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 ?):

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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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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.

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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………..

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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 :

IMG_0630

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……………………..