Departure Day

Just a few minutes to go until my flight is announced. I am not someone who usually enjoys airports, but after a morning of domestic activity – stripping the bed, loading the washing machine, hanging out the wet bed linen, ironing it, remaking the bed, and a dozen other little things I needed to do before leaving home – the air conditioned anonymity of the airport has been pleasant and the time has passed very quickly.

I heard that today may be the hottest day of the year so far in London. I shouldn’t be surprised. It was great for getting my washing dry, but not the sort of heat I enjoy in cities. So it is with a sense of relief that I am heading to the colder climes of Co Derry. Continue reading

S is for Snow

We’re late. Take off should have been thirty minutes ago. I lift my head from the magazine in my lap and see snow falling, snow I did not know had been forecast. As I watch it becomes heavier, swirling little white dervishes covering the grass and the stationary planes.

Across the aisle there is no visibility from the starboard window. In minutes the snow has covered it as effectively as a shutter. Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

But Is It Art?

Our Tasmanian adventure is almost over. This time tomorrow we’ll be at Hobart airport, waiting to board our flight. It’s been short but sweet and we have packed a lot in to a few days.

More by luck than judgement we visited the important historic sites shortly after arrival. As I said, our accommodation is in Battery Point. Trying to find Tourist Information we strode the streets around Salamanca, finally making it through the doors minutes before closing. Our conversation was swift and to the point; we explained what we were thinking of doing, asked for relevant information, and advice on anything else we should do. Sorted. Battery Point has a Sculpture Trail. Without actually following it, we have managed to see most of it. It’s a great way to get acquainted with the area.

As well as Salamanca, Battery Point and Mount Wellington, we have also been to Port Arthur, a one hundred acre site of a convict penal colony, today a disorientating mix of the beautiful and the horrific. Along the route to get there we kept passing rusty sculptures; a tractor, a fish, a horse and many more. Much as I should have liked to add something similar to my own home, the practicalities of getting it back to Melbourne, let alone Walworth, made that a non-starter. However, I find that they come in various sizes, so I have a diminutive rusty Tasmanian Tiger who will fit in a plant pot. Result. Continue reading

Other Places, Other Mores

Above the clouds somewhere between Thessaloniki and London Gatwick. I have eaten; drunk; looked through my photos; gazed down at mountains, houses, seas and pasture; read the magazine from last Saturday’s Guardian; read some more of my book; and am now listening to Abba whilecontrarily resisting an inclination to doze.

By chance I am in the same seat as I was on the way out with the same family around me. I have been reacquainted with Panda, leaned back to allow Beth-Anne a better view out of the window, exchanged smiles with the parents.

Obviously this will not be posted until later.

It has been a good holiday with a good bunch of people. We haven’t circulated a list of emails, but a couple of us have swapped contact details. This seems realistic. To expect acquaintanceships forged while sweating up hills to turn into life long friendships is somewhat optimistic. But one of the joys of a group holiday such as this is that you can have as much or as little company as you want. It’s nice to wander into the bar and see familiar faces. The boredom of check in is relieved by chatter and there is always a group ready to look after bags while an individual or two wander off to investigate shops and facilities.

Whether I ever return to this part of Greece is debatable. But I shall be back in Greece, that’s for sure. I hope by then the situation is more stable, and the waiter I spoke to last night who is looking forward to his first holiday in four years at the end of this month, will feel financially more secure.

Welcome though visitors are, I have an uncomfortable feeling that the Greeks are becoming servants in their own country, catering to the wishes of ever more demanding tourists, and working increasingly long hours. I hope I am wrong about this.

I have been visiting Greece for years. It is one of my favourite countries where as a foreigner I have almost always felt welcomed. Maybe because this is the first time I have stayed in a resort that has grown out of tourism, it is also the first time I have felt uncomfortable about some of the ways I have seen Greek culture marketed, and to my mind, debased.

It seems wrong to see Greek Nights advertised in local tavernas. Surely every night should be a Greek Night in Greece? And if it isn’t, what does that say about the corrosive power of mass tourism?

I don’t regret the old toilets; I only came across one hole in the ground, and mercifully I was in walking boots at the time. Most meals were hot, rather than the tepid ones I remember from previous visits. Stray cats and dogs seem better treated than before, which is wonderful in itself given the economic climate, but two very young cats at the hotel were evidently pregnant and there was a tiny orphaned kitten at yesterday’s taverna. Her siblings have gone to new homes in the Netherlands and Monaco, and the staff were suggesting one of us might like to take her. With the end of the tourist season approaching at the speed of a runaway train, pray to all the gods at once that she and others like her are scooped up by visitors and local families ready to give them a chance.

But now as Greece recedes and England beckons, I am looking forward to being reunited with MasterB who was in his own perilous situation not so far away from my destination airport when the students I got him from rescued him.

In some ways, scavenging strays in Greece’s tourist hotspots are better off than abandoned pets in the UK who do not find armies of visitors willing to slip them tidbits from the groaning tables in high season. Colonies of semi-feral cats in London are quietly caught are destroyed. I do not think I have ever seen them featured on postcards or cuddled by waves of cooing foreigners.

In the meantime, Mark, the younger of the two children of the little family beside me, has decided to paint his face a rainbow of reds, blues and greens. It doesn’t seem to have harmed him; on the contrary, he has caught the eye of a young girl in a pink dress and matching plaster cast.

Perhaps the romance of travel is not quite dead.