Thursday, 29 May 2008

Beckham, Zeppelin, 007 and Evita

Having not been away for a couple of weeks, let alone the last few days where it was difficult because of the weather to even get out (it has been flooding in some parts of the country), we needed to go somewhere, anywhere. However, because payday is still a couple of days away it was also important to consider petrol costs, so somewhere close by was imperative. Given that we had to email some scanned documents to Ipswich (in order to have our belongings, which had travelled here by sea, delivered this week) we first went to the library in Hoddesdon. Once our tasks had been completed we set course for the county of Buckinghamshire, heading down to the M25 before planning to head to the west.

As we moved on to the roundabout, which provides the link to the motorway, we looked down and saw that the M25 was fulfilling the common local description as the ‘world’s biggest carpark’. In a mild state of panic we continued around the roundabout and headed back toward home. Before getting back, however, we turned left and headed cross country through some lovely little villages; Goff’s Oak, Cuffley, Northaw and Potters Bar. These days Goff’s Oak is largely famous for being home to the Adams’ family (unfortunately not the Addams family of Uncle Fester, Lurch, Cousin It, Thing, Wednesday, Pugsley, Morticia and Gomez; but the parents of Victoria Beckham nee Adams). However, there is more to the village than that. As the name implies, it was owned by the Goff family and featured an enormous, century’s old, oak tree. Sadly, the prophecy of ‘My Fair Lady’ that ‘in Hertford, Hereford and Hampshire, hurricanes hardly ever happen’ came true in 1987 when a hurricane hit the area and brought down the famous old oak. The village is still quite beautiful and features some lovely homes which we admired as we drove through.

Cuffley (only a couple of miles further away) has a totally different claim to fame, dating back to the Great War. One Sunday morning, in September 1916, the locals woke to find a Zeppelin crashed into their village. 14 Zeppelins had been used in the largest attack of its kind during the First World War and this one was shot down by Lieutenant Leefe Robinson, for which exploit he was awarded the Victoria Cross. Lieut. Robinson lived through the rest of the war only to die of influenza on December 31, 1918, only a few weeks after the Armistice. Like Goff’s Oak, Cuffley is a very attractive village with some glorious looking homes that, due to the presence of a Learner Driver, we were able to appreciate. It also has some glorious large parks and huge farms which seem out of place in this country where the residents constantly complain about overcrowding.

Northaw is smaller still, but it does boast the oldest Women’s Institute in Hertfordshire, established in 1917. Northaw also still possesses a village green, bounded on one side by the church. We all noticed the church as we were driving through the village, because architecturally it is very different from others in Hertfordshire. It has a rock facing and four pinnacles on the tower which draw the eye as you drive toward it. Apparently there is a fifth pinnacle next to the tower in the church grounds with a plaque stating that it belonged to the previous church which burned down in 1881, however we did not stop to confirm that this was true. Much of the rest of Northaw is the Northaw Great Wood, which is a country park open to everyone, and which hosts markets on some days of the week (although this week they had been cancelled because of the wet weather). King James I used to come hunting here when staying at his holiday home at Cheshunt (then called Theobalds) and as you drive through the woodlands you can imagine people charging around on horseback chasing deer or foxes.

Potters Bar has some uncertainty over the history of the name. Some maintain that it is the consequence of Roman aged pottery which was found there (certainly it is one of the local areas with evidence of the Roman occupation of Britain). Other people claim that the name comes from the Pottere family who were part of the nearby South Mimms parish. Sadly, the name became known more recently as the site of two significant train crashes. On the night of 10 February 1946, a local train hit buffers at the station, became derailed, and two express trains travelling in opposite directions struck the wreckage. On 10 May 2002 a northbound train derailed at high speed, killing seven and seriously injuring another eleven. On a happier note, those of our readers who are older might remember the clarinetist Acker Bilk who owns a home at Potters Bar (as well as one in Pensford, Somerset). The golfer Tony Jacklin, who won both the British and US Opens and captained the English Ryder cup team played his golf at Potters Bar Golf Club. As we drove through, on our way back to try the M25 again, we saw a town that was much more industrial in feel than any of the villages around. This is unsurprising, given that the town is part of the London Commuter belt.

Back on to the M25 we ventured for what was to be a frustrating next part of the journey. It is not really that far from Junction 24 (where we reentered the M25) to Junction 18 (where we wanted to exit), a little over 12 miles, or 20 kilometres, but the traffic was stop start the entire way. There were no accidents or road works, not even a picket line (which there was elsewhere in London, as the radio kept reminding us), just average everyday drivers who had absolutely no idea how to merge when new traffic joined the motorway. Those of you who have driven on the Gateway Motorway in Queensland will know how frustrating this can be, and anyone who has been in a car with Wayne for any length of time will know that this (along with traffic lights: ‘the spawn of Satan’) is one of his pet hates. Meg and the boys managed to keep the mood light, although with some difficulty as first Brock and then Quinn realised that they needed to find a toilet. We eventually made it to Junction 18 and turned off toward Little Chalfont and Chorleywood looking for a services for the boys. Sadly, service stations seemed to be in short supply, unlike temporary traffic lights for road works which appeared on a regular basis. To add insult to injury we were stopped by the police (along with hundreds of others) at a road block and questioned as to why Wayne’s identity did not match the recorded owner of the car. Given that Meg had spent a few days, after we returned from Cornwall, sorting out this issue we were perplexed by this. However, PC Webb of the Thames Valley Police (badge number 5795) was very understanding. He offered to let Brock get out and walk the 200 metres down to the nearest public toilet and, when Brock declined, hurried the paperwork through for us so that we could drive the short distance required to find the boys some relief. He also demonstrated how to use an extendable baton, much to the boy’s delight.

At last we made it to the Chilterns, which was declared an official Area of Natural Beauty in 1965. The official blurb says that ‘the Chilterns lie only a few miles north-west of London and yet they are an unspoilt area of rolling chalk hills, magnificent beechwoods, quiet valleys and charming brick and flint villages. A wonderful mosaic of woods, fields, hedges, sunken lanes and clear streams’. This was certainly true of our experience in the region. In particular we were aiming for the town of Amersham, largely because Meg’s mother lives in a house on Amersham Street in Kippa Ring, Queensland, and we wanted to see what the place looked like for which the street was named.

As you would expect from a place in the Chilterns, Amersham has a long history, dating back to pre-Saxon times when it was known as Egmondesham. By the time of the Domesday Book in 1086 it was called Elmodesham and is described thus:
Geoffrey de Mandeville holds Amersham. It answers for 7 1/2 hides. Land for 16 ploughs; in lordship 2 hides; 3 ploughs there. 14 villagers with 4 smallholders have 9 ploughs; a further 4 possible. 7 slaves; meadow for 16 ploughs; woodland 400 pigs. The total value is and was £9; before 1066 £16. Queen Edith held this manor.
Queen Edith was the wife of Edward the Confessor and sister of King Harold (who fought the battle of Hastings in 1066). Get rid of Geoffrey de Mandeville and substitute Loretta for Edith and so far the similarities between Amersham, UK and Amersham Street, Kippa Ring, Queensland are quite apparent.

As we approached the town we drove past a large building dedicated to GE Healthcare which, Wayne recalled, had originally been a scientific research establishment called the Radiochemical Centre during World War II set up to make luminous paint, based on radium. Amersham was also one of the very few places north of London to be attacked by V1 and V2 rockets (otherwise known as ‘flying bombs’ or ‘doodlebugs’) near the end of the war. This was unfortunate as many of the children of London were evacuated to houses in the area when their homes were destroyed or under threat of destruction, partly because of the excellent schools available in the area. These included Dr Challoner’s Grammar School the alma mater of, among others, Sir Roger Moore (aka Meg’s favourite James Bond), which has hugely impressive grounds now on the hills north of the town but which originally was housed in a building on the main street which dates the school back to 1624. GE Healthcare, meanwhile, is now one of the largest employers in the area.

When we first arrived in Amersham, we dropped Meg off at the Post Office, while Wayne and the boys headed toward the market square looking for a place to park the car. As you no doubt know, one of the things which distinguishes a ‘town’ from a ‘village’ is the granting of the right to hold a market, and this was done for Amersham by King John in 1200, stipulating that the market was to be held on Fridays and a fair on September 7th and 8th. In 1613 this ‘charter’ was updated so that market day became Tuesday and the fair was moved to September 19th and 20th. Despite the fact that this was a Tuesday, when the boys drove up there was no market in evidence, however there were some buildings with impressively low roofs and The Crown Hotel, which was used for a number of indoor scenes in the movie ‘Four Weddings and A Funeral’ including the scene with the Four Poster Bed. We later discovered the market (as we were driving out) was being held in ‘Amersham-on-the-Hill’ (another part of the village separate but linked to ‘Old Amersham’ where we were) and a number of the roads were closed as a consequence. The other thing that wasn’t in the market square was any parking, so we drove back to park at Tescos and walked up to meet Meg outside the grounds of the Grade 1 Listed St Mary’s Church of England.

The parks, grounds and cemetery connected to the church were beautiful, so we decided to walk down along the River Misbourne back to Tescos (which had been built on a former Bowyer's / Brazil's meat factory and bus garage) to buy some lunch which we then carried back to eat in the park. Fans of British television crime shows might have recognised where we were, as 7 episodes of the series ‘Midsomer Murders’ were filmed in Amersham and made extensive use of the grounds, cemetery and fields around St Mary’s and Old Amersham. On our walk beside the river we had noted a sign which pointed toward a ‘Martyr’s Memorial’ so, after lunch was finished, we decided to find it.

Trying to follow the directions proved to be difficult, as there was no evidence of any memorial between the two signs which pointed towards one another. Instead we looked around the cemetery, noting the amazing restoration work which had been done to many of the graves and gravestones. Just as we were planning to leave we met a lovely weimaraner (that had been in a fight with a maltese terrier and had a bloodied ear as a consequence) whose owner pointed us up the hill along a path ‘which would not be slippery’ where, she said, the walk to the martyr’s memorial would take `4 or 5 minutes` and the view back to the rest of the town would be very good. Very quickly we discovered that we would have been better listening to the weimaraner even if his instructions had mostly been to do with scratching behind his ears and patting him.

We set off up the hill on a path between two wheat fields, alongside a hedge. The path was simply a dirt (read ‘mud’) track, about 15cm wide, with stones scattered through it and Meg soon discovered that she was wearing the wrong footwear to cope with such a trek. We laboured onward and upward with Wayne in front holding Meg’s hand and the boys walking behind in case she slipped. After a while Brock grew frustrated and attempted to pass by jumping across into the field, he rapidly found out that this was a mistake as he sank into the ground and was stung by various nettles and plants as he scrambled back on to the path. 20 minutes in and we made it to the top of the path where there was no sign of a memorial, just a path heading north toward the Rectory Wood which looked dark and foreboding and continuing to the south towards a group of houses. The one thing which the lady had got correct was that the view back over Amersham was glorious, so we took a number of photos before walking up toward the woods. Wayne was full of admiration for the cast and crew of the movie ‘Carve Her Name With Pride’ (a 1958 movie about the Battle of Britain) which was largely filmed in these fields.

Meg sang ‘Teddy Bears Picnic’ happily as we walked up to the woods which reminded her of ‘The Secret Garden’. Quinn had already run off ahead while Brock complained that it looked scary and was worried about monsters. When we finally entered the woods it was cool, green and lovely, just as you might have imagined woodlands in England to be. All of the stories that we read in childhood which featured English woodlands seemed to be encapsulated in this place. There were large ear shaped fungi growing on some of the tree trunks and, while it was dark, there was enough filtered light coming through to make it easy to see. Posts had signs which indicated that this was a public walking path through the wood and there was even a tyre swing from a tree at one end of the wood. During World War II the woods had been used by troops as shelter and trenches had been dug there, but there was no sign of this today, in fact the boys felt that even camping in the woods would not be a pleasant experience. Not to our complete surprise by now, however, there was still no sign of the memorial so we decided to head back down the path by which we had come.

By the time we reached the main path we had come up, Quinn and Wayne decided to take a quick look down the southern path toward the houses. It didn’t take long before they couldn’t see Meg and Brock at all because of a dip in the field, but by the time they got to the fence there was still no sign of the memorial, only houses and a couple of large trees, so they went back. While they had been waiting, Brock and Meg were able to look across the town to the beautiful mansion of Shardeloes. Shardeloes was the ancestral home of the Tyrwhitt Drake family, the Lord of the Manor. The Tyrwhitt Drake family had a great influence on Amersham. By marrying well their fortunes grew through the 16th to 19th centuries. This enabled them to have a large say in the appointment of Amersham's Rector, who often was a member of the family. They also acquired many properties in Amersham, letting them to sympathetic supporters enabling the MPs representing Amersham to either be Tyrwhitt Drakes or their supporters. The Tyrwhitt Drakes were also benefactors and built Alms Houses (1657) and the Market Hall (1682). During the 19th and 20th Centuries their fortune declined, particularly because of the need to pay high death duties, and as a result of the Reform Act of 1832 which removed the ‘rotten borough’ of Amersham. In 1928 much of their property in Amersham was auctioned off in what became known as "the auction of a town". The Tyrwhitt Drake family are still Lord of the Manor of Amersham, but no longer live there.

Going down the hill proved to be almost as difficult as going up, at least for Brock who managed to do the splits at the bottom as one of his feet slipped in the mud. Sadly, the rest of us missed this because we were overtaken on the path by another lady out walking her dog. The advantage of this was that the parents of the lady passing us had ‘lived at the memorial’, although as she sheepishly explained, ‘not AT the memorial, obviously, but backing on to it’. As it turned out, it had been on the other side of the trees the Wayne and Quinn had come to previously, so they scooted around the bottom of the field and up the far side which was a much easier path. As you can see by the photograph, the monument itself was large but otherwise not hugely impressive. What was amazing was what it was there to commemorate. Back in 1521, in the dip in the field only a hundred yards from where the memorial stood, a group of men were burned at the stake. This was part of a movement happening across Europe, which came to be known as the Reformation, where people resisted the Catholic Church’s attempt to impose their understanding on people. In particular, people wanted to be able to read the Bible in their own language, rather than the Latin stipulated by the Catholic Church. As the monument made clear, there had been people executed for similar reasons before then, and within 40 years men and women on both side of the argument would be killed. It was hard for the boys to comprehend that people took reading the bible so seriously that they would be willing to die or that it would be the government who would be punishing them. Meg and Wayne were able to answer their questions on the way home.

Fortunately, the trip was a lot less eventful than the drive over. Had we had the soundtrack with us, we might have listened to the music of ‘Evita’ or any of the other musicals that Tim Rice put together with Andrew Lloyd Webber. This would have been appropriate, because Tim Rice was born in Amersham. We did, however, pass under the railway line that ends at Amersham which was labelled as ‘Underground’. Despite being above the ground at this point, it is part of the London Underground Railway system which demonstrates Amersham’s place as a commuter town, which is has been since 1892 when the line was first constructed. Indeed, it might have been so earlier had not local landowners objected so strongly to the building of the line. While lacking the notoriety of some of the other places that we have visited, Amersham was a good place to visit and all of us had a great day.

Thanks again to everyone who has been keeping in contact with us. We are looking forward to having our first visitor from Australia this Friday. Julie Boyd, one of Wayne’s former workmates from Southbank TAFE, is coming over to visit. It will be nice to talk to someone about what is happening back in Australia. We hope you are all well and look forward to hearing from you.

Monday, 26 May 2008

A ¼ Teaspoon of Bicarbonate Soda and a dash of Kayce

We have had another quiet week in the big city of Broxbourne this week, but that is largely due to the bank and Quinn having plans for the weekend

We are also very pleased and excited that Wayne has had his contract extended till July 2009 so that we can continue our grand adventure

Friday was an interesting day as I have now got a job and can’t start until a background check has been done on me as I am working with children. I am feeling somewhat frustrated .. so was pleased… thrilled even to get a call from Wayne asking me to come to Hailey Hall for the day. At Hailey Hall the last day of school means fun and games for both staff and students, and I was there to capture these moments on camera for them.

It was a great day with Wayne’s photography club very excited about the competition for the most interesting photo, and these young men were inspirational. They saw beauty and design in places I would never have thought to look. They also had to share resources as some of the cameras were not operational, but honestly they were great about the whole experience.

The teachers worked so hard to give the boys a great day with golf, basketball, football Wii, Xbox and the day ended in a Teachers V Students Football (soccer) match. This was a fiercely fought battle with some casualties…. my husband included (Wayne dove for the ball and when he realised he might miss it, he chose to make the ultimate sacrifice and head the ball, which was a great idea … until he landed…. one torn muscle over his rib cage and a nasty headache later… he is on the mend)

Saturday dawned as a beautiful day with the temp around 22 and the sun was glorious. We had some nasty business to attend to, as the bank we opened an account with when we arrived has been a royal pain in the behind and we went shopping for a new bank. One that will take money out of our account as we spend it .. not wait three weeks … and when we transfer money don’t keep it in a account for a week to earn interest for themselves before sending it on the account we want to pay…. sorry needed to vent there…

We had planned to, maybe, go to Ipswich for the day but Quinn had planned to spend the day in Hoddesdon with some friends (read Kayce here). While we are thrilled that he has settled so well it can make planning a little difficult, because we don’t want to go without the boys as they want to see the sights as much as we do. So we thought we would find out what the boys had planned and decide from there …. Our week read below

Monday: Brock to Ryan’s_ Quinn to Kayce Wayne and Meg to drive
Tuesday: Brock Movies with friends (this has now been postponed till Wednesday) Wayne and Meg to drive
Wednesday: Brock to Movie with friends Wayne and Meg to drive
Thursday: Quinn is spending the day with Kayce Wayne and Meg to drive
Friday: Meg and Wayne picking friend up from friends to spend day with us
Saturday: Meg and Wayne to take friend to Heathrow
Sunday: Unpacking our personal effects from Australia that are hopefully to be dropped off this week, getting ready for school tomorrow

So as you can see we are going to find it difficult to go anywhere this week …… but please if you can see a slot we missed let us know ..

We have been having what they call typical bank holiday weather today, very wet windy and cold, so Brock decided to make jam drops without any help. Off he went.. he did a great job and apart from a nasty jam burn all was peaceful in the kitchen. I had the honour of tasting the first, shall we say, ‘interesting’ looking biscuit and while somewhat concerned as to why the jam looked liked it had forcefully been asked to leave the biscuit I bravely pressed on….. I took an unlady-like large bite as Brock looked proudly on and I smiled and told him they were good. As I walked from the kitchen to the lounge a strange fizzy sour bitter taste filled my mouth…… Brock had mistakenly put 2 tablespoons of Bicarb soda in the mixture instead of ½ a teaspoon of baking powder … Quinn and Brock both sampled the biscuits and the decision was made that perhaps the biscuits were better landfill than food and the second tray of biscuits were forcefully removed from the oven… but it got me thinking about recipes and how they are a comfort to me… I have used this recipe since I started cooking as a teenager. It’s one my mama cooked for me when I was little and over the years I have learnt what works and what doesn’t and I have not needed to write these changes down because until now it was always me that did the cooking. Now my babies are nearly grown and I am in the position where I am not only teaching them to cook, I am passing down comfort and tradition and I am grateful to my mama to be able to do that for them.

Wednesday, 21 May 2008

Much Ado About Broxbourne

I am writing this week’s blog as Wayne Brock and Quinn have been submerged in study, homework, core work and preparing to teach boys through their exams.

So we have decided to not travel as the SATs and Core work that the boys are doing are quite important for their future and Wayne has had to take students through study etc and the school has been particularly challenging this term. We are up to our eyebrows in Shakespeare and Blood Brothers with a dash of Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy at the moment so we thought we would give you all an insight of the Symes's domestic life.

I have been doing some contract work as an Exam Invigilator and worked with Wayne for a day last week. It was an eye opening experience for me and while I worry about him and the violence at work, I got to see the genuine affection his students feel for him and how they try so very hard to do the right thing by him. I was so touched that when a student went mad at a fellow pupil who tried to assault Wayne while I was there and told the boy.. that Wayne is someone's dad and how dare he think he had the right to hit him. It warms my heart that this young man can still be so decent and kind to people after some of the challenges he has faced in his life and I thanked him for his kindness; the smile he gave me will stay with me forever. I have secured a position at a local primary school about 5 minutes from home working with a child with autism. This is a job I know and love and as it is 27.5 hours a week I leave with the boys of a morning and will actually arrive home a little before they do which will be great for all of us. I went for four job interviews on the Friday in four hours really wanting only one of the jobs... and you guessed it ... I got the other three positions. I chose this school as it had a really lovely feel about and the head teacher has a great attitude towards children and with the other positions they paid more but I wouldn't be home till way after the boys and life is too short not to enjoy it.

We have settled well into a routine and have adapted to life here now but still like to compare the differences between Australia and the U.K. Its the little things that really tickle our funny bones, e.g., when we go shopping try and see how many accents and different languages we can hear; when we are in the car we play spot the car/lorry from the EU, Wayne is the best at this, I think this is because when we first arrived he nearly had a heart attack the first time he looked into a fast moving truck and the driver was not there (steering wheel is on the other side). We still love the fact that people are interested in our story and are keen to show us kindness and ask lots of questions about Australia. We have had to use our Australian accents to get out of a ticket from police when they discovered we didn't have car insurance (we did have some but unfortunately the insurance company had insured a car m51lfl and we are n51lfl) we were told that we looked far too innocent to be guilty of anything and they let us go ... phew and the problem has now been fixed.

The food is the same but also different... lol this sounds weird I know but it's things like mince is still mince but has a much stronger flavour along with chicken and sausages are full of things like apple or sage which is very nice but not what we have in oz. We are very pleased that Tesco's now stock vegemite and although we miss promite we still have the black gold. The boys have been grieving for Cottee's green cordial, as the cordial here is all diet. You can't seem to buy one that is not sweetened artificially. Of course the cost of food is astounding. Take away is available, but not as readily as in Australia or New Zealand. We have two McDonalds, but they are both about a 15 minute drive so we don't frequent it as much as the boys would like.

Brock and Quinn are forming friendships and starting to go out with friends and girlfriends, which is great to see and are looking forward to their birthdays. Suddenly, both their mobile phones are playing up and they think they may need new ones very soon.... I just smile the smile of a mama at this point.....Brock had asked for a party with 20 of his best friends and Quinn has to check what girlfriend Kayce would like to do .... So we will have to let you know the outcome.

We are more reliant on the internet than ever as it is our main form of communication with family and friends and it is great to feel part of things like new babies and the general day to day things in peoples lives. We are very excited to be having friends come over later this month, and in July, as although we are getting out and about we have not had the opportunity to really form friendships (as in a trivia team, karaoke buddies and that sort of thing). The staff at Wayne’s work have been great and taken us out, which has been a lot of fun, but we know that friendships will come with time. We made a conscious decision when we moved here to create a home for the boys that was not only safe and secure, but welcoming to their friends. We have really been concentrating on that, we are proud of our little family here.

Wayne and I have just celebrated our 6 month anniversary as man and wife and while it has gone quickly we look back and think 'WOW'! There have been some stresses we didn't expect but both feel that we can get through anything with faith, trust, and a lot of humour. I would not want to be on this adventure with anyone else by my side.

We are hoping to do some travelling this coming week as half term begins on Friday 23/05/2008 and will hopefully have some exciting news for you in regards to Wayne's position at Hailey Hall

Sunday, 11 May 2008

Necessary Dorsal Muscles

"The atmospheric conditions have been very unfavourable lately," said Owl. "The what?" "It has been raining," explained Owl. "Yes," said Christopher Robin. "It has." "The flood-level has reached an unprecedented height." "The who?" "There's a lot of water about," explained Owl.

Sunday morning, waking up in a strange bunk bed brought a sense of deja-vu. It was nice this time that Wayne and Meg had been able to share a bed, which hadn’t been the case at the Youth Hostel all those months ago. As we prepared for the day the weather was vaguely overcast, but didn’t look overly threatening. We packed the car, returned the key, said ‘Goodbye’ to some of the other backpackers and took a few photos before heading off for Mousehole (pronounced ‘mow-s’ll), our first destination of the day.

To say that Mousehole is a beautiful English seaside village would be like saying that the Taj Mahal is a nice memorial tomb from a husband to his wife. It was absolutely gorgeous. We had been warned that the streets would be narrow; we hadn’t quite comprehended that we could almost scrape both side mirrors on houses at the same time. The harbour there was also gorgeous, walled in for the fishing and pleasure craft that were kept inside. Earlier in the year, when there had been some big storms batter the west coast; we had seen waves eclipsing roads and being here gave us a sense of what it might be like. If we hadn’t already been determined to come back to Cornwall, then Mousehole would have convinced us. If you would like a sense of what the town is like, the television program ‘Doc Martin’, which is shown on the ABC in Australia, is set in a very similar little village (it is actually filmed in Port Isaac, which is on the northern coast of Cornwall, not that far away).

From Mousehole we drove back into Penzance to get fuel for both the car and ourselves. Brock, in particular, was extremely excited to break his fast at McDonalds, which he felt he had become disacquainted with. From there we drove to another part of Mount’s Bay (on which Penzance sits) to the town of Marazion, in order to get a better look at Mount St Michaels. You may have seen photos of Mount St Michaels; it is a castle sitting atop an island in the bay, which is accessible by car during low tide, but which is cut off from the mainland and only accessible by ferry for much of the rest of the day. We got out of Kylie and wandered out on to the beach, annoying greatly a traffic warden who had wanted us to park in the paid car park, to take some photos. The sight truly is breathtaking, although it would have been nicer if the weather had been a little bit finer. If you look at our photos you will be able to compare them to some available on various tourism websites for the area and see what we mean.

From here we set out without a completely fixed plan. There are a number of English Heritage sites in Cornwall, including a few which are relatively close to Penzance. We had been fairly determined to get to Tintagel (an English Heritage site which is very closely linked with all the legends surrounding King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table) but as to where else we might visit we were prepared to see where the weather, and various road signs, directed us. This is important at this point because as we were leaving Marazion it began to rain, which seemed to put paid to our idea of visiting either Pendennis or St Mawes castles which were not far away but also on the coast where the rain seemed to be heaviest. Driving back to the ancient villages or barrows also seemed to be a foolish move. So instead we began driving in the general direction of Tintagel, while still leaving ourselves open to pursuing other options.

When we got to the exit off the A30 which would take us up toward Tintagel, the first of these options made itself apparent. As we reached the roundabout which had multiple options to venture into other parts of Cornwall, we spied a sign pointing to a town named Indian Queens (which for some reason conjured images of men wearing saris and bad wigs). Underneath was another sign which pointed to something called Gnome World. The idea of a world devoted to Garden Gnomes was one that appealed to all of us, so we went completely around the roundabout and drove off into Indian Queens. Unfortunately, Gnome World turned out to be a disappointment; an extravaganza of 1970’s decay. Without leaving the car we were able to take in everything from the car park and quickly exited, however, rather than head back towards Tintagel we followed the other sign for attractions at Indian Queens toward the Screech Owl Sanctuary.

Anyone who knows Meg and Brock at all well will realise just how bizarre this situation is. Both have an extraordinary fear of birds. In fact, anything with wings (ie. pigeons, bats, moths, paper aeroplanes, bugs of any sort and, possibly, sanitary pads) has been known to send them screaming from the immediate area. Both, however, were prepared to put that fear to one side in order to enter the sanctuary. Admittedly, there were some tears, and some vague heel marks were left in the concrete outside the building but, these aside, they could almost have been said to be enthusiastic. All of this changed when we were actually inside what we all would probably describe as one of the best experiences of our lives.

Upon first walking through the gift shop and into the sanctuary itself, one response was, ‘This looks like a ranch’. On one side of the main area were a series of stalls, the size that sometimes house horses, and sitting at the bottom of each on a lamp-sized perch, was an owl. We walked close, amazed at the different species, sizes and colours, and were introduced to their keeper. It was at this point that the visit really took off. After a question or two to ascertain our level of knowledge, he started to tell us about the owls for which he was responsible. The level of enthusiasm and sheer love for these birds was astonishing and engrossing. Within a couple of minutes he had the first of them, a Little Owl called ‘Freedom’, off its perch, on his hand, and we were stroking the feathers on Freedom’s back. As the keeper pointed out, this was unusual because normally the owls liked to be stroked on the stomach, however, because of Freedom’s past (she had been a pet who had never been with other birds, only people, and they had only taken her at the sanctuary because she was said to be a ‘breeding bird’, only after she had slaughtered her sixth ‘husband’ did they fully realise just how ingrained that perception that she was, in fact, human, actually was) it was not safe to pet her stomach.

The birds varied in size, background, colouring and country of origin, but all were magnificent. Their keeper knew, and explained, all of their personality traits and allowed us to get up close and see how amazing each was. Each had a name, although the gender implied in their naming in no way reflected the gender of the actual bird. As the keeper explained, in the end you have to experience something like a bird laying an egg to be confident that it is female. In particular, we will never forget looking inside the ear of one of the owls, only to see the back of its eye socket leading to the brain. For many owls, their eyes make up approximately 50% of their skulls and this was really brought home to us in a vivid way.

The next part of the day was the flying display, where we all (by this stage there were more people than just us visiting the sanctuary) sat on wooden benches around a grassed area which had five different perches stationed around it. The first bird out was a buzzard who had been discovered as a baby by two nine year old boys. They rescued him without telling their family and successfully brought him up for some time. However, after a while they got tired and their father was informed and brought him to the sanctuary. ‘Lucky’ as he is known, still believes himself to be a 9 year old boy, a cross between Scooby Doo and Bart Simpson, but was prepared to fly backwards and forwards, accepting bits of chicken meat when he did was he was told. Brock and Quinn were incredibly brave and barely flinched when he landed on the seat between them. It was very funny, but made us very aware of the impact humans can have upon creatures from the natural world. More was to come, however.

The next bird out was ‘Goldie’ a beautiful Golden barn owl. ‘Goldie’ didn’t have quite the same attention deficit issues as ‘Lucky’ and consequently, the keeper invited people from the audience to come out and wear the glove which ‘Goldie’ was trained to land upon. You might not find it at all strange to learn that Wayne was the first person up, but Brock and Quinn soon followed suit and all were amazed at just how light this bird was, and how tamely she sat upon their arms (only Quinn got a small fright when she almost missed the large leather glove and made contact with his arm). It was so wonderful, that even Meg was prepared to get up and have a go, and unfortunately we ran out of time before this was able to happen as the falconry show came to an end.

We went back to the owls that we had not already seen close up and were able to pat more of them. In particular there was ‘Charlie’ a European Eagle Owl, whose feet were furry so that patting them felt like patting a cat. Brock and Quinn went off and found some amazing owls that weren’t part of the hands on display, including a pair of Great Grey Owls that scared them with their large, saucer shaped faces, and some beautiful Snowy White Owls, just like Hedwig from the Harry Potter movies. After another conversation with the keeper at the coffee shop we made our way back to the car, stopping only to buy some small stuffed owls for the boys, determined that we would find a way to get back to this wonderful place again. The sanctuary also has a process by which we can adopt an owl, and we would all like to do this as well, as this process helps to fund the work of the sanctuary. We cannot recommend it highly enough and the official website does not do it justice.

By now it was later in the day than we had originally planned, but we were very very happy about how we had been delayed. We made straight for Tintagel as our last stop before heading back home to Hertfordshire. Despite the reputation of the Castle, which has been established for hundreds of years, to be linked with King Arthur, we were disappointed in the quality and width of the roads which took us there, and even more so with the parking which seemed to be quite a distance from the Castle itself. By this stage it had even begun to rain in this part of Cornwall, so we endured a rather damp walk to the Camelot Hotel, overlooking the bay. This was worth a visit in itself. It is an old mansion overlooking the Atlantic Ocean which has been converted into a Hotel by a local artist and is filled with pictures of famous people; ranging from film stars to royalty, who have visited the area. Inside the main dining area is a replica Round Table marked out with the names of Arthur’s Knights. However, the path down from the Hotel was quite steep and slippery in the rain, so only Quinn and Wayne ventured down the path, while Meg and Brock walked back to the car.

The views from the walk down were magnificent. The ruins of the main castle buildings stood out clearly and the caves which had been forced out by the sea (including one which was reputed to be Merlin’s cave) were spectacular. Without too many falls they made it down to the English Heritage entrance building to discover that there was an easier, much less slippery route which we had missed (it was not at all well signposted) on our walk through the town. However, access to the castle is via at least 100 steep steps. Surfaces in the castle include grass, gravel, cobbles and flagstones. Many of the surfaces are uneven and include changes of level. The island element of the site is a natural Cornish headland which includes several cliffs. So it may well have been that Brock and Meg would not have ventured far anyway. After having a good look around, Quinn and Wayne walked back up the steep driveway to the village where we all had, at least a bite of, a Cornish Pasty before getting back in the car to head for home.

Even this was not the end of our adventures however. As we neared Bristol on our return leg, Wayne pulled over to the side of the road as he had been indicated to do by a police car driving behind him. Wayne had not been speeding, nor had he done anything else wrong, so we were a little perplexed as to the reason for being stopped. Surely they had not been able to hear our accents? Indeed, they hadn’t and they were quite surprised to find that we were from Australia. When we first bought Kylie we had been given every bit of documentation relating to her past, but because of the speed at which the sale had taken place, we had not been able to receive the registration certificate from the previous owners. However they had sent off their paperwork to the DVLA as had we. When we had got our MOT done, the previous month, we had thought that our new rego papers would come with it. Imagine our surprise to find that Registration, Insurance, and Roadworthiness (which is what the MOT is concerned with) are all completely separate parts of owning a car and that, for some reason, we had not been registered. Our insurance had mistakenly been registered with another vehicle as well, so the police questioned Wayne long and hard about what had taken place, telling him that they could have the car impounded and crushed if they wished to do so. Fortunately, they let us off with a warning to get our paperwork sorted out and to report to Hoddesdon Police (which we did today!)

We loved our time in Cornwall, Brock and Quinn showed how far they have come in being more outgoing in relating to new people, and adventurous as regards trying new experiences. The county is full of amazing natural beauty and wonderful efforts by people to preserve it. As well, there are some phenomenally beautiful, created places with enormous historical significance and some gastronomical niceties (deep fried Mars Bars for example) which make it a truly English experience. If you are ever planning to come here, Cornwall is a must visit.

One final note, our good friends Michael and Rachel Barr have given birth to their first child, Angus Harrison Cam Barr on May 8th. They have always been wonderful to us, including providing us with invaluable support and assistance around our wedding. For those who attended, Mike signed the register and he and Rachel were responsible for bringing Callum, Declan and Ethan to Brisbane for the wedding. We are all so very happy for them, and know they will be amazing parents for Angus. We look forward to seeing them again.

We hope you are all well and enjoying reading of our adventures. As always, we look forward to hearing from all of you, whether it be via phone, text message, email or comment on our blog (which houses all of these e-letters plus more photos)

For those of you wondering about the title of this e-letter, it comes from this quote by A.A. Milne.
“Owl explained about the Necessary Dorsal Muscles. He had explained this to Pooh and Christopher Robin once before, and had been waiting ever since for a chance to do it again, because it is a thing which you can easily explain twice before anyone knows what you are talking about.”

Tuesday, 6 May 2008

I've information vegetable, animal, and mineral

Saturday morning dawned and it was time to set off on our longest trip to date (apart of course from our journey to get to the UK). We had packed lunches and snack, and Meg made bacon and egg muffins for breakfast before we hit the road at 7:20am. Traffic was reasonable on the M25 and (once we got to it after a small detour) the M4 so we were making excellent time. On the radio, even if you are listening to a CD the radio cuts in to give you traffic reports then takes you back to where you were at the end, we heard that there had been a single vehicle accident inbounds to London on the M4. Sure enough, after a couple of junctions there was no more traffic on the other side of the motorway. Just as we were passing Reading we came upon a multitude of police cars and traffic banked up for a couple of miles, but no sign of any accident. Perhaps by then they had moved it, but had we been stuck in the gridlock on the other side we would have been very frustrated.

Once again we made it out to Bristol, in sight of the Severn Bridge across the river to Wales. Once again we turned left, this time to head down the M5 toward Plymouth and Exeter. One day we will pay the £5.30 toll to cross the bridge, in the meantime we get to take a look at another country. Both Brock and Meg begged Wayne to stop, one to go to Bristol Zoo, the other to go to Walmart, but he obstinately kept driving knowing that there was still quite a distance to travel. One of the fascinating things about travelling through England, and especially when we got to Cornwall, is the fascinating names of towns and villages. We passed the turnings for Weston-super-Mare and Dog Village before heading on to the A30, then it was towns like Moretonhampstead, South Zeal, Broadwoodwidger, Lifton Down, Lostwitheil, and the largest mountain in the region, Brown Willy.

At this point we turned off the A30 heading toward St Austell and the boys were intrigued. “How far are we from Penzance?” Brock asked. Meg and Wayne told him that they were still quite a way, because they were actually going somewhere else just at the moment. In the end, they refused to divulge where they were headed until they reached the Eden Project ( The Eden Project was established as one of the Landmark Millennium Projects to mark the year 2000 in the UK. They took an exhausted, deep, steep-sided clay pit 60m deep, the area of 35 football pitches, with no soil, 15 metres below the water table and built a garden featuring a huge diversity of plants from all over the world. Because the normal conditions for many of these plants is in climactic conditions different to those found in South West England, huge biomes were built to house many of the plants, mimicking Tropical and Mediterranean climates. It is an amazing place, enormous in scale and mindbogglingly realistic in the way that it presents so many of the plants, as Meg and Wayne could testify, having spent time in places like New Guinea and Malaysia respectively.

We spent a couple of hours looking around the entire project and particularly looking through the biomes. It was amazing just how hot and humid it was in the tropical biome. Some of this is controlled by the construction that surrounds the area, some of it by the plants that are grown there, some of it by the water that flows through the biome. We saw crops like rice, bananas, mango, cocoa, coffee and hundreds of different palms. The humidity was, at times, oppressive although the temperature never got as high as it might have in Queensland, but it was interesting to see how much all of us had acclimatised so that we felt it much more than we might have 3 months ago. After taking a ride in a tractor-pulled train carriage back to the top of the site we decided to move on.

Getting back on to the A30 we continued down into Cornwall, passing the turns to the evocative sounding St Columb Major, Castle-an-dinas, St Dennis (patron saint, we decided, of turtle neck sweaters and loafers), Quoit, Inches, Zelah, Goonhavern, Perranzabuloe, Sevenmilestone, Goon Gumpas, Nancekuke, Higher Penponds, Towednack and Cripplesease. One of the other interesting things that occupied us on the road was the number of Wind Farms we spotted ( We would emerge over a hill and there, just off the road, would be a group of intimidatingly large windmills. We have come across these before. There is one just to the side of the M25 near Kings Langley, and another by the side of the M4 at Reading, but these were in groups of 15 or 16 and they made an impressive sight, all turning in the breeze. Really that should be all but one, for at each Wind Farm that we passed there was always one that was not turning. 6 of the countries major wind farms occur in Cornwall, we discovered later, next time we go back we shall have to see if we can spot the others.

Once more the boys began asking us how long it would be before we got to Penzance, and once more we told them that we weren’t going there just yet. This time we had an even better reason, we had been told that the hostel that we were going to stay in was not open to new arrivals between 2pm and 5pm. We had some time to kill, so we headed past the turns into Penzance itself and made for Land’s End ( This is the most westerly tip of the southern mainland of Great Britain and the furthest point west in England. Consequently it is used as one end of the, by now, traditional journeys the length of Britain. People run, cycle, walk, walk backwards, and any number of other strange methods of travel between Land’s End and John O’Groats (the most north-easterly settlement in mainland Britain, and 854 miles away as the crow flies). We passed all sorts of people as we drove, and also, about a mile out from Land’s End itself, the church at St Sennen. All of us marvelled at the fact that there had been a church on the site since 520AD, although much of the present building was [only] built in the thirteenth century. Cornwall was one of the counties most resistant to the reformation of the Church in the 16th century (hence so many of the St Something-or-others which form many of the town and village names in the area). Meg also pointed out the predominance of Methodist churches in the county, which no doubt relates to the fact that the Pilgrim Fathers voyage to America left from Plymouth (not that far away).

When we arrived at Land’s End we were greeted by a significant drop in the temperature since we had last left the confines of the car, and an increase in the amount of wind (which explained the presence of the wind farms and had nothing to do with Quinn’s consumption of baked beans). Brock also spotted a rabbit just metres away from the car park, sitting happily munching on grass while watching us with big wary eyes. Sadly, the focus on Land’s End has led to it becoming a bit of a tourist trap meaning that you had to pay to have certain photos on the most strategic points taken. Because it was Saturday afternoon, however, most of the shops in the shopping mall had closed, and even Meg wasn’t overly disappointed at this. We were fortunate that it was a relatively calm day, so the Atlantic was not producing enormous waves, and Meg and Wayne pointed out the way to the USA, just across the waters (and only a little more than 3000 miles away). We walked around the headland, admiring the view, before heading back to the car, this time bound for Penzance.

We parked outside the Blue Dolphin Backpackers Hostel ( and went inside to organise our rooms and drop off our possessions. After a nice chat with the duty manager (a South African, who was fascinated when he found out we were Australians who had actually moved to live in the UK, consequently, whenever he saw us there were questions he wanted to ask) we walked back out and down to the waterfront (about 400 metres) to look for somewhere to have dinner. After rejecting numerous pubs, cafes and restaurants because they were too expensive we went back a block and found a lovely little cafĂ© which specialised in fish and chips. We sat down for a meal of chips with various mains. More exciting was the desert. We had heard about this while living in Australia. My understanding was that the idea had originally begun in Scotland, but that it had been taken up in some parts of England. However, we hadn’t expected to find Deep Fried Mars Bars here in Penzance, Cornwall. Everyone at least had a taste, with the conclusion that we wouldn’t want to eat them all the time, but that it was an interesting culinary experiment.

As we walked back along the waterfront of Penzance, looking out on to Mount’s Bay we were amazed at the beach (although I am sure some Australians would see that description as somewhat ironic). Wayne had experienced previously that English beaches were largely rocks and pebbles rather than sand. What was more unexpected here was the blackness of what sand there was. You might see this in the photo. After walking for a few minutes Brock spotted something moving out in the water. It was a seal, just sitting about 10 metres out, just under the water, every now and then sticking his nose up for air. Brock and Quinn ran down on to the beach to get a closer look, and to collect stones for Meg, but the seal didn’t seem to want to come in any closer. Eventually, the boys came back up again and we went back to the hostel, putting the stones in the car as we went. Wayne and Meg read and watched television for a while, before heading off to bed. Brock and Quinn stayed up longer, chatting to the other backpackers, in particular some girls from Sweden and Switzerland, before they retired for the night after what had been a long but fabulous day.