ACROSS THE WORLD 2009 – Week 5

Monday 7 September.

Many of these towns have their Old Town and New Town, the heritage area and the new supermarket area and so on. We walk both and also the Cemetery of the Guestling St Laurence Church a few miles to the east which rates a few mentions in Denise’s family tree. None of her forebears leap out at us but there is something about walking the ‘very ground’ your ancestors once trod. Inside the church is a list of the rectors of the church commencing from 1074.

Tonight we find ourselves unable to finish the medium sized fish dinner we have been served at the Harbour. A large dinner would have fed the entire fishing fleet.

There have been many attempts to build ‘Hastings Harbour’ over the centuries. One attempt was destroyed in the violent storms of the 13th century and the current wall was built in the late 1800’s and is both too short and too broken.

After our failed attempt at eating our dinner, we discover this failed harbour and are surprised, on walking down to the water, to find a fleet of fishing boats beached on the pebbles (there is no sand here) and an unlikely looking fleet of bulldozers parked further up the beach.

There is no marina and the boats have to be dragged up clear of the high water mark. It’s apparent that the boats are dragged up by winches and pushed back in with the bulldozers and it appears that each boat has its own dozer.

These unique fishing boats all have a solid steel keel to survive the dragging and have steel below waterline ‘outriggers’ to stop the boat falling over on the beach. There is one catamaran which obviously doesn’t need outriggers.

The highlight of the fishing museum is a video of a boat trying to beach during a violent wind storm in this inadequate harbour. The boat eventually makes it after several attempts and after receiving assistance from a larger boat. Some of the boats look alarmingly small for fishing in the English Channel.

The day is rounded off with Father’s Day text messages from Sherriden and Clayton. Reuben will be 10 months old next week and I’m sure he will have remembered to get his dad a card!

Tuesday 8 September.

Like so many other towns, Hastings has a castle on top of a hill and this one, while severely decastled over the centuries, still has enough of the castle left to know it is a castle.

It’s thought that Hastings was originally settled by bands of people from Germany, The Haestingas, or Sons of Haest around 500AD. A dot point version of the history since then goes something like this:

  • 1066 William the Conqueror came across from Normandy to conquer what he considered to be rightfully his. The Battle of Hastings took place where the town of Battle now stands, about six miles away on The Plain of the Haestigas.
  • Following the Norman Conquest, William the Conqueror made Hastings his base and sea port.
  • In the 13th century, much of the town was washed away in violent storms. The town then moved around to what is now called Old Town.
  • In 1339, the French came over and burnt the town.
  • In 1377, the French came over and burnt the town again.
  • In 1597, an attempt to build a Harbour Pier was ruined when a violent storm took the almost completed pier away.
  • In 1656 the next attempt at a Harbour wall was washed away in violent storms.
  • Throughout the 19th century, all attempts to build a Harbour wall ended in failure.
  • During the 20th century, the fishing boats grow the equivalent of training wheels to compensate for the lack of a decent harbour and each boat pals up with a bulldozer.

Apart from that, not much has happened really.

Wednesday 9 September.

At 9 seconds, 9 minutes past 9, I forget to look at my watch.

Today we drive to Rebecca and Lawrie’s place at Burcott Bucks which is an hour or so north-west of London.

We leave about 9.00am and I decide that if I were Captain Cook, Australia would never have had the flag planted. The Endeavour would have done three laps or so of Plymouth Harbour setting the sat nav (or it’s 1770 equivalent) and then hove-to at the first Cappuccino Wharf (or it’s 1770 equivalent) before logging any decent miles.

As it turns out, we tie up at the Penbury Plant Nursery for our cappuccino. Denise’s grandfather left Penbury when he was 12 years old to come to Australia.

Our plan to go to Rebecca and Lawrie’s via the London ring road, the M25 (or London Orbital), is sidetracked as I get the urge to see the 2012 Olympic Games site. Not knowing exactly where or what I am expecting to see, we are distracted by the O2 Arena, formerly the Millennium Stadium, on the Greenwich Peninsula. I understand some of the Olympic events e.g. gymnastics may be held here but inquiries with the locals lead me to jump on the train to the Pudding Mill Lane Station. All that is visible from here at this stage is the basic structure of the main stadium and the aquatic centre.

My main hope for 2012 is that the main railway station will be Pudding Mill Lane and not something boring like Olympic Station.

Back on the M25 our little Ford Fiesta is hurtling along like a Usain Bolt, shoulder to shoulder with every other maniac in London. I would guess that the English might take their annual leave and do a lap of the M25.

Lawrie and Rebecca are balloonists and may have to fly mornings and/or evenings but tonight it’s too windy at 1000 feet and we are able to precede dinner with wine and cheese in the backyard at ground level with the squirrel.

Thursday 10 September.

Australia has just gone 3 nil up against England in the one day series.

Morning coffee is at the Barista Bar in Leighton Buzzard, just up the road from Rebecca and Lawrie’s house at Burcott (Bucks). The Bucks refers to Buckinghamshire. Lawrie shows us a monument in the Leighton Buzzard main street which displays a history of the many name changes of the town over the centuries, with eighteen names since 1086.

  1. 1086 Lestone

  2. 1189-90 Lcochton

  3. 1201-2 Lechton

  4. 1238 Leittona

  5. 1242 Lecton Busard

  6. 1272-1307 Leygton

  7. 1291 Legthton Busard

  8. 1310 Leichtone

  9. 1343 Lighton

  10. 1372 Laghton

  11. 1393 Leytone Bosset

  12. 1413 Lexton

  13. 1594 Loyghton

  14. 1644 Leightor Beaudesert

  15. 1650 Laiton Busard

  16. 1661 Layton Bussard

  17. 1756 Leighton Buzzard

  18. 1965 Leighton Linslade

I expect that the Geographic Names Board has probably been boring enough to put an end to this creative and worthwhile practice.

The town of Milton Keynes is a good place for lunch but comes as a huge surprise after the traditional towns we have been seeing over the last few weeks. Designed to handle the overspill of London over the coming years, the population will be 300,000 in a few years time.

New towns, like Canberra, are built to modern town planning principles where residential areas are protected from the noise of main roads and through traffic, while retail and industrial areas are separated and more well-defined. After walking up and down the bustling streets of Paris, the contrast is glaring. I haven’t mentioned prior to this that while I love the old streetscapes of Paris and the like, and they are wonderful to visit, I wouldn’t want to live there.

Back home on a good day, the water dish in our front yard will see Crimson Rosellas, King Parrots, Eastern Rosellas, Magpies, White Wing Choughs, Eastern Spine bills, Silver Eyes, Currawongs and Crows, while the Paris streetscapes will probably see the Western Preening Strutter and the White Browed Migrating Eiffel Snapper.

My first reaction to Milton Keynes is that it may need a personality implant, however visitors to Canberra often say the same thing. In spite of this, I would rather live in Canberra than most places. First impressions often don’t count for much.

Bletchley Park, a Victorian mansion known as ‘Station X’ during WW2 is nearby. This was the Allies’ top-secret centre for deciphering enemy codes. Their task was to break the ingenious Enigma Machine Cipher used for German high-level communications. We visit the site which still contains the old buildings where up to 10,000 people were employed all under strict conditions of secrecy and the project saw the development of the early forerunners to modern computers.

Friday 11 September.

Today is eight years since 9/11 in New York.

We will spend the weekend at the Bromyard Folk Festival just west of Worcester. TomTom our sat-nav has steam coming out of his antlers as we choose the small rural roads while he wants the motorways. We eventually give in but not until we have seen the rocking-horse monuments at Banbury. You have all heard the ‘Ride a Cock Horse to Banbury Cross’ rhyme I’m sure but it didn’t mention that when you pay for your parking voucher you have to type in your car registration number. 1984 in nursery rhyme land?

Philippa now lives in Worcester and she and Denise regularly went to folk festivals when Phil lived in Australia somewhere back in the eighties. After meeting up with Phil, her friends Mandy, Hannah, Mick and Hilton, and after dinner at the Rose and Lion, we take in the Festival Opening Street Parade which consists mostly of Morris Dancers and which finishes at the Town Square.

Morris, reputedly from the word ‘Moorish’ is big in this part of England and the Morris Sides consist of a minimum of six people, but usually many more, plus their musicians.

In yesterday’s journal entry, I mentioned we had been to Bletchley Park where The Codebreakers operated to break Hitler’s codes during the war. Coincidentally, today’s press carries the story of PM Gordon Brown’s apology to Alan Turing, one of the chief experts in the code breakers. Turing, as a homosexual, had been badly treated and that wrong has now been partly righted.

Saturday 12 September.

The festival highlights of the day turn out to be Jez Lowe, The Battlefield Band (Scottish with two sets of Bagpipes), Breabach (Scottish with one set of Bagpipes), Jackie Oates (we buy the CD), and top of the pops is the Sea-Shanty session featuring hosts Graeme Knights and Jim Mageean.

Both of the Scottish bands feature high energy, hard driving sets while Jackie Oates is a quirky singer/guitarist from Devon with a stunning folk voice. Included in her set is a beautiful delivery of Henry Lawson’s ‘Past Caring’ and Jackie acknowledges Phyl Lobyll’s musical setting.

I hope both she and Breabach will be able to make it to Australia at some stage.

With a full house the two ‘hosts’ of the Sea Shanty Session start singing their first acapella piece and at the end of their first line the one hundred strong baritone/bass audience blows out all the portholes with perfect pitch and stirring harmonies. I’ll never forget that first moment when all those voices boomed out as one, and Denise and I looked at one another in amazement. The ‘hosts’ then call for audience volunteers to do a shanty and for the next hour and a half, these mariners, who have probably never been in a tinnie, let alone a tall ship, continue to shake the rigging with their chorus based shanties. Ninety percent of the audience knows ninety percent of the choruses. With most of the songs I can sing along with the chorus come the end of the song.

I may be a little unfair with the ‘tinnie’ comment as many of the audience have massive grey beards which could well be high in salt and many have, to put it politely, abdomens with the size and acoustics of a schooner’s hold.

Festivals back in Oz do feature some singing sessions, but I have never heard anything as stirring as this.

We have had eats and drinks at the Rose and Lion, also the Sceptre and Crown, but one of the highlights is drinks and the usual from 5pm to 7pm at the Tent and Van. Mick’s Nissan van is fitted out for camping and is surrounded by the tents of the others in the group. The usual tall-tales, half truths and distorted facts bounce across the camp-table and are returned back across the table at a speed which goes up as the wine goes down.

Mandy wanted to know if my battered Akubra hat had been attacked by a crocodile. I explained to her that it had and that I managed to fight it off with someone else’s bare hands. I explained that no Australian would use their own bare hands as crocodiles can be savage little blighters.

Sunday 13 September.

Happy Birthday Clayton.

The morning cappuccino at the town square is interrupted and enhanced by that apparently world-wide institution of motor-bike clubs going for their Sunday morning ride. The town square suddenly features a fully restored military Matchless bike with side-car, a three wheeler Morgan Aero, and various other restored machines from Triumph, Royal Enfield and others. The Morgan factory is close to here. The motor bikes move off as the Morris Men move in.

We notice that there is a ‘floor spot’ concert at the Folk Club in the Falcon Mews after lunch and I get to do a ten minute set of poetry. This festival has remained principally British over the years and the only overseas act we see is Jeff Warner from the US, so I’m glad they let me on. One of the big burly bearded sea shanty blokes in the crowd seems to be enjoying a few belly-laughs from my poetry so I‘ve apparently managed to hit the mark.

Late afternoon we go to a show featuring several singers, duos and groups who lead an acapella singing session somewhat similar to the shanty session and we are again blown away by the crowd’s chorus singing. I hadn’t realized this unaccompanied singing was so big in England. The highlight for me is three young blokes probably aged in their early twenties called ‘The Young Uns’. Their harmonies are stunning and they sing principally nautical themed songs. The session is finished with an emotional tribute to Johnny Collins, a much loved shanty singer who recently died while on tour in Poland. He was to have appeared at Bromyard.

Throughout all of this, the heavy duty Dance Stage has had a solid two day workout from the stomping, jumping and generally over energetic Morris dancers.

We heard later that there had been a singing session earlier in the day in the shower room at the Football Club as the acoustics in there are ‘brilliant’.

The Sunday night final concert is preceded by drinks and the usual at the Tent and Van with more of the same good times.