Saturday, February 18, 2017

The West Country

Scott, the ever sweet and sensible, organized this trip with the intention of introducing me to every part of his life, past, present and future. “I want to make sure you know what you are getting into,” Scott said, so off to the West Country we went. My brother-in-law is from Bideford – proper West according to Scott – which I’d visited before when I was 10 and then again when I was 18, so I had a tiny inkling of what to expect: rolling hills, long walks, fresh air. Being an understudy back then, as I watched my sister play the role of a dutiful and charming girl in her mother-in-law’s cottage, was paying dividends now.

I was lucky to have met Scott’s mumma, Di, when she visited Singapore last November, otherwise I’d have broken out in hives at this point. What I was really nervous about was meeting Tai – The Dog. What if he didn’t like me? What if he thought I smelled funny?
The Dog in the itinerary Scott set for us

The train journey from London Paddington to Taunton was just over two hours with no changeovers, during which we polished off a bag of popcorn and then napped. Di was at the station to greet and take us home to Creech Heathfield, a short drive away.

Side note: Scott and I contemplated renting a car for the few days that we were there because you kind of need one if you’re serious about exploring the countryside. Fortunately, Di kindly offered to bring us around so we didn’t have to rent one in the end. What a relief! Scott doesn’t like driving so I’d have been doing it, which I naively thought would be an easy job since both Singapore and the U.K. have left-hand traffic – practically driving in the same country! WRONG. They have roundabouts every 100m, long stretches of single lane two-way roads, black ice and no street lamps in the U.K.! I’d have driven for 2 minutes before pulling over on the shoulder to cry, “Jesus, take the wheel!”
Warm hospitality extended to us by Di and John. Sat at the top of the bed is Mr Humpty, who was in the crib with Scott when he was a baby.

We had dinner together that evening and I finally got to meet John, a super sweet man of few words. It was amusing to listen to Scott, Di and John in conversation – I knew everyone was speaking English, but I couldn’t quite catch what they were talking about half the time so I just smiled. Like an idiot =) Di made a lovely cottage pie, which she served with steamed peas, carrots and broad beans on the side. So much meat, so much gravy, so much yum! I woke up at 4am again the next day (Tuesday) scheming on ways to eat the leftover cottage pie without looking like a greedy person.

Our roommate, Mr Tomkinson, getting a tan on. Scott got him 8 years ago. I sent pictures of the tortoise to my mum with the caption "Mr. T – 10 years old." And her reply was, "do not do it. You will get a fine." It's scary how mothers always know what you want to do, even before you know what you want to do.

After breakfast – cottage pie! Ha! – we followed Di into the city centre. What I found really peculiar was how the town wasn’t divided into districts, whether for business, shopping, parliament, residential, nightlife or arts. Everything was just there! And within walking distance. Primark was opposite the real estate agent’s office was next to a supermarket was next to a pub was next to an optician was next to the thrift store was next to the church was next to the castle was next to the museum was next to Scott’s flat was above an Italian restaurant was across Debenhams. What the what?
Scotty outside his flat (rented out)
We browsed through the thrift stores and then had a late lunch at Whetherspoons. In the evening, we went into Scott’s old workplace to say “Hi!” to everyone he used to work with. Again, that weird thing happened where despite everyone speaking English, it was taking me a while to figure out what they were actually saying. After that, we went to get a drink with Scott’s best friend Beth, who was buzzing with so much energy – I was actually jealous. It wasn’t even 6pm but the sky was dark, which my brain mistook as its cue to power down. It was nice to put a face to all the stories at last because Scott talks a lot about Beth and Tai. Beth’s dad Trevor drove into town with Tai, who was so excited to see Scott. Tai didn’t try to bite me so I think we are cool.

On Wednesday, we woke up at 6am and then ate a bag of Tyrrell's veg crisps in bed. I really don’t understand the concept of five portions in one bag when it comes to crisps and popcorn – IT’S THERE. I’M GONNA EAT IT. (And then feel sick after.) Scott and I hit another milestone in our relationship that morning when he had to help me wash my hair because it was starting to form dreadlocks.

After breakfast we went for a nice walk around the countryside, through the hamstone village with solemn church towers and past vast meadows and orchards. We got a few bottles of apple juice from the orchard down the road, saw sheep grazing in the lowland mires and spotted a big fox as it dashed across a field. We heard cows moo as we walked along the canal and saw ducks and a pair of swans in the water.
Scott with a staffie at the orchard
Coming from a densely populated city, where the skyline is filled with skyscrapers and streets lined with dizzying lights, it was such a novelty to be surrounded by so much nature. The silence, stillness and endless greenery of the countryside is very enviable, but I wonder if I yearn for it only because urban living deprives me of it or if I truly want a life that moves at such a pace. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Their neighbour had llamas in his yard!!
Scotty with his apple juice
The next day we took a bus into the city centre for brunch. We knew that after the pancakes at Balthazar, ordering pancakes at Cosy Club would only set us up for disappointment. But we did it anyway because I am a real sucker for banana pancakes. The sandwich looked pretty nondescript but it had Gloucester Old Spot sausages inside and was my favourite thing we ordered. Then Scott introduced me to this fantastic thing called ‘Brown sauce,’ which is a sauce, that is brown. It tasted amazing with the sandwich.

After brunch we had lunch (what?) with Peter, Scott’s boss from his old work place, where they discussed Scott’s life in Singapore, Peter’s new office space at The Shard in London, Donald Trump and the economy. It was all going swell and I could not believe I was getting away with it, until Peter asked me about Singapore’s public sector. (Errr… 5 stars! Highly recommend!)

Then we had a wander around the castle, which now houses the Museum of Somerset, before heading back home. In the evening, we made Empire Chicken for John and Arthur – John’s brother – who has got really good eyebrows.

This method of dishwashing was completely new to me. We boiled water in a kettle then poured it into a tub with dishwashing liquid and then dumped all the dirty dishes into the tub. Even though there was steam rising from the tub, I kept forgetting that it was hot and plunged my hands into scalding water several times but it kinda felt good because my hands were frozen anyway.

Our chicken looks burnt, but I promise you it was not. Scott's mum has the cutest cat placemats and coasters.

Part 0 – Packing; Part 1 – London

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