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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chat4

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……………………..

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!

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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……………..
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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………..

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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:

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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.

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Now to the back :

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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………

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

“The Boat that I row………..”

Greetings!  Christmas Greetings if you wish (if you follow such things). It is past midnight here in suburban Sydney – so it is December 25th, 2011 for me – even if for YOU  there may be several hours before we are on the same day. And even though this Blog says posted 24th – that’s because my computer clock is still on UK time!  So, Patience, mes amis!

All around me (especially at AA meetings) I hear the common cry : ‘it’s just another day’ and that’s fine with me. But it does have special meaning to many people and I respect that too. Each to their own. Although, I read in the local paper today an address from the Bishop of Sydney : I had to keep putting it down in disbelief.

Being (once) a proper Catholic boy I have quite a good handle, as they say, on the story of Christmas (according to that church, anyway). I was surprised with the Bishop’s “Christmas : the True Story”.  Apparently “Mary was a peasant girl coming, like Joseph, from a very devout family……..” Hmm. How does he know that?

And how about “Jesus was born between the years 4BC and 7BC”. Doesn’t BC mean “before Christ” and isn’t that the date that BC/AD changes?   This is apparently “some time before the Christian era” which it would be wouldn’t it, since it’s named after Christ! All very confusing, so we shall leave him to it. Maybe they’ve discovered stuff I didn’t know as a boy?

Anyway, I was going to go to Midnight Mass and the preceding Carols (as I do back home) and there is a convenient Catholic Church 5 minutes walk away in Gladesville (where I stay). In the event, I didn’t as I ended up at an earlier service in the City. I co-opted a few pals and went to Sydney Town Hall for a free Christmas Eve concert which included a performance by the Sydney Gay & Lesbian Choir.  Since I plan to have a sing with them in the New Year I thought I would have another look at them. To my surprise the ‘concert” was a Carol Service organised by the Metropolitan Community Church and featuring loads of carols, a few solos, speeches and even a communion at the end.  As it happened I would have missed my ferry if I had stayed for communion, but hadn’t planned to stay to the end anyway. Though the whole thing was so inter-denominational that I am tempted to go along one Sunday and see what they get up too. It was far more than gay supportive, to say the least and the size and variety of the crowd was inspiring indeed. I seem to recall there is a similar Metropolitan Church in central London (Bloomsbury?). I would urge anyone who has issues (as I do) with organised religions to maybe check them out.

ANYWAY….. I wish you all, my dears, the happiest of Christmas Days and hope you get all you wish for. Though you should be careful of what you wish for  – oh, but that’s for another time! :))

Most of you will know I am not much of a water baby!  As in, I am a pretty useless swimmer – though I sink very elegantly.  I have never quite mastered that bit about breathing while you splash along though many wonderful people have tried to teach me. Even Steven, my old and trusted Australian artist friend, failed – and that was in a private pool with just we two.  So, in the water – no. By or on the water? Now that’s a different story. When I left London some years ago, I went first to Margate (don’t ask – aka – benefits central!) which was a mistake – but the view from my little eyrie down and across the Harbour was magic. Less fun were the nine flights of stairs.

Thence rapidly to Seaford and – for a while – my lovely little house with garden running down to the beach and the constant awareness of the sea from sitting room and bedroom windows. Sound & movement. When I had to move just around the corner to save money, I never settled and was heart-sore for my lost sea-view, more so than I would have expected.

So here I am by another sea – the Pacific, or Port Jackson (Sydney Cove) and the Parramatta River. I spend a lot of time taking the Ferry up and down from my lodgings to the centre of Sydney. I often take my bike on the Ferry and then take my life in my hands on the Sydney roads!  But I begin to wonder now if I am for ever to be on or around the water.

Last week – quite unexpectedly – and old friend from England (who has a business here) invited me to join him on their Office Party (with a Christmas theme.  I went as Manger – obvious, but also a play on the French for “to eat”. It’s a long story).

Here’s the little boat we sashayed around the Harbour on….

To give an idea of scale, it is only 110 feet long. The Helicopter, alas, was not aboard that day! We were using that area for dining, as you do.  If you can bear it, here’s a link with some fuller information on this floating gin-palace!

http://purecruises.com.au/2011/02/07/mv-flying-fish/

Tomorrow (that is – Boxing Day) sees the start of the famous (and famously dangerous) Sydney to Hobart(Tasmania)  Yacht race. I shall be on another (smaller) boat in the Harbour, following the  boats as they start out from the Heads (where Sydney Harbour meets the open sea). Courtesy of an AA pal and as a thank you for helping to make 100 desserts for a Christmas reunion last week.

Meantime, my friend Brenda (with whom I am staying),  has been a volunteer for the Cruising Yacht Club (organisers of the Race) for some years and will be flying off to Hobart on the 27th to prepare for the flotilla to arrive in Hobart.

And to finish the year off, New Year’s Eve will see me once again on the Harbour – moored as serenely as possible for viewing of the best NYE Fireworks in the World!  Courtesy of Lisa (old friend of my brother Sean)  & her partner David. I think I recall putting this shot of their boat on an earlier blog.

And should we tire of Bridges, Fireworks and food, we can cruise around the corner to Glebe Island where Jamiroquai, The Pet Shop Boys and Boy George/Culture Club will be giving a concert! What a life.

Apropos of nothing, I used to hate New Year’s Eve – it seemed that I sat somewhere each 31st December wondering where the year had gone, why I was another year older, why I had achieved nothing and why it was so unfair! Recent years have taught me differently; now I see a new year coming as part of the challenge, the adventure. Who knows what will happen – or even if one will see the year out (not being negative, things happen!).  But in line with my philosophy of trying to live each day as it comes ( to the fullest), how can I not be happy, grateful and inspired by the lucky circumstances that see me here in lovely Oz?

Even if Sydney is experiencing the coldest / wettest December in 50 years. These things are all relative : 26/28 degrees even if wet and muggy is not so bad.

To return to my watery subject, the oddest thing is that I feel quite unconcerned to be up and down, round and about the River, ocean etc. yet with no desire to swim in it. My recent visit to Magnetic Island (see Blog) saw me unusually venturing above the waist into the water – and that only because I was skinny dipping –  so sort of had to!!   I do wish I as comfortable with it – but  there is something about the power and strength of mother nature in the raw that is too much for me, and yet draws me.

I am also a little obsessed with the wonderful poet T S Eliot and, in particular, his masterpiece “The Wasteland” which not only includes a reference to Margate, it even has a section called Death by Water.  I suppose one can read too much into things?

So to Christmas and lunch.  We shall have smoked salmon (not Oysters as planned : the guests not like them!) and Brenda will crank up the Barbie for steaks (of course) and salad and veggies. I have made the dessert – a classic traditional Plum Pudding. Made really just with various fruits (raisins, currants, sultanas, flour, eggs, breadcrumbs and rum (call that rum “flavour”). It takes only a short time to prepare (mixing it is a bit of a bitch!) but then six hours in a bowl, on a saucer, in a big pan – constantly topped up so it doesn’t boil dry. For “traditional” read “for the days when servants had hours of time to kill”.  I was up till 01.30 on the simmering process, then waited another hour for it to be cool enough to refrigerate. We shall know in about  15 hours whether that was worth it – or if I shall be faced with a few wry faces, trying to say how “lovely” it is!!

So I shall get myself off to bed now – in the knowledge that some of you will possibly read this before I awake again – though I’d leave it till Boxing Day if I were you!  My love and best wishes to you all – sorry that I am not having Christmas lunch with family and friends in the UK but also – selfish as ever – happy to be avoiding the winter.  We may speak over the next day or three but meantime I hope the Christmas you get is the Christmas you want.  Old (and un-reconstructed) hippy that I am, I offer these few lines from that lovely old song by Greg Lake (who he – Ed?)

I wish you a hopeful Christmas,
I wish you a brave New Year,
All anguish, pain and sadness,
Leave your heart and let your road be clear.

They said there’d be snow at Christmas,
They said there’d be peace on earth,
Hallelujah! Noel!, be it Heaven or Hell,
The Christmas we get, we deserve.

JC x