The Old Manse. Tarbrax
Here we are back again, and according to Einstein we are slightly older, (or younger-I forget) on account of having gone round the world and returned to where we started. It probably accounts for my inability to make sense of my diary, once or twice we got to Tuesday night and it went and turned into Monday morning. No wonder they keep replacing Dr Who.
Anyway, Temporal distortions apart, back to more prosaic matters. We seem to be safely back and into the cold dark wet that is Scotland at this time. I shall now relate the bare minimum of our round the world holiday. Which, while not wanting to give away the plot, we both thoroughly enjoyed. Many people have been left out, whole cities have gone unmentioned, that's life. They will, no doubt, be greatly relieved. I will point out a couple of fascinating facts first though.
1. Mum, Jo Hewlett, has been visiting Australia and the general area for some years now visiting Bill, my younger looking brother, his family, and other friends and relations. It's a sort of yearly winter migration pattern.
2 Fiona's mother Lillias was born, and has friends and relations, in Sydney and so we have connections from both sides.
3.The original plan was to go out and build a house for Mum's winter migration, that plan is on hold at the moment but will be revived when circumstances permit.
Back to the story. Late in the night (or early in the morning depending on your approach) we started the epic jaunt. Rising at that time is not ideal, but they do like you to wait, sitting on your luggage in the lounge for a few hours so that the cramped confines of the aircraft seem acceptable by comparison. But I'm getting ahead of myself, first, getting to the airport. The price and potential reliability of a Taxi getting to Tarbrax at four in the morning persuaded us to leave the car at the Broxburn compound near the airport, all was quiet and still as we parked the car and registered our arrival. Within a few minutes the free shuttle bus rushed away (with us away hanging onto the seats trying to do up the seat belts) and off to the airport. After a happily short few yards lugging luggage into the Departures area we departed. Well actually we sat in departures and then the plane for a bit, but the principle was there. No, you are thinking of a Principal, and he must have been on a different flight. Try to concentrate. The flight at 7am to Paris had been held up for an hour by French fog at the far end, (it's similar to Good British Fog but more relaxed, warmer and somehow less hurried. Anyway it makes a change from Air traffic Controllers,) so we missed our connecting flight to Singapore. Not an auspicious start. Fortunately we were able to get a flight from Heathrow by just standing in France and waiting till they got sick of the sight of us. A few hours wait in the first class lounge in Paris (comfy chairs, free drinks, TV, Newspapers and snacks) a hop back over the channel and a bit of a pause in Heathrow had us back on track and not too delayed. The flight to Singapore was long but bearable, and we arrived on the evening of the 1st having set off on the 31st, That means we travelled for 12 subjective hours and arrived 24 hrs later, I think. Walking out into the heat was the sign that the holiday had really started (it's the same kind of hot humid heat that you get when you open the door of the tumble drier mid-cycle, but it doesn't hide one of your socks.) The Riverside hotel was very smart and, conveniently, right on the river, ideal for walks and eating at riverside restaurants. It appears that it was a right mess not long ago, and they had just finished tidying it up. We rushed out the following morning (2nd) and spent a lot of money on serious sunglasses, a digital camera and lots of other goodies. When we were all shopped out we were taken on a tour of the city and given a compulsory Singapore Sling at Raffles. Recently rebuilt at huge expense and being paid for by people who have to pay full price for a Sling. You can take photos of the luxury but you'll need a good flash, it's quite dark. Then off for an excellent meal and a visit to the huge market at Boogie Street, even more spending. I still think I should have bought that silk dressing gown with the dragon on the back. The next day (3rd) was a blur of Singapore sightseeing, a vertiginous cable car trip from Mount Faber over the bay and a river cruise in a bumboat. No I don't know why it's called that. We also had an exiting meal in a real Chinese restaurant with real Chinese food. I'll tell you about it some day, but I can tell you now that I'm not doing that again in a hurry. Leaving Singapore in the afternoon we arrived in Sydney early in the morning of the 4th and waited for the dawdling family to catch up. Mum and Lindy, their luggage, Fiona, myself, and our luggage were then packed into the suddenly rather small hire car, which then teetered over to Nancy's, where we left them. We visited Melva and Noel Lipscombe, whose connection is that they were neighbors of Fiona's mother's cousin Lillias. We stopped for a meal and a chat before we nipped off south to our first official accommodation at "The Moorings" near Tomakin not far from Batemans bay. Bit of a long drive after the exertions of the previous, so I let Fiona drive after my hands fell off the steering wheel. The resort (called The Moorings) near Tomakin was quiet and restful and we collapsed in a heap for a few hours. After looking all over the place, at all sorts of flora and fauna (Wombats can teach kittens something about cute) and generally doing the tourist bit on the 5th, we were picked up, fed, entertained and shown around by Hope and Charlie Wood for a whole day (6th). They are friends of Fiona's mother's cousin Lillias, her cousin has the same name, we also spoke to Lillias on the phone at Hope and Charlie's and she has the same voice as Fiona's mother - spooky). This was the one of several times when Australians, (family or not) we had never met before, spent time and effort looking after us like close and much loved family. Hope and Charlie showed us the high life and toured us around in a gigantic four wheel drive normally used for heroic forays into the outback, where I'm told conditions can get quite interesting rather suddenly. Fiona had a comprehensive list of places to go and things to see, so we spent the week peering into reserves and sites of interest, spotting wild 'roos, wallabies and the like. We found Mum's plot at Bermagui on Wallaga Lake before heading over the Snowy Mountains to Victoria. There, after being repeatedly advised by serious looking roadside signs "Not to bring Fruit into Victoria", We remembered an apple and a banana in the luggage just a few minutes before we were stopped by the police. Fortunately they only breathalised me. So, feeling rather guilty, slightly fruity, and very relieved, we arrived at Yarrawonga. There we went into high gear and visited loads of places, ate too much, drank too much and generally had a good time. They even laid on a proper 100 kilometer wide dust storm for us, I was enjoying that, driving back from a bit of sightseeing, but when I saw the road trains hiding in sheltered corners - it did give me a moment of concern. However we got through it safely. Yarrawonga's Murray Valley Resort 8th to 15th and then Mulwala's Capri Waters 15th to 20th provided good bases for general touristing. We followed Ned Kelly around for a while, he looks nothing like Mick Jagger, before Mum, Lindy and Bill caught up with us for a bit. We had breakfast at the Left Bank Cafe, a story in itself, a trip on Lake Mulwala and an excellent Thai meal to celebrate. All too soon they had headed back to Gunderoo, so we nipped over to Melbourne and ascended another vertiginous building, the Rialto Tower. Personally I prefer the flat, so a trip on a paddle steamer up the mighty Murray River was in order, amongst several other trips out and about (but generally close to the ground) and more good food. Eventually on the 20th we drove to Gunderoo to be greeted by the smell of burning. I was pleased that it wasn't the car, but a little worried to find that it was New South Wales. Fortunately it didn't seem to be Bill's bit so we decided that the best bet was a quiet pint at the local pub. So that's what we did while the rest of the family caught up with us. We spent the next few days talking, eating, drinking, visiting Canberra (an even taller building, the Telstra tower) and hanging out in Gunderoo, where they do a very good Pizza. The place really is rather like Tarbrax, but with more facilities. I wonder if I could get them twinned? We could do the civic thing and take some of our surplus water. Lanark District Council might even do some funding of a regular cultural exchange. One of the recommendations of the Official Information Desk at Telstra Tower was the Deep Space Communication Facility at Tibdindilla. There we met Glen Nagle who knew the answers to several questions that have been puzzling me for a while. He took a decent slice out of his schedule to explain what they were doing there and left us very impressed, especially with his list of visiting Astronauts. Not surprisingly the place felt rather like the set of "The Dish", when I mentioned it he said that most of the scientists portrayed in that film were working a few hundred metres away and, yes, they really were like that. To cap it all, just as we were leaving we found he even knew Tony Chappell, who we met later. On the 24th we regretfully left Bill, Suzi, Tom, Bella, and Spike the dog, to begin the second leg of our trip. Mum and Lindy were staying a while longer before heading off to the Blue Mountains. I imagine the place seems quite empty now. It must be a relief for Bill and Suzi; crashing out after a long day's work and having the kids do the housework for a bit. We headed for Sydney, or rather a place to the northeast of it called Ourimbah where we met the Kellers, (long standing friends of Fiona's parents) stayed for a few hours of some good conversation then turned back to Sydney. Ben, whose harmonica website you will find on the homepage, had recommended we call up some distant relatives in Manly, so we did and fell right on our feet. We had intended find a B and B for the first night, have a look at Sydney for a day and then put up at the Hilton in the airport till flight time the day after. Instead, Tony (Anne's cousin) and Julie Chappell and 106 year old Ruby, Tony's Mum, took us straight in, plied us with Champagne and Fish and Chips on the beach. They gave us a whole fully equipped flat for the two nights and put us, on the morning of the day in between, on the ferry from Manly to Sydney Harbor. There we spent the day doing the tourist bit. Harbour tours, water taxi, open-top bus rides round town, ice-cream, looking at the Opera House, (I sang there, but very quietly,) and no we did not go up the Bridge. Then they picked us up from the ferry and made a complete mockery of my intended diet, and gave us precise directions on how to get to the airport in time, thereby turning what would have been a rather limited but expensive two day stopover into a real treat. Our flight from the approaching dawn progressed well as far as Los Angeles where we encountered a very dull waiting room. Space stopped, time continued. Somebody please tell the Americans that this bit brings down the tone of the whole continent. Eventually we escaped to San Francisco, the airport of which was much nicer, and the city centre had many of the features of Sydney, but steeper. Now I think of it, so did Singapore. I shall have to revise my opinion of cities, some of them at least. San Francisco goes up and down like the proverbial and we took some exercise climbing the steepest and wiggliest (I didn't think spellcheck would like that one) switchback street I've seen. Other activities included a harbour tour and the traditional cable cars. The beggars, although unfailingly intelligent, courteous, know that if you don't deliberately avoid eye contact then you are a tourist. I had always felt that avoiding eye contact was anti-social, however I would need to if I were to stay there long.
The rest of the city was a treat and we were most impressed with the public transport system, very reliable, frequent, and cheap. Edinburgh could take a few lessons there.
After an all too short two and a half days we winged off to Heathrow where, I'm glad to say the Fireman's strike had been cancelled. The flight was unusual in that, since it was Thanksgiving, all the Americans had stayed at home, so the aircraft was only a third full. This meant that Fiona could lie down on four middle seats, which was much better for her back. I settled in three, which was much nicer than one. The stewards were a little bored, I think, and kept wandering about trying to get us to use up the stock of food and drink. The final flight to Edinburgh was uneventful and we picked up the car and arrived home at about 6pm on Friday evening. Both cats were embarrassingly emotional at our return and wouldn't leave us alone for hours. They seemed to have managed quite well without us however, and had grown their winter coats. They had also prepared a fine collection of eight or nine mice in the dining room for our return. We suffered hardly any jet lag at all, just being a little sleepy at the end of the first few days back. To my embarrassment I picked up a cold, presumably on the plane, but that's cleared up now-some seven days later, and I don't intend to get any more. Speaking now as a seasoned traveller I would offer the following sage advice: 1. Don't get stuck in LA airport, 2. Buy your clothes in Australia rather than carrying them out there. 3. Check your AVIS hire car carefully before you accept it, and 4, remember not to buy anything at a British Airport Duty Free shop because it will be cheaper anywhere else in the world outside Britain. The weather may be giving the Australians some worries, but here it's cold and dark, or cold and snowy. I liked when it was hotter outdoors than indoors. I even liked Singapore, which is supposed to be too hot, and liked walking out into the heat at 11pm. Returning to Scotland was a nasty shock, though not a surprise, it is December after all. On Monday morning I walked out into a dark, frosty wind and decided that I am in the wrong country, or at least the wrong season. It's not raining at the moment, touch wood, but it's definitely looming with menaces, the leafless trees scraping the sky with long black fingers, you get the picture I'm sure. I've got some petrol for the stand-by generator and a real intent to fix the leak in the conservatory when it's dry for a bit. Both cats have decided that it's not nice outside and are waiting for spring. Mind you, this is the time of year when the field mice come in and share Christmas. Last time they ate part of the plastic plumbing and the first time I turned the shower on, the water came out of the downstairs ceiling instead. Extending that thought, I was thinking it would be useful to relocate the rain falling on Scotland in a similar way, but on a bigger scale, zip it through the planet and reform it above Australia. I suppose the rain re-appearing, falling upward until the forces balanced and then falling back could look a bit odd, but I don't think there is an energy debt, and it would certainly please Bill in Gunderoo. You might have to do something about the change in latitude though. (That old rotational speed vector problem) It would be a pity if the rain came out sideways (East I think) as ice, at twice the ground level orbital velocity. Well, Times chariot wings its way across the heavens, or it probably does but I can't see it, and a large whisky is calling from the kitchen cupboard with a particularly penetrating voice. As everybody knows, when you start seeing visions and hearing voices that nobody else can, it's time to stop writing.
Love and best wishes and have a. Happy Christmas
Jim and Fiona.
Ps Most of this was written in mid December, but it's taken me a while to get it out, so pardon any anachronisms and I hope you had a Happy New Year too.