Jun 29, 2014

Cambridge Punting Trip Brings Temporary End to Sunshine and Dry Weather Shocker

Somebody thought that it would be a really great idea to go for a trip into Cambridge. It might have been Nicole. We fancied a punt:

punt 1  (punt)
An open flatbottom boat with squared ends, used in shallow waters and usually propelled by a long pole.
v. punt·edpunt·ingpunts
1. To propel (a boat) with a pole.
2. To carry in a punt.
To go in a punt.

[Probably Middle English *punt, from Old English punt, from Latin pontpontoon, flatbottom boat, from pns, pont-bridge; seepent- in Indo-European roots.]

punter n.

and Cambridge is just the place to do it, for the benefit of the children of course.

We embarked from the residence of Mr C. Slimm on a fine morning in a convoy of three cars - always a risky manoeuvre - headed for a park and ride. Matthew for some reason have the impression that he knew where we were going and so it was that we ended up in about the furthest park and ride from Cambridge that there is, or at least that was the impression I got later on when everybody was throwing around recriminations.

A man was required in order to work the ticket machine, of which there were two, specifically a man with a piece of plastic with money on it - sound familiar?

With tickets in hand we awaited our bus, a motley crew of Slimms and hangers-on, camp followers you might call us. Our prams were laden with goods of one form or another, from spare clothes to baby maintenance toolkits to snacky foodstuffs. Chris' portable chair doubled as an Esky for beer.

The first bus was one that we had unfortunately failed to buy a ticket for, as it was playing for the opposition bus company, as we could claim as we had inadvertently taken sides when negotiating with the ticketing machine.

The second bus was the one for us and on we climbed. The parents of young children remained downstairs to gossip with the young children whilst everybody else climbed the stairs and who knows what delights they experienced up there. The bus proceeded along a straight straight road for a long long time until eventually we reached some kind of terminus where we were disgorged to stand beside the street to decide the detail of the next stage of our unformed plan.

It was decided by a conclave of those who thought they knew Cambridge that we should embark upon a trek across town in order to find a sandwich shop to refuel at, because the kids were hungry and need something to eat.

It was only a few miles to the sandwich shop of choice and it only took quite a lot of minutes to get there, who knows what tortuous route we followed but I was certainly lost until we happened to pass King's College which I recognised from my previous snowy visit. The sandwich shop was near to that and we with prams stood outside like social pariahs awaiting some beneficent pedestrian to fetch us our food.

Punting time was close at hand, but first we had to transport our sandwiches to a suitable place for eating, so we walked a little further to a field that was chock-full of cowshit because apparently as far as eating locations go that's just the ticket.

Lovely it was too between the pats but I was lacking a certain je ne sais quoi and had to go for coffee, and then for a trip to inspect the local public facilities. By the time I got back I was able to survey my surroundings with a more objective eye.

The field in which we had eaten lay in the corner of an elbow of the river which was puctuated by a small bridge under which the waters rushed through a weir. Punts (see above definition) were very much in evidence, queueueued up on the sides mostly but also being punted (see above definition) up the river and down the river by nameless, faceless by no doubt well-dressed and well-spoken individuals who were probably all world leaders in their intellectual fields, because this was Cambridge, right?

In our intellectual field there were plenty of cowpats, a couple of weeping willows (which we didn't realise would come in mighty useful before very long), some clowns - or is that humourous street performance executives these days - and plenty of what I can only describe as students.

Someone, probably Nicole, suggested that we should take a punt on a punt and go punting. A small yet mysteriously lengthy debate then took place where some little people decided that under no circumstances would they go on one of those things, some adults seemed to be of a similar opinion and in what turned out to be true Slimm style when points were to be made and positions set out for the sake of argument, tears were not far behind as it was obviously unacceptable for person X to be on a boat without person Y but if person Z wasn't going to be going then person W would have to have a cadenza. Get the picture?

Anyway by the time we had come to the decision that most children would be going a Chris would be staying behind to supervise the laggards and consume the contents of his portable chair, we had numbers and I went off to procure the tickets. The sky, now I looked at it, was getting a but murky and dark.

As I closed the deal on the transaction and handed over the credit card details the rain began gently to spatter down upon the roofs. I walked back to the mob of Slimms and with each step the intensity of the rain increased a little.

We decided to risk it (biscuit) and headed towards the punts. With each step from each person the intensity of the rain increased a little, but with that many steps from that many people by the time we reached the punts, asking of they could provide umbrellas, being told "no" and looking each other in the eye with some assisting eyebrow action, the heavens were well and truly open for business and we realised that the best place for us was beneath a tree, cowpats or no cowpats. So what we did was we ran to the nearest tree,got underneath it, waiting for young people to get upset because you know this is England, right, and it rains here all the time, and nobody's used to it at all.

So our dilemma, as the minutes passed beneath our tree and the rain showed no sign of abating and the volume and distress levels increased inexorably, was a Clash-esque should we stay or should we go, though the equivocation between Trouble and Double was highly debatable.

So our options were to contact and wait for taxis to transport us to an undecided location, or to hot-foot it to the bus. Taxis were shot down pretty quickly so hot-footing or actually cold-footing was clearly the way forward and it was with a glad heart (well someone probably had one) and plenty of ill humour that we re-traced our steps through the pouring rain and struck out for the bus stop.

We stopped in a shopping centre for a while to watch a display of man flesh unparalleled in its masculine muscularity in recent times, and then onto the Condensation Omnibus and home sweet home.

I think it's fair to say that a good time was had by all.

Jun 28, 2014

Slimm Territory

And so off to the Slimm residence in Buckden for the first in a sequence of some barbecues to celebreate the Slimm twin's birthday, which we celebrated in style, if by style you mean considerable quantities of alcohol and a great deal of testicular verbiage conducted on a garden patio.

All the youngest two generations of the Slimms were there: Nicole, Chris, Matt, Eloise, Maisie, Violet, Isla, Lyra and Olly, for the first time together. Needless to say, there were relationships to form and orders to peck.

The wisest course here is probably to leave it that, since I can't really remember anything of what transpired anyway. Honestly!

Jun 27, 2014

The Trifecta: Debenham and Helmingham

What the Australians tend to do whenever the number three turns up is to talk about a trifecta. Needless to say, being Australia, this is a gambling term - no doubt you'll be aware (as I have just had to remind myself) that a trifecta is a bet which attempts to predict the first, second and third place horses in a race. Obvious, right? And yet in the Australian media, if the number three comes up then it's automatically a trifecta (note: not a hat-trick).

So, to celebrate the misuse of the word trifecta - ahem:

Mum completed her trifecta of inspirational, or maybe even inspiral, Suffolk Tourist Destinations by taking us on a day trip to Debenham and Helmingham Hall.

See those tiles there? They are just one small part of the floor of the remarkable Debenham Church, which has a remarkable floor of ancient (or are they) parquet (if that's not a gross misuse of the term) or perhaps herringbone (though probably not) tiles which are quite striking for their warmth and complexity.

Honestly these churches are all over the place in England, they're absolutely everywhere, mostly built by the Normans back in the 11th Century, when (at the risk of repeating myself) money was real money and probably in short supply but it gone done anyway - and people built stuff to be beautiful not to turn a profit (at least the God-related stuff which is pretty much most of what survives from those days), compare and contrast that with the stuff they build these days when nothing gets done unless it's going to pay itself back within seven years and even then it's built as cheaply and craply as possible because the whole place is run by accountants!

Still, they could have done better on the insulation if you ask me.

Anywaaaay.... I'm sure I probably managed a wring turn on the way to Debenham; I certainly tried. But again Mum knew her way and steered us unerringly using only her voice and occasional waves of the hand to our penultimate destination. She wasn't much cop when it came to parking the car, but as she wasn't driving I suppose we can forgive her that.

First order of the day, having arrived, was to procure a Lunch of the Pub variety which actually involved a little shopping around as the first pub we went to whose name I don't recall for legal reasons had that feel to it, you know, that they're not really putting in the effort - that kind of faint Suffolk-pub-toilet fragrance that just sits around the upper half of your nasal cavity, in the background, sort of reassuringly rural and yet ineffably and subtly disturbing. And the menu was rubbish.

The second pub that we went to was much more promising. There was a very nice old barman who was very polite if slightly vague and had facial hair unfortunately reminiscent of Wobble-Board Rolf - but we didn't hold that against him. His Irish colleague stroke manageress was friendly also and after a while, once we'd placed our orders, they even began to give an impression of efficiency. Well, they probably couldn't believe heir luck that some Strangers from Out of Town should actually buy food in their humble establishment.

We went outside and the sun she was blazing again so in the pub sun-trap we resolved to respect the sun and hug the shade. There was only enough for Nicole and me so everyone else had to sit in the sun but they didn't mind, probably. They didn't seem to anyway, though I didn't actually ask.

The food was as delicious as reheated food could be and Nicole couldn't praise her enormous Yorkshire pudding full of overdone beef highly enough.

After our gourmet treat we walked up the road to visit the aforementioned church, dodging the graveyard artists and their finely balanced easels and measuring pencils to get a good look inside.

debenham church

Pretty. And then, having had our fill of gastronomy and religion, we went off to Helmingham Hall to once again sample the lifestyles of the rich and famous and in fact to support them by paying for the privilege.

We rolled up to Helmingham Hall after not very long to discover that the Lord and Lady Tollemarche would not be opening the house today but that the gardens were open to be viewed. I think that the house is only opened to the very select few if at all - you can't let the riff-raff in after all. But the gardens as I understand it are opened from time to time, and they must be for there is a tea-room and shop and all that fandango for the old people to enjoy.

And my goodness old people were in evidence all over the place, they were sitting on benches and ambling aimlessly among the flowerbeds, except when you got up close you could hear them talk to each other really knowledgeably about flowers and gardens and stuff.

So the Hall was pretty impressive: not a patch on Ickworth in terms of scale, but much older (Tudor) and in the middle of a lake. Well.

You'd have to say that a place that size was really big enough for anybody, but Eloise said that she would probably be able to find a use for all the rooms and once she moved in she'd be applying for planning permission to put up the extension right away. Of course, she didn't say that really, I just made that up.

In front of the Hall - though the Hall had four-fold rotational near-symmetry so it was difficult to say where the front actually was - was the Knot Garden where some hedges had been trimmed into knot-like sculptures with herbs growing in the interstices. Oh my Gord.

Eloise and Lyra made a bit of an impression on a lady how was dead-heading the roses and thankfully not the sort of impression where she might decide to dead-head them. She was quite posh and pretty soon we'd decided that she was probably the Lady of the Manor, Tollemarche herself. I'm quietly confident that we are right in that assertion though I haven't bothered to look up an photos or anything, I'm just working on the basis that she was a bit posh.

Around on the other side of the house was a Walled Garden that put Ickworth's sad effort to shame, and we spent a good long while wandering around that before falling asleep on the lawn and generally being indolent.

Jun 26, 2014

Ickworth House

Continuing with the Mum-inspired itenerary of local historical tourist traps we headed up to Ickworth House, and nearly got lost on the way but try as I might I couldn't quite pull off a convincing wrong turn that allowed me heroically to recover and engineer a scenic, diverting yet humourous detour.

As Mum knew her way there (or almost) it was a depressingly easy drive but at least when we got there we found that the house was closed that day and that we would be restricted to touring the grounds. Bearing in mind that the grounds are, to paraphrase Douglas Adams, of absolutely mind-buggering size, this was probably a blessing in disguise as our time was limited, if only by the solar cycle and Ickworth House's opening hours.

It was clear when we arrived that a great deal of industry was being undertaken with Legions of National Trust Operatives moving around, apparently purposefully, with chainsaws, dressed in that most English of workplace uniforms, the Monogrammed Fleece, with very sincere expressions on their faces, because by God they were preserving our Heritage by cutting down trees and pruning the hedges. And good for them.

We did sort of try to sneak in a bit, I think, in an unspoken sort of way, before gaining entrance in an underhanded gift-related way I feel it would be faintly inappropriate to describe here before the statue of limitations on such activities has expired.

The cafe at the start was frankly crap, serving office-standard coffee and British Rail-standard Cake-a-likes. The volunteer there, though sincere, was inept. Curse her.

Having refuelled, albeit on low-grade unleaded, we pressed on to the ridiculous gardens which though beautiful in there own sculpted, topiaried way, spoke to me of a society long past with an Empire though perhaps Noble and Glorious in its conception serving only to concentrate vast wealth in the hands of the lucky and priveleged few who far from earning it merely inherited it, and ultimately squandered the gift that they had been given, ripped from the jewels of the Empire to the detriment of the conquered colonies, passed down through the generations and then thrown away on drugs and smuggling.

Still their loss our gain I and it was that society that constructed these follies that we can now, we members of the proplusatariat, wander around and ogle and drop our litter upon.

We looked around the Stumpery (a garden made from tree stumps, honestly!) and ogled the Church before walking across the gone-to-seed Walled Garden which was probably something in its day, but as seems to be the fashion now given over to hirsute grassy wildflower meadows.

It was nice, and we stayed until the bitter end.

Jun 25, 2014

Electronic Tourist Guides FTW

I challenged Mum to find something interesting for us to do and with Eloise keen as mustard on castles off we went to a castle - this one at Orford, some King or other's pride and joy, costing vast amounts of money back when money was real money, men were real men, and castles were real castles.

Of course I took a wrong turn on the way which necessitated a slightly around-the-houses detour because I will never turn around, but that aside we made it there in five pieces (six if you count the car). It must have been cramped in the back, but what would I know - I had all the sumptuous space that the driver's suite of a Ford Focus can offer and I'm just the sort of selfish bastard that doesn't give a shit about anybody else's riding comfort.

Anyway, we happened upon Orford, a tiny village that's frankly the last place you'd expect to find a bastion of the ancient Norman state, but back in the day it must have been something because the Keep is all that remains and that's reasonably impressive.

We entered through the front entrance, as is usual, to find a nicely appointed little shop with a very nice man who introduced us to our Electronic Tour Guides. Electronic Tour Guides have been previously seen in such classics as the Roman Baths in Bath, in which I'm told they turned in a hammy if informative performance popular with the children, and the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, in which their performance was bizarrely forgettable though being Amsterdam that may be through no fault of their own.

Anyway the Orford Electronic Tour Guides played their parts in a little-known English Dialect called Ancient Suffolk Cliché and, though informative, tended to be leading all the visitor zombie-like around the castle. You know when you're on a train these days, in these sad times, and nobody is trying to count the dust motes on the ceiling in an effort to avoid eye contact because they're all engrossed in their mobile phones? Well the tourist experience is that everyone shuffles around with this phone thing attached to their ear looking into the middle distance listening to someone channeling their inner ancient monk, in Ancient Suffolk Cliché.

Orford Castle was actually one of those gems that we'd lived round the corner from for years and years but never actually visited and which was really very good, steeped in beautifully restored history and all that jazz and terribly interesting.

We went for a bite to eat afterwards but the BBC had commandeered the pub for some dodgy thingy about metal detectors so we ended up at some little cafe bistry thingy where Lyra antagonised other poeple's dogs and stole crabbing equipment from the next-door shop.

Jun 23, 2014

Urban Agriculture

We had a chilled-out day where surprise surprise the sun was out, and we visited Mum's allotment where Eloise and Lyra enjoyed watering and planting and harvesting and all that stuff.

Jun 21, 2014

Get a (Social) Life

We took some time out, just to further discombobulate everybody and confuse the crap out of babies who don't know any better, to see some old friends over the next couple of days, and to Faye, Sarah, Sam, Esmee, Amelia, Max, Freddy, Rachel, Denise, Erin, anyone else not mentioned, like dogs for instance: We Salute You.

I particularly enjoyed making Faye blush through the medium of public innuendo, walking out at Grange Farm with the Men, and watching Eloise pick up with Amelia pretty much where she left off all those years ago only with the benefit of a functioning speaking voice and a modicum of intelligence.

Faye was still sporting her wry, slightly incredulous elfin smirk, Sam her inimitable sartorial style and easygoing charm and Sarah her pneumatic stage presence and command over kingdoms animal and junior.

Congratulations to you all on your reproductive success! Does that sound wrong?

Orwellian Country Park

In order to continue our tradition of non-dog-walking around our old dog-walking haunts, we drove out past the ghastly new Retail Park where (ooh) Waitrose and (ahh) John Lewis have set up Aerodrome-sized edifices of mysterious over-the-counter ononism, past Ravenswood with its lovely fence and Toy-Town architecture and out to Orwell Country Park, where once again with pram we negotiated the challenging root-ridden terrain on the shoulders of the Orwell Valley.

Down to the beach we went where you can look down-river to Shitley and up-river to the Orwell Bridge and across to Woolverstone and the Butt and Oyster, the water gently lapping on the malodourous mud, the seaweed dank and sticky as your feet sink inexorably to just the point on your shoes where it leaves a really hard-to-get-rid-of pongy tidemark of green sludge.

And it's especially on this sort of day, when the sun has decided to take his hat off and stick two fingers up to the population below through the medium of thick grey cloud, that the mud is really inviting, enhancing as it does the chill in the air as the niff of mud, seaweed and micro-organisms is borne down the river on a pillow of chill air just blustery enough tickle your ears through your hair.

Am I making it out to be worse than it is? It has a certain desolate charm, quite different from that we'd had from the other side of the river when we were jetlagged at the Suffolk Dining Shed in the blazing sunshine those many moons ago.

We met by chance an old boy who we got talking to and he certainly appreciated the lonely beauty of it, and began to reminisce about playing in the Park before it was a park but a rampant untended wilderness many years ago, and about the old Lido that had been just up the river, now demolished and built over, and about times gone by and traditions lost and generations, blah blah zzzzzzz..... we moved on to experience something really old, wizened and impressive but that could be climbed upon.

Chez Maman

Mum was next to receive the unremitting pleasure of our company and thankfully Lyra was beginning to get over whatever her ailment was, although what with yet another bedroom and the refusal of the sun to obey Australian law and have the decency to go down at bedtime, the evening routine remained as fraught as ever.

In the morning of the first day I think it was I went to Stansted to retrieve the wife from whatever bizarre intellectual rituals she had been forced to perform in Berlin.

This time I arranged through sporadic communications with her to pick her up at the free set-down zone, a mere long bus-ride away from the airport with an hour of free parking provided you could prove you were a freemason and not of Eastern European extraction, or whatever hoops they decided to make you jump through to make the pick up of your loved ones as inconvenient as possible if you didn't want to pay through the nose for it.

I left it til the last minute this time to set off as I was pretty sure that arriving on time would be a grave mistake, and sure even just as I was about to embark upon my delayed journey with little Lyra in the back, Nicole phoned to say that she had been delayed on the tarmac because the aeroplane needed a lightbulb changing or an air-freshener topping up or something.

So having left it until the last minute I left it a little longer before setting off. Lyra was soon sound asleep in the back and snoozing beautifully up until the point at which I stopped at a rest area to relieve my agonisingly stretched bladder, at which point in the car, yes in the blazing (or as close as it gets to blazing) sunshine, whilst I was in the toilet peeing with my urethra's usual lackadaisical sense of urgency, she batted an eyelid, at which point I knew, just knew that a sequence of slow-motion disasters was about to unfold.

With that in mind, imagine if you will my complete lack of surprise when we parked at the so-called Free Pick Up Zone which was in fact just a section of probably the most distant car park from the terminal you could envision - I mean it might as well have been in bloody Epsom really - and waited for that one magical bus in an endlessly sporadic and unendingly infrequent sequence of unmagical buses - which never turned up.

Waited as the battery on the phone I had borrowed from my mother ran increasingly towards zero, waiting for that smidgeon of communication from She Who Must Be Waited Upon to indicate just a hint as to her whereabouts.

And as the buses sailed by and Lyra jumped up and down and supplies ran low and the sun warmed the tarmac and the bus shelter, that blessed fag-ash shelter with its little machine with the big button that said "Press for Assistance" got hotter and hotter, we got closer and closer to the free time limit and I was absolutely buggered if I was going to hand over a single centime to those bloody fly by nights (which might actually be an accurate term to describe airport operators with).

So lacking for anything else to do to pass the time, of course Lyra pressed the "Press for Assistance" button.

And then the call came through that Nicole was stuck in the Customs Queue from Hell and that even if she could find a bus to catch to the Free Pick Up Zone she'd be bloody yonks yet.

So Lyra and I, with a certain amount of protest, returned to the Hocus Focus and began an extended drive around the expanded Stansted Block, arranging with Nicole to pick her up from the spot where we dropped her off those many days ago, and about an hour later, after many a trip around many a roundabout and some soul-searching around toilets and supplies and the possibility, heaven forbid, of actually visiting a fast-food restaurant, we counterpointed the efficiency of drop-off with the absolute fiasco of pick-up and got the hell out of Dodge, Wifey recovered if not re-upholstered.

After the cross country trip (wrong turn this time) that had become my Standard Stansted Return Route, we pitched up at Mother's, all present and correct, moaning in I thought a very English way about transport in general, punctuality in particular, though strangely not about the weather which had been, of course, lovely.

Jun 20, 2014

Another Venue Change

Another day and it was time to move on.

We had a lovely time with Dad and Shirley, and even though Lyra wasn't very well, Eloise had a great time with all the excitement of trips to Marks and Spencer that I haven't mentioned, John Lewis that I haven't mentioned and Shirley's general grandchild-related exuberance.

In fact a package arrived on our last day from John Lewis with properly fitting raincoat from John Lewis after a small London-based shopping misjudgement.

Anyway we stayed active and the seniors are in good health, and all's well, as they say, that ends well.

Jun 19, 2014

Sleeping Babes on the Shitley Peninsula

Lyra falls asleep on the way back so I drop the Gamps and Eloise off and set off for a drive to keep Lyra in the Land of Nod.

I end up doing an explore around the old haunts on the Shotley Peninsula, from Holbrook to Erwarton to Shotley and Chelmondiston.

It's a rural landscape, rolling fields of wheat and rape dotted with little churches, rows of cottages, pockets of woodland, tiny winding roads with high borders of grass you can't see over and points of colour where the wildflowers are growing.

Somewhere over the next hill the land eases off down to the river where the tide laps gently against the muddy flats and the seaweed smells stick to your feet.

Lyra sleeps for a couple of hours and then we head back to the Little Smoke.


Well our trip to Felixstowe, you know our one trip to the sunny Suffolk seaside, was somewhat let down by the skies which decided on that day that they would fill with cloud.

I think it was sunny at Landguard Fort. I seem to remember that it was sunny when we arrived at the beachfront when we arrived and went to the Alex for a cup of coffee, where Lyra was spirited, if I recall correctly.

But at some point it must have clouded over because ore it became chilly, yes chilly.

Eloise, Lyra and I went into the Pier for old times' sake and played on the video games and pinball. Eloise was delighted with video games; it was probably just the fact of money leaving my wallet that was the draw.

Lyra was still grotty. Rain started. We went home.

Jun 18, 2014

Old Stomping Grounds

So it's worth mentioning at this point I suppose that besides her sleeping difficulties, general place confusion and power struggling little Lyra seemed to have caught up with Erin's grottiness in Somerset with a runny nose and additional unwellness.

Considering that it's probably a good thing that we hadn't planned on accompanying the Adventurers to London. It would always have been a struggle with a baby but with a sick baby, even more so.

So we stayed behind and took the opportunity to visit Mum and we went with her for a walk to Sutton Common, an old stomping ground which we would visit regularly with the dogs.

On this occasion I decided to take the pram as we had left the baby-carrier-thingy aka the sciatica-inducer back in Australia. The pram did OK generally speaking but it isn't until you have a wheeled thingy that you realise how uneven the ground underfoot can be what with tree roots and all that general bumpiness and mud and stuff.

Needless to say we were beginning to take it for granted that the sun was shining yet again in this most un-English of English summers and Sutton Common was very much as I remembered it, floored with thick bracken from which the birch and pine trees grow thick and dense. The air smelled like Badedas as it rustled gently through the leaves above.

I remembered the spot where Matilda dug out a rabbit, her bottom sticking up out of the hole she had dug before jumping up, her nose brown with the damp soil. The smell of fox-poo on the dogs as they slunk back dejected after another half-hour tryst.

It was a pain in the arse to get Lyra to sleep again that night if I recall, but that was OK as the Wanderers were held up and didn't get back til God knows what time.

At Home with the Gavins

Brendan, Shirley and Eloise returned from Colchester to find Lyra and I ensconced in their living room, and we took a walk to survey Ipswich's premier playground facilities, those at Christchurch Park's very own Hippy Hill.

When I was a callow youth, as opposed to a callow adult, it was my regular and usually drunken pleasure to scale the fences of Christchurch Park with drinking companions and play silly games on Hippy Hill and occasionally the playground.

Nowadays those harmless activities would be stymied in all probability not only by the pervasive closed-circuit surveillance regime of the Police State but by the wildflower meadows which have taken the place of the mown grass - making rolling down the hill in a drunken fugue next to impossible - and by the modern child-safe playground facilities with their shock absorbing surfaces - which make throwing stones that are no longer there rather difficult.

I suppose you can't fight progress and in compensation for the reduced teenage misbehaviour opportunities there are some nice slides and marine-themed equipment (and I did actually overhear pretentious parent pillocks tell little Jeremiah: "Why don't you go and utilise that other piece of equipment over there" It's a slide, God damn it, that's the technical term, and "equipment" is just a weasel word that means nothing, describes nothing and simply institutionalises bureaucratic vanilla-double-speak in infancy! Rant over!)

The next day it was early doors for Eloise. Lyra and I slumbagoed away whilst the others made their way to London for the epic day of a lifetime for the Ginger Peril with absolutely not a moment wasted as she was rushed from destination to destination from the Houses to Parliament to Pall Mall to Buckingham Palace to Somewhere Else and Somewhere Else Again and Maybe the Tower of London but not Platform 9¾. But a date with Charlie at his Chocolate Factory, or at least somebody's reinterpretation of it, figured prominently.

Jun 17, 2014

Henley Mansions and Farewell Wifey

So after a final night in Colchester we bade farewell to Clan James and with a cheery wave and a final Thuggernaut Kiss off we went to Dad and Shirley's place in sunny Ipswich, where we spent a pleasant evening before Nicole departed for whatever mysterious Teutonic work-related delights lay ahead of her in probably sunny Deutschland.

And that was our activity for the next day, getting young Nicole to Stansted Airport. With Lyra in tow (not actually literally, as we didn't ask for a tow bar on our rental Ford Faff) we toddled off to the Airport without a clear idea of where we were going and though we allowed plenty of time to get there we arrived surprisingly in plenty of time only to find ourselves in the bizarre situation of having to pay actual cash money to drop Nicole off at the passenger terminal.

In sheer disgust we decided to laugh in the faces of the authorities and stage an on-spec al-fresco dismount manoeuvre whereby Nicole de-carred by the side of the road and lugged her buggage across the car park. And that was the last we saw of her. No teary farewells, very business-like. Efficient even.

Needless to say Lyra soon fell asleep and I took the cross-country route back to Henley Mansions, intermittently swapping messages with Grandparents who were at Colchester Castle with Eloise showing her a good time in the museum where, according to the photographs taken, several costumes were attempted and a computerised chariot was driven.

Jun 15, 2014

Back to Civilisation

So that was that and all's well that ends well and all that, we had had our time in sunny Somerset and it was time to return to similarly sunny Essex.

Eloise had been most excellent throughout and been a good friend to everybody.

Lyra had been less good, with difficulties sleeping and an unfortunate tendency to bite Erin in particular but probably everyone really. Jet lag had clearly been a problem and probably combined with teething and perhaps separation anxiety as well as the general confusion and disorientation of suddenly unfamiliar territory and people. Well what can you do with a pre-conscious being other than keep an eye on it?

Notwithstanding all that, we drank wine with no hangovers, watched the World Cup and England's not entirely disappointing but still far from electric first performance, burned fires and slept passably well.

The swimming pool that Mr Owner (who it turned out had lived in Brisbane for a while) had lent us had only a little lawn-dart hole in it, and only one plate got broken so all in all I think we got away with it.

Jun 14, 2014


One of the main reasons that Nicole decided that we should go to the West Country, rather than say the Dales or the Peaks or the Lakes or the Highlands, other than distance and practicality, which are undoubtedly valid and valuable considerations, was because she has lots of little chums who live around there - well, lots in anybody's book if their book defines lots as three. But those three all have offspring and offspring are of course important.

Now I don't recall if I popped pictures of Alison's pair on the blog last time we saw them, nudge nudge wink wink, but I'll see if I can find some pictures of her children! But Suzanne and Ian have a new boy, well new to us, there he is on the left.

It's been a while, five years odd, but those girls have grown up. Little Neave is now Big Neave and has precocious attitude in spades whereas Littler Lucy is now Medium-Sized Lucy and has moved on since the Destroy the Holiday Home so-called quiet girl of yester-year.

Suzanne and Ian, being locals, had us on a countryside walk before we knew it down alongside a river bordered by lush forest and objectionably muddy paths to a disused ruined watermill of some kind where little three-year old Seth assaulted Eloise and reduced her to tears (admittedly not that difficult a feat).

Suzanne had it all planned out with a nice countryside picnic to be had on a charming little daisy-strewn lawn by the river, but when we got there the daisy lawn had gone horribly wrong and was now a weed-strewn patch of mud but we made the best of it and munched on our snacks while the river meandered away beside us.

We pressed on through a little gap to continue our journey and set off up the path which ran through a charming little daisy strewn lawn which would in retrospect have been the perfect location for a nice countryside picnic. Funnily enough at that point we realised that we may have stopped off just a little early for our food.

Still, not to be discouraged, we adults pressed ahead, feeling lighter now that our loads had been transferred into the gastro-intestinal tracts of children. The children on the other hand were feeling quite discouraged now that their gastro-intestinal tracts were taking blood away from their brains and muscles on this flaming interminable walk.

But there were cows and waterfalls and the babble of the river and flowers and the beautiful sunshine and before too long we arrived at a road which led us to a pub and then it seemed that all would be right in the world, for everyone.

Anyway to cut a long story a little less long we wandered back after a while through a walled garden centre thing to the cunning emplaced cars which took us back home for barbecue fun with James, Jane, Erin and Noah.

Oh, and it was James' birthday too. Happy Birthday, bro!

Jun 13, 2014

Bath Scape

I would like to point out that when we went to Bath, James led the way. Almost immediately turning in the wrong direction we hadn't even exited Frome before he admitted defeat and asked us to go ahead. I'm pretty sure that we got us lost at some point after that, but that isn't the point, and I may not even have what scant excuses for facts I haven't bothered to mention here straight, but I will accept no revisionist counter-revolutionary claims of falsehood.

And so, to Bath, the jewel in the crown of the West Country, or possibly just the crown?

We headed for the Park and Ride, not daring to take two cars into the city, and had nothing but (faint) praise for the bus service which whisked us through the drenching sun into the city before dropping us unceremeniously (lack of ceremony only in the interests of punctuality, I'm sure) in the city centre.

We had an abortive attempt to find a picnic spot by the canal before deciding that water expanses wasn't the best location and headed into the city to find a park, which we did, sitting down amongst the pasty-faced office workers and East European builders to munch upon our most excellently catered lunch.

With the briefest of stop-offs at a self-compacting refuse unit, we pressed on to find a pseudo-flashmob performance art dance thingy making some progress, stopping to watch it for a while before mapping our way through a high street of delights.

I sneakily sneaked into a McDonalds to use their facilities, which were sort of reminiscent in their compact efficiency of an aeroplane, and reminisced nasally over the redolent fragrances of cooking processed meats which brought we so much joyless satiety in my younger years.

The cobbled streets of Bath left my stroller in pieces, and stopping several times to re-attach wheels left me behind the uncaring crowd within a crowd, clearly caught up in their destination wherever that might be, and I did feel the need to take the occasional photograph. As we arrived at the Roman Baths, the stroller and its occupant and I, we circuited the collonnades and courtyards with their bustling crowds taking all this history around and underfoot for granted, with the street guitarist's chords and tonics echoing between the columns and tourists on benches looking faintly miserable while other folks in period costume followed each other around with Canon SLRs masquerading as video cameras as they masqueraded as pie-shop punters.

I jumped the queue to join my compadres, we ditched the pram in the pram-ditching area, we accosted the tour-guides-on-strings and began the process of controlling children whilst incidentally attempted to enjoy the ambience of the Roman Baths.

Lyra was creating merry hell, and true to form Nicole and I were soon left behind to control the Imp as she screeched, climbed, ran, and generally cried havoc through the museum section. I won't deny that I was a little jealous of the placidity of little Erin at various points throughout our time together and this was one of those times.

Still at least she didn't bite anybody (that we didn't know).

Anyway for all that the Baths were rather spectacular, bathing in the sun if not the water was very pleasurable, and the experience was done very nicely. If only the pretend Romano-British performer with their easy conversation and authentic ancient perfume had spoken Latin, but then that was probably too much to ask for.

After the Baths we wandered around before finding a place for some drinks. Actually we got sort of lost again. Which was nice.
at peace

Jun 12, 2014

Surface Detail

Cheesy Picture of Cheddar Gorge
After our coffees were consumed, we headed down the Gorge to find a place to eat our carefully prepared sandwiches. We wended our way down the hill past shops selling Cheddar and other items of varying cheesiness, past alternative cave experiences, babbling brooks, coffee shops, toffee emporia, the whole gamut - an irresistable travelogue of temptation for poor Eloise who, primitive nexus of immediate desire that she remains, demanded satisfaction for every outlet.

She had to wait a while though as food had to be inserted at our top ends and our bottom ends had to be unstoppered and allowed to empty with varying degrees of urgency. This was achieved in a small park just below a potentially picturesque but sadly half-empty pond where we ate, drank and frolicked.

Frolicking complete, we decided to go on the bus trip to take us back up to the top of the Gorge, and a lovely open-top bus it was too, but to the top of the Gorge it did not go - oh no, just a little way up the Gorge it went while we were regaled with no doubt fascinating and amusing stories about Cheddary history, none of which I remember.

James and Jane and their camp followers abandoned ship around this point leavingus stragglers to do other stuff, and we went around the second cave, whose name escapes me as so many minor details do these days, but whose rock formations were actually superior with most excellent stalactite and stalacmite action going on. We even went po-faced around the rubbish kids thingy whose rather laboured attempts to recreate the Lord of the Rings Eloise just sneered at. Cheesy indeed.

Subterranean Epochal Deposition Blues

Perhaps it's not a particularly original west-country tourist destination, but then we're not partcularly original west-country tourists, and if ever there's a new experience for a little person who has never been in a cave, it's going in a cave. So Cheddar Gorge.

We drove down in convoy, and needless to say (as far as I can recall) got lost somewhere - though in a good-natured way - but almost immediately realised the error of our way and pulled a hasty mid-stream u-turn.

We arrived at the Gorge and it was a buzz though not a throng, lovely little England postcard material, you know, rocky outcrops with little cottages and shops hugging the contours of the rock they were built upon, perhaps not unsurprisingly all apparently owned by the same company in some sort of consolidated all-in super-coordinated exercise in (literal) tourist cheese.

We traveled up the Gorge until some car shaped spaces appeared for us to slot our cars into, and we slotted our cars into them before finding out that we paid for the parking at the caves, where we paid for our parking, realising that if we'd tried to argue the toss about parking rates we'd have ended up caving in anyway. So we caved in without worrying about the argument, and without further ado into the caves we descended.

James and Jane and Erin and Noah had soon left us behind as we ambled around and we didn't see them again until we emerged from the impressive cathedral of rock into the oppositely impressive shop and stopped for a coffee at the ubiquitous Costa del Caffeine.

Jun 11, 2014

An Englishman's Home is His Castle

An Englishman's Home is His Castle, and here was our castle for the week. We were lucky to find it actually as our GPS, hosted as it was on an Australian mobile phone, was unable to steer us to the correct location, and our directions were a little iffy at best, but having made it to Frome (pronounced froom for our international readers) we headed out in what seemed to be the right general direction and attempted to locate "two sets of gates with a horse stable on the left" or whatever our inspired direction would have us locate.

After a fair bit of toing and froing we did locate our maison de semaine and were pleased to note its brick-built demeanour, establishing its castleishness a little more credibly, together with its walled garden location, further enhancing or fortifying even the rampartitude of its crenelations, which were undermined only a little my the mouldering cowshed with so-called "games room" with its wonky pool-table and dysfunctional table-football.

Inside it was nice though, it had wi-fi and the softest beds you could possible imagine... though only one tea-towel! Whinge!

Well Henged

One of our objectives on our English sojourn was to give Eloise a bit more of a perspective on history and the general age of things that exist and were made by people or by people's close temporal evolutionary relatives, and with that in mind we wanted to visit old things and old places because these are not things that are generally readily available to be experienced in sunny Australia.

Also we had suggested that, in contrast to a focus on old things we would focus on young people and give the little cousins a chance to meet each other, some for the first time, and form the basis of bonds that might last them a lifetime.

With the second thing in mind we embarked upon a short home-stay in the bootiful West Country with James and Jane along with Erin and Noah, as a kind of holiday within a holiday where we could all get away from it all in a non-territorialised location where diverting tourist-type fun could be had.

So we decided, if the going was good, that when we passed Stonehenge that we would visit it. We stopped at Solstice Services with the youngsters sound asleep in the back for emergency refuelling and when we climbed out were perturbed somewhat by the gusty wind rushing across the plain robbing the sun of its warmth and thought that if the traffic was bad then we might give the Henge a miss, but as we drove past on the 303 and saw it there on the grassy side in the middle-distance with a procession of little stick figures around it that it really should be looked at.

So we stopped at the visitors centre still in a little doubt over whether we went to hand over our cold hard cash to go and look at some cold hard stones, under the impression as we were that it was all fenced off and a bit nasty, but the facilities were nice and the fleece-clad greeting people sincere and earnest and we were won over and so on we went through the shop by the little bronze-age village and onto a Land Rover Land Train for the couple of miles to the Stones.

And very nicely done the new visiting arrangements are, for although we moved amongst a crowd of people with wind-blown stones in their little circle sat far enough apart that they seemed almost alone on the wind-swept plains, gently bathing in the bright sun hushed cool by the wind, and there was a kind of reverence there as we walking around the 5,000 year old circle and thought about how far these stones had come and the amount of work that must have gone into them and how the actual reason still seems something of a mystery.

And then we got into the car and left.

Jun 10, 2014

Eloise and the Infernal Beast

A couple of things to point out to give this subject a little context, and in no particular order: first, this was the first encounter with the Slimms for a while and with their dog Beppi ever; second, the Slimms have always disapproved of our approach to doggy discipline to the point of mockery and rolling eyeballs.

On we go.

We met up with the Slimms one sunny afternoon (and aren't they all sunny afternoons in England these days) along with their dog and went for a walk round one of our old haunts at Bucklesham Heath or Common or whatever it was it's called, probably something entirely different like Purdis Farm Hollow, who knows.

The dog apparently is named for some Italian astronomer, or perhaps for the spacecraft that is named after him. I'm still not sure that it's an acceptable name, even if it was put to some sort of vote from the Granddaughters, though our children weren't included in that process, so why should I respect it?

Anyway I don't know what standards of behaviour you would expect from a dog with a name like that but I hadn't set mine very high, even though the Slimms are apparently - or like to give the impression of being at least - Master Dog Masters of Dog Discipline whose every word is hung upon by the entire canine population owing to the undeniable fact that they have the Right Approach to dogs (unlike, for instance, us, who don't).

How we Laughed and Laughed when Beppi the Retriever jumped up on everybody in sight, ran away, failed to come back, lay down in muddy puddles, etc etc, while "Beppi! Beppi!" rang out sing-songily and completely ineffectually through the trees.

Eloise wanted to walk him on the lead, and in retrospect that might have been an idea, except he probably would have pulled her over completely as he went bonkers in the company of other dogs.

Still I suppose dogs take after the owners because it wasn't too long before we'd lost the Slimms as well.

They didn't answer either as we called to them through the forest. We thought they'd been a bit canny as we had the flaming dog with us - and when the dog ran off we thought we were scuppered. But fortunately he came back, then the Slimms turned up, and all was well.

Z and Two Ohs

In the afernoon we visited Colchester Zoo, possibly the single greatest zoo in the world (or at least in the part of the world directly surrounding Colchester, no really it's a great zoo and I say that without a hint of sarcasm beyond the hint of sarcasm you yourself, dear reader, are projecting onto it because you're imagining it in my voice. It's a great zoo, all right? It has everything a great zoo should have: a car park, front entrance, some animals, some even in spiffy enclosures; and regardless of the veneer of ethicality afforded by engaging in "conservation activities" spiffy enclosures do let us, the general public, ogle at animals in captivity wich ideally wouldn't be in activity.

We also, to be fair, ogled at quite a few animals that weren't in captivity that probably should have been; on the other side of the glass from the wildlife strolled and strutted the Greater Tattoed Land Whales and the Tripled-Jawed Sludgeaters, calling and chittering to one another in common Estuary in nasal tones around their chocolate bars and mobile phones as they cast a cursory glance over the critically endangered orang-utan before the much more important task of rushing little Caitlin Esperanza off the toilet to void the lastest infusion of junk food.

Jun 9, 2014

Family Reunion

Bugger me if the sun was actually shining in England, in the legendary English summer, on cue for us Australian for take the mickey at its pathetic strength only to eat our words and apply our sunscreen like responsible adults. Respect the sun, people.

On Full Day Two our presence were requested at the mysterious Suffolk Food Hall, which is a Hall which serves food in Suffolk. Hence the inspirational name. To be honest with a name like that I was kind of expecting something in a shopping centre with some tables and some Macdonalds and Subway micro-outlets but as it turned out it was a big sort of converty barn thingy sat on the gentle sloop shoulders of the Orwell Valley overlooking the Strand underneath the Orwell Bridge, with reasonably spectacular views in the brilliant sunshine, serving a reasonable selection of what looked quite nice food for the meatatarians and a limited selection of quite nice food for the vegetarians. Decent coffee, which was required in copious quantities, as jet lag was in full effect. I probably looked like death, reheated, as I ate my genuine Suffolk vegetarian brunch.

It was nice to see Dad and Shirley and Mum and after we ate we went out and kids bounced on a huge inflatable inflatable that came out of the ground like an enormous aged, nippleless yet suspiciously pert breast until they fall over, crying.

Eloise treated us to demonstrations of her latest acrobatic achievements as we basked in the sunshine and we took photographs before getting the hell out of the remorseless sun from which there was no refuge because to have come from Australia to get sunburnt in the pathetic English sun on the first full day would have been just too embarrassing to contemplate.

So thanks to Brendan and Shirley for organising the occasion.

Jun 8, 2014

Quiet Time is Over

So Little Erin woke up to find her house full of unexpected people and it was a all a bit odd, apparently. Personally it's all a bit of a blank for me. Apparently I took this photo but the only evidence I have for that is that it exists. I have no recollection of anything I did or didn't do on that first day. I think that I may have visited a colossal barn with "Sainsbury" written on the front and bought some shampoo.

Jun 6, 2014

Blightamous Journey

And it is written that upon the sixth day of June in the Year of Our Lord two thousand and fourteen, we did take carriage from Paul Up the Road to the Airport where we did nervously await our Sky Charabang, purchasing the Boots of Ugg to slake our anxieties and quaffing Capuccinos to quench our fatigue.

And we did repair to the departure gate and we did ascend into the heavens in our A330, hearts full of the promise of home and a rainy summer in dear England, half way around the world. We did sleep on that, the first stage of our epic journey, slept as the red deserts of Australia unfurled beneath us and the azure oceans and emerald islands of the Torres Strait and Indonesia were left behind in the dead of night, and yea as the sun arose we descended upon Singapore.

And in Singapore the young ones did play upon the playground and frolic in the Garden of Butterflies while the old ones did stare into space, addled at the hour of their awakening. And we did move from one aircraft to another, and the youngest of us did tantrum repeatedly, striking her head upon the floor in an inexplicable purder, until we did board the huge craft which would bear us to London.

And on the way to London we slept not a wink for Eloise became engrossed in the Screen of Engrossment and Lyra became Awakened and Energetic and Neil became Annoyed and Frustrated at Lyra's Awakening and Energy except Nicole who became... Asleep.

And it came to pass that, as we descended into London Nicole did awaken and we did pass through customs and catch a bus to the hire car place, occasioning the rudeness of the Landaner early in our trip but soon escaping in our creaky Ford Focus to Colchester where we did attempt to find my brother's house.

Thus endeth the Saga of the Journey.

Jun 3, 2014

Milky Milky

I am showing you this picture not because the trousers are amusingly dangling around the ankles but because Lyra is seen here wandering around with a bottle of milk hanging from her chops. For Lyra is a milk monster, like her sister. She can be bought and sold for a bottle of milk. She will not sleep but she has a bottle of milk in her mouth. A bottle of milk will shut her up just as it will help her to shut down.

In fact, well actually in my opinion, the milk thing has actually gone a little far and she drinks so much milk that sometimes she doesn't eat as much food as she perhaps should but probably actually shouldn't. We probably consume upwards of 14 litres of milk a week, and between her and Eloise a good twelve of those litres go to the little people.

So milk is to be pulled back on a bit, in the hope that the other foodstuffs which are dangled in front of her might become a little more tempting. Well perhaps not the crisps; they're already quite tempting enough, thank you.