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28 September 2009

Coming out young

This is a really great feature article from the New York Times about how more and more kids are identifying as gay or bisexual in middle school, when they're 11 or 12 years old.
A new kind of gay adolescent was appearing on the page — proud, resilient, sometimes even happy. We profiled many of them in the magazine, including a seventh grader in suburban Philadelphia who was out to his classmates and a high-school varsity-football player from Massachusetts who came out to his teammates and was shocked to find unconditional support.

22 September 2009

A Very Zombie Weekend

I'm in Western Sydney at the moment, spending the week doing talks and workshops with secondary students. And a question I get asked a lot is: What do you do in your spare time?

Well, this is what I did last weekend.



(more info here)

14 September 2009

Scotland

So I did three wonderful events at the Edinburgh Book Festival back in August, and then the awesome folks at the Scottish Book Trust took me out into the country for a day to meet some young Scottish folk.

One of the towns we visited was Brechin, about 2 hours north of Edinburgh. Now Brechin is an interesting town (populatioon about 7000) for the following reasons:

1. It has a very nice 13th Century cathedral, with a round tower dating from about 1000AD.
2. Robert Watson-Watt, an important pioneer in the early development of radar was born there.
3. As was my great-great-grandfather, William Ross.

William was the illegitimate son of a woman called Jessie Mitchell. He emigrated to Australia as a young man, but his own son moved back to England, before HIS son (my grandfather) moved back to Australia. I had some time to go to the cathedral, and I found this in the churchyard:

It was also really awesome meeting some real live Scottish students, in their second ever week of high school. Here I am with a few of them:


Thanks, Edinburgh Book Festival and Scottish Book Trust for showing me such a great time!

12 September 2009

Angel Fish

Hate to sound like a broken record, but I have another book out. Angel Fish is out now with Black Dog Books. It's about the Children's Crusade and here's Chapter One:


A boy has come to Machery.
I think he might be an angel.
When he speaks, even the birds stop singing to listen. When he speaks, his eyes shine with a light that I know cannot come from dirt and skin. When he speaks, my head whirls round and round with strange thoughts, and my heart goes patter patter patter.
I first saw him two days ago. I was fetching water for Maman. The pails were heavy, but Maman tells me carrying them will help me to grow and be stronger. I am not strong, and not very tall. The other boys in Machery say I am a sparrow that will never grow to be a cock.
Maman says I must grow strong, because I will never be very smart, and a man needs to be one or the other. This is why she makes me eat so much cabbage. She says it will make me strong. I hate cabbage.
When I carry the water pails, I like to pretend I am in another place. It is very hot this summer, so I was pretending that I was lying by a cool stream on a soft bed of clover. Sometimes I pretend I am a silvery fish dancing in the stream. Or a white bird flying low over the water.
I was pretending all this very hard so I closed my eyes. Machery is all brown and dusty at the moment, and it is hard to imagine you are a dancing silvery fish when your eyes are full of brown and dust.
With my eyes closed, I didn’t see him at first. I only heard the shh, shh, shh of bare feet walking on the dusty road. With my eyes still closed, I pretended that it was the shh, shh, shh of branches bending over so leaves could kiss the water of the stream. I pretended that the leaves were tickling my silvery fishy skin as I danced below the surface.
As the shh, shh, shh came closer, I opened my eyes.
For a moment I was confused. I looked into eyes that were as blue as the stream in which I’d been swimming. I blinked, and then the eyes were attached to a person.
He was very tall and thin, with brown hair that was thick and bushy, like a sheep. He looked to be a few years older than me. Maybe fifteen?
His skin was dirty. It was hard to tell which brown bits were freckles and which bits were dirt. He had no shoes, and was dressed in rags.
And his eyes. Blue like the sky. Blue like an arrow. Blue like when someone hits you in the stomach and for a moment you can’t breathe.
He smiled at me, and the arrow-blue eyes crinkled at the edges.
‘Hello, friend,’ he said.
I wondered how he knew he was my friend. I didn’t think I’d ever had a friend before. But when he said it, I knew it was true. I knew it all the way deep down inside me, in my darkest and most secret places.
‘I am Stephan.’ He reached out a hand and I took it.
‘I’m Gabby,’ I told him. ‘Gabriel.’
The boy nodded approvingly. ‘Gabriel is one of the very greatest and most sacred Angels.’
I shrugged. I don’t really know Angels.
The boy’s lip curled in another smile. ‘Your pails look heavy, Gabriel,’ he said.
And they were, but I had forgotten.
‘I will let you get home,’ he said. ‘But we will see each other again. Very soon.’
I nodded. We would. I would see my friend again soon.

The next day was Sunday, so no work.
I went to mass in the morning with Maman and Papa. I have no brothers or sisters. Maman has tried to birth me a sister four times, but each time it has been no more than a wet and red thing. Papa thinks she is cursed. Maman says she cannot be cursed, because she birthed me. Papa replies that I am cursed too, because I don’t remember important things and am very small and find many things hard to understand.
One of the things I find difficult to understand is Father Sebastian. He reads to us every Sunday from the Holy Book in a tongue that Maman says is called Latin. Everyone else in the church nods and purses their lips when Father Sebastian speaks in the tongue that is called Latin, but I don’t understand any of it. And when I ask Maman or Papa, they get angry and tell me to hush. Once I thought that maybe they don’t understand it either and are just pretending, but when I told this to Maman she said that it was a wicked thought and I must never think it again.
When Father Sebastian speaks in a tongue I do understand, it doesn’t make much more sense. He uses lots of names of people that I don’t know. I think they must be Saints or Angels, but it is all very confusing because there are so many of them and it is hard to remember which ones are good and which ones are not.
Most of the time Father Sebastian reads to us or speaks in a voice that is all the same and very boring. But sometimes he gets excited and bangs his fist on the wooden stand and shakes his head so his cheeks wobble from side to side. Sometimes he gets so excited that I see sweat on his forehead. Or a tear slide from the corner of his eye and wriggle down his cheek.
After Father Sebastian talks, we all sing. This is my favourite part. I don’t know what any of the words mean, but I make up the meanings in my head. There is one that goes gloria gloria gloria and then some words I don’t know. It is the very best song. I think that Gloria is a land where nothing is brown and dusty, and the streams are clear and full of silvery dancing fish.
When I sang the gloria song on Sunday, I pretended that the streams were the colour of my new friend’s eyes. Blue as an arrow.
After the singing, we all line up and eat some bread and swallow some wine. Then we can go. Usually Maman and Papa want to talk to other people about boring things like rain and crops and bread, so I go and stand in the sun.
On Sunday though, Father Sebastian called me over to him.
‘There is a boy,’ he said. ‘A boy who has come to Machery.’
I nodded. ‘Yes, Father.’
‘You have seen him?’
I nodded again.
Father Sebastian shook his head so his cheeks wobbled. ‘You must not speak to him,’ he said. ‘He is from the Fiery Pit. His words are lies.’
I felt hot and angry inside. The boy was my friend. But I nodded again.
‘Do you understand? Do not listen to him. He is a child-stealer. He will take you and sell you to the Saracen.’
‘Yes, Father.’

Walking out of the church in summer is always lovely. The church is cold and dark, and stepping out is like being lifted up into the arms of the sun. It was so bright I had to close my eyes. I turned my face up to the light and let it soak in. In a few minutes I would be too hot again, but for now the hot was delicious.
I could hear him talking.
I opened my eyes.
He stood balanced on a watering-trough outside the church. A small crowd was listening —Maistre Eudes the smith and his wife, Maistre Mathieu and his three pretty daughters, Maistresse Claudette and Maistresse Abrial, their heads bent close together, and Monsieur Rotrou from the big farm on the hill.
Stephan spoke in a tongue I understood. He spoke of things I had never heard of before, but he spoke of them with such strength, such lightness, that I could see them before my eyes.
He spoke of the Holy Land. Father Sebastian had talked about the Holy Land. It sounded important, but so very very far away from Machery that I had never really listened.
But when Stephan spoke of it, I understood that it was the most important place in the world. A Paradise, he said. A real Paradise.
I wondered what a real Paradise would be like.
It would have streams with silvery fish, I decided. Like in the gloria song. But the streams would be apple-cider, bubbling and fizzing and fresh. And the trees would hang low with the sweetest fruits, all year round, so nobody had to pick and store them. Cows would milk themselves, and it would be the sweetest, creamiest milk you’ve ever tasted.
In the Holy Land, cabbages would have honey-cakes at their hearts, instead of more cabbage.
And then, best of all, Our Lord lives in the Holy Land.
Father Sebastian is always talking about Our Lord. Except the Our Lord that he talks about is mean. He’s always watching to see if we’re being wicked, and punishing us for things that we haven’t done, or things that we just think about. I don’t see how you can stop thinking about things, even if they are wicked. Things are just there to be thought. I can’t stop that, so I don’t know why I should be punished.
But Stephan’s Our Lord is different. He is wise and kind.
I imagined that he is fat and jolly, like a King. He has a big black beard and laughs all the time. The only work to be done in the Holy Land is to sit at the feet of Our Lord and sing the gloria song to him. He loves singing. And dancing. And honey-cakes and apple cider.
When Our Lord walks through the soft green grass of the Holy Land, sparkly jewels and sweet-smelling flowers spring from under his feet.
I wanted to go there. I wanted to go there so bad I thought I might break apart like a dandelion and go floating off into the sky.
But then Stephan’s face fell, and the world came to pieces and fell down as well with a horrible thundering crash!
‘But,’ he said. ‘But.’
No. No but. I didn’t want to hear the but. I just wanted to hear more about the Holy Land and Our Lord and the honey-cakes and silvery dancing fish.
‘The Saracen,’ said Stephan.
I shuddered. Father Sebastian has spoken of the Saracen. I thought of the stories of monsters that the boys in the village try to scare each other with. I thought of red, glowing eyes and horns and snake-pointed tongues and sharp hooves. I thought of them above me, with whips in their hands and steam blowing from their noses. I thought of the smell of burning meat.
‘The Saracen,’ said Stephan, and I wanted to cry. ‘The Saracen is in the Holy Land.’
I felt a hand around my heart, squeezing. I gasped.
‘The Saracen is in the Holy Land, and the Paradise has withered away.’
The trees. The streams. The silvery fish. All gone. All burned and choked and ruined. I wanted to throw myself into the dusty dirt and cry. Who could rescue the Holy Land?
Stephan looked at me and smiled. It was like he could hear what I was thinking inside my head.
‘Soldiers cannot save the Holy Land,’ he said. ‘Nor Knights. Nor Kings. Nor priests.’
Who, then? Who?
‘You,’ he said, still looking at me. ‘You.’
Me? I was small and not very good at thinking. I couldn’t fight even one Saracen.
‘The only thing that can save us is the purity and innocence of children,’ said Stephan. ‘There is no adult in the world who is untainted by wickedness. Only children are truly pure. And when the children of Our Lord step onto the soil of the Holy Land, the Saracen will crumble into dust, and once again it will be a Paradise.’
The crowd started to make soft, angry noises.
‘You can’t take our children,’ said Maistresse Claudette. ‘You’re crazy.’
Stephan looked at me. ‘Will you join with me?’ he asked.
Maistre Eudes’s wife yelled at Stephan, her cheeks red and shiny as apples and her eyes all closed-up. Someone threw a rock at him, but Stephen didn’t look away. His eyes arrowed into mine.
‘Yes,’ I said. ‘Yes. Yes.’

11 September 2009

Melvin Burgess on Anne Fine

This tickled me:

I think Anne Fine is wrong to suggest that it is hard to get back to an optimistic view without wandering into Ginger Beer land – I think that’s a view she holds because she is principally a pessimist about the world. I think there’s a great deal of hope in the world. You only have to look at the current crop of teenagers, and how they cope with all the nonsense we dump on them, to see that.

From Melvin Burgess' blog.

10 September 2009

Pink!


I was overseas when my new book PINK came out! But it's out and some people have said some very nice things about it, but I'll let you make up your own mind.

Over at Allen & Unwin, you can see me talking about it in a video, read my answers to some questions from teachers, librarians and teenagers, and download your very own PINK wallpaper!
And here's Chapter One!

(for USian readers, it'll be out early next year)

‘You’re leaving?’
Chloe dropped my hand.
‘I know, it sucks,’ I lied. ‘My parents think I’ll get better marks at a new school.’ Another lie. ‘The fascists,’ said Chloe, which was kind of hilarious given that my parents met at the Feminist-Socialist- Anarchist Collective at university.
‘It’ll be okay,’ I said. ‘Billy Hughes is a really good school.’
‘What’s wrong with our school? They’re all the same, anyway. All institutionalised learning designed to turn you into a robot.’
I shook my head. ‘Billy Hughes is really progressive,’ I told her. ‘The school motto is Independence of Learning.’
Chloe narrowed her eyes. ‘You don’t want to go there, do you?’
Of course I did.
‘I don’t want to leave you.’
‘They’ll break you, Ava!’ said Chloe, her eyebrows drawing together in concern. ‘It’ll be all rules and homework and standardised testing. No creative freedom. There’ll probably be cadets.’
I shrugged. How could I explain to Chloe that I wanted rules and homework and standardised testing? I wanted to be challenged. I wanted to be around people who cared about maths and structure and results. Not so much the cadets, though. The truth was, I’d begged my parents to let me change to a private school. I wrote letters and sat a scholarship exam and when I got the acceptance form halfway through first term, I danced around my room like a lunatic.
‘It’s not like I’m going to another country,’ I said. ‘We can still hang out after school and on weekends.’
Chloe lit up a cigarette and took a long drag. ‘Whatever,’ she sighed, exhaling.

Chloe was the coolest person I’d ever met. She was tall and thin and had elegant long fingers and pointy elbows like those pictures on women’s dress patterns. Today she was wearing a black pencil skirt with fishnet stockings and hot-librarian shoes, which she’d kicked off beside my bed. She had a black shirt on under a dark tweedy fitted jacket. Her dyed black hair was short and spiky and elfin. Two silver studs glittered in her nose, and four in each ear. Her fingernails were painted a very dark plum.
The only lightness about her was her porcelain skin, and her white cigarette.
Chloe read battered Penguin Classics she found in op shops and at garage sales. They were all by people like Ana├»s Nin and Simone de Beauvoir and made her look totally intellectual, particularly when she was wearing her elegant horn-rimmed glasses. Chloe didn’t really care about school. She said most of the teachers were fascists, and sometimes even cryptofascists, whatever that meant. She said that our education system made us docile and stupid, and that true educa- tion could only come from art, philosophy, and life itself. Chloe would rather sit on the low stone wall just outside our school and smoke cigarettes and talk about Existentialism and Life and make out with me.
She was wonderful, and I was pretty sure I was in love with her.
So how come I wanted to leave so badly?

When I first told my parents I was a lesbian, they threw me a coming-out party. Seriously. We had champagne and everything. It was the most embarrassing thing that’d ever happened to me.
They loved Chloe – possibly even more than I did. When Chloe came over, she usually ended up poring over some Ann Sexton book with Pat, or listening to Bob Dylan on vinyl with David. Ostensibly, I was there too. But I didn’t really care for washed-out poetry about wombs, and I thought Bob Dylan was kind of overrated. So I just sat there politely like I was at someone else’s house, until the phone rang or something, and I could finally drag Chloe away to my room. Then there would be less talk about feminism, and Chloe would read to me from my favourite book of Jorge Luis Borges short stories, and I would make her laugh by doing impressions of Mrs Moss, our septuagenarian English teacher. Making Chloe’s lips curve upwards in a smile, or her eyes crinkle with laugh- ter, made me happier than just about anything else in the world.
When it was finally time for Chloe to go home, she’d smooth her hair and rearrange her clothes, and we’d troop back out to the kitchen. Pat and David would always look so crestfallen that she was leaving.
‘So soon?’ Pat would say. ‘But we’ve hardly had a chance to chat!’
Sometimes I thought my parents wished Chloe was their daughter.

I got home and said hi to Pat and David and then went into my room and shut the door. I wished I had a lock, but there was no way my parents would approve of that. It would imply that I had something to hide, and they’re the most liberal and accepting parents in the world – so what would I possibly want to hide from them?
If only they knew.
I went to my wardrobe and dug through my old jelly-sandals and mouldy runners until I was practically in Narnia. And I pulled out a bag. It was one of those pale- blue shiny shopping bags with a ribbon handle. It was the kind of bag that people on TV have fifty of when they’re on a shopping spree that could fund a starving African nation.
In the bag there was a bundle wrapped in thin lemon-yellow tissue paper, sealed with a pale-blue oval sticker with gold lettering on it. Holding my breath, I gently prised the sticker away from the tissue paper, and unwrapped the bundle, listening carefully for the sound of Pat or David busting in to offer me an espresso or a lecture on post-structuralism.
At the centre of the bundle there was a jumper. A pink argyle cashmere jumper, to be exact. It was pretty much the softest thing ever, the pink and cream diamonds snuggling up against each other like soul mates.
I rubbed the soft wool against my cheek, and then stood in front of the mirror, holding the jumper against my body. I didn’t need to put it on – I knew it fit perfectly. I knew because I’d tried it on at the shop. And it was so beautiful, so soft, so ... pink. I just had to buy it. Even though I knew I couldn’t wear it, because Chloe would laugh herself silly.
I never wore pink. Pink wasn’t cool. Pink wasn’t existential. Pink was for princesses and ballet shoes and glittery fairies.
When I was five, I only wore pink. Pink everything, from my undies to my socks to my little frilly dresses to my Flik Flak watch. I refused to wear any other colour – much to the dismay of my parents, who were itching to dress me in miniature Che Guevara T-shirts and black
berets. All my toys were pink. I only used pink pencils. I insisted on having my bedroom painted pink. Not now. Now my bedroom was painted a sombre pale grey, with charcoal skirting boards and architraves. Now, there was no trace of pink in my room. No more unicorn posters on the walls – instead there were black-and-white art prints. My parents must have been so proud. There wasn’t even so much as a rainbow flag; as Chloe said, we weren’t that sort of lesbian.
As I’d grown older, Pat and David had worn me down. They explained to me that pink was an empty signifier of femininity, and pointed out that none of the other little girls at my Steiner school wore pink dresses under their art smocks. They showed me magazine articles about Britney Spears before she went off the rails, and shook their heads sadly.
By the end of primary school, they were victorious. The pendulum had swung all the way over to black. Now, you’d be lucky to find me in a skirt, and at the end of Year Ten I’d thrown out my last pair of non-black undies. My hair was dyed black, and usually caught up in a messy bun. I wore a reasonably unchanging wardrobe of black jeans and black tops – black singlets in summer, and a grandpa cardigan in winter. Sometimes I wished I could dress crazy and eclectic and feminine like Chloe, but I knew she would always outshine me, so I stuck to what I knew.
So now the pink jumper was practically glowing in my grey bedroom. It was like a tiny bit of Dorothy’s Oz in boring old black-and-white Kansas.
I carefully folded it up, and rewrapped it in the yellow tissue paper.
Pink was for girls.
Girly girls who wore flavoured lip gloss and read maga- zines and talked on the phone lying on their perfect, lacy bedspreads with their feet in the air. Girls who spent six months looking for the perfect dress to wear to the school formal.
Girls who liked boys.

Are you old enough?

I did a great session last night at Loreto Mandeville Hall, talking to year 5, 6 and 7 girls and their mothers. It was heaps of fun, and I think everyone enjoyed themselves (I particularly enjoyed the home-made pink cupcakes and pink champagne).

A couple of the parents were asking me whether I thought their daughters were old enough to read my books, which is a question I get asked quite a bit. Here's my answer:

My mum never controlled what I read. There was nothing I wasn't allowed to read. In Grade 4, I read Lord of the Rings (I skipped a lot of the boring bits). In Grade 6 I read the Clan of the Cave Bear and its assorted sequels - complete with explicit sex scenes and 'throbbing members'. I don't think reading stuff I wasn't developmentally ready for damaged me in any way.

Reading is active. You have to physically engage your eyes and your brain in order to read. It's not like TV where it comes to you. Time and time again, studies have shown that if a child is uncomfortable with something they're reading - they'll put it down.

I'm not a parent, so I can only give my perspective as an ex-child, and as someone who knows a bit about reading and literature. I think if a young person wants to read a book - let them. If you are worried about some of the content in the book then make sure you read it as well, then talk to your kids about it. Parents should always talk to their kids about what they're reading. Talking about books is one of the great pleasures of being a reader.

07 September 2009

Whisky

In Edinburgh we went to the Scotch Whisky Experience, which is sort of like a tour/ride about Whisky*. And apart from the fact that I like whisky, it was just a REALLY well-designed tour/exhibition. Probably one of the best I went on**.

First you get to go on a BARREL RIDE where a ghost tells you all about how whisky is made. it is very complicated and involves squishing a lot of barley together to make a fermented mash, and then adding yeast and doing lots of distilling.

The Ghost:


And learn also about the barrels they mature the whisky in. 90% of Scotch barrels are first used in the US to make bourbon, and the other 10% are used first to make sherry. So they're all nommy and flavoury. Then sometimes they set them on fire for a little bit for a more caramelly taste, then put in the WHISKY. Because they're not airtight, the whisky breathes and matures... and evaporates. You lose 2% in 3 years, or 40% in 30 years. They say this evaporated whisky is for the angels.

Then you go and watch a video about all the different whisky regions, and a tour guide comes and talks about them all. And you get four little jars to represent the four main regions: Speyside, Islay, Highlands and Lowlands. Each jar contains some of the smells that you might find in each region's whisky. Lowlands is biscuity and vanilla-ish. Speyside is fruity, like pears. Highlands is sweet like heather and honey. Islay (which is a teeny island off the West Coast of Scotland) is smoky and peaty and by far MY FAVOURITE. So once you've picked your favourite, they pour you a glass of it and teach you how to taste it. There are five steps:

1. First you look at the colour. If it is a pale gold it was matured in a bourbon barrel. If it is darker it was a sherry barrel.

2. Then you swirl it around and look carefully to see how many teeny bubbles form and how fast the "legs" run down the sides of the glass. This indicates whether the whisky is full-bodied or light-bodied.

3. Then you nose the whiskey. This is the most important part because your nose recognises 40 different flavours, whereas your mouth only recognises 4 (actually there's some debate about whether there's a 5th but we didn't talk about that)

4. Then you put some of the whisky in your mouth, but don't swallow. This is the palate.

5. Finally you swallow it and think about the finish. The sweeter lighter whiskys have a flavour that disappears really quickly. The smokier heavier ones stay around for ages. Mine lasted over half an hour.

It all sounds very wankerish, but it was excellent fun. Then we went into this room which houses the biggest collection of whiskys in the world (this photo is only a fraction, it was impossible to photograph as it went round many corners):


This was my favourite: Inebriated Newt.

And then there was ANOTHER room with rare bottlings and wacky cases. Each one of these chess pieces is a small bottle of whisky - all together it makes up the volume of a normal sized bottle. The idea is every time you take an opponant's piece, you get to drink the contents.


And finally this is Peat, the whisky distillery cat.



We got to keep our special whisky nosing glasses, and then we were shown into the shop where we could buy the nommy whiskys for our VERY OWN.


*in case you are wondering, it's whisky if it's Scottish, and whiskey if it's Irish.

**Dear Underage Readers of this Blog: pls don't take this as encouragement to go out and get drunk. If for no other reason, a good single malt is VERY expensive and it would be a total waste of money.

06 September 2009

Wales

I spent a lovely week in Wales with the wondrous @snazzydee, where we traipsed around, went swimming in the OCEAN, ate many tasty foods and drank many tasty wines. Here were the highlights, and my recommendations should you ever happen to find yourself in the Land of No Vowels But Very High Scrabble Scores.

1. Hay on Wye, the town with more bookshops than streets. Eat at The Old Black Lion (try the house ale) and stay at The Bear (make sure you have the bacon with breakfast).


Tenby: One of the absolute highlights of my UK trip. Tenby is a beautiful old walled seaside town. I know that Australians get pretty cocky about our beaches and it's true - our beaches are pretty awesome. But we generally don't have ruined castles on our beaches:


Here is were Snazzy and I went swimming in beautiful clear water that was SO COLD I THOUGHT I MIGHT DIE.


But my very favourite thing about Tenby is the CRAZY TIDES. Here is a photo of low tide, followed by a photo of the exact same place, two hours later.
I am bursting to set a novel there.

Eat at the Plantagenet. Amazing. Try the mussels.


Aberaeron: Lovely little Aberaeron is a fishing village in Southwest Wales. It also has crazy tides. Stay at the Harbour Master for both food and sleeping. Make sure you try the laver bread with your full cooked breakfast (confusingly not bread at all - it's a sort of seaweed and oat rissole that is much, much tastier than it sounds).



I cannot particularly recommend Brecon (sorry, Brecon), but about 10 minutes outside town (towards Hay) is the Felin Fach Griffin, a lovely old inn that has fabulous food, amazing wine lists and a dessert called a Chocolate Nemesis that might kill you, but it'll be worth it.

Other things that were strange and wonderful in Wales:
1. Snazzy's satnav took us on some very random roads, one of which had some spectacular views and a giant standing stone.


2. We did a hasty U-turn and backtracked in order to see this decrepit old playground.


3. This isn't actually in Wales, it's in Much Wenlock near Shrewsbury. Much Wenlock is the home of the modern Olympic Games (yep, it really is), because they used to hold the Much Wenlock Games (based on the Ancient Olympics). And some American came by one day and went "Golly, that's a good idea. What if we did this, but bigger?". It's a very cute town with a ruined abbey and streets with names like:

...which contain cute little stone houses with names like:
Hmm. Snazzy and I stared at this for about two minutes before we were convinced it was real.

If you happen to find yourself in Much Wenloch, stay and eat at The Raven.

05 September 2009

Lindisfarne Castle

Between Hadrian's Wall and Edinburgh, we stopped at Lindisfarne Castle, because it was on the way. I went to a few castles and Stately Homes on this trip (including Melbourne Hall), and found them all a bit stuffy and boring. Lots of ugly furniture and mouldy curtains and you could just tell that all the nobility that had ever lived there were deeply boring. Lindisfarne is different.

It's this insane castle that's only tenuously connected to the land by a road that you can only use for a few hours a day because the ocean covers it the rest of the time.

The castle was built in 1600-and-something as a fort to defend england from VIKINGS and SCOTS. This bit of the story is boring - it's all ONLY SOUTH FACING HARBOUR ON THE EAST COAST blah blah ROMAN ROADS etc etc.

BUT in 1910, it was purchased by the man who founded House and Garden Magazine, in order to show off to his friends. He hired a rather innovative Edwardian architect who renovated the fort into the current castle, with cosy little rooms with marvellous views, and then got a gardener called Gertrude Jekyll to make a cute little walled garden. Then Mr House and Garden bought lots of fancy old furniture (which was really cheap as everyone was getting rid of their old stuff at that time to buy clean streamlined modern stuff). And then he got all his awesome bohemian friends to come over for summer where they hung out and practiced the cello and drank a lot. It sounds AWESOME. It had so much more character than the Stately British Homes we've visited, and for some reason because it belonged to someone who was "new money" and not ye olde nobility, I'm much more pleasantly disposed to him. I suppose because I can safely assume he wasn't as utterly tediously boring as the British nobility. Anyway, despite the driving rain it was WIN.

Castle:



Castle from "beach":


Scary road that goes over ocean floor:


04 September 2009

Hadrian's Wall Day #3: The Triumphant Descent







The very first thing we did today after eating a Hearty Breakfast, was climb up a REALLY BIG HILL to the highest point of the walk. The air is so fresh and pure here, that this species of lichen grows on the wall. it is the ONLY PLACE in the UK where this lichen grows. You are just fascinated by this, aren't you? I can tell.

The Lichen:


Oh noes! A barbarian Scot is breaking through! Halp! Halp!



This is one of the only bits of the wall that hasn't been restored. It's still in pretty good nick given it was built 2000 years ago. Incidentally, I have come to the conclusion that the Romans were TOTALLY NUTS. This wall is ENORMOUS! It goes forever and it was much higher back then and of course they had to DIG ALL THOSE STONES up and CUT THEM TO SIZE before even beginning to built it. And then there would have to be SQUILLIONS of soldiers to man all those turrets and milecastles. I mean SERIOUSLY. The Romans needed a HOBBY. And surely with all that effort and manpower they just could have CONQUERED Scotland. Or taken up knitting.

My favourite thing about England can be summed up with the following hypothetical conversation:

ENGLAND: So, Lili. How are you enjoying yourself?

LILI: Yeah, okay. I mean the spectacular views are very nice, and the Roman ruins are very interesting, but...

ENGLAND: What? What?

LILI: I'm just getting a bit BORED of spectacular views and roman ruins. I've been looking at them for three days straight.

ENGLAND: Uh huh, uh huh. Dude, I totally see where you're coming from.

LILI: You do?

ENGLAND: Sure. Can I maybe interest you in a fourteenth century ruined medieval castle?

LILI: o_O

Who is that fetching redhead looking in the window?

Let me talk for a while about stiles. Stiles are romantic. They come in a variety of types (stone, wooden). They cross different kinds of walls. Here I am crossing a typical stile on a farm.

Stiles are FUN. Until you have climbed over 71 of them (they're marked on the map and I just counted). 71 is a lot of stiles. Here is how I felt when I looked at the map and realised that this was the LAST STILE:



But we are FINISHED! Tomorrow we catch a taxi back to our car which we left at the beginning. I expect it will be a depressingly short trip*, even though 42 kilometres seems like a VERY long way to walk. Especially since none of it was on flat ground (and did I mention there were 71 stiles?).



*it was. 25 minutes. i nearly cried.

03 September 2009

Hadrian's Wall Day #2












Day 2 featured many, many hills.

Here is a hole in a wall (not THE Wall, just a random wall). Remember it, and that loch below, because i'll be pointing them out later on from the other side.

Here's me eating crisps in the Commandant's house in an ANCIENT ROMAN FORT. Notice my SEXY WATERPROOF PANTS.
Okay. So that lake in the background? Same lake as hole in wall photo. High crest just to the upper right of lake? Is place where I took hole in wall photo. WE WALKED A LONG WAY TODAY.

A disappointing Sammich and a clever map-reading.



You may recognise this sycamore tree from Kevin Costner's Prince of Thieves. *insert joke about wooden acting here*

Pretty. The crest in the distant background, by the way, is where the photo looking back at the hole in the wall was taken from. my feet hurt.

The final stretch. This bit was frighteningly steep and i'm glad we were going down, not up.

Then I ate a steak that was THE SIZE OF MY HEAD and had a bath. WIN.

02 September 2009

Hadrian's Wall Day #1

A couple of weeks ago, Mum and I did a three day hike along Hadrian's Wall in the UK. This is our story.

We set off on our Journey bright and early on Thursday morning, after a hearty English breakfast. Today we walked from Humshaugh to the Old Repeater Station at Grindon, which is about 12 km.

Okay. Off we go. Everyone had promised us it would absolutely CHUCK down with rain, and the clouds looked incredibly threatening ahead, low and grey.

A little history, perhaps. The Wall was built in AD122, in order to keep out the northern barbarians and also just to generally control movement of people across the border. it took 16 years to build, and stretched 76 miles (or 122 km) from the eastern coast of Newcastle to the Western coast of Carlisle. It was the brainchild of Emperor Hadrian, although until about 200 years ago people thought it was the emperor AFTER him, and called it Severus's Wall (SNAPE! SNAPE!), which seems a bit unfair to poor old Hadrian, although I'm sure he didn't do any of the heavy lifting himself.

Here we have some genuine Roman footsoldiers: the coloured markings on their backs determine which regiment they belong to. These guys are part of the 36th infantry, and while they may LOOK like they're eating grass, they are in fact COILED SPRINGS, awaiting ACTION.

Here I am on the Wall itself. You will see a genuine Northern Barbarian behind me, sneaking up to try and pillage my packet of crisps. Lucky the Wall is in the way, huh? Thanks, Emperor Hadrian! (seriously, those cows are ENORMOUS and sometimes they are TOTALLY blocking stiles we have to climb over and they look really MEAN and OBSTINATE)

Okay, so about the Wall itself. 45 miles of it is made out of stone, like all the bits we'll see. Further east it was made of Turf and then replaced with stone in later years. The Wall was 4m high and 3m wide. Every Roman mile (1000 paces) there was a milecastle, like a fortified gateway. Between each milecastle were two watchtower turrets. It took a man 2 1/2 minutes to run along the wall from one turret/milecastle to the next, so if you kept swapping men, you could get a message from one side of the country to the other in a couple of hours. (is this boring? I'm such a nerd.) Okay, lastly, the fortification is more than just the wall. On the southern (English) side, there's a mound, then a ditch (called a Vallum) then another mound, THEN the wall. The mounds and vallum were sort of to indicate the military zone, a sort of 'no-go' area for civilians. Then on the North side of the wall there's a big deep ditch to stop those pesky Scots from getting in.

This is me standing at the very very very very northernmost point of the Roman Empire. Barbarian hordes could be popping up from the North at ANY MINUTE.

Here is a Mithraic Temple. Yes, I thought that was something from Lord of the Rings too. Apparently I was wrong. It's a Roman religion that lived alongside Christianity for a while until the Christians unsportingly but unsurprisingly decided they didn't really like sharing. The temple was very very small because according to legend, the god Mithras went into a cave and killed a GIANT BULL and bathed in its life force. Ew. There's also something about a raven and a snake, but i can't tell you what it is because Mum has fallen asleep with the book in her hand, and I don't want to wake her. The temple also isn't normally underwater, in fact it was discovered in a farmer's field during a drought, when all the dirt shrank and a dog came and scratched at one of the stones.


This is pretty much the very (windy) middle of Britain here. It's starting to look pretty bleak. But we're nearly at our B&B! Maybe we'll miss the rain! We've been lucky so far, it's rained all around us but the wind is so strong it's blown the clouds right by. Maybe our luck will hold for another hour.


Maybe not.

But now we are arrived in the Old Repeater Station where we are staying the night. So until tomorrow, as the Romans say: KTHXBAI.