Monday, June 30, 2008

Right brain, left brain

I'm feeling slightly schizophrenic. I've been working so long on logical stuff - this database - that the creative side is pouting. It's as if that side is still on holiday - not much daydreaming going on at all, so yeah, definitely pouting.

I've all but crossed off the database on my 'to do' list - with minor variations, it's done. Next - and I'm thankful for the time constraint - is my story-a-day marathon, starting tomorrow. I figure I can write in the morning and then catch up on some reading in the afternoon. I'm so far behind, it will take me another month to catch up, and I still have books on the way - including Lynn Viehl's new one, Twilight Fall. I absolutely cannot miss or delay that one.

I finally feel as if I'm catching up on the stuff I missed while away; and the... alienated feeling is passing too. Must have something to do with getting back into the groove.

This marathon should kick the muse into gear and once I soothe her ruffled feathers, we have other projects to finish (but sshh I don't wanna let her know just yet how much work is involved. She might want to go back to drinking those Margaritas, winking at young men lasciviously, telling rude jokes and generally raising hell...

Friday, June 27, 2008

Wat up?

While I've been posting my journal, I've also been working on a major database for the community group I'm involved with; and that's not quite done yet.

It's months of work, but I'm down to the last comparison charts. As I complete it, I'd like to say 'talk amongst yourselves', but I'm fed up with it all. My maths skills aren't the best, so I've had to do it all the long, arduous way to find the data conflicts. The comparison charts will take up extra time and effort and I'm not sure how to do it.

I have until the end of June - my deadline, nobody else's - because come July, I'm doing a self-imposed story-a-day-marathon. I missed the official one in May, but that doesn't mean I can do it. Also on the agenda is the story over on the other blog, posting stuff on Scribd, sending out work and sorting the eight hundred or so photographs I took while touring. So much to do, so little time...

In the meantime, it's back to the grindstone. Damn. I wanna read a book!

Thursday, June 26, 2008

The long road home

The morning just didn't work for me. I had packed my mini-torch into the computer bag – from whence it came – and put the computer bag into the car. Ergo, I could not see in the morning to check the time because the curtains were closed and the room too dark.

I had to either take the risk that it was unspeakably early and get up, or wait for one of the alarms to go off. I waited for an alarm, then bounded out of bed. I had arranged my clothes the previous night, so I figured I was guaranteed to get to the bathroom first – there are, after all, six of us in the room. Success! I smugly snuck into the bathroom with my gear.

Sadly, I was near the end of my shower when I realised I had failed to pick up and bring in my towel. So much for the smug. I turned off the water and drip dried for a while before using the floor mat. It got rid of the worst of the water.

In near darkness, back in the room, I combed my hair and slapped some moisturiser on my face, while County Cork number one made a dash for the bathroom, thus neatly denying me the opportunity to clean my teeth.

I headed down for breakfast instead, only to find that it would not be open for another half an hour. Fine. I checked the e-mail instead. Nothing new or urgent. I signed out and looked in on the news instead. I also chatted to the woman behind the counter, pointed out Tara and Newgrange on the map so she knew where it was for other travellers.

Finally, the breakfast room opened and a crowd formed. The toaster disappeared three slices of bread as I watched. It's one of those conveyor belt jobs, but when the toast eased over the edge, it failed to drop down into the tray. No sign of any of the pieces.

As I had breakfast, various room mates came down; all except the French girl who has, for the past three days, avoided us as much as possible.

Teeth cleaned, gear packed, we trooped downstairs. I directed the girls upstairs at the parking station while I dealt with the fee. That evil sod charged me €24 for the privilege; yesterday it was €12, the day before €9! I think the scabby dog is running a scam, since I had the big backpack with me. Now I have that much less to spend on useful stuff.

The girls directed me to the bus station, which I think took longer than for them to walk, but saved them the energy. Once safely deposited, I took off for the airport. The car was due back at 9.00 am; I got there at about 10.30, having gone to the wrong spot and taken the long way around to the airport.

But, no late charge or nuffink.

Now, I can have coffee, charge up the phone and computer. I've already read the local paper and I have books available to read, music to listen to and games to play on the laptop. Better yet, Mickey d's doesn't close until midnight and opens again at 4.30 am. So it's all good.

29-31 May 2008: First up, some coffee. There's a cafe with power points under the tables, so I happily sat and worked on the family tree. After a couple of hours, I packed up and wandered around, pushing my luggage on a trolley. I watched the planes take off; had a Kilkenny with a plan to come back for a Harp. That didn't happen, the pub closed too early. Now that I think about it, I spent a lot of time wandering around, watching Sky News or Eurosport, watched people. But the one thing I didn't do is read a book. I read newspapers, but no books and I had plenty.

Though the night wore on, I didn't feel tired until about two am. I had a half hour catnap, but the cleaners came around and shifted everybody. Of course, all the good bench seats had already been taken, so it was more wandering, more watching tv and waiting for Starbucks to reopen.

The airport slowly came awake with the arrival of passengers for the early flights. Finally, 4.30 came around and I booked my luggage all the way through to Sydney. Time to check out the duty free! While stuff was cheaper than the shops, it wasn't that much cheaper, so I thought I'd wait for Paris.

The flight to Paris took an hour and a half. No kipping there – the guy in the seat in front of me snored like a Whoopie Cushion. At Paris, duty free took a back seat to finding the departure lounge. The flight from Dublin landed at one end of terminal three; departure was from the far side of terminal one. It required talking to information and getting a train! Once there, I saw that the flight to Kuala Lumpur was boarding. No chance of duty-free.

It took nearly three-quarters of an hour to get on board, most of that standing in line to go through the customs point. I got pulled out of line.

"Madame, (I love it when they say ‘mahdahm’ with a French accent) is this your bag?" The custom's agent asked.


"We must open it to take a look, yes?"

"Okay, where would you like to start?"

"Where ever you like."

So I opened the back part." She stuck her hand in and rummaged around, then indicated the front portion.

I unzipped it.

"You have something in there." She said, "That we cannot see through. A tin, yes?"

A tin. A tin? Oh! I gave her a smile. "Coffee." I pulled out the tin. "Italian coffee bought here in France." I handed it to her and she opened the top, saw the unbroken seal.

"This is good." She gave me the coffee and a genuine smile. "Have a good trip."
So I got to keep my coffee, but I suspect only because it was unopened. Drug couriers use coffee to throw customs dogs off because they can't scent drugs through the aroma of coffee.

The Air Malaysia flight had personal media stations. Since I was wide awake, I saw a few movies: Jumper, The Golden Compass and National Treasure. Then there were the tv programs: CSI, Cold Case, Numbers.

Flying over the Caspian Sea coast was another revelation. The world from 40,000 feet is an amazing sight. Dark rivers etched into pale land, patchwork fields in shades of green, grey and tan, vast tracts of baked ochre desert. The sun set and towns began to sparkle. To say 'jewels in the darkness' sounds a little trite, but flying over India (I waved as we flew over Afghanistan and Kabul) the lights of the towns and cities glowed like intricately engraved silver/grey brooches, glittering under a rising crescent moon.

Towards morning, I watched out the window, saw red clouds. I couldn't work out what caused it. Fires from forest clearing for farmland? The light didn't flicker, but stayed steady. The plane turned and the view was lost to me. About fifteen minutes later, the plane turned again, but the red was gone, replaced by stark black outlines and dark cream. Once I readjusted my thoughts, I realised the sun was rising and this was the pre-dawn light. What I was looking at were storm clouds, outlined by the growing light.

The plane landed in tropical gloom. My eyes suddenly felt gritty from lack of sleep, but I picked up my gear and got off the plane. A shot of Starbucks coffee and I cruised the duty free, purchasing this and that. I had a couple of hours before the flight to Sydney and walked around. If I sat down, I'd probably fall asleep.

Finally, the call went out for the flight. At customs, I explained the coffee so I wouldn't have to unpack everything. They didn't seem all that interested and off I went.

My seat was at the bulkhead in the centre. Yay! In two seats were a husband, wife and baby with a spare between. Surprisingly, the baby didn't cry the whole trip, but slept or entertained himself by staring at the personal media unit… or me. Mine didn't work, but I kept cat napping for a while and finally went to sleep for about three hours.

When I awoke, we were flying over Australia and my excitement grew. No more sleep for me. I spent the last few hours watching the flight board; the one that gives you all the statistics and has a map so you can follow where the plane is.
I didn't see the city from the air, but with enormous relief, the plane touched down. I was up and out of my seat in short order (after the plane came to a complete stop and the seat belt light went out, of course).

Again, I explained the coffee, the chocolates and that I'd been to a medieval village in Wales to customs. We chatted for a while on the initiative to bring back the old breeds of animals – the agent was a member of a medievalist society and was interested in my experience. He finally let me go and I stepped outside into the fragrant, clear and unpolluted night air of Sydney.

After nearly two days without proper sleep, when I got to the hotel I had a shower, some food and fell asleep, not to wake until eight the next morning; ten hours sleep.
The next morning, I took a train home – the final three hours of travel – spent in a kind of fugue state, watching and comparing the countryside to what I'd seen and satisfied, comforted by the eucalypts, the wattles and the bush.

It's good to be home.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Me, the tourist

Dublin: This morning it rained; for only the second time I'm using my jacket. I eschewed breakfast in the hostel for something more filling: a Boxty breakfast. Sausages, bacon, pancake and egg with a side order of potato cake. It was delish and just the thing to have before the Guinness tour. And… since it was still fairly early, I kicked back with the local free newspaper Metro while chowing down on breakfast.

The river Liffey, on a suitably bleak and rainy day.

Of course, yet again I headed out without a really good look at the map, but as long as I stayed in the left lane, I was pretty sure I'd find it. And so I did. I parked the car and wandered to the entrance – the long way, of course. If I'd gone right instead of left, I'd have only had to go about a hundred metres around the side of the building.

The tour itself was fascinating. It went into the history of transport for the Guinness – the ships and barges, the carts pulled by horses and trucks - the construction of the Guinness brewing complex and of the barrels needed for the stuff. At one time, 300 carpenters were employed to build the barrels (otherwise known as 'firkins', which made me smile since Firkin is a surname connected to our family tree).

There are small museums dedicated to both, including models of the ships, and the actual tools used in the barrel-making process. Though the tour is self-guided, there are arrows directing you and interesting short documentaries describing and showing the processes of Guinness making. It uses four ingredients, but the making is remarkably complex.

At the end of the tour, and at the top of the building, a free pint of Guinness awaits and the bar has a three-hundred-and-sixty degree view of Dublin. There are also inscriptions beneath the windows pointing out the highlights of the city with a quote from a famous Irish work. As it was raining, most of the city shivered under a grey shroud.

This is my Guinness, perfectly poured, sitting on the bar, just waiting to be enjoyed.

From there it was over to Trinity College to see the Book of Kells. I wandered around the shop, looked for things to buy, but it's all so damned expensive. Entry price to the book was €8 and I talked myself out of going in.

Outside, I argued with myself. There I was, at Trinity College, Dublin! How could I not see the book? Because it was a religious icon representing the death of the old religions in Ireland. But it's not just about Christianity in Ireland, now is it? It's about the art work, the process of writing and drawing, the history of the thing and it's survival for twelve hundred years. It was the antique value of the book that convinced me.

It looks old - is old - carefully displayed in a humidity-controlled environment and under dim lights. The colours have faded somewhat, but there is still a vibrancy. The Book of Kells isn't the only book on display. There are others, equally spectacular, equally as old and carefully wrought. The area is kept in subdued lighting – no photography allowed – and you can imagine a tonsured monk, clad in rough-hewn brown robes and sitting at a tilted wooden bench, carefully dipping the quill tip into brilliant blue, subdued mauve, sunny yellow, soot black and painstakingly transcribing the words onto a fresh sheet of vellum. No mistakes allowed, or the page has to be redone.

A part of the entry fee was to see the old library, upstairs. The scent of books hits you as soon as you step into the sixty-foot room. On either side, shelves of leather-bound books - some with red ribbons - rise to an arched ceiling, all of it built of dark wood. The precious tomes are cordoned off by rope. No touching the antiques, plebs.

Trinity College. Bottom floor - The Book of Kells. Top floor, the fabulous library.

At each archway is a marble bust of important people: Socrates, Milton, Burke, Bacon, Aristotle… People who made a difference throughout history. Down the centre, more medieval books are displayed in glass cases; they’re similar to the Book of Kells, but not necessarily religious. Some are medical, others, philosophy, science and education. Well worth it for those who appreciate books. Of course, no photographs allowed!

After that, it was time to do some touristy shopping and I bought t-shirts and scarves. If I'd bothered to check what I'd already bought, I might have modified my shopping! At the very least, I'd have bought an Irish shirt for myself!

The tourist Mecca of Temple Bar. Here, if you're not careful, you can pay too much for food and beer; and be tagged by pickpockets - those suckers are everywhere!

For dinner, I had an excellent freshly made sweet chilli beef wrap – from a takeaway, I'm over the restaurants - followed by a Hot Chocolate at the Haagen Daaz stand. That drink was something special, especially on a chilly evening. I nearly ordered a second one to go; but that’s just plain greedy.

Now, I'm repacking everything for tomorrow. One of the County Cork girls quizzed me on family tree research, dividing my focus. Once she'd gone, the Canadians came in from their run and more chatting ensued. I offered to take them to the bus station tomorrow, since they seemed to have some luggage. As a consequence, I may have packed successfully, but I also mis-packed stuff... though I didn't know at the time.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Ancient, hallowed grounds

Ireland: today is monuments day. I plan to track down Tara. After that, well there are options. Curiously enough, when I asked the Irish people here where it was, they confessed they didn't know and had never seen it. This, the Heart of Ireland, the Ancient Seat of Irish Kings! I was appalled.

I took off anyway – typically, in the wrong direction. I pulled over at Summerhill, posted a post card and checked the map. Low and behold, there Tara was marked along with Newgrange, a Neolithic burial site. Actually finding it proved more difficult than the map suggested. The lanes are narrow and unmarked. Eventually, I pulled over again, took a couple of photos of a ruined abbey and asked a man walking his dog for directions.

The Stone of Destiny, Tara.

"Left, then right, then left, then right. You can't miss it." He said. And he was right. I came over the hill and the carpark was right there. I had driven the back route to Tara. The wind was rising, but I walked up and all over the grass covered mounds, snapping photos of the surrounding areas and of the monument. I managed to take the photos without the church in them. To me, the church represents and insult to the seat of the Irish kings, a monument to cruelty and generations of abuse and oppression perpetrated on the Irish people.

At the visitor's store, the attendant pointed me to Newgrange, gave me a map. Postcards in pocket, map in hand, off I went. The directions were clear and twenty-five minutes later, just as she said, I pulled into the carpark of Newgrange.

While I would have been happy to see just this monument, there was a two for one including Knowth, the largest Neolithic burial mound/village in Europe. Both monuments were fascinating, cleverly built and reeked of antiquity – even in the chilly gale force winds.

I climbed to the top of Knowth and studied the surrounding countryside. You can see the trees that hide Tara in one direction, and in an almost straight line through Knowth to the ridge beyond, the hill St Patrick allegedly climbed to light the Solstice fire days before the event, thus desecrating the Druids’ sacred ground and beginning the end to pagan ways in Ireland. You can also see the River Boyne, where William of Orange defeated the Catholics. An event still celebrated by the Marching Season.

At Newgrange, I stood in the bitter wind and waited to go inside. It’s cramped and narrow inside. The tour guide broke our group into two, sent one group around the site, and set us to await the malingerers. I tell you, the colder it got, the longer the group before us took to come out. In the end, our tour guide must have felt the chill too because she got them out in a hurry.

The entrance to Newgrange. The Solstice sunrise come3s through the top hole. Inside, you walk up a slight incline, thus, you can't see the sun through the bottom entrance.

Once inside, it’s amazing. Again, no photos allowed, but my hands twitched around the camera.

The tour guide turned off the lights and it was as if blind. Then, she demonstrated what the interior would be like at sunrise on Solstice with a dull red light. We all watched the light creep down the centre of the tunnel. A remarkable achievement by the Neoliths to get the line of light absolutely right.

Chilled to the bone and tired, I made my way back to the hostel via the N2 without the benefit of the map. I only had to go around the block once to get to the carpark. Sometimes, things just work.

As I promised myself, I had a hotdog. Not that special, but it meant I didn't need to take any more money out. Tomorrow is the 'last' day I can take the money, some for the day, some for Wednesday and some for duty free.

I've a plan for three things tomorrow: The Book of Kells at Trinity College - which isn't far from here - the Guinness Tour and the Jameson Whisky tour – that should do me for tours, and then go to tourist store just around the corner from here for some cheap Irish souvenirs.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

"Not all who wander are lost"

Dublin: I took the scenic route down to Dublin; via Ballynahinch. Before I left Belfast, I looked up our surname in the phone book. They were supposed to be all over the place, but... I found less than twenty in the Belfast/County Down area – not a good sign. As it turned out, there were none in Ballynahinch.

Interestingly, my research at the Public Records Office suggest Ballymacarn; I had a thought that my grandfather may have used Ballynahinch as the closest significant township since William and Martin are listed as farmers. I also think the name is dying out in County Down and the Belfast region.

So, I went to the Presbyterian church and the first gravestone is for Thomas and family. I took a photo and wandered around some more. The Kers are there – Martin rented from them – and a couple of Reas – my great-grandmother’s family. It bears a closer look, especially since I have a few books to look through. From Ballynahinch, I took the coast road that included the stunning Newcastle and the Mountains of Mourne.

With bare hills (no doubt snow-covered in Winter) and rugged coastline, it's almost my idea location. Needless to say, it took longer to get to Dublin than from Dublin to Belfast, since I just had to pause and admire the views of both coast and mountains; and the occasional castle ruin.

Dublin is a crazy traffic city, but instincts – and we sometimes have to trust them – took me to a car park. There are no free car parks in the city, which is a real pain. I found myself at a church – Dublin Cathedral, I think, and they directed me to a hostel. They, at least, would know where Abegail's was. As I waited at a pedestrian crossing an evil scrote of a gypsy tried to get to my wallet. She managed to unzip my backpack five inches before I realised. With an evil eye in her direction, I held the pack close to my front. I think she got my breath mints. From the other side of the road, and through a bus window, I saw the 'jovial' bunch, of which the woman was a part, nick a poor schmuck's wallet and move off before I could do anything about it. I'd barely been in the city an hour.

I found the hostel, and parking nearby. Once settled in the dorm with a couple of girls from British Columbia, I went down to Temple Bar, a restaurant/bar 'Square'. At the Quay restaurant, I had Irish Stew and a pint of Guinness. Guinness was great; the stew, well, my mother makes it better. The menu declared ‘traditional Irish food’, though I don't think spring rolls and crispy skinned chicken wings are considered Irish. Not cheap, but I can say I've had Irish stew in Ireland.

In the evening, I looked out the window and down into the alley below. There, a young man in a grey hoodie crouched over a flame. The match went out as I watched. He lit another, heated his fix then used the syringe. He lowered his pants and injected the stuff into the crease of his leg. He did, much to my surprise, clean the syringe out with water before packing up and leaving.

Later that night, someone set a plastic garbage hopper on fire. Choking smoke rose in the alley and wafted into the room. A couple of restaurant employees tried to put the fire out, but in the end called the fire department. It was nearly 11 pm.

I went back to bed. We’ve been joined in the room by two County Cork girls on their way to Africa and one from Nice, France on the way to an au pair job.

Only one complaint: The bed is rock hard!

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Ancient and strange

Belfast: The conclusion to my foray at the Ulster Historical Society left me with few pounds. It's typical of me to spend money on books rather than essentials... like food. I have no more pounds to access, only Euros, and for that I have to be in Ireland, not Northern Ireland. What can a person do with fifteen pounds and a day and half? Well, I bought my three pound breakfast, then wandered off to the Queen's University.

Lovely old buildings, I managed to tag along with a group of Americans who'd turned up in a tour bus. Everything is so manicured, but the architecture is wonderful. I could easily imagine Dr Indiana Jones, sneaking out, or Harry Potter up in one of the rooms, staring forlornly out over the lawns... Of course, I have a lot more photos of the buildings and of the stained glass window inside.

Then I went to the botanic gardens. While most of flowers are yet to bloom or have passed their most beautiful, I took some photographs of some gorgeous emerging roses with names like Shot Silk, John Snow and Glendfiddich. I'm not really a flower person. I am, in fact, botanically-challenged, and can rarely remember the names of plants, but how can you forget a rose named after a rather tasty scotch?

Is this Glenfiddich Rose a fabulous colour or what?

The one thing I like about botanic gardens is that they are so relaxing. You can wander around, looking at the colour, admiring the bloom forms, or the foliage if there are no flowers. The only down side was that the Palm House was closed. It was built by the same guy who did Crystal Palace and is a miniature.

While wandering back to one of the gates, I noticed a shrub in a cage. Yes, a green-painted steel, double locked, fine-meshed, cage. On closer inspection, I knew what it was: the Woolamai Pine, currently the most exotic and oldest pine in the world. A gift, no doubt, from the Australian Government. Its discovery location is still a secret and there aren't many of them. This pine was around with the dinosaurs!

After taking a photo, I had the joy of stepping in squirrel poop. The offender chitted at me and bounded further away as if he'd said too much.

Of course, I could be wrong and the pine might be a recidivist escapee, now locked up. I did wonder if it would be released. These pines are highly sought after given their antiquity. Dinosaurs maybe snacked on these. It reminds me of the Huon Pine which can grow huge, slowly ages and a specimen can be over a thousand years old. Oh, and the wood? Smooth and silky. Ships were built out of them because there weren't any bugs around to chew on it.

Back on the street, I made my way down to City Hall and the spring carnival. Here, stalls were set up like a market around the Hall - which was closed for renovations. After having some well-deserved coffee, I walked around, checked what was there. For lunch, I had a traditional Hog on a Bap (bread roll) with softened apple sauce. Can you say yum? And that gave me an idea. I now had seven pounds left. I went to the Baker's stall and bought four potato farls (rolls), then to the cheesemonger for some smoked Dutch cheddar. I also purloined some sachets of sugar from one of the coffee stands and I still feel guilty about that.

On my way back to the hostel, I stopped in at Tesco's for milk, and yes, more sugar for my coffee. As an act of penance, I shall leave the sugar as a donation to the group basket for the hostel.

Okay, that is dinner done... except... I went to the off-licence across the road and spent a pleasant half hour talking to the owner about family history before purchasing a can of Guinness.

So, here I am, in the dining room with a nice cup of coffee. Mary Jane, one of my room buddies from the last two days had a suggestion for my accommodation problem on Wednesday: she suggested staying the night at the airport. The idea has merit. Why pay €87 for a room I'll only use for maybe twelve hours? I can cat nap until the flight leaves at 6.30. I'll be tired when I hit Paris, but hopefully that means I'll sleep most of the way to Kuala Lumpur.

Sometimes, you see the strangest things. I'm filling in a few gaps in the family tree database and there's a knock on the clear-glass fire door. Okay, I let the guys in. It's not until I'm sitting down again, with my glasses on that I realise the second man is wearing shorts, is mostly bare-chested, and is wearing a mankini. Pink. Over his shorts. As a statement, it's out there. Shame I left the camera upstairs.

I've also just found 20 Euro in my document folder... and no time to change it to pounds. Sigh

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Slow day

Belfast: This morning, I had the soda bread with eggs, bacon and sausage; I love soda bread. Add a cup of coffee and that's breakfast for less than three pounds. Today is Public Records of Northern Ireland (PRONI) day so I gathered my information and took off. Two hours later... I finally found the public records office after stopping for directions.

Whether I gleaned some useful information, I don't know. The records aren't as easy to navigate as I would have liked. And some of the records I did manage to access were unreadable and faded. I do think I have some clues to investigate when I have more time. I spent most of the day there, so there's not much else to mention. It’s tough not to find what you’re looking for.

I did find a batch of Armstrongs in the Ballynahinch area from the 1901 Census. I'll need to sort them out, confirm how they're related before I call them ours. The oldest is Thomas at 89 and the census has him listed as the brother of a 56 year-old; I have some serious doubts about that. I did find some probate information on Martin, or 'a' Martin. It could William's father – the timing is right – and he left his assets to both Robert and John. Earlier that year, Jane also left her assets to John. What it all means, I don't know, I'll have to think and do more research.

It took less time to get back to the hostel – typical - and I spent time online booking more accommodation in Dublin. This is a long weekend, so booking ahead is paramount.

All I need do now is to book one last night. I think it will be the Days Inn. It has an airport shuttle, and if I'm flying out at 6.30, I'll need to get there obscenely bright and early. I still have days left to explore and more than half a tank of petrol.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Something to remember

Here's something my sister sent:

As I Mature

I've learned that you cannot make
someone love you. All you can do is
stalk them and hope they panic and give in.

I've learned that no matter how much I care,
some people are just assholes.

I've learned that it takes years
to build up trust, and it only takes
suspicion, not proof, to destroy it.

I've learned that you can get by
on charm for about fifteen minutes.
After that, you'd better have a big willy
or huge boobs.

I've learned that you shouldn't
compare yourself to others - they are
more screwed up than you think.

I've learned that you can keep vomiting
long after you think you're finished.

I've learned that we are responsible
for what we do, unless we are celebrities.

I've learned that regardless of
how hot and steamy a relationship is at
first, the passion fades, and there had better
be a lot of money to take its place!

I've learned that 99% of the time when
something isn't working in your house, one
of your kids did it.

I've learned that the people you care most
about in life are taken from you too soon
and all the less important ones just never go away.

Pass this along to 5 friends... trust me, they'll appreciate it. Who knows, maybe something good will happen.

If not... tough shit.

More roaming

Before I continue with the journal, I'm gonna wish my twin happy birthday. Also, a happy birthday to my youngest sister and her son for yesterday and to my niece for tomorrow. We're all another year... okay, let's not say that and just say we did.

To continue...

Ireland/Belfast: I swear, money is just running through my fingers like water! I turned up at Cardiff airport and handed over the keys to the car. At the check-in counter for the flight, I got pinged twenty-seven pounds for excess weight. Twenty-seven pounds, as in $55 Aussie dollars! And it could have been worse, but the check-in lady took pity on me.

Once it was taken care of, we all lined up, went down a tunnel and down some stairs to outside. On the tarmac, I had to shudder at the sight of a puddle jumper. I mean, the plane had propellers! I didn't think prop planes were in use any more. Thankfully, it was a short flight - with me watching the propellers and for suitable landing areas, of which... there were none.

In a light rain, we landed at Dublin. The good thing about having excess baggage and taking time to sort it out, is that my luggage was packed last, so it was the first out. Hah!

I noticed a Eurocar hire counter and wandered over. It wasn't the right place (I was supposed to go to Landsdowne Road for my car), but the offer of a vehicle still stood. With ill-grace the woman sorted it all out for me and handed over the keys - or keycard in this instance.

Wow. I expected a little Micro, or a Ford Focus; what I got was a sleek, black, six-cylinder, six-speed, Renault Laguna! I had to check to make sure this was the car I was supposed to have. The man said 'yes'. Too cool. Off I went, heading for Belfast in the flash car. It only took an hour and a half. It took a little longer to find a parking spot and find out where the International Youth Hostel was.

Once booked into the IYH and with the car safely stowed in a secured parking area, I went off in search of the Ulster Historical Society. I had a map, so I didn't get lost; it merely took me longer to get there than I expected. I finally found the place, went upstairs with my knees aching and wandered in to the office area. "We're closed." A woman said. "In fact, I was just waiting for my husband."

The man looked over expectantly and asked what I was after. I don’t think he had the opportunity to speak to people interested in the Society, especially those from a distant land. He wandered around the office, checking boxes and bookcases, occasionally picking up some information. He asked about my historical society and Australia as he did.

Half an hour later and arms full of books and two discs with more information, I thanked him and wandered out again. In my backpack, I now had over a hundred pounds worth of information bought for forty pounds. Can't get a better bargain than that. He also had some useful advice for the Public Records Office.

Yeah, I dripped smug on the way down the stairs. As the outside door locked behind me, I realised I'd left my map upstairs – and there was no way back in. Smug evaporated. I retraced my steps to the IYH from memory(!) and found myself on streets unknown. In the travel booklet I had, I finally walked onto the map. I checked off the streets and slowly walked across to where I was supposed to be. The area I wandered through wasn't the best.

By the time I got back to the hostel, my feet and knees were giving me what for. I put my loot in the car. I figured it was time for a cleansing ale and asked the... fellow behind the counter if the pub across the street was okay - you just don't know in Belfast. He said it was A Working Man's pub, like that, as if I should know what that meant. I simply asked him again if it was okay, and he made the same reply. Obviously, he was trying to say something, but I didn't get it. I asked if he knew of a suitable pub and he directed me down town.

As far as I can figure out, a Working Man's Pub is for the locals and where they discuss politics. Not wanting to cause any 'trouble', I slowly walked to the city centre and had a Guinness at a genuine Irish Pub. Beautiful. Both the pub and the ale.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Back up

Penrath: the night was bitterly cold, so cold it woke me up and I searched for extra blankets. The wakefulness at sunrise continues, which will be handy tomorrow. This morning, I have to hunt for a laundrette, fortunately, there is one. I haven't seen any second hand bookstores on my travels which is disappointing, so is the lack of Youth Hostels. But I went off after breakfast and duly did my washing. Cost: six pounds. The dryer didn't quite do my socks, or a t-shirt, so I laid the socks out on the dashboard of the car and the t-shirt on the back shelf.

I also had a brain freeze. I followed a van with a trailer down one of the streets. The van pulled in next to a truck parked on the verge, so I passed it, thinking the driver was going to the construction site. Mistake. He was actually pulling in behind the rest of the traffic lined up at the traffic light and there I was, on the wrong side of the road facing the oncoming traffic. I'm sure I was red in the face as I backed up into the space the car behind me left – yeah, I could see the smirk on the guy's face. I gave him a wave and he laughed. I did, too.

So having finished the wash, and embarrassed myself, I went off to the Cosmeston Medieval Village. It's an interesting reconstruction of a village from 1350.
A house and a barn, with an area for animals at Cosmeston, Wales.

What's of interest, is that at Cosmeston, efforts are underway to revive rare breeds of livestock that were farmed here originally. Chickens - haven't changed much - but run around all over the place, black sheep with long tails run around in a nearby, lush paddock, weathered grey and hand-woven bee hives sit on a wooden shelf behind the priest's house in the garden that grows old varieties of plants and behind this wall are two orange pigs. Yes, orange:

They're so cu-ute!

These little hamhocks were so friendly it was as if they expected to be touched. Nup. I've nothing against bacon on the hoof, but for quarantine purposes, I left them alone. I didn't want to get pinged by customs when I returned to Australia. I figured they were plenty fondled by others and they could do without my attention. Still, the temptation...

You can take the guided tour - complete with the guide in costume - but, like other places I've visited, the guide was with a group of school children; English this time and remarkable by their attentiveness. As I waited outside particular buildings, I could hear them asking questions and the guide's considered answers.

I'm glad I wasn't around during the medieval age. Apart from the lack of proper medicine, invasions, the hard farm life... no television or internet, the sanitary facilities would put me off for life. I can think of no other reason for this:

Outside amenities... without a door... and no paper... in a shared space. I'm wondering if those really are nettles...

Of course, I took lots of photos – and finally, the batteries died in the camera. Since I was done with the village, that was okay. Better yet, back at the car, my socks were dry.

At the hotel, I set the batteries into the recharger and went across the road t'pub for lunch. I love pub food. Today it was the steak and ale pie with curly fries; absolutely delish. Although the half-Guinness with the pie nigh put me to sleep. In fact, I went back to my room and had an hour cat nap. I have been sleep deprived on this trip, so the nap did me the world of good. When I got up, the batteries were recharged. I reloaded them into the camera and went for a walk in the forest to Alexandra's Park. Picked off shots of a squirrel, who manically tried not to be caught, some birds and the trees in the gentle, soft, afternoon light. I did think I was going a little mad with the camera, I've taken hundreds of photos, but... I can sort it all out when I get home.
See those two open windows set into the roof? Yep. Lugging a full backpack up those narrow stairs was a job and a half.

And I swear, the closer you got to the top, the higher each step was. But, I had a hell of a view and the hotel itself is pretty grand. I had to consider what I needed for the day very carefully. If I forgot, well it was up those stairs again to retrieve whatever it was. I'm beginning to think people take one look at how much luggage I have and think 'hey, we'll give her the highest room in the highest tower, she needs the exercise'. Maybe it was simply 'ah, nice, polite tourist from Down Under; a room with a view I think.'

Tomorrow, I take off for Ireland. I only have the afternoon and Friday to find family. Monday is a public holiday, damn it. Well, it's the last 'official' research I need to do, so from Friday night I can go where I please. Maybe a quick trip to Sligo.

Thursday, June 12, 2008


Bath: the plan is to visit Bisley, Gloucestershire, where my great-grandmother’s family lived for three hundred years or so. If there's time, a trip to the Roman Baths in... Bath. It took less time to get from Burnley to Bisley, than expected, which is typical in this country. Distance isn't really distance compared to Australia – that's not an insult, just fact.

Bisley is... a bugger of a place to find, but gorgeous. (How is it my ancestors lived in these fabulous places and then left them for distant shores?) All right, it's small and tightly snuggled into the crook of a valley. And when I say tight, I mean I did a lot of three point turns to get around corners. Really! It's a precious place with an old pub (I wonder if Nathaniel ran it at one time?) and three storey slate and sandstone houses with Beemers, Volvos and Range Rovers parked out the front. Maybe that's why they left: they couldn't afford to live there any more. I didn't find any Tylers in the cemetery, which makes me think someone has set a date and removed old, unstable headstones. Not one was 19th Century.

The Bear Inn - did ancestor Nathaniel run it?

There weren't many places to park either, so I only took a few photos.
Onward, then, to Bath and driving around in circles for a few hours, including through the centre of Bristol. I got a couple of photos of Bristol Cathedral while I waited at a stop light.

I'd always believed there was a youth hostel here in Bath, but I couldn't find it, not even in the Yellow pages. I went from one hotel to the next but they were full. Fortunately, one gentleman, Alastair of the Grasmere Hotel, took pity on me and called The Manor House. Yes, they had a couple of rooms available. And off I went with the directions in my head. I took one too many rights-at-the-roundabout and ended up at The Manor Lodge. The proprietor looked at me, puzzled, then set me right.

Ah, the Manor House, comfy, exotic, and me on the top floor.

The Manor House is 16th century, and I was greeted with enthusiasm by two young, effeminate men. One took my credit card; the other showed me around.

My room came with a Henry VIII sleigh bed with a body conforming mattress (tempera, I think, he said it was) and a 'special' plumbing system that's noisy. 'Don't stick anything that doesn't belong down there. One gentleman plugged the whole system up with an ear bud'. I got the message and admired his politeness. The date on the house says 1547, and I'm not going to argue. I even managed not to get down and fondle the original floor tiles. Yes, it was expensive, but staying in something so historic, something that's over 200 yearsolder than white settlement in Australia? I'll suck up the expense.

The Roman Baths are a must to see for anyone who enjoys Roman history. I do and I'm glad I took the time and made the effort to come here. The only downside to these ancient sites is the amount of disinterested school children. History, of course, is mainly wasted on them. Who wants to look at boring old stuff anyway? The offenders this time were French; talking too loud, expressing disdain, mock-pushing their colleagues toward the waters and basically ignoring the value. Some, though, took photographs; quickly, after a check at the sheet of paper pressed against a clipboard. Me, I took a whole lot of photos – even some without the screaming hordes.

This is one of many inscribed stones found.

Translation: This holy spot, wrecked by insolent hands and cleansed afresh, Gaius Severius Emeritus, centurion in charge of the region, has restored to the Virtue and Deity of the Emperor.

Don'tcha love it? It's as if Gaius has to let everyone know who did the good deed - especially the local citizenry. But then, how else are the gods going to know who's loyal? I have lots of photos and no space to put them here, so this is just an example.

Underfloor heating. A floor rested on these piles of tiles; that allowed the heat through to warm the floors. Nothing like warm toes on a cold British morning. Clever people, those Romans - all the comforts of home.

I can't remember what they're called, but I figure a certain German scholar will let me know... eventually.

On my way back to the car, I picked up some genuine Cornish Pasties – Tiddeogs, my mum calls 'em – for on the way; got the coffee to go too. I had planned to stay in Bath for two nights, but the expense was an eek, so I'll stay two nights in Wales, Cardiff, close to the airport for Thursday. About an hour later, I stopped at a byway and chowed down on the tiddeog (yuh, yuh, yum!).

The bridge over the River Severn is awesome, spectacular, but there was nowhere to pull off so I could take a happy snap. When I put all this together, I'm going to purloin a pickie off the 'net. But the toll. Holy Crap! Five pounds thirty! Or about eleven Australian dollars. I'm so put off by the bloody expense of this country; no wonder two million Brits move abroad every year.

Anyway, yet again, I missed the turnoff, by two on the M4. I stopped, had coffee and the second tiddeog, checked the map and spotted what has been ailing me all through the country: I have not been taking notice of the sections of the highways. Here I was, beyond junction 35 and I needed junction 33. Thus settled in my mind, off I went and found Barry, near the airport. This time I got hold of the information lady before the information centre shut. She tried a number of places, and we settled on the Glendale Hotel in Penarth, further down the coast back toward Cardiff.

And I only got lost once. The hotel room is lovely with two dormer windows – one looking toward a park, the other toward the sea, a corner suite if you will, plenty of coffee, tea, sugar and milk - it's been sadly lacking in other rooms – and plenty of space.

I sat outside in the evening Summer air, drinking Guinness and writing postcards, very relaxing. I'm hoping to take in a Medieval Village tomorrow.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Home town?

Burnley and Padiham: It didn't take long to get to Padiham, where my great grandfather and great grandmother came from. I found a church and cruised through the graveyard; nothing. I walked to another, but couldn't access the yard. I did find a memorial and took a photo – maybe the McLaney is a relative.

I walked back down the hill and got the car thinking this might be another Lincoln. But. I drove to another part and happened to glance at the street sign. Bingo! I parked and took photos of the street and the house where GG Michael lived – I think; I'll have to check with the parent as to whether he lived before or after the railway bridge since the early part of the street didn't have numbers on the houses. There was also a RC Church so I cruised around the yard. Nothing, but that's not a big thing (the yard was, though). I also saw an assault. Some pinhead stopped his car in the middle of the road, got out and started punching some woman in a car across the street. Then, he jumped back in the car and took off. The woman and her mates slowly drove off in the other direction.

It being a Sunday, there was no one around to ask about the graves - too busy. I drove up and around the street. Lo, there was another sign: Stonemoorbottom. And there can't be many names like that! Out of the car and more photos; this is where GG Rosannah lived. I always thought it was a place, not the name of the house.

Both worked in the cotton mills at the bottom of the hill. Michael died in mysterious circumstances, and I'm going to try to find out how by visiting the Public Records Office. I'm rather chuffed that I found these houses. It is these addresses that are listed on the 1887 marriage certificate, and may give me extra information to locate Michael's father, Edward and his unknown mother.

For lunch, I finally had the Sunday Roast, a mainstay of English culture. And I had it up at the Hapton Arms, a place I could easily imagine the McLaney and Lennon boys visiting for a quiet ale after a hard day's graft. It's only up the hill a bit from the houses. I duly took more photos.

I figured I had all the stuff I was going to get and headed to Burnley. It's tough to find accommodation without a map or guide book, but I finally found the Keirby Hotel. It's going to be redeveloped and no wonder. The lift squeaked and shuddered, as if it would stop or fall at any moment, but it's nice enough. The room has the first bath I've seen. I might have a nice long soak to ease the aches from walking so much and carrying the luggage.

So here I am, in Burnley, where my mother was born. It's an odd feeling. This part of the country is beautiful and I wonder what made them leave. I'm glad they did, but it must have been some reason for the family to shift to a new country on the other side of the world.

Oh, the bath? No hot water, so I had to use the kettle... a lot.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

The low and the high

Blackpool: for all the jokes about the place, it's very pretty and suitably cheap. My room overlooks the ocean and I cannot credit how quickly the tide comes in or goes out. I wandered down to the pier. This weekend is the FA cup final and there are footballers in town – I'm guessing on holiday, but also to fill the pubs and cheer. It's also Gay Pride weekend and there were a number of obviously gay people. Why do they have to try so hard? They wore outlandish clothes in a variety of colours that hurt the eyes; I didn't dare take photos - and I didn't see anyone else snapping away either.

I brought along the cheese I bought in Lincolnshire. I had no idea it was going to smell. Anyway, I did a bit of a shop – bought some Blackpool Rock for the nieces and nephews, just like my great aunt did for us way back in the seventies. I was looking at the various flavours when a group of youngsters walked in. One checked her feet, as if she'd stepped in something nasty. I had to cringe a little; I knew exactly what the smell was and after I got the Rock, dumped the cheese.

I also sat and replied to text messages from home. Didn't help the homesickness. After that, I walked along the promenade snapping photos of whatever took my fancy. In January, a cargo ship beached, and being an intrepid walker, off I went to take more photos.

The beached Riverdance, still fully loaded with cargo.

I think there's something... odd... about my genetic makeup. It was miles to the ship, the tide ever receding and my feet were beginning to hurt around the heels. These Brooks have soldiered on, but I think I finally did for them. I thought I'd catch the tram back to the hotel, since I'd walked miles, but as I approached the tram stop, one went by. Another one wouldn't come for another twenty minutes and so I started walking back. Every time I heard the zzt-zzt of a tram, I was between stations. As you can guess, I walked all the way back to the hotel, in the rain, which began when I was less than halfway back.

So here I am, absolutely knackered. And I was right: the runners are done for, the sole has split. Not badly, but enough to consider buying new ones before I depart these verdant shores. I have got to stop these marathon hikes; they're bad for my feet and my shoes. A dose of good sense is a terrific alternative. Still, I went out and found some Tandoori Chicken. Usually my favourite, but pretty ordinary here. In fact, the food has been ordinary all round. On the positive side, I got back in time to check out another episode of the new Dr Who.

This new morning, the sun is shining and the tide is coming in. Natch, I took a photo or two. Some lads arrived yesterday and last night attempted Karioke before heading out. Awful is an appropriate word, but it didn't last long and I had a good night sleep. This morning, they were waxing lyrical about how 'wasted' Fabio was, but when the lad in question turned up, it was hail fellow, well met. I left them to it after a breakfast of cereal and toast. Yesterday's full English – with fried bread – was a little too much.

On my way out of town, I saw two plods… er, police officers looking up into the sky. When I had a look, a World War II DC-10 flew by followed by a Spitfire! Cor! This was one photograph I had to get:

I think it was to do with a WWII memorial or celebration of the Battle of Britain. The day before, groups of helicopters flew over, but too high for me to see any markings. Anyway, I'm chuffed I snapped these planes - we don't see them in Aus. A piece of history. Maybe I'll find more at the next stop: Burnley, Lancashire.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Roaming the countryside

I feel like crap today. It's Winter here and I think I have a chill; you know, aching bones, sniffles, can't quite get warm... anyway more on the travelling:

Lincoln: The rain was light and the Londoners ignored it. Me, I'm chuffed. For too long has the sun shined. At home, I can ignore it, but here? Where it supposed to be rainy? I left the luggage at the hotel and took off for Marble Arch and the car I'd hired back in Aus. Feltham to Waterloo, change for Bond Street and then Marble Arch. The problem with London is that the street signs are plastered to the sides of buildings. I went one way out of the station, then turned around and went the other – just in case Murphy was messing with me again. Hah! I found the Hertz place, but the car wasn't ready; interesting since I was supposed to pick it up at 9.00 and it was now 10.30 (more signalling problems). But delays can often be opportunities and I went to take some photos of the Arch and to check out Speaker's Corner. Not a weekend, so no speakers.

Finally, the car was ready and with maps in hand, off I went. I only got geographically embarrassed twice... okay, three times... (London is a mongrel to drive in) and headed north at about 1.00 pm.

Sometimes, fate let's you know you're wasting your time by… wasting your time. I searched high and low for somewhere to stay in Lincoln and found myself on my way out of the city headed for Horncastle – where I'd planned to go the next day. Nothing there and then I saw the turn off to Hagworthingham where my forebears came from.

The cemetery was easy to find and, since the sun was still up, I checked it out. Unfortunately, I think where my ancestors were buried was in the nettles that overgrew the bottom half of the graveyard. I took a lovely photo of a big horse in the next field and headed back to Lincoln. See? Isn't he nice?

This time I found the Lourder Hotel. A lovely little B&B on my proposed route to Lancashire. The proprietor was friendly and very helpful. A chatty sort of bloke. Exhausted by the drive I headed to bed.

The next morning, he gave me directions to the Public Records office which, of course, I couldn't find. Frustrated, annoyed I couldn't find anywhere I could get pounds for parking, I left Lincoln. I should also note that doing the laundry proved just as expensive as in London except it was five pounds for the wash and twenty pence for five minutes in the dryer. But you can't argue with fresh clothes, in particular, underwear and socks.

I drove through the Peak District; a staggeringly beautiful area of England and duly took more photos of hills and valleys. I stopped at a lovely pub for coffee and a break. Interestingly, the manager said that the English Pub might soon be a thing of the past. "The government," he said "wants to turn them into continental pubs." I'm guessing that means stricter rules, a more cafe kind of atmosphere. It's shame how many for sale signs I've seen on pubs. The traffic was miserable. It's Friday in summer so the English are out and about on long weekends and off on holidays. There's also the FA cup this weekend and a number of other things.
The Bridge Inn, Peak District

I didn't want to spend three days in Burnley, so I thought I'd head to Blackpool. My great aunt was here in the seventies and brought us all Blackpool Rock, a hard sweet in a long tube. I don't know if they still make it, but I thought if they did, my nieces and nephews would enjoy some.

There are many jokes made about Blackpool, but wow! What a place. I found a nice hotel overlooking the promenade and the sea.
Blackpool's famous tower

I have never seen any tide move in that fast! I also feel better about being here for two days. I think the constant movement and plans and search for somewhere to sleep wears me down; or it's the cost. The last time I was here, B&Bs were about 15-20 pounds a night. Now, it's over 40 and a pinch on the budget. And don't get me started on petrol!

From here, it will be back towards Burnley. I'm hoping to go to the public records office there. I've decided that my lack of progress is because perhaps the records aren't there to be found, which means Burnley may prove problematic as well. I'll give it my best shot. Tomorrow, I'll decide whether to head up the coast or simply wander around Blackpool. The promenade has to be a few miles long, and I think I'll head to the tower, see what interesting things are down there. There is still the lingering need to go home. I'm tired. Up with the sun and down with the sun. The constant watching for traffic on excruciatingly narrow roads and streets is also a burden. How more people don't ding their vehicles, I don't know.

The feeling of homesickness hasn't faded. I thought once I was out in the countryside, it would, but this country is as busy as ever. It is so crowded. Maybe writing more postcards will ease the feeling.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Big city blues

London: the trip up to the capital didn't take long at all. Dover to Canterbury took twenty minutes. Which meant driving to Lincoln probably wouldn't take as long as I think it will. It's disturbing to see the beige smudge on the horizon of pollution over London. I know it's a large city, hell, it's huge, but that smudge... had consequences. I'm here to do family research and I'm here for three days. Day one, I arrive at Victoria Station, fortunately the right junction to get to my hotel. But asking the passenger assistance officer if I had the right of it in getting out to Hounslow, was an exercise in abuse. The guy needs to take a chill pill.

Hefting the luggage, off I went. What I didn't know and the passenger assistance officer didn't tell me was that I needed to go to Richmond, not Hounslow, and I ended up forking over ten pounds ($AUS20) - not an auspicious start – on a taxi.

Channins is comfortable with an en-suite. This is a good thing given I had a separate toilet at Dover and sitting on the lav, the door was one postcard length away from my knees. Tiny by anyone's standard. I also had to do laundry and the fellow at the counter happily directed me to a laundromat. Again, it cost more than I ever imagined. All up, about six pounds or about thirteen dollars, but I have clean clothes. Nice, since I was down to my last pair of clean socks.

The next morning, I felt all stuffed up, as if I had an allergy or was nurturing a cold. It was not going to affect my day; I wasn't going to let it. After a hearty breakfast, I headed off to the National Archives and spent the day chasing my tail. No new information, not really, just alphanumeric codes to get certificates. Tired from the concentration, I went back to Feltham and headed to the pub for a well-earned Leffe, the Belgium beer me and the outlaws discovered in Ghent. Tragically, and it is tragic, a case in Australia costs $100, a beer to have on special occasions only. When I started out, it was a gorgeous day and I wore a t-shirt; by day's end it became overcast and a cool breeze blew, chilling me. Before I went to bed, I took some painkillers, just to ward off the snots.

My final foray to the National Archives started off badly: Feltham to Richmond was stuffed full of passengers. At Richmond, there was a problem with the electricity down the line and we all had to wait. Change platforms, and wait. Change platforms again, and wait. I was only going one further stop down the line! So a fifteen minute train journey took three-quarters of an hour. Finally, I got to the Archives and chatted with one of the attendants. After a satisfactory discussion, I headed onto the computers. And had some success. Not as much as I would like, but anything is good given how far I've researched the tree. From here on, I'll have to go to the sources, to the churches, the Public Record offices and the graveyards. Shame that!
I left the National Archives at 3.30 and wandered to Kew Gardens. Not wanting to pay the fourteen pound entry fee, I wandered back to the train station, a couple of minutes walk. The way back to Feltham was worse. Not only were the electricity lines still not working properly but there was a fatal accident in the Feltham area. After changing a number of platforms – on the advice of the intercom – the announcer finally said the trains from Richmond to further down the track were cancelled and to take a bus.

Now see, here's where I always get into trouble and obviously, I'd learned nothing from Belgium. Yep, missed the stop I needed, but was paying enough attention to get off at the next stop. I didn't actually get back to Feltham until after five o'clock. But that was fine. Time to head to the pub for some dinner and a couple of Leffe's. The roast lamb shank was excellent and the Leffe, always good. I'm going to have some of that at every opportunity, since I won't be able to afford it back home. I'm also a little homesick. I think it was waving bye-bye to the family, but it hasn't faded.
I haven't developed a full-blown snot attack, but it feels as if I might. I think it's the pollution and need to get out into the countryside. Fortunately, that's next on the agenda. The weather is finally changing to what I expect spring in England to be: showery cool, with lengthy sunny periods. Maybe I'll get to use the rain jacket I've been carting around!

Friday, June 06, 2008

Land of hope and...

England/Dover: Another sunny day that threatens to be really hot by mid-morning. Walking to a train station without luggage is too easy; with a couple of heavy bags, it's a chore. Worse, the train to Calais was packed and I had the fortune to stand all the way, guarding my bits and pieces. I wasn't the only one with baggage and it made for grumpy travellers.

At Calais, the bus to the ferry terminal had been delayed nearly two hours because of a cycle race! Not in the least bit happy about that. Fate stepped in again with the help of a couple of Filipino Americans, we walked – yes, again – down towards the harbour and where we could see the ferries. Nup, wrong way. So we went around the harbour to the other side. Nope, that wasn't it either and bugger me if we could find anyone who would speak English! Yep, carting luggage unnecessarily does make you tired and emotional. We went back to the junction and found an English trucker and his mate. Their advice? Go over to the nice people at the Holiday Inn. They will order you a taxi. So we went over to the hotel and those nice people ordered us a taxi. Good thing too, because where we were supposed to be, was wa-ay too far to walk even sans luggage.

The girls left me once aboard. I couldn't leave my luggage and they had none. So I made the trip alone, but happily took photos of the French beach, the ships, the water and then... the White Cliffs of Dover! Spectacular!

Off the ship and I loitered about wondering what to do. I didn't have anywhere to stay and most of the people on board were in cars. A mere handful walked onto the ferry and they were expecting a tour bus.

Hmm... again, fate has a hand. I slung the big backpack and picked up the other bag, walked around the corner and lo, a taxi! I asked him if he knew of any reasonably priced places to stay. He said 'yep' tossed my bags in and said: "I don't usually hang about here, but I thought I'd just give it another couple of minutes before heading back into town." And he proceeded to take me to a lovely B&B on Castle Hill Street called St Martin's Guest House, just below the famed Dover Castle.

Noice, except the proprietress put me on the third floor, a hike and a half on narrow steps with a large backpack and a smaller one. Two trips, then. The proprietress recommended a few places to look at, since Dover is older than the Roman fortifications would suggest.

But I'm not ready to do the Castle, it is, after all up the hill. Instead, I wandered down to look at some antiquities. St James' Church where I found a name like my ancestor – something to look up – and further down into the market square. More photos, of course, but of Dover Castle overlooking the town. I wandered up a street and found... the Roman Painted House! Now this was a real treat. The painted plaster walls survived because the Romans filled in the rooms to construct a ramp, and the colours are still vibrant.

Unfortunately, no photography is allowed. I canoodled around for while, on my own, and noticed... the same scent as Tyne Cot Memorial. Was it, I wondered, indicative of buried sites, or burials or both?

Anyway, I bought some tourist loot, thanked the ladies and wandered down to the sea. Now... I spent a year living in Norfolk, I spent a month touring way back in 19mumble, mumble but I didn't go to any beaches. This time I did. Even bought myself an ice cream to have while strolling the promenade. Stones and pebbles. How can anyone call that a beach? And the teenagers? Have I ever heard such wholesale, indiscriminate, loud swearing? No, I don't think so. And that was the girls. Nor did they care who overheard them. Eventually, they left, and so did I. I made my way to a pub and had a Guinness, then on to a small shop selling fabulous fish and chips. Gotta have that in Britain, don'tcha?

The morning dawned warm and bright. I stuck my Belgium hat on my head, packed the camera into my daypack and took off around the hill. The proprietess suggested the walk to the National Park, that I'd enjoy it. For the first part, I did, but the hill grew increasingly steep. I could not see a way to the castle up this way and, by the time I reached the top, I knew there wasn't one. There's only so much a body can stand and the trip down reminded my of the hike I did down into the Grand Canyon in Arizona. You can feel your thigh muscles tense, then burn with every step. When I finished that hike, I felt like I'd never walk properly again. But after a long, long soak in a hot bath, everything was better.

So I reached the bottom of the hill and wandered around to Castle Street. Up, up and still up on a 13 degree incline that seemed more, and further up a flight of stairs. By the time I got up that hill, I was wondering if the walk was worth it. I bought the entrance ticket and moved further into the grounds. As I walked, I got a text message from Australia reminding me that it was Mother's Day. Great. Time was slipping away to call home – it's nine hours ahead. I tried to call, but got nowhere and the final call for the World War II trip into the secret world of Admiral Ramsay came. I went on the tour and found it interesting. The tour has voice-overs and sound effects, so you get a feel for what it was like during an air raid with lights flickering and sirens going off in the dim interior.

Once out, I managed to call home and it was comforting to hear my mother’s voice. It also reminded me of how I alone I am, even though I've spent a year without friends and family in this country. As a cure, I went around the castle without a tour guide. I followed a group of American tourists into the medieval tunnels. So caught up in my own thoughts of what life would have been like, that it wasn't until I went down a darkened corridor that I realised I was actually on my own. As a way to freak yourself out, it's pretty effective. You can feel the history, touch the history, and nearly hear it – at least, I hope I didn't hear it. Those noises, they were the Americans, weren’t they?

With a deep breath – again, that… smell – I made my way back, staring intently at the pitch black end of the tunnel as I walked; just in case, you know. Outside, the sun and air felt warm and fresh. I bought more touristy stuff, including a Tudor cookbook... well, I make Hypocras, Henry VIII's favourite drink, so why not try some other recipes?

The long day began to take its toll. My feet hurt, my calves felt like I'd torn something and my thighs ached. Off I went down the hill and to the Market Square. Desperate for coffee, I found Beano's cafe. As a child I read Beano comics so I had to get coffee here. A mistake, a really big one. The coffee – a supposed latte – was made with boiling water with a layer of foam and thick cream on the top. The foam formed a barrier so the cream didn't melt and cool the coffee down. End result, one badly scalded tongue. There was only one thing to do: head for a bar and cool my burned mouth. A pint of Guinness did the job, but next morning my tongue was numb. So much for enjoying breakfast.

It was time to go to London. Work on the family tree awaited. I called a taxi and boarded the train. What secrets would the National Archives give up?

Thursday, June 05, 2008


Bri, over at Have Goggles, Will Fly tagged me for a meme, so here it is...

1. The rules of the game get posted at the beginning.
2. Each player answers the questions about themselves.
3. At the end of the post, the player then tags 5-6 people and posts their names, then goes to their blogs and leaves them a comment, letting them know they’ve been tagged and asking them to read the player’s blog.
4. Let the person who tagged you know when you’ve posted your answer.

A Meme about Various Things

What were you doing ten years ago?
Gah... I think I was at technical college, learning how to programme computers.

What are five things on your to-do list for today (not in any particular order)?
Book the car in for a service, pick up some Cabernet Merlot, blog, look at my niece's English essay, watch the Redwings play the Penguins.

What are some snacks you enjoy?
Camembert cheese, celery pieces, peanuts.

What would you do if you were a billionaire?
Buy a rooly noice house, with a housekeeper! Invest in alternative energy sources. Set up an educational trust fund for my nieces and nephews. Buy my own publishing company and write.

What are five places where you have lived?
Dartmouth, England; Sydney, NSW; Canberra, ACT; Shipdham, England; Vincentia, NSW.

What are five jobs you have had?
Editor, for a country newspaper; Government Public Affairs officer; Waitress; Agricultural worker; Admin clerk.

What were the last five books you read?
The Taste of Night - Vicki Pettersson;
Another One Bites the Dust - Jennifer Rardin;
Command Decision - Elizabeth Moon;
Engaging the Enemy - Elizabeth Moon;
Moving Target - Elizabeth Moon.

What are five web sites you visit daily (in no particular order)?
Paperback Writer
Spirits of the Damned
Jennifer Government Nation States
Jill Shalvis

As for tagging, anyone who wants to join in, just leave a note in comments.

Mysterious land

Life's an adventure and the unexpected always happens when you're away from home. Continuing from the journal I kept while travelling...

France: After a fortifying continental breakfast, we piled back into the car and headed into France and Lille. Here, we made for the Youth Hostel to drop my gear off. Just one peculiar note: When I got out of the car and waited for everyone else, I was seized by a coughing fit, so bad it doubled me over. C. got me some water and while the choking eased, it didn't leave until we walked towards the entrance of the Hostel. Once I checked in – second floor again - we wandered around, each of my family members pointing out which shops I needed to remember.

I finally managed to get some money out of the machine – I'm not going to tell you why I couldn't do it in Belgium, it would only embarrass me, but had to do with using the wrong currency pin code. I shouted everyone to morning coffee and hot chocolate which the French do exceptionally well.

A band struck up and we looked out the window. Coffee and chocolate done, we scurried down stairs and out onto the street. Our French speaker, S., translated that the Germans were apologising for all the grief and harm they'd caused during the wars! Photos were taken of this too. More wandering around checking out expensive, label shops they wouldn't let me in the door of, then off to lunch. Me, I had the salmon – some of it smoked (yum!) and some of it deep fried (extra yum!), my sister had the cheese with a similar set up to mine, and D., the daring in-law, had the roasted duck breast with duck gizzards... erm. Right. He didn't offer any around. I guess he knew what the reaction would be. I also suspect he's taken Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall to heart.

Following lunch, it was time for them to head off towards Paris and home. I waved them bye, bye and suddenly, I'm alone in a country where I don't speak the language.

Well hell, what was I going to do now? More wandering, of course. This is, after all, France and off I went with camera in backpack. But down on the Rue Jean-Baptiste Lebas, the damn choking started up again! When I moved away from the tree-lined street it eased. I found water eventually, and I determined to stay away from foliaged boulevards. I'm too botanically-challenged to know what the bloody trees were but I couldn't hack up a lung if I didn't go near them.

I stayed in a dorm. Sometimes you get good fellow sleepers and sometimes you get snorers and people who talk in their sleep. Lucky me, I got both. For the third day in a row, I'd walked my feet to throbbing messes. Lunch had done for me, so I hit the sack, hoping to be asleep before everyone else. No such luck. It was the first of two nights tossing and turning, trying to tune out snores and Slavic chatting.

The next morning, I had a quick continental breakfast and headed out to the train station. The reason I chose to be dropped off in Lille is its close proximity to the World War I battlefields. I'd tried to get accommodation in Ypres, but a lot of other people had the same plan. I caught the train up to Ypres (or Iepers), then a bus.

Sometimes, life just wants to test your metal, I'm sure of it. I said to the bus driver I'd like to go to the Tyne Cot Memorial; he nodded and I sat down at the front. Yes, I had the bus timetable, yes I kept looking out the window and yes I checked each bus stop.

An old lady across from me rattled off some French and I said, 'Tyne Cot'. She nodded, shrugged in that Gallic way and got off the bus. Shoulda listened more carefully. It wasn't until I was five stops away that I realised I'd been reading the wrong side of the timetable and the old lady was basically saying: "Get off here, this is Tyne Cot."

The walk back was long, arduous and thirsty work. I got off at Moorslede, on the other side of Passendale and walked back – I got some nice photographs of the countryside where both grandfathers fought though and one of the Canadian memorials that overlooks the valley – through Passendale and down the long, long road. I'm kind of wondering if the fates aren't helping me feel what it was like to walk to the battlefield in the heat, without water, and with a backpack on... but that's too spooky, isn't it? You can almost hear the thunder of artillery, the gunfire, the shouts and cries of men... almost.

This land is beautiful; green, quiet and dotted with farms and disinterested cows. Over an hour and half later, I found the turn off to the Tyne Cot memorial and the tiredness slipped away. It's a big cemetery and the first thing you think is "geez, what a waste!" (Of men, not farmland.) But I'm here for a purpose: to find my great uncle's name. To be respectful, I visited the museum first. I know the history of the battles that took so many lives, but these memorials – and they are scattered across the landscape – bring it closer to home. In that, I loathe and despise Haig that much more for his asinine, archaic and murderous battle plans, and admire and respect those who carried out their orders, knowing what would happen but doing it anyway.

I found the great uncle's name and took photos; one name amongst so many; too few identified. Here, it is peaceful, with the white headstones, the green grass, the sectioned farmland and moo-ing of grazing cows. It's impossible to imagine the destruction once wrought on this bucolic scene, and yet we know it happened; we've seen the photos, the jerky, black and white film. But there is one thing guide books don't mention: the smell. It's neither good, nor bad, just there; as if sadness, anger, fear and relief are all distilled into that one, musty, muddy, almost moss-like scent.

Once out of the memorial, I walked down a small road junction. I turned to look across the countryside and the steeples in the distance. One is Ypres. To my left, there was a farmer 'fertilising' his fields with liquid... manure, two cows in the field in front of me, watched me watch them from the shade of a tree. The sweat on my skin has long since dried and I can feel the sunburn. Behind me, a lady comes out and expresses her disgust at the... aromatic liquid fertiliser.

"Which way is Ypres?" I asked.

"Ten kilometres. That way." She lifts her chin in the direction of one of the steeples. "Too far. You take bus."

"I'll take the bus." I agreed and she pointed me in the right direction. When I get back to Ypres, the first thing I did was buy a hat, then water, ice cream and... Belgian chocolates to take home. I feel wrecked; by both the long walk and the memorial itself. It's time I left France.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

On the road

Now that I'm back and with reliable internet access, I thought I'd drop in some posts of my trip. Photographs might be added, too. So, the first entry of the journal I wrote:

Vordingborg, Denmark: The day before we all headed off, the in-laws dragged us off into Copenhagen. The last time I was here – for their wedding – I didn't get to see much. The in-law was determined this visit would be different. And it was. We took a tourist boat ride around the city. I took photo after photo after photo. That's the problem with digital cameras these days – you don't have to stop and consider if that shot is a waste of film. It was an entertaining day that ended with beers all round and a couple o' bottles of red. The next morning was another gorgeous if cool day. I didn't think we'd all fit into the Citroen with luggage, but we did. And so, car stuffed to the rafters, my sister, her husband, two kids and me took off for the ferry from Denmark to Germany. All went remarkable well. We thought we'd missed the 7.00 am boat, that the boarding closed a scant ten minutes before we turned up. But a few minutes later we were guided on board. Woo hoo! Duty free! The ferry crossed on smooth, glass-like water, though the distant smudge of beige on the horizon reminded me of just how populated Europe is.

Germany: We drove straight off the boat and eventually found the autobahn. S., niece number one got on with her French homework, but little A, niece number two, at seven is a handful. Fortunately, the car had a sunroof and we watched the contrails of planes criss-cross the sky; it's scary how close they fly and how many are up there zipping around. I'm sure it's all a matter of perspective. Germany is beautiful – but I didn't expect anything else. Rolling hills, farmland, verdant forests, BMWs speeding by doing 200kph only to be overtaken by Mercedes...

Holland: It's tough being in a car with people. I spent some time chatting to my brother-in-law about what I hoped to find out about the family tree in London, Lincoln, Burnley and Ireland. What my research has so far found kept the kids occupied for some time and kids ask questions. Outside, the fields were yellow or green with new crops. Flat land and dykes for irrigation. Flying over it is magical; driving through it, not so much.

Belgium/Ghent: finally, our day's destination, Ghent. A medieval city with cobblestone streets, a magnificent castle and canals. Only one
significant problem: all the one way signs. I'm guessing they don't want casual tourists, otherwise they wouldn't make it so difficult to get around. But once there, oh, boy, it's definitely worth it. I have to say the cobblestones are wicked on the feet. We only stayed overnight, on the second floor of the Ghent youth hostel, but I spent a lot of time taking, oh, a few photographs. Worse thing was I couldn't get my cash card to work! Bummer... I had to rely on the money I already had in my wallet. My sister kept casting worried glances at me, and no wonder...

Tomorrow, I'll post more; and I have to continue the story over at the other blog, and a ton of other stuff I have to catch up on.

That's the thing about travelling, you feel a little out of touch when you return because stuff has happened in your absence. Old news, is new news to you, but... I'm slowly catching up.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Crash landed

Yeah, I'm back, but my faculties are still trying to organise themselves.

And... since we have visitors who arrived a few hours before I did, and who have made themselves comfortable for the next few days, blogging will be a quick luxury. I'll just have to resist the jet lag. I'm expecting the crash, but can't afford it with peeps in de house.

I kept a journal while I was away, so I'll be posting what I was up to as I wandered around the countryside, occasionally geographically embarrassed (ie, lost). Now, I have to stop yawning. A nap would ruin me.