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……………………..

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Sharp as a Rapier; on my visit to Napier……

Not sure how sharp, to be honest. My trip starts with a very boring flight (cheap air ticket as usual) to Auckland. At least  I am on the North Island of NZ this visit. Last time (some of you may recall) I planned a visit for architectural delights, but mis-remembering the info in my brain, took myself via Christchurch to Dunedin (on the South Island). Dunedin, to be sure, is quaint enough, with lots of decent Edwardian/Victorian architecture that would not disgrace Edinburgh or the city of London, but I wanted art-deco. And was therefore disappointed.

More certain geographically this time, I headed into Auckland City which, to my surprise, reminded me quite a lot of San Francisco!  Similarly hilly terrain (very); lots of nice villagey neighbourhoods. Alas, no cable cars but a very efficient system of inner-city-circle buses in various colours.

Digressing – what’s new? – I recall that I forgot to visit the steepest street in the World whilst I WAS in Dunedin! Most people think Filbert or Lombard Streets in San Francisco; the latter because it has eight hairpin bends in a very short space! But no, Baldwin Street in Dunedin lays claim to be being steeper than both – and it is – though Canton Street (Pittsburgh PA) may be steeper. If you can be bothered Google or YouTube any of the above and see what you think. 35% incline or steeper is the mark

Anyway – whilst I was speaking with my sister Jean about this trip, she remembered to ask if I have seen Baldwin Street whilst I was in Dunedin and I had to confess that it had completely slipped my mind. Ah, such is age…….shall I go back to check it out?  Probably not – life is too short for two visits to Dundedin.

By chance and – I suspect – because of its silly name, I booked into a B&B in a suburb of Auckland : Ponsonby . Turned out to be the little Chelsea area, with boutiques, designer shops and cafes etc. I lucked out (as my San Franciscan friend Miss Purple, would say).

Which really means, incidentally, “lucked in”, as it is a good thing, not a bad. Coincidence One.

Though the B&B was not good, but that’s another story.

Here is the city at night, from Ponsonby hill-top:

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Auckland has a city population of around 450,000 – the metro area in total is in the region of 1,300,000 and indeed, 30% of the population of NZ lives around here. So no surprise to find it is a bustling and lively city. Reminiscent too, if you haven’t been to San Fran, perhaps of Seattle. Young and studenty.

I am NZ  (as much as for any other reason) to renew my Australian Visa. My initial year Jan 2010 to Jan 2011 will run out on Jan 28th so I am making this trip in order to claim one final 6 month entry before that day, which will allow me to stay till July. As this little trip unfolded, I became convinced that my guiding star was setting the scenario with great flair.

Coincidence Two: I need to get an early (7am) bus for Napier – seven hours away. A bus runs from the end of my B&B street to connect with that service.

I had planned none of these connections before travelling. There was more to come.

Since I was leaving early, I left my major sightseeing in Auckland till my return a few days later, but in terms of this post I will add them here.  A few shots from the sky tower you see in the picture above and random images from Auckland.

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Apart from being hillier, this map shows a striking resemblance to the layout of the city of Sydney! All roads lead down to the harbour – facing north; large par/gardens to the right side, freeways to the left….

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This is One Building: the brick front is simple a facade attached to glass and the glass tower continues the building upward.

The Sky Tower from below:

I am saying nothing – it’s all in the mind!!

You can ascend to various observation decks and cafes – you can even (not that I was game enough) attach yourself with a rope and clip and walk around ‘outside’ at the top! Heavens above – and what a drop below!!

So that’s Auckland from the air…….

And so – to Napier. Another of my bus specials; it actually took from 7am to 3pm with a lunch stop and several other stops and plenty of Lord of the Rings landscapes, which I won’t bore you with.

NAPIER: lies on the south east coast of the North Island and with its sister city, Hasting is sometimes jointly known as the Bay Cities.  Captain Cook charted the site in the 1760s but it wasn’t till 1850 or so that European settlers obtained the land from the local Maori tribe and started building.  At that time it was little more than a swampy bay inlet with land on both sides and a lake behind.

Nature giveth and she taketh away!! In 1931 a severe earthquake more or less demolished the entire town centre (swampy foundations couldn’t take it, though more damage was done b y the fires that also broke out from fractured gas mains etc).  Though 250+ people died, the city gained an extra 4000 hectares of land that, until the earthquake had been undersea!

But – with a speed and commitment you cannot help but admire, the bulk of the town was rebuilt in two years. Given the time – and the architectural influences (coming via Australia from America) of Frank Lloyd Wright and others, it isn’t so surprising that most of the rebuild is in Art Deco style.  There were a couple of very far-sighted local men too, who interpreted the styles in overseeing much of the rebuilding. What is remarkable today is how much of it still survives.

Most of the buildings are simply two stories high and have every type of Deco embellishment imaginable, from Egyptian to Ocean Liner, from Greek motifs to Maori and to wander around the half dozen streets that make up the city centre, is a real treat. It is more fun in daytime that at night for – whilst there is less traffic and noise in the evening, many of the buildings have internal details which you cannot get at after the businesses close for the day.

WARNING: This is the point where you close down if you can’t be enthused by a row of art deco!

Having said that : this building is anything BUT Art Deco! The only town centre survivor of the earthquake/fire, the Public records office has a grandeur that belies the fact it is actually quite small. (compare the cars parked alongside to see that it is quite tiny). But perfect as a Greek temple on the Acropolis (almost!). It is now empty downstairs and has a gym upstairs.

Only 3 of these street markers survive; built into the pavements at a corner. There were at the time no lamp-posts or other street furniture from which to hang a sign and anyway, it’s easier to look down!! Though you miss a lot if you do: my travel tip is always to look up (above the shopfronts) : that’s where architecture often surprises.

Government Offices.



Some lovely lion head details and lettering. Almost all buildings had the same sort of overhang – to protect pedestrians from rain and/or sun – but ALL also had to have the securing rods above to for extra safety against earthquake vibration!

Probably the swankiest building – HQ of the Daily Telegraph newspaper.


Munster is a province of Ireland.  Check out the little shamrock motif.

Some lovely black and white detailing here….

This was my favourite : neglected and lost in a corner away from the Centre. One-time Servicemens’ Club, then back-packer hostel. Now empty and dusty – but for my money, echoes the landmark buildings of people like Frank Lloyd Wright and Corbusier in a gentle and imaginative way.  Still remarkably intact – I hope someone gets it and looks after it. Maybe we should all have a whip-round and I will reopen it as a chic boutique hotel….. Napier could use one.

Talking of hotels – this is where I stayed:

Coincidence Three: without my asking, they had allocated me a room right on the Terrace, overlooking the street : the best view and, as it turned out, the last room available there. Thanks Guardian Angel!

Rebuilt after the earthquake – the Masonic is now in its 3rd incarnation – today complete with roof level terraces overlooking the beach and promenade. Once a year they host the focal point of a city-wide Art Deco week where you can’t move for Gatsby lookalikes, their molls and the motors!!

I think even an art-deco fan like me might find that all a bit too much like a trip to Vegas or maybe Brigadoon! And – to be honest, the rooms were nothing special. I know the (newish) owners are working their way through upgrading but there’s a fair way to go. However, not many hotels can supply such a stylish local mineral water as this:

I am re-using the bottle since I brought it back with me. As you might imagine, it raises a few eyebrows down the Gym!! I jest……

And so – after a few days wandering and wondering, I returned to Auckland and thence to the airport.

Somewhat trepidatious, I was expecting a grilling at immigration. Guardian Angel had other plans. Coincidence Four.

I was flying with  LAN Chile – no I had never heard of them either!  But, as it turns out, they are the national airline of said country and as it also happens, they had a promotional deal which meant that for the same price as a real budget airline, I got a proper economy ticket to and from Auckland. LAN Chile flies Santiago de Chile to Auckland to Sydney and back again. Who knows why?

Trying to check in online didn’t work  (it couldn’t find my booking!) but I managed OK at the airport and then waited; it was a 6am flight. I arrived far too early  and  was dozing by the Gate when they called me by name over the tannoy to come to the desk where the attendant asked for my Boarding Card and promptly tore it up!

I thought to myself:  this is either very bad news, or very good news and it became the latter when she handed me a new Boarding Card saying with a smile, “we’ve upgraded you, Mr C – have a nice day”.

Feigning nonchalance, I pocketed the Card till I got around the corner and took a look at it. Seat 2A. Thank you LAN Chile! You can’t get any nearer the front.  Premium Business Class came with all the extras you would expect; my only regret was that I was taking only a 3 hour flight to Sydney – I would have liked to try the full flat bed on a longer journey (say to Santiago) but I gave it a trial run anyway. My fellow Premium Class passengers probably wondered what was wrong with me as I went horizontal and back several times.

Coincidence 5 now  under way, upon disembarking at Sydney, a very nice Qantas ground handler gave me an Express Ticket for both Immigration and Customs/Quarantine. Suffice to say that, whereas the majority of passengers were forming orderly queues for entry to Australia, your’s truly whooshed through an empty express lane  and arrived at the Immigration Desk.

Him: “Good afternoon, Sir” (Me: Afternoon)

“Travelling alone Sir?” (Yes)

“Have a good day Sir (stamp stamp – that’s him not me!!)

and I am  through and in the Arrivals Hall. Total time from landing 30 minutes – including picking up my case. from the carousel.

As I said, my guardian angel / call it guiding star was on my side that trip.

Oh, there was the one other (little) adventure I almost forgot to add.  What does New Zealand say to you?

Rugby, Maori warriors (Haka), Cricket, Arms covered in tattoos, Lord of the Rings, local culture and icons, Cheese, Lamb????

Anyway – more than anything I always remember those almost Celtic tattoos everyone seems to have – well everyone under 30 anyway. So who says an over 60 can’t?

So my New Zealand souvenir of choice – a very little Libran astrological sign, which now sits – resplendent in bright blue (outlined in black) on my left inner wrist!  Like this:

This is not to be confused, as one or two “wits” have suggested, with this logo:

Which is, as can be clearly seen, one of the local transport providers!!

There is (I know) no fool like an old fool and I stand here before you, thus self-proclaimed.

Did it hurt? Yes, a bit. Like that bit when the dentist first puts the numbing needle in –  only this took a while longer than a micro-second.

I didn’t know what to expect either; bit like a visit to a new dentist in that respect also! I just hoped it wouldn’t hurt so much that I would sob or groan, since the Tattoo place operatives were all very macho. As it happened, I gritted my teeth and thought of England – or something. I was more concerned about keeping my arm flat and straight (!) so the hand-drawn image wouldn’t be crooked. Which it is a little, anyway, but that doesn’t matter a jot.

After it was done, it was wrapped in cling film for the day and though I kept close watch on it, nothing happened : it got a little crusty a week later and after 10 days or so, is all quite ordinary.

So my first (and last!) tattoo or self-organised mutilation! I started this post with a pun about Rapiers in Napier and , as it turned out, finished there with an even sharper tattooist’s needle!

Whatever next…………………… pray for me!

JC x