Sunday, April 30, 2006

Passing the river

This afternoon we walked along the Thames from Kew Bridge to Richmond. The first part of the journey takes you along the northern edge of Kew Gardens with a view across to Syon House, the last ducal estate in Greater London and the location for much of the film Gosford Park.

It's not long before most of the traces of surrounding London disappear, and once the walkway dropped to river level Bondi was able to take a cooling dip. Further along we spied a heron although I just missed catching a photo of it on the wing. Closer to Richmond, many people were stopped by the water's edge watching the tumult in a heron's nest across the river. Chris took their noise to be a passing train.

As we approached the riverside pubs of Richmond, we saw that the water level had climbed high enough to cut off the pathway for about 100m. Many people turned back to try for some bridge crossings, but we just removed shoes, rolled up trousers and waded through. We wrapped up the afternoon with lunch beside the many-arched Richmond Bridge, which is the oldest bridge over the Thames in Greater London. It's about 50yrs older than Australia's oldest surviving bridge - also Richmond Bridge - which Bondi and I picnicked by during our tour of Tasmania in May 2004.

Returning to Brentford, Bondi had his first ever bus-ride - suitably on a red London double-decker - handling it with his usual aplomb. Posted by Picasa

Saturday, April 29, 2006

I'm in 7 minds...

I had a quick call with a Google recruiter during the week -apparently there's also a position at the new Sydney office which is right up my alley. They want to schedule me for a phone interview with one of their US-based product managers sometime in the next fortnight. Right now I'm not sure if I want to go back to Australia yet with so much more of this part of the world to survey. A job in Ireland/UK would allow me to continue that exploration for a few more years, albeit at a slower pace, if only to mitigate the grumblings of jealous immigration officials.

I'm researching an upcoming trip to Ireland - 3 or 4 weeks of walking and driving, although the balance of that depends on the timing of Bondi's shoulder operation. In the process I encountered a poem attributed to "an 82 yr old woman" but which appears to be one of several variants of a poem "I would pick more daisies" which in turn is extracted from an essay by Don Herold (who was a 64 yr old man at the time it was published):

If I had to live my life over again,
I'd dare to make more mistakes next time.
I'd relax.
I would limber up.
I would be sillier than I have been this trip.
I would take fewer things seriously.
I would take more chances.
I would take more trips.
I would climb more mountains,
swim more rivers.
I would eat more ice cream and less beans.
I would perhaps
have more actual troubles,
but I'd have fewer imaginary ones.

You see, I'm one of those people
who live seriously and sanely,
hour after hour,
day after day.
Oh, I've had my moments.
And if I had it to do over again,
I'd have more of them.
In fact, I'd try to have nothing else,
just moments,
one after another,
instead of living so many years
ahead of each day.
I've been one of those persons
who never goes anywhere
without a thermometer,
a hot water bottle,
a raincoat
and a parachute.

If I had it to do again,
I would travel lighter than I have.
If I had to live my life over,
I would start barefoot earlier in the spring
and stay that way later in the fall.
I would go to more dances.
I would ride more merry-go-rounds.

I would pick more daisies.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Google Maps in Europe

Official Google Blog: Google Maps in Europe

These maps would have come in very handy in recent months.

This is my walking route to school in Paris, mixing street maps with satellite imagery. (Feb/Mar 2006) Now head for the Eiffel Tower.

The satellite data for Spain is not as high-resolution, so i can only offer you an astronaut's-eye view of San Sebastian. (October 2005)

Or see the landscape of the hills outlying Nice, where I stayed a short time in September.

Like a passing river...

[River Thames, just east of Kew Bridge at very low tide twilight]

It's hard to believe that it's been two weeks since I left France. If you've ever hated packing to go away, think of what it means to be partly-packed for months at a time - 11 months as of yesterday! For a good part of these two weeks I've been staring down piles of clothes, language notes, travel documents, books, CDs and computer paraphernalia - hoping they'll magically classify themselves as store / keep at hand / dispose.

Most of that is done now, and as Printemps gives way to Spring, I've got some more time to think of upcoming months. I'm also relearning what to do now that I haven't 4 enjoyable hours of French lessons to consume the early part of my day. Unfortunately it involves at least 30 minutes on a cross-trainer at the gym, and other unhealthy exertions.

I had word today that a surgeon to handle Bondi's arthroscopy has been identified, although the surgery is likely to kick-in at over £1000. He's only covered for that on his Australian pet-insurance, but the airfare/quarantine issues of sending him there vastly overwhelm that cost.

I've also had my resume reviewed by recruiters in Google Europe and I'm expecting a call any day to discuss work opportunities somewhere between Dublin and Zurich.
The title of this blog posting comes from a CD collaboration by the composer Roy Whelden and the author/mathematician Rudy Rucker. The title track, a personal favourite since I encountered it nearly 15 years ago, is taken from a poem:

I have lived at Cold Mountain these 30 long years. Yesterday I called on family and friends: More than half had gone to the Yellow Springs. Slowly consumed, like fire down a candle; forever flowing, like a passing river. Now, morning, I face my lone shadow; suddenly my eyes are bleared with tears.

--Han-Shan, 8th century;
translation, Gary Snyder
Listen to it here with a short spoken preamble from Rucker.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

The first lady of the sliding scale

Last night's excursion to see Maureen Lipman portray Florence Foster Jenkins in Glorious! was an unqualified success. Thanks to Andrew and Garry for pushing us to see it. Chris nearly weed when Florence started going into a slow spin as she hurled carnations to her audience. As last night but one of the current run, Maureen seemed to have a few friends in: I noticed Patricia (Rumpole of the Bailey) Hodge, and Chris pointed out Christopher (Rocky Horror, Porridge) Biggins. During one piece of contrived wardrobe failure, Biggins laughed so much that Maureen started going up.

However, it was the extraordinary attempt to render the Queen of the Night aria that lingers longest. Not since the Royal National Theatre Company of Lord Howe Island presented their version of Fiddler on the Roof and If I Were a Woodhen, have so many repeated notes brought so many belly-laughs.

After the show, we wandered through Covent Garden and had a nice Italian dinner at Bertorelli's.

Friday, April 21, 2006


The Sydney Morning Herald puts a wondeful spin on the Queen's English today, as Betty turns four-score years. Prince Andrew reports: "The Queen is a great mother and a great parent, and so too is the Duke of Edinburgh".

For those keeping count, she still has nearly a decade to go before surpassing Queen Victoria's 63+ years on the British throne, although she only has 2 years to go to outlive her great-great-grandmother.

Tonight, Chris and I are going to survey the life of another old bird, the 'diva of din': Florence Foster Jenkins, through Maureen Lipman's portrayal in Glorious! It ends its run at the Duchess Theatre tomorrow.

Joint mouse

Bondi has had problems with his left foreleg for nearly 2 years. To date it has been treated conservatively with glucosamine pills, cartrophen injections and occasional non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) such as rimadyl or metacam. Given the longevity of his breed, and the potential for better quality of life, I decided that it was finally time to get some X-rays done of the problem joint (left shoulder). From there we could determine if there was an operable condition such as osteochondritis present.

Today Bondi had those X-rays. He's still a bit woozy from the anaesthesia (often the most expensive part of the operation), but is otherwise fine, and reported to have been very well behaved during the procedure.

The X-rays showed that the elbow (as a comparison joint) was OK, but that there was evidence of mineralization in the shoulder - perhaps of some torn away OCD flap - known as a joint mouse.

Next step is for the vet to locate a surgeon who can perform arthroscopic analysis/surgery to move things on a piece. From what I've read (see above links), the prognosis following such surgery is usually quite positive.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Inside my head

This blog is a postcard for friends and family scattered across the globe, and a reminder of my own wanderings over the duration of this "voyage". Some of my long-suffering friends have asked for some more "what's going on in your head & heart" details, and my newer friends have asked how it all started. So ... risking death by lint-suffocation by falling into my own navel, here's the state of the nation.

I finished working at Microsoft in early April 2003 after a wild and frankly exhausting decade running developer events and designing/managing software features across a wide spectrum of uses. I wasn't tired of the work, but the US wasn't working for me and Microsoft couldn't figure out how to use an R&D program manager anywhere in the world except at its HQ. I had been in Seattle for 5 years, and it then took 3 months to up roots and return to Sydney, single again and with 2 dogs.

My intention was to take up to a year to travel and see where my diverse interests took me career-wise. I had a short but almost disastrous flirtation with the Sydney property market, spending 6 months in a house that just didn't work for me, and exiting it almost exactly a year after leaving Microsoft. Sadly I had to give up the younger of my dogs, Bondi's brother Dougal, finding him a new home with a new sister malamute near Adelaide.

It was at this time that I developed Plans A&B. Plan A was simply "find a job, a man or project to involve me in daily life in Sydney/Australia". Something like the palindromic "a man a plan a canal - Panama!". Plan B was "take Bondi travelling, and walk some of the long-distance paths in the UK". I had never taken off real time to explore the world, being more or less continually employed from the age of 14 through both my degrees until exiting Microsoft.

After nearly a year I realised that Plan A was not panning out. Bondi and I had toured Tasmania for 5 weeks, explored Melbourne for 4 more, bouncing between Sydney and other parts for nearly 6 months. I worked briefly in a bookstore with the wonderful Anita & Liz, giving my weeks a little more structure ... but any hopes for a personal Panama were fading. I came close to buying an apartment, but that fell through when the developer reneged on a promise to make provision in the contract for Bondi. In retrospect that probably was a good thing as the Sydney property market sank further and the apartment dropped in price.

While back in Sydney I worked on downsizing the material parts of my life: much furniture in storage was given away or loaned out; all my CDs, photos and important documents were digitized for security and portability. Bondi was also prepared for possible travel so that he wouldn't have to go through quarantine in the UK.

By February 2005, after a short arc towards heartbreak, I had set Plan B into full swing. Now I just had to finalize provisions for being able to stay away for 1-2 years. I didn't have an itinerary planned, preferring to "wing it", negotiating schools and special events along the way. The cost & quarantine issues surrounding Bondi's flights meant that this had to be a long expedition for those to be properly amortised.

At the end of May we arrived in the UK. Bondi was scheduled a day later than me, and I picked him up from Heathrow a few hours after his flight landed. In the nearly 11 months since then, we've spent about half the time in the UK, and the rest on the continent. We've seen a lot, but in some ways it's like we've hardly started.

Aside from not wanting to be separated from Bondi, I knew that taking him would make for quite a different adventure than would happen if I travelled solo. It's doubtful whether I would have seen so much countryside, as we have travelled by car throughout, and he does make for a congenial walking companion. Certainly I don't think I would have gotten to meet so many people and make as many wonderful new friends without him.

Homesickness? Yes of course, but being able to communicate over the 'net closes the distance - although it doesn't bring Aussie food any closer. Without a solution to Plan A in Australia, a return would be premature. In the last 12 years, I've spent less than half that time in Australia, but don't feel any less Australian for it: my horizons are simply a bit larger. The Australian diaspora is now well-documented and frequently discussed: there are a million Australians living outside of the country's borders, but looking back in.

So now...?

Meeting Chris last year was a pivotal, magical event. It's wonderful knowing a kindred soul is close by each day. Figuring out the practical issues of how we stay together is challenging as I have no work/residency rights in this part of the world. The UK Home Office needs to engage in some constructive talks with the British Tourist Authority, since the former thinks there is not enough to keep a visitor occupied in this country (of 60 million people, thousands of years of close-packed history and beautiful outdoors) other than seeking illegal employment. The phenomenon of grey nomads seems to elude government officials in this part of the world.

Anyhoo ... I still have to work out how to expend the fire in my belly "project-wise" on a more ongoing basis than my travel pastimes: learning languages, working on my family tree and "saving the world" (as Chris terms my participation in online software forums and beta-testing of Windows Vista). That will come, and I won't rush it.

The rest is the journey of life.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Bondi wallpaper [1024x728]

La Concha beach, San Sebastian, Spain, November 11 2005

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew

After a morning dithering about our choices for a final afternoon's outing for the Easter weekend, we were rescued by a call from the equally desperate Andrew and Garry (my recently transplanted friends from Australia). We settled on a late lunch in Ealing and then a walk through Kew Gardens. Chris had intended to take Bondi and myself through Kew in December but we turned up at the gates to find that dogs are not admitted.

We waited for A&G outside South Ealing tube station, and spent some time talking to a Bondi-admirer who had spent the last 50 years living in Australia, but returned to the UK on occasion to satisfy his need to see some football. An ardent Arsenal supporter, he didn't have a game to visit this weekend so was off to support Brentford. The conversation drifted to the subject of Australian bushfires, and he said that while living near Lawson in the Blue Mountains, outside of Sydney, he had been warned of an impending bushfire. "Get your valuables together in a bag, and be ready to leave your house at any moment", he was told. "I'm not gathering 40 years' worth of Arsenal programs in a hurry", he replied.

As our group of 4 + dog approached Munson's cafe, I spotted blog-reader Nancy (waves) with a group of friends at some outside tables. My world compressed yet again as it turned out that she was with one of Andrew's office colleagues.
After lunch we dropped Bondi back at home and crossed the Thames to Kew Gardens. Being early spring, the gardens are far from being at their blooming best, but since I am so allergic to so much of that, it's probably a better time for me.

The Kew Gardens have a long history, but was properly set and guided on its trajectory to becoming one of the world's foremost botanical sites by Sir Joseph Banks. Banks, who travelled on Cook's voyages to Australia, and headed the Royal Society for 41 years, "seeded" the gardens with material collected from around the world, and worked with George III to develop the site and institution.

Unfortunately our visit today wasted at least 1/2 hour while queueing for ice-creams at what must be some of the most inefficiently organised food-service outlets I've encountered anywhere. Perhaps it's intended as a very dry pun on Kew/Queue, but it didn't impress many people who simply gave up and forsook lunch or refreshments that day. Maybe it was just the pervasive smell of stale cooking oils that really drew those that persisted.

We passed a small petting-farm, setup in a small enclosure for a week or so, until the various animals were ready to become club-sandwiches.

The highlight may have been the Temperate House, the world's largest surviving Victorian glass structure. It houses the world's largest indoor plant, a Chilean palm raised from seed in 1846, and now stands at 16m or more. One of the larger rooms has an elevated walkway that allows you to get a third-floor view of the glass-house contents. We also passed through the Evolution House, but didn't get to any of the other enclosures before the 5.30pm cutoff time.

Chris and I walked home via the Thames path running aside of Brentford. There's a lot of new housing development going on, but still a surprising amount of interesting old watercraft and weathered remains of buildings from the working river.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Brackley - Hazelborough Wood

Today we drove up the M40 to visit some of Chris' family, introduce his niece Jenny to her first big doggy and then take an afternoon walk. We wound up in the very muddy Hazelborough Wood, not far from Silverstone, home of British Grand Prix racing.

Skiddin' on the keys

[Saturday: Casio store]
Earlier this week I visited the house of a friend of Chris, and tinkered around on the piano for a while - my first real session on a piano since leaving Australia nearly 11 months ago. Ouch, what a mess. I felt rather depressed by it for several days.

Yesterday, Chris and I tubed into central London with Bondi, without any special agenda. We exited at Covent Garden, grabbed some Flat Whites at Monmouth Coffee House, and then meandered via Old Compton, Carnaby and Oxford Streets to Hyde Park. We passed a Casio store and I noticed that they had little touch-weighted digital pianos. The little Privia PX-110DK I tried was nice enough, especially given its small weight, but didn't give as good a first impression as the Korg I tried in Paris last month. I miss having access to a piano ( both of mine are out on indefinite loan ) - but one large black & white object to travel with is enough.

While I was absent buying teas at a refreshment house in Hyde Park, Chris reported that a young child asked if Bondi was a crocodile.

Friday, April 14, 2006

No longer the volgonian lovehound

[Photo: circa Jan 1999]

Another day of sorting music, maps, clothes etc. Popped out for lunch and some local shopping errands.

A guy on street to his buddy: hey that looks like one of those things that you win at a fun fair! ... [approaches me] ... What kind of dog is that?

Me: he's a funfair toyhound.

Guy: Really? 'Cos I was just saying to him...

Oh I'm going to hell.

(Volgonian lovehound story here.)

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Grass- lots of it!

Nearby Gunnersbury Park has more grass than all of Paris city's parks combined, which is wonderful for Bondi's feet. I've also just started him on a new course of cartrophen for his joints, as that treatment is not available in France.

This week I've been taking a table at Munson's on Ealing Road for coffee each day and going over a week of my French class notes each session. The guys there have been very welcoming and it's been interesting meeting readers of this blog introduced via their website.

Other than that I've mainly been busy with housekeeping tasks such as sorting out clothes, books, and maps accumulated and intermingled over the last 10 months or so of travel.
There has been a bit of activity on the family-tree front as well. I've been corresponding with a lady in Australia who shares a common immigrant ancestor of German birth. Her late father tracked many of their family lines back as much as 800 years. She has shared some of the information with me: mostly families living in villages south of Magdeburg, (in Saxony-Anhalt, more recently in East Germany) such as Staßfurt, Friedrichsaue and Förderstedt.

Her father's notes from a visit to distant relatives in Germany include this detail:
On the more general question of the route my great-grandparents would have taken to migrate from Germany to Australia, Rudolph... told me that in 1849 there was a train running from Stendhal, about 80 km north of Stassfurt, which was known as Der Auswanderer Zug (the migrant train) which went all the way to Bremerhafen, from where the ship “Pauline” took them to South Australia. In May 2001, Lisa ... showed me the single track line just north of Uelzen called the “America Line” which she said took migrants from Berlin via Magdeburg to Bremerhafen. The Kühne family would have travelled on that line.
I've also had a few death certificates for relatives off my patrilineal line in Wales, the most recent of whom died in 1930 and gives some promise of locating living relatives. I occasionally get email from guys who share a DNA link unearthed via programs like Family Tree DNA, but they are usually descendants of Welshfolk who emigrated to the USA over 300 years ago. I am barely reaching beyond 200 years in my researches through Wales, so there is no paper trail to connect me with these distant living relatives.

News for dummies in French and English

The Old New Thing : News for dummies in French and English and German and perhaps Japanese...

I knew there was a news service in easy French: Le journal en français facile but Raymond Chen lists similar services for other languages.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Last "faire du shopping" in Paris


Chris and I left Bondi at the apartment for the afternoon so we could have a final turn around Saint-Germain. Gift-buying at Pixi & Cie, ice-creams on the street, and then coffee at Cafe Malongo (much improved over last attempt). Chris was very taken by the secretarial possibilities of typing carpet:

- but I was more intrigued by the LED circuitry embedded in the clothes at Uranium Jeans:

Of course, if you're really up to date, then you'll bypass this and go for animated tattoos.