Taking it easy. Taking vows and taking to the Road…..

Let’s start where I might end – who knows?

saltireThis is the Saltire – a diagonal cross or (more specifically) St Andrew’s Cross. Since the saint himself was supposedly crucified in this fashion, rather than in the “usual” crucifxion way! At Patras in modern-day Greece, since you ask.

Anyhoo – THIS Saltire marks the crossing from England into Scotland – on the A1 (M) road. Just north of Berwick-upon-Tweed. Where my sister Jean and I crossed into our ancestral homeland a few days ago. Marking something around the mid-way point of my current trip to Europe.

But first, before Scotland was in the picture at all, we had a wedding to get through! Relevant here because it was the marriage of sister’s (see above) son,  Christopher.
To the lovely Steph (Stephanie to you) in Lewes registry office followed by a super village hall “do”. I can’t call it a reception because it was so much more : a party, a celebration, a get-together with closest friends and family. We enjoyed an al-fresco barbecue with great meats and much appreciated vegetarian options and an old-fashioned ice cream bicycle (like you Never see at the seaside anymore) with six varieties and as much as you wanted.  Entertainment by the groom and his group/band followed by the essential disco for the old uncles, aunts and everyone.  A delightful and exhausting time was had by all.

 

Here is the happy couple – at the signing of the register and later in what I am calling “the Magritte Cake moment”. or wedding cake with clouds……

and while we are at the wedding, I’ll add a picture of the Groom with all his cousins (my eight nephews and nieces) and to finish the family theme, myself and my five siblings – parents of all those cousins!

cousins

the siblings

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Strolling through Lewes, east Sussex just before the wedding events above, I couldn’t resist a quick local historical site carrying my name :

England (Britain) is littered with ancient sites – especially religious ones (priories, churches, abbeys etc) most of which were dissolved (and plundered) by Henry VIII and his successors and St James Hospital was no different in losing its wealth and lands. But it continued (and continues) its role providing what we call sheltered accommodation for the old and needy. In modern, less interesting buildings, though, hence no pics : the sketch of the Hospital above shows it fairly ruinous in 1793 when Australia was but 5 years old!! More old ruins to follow……..

So – wedding behind us – my sister and I embark on a fairly intensive circular (well, oval) tour of England and Scotland. Up the east coast, across, then down the west, over about 2 weeks: currently we are about halfway through that.

First stop, Chatsworth House in the lovely Derbyshire Dales,  aka the Peak District. I wanted to visit Chatsworth House, though great stately homes are not really my thing, but a costume and clothing exhibition covering the centuries caught my eye, as the house might catch your’s.  My camera and skills could never do it justice, so a stock photo will better show its vast size and magnificence.

Chatsworth

You can read all about it elsewhere (Google? Wikipedia?). Suffice to say it is the family seat (home) of the Dukes of Devonshire. Family name Cavendish and the land has been their’s since 1549 or so. The family fortunes grew – and how! – with time and the property you see above is the re-build from round about the end of the 17th century. Improvements continued through the years: but there was a lot to work on.  Here’s an extract of the astonishing fortunes of the 6th Duke:

The 6th Duke (known as ‘the Bachelor Duke’) was a passionate traveller, builder, gardener and collector who transformed Chatsworth. In 1811 he inherited the title and eight major estates; Chatsworth and Hardwick Hall in Derbyshire, Devonshire House, Burlington House and Chiswick House in London, Bolton Abbey and Londesborough Hall in Yorkshire, and Lismore Castle in Ireland. These estates covered 200,000 acres (810 km2) of land in England and Ireland.
(Any one of these would suffice, but six!  Enough to be getting on with, I’d say!).

Latterly, the last Duchess but one, was Deborah – one of the Mitford sisters.  Debbo for short, she started the most recent reinventions of Chatsworth to bring it up to date. The Mitfords – and their various marriages and alliances – are subject to many books if that interests you. Another family member who has donated many modern designer dresses to the above-mentioned exhibition is the society model Stella Tennant. Fascinating and bewildering wealth and influence over the years. Would you believe me if I told you that almost every banana in the world these days is a “Cavendish” and owes it’s beginnings to the same 6th Duke above, who imported, cultivated and developed them in greenhouses at Chatsworth!

In fact, the Costume exhibition was not the treat I had hoped. There’s a limit to the number of Alexander McQueen and Vivienne Westwood frocks even I want to see. Or the state robes, that sundry Dukes, Duchesses and Earls have worn to coronations! Though lavishly and tastefully done, with artful lighting, perspex boxes and life-like models, I found I would rather have just seen the rooms without the intrusive exhibitions!  The decoration, the gilding, the fabulously furnished rooms were almost invisible behind the “show” – and the crocodiles of visitors. Us included!
Windows slightly raised – to allow light in ? Or allow us to peek down the garden?
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Here I am trying to capture the ceiling in this double-height hall – full of costumes below – coronation robes and statues. I’m not doing it justice, of course!

I couldn’t leave Chatsworth behind without two pieces of art : this astounding Vestal Virgin (how can marble be carved like this ?):

veil

I promise you, you stand there holding your breath because it seems she might breathe herself at any moment!

And a serendipitous moment for me, in an Ante Library filled with hundreds of ancient, leather-bound volumes, my eye fell on this one, completely at random:

ozbook

John Hunter sailed with the First Fleet to Australia in 1788 as Captain on the HMS Sirius. He was also understudy (so to speak) to the first Governor, Arthur Philip and would take over if he (Philip) should be die en route! Which he did not.  But Hunter was to return as Governor anyway in 1795. This book are his impressions and findings at Port Jackson (Sydney) in those first days.

I SO wanted to take this book down and read it but of course could not. I looked for a copy on eBay later: there was an original for sale (several were published in London in 1793),  at a cost of 8000 pounds!  Can you imagine what the whole Library might be worth if this one (minor) book runs to 8000?

Can you imagine my surprise too, to find I could order a facsimile (printed to order) via an Indian company for just under 20 pounds!! It won’t come with a fancy leather cover but the text and pictures & maps will be the same and will be with me in a couple of weeks.
Unless, of course, I’ve been completely scammed – which is also possible. But if not, what joy it will be to read this stuff : you can be sure more blogging will follow once I return down-under to “Port Jackson”.

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Being the economic folk we are, my sister and I are staying at hostels, courtesy of the YHA – which some may not know, but these days, caters to the opposite of “youth” and even offers rooms with en suites etc.  Gone are the days of dorms (single sex), cold water and rigid (and rigorous) rules and regulations! Well, mostly………. though the places themselves do vary.

We spent our first night high in the Peak district, at Hathersage YHA.  Based around a nice old stone mansion,  though we found ourselves in a modern annexe out back. The twin with en suite turned out to be the disability access suite also. So no steps to worry about, VERY large doors and a loo that doubled as a wet room. Oh, and cold room too!  But the sheets, pillows and duvets were fresh and new, emblazoned with YHA logos on very nice green background .  In any case,  we were only there for the night and down the road we found the only pub still open served wonderful comfort food, The best steak and ale pudding eaten for years!
I did take a picture but it seems to have gone astray; console yourself with a facsimile of the toilet notice in the YHA – their’s was wittier than this but it will have to do:

toilet

Well, it amused me anyway. Even if diapers isn’t very YHA!

Our final day took us north, and westerly, for a final stop before we cross the border into Scotland. This night – anticipating our forthcoming visit to the Holy Island (Lindisfarne) we climbed and climbed and climbed through Northumbria to a little town called Wooler, in the Cheviot Hills.  Surprisingly well-equipped, with a sizeable Co-op, several other shops for provisions, hair-dressing, pharmaceutical needs, arty stuff and at least 2 fish & chippies.  The Black Bull, our inn of choice,  turned out to be welcoming and efficiently run by a team of cheery middle-aged ladies who also cooked and waited. Very popular, busy and to our surprise and pleasure a little group of locals in the adjacent bar entertained the clientele with guitar playing, folk songs and harmonies throughout the evening.

The Hostel itself rather old fashioned – much as I remembered hostels from my youth : barrack-like dining room, spartan bedrooms and all quiet by 11pm.
But they offered (and we rejected) a full English breakfast next morning before 8am and after toast, cereal and pretty good coffee we raced off to our destination of the day!

We raced because Lindisfarne (the Holy Isle) is accessed only by causeway across from the mainland and this is subject to very variable tides. On this day, the Causeway would be driveable until 9.15 am after which access would be impossible till lunchtime.  It is probably as well that I tend to over-manage travel and insisted we leave by 8.20 for a 30 minute drive, as I also managed to mis-read the map and sent us the wrong way up the A1(M) road for several miles. When there was no sign showing Holy Island after 30 minutes, it prompted me to reverse direction and, by hurtling back south down the A1(M), by 7 minutes after 9 we were crossing the Causeway.

Nothing was open till 10am so I wandered as we waited.
To be honest the Holy Isle was a little under-whelming. Not helped by the fact that the Castle, owned by the National Trust (which looks very imposing in pictures), is actually closed till 2018. It is also swathed in scaffolding and protective plastic and impossible to love or appreciate. The Priory – I said there would be more ruins – is long, long abandoned and now in the hands of English Heritage. Too manicured and uninteresting to be frank. Two rather bored ticket attendants stood and chatted in a booth.
Otherwise, several dozen people live on the island and make their living from tourism – and a bit of farming it seemed. Every shop or cafe had a selection of tourist stuff but nowhere was there any feeling of history, what it must have been like to live here hundreds of years back. Of invading, murderous Viking raids, of wild weather and cloistered communities. I was reduced to a passable coffee and feeding the friendly local birds!

Sparrows and starlings waiting patiently in line for the next crumbs; some even cheeky enough to hop up for a bite!  Lindisfarne, thou disappointer! It could have been like this :

or even better, like this !  Ruuuuunnnnn!!!

causeway

Next stop Scotland : I’ll take the High Road…….

Love & Light.

JC

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The Hills are alive…….

…….With the sound of me sleeping deeply, despite the chorus of Frogs that starts up nightly – around the time I plan to retire to my little cabin down by the ecological pool.

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Some of you will have seen these pics before on Facebook! Sorry for the repetition! Since I last posted here – is it really a month ago? – I have been in London,  been to a lovely two-day wedding in the glorious Berks/Wilts countryside and had a short but sweet meeting with a few of my ex-inmates from drama school. Some 40 years ago (how is that possible?).
This ecological pool – pure water – has a filtration system (just about visible at right) with reeds, gravel and other stuff that filters the water – and feeds the frogs!! Lying in the water against the rubberised and very slippery sides, I imagine I’m resting against a large whale.

But enough of such treats; for the last couple of weeks I have been back in Umbria – this time not as a “workaway” labourer, simply as a house-sitter. Not that I lack for things to do.  Edith & Willem (the owners) are back in Holland for a visit and meantime, I am overseeing the place – and being there for a delightful Belgian family who are occupying the two little apartments that lie down the hill,  behind and below my little hut as pictured above.  I see them at the pool most days, but otherwise, we maintain separate existences and I hope not to hear from them unless there are any problems.  So far, so good.

My other duties consist of opening up and closing various parts of the property : the laundry room / shower area and the storage caves. The recycling & rubbish bins area.  I walk UP the hill and tap on the large (drinking) water tank. As long as it sounds at least half full,  it’s OK.  Go DOWN the hill. Halfway to the gate lies another tank (non-drinking water). There is a large pole you could vault with – marked off in depths and the water   needs to reach at least 1.5 metres on it, or more will have to be bought in!

Amazingly, you can order water by the tanker and (as happened last week) Luciano and his elderly father will arrive and deposit 8000 litres for (I presume) a fair price!  Then DOWN again, by the main gate, is a pump house – the one that sends the drinking water from the mains on the track outside all the way up to the top tank!  The pump here must be checked for regular and auto operations!

Water the plants – that takes at least an hour at sun-down. Plant some new ones when it’s not so hot. Top up the water in the pool (evaporation in this heat takes its toll) and even put the little cleaning machine into the pool to hoover away to its heart’s content. Not that the end result seems any different to my amateur eyes.

As I check everything over, before bed, I don’t expect to hear rustling in the bushes behind the house – neither do I expect this :

porcupine

Not my picture ! I surely wouldn’t be feeding this Italian porcupine. Who knew they were so big – this is the size of a large cat. And yes, they do shake their bristles at you when surprised. As surprised as I was when it appeared in the light of my iPhone’s torch!

Happily, it wanted just to go away and I was happy to follow. its lead.  At a safe distance – with a large swimming pool squeegee thing in hand – to make sure it headed south down the hill and not into the pool area and towards my hut.  Remembering that I won’t be sleeping with the door open any more ! ( a quick Google also reveals that these quills can kill humans!).

***

In between such duties, I know not how I find time to wander, but I do.  Every which way you look, there is another little town on a hill – rather, a little village ( though I love the word citta – the c is a ‘ch’ by the way). Few things make me happier than following my nose around the Tuscan and Umbrian hillsides seeking out new views and new places. Here’s a few of the local sights as I drive about :

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This place – Ficulle – has an enormous street light just for the one tower in the centre!

FCellar

Here : a typically ancient and yet magical passage leading down the the basement below a town-house in Ficulle. If it didn’t have a gate I’d be snooping down there!

Parrano

Almost hard to spot, but looking across the valley  from the “white” road that leads home to Alsietto Cielo (7th Heaven) : you can just see Parrano – a little village I had lunch in some 10 years ago, as chance would have it.  Of all the cittas in all of Umbria…………..

The lawyer handling a property my then boss was buying locally was based in Rome but had a country house in Parrano – and invited us to lunch. He did NOT mention that his family (and the family of the Prince of Parrano) owned most of this little citta! – with Palazzos to match.

PMap

This useless pic ! shows all of Parrano; the De Sanctis residences at the far right : 3 red markers!

sanctis

One of the streets that bear the family’s name and part of the Palazzo : I couldn’t get the front and was too shy to ring the bell and try to explain who I was :

“Scuse. Io non parlo Italiano bene…”  is my usual opening gambit. You should hear me with Vodaphone Italy trying to sort a problem, or sharing chats with Lucio the water deliverer or simply shopping for bread or provisions.  To say my language skills are shaky would be generous. But that always leaves room for improvement. I can usually understand what they are telling me even though what I say in response rarely elicits more than a blank stare of incomprehension…..
I was looking into the name De Sanctis – derived from an early ancestor considered a holy or sacred man (Latin for holy = sanctus). Another early ancestor waged war against Inghilterra in the 10th century. Must have lost…..

P1

And so, to Cortona.  Maybe you are familiar with the film “Under the Tuscan Sun” ?  A very romanticised version of a novel by Frances Mayes. Set in the country near this lovely Etruscan city. When I was last here (4 years ago?) the streets seemed to be full of US ladies of a certain age, following in the footsteps of Frances!  That time seems to have passed somewhat; Cortona is still quite a tourist spot – but not when compared with Florence or Pisa and it is small enough to be walked in a couple of hours. It is also VERY hilly, so the moment you leave the (one) main street, you also leave the tourists behind.

I could wander the paths and alleyways all day, barely seeing a soul, but there are so many little galleries, churches and a great Etruscan museum to see. Not to mention cafes and places just to sit , eat and people-watch.  My favourite occupations.

cortoviewFrom Cortona : no-one approaches without being seen…..

 

cortotownhall

The wonderful Town Hall – and its steps – meeting point for so many modern-day Romeos & Juliets ! And look at that beautiful sky.

And across the square, my favoured loggia and its restaurant,  from where I can watch the watchers…….

cortodiner

Not that I need an excuse but the only AA meeting (in English) between Rome and Florence takes place here on Mondays, so I shall be returning for another trip next week.

***

Last week – as I climbed the steep and long drive up to the house (in my loaned Suzuki Jeep) I chased a badger along the track. He flashed out almost under my front wheels. Who knew they could scoot so fast? I don’t think he/she did! Then last night, the spiky visitor.

Did I mention the feral cat who visits daily?  Who silently meows at me, dancing on his front paws – and warily approaches the bowl I put out. So far he seems to prefer egg and cooked pasta. NOT interested in the premium dry food I bought for him. Indeed, the biggest success so far – for him – was to shoot into the kitchen (whilst I was putting something out back)  and make off with an entire pack of 6 (six!) croissants I was planning for several breakfasts.  As my sister said, he must have been hungry!

I just hope he disposed of the plastic bag thoughtfully; the Italians, in common with many other countries, are keen to stop us using such things.  I didn’t see him then for two days.  I keep trying with the ‘proper” food – he just eats round it……..

So……….it’s back to that pool lounger before the sun goes down.  Can’t recall the last time I actually “sun-bathed”. I don’t do it in Australia at all. But it’s a tough life in the tropics.

Love & Light folks.

Driving down Memory Lane…….

Lesson One : do NOT assume that people will be helpful.
Car hire (cheap) at Gatwick Airport was not remotely interested that I had lost both driving licences in Rome. Despite what the T&C’s say, they will NOT make that call to the licensing department (for $25). So no physical licence, no car.

(Incidentally, don’t lose anything at Rome Station; there is no Lost property office – despite being shown on the website – and the Police (to whom you “must” report the loss), lurk un-signed at the farthest extreme of Platform One and are not remotely interested either!.

Lesson One (continued): deal with the car hire companies with a reputation to maintain. A ten minute conversation back at Gatwick Airport and a quick phone call to the licence people and I was on my Honda-ed way.

***

So I have missed the meeting arranged, and have little to do until much later, so the Memory Minions remind me that I pass through Croydon in saath Lundun.  Not born but somewhat bred there, from the age of 4 or so till I left home in my teens.  Croydon is directly south of London – halfway to or from Gatwick Airport and it rates a mention in the history books from around 800.  Even features in the Domesday Book.
On the other hand, SOUTH Croydon – where I lived – is a much later (Victorian) suburb that grew as the railways pushed commuting further out from central London. It has little of historic note: see this local tourism information:

Landmarks of South Croydon include:

  • The former Swan and Sugarloaf public house, now a branch of Tesco Metro.
  • The former Red Deer public house, now a branch of My Local
  • St Peter’s Church (designed by George Gilbert Scott)
  • St Augustine’s Church
  • South Croydon Bus Garage

2 ex-pubs, 2 churches, a bus garage and a school where all the posh gits went!
I knew the Red Deer PH well in my youth, not as a drinker, but the biggest local landmark where you got off the bus. Unless you had already gotten off at the bus garage (see also above) since either was was a walking route home to Pampisford Road.

I didn’t know who George Gilbert Scott was back then – now I believe he is the son of Giles Gilbert Scott (similarly an architect and designer) – he (Giles) is the man who designed that classic Red Telephone Box and what is now the Tate Modern Gallery on London’s South Bank (formerly the Bankside Power Station)  and, of course, Battersea Power Station. I don’t know what else George designed!

Oh, the connections memory makes! On this same drive I will pass by Battersea – the opposite side of the river Thames from Dolphin Square, where I lved for 20 years. The scale of residential development (inc. the Power Station) is striking and impressive. A far cry from the dereliction that the area displayed when I first lived nearby and cycled or jogged streets still cobbled in the 2000s. Now every warehouse is a “new york style” loft!

But back to Croydon. Must we? I know what you mean…… Pampisford is a village in Cambridgeshire (also ancient) and why the name is used here I cannot establish. But at 177 Pampisford Road is the Catholic primary school of Regina Coeli. A winning place!

Year

Twas not always so!  Though I remember it with fondness now, it was not a rich school back in the day. My father was the School Caretaker, so we lived on site, in what had once been stables for the main Victorian house. They are long gone, and a new wing stands near their place, though the house remains – smaller, of course than I remember it!

Terrible pictures, I know; my feeble attempt at blocking out parked cars which were impossible to avoid!  SO many cars! I can’t recall if there were ANY back in the 50s – apart from a big old school coach. But I suppose the nuns who came and went from their convent had to be transported somehow. If you’d asked the young Jim Flynn how they travelled, I’d probably have said by broomstick!

Actually, no. I have quite happy memories of those Infant/Junior  schooldays – so much so that 20 years later, as a budding Actor and Teacher of Drama & English, I returned to Regina Coeli for teaching “practice” and worked briefly with the lady who had been my top form teacher (and whose ‘teacher’s pet’ I had been!).

A kindly secretary let me in the (security) gates and was surprised to learn that there had been a stable block, or a giant metal fire escape along the side of the building – where the new wing now attaches. Alas, there are now NO NUNS at all – she seemed quite pleased about that!  She congratulated me on being in Australia – since England was now swamped with immigrants and the whole place (it seems) is going to the dogs! I fled shortly after, since she was looking for affirmation of such views and I had none to give.

But there’s another of those strange “connections”. I’m reminiscing over Regina Coeli (Queen of Heaven in Latin) school. In a few days time I return to my Italian friends to house-sit at Al Settimo Cielo – 7th Heaven  in today’s Italian!

As for “immigrants”, I’ve been back in London for 2 weeks and am greatly cheered by its cosmopolitan, mixed and vibrant feel.  I was not sure, though, quite how to react on a rather crowded tube (subway) train as I headed centrally. Standing room only – though not quite sardines in the middle of the day. A tall and powerfuly built Rastafarian young man, with ear phones and dreadlocks, leant across two people to tap me on the arm and enquire if I would like to sit down? Sometimes my perception of me (young, carefree) must be an odds with the outside world (old man with a large bag)!
I thanked him of course, but kept standing.

Now, please don’t think this macabre, but leaving the school northwards took me past the cemetery where my father is buried. A long time ago – 1968 to be precise. As I drew nearer I realised I could not pass by without saying Hello.  Skip this bit if it seems odd, by all means. My connection with my father – I was a rebellious, unhappy and truanting teenager –  was not good, and for more years than I care to remember, everything was his fault! Now I am around the age he was when he died, and I realise a few things:

a) It wasn’t. We all do the best we can with what we have.
That’s Lesson Two, by the way!
b) I don’t envy him trying to bring up 6 kids in the strange 1960s.
c) I wish I had had a better relationship with him.

But I’ve told him all that on previous visits to this cemetary across the years and we are – as far as I can tell – at peace with each other. He has a great grave-stone!


This piece of granite with a simple brass plate stands higher than all the other graves around – easy to spot after an absence of several years – and has weathered well.
My siblings and I were permitted to dig a hole and had it craned in some years back to remedy the many years when Charlie Flynn’s resting place had no marker!
It has – if you look closer- a little niche at the top that is perfect hand height for me to stand and rest a while and chat.  A couple working not 10 feet away were attending the man’s mother’s grave – sweeping and raking the usual low-level stone chips surface, while I needed to perform no maintenance at all, simply to stand and wait.
They also serve………..

***

I’m staying for some days – before I return to Italy for another house-sit – in a friend’s apartment in an area they like to call Telegraph Hill. It is really New Cross Gate, but much different from before. Gentrification! 2 Bed apartment ? 800,000 pounds. A 3 storey house ? Try 1.8 million.  (I have no ‘pound’ symbol on this keyboard).

Yikes!  There was a time – not THAT many years ago – when New Cross was an area on the Old Kent Road (the main route out of London to where I lived after I left home).  Here you did not stop and you made sure the car doors were locked! Now it bustles and hustles, with a big super-store and quite a collection of pavement cafes.

We are walking distance, too, of Greenwich – home of the ubiquitous “mean time” and of course an important town and docks area throughout history and Rule Brittannia. I never tire of this view : the magnificent Queen’s House, the Naval College beyond and across the river, the towers of Canary Wharf. For those who don’t know London, this area lies east of the “city” of London and Greenwich is on the south side of the River Thames!  If you visit, I urge you to take a river boat trip from Westminster down to Greenwich and then return on the DLR (railway) or vice versa. There’s a wonderfully atmospheric (and old) foot tunnel that crosses under the river and always makes me walk faster as footsteps behind echo in a rather horror-filmic way!

greenwich

I know I am in the right place when I walk down the road and turn a corner to see this street before me :

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As you can see, some mistaken grammarian (is that even a word?) has stickered an apostrophe between the “e” and the “s” – which would make my name Jame !
Pedant that I am, I might have to go back and move it, so it reads James’ or I might even have to confuse them all further and add and “s” so we would have James’s.

And how to finish a visit to Greenwich by the water?
A : To be eaten by a fish, perhaps ?

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This extraordinary copper fish wobbles in a rather unnerving way as you climb and sit it – I hasten to add it is designed for the purpose, you just can’t see the steps in this shot.

Or B : to eat the fish?

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No mushy peas available ! Not that my friend Shay needed them since we was eating Pie and not fish!  I noticed afterwards the establishment was called Mrs Lovett’s. That’s a musical theatre joke for those who can be bothered.

And on that note (!) I will send love and light till the next time. x

PS : Talking of love – has everyone noticed Ringo Starr’s posting?  Urging us all to chant “Peace & Love” at noon local time this Friday 7th July? Wherever we are  in the world?
I’m in……………………..

Rome-ing : sometimes in the gloaming.

Such a lovely word – gloaming; it reminds me of my Scottish ancestry and not just because of its insertion in the song of the same name. I am nowhere near the “bonny banks of Clyde” though I will be in September! Meantime in recent times I have been enjoying that special gloaming time of day (you can look it up !!) here near Orvieto in Umbria.

But first la bella Roma.
I spent just a day or two there – getting spectacularly lost every day. I feel sure my telephone was reversing or turning the map around every time I switched it on.  As a result, I walked many more km  than I intended. In fact I can tell you that I walked exactly 11 km that day (12,106) steps. To my surprise, my iPhone has an App that has been monitoring me all this time but only yesterday did a clued up youngster alert me!! Anyway, I did a bloody lot of walking. If I never see the Presiential Palace again that’s fine by me.

I could not resist a quick look at at St Peter’s Square – and was surprised it wasn’t as crowded as past visits indicated. Despite being July and the height of tourist season, it allowed me a few minutes in the shade. Now don’t ask why but – as a memento – I bought a small set of rosary beads in a nearby air-conditioned store.  Not out of any religiosity on my part – solely because they seemed to have beads coloured in the shades of the rainbow and that gave me an ironic laugh. I also bought a little booklet which explained how they worked (you could call that a refresher as I have not “done” a rosary bead for 50+ years but me being me, I needed to know). Price ? A grand total of 6 Euros.  A bargain. Or so it seemed.

As I left the area and retraced a path through countless souvenir and snack stands, my eye was taken with a notice repeated everywhere: Rosaries 12 for 10 Euros!!  Ten whole sets – and bigger than mine by far – for only twice what I had paid for One! My Scottish blood surged as I contemplated adding  dozen to my shopping (and my over-full luggage) but divine intervention intervened, reminding me that NO-ONE I know would thank for for a set of rosary beads. Some might even try to strangle me with them … so I moved on.  With a quick pic or two.

That is a very smartly attired young Swiss Guard in his everyday clothes on the right, by the way.

My brief Roman holiday at an end, I returned – once again overloaded with luggage – to my travels. Having now mastered the Rome Metro system and with train tickets already downloaded onto my computer for presentation at Roma Termini (as the main station is called), I left my friend Rosie’s suburban apartment by taxi to metro to Termini, all in perfect time. Indeed, early enough for a short pit-stop overlooking some of Mussolini’s vanity station building, though I was more interested in some water and a snack. Treating myself to a 1st class rail ticket (as prices as surprisingly cheap here) I sat back and relaxed for my hour’s run to Orvieto. Only to realise as we were at the point of departure that somewhere between Rosie’s and the railway I had lost a little wallet and note book. So what, you might say, and fair enough. But the wallet also held my driving licences – both Australian and UK.

It’s a sinking feeling is it not, when something goes amiss? First thoughts, of course: pickpockets! But since my wallet was adjacent to the little notebok in a particular section of my “man-bag” I was pretty sure I had simply let it drop out in the taxi, on the metro, at the cafe, wherever. I gritted my teeth and resisted the temptation to retrace my steps since the lovely Dutch couple I was headed to stay with would already been en route to pick me up at Orvieto and I did not want our first meeting to start with me being an hour late!
To be honest I was actually more miffed with the fact that the notebook and its pen are from Mont Blanc – and therefore not cheap and, more importantly, a souvenir and happy reminder of the Butler course I did some years back. I could sort out the licences. Which I did – and you’ll be delighted to hear I won’t bore you with the online and telephonic ramifications that followed. Suffice to say I have a printed out Interim Licence from Australia and a form awaits me in the UK which will restore that licence in a week or so!

As for the Mont Blacn wallet and pen, my birthday is October 13th, thanks.

Now, the lovely Dutch couple, Edith & Willem have lived near Orvieto for over 10 years. They are retired judges from The Netherlands and I know they are lovely because we have “Skyped”. Even though he is some years older than I am, and she is about the same age as me, modern technology has left none of us behind. We can Skype, Spotify, WhatsApp and Google with the best!  I am undertaking what is called a Workaway project. I provide a few hours labour a day (tasks to be negotiated) in return for B&B and other meals. I cannot recommend it highly enough. Indeed, I could not possibly be roaming around Europe in this cavalier fashion if hotel bills were on the agenda. My first workday (so to speak) was Friday but – since there is a fellow Workawayer here (Robert is also Dutch, but virtually a grandchild to us) – it has been decided that he has been working too hard and therefore we are having Saturday and Sunday doing touristy things! A delightful drive followed on Saturday thorugh various Umbrian / Tuscan villages with a lunch stop in one of the innumerable hilltop towns – today is was Citta della Pieve.

It’s claim to fame being the painter they called Perugino (after the Umbrian capital city – Perugia).  They have most of his works, but Citta has two things : a church with his work on the walls that cannot be moved, and a self portrait of the man himself. Which could be moved, but there would be a great bit Italian fight I suspect.

Perugino

I feel sure he will appear again before this weekend is over. But onwards to Sunday and to Orvieto.

Which is an Etruscan city set – as most of their cities are – on an outcrop of the local, quite soft stone called Tufa or tufo. A volcanic limestone that remains when other stone is washed away over the centuries, leaving a readily-defendable outcrop.  The Etruscans preceded both the Greeks and the Romans and were resident in the areas we now called Tuscany, Umbria and art of Lazio, around the 8th to 3rd centuries BC. They have left art and their use of the tufa landscape for building their homes and excavating caves. Here at Edith & Willem’s they have at least two Etruscan caves dug into the hill behind the house, the front parts of which have been modernised, but the back – cool and dark as you would expect a cave – is unchnaged and still bears the tools marks of the arched carved ceilings. Too dark for my camera pictures, but you’ll see some cave pics from Orvieto instead.

A Cave! Plus on the right, the smallest street (in the world, it says!!). Called – my translation – Kiss Alley – since if you meet a lady coming the other way, both must squeeze by each other and grab a quck kiss as you go! Allegedly. I would not fancy trying it on a 21st century Orvietana! Good old sexism still alive here, I fear. My request for what you did if you met a man in the Alley was not helpfully answered!

Moving on – it is a wonderful city – once an ally of Sienna, and of Florence and favoured by Popes (etc etc – as is Everywhere!). But we visited on a special fair day:  that of Corpus Christi when the whole town it seems turns out in medieval gear to parade around the old city. Divided into various contrada – quarters/areas – each has a special flag, colours and they are fiercely supported. Each contrada marches with a drum band, and dignatories through the ages follow, as do all the town trades (something like the Merchant Guilds seen in the UK). Followed by today’s Mayors, Councillors, local Fire, Police etc and and more or less the world and his wife,

The Festa starts allegedly at 10 am – but actually nearer 11.30. Mercifully, after an early start, my hosts parked us near a convenient Funicular (since cars are banned from the upper town) and by 10.30 we were neatly stowed in a pavement cafe on the parade route and enjoying the endless passing by of locals, visitors and the sundry nutter (see below).

In case you’re thinking otherwise, the ‘nutter” is not me ! I happened upon an ancient and beautifully restored Moto Guzzi motorbike. The Italians will tell you these far surpass Harley Davison or Enfield bikes – it certainly was very stylish.  Here’s the nutter:

nutter

Dressed as one would wish a Franciscan barefoot brother, with a goat, a sheep, some chickens, three geese and a dog.  I could not resist a pic, but fled when I thought that (a) he was going to ask me for money or (b) entice me along with the group!

We had a very lovely lunch – thoughtfully pre-booked by Willem – since we would have been hard-pushed to find a place anywhere. But we were in Locanda del Lupo – in a shaded spot in the back garden with special attention from several bright and breezy waiters. Edith & Willem not only visit in the summer, but as residents they also support the place in the colder, darker months and clearly that support is appreciated, if the open-hearted hospitality was the result. There’s a local dish of what is basically roast pork complete with crackling which set me up for ther afternoon’s jaunting……..

We covered most of the city in an hour or two – including the caves you saw earlier which extend through the under-tufa of several adjacent buildings. Probably down 60 20 meteres (60 feet or more).
The Duomo (Cathedral) is a magnificent riot of pink, white and black stone on the front, cascading with statues and carvings, whilst the side are plain black and white stone / marble stripes. We can see this building from the garden at Willem & Ediths – some 25 miles away!

cat!cat 2

A typical gate entry to a city like Orvieto  – and a lovely balcony that Juliet herself would have been proud of. Had she been real!   Though who knows what is real : I had the strangest moment inanother church today – in front of a painting caled Our Lady of the Rosary (I kid you not) there stood a life-size figure of another Madonna. In grey, carved in wood and probably 700 / 800 years old. She had such a lifelike exression of gentle sadness on her face, I could not resist standing and looking at her. I wanted to touch her hand, since I became convnced she would breathe or even speak if I did so. I could not resist bringing my fellow tourists back later to look at her. A strangely wonderful moment.
This same church has inscribed on the memorial tablet of a long-deceased Bishop:
“I leave my heart to my diocese; The poor have nothing to leave”.  Not sure I understand quite what he means, but it seems like a noble sentiment!

And so, dear reader I will leave you!  I realise I haven’t yet started on what I am actually doing for my supper etc. Certainly not singing, though Willem has a huge collection of CDs from all over. His favourite is Blues / Jazz.  But we also get what he says is Australian outback folk music, south american salsa, blue grass, Credence Clearwater Revival and a host of others. They also have almost every vinyl record from the 60s and 70s – just as I once did. Every sleeve I pulled out from the shelves was an album I knew. By chance they are all stored in the little cabin (beside the pool) where I sleep. But more of that next time.

I can’t finish without saying that my home city – London – doesn’t need reciprocating attacks as seems to have happened in Finsbury Park against Muslims at or near a community mosque. That cannot be a way to go forward, otherwise how are we any different?

As it happens – it is now 8.30pm and by coincidence, the time of the gloaming. Goodnight.

Love and Light.

 

What’s that rumbling noise, dear?

According to St Augustine:                                                                                                             “the world is a book and those that do not travel read only one page”.

If you’d been living in Herculaneum (Ercolano) or its sister city (Pompeii) in AD 79,  you would have been a very lucky traveller indeed to be away from home. Home would not be there when you got back….. look at this (I think, terrifying) interpretation from 1822 by John Martin (who ?) – ‘The Destruction of Herculaneum and Pompeii.

Martin, John, 1789-1854; The Destruction of Herculaneum and Pompeii

If you stand across the bay in Naples even today, it’s not hard to imagine the scenario. Frankly, I find it quite baffling the people have re-built all of it and have even built mre houses on top of the lava/ash remains (some 6m or more deep) that covered the whole area and drove the shoreline half a mile west!  There she looms:

To the left, Mount Vesuvius. Right picture, I am looking down at what was the beach at the edge of Ercolano – the wall to the right is solid lava,  which shows the depth of coverage and the excavation involved. It probably also explains why 1/2 the town is still uncovered! What remains is in part delightful, and in others sadly neglected. See :

The painted plaster wall is too fragile to remove, though the Museum in Naples has many such treasures, testament to the wealth and status of the inhabitants who perished in the apocalyptic events of that day. Some made it to the shore and were safe inside houses – they thought. Though not buried under ash and lava (as we have seen over the years in Pompeii pictures) these doomed souls were simply and instantly killed with the poisonous gases that preceded both the pyroclastic flow and the ash and lava torrent that followed in turn. You can just see their skeletons where they were found in the archways below:

skeletons

Good to know though, that before their total destruction the Ercolanii would have enjoyed a life as rich and varied even as our own. Complete, to my surprise, with the earliest pizza I ever heard of – take aways made to order. Quick!

pizza

 

Which brings me, rather obliquely, to the little hotel – to give it an unwarranted title! – which accommodated me for a night before I left the area to head up to Rome – where I am writing this! At it happened, the only food available near to “Hotel Dormus2” was the local pizzeria. I took no pictures; I wouldn’t want you thinking I ever eat in places so quaint. If you think of a secondary school canteen just before the kids arrive you’ll get the rough idea. Not much in the way of linen napkins, can we say. BUT  they had an oven – in the room – that closely resembled the picture above and the pizza itself – completely and rapidly home-made – was delicious. It was pizza in a team. One guy (who was short) took the lump of dough, rolled it briefly and waved it about until it was fairly wide and flat. He then laid and stretched it out on a giant circular wooden paddle. He did this standing on a typical wooden pallet placed to give him height to reach the work- surface. However, the height would not allow him to reach up and into the oven itself, so a second youth arrive to do the insertion, fiddle around with the pizza whilst inside and withdraw the finished pizza on an identical, but this time, metal paddle. I timed the whole thing from the ball of dough to table at exactly 7 minutes. There was also a waitress who brought the food and an old guy (the owner?) who just sat over the back, drank and watched UK soccer on TV.

Earlier in the day – as I wandered a little of Naples, I found myself sitting and having a coffee in the Piazza Dante, Now I know – as I’m sure you do – that he was from Florence and you can visit his home there, but there was a nice enough statue and the sun was quite hot, so a rest was welcome. Had I but known how near I was to Pizzeria Port’Alba, as it’s believed to be the first pizzeria in the world. In 1738 this pizzeria served pizzas to people on the street, but in 1830 it decided to move the pizza eating inside, establishing a pizza tradition we still follow and love today. I followed a sign after my coffee that took me down Via Port’Alba, so I must have passed its door and did not know! You see, you GOT to do research.

“Life is what happens to you while you’re making other plans”, as John Lennon wrote.

But next time I am in Naples, eager to eat pizza, you can guess where I’ll be going. If you get there before me, let me know how it turns out.

*****

Meantime, on THIS visit to Naples I ate some salad on the Corso along the Bay – which magnificent views across to the Vesuvian side, plus several enormous cruising ships and hordes of sun-bathers making use of the rocks along the shore. Weighing my food, the condiments and my hat down against the periodic gale-force winds. As I wandered through the city, admiring the ancient archways and stonework etc, I was musing to myself how, nevertheless it was a working city with shops and pavement cafes and all sorts of small businesses. Little local fishing enterprises with a decent range of indeterminate fishes and sea creatures. Oh, but look, this one has a little shallow tank with a little octopus in it – with a little aerating machine to keep it alive. Until someone takes it home to cook and eat it.  I had just seen a remarkable YouTube video of an octopus interacting super-intelligently with a group of school children and here was such a baser use of such a lovely creature. I have never been tempted by octopus or squid – oh, OK in all honestly, the occasional fried squid ring. But I don’t make a habit of that and never again.    Moving on.
the bay

The Bay, the Back Streets and the Bathing……..


One of these days I will learn to read a map. And I have a question : is it me or do smart-phones turn maps round depending on which way you are holding them? I swear by Almighty G that I spend most of today (I’m in Rome now) crossing and re-crossing my routes. Always about 8-10 minutes walk from my planned destination, but the journey actually took about an hour!  Irrespective of how often I tried to get it right. It can’t just be me……..

However, it happened in Naples too (and as I recall, in Florence and Cortona in past visits) so I am coming to accept the facts. In my search for parking on Sunday I was lucky, I thought, to be nearby  the Archaeological Museum for a brief visit and walking round the corner, was surprised to find myself beside the cafe I had lunched at earlier. Which I thought was some distance away.  That surprise pales into nothing when I managed somehow to completely lose direction, the car and this restaurant after I visited the Museum. In fact, it was after I finally gave up and decided to return to the Museum and start again that I walked along another random street only to become aware by degrees that this is the street where I parked the car!! Something mysterious must have followed me from the Museum.

Talking of mysterious, the statue left: long held to be an ancient lady – and known as the Dame of Naples –  has now been fully researched and turns out it’s a man. Who seems good with the curling tongs. The mosaics on right are just a little example of what Ercolano would have looked like – the columns, the wall panels etc are all covered with tiny squares of coloured stone to make the mosaics. Each maybe 3cm square. Extraordinary and beautiful – and an indication of the number of people employed by the wealthy to indulge their homes.

 

bull

And while we talk of extraordinary – behold the Bull of Naples (Il Toro di Napoli).        This is a Roman copy of a Greek original – so made maybe 1800 years ago with the orginal maybe 400 years earlier in Rhodes. Which wasn’t called the Bull of Naples of course – who knows.  I post it simply because the original – which seems have to got lost – was carved – as is this copy – from ONE solid piece of marble. Even though it has been quite a bit restored, it’s almost impossible to imagine the scale of the task. Just for a marker, this work is about 12 feet square and in height ! Say 3.5 metres. Amazing.

And finally, a treat for my theatre buddies – fellow thespians! A very early wall of masks (from Pompeiii) you will recognise them for what they are – and it’s not Theresa May and Donald Trump! I think it was Karl Marx who said that “History repeats itself, first as tragedy, then as farce”.

masks

Camera skills deserted me here – so, apologies for the electrical sockets and part-painting above! No time to edit today.

My final sortie in Naples takes me underground. I decided NOT to do the lengthy tour of San Gennaro aka St Januarius.  He was an early-Christian,  martyred one day in September, nearly 2000 years ago and this church is built on top of the catacombs occupied by those early Christ-followers. They are enormous, multi level and allowed for masses as well as burials and so on – technically against the law, but allowable since they were well outside the city.   The tour groups and guides are almost as large as those early catacomb-dwellers!  For some reason Gennaro’s head and blood have been preserved. On the first Sunday in May – if all goes as planned, lengthy masses and rituals are undertaken and – for those lucky enough to witness it – the blood in its two ancient phials, turns liquid again from it’s hard and cold state! But, as I say, I missed thatas it’s now June.  So, though I had swanned in by car and cheekily persuaded the attendant to let me park right at the gates, the thought of 50 minutes underground in a group was too much for this explorer, so I had a coffee, a cornetto marmelata (think of a jam-filled croissant)  and then left.

But fear not – I did not miss the chance to venture alone on another underground mission.  In the ‘centro antico’ of the city lies San Lorenzo – with a Basilica that suits atop the structures underneath.  It is part of the original Greek settlement here before the Romans came. This was their Agora – to the Romans their Forum – and several streets down below are still preserved, with paving, kerbs, shop fronts etc.
romanroad

It’s a little dim but you get the idea. The best thing was that – whilst there were a few small tours groups around, the complex is so large that I wandered off to a dead end and found myself able to sit quietly on a 2000 year old window ledge. I sat there quiety thinking and dreaming antique dreams.  Moving only when,  after many minutes, voices could be heard coming towards my hiding spot. A magical moment – so please forgive the terrible selfie.

windowledge

If you like the sound of it – there’s a great website here :

http://www.laneapolissotterrata.it/en/home-en/

This was to be a short-ish Blog as my visit to Naples was similarly short-ish but I have rabbited on as usual. I will bring this to a close by saying that if your time in Italy is limited I would probably say by-pass Naples itself and visit Pompeii or Ercolano. There’s so much to see in Rome, Florence etc . Choose wisely for in the summer months all will be crowded, Pompeii far the worst. The little sister is easier to manage. Save your energy for fighting the crowds in Rome! I took a picture there today at the famous Trevi Fountain. Which is magical and magnificent but – all you could see were crowds of tourists and barely a fountain in sight. No fun at all. And who said that selfie-sticks could make a come-back? I have not seen so many in years.

As we say down here,  Hail and Farewell – till the next time.

Love & Light.

 

 

Peaks & Troughs – live like a meringue!

Hi all

You know that bit in the cooking recipe where the instructions are to beat the egg whites till they form soft peaks – into which you will fold whatever you’re folding? Well that’s been my life, more or less,  since my last post. Not that I have any complaints : rather the opposite. My life – which took an adventurous turn early in 2011 – continues to surprise and delight some 6  years later. I actually started THIS blog 3 years ago and have only now managed to get to finish the draft, update my readers (!who?) and head into the travels and adventures of 2017.

Now I don’t want to go all Polyanna on ya, but I am in severe danger of becoming one of those people who are happy with their lot, and grateful to boot! Oh dear.  But just to get that stuff out of the way, I became a Citizen of Australia on 26 January 2017 (Awe-straya Day) so now I am a Dual Citizen with passports to match. Actually, truth to tell,  I am a Triple Citizen since (God bless my dear late Mother) I am also a citizen and passport holder of the Emerald Isle. Hence my gift of the gab. So why would I not be happy and somewhat satisfied?   Oh, I should of course point out that none of the above would have been possible if I had not been sober now for a little over 22 years.  I claim no credit, I simply thank my Higher Power, whoever and whatever that may be……..

But, as usual,  I digress. Since I last posted here, I have been on several trips, the most memorable being visits to India and the USA – both in 2016. No posts about those trips here, since I fell into the Facebook trap and downloaded info and pics there – which will in time get posted here. Perhaps. But from now on, I return to this blog and the easier freedoms it allows for drafting, editing and picture posting etc.  Bear with me and – if you are Facebook friend – be grateful you now can see a brief note of my travels, and need only come and see the full Blog here if you so choose!

The Highlights of my Indian and USA trips last year were, incidentally,  and in date order:

being in Jaipur, Rajasthan for the Holi festival (of coloured powder paints & deities) in March and at the other end of the year, travelling by train from San Francisco to Chicago – across the continent including the day of the election (November 8th) – and with nary a mention of such mundanities in the quiet confines of the Dining Car!

arriveincolour2

Holi Holi Holi  – very messy messy messy. My white plastic watch strap 15 months later is still stained – mostly in pink!  And to follow this wonderful experience, another honour of a lifetime during my American sojourn, which included San Francisco, New York and – of course – LA (Hollywood). What can I say but Thank You to all my fans……………..
MeOscar
Now – as I write – June 13th – I am in la bella Roma. I arrived last Friday evening, picked up a hire car and hurtled (you would not have wanted to be a passenger!) down the Autostrada to Napoli.  Three hours later andI was pet-sitting for a weekend as cover for my real plan – to visit a concert by the 3 young Italian tenors known as “Il Volo”.  If you don’t know them but like the sound of tenor harmony, as I very much do, then I urge you to hop onto YouTube where you will find many of their concerts over the last several years. I have followed their career since they won the equivalent of Britain’s Got Talent (in Italy) at the ages of perhaps 15-17 ? They are now in their early 20s and getting better and better. Even more importantly, they seem good-natured, happy guys – unfazed by their success and modest in their many interviews and relaxed in the face of a no doubt daunting schedule and their fans’ devoted – and noisy – attention.

Here’s an example. Like me, you may think that Nessun Dorma is a little overdonner, but this live version from Florence (with their hero Placido Domingo conducting) seems magical to me: their obvious desire to do it well and their joy/relief when they do.  I find it real and rather moving. here’s a  link (double click for YouTube):

Il Volo in Florence

Suffice to say that my visit to the Arena Fleagrea in Naples was worth the madcap drive, the very strange Hotel with mostly invisible reception, and rooms accessed upstairs from the street, through communal hallways and senior matrons sitting out playing cards at 11pm.  My meagre duties allowed me time also for a visit to Pompeii’s smaller but equally impressive sister town – Herculaneum. Though the Italian version – Ercolano – trips more lightly off the tongue.
I have some thoughts, some pics and some stories to tell of my briefest of visits to Naples and Ercolano.  I shall whip them into shape and enfold you into the mix in the post that will follow soon………..

Erco1

Love & Light.

 

 

James’s end of the World in 2012

Well Hello one and All

From Sydney Australia – well not quite – from Woy Woy NSW. Yes really……

and for those who I have not been much in touch with this year, my apologies and my regrets. Finally, here is an update and boy, it has been a year (or two) full of change and exciting upheavals:Image!

No – I have not become a born-again Mormon preacher, neither am I rehearsing for The Crucible (a play, incidentally, which if I never saw again, would be too soon!).

No – I shall be appearing en plein air come the Autumn (UK Spring) in a theatrical event celebrating and reenacting something about the building of the Great North Road (from Sydney to the Hunter Valley). Built entirely by hand, using Convict labour for 10 years  in the 1820s and 1830s it was redundant as it was completed, due to the discovery of steam transportation which meant paddle steamers. So the road was largely unused and is in great shape. I shall expand on that in another Blog!

So, as ever I digress : the sun has returned today, after what they say was the wettest Christmas in memory. certainly it rained solidly from Christmas Eve in the afternoon till the night-time on Christmas Day!  Which made travelling for Xmas lunch a touch dreary, but on the other hand, our water tank – where we collect rain water for the garden etc. and which was 2/3 empty – is now completely full.

I am living here:

Image

288 Burge Road  Woy Woy 2256 NSW.   I attach a few more shots, with no apologies. I am inordinately proud of the fact that I am looking after a proper garden and am actually growing tomatoes, peas and pumpkins – from seed! Something I have never attempted and – as you will see – the tomatoes at least are coming along well. So, a couple more shots of the front and rear “gardens” – though we use the term loosely. Tis mostly sandy soil, paving and bricks, though I have cleared a little space or two for lawn at the back, which will be turfed very soon.

Image

Now to the back :

Image

This is looking across at my little ‘Granny” flat – the next a reverse shot showing where there will be lawn and also the rear carport, featuring a semi-shot of Brenda’s new electric tricycle!!

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And last but not least, my veggie and duck garden! The previous owner here had something of a passion for stone ducks and for weeks after moving in, I was finding ducks behind stones, under plants and all over. I decided that they should be en famille, so to speak and this is the sunniest corner of the back yard, hence it is also perfect for tomatoes – please take a moment to admire them. You can’t see the peas or pumpkin – yet.Image

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I surprised myself with the erection of this self-made A frame to support the tomatoes – forgive an old geezer’s indulgence!!

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Anyway, the earlier Blogs came to a fairly sudden close back in January this year when I returned from Napier (NZ) to make my last Visa renewal, and there were no problems when I returned to Oz.  I see I started to Draft Blog in June and got side-tracked (too much going on) so I must bring you up to speed – and explain what has been going on.

The first and biggest news – if you haven’t already heard – is that I plan now to stay in Australia for the foreseeable future.  I have been living since I arrived (May 2011) with an old and dear friend – Brenda Lea – no, not the singer, for those old enough to remember her, and “Rocking Around the Christmas Tree. Anyway, she was Brenda Lee and is older even than Brenda and me!

Brenda and I were at Drama School in Sidcup, suburban London sooo long ago it hurts (Ok, mid 1970s) and have been best buddies ever since, though she couldn’t work acting in the UK and i couldn’t in Oz. But we kept in  touch, I did go first to Oz in the mid 80s with a play and we always joked that when we reached our dotage (and we have!) we should hitch our wagons together and ride off into the sunset. Unless of course, we had someone else to do that with by then.

Well we didn’t and we have. Hitched the wagons, metaphorically that is, but not yet ridden into the sunset, but moved to Woy Woy. And settled into companionship, support and mutual admiration (hmm, sometimes).

After I had been living with Brenda for a year we applied for a Sponsor Visa which was granted in September so now I am allowed to stay and to work.  It is called a “temporary” Visa but on the assumption that nothing will have changed in two years time, it will become “Permanent” more of less straightforwardly. Three years later Citizenship is a possibility.

Well, if that has come as a surprise to you – imagine what it did to me and to Brenda.  Fate, God, the Furies, the devil’s sense of humour certainly can come up with some unexpected events.  You know, I realised in retrospect that when I first came here in 1985 my heart told me to stay. But my head told me I still had stardom, fame and fortune waiting back “home” so back I went. Somewhere along the line those goals eluded me and though I came and went again several times, it took 25 years for the fates to properly align again!! I can highly recommend going with the flow (in fate’s terms).

GardenXmas2012 014This is Brenda about to take our little foundling poodle – Rimsky – for a walk tonight. She will NOT thank me for the shot where (if you look closely) she is wearing her “poodle patterned” casual slacks!!

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Woy Woy lies on Brisbane Water – a large inlet from the ocean into the Hawkesbury River,  50 miles or so north of Sydney. It is a quiet backwater – if you visited me at Seaford  before I left England, it would not feel so different. Architectural styles nothwithstanding, it is a little run-down – too many charity shops, too many old dears (I suppose that includes me and Bren now!)  Too many low-income kids with their own kids. But people are nice enough and it is about the same travel time from Sydney as (say) Brighton is from London. And this little house is a better proposition in terms of space and location than would be the case were we closer to the City centre.

Spike Milligan’s parents retired here – there is even a footbridge over the water named in his honour – though I doubt many current residents would have any idea who he was! The Goon Shows are so far in the past, even I heard about them from an older generation! Though I often wonder if some of the place names around here inspired him:

Woy Woy is aboriginal and may mean Big Lagoon! Then there is Mooney Mooney,  Tumbi Umbi, Ku-Ring-Gai and Wyong.  Though we also have Blackwall – named for the Thameside suburb, Brooklyn and Copacabana!  There’s even a little place called Tascott – which took its name from the first owner of the land – called Thomas Alison Scott!  Rumoured to be the first man in Oz to grow sugar cane.  Sweet.

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This is a random “bush” photo taken a little inland – typical of the wild and woody nature of what surrounds all the cities in this SE corner of the continent. It would have looked much like this when the first Europeans arrived.

One of the most fascinating things about Australia is that, whilst the powers-that-be in London considered it a Penal Colony, the first few Governors and many of the free immigrants took a different and more humane view. Though you might well have been transported here (often for a very petty offence), the application of hard work and perseverance could lead you not only to freedom but to a grant of land and eventually the sort of comfort that would never have been possible back in the motherland. There are a myriad stories of forgers becoming eminent managers of the Mint, convicts becoming Police Chiefs and female convicts becoming Bank founders!!

I am absorbed and intrigued by much of it and – if it interests you, I recommend you read The Fatal Shore by Robert Hughes, a first rate modern re-examination of the journey out and the realities of coming here.  And for a contemporary and on-the-spot report written by a young Marine officer who arrived with the First Fleet in 1788, but saw the land and the native residents with reality and humanity, search for ‘A Narrative of the Expedition to Botany Bay’ by Watkin Tench. I will happily lend a copy to anyone really keen.

So now I can work and I have fossicked around and retrieved some of the many hats I have worn over recent years.   Event and exhibition work has been coming my way – largely as an MC and/or Compere introducing and bantering with the stars of a popular TV show and live event called Better Homes & Gardens (think Ideal Home Show) and Masterchef – a version which you have in the UK too.

In addition I have registered with acting and extra agencies and have managed a few paid jobs and several small independent films so far. Paradoxically, both the first two jobs featured booze (beer and then Wild Turkey bourbon respectively) which will amuse those who know how much booze I ingest these days!!  then i have been an irascible school-teacher, an old letcher (don’t ask!), a wedding guest and of course (the highlight of my acting year) –  Santa Claus for the delight of the kids in a posh North Sydney suburb (think Golders Green). Think Debenhams and you’d get an idea of my actual work location though.

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My cousin Jim Sweeney summed it up with the comment that it was ‘a part you were born to play” confusing Santa, I think with Ebenezer Scrooge in his dotage! Though to my surprise and delight, I think I may be becoming Scrooge AFTER the various visitations; you know the one that actually likes Tiny Tim!  Tell that to the old JC!

(Sorry for the bedroom shot, incidentally; the shot was taken at a highly secret extra appearance by special request at Brenda’s family Christmas do where the various great-nephews and nieces were completely boggled to have a real live Santa of their own!) Left to my own devices I would have posted the entire costume and “Santa Belly” back to its owners by now.

Otherwise, I have been fortunate in creating a little network of Poodle owners who live in very nice places and travel quite often, needing someone efficient and safe to manage the house and the dear doggies. Step forward that qualified English Butler Mr JC. I offer a couple of snaphots of locations: one with stunning Sydney views, the other more northerly (close in fact to the suburb where Santa appeared!).

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This suburb is called Killara:

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But I can’t find a picture of the house – so I offer instead a Lunch held there for an old friend – Miguel – before he returned to Europe. Also present: Brenda of course, my old artist pal Steven from Canberra (now), Graham (a fantastic zoologist friend – his partner Debra is on the camera!).

There are more plans for further house/dog sitting at both locations in the New Year and I am working on widening the contacts list. There’s a lot of competition from the so-called ‘grey nomads’  (look that up!) who will house-sit for free, whereas my comprehensive services have a cost! Luckily my word-of-mouth recommendations work well enough.

As I said at the start, I am involved with an exciting theatre project in a few months which you can read about soon on a further blog.

But for now, as December 27th draws to a close here (and a Happy Birthday to one of my oldest friends, Marilyn in the Orkneys), I shall also draw this blog to a close.

The adventure continues. I hope to be back in the UK sometime in 2013 – there are (inevitably) things to sort and various possessions to be sold off, or passed to deserving causes! Watch out for a good garage sale too!

In the meantime – I wish you all as exciting, stimulating, scary and fulfilling year in 2013 as this year has been. With love and all good wishes.

JC

j5DONEoo-er, missus………