Wednesday, 23 April 2008

Dougal, Zebedee, Ermintrude, Dylan and Brian

Saturday morning and Quinn wakes up early so that he can get on to ‘World of Warcraft’ before his brother does. As the weather has turned cold again he decides that he should wear his dressing gown and is rather pleased that he found the cord for it the day before. He gets the dressing gown and looks again for the cord. It isn’t in his room. He checks back downstairs, it isn’t there either. After 20 minutes of fruitless searching he gives up and goes to the bathroom. There is the dressing gown cord. It has been hanging around his shoulders the entire time.

Because the boys had organised to go out with friends on Sunday, we decided to do some travelling on Saturday this week instead. Jumping into Kylie we set out for the relatively short trip across the county to Hemel Hempstead. Those of you who watched the television detective series ‘Pie In The Sky’ might be interested to know that the series was filmed here, and the restaurant in the series still exists by that name today. The first recorded mention of the town is the grant of land at Hamaele by Offa, King of Essex, to the Bishop of London in AD705. The settlement was called by the name Henamsted or Hean-Hempsted, i.e. High Hempstead, in Saxon times and in William the Conqueror's time by the name of Hemel-Amstede. The name is referred to in the Domesday Book as 'Hamelamesede', but in later centuries it became Hamelhamsted. After World War II, the government designated Hemel Hempstead as the site of one of its proposed New towns designed to house the displaced population of London where slums and bombsites were being cleared. The Government purchased 5,910 acres (23.9 km²) of land and began work on the 'New Town'. The first new residents moved in during April 1949 and the town now has two parts, the “Old Town” and the “New Town”.

While it was interesting to drive around (and Meg decided to return and visit the substantial shopping districts at another time when the boys were elsewhere) it was in the driving that one of the most interesting parts of Hemel Hempstead was encountered. Many people consider a normal roundabout difficult enough to negotiate, but Hemel Hempstead is home to the “Magic Roundabout”. This is one very large roundabout with six smaller roundabouts within. Consequently as you drive toward the roundabout you can see cars within it driving in opposite directions. To complicate things a little more there is also a river running through the roundabout. Wayne had an interesting time driving through it while Meg screamed every time another car came toward us and the boys laughed uproariously.

As we drove out of Hemel Hempstead (before WWII the residents affectionately called it simply Hempstead, these days it is referred to as Hemel???) we made another stop at Kings Langley. This village got its name because Henry III built a palace named ‘Langley’ there. In 1399, Richard II stayed there before his overthrow by Bolingbroke (who became Henry IV) and in Shakespeare’s play ‘Richard II’ when the Queen hears of her husbands overthrow she says, ‘Gardener, for telling me these news of woe, Pray God the plants thou graft’st may never grow’. (Act 3, Scene IV). Both the palace and the garden are now gone with just a few stones remaining. However, it wasn’t for the palace that we stopped but rather for the Grand Union Canal which passes through as it travels the 137 miles between London and Birmingham. The boys had been intrigued about locks on the river and people living on barges. We were able to stop at one of the 166 locks on the Canal and watch how the gates were used to raise and lower water levels so that shipping can continue on its way. It was very windy and cold in the shadow of the viaduct for the M25, so we didn’t stay long.

Our main aim had been to get to Abbots Langley (distinct from King’s Langley because the land was given to the church rather than the king). Why Abbots Langley? (we hear you ask). The answer lies in the fact that there has only ever been one Pope from England. Most people don’t even realise there has been one, England not being known for its encouragement of Roman Catholicism. Amazingly, Abbots Langley is where the only British Pope, Nicholas Breakspear who became Pope Adrian IV, was born in 1100 AD. Sadly, his reign as Pope was only short, from 1154-1159, but it is in the Anglican Church of St Lawrence at Abbots Langley (which was built around the same time) that the monument to Pope Adrian IV is situated. Brock, Quinn and Meg were all confused about the monument to a Roman Catholic British Pope being in an Anglican Church until they discovered that these events took place around 400 years before the Reformation of the Church in England, when the Anglicans broke away from the Roman Catholics. The village itself is lovely and quaint and after having a really good look around the church we wandered back through it observing at all the street names, buildings and other things which were all named for the pope.

On our way back home we travelled down through Watford, along Elton Way (for those who had forgotten, Sir Elton John is former Chairman of Watford Football Club) and around the village of Bushey. One of Meg’s friends from her days working at Sales and Distribution Services for the Queensland State Government had been born at Bushey back in the days when it had been a beautiful little village with a pond and a heath. Nowadays it is just part of the urban sprawl of Watford linking it with Elstree (where the famous film studios are still situated). Once again as we drove we commented on how so much is crammed into so small a place, where there seems to be something of interest everywhere you go.

That was true on Sunday as well. After we had dropped Quinn off at the Clocktower in Hoddesdon, Meg and Wayne headed up to Hertford (about 6.2 miles from our house). We have been to Hertford many times (for shopping, to do banking, and to buy our car for example) and even walked around large parts of it, but we had never seen a Castle there. As we were driving around looking for a coffee shop we saw a sign pointing in the direction of a castle, so we followed it. Sure enough there was a castle, which had been donated by the Marquess of Salisbury in 1997 and is now used by the County Council as Offices. What is left is just the motte, the gatehouse (which was built in 1461), part of the bailey wall and some beautiful gardens, but it is amazing. We wandered through the gardens, admiring the swans on the river and the wildflowers growing from crevices in the stones. As we walked back to the car we laughed at a squirrel who was playing on one of the lawns and we chatted to the policeman who unintentionally made the squirrel jump into a rubbish bin. As we drove back into the centre of Hertford we realised that the Castle itself was on the other side of the theatre, which we had passed by multiple times.

Finding a park down near the church, we paused to take a photo of a beautiful old building which is now an antique shop. For some reason the entrance to the shop is a step down below street level but, even so, the roof is remarkably low. The shop was closed but, had it not been, even Meg would have had to stoop to get through the door. It was a good reminder that humans have got taller over the centuries. We occasionally joke with Brock that he would have been considered a giant hundreds of years ago. Hertford also contains numerous examples of pargetting (decorative plaster on the outside of buildings), a meeting house dating back to 1670 and said to be the oldest remaining purpose built meeting house, and many other buildings dating back hundreds of years. The town of Meryton in Jane Austen's 'Pride and Prejudice' was based upon Hertford. In 1563 Parliament moved to Hertford Castle to avoid the Plague. It was here in 1712 that the last woman was condemned to death as a Witch in England. The band Deep Purple formed here in 1968. 'Eastenders' (a television soap) has filmed here a couple of times. There is even a statue for the Reverend Samuel Stone who co-founded and named Hartford, Connecticut (USA) after the town of his birth. Other notable residents include W.E.Johns (the author and creator of 'Biggles'), and Rupert Grint (Ron Weasley from the Harry Potter film series).

One of the reasons that Hertford has a county named after it, even though it is not even close to being the largest town, is because of something that happened way back in AD 673. The first ever National Synod of the English Church took place where the modern town is situated. The five bishops of the Ancient Kingdoms were called together by Theodore of Tarsus the seventh Archbishop of Canterbury and the first Primate of All England. This event still governs what happens in the English Church today, almost 1340 years later. While we loved visiting Dover (where there was another option of a job for Wayne) and no doubt we would have loved Birmingham as well (the other option) we are really glad we picked Hertfordshire. It is conveniently close to the major routes to the rest of the country, as well as a relatively a short distance from the Channel Tunnel. We are 20 minutes on the train away from the centre of London and a similar distance away from two airports (Stansted and Luton) which can cheaply take us into Europe.

Before picking Quinn up and heading back home to Brock (his friends had cancelled on him and he elected to stay at home and play ‘World of Warcraft’ rather than come out for coffee with us) we stopped in at Wayne’s school to walk through the grounds. The woodland, the orchard, the farm, the ovals, the river, the enormous number of flowers, and the wildlife, all make it a beautiful place to walk. We have also gone there with Brock and Quinn because there is so much to look at and the grounds really don’t feel like a school. Even the chilly weather doesn’t bother us, we can just rug up and go out walking. As they have become more comfortable in the area, Brock and Quinn like taking walks down to the shops or up to the New River which is a short distance from our home. Quinn’s friends walk from the Clock Tower in Hoddesdon down to the park near the boy’s school as a fun thing to do. Wayne and Quinn even went jogging last weekend, inspired by the London Marathon which had taken place that morning.

Thanks once more for those who keep in contact, letting us know what is happening in your lives, by far the majority of those contacts are positive. Keep coming with your letters, emails and even phone calls because we love hearing from you. Oh, and in case you didn't know, the names in the subject of this letter are from the television series 'The Magic Roundabout' which was filmed in the late 1960's and early 1970's. Time for bed!!!!!

Wednesday, 16 April 2008

Times of the Symes' - The interviews

Because we have had this weekend at home, rather than put out a very limited travelogue for the week (Wayne went to school and back, the boys went to school and back, Meg took the others to school and picked them up, she also went to a job interview) we thought it might be nice to hear from us how things have been going in the three months since we arrived in the UK. Wayne took the opportunity to ask Meg and the boys some questions. The questions, and their answers, are recorded below.

WAYNE - So Meg, what have you enjoyed about living in the UK so far?

MEG - I don’t even know, well, I’ve enjoyed the sensation of living in another country. I’ve enjoyed reacquainting myself with the children, but make it sound a bit softer than that if possible. You’re mean to me. I’ve especially enjoyed the four seasons.

WAYNE - In three months?

MEG - I’ve really enjoyed the weather changes. Although it is cold, provided you dress properly it is not a huge problem. You type very slowly?

WAYNE - (sounds of frantic typing, followed by) OK.

MEG - OK. so where were we up to.

WAYNE - (reading back) …provided you dress properly it is not a huge problem.

MEG - Something I didn’t expect to have enjoyed has been the friendliness of the people here. And the travel. Seeing new things.

WAYNE - Which place has been your favourite of the places that we have visited?

MEG - Home, because it now feels like home. The place I probably took the most from, and it is hard because you take something from each place, but it was probably Rochester.

WAYNE - Why was that?

MEG - I really did get a huge sense of the enormity of what we’ve done and what we’ve achieved.

WAYNE - What do you mean by that?

MEG - How many other people have walked through the gates, not just from this century but from others, and we could have walked through it as tourists, but we made a commitment not just to see the world but to see it properly. I’m really proud that we have been able to do that. And just the sense of history, I feel like I am a part of history now. Does that make sense? I have a place here.

WAYNE - What do you miss most?

MEG - The obvious family and friends

WAYNE - (Being deliberately obtuse) What only the obvious ones?

MEG - No, obviously family and friends. I miss the stability of monotony. But I am also relieved to not have it. I think it is the familiar things and you do miss them, but there is also a sense of adventure as you do realise that although something may not be the same it can be equally as good, it is just different. And I like that.

WAYNE - Is there anything else you would like to add to this e-letter?

MEG - Just how much we miss everybody and how we understand that they miss us, and that they would prefer that we didn’t go, but this was something we needed to do, and wanted to do. And we are so fortunate that we have been given the opportunity to do it, so we are going to do it well.

WAYNE - (finishes typing Meg’s answers)

MEG - Now, what are your answers?

WAYNE - (thoughtfully) 7, green and Appalachian.

MEG - (growing slightly frustrated at Wayne’s refusal to be serious) No. What has been your favourite part? I’m waiting.

WAYNE - I’m still typing too slowly. Um, my favourite part has been finding just how easy it has been for us to adapt to a different culture. We still come across some obvious things (words that are used differently and accents for example) but there is so much over here that is similar to Australia, that the cultural wrench hasn’t been as bad as it might have been. I’ve been really proud of the boys in particular for how well they have adapted and really fitted in well at school and in society.

MEG - Next question.

WAYNE - I’ve loved all the places that we have been to. Wells was great, seeing where Hot Fuzz was filmed, being in what is really a village, although it is classed as a city, seeing the Welsh border on the way there, and realising just how easy it is to drive to a new country. Rochester was a very beautiful place, as was Upnor on the way there. Salisbury was gorgeous too, but for me, my favourite has probably been Old Sarum, just being able to put a place to the history that I had read about in the past. I’ve been reading a History of Britain in the 19th Century in the last week or so, and Old Sarum has come up a few times. Now I know what it actually feels like to be there. Besides which, it is part of Thomas Hardy country, and I wrote my thesis on him.

MEG - Next question, is it what do you miss?

WAYNE - Not much.

MEG - If you took the people out of the equation it would be nothing?

WAYNE - That is correct.

MEG - (glaring at him) Could you give a proper answer?

WAYNE - Family and friends, but I am so shocking at keeping in contact with people that I probably talk to many of them as much now as I did when I lived in the same country as them. Some people have probably heard more from me in the last 3 months than they had in the 12 months prior to that. In the end, I miss Callum, Declan and Ethan. I didn’t get to see them very often last year, but there was a sense that if I could have got to Sydney, then I would have been able to see them. That isn’t quite as easy now, but at least I can talk to them on the phone regularly.

MEG - Is there anything you would like to add Wayne?


MEG - How about thanking your parents?

WAYNE - OK. Thanks Mum and Dad, for everything. And obviously I am really sincere when I say that. (he laughs)

MEG - Don’t say that, no one will believe you really are sincere.

For some reason the answers given by the boys were slightly shorter than the previous answers, but you should be able to tell from reading them that these are pretty much word for word what the boys said.

WAYNE - Quinn, what have you enjoyed most about living in the UK so far?

QUINN - Um, the people are really nice, and the cold weather.

WAYNE - What is your favourite place that you have been to so far and why?

QUINN - Probably Stonehenge because it looked really cool.

WAYNE - What do you miss most about Australia?

QUINN - I don’t know… Family and all the warm weather.

WAYNE - Is there anything else you would like to say to all the people that read this e-letter.

QUINN - Yes. Hello!

WAYNE - Brock, what have you enjoyed most about living in the UK so far?

BROCK - The people and the weather.

QUINN - Don’t steal my stuff.

BROCK - I’m not, I’m just saying.

WAYNE - What is your favourite place that you have been to so far and why?

BROCK - Stonehenge, because I wanted to before I died.

WAYNE - What do you miss most about Australia.

BROCK - Family and friends.

WAYNE - Is there anything else that you would like to say to the people who read this e-letter?

BROCK - I like cheese.

So, as you can see, we really are enjoying being here. One of the things that has made it easier has been all the people that have contacted us in one way or another. Thanks for your phone calls, texts, email, and even the occasional letter that people have sent us. We really do appreciate them all. Hope everything is treating you all well.

Wednesday, 9 April 2008

Pussycat, pussycat, where have you been?

On Thursday, for the second time since we have been in England, we boarded a train at Cheshunt headed for Liverpool Street Station in London. This time we weren’t moving house to Slough for an indeterminate period of time, we were going into the city to look around. Consequently, we weren’t struggling with luggage, in the middle of peak hour, having been in England only 3 days, travelling to stay with someone that Meg, Brock and Quinn had never met, so it was much more relaxing.

We arrived at Liverpool Street and decided to walk down toward the Thames and the Tower of London. Having all played Monopoly it was fascinating to see Fenchurch Street Station, Whitechapel, Northumberland and, indeed, Liverpool Street Station. We also saw a red Double Decker bus heading between Liverpool Street and Kings Cross Station. Shops and areas referred to in films, television shows, music and books. “The celebrated Mr. K. performs his feat on Saturday at Bishopsgate” sang the Beatles, all we did was walk through the area. Monica Ali wrote a novel called ‘Brick Lane’ which was nominated for the Booker Prize, we walked just by.

Getting down to the Tower of London was a cause of confusion for all of us. Wayne had been there before, 25 years ago as part of a bus tour. Meg had seen the place on television but never in real life. Brock and Quinn had no idea what we were looking at. For both Wayne and Meg the Tower of London just wasn’t quite what they expected. Both expected that it would be darker somehow, but the stones in the building are quite light in colour. Meg also felt that it would be smaller than it actually was. What was surprising was seeing the remnants of the wall, of which the Tower of London used to be a major part, which once surrounded the city. Of course, London was much smaller back then but it was exciting to see that many of these things are being preserved. What was not surprising was that getting in to see the inside of the Tower and the Crown Jewels which are kept there was extremely expensive.

We walked across Tower Bridge to South Bank and did the Queen’s Walk past the HMS Belfast down to London Bridge. It was fabulous to be able to see both the Tower and Tower Bridge in the one vista. We talked about the various people who had died within the Tower, how their heads had been displayed on spikes at Traitor’s Gate, and how the Bridge still lifts up when any large ships, such as HMS Belfast, pass beneath it. We tried not to sing ‘London Bridge is Falling Down’ as we went over the bridge, perhaps the fact that the current bridge is not the original, helped with this. A bridge has existed over the site since the Romans built a wooden pontoon bridge around 50AD. Other succeeding bridges have included the one which was destroyed by the London Tornado of 1091. Perhaps the most famous was the one designed by John Rennie and completed over the period between 1824 and 1831. This bridge was sold to an American, Robert P McCulloch for 2,460,000 US Dollars and was disassembled, transported to Arizona and then reassembled. It was rumoured that he had thought he was getting the more picturesque Tower Bridge, however, McCulloch denies that (but of course he would, wouldn’t he?). The present bridge was built to replace that one, which is apparently Arizona’s second biggest attraction after the Grand Canyon.

At this point, because the London Monument was wrapped in scaffolding and cloth, we ducked down into Monument Underground Station and took the tube to South Kensington which brought us out right next to the Museum of Natural History. The boys were initially a little bit non-plussed about going to a Museum, not having had great experiences in the past, but once inside they enjoyed it tremendously. Dinosaur skeletons and animatronic models were our first stop, followed by a section on mammals which had exhibits of almost every type of mammal you could image. By the time we finished going around the section on humans we had been there for 2 and a half hours and needed some lunch. Planning to definitely come back and see more, we boarded another red double decker bus up the road to Hyde Park Corner (with a very short detour, as we jumped off to take Meg into Harrod’s and then jumped on another one when we came out).

Hyde Park Corner is the site of the Wellington Arch, so called because it used to have a statue of Lord Wellington on top. This statue was originally placed there as a tribute to Wellington on a trial basis in 1846. It provoked much controversy because it was so large and Sir Robert Peel’s government voted to repeal permission to place the statue there. Wellington at this point let it be known that removing the statue would be such an insult that he would resign all of his royal commissions. In 1883 the arch was moved a short distance to make room for more traffic. During the move the statue was removed and is now on a plinth not far away, it has been replaced by a statue called ‘the Quadriga’, a woman riding a chariot with a young man driving four horses which took it’s place in January 1912. You can climb to the top of the arch, it has been preserved and opened by English Heritage, and the views from the top are fabulous.

While we were inside the arch one of the attendants mentioned that Australia’s Prime Minister had been there only a couple of hours earlier. He had been to place a wreath at the Anzac Memorial, which you can see in our photograph of the memorial taken from the Arch. We were somewhat disappointed to miss him, Meg had wanted to have a few words about some issues we have been having with Centrelink for the last few months but c’est la vie. Instead we walked down into Green Park, opposite the back gardens of Buckingham Palace, where we sat and watched squirrels playing and the Metropolitan Police racing up and down the road booking motorists. It made for a very exciting lunch.

Once we had finished eating we walked down to the beautiful Canada gates and the front entrance to Buckingham Palace. This is the image that many people have of London and it was crowded, both with tourists and members of the media filming stories with the Palace in the background. Quinn was disappointed in his desire to throw eggs at the palace and Meg in her desire to have the Queen invite her in for lunch, but that didn’t detract from the views. Even the Queen Victoria monument in the centre of the road is majestic and impressive. If it were not for the fact that our train tickets prevented us from travelling back home between 5pm and 6:15pm we would have stayed longer and loitered around St James Park, St James Palace, the Houses of Parliament, and Westminster Abbey. Instead, we glanced at them as we jumped back on to the Underground headed for Liverpool Street Station once more.

As it transpired, we made it out of Liverpool Street Underground up onto the platform for the One Rail Network train to Stanstead Airport with, maybe, thirty seconds to spare. While there was a short wait before the train departed back to Cheshunt, we did manage to get seats, rest our feet, and plan what we would most like to do when we next get back to London. There is so much more to see in London, even in the places where we did go, we could spend a month there and still not see everything. Hopefully it will not be too much longer before we get the opportunity to check out more of the city.

Thursday, 3 April 2008

An Englishman's home is...

“Listen, lad. I built this kingdom up from nothing. When I started here, all there was was swamp. Other kings said I was daft to build a castle on a swamp, but I built it all the same, just to show 'em. It sank into the swamp. So, I built a second one. That sank into the swamp. So I built a third one. That burned down, fell over, then sank into the swamp. But the fourth one... stayed up! And that's what you're gonna get, lad: the strongest castle in these islands.” Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

On Monday night we asked Brock and Quinn if they had any suggestions as to where we should go on Tuesday. Brock took a look at our Red Folder (a collection of possible places to go to, complete with maps to and from home and details of what would be there) and said that he would like to go to Margate. Quinn wanted to go and see another castle and possibly a maze. We went through our various books, atlases and maps and decided to return to Kent (where we had previously been to Dover) with our ultimate destination to be Margate.

Tuesday morning dawned with overcast skies and lots of drizzly rain. While Meg and the boys got changed, Wayne ducked across to Tescos to purchase some supplies for meals and snacks during the day. Hitting the M25 we headed east out of Hertfordshire, through Essex, then south over the Dartford Bridge before turning west once more on to the A2/M2. Wayne had tentatively planned to go to Rochester where there are a Castle and Cathedral which are run by English Heritage. However, as we made the turnoff to Rochester and Chatham we noticed another sign pointing in the direction of Upnor, so we made a spur of the moment decision to head there first.

As we drove into Upnor this decision looked to be a foolish move, we parked in a carpark (which astonishingly was free!!! outrageous for England where you pay to park your car almost anywhere) which was outside the village. As we had made the turn in all we had seen was locked gates and no sign of any castle. With some trepidation we left the car and followed the signs pointing toward Upnor Castle. Quickly we found ourselves in the gorgeous little village of Upnor Regis; complete with a cobblestone street, catflaps into the ramps to basements, and a pub dating back to the 17th Century. At the bottom of the Main Street was High Street, actually the Medway River and Marlowe House on the corner even had its own lighthouse/river viewing platform.

Upnor Castle was built expressly for protecting the navy of Queen Elizabeth I, which regularly moored at the dockyards at Chatham. Even after it had served out its military usefulness the castle remained a magazine supplying gunpowder and munitions to the men-of-war moored in the river. It was not until Upnor’s last days as a fortress that it was actually called on to defend the fleet. In June 1667, during the Second Dutch War, the Dutch fleet attacked and burnt a fort at Sheerness before moving upriver to attack the navy at Chatham. While the raid was largely successful, with some ships carried off and others burnt (the diarist Evelyn described the result as ‘a Dreadful Spectacle as ever any English men saw and a dishonour never to be wiped off’), the efforts of Upnor Castle to attack the raiders meant that the Dutch fleet suffered many casualties and were forced to withdraw. The males speculated as to whether this lay behind Nigel Power’s statement that, “there's only two things I hate in this world. People who are intolerant of other people's cultures and the Dutch.”

Having enjoyed ourselves immensely (especially as Brock lay in wait at the bottom of the stairwell and scared Quinn by jumping out and shouting), we set out once more for Rochester. This time we saw the Castle and Cathedral, but the sign indicating them was after the turn off. After some ‘interesting’ driving, we went back through the city which was full of glorious architecture from across the centuries, only to find the car park was full. Had the weather not fined up, we may have left and thus missed out on a fabulous experience. We circled the castle and found a park for Kylie down below the castle, alongside the River Medway, looking toward the beautiful bridges across the river.

The first castle was raised at Rochester at the time of the Norman Conquest in 1066. It was rebuilt for William Rufus by Gundulf (not the one from the Lord of the Rings) the Bishop of Rochester, between 1087 and 1089. In 1127, King Henry I added the keep (or Donjon, hence the term ‘Dungeon’ which passed into the English language) the massive rectangular tower which dominates the castle today. Perhaps the most significant event took place just after the signing of the Magna Carta. King John still had enemies and they took control of the castle in October of 1215 to prevent him travelling from Canterbury back to London. Royalist forces attacked, taking control first of the bridge, then laying siege to the castle. After almost two months they finally defeated the rebels by using a mine (made from the fat of forty pigs) to blow up one section of the Keep.

Rochester Cathedral is England’s second oldest, having been founded in 604AD by Bishop Justus. The present building dates back to the work of Bishop Gundulf (he was a busy man, wasn’t he?) in 1080. The Nave shows Normanesque architecture at its finest, while the front of building is Romanesque. In the end we spent so much time exploring the interior of the Castle, with Wayne and Quinn ascending to the very top of the Keep and descending to the basement with its Cess Pit, that we didn’t get to go inside the Cathedral itself. However, we had already seen it magnificently from the top of the keep and, as we toured the Outer Bailey, we got great views of the Cathedral from ground level. As well, Meg fell in love with a number of the houses which lay outside the castle walls and was only able to be pulled away when a resident noticed her gazing in the windows. Our only quibble with Rochester was the horror movie winds which whistled through the trees and castle windows, causing Meg to flee screaming from the scene while clutching her hair.

Some of you might be wondering why we would want to go to Margate (indeed, a number of the people of Margate asked us this question). The truth is that back in Queensland, on the Redcliffe peninsula north of Brisbane, is a suburb called Margate. Like the town in England for which it was named [Margate was originally ‘Meregate’ meaning ‘sea gate’], it is on the water, however they have significantly different histories. English Margate has been a leading seaside resort for at least 250 years, drawing Londoners to its ‘sandy’ beaches (a contrast to most of the beaches around the country). It was the first resort to introduce bathing machines and deck chairs, in 1898. Prior to that it was a ‘limb’ of Dover as part of the Cinque ports federation which attempted to control sea trade and defence from the 12th through to the 17th Centuries. More recently, the Graham Swift novel ‘Last Orders’, which won the Booker Prize in 1996 and was later made in to a movie, is about a journey to Margate to dispose of someone’s ashes. Perhaps the most famous connection with Margate is one of Wayne’s favourite artists, J. M. W. Turner (1775-1851). He had a mistress who lived in the town and consequently spent a considerable amount of time there. As a result lots of paintings were inspired by the land and sea scapes around the area. For our Australian readers one of his most famous paintings, Slave Ship (Slavers Throwing Overboard the Dead and Dying, Typhoon Coming On), may well have inspired one of the more notorious episodes of our recent political history. Consequently, the biggest contemporary art prize in England is called ‘The Turner Prize’ and a huge contemporary art gallery is to be built in Margate, to be completed in 2010. We visited the site headquarters and spent 20 minutes talking to the two curators about what they considered the insanity of ever coming to Margate. In the end I think we persuaded both of them to at least visit Australia, if not move there completely. Despite the negativity of the locals (and to be fair, everywhere we have been in England the locals have had the same view of their own town/city/village/country) we quite enjoyed our time.

Because the time was not yet completely late, we decided to make one final stop on our way home, to see if we could actually visit a hedge maze. Near the town of Maidstone is Leeds Castle, one of the more famous and historic because it is built on islands in the middle of a lake and has been there for over 1000 years. Sadly for us, we will have to return there as it was quite expensive to get in and looked like there would be so much of interest there that we would not have enough time to see around the place. We did, however, get a good view of the balloon in which you can rise up 400 feet to view the castle and surrounding area from above, while still tethered in the one place.

As we returned home after our many castles (hence the quote at the beginning of this email) we were very satisfied with the day. Meg suffered somewhat with getting her hair caught in Kylie’s sunroof and we were very grateful that we had finally bribed Brock into getting his hair cut (despite many protests, tears and tantrums) or he may have experienced the same problem. When we arrived, Brock set about baking some cookies, trying very hard not to misread the recipe. Late last week, while cooking the same recipe, he had read the instruction ‘Leave room for cookies to expand while baking’ and walked out of the kitchen. When we asked him what he was doing, he told us that the recipe had told him to ‘Leave the room’.

We hope you are all well and enjoying yourselves. Brock, Quinn and Wayne will be back at school next week and Meg has been informed that there is a great chance that she will receive some casual work as a Teacher’s Assistant. Thanks once more for all the emails and other correspondence we have received. We look forward to hearing more about how everything is going in your lives.