Tuesday, October 30, 2007

On the road again

Now that I've got my car booked for shipping back to Australia, the simplest universal Turing machine has been determined, and I've had a second pass over my storage locker, there's nothing to keep us in London for the next two weeks.

We've now returned to St Austell for a few days, to continue exploration of Cornwall, again staying with Tony and Maureen. After that it's up to Wales and back to London for the final month.

Monday, October 29, 2007

One of these things is not like the others

Groucho & Hairpo
Selma feeds the lion
Fun for young and old when Circus Bondi hits your local cafe.

Spider dog, spider dog,

Shitty drizzly morning, but curiously warm. I'd already decided to have a morning on Southbank, mostly to check out the trestle tables of used books. One tube-change and we're at London Bridge station, and able to take a long leisurely walk back along the Thames towards the London Eye.

Outside the Globe Theatre: the mummers and the pup

One of these pictures is of Southwark Cathedral

A music store I visited along the way was playing Wie lieblich sind deine Wohnungen from Brahms' Ein Deutsches Requiem. It sounded quite a lot like the famous old Klemperer recording that I've had for nearly twenty years, but at some point the quality of the recording indicated that it was something more recent [Rattle]. I opted to get another new recording that had caught my eye, Brahms' transcription for piano duet, known as the 'London' version, performed by The Sixteen under the direction of Harry Christophers. It's designed for choral societies who don't have an orchestra and organ to hand, but compensates with some clearer musical lines.

The gigantic spider Maman by Louise Bourgeois. "My best friend was my mother, and she was deliberate, clever, patient, soothing, reasonable, dainty, subtle, neat and useful as a [spider]."

The body of man imprisoned for inscribing an unnecessary apostrophe (now obscured) in the sign for the entrance to The Clink; graffiti horror which gave the face-detection software on my camera something to chew on.

Before crossing the Thames again, I had lunch and finished off the Jane Jacobs book. She is such a remarkable writer, and her perspectives bubble in my head while I walk through interesting urban terrain like this. I read in the Sydney Morning Herald this week that the spread of shopping malls is another contributor to the widening of waistbands in Australia. I've been kind of lucky that through most of my life I've either lived in country towns, just off the main commerical strip, or in high density multi-zoned city areas where there is constant foot traffic, so that people actually meet each other through the course of their days (as a cornerstone of making a real community) and they're not wedded to the car so much. Experiencing the bedroom suburbs of Seattle and Sydney bores and depresses me because they end up being 1/4-acre prison cells, where neighbours rarely meet (except in dispute) because their cars carry them away from the front doors each day.

Some of the street signs along the way show an interesting contrast in style. A high-rise estate off the Thames Path had a sign which says something like "No dogs, skates or skate-boards permitted on this estate. Dogs, skateboards or motorcycles found here will be immediately removed." I wondered if there's a regular inspection of apartments to make sure that no one has any skating contraband. Unnecessarily invasive.

In contrast, there were signs which looked to originate from the City of London, such as "A police or council officer may ask you not to drink alcohol in this area." That strikes me as much more pleasant - it doesn't prohibit the act, but it gives civic officials the opportunity to moderate bad behaviour without micro-managing the majority of well-behaved pedestrian or picnicker. That's where so many malls get up my nose: they micro-manage every part of a person's outing so that they can twist shopping into a lifestyle which they can get revenue from. Their built environment is overly homogeneous and barren to a degree which makes me beg for real town squares, and boulevards where people live and work, not the strictly segregated zones where those who are not working or shopping (ie "hanging out") are viewed with suspicion. More on this anon.

Bondi at Guilty Kilts showroom

I've gotten used to dem youngfolk using "sick" in place of "cool" or "hot" or "[your favourite positive adjective]", but my head spun after a teenager passed Bondi, saying "that's sickening" to his friend.

For years I've been hovering on the verge of getting myself a kilt. Apart from my quarter-helping of Scots genes (although my DNA analysis seemed to indicate that I got a greater proportion bequeathed to me), I've just fancied having some unconfined netherwear that wasn't going to have to get re-seated as soon as my (presumably Scots-derived) swimmer's thighs rubbed out the intervening cloth. When I lived in Seattle, I sometimes saw guys in the locally produced Utilikilts but they just didn't do it for me.

AND I'm not entirely convinced that a tartan was necessarily the way to go. Firstly, the whole clan tartan thing is a comparatively recent historic fashion, not yet 200yrs old, and tracing which clan one is affiliated with is a rather delicate art, easily peturbed for the sake of selling a few yards of cloth to heritage-deprived American tourists. Secondly, if I did buy into all of that, then which clan tartan do I go for? Well, there's number 3, I don't particularly care for any of them. Even the so-called Williams Welsh tartan is not something I would rush to wear.

A fortuitous connection led me to the (don't take it personally guys, but it's not very good) web-site of Guilty Kilts, and today to their showroom off Carnaby Street (where else?). There were a few kilt choices that appealed to me, but I quickly settled on a well-made black pleated cloth with the sporran and kilt-socks.

So, any day now you might see me out in my kilt, looking sickening.

Mary-Kate and Ashley

While grabbing my morning coffee at Munsons last week, a young couple with their 4-5yr old son were admiring Bondi. Bondi was already working the crowd, sitting unasked, to plead for a biscuit treat. "Look at that focus!" the woman exclaimed, prompting her son to run around in circles for a while, yelling "focus focus focus". I feel like I'm back in the workforce already.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Brief Encounters

Bondi checks up on a former resident of his namesake beach.

I had a noon coffee-date in the city near Covent Garden, but even after a quick trawl through the antiquarian bookshops on Cecil Court, I was still fifteen minutes early. I retraced my path along Monmouth Street by a few storefronts to Dress Circle where I thought I would fill in some time browsing through CDs. I left Bondi outside, but it can't have been more than a minute before someone on staff spotted him, asking if I had visited them last year. Just after that, an exiting customer spotted Bondi at the door, and turned to me "Aren't you the one travelling around the world with your dog?".

AND THEN the world shrunk a little bit more - he is one half of the couple I met in Taormina Sicily some seven months ago (I got them confused with Maureen & Tony of Cornwall, who I'd met several days later in Dubrovnik, Croatia. Ah well, travel broadens your thingy.)

Super-healthy lunch at Neal's Yard, engrossed in Jane Jacobs' Dark Age Ahead. It makes a fine complement to Sam Harris' The End of Faith, which is my "at home" read right now.

I wandered over to Foyle's store on Charing Cross Road. If you want to visit a BIG independent bookstore, then you can hardly do better, especially when Bondi is free to accompany me all over its five floors, garnering the occasional scratch behind the ears from staff and customers alike. Picked up Jonathan Coe's The Rain Before It Falls, and the second volume of reprinted Moomin comic-strips from the 1950s.

The last call for the day was Harold Moore's on Great Marlborough Street. I did have a prior invitation to attend a concert at the BMIA with my friend Ben, but since it was simply his semi-annual "concert to remind himself why he hates modern classical music", I realised that juggling Bondi back to Ealing for the sake of some inner-ear torture just wasn't going to happen.

At HM's, Bondi was introduced to Daisy, resident ingenue at 11 months, and she already knows that she likes them big, dark and hairy.

I'm a dental nurse. Oh dear, look at those dirty canines!

A kiss on the paw may be quite continental, but nothing quite does it for me like a man wearing a collar and leash.

I heard that Josephine Baker did this

Daisy [thinking to herself]: This can't last. This misery can't last. I must remember that and try to control myself. Nothing lasts really. Neither happiness nor despair. Not even life lasts very long. They'll come a time in the future when I shan't mind about this anymore. But I can look back and say quite peacefully and cheerfully how silly I was. No, no I don't want that time to come hither. I want to remember every minute, always, always to the end of my days.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Lining up the ducks

I've just moved into a self-contained flat upstairs in Keith and Ute's house, which will give us a stable base in West London for the remaining 7 weeks. While the folks at the last place were quite friendly, the hygiene in the kitchen and bathroom was rather scary, not to mention their habit of entering my room without knocking to announce one or other was going to use the bog or shower. Fortunately those occurrences were rare enough, but far less rare than any introductions of Mr Bog and Ms Bleach.

I had until 10am before rescuing the car from the clutches of the local parking inspectors. Yesterday I found one noting its location at 9am, presumably so they could be back at 10.01 to ticket it. It's been a bit of a pain shifting the car all day from one zone to another, but I've got a set of vouchers to tide me over at Chez Hammett in our remaining time.

In my last hour I got a message on Genes Reunited from Patricia, who is my fourth cousin on my father's side. Our most recent common ancestors are Samuel Jones of Devon, and his wife Jane Woolcock of Cornwall. Our sibling ancestors Hannah Maria Williams and Thomas Jones lived in Dolgelley, North Wales. While my line took me from there to Australia, hers went from India to Singapore to Perth and then to the Netherlands.

I'm revisiting some of my favourite London places. Yesterday it was Barnes, followed by the grounds of Chiswick House, where all today's photos were snapped. It was a beautiful, almost balmy autumn day for walking by the Thames and through the old gardens.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

London update

On Saturday I made arrangements to come down to London to inspect - and almost certainly take - a room in Isleworth for our final 7-8 weeks. On Sunday morning I called at the requested time and left a message indicating when I would be arriving. A little while after that I got a phone-call from another person advertising on the same room-letting site, and I said I'd contact them as soon as I got into town.

We hit Ealing at about 1.30pm, and took up a pew and brew at Munson's cafe (surprise, surprise) and I called both houses to say I was here and ready to go. 2 hours later and I hadn't heard from either. Little gnawings in the stomach: where we going to sleep tonight?

Minutes later I got an offer from Keith (the photographer who did the story on us for the Scandinavian papers in February), saying we could stay with him and his wife, but as they were currently out of town, we'd have to find something to tide us over for 3 nights.

Just then I got a call from house #2, and I explained the situation, asking if I could just rent the room till Wednesday. Since the house was just around the corner we went around to discuss, and it was agreed that we should stay. Not many minutes later, I was cleaning up their household computer of various unwanted detritus and spyware - a 2 hour job, deleting programs and pruning the Start Menu.

Sometime later that evening I got a call from house #1, apologising for being too wasted from the previous night's football final to return any of my messages.

This morning [Monday], first job was to visit Airpets out near Heathrow to get Bondi properly measured for his crate, and collect his paperwork for the final medical tests. Then, over to my storage locker to unload some of the bags I had been driving around with since July and unload any accumulations, ... and ... to reel at the horror of the the entire contents waiting for me to sort for shipping in a month or so.

Dropped into Chiswick for lunch , and then went out to Osterley to pick up a used copy of Jane Jacobs' "The Death and Life of Great American Cities", which seems to have gone out of print in the UK. After casting my eye over a shelf labelled "Elderly children's", I saw that the proprietor had an interesting selection of Beverley Nichols, and she gave me some recommendations for particular titles, notably the autobiography where he writes candidly of his several attempts to kill his alcoholic father. I suggested she try reading J.R. Ackerley's My Father and Myself, and Christopher Robbins' memoir of Brian Desmond Hurst, The Empress of Ireland.

This week I've also read David Crystal's "The Fight for English", his response to Lynn Truss' "Eats, Shoots and Leaves"; and Jay Lake's dark fantasy The Trial of Flowers. Each book excellent in its respective fashion.

Next? Let Bondi enjoy some car-less days, catch up with London friends, see a few shows, visit the museums and galleries that have eluded me so far, more family tree work, and final visits to Wales and Cornwall.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Griffith and Maria Sydney

1901 census

During the time that I've been circling through the home turf of my Scottish ancestors, I've also been delving into the records of closer family members, in particular my great grandfather Griffith Williams and his siblings.

I've always been told that Griffith was a doctor/dispenser at Guy's Hospital in London before following his wife-to-be Beatrice Kerr back to Australia around 1911/12. The hospital doesn't maintain archives of staff from that period, so I contacted the British Medical Association. The BMA archivist checked the medical register and couldn't find him listed.

The next step was to contact the Royal Pharmaceutical Society, but nothing showed up there either. Their museum keeper said this was because dispensers weren't required to register. She sent me an informative sheet on the profession, which says
Non-professional trained dispensers were employed by doctors and pharmacists, and also in institutions such as hospitals, asylums, workhouses, prisons and barracks. They were trained assistants who compounded prescriptions under supervision. From 1815 onwards, the Society of Apothecaries offered an assistants' examination qualifying candidates to compound and dispense drugs under the supervision of an apothecary, pharmacist or doctor. It is important to note that relatively small numbers of people actually took the examinations, and that not all dispensers had qualified as Assistants through the Society of Apothecaries.
So I'm still in the dark as to my great grandfather's educational and professional qualifications. I have no documentary evidence of him doing anything between the 1901 England and Wales census where he is listed as a medical student, and his marriage in Australia in 1912.

Taking a slightly different tack, I'm trying to find out more about Griffith's brother and three sisters. The trail of his brother Ellis ends in London pre-WWII, and those of his sisters Jane and
Anne end with the 1901 census. So it was with his youngest sister Maria Sydney Williams - until this week. Maria, variously known as Mary/Maria/Meriah was 22 and living at home in 1901.

My persistence with the registry records after 1901 finally paid off when I found a marriage record for Maria Sidnie Williams in the 1906 March Qtr using the FreeBMD search service. I ordered the certificate, and this indicates

7th March 1906 Register Office Fulham

Benjamin Lincoln Brain 39 years Bachelor Accountant.
18, Kelmore Grove East Dulwich.
Father's name: Benjamin Brain
Profession of Father: of independent means.

Maria Sidnie Williams 27 years. Spinster. Hospital Nurse.
The Western Hospital, Fulham.
Father's name: Ellis Williams
Profession of Father: of independent means.

Witnesses: Nellie Christmas and T.H.Durrant.
Further scratching around the online records suggests that Benjamin Brain came from around Bristol, but I haven't got a firm match on his parentage, or found anything more going forward.

Our time in Scotland ended with yesterday's long drive down to Wigan in England. Bondi should be happier that the roads will become smoother for most of our remaining travels. I spent many hours into the night looking for some London/Brighton/similar accommodation.

This seems to have paid off with an email this morning indicating an excellent prospect in Isleworth, just down the road from Brentford. We're having a lay day today and I'll drive down to London first thing to check out the place, and with any luck, move in immediately. The only thing missing is a mattress, but I should be able to borrow or buy something affordable and/or inflatable to see me through to December.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Old loose men and women

Took Bondi for an early morning walk around Portpatrick harbour, and then settled down to a lovely brekkie at our B&B Ard Choille.

First stop for the day was the nearby hamlet of Stoneykirk, which was not unlike some of the Borders villages I'd visited in search of my east coast Scots ancestors. I had a quick hunt around the cemetery but didn't find any headstones with names matching my known list over the period 1700-1850.

New Luce
Next was New Luce, a village near the intersection of the Main Water of Luce and the Cross Water of Luce. The cemetery had a sprinkling of familiar names on the headstones but they were too far back or to "the side" to establish a link to my direct ancestors. I asked some locals where I could find Old Luce since that isn't marked on any of the maps, and they told me that it's actually now known as Glen Luce, a little way back up the road, and the church there is still marked as Old Luce.

Glen Luce is the biggest of the villages I've visited today, but it was still easy to spot the church as I drove in, and as promised, was marked as the parish of Old Luce. The church is a rebuild, but according to an information sheet given to me by a parishioner cleaning inside, possibly stands on quite ancient ruins of earlier buildings.

The surrounding cemetery had a more promising selection of names, and as I rounded the southern side of the church, found a rather substantial stone marking some of my direct ancestors.

The stone is a bit weathered and lichen-encrusted, and I found that enhancing the contrast on the photo enabled me to read parts of it more clearly. The text reads:

Erected by James and William WITHER
in memory of
their grandfather JOHN STENHOUSE
who died 26th November 1774 aged 72 years --> c1702
also their grandmother JANNET KENNEDY
who died 4th May 1794 aged 94 years
also their mother JEAN STENHOUSE
who died 22 February 1819 aged 84 years
also their father WILLIAM WITHER
who died 9 April 1824 aged 93 years
also their brother DAVID who died 24?th May 1776 aged 7 years

WILLIAM WITHER Junior his children
JANET who died -- February 1823? 9 months
JEAN who died ---- 1823? 9? years

The first names listed are direct ancestors of mine, my five and six greats grandparents. The longevity in the Wither(s) line points to a remarkable hardiness: there may not have been many environmental threats to hinder a long life, but I do wonder how they filled up their lives in this little corner of Scotland.

Headstone reverse; main street of Glen Luce

The headstone reverse has some further names of siblings, which may give clues to distant cousins in the area, should I ever wish to pursue that information.


who died -- JULY 1843
aged 76 years


JANET WITHERS his sister
who died 9th December 1843
aged 82 years


JAMES WITHERS who died 9th December
1844 aged 85 years

and JOHN WITHERS his son who died 26th JULY
1846 aged 52 years


ANN WITHERS sister of the abovementioned
JAMES WITHERS who died -- December 1846
aged 65 years

I drove back through Stranraer, which is where a lot of the Kerrs also lived, but the museum was closed (contrary to its listed hours), and then went on up the west side of Loch Ryan (Wig Bay) to Kirkcolm, the final village listed as a birthplace to my kinfolk.

Driving over the thin strip of land - the northern end of the Rhins of Galloway - separating the bay from the Irish Sea, I could see the Mountains of Mourne in Ireland on the horizon (above).

Loch Lomond, Ballantrae, Portpatrick

Last big driving day through Scotland: off Mull, retracing the path northward to Corran, and then eastward through Glen Coe, and all down the western edge of Loch Lomond. I pulled in near the top of the loch, allowing Bondi to roam around the shores while I had a sandwich, gazing over waters so brilliant from the sun that I could barely look across them.

Glen Coe, a little brighter than our prior westward passage

Loch Lomond

Rainbow over Ballantrae

Skirting Glasgow as we crossed the Clyde, there was a mess of highways to negotiate, some of which I had passed through coming from Arran. Finally we got down to the Ayrshire coast around Girvan, from where I could see the rock Ailsa Craig jutting formidably out of the water a few miles away.

Not much further along was the village of Ballantrae. My 3xgreat grandfather David Kerr, was born at a farm(?) Big Park near here in 1810. He moved with his family to Melbourne in the 1850s. I had a quick look in the town cemetery, but didn't spot any familial names.

Portpatrick Harbour

Next came, Stranraer, major ferry port for crossings to Ireland, and a major seat for my Kerr ancestors, along with the surrounding villages of Stoneykirk, Kirkcolm and Old Luce.

We have two nights booked in Portpatrick, a charming village on the coast to the south, which marks the western end of the South Upland Way, a 212-mile coast-to-coast path running over to Cockburnspath, a little north of Coldingham. This, coincidentally connects the two Scottish branches of my family, each having migrated to Melbourne in the 1850s. The families intermarried, with my great-grandmother, the swimmer Beatrice Kerr, being the first child of that union.