This is where we make a major detour and end up in the UK and Ireland.
You can view the route we took here!
19 May 2009
It never fails to amaze how vocal the animal rights activists are in relation to the conditions that our live sheep and cattle exports endure on their journey to foreign ports. However when it comes to the conditions we humans endure on the long haul flights across the world, no human rights activist has yet voiced a complaint. On our recent flight from Australia to the UK we were forced to endure the degradation of flying cattle class. Hundreds of live human cargo crammed into an over-crowded aircraft. As luck would have it, the only row of seats conveniently designed not to recline was allocated to us. As my seat was permanently bolt upright, when the chap in the seat in front of me reclined his seat I could consume my in-flight meal off his balding pate.
Admittedly when I did complain to the cabin crew of this oversight they were kind enough to find me a spare seat beside a young pommy chap at the emergency exit row. I now had plenty of room to stretch my legs and recline my seat. Unfortunately I soon discovered just why this chap was travelling alone; he had a terrible case of flatulence. I was concerned we might all perish from methane poisoning and was only happy that he was seated far enough from the pilot so as not to endanger his life. When the flight steward offered me wine with my meal I was tempted to ask him to leave me the cork. I was going to try to stem the tide of these obnoxious fumes until I considered the repercussions. With the quantity of gas this chap was emitting, a build up of pressure could force the cork out with such force as to puncture the fuselage. The resulting drop in pressure could cause a vortex that would suck us out of the plane like meatloaf through a straw. Suffice to say I resisted the temptation.
After umpteen hours of lack of sleep I was pleased to land in Heathrow at 6am where, much to our surprise, the sun was shining. Although it is almost summer here it was still only 5 degrees outside and our bodies had barely had time to adjust after departing Darwin’s winter, at a balmy 34 degrees.
We picked up our camper and drove to the pre-determined spot where we had arranged to meet with our dear friend from Brisbane, Mary, who is over here visiting her daughter who now lives in London. It was so nice to see, albeit through blurry eyes, a familiar face from home.
Unfortunately, the sunshine we encountered on our first day was a one-off event and it has rained every day since, most day are rarely over 15 degrees max. We are not letting the weather spoil our fun and we soldier on stoically.
As we criss-cross this island it is surprising how familiar the country feels. Perhaps it is though inherited memory from my distant ancestor who was awarded an all expenses paid voyage to the penal colony of New South Wales in the early part of the 19th century curtesy of HRH for distributing some dud cheques. Or perhaps I have absorbed the familiarity as if through osmosis from the constant diet of British TV broadcast on Australia networks. Shows such as “Dad’s Army”, “The RagTrade”, “All Creatures Great and Small”, “the Darling Buds of May” and more recently a steady stream of British cable TV home renovation shows have all left me with the distinct feeling that I’ve been here before. But what ever it is I just love the place. All the quaint villages with stone cottages and sagging slate roofs, the rows of bow fronted terrace houses leaning into each other, all the narrow, winding laneways lined with hedges and trees that grow up to meet across the roads forming tunnels of green. It is chocolate box perfect.
It has however, been a test of hubby’s patience. As I navigate, he must negotiate our very large campervan through the narrow country lanes. Some are so narrow that our side mirrors almost touch those of the on-coming traffic. To their credit they divide the road with a broken line down the centre. Unfortunately this really only leaves two lanes the width of the average bike lane back home, and the hedges either side make it almost impossible to see any traffic approaching around the many bends.
In Sydney during most of the 1980’s we had a fantastic neighbour and friend, Jayne Campbell. After spending over 50 years in Australia, 12 years ago she and her husband Lorne, returned to live in Cornwall. Sadly, Lorne has since passed away but Jayne is now a spritely 86 years old. On a recent trip to visit her we encountered a detour. The already narrow road was closed for maintenance and the only other alternative was a lane where our side mirrors almost trimmed the hedges on both sides of the laneway simultaneously and we dreaded the possibility of traffic approaching from the opposite direction. Thankfully we escaped unscathed and lived to tell the tale.
We have been pleasantly surprised by the low cost of living over here. Thanks to the weak British pound our grocery bills have been on par with what we would ordinarily spend at home and there is a larger variety of supermarkets and thus more competition for the consumer quid.
The Global Financial Crisis is hitting hard here and, as in Australia, the government is struggling to come up with new and innovative measures to get the people spending again. Also just like every where else, England has its share of shonky politicians and the latest headlines in the UK papers are full of the pollies and their rorts….it really does feel just like home.
1 June 2009
Apologies to Dorothea Mackellar
I love this rain drenched island
A land of mushy peas
of fish and chips at Brighton
and take-away chinese.
I love her north to Scotland
I lover her west to Wales
At Sainsbury’s and at Tescos
At Marks and Spencer’s sales.
I love this sodden country
A land of grand old halls
Of wet & boggy fields
Cris crossed with dry-stone walls
I love her ancient abbeys
I love her history
Her narrow hedge lined laneways
This lush green land for me.
3 June 2009
Having fun, wish you were here.
But seriously we have been having a wonderful time in the UK. Three days ago it stopped raining and, just like everyone else here, I starting stripping off. First to be peeled off was the overcoat, then the cardigan, then the sweater, then the long trousers, then the shoes and socks. But unlike everyone else I stopped there and remained in my t’shirt, shorts and sandals. All over the UK, wherever a square foot of grass can be found, there you’ll see semi naked Brits, prostrate on the lawn, baring acres of lily-white flesh to the sun. After three days of sunshine there are now millions of lobster-red Brits feeling a tad sore and sorry for them selves but still seeking every last ray of sunshine. As Australians, after generations of over exposure to the sun, we are the only one walking on the shady side of the street and seeking the shady sites at caravan parks.
The best thing we did upon arrival in the UK was to join the National Trust. We have exploited it to the max and visited, free of charge, dozens of stately homes, old castles and Roman ruins. I am in my element though Hubby is just about at his Plimsoll line with old architecture. But, bless his sole, he stoically trudges around more each day happy in the knowledge that he is, well and truly, getting his money’s worth.
We have found the natives to be extremely friendly. Although we have difficulty understanding some of their accents, the Welsh and Scots in particular, have made us feel right at home, so much so that we even found ourselves cheering Susan Boyle on in the finals of “Britain’s Got Talent”. The Welsh have a lovely sing-songy lilt to the speech though their written language is indecipherable. They are exceptionally frugal with their vowels but very liberal with their consonants. Most words contain at least two sets of consecutive l’s, f’s and b’s while many contain no vowels at all, which makes the whole lot unpronounceable to the lay person.
While in Wales we visited with the ‘out-laws’ (our son’s in-laws) who live in a lovely Tardis of a house named “Gwyndy” in the small Welsh town of Llanfyllin. Gwyndy is a 400-year-old heritage-listed property that has been altered many times over the last 4 centuries as each occupant added external rooms and divided the internal spaces to suit their needs. At one stage we had to walk through a coat cupboard to get from one room to another. We decided to leave a trail of breadcrumbs when making and expedition to the bathroom in fear of not finding our way back. It was just a shame that we didn’t have the luxury of more time as we enjoy the company of the ‘out-laws’ immensely. In ‘baby-boomer’ speak, they are really cool.
Scotland was truly beautiful. While there I was determined to try Haggis, a traditional Scottish dish. This was easier said than done as one has more hope of finding a kebab shop in Scotland these days than an outlet that sells traditional Scottish fare. There are dozens of fast food eateries and at one stage I considered dining at Macdonald’s simply because it, at least, had a Scottish name. But my tenacity finally paid off and we eventually found a local greasy spoon establishment that also sold Haggis and Black Pudding, albeit dipped in batter, deep-fried and served with soggy chips. I’m sure Rob Roy and Robert the Bruce would be turning in their respective graves if they could have seen it. I found the Haggis quite palatable but would rather not have to devour another Black Pudding in this lifetime. Hubby, after having endured a night of heartburn, has sworn off both entirely.
To date, we have driven more than 3500 kilometre across some of the most picturesque countryside I have ever seen. Rolling green hills with quaint stone villages nestled in their folds. Babbling brooks and dry-stone walls meander across the landscape to make it look like a giant patchwork quilt dotted with cute, fluffy, white sheep with funny black faces and great hairy beasties known as highland cattle.
The second week of our trip, unfortunately, coincided with the Bank Holiday in England and the mid term break for the schools. As such, every dog and his man, and the Brits do love their dogs, were on the roads and even more annoying was the fact that they all wanted to be at the same campsites as us. Sadly however, oblivious to the impending long weekend/school holiday and, as we were, by and large, unsure where we were going to be around bed time from one day to the next, we had not taken the precaution of booking our site at any caravan parks. Thus on several occasions we were turned away and forced to sleep rough in lay-byes, parking lots and truck stops along the way. Apart from the traffic noise and our fear of being ‘wheel clamped’ we did manage a few hours of fitful sleep before being rudely awoken at the crack of dawn by overly melodious birds or irate street vendors upset that we were taking up valuable real estate on their turf.
We still have one week to go before we return the campervan. Hubby is thrilled. Negotiating the narrow laneways in this oversized mobile home has driven him to drink; when we pull up for the night, not while he drives. I’ll be thrilled too; my gin is disappearing at an alarming rate.
The greater metropolitan area of city of London-abad is home to between 12 and 14 million people, double that if you take into consideration the illegal immigrants. We were happy to discover that we could still communicate with most the inhabitants, as their second language is English. At most shops and restaurants we would have better understood the signage and menus had we been able to read Arabic and I would have looked more like a local had I been wearing a hijab.
We found our lodgings in London-abad to be very centrally located in Bayswater, only a hop, skip and a jump from Kensington Palace and Hyde Park. As part of a converted Georgian mansion it had, alas, seen better days. The mansion had been sub-divided into numerous bite size pieces separated by a labyrinth of hallways and fireproof doors. Our room was relatively spacious. Relative, that is, in comparison to the campervan we had spent the last 4 weeks in. Although there was still not enough room to swing a cat, we did have the luxury of two showers in our phone box size bathroom. One in the actual shower cubicle and the other gushing forth from the exhaust fan and light fitting in the ceiling every time the resident in the room above us opened a tap. At first we were a tad alarmed at the prospect of turning on the light whilst standing in an inch of water for fear of electrocuting ourselves. Lucky for us once the fuse blew, this threat was eliminated, though so was the prospect of ever seeing what we were doing in the windowless bathroom. To call the facility a hotel would be using the term lightly. Hostel would have been more accurate. It was packed with large groups of foreign school children with whom we had to compete for seating space in the basement dining room. Breakfast was included in our room rental rate and we were spoilt for choice. We could choice between having tea or coffee with our two bread rolls and jam for breakfast. All thing aside, it really was in a great location, walking distance to most of the popular attractions, which was such a handy thing, all things considered.
With the second largest urban area after Paris and the most populous municipality with in the EU, a city the size of London-abad could only function efficiently with a well coordinated public transport system. London-abad has a great net work of busses, trams, trains and a subway called the “tube”. Administer by Transport for London it is the most extensive, not only in the EU but in the world. It is extremely comprehensive and effective….most of the time. Except when one of them goes on strike, which is exactly what the “Tube” did for two out of our three days we were in London-abad. We thought we could combat this by taking the bus.
The English have elevated queuing to an art form and they are very serious about it. Even in the rain when the queue is dispersed between suitable sheltered locations such as any available doorway, bus shed or overhanging tree branches, each person is intrinsically aware of their rightful place, and that of everybody else, in the queue. And woe be tied any errant Aussie tourist who fails to notice the intricacy of this queue which appears, to the uninitiated, to be a seemingly random group of individuals. As each approaching bus was already overloaded and failed to stop, we were saved not just the disgrace, but also the wrath of the other commuters, for attempting to board out of sequence. This is known as “queue jumping” and is highly frowned upon.
Take all those who usually travel in and around London-abad out of the subways and put them on the already severely overcrowded streets and it results in the worse traffic gridlock I’ve ever seen. It meant that we missed the guided walking tour of the old Jewish quarter of the East End.
We did finally make our own way to the East End. Although a mere 10km from our hotel it took us one and a half hours to get there and over two hours to return. And let me tell you that once we got there, we could find little evidence of there ever having been a Jewish presence. Dickens would sure not recognise the place. The Petticoat Lane Market is now full of stalls selling tradition Muslim attire and the gaudy, sparkling gear preferred by those with dark enough skin for it look fashionable upon. Whitechapel is more “dark brown chapel” now days and is lined with mosques and other institutes such as the Islamic Bank of Britain. We didn’t feel comfortable enough to ask any of the local residents where the old Synagogue was located. They certainly didn’t look like the people from the “Rag trade” or “East-Enders”. But today they really are, not just the new East Enders, but in fact the new Londoners.
The Lost Luggage Saga
I had that sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. The kind I get when I’m standing at the luggage carousel at some foreign airport. The kind I get when the unseen conveyor has quit spewing luggage onto the conveyor belt eons ago and I’m the only sod left standing there. The kind I get when I’ve watched as, one by one, my fellow passengers have heaved their luggage off the carousel onto waiting airport trolleys and disappeared through customs.
And still I stand there; optimistically peering towards the flaps that conceals the inner workings of the airport baggage handlers’ domain. Willing them to part like the Red Sea and my suitcase come gliding out in a mist of illuminated haze to the strains of “Hallelujah” and into my welcoming arms.
Eventually an airport official, of Malay decent, informs me that all the luggage from the entire flight has been disgorged and I might like to lodge a claim at the Lost Luggage Office over yonder.
We had spent a fantastic 11 days in Ireland travelling around in a large people mover with hubby’s two brothers and their respective second wives. We constituted an eclectic group of personalities that melded well... to a degree... most of the time.
But it was tiring and after over 19 long hours spent either flying or in transit, then arriving on the red-eye flight from London, the inside of the Lost Luggage Office at Singapore’s Changi Airport is the last place I want to be. But somewhere between Dublin, London and Singapore my luggage has gone AWOL. My black sports bag with wheels is now identified as a “type 25” on the much handled, dog-eared, laminated luggage identification form thrust into my hands, and is now where to be seen. Last know where abouts; Dublin International Airport.
When requested to detail the contents of my waylaid luggage I contemplate my lack of organisation; I gave up making a list after the first 3 trips, countless overseas flights ago. I know there are clothes, shoes, sandals, all my toiletries and bags and bags of dirty laundry which I care little about. But most importantly it contains the plastic bag of electronic cable, gadgets and spaghetti bowl of wires that my life cannot function without. Battery chargers for everything that flashes and whirrs, I can literally feel my batteries running flat as I speak.
It’s hot and humid as only Singapore can be in June. I am left with the clothes I stand up in; clothes more suited to a cold Irish summer's day. It was 18 degrees when we departed Ireland and my long trousers, shoes, socks, shirt and cardigan were ideally suited to that colder climate. In Singapore at 6pm it was still over 34C and sweat is staining the armpits of my shirt and creating rivulets down my back. The cardigan has long been relegated to my sole surviving piece of luggage; my carry-on backpack.
After taking a taxi we eventually arrive at our web reserved hotel, suitably located handy to nothing (on the Internet map it looked much closer to everything). It’s now well past 7pm and we need to take a bus to the closest shopping mall. Here I endure the ego deflating exercise of trying to buy a change of clothes to fit an average European woman (now slightly overweight) in shops where they only sell clothing made to fit very petite Asian women. I discover that in the knickers department, underpants labelled M (medium = size 10-12 in Australia) would be too small for an anorexic 4 year old back home and what would be labelled as a very acceptable size 10-12 in Australia, here is labelled XXL . My self-esteem takes a nose-dive as I start to feel like an aged Bridget Jones. At this point I am tempted to take up hubby’s offer of a pair of his undies, but realise I don’t even have a pair of socks left to stuff into them to fill the empty bulge. When it comes to shorts and tee shirts, I give up completely and head for the menswear section to find suitably sized outer garments. Similarly for footwear, a pair of men’s sandals completes the ensemble. By the end of the evening, as they notify us that the store will be closing in fifteen minutes, I have purchased enough clobber to enable me to shed the unsuitable European garb while successfully making me look like a butch dyke. I’m suddenly regretting the choice I made in getting that short, spiky hair cut in Darwin before heading overseas. We head to the food hall for some edible solace.
Footnote: You’ll be please to hear that back in Darwin two days later, after arriving on the 4:40am Jetstar flight from Singapore I am happily reunited with my type 25 black sports bag with wheels.