ACROSS THE WORLD 2009 – Week 3

Monday 24 August.

Monday is washing day. Is everybody happy? Riikka starts work again today after a week off and we do the washing at Stephen’s place and then spend time wandering around the city.

Very little new today, however I contemplate the idea that before my next trip, I will see if U3A runs any courses in map and brochure folding. My brand of folding logic fails every time.

A check of the Helsingen Sanomat (newspaper) today reveals the medal tally for the Berlin World Athletics Championships.

BERLINI 2009

G S B

1 Yhdysvallat 10 6 6 US

2 Jamaika 7 4 2

3 Kenia 4 5 2

4 Venaja 4 3 6 Russia

5 Puola 2 4 2 Poland

6 Saksa 2 3 4 Germany

7 Etiopia 2 2 4

8 Iso-Brittania 2 2 2 Gt Britain

9 Etela Affrika 2 1 0 Sth Africa

10 Australia 2 0 2

14 Norja 1 1 0 Norway

Suomi 0 0 0 Finland

Ruotsi 0 0 0 Sweden

Tuesday 25 August.

This is our last full day at Tampere and we spend most of it at The Arboretum. Canberra has recently started an arboretum on an area which was destroyed in the 2003 bushfires and it has had a fairly turbulent reception. Most objections seem to be based around the fact that there won’t be sufficient water in our low rainfall climate. Most of the plantings are of endangered species from all over the world and also from home.

The Tampere version consists mostly of trees from the local region and contains many trees that the word ‘lofty’ was invented for, some trees being 200 years old. Parts of it look like a botanic garden with additional low plantings and flower beds. As expected in this climate, the lawns are lush.

I expect the Canberra version won’t have the lush lawns and I would have preferred that the trees hadn’t been planted in rows. However, arboretums are to be applauded wherever they are.

For our final night tonight, Stephen cooks dinner and it is going to be sad to leave.

Wednesday 26 August.

Today we will travel to London. Driving down to Helsinki Airport gives time to contemplate the last two weeks; driving on the other side of the road, the friendly Finns, the ordered scenery, the long history and Stephen and Riikka’s life ahead.

The idea of almost permanent dark in winter suggests you would never tell anyone here that they were “as honest as the day is long”, just as you wouldn’t tell your loved one in Australia that “I love you as surely as the river runs to the sea”, when the Todd River, the Georgina, the Diamantina, and a few others generally just stop where they feel like.

The flight on the Airbus A320 (I don’t remember any Austin A20) is uneventful and we make it to the President Hotel at Russell Square through some welcoming London drizzle.

Thursday 27 August.

We decide on a London open top bus tour which works much better than the jet-lagged tour two years ago. This time, being awake, I get a much better feel for London’s geography and unlike last time, we arrive at Buckingham Palace at the right time for the changing of the guard. Not one more tourist could have been fitted in and the number of cameras equals the number of tourists.

At a key moment in the proceedings, when the platoon commander (or head choreographer or whatever he is called) barks ”PREEESENT ARMS”, 20 menacing black rifles are snapped vertically out in front of the soldiers’ faces, while 2000 silver cameras are similarly snapped out in front of the tourists faces. Denise and I crack up.

I love parades and it may go back to my school cadet days and my days playing tenor-horn in the Maryborough Excelsior Band in Queensland. You would think the Queen would have come out to meet a Queenslander.

These days I sing in the Canberra Celtic Choir and go to Folk Festivals which have a strong Irish influence. I have heritage going back to Ireland, Scotland and England but London is the place that grabs me. I guess this is because English history and London in particular, featured so strongly in my formative years.

Friday 28 August.

The morning starts with a tour of St Pauls Cathedral. The architecture and the scale of the architecture take your breath away and Mum would have completely run out of “Glory Be’s” here. St Pauls was one of 49 churches designed by Christopher Wren and it is interesting to ponder the construction methods used in lifting such large and heavy blocks and to construct rooves and ceilings at such enormous heights.

Downstairs in the crypt are the tombs of Horatio Lord Viscount Nelson and the Duke of Wellington along with a tribute to Florence Nightingale. Nelson is a revered figure and a massive statue also stands atop the tall spire in Trafalgar Square.

Also in the crypt, the ‘Friends of St Pauls’ advertise their many activities including a ‘City Walk and Pub Supper’. Further along at the back of the café a group of half a dozen fresh faced young clerics are engaging in fellowship one with another and sipping coffee to the glory of God.

At lunch we meet up with my cousin Gayle and husband Geoff at the London Museum. They are on holidays over here and it’s great to see some faces from home. They have just sold their home in Oakey and are in the process of trying to buy in Brisbane.

The most striking story we see at the museum is that of the Great Fire of 1666 which destroyed 80 of London in five days.

Saturday 29 August.

Today I go on the tour of ‘Lords’ while Denise heads back to the British Museum she so enjoyed two years ago. The guide, as usual, is terrific (and is doing his best not to gloat as England have just won the Ashes) and while I have seen the ground so often on television, I haven’t seen the inside – the Museum, the Long Room, the incongruous egg like media centre, the various ‘Stands’ and The Ashes. Middlesex, the home team is today playing Day 2 of its County Match with Gloucestershire.

Most people know the stories of the process involved in becoming a member of the MCC which usually takes about 18 years. Two years ago we visited The Getty Museum in Los Angeles and we find out here that J P Getty, who had a troubled private life took a liking to all things English including cricket, which he got to know through Mick Jagger, an avid cricket fan. Getty offered to pay for the rebuilding of the new ‘Mound Stand’ at Lords and managed to become a member in a fortnight. Among other things, Getty paid for the cleaning of St Pauls Cathedral.

I must check when the great clean-up of London started with the banning of coal and timber fires. Some of the buildings still retain the black soot but most of the great public buildings have been cleaned.

The playing surface at Lords falls 2.5 metres from one side to the other but tradition has prevented them from relevelling the surface. Tradition, however, didn’t stop them from building the new media centre which stands like a space ship just landed behind the wicket-keeper. W G Grace would have choked on his boiled egg.

Lords was used during WW2 as an RAF training base. Dad often spoke of the Australian all-rounder Keith Miller who, as well as being a legendary cricketer, spent time training here with the RAF and was a distinguished flyer. He may be the second most revered Australian cricketer over here (after Bradman) and recently a eucalypt was planted near the museum in his honour. The Museum has just mounted a display regarding the RAF at Lords and during the next England v Australia game here in a week or so, a Lancaster Bomber, the only one left flying, will do a fly-past over Lords.

(I have added this small piece a couple of weeks later and am happy to report that during the one day match, England were cruising along quite happily and straight after the fly-past, their game fell apart and Australia won.)

After Lords, I set off on a random walking tour, finding the Church Street Markets. Several blocks long, most of the stalls are Muslim run, partly for food, fruit and groceries, but more for clothes, and the other standard market lines. The majority of the customers and browsers are Muslim women in traditional Muslim dress and my mind keeps wandering to Marrakesh.

A large walking circuit from there sees me in the St Johns Wood High Street, hanging out for a sandwich, and finding that most of the eating houses are white table cloth restaurants sporting sparkling wine glasses. Parked along the kerb, Lexi are common. Fortunately I find a genuine cup of tea and sanger shop up toward the lower end. You can never get a decent sanger at a place that has white linen tablecloths and wine glasses on the tables.

Heading towards Regents Park, I walk down Avenue Road, lined with huge trees and imposing brick walls with electronic push-button gates to let the Bentleys in and out of back yards big enough to bury a CEO’s bonus.

Regents Park is but another of London’s huge green areas and is packed with people strolling, sitting and playing all manner of sports, especially social soccer.

I eventually make it home on the remarkable ‘Tube’ via Baker Street, Kings Cross and Russell Square.

Tonight we have dinner with Rebecca my niece and Lawrie her partner, Peter Pink a longtime friend of Geoff, along with Peter’s niece Linda, at ‘Giraffe’ at Brunswick Centre (close to our hotel). A good night was had even though the waiter advised that the Soup of the Day was No Soup Today.

When we get back to the hotel, we find the foyer bedecked by Rugby League fans bedecked in their home team jerseys, the Warrington fans decidedly happier than the Huddersfield fans, having just won the Challenge Cup Final at Wembley. Warrington is coached by Tony Smith and Huddersfield by Nathan Brown, both coaches having played for Sydney’s St George Dragons in their younger days and both came from Yamba.

Sunday 30 August.

Going past St Pauls on our way to the Tate gallery via the Millenium Bridge, the bells are pealing and we notice that part of one of the back walls of St Pauls has not been ‘cleaned’ of the old dreaded soot. London must have looked pretty bad.

The Tate Modern Gallery contains the expected displays of ‘what’s that all about’ paintings and Art Installations. The most appealing installation for me is a table and four chairs ‘to challenge our ideas about scale’. We can walk under the oversize table and would need a ladder to climb on to the chairs. It gives an idea of what a toddler or the cat would see every day.

Carnaby Street must be the shortest famous street in the world. Probably about 250 metres long, its glory days of the sixties fashions and the mini-skirt are gone but it still features many designer stores and a fashion shop called ‘Sixties’. It’s a great place for young people to be seen in the sort of clothes which would make their parents wonder what they had brought in to the world.

Denise sets off along Oxford Street, taking in Marks and Spencers, while I take a stroll through Soho. Soho is quiet, probably because it’s Sunday morning and I don’t see anything to over-excite me.

I end up at Victoria Station, one of the biggest stations, and settle into an Irish Pub to watch the Belgian Grand Prix where Mark Webber, a good Queanbeyan lad, is disappointed with his ninth placing which drops him to fourth in the series. Dinner tonight is at another English Pub, The Marquis Cornwallis. English pubs are not noted for their greens.