The return journey
We're on the train from Leeds to London, speeding through the countryside of eastern England - pretty flat but very pleasant, and very green, which is something I particularly appreciate here in winter. I know that when we get back to Poland the landscape will still be more or less monochrome. We actually had some snow in Leeds a couple of days ago - enough for a thin covering, but it didn't last long. Yesterday we had quite a lot of rain, but today's sunny with blue skies. We're travelling first class, because we'd have had to pay more for second class, as a result of the crazy fare system in operation nowadays.
There are all sorts of fares, the best of which all have to be booked in advance for travel on a particular train, and are available in limited numbers, or not at all at certain times of day. From London to Leeds there are potentially 26 different fares, ranging from £7 to £138.50 - in other words the cheapest is about 5% of the most expensive!
When I wrote about the New Year, I forgot to tell you about the tradition of 'first-footing', which survives to some extent in Britain, although I think it's less well known by the younger generation. The idea is that at the start of the year, the first visitor to a house should be a man, who knocks on the door just after midnight to 'let the new year in'. He should bring a piece of coal (just a small one will do) and should be given a coin (again, it doesn't need to be valuable - it's just symbolic) by the members of the household. I remember when neighbours used to go round to each others' houses to let the new year in, but now it seems to be more typical for the 'man of the house' to slip outside just before midnight to be the actor of the ceremony. But in any case, as I said, I think this tradition is on the decline, like so many others. More often, nowadays, younger people just go out boozing, towns put on firework displays, and a lot of people simply sit at home and watch the New Year on TV, and might open a bottle of champagne if they're extravagant, or otherwise some other, more modestly-priced type of fizzy wine. We generally buy a bottle of Spanish cava.
In Poland, New Year's Eve balls are quite popular, with hours and hours of alternate dancing, eating and drinking.
Christine wrote from Germany: "We pour hot lead into cold water and predict, depending on the shape (not 'form'), something for the new year." In Poland, something similar happens on St. Andrew's Eve at the end of November. Then people tell fortunes by pouring molten wax into water and seeing what shape it forms.
Back home now. We stopped off in Cologne again last night, and spent today travelling through Germany and Poland. A rather dull day today, with some snow, more and more the further east we went.
Naheed wrote: "It seems you celebrated Christmas in two ways. Christmas eve with semi-traditional Polish style dinner and Christmas with traditional English-style dinner." Yes, that's right. The best of both worlds, you could say. But they aren't really different worlds, at least not to me. And I think travelling by land helps you to preserve an awareness of the connectedness of places, even if they're on different sides of national borders and if the people living in them speak different languages.
And talking about language, if you fancy a bit of vocabulary practice, you could look back over this blog and the previous one (the one about York) and see if you can find words with the following meanings:
1 whole, unbroken, well-preserved
2 shades of black and white, without other colours
3 to examine carefully
4 not too expensive
5 a not-very-attractive smell
6 a trip to a place of interest
7 drinking (an informal word)
8 spending more than necessary (an adjective)
9 miscellaneous human-made objects (e.g. found by archaeologists)
10 to fall down (e.g. a building)
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