Monday, July 13, 2009

Denise and I spent 1 month recently in England and France with a stop over in Singapore. A fabulous success. Photos can be seen at http://picasaweb.google.com.au/barry.mcgloin

They are split into three albums, Singapore, London, Cornwall May 2009, Cotswolds, Bath Oxford, London, and lastly South of France and London again, June 2009.

When you get into Picasa, click on the album, then on 'Slideshow', and then increase the slide speed from 3 secs to 5 secs - sometimes the captions run too slow, and go to 'view' and click on 'full screen'.

Soundtrack: I brought my IPOD with me, replete with a mile of musical choices. Also I took two Cds bought recently in Canberra, Malian diva Rokia Traore's latest excellent Cd Tchamantche and jazz guitarist Charlie Hunter's Steady Groovin' compilation. Also I nipped into the Oxford St HMV emporium, as you do, and picked up the latest album from (also Malian diva) Oumou Sangare called Seya, absolutely fab – my review is on Amazon.com and Amazon UK.

Also..... the recently released double Cd of Buddy Holly 'rarities' called ''Down The Line''. Not really rare, most have been released previously in various forms since Holly's death in 1959 and in fact since the 50 year copyright restriction has now exhausted, we have had a slew of Holly releases over the last three years. This last should near enough see the end of it, but who knows?

Anyway we listened primarily to Oumou Sangare's Seya as we travelled and somehow it was not incongruous with the trip.

Buskers

Buskers were a high standard. A jazz guitarist at the Pimlico markets was cool, a guy paying Irish jigs and reels in the underground tunnel at Westminster was on fire. A gypsy group called Karpatz played at the Uzes markets, cap out front for a Euro or two, and were vocally and instrumentally astounding – you van view them at http://www.urskarpatz.com/Demo
then click on 'Extraits Video' and 'Vissioner' – well worth a geek!
While wandering outside the Palace of the Popes at Avignon, ok lost up a narrow medieval lane, we happened upon a choral group of eight singing classical – with the setting and resonance of sound - c├ęst perfectment!!

Singapore
Scarlett Hotel, boutique award winning accommodation next to Chinatown booked by our daughter Cara as a present.

Singapore Linedancers near Chinatown, guys and gals in Western gear, boots, hats belts, dancing to country pop - some might observe incongruous..... but then so are Scruffy Murphy's and Durty Nellie's Irish pubs in Singapore – do you get the impression that the Irish are somewhat complacent in their day to day body cleansing habits?? As Sister Philomena used to say, “The teeth might be green but the soul is sweet....have youse kids washed your bums this week?” But the real floor stopper is Obama's Irish Pub – I kid you not - what the....???
Our taxi driver spoke English well and enthused about developments, long term goals with a great sense of ownership and pride. They have a large desalination plant which commenced construction in 2000 and opened in 2005, providing 10% of it's needs. Recycling provides 15%, and they have dammed three rivers to provide a large catchment area for rainfall. At the moment they also import from Malaysia.

Singapore, orderly and neat, light years from the familiar (and welcoming) chaotic cacophonous swarm and aromas of other parts of S.E. Asia

I can't believe it. We bought bowls of noodle soup which could be easily described as a bit rustic, but then we found Chinatown proper, with its choices of fine Asian dining. And we're only staying one night...D'oh
we almost missed the plane due to a leisurely breakfast. Had to run for it. Phew....

London

O met us at Heathrow. He was a little late, and we looked for the big fellow. “You can't miss him” I said to Denise. “You've nailed it” she replied. Eventually he materialised carrying little Alice. Deb cooked us salmon that night. Lovely.

O jogs about 7ks into work each day – he's looking slim and fit. So, Denise and I after a day's touristy doings decided to walk back to Parson's Green along the embankment. “'Can't be too far'' I observed from the rosy grinning glow inspired by the Marquis of Granby's hospitality. So, we set off lively with confidence and a few pints of fortitude on board, making a couple of pit stops and fuel replenishers along the way. An unfortunate result of the replenisher is that the subsequent pit stop must be found. The Chelsea embankment has limited pit stops apart from Chelsea gardens and after 5 ks Denise found it necessary to flag down a cabbie. Regardless, a good effort all up.

Deb took us to a fab coffee bar in Fulham. On our previous visit to the UK in 1998 we had found the standard of coffee to be quite ordinary, in fact the standard of food generally, both restaurants and in supermarkets, to be below par – vegetables were limp and aging, and take aways and pub meals were uninspired, couldn't even find fish and chips to match the Aussie coastal product. Admittedly you can't really generalise but we did travel up as far as Inverness and down to the South Coast, supping and sipping at many places in between. Ironically we found the curries to be excellent, and all B&Bs provided top breakfasts. This time we found many good coffees, take aways and the supermarket fare has superb variety from the provinces and Europe, and is fresh.

Beers and wines in the pubs and supermarkets offered great variety with wines from Europe, South America, South Africa as well as numerous Antipodean varieties. You can buy a semi reasonable quaffer for five pounds, but the Aussie quaffers such as Jacobs Creek were up around ten pounds – approximately 20 dollars, which is about double their cost here. Cousin Glenn Snashall offered a robust table thumping South African red running at 14.5%, among other moorish drops – Glenn likes to keep at the cutting edge of epicurean glug. We had a few moorish drops along the way...well more than a few.

The English ales are for the average Antipodean an acquired taste, and most Antipodeans wouldn't bother enduring the acquiring process. That said, serious UK ale aficionados might reasonably opine that, unlike our wines, most bulk Aussie lagers are bland and characterless – however we do produce some excellent boutique numbers. My top spot on the trip went to a German wheat beer, Hacker Pschorr, and I did enjoy the Cornish Tribute ale, and from Glenn's recommendation a honey and elderflower ale from Witherspoon pub, and lastly Theakston's Old Peculiar, a hearty brew with clout from the depths of Yorkshire.

We chanced upon this wee pub in Soho called The Lyric which offered lunch specials for five pounds. So, Denise chose the salmon, spinach and sundried tomato penne and I chose the grilled goat's cheese and roasted vegetable stock with pesto and balsamic reduction. Wow, for 5 quid each, and they were both delicious, so much so that we returned the following day and they were just as good!! That's the sort of thing you can expect from retirees.... On the first visit there we encountered a real East End character called Ray Isaacs who was about 65 and had something of a Keith Richards demeanour about him, appeared to be permanently wobbly, and had a face that had travelled a mile or three.
“Ere, come art ere“ demanded the wobbly Ray “ah clocked it soon as ah saw it – this door ere used to be where the club woz an Brian Jones came out of ere in 1963”. Well, it emerged that Ray was in the film and photography business in the 1960s and he's sitting on a stack of old Rolling Stones photos, which in the fabulous UK world of nostagic hype would make a good retirement booster for old Ray.

Owen's berries and cream/ice cream in London and Cornwall. Yum!

The UK tabloids and free press are pretty well up to, or down to standard from what I remembered, in fact they are probably worse now. The big item was Pete (Andre) and Katie whatsername's breakup. ''Pete stunned while Katie flees the country'' and ''Kate takes two kids but leaves disabled son'' …..a popular girl. And two weeks previously they had spoken about having another baby. Well, I never. Makes you wonder what the world's coming to......

The other big newsitem was a series on Brit TV – Britain's got talent? The short answer, and one which was agreed upon by many commentators is that it has very little. The star of the programme who was expected to win was a 49 year old frumpy Scottish spinster, “I've never been kissed and this is not an advertisement ha ha”, called Susan Boyle who floored everyone with her vocal ability. I heard one radio personality say ”she's only got to say the wrong thing, get cocky........” And for some reason she didn't win. If you haven't seen the video it is quite amazing


MPs on both sides of parliament, including the Home Secretary, were falling on their swords with abandon following the rental allowance scandal whipped up by an indignant Daily Telegraph which tantalisingly leaked details each day, leaving the populace baying for blood. Arff Arff gimmie blood. Sluuurp. Some of the more extraordinary claims included clearing a moat, maintaining swimming pools, bags of horse manure, building a $AUD2500 duck island, even down to day to day living requirements such as a bath plug, biscuits and a trouser press. Food bills were claimed when parliament was in recess, false mortgage interest payments were claimed and one MP claimed for a house which was outside London and not in her constituency. “Snouts in The Trough” loudly proclaimed one free tabloid.

The most intriguing aspect was that the claims had been paid in the first place. There was hardly a mention of the approval process or the policy guidelines which allowed for the payments to be made. It seems that MPs, being intrinsically honourable, as they have been for centuries...., sign a declaration to state that the expenses have been incurred in the performance of their duties. Consequently civil servants are reluctant to challenge, although it would appear that a culture supporting the expectation of approval may have developed. In Oz we have a more realistic approach; our honourable bastards' claims are expected to be dodgy from the start.

The elegance of London. You can walk for miles through parks and gardens in the centre of London. This is what makes London great. You are surrounded by natural beauty and history; there is a continuance which has somehow survived the Great Fire and Nazi blitz. The castles, cathedrals, abbeys, churches and towers are reminders of the order of the estate over the centuries.

The monarchy Vs the republic appears to be a dead fish. Support for the monarchy which dipped post Princess Diana to 60% is now riding around 80%. Her Majesty is highly respected, the Duke's faux pas are more or less tolerated and Prince Charles is despised by architects but liked by a couple who live at 45 Horseshoe Drive, Notting Hill. The Duke and Camilla are popular game for cartoonists and Anne seems to be keeping a low profile. Whether the monarchy will maintain its present legal status in future is anyone's guess. This extract from an online debate “The monarchy is at the apex of a system of unearned privilege and power, as far as I and many others are concerned. It all flows from this ludicrous throwback and it’s holding back as a country - helping to ensure that the average and chinless continue to be promoted far beyond the talented and, er, chinful. Personally I find the very idea of inherited power, let alone one under the system of primogeniture, extremely offensive. The good news is that while present incumbent is a game old bird, her successor is a king-sized prat, whose succession will change the game completely”.


The churches are struggling in these days of swift communication where belief in a Caring God is challenged by news reports of natural catastrophe, random violence, past actions of rogue priests, historical reassessments in recent books, and atheism. Churchgoers are primarily older folk, churches are closing, the number of priests are dwindling and recruitment is lower than it has ever been. Ex churches are being used now as retail stores, restaurants, YMCAs, and ironically, mosques – the numbers of Muslim faithful are increasing. The RC church may have to embrace married priests if they mean to survive – not such a bad idea in a modern world and not incongruous with early history. We saw some marvellous old churches, some dating to Saxon times, and the fascinating recently built Westminster Cathedral, the seat of Roman Catholicism in the UK. This building is ostensibly Roman/Byzantine, which in these days when the Church might be embarrassed by such ornate display might bring to mind the reputed words of St Francis of Assisi when first seeing St Peter's Basilica in Rome “But where are the lillies of the valley?”

Coincidence. Bumping into Judy, Doug and Roy from Canberra at Whitehall was an unexpected highlight. Also the Box Cottage we rented in Broadwell in the Cotswolds had a commendation in the book from an ex colleague of Denise in Canberra!! Small world innit?

Dogs are welcomed just about everywhere in England's fair and pleasant land – and in some establishments where children are not – but owners must be on a leash. CCTV is everywhere and owners who do not bag their deposits will be rounded up, put in a vat, boiled down, canned as dog meat or dried as tasty morsels. Advert: ''Dogs just love Eric, so crunchy. 20 kilo bags of Eric on special at your local Safeways.” Seriously, a photo in a shop window in Chipping Camden showed a doggie and owner walking away from a poop on the pavement; the caption read “Here in Chipping Camden we clean up after ourselves, this sort of behaviour is not welcome”. Must have been a visitor otherwise his name would have been included.

Superb scenery in North Cornwall and the Cotswolds. Check out the photos! The Cornish Coastal walks are magnificent, quite arduous in parts, although an average fitness level will see you a fair way down the track, and the aromas of wild flowers are intoxicating, not to mention the Cornish Tribute Ale which you richly deserve at the end of the day! We also did part of the Saints Walk from the village of Little Petherwick over to Padstow, following the river through woods and meadows. We rented a house on the headland of Port Isaac, which is where they film the Doc Martin TV series and they were filming while we were there – actor Martin Clunes seems a pleasant chap.

The Cotswolds is a much gentler walking terrain with quiet refined picturesque towns and villages such as Chipping Camden with it's honey hued limestone buildings. We took the track to the hill above the town where they have held Olimpick [sic] Games since 1612, with a break in the Civil War and the 1800s because of disruption by hooligan elements (what's new??). Sports include singlestick, wrestling, tumbling, throwing the sledge hammer, jumping in sacks, dancing and shin-kicking. We rented the ivy covered Box Cottage in the lovely village of Broadwell, about a mile's walk up the hill to Stow on Wold, then taking the Monarch's Way, a wildflower fringed path above the meadow, which was used by the escaping Charles II during the Civil War. The Fox at Broadwell is a homely pub with friendly barmaids and the food is top value. The Fox at nearby Lower Oddington also has friendly staff and our meals were both superb, run by an Australian head chef...!!

Uzes in southern France is a wonderful destination!! We caught the Rynair el cheapo flight 89p fom Luton – you then pay your baggage and taxes and the return trip was around 130 euro for the two of us. It was wonderful to touch French soil again after 44 years. Denise and I had grape picked at St Michel De Fronsac outside Bordeaux so long ago. Now, we hired a vehicle at the airport and drove to Uzes along the freeway. Driving in France is no problem. The roads are excellent and well signposted, must remember to drive in the left lane. The gears, indicators and wipers are opposite but you soon get use to them.... not counting a few moments of senior confusion even towards the end of the trip.
Uzes is a charming medieval town in the Languedoc-Rousillon region with castle, cathedral and market square. Our host Mme Jalabert kindly shows us around centre ville appraising certain restaurants, cafes, boulangeries et patisseries.

Most people in this part of the world don't speak English or prefer to speak French and fair enough so I had brushed up my vocabulary by reading French For Dummies which improved my vocabulary to the point where, between Mme Jalabert's English and my fractured Francais, we were able to communicate un petit peu.

The water from Uzes fed a Roman acquaduct in the early part of the first century and so we descended the valley outside the town to view the remains.You can walk through part of the channel which is intact, amazing. We then decided to ascend the other side and follow a track which took us some kilometres to another village, medieval of course, called St Siffret.
Once there we stood at the lower end of narrow roads wondering which one to take. I asked a gentleman opposite, ''excusez moi monsieur, nous cherchons la rue a centre ville?'' He asked whether I wanted St Siffret or Uzes and then asked in a Yorkshire accent whether we were from New Zealand or Australia, apologising for not being able to tell the difference!!

The following day we drove to the Pont Du Gard a magnificent three tiered bridge built by the Romans primarily to carry water to the city of Nimes. On the way back we checked out a number of villages, including Saint Quentin La Poterie which specialises in the sale of pottery art, all of which looked superb to me. But the striking aspect of the village was that the walls and window shutters of houses were painted different colours.

We drove to Avignon the following day taking a lovely couple we'd met from Perth, WA, Robert and Elizabeth Ford. The astounding Palace of the Popes from the 11th century is in splendid condition, check the photos. We also saw the famous bridge – ''sur le pont D'Avignon, on y danse etc.'' A visit to Nimes the following day was not without incident, this again with Rob and Liz, in fact Liz, as I remember was helping me find a parking spot ''turn left here Barry'' and so I did, ''turn right here'' and so I did and suddenly we found ourselves back in the middle ages down narrow streets, growing darker as we drove through this ancient labyrinth, squatty stall holders looking askance, people moving aside, making the sign of the cross, dark clouds gathering oh shite I'm gonna have to reverse outta here.....then redemption। A light between narrow walls, we squeezed through and yea!! We shall be released!!













The Roman ampitheatre at Nimes looms large out of the modern sunny shopping street like some cold monolithic reminder of ancient order and blood lust. In fact the structure is still intactus and is used now for bullfights where modern gladiators use their skills against the power of provoked bulls. Mostly they win, but outside the ampitheatre is a statue of a young matador, a local hero who was gored to death. The risk remains. The perception of such blood 'sport' has shifted, marginally.

The return to the airport was not without incident. A faultless drive in the wee Fiat took us to the freeway toll, nothing free about it! Two euros fifty. I seached my pockets. A voice came from the machine ''Cette un machine automatique etc etc” A mammoth truck ten stories high pulled up un centimetre from my boot, breathing heavily. Denise searched her bag – always a lengthy process. Rob and Liz delved into their bags and pockets. Nothing. I looked around for someone. Anyone. Not un sausage to be seen. The air compressor of the truck blasted, it was breathing down our rear window. ''Cette un machine automatique, pay by notes, coins or credit card (in French)”. I'm starting to panic. ''C'mon, someone must have something....” Denise handed me a fifty Euro note. I fed the machine. A loud exclamation came from the truck ''Sacre bleu....” We hit jackpot. No change in notes. A river of coins dropped into the basin, and kept coming. I'm scooping. Scooping. To give the truck driver his due, he didn't blast the horn, but waited patiently while I scooped.....and my passengers all laughed themselves silly. Yeah, ok.....I'm smiling now.....

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