Saturday, July 30, 2005


I was going to go into London again to see my friend Michele & family who are visiting from Hong Kong, but couldn't face the A1 again, so turned around and headed north east to Cambridge, only about 40 miles away.

We had a pretty nice time looking around the college-dominated old town centre, although the place is really overrun by tourists - more per square foot than anywhere else I've been in the UK. We turned a corner near Kings College Chapel, and several hundred Korean schoolkids greeted Bondi with a blinding barrage of camera flashes. We were momentarily relieved by the distraction of a man walking 4 gigantic mastiff-like dogs in the other direction, and I ducked into a music store where I was able to spend a minute or so convincing my hands that they could still play the piano after 2 months' lack of practice. They coughed out some Brahms and Scarlatti before my left hand decided it didn't want to play any more, so I picked up some of Peter Donohoe's recent Naxos British Concerto CDs and set off for some coffee by the river.

Sitting at a cafe's outdoor table, we could watch tourists in self-propelled or chauffeured punts, a prominent feature of the River Cam since Edwardian times. Student touts patrol the nearby streets enticing visitors to their respective company's boats, and indeed were quick to enquire if my dog would like an hour on the river. I was pretty keen to go out but was waiting for new friend Paul to arrive for a drink.

When he did arrive, Bondi was very much the focus of attention of succeeding waves of photographers, and now more than ever did I wish that I was charging for the privilege.

Punting plans were postponed: Paul took us to see the Tattersalls yards in nearby Newmarket, and thence to an informal engagement party. There was an interesting array of guests, including an Australian-born vicar, Canon Peter who looked rather familiar to me - I was told he'd been a child star of something back down under - who seemed very taken by the frocks and smells of the Anglican church. He'd grown up in the west Riverina not too far from where I went to school, and pointed out to someone that his diocese there was twice the size of England.

I also talked a lot with a very amusing couple of Londoners who were relocating to some land in Cyprus, where they were building a home, and making stumbling attempts at learning Greek. Having had the benefit of both a mathematical education (so I could read the Greek alphabet) and the tutelage of Greek friends at college, I was able to pass on the requisite knowledge of Greek profanities, even being able to point out some Cypriot variants. We got on to the topic of Greek food (in which I'd been educated by the mothers of my language tutors) and then, in a clumsy attempt to explain the derivation of galaktoboureko by means of an analogy with galactorrhea, managed to put the poor woman off custard for life. She and her husband were still mightily impressed by my Greek, but I pointed out that it was probably only good for insulting caterers.

Friday, July 29, 2005

London jaunt

Drove down to London last night so I'd have have opportunity to catch up with friends passing through London today. Strolled through Regents Park for the first time, with Bondi appreciating the ooportunity to gambol in a large open space. Picked up some odds and ends I'd left in Highbury earlier in the month and dropped them off in a storage facility near the A1 in North London.

I'd booked 2 nights at a Days Inn at "South Mimms" which is really just a services centre at the intersection of the A1 and the M25 ring road. Went through the usual rigmarole of trying to buy internet wireless time when BT won't accept non-UK credit cards, even though their registration screen quite explicitly provides a list of dozens of countries to enter your billing address. Ridiculous.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005


I had a semi-productive morning at the Wigan Renault dealer getting some parts & repairs for the car. I was momentarily elated when I was told that Renault UK could offer me a Certificate of Conformance for my car to show it could be registered in the UK. However, speaking to Renault UK directly I was told this could only be done for vehicle manufactured for the EU, and specifically not for vehicles sent to Japan, Australia and NZ ... even though these are the only other Renaults that are right-hand drive like the UK. I'm actually wondering if this is to protect themselves against reverse importation rather than for any technical reason. Vehicle prices are very high in the UK so Brits may save a bundle by personally importing (left-hand drive) vehicles from continental EU countries or even Ireland. Anyway, I was left with having to file for a road test - £150 thank you very much, and an additional £10 to send it as a postal order!! I'm coming to the conclusion that companies are more and more trying to make money by charging you for the privilege of actually spending money.

That done, Bondi and I wandered off to Liverpool for a re-inspection. Not much to report there: the city is in enormous building upheaval - the Big Dig - to regenerate the area ahead of its tenure as European City of Culture.

First there was Elizabeth Taylor's White Trashhusband oops Diamonds, and now there's Alan Cummings' new fragrance for the man in your life:

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Seismologists come off erupting vein alert status

I have no idea what the weather was like today, having spent nearly 9 hrs on the phone and on the net, trying to get my car insurance sorted. As of about 2hrs ago, I now have the insurance sorted, and can take more lesiurely steps toward getting the car registered.

Stuart and I went to see Spielberg's rendering of War of the Worlds last night. It was pretty dissatisfying all up, with HG Wells' story being not much more than a clothes-line to string up Tom Cruise moving his family from New York to Boston to avoid death-rays. The plot alterations, setting the story today, and having long-buried alien tripods undermined the credibility of the story in so many ways. Most of the explorations of moral issues that Wells developed within TWOTW framework had been excised, or compressed into a few moments of babbling from Tim Robbins' character. Hopefully the CGI-animated version of The War of the Worlds, expanding on Jeff Wayne's musical version, will provide a truer telling.

It's two months now since we landed in the UK. We've covered a lot of miles, although done less long-distance walks than I thought we might have done by now. Still, there's no time-table for any of this and now that the car issue is mostly under control there's less administrivia to deal with. I have Oct/Nov booked now for language school in Spain with elbow room for other continental excursions around that under my 90 day visa restriction.

Homework reading: The Australia Institute reports and linked sites, including The Wellbeing Manifesto and Downshifting Downunder.

Monday, July 25, 2005

A large vein in my forehead...

I'm having a simply wonderful day dealing with corporate and government bureaucrats around the world. Luckily I've been primed for it, as I'm reading Rob Grant's "Incompetnce".
The UK DVLA (Vehicle Licensing) and its partner VOSA will not register or test a vehicle without it having 6 months insurance in advance ... but finding an insurance company to insure an unregistered vehicle...hmmm.
One of my US banks will not allow foreign customers to alter their mailing address without mailing in a written form - but their form has no provision for a non-US address or phone-number. The same bank will happily take instructions over the web to buy unwisely chosen stocks. I am changing the address because so many UK institutions will not accept a VISA card with a non-UK address. Welcome tourists one and all - just remember to carry all your money as CASH!!
Of course you ARE all aware that since May 30, the VISA and MASTERCARD cartel jointly upped their fee for withdrawing money or using a credit card in a foreign currency to 2.5% per transaction, and that's before your bank creams something off the top - up to another 2%. The old fee was ~1% but because computer technology has brought the marginal cost of changing money down to near zero, that's an excellent reason to boost your net profit by another 150% ... right??? And just to rub it in, because MASTERCARD owns the CIRRUS network that connects ATMs, just withdrawing cash from the ATM incurs the same charge. Many companies now add 2-3% fee if you use a credit card (because they haven't figured in the cost of the alternate ie manually managing cash or cheques), so you may end up paying up to 7.5% commission every time you get out the plastic.
So, since my throbbing forehead vein can now be seen from the space, it's a good time to point out Google Moon to those who haven't seen it. Make sure, you zoom in real close to see the lunar surface!

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Peter Donohoe recital

Final trek along the canal path. There always seemed to be canal boats passing along during these morning jaunts, or I would see their holiday-making crew working the hand-operated locks. While the locks were kept in good order, the canal path was rubbish strewn and with a number of plastic bags of clothes tossed into the forlorn shrubbery, I wondered if they were tramps' wardrobes or just extracted from bodies thrown into the canal.

However, like cleaner-seeming canal segments in London and Manchester, there were people angling for whatever fish subsisted in these waters. As we walked out from under a road-bridge we just missed a bin load of garbage being dumped into the water. Not much further along, an Indian gentleman dropped something in from the canal path and then quickly disappeared up some stairs and the car sped off as we approached. I couldn't see any sign of what had been dropped and so we continued on.

One of the brochures in the Tourist Centre advertised the Tolkien Trail, building on some weak links between local sites and Middle Earth imagery (Tolkien lived nearby as a child). I don't think Tolkien would have been terribly pleased - any reminders of the rustic Shire have since been replaced by Blakean visions of an urban Mordor. If he had written a bit later in the century, Minas Morgol might have looked like a Jeffrey Smart cityscape, with the ugly BT tower as Sauron's Eye, and destitute Gollbrums preying on canal fish.
"Hey mate, is that dog a Japanese Cheetah"?

The concert was at the Adrian Boult Hall, attached to the Birmingham Conservatoire, and - handily for any preparing concert artiste - a McDonalds and a nail salon. Peter Donohoe gave a brief onstage concert talk about his all-Russian program: Tchaikovsky's Dumka, Prokofiev's 6th Sonata and Rachmaninov's C# minor Prelude with the Op32 Preludes. The program reflected 3 faces of Russian pianism: Czarist, Soviet and expatriate; the playing showed a long familiarity and advocacy of this repertoire (Donohoe was cowinner of the Tchaikovsky Piano Competition in 1982). I don't know any of the program pieces well, aside from a couple of the Preludes, they veer from Brahms to Ravel with a whiff of Rimsky-Korsakov exoticism. A first encore sounded like Tchaikovsky (from "The Seasons"?... I guess correctly: "November") and then another pair of earlier Rachmaninov preludes, followed by (I think) another Tchaikovsky Season.

Friday, July 22, 2005


Another jaunt along the canal path took us into Brum's Jewellery Quarter. A sandwich board advertising material from Jeff Wayne's "The War of the Worlds" led me to St Paul's Gallery, a commercial space displaying Hockney, Warhol, Dali, Picasso, Rembrandt and a selection of prints of famous album covers of Pink Floyd and others. I was particularly taken by a Turneresque (what's with the artist-esque refs this week?) photo manipulation, and put down a deposit. I was also seduced by a signed 7-disc edition of WotW.
We walked back into the main shopping area so that I could check the tourist ofice and book a seat for a piano recital tomorrow night. Because the Bull Ring mallitia were out in force, we had to take an extremely circuitous route to the office (more twisty winding passages).
Some web surfing indicated that the city's Birhemian(?) quarter was in an area called Moseley and we drove down there, as I hoped this might show something other than the central mall culture. Moseley seemed to be a nice residential area but was unfortunately attached to a grubby and unremarkable commercial strip. We jumped back in the car and set off to find something more appealing.
Half an hour of circling around and following promising-looking signs didn't unearth anything exciting so we landed at the "mac" (media arts centre?) at Cannon Hill Park where Bondi could sniff around the grounds and I could have lunch. The cafe lady offered me a choice between the "Sucks you in (Szechuan) Pork", and the "Chicken and Mushroom Pamanda". I opted for the latter only to discover that Pamanda did not mean Curry but (Boiled).
After a late afternoon nap, I ventured out again to see if Birmingham showed itself differently by night. The downtown area was fairly busy but even by early evening, noisy drunks were quite prevalent. Small groups of police were very visible but didn't seem interested in guiding inebriated revellers away from moving traffic. I asked a few people if there were any other parts of town with any night-life: "Haha not in Birmingham, you've got to go somewhere else" was the general response. Bummer.
I went back to the hotel and watched the first episode of a documentary series Jazz Brittania, narrated by Terence Stamp, covering the British jazz scene up to the emergence of The Beatles. I noted some albums worth sampling, read for a while, and then fell asleep part-way into the old horror film "The Spiral Staircase".

Thursday, July 21, 2005


Arrived in Birrrrmingham around 2.30 for 3 days at a budget (that's UK budget) hotel beside a canal on the outskirts of the CBD. Noting that the canal appeared to actually run into the CBD I asked one of the hotel staff if it was feasible to walk the canal path into town. The alternative appeared to be negotiating a set of traffic flyovers and monstrous roundabouts constructed by a civil engineer with a penchant for concrete embroidery.

"No I don't think so" the reply came, with a furrowed brow. "But" the wrinkles eased "it's really quite easy: you just go over two bridges, then go right and past the fire station, around the giant coke vending machine and then through a maze of twisty winding passages, all exactly alike and finally you end up in a room with a door leading in each direction...and you do realise how much this silly distortion of what I said dates you?"

"Um OK". Her wrinkles had lept to my forehead. I took the canal path and got into town quickly enough. Bondi was kept on a leash this time.

We approached a pleasant looking pedestrian area called the Bull Ring, and were quickly asked to leave by a security guard: "I know it's silly but the city says no dogs allowed". Apparently not, but pedestrians dropping garbage all over the same ground in front of security guards and police officers went unchallenged. We retreated for a while so I could look for a map that would allow me to reach the Birmingham tourist office without crossing interdicted grounds.

A few hours later we did pass through there again - quite by accident officer I assure you! The Bull Ring seemed to also comprise a lot of above and below ground malls and was adjoined to a Gaudiesque curve of building that looks like a Dalek's ballgown. That might have been appropriate given the total lack of natural life in that zone: a gigantic antfarm of international brands, a shiny artificial heart for the city.

When I had driven around the New England states of the US with Anthony 3 years ago, I saw little towns everywhere whose high street had been replaced by mini strip-malls: cancer cells of identical franchise and chainstore outlets with mitochondrial Starbucks fueling their metastasis.
"He shouldn't be in the city. He should be out running in the Arctic dandruff!"

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Canal walk to Camden

I was making plans to visit the Norwich area of East Anglia, so I could see the Norfolk Broads and other regional attractions, then discovered that a visiting evangelist was bringing in 20,000 of the faithful and had soaked up all accommodation in the region... Since I'm heading north, I've decided on Birmingham which is the biggest city in the UK that I've not visited, so reason enough.

Walked with Bondi via Islington and Pentonville Road to Kings Cross station, and thence to the Grand Union Canal. We walked down to the canal path and I thought it would be a good place to let him off leash. I did so, turned around to look back up the canal...and..SPLASH! Bondi decided on a swim - unusually without any thought as to how he was going to get out of the water again. So after a couple of minutes, I had the job of hauling out 70kg of dog, and all the water he had sponged up.

It was a pleasant enough walk west via some locks to Camden Lock for a squiz at Camden High Street and the built-area around the Lock. I tried to hide in a corner of a cafe, but still had throngs of Bondi admirers. I nearly lost my temper after going through several rounds of the all too common Q&A:

man in street: What breed is he?

me: An Alaskan Malamute

m-i-s: where are they from?

me: Alaska

m-i-s: so he's a Pyrenean Mountain Dog

me: no, he's a Malamute

m-i-s: so that's a German Shepherd

me: no, he's a Malamute

m-i-s: what's that?

me : a dog like what you see in front of you

m-i-s: is that a wolf?

me: no it's a dog, that's why I said he's a dog


No I'm not making it up, and it happens several times a day. Very often it will involve m-i-s and partner who completely ignore answers to their confrere's questions.

My favourite Q&A occurred a few times when I also had Bondi's brother Dougal

Green Lake lady: what are they?

me: they're malamutes; brothers in fact

GLL: are they boys or girls?

me: they are boy brothers

GLL (unfazed): are they the same breed?

me: no, in the same way that your sister might be a parrot, they are completely different animals, which explains their amazing similarity.

GLL: oh dear, I am asking silly questions aren't I?

me: yes, you ARE the weakest link, goodbye.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Maybe it's because he's a malamute

Thankfully a mild to cool day. I went into town with Bondi (again on the tube) for a wander around and some shopping. Found myself in Trafalgar Square, which I had inexplicably missed on earlier visits. Tourists were were preoccupied with taking photos of Nelson's column and Bondi drinking from one of the fountains (added in 1939). I had a diabolical latte from the Caff on the Square, but later had a really good coffee from Caffe Vergnano on Charing Cross Road. I also pottered around in the bookshops on Cecil Court and briefly fondled a copy of The Hobbit signed by JRR Tolkien. That was fair game while the store owners were busy drooling over Bondi.

I bought some new walking shoes to replace my boots and sneakers, after what I surmise to have been shin splints developed during my Great Glen Way walk. Had a great but inexpensive 2 course lunch at Kingley Court off the very much revamped Carnaby Street, and then stopped in at Schott Music publishers and Harold Moore's Records. The latter wanted to borrow Bondi for the day (really!) to attract customers to a warehouse sale of CDs defaced by rubber dinosaur stamps (hee hee xx).

Bondi was also very much the focus of attention on our return tube trip. I can sense some trepidation amongst tube travellers following the bombings, but Bondi seems to be a welcome distraction for them.

One of my favourite vocal groups, Antony and the Johnsons, are on the shortlist for the 2005 Mercury Prize for best UK album. Although unknown to most until their favourably reviewed second album, I Am A Bird, I was fortunate to learn of them about 5yrs ago. I went into a Seattle news-magazine outlet on Broadway and heard this incredible music, which at first reminded me of This Mortal Coil. The counter-chick said "it's this guy I went to high-school with" and off I went to hunt down some CDs...

I've resumed my reading of HG Wells' A Short History of the World. His prose is as vivid as it was in 1922, and the summings-up of earlier periods as relevant as ever:
THE SOUL of man under that Latin and Greek empire of the first two centuries of the Christian era was a worried and frustrated soul. Compulsion and cruelty reigned; there were pride and display but little honour; little serenity or steadfast happiness. The unfortunate were despised and wretched; the fortunate were insecure and feverishly eager for gratifications.
It also brings to mind the thrilling grandeur of his opening to The War of the Worlds (1898) memorably performed by Richard Burton:
No one would have believed in the last years of the nineteenth century that this world was being watched keenly and closely by intelligences greater than man’s and yet as mortal as his own; that as men busied themselves about their various concerns they were scrutinised and studied, perhaps almost as narrowly as a man with a microscope might wscrutinise the transient creatures that swarm and multiply in a drop of water. With infinite complacency men went to and fro over this globe about their little affairs, serene in their assurance of their empire over matter.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Da car boss! da car!

Drove up the A12 to Ipswich to drop off my rental car and collect my Australian car from the shipping company. I'd neglected to bring the car rental company's depot address, but through a miracle of intuitive navigation, sailed through about 7 sets of roundabouts and landed next to the depot on the other side of Ipswich. A brief taxi ride later and I was at the warehouse of the shipping company. Paid my port costs (about GBP400) and drove off.

I stopped before the A12 to get some petrol and boost the air in the tyres. At the Tesco petrol station, i discovered that their pump does not accept non-UK credit cards, and then when I tried to drive off, the car wouldn't start. I called the RAC from the station office (free service to breakdowns on their site) and was back on the road 45 minutes later. As the battery had gone dead, I also had a small issue with the car stereo/radio needing a special code to re-enable it Luckily I had that paperwork under the seat and didn't have to endure a silent drive back to London.

Now I have to go through the regsitration and insurance dance..

Finished HP6 last night. Speculative spoiler: Harry's scar is final horcrux,which explains Harry's empathy with Voldemort: some of V's soul is attached to Harry.
Checking information on travelling to Spain. Australia's embassy in Madrid says: " If you wish to extend your 3-month tourist visa you should contact the Spanish Ministry of the Interior on their telephone number (toll free in Spain): 900 150000. They will advise you of your nearest Immigration Office in Spain. Please note they only speak Spanish on this telephone number. Also, please note Spanish Immigration authorities rarely extend 3-month tourist visas whilst in Spain. "

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Clapham Common picnic

My friend Jonnie had invited me to an afternoon picnic on Clapham Common. I was going to drive, but decided to Tube it again in case there was a parking issue with so many Londoners out in the sun. I'd made it half way through the 600+ pages of Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince.*

Mediocre brekky in Islington and then Tube to Clapham North where we connected with Jonnie and walked to Clapham Common. The entire park is overrun by sunlovers and football matches. We're joined by a series of Jonnie's friends over the next few hours. Bondi is largely content to snooze in the shade. Australian accents everywhere - I've probably heard more Aussies than Brits since I got to London.

On our return journey in the Tube, our initially sparsely populated carriage filled up somewhere in Zone 1, but Bondi just sat on the floor with paws crossed and no one was peturbed in the slightest. In fact I think seeing him made the day for many of our fellow passengers. Tis a pity that Sydney does not allow pets to ride on trains or buses .. I know a number of people who really only have cars (or larger cars) because it's the only way to get their pets around town. The State Government and City Council should be doing more to entice people onto public transport...

In the first photo below (taken on platform in Islington station) there's a poster of Churchill with the slogan "Its [sic] the dog's [bollocks]". One might hope that a gigantic poster with 3 words on it might have a chance of getting spelled properly...

* Very minor Harry Potter spoilers: Slow opening reminding me of the newer Star Wars films, which are crippled by a babble of backstory about rebel forces blah blah blah. New character Horace Slughorn immediately brings to mind Richard Griffiths portrayal of Uncle Monty in Withnail and I. The avuncular Griffiths already plays Uncle Vernon in the HP movies, but a dual role would not be unprecedented... I also get the sense that Rowling is tuning her writing of character dialog to match the actors chosen to play them in these movies. This is not a first: Frank Herbert's later Dune novels were influenced by portrayals of certain character types in David Lynch's film.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

London - The heat goes on

Left Wigan around noon on Friday, expecting to get to Highbury/Islington in London by 3.30pm . Unfortunately, after a fairly smooth run down the M6 and M1, we hit the M25 ring road sometime after 3 and then slowed to a crawl. I tried to text my mate Steve, whose Highbury flat we would e be taking advantage of for a few days, but I had put the wrong number into my phone. Sometime around 5.15 we got into the right street, but I didn't have the building number (the UK postcode was enough to identify the street).

I knew I'd have to reach him via email, so proceeded through stages of

  • calling friends around the UK who I hoped would be online and could msg him
  • walking up and down the street with my Tablet PC trying to hitch a ride on a wireless network. There were plenty of home networks available from the street, but the unsecured ones were not strong enough to get a connection
  • driving around looking for an internet cafe ... finally lucking onto a phonebooth "coolroom" where I could get onto the web and email Steve and ...

It turned out that I had parked across the road from his building for an hour before I drove off. The apartment had a small rear garden that was ideal for Bondi to crash in.

After freshening up, we took a bus up to Highgate and headed to The Flask for a pub meal. A couple of guys were making really hard work out of the simple task of preparing burgers and sausage sandwiches (£5 = $12.50) and the wine was not too cold - apparently because "the fridge doesn't work properly when it's warm". I wondered if they knew the difference between fridge and cupboard. Our burger and sanger sandwich took 35 minutes to materialize.
We rounded out the evening with a walk to Camden and then bussed back to Highbury.

I slept in the next morning - fairly necessary after 2 days of driving (Cardiff - Wigan - London) and walked down the high street towards Islington where I picked up the new Harry Potter and an excellent lunch/coffee. We then walked around the inner city for quite a long time, crashing somewhere near Leicester Square station where Bondi sprawled out across the footpath for maximum exposure. I finished reading Last Tango in Aberystwyth. Bondi's first rail journey on the Tube from Oxford Circus back to Highbury. Also his first escalator rides, both of which he carried off easily ... ok a little coaxing for the escalator.
Evening meal with Steve and his friend Ross was a BBQ replete with Moscow Mules, with Bondi working the table for extras as usual. Started on HP and the Half Blood Prince.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

My screen career begins ... at the lowest rung of the ladder

Another scorcher, but I didn't feel like sitting around the house, so spent a few hours looking around inner-city Cardiff. It's a very pleasant area, mainly given oven to pedestrians, with plenty of outdoor eating spots and (joy!) places that can actually make espresso. Without the traffic noise, it's a very quiet urban centre - just raw human sounds and bits of music leaking ut from some stores and cafes.

I found a store that sells Welsh tartans, so I could order a family kilt for the small price of £350 + trimmings, or get a St David's kilt for £150 ... but maybe another day.

My host Ian is shooting a small ghost-story vignette for the BBC and asked me to help out as stand-in for the protagonist, a small haunted woman.... hmmm. I can see myself being typecast already. Initially I'm covered by the bed quilt and I have to toss and turn but in a way so that no overtly masculine anatomy is visible, and then I have to make a corner of the quilt move in ghostly fashion. Luckily the sound is not being recorded as neither of us can stop laughing during the process. I warn Ian that's it's not the first time a man has tried to lure me into his bed under the pretext of shooting a horror film.

The shooting directions require that the body be sown with copious amounts of sweat. Ian asks which bits of me are most feminine (not, my bweasts) or at least the least hairy. We settle for my back in poor focus, which he sprays with water and videotapes heaving against the night's ghostly presence, then it's my forehead. This time I'm of course facing Ian and realize that my sweat is water sprayed from a clothes iron. The budget is so huge, that I wonder how he's going to afford my scene wrestling with a giant octopus or Bela Lugosi's narration.

My back doesn't seem to carry the effect of a petite female (duh!) so I spray and film Ian's back. Will the viewers notice this substitution????

We left it there and I await the finished product. Hopefully the BBC will respect my rights and my back will not turn up gratuitously in some future BAFTA-winning costume drama, doubling for Helen Mirren or Keira Knightley.

Clocked over 3000 miles on the (rental) car so far in my 7 weeks here. I've received word that my car will be ready for collection in Ipswich on Monday morning. I need extra paperwork from Wigan, so will be heading back there tomorrow morning, and then heading to London for a few days to handle the car change-over. I might even make a stab at visiting the General Register Office for some family tree matters, and also the Spanish Consul regarding my language study plans.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Monknash beach

Spent the morning in Newport, organising paperwork for the shipping company to clear my car through customs. Temperature is in the low 30s but feels hotter especially after a quick jaunt into Newport town centre to visit post office.

I've been doing some research on where I can undertake immersive language study in Spain and France later this year. That is to say, I will go to one of those places for 2 months or so before Xmas. Without a difficult-to-obtain extended visa, Australians can only stay in the Schengen group of EC countries for 3 months in any 6. Note that Schengen borderless travel area is distinct from the EC. Schengen includes two non-EU countries (Norway and Iceland, adding Switzerland in 2006 ) and does not include all EU countries (notably excluding UK and Ireland).

Salamanca is my first preference for Spain, and probably Montpelier for France. I'm sorting out dog-friendly accommodation and places where I can park the car as a preliminary. Spanish course options seem to be much cheaper than French so it looks to be more sensible as a way to test the system ... unless of course I find some hero who can deliver cheap accommodation in France!

On the local front, I had a beach outing with Welsh dancer & performance artist, Marc Rees at an isolated beach near the villages of Monknash and Wick, south of Bridgend. After parking in a farmer's field, there's a half-mile walk down a country lane and through a beautiful shady glen and then out between the cliffs of the Heritage Coast to a rather rocky beach. Today the sea was extremely flat, with a rare wave coming in, Brigadoon fashion, to surprise those of us sitting in the water. It was my first time in Atlantic waters, and the Devon coastline (Exmoor National Park probably) could be seen across the Bristol Channel.

Picking our way back across the many fist-to-head size rocks and pebbles - some of which sat in curved indentations of rock like a huge natural attempt to show Einstein's demonstration of planets curving space around them - we headed back up the road for a splendid £5 meal at the Plough and Harrow pub. I dropped Marc off in St Fagan's, which is home to the Museum of Welsh Life. Evening approached and with it a release of pollen, headed straight for my eyeballs.

Today's radio treat: I Have a Cunning Plan: 20 Years On ; producer John Lloyd tells the inside story of Blackadder,

Monday, July 11, 2005

Car limbo

Several longish conversations with the Ipswich-based shipping company that's bringing my car in, and with HM Customs & Excise (HMRC). The DVLA advised one course of action, and then an email from HMRC advised an oral relief procedure. The shipping agents thought that procedure was wrong and told me to contact HMRC again, who after lengthy consideration advised another course.
So the ship is arriving tomorrow and for now i can only email a sheaf of documents to Ipswich and wait for them to beckon me thither with vast sums of money.
On a brighter note, two very strong coffees and a bout of successful name matches kept me up till nearly 4am researching my Scottish ancestry on the net. I think I've pushed back into the C18th and may have found links to Australian rellies. It looks like one of my great-great grandmother's sisters (ie Beatrice's aunt) may have moved to Australia too.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Nothin' much in Newport

It's hot. Ian's taken his kids to the beach. As for me, it's too hot to do much but hang around the house and catch up on email, laundry, reading etc. There's also the likelihood of a dash to Wigan or Felixstowe to collect my car from the ship.

Early afternoon, it has cooled enough to wander down to Newport Town Centre for a couple of doses of Starbucks. The pedestrian area is swarming with caffeine seekers, lost chavs and other mall fauna. I'm sure I heard my first case of Welsh Tourettes.

Saturday, July 09, 2005

Old South Wales: Newport & Cardiff

Tiger Bay

Staying at Newport over the weekend with my mate Ian, and his two kids. Bondi's happy with a backyard to loll around in, while I'm scratching my eyes out with continued hayfever aggravation. Newport is home to "leisurewear-clad Welsh rap octet Goldie Lookin' Chain".

After a quick visit with Ian & co to the local fruit market and some chav spotting, we take the scenic route into Cardiff and visit Cardiff Bay's Mermaid Quay, which for Sydney-siders is a bit Darling Harbour-ish, with the addition of an arts centre and the nearly completed Welsh Assembly building. These sit around Plas Roald Dahl (Roald Dahl Place). Today it's host to a food and wine fair, which if I had my druthers would have been billed Meals of the Unexpected or Willy Wonka's Chorizo Factory....

The "pillow poem" in the photo below composed by Ian and myself says

"Doors shimmer and slate radiates".

Ian took me out for a tour of Cardiff nightlife, but we pretty much exhausted my interest in it by midnight. The ladies at The Golden Cross drunkenly singing Welsh folks songs (Delilah etc) in the beer garden were much appreciated.

Friday, July 08, 2005

Elan Valley -> Hay-on-Wye -> Merthyr Tydfil

Drove from Aberystwyth to Hay-on-Wye via Devil's bridge and the beautiful Elan Valley reservoirs. Spent one day there and then another in Merthyr Tydfil.

Hay-on-Wye is the world's first booktown, reputedly with more second hand and remaindered books than anywhere else - a population of 1300 people and 39 bookshops. In an unusual show of restraint I only pick up about a dozen books in my 24 hours there. Bondi is incredibly tolerant as he is moved from bookshop to bookshop and plants himself comfortably in each foyer area as soon as I start scanning a shelf of books.

Made the acquaintance of Ross, a very well-travelled booklover and translator who now lives close to Hay, and who, after a few hours of conversation, offers me use of a cabin as base for my travels when I need it.

I'm actually staying at a B&B on the edge of town, which is in Herefordshire (ie England).

Jason, in Merthyr Tydfil (once the industrial heart of Wales) also offers me a base to travel from. A new angina medication being tested on the working stiffs of Merthyr had interesting erection-stimulating side-effects. In coming years, the combination of Viagra and spam would prove to be an irresistible combination.

The mosquito ringtone "Teen Buzz" also derives from Merthyr. Supposedly inaudible to those over 18, I can still hear it with ease some 25 years on.

We hiked with Bondi up the path to Corn Du, companion peak of Pen y Fan, highest point in the Brecon Beacons. It's a bit too warm for Bondi, and the combination of a restless tummy and vertigo preclude me from going right to the top. Back near the road we pass a large group of soldiers on some training exercise. They seemed to be terrified of Bondi. Poor dears.

Sunday, July 03, 2005

Aberystwyth - Welsh National Library

I've spent a goodly chunk of my time in Aberystwyth at the Welsh National Library (a very imposing building with a stupendous view of the town and coast below), checking microfiche birth/deaths/marriages/wills indexes, filmed newspaper records and checking online census records.

To date I have not found a will disclosing the location of the fabled Williams $$hundreds, or their stash of slate jewellery. In the newspaper Y Cymru from Jan 11 1922, I found the following death notice for my gg-grandfather Ellis, indicating that he was living in the same residence (or at least tiny weeny little street) as he had 40yrs earlier:
Williams - Nos Sul [Sunday night], Ionawr 8, yn 76 mlwydd oed, Mr Ellis Williams Wnion Square, Dolgellau.
I've found index records for the birth of all but one of his 5 children, which I will have to pursue further through the registry office channels, in order to see more informative birth certificates.

Pursued another family line, this time one of the Scottish antecedents of Ellis' daughter-in-law, Beatrice Kerr. I found that her maternal grandmother, Alison Wood, was the 5th of 6 children recorded as living in Edinburgh in at the time of the 1841 census. Her father was recorded as being a male servant.

In other news, besides being missed by my old customers at the bookshop in Newtown, Bondi and I walked up Constitution Hill to the Camera Obscura there. It's the largest in the world, with a view over 1000 square miles on the biennial clear day.

Tomorrow it's booktown: Hay-on-Wye.