Wednesday, October 5, 2011

My drunken week in Exeter

Exeter Cast of Characters:

Sean: Couchsurfer who hosted me. Does British Sign Language fluently and works at the Exeter School for the Deaf. Possesses a very dry British wit (as in he can be an asshole while still somehow being charming). Knows tons of people. (I was going to write "speaks British Sign Language", but then I realized that doesn't work like it normally would . . .)

Matt: Friend of Sean’s. Has a degree in Geography, but manages the kitchens in a hip pub/restaurant in Exeter for now. Non-couchsurfer. Very, very nice.

Darren: Friend of Sean’s. Deaf, works at the school. Reads lips and can moderately communicate with non-signing people. Also very nice. (Just assume that everyone is nice from here on out).

Aidan: Friend of Sean’s. Deaf, works at the school. Can’t read lips.

Harry: Friend of Sean’s. Works as an aircraft maintenance engineer for Flybe airlines. Loves to get into America vs. Britain arguments. Possesses a very dry British wit.

Chaz: Sean’s roommate. Doesn’t really like people staying over at their place. Engaged, and his fiancĂ©e basically lives there.

Rachel: Friend of Darren’s and Sean’s and works at the school with them.

Cat: Girl that Darren was briefly interested in. Friends with Rachel.

Sam: Friend of Cat’s.

Lucy: Friend of Cat’s.

Tucker: Friend of Sam’s.

Cullen: Adorable flaming homosexual from Exeter. I asked him to go shopping with me.

Friday, mid-way through my Devon workaway, my first weekend off: After Toby left Gandy’s (the pub we were meeting in), I texted Sean that I was free. I spent the next twenty minutes speaking with Alicia on the phone about her master’s program, Toby and Lithuania, and other stuff while I waited. I was surprised when he showed up – Sean is only a few inches taller than me. For once I was looking a man straight in the eyes. OH EM GEE, RIGHT?! Is this what tall women feel like?!!?

Thankfully he doesn’t have any kind of Napoleon complex. He’s actually very charming. It was easy to start talking to him. He asked me if he could invite his friend Matt along because he had just gotten off work. Of course I said yes and we chatted about our travels while we waited for Matt to arrive. Sean has traveled extensively through South America, SE Asia, and Australia. He has some crazy stories.

I’ve learned that there are generally crazy stories when Australia is involved.

When Matt arrived we chatted for a bit and then started off toward Sean’s place to drop off my bags. It was dark by this time, but Exeter was still alive with people. Exeter reminds me a little of College Station, actually. It’s built kind of around a University, so it isn’t too large, but it has a large population outside of the University too. There definitely isn’t some huge loyalty tying the town and the University together like there is in Aggieland though. It also provides a meeting point for the rural areas of SW England and the more populous areas in Central England.

Matt and Sean took me by the Exeter Cathedral. It’s a beautiful piece of architecture. They let me stop and take a few pictures. Toby showed it to me earlier that day, but at night it had a different presence entirely.

Right after this is when my camera died. I was in a rush to leave Riverside earlier, so I had forgotten my extra battery. I’ll have to take tons of pictures of Exeter architecture when I come back later in the year.

We arrived at Sean’s to drop my stuff off and have a few drinks. They asked me about America (as people usually do) and we swapped stories, music preferences, etc. Not too long afterward we left the house and went to the first bar, The Three Pigs. I got carded. Again. I accept that I look like jailbait. The Three Pigs is an old-timey pub. Lots of dark wood, cushiony seats, and long tables. It was nice. We only had a few drinks there before we left for another pub to meet up with more of Sean’s friends.

The other pub is called Firehouse, and we spent most of the night there. Apparently Sean knows EVERYONE in Exeter, because he got accosted by members of both the deaf and hearing communities when we arrived. Thankfully Matt was with me because he stayed by me and reassured me that this was normal and we should just move on to the bar. Just like Matt said, Sean showed up a few minutes later. He bought the first round and ordered a huge pizza for us to share. Sean used to work at Firehouse, so the bartenders were all really nice to me and exclaimed over the fact that I’m American.

We took our drinks upstairs and found a table. A lot of bars in England have multiple levels. It’s really neat. Also, it’s not unusual for people to get really close to each other. Seriously, my personal bubble was under siege. Sean, Matt, and I sat down at a really long table with benches. Another party joined us. They were sitting not more than two feet away from me, but we were still very distinctly different groups. It was kind of weird. I’m slowly getting used to it.

Darren and Aiden joined us. Sean made the introductions. I have to say it was really cool. Darren can lip read. He had meningitis when he was five and lost most of his hearing. He can still hear a very little bit with the use of hearing aids, but the cool thing is that he can speak mostly accurately too. His consonants are a little soft, but you can generally get the idea of what he’s saying. Aidan is completely deaf and has been since birth. Sean had to translate for us but Aidan didn’t seem to mind. Being able to converse with them was fantastic. It makes me really want to learn sign language. They taught me the sign for my name. Lack of hearing certainly didn’t seem to slow them down at all. Sometimes Sean would lapse into only sign language, but thankfully Matt was just as lost as me at those points, so we bonded in our mutual awkwardness.

So. Sean played interpreter, and we played drinking games.

Why did no one warn me about sambuca?

Aidan put a shot of sambuca (a terrible, terrible drink) in his mouth and Darren lit it on fire. Then the idiot KEPT HIS MOUTH OPEN and of course got burned and spit it all over the table. It was hilarious. It wouldn’t have been if Aidan had hurt himself, but he was laughing along with us. And the night degenerated from there; in a good and bad way. Good because lots of fun and merriment was had by all. Bad because British men kept putting drinks in front of me, and I felt obligated to drink them and I got absolutely wasted. It was shameful. I really wasn’t planning on drinking very much at all, but they kept buying drinks for me without me even asking. However, I had only one shot of sambuca before I decided I will never drink that crap again and gave each shot they bought me to Matt. Then I spent thirty minutes in the pub rest room worshiping the porcelain God and listening to the chick in the next stall that was in the same predicament. I said Hi. We bonded in our mutual misery. I would emerge after a little bit to see the guys drunkenly circled up in the hallway with a glass of water for me and a chorus of laughter and joking. They’d ask if I was okay, and I would say yes, and then I’d hold up a finger and run back into the bathroom to the sound of their laughing uproariously behind me. Everyone was quite drunk by that point except for Sean.

We jubilantly exited when the bar closed. I remember Matt being distinctly wobbly. I got lots of hugs from Darren and Aidan, who were also quite wobbly. Sean had to hail a cab, take me back to his place, make me drink tons of water, and then deal with me alternating between calling him an asshole and throwing up some more, and then put me to bed. I don't know why the guy didn't kick me out the next morning. I don’t know how I didn’t die that night. God. He thought it was the funniest thing ever.

Then the next morning he made breakfast for me! Best host ever? I think so. Thankfully I was the first person he ever hosted so he was as ignorant of the process as I was. Also, thankfully, I wasn't hungover. Amazing, I know. That was probably the worst bout of wasted-ness I've had since I was an ignorant, un-boozed freshman in college. Sean told me he’s never going to buy that much alcohol for a couchsurfer again. Ever. He also told me I was lucky that I was a short, slightly helpless-looking woman, because other wise he would have left me outside on the grass until the morning.

I love being a little blond girl.

After breakfast Sean took me around Exeter and showed me a bunch of the sights. We had a Cornish pasty on the front lawn of the cathedral, walked down the quay, and looked at a bunch of shops. He went with me to buy my rucksack and sleeping bag for the trip to Lithuania. He also went with me to buy a wedding ring (for protection against the creepers on the road), and we made a big show of buying a ring for seven quid (British pounds) in a jewelers. He went down on one knee and everything. The guy was a real sport. The jeweler was horrified. I’m pretty sure at one point he was on the verge of telling me that I deserved better.

The Exeter Cathedral the night before. The architecture is intricate and beautiful. Sean told me that all the statues are clothed except for one guy near the top of the Cathedral. Medieval jokes, har har.

A real Cornish pasty on the lawn! Amazing.

A few shops in Exeter. Neat, right?

At one point we went to meet Darren and Aidan. They laughed at me, but gave me some big hugs and told me I was welcome to drink with them any time. Acceptance into that group is a trial by fire.

Sean invited me to stay another night, so I thanked him by making burritos for dinner. Harry came over and I facilitated their new addiction to guacamole. Honestly, I just need to sign up as a cultural ambassador for Mexico. Afterward we went to the pub that Matt works at and asked him how he was feeling. He looked distinctly hellish. Poor guy. I felt a little guilty for giving him my sambuca.

This time I only had one drink and decided to stop early. That one drink gave me a flashback to Friday and I nearly started getting sick again. Ugh. I don't think I'll be drinking for a long time. Also, there were no deaf guys spitting fire this time. It was a much quieter night.

I came back to the farm on Sunday and picked up the usual routine on Monday. I spent a couple of days working and doing my thing, but Sean and Harry contacted me and invited me to go surfing with them on Wednesday. I jumped at the chance. I’ve never been surfing before, and both Sean and Harry are really fun to hang out with.

Wednesday rolled around and Ann let me work a half day. (Aren’t these people amazingly cool?) I packed an overnight bag because Harry, Sean, Matt, and I were planning on going out that night and depositing me back at the farm the next morning. Matt offered to let me sleep on his couch because Sean’s roommate wasn’t very happy that I spontaneously camped out Saturday night. Chaz is a little prickly, but there’s a complicated situation involved that I can’t really get into. Suffice to say that he doesn’t like Sean having people over (not just couchsurfers) and Sean is planning on moving into a new place with Harry next month. Yes, they’ve already invited me back to bum in their extra bedroom. Yes, I am that cool.

Anyway, Sean and Harry picked me up on Wednesday afternoon. I had borrowed a wetsuit from Declan so we immediately hit the beach. It was awesome! The water wasn’t too cold and Sean and Harry taught me how to properly body board. Sadly the waves weren’t large enough to properly go surfing, but we had a great time anyway. After a few hours of hanging out we washed off, went into town, and ate “fish and chips”.

I’m going to take this opportunity to make a side note and add a little colloquialism lesson here:

Fish & Chips = fish and French fries. They are large French fries. The British refuse this, but it’s true.

Crisps = what we would call chips. There have been multiple arguments over this matter with the Exeter boys.

Biscuits = cookies. They also call them cookies. Why, I have no idea. They have no explanation, other than “it’s British and British English is superior so there.”

Knackered = tired.

Mental = crazy. Not that that was difficult to figure out, but it’s weird when Brits say “that’s mental!” all the time.

Chav = what we would call some ghetto kid that wears his pants below his butt and blings himself out. I like this one.

Bloke = dude

There are a few other words, but I can’t remember them right now. They’re slowly integrating into my vocabulary. I used the word “knackered” the other day and Sean said I almost sounded British, but that my “blatantly offensive” American accent ruined it. I get this kind of treatment all the time.

The British's revered fish and chips. Yes, those are french fries. I told them but they wouldn't concede. Ignorant Englishmen.

After fish and chips we went back to Sean’s and played some drinking games with cards involved. I made sure to not drink too much this time. Good thing, because it was my turn to play babysitter, apparently.

Harry being a foolish drunk Brit

Because men can't get inebriated without challenging each other at SOMETHING.

Matt and I in a bar - oh, excuse me, it's a pub.

We went out, met up with Matt, and hit the pubs again. A lot of ridiculousness happened. Suffice to say the boys were wasted. Harry left about twenty minutes before us to catch a cab back to Sean’s. I herded Sean back a little while later. Matt was relatively okay. Harry let us in (wasted and in green boxer-shorts), and I got everyone water. Then for some reason Harry poured some on me. So I soaked him. A huge water fight commenced, and suddenly Chaz popped through the living room door in his skivvies and shouted, “SOME OF US HAVE TO WORK TOMORROW!” The carpet was soaked. Matt was surprisingly dry and sober, so he decided to go home. I settled Harry and Sean and finally got some sleep. I had planned on catching a ride from Harry back to Riverside in the morning to work.

Yeah.. I didn’t make it back to the farm the next morning. I called at 7:30am to tell Ann that nobody was awake. Then I promptly passed out again and missed the next couple of phone calls. I woke up around noon to the sound of moaning and groaning.

Sean decided to make a full English breakfast for the three of us. It was delicious. For your information, a full English breakfast consists of fatty bacon, poached or fried eggs, fried or grilled tomatoes, fried mushrooms, fried bread (like a French fry, but it looks like a waffle and fakes Americans out), sausages, and baked beans. Some regions serve it with black pudding, which is some kind of congealed blood in sausage form, but thankfully I’ve only visited sane Brits and have never had to politely refuse their gross blood sausage while trying to keep the look of revulsion and horror from taking over my face.

I realized that Matt had run home with Declan’s wetsuit, so I tried to get a hold of him. He was at work though, so I had to wait around for a few hours before I could return to the farm. I felt absurdly guilty. I hadn’t worked that day when I said I would.

Matt joined us and we sorted all the possessions. The guys were talking about going out that night to meet friends and invited me along. I had planned to stay at the farm that night and leave for the airport early Friday morning from Riverside. Mick was going to drop me off. However, if I left from Exeter I could go straight to Bath, no problem. And that way I wouldn’t inconvenience my workaway family any more, and I could spend one more night in Exeter with my friends. I also felt bad for staying the night there when I hadn’t worked for it that day. It didn’t take much to convince me to come back to Exeter for the night.

Harry took me back to the farm house and I collected my things. I said a quick goodbye to the family and Harry dropped me off at the Tiverton bus station on his way home. He lives just outside Tiverton, so it wasn’t inconvenient for him. I took the bus back to Exeter and let him go home and take a nap.

I made it back to Exeter just as it was getting dark. I ended up spending a little bit sitting outside the bus station, watching the sunset while I waited for Sean and Matt to get back to me after I’d contacted them. Matt was at work and had offered to let me stay on his couch earlier, but I didn’t know where his place was. Sean was busy apologizing to Chaz for disturbing the peace the night before.

I only had to wait for half an hour. Matt was working at the Imperial that night (another pub) and offered to let me drop my bags in the staff room there while he was working. Sean said that he was going to be busy until tennish, but that Darren was at the Imperial with friends and invited me to join. He sent me directions, and I made my way across the city.

That night was absolutely hilarious. I met Matt and gave him my bags. He’s such a sweetheart for taking care of me like that. I then joined Darren and his friends Cat and Rachel. Sam and Tucker joined us shortly afterward, and we all sat around talking until around ten when Matt got off work and Sean arrived. Harry decided to actually sleep that night.

They were all absurdly interested in hearing stories about Texas and drinking games and rodeos. Sam is obsessed with Forest Gump. I bet him a pint of Heineken that he couldn’t go one hour without quoting that movie. He totally lost. After retrieving my lovely new Heineken for me, he bet me another that I couldn’t finish it before he did.

Texans don’t turn down bets like that.

I won another Heineken.

I’m pretty sure Sean thinks I’m drunk about 50% of the time, and hungover for another 25%. I don’t think I’ve ever drunk that much in a week before. I know I’m starting to sound like a lush. I’m really not like this. It’s just that when meeting English and Irish people for the first time, there’s generally copious amounts of free-flowing booze involved.

Anyway, when Sean and Matt joined us we decided to move to another bar. Same kind of story there, except a few random people joined us. Tucker (an enjoyable, younger, chav-type) spotted a friend named Cullin and called him over. Cullin spent the next hour shamelessly hitting on Sam and being about as flaming as you can imagine. It was delightful. I asked him to be my best shopping buddy. He said anytime, as long as I kept attracting hot guys. Yep, definitely best friend material.

We had a grand time until the wee hours of the morning. Matt had left half way through because he had to rise early for work the next morning. Sean deposited me safely at Matt’s flat and made me promise to come back to Exeter in November.

I woke the next morning to an empty flat, a big mysterious bruise on my forearm, and with no idea where I was in Exeter. So I took a shower, packed my bags, left a thankful message for Matt, and ventured onto the streets with my bag. I made my way to Exeter train station and left Exeter with happy memories and excitement for the future. I miss it already, but I know I’ll return in November and visit all my new friends again. There will probably be booze involved.

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