Saturday, 31 December 2011

A Neolithic Adventure

 As 2011 ends and we look ahead to the future, Betty has been busy exploring the distant past - having a bit of a neolithic adventure with Ann. 

On Friday we looked at the grey sky, shrugged, packed warm clothes and headed to Wiltshire, through the sorts of places that I always think of as the Real England: tumbledown ramshackle villages with narrow streets and thatched-roof cottages; hedgerows and woodlands where you expect to see Tom Bombadil or Bilbo Baggins, and rolling swathes of green fields full of standing stones and barrows.

First stop: Stonehenge. It was a wee bit chilly and there was a very light sprinkle of rather cold rain - but it couldn''t extinguish the excitement I felt at finally seeing Stonehenge in the flesh. Pity there were all those barrier ropes. And tourists. ;-)
Back in the car, we drove through increasingly crappy weather. Bruce the GPS refused to find our next destination, so I was given the task of navigating. I know some people will be laughing at that, but I'll have you know I can read a road map very well. We did not get lost. Not even once. The next stop was the West Kennet Long Barrow, a neolithic communal tomb, just a short walk through slippery mud next to the A4, and I got us there with no problems at all.

On the way we had a couple of brief photo stops. I had a bit of a Wind in the Willows moment when I spied these riverboats moored at Upavon (at least, I think that's where it was),

and when I saw (on my trusty road-map) that there was a village called Huish up ahead, we just had to do a little detour (Huish is my daughter-in-law's maiden name).

Eventually we got to where we wanted to go:

It's just on the other side of the A4 from Silbury Hill, which is another neolithic construction. In Wiltshire you fall over a henge or a barrow every five minutes!

After checking out the barrow we pressed on, in even worse weather, to Avebury, a little village that has sprouted in the very midst of a henge and a cluster of standing stones, and which is one of England's most important sites for modern pagans.

 We were very fortunate to have the company and expertise of Gordon, who is the Wiccan high priest of Avebury, explaining the stones to us. We were very unfortunate that the weather was so disgusting - that steady soaking rain that you think isn't too bad until you realise you're drenched - so we didn't get to walk around all the stones. We did, however, get to 'debrief' at the Red Lion afterwards!

The journey so far.

Picking up the thread from Abu Dhabi...

We are delayed by thick fog, and when we finally leave, it's through a surreal landscape of desert sand and white mist. I hope to get a better look at Abu Dhabi on the way back.

The second leg of the flight is an odd one. I can't sleep and can't watch telly (the in-flight entertainment system is dead). By the time I arrive at Heathrow I’ve done half a dozen cryptic crosswords, read 50 pages of When God was a Rabbit, and am well and truly ready to put my feet on solid ground, breathe some proper non-pressurised air and meet (dramatic music) The Family. I have no trouble recognising cousin Helen at the airport, and off we go to Epsom.

It’s been almost 30 years since I last saw Auntie Min, but the years have just melted away. My cousins – even the ones I’ve never met, like Helen – don’t feel like strangers, and it's lovely to reacquaint myself with those I’ve met already. We spend hours looking at old photos of ourselves (and taking some new ones).

 Alan & I  used to be best buddies when we were little, and got up to all sorts of mischief. It was Ally who taught me to play Knock Down Ginger (sssssh, don't tell Auntie Min!)
 Steve is my Epsom tour guide and shopping buddy. I have to run to keep up with him. He has an amazing memory for dates and events, and knows heaps about the history of the local area.
 Ah, my lovely Auntie Min. A wicked sense of humour and a heart the size of Phar Lap's!

These precious days of just being family run into one another. We’re not doing anything special, but every minute feels special. There’s no pressure. The daily rhythms and routines are soothing – and of course, once I’ve organised a SIM card and a dongle, life is complete!

Waitrose, Sainsburys, Poundland… call me weird, but I really like poking around supermarkets in foreign places. Leave me in the main shopping precinct, and while I won’t exactly shop till I drop, I’ll certainly browse for hours - it's all about getting a feel for local tastes and habits, I suppose, and exploring the similarities and differences between home and here.

Early in the year my friend Lucy’s mum, Ann, came to Australia and we did a girly road trip to the chocolate factory and ghost house at Junee. At that time (and occasionally during our online Scrabble games as well) Ann had said to be sure to contact her when I come to the UK – so of course I make sure I do - besides, I am delivering Lucy's Christmas mail to her family!)

 Lunch at the pub in Worcester Park

Ann and I take Auntie Min to the pub for lunch on Thursday, and then Ann whisks me away to Wokingham. My head is in a whirl – I don’t know what’s where or what – things seem familiar yet unfamiliar at the same time. I really do feel like a stranger in the land of my birth! The traffic is chaotic (‘this is nothing!’ says Ann) and fast, on such narrow streets. I can’t get used to darkness falling around 4pm. It feels like the middle of the night by about 6pm!

I'm waking between 3 and 4am most days, which is around the time I often wake at home, so I think I’m pretty much over my jetlag. I use the wee hours to get started on a new novel (and, today, to catch up on blogging!) I’m having a ball.

(Next: a Neolithic Adventure)

Monday, 26 December 2011

Waving from Abu Dhabi

Yoohoooo! Here I am in Abu Dhabi awaiting the leg leg of the trip. Boarding is in 20 mins, so this'll be quick.

Survived the flight! Survived the obnoxious twat in the seat in front of me, who had the =extra leg-room seat, but still needed to keep his seat reclined for the entire 14 hour flight. My little telly screen was almost up my nose, and in the squishiness of it all, my meals had to trace a tortuous path from the tray table to my mouth (sometimes via my clothes. This shirt is going to be a wonderful record of "what I ate on my trip".)

Sleeping pills are a wonderful thing. Half a Stilnox knocked me out for 4 hours - that's 3 hours and 20 minutes longer than I managed to sleep on the last long-haul flight I attempted, Stilnox notwithstanding - so I see it as a big improvement. I'm quite sure that I smell, but I suppose everybody else does too.

Lots of crying babies, lots of people coughing and sneezing (aaaaargh, GERMZZZZZ!) but overall a reasonable trip. Decent food, but a second glass of wine at dinner would've been nice!

Abu Dhabi is currently shrouded in fog - can't see a damned thing, so it's really hard to get a sense of the place. Maybe on the way back...

Nearly boarding time - gotta go - 10 hours in the air (maybe some more sleep if I can, or is that just downright greedy???) Bye all!

Sunday, 25 December 2011

In which Betty embarks upon a New Adventure

I haven’t seen my Auntie Min since 1982 – but I’ll see her tomorrow! I just have to get through the ordeal of flying to the other side of the world. I have my aisle seat booked and some sleeping pills in my bag. Wish me luck!

I’m not a fan of flying – it’s that closed-in, trapped feeling that triggers all sorts of anxiety nasties. To short-circuit  the possibility of a mid-air incident (wouldn't that be embarrassing?), I have a cryptic crossword book, a notebook, something to read and something to write with. I may grab a Womens Weekly for Auntie Min as well.

I’m currently at the airport in Sydney, hideously early. That was my stuff-up. I booked my bus ticket from Canberra months ago. I’d actually booked a 3pm bus, but for some reason I had it in my head that I was to depart at midday. Oops. The nice man from Murrays let me on the midday bus instead (thank you!) and now I’m wafting about the airport with a few hours to kill before check-in, and a few more hours till it’s time for Etihad Airlines to take me up, up and away!

In the meantime I'm blogging, people-watching, eavesdropping on a group of airport cops talking about bikies and complaining about being bored (overheard: "Some days you just do a lot of wandering aimlessly"); watching a group of Malaysian tourists admiring(?) the airport's Nativity display, and wondering what the heck to do next. A cryptic crossword, perhaps, or should I head to the bar for a glass of Christmas cheer? 

Oh yes, Christmas - Merry Christmas everybody! More when I get to the Other Side. Onwards and upwards - let the adventure begin!

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

In which Betty seeks (and finds) Equilibrium

Marking and reporting hell seems to hit harder each semester. It lasted for half a term this time – that’s some serious hell-time, and I wasn't the only one who struggled. In combination with everything else going on around me I suppose it’s little wonder that I fell in a heap.

After almost 2 weeks of doctor-ordered rest I had to go back to school – and what a shaky old time I had of it. Exams had to be marked, there was an Everest of paperwork to do, and the end-of-year activities were full-on. It was ugly, and I drifted through the days like a ghost, mostly, trying to keep my head down. One big panic attack, bucketloads of misery and (a bright spot!) a very successful Morris Dancing workshop, run by ME (yes you read that right) later, I’m pleased to report that I limped – ok, crawled – to the finish line, horribly battered and bruised, but still breathing.

In amongst all of that there was a lovely visit from Dad & Diana, who came over from Christchurch for Boomerang Boy’s wedding; the wedding itself and the purchase of Chez Betty in Mallacoota; the relocation of much of my furniture to the aforementioned Chez Betty and the acquisition of a new housemate in Canberra.
 Mr & Mrs Boomerang Boy - beaut day, beaut location, sterling weather, stellar company!

 The Groom, with Mummy & Grandies (Mummy is the one in green)

Two new housemates, actually.

My daughter Kate (the Tetris Queen) and her evil sidekick Aldwyn Grandkitty have taken up residence with me – a mutually beneficial arrangement that should save us both some money. Aldwyn has made the place his own, and entertains us by climbing doors and curtains. As a cat lady who has been without cats for several months now, I am amused by this, in the same way that grandparents are amused by the antics of children when they no longer have to raise them. The Tetris Queen is finding the challenge of fitting her stuff into my house, um, challenging. Surrounded by boxes, we bumble along one day at a time and drink a lot of cider. It’s nice.

I’ve spent the last 2 days in Mallacoota doing a lot of nothing. Very Good Medicine. My modest little house is just about set up for holidaymakers, and I’ve spent plenty of time enjoying the outlook from the back yard (and the front yard, which is lovely) and the antics of the wildlife. I’ve been feeling the school-induced stress just evaporating, the way it always does in this magical place – ah, Equilibrium, there you are!