Let’s play a game: It’s not Where’s Wally?, It’s Where’s Anna?

by Anna Blanch on May 17, 2010

Yes, I dropped off the face of Goannatree for almost a month. No, it wasn’t something I’d carefully planned and thought about, except for the first week of it…after that, let’s just begin by blaming the happy coincidence of Eyjafjallajökull’s Volcano (you see Eyjafjallajökull is the name of the glacier the volcano is under not the Volcano itself, though i can’t seem to work out what it’s actually called, though it’s beside the point) and a quick turn-around before St Deiniol’s and Wales.

I wrote this post about how I needed a mental holiday from my holiday. Well, I got one…and an extended one at that. I ended up, courtesy of Mr Icelandic Volcano in Michigan for an extra 10 days beyond what had been planned. I basically just got up each day and took it as it came – but don’t be thinking i was lying around on a beach or reading Jane Austen all day (gosh, if you know me the latter doesn’t sound like fun, it sounds like work) – which ended up involving tagging calves, moving cattle, throwing (maybe not actually throwing – they weigh about 65 lbs, they are mammoth) hay bales, watering cattle, feeding cattle, hanging out in tractors, all sorts of unmentionable smelliness, mud, cow pats, and green gooey biodegradable hay, even an afternoon of tiling (in fields, not a bathroom). There was some fun too – like flying up peninsula of Lake Huron, taking photos (like the one of the lake above) and going shopping for a wedding outfit (not for me), a death by chocolate evening and lots of cooking and baking. I did work half days in my extra week, but it was productive work and I relished the physicality and the challenge of keeping up with the boys!

The trip back to Scotland was hampered somewhat, nay significantly, by President Obama’s decision to use Detroit as a staging point for his commencement address at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. The operative being Ann Arbor. I was in the least more than a little perturbed by this decision as it directly resulted in missing my connecting flight to Paris (and the airport that shall not be named that is my least favourite in the world, closely followed by LAX *cough* Charles De gaulle *cough*) from JFK in New York. Fortunately I just, with 5 minutes to spare made the next flight and was able to take my original connecting flights to Edinburgh. But then….as usual for me…(seeing as this same back got left in chicago on my way to Michigan) my bag was waylaid in Paris for an extra night – I swear it protests when i’ve left places it likes too soon!

Jet lag hit me differently after this trip – i realised I’d never done such a short international trip (excepting a trip from Bangkok to Australia about 7 years ago) – and it threw me off my game. I did manage to prepare for Wales in the way that I had hoped, heard an excellent ITIA seminar given by Ivan Khovacs on Theological Approaches to Film and attend a 1930s Garden Party. All in all, a very productive and full week!

My trip to St Deiniol’s and Wales had me kicking myself over the rookie mistakes I was making. Not just leaving an additional camera battery behind which I would come to rue, but also leaving my RailCard behind meaning the additional cost of having to buy new tickets. Thumbs up to the helpful telephone and on-train staff of both eastcoast and Virgin and thumbs down (way down) to the horribly rude lady at Glasgow train station working for Virgin who seemed to think I was blaming her for my predicament rather than hearing that I just wanted to find a solution, even if it meant having to wear the additional cost for being such an “absent-minded professor.” It’s the first and last time i’ll leave my railcard at home….but i’m certain it’s not the last time i’ll encounter someone that defensive in a customer service role in the UK. Oh, well….thankfully everybody else was lovely.

The train from Glasgow to Crewe was horribly busy but nothing prepared me for the beauty of the west coast landscape around Kilmarnock and then into the north of England. It is stunning, but Wales is even more beautiful. The big adventure came after I arrived at Shotton railway station at 10:30pm and couldn’t figure out why it seemed patently clear that no more trains were coming that evening (oh good…). After i made a phone call requesting a friend send me the number for the local taxi, a random stranger yelled out from the opposite platform that actually what i needed to do, for Hawarden, was to “go up the stairs, down some and then cross the railway tracks…”. You may be able to imagine the thoughts running through my head (there are no signs indicating additional platforms and it’s late at night and this stranger is sending me off into the darkness….good then. But, what did i have to lose…except maybe needing to call a cab. *nb: I am not silly, i do not as a rule wander off alone at night in places i don’t know…but i also listen to my intuition.*

So, I did as the stranger bid and find myself staring after a time at an additional set of platforms and realising that I, indeed, had to cross them to get to the opposite platform. It dawned on me — that this was my platform 9 and 3/4 and i was heading off into a land and a place unbeknown to others. It is opportune then to note three things: firstly, Hawarden or Penerlag (its welsh name) is not on any official train map (including those on the platforms at the railway station indicating all stops), St Deiniol’s and nearby Hawarden castle have a kind of Harry Potter-esque feel (though I did not know this at the time), and I would come to find out that the Warden of St Deiniol’s has his own connection to J.K Rowling (though that is his story and I will leave you to ask him about it should you ever visit St Deiniol’s, and finally if you search for Church Lane, Hawarden on google maps it apparently sends you to nearby Ewloe and a Church Lane that apparently exists there.

I did arrive in Hawarden eventually and i did spend a wonderful week researching. I wrote two posts, here and here about my time (and how much i’ve enjoyed it here) at St Deiniol’s. It was a much quicker turn-around (6 days) from arriving in Scotland to leaving again than I had planned…but life (and Volcanoes) are like that sometimes. This past weekend I enjoyed visiting Conwy, Bangor and Anglesea with a friend from my undergraduate days who’s recently finished her own PhD here in the UK. The picture to the right is in front of Aber Falls (you see that I favour blue to Wally’s red) near Conwy.

So Where’s Anna? 
Presently in Wales, but soon to be back in Scotland after 5 different trains and a bus…and believe me I’m going to sleep well tonight! As for my next research travels – there might have to be a research update for that – replete with speaking dates (it’s been a hectic couple of months sorting out my schedule)!

Images: Anna M. Blanch 2010
Anna Blanch is founder of Goannatree, and a PhD student in the Institute of Theology, Imagination, and the Arts at St Mary’s College, University of St Andrews, Scotland.

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