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rain or shine

Driving to the British seashore on a chilly, gray, autumn day reminded D of his only visit to Ireland a few years back. “First time in Ireland?” – the immigration official had asked D at the airport – “Well you’re in luck: it’ll be pissing rain the next five days!”

All things considered, D lucked out considerably. In Cambridge, radiant, sunlit skies alternated with a brisk drizzle, the weather changing half a dozen times each afternoon. The rains never lasted more than 15-20 minutes at a time, however, and were never too strong to discourage D from exploring. It only poured in earnest one day; unfortunately, it happened to be the day D and his friend headed southwest for their visit to the coast.

Leaving under leaden skies shortly after daybreak, D and his friend stopped in Winchester for breakfast and to check out the town’s famous cathedral. Built in the eleventh century, it is the longest Gothic cathedral in Europe. It marked the starting point of the ancient Pilgrims’ Way to Canterbury and is also the final resting place of Jane Austen. More recently, the cathedral served as the inspiration for a song by Crosby, Stills & Nash and was used as a set for the filming of The Da Vinci Code.

Perhaps most remarkably, the cathedral very nearly collapsed about a century ago as its foundation slowly sank into the peat ground on which it is built. It very likely would have been destroyed had it not been for the efforts of diver William Walker, who spent six years working in pitch-blackness at depths of up to 20 feet to lay a temporary foundation that enabled the groundwater to be pumped and the cathedral’s crumbling walls rebuilt.

Arriving in Poole around noon, D and his friend dropped the car at their AirBnB apartment and headed to the harbor. The plan was to visit the nature reserve on Brownsea Island, the largest of several isles in Poole harbor, before heading to the Big One ska festival. Alas, the island had closed for the winter, and the harbor boat tour that the helpful boardwalk salesperson offered in its stead seemed rather unappealing in view of the approaching storm.

Fortunately, there is one thing the UK does remarkably well – pubs. D and his friend grabbed lunch in the town’s oldest seaside watering hole before seeking refuge from the rain in a cozy pub that had a couple of pool tables. Shooting pool in Poole has the ring of a bucket-list worthy item, like drinking a Bombay martini in Bombay. The experience proved quite memorable too, as D and his friend found themselves in a doubles showdown with Jenny and Spicer – a couple of very welcoming locals who kept the jukebox jamming with punk rock classics. The balls and pockets are considerably larger on American pool tables, and by the time D and his friend had grown accustomed to the smaller targets, they were down a game. At 50p/game, redemption was inexpensive, and Jenny and Spicer called it quits after losing the next two games.

D enjoyed himself so much in this establishment that he left a little piece of Rwanda behind as a personal memento.

Considering the early morning departure from Cambridge, the cultural sightseeing in Winchester, the lazy afternoon with locals in Poole and the late night dancing at the ska festival that followed, this one day felt like several — in the best possible way imaginable.

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