Thursday, July 15, 2010

Travel Diary 15 July 2010

Leeds has had better and worse times. In Victorian arcades recast as Chelsea laneways, the Yorkshire revival appears, but not so much in the discontented, jowly security guards who stare out of the shop windows. It's a stare that makes you believe that there must trouble. Even tired-old Sainsbury’s has two of these oafs. As unlikely as it may seem, I am reminded of Manila, where you walk past armed guards to order fast food.

There are no postcards for sale. Even the post office in Headingley – the Headingly of Ashes fame, where I was going to meet my Yorkshire relatives for dinner – doesn't sell any. The repackaging of Old England has overlooked this part of the post-industrial north. And even if you do at times feel like you’re on the set of Little Britain – tracksuits, grimaces, and fast swearing – this feels good, better than tea shops and commemorative crockery.

I meet Colin and Joyce, my second cousin, at Headingley's New Inn, a pub a little up from the shops with two large screens showing the cricket - Australia v. Pakistan at Lord's. It is raining in London, and it is raining in Leeds. As unreasonable as it may be to say this about England in summer: we've had a lot of rain.

Colin and Joyce are waiting for me outside in the rain, while inside (and out of the rain) I watch the cricketers coming in out of the rain. “I don't know ought about calling an overseas number,” explains Colin, when he's finally found me. Six years ago he bought a mobile phone with ten pounds credit on it, and this year for this first time he topped up. "I only have it for emergencies," he said. "It's switched off most of the time."

It is good to live outside the medieval envelope of the conference for a moment, even if today's papers have mainly been good:

the travel of literary motifs in Iceland
feasting and regicide in medieval Denmark
genre in Icelandic romances and legendary sagas
moral values in the late medieval Icelandic romances
travel and geography in Nitida saga
geographical patterns of innovation in the Icelandic romances

Looking at this list I realise that although this is a conference on exploration and travel, I am rather stuck in Scandinavia.