Canterbury Tales and Northern Moonkays

Trip Start Nov 29, 2005
Trip End Nov 21, 2006

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Flag of United Kingdom  , England,
Monday, November 13, 2006

My mission, more or less since I hit Western Europe was to go to places where I had friends. There were two purposes to this strategy. First, obviously, I wanted to see my friends. Second, and while this is not nearly as noble, I wanted to be done paying for accommodation. It adds up after a while. For six months I went around Australia and Asia meeting people and making friends, and it was paying off throughout Holland, Germany, Denmark and the UK. Not only was I getting a free bed, but I was getting a local expert to show me around, tell me things that aren't in guide books and show me the places that locals go. I was also getting to see people in their home environment, and it's remarkable how different you are when you're in your hometown working and when you're in a hostel halfway around the world doing whatever you damn well please. My general feeling was, at some point in my life I'd be back in Europe. Places I'd miss I could go back to. I was also realistic about these friends; a few of them I would keep in touch with, but even with Facebook and instant messenger and everything else, within a few months of getting home, a vast majority of these friends would just become memories and email addresses in a journal. I figured, might as well take advantage of it while I could.

All this is a long-winded way of saying, I had less than a week and a half left in my trip and I was trying to figure out what people and places I could see before the brutal grasp of reality was ready to drag me back across the Atlantic. After a couple night on the twins' couch where no options presented themselves, they started flooding in. The plan quickly became to scoot down to Canterbury for a day to see Helen, who I'd met in Cambodia, and then saw briefly -- and groggily in the Dubai airport. (We had discussed going to Cardiff to visit Kate, her traveling buddy when we met seven months earlier.) From Canterbury, I'd backtrack to London and take a bus up to Manchester to stay with Sophie, from the Aussie East Coast swing.

Canterbury was nothing exceptional, I had a similar experience to Leeds, in which I was visiting a friend at the university and I'd be crashing on her floor and going with her to various uni bars and parties. We stopped by Canterbury Cathedral, famous for any number of reasons. The admission price, like everything else in England, was obnoxious, so we didn't go in. What made it doubly obnoxious was they had built something in front of the cathedral that blocked your view of it if you didn't go in. Jerks. The night out with Helen and her friends did advance my Theory of Drunken Invincibility that I'd been working on throughout the trip. The theory goes like this: when you're drunk you're essentially covered in a cloak of invincibility that makes you impervious to anything and everything, and this includes anything attached to you. The Theory really took form at the house party I went to in London with Jimmy and Lloyd in which somebody spilled a cranberry-vodka all over my pants, yet you couldn't find a trace of it. In Canterbury, before things really got rolling, one of Helen's friends spilled a Snakebite all over me. I was only a couple drinks in, and sure enough, red pants. There is one major caveat to this Theory though. And it goes like this: backpackers themselves are more or less invincible, but can only be harmed while drunk. Meet a backpacker with a cast or a bandage or a prosthetic and the story will undoubtedly begin, "I was drunk..."

Getting out of Canterbury and up to Manchester, though, turned out to be my biggest (mis)adventure involving transportation since SE Asia, or Eastern Europe at the very least. When Helen and I got back to her room after our night out I tried to order my ticket from London to Manchester through Mega Bus. For whatever reason, the site wasn't accepting my credit card. I was a little perturbed (for the obvious) but didn't think it was too big of a deal, I could just get my ticket in London.

Helen had told me that I should be at the bus stop outside her dorm at 8:30 for my 9:05 bus. I took this as a suggestion, not as a requirement. When I watched one bus pass as I was walking to the stop at 8:32, I assumed another one would come by in 10 minutes. At 8:55, I realized I was in trouble. I did what I hoped I wouldn't have to do, and wake up Helen to get a ride to the bus stop. She was less than pleased, but a trooper nonetheless, and got me to the bus station just in time to watch the bus for which I held a non-amenable, non-refundable ticket pull away. Fortunately, the bus 40 minutes later didn't charge me extra (or fully) and I still had enough time to make my transfer in London. I got to the MegaBus station where I was told less than politely by the driver that I needed to have a ticket in order to board the bus. And oh yeah, there's no ticket office. Awesome. I sprinted to an internet cafe to order a ticket. I popped in my credit card number, and still, nothing. Awesomer yet. I had no choice. I turned to the guy next to me, a Czech exchange student whose English was still a work in progress, and slowly but surely got across the message of, hey, I need to get on this bus but they're not accepting my credit card, so would you mind allowing this silly American who you've never met before and don't know if he's some sort of felon to take your credit card to order a bus ticket, and sure I'll pay you back in cash. Somehow, he went for it. And I was on my merry way. Slowly. Traffic in England, in a word, sucks. Coaches in England, in a word, suck. It's cold outside but toasting in the bus, figure that one out.

So a couple hours late and a few minor miracles cashed in, I was in Manchester. As it turned out, I wouldn't be staying in Manchester. But I'd also be getting treated to better hospitality than I could have ever imagined. Sophie's parents run a B&B in Rochdale, so I'd be staying in professional accommodation for absolutely nothing (I'd also find out that Sophie's father was a member of the Manchester United club, and had I mentioned something sooner, I could've easily gotten tickets to Old Trafford. Bollocks.). The Marshalls had planned an Indian take-away feast for my arrival. Sophie's parents were amazingly hospitable and ridiculously cool. Not only did they feed me, but her father refused to see me sitting at his table without a beer in front of me and wanted to hear nothing of me drinking my own beer that we'd just bought. We then had more fun than you could ever imagine playing board games with someone's parents before checking out the Rochdale nightlife. The word of the day was 'Chav.' Chavs are basically the Northern Moonkay redneck. They are most easily recognizable by their track suits. The whole night I was terrified of looking at any guy, for fear of getting stabbed. I was also terrified of looking at any girl, because that would be the equivalent of looking at the wrong guy, at which point I would get stabbed.

The next night we were in Chester to stay with Gemma, Sophie's friend from Uni. Shortly after arrival, another one of their uni friends Helen arrived as well. Before then though, Sophie had insisted we all start the casual pace for the day and night. Oof. Between those three, and Gemma's roommates Michelle and Beth, this was shaping up to be a good time. I was also getting an interesting glimpse into the conversations girls have when they're among their own kind. And I thought guys could be crude. After several drinks and some dinner the girls went upstairs to get ready. When I went to the fridge to get another beer, I saw Beth, who I really hadn't talked to all day standing outside smoking a cigarette with a laundry basket over her head. The obvious question sparked the conversation and it was all uphill from there. At some point the conversation went into a debate as to whether she could pull if she showed up at the club appearing exactly like that. Let's just say, we found out. It was a great way to lead into Liverpool and my first nights spent in a hostel in over a month, and my last ones of the trip.
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