6 June 2018 France


After a busy few days visiting my oldies in Scotland (older than me, like, really old) we had visits with old friends, (only as old as us) in Bristol and Cambridge, where Pat stayed while I was in Crecy.  What a fabulous five days that was. I was attending  a writing course with five other like-minded people, run by Alan Durant, author  of 100 children’s books and his wife Ginny who provided delicious meals and a trip to a Michelin guide restaurant. We stayed in the

IMG_0332prettiest cottage in town, slept in the attic, and wrote in ‘silent time’. No talking  and write where you like. I can recommend it. Alan gave us deceptively simple stimuli, like a cemetery and old photos, minimal instructions and half an hour each day of one on one tutorials. At the end of five days, we had each written a children’s picture book and a 3000 word story. These were read out between courses from aperitif to dessert on the final evening. I left feeling energised, and quite likely to go again next year.

Now Pat and I are in a modern apartment in Arras, still in the attic, this time four flights up. We took a guided tour of WW1 sites, cemeteries, memorials accompanied by an enthusiastic Ausssie guide who explained the Australian troops’ involvement in this area. A sobering and emotional day, made worse by shocking hay fever; I sneezed continuously. Pat went to Ypres, Belgium the following day while I rested. We saw entire fields of scarlet poppies, they are a weed here! This morning was market day in the cobbled square. It is hard not to be tempted to buy but we are determined to travel light.

Tomorrow we head back to England, see my brother in Birmingham once more and have a special rendezvous with Dom and Alex in London. We fly out 12 hours before they do!

25th May 2018

We’ve been out of range of internet for days. It makes us realise how much we use it. I tried to use Google maps on my phone in the hire car and a message from Telstra screamed, That just cost you $100!’ We bought a map. We caught a train to Carlisle using a “two together” railcard, a useful investment. Cost us six pounds fifty each. Other times it has been cheaper to hire a car! The trip is  smooth, quiet and speedy. So unlike the Australian experience. My 91 year- old feisty Aunt Betty picked us up in her car, brand new two years ago. She drives confidently and we were delighted to find she is as young at heart as ever. She still judges pistol and smallbore target shooting, scoring great bundles of them that are sent each week. She drove us to a forbidding fortress/castle in the Scottish Border Country. It is a five story stone cube built in the 1300’s, extended a hundred years later. Mary Queen of Scots used it to visit her future husband  Bothwell (Boswell?) riding 50 miles across the countryside, making herself seriously ill afterwards. The castle sits alone in farming country, any other habitations have long gone. The Scottish wind is every bit as biting as the Manx; finding its way through arrow slits and the open roof. It is said that only the descendants of the family dare to sleep there overnight. I can’t imagine wanting to sleep in such draughty damp accommodation. Onward the next day to Edinburgh.



19th May 2018

We are waking later and later, half past nine again today! I blame jetlag. After a conversation with Stephen, supposedly to wish him happy birthday, I realised that I was tiring Mum out as well as myself. She is used to her gentle routine and being whisked out for a scenic drive is disruptive. When I call from Australia Mum talks about being in a ‘benign prison’ so I assumed she wanted to go out. I told her we needed a rest day, knowing she would quickly deny that she was tired herself. After a leisurely start we headed down to nearby Glen Maye. It has to be the prettiest of the glens.

The waterfall roars down, tumbles over rocks and makes its way to the sea as it has for millenia. It has carved a deep chasm, hung with greenery like some tropical jungle. The stony path is laced with tree roots worn smooth by human feet. All around us is green, delicate new beech leaves, sycamore tinged with red, bracken and wildflowers I recognise from childhood. The air is damp, cool and shady, the sun barely reaches the ground. Moss and exotic creamy coloured plates of fungi grow on fallen branches, water trickles down the sides to join the stream.  As the glen opened out, the island wind blew harder and colder. By the time we reached the pebble beach, I was over the beauty and needed a hot coffee. At least the wind was at our backs on the return trip.

The afternoon was more chess and ice cream. The beach was littered with seaweed thrown up by the waves – the sea had been pretty rough. Our hosts have bins full of drying seaweed that is heaped around potato plants as they grow. It is a perfect fertiliser, with the bonus of the potatoes coming out clean. Well into their seventies, they put my vegie patch to shame. They have a huge area full of seedlings, fruit trees and berry bushes, a greenhouse for tomatoes and grapes. They run two self-catering holiday properties in the converted barn and ‘spud house’ of their farmhouse. The kayaks by the path are well used; they paddle round the island’s coast seeing puffins and nesting seabirds, finding caves. I hope I am as active at their age.

18 May 2018

We have visited South Barrule, this time with Mum. It is the first time she has seen the house since she left with a broken arm, three and a half years ago. Work has been done inside, it has been cleaned and even the rolled-up carpets removed. Outside the front door scarlet and yellow tulips were blooming – a startling sign of life against the grey stone wall. The back was overgrown and the stones mossy. Without all Mum’s flowerpots,  the clematis and japonica clinging to the walls, it looked empty. It was sad for Mum but not as devastating as she had expected.


We drove to Port Erin, parked illegally as do all the islanders and bought ice creams to eat watching children braving a freezing sea. We didn’t go in the bookshop this time. Mum doesn’t walk far now and tires easily. That was plenty for one  day.

17 May 2018

17 May 2018

Our internet connection is flipping on and off, so I’ve decided to use Word and upload later. We had noticed an advertisement for a farmers’ market to be held in the hall next to the cathedral on Sunday. We took Mum in the car and wandered in. There were only a few stalls but quite a variety of produce. We bought an apple pie and a rhubarb crumble from one lady and a meat pie from another. The swedes and parsnips on the vegie stall were enormous compared with Australian ones. The plants outside were tempting but Mum has no room on her windowsill for any more. I play chess with her most mornings or try to. Mum was in a chess club for many years so there is no contest. The most I can do is delay the inevitable. She bemoans the fact that there is no one to play with in the home. In the afternoons we drive to Peel promenade and have an ice cream. The locally made brand is popular with tourists and locals alike. They even have a non-dairy alternative for me. The shop also sells home-made luxury chocolates, the sort you only buy in ones. The sea breeze is sharp, so we sit in the car and watch children on the beach; they are oblivious to the chill. A few holidaymakers are sitting in coats and scarves, determined to enjoy their annual seaside trip. The bay curves from the 11thcentury castle on the left past the cluster of houses and hotels to the green hills hedged with gorse, golden at this time of year. Ancient drystone walls are beneath the gorse, enclosing fields odd-shaped centuries ago. A breakwater extends from the castle out into the sea, protecting the bay from the winter storms and creating a sheltered harbour for the fishing boats. A seal appears when the boats come in, hoping for a fish tossed overboard.DSC02187

15 May 2018 Isle of Man

It’s Stephen’s birthday tomorrow and yet again I’ve forgotten to send a card that will get there in time. My son Dominic announced some years ago that he was not buying cards again, they were a waste of money and he’d rather spend it on a decent present. An admirable stand to take. He’s right of course, but the gifts become anonymous over time and we keep cards to remind us of the people who love us. so I’ll buy one and put a first class stamp on to make me feel better though I don’t think it will arrive on the day. Thinking of him reminded me of the trip we did to our old home in Redditch. I had questions: how old was that house? Who lived there? Stephen researches as part of his work. We spent a fun afternoon at the computer as he gave me a crash course on sources of information. There is a site called ‘Old Maps’, who knew? The house was the only one named on the oldest available map, in 1883, so it was older than that and significant enough to be recorded. Other records gave us the names of two previous owners, one of whom was an active member of the community. The other was a soldier who died in the first world war. We used Google maps to find other houses we had lived in, in Yorkshire and Norfolk. I’ll visit them next trip. Places in my autobiography become more real when they exist outside my memory. Now, that birthday card. Being on an island means the mail travels to England on the plane. There is one at lunchtime.

May/June 2018

A Spring welcome to England. The flowering cherry is scattering pink confetti blossom IMG_0151with the slightest breeze and the azalea is wearing a ballgown of the deepest pink. The sunlight is dazzling, almost Australian bright, in a cloudless blue sky.  We visited Redditch where Stephen and I spent our teens. Dad was a forester but the new job turned out to be mostly desk-based and planting along the streets of newly built housing estates. Park House, our home for those formative years, has disappeared. We had a huge garden, .8 of an acre, and there was a public car park at the road frontage, plenty of room for development. It was demolished six years after we left and a new housing estate built. It was a strange experience to adjust our eyes to the present when the past was still so clearing our minds. The centre of town was similarly unrecognisable but we found our way to the high school before we left. Lunch was at The Bell, around the corner from Stephen’s house in Harborne. It is a black and white timbered building about 450 years old, with a narrow passage through the middle and two tiny rooms either side. Even people of our modest height have to duck through the doorways. The pub is situated next to the twelfth century Norman church, as was the custom. Stephen and Judith were married there.

The next day we were back at the airport, to fly to the Isle of Man. It is an hour’s flight, at a low altitude so the window seats offer a view of farmland, sea and the island’s coastline. Our hire car is a Nissan micra. a sensible size for the narrow roads here. We drove to Dalby where our holiday cottage is, dropped off bags and drove to Peel to see Mum. She was in the corridor talking to another lady and I think for a moment she was taken by surprise. Her memory has worsened since last year.

Day 9: To Ngorongoro Crater

Monday 17 July

Our earliest start yet, 5 am, tents down, bags packed to leave around 6 am. It was too early for me to eat. I shoved bananas and a packet of biscuits in my daypack for later. The drive would take a minimum of five hours to reach the Ngorongoro Crater. We saw a few animals on the way but yesterday was the best. The desert changed as we rode from red to sandy to grey and sparse grass to acacias to stony wasteland. In parts, there were dry water courses to cross, evidence that the rains did come.

The highlight of the day was a collision between a truck going the opposite way and our bus. The truck driver misjudged the available space or the size of his vehicle. Both drivers edged onto the scree at the sides and nearly made it.

We were holding our collective breath when a nasty grating sound came from the roof at the rear. Because both vehicles were tilting towards the middle, their roofs had crunched. We all piled out, with cameras to record the event. A couple of Masai materialised to check what was going on, one jeep drove off road, through our group, around the blockage and sped off showering us all with dust. There was much discussion as to the best way out of the situation. No blame or fist waving as might have been expected, no exchange of insurance companies. Large rocks were placed in front of the wheels on the road, presumably to lever them upright when they moved. Our bus teetered so far over I thought it was going to tip completely on its side. Karimi pulled over to safety and we congratulated him as we re-boarded.

At the top of the crater we boarded two safari jeeps and set off downwards through the jungle-covered sides to the plain at the bottom. It was the Great Valley from the dinosaur series of DVDs. There was a river, fresh water lake, alkaline lake, dry grassy plains, lush grassy plains and bushy vegetation for those animals who wanted it round the edges. We ate lunch by the hippo pool, along with quite a few other tourists. We were warned to eat in the jeeps because the local pest birds, red kites, would snatch food out of your hand. We watched them circling in the air spotting unwary sandwich eaters they could swoop. This hippo pool was quite different, clean water and fewer hippos so they could move around. They come out at night to graze when it is cool. Here is where we saw herds of wildebeest, zebra, a solitary lion. There are also cows mingled in with the wildebeest. They follow the lead cow’s bell when it is time to go. It is a peaceful place.

We arrived late afternoon at our accommodation. We camped in the grounds of a very swish hotel, Kudu Lodge. Rooms here were for wealthy tourists, $186 a night. A couple of the group did opt for a room and offered us use of the luxurious showers. The itinerary allowed for a 15km ride before dark. Everyone was tired but rallied with some encouragement. I was tripping over on the gravel paths and not sure what my knee was doing so I declined. Pat did 5km, Adriana too, then joined me in the truck. It was a downhill tarmac winding road, looked like fun. The uphill was of course the reverse. Most enjoyed the ride, but would have done without it after the long day. Karimi parked the bus and jumped on his bike to ride it when the others had come back.



Day 3: On the road to Longido

Tuesday 11 July

On the main road towards Kenya, we rode on tarmac, mostly downhill and fast, we were flying! Unfortunately, my knee disagreed and when I got off en route, gave me intense pain. I did get on again but the next time was final. I could not move. I was riding with Adriana and Arman, who went on ahead to get help. Amos was on his way back already. A taxi was organised to take us to the guest house, only about another 2 km away. Bikes went in the boot, one wheel of each draped over the side, no problem.

Our route took us past goat and cow herders keeping their animals off the road. Some had donkeys and we saw others carrying enormous loads – grass or sugar cane, water buckets slung each side, bundles of sticks. Jen and I met two Masai boys, who posed for a photo.

Our guest house is usually a training college for girls. They come for education, to learn job skills and avoid being forced into early marriage. The building is circular with bedrooms around the outside opening onto a central dining room/classroom. Our room is quite cool with twin beds and clean sheets and towels. Again, hot water for showers was heated in large pots on the stove and carried in buckets to the bathrooms. We were delighted to see actual bathrooms. Dinner was delicious, Juma knows exactly how to feed hungry cyclists. Arman went with Justaz to a Dr of sorts and obtained antibiotics and Pat decided to do the same. His cold is affecting his breathing. We waited in the village while the young man jumped on his scooter and zoomed off to the nearest pharmacy in Arusha to buy them. Local price was 2000 shillings, about $1.00. Justaz was emphatic that we pay local price or tourists will be exploited in the future. I went too and Justaz organised a gel like Voltaren for my knee.

My diary notes that Justaz is a great leader, except for making plans and sticking to them, and time and distances. We are adjusting to African time. Organising a lively group is a difficult job.

polé polé means slowly, slowly.   polé means sorry

Our Last Day: to Arusha Day 12

Thursday 20 July

It was a lovely morning for the last ride of the trip, cool, sunny and not too many hills. Adriana and I were in the bus and Pat rode 20 of 40 km before joining us. We all stopped at a café on the outskirts of a town/village for picnic lunch and ordered coffee, or tea, as I got the last teaspoon of coffee in the jar. I bought copper bracelets from a street vendor. From there we were all in the bus for the three hour drive to our hotel in Arusha. Before the crew disappeared, we had a big thank you to say and gathered on the balcony where we had all met. I was given the job of thanking them and had to refer to my diary to include all that we had seen and done. It felt like much more than 12 days. We had taken up a collection which was presented in a picnic lunch bag, decorated brilliantly by Rashma with memorable pictures, hippos, leopard, Juma’s cooking pot, the bus and Justaz on a bike. He kept the bag.

We had thought of going into town but rested instead, showered and got reacquainted with the rest of our baggage. There was a big night ahead. Cocktails at 6pm followed by dinner at the restaurant across from the bar. We squeezed into two taxis. It was an odd experience eating western food. And not washing up or flapping the plates dry.

Towards the end of the evening, an announcement was made by the maître d’h. A special occasion. The entire staff came out and sang Hakuna Matata to Pat for his birthday. It was organised by Justaz, I had no idea and had to quickly grab the camera as a birthday cake appeared with not just sparklers, but a firework on top shooting silver stars to the ceiling. It was a perfect surprise. Goodbyes were hasty as we realised that Pat and I were leaving early, before breakfast, the next day. What a fabulous end to the trip of a lifetime.