Thursday, 20 March 2008

'Hot Fuzz' and 'Blackadder'

Those of you who have a good sense of humour might remember the television series ‘Blackadder’ which starred Rowan Atkinson. In the second series, set in Elizabethan times, there is an episode called ‘Money’ where Edmund owes a significant amount of money to a bank. If he doesn’t pay in time he will punished by “the baby-eating Bishop of Bath and Wells” using a red-hot poker. Consequently, it has long been an ambition of Wayne’s to go back to Bath (he had gone there with his family in 1982) to find out more about this Bishop. One of Wayne’s students had also loaned him a copy of the movie ‘Hot Fuzz’, which was largely set in the City of Wells (although called Sandford in the movie, which is apparently the all purpose name used for places in Police training in this country), which the whole family watched on Saturday night. So when it seemed that the weather in Stratford-upon-Avon (our originally planned destination this week) was set to be inclement for the whole of Sunday, we decided to go to Wells, in Somerset.

It was a rainy morning as we headed west along the M25 and then the M4 (which goes to South Wales). Strangely, the rain wasn’t very heavy but there was a still a lot of it. At times it felt like there was more water coming up off the road from the tires of the cars around us than there was actually falling from the sky. Finally we had encountered the English climate which we had been expecting, after weeks of really lovely, although occasionally very cold, sunny weather. While this meant that we didn’t get to see quite as much of the English countryside as we would have liked, we were able to concentrate on talking to each other about how things had been going.

Meg and Wayne were able to talk to the boys about their trip to Watford the day before. Some of you might recognise the name from the 1980’s when Elton John was the owner of the Watford Football Team which had considerable success. He is still significantly involved, the team is in the hunt for promotion to the Premier League, and there was a game on at their ground that afternoon so there were lots of people wandering through the shopping precinct wearing their very distinctive yellow, red and black colours. Initially we had gone there for two reasons; Meg had not been to this significantly large shopping area, and we had to visit the bank to find out why the rent had not come out of our bank account as we had requested. There were lots of shops, which made Meg very happy and we found a number of things that we had been looking for. Even though we didn’t buy anything from there, we also got to visit a Disney Store (which made the boys demand that they be taken to Watford as well). Fascinatingly, England still has lots and lots of shopping outside of the big shopping malls which predominate in Australia and the USA and there are all sorts of little specialist shops so we had a fun time.

The banking side of the trip was not so successful. Despite the fact that we had given the bank the form to take the rent from our account more than a week earlier, and it was only supposed to take 3 days, the bank had not taken the rent out, nor had they any record of the form we had given them. To our obvious delight, the Watford branch wouldn’t even phone the Harlow branch, where we had submitted the form. Instead they told us that we needed to drive to Harlow and speak to the branch workers in person. This meant more time in the car. When we got to Harlow the staff there couldn’t explain why the money had not come out either (it had gone to a central site for processing) but they promised to investigate for us (they haven’t yet rung, nor have British Telecom who are to set up our home phone line and who have promised to call us multiple times during the last three weeks). Finally, when we returned home we found a letter from the bank saying that they were uncertain as to when we wanted the money to come out (the form, which had already been filled out for us, had actually given both the starting date and the regular monthly date, so we were slightly perturbed as to which part of the instructions they had found confusing). Eventually we paid the rent for this month by Credit Card to our Real Estate agent over the phone and rejoiced at living in a country where the mail is delivered on Saturdays, yet bank staff seem to be unable to read (which makes you wonder what they do with that mail, perhaps it has lots of pictures).

Lots of the boys conversation related to things at Sheredes School; their teachers, the subjects they were studying, and the friends they had made. There are rabbits which live at the school, which Quinn has made a determined effort to see on a daily basis. He now believes that the rabbits in the UK have a real problem with Australians, but tries not to take this too personally. We also found out more about Suzanne, the police officer who Quinn and his friends had met while they were out on Friday night. Meg and Wayne were slightly confused as to exactly why a police officer should be talking to a group of teenagers on a Friday night. Quinn assures us that they had not been doing anything more than singing and shouting to each other and that Suzanne had simply wanted to introduce herself to them, as a form of community liaison.

Brock enlightened us on a number of theories that he has been developing over the last few weeks. One of these outlines the reason as to why he thinks it is important to wear clothes (not pyjamas or a one-sie) when he goes to bed at night. Apparently, it relates to his belief about being murdered in his sleep and the fact that God would not be as happy to use him as the Chief Angel to communicate his thoughts and wishes to the world if he was found to be wearing embarrassing clothes. Meg and Wayne tried to assure him that his being murdered in his sleep was an unlikely event, however they were distracted by the memory of an advertisement that they had heard the day before. It had asked the question, “Would you prefer to die in your bed at home rather than in a hospital?” then suggested that if this was the case the listener should call the organisation. Wayne was convinced that it was a euthanasia group who would guarantee that you would die in your bed, probably that very night, which led us all to think that maybe Brock’s being murdered in his sleep wasn’t so far fetched after all. This might go some way to explaining why Brock has started going grey.

The majority of the drive to Wells was straightforward, however, when we left the M4 (in sight of Wales across the water just west of Bristol) things started to go awry. Bristol itself looked lovely and is another place to which we will attempt to return. Since we arrived in England we have heard regular reports of flooding in the south west of England and it was in the Avon valley (yes, the same river that runs through Stratford) that we saw some of the evidence of this taking place. Whole playing fields were under water, as were sections of low-lying farmland. Indeed, one of the main roads running from Bristol down into Wells was completely cut so we had to take some detours through some very narrow rural roads. This was exciting, as the roads had rock walls on either side; and the woods we were driving through were very much like those from a story book; with old, bent, dark, trees and a deep floor of leaves and branches underneath a thick canopy, through which very little light emerged. Bristol to Wells took almost as long as Broxbourne to Bristol, but we arrived safely.

‘Hot Fuzz’ made brilliant use of the ancient limestone walls which are connected to the Cathedral and the beautiful Bishop’s Keep (which is surrounded by a real moat complete with drawbridge!!!). There are lots of entrances and exits through beautiful old arches (the actual cathedral, which was begun in 1180, has been digitally removed from a number of the shots of the village square) and it gives a lovely sense of age to the movie. There are swans on the moat and a swan features heavily in the movie (although a caretaker at the Keep assured us that they weren’t the swans from the movie, so it wasn’t worth getting autographs; they are however trained to ring a bell hanging from the gatehouse at feeding time!). Another nearby church (or at least a spike from its roof) also features dramatically in the film and two of the local pubs; ‘The Swan’, and ‘The Crown at Wells’ were the hotel that the main character stayed in (as did the cast in reality) and the pub that was a feature of the village of Sandford. ‘The Crown’ is in reality a 15th Century Grade II Listed Coaching Inn, however the interior used for the movie is actually a totally different pub, ‘The Royal Standard of England’, which is near Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire and the oldest free-house in England. In 1695, the quaker William Penn (the founder of Pennysylvania in the United States) preached a sermon from the window of ‘The Crown at Wells’ to a sizeable crowd and was arrested for unlawful assembly. Apparently he returned a few days later to preach again. However, what the boys found most exciting was the Somerfield Supermarket where a number of external shots were taken (again the interior was a totally different building in a totally different place), so consequently we had to take a photo.

One of Wayne’s workmates commented to Wayne on Monday morning that Wells is one of the most beautiful places in England. It is the smallest ‘city’ in the country and yet is treated as a village in the movie [the city status comes from it’s possession of a Cathedral which makes it the centre of a church diocese, although in this case the actual Cathedral site had been moved to Bath under the Norman Bishop, John De Vilula in the 11th Century]. The first Cathedral in the area was built around 700AD but this replacement cathedral is absolutely astonishing. The West Front contains around 400 carved figures, some larger than life, others smaller, featuring all sorts of people from the Bible and church history. The north transept has a clock which, when the hour comes, sees a figure of a bearded man in red sitting above and to the right of the clock ringing the bells with hands hammering and feet kicking. Other figures emerge for a joust every quarter of an hour, it is amazingly constructed. Not far away is another historical site, the path which Charles II took (the Monarch’s Way) when he escaped after the battle of Worcester in 1651. It runs beside the Bishop’s Keep on part of the 610 mile journey and there were people walking dogs and tramping along it.

We lunched on some glorious Cornish Pasties before beginning the journey home via the wonderful Roman city of Bath and this was an excellent decision (the pasties, not going via Bath). Once again we had to make detours based on the closure of roads which took us through some amazingly beautiful villages and woodlands and across gorgeous flowing streams. More frustrating though was to be approaching Bath and to find out that the Bath Half Marathon was being run on that day. Police roadblocks redirected us, and redirected us again as we tried to make some way into the city centre. Eventually we found ourselves at the same intersection near the southern side of Bath at which we had begun and gave seeing Bath up as a lost cause. We had to find our way around Bath, back to the M4, so that we could head east and home again.

There is only a week now until Easter, so there should be an opportunity for us all to spend a little longer away, perhaps going to Scotland. London is also on the map, when we will have some time to actually get into the city and take some time to see the sights. With Spring officially starting this week we are hoping that the weather will warm up somewhat, although paradoxically the boys and Meg want it to snow if we go to Scotland. Our interest in looking for places related to movies that we have seen has also given us another set of possibilities for places to visit. Having Elstree studios in the same county means there are lots of options quite close by. Meg has had a tooth removed, so she is feeling better than she was and we are still having the most wonderful time. We hope that you all are also and thank you once again for all the lovely emails and letters that we get. Look after yourself one and all.

One final note; this email should not be taken as an endorsement of the movie ‘Hot Fuzz’ nor does it reflect any of the opinions contained within. Meg found the movie quite scary at times, although the boys and Wayne were confused when she jumped in her seat because she saw a DVD rack in a service station. Brock, Quinn and Wayne do, however, suggest that if you enjoyed ‘Shaun of the Dead’ there is a good chance you will also enjoy this film.

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