Various things added up to make me quite late for tea with AN and blue_mai, but I eventually made it to AN's place from Brighton on Sunday. AN fed us very tasty home-made ginger cake, and we had the most delightful chat. I don't think I would have guessed that those two would be the schoolfriends I'd be closest to ten years after leaving school, but they have known me forever and are generally wonderful.
We then headed to the Pembury which is conveniently just round the corner from AN's place! So that was a good excuse to introduce her to what a cool pub it is. There were lots and lots and lots of lovely people there, and if I namecheck I shall likely forget some, but I got to see: timeplease, obviously, doseybat, megamole, ewtikins and hairyears, fluffymark and several of the Pembury regulars whose faces I recognize but whose names and handles I don't know. There was yummy Pembury food (I had a platter of different kinds of fish, which felt like a funny thing to do when I live in Sweden, but it was very nice!) and extremely yummy Pembury beer (I got timeplease to write down the name for me: St Bernadus Wit, but my list of beers I have to drink whenever I'm in the Pembury is already getting too long for me to be able to drink all of them in a single visit and then timeplease keeps introducing me to new forms of alcoholic joy... listen to me, I don't even like beer most of the time!), and dangerously nice hot chocolate to finish with. And there was bar billiards, which I am terrible at like most cue games, but which is very amusing, and a long-anticipated game of in person Settlers, which fluffymark won convincingly but which made me very happy because there is a big lack of Settlers in my life.
timeplease very generously invited me to stay over. That meant I had to keep to his hours, a very late night and a relatively early start. But it was worth it to get some incredibly rare time with him away from the pub. And as an additional bonus, there were kittens! I "helped" take them to the vet in the morning, by which I mean I hung around being utterly melted by the cute fluffy things while timeplease dealt sensibly with the vet appointment.
In the afternoon I headed to Manchester to see syllopsium. I normally hate Virgin trains but the speedy Pendolino from London to Manchester is really quite nice, especially as I was sitting in the "quiet" carriage which meant slightly fewer loud, obnoxious adverts. The train was a bit delayed while a fellow passenger got arrested for buying her train ticket with a failed credit card. But anyway, I made it. And syllopsium turns out to be just as delightful in person as online! Whenever I am away from Manchester I forget just how gorgeous the countryside is around there, but we had a lovely lovely walk by a reservoir, with views over the heath. The light was just incredible, but sadly none of my photos came out. syllopsium fed me tasty PIE and was generally lovely.
On Tuesday we had time for lunch in a ducky little hippie vegetarian place before I had to catch a train to Birmingham. Birmingham is mostly a pointless place, except that it contains loreid, kathrid and wychwood. Very good to see all three of them, and loreid provided plenty of soup and teeeeeeea to sustain a marathon chatting session. Well, the three girls chatted while kathrid mostly lurked, but as usual the few remarks he did make greatly enhanced the conversation. Sleeping in loreid's spare room is very restful because it is so comfortingly full of books.
Wednesday morning I had a bit of time in Birmingham between loreid dropping me off while she went on to work, and the time of my train. Birmingham is famous for shopping, so I thought I would try some. I didn't find any books, but I did find some new shoes (rather necessary as I'd destroyed my old ones in the course of wandering around European cities on foot), and a bunch of CDs that were on dastardly special offer in HMV. And then I had a crêpe with icecream and Nutella for breakfast; it was one of the only things I've ever tried that was actually too sweet and rich for me to finish. But the server was absolutely adorable; if I hadn't been on my way out of town I'd have been tempted to ask her if she was free to go out for a drink after she finished her shift.
Then it was back to Cambridge in time to greet my parents who were back from an exciting trip to California. They got to see darcydodo and I didn't, no fair! But anyway, we spent Wednesday evening and Thursday regaling eachother with our respective travellers' tales. Although it wasn't logistically sensible, I went back to Brighton on Thursday evening so that I could attend Thuggish Poet's poetry gig. I was so proud to see my lil brother being a total professional; everything from organizing the logistics to compering to schmoozing the appropriate people he handled masterfully. The format of the evening was a little bit of time for hanging around and socializing, then a short show by some professional poets, then a poetry slam, then a finale by the pros.
Unfortunately, the pros were really embarrassingly awful, much worse than the amateurs. I have lost the note I took of who they were, which is probably a good thing since I have little to say about them that is at all complimentary. There was a duo of middle aged men who I think got into the spoken word scene before it was cool, but were still thinking they were breaking new ground simply by being middle-aged white (they made such a point of that that it was very little short of racist) guys doing performance poetry and mentioning naughty things like sex! and alcohol! And a Canadian poet who wasn't so cringingly awful as they were, but didn't really understand his audience well; he was over-serious, and a lot of his political material had no relevance to a British audience.
Never mind. The slam section of the evening (where amateurs do three minute slots and randomly picked audience members rate them to find the champion) was very good. Lots of variety, including some rather good poetry and some nice comic stuff. I did the door for the first part of the evening, and the scoring for this part. Although I'm moderately good at mental arithmetic, it's actually harder than it looks to add up five 2 digit numbers fast with an entire audience staring at you expectantly. I fluffed the first one completely, but Thuggish Poet covered me with some nice banter and I got the hang of it after that. I don't really have the training for modern spoken word poetry, but I think I could get into it.
And it was generally a lovely crowd; I particularly enjoyed being introduced to Thuggish Poet's friends, and consistently getting interesting and intelligent questions about science as a response to mentioning my job. Definitely better than: oh, that sounds really hard! I was always hopeless at science *giggle* or: you work on cancer, let me tell you this tragic story about how my hairdresser's sister's boyfriend died of cancer / tell you the latest crackpot theory of a new age cure for cancer...
Back to Cambridge again via some of the lovely Brighton charity shops (no, I didn't plan the logistics of this bit very well) for Shabbat with the parents. Attended synagogue with them in the morning, which is always pleasing and a good chance to catch up with some of my friends from that community. Then I met up with deborah_c and we had some chance to chat before she drove me to Bury St Edmunds for karen2205's excellent party. Karen is fantastically good at organizing parties, and knows a fascinatingly eclectic bunch of people. The best parties are those where there's a good mix of people I already know with new, interesting people (hi meihua and witchsilver!), and plenty of teeeeea available as well as alcohol. Partly because I like tea but also partly because it sets the tone for a party where the aim is to socialize more than to get drunk. We played a lot of Fluxx (which works surprisingly well with a big group) and a rather odd game called, puerilely, Snatch. This latter billed itself as a cross between Snap and Scrabble, but it is in fact not very much like either; it's more like a simultaneous version of Word Rummikub. I think turn-based works better for that kind of thing, and there are ways that Snatch could be better thought out, but it was quite fun. And I was unreasonably good at it!
Sunday I headed back with doseybat, the rather prolonged Sunday journey giving me plenty of time to talk to her. We spent the remainder of the afternoon being fed by the Batmother and chatting more, then back to the Pembury. I got involved in a game called Arkham Horror, which is essentially a board game version of Call of Cthulu. It was a lot of fun, though I'm annoyed I didn't get the names of the endearingly geeky open source mapping people I was playing with. But anyway. Indulged some girly gossip with ewtikins, and chatted to pplfichi and some other fun people.
I stayed over with timeplease again (yay!), not needing to get up so early this time. That gave me one more evening at the parents' before flying back to Stockholm just in time for Rosh HaShanah.
Annnnd this is the final part of a long series which has taken me about two months to get round to posting. I still haven't managed all the book reviews, but never mind. That was a cool holiday, and many thanks to all the lovely people who were willing to hang out with me and give me places to stay.