Elizabeth Jane Corbett

writing her way home

Tag: england

Dod adref – some thoughts on belonging

'You came back!' A neighbour said when I ventured out onto the streets last Saturday afternoon. 'I didn't think you would return.'

'I always knew you'd be back,' another neighbour ventured. But she had to believe that. She'd been left minding my dog.

Just for the record, I always knew I'd come back. I loved every minute of my time in Wales – speaking the language, revelling in the culture, the scenery, the history, living with a parade of artists, being part of the Corris community. I didn't want to leave. But I always knew I would be coming back and that, once I got home, it would be fine. Why? Apart from the obvious reasons like a husband and family? This is a question I have been exploring with a friend on Facebook. She asked whether it felt weird to be back. Here is what I said to her:

Strangely, not weird at all. It's slipping into a well worn glove. But I always feel like that at when I land at Heathrow, even more so when I cross the border into Wales. I guess it is possible to have two homes.

She asked: do you feel like two different people?

Definitely. I am different people – two versions of Liz. Speaking Welsh makes this more pronounced. I am a different person when I speak Welsh. There are aspects of me that people who don't speak the language have never seen.

She asked: do you find each person to be equally real?

Wherever I am feels the most real at the time. Yet strangely, I feel more Australian when I'm in Wales than I do when I'm in Australia. I am acutely aware of how much Oz has influenced me. There is no escaping it, I've been here since I was five years old. I am not polite enough, circumspect enough, or knowledgable enough to fully belong.

She said: Hmm… I'm not sure that I understand…?

Here is the example I gave:

In Welsh class, in Machynlleth, when we were learning animal names, we were given photos. People looked at the photos and provided the Welsh names. I pointed at pictures and said: what is it? They all looked at me blankly. I said: I've never seen that animal before. If you extend that knowledge gap across history, flora, marine life, seasons, customs, life expectations, the school, medical and political systems, you might begin to comprehend the yawning black hole. It would take a lifetime to acquire that lost knowledge. Even then, I could never fully do so. It is gone. Forever. I was raised in Australia.

It's taken me years to come to terms with this sense of dislocation. It is no accident that when I decided to write a novel it would be about migrants. Moving to Australia was the single most defining event of my childhood. It is why learning Welsh has become such an important part of my life now. Many of the people in my class share that sense of dislocation. In fact, one of my friends, Dai y Trên sent me a poem that tackles this issue. Like me, he came to Oz as a child. He has Breton and English heritage. He has been learning Welsh for twelve years and he is, incidentally, the person who first introduced me to Say Something in Welsh. He gave me permission to share his poem (in Welsh and English) so long as I acknowledged the assistance of our long-serving tutor, Faleiry, and the members of our Welsh class. Dyma hi:

Hiraeth (A pham fedra i ddim mynd yn ôl)


Pan o'n i'n ifanc cymeron fi o wlad fy ngeni

Dim fy newis i ond heb eu beio nhw.

Ond fedra i ddim caru gwlad haul-sychu

Anialwch crasboeth, peryglion,

A coed sy’n edrych yr un fath i fi.


Na, well gen i gwlad mwy harddach, gan flodau anhebyg

Caeau gwyrdd, lonydd deiliog a chrwydro

Ble mae’r haul yn gynnes, dim yn ddeifiog,

Ble does dim byd yn dy frathu di

Ac maen nhw dal yn parchu’r trênau stêm arddechog.


O hanner byd i ffwrdd dwi 'n teimlo'r hiraeth

Mewn breuddwyd fy nhynnu nôl i wlad garedig.

Ond rhoddodd tir hwn wraig a phlantteulu perffaith.

Pe bydda i gadael nhw am reswm hunanol

Baswn i’n arwyddo fy ngwarant marwolaeth.


Hiraeth (And why I can’t return)


When I was young they took me from my birthplace

I had no say, though them I will not blame.

But I cannot “love a sunburnt country”

With its deserts harsh and dangers

And the trees that still to me all look the same.


No, I prefer a land more gentle with lots of varied flora,

Verdant fields and wandering leafy lanes

Where the sun is warm, not burning,

Where nothing tries to bite you,

And they still revere those little steamy trains.


From half a world away I feel the tension,

In a dream I'm drawn back to a world benign,

But this land gave me a wife and two fine children

If I abandon them for selfish reason

The death warrant I’d be signing would be mine!


Dai y Trên. 16ed Mawrth 2016. (Diolch am fy ffrindiau am eu help efo’r geirau Cymraeg)


 

 

Blog five – a matter of false information

Those who know me and can be bothered counting, may have noticed this is my fifth visit to the UK in the last ten years. You may also have observed that now and again (cough) I like to talk about the place. I mention the walks I’ve been on in Wales, the beachside amusement arccades, pubs which allow dogs (very civilised) the way people eat mushy peas with their fish and chips (maybe not so civilised) and how the Brits have a tendency to strip down to their Y fronts whenever the sun peeks out from behind a cloud (need I comment?). What you may not realise, is that I may have been guilty of giving you false information.

The misinformation, has its origins three years ago when, one Sunday, during my month long Welsh language Summer School, I decided to walk from Borth to Aberystwyth. It was a warm, blue sky, day, with only a whisper of cloud. I meandered along the Ceredigion Coastal Park, taking in the heather covered hillsides and spectacular sea views. Just short of Aberystwyth, I stopped for a drink at the cafe attached to the local caravan park. Having spent a number of summer holidays in Aussie Caravan parks, I enjoyed seeing how the Brits (largely from the Midlands judging by their accents) did the summer holiday thing. No, sun smart campaign, judging from the lobster-coloured backs of the children paddling on the beach. No trees for shade, or sun shelters and some of the caravans had two doors. Oh, my! How quaint! Semi-detached caravans!

Roll forward three years, and you will find me a little further along the coast with a group of Welsh speaking friends looking out over a different caravan park. The day wasn’t quite as sunny and, if I’m honest, it was a tad more windy (like blowing a force ten gale). As I sat shivering on the walls of Harlech Castle, I fell to making random summer holiday observations:

‘We don’t have castles in Australia so … this is not a normal summer holiday activity for me (nor the chattering teeth). Do many people stay in tents? Those semi-detached caravans you have are quaint.’

Silence. Four sets of eyes turned on me. ‘Semi-detached caravans?

‘Yes. I’ve seen them, near Aberystwyth.’

‘Really? I’ve never seen one.’ One by one, they all agreed.

Now at this point, I probably should have backed down. Four born and bred, British people, one who has an onsite caravan in a Welsh caravan park were telling me there was no such thing as a semi-detached caravan. What other evidence did I need? But here’s the thing about me. As well as telling tales of Brits sunbathing in their Y fronts, I may also have mentioned the semi-detached caravans a few times. Okay, so more than a few – and I was pretty damn sure they existed. I mean, why else would a caravan have two doors?

Our holiday finished without further reference to the great two door caravan fib. But back in Corris, I could not let the matter rest. I knew the Corris Caravan park wasn’t far away. I set off, camera in hand, to gather evidence. Imagine my delight when I came upon this scene.

I immediately sent a Facebook message to my friends.

‘Tystiolaeth!’ (Evidence)

‘Efallai’ (maybe)? The friend with the onsite caravan wrote. ‘Neu jyst carafan dau ddrws’ (or just a two door caravan).

No need to tell you what I thought of that idea. Who would be potty enough to make a caravan with two doors. Another friend messaged that she would best visiting the seaside town of Aberdyfi later in the week. She would do some research. I decided to join her This was too important a matter to leave to prejudiced minds.

We set off after dark, two middle aged women sneaking round a sleepy caravan park. Fortunately, we were in west Wales, where the crime rate is quite low, or we may have been arrested. Especially when we started circling two door caravans and peering through windows.

‘This one only has one storage box,’ my friend said.

I had to admit she was right.

‘And one number plate.’

Right again.

‘And look this one only has a name.’

I looked at the caravan in question. Number two, Seaspray, and there was only one storage box. I had to admit the evidence was stacking up against me. But what to do? How to tell my Aussie friends that a glorious West Wales holiday in a semi-detached caravan was no longer a possibility? And what about all my other stories. Maybe those men weren’t wearing Y fronts after all?

I’m not sure where all this doubt would have lead too, if not for the quiet persistence of my friend with the onsite caravan. Quite apart from our nighttime escapades, he’d been conducting his own quiet research. It’s called the World Wide Web, in case your interested. Far more sensible than creeping around caravan parks at night. Here’s the picture he sent me.

There may not be semi-detached caravans in modern Britain but once upon a time they did exist. In fact, if enough people make enquiries about semi-detached caravan holidays in West Wales we might be able to bring them back again. Meanwhile, I’m conducting another branch of research. Can someone please tell me why some British caravans have two doors?

 

Pattern of Shadows – Judith Barrow

Having just recovered from an upper respiratory tract infection, you will imagine my horror when I found my husband had returned from a work trip, carrying another version of the sniffly, snotty, headachey and generally laid-low versions of the virus. We are now both sitting in front of the fire like a pair of old crones having had to cancel a swather of eagerly anticipated events. The only consolation in this whole gloomy picture (apart from re-watching Poldark episodes) is that I get to read and read and read some more. To aid my recovery, I decided to indulge myself in a couple more titles from Gwasg Honno, the Welsh women’s press.

Judith Barrow’s, Pattern of Shadows, is set in the North of England during World War Two. It tells the story of Mary Howarth, the sensible hard working daughter of Bill and Winnifred Howarth, who is nursing sister in Granville, a nearby prisoner of war camp. Mary’s eldest brother, Tom, is in prison while her other brother, Patrick, is forced to work in the mines. Her younger sister, Ellen, simply wants to have a good time with her American G.I. boyfriend, Al. When Frank Shuttleworth, an embittered returned soldier, enters their lives, the family’s patterns are set to change. Though, none of them can forsee the trail of events that will unfold. Or anticipate how new, forbidden, relationships will test to their loyalties.

As my parents were both children in the UK during the Blitz, I grew up on stories of World War Two Britain. But only during the last few years – thanks to Foyle’s War, Peter Ho Davies, The Welsh girl, and a prevalence of Italian ice cream shops in South Wales, have I come to realise how many prisoner of war camps there were in Britain during this time. Pattern of Shadows, explores what it would have been like to work in such a camp, deftly handling themes of prejudice towards prisoners, conscientious objectors, and others who were at odds with the political mood of the day. Written primarily from Mary Howarth’s third person point of view, the descriptions of working class daily life are detailed and realistic. Her attitudes towards Frank Shuttleworth and her father are consistent with the times. Though, as a modern woman, I wanted to shout no, don’t put up with it! Go to the police! on more than one occassion.

The novel occasionally shifts viewpoint and, at times, these shifts aren’t seamless. I found myself having to re-read sections. There was also a tendency to use flash back when a straight linear narrative may have created more dramatic tension. But these are merely quibbles. The story worked well despite them.

I thought the novel had finished at the end of chapter seventy seven. I was surprised to find, I had four more chapters left to read. These jumped ahead to 1950 and my first thought was that they belonged in the sequel. However, that was not the author’s decision. She, no doubt, has a different tale to tell in Changing Patterns. I can’t wait to see how it unfolds.

 

Wales 2015, here I come.

I left England at the age of five. Spent my childhood reading Enid Blyton, Arthur Ransome, Malcom Saville and a host of other English children’s authors, watching The Goodlife, Two Ronnies, Dad’s Army and Are you Being Served? and inexplicably pining for a land I could barely recall. I would go back, I decided, once I came of age. I would visit this place my parents called home. But somehow it never happened. I got married, we had children, became saddled with a mortgage. The years rolled past until, one day, my young adult son got himself a UK passport. He said, ‘look mum, I’m more British than you are.’

That’s it, I decided. Time to make the journey.

I booked my frequent flyer tickets months in advance. Endured a round-about flight with interminable stopovers enroute. After thirty plus hours of travel, the pilot announced we had begun our descent into Heathrow. As I peered down on the little brown semi-detached houses with their baize, card table lawns my eyes filled with tears. They wouldn’t stop. Hiccuping sobs wracked my chest. As the plane touched down and we came to a juddering halt, I thought:

If I die now, it doesn’t matter I’m home.

In July last year, Andrew and I visited the UK together for the first time. After the long haul flight we boarded our National Express coach for Wales. Andrew dozed intermittently as we headed out onto the M4. I sat bolt upright on the seat beside him. As we approached the Severn Bridge, I jabbed him in the ribs.

‘Andrew. Wake up. We’re about to cross the border into Wales.’

Jet lagged and facing a further five hours in the coach, I don’t think the border crossing had registered as significant. But seeing my flushed face and quivering upright form, Andrew assumed an attitude of polite interest. As we passed through Chepstow and headed deeper into Wales, I began to point out landmarks. When he could finally get a word in, Andrew asked: ‘Liz, how many times have you been to Wales in the last eight years?’

‘Only four.’

‘Isn’t it time you came for a longer stint?’

It wasn’t in fact the first time Andrew had made this suggestion. He’d dangled the possibility before me a number of times. After a fleeting moment of consideration, I’d alway dismissed the possibility out of hand. We’re married right? Till death do us part. Good Christian girls don’t do that kind of thing. And frankly the idea of striking out on my own terrified me.

However, this time fate intervened in the form of my friend Veronica Calarco.

I first met Veronica, a fellow Aussie, on Cwrs Haf, a month long summer language school in Aberystwyth. We kept in touch, sharing news and making witticisms in our muddled up learners Welsh. On a trip home to Australia, Veronica and her partner, Mary, came to visit us in Melbourne. When planning our holiday, I learned that they had recently bought a house in Corris, Wales, which Veronica was planning to set up as an artist and writers residence. On visiting North Wales, Andrew and I were given a guided tour of the newly established Stiwdio Maelor. Veronica said: ‘I’m hoping to get a live in volunteer to manage the property.’

Bing! A light came on in my head. I could do that, I thought. I could live in this house, in this tiny edge-of-Snowdonia village, in this country that I love, with its brave history and melodious language. I would have a roof over my head, friends nearby, and my writing to keep me occupied. I could pick up casual job in a pub or a cafe. Before we left Corris, I asked Veronica to send me the volunteer application form. Andrew and I discussed the idea, on and off, throughout our holiday. Slowly over the weeks it took on solid form. So solid, that when I got back to Melbourne, I applied for leave without pay from the library. It was granted. I told the family, booked my airline tickets, wrote a profile for the Stwdio Maelor visiting artists page. All that remained was for me to make the announcement. Which I am doing now:

Hear this, hear this…

On July 26th 2015, Elizabeth Jane Corbett is going to live in Wales for six months. She plans to speak Welsh, enjoy the glory of a northern hemisphere autumn and try to understand why this tiny island on the far side of the world has called her name for so long.

 

An ignorant Aussie looks at the Scottish referendum

This week Scotland will vote on the matter of its independence. If the yes vote prevails, it will be a moment akin to the Berlin Wall coming down. Not in terms of Scotland’s living conditions. But in terms of history. The Union dates back to the seventeenth century when James VI of Scotland became James I of England and united the two crowns. The fact that four hundred years later the Scots are preparing to vote on the matter suggests the union has not always been a happy one. In fact, some would say it was involuntary. I suggested this to an English friend recently.

‘No, Liz. You’re wrong.’ He said. ‘The Scots were never conquered. They entered into a union of their own accord.’

‘Really?’ I said. What about Culloden? The Battle of Solway Moss. It seems to me they fought pretty hard to stay independant.’

‘That was religion,’ he said. ‘Nothing to do with independence.’

I said: ‘It was the same thing in that era.’

Think Henry the VIII, Bloody Mary, even Good Queen Bess. It was all about religion in those days – religion and inherited power. James I grandfather was killed at Solway Moss. His Catholic mother Mary Queen of Scots made a series of unfortunate marriages and was forced by Protestant rebels to abdicate. She was imprisoned twice, once in Scotland, and once at the behest of her cousin the Protestant Queen of England, who eventually ordered execution. In accordance with the prevailing religious beliefs of the Scottish aristocracy, James was raised a Protestant. When Elizabeth I died without issue, he succeeded her to the English throne, where he ruled by ‘divine right’ with the support of a priveleged minority. The average Scot had no say in the matter.

We don’t do things like that anymore.

That’s what I find so exciting about the Scottish referendum. Not who wins. From my vantage point I can hardly presume to know what is best for Scotland. But, through a lengthy process of devolution, the Scots have brought their nation to this moment. As far as I can tell, there has been little woad wearing, freedom fighting, remember-Culloden type rhetoric. People have been taking about what they want for their nation. Discussing nuclear armaments, Scotland’s role in the Middle East, health care, education, social welfare, the possibility of further devolution. In short, deciding the kind of nation they want to be in the 21st century. Whatever the outcome, that is a victory for democracy. And if Scotland votes yes, a significant moment in history.

Here’s what one little Aussie town has to say about the situation

 

The wrap up

Five weeks is a long time to be away from home but, truth be told, this holiday has been in the planning for years. It was the first time, I’d travelled to the UK with Andrew. The first time I’d shown him the country where I was born. The place, against all odds, I still sometimes think of as home. That’s the funny thing about being a migrant. You are raised by people who speak of another land in wistful tones, whose childhoods, courtships and treasured memories all took place thousand miles away from where they have chosen to reside.

That does something to your soul.

As I sit on this Qantas A380, I feel compelled to make an inventory of the journey we have been on.

Highlights

Showing Andrew Wales

Knowing he found it beautiful

Having him notice the change in language as we drove deeper into Wales

Speaking Welsh for an entire week

Finding my thoughts no longer needed translating

Walking with Aussie friends in North Wales

Seeing family and friends in Wales, Essex and Dorset

Visiting Paris

Dinner with Andrew’s colleagues in Provence

Hardest parts

Lack of WIFI – I’d put the inability to get WIFI in Australian country towns down to the wide, brown spread of our land. I was wrong. It seems small green islands have dead spots too

Having to eat the wonderful, calorie laden and lovingly prepared meals laid out by family and friends – gee, thanks folks, I’m feeling too tubby for my clothes

Being too tired to exercise formally

Not being able to have protein days – Doctor Dukan and me are looking forward to resuming our acquaintance this week

Having to juggle food availability against intolerances and then putting up with the symptoms

The flight – let’s face it, Australia is a a long way from Europe

Revelations

Paris (indeed France) was/is astonishingly beautiful, sophisticated, and culturally exciting. I was prepared to fall in love with the the place, yet, it never evoked a sense belonging. This proved to me that my love of the UK and more specifically, the landscape of Wales, goes beyond it’s beauty. As I passed through Shrewsbury and the railway towns of the English marches, I had a sense of coming home.

Strangely, Melbourne feels like home too. As we sat in cafe after cafe, I found myself yearning for informality, wide, light-filled spaces, doing coffee for the sake of coffee, and the easy uncomplicated sense of not being the guest, or stranger in the room.

The Welsh have a saying: cenedl heb iaith yw cenedl heb galon – a nation without language is a nation without heart. This is true. France showed me that. France would not be France if it’s people spoke English. Neither would it be England. It would be a land in between. Wales has lost the possibility of ever being a fully Welsh speaking nation. It’s best hope is to emulate lands like Switzerland and Belgium by coming a truly bilingual country. This however relies on the support and goodwill of the English speakers living there. To my dismay, I have found many to be rude or openly hostile towards the Welsh language. Wales deserves better than that.

Quote of the holiday

Andrew (reflecting on the vagaries of immigration): some people were never meant to be transplanted – and you are one of them

Me: What do you mean?

Andrew: Liz, how any times have you been to Wales in the last ten years?

What I’m looking forward too in Australia

Seeing my dog

Oops! Seeing my family

Cwtsch-ing my dog

Riding my bike

Chatting with my Welsh class

Catching up with friends and workmates

Planning my next trip to Wales

 

 

 

A Famous Five summer

As a child, I read English books. I went on adventures with the Famous Five, the Secret Seven and the Five Find Outers, regaling mum with tales of long hot summers, camping on lonely moors, bathing, exploring castles, and picnicking on boiled eggs, tongue, ginger beer and treacle tart. Mum would always sniff at the end of my tales and say:

'That's all very well, Elizabeth. But the summer is never like that in England. It rains all the time.'

At the time, it felt like having iced water poured over my back. I imagined that along with the freedom of a different era – an era in which teenagers camped, travelled and adventured alone – the weather was also a fictional creation of Enid Blyton's. In my fifty first year, I can finally say mum was wrong. They do have summers like that in England. And this is one of them. The newspapers are calling it a heat wave but that is a weak description. I am therefore calling it a Famous Five summer. As I've climbed over stiles, cycled down Cotswold lanes, and eaten cream teas, I have found myself transported back to a simpler time.

Sadly, as well as having no idea about the English weather, emigration also deprived me of some other basic knowledge namely that the word Cotswolds, means sheep enclosure in rolling hills. I got the first hint of this when having dinner with friends in Essex.

I had no definitive answer to this. I'd seen advertisements for Cotswold cycling holidays and it had sounded idyllic. We had booked a cottage in Blockley, a village nestled in a tranquil valley between Moreton in Marsh and Chipping Camden. Realisation came quickly. Along with a valley, there must, of course, be hills. To go anywhere, we had to cycle upwards. Added to which, the cycle hire company had delivered us bikes with bald tyres, worn gears and dis-functional brakes. We cycled into Chipping Camden determined to rectify this situation, only to find the proprietor was nowhere in sight. Now being impatient, and not a great fan of being ripped off, my husband started to sort through the bikes in his yard. I doubted this was the right thing to do. When the bike owner turned up, his pursed lips and heightened colour confirmed my suspicions. Andrew was not deterred. After a short exchange, the bike guy (a young man with a distinctly Polish accent) realised this cocky Aussie wasn't going to back down.

'Hang on.' He said, raising a finger. 'I'll have a look in the shed.'

'You should have waited,' I whispered in the man's absence. 'He won't help us now.'

I revised my opinion a moment later when the bike man wheeled two gleaming, almost new bikes across the yard.

Cycling was easier after that. Though I still had to stop for breath when riding home from the supermarket in Moreton in Marsh and the road took us through the aptly named village of Borton on the Hill.

Fortunately, my primary school geography made rapid sense of the shading on the map. Some routes were hillier than others. But we did some lovely rides – to Shipton on Stour and Stow in the Wold, Hidcote Gardens, getting lost, stopping to check the map, punctuating the day with coffees and cream teas. One day, we took our bikes on the train to Oxford. The Oxford tour guide was a portly fellow called Joseph with a passion for his subject. He presumed a great deal of knowledge and seemed primarily interested in showing us famous film sites, but he was entertaining, in his custard coloured corduroy trousers and cardigan. It was worth paying for a slice of his eccentricity.

There is something magical about an English summer. The days so long, the streets and gardens bursting with blooms, the hedgerows alive with bees, butterflies and summer berries. I enjoyed listening to the Blockely Church bell ringers on Thursday evening, going to the pub, buying pork pies and cooked beetroot in a bag, the ever present smell of pollen, damp earth and sheep, and of course the Enid Blyton weather. I wish I could have stayed longer in Blockely.

 

 

Railways and taxis – our second week in The UK

Week two has been dominated by the words rail travel. Having arrived at Andrew’s work destination, reality showed what the map had already indicated – we were staying well and truly outside of London. The hotel, Runnymead on Thames, being situated on the banks of the River Thames somewhere between Egham and Staines. It wasn’t on my agenda – I had London museums I’d wanted to visit – but with Windsor Castle being a short easy train trip, I decided to make it my first day’s destination.

I am always amazed, despite not having lived in the UK since I was five years old, at how familiar England feels. One of Andrew’s American colleagues told me I’d have to catch a cab to Windsor. I knew this wouldn’t be the case. I walked for a mile or two along the banks of the Thames and caught a train. Disembarking at Windsor, I wasn’t surprised to find myself slap bang in the middle of a quaint English prosperity. I wandered the shops. Took a tour of the castle (apparently the Queen likes to spend her leisure days at Windsor). I don’t blame her. It’s not a bad spot for a weekender. Though, I doubt she makes use of the free Wifi at Pret a Manger.

The next day, I had organised to meet a friend in London. I knew Alison from the SaysomethinginWelsh forum and we have spent many a happy Skype hour conversing in Welsh. We have, on occasions, resorted to English but for the most part our relationship has been conducted in the Welsh language. This day in London was no exception. We met at Holborn Station (texts and organising emails largely in Cymraeg), picnicked in a garden close to Lincoln’s Inn, visited an old Chapel and visited the John Soame’s museum with only the occasional beth yw y gair am – what’s the word for? To interrupt the flow of our conversation. We have so much in common both having ties with Australia and the UK, daughters with similar health problems, a love of reading, and writing and, of course, underpinning it all our love of the hen iaith – the old language. It was a magical day, made all the more memorable by the museum guide who approached us just before closing time. Excuse me, he said. Ydych chi’n siarad Cymraeg – are you speaking Welsh? Ydy! We replied. We spent a delightful quarter of an hour speaking Cymraeg with him as the museum staff locked up around us.

The next day involved a two hour trip down to Christchurch, to see my Aunty Jean in her care home. She didn’t know me. She hasn’t known me the last three times I’ve visited. I go for the sake of my uncle and his wife who oversee her care. It is always sobering to see people in the late stages of Alzheimer’s. As ever, I was struck by the grace and kindness of her carers.

It is so easy to get around the UK by train (albeit expensive) and I must have been getting a little over confident because the next day disaster struck. We started out easily enough. Bought return tickets from Egham to Chelmsford with quick tube trip to Camden Market planned enroute. England was experiencing a heat wave (Andrew had read in the Melbourne Age) and the day was indeed stifling. But we had fun wandering around Camden. The markets go on forever. We could easily spent a full day there. We settled for a couple of hours, going on to spend a delightful evening in the company of old family friends in Essex.

Coming home, we left Chelmsford a little later than intended, reaching Liverpool Street Station only to miss the last train to Waterloo. Night buses. I knew there were night buses. The trouble was, anyone that could have helped us had long since departed. The station was now in the hands of a set of surly security guards. They were herding everyone out the streets. The taxi queue was a mile long. My pre-paid British phone credit had expired. Andrew’s Aussie account wasn’t working. And no one knew anything about night buses. We faced a long night walking round the city (my suggestion), finding an over priced hotel (without the aid of phones or internet), or joining the taxi queue. At this point, Andrew sidled up to the man in charge of the taxi queue and ‘happened to mention’ our destination. One of the listening cabbies ears pricked up. I saw the pound signs in his eyes.

‘I’ll take you,’ he said, lowering his voice. ‘It’ll be jumping the queue so walk along the road now without making a fuss. My cab’s the blue one over there.’

We did as we were bade. Needless to say it was a long silent journey back to Egham. We spent an unmentionable amount on taxi fares. We were dumb, is suppose – dumb Aussies in London. I should have checked the times of the last train home. But this was London. A world city. Brimming with international tourists. Who’d have thought it would pull on its night cap at half past twelve in the morning.

 

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