Monday 3rd September Day 15
The London Eye is a massive ferris wheel with enclosed passenger pods which takes a half an hour or so to do a lap and the views from the top are not only breathtaking but put London’s layout into a better perspective. I can feel my north point readjusting and the only distraction from the views is the engineering of the wheel itself. It is the 59th wonder of the world.
This is followed by a tour of Westminster Abbey. If you thought London was lousy with monuments, don’t bother coming here. The interior is a maze of alcoves, crypts, tombs and rooms of all sorts where a student of English history could be engrossed for centuries. Every step you take seems to be on someone’s grave. Mary Queen of Scots looks very relaxed in her allocated spot.
Also immortalized are the great poets, authors, playwrights, actors and don’t even bother trying to cover all the categories. More importantly however is the Cappuccino shop where:
Eateth ye in cloistered deli
Yon cheese and salad and Worcester Sauce
While tired feet resteth respectfully
On the Venerable Basil Wilberforce.
The main regret was that we couldn’t come back at 5.30pm for the Men’s Choir because of the rail-worker’s strike on the underground.
Lunch is at the café in the huge nearby Methodist Church centre and it would have warmed my Mum’s heart looking down from above to think I was back in Church.
We take the Jubilee Line to Tottenham Court Road, walk part of Oxford Street and make it home before the 5pm rail strike.
All over London we see the most beautiful young women from all over the world. If I was a young bloke I would be over here with pheromones on full. However being the age I am, I scarcely noticed.
I have a new blister. A sister blister to my LA blister.
Tuesday 4th September Day 16
On completion of Laundromat duty, the plan for Denise to go to the British Museum and for me to walk the West End looks good until the tin teller swallows my Visa Card. An hour and half later we are back to Plan A but we won’t be using that card again.
The West End has almost as many theatres as London has monuments. Every turn reveals another Theatre playing musicals of the last 40 years which I had thought were dead and gone.
I am looking forward to seeing Covent Garden which has been immortalized in one of my poems (true!) but Covent Garden turns out to be a large area of markets and restaurants. Amongst the many buskers is a young group comprising four violinists, one cellist and one bassist playing the more popular classics and doing exactly the kinds of leaps and pirouettes to accentuate the high points in the music that their symphony conductor would frown on. The takings in the can suggest the pirouettes are working.
I still haven’t found the Covent Garden Opera House though and querying a passer by as to it’s whereabouts, he replies, “That’s it! You’ve just walked by it.” In typical British fashion there is no sign at the front to say what it is. The Sydney Opera House leaps out and pokes you in the eye. I imagine that the New York Met (also immortalized in the same poem) would be yelling at you in Neon, but the Brits are more tasteful than that. I photograph the building for comparison with the Google search I will do just to make sure the passer-by wasn’t pulling my leg.
Okay, if you insist ….From “Poems Lament” in which one of my poems wishes it was a famous performance piece.
“Pavarotti, Carreras, Domingo, Dame Joan
I can dream. There’s hope for me yet
Before an audience that’s dripping with diamonds and class
At Covent Garden or the New York Met
But here I am at the Murrumbateman Pub
Being said by some worn out old squatter
And look at this lump of layabouts here
Bet they’ve never been to the Opera.”
Back at the Museum, Denise has been studying relics of recent millennia including the hieroglyphics of the Rosetta Stone.
During the laps of the West End my North Point is again going in circles but I get a chance to pause and recalibrate at a four-sided monument to “Fortitude, Sacrifice, Humanity and Devotion”. (How come sloth never gets a mention.)
I am wondering if the North Point problem is partly due to the fact that the sun is always to the south this side of the equator and always to the north at home, not to mention walking or driving in circles.
England (other than London)
Wednesday 5th September Day 17
Up the M1 in a rent-a-car for the next ten days, we turn west to see Rebecca and Lawrie at Burcott. They have just moved into a 1960’s house in the High Street so named for the shop which might have been there in 1642? The house has fantastic views of green meadows and distant hills from the large second storey bedroom. Furniture at the moment is largely cardboard boxes.
English meadows are generally much more pleasant than Australian paddocks. Grass that sheep can eat without gravel rashing their noses and more shades of green than the most prolific colour-charts.
A grey squirrel runs across the lawn. We are told that the original red squirrels of England have been conquered by the grey squirrels of North America and I imagine a statue to Samuel Squirrel in New York gazing purposefully to the east.
We have lunch at the Lock Gate Pub. The canals of England are extensive and became redundant with the advent of rail and road however tourists now ply these canals in purpose built houseboats. It is fascinating to watch the lock filling through the upstream gate and emptying through the downstream gate as boats pass through.
I am thinking of the song on an Eric Bogle CD called “Lock Keeper”, written by someone else I think and will get it out as soon as we get home. We will be seeing Lawrie again soon when he will be flying balloons in Canberra over the summer and Rebecca will be doing likewise early next year.
We continue west to our first B & B at Broadway. which is very close to the mid-way point between the east and west coasts. A bit like The Alice, but not a lot.
Thursday 6th September Day 18
We meet up with Philippa in Worcester. She stayed with us in Canberra a couple of years back and it’s good to catch up again. The huge Cathedral here is the burial place of King John of Runnymede and Magna Carta fame. Like Westminster Abbey the structure is extensive and awe-inspiring compared to the Queensland country churches of my youth. No weatherboard here.
Meanwhile the local bird watchers’ group is set up with telescopes and high powered cameras at the base of a spire known as “The Glovers Needle” where a pair of Peregrine Falcons have set up camp. Glove making used to be a local industry, as was Worcester Porcelain, but both industries are now centred in China, or India or somewhere. The Falcons are nowhere to be seen at the moment as they are probably on one of the other spires or out hunting. We re advised there are 1500 breeding pairs in England.
Following the recent floods we see the records on a wall by the river showing that the largest flood of the Severn River was in 1770 and high on the list is the new flood of 07/07. Tomorrow being the 7th, I intend to take up (or invent) Numberology.
Another significant event seems to be The Great Petunia Plague of 2007. Petunias in England average 478,000 blooms per plant compared to five back in Oz.
Worcester, has a beautiful central area of pedestrian friendly cobblestone roads and walkways. A statue of Edward Elgar looks down to a town in mourning as his likeness has recently been removed from the £20 bank note. Worcester threatened to secede but there was nowhere to secede to.
After lunch with Philippa we head west at 3pm to do injustice to Wales. Arriving at Fishguard on the coast at 6.45pm with just the one stop along the way, the trip is a little like The Alice to Perth but not a lot.
There is not much sight-seeing from the motorways through England and Wales as the views are restricted by the plantings along the sides of the carriageways Our views are mostly bitumen. If we are to come this way again we will have to include some time in Wales.
The sign posts are in both English and Welsh and I expect there will be a monument somewhere as a tribute to the consonants who have conquered the vowels in the Welsh language. Vowels are definitely a minority group.
The radios are running Pavarotti specials as news has come through that Luciano Pavarotti has just died. As you can imagine, although he is Italian, it is big news in Wales.
We have fish and chips at Fishguard, on the west coast of Wales – the real deal. It is a beautiful sea port for fishing and for ferries to Ireland and about a dozen kids are out sailing on small cat-rigged dinghies.
We are advised to leave buying petrol to Ireland where the taxes are much less.
Friday 7th September Day 19
Fishguard seems to have not changed in centuries, except for the ferries. Winding one-lane roads flanked by old stone walls or steep embankments lead us to an old stone Church exposed to the winds off the Irish Sea.
The big catamaran leaves at 11.30am on, thankfully, a flat sea and the wind on the side deck reminds you the big cat must be doing about 30 knots.
In Ireland the Tin Teller switches us over to Euros and with a new tank of petrol, we drive to Carlow.
In about 1840 my great grandmother, Eliza Condell, at age 18 left Carlow for Australia. We think she lived at Old Leighlin (Lachlan) and Agharue and we intend to visit there tomorrow.
The town of Carlow in the County of Carlow has a population of about 22,000 people, similar to my high school town of Maryborough in Queensland.
Saturday 8th September Day 20
The morning walk through Carlow is the usual fare for this part of the world – the Cathedral, Courthouse, Town Hall, Church and old Castle remains.
A visit to the library provides some valuable contacts in the family history search.
Even though we haven’t made it a mission to search out intricate details of Eliza Condell, we go for a drive to Leighlin Bridge and Old Leighlin where we walk through the grounds and graves of the local Protestant Church. We don’t find Agharue although we don’t look very hard.
Driving along one country road, wide enough for one car only, a local gives us some directions which consist of “first left, second right till you come to the stream, go another 100 yards, on past O’Flaherty’s place till you see the ….” We thank him very much, wait until he goes and take the first U turn opportunity.
It’s Saturday night and Ireland is playing Czechoslovakia in the Euro 2008 Qualifiers. Loughlins pub is packed and I find a space in the next pub (every third “shop” is a pub) and slip into a Guinness or three. Ireland are leading 2 – 1 going into extra time but Czechoslovakia equalize 90 seconds later. The crowd in the pub is like the crowd on the television – devastated – but 60 seconds later are patting their players and one another on the back having accepted the result. (I wonder if it is an Irish thing?)
The bloke next to me at the urinal offers “We had it bloody won and lost it – but we’re used to that”. “Know what you mean”, I say, knowledging noddably? (Wonder if it’s a Guinness thing?)
I hear there will be traditional Irish music at Reddy’s at 10.30pm but the muso doesn’t turn up and no one knows why and no one’s too worried. (I wonder if it’s an Irish thing?)
However the young people, teens and twenties, are out in force and modern music fills most of the pubs. For those interested, hot pants and heels are in for the young girls and sloppy is in for the boys.
Sunday 9th September Day 21
We drive to Dublin and park by the Liffey River. The “banks” of the river are ancient vertical brick walls and bridges cross at every second block.
We catch a tour bus near the Dublin Spire in Connell Street after enjoying the pedestrian plazas. After St Stephens Green, Europe’s largest square, we have a break near the statue of “Sweet Molly Malone wheeling her wheelbarrow” and enjoy the buskers in the pedestrian plaza – a singer/guitarist, a grey painted “statue-man” and a bloke covered in bronze, seated on a bronze suitcase behind a bronze dog and tapping and gesturing to his canned music and fascinating all, especially the children.
Past various churches, museums and courts, we see Phoenix Park, the largest urban park in Europe covering 1750 acres housing wild deer and the residence of the President of Ireland.
On the trip north there were no signs to indicate the position of the Northern Ireland border, however, the mobile phone goes off letting us know we have changed provider, yet again.
We settle into a country B & B at Dromore, County Down for the next three nights. We have beautiful views east to the Mountains of Mourne. We have dinner at a very busy Half Way House Restaurant near Dromore where they have run out of mashed potatoes but have plenty of boiled potatoes? With our meal we get eleven potatoes – to make up for the famine?
Our itinerary sounds like the index of one of my dad’s old song books. The Castle of Dromore (which is actually the other Dromore in County Tyrone), Rocky Road to Dublin, The Belfast Mill, Mountains of Mourne, A stroll by the Liffey, In Newry Town Where I was Born, Follow me up to Carlow and Carrickfergus.
Monday 10th September Day 22
We can’t find a Laundromat in Dromore, so drop the washing in Banbridge and head inland to Amagh. My great grandfather, Archibald Nixon has some connection with Amagh so we walk the town and picture him walking the same paths.
Having lunch in the Mall, a beautiful green park in town, we get a call from Clayton in New Zealand to say that Trudi miscarried yesterday. Very sad but they intend to try again.
Heading back to the motorway we are reminded that rural roads are often one car wide with lush green grass up to the door handles on either side and were designed before road design was invented. The original track would have been selected by Dobbin picking out the line of least resistance for him and his dray. These tracks, totally untroubled by trigonometry, have survived for centuries but have been modernized by the addition of bitumen. This ‘line of least resistance’ method of route selection still applies today but engineers and surveyors go to uni for four years first to learn Dobbin’s craft.
The lush green grass adjoining the bitumen, even on the modern roads, contrasts with our barren gravel edges back home.
Lush green is very common over here.