Thursday, June 9, 2011

Bramham and Birthday!

The last few days have been a whirlwind, and it's hard to believe that I'm down to my last seven days in Oxford - howww did that happen? Well, partially it's come so quickly because I've literally felt like I've barely had time to set my feet on the ground of late!

Last Friday I woke up at 5am (after having completed my most recent tutorial essay at 3:30... sigh), slung up my 15 kilo pack, and set off for the Oxford train station. From there, it was a four and a half hour trip up to beautiful Yorkshire, where the sun was shining and the temperature was positively summerlike (well, for that day - it proceeded to get good and chilly as the weekend wore on). I was heading to the Bramham horse trials, which was a bit out in the country and so difficult to get to by public transport. I assumed that it would be like going to the National Stud or Badminton, where if I got to the closest train station I would leave the platform to find a taxi stand, tell them where I was going, and have them nod knowingly and make some comments like, "off to see the horses, eh?" In other words: easy.

(A verry early morning at Birmingham New St)

Well, I got off in beautiful Micklefield, a tiny town about halfway between Leeds and York, only to discover that my first assumption right off the bat was wrong: no taxi stand. In fact, very little resembling an urban center whatsoever! It seemed like I'd been dropped right into the middle of an entirely residential neighborhood, with no sign of a center of town (or even which way to go to get to a center of town) in sight. I gulped, but, refusing to let this get me down, starting walking down the road in the way I sensed might have something promising on it.

(On the way to Micklefield)

A little ways down, I got to a tiny little restaurant that seemed to serve nothing but jacket potatoes and thick strips of greasy ham bacon to a very blue collar local crowd. Already knowing how much I stick out like a sore thumb in more diverse environments (a young woman with a boy's haircut traveling alone with a 30 pound pack tends to draw stares in most places), I set my jaw and walked in. Sure enough, the conversation died pretty quickly upon my entrance as most of the older men stopped to gape, but I walked up to the counter and promptly asked, as brightly as I could, if I could get help calling a cab.

The man looked at me like I wasn't speaking English. "Umm, a cab?" I repeated hopefully. He paused, then gave a sort of half smile and replied, "Sorry lass, you'll have to go out back to do that." I obviously looked confused and didn't move a muscle, so he elaborated, "you want to use the toilet, right?" WHAT? How on earth could "Can you help me call a cab?" be construed as "I need to use the toilet"??? When I stressed that I in fact wanted a taxi, the guy said of course in a 'why didn't you say so in the first place' kind of way and picked up the phone.

Soon a taxi was being called and I was feeling much better. My heart began to sink again, though, when he asked me where I was going and upon my reply (Bramham Horse Trials) he again looked at me like I wasn't speaking English. He relayed the message to the cabby, who also obviously had never heard of it before. Yikes. Then he asked me for a name, and I replied, "Kate." YET AGAIN, he acted like I hadn't responded properly. He replied, "No, what's your name?" To which I had to say, "That is my name. My name is Kate." He looked confused and suspicious and relayed the message, and again the cabby on the other end seemed confused. The guy on the phone literally had to be like, "The name is Kate -- Kate -- yes, Kate," each time glancing over at me suspiciously as if I was trying to pass off some joke on him and all while turning over the greasiest fattiest strips of slab bacon I've ever seen in my entire life. Finally he seemed to convince the guy on the other end that I was in fact real, and I thanked him and got out of there as quickly as possible. Seriously, Yorkshire? Are there no Kates in the entire region?

The cab finally pulled up and it was a bit of a nightmare. The cabby didn't speak English too well and kept asking me for a post code. Obviously I should have had one, but I very naively thought that it was going to be so simple that I hadn't bothered to write it down. I knew that there was another Bramham about an hour away, and it was becoming clearer and clearer that that's where he was trying to take me, because he kept making comments like "oh no, very far, very expensive" when I knew I had chosen Micklefield because it's supposed to be legit 15 minutes away from the event. Finally, to avoid disaster, I whipped out my iPhone and turned on the über expensive mobile roaming just so I could pin down an address for this guy. I got it, but he seemed to think I was an idiot at this point and so set off with a distinct grumble under his breath.

I was indeed correct and it was just a 15 minute drive away. The cabby tried to insist that we go in the OFFICIALS AND HORSEBOXES ONLY NO PUBLIC TRAFFIC entrance, because that's what his GPS was telling him to do, despite the like 4 million signs when we got closer that were all indicating where the caravan park was. I had to get a little short with him, but finally we pulled into the campground. I was pretty happy to say goodbye to him, and did NOT ask for his card to get a ride back. Walking would be a better alternative!

After that rather dramatic entrance, the rest of the weekend passed in a hazy blur of horsey awesomeness. It was really hot on Friday and I had a great time melting by the side of the arena and dreaming about being back at the horse shows this summer (even if the crazy redneck burn I got ended up being a bit of a pain!). On Friday night I went for a run around the CCI*** course, and, despite being totally worn out by the rolling hills of the Yorkshire parkland (so different from the flat plain of Badminton!), had a great time. The course looked awesome and I couldn't wait to watch it get tackled the next day.

(Bramham beauty on my run on Friday night)

Saturday flew by in a wash of nonstop cross country action, though very sadly it got colder and colder as the day wore on. I missed the heat!! The riding was spectacular, though, and it was one of my favorite horse experiences in England so far. Sunday came too soon, and before I knew it I was back on the train for another (this time five and a half hour, thanks to wacky Sunday schedules) trip home. On the way, I had my first burger at a mainstream fast food place in over six years... because Burger King in the UK sells veggies burgers! It was sort of disgusting but I was immoderately pleased about the whole thing because, even though I haven't actually eaten a fast food hamburger/cheeseburger since I was 3 (really), there's something so satisfying (in a very fatty American kind of way) about being able go up and order a sandwich like everyone else. The In-n-Out cheeseburger comes very close, but since there's no patty of any kind involved in that, it doesn't quite count (but it is, unlike the BK veggie burger, incredibly delicious... mmm I could have it right now).

(Home again, home again, jiggity jig)

The excitement didn't stop when I got back, because just a few minutes after I got in so did my mom!!! I was so incredibly lucky that she got to come visit from Sunday night to yesterday (Wednesday) morning, which of course included my birthday on Monday. She's looking really good, and it was beyond amazing to get to catch up with her in person after so long. Even though I came back to the US over spring break, I spent so much of it in South Carolina that I didn't really get to see her at all, let alone have her all to myself, so this felt very special. We had some great meals, going out to some of the fancy restaurants that I've had my eye on but haven't gotten to actually try out all term. For my birthday itself, we went to Jamie Oliver's italian restaurant, which was one of the best meals I'd had since coming abroad.

Mom's trip flew by wayyy too quickly, and I didn't get to spend as much time with her as I would have liked because I was also simultaneously trying to cram in a ton of reading for my last three tutorial papers (what's new), but it was sooo amazing. We also got to do a bit of birthday shopping, and I came home with a new dress, skirt, and three pairs of shoes - thank you Mom!!! I know I'll see her again in just 17 days (!!!), but it was very hard to say goodbye to her yesterday. What a perfect birthday present.

(Birthday run along the river)

The only downside to my birthday was that I had an epic lockout experience that rather put a damper on the end of the evening. I hadn't been locked out once yet in my six months in Oxford (an incredible achievement given my record at Stanny - in the fall, I almost get reported to campus security as a burglar/intruder because people saw me breaking into my own room so often), and so of course it had to happen for the first time with me in sweaty running clothes, one sock, and no shoes... all five minutes before I was supposed to meet Mom for my birthday dinner. Fortunately my friend lent me her dress which miraculously fit and I knew Mom and I share the same shoe size, so I ran over to her hotel unshod and borrowed a pair. That crisis may have been averted, but I never did get back into my room that night, and ended up having a totally sleepless night on the couch of the music room, ending with a tutorial coming in and kicking me out. Oh well. There are worst places to spend an evening!

Now I really must be off to get some studying in. I think this will be my last trip EVER to the Sackler Library - crazy! The "lasts" are officially beginning! Let's just hope I can keep it all together and make it through the two "lasts" that really count... those last two tutorial papers!

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