six thirty and everything was shut, we trudged back to the B&B and collapsed into bed.

The next morning, I woke up to a gorgeous day. The sun was shining brightly- but not too brightly- and there was a gentle sort of breeze blowing- the right kind of breeze. It was the kind of day when nothing can possibly go wrong. The bacon at breakfast was too salty though but even that was insignificant.

We decided we wanted to walk a bit, so we went down to Lake Windermere again and from there, examined a map that would lead us on a nice walk to the fells (that’s what the hills there are called). We walked north, climbing our way through the steep streets of Bowness, passing shops and cafes and people, until we reached a narrow path that twisted and turned its way up towards what, according to the map, was one of Bowness’ highest fells. We passed a lot of lovely little houses, white washed and gleaming under the summer sun, until we reached a gate and beyond that, fields that continued rolling their way up into forestland.

After crossing the first gate, we climbed our way up to the second, and sat down on a rock there to catch our breath. I could see green meadows spread out beneath me, dotted with wildflowers, and I could see those little houses we’d passed, framed picture perfect by leafy green trees. Beyond all of this, lay Lake Windermere, glistening silver under sky, occasionally interrupted by a brightly coloured boat.

Then we climbed higher. We kept climbing and all around us were slopes, impossibly green, and what seemed like hundreds of daisies and buttercups and dandelions, and of course, trees. Some were tall and grand, with a king of the forest sort of look about them, and others were small and gnarled like troll like guardians. Every now and then we came to a gate and finally, after we reached our fifth, we could see the top of the fell. The space between the gate and the peak was occupied by a rather alarming number of sheep but they ignored us. A few were even nice enough to pose for photographs, pausing their chewing and blinking up at the camera flash like owls.

When we finally reached the top, after many close encounters with thistles and sheep poop, Bowness and Windermere lay spread out below us. You could literally see for miles and there were many other fells, but ours was the highest. Like I mentioned earlier, it was a very bright and beautiful sort of day, but the top of some of the fells – the ones on the other side of the lake – were shrouded in white mist, and it seemed to me that if you closed your eyes, you could almost see some ancient army standing there, waiting to descend into battle perhaps, or a grey stoned castle with turrets and ravens flying around. I wish I could describe how beautiful it was but I can’t. I can only say that, for the next thirty minutes, everything else – and I mean, everything – seemed insignificant.

We sat there for a long time, Izzie and I, not talking because just then, silence was the best possible sound.

The next day, we were booked on a tour. A bus came to pick us up from our B&B. It was a small group of people: Izzie and myself, a Chinese couple who were obviously on their honeymoon, a middle aged American lady, and a retired English couple who kept talking about their dog. Typical.

We went to Beatrix Potter’s cottage first. It really was a cottage – small, made of grey stone, covered with ivy, and impossibly quaint. Everything inside was preserved just the way it had been during her time, right down to the last fussy tea cup. It was really difficult to get a feel of the place though, because the cottage really wasn’t very big, and it was crowded with people. No freedom to wander empty rooms and try and imagine her sitting at a table scribbling away, or maybe standing at the bay window in her bedroom watching the sun set over the fields. Her garden was wonderful. I recognised it from the Peter Rabbit books because Mr McGregor’s garden was, according to one of the guides, modelled on her own. It had flowers, but also vegetables, especially lettuce. Best of all, at one point, I glimpsed a rabbit beyond her garden wall, eyeing it curiously. I like to think he was twitching his nose and tilting his head, wondering whether it was worth his while to brave the people and try and steal some lettuce. He looked exactly like Peter Rabbit – the same narrow body, the upright ears, the brown fur. That’s what most wild rabbits look like in England, I believe, but it was the closest thing I’d ever seen to a real live Peter Rabbit.

We then stopped at the village of Hawkeshead where Wordsworth’s grammar school was located. It was unremarkable. Iz and I were more interested in the cafe nearby, where we got served some excellent coffee by a very good looking waiter. I gave him my most winning smile but he ignored me, looked over the top of my head and called for the next customer. Understandable, but annoying.  

The bus then jolted unsteadily to Grasmere, stopping for a few minutes by a lake. It wasn’t nearly as big as Windermere, it was quite small as lakes go, but it was calm and blue and still, surrounded by dark green trees and almost impossibly peaceful.

Grasmere has a very lovely church and Wordsworth is buried outside. I had quite a good time standing in front of his tombstone and mentally hurling abuse at it (I’ve always hated Wordsworth with a passion; it was very satisfying knowing he was dead and not able to steal excerpts from his sister’s diary and pass them off as his own vision of dancing daffodils). I went inside the church then, and noticed a very beautiful thing: there was a corner where people had pinned prayers to a board. Everyone who enters is free to pen a prayer on a piece of paper and pin it to the board and each and every prayer, or thought, is read out by the vicar. I’m not religious at all, and I don’t really believe in God, but something struck me about that, and when Iz wandered off to another part of the Church, I quickly scribbled a little something on a piece of paper and stuck it there, amongst all the other messages.

We then went to Grasmere’s famous gingerbread shop. It is apparently the oldest gingerbread shop in the world and the person who started it, discovered the recipe that is used to make gingerbread all over the world today. The lady manning the shop was kind enough to give me a free sample, and I was rude enough to gag on it, but I bought a pretty box for the family at home, hoping that they’d appreciate it even if I couldn’t.

We also stopped in a valley and on either side of us were tall cliffs, covered in grey slate and ash. Remnants, our guide told us, from the Ice Age. They’d never been moved. I touched a stone, finding it incredible that such a tiny piece of rock was older than human history. We also got taken to the top of a fell where there were a bunch of rocks arranged in a manner similar to Stonehenge. Like Stonehenge, no one knew what exactly they’d been used for. I learnt that the man who discovered them, also found a twin arrangement of rocks, but they could never be found a second time. I tried stealing one of the smaller stones but I didn’t get a chance to.

It was a long tour and by the time we made our way home, I was so tired I kept falling asleep. Now and then, when the bus lurched around a corner, I’d be jolted awake and I’d see the sun dipping low, not setting exactly, but sinking, sending streaks of pink and crimson and gold across the sky, and trees, stark and black against the horizon, and the only sounds that could be heard, were bird calls and the wheels of the bus gently rumbling over stony slopes. 



The wind slices your cheek but you don't notice. You don't notice that you're being thrown about, hips banging, sometimes on this end of the hand rest, sometimes on that. Outside, there is nothing to see, except darkness and wind and rain, and the occasional light that looks like a hovering orb. 

Your head throbs. 

You think things that you're not supposed to think but you convince yourself it's alright because no one can see inside your head except you. Images of what could be, flashes of what could have been, and what makes it all the more sad is the conviction of knowing it will never happen. 

It's ridiculous how dangerous snippets of conversation can be. 

And then later, when you're staring into the bright glare of the computer screen, you realise that it really is possible to be winded by written words, to be hit by them, to have them twist around in your gut like the sharp metal shards of a broken sword. 

It's like falling in love with ink, except more.