Sep 2013

This is the twelfth and last in a series of posts describing my recent trip to England, Ireland, the Netherlands and Wales, from writing course to school reunion and more.

During the whole trip, which lasted just over a month, the only serious rain I saw was in Swansea, where I stayed with J, a friend from school. In fact, the rain began falling as we crossed the border into Wales and lasted to the next day. But even there in Wales, in my experience the land of constant rain, it cleared up and got quite hot.

Swansea Marina

Swansea Marina

But as we wheeled our cases to her abode, the downpour got heavier. Perhaps we should have taken a taxi in the end.

The next day, after visiting the busy market, I had my first ever experience of a gym. J let me choose the class, and I decided on something with music. I had no idea what I’d let myself in for.

Steps. It’s amazing what you can do with a little bench. Up, down, step, jump, left, right. However exhausted you are, you have to keep going, because everyone else is. Of course, they were all used to it, and they were all younger than us. I think we both managed very well.

Two things I noticed, both connected to my folk dancing experience. One was that, on the few occasions I glanced at J, I saw she was having more trouble following the steps than I was. It shows I’ve learnt something in my 15 years of folk dancing.

On the other hand, the instructor mostly performed the exercises with his back to us. But sometimes he turned round to face us, and when he did that he performed the exercises the other way round, stepping onto his left leg when we had to use the right, and so on. It was supposed to make it easier for us, because that way we used the leg that was on the same side as his.

But I’m used to dancing in a circle, where this isn’t possible. I’ve got used to translating: when the instructor is opposite me, I use the leg that’s on the other side from his. I think I’m making this sound more complicated than it is, but the outcome was that I got confused trying to follow him when he was facing us, and preferred to follow the girl in front of me.

We also had tea at the top of the Meridian Tower, and I went shopping for a few things to take back.

Swansea Marina: View from Meridian Tower

Swansea Marina
View from Meridian Tower

Alone on the train back to London, I again had an opportunity to be a writer, this time using my ears. The first speaker, into a mobile phone, had a gorgeous, lilting Welsh accent. I think it’s the best English accent (i.e. accent of the English language) there is.

“All right?”
“Is that all right?”
“So I’ll see you then.”
“Bye bye.”

Later on, back in England, there were three girls behind me. I observed them as I returned from buying refreshments. They were all slim, all holding smart phones. One of them had nail varnish out on her little table. Later, while I was sitting, one of them stretched her legs out. I saw black suede shoes with very high heels. I’ve never understood how women can wear such monstrosities.

I wrote down random things they said – the ones I was able to understand.

“I just got another email.”

“He’s nice isn’t he?”

“Would you want to do two 18-hour shifts?”

“I’m just doing my other hand.”

“Haha, oh my god.”

“Yeah, we would just go to another cocktail bar.”

“It just bothered me? And I couldn’t even work out why it bothered me? So much?”

Then there was the race across London trying to catch a train to Luton Airport that I missed, but it didn’t matter because I had enough time, and even bought and ate a final egg mayonnaise sandwich before boarding the plane that took me…

As the plane taxied to its stopping place, El Al played the song that goes: “So good you came home,” and I smiled, knowing I was finally…


This is the eleventh in a series of posts describing my recent trip to England, Ireland, the Netherlands and Wales, from writing course to school reunion and more.

The school reunion – my third. The  end of the sandwich.

Almost the end

Almost the end

Was it good or was it grim? Was it bad or was it brill?

It was good, fun, wonderful! I had a great time chatting to some lovely women. Just perfect, except….

I was so sorry I didn’t get more of a chance to talk to one of the women there – someone I hadn’t seen since we were twelve. Hopefully another time we’ll talk more.

That’s the end of the sandwich, from writing course to school reunion with lots of filling. But it’s not quite the end of the trip. There’s still dessert to come….

This is the tenth in a series of posts describing my recent trip to England, Ireland, the Netherlands and Wales, from writing course to school reunion and more.

Three more nights with M1 and her husband, who always has interesting things to say – things that make me think afterwards.

One day M1 and I met up with another friend from uni and a friend of hers. We visited Wellington Arch, a landmark well worth seeing and one that most Londoners seem not to have heard of, and various memorials nearby.

War Memorial, Hyde Park Corner

War Memorial, Hyde Park Corner

Then we had a special tea in the Tophams Hotel.

Taking tea at Tophams Hotel

Taking tea at the Tophams Hotel
(my fringe was covering my eyes by this stage)

In the evening M1 and I saw a musical: Chorus Line, which we enjoyed. We also enjoyed watching a couple of German guys in front of us, who took loads of photos before the performance, including photos of themselves with the camera held out in front. What do people do with all those photos?

The next day, I met some more writers: Sue and Gail, who I met for the first time last year, and Sally Quilford. Sally has published umpteen books, runs courses and has a busy life, so I was delighted and honoured that she found time to travel to London to meet us. After a fun lunch together, we visited the Pompeii exhibition, which was fascinating but tiring. Unfortunately, we were so busy chatting and touring that no one thought of taking a photo, so you’ll have to trust me that we really did meet.

The next day, on my way to yet another temporary abode, I met Cathy (another writer) for lunch. Then I went on to meet Gill and other members of her family, and to join them for dinner. Yes, meeting people isn’t good for the waistline. Fortunately, the trip didn’t do any lasting damage.

Next was the school reunion. This was my third school reunion. The first one was wonderful, the second much harder. What would this one be like?

This is the ninth in a series of posts describing my recent trip to England, Ireland, the Netherlands and Wales, from writing course to school reunion and more.

More English coutryside. This time I was in Dorset, being driven along more narrow, twisty roads.

I had another first on this part of the trip. I played darts. I was pretty bad at it, and surprised the others tolerated me, as I was before that when we played tennis. I hadn’t played tennis for at least thirty years, probably more.

Still, I was able to show the family members I stayed with that I’m able to to do something. I won at Boggle.

And of course I went walking and altogether had a lovely time.

Walking in Dorset

Walking in Dorset

The question I had there, and still wonder about, is about exchanges between teenagers who speak different languages, and whether they ever work out well. I never had that opportunity and neither did my children. Twice we had a few members of visiting east European choirs to stay in our house, and they tended to talk amongst themselves in their language, leaving out my daughter who was hosting them.

On one of the days in Dorset, when we out with another family, there were three English-speaking teenage friends and a French girl. Everyone remarked how quiet the French girl was, but it was clear she didn’t understand the conversations, so obviously she couldn’t join in. One of the teenagers had been to France on an exchange trip, staying with a family he didn’t get on with at all.

So I wonder whether these exchanges ever do work out well, or whether the language is always too much of a barrier at that age.

This is the eighth in a series of posts describing my recent trip to England, Ireland, the Netherlands and Wales, from writing course to school reunion and more.

Do you talk to strangers when you travel alone? I tend not to. I tend to assume they’re not interested in talking to me. And besides, I always have a book to read, and if I spend the time talking I won’t be getting on with my reading.

But sometimes people start conversations with me, and sometimes they turn out to be interesting. That’s how I met the English woman who lives in the Netherlands. I don’t know her name, so I’ll call her Nonstop.

Nonstop first talked to me at Schiphol Airport when she saw me playing Scrabble on my phone as we waited by the gate for our flight to Southampton.

“Do you like the new version of Scrabble?” she asked, stealing my attention from the game.

I shrugged my shoulders. “I used to like being able to see the meanings of words, but otherwise it’s all right.”

Nonstop had several issues with the new version, mostly because she played with strangers.

“I only play with people I know,” I told her.

I thought I’d seen the end of Nonstop when we went through security and boarded the plane, but she appeared again in the seat next to mine. For an hour and a half, she kept talking. She was very friendly and what she had to say was interesting – for an hour and a half. She told me about her family and her job and why she ended up living in the Netherlands until I started to feel a bit overwhelmed and wasn’t altogether surprised to hear that her marriage didn’t last.

And then she told me about an online conversation she’d had with one of the strangers she played Scrabble with. Instead of just saying, “Goodbye,” she said, “Must go, head count, lights out.”

I wouldn’t have understood this, but the stranger understood and believed that Nonstop was in prison and asked what she’d done.

Nonstop replied, “Murdered my husband,” not expecting the stranger to take her seriously.

“He must have deserved it,” the stranger wrote back and continued to play Scrabble.

Finally, we landed, taxied, waited, said our goodbyes.

As I was remonstrating with the ticket machine at the railway station, I heard a voice behind me. “There’s a queue here, you know.”

“Just a minute,” I called, anxiety rising.

“It’s me.”

I turned round to see Nonstop smiling.

We waited for the same train while Nonstop told me all about the people she was going to visit. When we got on the train, the luggage area was full, so I couldn’t sit next to Nonstop because I had to find a place for my suitcase.

Actually, I wasn’t sorry.

This is the seventh in a series of posts describing my recent trip to England, Ireland, the Netherlands and Wales, from writing course to school reunion and more.

It couldn’t have been more different. In one short flight, I went from a hilly country to a flat one, from not many bicycles to a multitude of them, from coolish temperatures to nights so hot it was hard to sleep, from one language (I did hear only one, and it wasn’t Irish) to another, from people I’d only just met to ones I’ve known all or most of my life.

One thing remained the same: the currency. It was hard to believe I could take out the coins I’d collected in Ireland and hand them over to shopkeepers here in Amsterdam.

During the four days I spent in Holland, I visited the newly-renovated Rijksmuseum and cycled through the Amsterdam Bos to a lake where (as if my legs weren’t aching enough from cycling) we went out on what they called a water bicycle and what I’d call a pedal boat.

Cycling in Amsterdam

Cycling in Amsterdam

We also joined a coach tour to Rotterdam, Delft and the Hague. Delft is a fascinating old town with plenty to see all around the central cobbled square.

At the Royal Delft pottery factory, while the guide spoke to us, I took the photo below. Unfortunately, I can’t remember the story behind the tiled picture behind her and neither can my brother. I do remember that it was sold, but the factory is allowed to keep it for now. If you know any more about the picture, please let me know in the comments. (The comment button is at the top.)

Royal Delft Pottery Works

Royal Delft Pottery Works

I hope to return to Delft one day for a longer visit.

There had been threats of thunderstorms every day, but these didn’t materialise until the last day, when my brother and I went out for a short walk around the Vondelpark, decided there was no need to take rainwear and of course got caught in a thunderstorm. Oh well, I lived to tell the tale.

This is the sixth in a series of posts describing my recent trip to England, Ireland, the Netherlands and Wales, from writing course to school reunion and more.

As I’ve mentioned, I met several people on this trip for the first time, people I knew only online. Of those, there was only one I stayed with: David Rory O’Neill.

I’ve been proofreading and helping to edit David’s books, which he has self-published after being told by traditional publishers that his books don’t fit any genre. I don’t understand this need to straitjacket books. Why can’t one book have enough variety to fit more than one genre? Is it just so that booksellers know which shelf to put the book on?

I digress. David is a prolific writer. He has published 12 novels and 2 novellas so far, and it sounds as if he has plenty more to write. I agreed to work on one book at first, so the fact that I’m still doing this shows how much I enjoy David’s writing. Naturally, David and I have got to know each other quite well through emails. That didn’t stop me from being a little apprehensive about this four-day stay.

From Cork airport, David and B took me into the city, where I was treated to a very knowledgable tour, and to a sip of Guinness, Ireland’s national drink, and taught my only word of Irish: sláinte (pronounced slahn-CHA), which means cheers, or as we would say at home: lehayyim.

Afterwards, we visited the town of Cobh (pronounced Cove) and saw, amongst other things, a fascinating exhibition about the Titanic, situated where the last 123 passengers boarded the ship on its first and last voyage.

The next day, we had a tour of many of the places that appear in David’s novels, and here I felt rather embarrassed. Because, while I enjoyed reading about all of those places and loved the way they blended in to all the stories, I didn’t remember much about them. The real interest, for me is in the characters and their stories. The places are important, but they didn’t remain with me when I finished reading.

Picnicking in Black Valley, County Kerry

Picnicking in Black Valley, County Kerry

On the following day, B took me to Limerick University, where young people were taking part in a festival of traditional Irish music and dance. They sounded and looked very professional. We were even treated to a solo harp performance from a girl who was practising outside. Then we went for a walk along the River Shannon.

Timoleague Abbey, West Cork

Timoleague Abbey, West Cork
(smiling despite being scared of falling back)

Another day of touring the beautiful countryside and all too soon it was time to leave. On the way to the airport, David and B were going to show me the historical part of Mitchelstown, but that plan was hijacked by an interesting stranger.

As we stood beside Kingston College, a row of Georgian terraced houses, wondering who lived in these houses now, this stranger started talking to us. He told us how he and his wife had escaped Zimbabwe/Rhodesia amidst awful scenes and found refuge in one of these houses, along with several others from that country. Then he invited us into his house and showed us pictures of the place they’d had to leave.

So I missed my tour of Mitchelstown, but gained a fascinating first-hand insight into a very different part of the world.

What a lot was crammed into four days! I will remember the special time I spent in a beautiful country, hosted by two lovely people. Thank you, both!

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