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Queen Elizabeth mini cruise 2019

Main staircase

Main staircase

This year I went somewhere new (to me), Brisbane, getting there in style on Cunard’s MS Queen Elizabeth. She’s one of eleven Vista-class ships, built by Fincantieri in 2010 and accommodates 2000+ passengers .
On the outside QE may look like many other cruise ships, but inside her decor reflects her Cunard ownership: top class Art Deco throughout the main public areas – I’m not known for my life of fine art, but I couldn’t help but enjoy such wonderful design and craftsmanship.

Queen Elizabeth at Circular Quay

Queen Elizabeth at Circular Quay

The cruise was just four nights: we left a cold wet Melbourne on Saturday afternoon, then spent Sunday at sea, docking at Circular Quay, Sydney on Monday.
After a good relaxing day with a friend – riding Sydney Harbour ferries! – it was back on board for another two nights and a day at sea before arriving at Brisbane on Wednesday morning.

Afternoon Tea

Afternoon Tea

This was only my second Cunard cruise and again I was upgraded to a suite! This meant dining in the more exclusive Princess Grill restaurant instead of the main dining hall. In my younger days I would have been scared stiff at having to dine with a group of ‘strangers’ but now I see it as something to look forward to – the chance to meet up with people I wouldn’t otherwise have encountered, meeting them over several evenings. My dining companions were very good company.
I did sample the famed afternoon white glove tea once, but you can only eat so much!

Music for our pleasure

Music for our pleasure

Filling the two sea days was no problem. As is the tradition, the captain conducted a well-attended Sunday morning service. An ad-hoc Christian Fellowship meeting was held on Tuesday morning which gave me a chance to meet another group of people. The QE has a large theatre used for stage shows in the evening; during the day it hosted a series of lectures. I went to two on whales and dolphins, and one on Captain Cook’s voyage mapping Australia’s east coast. Various types of music were offered around the ship. Much else to do as well, but not enough time. In no time we’d arrived in Brisbane and it was time to say goodbye … until next year’s cruise!

Memories of Junior School – The Teachers

Archdeacon Cambridge’s Junior School’s building, next to Holy Trinity Church, was twenty years older than the infant school, its foundation stone having been laid in 1841. I will share more memories of the building in a future post. Sadly, a quick Google search failed to produce a picture. Nearly sixty years on, my memories are vague, but perhaps some comments will flesh them out.

Compared with many modern schools, Archdeacon [as it tended to be known] was a small school, six teachers, head and school secretary – much like ‘King Street Junior‘, a BBC radio comedy. In my final year we had 42 in the class, so I would guess that there were about 200-240 pupils.

On entry, presumably following reports from infant school, pupils were put into one of two streams. Those judged (at age seven!) to have less academic potential were put in Mrs Stringer’s class for their first two years. Nearly sixty years on I remember her as a kindly soul. For their second two years her pupils would be passed on to a Mr Laing, then probably not far from retirement, who to us seemed to be dour unfriendly man. From what we gathered (perhaps incorrectly) he didn’t do much teaching, it having been determined that his pupils would never amount to much. Rather he supervised them as they did craft and other activities. All a bit sad in retrospect.

Meanwhile, those of us who were judged to be of average or better ability went through four classes, The first (year 3 in today’s parlance) was taken by Miss Weir, a middle aged lady who was a very effective teacher. In addition to her regular teaching, she conducted country dancing lessons. Away from school, she was a church organist in Hampton.

The next year’s class teacher was a Miss Cooper who returned from one holiday as Mrs Palmer. I have no memories of her, as four of us who were judged to be academically ahead were jumped a year and so missed being in her class.

So my next teacher was Mrs Atkins. I think she retired not too long after I left. She had a somewhat undeserved reputation as a stern disciplinarian but was another excellent teacher. One key thing I remember about her was that she drove a car, a Mini. The four of us who had jumped a year found ourselves with a different set of classmates but we soon fitted in.

For the last year (my last two years) we moved up to Mrs Piggott’s class. She was another excellent teacher, probably in her 30s, and she had a degree in maths. My enthusiasm for this subject was noted and encouraged. It must have been quite challenging to be teaching a class of 42, but a good number of us made it on to grammar school.

By today’s standards, the support team was modest. Mrs Hare, a quietly efficient no-nonsense lady was the school secretary, her duties including acting as school nurse, attending to sick pupils and the results of the inevitable falls. Mr Broughton, the school caretaker, was responsible for cleaning and, in the winter, maintaining fires and delivering buckets of coal to each class.

And last but not least was our head, Mr Brown. If my memory serves me, he’d been head since 1947. He, too, retired not too long after I left and was, underneath a rather bluff exterior, a kindly soul who really did care for the well-being of the school and its pupils. He like Mrs Atkins, drove to the school, but in contrast to her state-of-the-art Mini, he drove a blue sit-up-and-beg Ford Popular. Despite the antiquated buildings he ran a good and happy school.

A tale of two chairs

When I emigrated from UK to Melbourne in 2008, I came with a suitcase of clothes, followed soon after by two PCs sent by airfreight and then in due course 16 cartons of books, DVDs and souvenirs. Otherwise it was a case of starting from scratch.

For furniture I went to IKEA, not far from home though a tedious half-hour drive fighting Melbourne’s traffic lights and congestion. During my first two weeks here I went there nearly every day, buying another piece or two and then returning home to assemble it. In due course my apartment could have passed as an mini IKEA showroom – I’ve just had a tally up and I’ve got 31 pieces of IKEA furniture; the only items from elsewhere are my office desk and chair.

Two IKEA Ingolf chairs

Two IKEA Ingolf chairs

Initially to reduce clutter I bought just four Ingolf dining chairs to go with my (extendable) circular dining table, then one more as a bedroom chair. On the rare occasions when I needed to seat six I borrowed the bedroom chair and pressed my office chair into service.

Then last year I decided that it would be good to have six matching chairs when required. Thankfully when I checked the IKEA website the same chair was still on sale – one of the ways in which IKEA make money is by amortising their design costs over vast numbers of units: Poäng armchairs go back to 1978, Billy bookcases to 1979 – so off to buy one.

When I set to work assembling it, what was interesting was to see that in the intervening ten years the cost engineers had been to work. The picture shows old and new, superficially the same. What has changed is the weight – down from 6.7kg to 4.0kg (for bulk freight 160/ton now 250/ton) – and the way the chair is assembled. The older one comes with a ready made back/legs and front rail/legs and assembly involved linking these with two front/back rails. The new one came in an h-shaped box (which interlocks with another) containing two assembled sides, cross rails and X-rails. An interesting bit of cost engineering.

Warrnambool mini break

Warrnambool, ocean in background

Warrnambool, ocean in background

Christmas here marks the start of the summer holiday so not too much happens in January. With the forecast for Friday Jan 4th correctly predicting 42C in Melbourne, I hit on the idea of a mini-break to Warrnambool, a small city on the Southern Ocean, 265km/165mi SW of Melbourne, not somewhere I’d previously visited.

Why Warrnambool? The decider was that it’s at the end of one of our few surviving regional rail lines so I could sit back and let V/Line drive.This section of the coastline is known as the ‘shipwreck coast’ for good reason and as you look south the next landfall is Antartica – just the place to go if you’re escaping heat!

V/Line carriage reversible seats

V/Line carriage reversible seats

The comfortable trip took 3½ hours from Melbourne. I opted for first class, A$94 (about £50), v. $77.20 for economy, a no-brainer really. First class carriages have 52 seats v. 88 in economy – why V/Line set their pricing so as to make much less per carriage off their premium passengers I don’t know?

The first class seats are on swivel mounts and are rotated to face the direction of travel at each end.

Warrnambool station

Warrnambool station

The railway line from Melbourne reached Geelong in 1856 and was progressively extended, reaching Warrnambool in 1890. A fine station building survives.

With two nights and one full day there, I couldn’t see everything but I had a good time. I certainly escaped the heat: the forecast 30C for Friday was reached about 10.30 and then the temperature dropped sharply, making me wish I’d taken my cardigan.

Thursday evening was spent walking down to the beach and back through to city centre in search of a good dinner. Friday morning started off with a walk in the sun by Lake Pertobe – between 1974 and 1980 what was a swampy area was turned into a recreational lake surrounded by parkland.

Flagstaff Hill Maritime Village

Flagstaff Hill Maritime Village

Then off to one of Warrnambool’s main attractions, Flagstaff Hill Maritime Village. The museum is laid out like an 1870s period village and incorporates the original lighthouses and Warrnambool Garrison. A period-costumed guide gave us a really interesting and informative tour. Friday evening was spent at the huge summer market next to the lake, then on Saturday it was time to come home.

There’s much more to Warrnambool – in the winter, whale watching is a big tourist draw, and the city has also been brought to prominence by the film ‘Oddball’, in which trained Maremma dogs protect the fairy penguins from marauding foxes. It’s well worth watching.

Will I go back? Definitely as there’s lots more to see. I’ll either hire a car once down there or drive so I can go further afield. But I’ve got a few other Victorian train lines to check out first.

 

A literary wall quiz

For much of my adult life in UK each new year was seen in at a party given by my dear friends Arthur and Betty, both, sadly, no longer with us. The evening included a number of regular events, terminating in a short meditation and prayer for the new year, then listening to BBC radio for the chimes of Big Ben which would be the sign for glasses to be raised, “Happy New Year”.

My contribution to the evening was to compile a wall quiz, the questions being written on Post-It notes which were spread round the house. Finding all twenty was one challenge, answering the questions another. Here are the questions from 2007, though you won’t get far if you’re not into English literature. Feel free to copy and use if you wish. I’ll post the answers in a day or two.

Each of the people below is the leading character in a novel. Name them. The date when the book was published is in brackets

1. Given to matchmaking (1816)
2. Cedric, heir of the Earl of Dorincourt (1886)
3. Mentored by Mr Micawber (1850)
4. The boy who wouldn’t grow up (1904)
5. You may think this one somewhat obscure (1895)
6. Nobody (1892)
7. She met an angel but was hanged for murder (1891)
8. Finds her own Mr Darcy (1996)
9. She’s dead but her presence hangs over her successor (1938)
10. Expelled from chapel after being wrongly accused of theft (1861)
11. The opposite of Flashman (1857)
12. He married the widow of a fellow matchbox collector. Revisit this clue if it’s too hard (1945)
13. Not just a card (1911)
14. Sold his wife (1886)
15. She came not from one place but five (1902)
16. The ends of her roof were eco-friendly (1908)
17. She always looked on the bright side of life (1913)
18. Finds dreadful secret in the attic (1847)
19. Hides dreadful portrait in the attic (1891)
20. They seek him everywhere (1905)

Enjoy!

Memories of Infant School

As we’re going back nearly sixty years, these memories are vague – if any other former pupils wish to add to them in the comments, that would be great.

After two years in Mexico City our family returned to Twickenham in spring 1959. I was duly enrolled at the Archdeacon Cambridge’s Infant School, Briar Road, Twickenham. The headmistress was a Mrs Nelson, who I can still picture.

The school had been built in 1860 and I don’t think too much had changed in the intervening 99 years – coal stoves for heating (such as it was) and outdoor toilets. The school buildings were demolished many years ago and Google Maps now shows the current buildings as being occupied by Richmond Music Trust, with the large playground to the rear now being used as a car park. Surprisingly, a Google search throws up no pictures of the infant or junior schools – should you find one, please post a link in the comments.

The site on the corner of Briar Road and Staines Road was, I remember, occupied by a betting shop, the building being a post-war rebuild following bomb damage. Aston Perforators was next door and just over the school fence. According to Google, the business was established in 1934 and is still trading, one of Twickenham’s few surviving manufacturing businesses.

Back then my mum didn’t have a car, so I was either walked to and from school, or taken on the back of her bicycle in a child seat. Imagine that now!

My first teacher was a Mrs Benfield, who I remember as a somewhat stern teacher. She had been a teacher there since before the war. Lessons were much as would expected for the time: the three R’s: reading, ‘riting and ‘rithmetic. We sat in lines in our iron framed desks with very formal lessons, save for the craft and painting sessions. Not to be forgotten was playtime with the third pint of milk for each child.

The school had no kitchen facilities, so for lunch we were marched in crocodile fashion (coats and hats in the winter) down to ‘The Institute’ in First Cross Road. It later became the Twickenham Preparatory School, and now the Jack and Jill Nursery School. I don’t remember anything about the meals, but in those days we weren’t expected to complain.

For my second and final year I moved up to Miss Hancock’s class. I remember her as a kindly soul: she too had been at the school since before the war. Like me she lived in Strawberry Hill and I would see her around for many years after she retired.

Madiba, the Musical

Madiba, the Musical, programme cover

Madiba, the Musical, programme cover

Last week I was fortunate enough to be invited to see a new musical, ‘Madiba’, based on the life of Nelson Mandela. It was staged at the Comedy Theatre, not the obvious venue given the subject.

I well remember the release of Nelson Mandela, February 11th 1990. I’d gone to Chicago (my first trip to USA) and wasn’t following world news. But on that Sunday morning when I woke up intent on a full day’s sightseeing, the schedule had been replaced by live screening of Mandela’s release. I was just transfixed to see world history unrolling before my eyes so sightseeing was put on hold.

The musical follows Mandela’s life from his early career as a lawyer, his arrest in 1964 and conviction followed by life sentence, his release, his election as President in 1994, and the truth and reconciliation movement. It was a truly excellent and moving performance. Should you get the chance to see it, do so.

That said, what we saw in the musical followed western liberal thinking, but having made a few short trips to southern Africa I was reminded of the hypocrisy of some of this thinking.

We were reminded of the 1960 Sharpeville massacre – 69 protestors killed. But what about Mugabe’s Matabeleland massacres – 10,000+ killed – discussed in a piece on The Conversation website: “… The analysis also clearly proves that, even when in receipt of solid intelligence, the UK government’s response was to wilfully turn a “blind eye” to the victims of these gross abuses …“.

We were also reminded that Mrs Thatcher refused to implement sanctions against South Africa and was regularly lectured by other world leaders for her refusal to do so. One such leader was Kenneth Kaunda, President of Zambia. But what did I see on my short visits to Zambia in 1987-89? I was taken to a government-owned ‘hard currency shop’ (thus effectively open only to the elite and black marketeers). On sale, all sorts of luxury goods that you’d never have found in regular shops, sourced from South Africa. I was so exercised by this that on my return to UK I wrote to the Foreign Office asking for such two-facedness to be publicly exposed. Back came a letter who contents can be summarised as ‘We know. Please don’t tell anyone’. The Conversation’s piece explains all.

And having got international airlines to remove their South African services, Zambian Airways introduced a New York – Monrovia – Lusaka flight which just happened to provide a convenient connection with their Johannesburg flight – funny that!

All this serves as a reminder that real life is not as simple as we are sometimes told it is, and that we need to beware of news and political views shaped by an agenda.

The Blue Lake

David Sornig

David Sornig, author

Ten days ago I had the pleasure of attending the official launch of David Sornig’s new book, Blue Lake. The lake, also known less flatteringly as the West Melbourne Swamp, was situated just north of where I live in Melbourne’s Docklands. In pre-settlement times it was a meeting place and rich hunting ground for Aboriginals, but over time it became a dumping ground and a place to situate noxious trades, then between the wars it then became the home of the notorious Dudley Flats, a shanty town where the lowest of the the low lived. It’s now been taken over by the dockland and urban freeways.

David Sornig tells the story through three residents: Elsie Williams, a singer of Afro-Caribbean descent, once billed as “the Coloured Nightingale”; Lauder Rogge, a German-born sailor who, though a naturalised Australian, was interned during World War I; and Jack Peacock, a stunt rider, horse trader and scrap dealer who made a good living on Dudley Flats.

I’m currently about one third through the book and it’s proving an interesting read.

Arrested for spying again!

Extract from Harare tourist map

Extract from Harare tourist map

Harare, November 1997, a city laid out as a grid with many fine buildings and beautiful parks and gardens. On consulting my tourist map, publisher The Surveyor-General of Zimbabwe, I decided to go and see the Prime Minister’s residence, just as in past times tourists to London would go to see 10 Downing Street.

I wasn’t the first British tourist to do this. Alexander Chancellor records “In 1982, when I was in Zimbabwe, I took a stroll down Chancellor Avenue in Harare. I made a point of visiting this particular street because Chancellor Avenue was called that after my grandfather, Sir John Chancellor, the first British governor of Southern Rhodesia (as Zimbabwe was once called). I was surprised that it still bore his name, because it was already two years since independence and the new government had been busy eliminating the last vestiges of colonial rule.^

So one bright morning I took the short walk from the Bronte Hotel to Chancellor Avenue and peered through the gates – from memory the residence was well screened so not much to see. In next no time a couple of young men (cadet soldiers?) came over and arrested me. Fortunately I hadn’t taken my camera – this was still the era of colour slides so pics were carefully rationed. I wasn’t carrying any ID either, which was less helpful. Progressively I was passed up the ranks to soldiers with more and more stripes, one of whom then drove me back to my hotel to confirm my ID.

At the hotel my passport details were noted. I was told that I was free to leave the hotel during the day but must be back by 6.00p.m. in case they needed to take things further. By now I was a bit worried: could I please phone the British Consulate, I asked. No, need I was told.

So after a pleasant day I returned to the hotel. Shortly after six the phone in my room rang. “Reception here, there’s two gentlemen who want to talk to you.” Now I knew I was in trouble! I walked across the garden in some trepidation. Two well dressed men greeted me. “We’re from the Prime Minister’s office. We’ve been told what happened to you this morning and have come to apologise. We hope it won’t spoil your visit.” In reply I thanked them, also pointing out that the residence was shown on a government-produced tourist map that was on sale in the city. “Not any more!”, came the reply!

And, yes, I did enjoy my stay. I was fortunate to be visiting just before Zimbabwe really spiralled downhill.