It's been a while since I updated about my life instead of fandom-related activities, so here's a quick recap: I've seen The Dark Knight and Wall-E, loved both of them, want to see Hellboy II.
I went to London at the beginning of August and had a fabulous Saturday with Pid, walking around Fulham and window shopping. Then Grace turned up and we went to a fabulous restaurant called Le Relais de Venise l'entrecôte. They don't take reservations, which means you turn up and just wait for a table to be free. Of course, the twins find it very difficult to be early with anything, so there was a semi-long queue when we turned up. In the end, I think we were one of the last groups to be seated before they stopped serving, but it was worth it. This restaurant has the most amazing steak I have ever tasted, served with a mystery sauce. Basically, you get a two-course meal for £19 (which is very cheap indeed for London): walnut salad to start with (and an amazing dressing on the salad); then the steak and proper pommes frites, the steak cooked just how you like it, and free second helpings of both chips and steak with more sauce. We also had a bottle of the house wine, which went down very nicely, and also had desserts (which are extra). Being a French restaurant, the desserts menu was amazing and it was extremely difficult choosing just which one we'd try. Eventually, I picked a sorbet de cassis (blackcurrant), Grace chose a crème brulée and Pid plumped for sorbet au Marc de Champagne, which almost melted before she ate it, as she was busy chatting to the men sitting at the next table. (They had to be at least ten years older than us, if not more, but that does seem to be a habit with her.)
Then the twins decided to take me to a club which apparently had amazing interior design. We took a bicycle taxi, pedalled by a lush-looking guy called Alvaro. It was the most amazing, surreal experience of the night, the three of us sitting in this rickety carriage while we flew around the streets of Marylebone with the wind in our hair, laughing and gasping at how fast we were going, because we were still open to the street and could feel the road underneath the wheels. (Taxis can use the bus lanes, so we didn't have to worry about traffic too much.) Sadly, when we got to the club, it was booked for a private party, so we couldn't even go in, so we got the bus back down to Clapham, where we were all bunking for the night. But frankly, I think the restaurant and the taxi ride more than made my night.
The next day, we went to Baker Street Station to wait for Jay, one of Pid's friends from uni, so we could all go to the Innocent Village Fete in Regent's Park. I felt quite bad for him, as he'd been out to a party the night before and had a really bad hangover (drank too much rum, which is unusual for him, he usually paces himself, I think Pid phoning up and wanting to see him might have been a factor). But he still managed to be rather charming and witty, even with his brain threatening to split apart his skull. He said the rain helped to wake him up, though I suspect that was at least partly a lie, as he didn't have a coat or an umbrella, and he was the only guy with us, so he couldn't very well act upset about getting wet or borrow one of our coats. That wouldn't be manly, would it? ;P Despite the occasional torrential downpour, we still managed to have a good time at the fete, sampling the free smoothies and listening to the music. We went on a chair o' swings which was nice (Jay didn't throw up, though we were all a bit worried) and then found the tent where all the literary events (re-told fairy tales, poetry slams, travel diaries) were happening. Most importantly, it had big soft cushions, so Jay went to sleep. We all got split up at this point, as I went to see if they were doing a book competition like last year (they weren't) and when I got back, Pid had apparently gone to look for me (apparently, phoning me hadn't occurred to her). Then Jay and I decided to go and watch the ferret racing (yes, real ferrets) while Grace looked for Pid. Sadly, they both missed it in the end, but Jay and I had a great time cheering on our chosen ferrets. We made a bet, of course, but kept it low at only one pound. The race turned out to be a farce: my ferret was one of two to actually complete it (and win!). Jay's ferret didn't even make it half-way, it just turned around and went back into its box. As an honourable man, Jay gave me my pound coin and we went to see Finlay Brown, who was playing live. I will upload some of his tracks later this week for those who want to download them. The twins finally turned up and we then decided it was time to go. Unfortunately, as it was a Sunday, hardly anywhere was open. We all ended up in a pub, staring blankly at the table with exhaustion. I had to get the tube to Paddington while the twins were heading back to Clapham. Jay saw me on the tube (it cost FOUR POUNDS for a single journey inside Zone 1, FOUR POUNDS) and then had to catch his own train. As I arrived at Paddington early, for once, I could choose my own seat on the train (the London to Cardiff trains on a Sunday evening are always packed).
On Saturday, I went to London again, this time with my mum. This was mainly to visit the Tower of London, because she's never been. Most people in the UK will never visit the Tower, of course, but my mum loves history, specifically the Tudors and Stuarts, so she really needed to visit. As we came up on the train, we had a 2 for 1 offer, so we only paid £16.50. South West Trains are more technologically advanced than First Great Western, probably because they go through rich commuter areas, so they usually have automatic destination announcements. But there was something wrong with the one on our train to London, because it kept announcing all the stops instead of the future ones. The train had come from Exeter St. Davids, so Mum almost got up and jumped off the train, thinking that was our destination. Fortunately, the list eventually came to Salisbury and then went on to Waterloo. It was a beautiful day, barely any clouds in the sky, very unusual for a Bank Holiday weekend! We had to buy Mum a travelcard for the Underground (mine was included on my ticket), which meant that I ended up helping some African ladies with the automatic ticket machine. They had to buy two adult tickets and six child tickets to Staines, which made the whole process rather complicated, but I managed to get all the tickets printed for them, eventually. I know what it's like to navigate machines in a foreign country, so I could sympathise with their situation.
I have visited the Tower once before, of course, but I certainly didn't mind going again, there's always something new to see. This time, I finally saw the Tower ravens (on my previous visit, they'd been locked away because of bird flu!). Of course, I knew they were big, but I didn't appreciate how big until I actually saw them. They're massive! They're about the size of a small terrier! I took some photos with Mum's phone. My raven was perched on a small bar, but when he saw all the people taking out their cameras, he came charging towards us, hopped on the fence and started posing for us. I'm not even joking. Possibly one of the funniest things I've seen for some time. Anyway, Mum saw the Crown Jewels and the Beauchamp "beecham" Tower, where you can see the names and inscriptions prisoners carved into the wall and was pretty happy with just that (the Tower is a massive place, you could spend half a day there if you wanted). As before, it was difficult to believe that the Crown Jewels were real and not glass. They're just so huge and colourful.
Then we went to Le Relais de Venise, because it is very rare that you can get steak cooked "blue" in the UK and I wanted Mum to have an amazing lunch. There was NO queue! Obviously, Saturday lunchtime is definitely the time to go if you don't want to wait. Mum loved her steak and the sauce but was rather worn out afterwards from all the walking around, so I left her in Parliament Square (which has the Houses of Parliament on one side and Westminster Abbey on the other) and went to the Jewel Tower, which is part of the original Palace of Westminster (most of the original palace was destroyed by fire in the 19th Century and then rebuilt, it's better known as the Houses of Parliament now). It's a pretty steep climb (I couldn't imagine doing those stairs in a skirt!) but worth visiting if you want to find out about the origins of Parliament and why we don't have a written constitution.
After the Jewel Tower, we went back to Waterloo, where I bought us something from Marks & Spencer for dinner to eat on the train. We were able to board the train nice and early, which reassured my mother, who has a horror of being late (but she's still not as bad as her father, who has been known to be an hour early when picking someone up). The Eurostar terminal is still boarded up, which makes me feel sad. They need to make use of that line, or it's just money gone to waste. Mum also managed to read the two books I'd brought for the journey and enjoyed both of them, so I was very happy. I enjoyed myself but I was more focused on her having a good time, which she obviously did. And that makes me even happier. It's good for her to get away and she's always loved London. (She used to live there before I was born and tried to visit the Tower back then, but they only had one ticket booth in those days, which meant a very long queue, and she is not good at queueing.)
Come hell or high water, I am going to try and get tickets for the 2012 Olympics, preferably the swimming, since I know we'll do well, or the equestrian events, which are my favourite. Carrie, if you make it over here, I'm definitely taking you to Le Relais!