Back on the Bus to Belfast

Back on the bus to Belfast. It would be fun to continue in this alliterative way, but the people I'm meeting have names that begin with F and J.

 

Fiona, known to WordPress readers as Speccy, and I have met once before by the Europa bus station. That was a summer's day. It's February now, and chill winds whistle and find unprotected gaps in clothing, seeking out the spaces between glove and sleeve, sneaking down the back of a collar and testing the advertised thermal qualities of underwear.

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Lost on the Surrey/Sussex Borders

So far 2017 seems to be The Year of Not Blogging, but hopefully that will change. It is also the year when language comes under fresh assaults from people who call lies alternative truths.

But let’s draw a veil over the last few days and think of something else, something that reminds me why the world is somewhere I still enjoy, and why I think it’s worth fighting to protect.

As I said in my last post over a week ago, Celia and I went on a ramble and as it was the anniversary of Aunt’s death, we thought we could call it Auntie Mary’s Walk. Just one problem: we’re not entirely sure where we went. Celia and I have yet to go on a ramble where we don’t get lost.

At this point I’m pretty sure we were on the right track.

Hedgehog Lane

Hedgehog Lane

Postbox and Black Cat

Postbox and Black Cat

This wasn’t the route we were following, but it ran alongside ours for a while.

Fancy a Pint?

Fancy a Pint?

In retrospect, perhaps we should have followed it, as we never did reach the pub. As the pubs we have planned to eat at in the past have invariably been closed or no longer serving food, lunch has been the point where we have deviated from our planned route and ended up somewhere we did not expect to be. This time, although Celia called the pub and confirmed they were indeed still open and sold hot meals, I announced that given our track record, I intended to take soup with me. It was this (deserved) lack of faith that prompted Celia to go to Stanfords and buy a map. Though she did bring sandwiches.

We got lost quite early on, but were rescued by a woman walking a rather lovely Golden Retriever called Bingo. Naturally I do not know the woman’s name. She set us on the right direction and off we went. Given that we passed most of the things she told us to look out for, I don’t understand how we found ourselves at the wrong end of the map.

However by that time we had been thoroughly enjoying ourselves. The fields and ditches were covered in a dusting of snow.

A Dusting of Snow

A Dusting of Snow

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Christmas Eve 2016

Christmas Eve, the candles are lit, fairy lights twinkle, the choir of Westminster Abbey sings carols quietly in the background, the Christmas cards from friends and family deck the sideboard, tops of paintings, and book table, MasterB is paying misdirected carnal attentions towards his newest toy, a yellow feather boa that Octavia brought him from Melbourne.

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Little Innocent

I know there’s a term for this, people who are turned on by inanimate objects such as lamp posts or handbags, which though odd and somewhat disturbing, is probably no less odd than people who develop phobias about inanimate objects such as lamp posts or handbags. How common a condition these lusts are in cats I don’t know, and why this toy should have sparked such desires in MasterB I have no idea.

I’m spending the evening at home, just me and MasterB. This morning was work, last night nibbles and drinks here with some neighbours. I should have asked more people, but the flat is small and there’s limited seating. Reinhild came before joining her husband at the theatre; my lovely neighbour Lawrence who broke the news to me that he is moving in a month; Charlie (Mr Celia); B&J: Celia a bit later.

Charlie’s arrival was the signal for MasterB to go into hiding. He’s accepted Lawrence, but is deeply suspicious of Charlie. J was bereft. I have a feeling my invitation was only accepted as she wanted to see Himself again. It is a humbling experience to be less socially successful than one’s cat. She tried coaxing him out with biscuits, no luck. Eventually I opened the drawer in which he had secreted himself under the bed and he hopped out. Little Star, he not only conquered his fear of Charlie, he actually rubbed his face against Charlie’s feet, and spent the rest of the evening with us.

December has passed in a blur, hence the lack of blog posts and comments. I finally downloaded my holiday pictures, and looking at them has brought details of my trip flooding back. I probably say “when I was in Australia..” annoyingly often, and I know I should like to return there. Equally I should like to return to Singapore.

Here and in the US, as well as other countries in the west, we are increasingly seeing the politics of division on the rise; there is much talk about our differences, less about our similarities. More in Common became a rallying cry in the wake of the murder of MP Jo Cox by a right wing extremist. In Singapore I saw diverse communities living together in harmony. As a white westerner I was just another ethnic minority, accepted and welcomed. When I looked online at reasons why the crime levels in Singapore are so low, I found articles citing the heavy penalties for anti social behaviour: ten year prison sentences for graffiti for example. The slip of paper handed me by immigration when I entered the country warned of the death penalty for drug smuggling. But it didn’t feel to me as though Singaporeans were only behaving because they feared the consequences of stepping out of line, and I reckon there must be more carrot than stick that makes this society work. People seemed to have a real pride in Singapore, they wanted me, a vistor, to feel welcome. When the rain poured down I was offered the shelter of an umbrella to cross the street; people smiled at me and I smiled back.

One of the things that caught my eye was the Art Connector, a series of seats celebrating fifty years of independence, and all quoting lines from the National Pledge which says, in the four official languages of Singapore; English Chinese, Malay and Tamil:

We, the citizens of Singapore,
pledge ourselves as one united people,
regardless of race, language or religion,
to build a democratic society
based on justice and equality
so as to achieve happiness, prosperity
and progress for our nation.

The Art Connector

The Art Connector

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Above the clouds

High above the clouds above the Indian Ocean, the landmass of Australia behind me, three hours away from Singapore, it is sinking in that I resume my normal life in less than forty-eight hours. How much less I’m not sure as time zones confuse my mind as well as my body.

I had the obligatory mass panic at the start of my journey, thinking it had left my ‘phone in Loris and Ibb’s flat. I even called Ibb on a borrowed ‘phone. Fortunately it was in my bag, so the only problem was feeling foolish. Well it’s not the first time.

Sydney airport was busy and hot. Signs to toilets misled as some were being renovated. The free wifi was initially elusive. By the time I got myself organised my flight was being called and my seat was in the first group. As in my outward journey, my vegetarian meal was served in advance of everyone else’s. Passengers near me craned to see what I had, gave me curious looks. I ate and continued watching my first film: Florence Foster Jenkins. I saw Meryl Streep and Hugh Grant on Graham Norton some months back when the film first came out. It was more touching than I expected and a tear rolled down my cheek at the end.

Straight on to film number two: Marseille. I lived in Marseille for a year a long time ago, and the opening scenes of the city with Notre Dame de la Garde high up on the hill brought a wave of nostalgia that surprised me, but it was the sound if the Marseillais accent that really stirred my emotions. Time to go back for a visit. It was a fairly slight film, the sort of thing that would be made for television in the UK, with holes in the plot line you could drive a lorry through, but I loved every minute.

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Big Small World

Late again, and again no photographs, but I have to post tonight as it is my last night in Australia. This time tomorrow I shall be in Singapore. By Tuesday I shall have travelled back to the northern hemisphere and be heading home.

I struggle to believe I am on the opposite side of the globe to London. There have been so many similarities between here and home. It's the differences that catch you. Or at least they catch me. Growing up in a post imperial world, the idea of empire meant little to me. Sometimes there were references, usually ironic, to when the maps were red showing the extent of British Rule. It all seemed a very long time ago. Continue reading

A Hit With a Pig

Closing the car door, I realised I was giving off a fairly strong smell of pig. It's not a bad smell, but it is fairly distinctive; earthy with an overtone of muddy straw. Fortunately Vicki was probably similarly aromatic. Anyway, she didn't seem to mind, and after all it was she who had organised our trip to Edgar's Mission and a spot of pig cuddling.

Not only cuddlesome pigs, but a gorgeous dog called Ruby who was sent to be shot because she was a failure as a farm dog, hopeless at herding stock, and far keener to interact with humans.

Do you feel a bit of a theme developing here? Last week Gem/Jem, now Ruby. Though the first would be my childhood's black Labrador Tessa, the gun dog who wouldn't retrieve, whose days were at one point similarly numbered.

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The Dog Days

I didn't take my camera with me when we went to the cinema yesterday morning, and as it turned out we continued straight on to Melbourne Museum, so for the first day since I arrived here I took no pictures. Well, that's not quite true. When we got back we found Mel had come round accompanied by Wombat, another neighbour's dog and the only dog Billie seems to feel friendship for. Here are both dogs being hopeful as cheese is cut on the counter.

He's her toyboy, being around three years old compared to her sixteen. He's also a lot bigger as he's a bull mastiff. Like other bull mastiffs I've met, he's a gentle giant, fond of leaning against you and soliciting affection.

We broke open the sloe gin Vicki bought in Richmond, and the cocktails were delicious. As lovely as the ones we had in the bar on Sunday. Maybe lovelier. We stopped at two, which was wise.

It's a good thing I'm leaving soon as I could get a taste for these. Although Melbourne's tall buildings are impressive, it's the vernacular architecture I like; the streets of low rise houses with tin roofs; lots of bungalows (strange that in the UK the word bungalow is almost a term of abuse, perhaps if they looked more like these they'd have a better press) with flowers and shrubs in the gardens.

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Flora and Fauna in Melbourne

As the number of days I have left before I fly home drops to single figures so the temperature rises. Tomorrow it is expected to be 38c in Melbourne. We're planning a day in an air-conditioned cinema followed by an air-conditioned museum. I thought I might do another trail in Melbourne's arcades this afternoon, but the promise of Martinis at two has persuaded me to put that off. In the meantime I'm enjoying herbal tea at the kitchen table.

Hobarts's gardens were full of colour. I'd have thought that was normal, but we were told last year there was a drought and nothing was growing. People are making the most of the current lushness.

In Seddon, the flowers are also blooming. I am very fond of amaryllis, and this one is in a garden just round the corner.

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