A Good Day Out in Chatham

My first impressions of Chatham made me regret not booking an earlier return train. It had every indication of poverty; so many shops with pound in the name, pasty faced people in cheap clothes, once fine buildings now unkempt and scruffy. Although Dickens spent his early life here, there was no obvious allusion of him, though I did find this rather wonderful statue of Waghorn.

Thomas Waghorn

I admit I had never heard of him, but his statue was arresting and Wiki filled in some of the blanks. Around the statue were railings with a trident theme.


A nice touch I thought.
I was less convinced by the fact that the smartest building by miles was an ex Post Office now Weatherspoon’s pub bearing his name.From Post Office From Post Office[/caption]


to pub

There were bits of ordnance and naval wotnot scattered about the town, presumably to remind the inhabitants of its past status.


Grand gates

But the present and the future looked pretty grim.

It probably didn’t help that it was raining. After days of blue skies and warm temperatures the clouds were a uniform battleship grey. Before I had walked through the town I had almost resolved to leave Chatham after lunch, walk the few miles to Rochester and spend the afternoon there. Fort Amherts did nothing to make me change my mind. It may be one of the most important forts left from the Napoleonic Wars, but it had a neglected air, and when I walked into the cafeteria/reception not one of the three staff there bothered to smile or say hello.

The statue of Lord Kitchener outside was very grand, so I photographed it and continued along the path, following the signs to the historic docks. As luck would have it I stayed on the wrong side of the road, and so I could see the very grand entrance to the docks, but not access it. It was a hundred yards or so before I could cross, and saw a sign telling me to continue along the path in the direction I had been heading to the entrance. I walked on, thinking about other things. The signage started to improve. There were signs to St Mary’s Island. I had never heard of it, but it sounded interesting. Next I noticed the buildings around me looked smarter, more loved than in the town, and realised I was heading into the area where the non-nabla docks had been. Outlet stores. Oh well. Then I saw boats. A marina.Amazing how it lifted the heart. My pace quickened. We were on the Medway, but close to the sea, so these boats had that salty look the boats at my marina quite lack. There was a road bridge over the Medway that had been officially opened by Princess Anne and more signs to St Mary’s Island. I strode on. Disappointment hit when I realised St Mary’s Island is a new housing estate. At least that’s what it is now. What it was in the past remains for me a mystery.

The Outlet Stores were busy. There is something quite depressing about the way shopping has become so much of a hobby. Still, there were cranes and architecture that hinted at different preoccupations.

Finally I found the entrance to the Dockyards themselves. I don’t quite know what i had been expecting after the disappointment of the town, but I am happy say that Chatham’s Historic Docks far exceeded my expectations. I never did get to Rochester, and I did find a house near the station with a plaque saying it was the young Dickens had lived. A tour of a nuclear submarine, HMS Ocelot, was fascinating. The guide was informative and relaxed, dealing well with a young enthusiast who had obviously done the tour several times before and was keen to share what he remembered. A collection of lifeboats with pictures of crews and details of rescues was salutary. The rain continued to fall. All around there were pieces of engineering equipment whose purpose I couldn’t even begin to guess at. The site is extensive and I started to get a real feel of how it had functioned as a enclosed community. This is where the Temeraire was built, the Victory too. We often talk about places being steeped in history. This place is where the steeping happens.

I’d have enjoyed the tour of the Ropery better with a different guide. He was playing a part, but still struck me as more than a little misogynistic. None of the children in the group I was in was female, but I’d bet fairly freely that he’d have favoured the boys for questions and participation had there been.

In the end I hurried back to the station, fearful I would miss my train. In fact I was early which is how and why I found Dickens’ house.

It was a good day out.


Coventry, City of Culture 2021

I went to Coventry again today. It was fab. I knew it would be. I went there for the first time in February. I fully intend to return before long and explore some more.

It’s going to be the City of Culture in 2021. It’s going to be brilliant.

It’s been twinned with more cities than I can remember, mainly I think because its mission to promote peace and reconciliation.

I think it should be twinned with the Elephant and Castle, SE1. The clue is in the coat of arms.

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In Mother’s Footsteps

So here’s the plan: reach Birmingham by eleven, find the tourist information office for a map and find out how far away the hospital is; look for a (self) guided walking tour; visit the museum to see the Staffordshire Hoard; return London by the afternoon train.
Of course it may not work out like that. Maybe I’ll have jettisoned this plan by the time I leave the station, and instead allow my nose to lead me, and wander the city’s streets and squares.

My return to the Midlands just over a week since the sortie to Coventry is thanks to some special offers on trains which Viv of the book group circulated. I shan’t have a lot of time, hence the plan.

You might be thinking I am going to visit someone in hospital. No, I’m not. It’s the buildings I want to see; specifically the older buildings, the ones that were there on the 1940s when Mother arrived to take an entrance exam that would allow her to train as a nurse. I understand that part of the hospital was originally the workhouse, and that there is an archway, unlisted that is threatened with demolition. Maybe it has already gone.

We never visited Birmingham. Although Mother had many fond memories, I don’t know that she ever returned. The closest I have been is a ride around Spaghetti Junction enough route to somewhere I don’t recall when I was a teenager. Continue reading

The Elephant in the Room

Well, not really a room, more a district and a city. Let me explain.

When I visited Coventry last week I was surprised and intrigued to find representations of elephants.

A Line of Balancing Elephants

I live close to the Elephant and Castle in London. I’m used to references to elephants hereabouts. We have a magnificent one with a howdah on his back that adorns the delapidated shopping centre; there’s Elephant Cars based in Elephant Road; the Electric Elephant Café here in Walworth, offices in Hannibal House; Elefest, once our annual beano celebrating all things Elephant connected. But I was unaware of any pachyderm associations with Coventry, usually a city more renowned for its connections with Lady Godiva’s naked horse riding event. However, elephants there definitely were.


An Elephant in the Wall

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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.


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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In the Bosom of My Family

More a comment than a post tonight, and no added pictures as it's late and I am likely to be woken earlier rather than later by some junior members of the family. My cousin, correctly first cousin once removed, collected me from the very lovely Alison and Bruce this morning. There was a certain amount of chat as both Victoria (my cousin) and Bruce are actuaries and realised very quickly they knew people in common. I love these connections, the invisible skeins that join us.

Victoria drove across Sydney to her home and we caught up on family stuff and news. None good about her cousin Tom who is still in a bad way. I last met her husband at their wedding, and although I have seen many pictures of her children, today was the first time we met. The older daughter reminds me of my cousin, her great aunt, Mary. The younger is like her father. Both girls were wet, having enjoyed the narrow swimming pool beside the house.

Remembering how I used to do the Sperrins Hill Walking Festival when I stayed with her parents, Victoria had a walk planned for us. I'd had a look at it and it seemed to involve a bit of up and down. Are there many steps, I asked. My knees get quite distressed by steps. She didn't think so. In the heat of the day we set off. There were steps quite near the beginning, then some more a short way in, and more a bit further along. It quickly became apparent that this is a Walk With Many Steps. My knees began to mutter, then to groan, then to mutiny. Fortunately we reached a stepless part before they gave up. I was expecting to feel pain by tonight, but am relieved to say I can still climb the stairs without wincing. Naturally I have done my stretches.

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Ruminating on the Railway

I'm about two hours away from Sydney, sitting on a train that started off from Melbourne nine and a half hours ago. I thought I'd spend the morning asleep, but I was enjoying watching the changing scenery, so despite the early start – the alarm went off at quarter to six and we went to bed around midnight – I stayed awake. My neighbour for the first couple of hours was a Finn who arrived in Melbourne yesterday. We exchanged a few sentences. Then lapsed into agreeable silence.

My next neighbour companion, who is still with me, had just finished a seven day coach tour. She and her companions are scattered about the train. We smiled and said hello, then to my relief she put on an eye mask, reclined her seat, and prepared for sleep. In contrast, the woman in the seat in front seemed keen to share her family history, the trials and tribulations involved when her dog, a Jack Russell, requires his vaccinations, the exact details of her itinerary.

I was plugged into my iPod when my neighbour awoke, disturbed by the arrival of a new influx of passengers. Despite moaning that she wanted to sleep, she began a conversation with me that continued for nearly two hours. I say conversation, but my rôle was to listen. It was this relentless gentle flow of words that eventually made me close my eyes and sleep. She is also going to Sydney, so we have had more conversation, but I have learned to open my book, and she has also dozed.

I have been amazed by the lush greenery. Currently we are riding through a wooded landscape, the light coming into the carriage filtered through spring leaves. There have been open prairies, railway stations in deserted landscapes, wind farms, cows, sheep, and lots of birds, and a golf course. As we near Sydney so the frequency of houses increases. Leaving Melbourne, riding through the outer suburbs, it was easy to see how older bungalows are being pulled down and replaced by two storey houses.

I've eaten most of the food I brought on board, just one apple left, and I've drunk a fair amount of water. The Tasmania book given to me by Vicki's dad is a quarter read and very good.

Vicki and I said our goodbyes at the station this morning where she nobly accompanied me. I'm not good at goodbyes. I said goodbye to Billie at the house and told her to keep off the sherry. I have become very fond of Billie in the last three weeks. She is a very sweet dog, and I don't think I'm flattering myself when I say she likes me too. Continue reading

Across the World to Camberwell

At home, I live not far from Camberwell. It's where generations of my family lived, and where my father was born. For that reason, and is there a better one? I wanted to visit Camberwell, Melbourne before I leave.

After yesterday's heat there was a night of heavy rain, followed by a grey cold day with intermittent drizzle. Perfect for suburb touring.

As it turns out, the two Camberwells, while being topographically dissimilar, have things in common. Both are suburbs which would have been homes to market gardens, and homes for the well to do middle classes. Both saw their status tumble and have been reclassified as downmarket, and both are again on the rise. The Main Street of Melbourne's Camberwell is home to a jumble of shops, testimony to the transition status they enjoy. There are chic cafés and cheap take aways; two great shops selling plants within doors of each other; unsympathetic alterations made to shop fronts and structures; chichi shops selling items to aspirational home owners; buildings of changed usage.

We reckoned this bar was once a bank.

These terraces caught my eye fom the car. You'll see it was still raining. I particularly liked the windows.

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Tasmania Farewell

Above the clouds on the flight back to Melbourne. Already this morning seems a long time ago, packing our bags and receiving a visit from a local cat who dropped by and came into each of our rooms, a welcome chance to stroke soft fur as I am missing MasterB an extraordinary amount and we shan’t be reunited with Billie Dog until this evening. I am guessing the cat visits once its people have set off for work, looking for other appreciative humans.

Visiting cat

Our tours of Tasmania’s penal institutions continued with the Female Factory just outside Hobart, and Richmond Jail at Richmond. I’d recommend the first over the second. Both are sobering, but the Female Factory is particularly well done. Time prevented us from joining the guided tour but we overheard snatches of it and it was quite clearly in a different class to the tour we had on the cemetery island at Port Arthur. The scale was also much smaller and the contrast between the accommodation for the superintendent, the matron and the sub-matron was less stark. To be a woman convict, often transported for the most trivial offences, was to find yourself vulnerable to sexual abuse, locked into a vicious cycle where your word would always be doubted if contradicted by anyone in authority. The fact that so many survived and went onto marry, have families and prosper is testament to the human spirit. The site has worked with archaeologists and artists and builds a poignant picture where, belatedly, these women are given the respect that all human beings are due.

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