Elizabeth Jane Corbett

writing her way home

Tag: travel (Page 2 of 2)

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.

 

Notes on flying

A long haul flight is brutal. You get on the plane optimistic. How hard can it be? You only have to sit, watch movies and read. Albeit, when you’d rather be asleep. And bearing in mind you don’t generally sleep sitting up. Added to which you are positioned cheek by jowl beside a total stranger. And there is a baby crying three rows up from you. While you are semi-asleep the seat belt sign dings and dongs. The person with the window seat squeezes past you to go the loo. And of course the hosties bring you a continual round of snacks. You think you have learned a lot about your eating habits in the last twelve months. You think perhaps you have a modicum of self control.

You haven’t. You eat everything. After seventeen hours flying, you are literally cramming Crunchy bars into your mouth.

You read, you watch movies, sleep a little and you wait, checking the flight path often.

Nine hours eight minutes to Dubai

One hour twenty six minutes to Dubai

Landed.

You join your husband to the First Class Emirates lounge. Sit at a table and order breakfast. Take a shower. Charge your iProducts

‘Hey’ you say to him. ‘This lounge isn’t too bad.’

‘Shh!’ He says. ‘Don’t tell anyone.’

You re-board the plane, knowing there are only seven and a half hours of flying to go. They bring you a second breakfast. You eat that too. Watch another movie. You should sleep. But you can’t. Your heart is pumping with coffee and adrenaline.

Two hours five minutes and you will be in London.

Tired and fizzing with excitement, you wonder how you can feel this way about place you left at five years of age. Why you want to see it all, every last corner. Why the hedgrows, fields, flower meadows, the trees resonate so strongly. You don’t have an answer to these questions. Only that you have commenced your descent into London and that the feeling building inside you is one of a home coming.

 

 

 

A general rant about trams, drunk drivers and respect for commuter cyclists.

I'm a law abiding girl. Especially when I am on my bike. I almost never ride on the footpath. I don't run red lights and I always give way to the cars on my right. Why? Well the answer is obvious. It's me against the machines. I don't need to tell you who would come off worse in a collision. But there is another more idealistic reason for my sticking to the rules.

I deserve the respect of other vehicles.

Unfortunately, this respect is sometimes lacking. I learned this, the hard way, at a back street round-about.

The drunk old man in the clapped out sedan gave every appearance of stopping. But at the last minute he lurched through the intersection. I couldn't stop. Went sailing over his car bonnet. When the ambulance arrived I was pronounced unharmed. But the paramedic took one look at my middle-aged mum face, wicker basket and red polka dot helmet and thought she'd give me some advice.

'Perhaps you should ride on the footpath.'

'No.' The other paramedic snapped back before I can answer. 'She shouldn't have to ride on the footpath.'

'It would be safer.'

'But she wasn't doing anything wrong.'

The first paramedic shrugged. 'I'm just saying…'

'I can't ride on the footpath.' I found my voice. It's against the law. When I'm on my bike I'm a vehicle. I'm governed and protected by the Australian road rules.'

So, respect. That's where am I going with this people. And the Australian road rules. Or, more specifically, the ones pertaining to Melbourne tram users.

Let me give you a brief explanation.

In Melbourne we have trams. They run on the roads. In some instances there are small platforms for commuters step onto. But mostly when a tram stops, cars stop and tram users walk across the road to the footpath. A vehicle failing to stop could kill someone.

The tram system works well. Most people know the difference between a designated platform and an 'on road' stop. The system breaks down on Royal Parade.

Royal Parade is an odd thoroughfare. Four lanes in the middle, two wide, grassed and tree'd traffic islands, and then another lane each side. The trams run in the middle lanes. Their stops are on the traffic islands. The bikes paths are in the outer lanes adjacent to the footpaths. In my understanding, tram users have right of way in the middle lanes. They step onto the road. But they are supposed to cross the outer lanes at the traffic lights. If they do, bikes and cars are obliged to stop for them.

Trouble is, the tram users don't know the rules. They spill across the outer lanes as if they have just stepped out of a tram. Never mind me, with my middle-aged mum face, wicker basket and read polka-dot helmet. It's as if I don't exist. They stride out in front of me when I'm pedalling at full speed. Mostly, I manage to stop. Let's face it, no one wants a bike accident. But, one day, I might not be able to. And I don't need to tell you who would come off worse in that situation.

So, if you are a Royal Parade tram user, be warned. If you know a Royal Parade tram user tell them I'm out there. And if you are a commuter cyclist, share, like, re-tweet this message.

We deserve respect on the roads.

 

A strange, surreal week involving long awaited goals and archaic parish practices

This week has been a big one. So, big it's interrupted my blogging schedule. What? You didn't even notice. I have, in fact, been dancing with the devil.

Here's how the week panned out.

Saturday – I flew to Adelaide for the fiftieth birthday of a friend. Andrew had been working in Chicago all week. So, I met him at the airport. I managed to get through security without ringing alarm bells. Checked my bags. Didn't think I'd left anything behind. Though, when I met Andrew in the Qantas club lounge, he said. 'Gee. You're travelling light.'

'Yes,' I said, glancing at my bags. 'It's only one night.'

When the flight attendant called our flight, I gathered my belongings. That's when I noticed my back pack was missing. I made a piston-hearted dash to security, praying it would be safe in a cupboard somewhere nearby.

It was.

I filled out the necessary forms, showed ID and tried to make knowledgable comments about the contents of the back-pack. This was where I started to come unstuck. I told the man I had a power board in my back-pack, forgetting I'd transferred it to my Crumpler earlier. The man gave me a dubious glance. I started babbling. 'There's a cooler bag in there (don't ask) and a red toiletry case and my hearing aid drying out kit and…

The man held up a silencing hand. 'The cooler bag's enough,' he said, 'you're cutting into my lunch hour.'

At this point I was feeling pretty rattled. When Andrew announced he was ducking into the loo before boarding, I followed. Through one door. And another. Right until I caught sight of the man at the urinal. Andrew heard a gasp, he told me later. The sound of doors banging. When re-united, he shook his head and said. 'And you want me to travel to Europe with you?'

Monday – Andrew headed off for a week long hiking trip in Tassie. After I'd dropped him at the airport, I started typing like a woman possessed. Went to my writing group. Announced I would finish the re-draft of my manuscript the following day. Received all manner of appropriate, writerly encouragement.

Tuesday – I wrote like the devil was on my tail. Didn't quite get to the end of the final scene. With about five hundred words to go, I pedalled off to my Welsh class. Now normally, after class, a few of us have a drink in the bar of the Celtic Club. When my friend, Dai Tren, asked if I'd be staying. I said, no, in Welsh, I had only about five hundred words to write and I was going home to finish. At least, that's what I thought I said. From the incredulous look on Dai's face, I knew this wasn't the case.

'What? You only write five hundred words a week!'

I pedalled home with Lucifer still on my tail. At around midnight, I finished the final, polished five hundred words of my novel. I wanted to jump up and down. Shout. Break out the champagne. But…you know, it was only me and my dog. So, I did the next best thing. Wrote on Facebook. And Twitter…and any other social media outlet that would let me.

I didn't sleep much that night. I hovered like a star on the ceiling of my delight.

Wednesday – I edited the first five chapters without a hitch. They were brand new. I had decided, early on, to start the re-draft in a completely different place. I'd sweated blood over those early chapters. But they were in pretty good shape. It was the next chapter, chapter six, that caused a surge of panic. You see, sometime, while re-drafting I've learned to press the delete key. How to re-write without hanging on to favourite paragraphs. This chapter was my first unlearned attempt at this process and I saw with crushing certainty that it needed radical work.

My heart started to pound at this point, I kid you not. How was I going to hold my head up? I'd told people, I'd finished. This would take days to re-work. I calmed myself by journaling. Threw in a bit a of cognitive therapy (as my medical man in a cardigan would have recommended). Realised, I might not finish the edits this week. And that it didn't matter. I went to bed almost sure of how to proceed. More journaling at dawn (who'd ever write a novel) and I knew exactly what had to be done. I banged those three re-written scenes out in a few hours. You see, I've learned to kill my darlings with the unflinching nerve of a sadist

Thursday – I realised the devil wasn't such a good dance partner. I started to restore a bit of calm and order to my life. So much calm, that I failed to notice the address of our Vestry meeting. Rode all the way to the Vicarage, only to find the meeting was at the church, about five hundred metres from my house. Okay, so maybe there was a bit of demonic pedaling at this point. But, hey, it was a good workout. And we prayed before the meeting. So, I'm exorcised.

I'm enjoying being parish secretary (although, it could be the end of worship as we know it in the City of Moreland). It's great to be taking ownership of what is happening in our small community on Sydney Road. I sat tapping the minutes into my iPad, in an aura of good-feeling-ness, until, at the conclusion of the meeting, a vestry member passed me the minute book.

'You have to cut the A4 pages to down size,' the vestry member explained. 'And paste the minutes into this book each month.'

I glanced at the Vicar, expecting him to refute this statement. Turned disbelieving eyes on my fellow vestry members. 'The rules say the minutes have to be kept in a bound book,' someone explained. 'It's not much cutting. We print the pages out single sided.'

Now call me naive. But when I took on the role of parish secretary, I imagined typing minutes, drafting letters, archiving official documents. Making a meaningful contribution to the life of the church. But never, in my wildest dreams did I envisage cutting down A4 sheets of paper and pasting them into a book.

It was odd. But, hey, I can do odd for God. I took the minute books, feeling like I'd morphed into a female version of Frank Pickle from the Vicar of Dibley. As I pedaled the short distance home, I found myself wondering when these strange, keep-minutes-in-a-bound-book rules had been instituted. Some time back in the twentieth century, perhaps? Before PCs and printers and desk top publishing? For I must confess, as I laid those minute books on my dinner table, I couldn't help wondering whether, despite losing my bags at the airport and walking into the mens's toilet, I was, in fact too sane for the Anglican communion. 🙂

 

Dyma fi yn Prydain Fawr eto – here I am in Great Britain again.

Dyma fi yn Prydain Fawr eto – here I am in great Britain again (sorry, too tired to work out whether Prydain needs a soft mutation). I must say, it feels freakishly normal to be sitting at Heathrow airport sipping a cappuccino.

The flight over was marvelously uneventful. I had a window seat on the Singapore leg, right at the back, with a spare seat between me and the next person. As an introvert, I would have say, this is the ideal economy location. No one behind, no one beside, just tucked in the corner with no one else to worry about.

I watched a movie: The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. It was pleasant. But over-rated and entirely predictable. But Maggie Smith played Maggie Smith with her usual aplomb. I also watched an entire season of Big Bang Theory. This was an infinitely more satisfying experience -Oh to create a character as memorable as Sheldon Cooper.

On the London leg, I requested an aisle seat and, I must say that with regular walks and my new black airline socks, my ankles are not at all swollen. The worse part of the whole twenty four hour flight was my food restrictions. I decided to start out as I mean to go on this holiday – with a fructose friendly diet (I will allow one pork pie and one Welsh cake as a holiday treat). On an airline, this proved a bit tricky.

‘We don’t cater for individual dietary requirements,’ the lady at Qantas told me, ‘you have to select one of our standard allergy options.’

For me this meant glucose free, lactose free, yeast free, and generally without flavor. For breakfast I had rice cakes with canola spread and a bowl of fruit. Yum! Just what I needed after twenty-two hours flying. People all around me were eating cornflakes, yoghurt, and continental pastries.I could have eaten all these things on my diet, apart from the pastry. But due to a general lack of self control where food is concerned, I had to take the drastic menu option. After twenty-two hours in economy, I would have scoffed down that croissant without a moments hesitation.

To console myself, I watched another nine episodes of Big Bang Theory. With the aid of modern medicine, also managed to get a few hours sleep.

Arriving in London, I faced a first time, momentous occassion. I entered the UK on a British passport. I’ve been meaning to get my UK passport ever since my son Jack waved his under my nose eight years ago.

‘Looks at this,’ he said, with all the arrogance of nineteen years, ‘I’m more British than you Mum.’

That’s not the sort of comment you allow to pass unchallenged.

I approached the customs counter, heart pounding. Would they brand me an imposter? Clap me in leg irons? Send me back to the antipodes?

No, I entered the land of my birth, as a citizen. At last , an acknowledgment of my dual identity. I felt like turning round and announcing it to everyone in the queue.

First thing I did after getting my bags was to buy a SIM card. Now my iPhone is operational, I feel like a modern, fully functional human being again.

I dropped a bottle of wine in the baggage claims area – actually I dropped two but only one of them broke – as a consequence (seriously dripping bag), I left my folder with my Australian SIM card and my National Express ticket and all my travel documents at the tourist information counter. Never mind, I had copies of all my travel documents and, as it turned out, the very kind girl at the counter put it aside for me.

Why do the let me out? It’s a good question. It just goes to show – anyone can travel.

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