I WAS on a train. That much was fact. Where the train was going, and where it might stop, these were details that remained less than certain.
So it was that myself and a nice chap from Buxton (of water fame) came to be sitting in First Class of a Virgin Pendolino, despite not being in possession of First Class tickets. He had been to London for the day for a work meeting in the wine bar Vinopolis, having been to Hemel Hempstead the day before for the same reason, commuting every day from Buxton. Tomorrow he would be returning to London. I think he had been enjoying it until the signal failure at Milton Keynes, which threw the entire Virgin Trains network into disarray. For this reason I had had to board this train also, knowing simply that it was going North. It was tentatively listed as bound for Manchester Piccadilly, but since the train I was supposed to catch had disappeared from the departures board at Euston (not cancelled, it simply ceased to exist), such details were far from trustworthy.
Three hours after my intended arrival time, my second train of the evening pulled up to Chester train station with a very weary Simon inside. I had waved goodbye to my friend from Buxton at Stockport and immediately made a new friend, a student from Knutsford who was studying in Chester. We talked about many things on the journey, from sea snakes in Fiji to the class system in Cheshire.
"I'll tell you something about Chester," he said to me as we walked towards the exit at Chester. "It was beautiful until they moved all the Scousers in."
Chester, I might add, is still beautiful. I was here to visit my sister, who lives next to a windmill and has befriended every cat in the city. I had a wonderful weekend, and below are a few stories of my time there.
It didn't take long to fire up the Wii. Ever since the launch of the Wii I have been taunted with two basic facts: I can't afford one, and my sister has one. Not only that, but she has Zelda: Twilight Princess. Amazingly, despite my constant desire to acquire one, I had up until this weekend never played on one, so after an initial catch-up and a bite to eat, we were playing virtual tennis and some very silly games on Wii Play. I loved it.
Chester Zoo holds a special place in Jo's heart. She worked there for eleven months as a monkey - sorry, research assistant - and she seizes every opportunity to go back. On this particular occasion she reveled in showing me around, as this was my first ever visit. We marvelled at the size of the elephants, cooed at the coatis, and giggled at the meerkats, my favourite animal in the zoo. We also saw Margaret, the baby giraffe.
Somehow I had become a good luck charm that day. Where normally a visitor might be lucky to see one of the jaguars in their enclosure, on this day we saw all five; from mother and child play-fighting to posers and layabouts and the majestic Pelé, a black jaguar with his very own private jungle. They truly were beautiful creatures.
In the Realm of the Red Ape, a baby orang-utan kept everybody's attention, but it was the elder ape who caught my eye. At the base of the enormous enclosure, the orang had clearly spotted some source of sumptuous food, and was collecting available sticks to poke through the fence to hook it towards them. Starting with a simple twig, over the few minutes I was watching the tools got bigger, until the ape was forcing half a tree through the fence. I don't know if they succeeded. Nonetheless it was very exciting to watch primate ingenuity in action. In the monkey section, I failed miserably to beat a baboon at a simple coordination task: fifteen seconds to get the nut? You're having a laugh!
The good luck continued as the otters were out, looking far too cute for their own good and following us around their enclosure. The spectacled bear was also on show, the okapi had an identity crisis (is it a giraffe, is it a zebra?), the warty hog received an appreciative giggle, the komodo dragon was being lazy and a capybara got stuck in a tub while we watched on.
I was rubbish at Sonic And Mario At The Olympics, overly adventurous on Super Mario Galaxy, but could eventually hold my own on Mario Kart Wii.
We visited Chester itself on Sunday, stopping off in the Japanese shop in The Rows and the sweet shop beside the Cathedral. Down by the Dee we walked into the Roman gardens (first giving way to a squirrel) and dreamt of the time when the Romans first built the city, intending to make it their capital on the British Isles (or Britannia, if you will). The ruins were a delight, as all ruins are to me, and moving around the city wall continued to bring surprises. The city is a constant stream of wonderful architecture, and the cloudy skies could do nothing to dampen my spirits. If only the street artist drawing Doctor Who-themed scenes of Chester had been there that weekend, too.
By a stroke of luck, we got 50% off of our bill at La Tasca.
I herded some goats on Zelda: Twilight Princess. It was ace.