No disappointments today! In fact, if I maintained a bucket list (which I don't; why invite the bucket?) this would have been a definite tick on the list. Moggy and I have just arrived back at our apartment after seeing Macbeth at the Globe Theatre: a thoroughly enjoyable experience made even more so by sharing it with Rob and Jeannie.
This was a production containing no lighting wizardry, no elaborate stagecraft, a tiny bit of smoke but no mirrors - just acting and story and audience engagement. It saw the cast members regularly competing with the nose of aircraft overhead approaching Heathrow Airport, but this did not diminish from the performance - not even during Macbeth's crucial, "Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow" soliloquy.
Macbeth, as I'm sure you know, explores some very dark themes and delves into the unpleasant aspects of human nature. This production had humour - plenty of it - which I'd not previously seen in the text, but which is certainly there if you choose to see it, as ably demonstrated tonight.
The production has given me a different perspective on the works of Shakespeare (whoever he may have been!). The reading I have done, the productions I have heard, the adaptions I have seen all treat the works with reverential respect. With the exceptions of the designated comedies, 'fun' is not generally an element immediately associated with Shakespeare, and certainly not with Macbeth. This production had lots of fun with the text, and I think I am now much closer to understanding how the plays - even "dark" plays like Macbeth - were pitched at, and received by, the baser levels of Elizabethan and Jacobean society.
AND I got to be in it! (albeit to a VERY minor extent). In Act IV, Malcolm and Macduff are on stage and Malcolm says:
With this there grows
At "desire his jewels" the actor playing Malcolm points with flourish to an audience member and engages in a little giggle-inducing raising and lowering of the eyebrows and nodding of the head. That audience member was me.
The play ended with one of the witches playing a sad, slow, fiddle refrain, which built in momentum, gathered in the orchestra, and became a lively jig in which all the cast participated and all the audience clapped in time. It was a wonderful end to a tremendous night of entertainment.
Two icons of the city attracted our attention today: St. Paul's Cathedral and the Tower of London - and I'm quite surprised at the difference in my response to each of them.
It's an overused cliche, but St. Paul's really does inspire awe. It's an extraordinarily beautiful building, and all those issues of scale which I have spoken about in earlier posts apply to this place. And then there are the mosaics, paintings and statues which, being surrounded by such architectural grandeur, could easily fail to be recognised for their own beauty and genius.
When we were high in the sky on the London Eye yesterday I noted the prominence of the dome on the 2013 London skyline and could only wonder at its prominence when completed in 1712. The image that really captured my imagination today, which is reproduced below, is a shot of the dome still standing amongst the mayhem of the blitz on London in 1940 or 1941. It struck me that this masterpiece could easily have been destroyed and how fortunate I was to be standing within it today.
By contrast, the Tower of London inspired very little awe. I've read heaps about its famous and notorious occupants over the past 1000 years and am acutely aware of its place at the very centre of the history of this country. Yet, all the time we were there today, I could not dispel a feeling of artificiality about the place. It feels like TowerWorld Theme Park. At least now, when I read about Traitor's Gate or Wakefield's Tower, I will have some idea of how they relate to each other, but, all in all, visiting the Tower was a disappointment.
Here are some things.
Thing One: When you arrive at Covent Garden Tube Station, no matter how hot and stuffy you think it might be in the lifts back up to pavement level; no matter how correspondingly cool the breeze down the stairwell seems, DO NOT TAKE THE STAIRS! At Cape Wickham on the northern end of King Island is a lighthouse which, until today, was the most number of steps I have attempted to climb without resorting to oxygen. I reckon there are multiple lighthouses in vertical height between the Piccadilly Line and street level, and wasn't I popular by the time we got - oh, about 1/5th of the way up!? Actually, it wasn't so much the derision from my own family that hurt, but the abuse I was copping from the complete strangers that followed us!
Thing 2: When you are meandering through a busy market area it pays to regularly ensure that your youngest daughter has not been abducted by a street conjuror and indentured into his act. We'd gone about a hundred metres down the street when a breathless Ella caught us up and informed us that, since we last laid eyes on each other, she'd been corralled, placed on a pedestal, introduced to the crowd, then conditionally released (on condition of a handshake) on the understanding that her family were moving away with some rapidity.
Thing 3: Beware of the Bryson Trap. I've quoted Bill here before and, because he always puts it best, here it is in his own words:
Here's an amusing trick you can play on people from Newfoundland or Lincolnshire. Take them to Bank Station and tell them to make their way to Mansion House. Using Beck's map - which even people from Newfoundland can understand in a moment - they will gamely take a Central Line train to Liverpool Street, change to a Circle Line train heading east and travel five more stops. When eventually they get to Mansion House they will emerge to find they have arrived at a point 200 feet further down the same street, and that you have had a nice breakfast and done a little shopping since you last saw them. Now take them to Great Portland Street and tell them to meet you at Regent's Park (that's right, same thing again!), and then to Temple Station with instructions to rendezvous at Aldwych. What fun you can have!
Without labouring the point, I can tell you from personal experience that Bill's list could also include starting at Charing Cross Station and travelling to Covent Garden.
So, to recap: Newfoundlanders and Tasmanians would appear to share some traits, and London can teach us all a thing or two.
We arrived in Bath on the same Saturday afternoon as every single university student in south-west England, AND their families, AND their family cars, AND their bicycles ... well, you get the idea. Our cabbie from the train station was a humorous and apparently good-natured chap, although I am certain that he thought that I didn't notice that he overlooked giving me my change as he leapt out to assist the girls with their bags. But, as I was going to tip him that amount anyway, we elected to call it a draw and speak no further of it.
I feel like I've struggled to get to know Bath; firstly in a geographical sense because the city centre is something of a sandstone maze and the placement of street signs is somewhat irregular, like a partially completed crossword puzzle. But also in a personal sense. Have you ever stayed at a "nice" hotel (only during a conference at someone else's expense for me) where it's shiny and clean and comfortable and the staff are all so, so friendly - and yet there is an absence of genuineness to the experience? Bath has been that hotel for me.
I suppose the analogy holds when you consider that Bath has been a city for visitors since it's inception. Right from the moment when Stone Age chaps out for a stroll noticed warm, smelly water bubbling up out of the earth, people have "visited" this place, and the place has developed to accommodate those visitors. I am sure that somewhere behind the practiced facade there is a "real" Bath, but I suppose it's naive to expect to discover it in a few short days of standing in queues to visit the various attractions - particularly at a time of the biggest influx of students since the invention of cheap cider.
Now, having dwelt on the difficulty in discovering the real Bath, let me stress that our welcome to the city could not have been more genuine and friendly. Uncle Jack Mackay gave up a large chunk of his Sunday to come into the city and guide us around the streets, shops and attractions. Jack was personable and knowledgeable and I suspect that, without his welcome, the feeling expressed above of "visiting" may have been far more tangible than it is currently.
We took the opportunity to hop on a tour bus which pretended that it's primary function was to travel the hour or so to Stonehenge and to visit the picturesque village of Lacock on the return journey; but it eventually became apparent that it was in fact a Peter Gabriel homage. The tour diver: pointed out that PG was part owner (along with Robert Plant and bunch of local shareholders) in the community-owned Bell Hotel; drove us past Mill Lane, the address of Real World recording studios; pointed out Solisbury Hill and told us the story behind the song; then, for good measure, played us the song on the bus audio system. At the end there was a moment of silence, then he asked, "Has anyone heard that song before?" to which the response was: (me) beatific smile; (Mollie & Ella, sitting behind me) death-dagger stare at the back of my head; (Mog) resigned, slow rolling of eyes; and (rest of the bus) blank, uncomprehending stares.
I was SO inspired (a little PG pun there for those in the know) that the following day I went on my own little pilgrimage and climbed to the top of the hill.
Lacock was interesting in that it looks like a film set that people live in. The village is owned by the National Trust who let the properties to tenants. It confuses the senses a little to see buildings from a Jane Austen period drama with Audis and Fiats parked outside.
Stonehenge was yet another significant and thought provoking monument where the visiting experience is cheapened by being shepherded out via a "gift shop" that offers the most tasteless tat that you have ever seen as a "souvenir" of the experience. I promise you that my default position is for minimum regulation, but I'm beginning to think that a National Standard for Minimizing Souvenir Crapness might be a reasonable proposition. What they have done well at Stonehenge is to construct the viewing areas in such a way that the visitor can take photographs of the monument without including many of the several thousand other people doing the same thing at the same time.
Over the past two days I've been allowed the privilege of having a "cheat's peek" into the world of the Coast to Coast walker. Alfred Wainwright's route along the public footpath's and back lanes of northern England stretches for 300km through the Lakes District, Yorkshire Dales and North York Moors National Parks. I joined Rob Reid and Chris Smith for days 8 and 9 of their Coast to Coast sojourn; walking the vale of the Swale River from Keld to Reeth.
If you want a mental image of the Swaledale, imagine bumping into James Herriot (All Creatures Great and Small) tending a flock of sheep. The vale is a series of green rolling hills decorated by winding country lanes and dry-stone fences. Small hamlets of small-roomed, stone buildings occur here and there, for no apparent reason.
Across this landscape is a network of tracks, lanes, trails and paths, which occasionally converge - usually near a tea shop or a pub.
The Coast to Coast is a popular pursuit, and the walker is rarely alone. But, due to the multiple possibilities of route selection, neither are you always walking in the company of the same folks. Rob and Chris had, over the past week on the trail, come to know many of their fellow walkers with whom they would share a few miles of pathway, part company, meet again at the lunch spot, and/or then share a B&B with of an evening. It makes the walk into a curious blend of personal and collective experiences.
We started in light rain at Keld and elected, due to the lack of visibility, not to pursue the high route via the old lead-mining fields of Gunnerside, but instead to follow the course of the river downstream via the villages of Muker and Ivelet. At Gunnerside we were somewhat crestfallen to find that The Kings Arms is no longer an operating licensed establishment, but then uplifted to find that the nearby Ghyllfoot Cafe provided good food and a fine selection of Yorkshire Ales. One of those ales, Buttertubs, is named after small sinkholes in the local limestone hills which, when filled with rain, made for fine cool storage for butter and other dairy products as the cart drivers paused for their own lunch on their delivery runs.
After a convivial lunch we continued across the lower slopes of Melbeck's Moor to Feetham where we stumbled upon the Punchbowl Inn. Over a pint of Black Sheep ale we did some calculations regarding the remaining distance to be covered before the las bus left Reeth, and discovered that I was in danger of arriving too late for my ride back to Richmond for the night. After a mile or so of Olympic Games paced walking, I surrendered, hung out the thumb, and was picked up by the first passing vehicle which dropped me at Reeth 10 minutes before the last bus departed for Richmond, where I made full use of the spa jets in the bath tub to ease my aching legs.
Friday morning saw me back on the bus to Reeth and reuniting with Rob and Chris whom I had abandoned the previous day. From Reeth we wandered along the contours of the river to the old Marrick Abbey, then up through the Steps Wood to the village of Marrick, pausing for a wee dram of Islay's finest at the top of the climb. On the hills above Marrick, Rob managed to find some 3G coverage, and we stood for a few moments in a cow paddock in North Yorkshire, listening the events unfolding in the night Preliminary Final at the MCG!
As we approached Richmond, the mysteries of the Coast to Coast network had seen the numbers in our walking party swell to 8 or 9. At the same time events at the 'G were approaching their climax. Several of our party stood as bemused bystanders as Rob and I sat on a park bench, staring intently into the distance, listening to ABC call of the final moments. When Trav Varcoe missed the shot which would have tied the game there was much bemoaning from the park bench, and muttered condolences from the assembled crowd.
Poxy Bloody Hawks!
We found our way the the Bishop Blaize Hotel and enjoyed some condolence ales. Later that evening Kleppy, Mollie, Ella and I had the pleasure of Rob and Chris' company at dinner at the George & Dragon Hotel in Hudswell (a community owned pub) where we were all entertained by the children being entertained by the puppeteer. A lovely way to end a very enjoyable couple of days on the Coast to Coast.
Scale has been the big perspective of the past couple of days; the scale of size, and the scale of time. We stood in the awe-inspiring York Minster today and took photographs with the intent of showing the sheer scale of the place, but knowing the futility of those efforts. It just cannot be conveyed in a two dimensional image.
Similarly, I've been struggling to come to terms with the scale of time. We come from a place where a 200 year old building goes back to the dawn of European settlement, yet we can somehow comprehend what that period means, perhaps because we can measure it against what we know of our local or family history. In the past couple of days we have stood in and on constructions which we commenced within twenty years of the Battle of Hastings! What does that mean? It's almost beyond comprehension.
Richmond Castle caught me a little off-guard - for a bit of both of the reasons described above. I've been trying to rationalise why, and the best I can come up with is that it is my first conscious encounter with any building over 200 years of age (there were probably other such encounters when I spent some time in Japan many years ago, but I was way younger and these kinds of considerations were a long way from the front of my consciousness). Anyway, I was completely engaged by Richmond Castle: it's commanding position on the bluff above the Swale; the massive keep with the tiny cramped stairwells, each step worn like the back of an old and weary workhorse; the great hall; and the ruins of the remaining buildings, including Scolland's Hall which was part the original structure erected according to the wishes of Lord Alain le Roux (Lord Alan Rufus) after the lands were granted to him personally by William The Conqueror.
York Minster and Durham Cathedral each also had my jaw dropping, mainly at the unthinkable degree of intricate masonry created and erected on such an large scale. They are truly spectacular structures and I'm glad we made the time and effort to travel to York and Durham to see them.
In thinking about the Minster and the Cathedral, I suppose there is a third aspect of scale which comes to mind: the scale of value (and power). At a time when the majority of people in the newly formed "English" nation where subjected to serfdom, such massive and imposing buildings must have said something to the serfs about the wealth and power of the church.
I'd like to post lots of photos, but that will have to wait a few days. One of the few things I forgot to pack was the cord for transferring the photos from the camera to the iPad, and Richmond, for all it's charms, does not seem able to assist in that regard. I have plenty of them, and will post the best of them at the first opportunity.
I'm very tired now, and am going to retire to bed in order to be full of energy to accompany the intrepid Coast to Coast walkers tomorrow and Friday as they follow the Swale into Richmond.
The First Trans-Pennine Express 11.06 from Manchester Airport station to Newcastle rolled gently northwards at 11.06 and 20 seconds on Monday morning. We were comfortably housed in our reserved seats. We knew they were our reserved seats because - well, they had numbers which corresponded with those on our tickets - but, more interestingly, they had a little place card inserted in the top of the seat saying, "Reserved Manchester A. to Darlington". We (read Kleppy) figured out that the little card is to advise passengers without a seat reservation that that particular seat is open to anyone except for the part of the trip between Manchester Airport and Darlington. It's a small idea, but a good one in terms of making the most of the available seats.
What's that you say? Who is Kleppy?
Earlier in the day, prior to leaving our overnight accommodation, Moggy had elected to retain a couple of the complimentary small jars of condiments (mayonnaise, ketchup and mustard) which she thought, quite rightly, might come handy for us over the next few days. Then at breakfast, she made the mistake of suggesting that, if there was any fresh fruit in the breakfast buffet, we grab a couple of apples or bananas for the train trip. Well, the girls and I couldn't resist launching into a detailed and fanciful, but very funny, exploration of their mother's criminal tendencies. Hence her being anointed the title of "Kleppy".
The trip north on the train was pleasant. It was interesting to see the pockets of what we guessed had been originally built as housing estates. Every house contained in them was exactly the same as the one next door to it, and set out on a geometric grid. They looked like little Monopoly houses which someone with a serious case of OCD had painstakingly laid out on a board. The glimpses we got of Manchester and Leeds were interesting for their differentness, particularly as the train line often runs past the rear of apartments and business premises. I'm still a bit intrigued by the "LIVE DRAG SHOWS" sign that I saw. Display races between toy cars perhaps?
The journey through York provided only tempting glimpses of the Minster I'm so keen to visit in coming days.
Then there was sameness. The countryside between York and Darlington could have been the southern midlands of Tasmania. I kept expecting to see the Oatlands flour mill in the near distance.
Arriving in Market Square in Richmond was a surreal experience for me. For the last six months I've had a picture of that place as my desktop wallpaper. Stepping into the middle of it had something of a sense of achievement about it. More about Richmond and surrounds over the next few days, but I wanted to finish this post with a story of serendipity.
For months now I've been annoying Ella with my semi-serious suggestion that as soon as we step off the bus in Market Square, I intend to choose one of the many Ye Olde Pubs in the area for my first Ye Olde Pint and that she can wait outside for me - a plan I immediately implemented on arrival. Well, to be fair, we modified it a little. Kleppy and the girls went for a stroll to check the lay of the land, while I guarded our bags in the lounge of Y.O.P. The only issue was which Y.O.P. to choose - there we at least 11 within line of site of the bus stop. Eventually I settled on The Kings Head, for no reason other than it was close, and it looked large enough for me to enter with 4 large items of luggage and not feel overly self-conscious. So, happily I settled in the dining room of The Kings Head with a pint of Theakston's Best Bitter and a plate of bangers & mash. I grabbed the Kindle and opened the contemporary novel I have been reading, but the reading material did not match my Y.O.P-induced nostalgia, so I scanned the available texts (the TRUE wonder of Kindle is that you can keep a library in your pocket), and settled on Gordon Home's 1908 edition of Yorkshire, which includes a chapter on Richmond, which was perfect for the occasion. About 4 pages into that chapter, Mr Home speaks in favourable terms of one of the many hotels in the vicinity of Market Square: and it was the very pub in which I was sitting!
All in all, a perfect welcome to Richmond.
We’d been in the UK all of about 30 minutes when the wisdom of a couple of pre-trip decisions became evident.
Firstly, it’s fair to say that the length of travel took its toll. Moggy was feeling sick before we left Melbourne, Elby crashed towards the end of the long leg to Dubai, and Mollie was feeling ordinary as we crossed the Black Sea. So it’s fair to say that, by the time we touched down in Manchester, our decision to book a motel near the airport rather than immediately catch a train north looked like a ripper. I reckon I’d have had a mutiny on my hands if we had to go further today!
Secondly, and predictably, a couple of our main bags failed to make the connection between Dubai and Manchester. They are still finding their way to us and we are assured that we will have them back later this evening. So again, we’re patting ourselves on the back for having the foresight to carry a few items of each other’s clothing. Thankfully, the bags that arrived with us contained sufficient reserves for us all to shower and change into fresh clothing.
In fact, I could almost sneak a third success story into the pre-trip planning regime. We were concerned about occupying ourselves during a 7 hour stop-over at Tullamarine yesterday, so after some research we booked a room at the Park Royal on a daytime hourly rate (which an un-named associate assured me is a spin-off from continuance of the oldest commercial transactions. He may know these things; I couldn’t possibly comment). Anyway, it turned out to be a fine idea. We all had a swim. The girls lazed in the room while Mog and I sat in the bar for lunch and watched the VFL football on the big screen. Then we all got to have a shower before the long flight. I commend the place to anyone with a long stopover in Melbourne.
So we’re now parked up at the airport motel in Manchester, feeling clean, hungry and very tired. Room service is one its way and I can see most of the team being asleep before 6pm local time.
We have a casual start tomorrow, a quick stroll along the “Skywalk” to the airport train station for an 11am departure to Darlington - so, hopefully plenty of rest will be garnered. While on the subject of trains, I’ve had nothing but ease and assistance in dealing with thetrainline.co.uk in booking and purchasing train tickets for our journey. This afternoon I wandered over to the train station and, following a couple of simple instructions, printed out tickets I had booked and paid for 2 months ago.
One final observation on arriving in Manchester on a showery afternoon of 11 degrees Celsius: Manchester airport looks for all the world like Tullamarine, and the weather was so Melbourne like, that we wondered if we hadn’t spent a very long time in planes to wind up exactly where we started. I’ll include a picture from the hotel window.
So, more in the next few days from “oop north”.
I hope those bags arrive soon. My eyelids are getting VERY heavy. As I type I can hear the slightly snorky breathing of sleep - and my watch says 4.50pm!