Category Archives: Letters home


Letters home, 1999, June 29

29 June 1999 (to Dave Hearn, Te Kuiti)


It’s wet – if you’re trying to watch Wimbledon, you’ll see how wet. Temperatures are mild, though. I have applied for more than 60 jobs and 8 are still in the system. Plenty of hope. Elaine has had lots of teaching, so she’s keeping us going in the meantime. There’s no suggestion she’ll keep teaching for very long after I get a job.

The roads – and the traffic – are diabolical. Everywhere, and I mean everywhere, the roads are crowded. It’s like driving in rushour Auckland traffic all day; and no matter where you are, or what you are trying to do, there’s always a car right up your exhaust pipe. We went to Goffs Oak to take Elaine to the school this morning, for instance, about 20 min from here, and between 8:00 when we went up the road and 9:00 when I tried to come down it, there was a 2-mile long (20 min in the queue) traffic jam.

The roads are too small and they allow cars to park on both sides of the road, so that parts of it are one-car only. There’s also only one road out of this town, and that road has two roundabouts, a set of lights and a stop sign at the top. The town has about 2000 population and they all work in London. Incredible. The roading system here is almost at a standstill. Trouble is, there’s only a very poor public transport system that no-one wants to use because it’s slow, expensive and cumbersome. And when there is rain, you get hell of a wet using it.

Otherwise, it’s beautiful here. Absolutely gorgeous little villages and towns; richly textured landscapes and large fields of commercial crops like wheat, oats, barley and brilliant yellow swathes of oilseed rape. Everywhere there are huge trees, the landscape is glorious with them. The fields are all ringed with trees and the roadsides, both in the country and in the cities are heavily lined with these massive oaks, sycamores and walnuts. Takes your breath away. England is far more wooded than NZ. There’re way more trees.

I’m glad to see your email is working. Nice to hear from you.



Letters home, 1999, June 30

30 June 1999


Did you hear that the Welsh beat the South Africans in the Rugby for the first time ever. I assume that since you haven’t mentioned it that you haven’t but I would have thought that it would have made the BBC news at least!! Still – I suppose there are other world events going on and rugby isn’t everything over there like it is here. Ian Jones is off to play for Gloucester after the World Cup. Was announced on the news last night as a prominent item. Funny the perspective NZers have on news – still I guess the ABs are our Spice Girls!!


Come back Graham Henry, all is forgiven!

The Welsh victory wasn’t exactly scintillating, but it did have more tries than the Springbox, so it was well deserved. After the very poor run of results, caused by their very poor playing, it’s good to see the Welsh coming back. It’s also good to see a fine NZ coach working his magic. It also shows just how important good coaching is.

The All Blacks beat a very poor French side soething like 54-7, but then the French were beaten by the Tongans, too. And the Aus beat England. Didn’t see any of the matches locally. Sky has them all locked up.. Good news, though, rugby is not renewing its Sky contract. All the GB teams – I guess except the French – will be shown on BBC. Now that’s cool, except that it’s two years away.

Just a note; as soon as you let politics enter sport, your team starts losing. There’s only one way to run a sport and that’s on results. Look at the Windies. Killed by politics. Look at the Welsh – once GH got the politics out of the sport, they start winning. You don’t need a huge population base to select your team from, and you don’t need brilliant individuals, tho you do need very good ones. You need results-focussed people from the very top all the way down.

Our news is full of Manchester United pulling out of the FA cup so they can play in a World Clubs Cup (as apposed to nations.) It’s in Brazil thisyear and if Man U don’t go, it’s likely that England won’t get World Cup 2006. Fifa is behind the Clubs Cup and if Man U don’t go, Verda Bremen will, and they are next most likely to get the World Cup after England.
Anyway, the FA Cup is worth a few bob to Man U, but the World Club Cup will be worth millions. That’ll make the stockholders happy. It’s just that the locals will miss out on their team playing in front of them. Who cares? It isn’t the locals who pay Man U’s wages! It’s a funny old world, all right.

Hey! Thinking of sport. I’ve been running miles because you can’t run km’s here. The car only records miles. So I’ve measured a 4ml run. It’s round the block, so I go uphill all the way out and downhill all the way back. Going uphill slows down the total trip in comparison to the whole trip being on flat ground, because you use more energy going uphill than you make up then you come downhill. Anyway, at the moment it’s 4 miles and on Monday I ran it in 31:27. Today it was 30:22. I checked my maths and that’s 6km in 28:28, so I looked up my diary, and my previous best 6km was 27:24. So I’m improving since arriving here, but still a bit to go. My aim is the whole 4ml in 28 minutes; that’s 7 min per mile. It sounds slow, doesn’t it, but it’s 4 min 23 sec per km, for 6.4km, half of it a very bitter uphill drag.

I’ve just had a look at that target and it’s pretty well on the limit, all right. It would mean I’d have to do 4:23 km’s which means a 3km time of 13:08 ….. ooh (twice).

I told one of my agency people who rang me just as I got in – that I’d just been for a 4ml run, not what the time was – and she said, “It’s time you got a job.” Well, I’ve got eleven agencies I ring every morning, something’s got to give. Please let it be soon.



Letters home, 1999, July 1

1 July 1999

Greetings from the UK.

All is well and Ewart and I are happy in this English summer. It is hot and everything around here is really pretty.

We have been asked whether we get news about NZ on TV and in the papers here. No, one would think NZ didn’t exist at all. The only news we are getting from home is what we are receiving from friends and family and of course the world cup cricket games. When our sports teams aren’t over here NZ doesn’t exist at all for the English. They do like NZ lamb and anchor butter though, and of course the zesprey is available in all the local markets, along with Cox Orange apples grown in NZ.

All NZ produce over here is a lot smaller than we are used to getting back home. Apparently the English are used to only eating small portions for things like fruit. None of the really nice crisp apple varieties grown at home such as Pacific Rose are available here. At present we are eating rock melons, bananas, cherries (yummy, large & very cheap), strawberries, nectarines & raspberries (grown here on site). It is fun going to the markets on Saturday mornings to buy our supplies.

I am being kept pretty busy teaching now. I start at a new school on Monday (tomorrow). It is Goff’s Oak JMI School. I will have 8 & 9 year olds. Their teacher fell off a desk when putting up displays. A little boy moved a chair thinking he was helping her, unfortunately it was just as she went to stand on the chair so she fell breaking ribs and rupturing a lung. She got out of hospital on Friday but the word is that she is still far from well. I will be teaching her class until the end of term (28 July I think).

On Friday morning I drove up there to look at the school taking Ewart with me. We had a hang of a job finding it, found ourselves in Potter’ s Bar three times!!! Of course we weren’t meant to go to that town at all!! When we finally found the village we found that we had been very close early on in the trip. We have now written down the name of the road so I should be Ok on Monday. I’ll leave early in the morning just in case. The school is at Goff’s Oak which is just beyond Hatfield about 20 mins from St Albans, when you go the right way that is. It took us an hour the way we went!!!

We spent a lovely morning there meeting the staff and students and had our first taste of school dinners when they gave us lunch. A two course lunch costs 1.25 pounds per day. (sorry, can’t use a pounds sign, this software doesn’t have the symbols font installed). I also got to spend time with the current South African supply teacher. He goes off touring in Scotland with his wife for the next two weeks before returning to South Africa after having been here for six months.

After lunch, being my first day off for a few days, Ewart and I travelled up to Leighton Buzzard for the afternoon. We visited the bank, Sheila and George and spent a couple of hours with Thelma at Wing. We also spent a couple of hours with John Wallace (the chap in on the screen saver on our home computer). It was a hot sunny day and everyone was pleased to see us. The countryside is really beautiful through Bedfordshire and we enjoy travelling through it although it plays havoc with my asthma at this time of year, lots of fields in full pollen at the moment. The rape fields are bright yellow and stand out vividly for miles.

We haven’t seen any movies over here yet. Adult tickets cost 10 pounds ($30 NZ) so we watch movies on TV. Prices will seem very expensive to us until we start earning AND spending British pounds.

I have decided to ask the supply company I work for to send me to primary school  assignments only at least until the end of term. Although a lot of the college kids are really nice and none swear at you, they are REALLY noisy and only stop for teachers who shout at them. I thought it was just my differences to start with but then I started to watch the English women teachers with their classes. They all shout for attention!! B——r that!. By lunchtime you have hardly any voice left, apart from the fact you get sick of the sound of your own voice!! I had some lovely classes but the noisy ones drive me nuts. I’m also getting rather sick of being asked if I am Australian every lesson and hearing the song “Skippy the Bush Kangaroo” when I come into a room. At least when we lost the cricket to Pakistan they wanted to talk about cricket. I can live with that. England lost worse than we did.

I don’t regret having tried it though because I have met some really nice kids and it has been interesting getting to view England through their eyes.

Yesterday Ewart & I drove up to Luton to visit Jennie Pugh and her sister in law Elsie. We travelled in the little red Ford Fiesta I have hired to get to work. It is lovely to drive. Ewart’s cousin Dennis Tearle designed the suspension system. We found out when we travelled in it up to Bedford to see him! Small world!

Jennie is 83 and very active, still does her own gardens, lawns etc and is a beautiful little lady. She was really excited about our visit and rang to tell us this morning. We spent until 4.15pm talking family and history. Her home is filled with beautiful family historical artefacts. She likes talking to us about them because she knows we have a genuine interest. We then took Elsie into town to go to the chemist then headed on to Wing where we had dinner with Thelma and her mother Millicent. Once again we had a lovely time talking family history. Ewart then comes home and writes it up onto the computer so we will have record when we get home.

Thelma is the president of the Wing Historical Society (among other things) and in a place with such deep history gets to learn marvellous stories to tell us. Recently she has been fighting with others to retain the old Wing school which had been built for the village by the Rothschilds – really beautiful stone building. Many of the Tearle family went to this school and they fought ard to keep it. But, the council sold it to a property developer who has pulled it down to build houses.

As is usual around here, by law the site then has to be checked by archaelogists before buidling can commence. Sixty graves were found. On further excavation one grave was found to contain an Anglo Saxon coin dating back to 937. This brought in the BBC who interviewed Thelma and others in the village this week. The BBC are now paying to have DNA testing done on some of the bodies in the graves and also test some of the locals to see how long some of the present families have been in the area. Don’t we miss exciting things living in a country with such a short history.

The countryside, including here in town, is lovely. There are lots and lots of beautiful big trees. They are valued here and once they reach a certain height become protected even if they are on private property. This week has been sunny and really hot. Not at all what we expected. Much hotter than our last visit. Today it is grey and drizzling but still quite warm. The coolness brought by the rain is very welcome. Everyone’s gardens are beginning to fill with flowers and most people go off to the garden centres at weekends to fill in any gaps in the garden that appear now that flowering has begun. On talking with the staff at schools I find that most people change almost all the plants in their gardens every year. Sounds an expensive exercise. No wonder many of the English tend to have quite small back gardens compared with ours.

We rang Joalene and Deirdre Mark and Neil (ex Otorohanga) this morning but they weren’t home. We suspect they may have gone to France for the weekend. Thousands of people have gone over this weekend to get cheap duty free goods. The govt has cancelled duty free shopping with the continent, effective on Monday. I think they must have seen Ewart and I coming! We have let a message on their phone with the hope of going down to see them in Neasdon sometime in the next few days. I will write to Jimmy and Dos again once we have seen them. It will be new territory for us to travel in and will take us very close to Central London.

Ewart has applied for over 60 jobs now and is waiting to hear back. We have at least six which we know are definitely live. Like some parts of NZ employment decision making processes are very slow here. He is applying for jobs every day and regularly ringing the agencies so they keep him at the top of the list. He is being very good about it.

Well, love to you all. It’s time for me to go to prepare some school work for the little darlings tomorrow. Hope you are all having a happy and successful year. We look forward to getting some email from you.

Love Elaine


Letters home, 1999, July 01

01 July 1999


Looks like I might be going down to Hamilton this weekend so it will be good to catch up with Grandma and Grandad Pond. Also looks like I will be going to Hahei with Angela at the end of the month so will definitely drop in on the Tearle Grandparents and let you know how they are all keeping. Taking this keeping in touch of the family thing on your behalf as well as mine seriously. Don’t want contact to be lost just because you guys aren’t here to keep it going.


I am impressed.

Firstly by your visiting both grandparents. That’s a lovely thing to do. I’m very pleased you’re taking this seriously. Mum will talk cricket and rugby and love you for it. Talk to Dad about his letters to and from England. Thelma and Clarice love his letters. There may be others.

Not a good idea to do exercise outside in freezeng conditions. You get very cold air down inside hot lungs. I’m not sure what I’m going to do once winter arrives here. They eat a lot of fatty stuff here, so that makes it hard to keep one’s weight down without lots of exercise. I was a growing boy there until I got back on the road again! The waistline is only now down to a reasonable size, although I’ve no idea how much I weigh. The belt tells the story. Now, tho, lots of muscles are beginning to show and there’s a good amount of hardness in my arms and, of course, my legs. It just feels better.

I’m going up to 6 miles. That’s nearly 10km . Wish me luck. Wish I could find a race or two; it would give all this exercise a bit an edge.

PS: Lunchtime score

Edgebaston Test
NZ 19 for 2

Ye Gods! Please don’t make it worse.



Letters home, 1999, July 2

2 July 1999


I’m hanging out for contract jobs. They pay a lot more and last about 3-6 months, usually with a rollover or two. Eg they usually pay my skills between 17-20 pounds per hour, or 25-35k pounds per year. 25 pounds per hour is 51,000 pounds per year, and there’s no way I could get a 51k ppa job. But so far, I am not working. I do have lots of hope, though, and there are people I ring nearly every day and hassle to death. One day … soon, one of the cages I’m rattling will yield me a job. Fact. I have more than 60 agencies I’m signed up with and I have 6 jobs where CV’s have been sent out, and I ring about 14 agencies almost every day. Something will give …

In the meantime, it’s summer here, of course. I’m not so dumb as to come here in winter; that will arrive soon enough. In spite of how things may appear for Wimbledon, which is not far from here, it’s actually very pleasant and so far I’m enjoying it.

I’ve been to see many of the family already, but there are a few to go yet, and some new ones who I wasn’t able to meet last time I came.

St Albans is on Watling St. Isn’t that cool? There are Roman ruins and Roman roads all about. It’s like looking down a time tunnel.

By the way, I suppose you know it’s July 1999 and Nostradamus says there’s going to be a big fire from the sky that will consume us all. And here I am in the northern hemisphere ….. Look after yourself, mate. Thanks for writing, and yes, I’ll keep in touch. Lots of love to Linda, I’m very pleased for both of you. Hope things go



Letters home, 1999, July 3

3 July 1999

Dear Genevieve

We got all enthusiastic and raced off to London on Saturday. Bad move. Talk about expensive. I’ll tell you what, I won’t do it again before I’m working and earning pounds.

But anyway, we went to Madame Tusauds. There’s a 50min queue. Yes, it’s about 150m long. Once you get in, the whole set is in three sections – modern (with the royal wedding, lots of prime ministers and movie starsand that sort of thing) The idea is that you pose with these statues and get your picture taken – photography is allowed – so it looks like you’ve met the real person. The statues are very lifelike. Then there’s the Chamber of Horrors with vistas of the French Revolution and the guillotine chopping people up, as well as medieval torture chambers and Newgate Prison.

I’ll tell you what – if you ever wanted to see man’s inhumanity to man, esp in the name of religion, you won’t be able to go past this. Why treat people like that? Why not just kill them, if you have to, but they went to so much trouble to torture them! Why bother? Then there’s London Story where you jump into replica of a London Taxi and get raced through little scenarios of the history of London in about 10 minutes. The time taken is about two and a half hours. We arrived at 11:00 and, after queuing for nearly an hour, left at about 2:30pm. With very sore feet.

Hey, you see the damnedest things in the most peculiar places. I found some Jane Austin writing paper there. I’m sending it to you. It is absolutely beautiful. You’ll be very reluctant actually to write on it. Mum found you two neat little tops. When summer arrives, you’ll be THE cool one.

After this we caught the underground and went to Westminster Bridge. Elaine had her photo taken on Westminster bridge because her mum says one of her ancestors commissioned its building. She doesn’t know which one – ancestor, I mean. The whole day’s train fare from St Albans to London return and anywhere around the underground is 8 pounds each and it goes until the last train leaves at about 1:00am. From Westminster Bridge we took a City Sightseeing boat cruise.

It can’t be much of a city because the boat only went from Westminster Bridge to Tower Bridge – about 3 miles! You see what City Cruises means now? Yeah, The City. Not London city, which one would think at first. Well, the trip cost 4.50 pounds each and then, when we got to Tower bridge, the crew passed around the Captain’s Hat so we could pay for the commentary! The crew did the commentary because the owners didn’t want to make the fares more expensive by hiring a professional guide. Yeah, right.

We took the return trip, which of course was nearly double the single trip, and they passed the Captain’s Hat around again when they got back to Westminster Bridge. Needless to say, we didn’t put money in either way. We thought the trip would go a lot further and hoped to see the millennium dome and a few other interesting sights. Most of London’s most interesting sights are hidden from the river behind ghastly modern glass structures you can see any day in Auckland and even in Hamilton. You wouldn’t want to pay to see those.

We took the underground back to Leicester Square, had a nice but cheap meal upstairs in a pub where we saw the day’s cricket test highlights on channel 4 (the Kiwis lost) then we had a wander around Leister Square itself. There was an Australian singer and a Gypsy band we listened to for a while each, then had an ice cream in the Sanyo centre, took a quick trip through Planet Hollywood, where Mum bought a T-shirt and went back via underground and train to St Albans. £100. Please. No more trips to London until I’m earning. There’s lots of other things to do, like Whipsnade Zoo, Woburn Abbey and even lots of the free local attractions and sights before we have to bust a gut going sightseeing in London again.

That reminds me – I’m off to London on Tuesday afternoon. One of the IT agencies (ITA) contacted me and has asked me to sit a test in London at 2:00pm on Tuesday. I said yes, of course, because if I do well at it then that will be a qualification all by itself. They are only offering a permanent position, but we’ll see how much they are willing to pay before I say definitely that I won’t take the job.. I suppose how much I’m paid may depend on this test. Wish me luck.



Letters home, 1999, June 23

23 June 1999

Dear Genevieve

Mum will reply to this tomorrow but at the moment …

1. Don’t confuse Mum’s 90 quid a day with real money, because it’s not. It’s no different from $90 per day, and that’s a fair bit less than you’re earning. It’s only $3 to the pound when it’s sent to NZ. In England, because of the high cost of everything 1 pound is about or even less than $1 in NZ.

2. Try NOT to drive into things, Dear …. It’s cheaper that way.

3. Parkinson’s Law: “Expenditure rises to exceed income.”

4. We’re going to LB on Friday to see the bank and then Thelma.

5. Jenny Pugh rang tonight and we’re off to see her on Saturday in Luton. She doesn’t sound all that well, either. Her voice is really very shakey. It will be nice to see her because she is such a lovely lady.

6. I’m still running – about 30-40 min 3 to 4 times a week. Since I did 6 miles / 10km on last Sunday, I’m not going to do 4 runs this week, just the three. This morning I thought my legs were going to fall off, they were so tired after about 20 min, but don’t worry, I still did 40 min – about 5 miles – and I’m not injured, because I’m not going very fast, yet.

7. Another 11 job apps tonight. Makes more than 60 all told. I’ve got a list of 46 names from 45 agencies I’ve applied to. SOMETHING is going to fall over and give me a job – just you wait!!!

Lots of Love



Letters home, 1999, June 24

24 June 1999

Dear Genevieve

There’s 100 pounds per WEEK for car hire, then there’s tax to come out, then it’s 80 pounds, anyway – they only paid the 90 pounds once because of Mum having to hire the car especially for them for that one day.

Then there’s 60 pounds per month for med insurance – and it won’t cover existing conditions, which are the only reasons Mum goes to the doctor …

And we’re not paying rent, yet, which will be between 350 and 700 pounds per month for some cheap flat somewhere.

But, yes, teaching certainly is the best paid job around. And from Select, that’s only 10 pounds per hour, don’t forget. It seems more of the others pay around 100 pounds per day. We have found out the schools are paying around 120 pounds per day. Don’t worry, we are talking to other agencies.
As Steve says, “All agents are LIARS.” Specially GM’d, you know, for the task – born to it. Bred for it.

I was not up late – it was about 11:30pm when I fired off the last note to you. I am not getting tired or sick – that’ll come in winter, you know, just as you have it. I am very fit and very healthy. Mum’s got lots of coughing, but there’s plenty of rubbish in the air to cause that.

I have remembered where the Waicomp CaskLink (my accounting program) files are; they are on the hard drive I carefully sent wrapped up in one of the Red Boxes. It’s here, but I need to put it into a PC and copy the files onto one of these Zip 100 disks. Maybe John might help me when we go to LB tomorrow. All I need is a spare PC for a few hours.

I sent off another 10 or 11 job apps last night, so I’ll follow them up today and see if I can rustle up a job.

I’ve sent 32 job apps since the weekend! More than 60, all told, and today is only thu morning. I’ve just had a ring from Elaine Harding who is going to put me forward for a job in Frimley – near Farnborough. I sent that job app out last night. Come on, someone ……….

Be cool

Lots of love


PS I’ve applied for a job with the All Blacks because I can do 3km in under 15 min. I’ve applied for Jonah’s job, because he can’t and because the money’s all right.


Letters home, 2000, July 16

16 July

Dear Mum and Dad

Remember the Fernleaf girl, in the advertising soap about the family that was breaking up? She became the Anchor girl when Anchor took over the brand? She’s here on our TV now, for Volvo. She and her boyfriend are way out in the woods with a huge mountain backdrop and the boyfriend is trying to cook dinner over the fire. The result is horrible to his taste, so he sneaks around the tent and drives off in the Volvo 4X4 coming back very quickly with two big pizzas. She opens the box, is about to say something and decides better of it. Tucks into the pizza. You’re never far from civilization with a Volvo 4X4.

We had a lovely, lovely local weekend. We went to the market yesterday morning as we always do to get the veges and any other groceries. It is cultural festival time in St Albans and there was a group down by the clock tower doing a medieval mummers play. This one was a puppet play with big puppets. The one we saw was a kind of comical adaptation of the story of George and the Dragon with lots of audience participation and a huge colourful dragon held up high. Eventually, George gets to teach the dragon a lesson – in these environmentally friendly days it doesn’t do to kill the dragon, of course – and marry the beautiful princess.

This afternoon we drove up to Beachwood Green near Luton airport to the home of my cousins Donn & Sylvia Heath. Your great grandmother, Sadie Tearle had three brothers, Joe, Fred and Tom Adams. Ivor Adams is the grandson of Fred and Donn Heath is the grandson of Tom. We had a very interesting moment while Donn Heath absorbed the fact that the only difference between me and him was my accent!

Anyway, in the village today Donn and Sylvia were helping to organise a village open garden festival with local home gardens open to the public. We visited all of them, finishing with cream teas in the garden of a very large home, known locally as “the big house” or “the manor” although it is quite modern. It was lovely and sunny this afternoon so it was nice to be outside after all the cold and wet weather we have been having lately.

When we got home our neighbour Karen had her dinner with us then we went off to Ivor’s so I could work on his scanner. Iris gave us some beautifully fresh raspberries from her garden so we have just had a raspberries & ice cream supper.

I start my new job with Tescos tomorrow morning. Elaine is coming with me to Luton hospital to have my eyes checked, although they are now greatly improved. They think I caught some sort of virus thing in Belgium. I will then go off to work at Welwyn Garden City.

We’ve just come home from a really great night out. There’s a fellow who sings traditional English folk songs in French Row, just outside the Cafe Vicolo where we sit and have a cup of coffee every Saturday morning when we go to the market in St Albans. He calls himself John of French Row and he sings for the MS Society charity. He invited us to the Bull pub in Redbourne for a songs night. And we went tonight. It was just beautiful … all those lovely old songs that Butch and I used to sing in my university days at Waikato.

Also on Saturday, I updated my running shoes – that is, Elaine bought me some new ones for my birthday. On my first run on Sunday afternoon at least I did 4 miles under 30 minutes, and this afternoon I did 4 miles in just under 29 minutes. I’m looking to see if I can do the Great North Run in Newcastle, or maybe do the Garden City 10-mile again. So we’ll see how it goes. The first day at work in Tosco was a bit unusual – I didn’t know the answer to any of the questions that any of the callers rang in about! That’s a bit of a worry, but I am confident that I will pick up the patterns soon ….

Yes, well, I have just finished my first week at Tesco and it was quite interesting. I haven’t driven in England much before now, so driving to work has required a bit of education, too; although I haven’t actually got lost, I have driven home about four different ways, none of them intentionally. Progress House is in Shire Park which is on the edge of town, so I don’t get to see anything of Welwyn Garden City, but the group I am a sort of a member of has taken me to lunch at the Crown and Anchor pub in Tewin, a little country town 10min away, we’ve been to the Shire Club where you have to have a security pass to get in or it costs you 50p entry fee, and we’ve been to the cafe on the ground floor. Elaine makes my lunch, so none of that has cost me anything, but they are interesting places to go.

Tesco hasn’t yet organised too many of the tools I need to start work – my door pass arrived only yesterday, as did my AHD logon, but that’s all. I haven’t got a system logon, so Simon logged me on – illegally – as him, I haven’t got Lotus Notes so I can’t get or send messages, I haven’t got a telephone logon, so Simon let me – illegally – use his. And I haven’t got a mainframe logon, so if anyone rings me about problems with the mainframe, I can’t help them. All the servers were turned off on Tuesday, so we couldn’t help anyone at all and some of us couldn’t even log on.

There are some people from Novell working on the servers in the basement on pain of death if they don’t get things rectified, and the system administrators can’t set up any new accounts (like mine) otherwise everything is FINE. I sat at Simon’s elbow from Mon till Wed, then on Thurs I sat with Kevin, watching how the infrastructure worked and how the calls were answered and trying to see what were the most common problems. On Friday, two helpdesk guys failed to turn up and on Monday one of them is leaving, so they put me to work on Friday afternoon, fudging all the legal niceties as I said above, and I fell into the deep end. In the course of the afternoon, I took ten calls of about 15min each and I resolved ALL of them. None of them was left open, and none of them was referred on. One guy said “I can’t find the trakworks.ini file.”

I said, “That’s nice, where is Track Works?”

He said, “You haven’t been here too long, have you?” He was still most impressed when he went off with his program working properly.

So that’s it, I am now on the Helpdesk and working at the craft. The contract goes until 02 Feb 2001, but the manager says that it should go on much longer than that. We’ll see.

The only thing wrong is how COLD the place is. I know this is summer, but it looks like I’m not going to get much of it because where I sit is right under one of the cooling fans and I have to wear a jersey inside all day. When I get into the car, I find the day is roasting hot and I have just missed it. Because Elaine is now on holiday, we have six weeks to find another car. That shouldn’t be too hard. The Metro Centre wants to sell us one of theirs so we should be able to get a really nice little car for about 200 pounds.

Yesterday morning we decided we’d better chase up my new car, so we went round to the Metro Centre on the London Road and had a look at a couple of the cars he had for sale there. One of them was in our price range (300 pounds) it was quite tidy and the MOT for it was current till March next year. Also, it had seat belts for the rear seats. It’s exactly the same colour as the one we already own. Metro cheese. He said he’d make sure everything was tidy, legal and running smoothly and we’d pick up the car probably next Friday. So there you go, two cheese-coloured Metros in the parking lot.

We did get to the Gardens of the Rose yesterday. We went to the market first to have our cup of coffee and had a good chat with John of French Row, the folk singer. While we were talking to him we heard Eine Kleine Nacht Musik – played too fast, but rather well – coming from a small orchestra the other side of the clock tower, so we went to investigate. The orchestra had two violins, a viola and a cello and they had obviously played together a few times before – their tone was deep and very co-ordinated.

They went on to play the William Tell Overture and quite a few other family favourites. Apart from their excellent sound, we also loved the way they got kids up to help them and they danced and gestured as they played. It was a delightful 1/2 hour we spent listening to them. For some reason you get very good acoustics if you stand in front of the clock tower and no-one has to have any form of amplification in order to be heard perfectly well by a crowd of about 100 grouped under the robinia. It is just so romantic.

We decided to go to the Gardens of the Rose even tho we would get there at about 2:30pm. It’s a beautiful place, all right; the house is an old manor, but I don’t know anything about it other than it is now the HQ for the Royal National Rose Society – patrons, Princess Anne and Lord Runcie. They will obviously have to get a new vice patron, because Lord Runcie, retired Archbishop of Canterbury and Bishop of St Albans, has just died.

The gardens are in 30 acres of rolling Hertfordshire countryside and are actually in Chiswell Green (pronounced Chissel Green) but that’s only a suburb of St Albans anyway. We had a quiet and contemplative afternoon in the warm sun wandering around admiring a beautiful garden of 30,000 roses. One section of the garden was called the Peace Garden and was a collection of all the most famous roses that are descendents of the Peace rose. I didn’t know that Superstar was a “Peace Rose,” but there was a bed of Superstar and all its descendents in the Peace Garden. We got a really awful bright red plastic rose fridge magnet as our memento. A good day all told.

This morning I have been for a six-mile run and it was a respectable enough 43:54min. I haven’t done much work since the Petersfield 1/2 marathon, but it looks like the work I did in Belgium on the cross-trainers wasn’t wasted effort. I found out there that my highest heart rate is 178 and my resting pulse here at home at 42. I have bought the latest Runners World magazine and at last I have a new pair of running shoes, so I am lining up a couple of races for next month.

We’ve got the first of the leaf drop happening with the early-wintering birches, but there’s no sign yet of general colour change in the trees.  When I’m in the Tesco building, the trees around us make it look like we’re in a forest. We can see to a horizon that’s about 10 miles of rolling countryside away, and everything in view is trees, we can hardly see the rooftops because the trees are so big and they grow so densely. Every single tree was planted by hand. The fields all around us are deep yellow with ripe wheat, maize and barley and we can see combine harvesters at work on most days.

Many fields have large stacks of wheat or barley straw bales waiting for the truck. Some fields have even been re-ploughed and we can see the dusting of fertilizer sitting on the ground. The fields around Beds/Bucks/Herts are on beautiful, gently rolling countryside, they are 20 to 50 acres in size and all are ringed in magnificent oaks, elms, ashes, chestnuts and sycamores. The entire countryside looks like a gigantic park.

We went to Knebworth House yesterday. It used to be just an old Tudor manor, and home of the Lord Lyttons since about the 1450’s but in the 1840’s (around the time we signed the Treaty of Waitangi …) it was added to considerably and they put up towers and added gargoyles and laid out some lovely gardens. It was used as Wayne Manor in Batman! And I thought the entire movie was shot in America. The outside has been about one quarter renovated so it will look very impressive once the work is finished, but in this week’s paper Lord Cobbold says he may have to sell the place because the work is too expensive.

They used steel reinforcing rods in the 1840’s additions and in England’s damp and cold the rods rust, which breaks up the stone. The Victorians got very energetic with lots of these manor houses and all of them (I know of another 3 in the area) now have to have huge amounts spent on them removing the rods and fixing the damage. The Victorians thought the rods would make the building last longer. Anyway, it’s a fantastic looking building and the gardens were a very pleasant afternoon’s stroll. And, it’s not far from here, off the A1(M) near Stevenage.

One of the more recent Lord Lyttons was Viceroy to India in the 1870’s during the British Raj and it was he who organized for Victoria to become Empress of India. Winston Churchill was a frequent visitor here and his painting of the Banqueting Hall now hangs there. Queen Elizabeth the First also visited here in the 1570’s (I told you the place was a Tudor manor house) and the Lord Lyttons were all knights of the garter. One of the more unusual paintings is of a nun and a monk holding a baby and grinning widely. It’s described as “Tudor anti-Catholic propaganda.”

AND we have the fridge magnet of the house ….

We went to Southend-on-sea for the day on Sunday. It was such a fine sunny morning and I’d already been for my 12-mile training run, so we thought we’d go and look at the sea. I’ll tell you what … you wouldn’t go to Southend-on-sea twice. It seems the kids in various schools your Mum teaches at have said with great enthusiasm that “You gotta go there!”

We took the M25 at London Colney, past the Stanstead turnoff and on down to junction 29 where we took the A127 to Southend. The prettiest part of the trip is in Hertfordshire; once you get into Essex, the scenery gets much more industrial and scruffy. There are lots of untilled little fields lying fallow and full of weeds, many of the fences are in poor condition, there are unpainted warehouses dotted along the sides of the roads, that sort of scruffy.

Southend is quite big and it took a bit of navigating to find the beach. The town would have to be at least as big as Hamilton, but the beach is narrow, pebbly, with a bit of sand and heavily fortified with groins running out to sea trying to stop what little beach they have being washed away. The town is on the banks of the Thames and does not look out to sea, but across the river to tall chimneys and industrial installations on the other bank, at least 5 miles away. The view is dominated by a long jetty swinging from the far end of the beach to about a mile out to sea and we could just make out a few people walking on it and a little train running along it. Behind us, the beach carried on for another 2 miles before it turned left and the Thames met the Atlantic.

We parked our car about half way along the beach and walked west, with the sea on our left and the road on our right. We stopped at a Louisiana 30’s style eatery for lunch and although he was unkempt, the chef could cook. Elaine had a seafood platter and I had fish and chips … for the first time in England someone knew how to cook chips.

When we got to town it was the sort of place that was made for kids; we could see why the kids in school had recommended the town so enthusiastically. But actually, it’s horrible, noisy and loud. Every second place is a casino or games joint, there are three tattoo parlours, every other place is an eatery, and on the shore side of the road opposite the town there is a narrow strip of sideshow sort of attractions clambering over the rocks – flume rides, adventure rides, flying swings, pirate ships, that sort of thing – all with their music turned up and all flashing their lights and waving their flags.

Kids heaven, I should think, but sort of down-at-heel and tawdry and the people who walked about chewing their Southend rock looked sort of desperate for fun with their new tats and their hot, screaming kids. We bought the fridge magnet of a brightly multi-coloured sailing dingy and found a badge for the blanket. We ate some of the locally-made sticky peanut fudge and watched the traffic wardens sticking parking fines on the cars that hadn’t paid-n-displayed. Next stop Blackpool, I suppose …

The very best wishes

Ewart and Elaine


Letters home, 2000, Aug 24

24 Aug 2000

Dear Dad

Our planned trip to Wales this weekend didn’t come off, unfortunately. Yesterday afternoon, Elaine went to examine the coffers to pay the rent and stuff and the report wasn’t good. We’re not destitute or even close to it, but spending 300-400 pounds on a trip to Wales didn’t sound too clever with Christmas not too far away along with our trip to NZ and Elaine still being on holiday – and not being paid – for the next two weeks. However, all is not doom and gloom. It’s raining here and there are storms in Wales and people also told us that going away on long weekends usually means sitting in long tailbacks on any highway we wanted to travel on. Well, parked on the M25 is not my idea of a holiday, so I guess we’re making a virtue of our necessity.

We’re not wasting our time, though. When we went into the market for our veges this morning, we met two really cool people from “oop North” (Birmingham) dressed in motorbike leathers, who called themselves Paul and Jean. They rode to St Albans on a Honda GoldWing 1500 and they are camping on the Hertfordshire County Fair Ground near Redbourne. That was the grounds we went to last year for the Hertfordshire County and Gamekeepers Fair (where I bought my neat hat.) It is also the grounds where the first ever recorded game of cricket was played in 1668. ANYWAY, they are staying there because there’s a Europe-wide gathering of the mark. Tomorrow afternoon, 600 of those huge bikes will parade through the streets of St Albans and Paul and Jean have asked us to come and see them before the parade. So tomorrow looks like being quite a good day. And we’re going to Iris and Ivor’s for dinner. Wales will wait.

At this very moment, we are watching Inspector Morse. It’s the episode called Twilight of the Gods where a Welsh diva gets shot. She is in a parade on the way to collect an honourary doctorate when she gets shot from an upstairs window of the Old Bodlean Library. Well, we’ve been there. Barbara Tearle took us on a tour of the Old Bodlean Library. We went through the archway, into the courtyard then into the little room where the gunshot came from. It’s the communication room, where all the letters are delivered down these long tubes fed with compressed air.

When they get to this room, the messages are redirected up other pipes to their chosen destination. The library desperately needs updating, but this system is an institution.  We also had to have a special pass to go there, because it’s a staff-only area and Barbara had organized the passes before we got there. Later we went up onto the Library roof and then onto the roof of the Radcliffe building. We also walked along the canal where Grimshaw was found murdered, and we explored the ruins of the nunnery that formed the backdrop for the scene. We followed the canal all the way to the Trout, a most beautiful pub on the banks of the Evenlode River overlooking a low weir surrounded by huge trees in full summer dress, where we had a plate of hot chips with a cup of coffee and a pint of lemonade.

As far as my running is concerned, it seems that it’s very difficult to make real progress. I seem to be stuck at this level; I can do 3 or 4 miles at 7min/mile, but I can’t get any further. Next weekend, I’ll be running my second Garden City 10mile and I shall be lucky to get inside 72min, which really is only 4 min faster than last year’s time. I am hoping for 70min, but …. it seems unlikely on present form. I suppose I have to remember that I’m only in week 5 of a 12-week sked for a 1/2Marathon in late October, so a 10mile at this stage is a bit premature. But a good result would still be very nice.

I hope that Mum is still enjoying herself at Matapa.  It’s not long till Christmas and we are very much looking forward to seeing you.

Lots of love …. Ewart