Personal life and family ties to start this year’s sojourn.
I recently read Elizabeth (Eat Pray Love) Gibert’s book on creativity called ‘Big Magic’ in which she extols people to just get on with it and write. Being a born procrastinator I am the kind of person who needs both inspiration, perspiration and a kick up the proverbial to get me going – so here I am, at last, back to the blog.
The winter in Victoria was long, unusually cold and snowy and a bit of a drag. As many of you know I spent the best part of three months in a cast after a bunion operation that left me non-weight bearing for 7 weeks, weight bearing for 3 weeks then in hiking boots for another month. I did not realize how badly I would react to immobility – it was one of the worst winters of my life and one I would not care to repeat. Anyone who has been in a cast will understand that. It has however given me a deep respect for those brave warriors who are mobility challenged in any way. Life is so much more difficult when you cannot walk and everything seems to take twice as long. Christmas, birthdays, New Year etc were all the more challenging as I had to get around in the snow. ‘You are Canadian and therefore innately capable of dealing with winter’ you may say – but it doesn’t mean it is any easier, especially when the nifty device I had to get around on ( a knee walker) did not have snow tires and very weak brakes.
I survived and then had to plan how to get out of town as we were leaving early for France this year. Our KLM flight from Vancouver to Lyon, with our dog Kerry was on March 29. As I mentioned in the past we fly into France as Kerry travels excess luggage for about €200 whereas if we fly into the UK she costs us about $1800 as ‘special cargo’ with all the associated costs. We arrived in France on March 30 and made for our friend’s Air B&B in Saint André de Roquepertuis, near Avignon.
Finians B & B
The day we left I contracted some dreadful virus that left me with laryngitis, fever, sore throat, runny nose, a cough and all round sinus misery. Except for exhaustion, it did not impact the rest of me nor my appetite, but the virus (I did try anti-biotics which had no effect) was quite virulent (excuse the pun) for 21 days then disappeared. It left me with tinnitus in my left ear, which I hope will gradually disappear. I know a number of women who seemed to have had the same thing, but no men, so perhaps this particular pesky virus just affected the vocal chords of females ( I can see a number of men making jokes about this already!). Even Kerry got laryngitis this trip – but that was another story.
We rented a car in Lyon and headed south towards the boat (moored for the winter near Avignon) staying with a friendly face Irish Australian Finian MacCana at his lovely restored farm house near Bagnols sur Ceze about 30 minutes drive from Skookum. Finians Air B & B deserves a plug here as it is a lovely spot, very friendly and very reasonable. Check out Chambres d’hotes at Finianmaccana@gmail.com or Air B & B near Bagnols sur Ceze.
It was so great to land and stay with a familiar face in a lovely spot. We met Finian’s pal Anton – an artistic sweetheart who was putting on an exhibition of his painting in Frejus, Provence. Anton is in early 80’s and had made the journey from Australia with Finian and the art work. They had some preparation to do in order to complete the exhibits, but we still had time to spent a couple of evenings ‘putting the world to rights’ over a few bottles of wine.
We had a bit of jet lag so it was nice to be able to sleep in and luxuriate in a comfy bed and fresh white sheets. The country side looked lovely – fresh and spring-like, blossoms and bees around and warm sunny weather – I thought I had landed in heaven.
After a couple of days in heaven we picked up our Scarlett (the most reliable Toyota Starlet in the world) and drove up to the UK via Reims (and a bottle of champagne and a bucket of mussels. We have a hotel that we usually stay in – a haven after 6-7 hours of driving (and €50 in tolls) from the boat.
The next day was a 3 hour drive to Calais, the ferry to Dover and another couple of hours to Martin’s sisters place just outside London (Richmond). We had a nice evening then off Cambridgeshire and my mother. It was the beginning of the gathering of the clans.
My son Tim arrived a couple of days after us, and my generous cousin Veronica put him up in her house. The next day we picked up Paul and his partner Emiko. They had traveled from New Zealand via ports of call in Asia and London. My cousin and her husband then moved out of their house to stay with their son and daughter in law in order to accommodate the family. Our friends Brigitte and Peter from Germany also arrived that evening, so we all sat down to a feast of local fish and chips from the local chippy, washed down with French wine (we had brought from France).
Brigitte and I
We cousins, Paul, Veronica, Valerie (Veronica’s sister) and I had not been together since my aunts funeral three years ago, so it was a lovely reunion, and it always a pleasure to see our German friends. We then traveled up to Hull together in convoy. It was our hometown (even for Brigitte it is her English hometown), and my mother, who had lived in Hull for 87 of her 90 years wanted to have a party for family and friends there.
Lilian in the ARP circa 1942
Mum and I had settled on a party in the Cave Castle Hotel in the village of South Cave. Mum and Dad had lived in the village for 28 years, which my mum considered some of the happiest years of her life.
Cave Castle South Cave, East Yorkshire
It was a beautiful setting and we had delightful weather, the only downside was it did not take dogs. Kerry was booked into a kennels just outside the village so we dropped her off. Poor Kerry thought she had been sent to jail and did not know what she had done wrong. I understand how bewildered dogs must feel when they are given up and taken to the animal shelter/pound. Kerry was quite upset and overjoyed when we picked her up three days later. But she had laryngitis – her bark was distinctly hoarse and she sounded like she had been barking for three days. It took her a couple of weeks to recover, but now she is barking as per normal, at other dogs, at people wearing fluorescent anything, and lawnmowers.
Kerry with her friends
The party went well as the clans gathered. My mum’s great friend Joan came from York, other friends Chris and Maxine came from Canada, cousins from York, Hull and Beverley, my mother’s cousins from Hull and lots of her old friends and neighbours.
Emiko Paul Maxine and Chris
She invited and treated 42 people for dinner and drinks at this lovely old hotel to share her big day (it was actually on her birthday – April 7) and say thank you to them for her lovely long life. She wrote a speech and Martin took pictures – I played MC with my hoarse voice. It was a lovely evening for her, she looked very bonnie and very dignified. It was her ‘Queen for a Day’ moment – why not at 90 she certainly deserved it.
The day after the party the friends who had been staying at the hotel departed and we stayed on for a while. As we were in Hull and had a wheelchair with us (Lilian cannot walk much more than 50 meters/yards without tiring) we explored the City of Culture a bit. I was actually a bit disappointed. They had received lots of money to decorate the town but seemed to have spent most of it replacing the pavement and did not even use that to create a floor mural for the city. There were lots of interesting long term things they could have done – added flower planters, put in some interesting lighting fixtures, more art etc. I understand there are lots of cultural events but we did not have time to attend one.
The convoy returned to Norfolk and my poor mum needed a rest. We had another party in a week so she needed all her strength. During the week Martin and I, Tim Emiko and my cousin Paul explored the North Norfolk coast. It was a bitterly cold when we visited Sandringham House (the Queens winter residence) and explored the grounds.
Another day we drove along the coastline of the Wash towards the sandy beaches of small villages like Burnham Market, Wells next the Sea, Cley next the Sea and Blakeney. The ‘next the sea’ title comes from the fact that the villages are inland from a sandy beach, much of which is bird sanctuary, that stretches thirty miles along the North Norfolk Heritage coast. On the way back we visited the tulip and daffodil fields where the flowers are grown to generate bulbs for sale in the UK. It felt very much like we were in the Netherlands, the flower fields, flat land and windswept marshes were reminiscent of Friesland.
Wells Next the Sea
The second party in Wisbech was another opportunity for my mother to thank all the family and some new friends. The party was a delicious three course dinner plus cake and champagne in a lovely old house. Again my mother wined and dined 23 people to show her appreciation for being welcomed into the family in Wisbech and treated so well.
Birthday Cake Part Deux
It reminded me of the 1987 movie ‘Babettes Feast’ in which a French cook who had exiled herself to Jutland in Denmark. She found out that she had won a lottery prize from a French lottery and treated her austere Danish friends to the most luxurious meal to thank them for their kindness and hospitality. Breaking bread together is a powerful sharing of life and a loving way to say thank you.
After the party we all collapsed into a relaxed mode as the military operation had been completed and felt successful. Emiko and Paul left the next day and Tim left a couple of days later and headed back to Canada.
The parties were over, my cousin Veronica was able to return to her home and we all relaxed again. Martin and I took a returned to Well Next the Sea, for a couple of days of rest. I felt well for the first time in three weeks and could walk the mile to the beach. We were staying in this quaint but expensive B & B (all the accommodation around North Norfolk is pricey). It was a bit like going back to the 1970’s – formal full English breakfast, cold toast in the toast rack and instant coffee.
Beach Huts at Wells Next the Sea
We also visited Holkham Hall, (think Downton Abbey style) a local stately home and farm, which was very interesting. We had a few long walks (2-3 miles) along the coast here which is an area of huge sandy beaches and long riverlets from the sea to port areas and of course lots of birds.
Martin dressed up as m’Lord of the hunt at Holkham
A Living room at Holkham Hall ( still in use)
We enjoyed some lovely sunny, but cold weather while on the Coast, that continued for a few more days as we all got ready for our next phase. However we were not quite finished with our celebrations as Linda (my cousin’s friend) invited us out for afternoon tea as a gift to my mum and Veronica included as a birthday present to me. This was the most magnificent tea I have seen in a long time (forget the Empress in Victoria. – over rated and over priced). We had tea for about 2 hours plus washed down with a glass of wine.
Yummy afternoon tea
The last celebration was for Martin and I. April 23 is our wedding anniversary so we went to celebrate with a lovely Sunday lunch. We were also celebrating my birthday as Mum and I were off on a cruise around Italy while Paul and Martin were heading down to the boat in France. Martin gave me a lovely surprise – a sapphire ring to celebrate my sapphire birthday (65). It puts my wrinkled old hands to shame but I am so proud to wear it.
Next up – Cruising Italy around.