I think Habiba was feeling a little down on the coach to Bath: she wanted to spend more time in London and was understandably feeling awkward about being on my turf, hanging out with my friends. I called Alex to let him know that we were arriving. I saw him out of the window of the coach crossing the road away from the new bus station; I had to call him again to find out where he was. He looked quite different to how I remember him – his hair is nearly as long as mine used to be. I remember once suggesting he grow his hair long; he said No emphatically, explaining that all the shampoo would cost too much.
Alex paid for a taxi to take us up to his place – his mum’s place, I suppose. We had tea and chatted with them both, then it was back down to the city centre for a spot of sightseeing. Alex, with typical exuberance and generosity, insisted on taking us to a traditional sweet shop to buy various sweets of the traditional kind for Habiba to try, and to a Fudge Kitchen shop to get a pretty expensive box of fudge – all paid for by Alex.
We had a look inside the abbey – the first time I’d been in there, despite having lived in the city for three years. Then we wandered across Pulteney Bridge, peering into the shops that line its length, and to the labyrinth on the other side of the river. I decided to cheat by just walking to the middle.
To accompany the sweets and fudge, we bought Cornish Bakehouse pasties – the best pasties ever – and cookies from Ben’s Cookies and ate them in Victoria Square. After that we took a look at the Royal Crescent and the Circus then headed back to Alex’s. Alex’s grandparents were on a visit from Spain, so we took the opportunity to show Habiba what a good old-fashioned fish and chip dinner looked like.
The following day, leaving most of our stuff at Alex’s, we took the train to Bristol to spend a night with Lawrence. When we arrived, the weather was pretty crappy; we walked around Castle Park in the rain, up to the cathedral in the rain and off to meet Lawrence and his girlfriend Yivei in the rain. We went to a Chinese restaurant for dinner and had a pretty good selection of dishes to share. Yivei is Malaysian Chinese, but she’s lived in the UK for a long time. She seemed like a lovely person and I’m really happy for Lawrence.
The next day, we went for a long walk with Lawrence around Bristol. We went along Gloucester Road to the city centre looking for Banksy and others’ graffiti, explored the docks area a little and had lunch at St Nicholas’s Market; I dropped into the secondhand bookshop there, where, a few years ago, I’d bought the first of Gene Wolfe’s The Book of the New Sun, The Shadow of the Torturer – they had one of the other three books, but not the direct sequel. Habiba went to the South African stall and bought various comestibles. Our city tour culminated in a fruitless search for a good place to see the Clifton Suspension Bridge.
We headed back to Bath for a final night with Alex. Alex and I indulged in a night of Magic: The Gathering, while Habiba was on her computer. Around midday the following day, my dad and mum arrived to pick us up to visit my grandmother in Highcliffe down on the south coast.