All posts by ewart.tearle


Letters home, 2001, Nov 4

4 Nov 2001

Dear Mum and Dad

Thank you very much for your letter re Mum’s jersey; I’m very pleased it has arrived at last and we’re also delighted that she likes it.  It’s certainly a nice warm material and we hope she gets lots of use from it. She can tell anyone who wants to know that it came from St Albans and it’s English made so it will do very nicely for any New Zealand winter.  It’s also a lovely colour and style, isn’t it?

Ivor came home last Wednesday and we went to see him yesterday afternoon.  He’s pretty tired, as you would expect after such a big operation, and he says he’s still very sore under his right lower ribs which were cut during the op, but he has good colouring in his face and he’s very cheerful and happy to be home. He said the doctor ascribed his lack of appetite to having a very small stomach these days, but he actually looks much better without his pot and I’m sure he’s healthier for that.  He’s eating a little, drinking a little and sleeping a lot, but he’s home and independent and looking forward to getting out and doing things.  No-one knows if they’ve beaten his cancer, but for the moment we are all hopeful since none of his tests so far show any sign of it lingering.  We took him a card to welcome him home and had a cup of tea with him and Iris while we listened to stories of his adventures in hospital.

We also took three things to show him and Iris.  The first thing was my Blackfriars sheep – I’ve called her Geraldine.  She is a knitted toy about 8inches long and tightly stuffed so she is quite fat.  She has a white (woollen, of course) body, black legs and tail and a black head with a slightly cross-eyed but very appealing expression.  

There is this late middle-aged, skinny, faded blonde woman with broken teeth and a ring in her lower lip who sits under a blanket in the mornings at the foot of one of the stairways in Blackfriars Station and she makes knitted stuffed toys.  One of her toys is a most beautiful black-faced sheep and I thought “I got a Paddington Bear from Paddington Station, so what about a Blackfriars sheep?” When I asked her if I could have one she said that all the ones she had there were already sold, but to pick mine up on Friday.  Other people who sit at the foot of railway station stairs are just beggars, but she works very hard to make beautiful little toys.

The next thing we showed him was Iris’ present for Elaine’s 50th fully stretched, framed and ready to hang on the wall. Iris has spent more than A YEAR making a cross-stitch entitled Saint Albans and it’s a diagrammatic map of all the major elements of St Albans and its predecessor, Verulamium.  So there is the city coat of arms, the Roman theatre, the Abbey Church and Cathedral, the clock tower, the Fighting Cocks pub, Kingsbury Mill; in short all the places we know well and go to often. Elaine never knew or even suspected that Iris was doing anything and Iris told her that every time we were coming to see them Iris had to sweep her handiwork away so Elaine wouldn’t find out.  The work is exquisite and it looks so beautiful in its gold frame on our wall.

When Iris gave Elaine her cross-stitch, it was rolled around a cardboard drum and when we asked her where we should go to get it framed she said to ask the man in the paintings stall in St Albans market to do it for us. We bought a small RF Carter print of The Fighting Cocks pub for Elaine’s brother, Gordon and I asked one of the men on the stall if I could get a print of the cathedral, because I have very much admired Carter’s watercolour paintings of the St Albans area, and there wasn’t one on display.  He said he’d have one for me if I came back the next weekend.

“Oh, do you know him, then?” I said.  “You’re talking to him,” he said. So boldly I asked him if he would paint the cathedral for me and when he gave me a price it was quite reasonable, so we agreed. He framed his picture with the same frame and gave it to us at the same time as we got back Iris’ cross-stitch. So the third thing we showed Ivor was our fabulous water-colour of the magnificent Norman church of St Albans Abbey. It is absolutely beautiful.

We also went down to the clock tower to see if there was anything interesting happening at the other end of the market.  The clock tower was built in about 1405 and it’s easily as tall as a 4-storey building, made of the local flint stones and brick.  The area between it and the High Street is a favoured spot for street theatre and musicians. There was an excellent string quartet – two violins, viola and cello – who call themselves Sigma and whom we recognised from their previous trips to St Albans.  They are very animated and usually dance and jump about and have little by-plays with children while they play.  But they play very well indeed with every instrument working hard and each playing a different part, so that the work is quite intense, it has a satisfying depth to its tone and there is warmth in the interpretation.

Even though there is a lot of traffic noise and plenty of people talking in the area, you can hear them very clearly because the clock tower itself forms part of the resonance that enhances their work.  There is always a very good crowd sitting and standing and listening intently.  Some of the listeners give their children coins and these little toddlers walk shyly up to the violin case on the ground in front of the group and drop their coins. Sitting in front of them, for the first time, was a box of tapes, so Elaine bought the three they had and we have been playing them every day since.  Mozart, Handel, Bach, Elgar, Dvorak, Debussy as well as English and European folk tunes are all on these tapes.

That’s something that has never ceased to amaze me about England – there is music everywhere. Live music.  Whenever we go to the cathedral, there is a choir either performing or in practice – which is almost the same thing – and the cathedral has an enormous endowment which is dedicated solely to enriching its musical heritage. The morning I went to explore St Peter’s church there was a choir practice there, too and the lady I got talking to said St Peter’s had a better choir than the cathedral. Rivalry? There are musicians in the Tube, buskers in Blackfriars and more in Bankside, we have seen them and heard them in every town and village we have visited. And they are always so very GOOD.  

Elaine says her little boys come to school quite proudly with their violins ready to go to music lessons after school and no-one slings off at them.  It’s not unusual for children to learn several instruments.  Cousin John Tearle, in Padstow, is a choir singer for his church and Alec Tearle is a wedding singer. We have a tape of John of French Row who sings English folk songs in St Albans, we have a CD of JigWeed of Chichester which we bought from them when we heard them playing in the street on our visit to Chichester, 2 CDs of Paescod of Manchester University when they played at Luton Hoo and Jim Couza on the hammer dulcimer, also at Luton Hoo. So all of a sudden we now have a nice little collection of English street music that is wonderfully well played and quite varied.    

It’s just past Guy Fawkes Night so outside there are loud explosions and screaming whistles from late fireworks.  Last night we walked down past the cathedral to Verulamium Lake and watched the fireworks there.  For the past two Novembers we went to Jersey Farm and participated in theirs but this year we decided to see how St Albans did it in town.  Well, they did it all right.  At 7:30pm it’s pitch black here and all around the lake, about 15 deep, were at least 20,000 people.  Some were wearing little red glowing balls and flashing lights they had worn a few nights ago for Halloween, and some were waving sparklers around but all of us were well wrapped up because it’s pretty cold at night here in early November.  

The fireworks lasted for at least half an hour and the cannons that shot them off from the ground ejected fire to about 8 feet high in bright orange stabbing flashes while the fireworks roared, crashed and thundered and rivers of gold and red cascaded down from about 300 feet directly above us. We could smell the gunpowder and the whole lake valley filled up with thick brown smoke. The noise was deafening and you could feel the big booms go thumping through your chest.  It was awesome. We also got another lesson – as if we needed it – from English crowds.  They are just so quiet and well-behaved.  

There are only three exits from Verulamium Park and the one we used went past the Fighting Cocks pub through a narrow bottle-neck and up a twisting, narrow lane through the gatehouse of the cathedral. For most of the way we could walk only inches at a time, shuffling along slowly and yet no-one got impatient and started to push, no-one yelled or tried to hurry us up.  There were lots of very small children in the crowd and plenty of pushchairs so we kept our eye on the ones closest to us in case there was a pushing match and we had to rescue a small person or two; but the whole thing was so quiet, orderly and good-natured that there was never a time when we held any worries about their safety.

We have just returned from a day out in Cuffley, to Elaine’s friend, Liz Stredwick where we had a yummy turkey and fresh carrots dinner followed by American apple pie. We were sort of “celebrating the harvest” because John had dug up all his carrots, put some in the freezer and some in sand and we were eating the little ones that were left over. After dinner we took a stroll round this village of very impressive million-pound mansions and admired the view all the way to Canary Wharf and the NatWest Tower about 20 miles away in central London.  

Mind you, it might be 20 miles by road and/or rail, but I doubt it’s even 7 miles as the crow flies.  Still, it was such an exceptionally clear day that we could even see the hills of Kent way beyond London. I thought the owners of the houses might be London stocks traders and bankers, but John says they are builders and electricians.  Maybe it’s time to change my job…  When we got home, Elaine made us a snack of scones from the stone-ground flour we bought during our visit to the Ford End mill in Ivinghoe. The flour may be coarse, but the scones are thick and tasty with a full-grained texture and they were delicious with Anchor butter and the home-made strawberry jam we bought at the farmers market.

Thank you very much for the card for Elaine’s birthday; she was really pleased you thought of her and it’s a beautiful card.

Take care, and thank you very much for your letters. We eagerly leap upon them whenever they fall through our mail slot.

Lots of love

Ewart and Elaine


Letters home, 2001, Nov 04

4 Nov 2001

We do wonder about what’s going to happen with all these terrorist threats about, but they don’t seem very real and they are certainly not an immediate danger.  From time to time during the working day there are teams of police cars and vans screaming around the South Bank and St Pauls areas but where they are going and what they are after is always a mystery; there’s never a word on TV or on the BBC web site. We take this to mean that nothing happened.  Still, they make an impressive noise and they do need something to entertain themselves with, don’t they?  How else do we find out they are important?

I didn’t tell you about the bomb scare we had. The street outside Rennie House filled up with sirens and screeching-to-a-halt police vehicles and we looked out the window on to the road one floor below us to see what was going on.  Security sent a message up to us to say there may be a bomb in the blue van suspiciously parked in the loading bay of the building opposite our window and for us to move to the other side of our floor.

When we moved to the other side, as directed, one of our supervisors waved at the phones on the desks and told us to log on and go back to work. And I thought, well they’re taking this seriously, aren’t they? Vacate the building in an orderly fashion, leave your personal belongings behind and assemble in a park nearby? For us? Never. If the bomb goes off and all that glass from the windows overlooking the van comes showering, snaking and slashing towards us we would take it like a man, shake it out of our hair, pick it out of our bleeding faces and go back to helping the people who really matter.  So don’t worry about me ….. I’m being well looked after by caring and safety-conscious employers and cocooned in impregnable buildings.


Letters home, 2001, Oct 29

29 Oct 2001

Dear Mum and Dad

Ivor is improving by the day.  This is not to say that he can leap tall buildings in a single bound but he is out of intensive care, sitting up in bed and is very lively and positive. He still has a little bother breathing because they had to collapse one of his lungs in order to carry out the surgery, but his colour is very good and he’s actually looking forward to going home as early as Tuesday 30 Oct.  He has repaired so quickly that he is weeks ahead of where they expected him to be. He is looking forward to coming home, perhaps going to the Canaries for a holiday and most of all to a slap-up family feast for Christmas. I say best of luck to him, too.  

Elaine and I went to see him in Hemel Hempstead NHS Hospital on Sunday and he even walked us to the door, “Look, no hands.”  They gave him a walking frame to assist him but he reckons it’s more use as a set of bull-bars to push through the crowds.  He says the bit that hurts the most is where they cut through his ribs to get at his lungs and when I suggested they’d hacked into him with a meat cleaver, he pointed to a chap on a bed opposite him who was to have the operation next!

Elaine and I are delighted you like our coat.  We thought that since there are going to be more cold days before Christmas than after, you should use it immediately.  Because it’s designed for English winters and it’s waterproof and nice and long, and has big, velcro clips we thought that it would suit you on your racing machine. We hope you get LOTS of fun out of it. Mum will enjoy her pressy … I hope it doesn’t take too long coming since it was posted at the same time as yours.  Weren’t those St Albans Christmas cards nice?

We are also pleased that Graeme is still at work on that wonderful catamaran and that he still enjoys the work.  The cat sounds huge.  We are also pleased at the progress that Abby and Geoffrey are showing.  They have told us they are off to Norfolk Island with their mum on a week’s holiday.  They will remember this holiday for more than a little while and they are old enough to get a great deal of fun out of it.

Every day in London is an adventure and another day of discovery.  Elaine is on school holiday this week and after I got to work this morning I discovered, on a quick trip to the coffee machine, that outside was a simply glorious day; mild but not cold with a clear blue sky and a golden tinge to the reflection of the sunlight from the buildings.  I rang Elaine immediately and she dropped everything, caught a train and sent a text message to my cellphone from her favourite coffee house opposite The Black Friar pub, just off the City end of Blackfriars Bridge.

Elaine needs only the slightest excuse or the mildest of invitations to leap on a train and go enthusiastically to London. During my lunch hour I showed her things she might like to explore: the remains of Winchester Palace and The Clink jail in Clink St – she had lunch in Porridge, a very attractive little coffee house in Clink St, with reasonable prices, right opposite the ruins of Winchester Palace – Southwark Cathedral, the full-size replica Golden Hind, the Globe Theatre and the Tate Modern.

When I met her after work in Doggetts pub, just off the South Bank end of Blackfriars Bridge, she was brimming with all the things she had done in just a mile or so along the Thames, in Bankside.  She had met a Dean of the Southwark Cathedral, a chap called Holman, who had greeted her at the door – as they often do here – and on hearing her Kiwi accent told her a lovely story of visiting his daughter when she was on a 2-year stay in New Zealand. She explored the cathedral and left a candle burning for Jase. She visited the Golden Hind and then went on a tour of The Clink. It’s a gruesome and horrible story, but extremely interesting.

We also found out that Westminster Bridge, for which one of her relatives organised a petition to get built, in 1750, was the first bridge over the Thames apart from London Bridge itself.  The Romans built the first London Bridge and when King Ethelred tore it down when he fought the Danes to get London back off them, the nursery rhyme “London Bridge is falling down …” was born.  Westminster Bridge was built in 1750, so it took 1700 years between the first bridge over the Thames and the next one.

I’m not forgetting that it was torn down and rebuilt several times, but it was always on the the same spot and always called London Bridge. Still is. The old London Bridge – you know, made of stone in the 1170’s with houses built all along the top of it – lasted until 1825-ish when Rennie – who also built Blackfriars Bridge in the 1760’s and after whom the building I work in (Rennie House) was named – built a new London Bridge. It’s Rennie’s London Bridge that was sold to the Americans and is now in Arizona. The new-new London Bridge is a low-slung stressed concrete bridge with not a shred of romance in any foot of it.

Oh, yes! One last thing about old London Bridge.  They used to stick the par-boiled, tar-dipped heads of famous men convicted of treason on stakes mounted on the roofs of the houses along London Bridge.  The first victim was William Wallace (of the movie Braveheart) but another was Sir Thomas More.  

We also have a connection with Southwark Cathedral.  Apart from the fact that Helen Hinkley, Mum’s grandmother, lived just around the corner from it and must have gone there at some time, since she was a devout Christian, it was in Southwark Cathedral that your cousin Richard Blake was ordained.  Richard was the son of Ellen Tearle and Harry Blake.  You will remember the photo of the wedding being held at Levi’s smithy with the large family portrait with your father in the right hand side. The bride was Ellen.  

There was never to be a better wedding than the first Tearle girl to be married, Ellen – to her first cousin, Harry Blake.  Their children were Norah, Gladys and Richard.  Norah is still alive, in Norfolk. I have spoken to her quite recently and I think you have written to her on occasion.  Richard Blake was an Anglican priest in South Africa.  He wrote to me once – a kind, gentle, intelligent man who was very highly thought of.

A week or so ago I had to go to Old Street for a Windows 2000 course.  I knew it was in the north of London just outside the City, but I wasn’t perfectly clear, except that I had to leave the train when I got to Farringdon, two stops from Blackfriars.  A very nice chap with a beautiful, full-featured Cockney accent told me the way to go when he saw me looking in my London A-Z. In a very short time I was walking along Clerkenwell Road, which you just follow along until it becomes Old St and I realised that on my right was the remains of an old courtyard and I had a quick look because I had a few minutes to spare.  I was at St John’s Gate, built in the 1550’s.  It was once a courtyard for the Knights Templar and became the centre for an organisation called St John of Jerusalem whose main concern was care for the injured and then the establishment of the St John Ambulance.  I was a zambuk for most of my high school years and here I was at the very centre of the St John’s world.

“The man who is tired of London is tired of life.”  Dr Samuel Johnson. 

I had found the location of the church of St Mary Le-Bow, the source of the Bow Bells, and I was dead keen to go and see it so Elaine and I took the train to Blackfriars a couple of Saturday mornings ago to see what we could find in and around the City, just by walking.  When we came out of Blackfriars Elaine reminded me that Iris had told us that the plot of now-vacant land behind the Black Friar pub was once called Times Square.  It was where The Times of London was printed and distributed and Iris worked there then.  

We walked along past St Paul’s Cathedral to Bow Lane, which is a little shopping lane, closed at the moment for repairs, but right there was the elegant tower and spire of St Mary Le Bow, another of Christopher Wren’s little church masterpieces.  We bought some lunch and waited for the bells to ring.  As far as I could tell there were 3 of them and they are beautifully tuned and very melodious, though not very loud. On Saturday, with almost no traffic about, the City is very quiet. Some people who say they are Cockneys must have very good hearing, says Ivor.  On the outside wall of the church (closed on Saturday!) was a plaque for John Milton, saved when his church in nearby Bread Street was demolished.  The divine poet, John Milton; I had never associated him with London.  I rang Norah to see if she knew where Fred was born, but she said she didn’t know, so soon I shall go to St Catherine’s House and get his birth certificate and then I shall visit the place.

We had a highly amusing and very entertaining night out with Jo and Neil in their last week in London. Jo Mark is the daughter of Jimmy Mark who leases our farm block.  We met at the Sherlock Holmes statue at Baker Street Station. Baker Street is a most interesting place. 221B Baker St is in the window of the Abbey National Bank.  Of course it was a fictional address, but the bank has put a little tableau of Holmes and Watson in the window in recognition of the fame they have brought this street. But there are lots of three-storey houses still there exactly the sort that Holmes would have lived in. There was also an Elvis shop. We couldn’t stop laughing.  We had dinner in Pizza Express and then after-dinner coffee down the road in a delightful little coffee and dessert place. I had an ice-cream parfait with my coffee.

Elaine’s just had her 50th and although it was fairly low key, it was still an enjoyable time.  I got her a heart rate monitor to help her at the gym and just so Mum wouldn’t accuse me of only buying her tools, I also got her a very nice silver dragon on a silver chain for her to wear with a black t-shirt – which I also supplied. We had a most enjoyable dinner with our St Albans friends at a local Mediterranean restaurant and in a week or so I shall take her on the Eurostar to Paris for the weekend.

The news about Joni is all good.  She has just been made Brand Manager of Fresh-n-Fruity, New Zealand’s biggest brand.  AND she’s in the middle of buying a new house.  It isn’t quite hers, yet, and anything can happen, of course, but she has done the paperwork and it all looks in pretty good shape.  The house is a terrace of  two-bedroom apartments in Ellerslie so it’s very central for her friends to visit her, but only 20 minutes to work on the more or less traffic-free side of the motorway to and from work.

Keep up your bowls and keep happy and healthy.

Lots of love

Ewart and Elaine


Letters home, 2001, Oct 7

7 Oct 2001

Dear Mum and Dad

It seems that when we have adventures, they don’t come in ones!  Since we have been in England there has been:

  • The wettest winter since records began in 1776. With floods all around us, but we ourselves were not actually flooded
  • The coldest winter in 25 years, with our local lake frozen over
  • The petrol blockade when the country ran out of petrol and we almost had to walk to work
  • Foot and mouth disease ravaging the country and closing the countryside
  • BSE running wild so we can’t eat beef – and don’t
  • The Paddington rail disaster that happened just a few minutes after I left the station on my way to Slough.

And now the Americans and the British have started military attacks on the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Still, don’t worry about us!  There is no immediate threat and neither of us is at all close to any possible target.  None of our friends is worried, either.  It seems that quite a few Kiwis have decided to go home, but they are just young people and they have few contacts here who would be able to help them if there was an emergency, while we have many. Also, many of our friends have been through a war and know what to do.  

Ivor goes into hospital for his big operation on Monday week, 15th October.  I spent the afternoon at Ivor and Iris’ this afternoon and we also had a very pleasant party with them last night, along with their neighbours and a couple of friends.  He is a worry and has lost an awful amount of weight and size.  He thinks he will be in hospital for about 3 weeks after the op. So we do wish him all the best.

Be careful ….

Lots of love

Ewart and Elaine.


Letters home, 2001, Sep 16

16 Sep 2001

Dear Mum and Dad

That was a long hard week … For a couple of days the week before, I was asked to do some overtime on the COMP helpdesk and then late on that Friday the team leader asked me to let her know if I wanted any more overtime.  I told her I didn’t ask for the overtime in the first place, I was just doing her a favour, but if at any time she wanted me to work the extra 2.5 hours from 4:30 to 7:00pm, all she had to do was ask.  She said, “Stay on then, we always need extra help.” So now I’m on overtime for the rest of my Sainsbury’s contract, about 10 paid hours per day.  

It suits me ok because it costs me 200 pounds a month for the train trip to Blackfriars, so if there’s an hour or so going I may as well take it because I have already paid to be there.  I get paid by the hour, so if my train is late, I don’t get paid for the time I wasn’t there, nor do I get paid on Bank Holidays.  It’s very good for people who are permanent because they get paid whatever happens so if there’s a holiday or their train is late, or their hours are reduced – like at the moment we’re on a 37 hour week – they still get paid their usual amount and the less they have to be at work, the better they like it. Me, I struggle for every hour so if there are extra hours going begging, I take them.  There are things I won’t do, though.  One of the team leaders asked me if I’d work the weekend so I said, “How much do you pay?” and when she told me, “Time only,” I turned her down.  I don’t give up my weekends unless it’s time and a half on Saturday and double time on Sunday.

So this last week has been filled with getting up at 6:00, catching the 7:31am Bedford – Brighton train to Blackfriars, logging in at about 8:20, having lunch from 1:00 to 1:45, finishing on my SHD helpdesk at 4:30, logging into the COMP helpdesk and working until 7:00pm, catching the 7:22 train back to St Albans and getting home just after 8:00pm.  Elaine’s really good because she takes me to the station every morning and brings me back very night. I have learnt a few new skills, too, because the COMP helpdesk looks after stores while my own SHD helpdesk looks after office workers with Windows 95 and Microsoft Office. The COMP Helpdesk manages Unix servers and the Mainframe which capture, process and print the data generated by stores orders and sales. By stores, we mean gigantic supermarkets and there are about 1500 of them, so you can appreciate that there is quite a bit of data …

I also had a chat to the team leader about extending my contract because I need to know very soon if I have to find another job. The contract was to run out on the 21st of September and they wrote me to say they’d extended it for a week until the end of September.  Last week the floor manager, Kevin Moody, said he’d be extending it to the end of October. I asked him later in the week if I could contact my agency to make my extension official and he said it was already in hand and that he’d extended my contract for “A little longer than that.” I’m not sure how much further that is but every week is a bonus.

On Tuesday 11th someone said that he’d been told on the phone that a plane had flown into the World Trade Centre in New York.  We couldn’t believe it and we were even more incredulous when someone yelled out a little later that a second plane had flown into the second tower.  “Ahh, you’re taking the mickey!”

“N0, no, it’s on TV – there are holes through both towers.” Then we heard about the Pentagon and finally the plane that went down near Pennsylvania. At about 3:00pm London City shut shop and went home and Canary Wharf was evacuated and cordoned off.  When I caught my train at 7:22pm there were only about 30 of us who waited for it when usually there are about 200 on the platform. A lot of the Deutsche Bank people I worked with in Bishopsgate in 1999 were often speaking to colleagues in the World Trade Centre and I know there will be lots people there waiting desperately for news. It’s been a terrible story. I have heard that about 150 NZ’ers are missing and up to 500 Britons. Mostly, though, we are keenly aware of the loss of intelligent, educated, gifted, enthusiastic young lives hopelessly and tragically wasted.

We have just come back from St Albans Cathedral.  There is an area right under the central tower which is dedicated to people who are being persecuted and it is there that a small display with pictures and candles was set up by a local lady with ties to New York.  When Genevieve was in Italy she came across a small stone church in a country vineyard and was so moved, she lit a candle for Jason.  We thought it was such a lovely gesture that we have done so, too, in the churches we have visited and we light a candle for Jase each time we go to the St Albans Cathedral.  

Today we lit two – one for Jase and one for the victims of this terrible tragedy. There is, remarkably, a St Albans Cathedral in Washington.  We wrote a little message for them, although there was no book of remembrance.  We mentioned this to one of the churchwardens, but he said The Powers That Be had decided there wouldn’t be a book.  He was obviously quite disappointed at the decision. We told him we thought it would have been nice to have a book and send it to Washington, and he looked quite distressed.

We are, however, quite worried about what happens next.  Everyone is talking war, but the last time there was a big bombing in the US blamed on foreign terrorists – in Oklahoma – it was an American who did it.  We are hoping that the Americans don’t just shoot first and ask questions later in their desire to punish those who harbour terrorists, regardless of whether those were the terrorists who attacked the World Trade Centre.  Tony Blair looks like he’s trying to talk sense and so is Imran Khan.  Cool heads are hard to find.

The Americans haven’t been too successful in stopping drugs getting into their country from areas really close to them and they pour vast amounts of money into the IRA and the Israelis.  Bin Laden used to be a US ally, the Taliban government in Afghanistan was backed by the Americans to fight the Russians and Sadam Hussein in Iraq was originally an American puppet to overthrow the government there. We are just wondering if the Americans are going to use the WTC attack to settle a few scores. The world has to be really careful that the aftermath of the tragedy doesn’t kill more people than the tragedy itself!

On the morning after the attack on the WTC as I was crossing Blackfriars Bridge on my way to work I heard a young English girl’s voice so clearly in my head I could have been already logged into the phones.  “My Windows won’t start.  I have been here since 7:30 this morning trying to get it to go and I can’t do my work.” She was on the verge of tears and those last few words in her beautiful crisp, clear and despairing tone –  “I can’t do my work” rang in my ears and haunted me all day long. I don’t remember if I worked with her in Tesco or in Sainsbury’s but I helped her to get her program running and she nearly cried with relief. I was probably reacting to the tragedy of the day before, but I am so pleased that I helped her because she is the very embodiment of all that young people do well, like Joni.  She is hard working, enthusiastic, dedicated and professional.  

We on the helpdesk do good work, you know, to keep these young people doing what they want to do.  I always thought that being a teacher was altruistic and steeped in the romantic traditions of liberalism and humanism, but since being in business and working in IT, I see it still applies to me.  I have done more good work since I started in IT and became a businessman than I have achieved doing anything else in my life. I am not just a cog in the great machine: I help others to do the work they want to do.  Later the same day a man rang me to get his program working again because its central data file had become unreadable. I fixed the file and as he ran his program he said, “How did you do that? Ewart, that was excellent work, thank you very much.”

I have one other piece of sad news; Ivor has been diagnosed with a tumour near his stomach and it is so bad that he can’t eat anything unless Iris blends it all up and he eats it as a sort of puree.  They think it’s operable because he hasn’t had it very long – under a year – and he goes for a full scan on Tuesday. I am very worried by the news.  Ivor is the most special friend – he is very knowledgeable about the Adams family that my grandmother Sadie belonged to, he is a kindly, gentle and generous man and most of all he is the man who made my dream come true. We have been able to stay here because of the help and the generosity that he and Iris gave us when we were new to England and the British ways of doing things. Without their help at that time we could not have stayed. I am so hoping that he will be ok.

On a much more pleasant note, we have had a few of our own adventures.  I learnt a couple of things. We went to Ivinghoe Church. You know the rhyme?  

Wing, Tring and Ivinghoe, three little churches all in a row

They are not in a straight row … In Ivinghoe Church is a list of all the vicars since the Normans.  One of those vicars was the Bishop of Westminster – for about 300 years. Ivinghoe was the wealthiest living in Buckinghamshire and of course the Bishop of Westminster would have it – it’s the wealthy who always get first crack at the riches.  It’s likely he never actually went there, let alone preached there. The Duke of Westminster is the wealthiest man in Britain, worth about 10bn pounds, mostly in central London property.

Last Bank Holiday weekend we went to the Ford End Mill in Ivinghoe. There is no Ivinghoe mill listed in the Domesday book but one is recorded in 1232 and Ford End Mill thinks it might be them. The Normans built a grand house nearby with a moat around it and the moat is used to pond water for the mill.  The stream is very small so the mill could not work all day, every day and while the water wheel itself is a Victorian overshot steel wheel with big riveted plates and an axle that runs in heavily greased wooden bearings, the building is dated in the middle 1740’s.

When the mill is working the whole building sways. It processed 2 tons of corn, wheat or barley per week.  I saw a calculation that started with 16 sacks of grain and although different grain weighs different amounts, it was always processed and paid for by the sackful – per bushel.  So the rough calculation put production at around 2 tons a week.  This particular mill, and the ones near us at Kingsbury and Redbournebury, produce wholemeal flour.  Elaine bought a pound of flour and she made the most beautiful scones, which we shared with Karen upstairs and Christine next door.  It was quite a nice little party and they were most impressed at Elaine’s cooking.  

There are two grinding wheels; the one on top, which goes round and round and thus is called the runner stone is a sandstone wheel made from a Peak District stone aptly called millstone grit.  The bottom wheel, the bed stone, is fixed and is made from lots of smaller pieces of French marble called burr stone cut to a special pattern and tied into the shape of a wheel with an iron hoop such as you see on wagon wheels.  There is also a series of grooves cut deeply into the bed stone which both grind the grain and channel it into the central hole.

The bed stone was designed by the Romans and that design has not changed in 2000 years.  There’s nothing overwhelmingly traditional in that; no-one has ever designed a better one. One other thing I found out about flour mills: they have been in Britain since Saxon times and until very recently they only ever ran in daylight hours. One is not allowed within coo-ee of them with a candle or any other naked flame because the dust they produce is extremely explosive.

We bought three most interesting horse brasses, one with the Bedfordshire coat of arms, one with the Buckinghamshire coat of arms and one with an illustration of the Ford End Mill. We are now on the lookout for a 6 foot black leather nightingale.

We originally went to Ivinghoe to explore the Ichnield Way which passes along the Dunstable Downs end of Tearle Valley.  It’s not a road and never was. Neither was it ever used by the Romans; it’s a sort of cattle path and it’s really bits of paths all put together.  If you are travelling south, you will follow it for at least part of the way because it’s an all-weather track, mostly following the firm chalk footing and often running along the high ground to avoid the boggy lowlands.  

In Norfolk it’s called the Pedlars Way, for about 100 miles either side of Ivinghoe it’s called the Ichnield Way and then further south it’s called The Ridgeway, but these are all local names for the same walkway.  Bits of modern road have been built on it but mostly you can walk it across the countyside for literally hundreds of miles.  Parts of it were used in 4500 BC, making it the oldest walkway in Europe. In those days, there was a large land bridge between England and France and the Thames was a tributary of the Rhine.   So now at last I know where the Ichnield Way goes – all the way from northern Norfolk near the Wash, almost to Henley-on-Thames, just west of London.

We also went to see the Ivinghoe Beacon and passed right below it.  We didn’t have time to climb the hill and if we had we would not have been able to see its undoubtedly beautiful and panoramic view because it was quite a hazy, smoky, cloudy sort of day.  But we now know exactly where it is and if we see a clear day we are going to climb up and see the view.  Ivinghoe is only about a 1/2hr drive from here.

During the time I have for lunch I have been exploring the south side of the Thames.  London is a magnificent, beautiful city.  Sometimes it’s grey, sometimes it’s foggy and raining, sometimes it’s hazy and smoky and sometimes it’s sunny, clear and warm as it is right now.  Always it has this feeling of power and beauty. Wordsworth said it best. I remember that poem from my Form 3 days and it’s not until you see London on a clear, or slightly misty, morning that you can appreciate how well he captures its spirit. It really is an awe-inspiring city and I love being here and working here.  Think about it … a couple of years ago I was a Te Kuiti computer retailer and today I am a London computer consultant.  That’s all right, isn’t it?

It’s a bright, clear, warm sunny day outside and during my lunch 3/4hr, I walked, admittedly slowly, the Jubilee Walk along Bankside on the south bank of the Thames.  If you walk out of Rennie House where I work, you can follow Milroy Walk underneath a building and then into Marigold Street, a narrow alley between Sea Containers House and a large apartment block, to the Thames.  A distance of about 200m.  The Thames was at almost full low tide, but the water was still flowing swiftly out to sea, so the tide hadn’t turned at 1210hr.  

I walked underneath Blackfriars Bridge and then through Bankside passing The Founders Arms pub which juts out into the Thames, then past the Tate Modern, the Globe Theatre, the Millennium Bridge, the new beehive-looking building that the mayor of London will soon move into, then Southwark Bridge.  The walkway under Blackfriars Bridge is fully lined with white ceramic tiles.  On the tiles are large copies (6×8 feet) of the original plans for the bridge when it was built in 1760 and another set for the bridge when it was rebuilt in 1863.  There’s a reproduction of the woodcut from the Illustrated London News of the opening of the New Blackfriars Bridge by Queen Victoria in 1863 and another of the woodcut of the London, Chatham and Dover Railway Station as it was in the 1860’s.

When you walk through the tunnel under Blackfriars Bridge there is almost always a busker in the middle of it.  The buskers are unfailingly excellent musicians.  I often wonder if they need a licence or special permission because there are never two of them competing and they are always playing such lovely music so well.  Usually they play classical pieces – Vivaldi is a favourite, I’ve noticed – but once there was a kettle drummer and for a whole week there was a female jazz clarinettist.  There are actually two tunnels, one in the tile-lined section under Blackfriars Bridge and, 50m on, another brick-lined, larger, tunnel under the rail bridge.  They don’t give names to rail bridges. The two tunnels have wonderful acoustics and the musicians in each can enjoy beautiful feedback from their instruments. Because of the kink in the path the two musicians cannot hear each other. I have seen violinists, trumpeters, a classical guitarist, a Spanish guitarist and a saxophonist.

Blackfriars Bridge runs down onto Blackfriars Road and that road is the boundary between Bankside – east towards the Tate Modern – and South Bank – west towards Westminster Bridge.  There is an enormous amount of rebuilding, refurbishment and replenishment going on in the South Bank and Bankside areas.  It’s very impressive and includes lots of new buildings, new businesses and upgrading of paths, walkways, lighting, public gardens and parks as well as road surfaces and verges and some new and interesting statuary and monuments.  

I walk through Bernie Spain Gardens most lunchtimes on my way to the Thames via Gabriel’s Wharf.  Bernie Spain was a local aid and charity worker who died of cancer and the little park is called after her. There’s a grassy saucer in the middle with planted beds around it with low shrubs and bright annuals. There are seats alongside each planted bed and at night they are lit from below. Local office workers sit on the grass and eat their lunch on any sunny day and even though there is still work going on putting in more lighting and some very fancy seating involving large slabs of stainless steel, the garden is bright, quiet and peaceful.  

The upgrading of this area is being done on both the macro and micro level.  It’s most interesting to be in the middle of it.  It’s also interesting to see that the parks are numerous and small. I think they do that so only a couple of hundred people gather in one place at a time. That gives the people gathering there a feeling of intimacy and it limits the crowd size. There are 5 small grassy, well-treed little parks within 2 minutes walk of Rennie House – in all directions.

Just down the road are the ruins of the Clink – next to the ruins of Winchester Palace, in Clink St, of course.  I have found out that maltreatment of prisoners was unknown before the 14 century and it probably came to England with the return of the Crusaders.  They brought torture with them because they had been subjected to it on the Continent, mostly in the Middle East. The Bishop of Winchester owned and ran the Clink jail on the Bankside and tortured prisoners until the prison was closed in the early 1800’s.  By that date he was the Duke of Winchester, but it was just a case of the clerical title becoming a secular one.  He made huge amounts of money out of regulating prostitutes and the stew houses of Bankside, and the prisoners in the Clink, since King Steven gave him the land and the power.  It’s an awful story and I’m pleased the Clink is now just a four-roomed underground museum of horrors.

In the last week of Elaine’s school holidays there was one spectacularly clear and sunny day so I rang her and asked if she’d like to come to London and have a look around the area where I work. She dropped everything, and arrived at Blackfriars Bridge at about 2:00. She went off off explore the Tate Modern and the Globe Theatre while she waited for me to finish work at 4:30. When I caught up with her we walked all the way west along the Thames (the Queen’s Walk) past the London Eye, the Museum of Film, then walked on past Waterloo Bridge, the Hungerford Bridge and the London Aquarium to Westminster Bridge.  

It was a gorgeous afternoon of sunshine and dappled light cast by the large London plane trees that border the entire distance.  On the way back we called in at the National Theatre and heard a 1/2hr jazz concert then we walked past St Paul’s on the opposite bank all the way to Southwark Bridge.  I also showed Elaine Rennie House, the church behind it with the stones on the ground to mark the burning of the ground caused by the church cross being bombed during the war, then we explored a street nearby that had lots of little brick workers cottages mostly dated in the 1860’s.  Helen Hinkley must surely have known them.  

We called in at Gabriel’s Wharf hoping we could get dinner overlooking the Thames, but the little Italian place was full.  We walked on a bit further and in a first-floor restaurant called NEAT (London and Paris) in the OXO Tower Building, we found a very good welcome with a seat next to the window.  We watched the sun set and the lights go on all along the Thames.  The Embankment, St Pauls, the Savoy, the Adelphi they all seem to swim in mid air during the night, the lighting is so good.  Their stone columns become transparent.  It is a most remarkable and beautiful transformation.

We hope that you are in good health and we thoroughly enjoyed our talk with you the other night. Best of luck with the new workshop, Dad – we hope you have lots of fun.

With our very best love

Ewart and Elaine.


Letters home, 2000, Oct 8

8 Oct 2000

Dear Mum and Dad

Thanks very much for your letter and the cutout from the magazine. John L Tearle, who wrote the book “Tearle, a Bedfordshire Surame,” is adamant that Tearle is not from Tyrell, although he is not certain exactly where it came from. He thinks it is a corruption of a French word, but he doesn’t know which one.  Alec Tearle, though, said when he was living in Germany that the Germans always knew how to pronounce his name (the English and the French certainly don’t) so he thinks it may have been German.  In other words we may have Saxon roots that predate the Normans who came here in 1066.  Our ancestors could have been in England from as early as 500AD.  

That reminds me – a couple of days ago I saw a programme about the Salisbury Plains that said that England had been heavily cultivated since 5000BC and that in 2500BC there was as much land under cultivation as there was in 1914.

When I went to put away the wrapping from your previous parcel we saw the photos you had sent. By that time our last fax had gone to you, so I didn’t say thank you. Well, let me say it now! The photos are really good. Mum looks a lot better than she sounded earlier this year, but she still looks a bit wan. I thought you’d have a RED scooter, but grey is cool and the mode of transport, with its tall flag certainly looks … shall we say … suitable. And you look very happy. Getting out and about is good for the spirit.

It is not a pleasant thought that neither of my parents will be in their beautiful little Hahei house after Christmas. I guess that you will be going to Matapa, too? When you are selecting things please remember that all I want is the painting that Ella du Cane gave Sadie and any photos and family documents. They will be very well looked after. I am taking Grandad Dawson’s watch into the jeweler this weekend for a shower and shampoo. The English make a most attractive, hooped stand/hanger thing for fob watches, so this watch will be nicely presented and out of harm’s way. I’ve been thinking about the date on it – 1926 – Mum would have been about 5yrs old when her father bought it! She would have seen him with it all her life, since she was often with him when he went to train the horses. Wonderful.

I ran the Cabbage Patch 10-mile last weekend in 71 min 45 sec, so I am pleased with my time, but I am working on getting it closer to 70 min. However, there were a LOT of people who finished after me. About 1/2 an hour after I’d finished and we were getting into the car, there were still people on the other bank of the Thames about 1/2 a mile from the finish. At that stage it rained like crazy, so we decided not to go exploring around Twickenham, but the track I ran went through Kingston, where earlier this year Elaine and I had caught a ferry to go to Hampton Court. I recognised the island the boat had passed.

The organizers presented me with the Cabbage Patch 10 t-shirt and I gave it to Elaine as a supporter’s shirt. She loves it. On the day, she actually wore the Garden City 10 sweatshirt she bought the day I ran that race and she looked really good … lots of people talked to her and she had a really good time. It’s quite a nice course through the streets of Twickenham, Richmond and Kingston-upon-Thames. To get there we drove right past Chubb house, a tall, rounded, very heavy-looking concrete building close to the road where Shayne had been just the day before in Sunbury.

Everything around there looks the same, just roads and houses wall-to-wall with nothing to distinguish one town from the other, so the Cabbage Patch pub was a bit tricky to find and wasn’t particularly unique anyway, although it looked like an old pub and must have had a bit of history to tell. It was the biggest race field I’ve been in so far and the track itself through the streets was fast and picturesque. My time of 71:45 made me about 30sec quicker than I was in the Garden City 10 three weeks previous.

I had three guys who passed me whom I couldn’t catch, but on the other hand, I did pass a lot of runners in the last mile, including many who had passed me earlier, and those three guys finished just a few seconds in front of me. For the first time, 2 women in my age group finished in front of me, one at 70min 56 sec and the other one a whopping 67:44.  It will be a while before I can beat her!

I have also received the official results and I am quite pleased.  I was 251st out of a total field of 751 finishers.  I was 27th out of 140 runners my age or older, but 25th out of 112 finishers of my actual class, M50. For the first time, too, I have an official age ranking.  I am age graded at 70.73%.  If a representative sample of all the M50 racers in Britain were gathered into a field of 100, I would finish a 10 mile race in 30th place.  Now that my 8-mile time is 55 min, it won’t be too long before my 10-mile time dips below 70 min.

About now, Genevieve starts her new job as Assistant Production Manager, Cultured at the NZ Dairy Group Plant at Takanini. She has been going really well this year with her promotion and has passed two uni papers in Spanish with A+ results. Not bad when working full time, playing netball mid week and commuting to the skiifields each weekend. She has now done a bungy and skydived from 12,000 feet in the last few months as well as skiing the west ridge. She set herself some stiff targets for the year with us being away and has been ticking them off one at a time. Some things she gets into are scarey!!!

As you will have heard, we had a fuel crisis on here. Fortunately neither Elaine nor I ran out of fuel because the sort of fuel our little cars use was the last kind to run out at the petrol stations. That meant that we earned right through. However some of our friends were not so lucky and had a week or more out of work and not paid. When the fuel arrived again all through Luton the garages were cordoned off by police and only those working in essential services were allowed petrol. In St Albans when the fuel arrived it was available on the open market so we were able to fill up and carry on as usual. There was some stockpiling but not by us. It is all over now and we are back to normal.

We were really delighted when we were finally able to send off the money for our airfares and hold the price. We now have confirmation from the bank that the money has been taken from our account so all is well. All we have to do now is to wait for the tickets to arrive.  Below is our airlines itinerary:

Thursday 14 December 2000

  • 3.45pm Check in at Japan Airlines Terminal 3, Heathrow
  • 6:15 pm Depart on Japan Air Lines Flight JL 422
  • Flying Time: 12 hours 5 minutes
  • Friday 15 December 2000
  • 3:20 pm Arrive Osaka – Kansai International Airport :
  • 9:00 pm Depart on Japan Air Lines Flight JL 98 (An Air New Zealand Boeing 767 )
  • Flying Time: 10 hours 50 minutes
  • Saturday 16 December 2000
  • 11:50 am Arrive Auckland Airport
  • Saturday 13 January 2001
  • 8.00am Check in at Japan Airlines counter at Auckland Airport
  • 10:00 am Depart on Japan Air Lines Flight JL 97 (Air New Zealand Boeing 767 )
  • Flying Time: 11 hours 25 minutes
  • 5.25pm Arrive Osaka – Kansai International Airport. – accommodation at
  • HOTEL NIKKO KANSAI AIRPORT Tel: (0724) 551 111
  • Osaka Fax: (0724) 551 155
  • Accommodation has been confirmed in a twin room – breakfast is included
  • Sunday 14 January 2001
  • 9.45am Check in at Japan Airlines at Osaka International Airport.
  • 11:45 am Depart on Japan Air Lines Flight JL 421 (Boeing 747-400)
  • Flying Time: 12 hours 35 minutes
  • 3:20 pm Arrive London – Heathrow Airport : Terminal 3

We have been having great fun watching the Olympics but have seen virtually nothing of NZ. I really wanted to watch Rob Waddell having been his mother’s HOD in Piopio and was delighted with the coverage we got of his races. Elaine was equally interested because she had taught Rob for three years in Piopio Primary.  We got to watch his wife Sonia race too.

There was a lot of screaming coming out of our flat that night and at the end of the race Genevieve rang – she was watching too – and we were all so excited that Rob had made GOLD!!!! We know now it was the only gold medal NZ won. We have bought a nice card to send home to him and his family this week. Fortunately we know his parents’ address. We saw his Mum Sue on TV here too. They gave lovely coverage of Rob after the race – much more than for other athletes even from Britain so we were very lucky. Elaine heard the following day that the staff and students from her school were watching at their homes and cheering for Rob too.

We’ve had Shayne Bates here this week, doing some business for his company, Securenet. He didn’t like it here … thought the place was backward and said he hated London. I suppose that’s logical because I lent him my car and he found the London traffic and road conditions very trying. I never drive in London, but on Friday, he had to go to Chubb House in Sunbury-on-Thames and took the road through Central London to get home. He rang me to say he had been to Harrods! He had even found parking for 7GBP per hour. It took him 3 hours to get home from there, in Friday traffic, so I don’t wonder that he hates London.

However, the high point of his trip was on Thursday when he went to London by train to see someone in the Institute of Directors in Pall Mall. Since that’s near NZ House we advised him to drop in there, too and see if there were ways that he could get some high-level assistance. From there he could also get to see some of the most famous sights of London so we also advised him to leave home early to give himself plenty of time to enjoy himself after the business was done. He rang me about 4:00 to see if Elaine and I would like to catch the train to London and meet him in Trafalgar Square. You never have to ask us twice to go to London. We met Shayne in Trafalgar Square and he wanted a sushi meal. There was the most beautiful Japanese restaurant called the Tokyo Bar on the edge of Chinatown where we had a 4-course meal in little boxes for 10GBP each. Wasabi, sushi, yummy salmon, the lot.

By the way, NZ House was no use to Shayne at all. We’ve been there, too and it was no use to us, either, but I thought that was because we were just little fish of no interest to a giant trade organisation like NZ House. It seems it isn’t their job to help NZ businesses to expand, either, so they shunted him out unceremoniously. It would be nice to know just what it is they do in there.

It’s the 60th anniversary of the Battle of Britain. Iris was telling us this afternoon that she was 10yrs at the time and used to stand outside on the lawn and watch the planes fighting each other overhead. Some childhood.

We are just back from Nick Trout’s 40th birthday bash at the Time Out Bar in Horsham.  We went to West Sussex yesterday morning to meet Nick and Sally again, had a very loud night’s dancing then drove the 1.5 hours back home.  We arrived here about 2:00am.  It meant that we didn’t have to spend our Christmas money on accommodation in Horsham.  Nick and Sally Trout are the two hitch-hikers we befriended in about 1989 on their world tour and we have been good friends ever since.  The highlight of the night was when Sally came out into the disco as Marilyn Monroe in that white dress from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and sang Happy Birthday in the breathy way Marilyn did for President Kennedy.  Sally is an angel and a blonde bombshell at any time, but as Marilyn Monroe she was sensational.

Christmas – we went to Frost’s Garden Centre in Woburn Sands, just up the road from Woburn village, to have a wander around and get a few ideas for our garden when we go home.  The English do garden centres like magical palaces.  Everything is themed and there are the most complex and beautiful displays of plants and gardening things you have ever seen.  But Christmas is a wonder that takes your breath away.  

They had two very large rooms decorated for Christmas with trees, ornaments, lights, grottos, music and all sorts of displays.  We were stopped dead.  Why Christmas so early?  It is because most people in England get paid monthly, so there’s only this month and next month’s pay and then it’s Christmas, so I guess it’s best to get people inspired early.  Woburn Sands is just a tiny village, but Frost’s there is very big, about 5 acres all told and about 2 acres in buildings, so it’s all nice and warm in the cool weather.  With the beautiful displays and its own very good restaurant, it’s actually a very good afternoon’s activity to go there and just have some fun wandering around.  And we did – it was great.  It reminded us that the last thing we will do in England this year is the Carols by Candlelight evening in St Brelades Place, just up the road from us behind Blackberry Jack, on the night before we fly out.  It will be freezing cold and we shall love it.

Well, thinking of Christmas reminds me that it won’t be long before we shall be seeing you and Mum again, and we are very much looking forward to that. Our NZ itinerary looks like this so far:

  • 13 Dec  Last day at work
  • 14 Dec  Fly to NZ
  • 16, 17 Dec With Joni in Auckland
  • 18-21 Dec In Otorohanga with Elizabeth and Ross Marshall – check the farm
  • 22-28 Dec In Pauanui
  • 29 Dec  Go to Hamilton
  • 6-12 Jan With Joni
  • 13 Jan  Catch plane to England
  • 15 Jan  Back at work.

We hope you keep in good health until then and we look forward to seeing you again.

Lots of love

Ewart and Elaine.


Letters home, 1999, July 2

02 July 1999

Dear Frances

I have lots of emails I do every day searching for that elusive contract, but I do have 8 CV’s at present being submitted by various IT agencies to prospective employers. One of them will say yes, soon, don’t worry.

If you’ve been watching Wimbledon, which isn’t far from us, you’ll have noticed that the weather is a little changeable and sometimes showery, but it’s quite warm and very pleasant.

Elaine finishes her first full week at school and this contract goes till the end of term (ie end of July). During the holidays we hope to find her different work, but so far at least it’s pounds and not kiwis. Have you seen the exchange rate lately – 28.8c Ahhhhhh!

Never mind …. we’ll cope.



Prague, Czech Republic

Prague was mentioned twice within a couple of months. The Metro newspaper travel section told me it was one of the rising destinations in the old Eastern Bloc and then Jill Adams came back from the Continent delighted with her visit to Prague. “You’ve got to go!” she said, “It’s beautiful, and so unspoiled.”

Genevieve said “Try the Continental trains, so that you can use your plane ticket more efficiently. They’re really cheap, but go first class, and visit a couple of other cities as well.” I spent a frustrating week trying to put together three Continental cities for the three weeks of Elaine’s summer break. The plan was to fly to Prague and then take the train to…. I couldn’t get any train tickets on the internet.

We went to the Marshalswick travel agent again. He could get the train tickets all right, so how would we like to fly Prague, take the train to Vienna, then the train again to Budapest and then the plane home? Lovely cities. We’d get our tickets in a week, and leave from Heathrow Terminal One. Yes? Excellent.

The plane for Prague left Heathrow at 07:00, that meant we had to be at the airport at 05:00, which meant we had to catch the Picadilly Line from Kings Cross at 03:30. That was not good news; the Tube is closed from 01:00 to 05:00. We elected to stay at the airport overnight, so on the day, once I had arrived home, we finished packing and took the Thameslink train to Kings Cross, the Picadilly Line to Heathrow, being careful to get off at Terminal One, and looked around to see what we could do from midnight until 05:00. There was depressingly little. A walk around the terminal, poking into every corner, took five minutes, and twice round took ten minutes. It was clear there was no point in trying to while away the time by walking around the terminal. We went upstairs to Costa and glumly looked at each other while we slowly sucked on cardboard mugs of frothy cappuccino.
“This is going to be a long night,” said Elaine.
It’s true to say the night ended, but rest assured that when we looked out of the plane and saw Prague lying in the sunshine and we were wheeling down to land, we felt a lot better.
“Prague is not in Eastern Europe, and neither is the Czech Republic,” said the chaperone in the big grey 4×4 that picked us up from the airport, “it’s at the very heart of Central Europe. People often think that because we were a Soviet buffer state we must be Eastern, but we are not. Geographically and historically we are truly European. Our famous sons are Franz Kafka, Jan Hus, King Wenceslas and Alexander Dubcek. Johannes Keppler came here to study and to teach. We are civilised in the European traditions and we have a complex history of Catholicism and Protestantism, much like any other European country.

Across Staromestske Square to Tynsky's Cathedral

Across Staromestske Square to Tynsky’s Cathedral

Soon we will be part of the European Union. Last year, Prague was hit with a devastating flood from its own river, the Vltava, and you will see much work to fix the damage and much more work to add to the city’s charm while those repairs are going on.” The 4×4 left us at the Quality Hotel on the edge of town so we dropped off our bags and went back onto the street.
Below us was a deep blue river with a weir off to our left and all around us were building repairs. In the middle of the road alongside the hotel, workmen and small front-end loaders were laying tram tracks in a deep concrete-lined ditch. We turned right and followed the road a couple of blocks until we came to a T-section with a wide road. If we went left, it looked like the road disappeared into a slum, but since all the road signs – none of which we could read – pointed to our right we went that way.
Building repairs

Building repairs

The scene outside our hotel was replicated here; they were laying more tram tracks in another concrete ditch in the middle of this road, too. We picked our way through the rubble of the repairs to the footpath and watched a workman with a pneumatic chisel noisily peeling plaster off a brick wall. The flood line was clearly above his head, yet we were quite a way above the river. We called into a mini-market to check shop prices for essential items like soft drinks and bottled water. They are almost always a quarter of the price of buying water or lemonade at the hotel or in a café. We selected a 1L bottle of water and some delicious-looking pasties for a late lunch and walked over to the counter.

High water mark, Prague flood

The shopkeeper was a sunburned, greying, middle-aged woman with a green shop pinafore over a cotton floral dress and she couldn’t speak English, but she gave us a shy smile as we placed our purchases on the counter and offered her a note of local currency. She took our money and carefully counted back to us some more notes and some coins. We were charmed.
Outside, we checked the notes and coins and she was absolutely correct. We had taken a note of the prices and tried to fix in our minds where the shop was so we could get back to it from the hotel. While we ate the pasties and drank the water, we followed the road into the outskirts of town and watched the trams running on their old tracks, poked around a nice little outside market where I got some walk shorts and sunglasses, and admired a statue of construction men at work, left over from Communist days.

Construction men at work

The following morning, the 8th of August, after a delicious breakfast of fruit, cornflakes and bacon and eggs – no cheapie Continental breakfasts here – we asked the young lady at the hotel reception if she had a map of Prague. She did and it was free. We stood outside and examined the map. If we followed the river, it might be the long way round, but it would lead us past some bridges, an island and eventually into the middle of town. It was a perfectly beautiful morning and a walk would be good.

We followed the wide sweep of the river past the weir, past the island with a green domed building on it, past the stolid, glowering Education Department building with its guard sitting in an elderly red and white caravan just inside the barrier arm, past a water trike driven by two girls, past a quite magnificent blue and white river excursion steamer and we were in turn passed by all kinds of river craft – a replica Viking longboat, a little blue and white river boat with about thirty people lounging in deck chairs on its upper deck, and I said to Elaine,
“What’s he going to do when he gets to the weir? Jump it?”
And then we stopped alongside a bridge. “This is the Vltava River,” I said, checking the map. “What is that?”

Replica Viking longboat

In the background of the photo on the left is a tall black building, probably a church. What’s it all about? The map was silent. The girls in the river trike pedalled past. They were pedalling up river and they were hot.

I could smell coffee and I thought I could hear water cascading.
Behind us was a hedge and beyond that were a couple of little stalls, one with paintings and the other with a coffee urn boiling away. While we examined the paintings and drank our coffee, a fountain gurgled and two men sat in its edge with their feet cooling in the pool. There were several paintings of the scene I had just photographed. “What’s that?” I asked the chap with the paintings. I pointed at the painting of the bridge and the big black church and he just shrugged at me. I pulled out the map and tried again. “Up on the hill there, can you tell me what it’s called?” He shook his head, “catidralsanvita,” I think he said. “Thank you,” I replied.
Manesuv Bridge with Prague Castle behind.

Manesuv Bridge with Prague Castle behind.

I looked at the map again. The bridge was either off the map or it was the Manesuv. If the latter were true, then the very fine building to the left of the square immediately in front of us must be the Rudolfinum. Tall flags on the building confirmed my guess. I looked up our Lonely Planet “Prague” guide but I couldn’t find out what the Rudolfinum did. It didn’t help us to name the black church, either, but we would worry about that later. Another look at the map told us that the nearest sight was the Old New Synagogue in an area called Josefov. The Lonely Planet advised us not to miss it, this used to be the Jewish quarter and a wander around Josefov would be very instructive.
Manesuv Bridge and Rudolfinum

Manesuv Bridge and Rudolfinum

This little fellow caught our attention. We saw several of him, although none more of this size or this colour. At the Old Synagogue, we called into the gift shop and museum and Elaine asked who this chap is.

“Golem, his name is Golem,” said the young lady behind the glass counter.
Elaine picked up a stone miniature and examined the squat figure held together with straps and bolts.
“What does he do?”
“Originally, he was a character developed by Rabbi Loew to try to stop the locals from persecuting the Jews.”
“Why is he held together with straps?”
“Because he is made of clay, which cracks as it dries. The good rabbi broke up his creation in the loft of the Old New Synagogue when he decided Golem had accomplished his mission.
He’s now a Jewish children’s story character, not always very well behaved, but we use him to illustrate how good children should act. Sometimes he’s very funny.”


Elaine bought the miniature and a book of Golem stories to read to her class. “That’s lovely,” she said, “a little piece of real Prague to take back to my kids. They’ll find out about different cultures.”
We went up through the doorway of the old surgery building and past the Old Cemetery with its big trees casting a solemn gloom onto moss-covered headstones. The Old New Synagogue cost too much to go into so we gave it a miss.
“If we go back towards the river and then down a bit, we can cross the Charles Bridge,” I said to Elaine.
“What Charles Bridge?”

Old Jewish surgery, Josefov

 “The next one along from the one we didn’t cross to get here.” I looked up the Lonely Planet. “The Judith Bridge was washed away in a storm and Charles IV built this one in the 1300s. Looks like the flood last year wasn’t the first. We didn’t see the bridge earlier today because of the bend in the river – or because we didn’t look.
The picture on the map showed an outline bridge of towers and bumps and it looked pretty impressive. The Lonely Planet said not to miss the buskers.
It was worth the walk. The bridge was crowded with people and there was no traffic. A large, dark brownstone church (St Francisl) covered the approach to the bridge on our right and dozens of people sat around the statue of King Charles IV taking in the last of the late afternoon sun. Grimly utilitarian five storey buildings glared down at us from our left, but the gothic tower that stood astride the bridge itself was a wonder in stone and lead. It was magnificent. Look how there’s more of the tower on one side of the bridge than the other, look at the arch; it’s like a cathedral window. Look at the roofline.
Tower, Charles Bridge

Tower, Charles Bridge

We couldn’t miss the buskers. There was someone every twenty feet or so, if not a busker then an artist, or a stall selling some kind of old rubbish. One group of buskers was particularly interesting because of the type of instruments they were playing.

Buskers, Charles Bridge

Opposite us was an arcaded walkway with lots of little cafes and shops selling toys and arty knick-knacks. “Dinner,” said Elaine with some conviction. “There will be something to eat here.” We wanted genuine Prague food so we looked for the locals. A little café had lots of dishes with dumplings – a Prague favourite – and the waiters were definitely locals. We sat at a green and white checked tablecloth and Elaine ordered a beef dumpling stew while I ordered the pork knuckle.
I got a shock when it turned up. It was about the size of my head and it was covered in golden crackling with a pickled gherkin and some tomato slices, served on a thick wooden plate. Someone had thoughtfully stuck a serrated knife into the joint. Elaine laughed “You are going to have fun finishing that!” I took a photo of it. It was unbelievable. The whole thing cost about four euros. I did finish it but not without people who were walking past stopping and staring at this skinny chap and his huge pork knuckle. About four couples stopped and ordered their own. Elaine had a ball laughing and gesturing. No-one understood a word anyone said but that’s the whole point of being in a foreign country. The language of food is universal, what need we for words?
On the way home, we stopped on Charles Bridge to admire a talented busker and his wonderful array of Central European instruments.
Musician, Charles Bridge

Musician, Charles Bridge

The following morning we had the usual delicious breakfast of cornflakes, fruit and bacon & eggs with toast while we chatted to a pretty young girl and her husband about Prague. They had spent all yesterday in town and were going back again today.
They had also been up to Prague Castle. “Is that it up on the hill?” I asked them.
The husband leaned forward in his khaki shirt and Cargo slacks. “Yes. Across Charles Bridge and up the hill; St Vita’s Cathedral is in the middle of the parade ground inside the castle. You get a wonderful view of Prague from up there.” When they had gone, we took a look at the map. It wasn’t too far, we’d walk there and drop into town on the way back.
Prague trams on the way to town

Prague trams on the way to town

The morning was absolutely beautiful and it was a pleasure walking the couple of miles or so past the newly laid tram lines and the little outdoor market, crossing the Charles Bridge and walking up the hill to Prague Castle.

There wasn’t much of the castle to see, most of it was a maze of thick walls with battlements and a military centre tucked into a corner. Three self-conscious soldiers in blue parade uniforms with rifles at ease strutted from somewhere near the military centre across the parade ground to the castle gate and relieved the watch, who strutted just as self-consciously back. We joined a tour of the cathedral and admired its 12th century tomb with the effigy carved beautifully in marble on the top, and looked closely at the intricate work in the tall stained-glass windows. The cathedral was started by Charles 1V in the 1300’s so the tomb must have been brought there from somewhere else. There doesn’t seem to have been a terminal date applied by the builder because the cathedral wasn’t finished until 1929, when the last pieces of coloured glass were inserted into the windows we had been admiring.

I tried to take a picture of them while Elaine bought their CD, but people just kept walking into the frame. I must have tried six or seven times. Eventually, I noticed that if I went down on one knee to take the photograph, people would realise just in time what I was doing and they would hesitate for a moment and I could take the picture. You can see I’ve still got someone’s shadow in there, but I suppose that’s ok on a crowded bridge.

We continued walking across the bridge, dodging the stall-holders bawling at us and admiring the stone and bronze statues. There was even one of St Francis, patron saint of travellers.

On the other side of the bridge, after ducking under the arch, was St Nicholas church, but it wasn’t open. Here, when we checked the map again, we discovered that the road lead up to Prague Castle and we could clearly see that inside the walls of the castle was St Vita’s Cathedral. We now had a name for the big black church we had seen across the river earlier that morning. 

Changing the guard, Prague Castle

Changing the guard, Prague Castle

Still, the most impressive thing about the entire cathedral are its magnificently vaulted flying buttresses. My photo, doesn’t really do them justice, but they are a work of art and engineering in one go and they show that Medieval Europeans weren’t the ignorant, religion-soaked oafs of popular imaginings but men who understood geometry and mathematics and were masters of the science of working and building in living stone. The cathedral doesn’t have its treasures any more; they have been stolen and pillaged by successive conquerors of Prague, but as long as the cathedral stands then generations of Europeans can see the real treasure of St Vita’s Cathedral – the genius of its builders.


Buttresses of St Vita’s Cathedral

We spent some time wandering the battlements of the castle in the sun and looking at the view of Prague from such an excellent vantage point, wondering at the strange buildings and towers in the town below. We also took the chance to look through the armour museum, even though there was a small charge for it, and we could see by the size of the armour that military men in the late Middle Ages were at least as big as me (5′ 11″) and many were much larger. I have no idea how they wielded their heavy swords for any length of time. 
View of city from Prague Castle

View of city from Prague Castle

We took the now well-travelled route past St Nicholas Church and over the Charles Bridge to see what we could find in the city. The road ran directly, though not at all straight, to Staromestske Square. We had to pay to walk down Golden Lane, but we thought that for  the cost it might be nice to wander down a steep narrow street through a neighbourhood of small houses formerly used by the artillery men of the castle which were now also small businesses.
One of those small houses turns out to be a former residence of Franz Kafka. I had read one of his works, The Castle, about the powerless you feel when grey un-named and un-nameable bureaucrats make – or sometimes even worse don’t make – decisions about you. This was when Prague Castle was still the major seat of government. That feeling of faceless men looking at you, knowing everything about you and plotting with each other to deny you, is called Kafkaesque.
Kafka’s house

Kafka’s house

The gothic splendour of the twin towers of Tynsky’s Cathedral dominate Staromestske, the large square in the centre of the city. That’s it in the photo on page 1, like something out of DisneyLand, except that it’s authentic. We never had a chance to look inside, but it is immensely impressive.
A small market was buzzing at the far end of the square and stallholders were displaying brightly coloured clothes and jewellery and country crafts. We made our way through stalls of hats and scarves and semiprecious stones set into trinkets. A young blacksmith in a leather apron hammered noisily with a short-handled 5-pounder on a flat piece of iron gripped securely to his anvil. He looked like a Greek god and I am sure he knew it. One day the blacksmith will be as modern as a rock band and he will have girls screaming at him while he works, with his neatly cropped beard and the iron-studded wrist band, the swirling smoke and the shriek of his bellows. In the lovely morning sunshine of a full summer day, bathed in sweat and wreathed with smoke, he showed off his power, his balance and his craftsmanship.
Blacksmith, Staromestske Square

Blacksmith, Staromestske Square

On the other side of the square was a most unusual clock. It had two different faces and it looked like it told the time as well as traced the visible heavenly bodies. I stood back to fit it all into my view-finder and tried to take its picture. I always like to get a picture with everyone fully in the frame, no-one cut off at the knees or half-entered at the left or half-leaving on the right. It’s also nice to get a picture of a building with someone in the frame, to give the building a well-used flavour.
Without people in the frame, one building is as dull as the next and just as anonymous. I waited for the opportunity, and took several photos just as things came right, but each time when I looked at the picture in the viewer, people had done something to muck it up. I waited for the crowd to thin a little, not wanting to keep Elaine waiting too long. “Come on, come on, get out of my picture,” I breathed. The crowd thinned and I took a couple of likely photos. When I examined them in the viewer, the best of them still had some confounded woman in the bottom right corner waving at something. Elaine was waiting. I turned around to join her still mumbling about my ill luck.
“What did you do that for?” she demanded.
“Eh? Take a picture?”
“No, tell everyone to buzz off like that. Don’t you know half the people here can understand English?”
“I said it really quietly,” I protested, “no-one heard me.”
“I did. And so did everyone else. Why do you think they all moved? You could get us shot doing that.” She grabbed my arm and dragged me off. “I’ll tell you what, if someone else doesn’t shoot you, I will.”
Clock, Old Town Hall

Clock, Old Town Hall

We spent the rest of the day looking for something truly Prague which Elaine could have in England but would also have a place in New Zealand. It would have to be both useful and decorative; Bohemian crystal seemed the best bet. Between visits, we passed this beautiful and evocative stone building called the Powder Tower. The Lonely Planet said it was true to its name. In the days when the city could defend itself this tower held powder, shot and weapons. It was a landmark for the rest of the time we were in Prague.

By the end of the day, Elaine’s quest had ended with a beautiful blue/green lotus-shaped crystal dish on a deeply cut stand. She would use it for peanuts or dried fruit when she pulled out her Denby dinner set, since it was such a good colour match. I flicked at the edge of the bowl with my fingernail. A beautifully satisfying single tone rang out, fully resonant with its own echoes built in. Heavy too.  
Elaine looked at me thoughtfully, remembering a wine glass I had shown her in a story she loved to tell. I was convinced the glass was polycarbonate plastic and I had tapped it on the edge of the table to prove I was right. It had shattered.
“These come in one piece,” said Elaine, “they don’t bounce and they don’t chip. I’m going to carry it.”
“On the train to Vienna, all around Vienna, then Bucharest, then the plane home? Along with your bag and your handbag?”
“Whatever it takes, I’m going to carry it.”




We seem to have got the best weather.  In the 10 days before we arrived, Cyprus was battered by huge storms, one of them with golf ball sized hailstones (said the locals) and all of them with sheets of rain and wild winds. We walked down the road from our hotel and in a dip of the road we could see that there had been a flood across the road at least 2 feet deep, because at that point, the road verge was 2 feet high and there were heavy mud stains across the footpath.

We followed the road to the sea and the beach was a mess of plastic blue and white sun lounger sofas scattered all along the sand and even up the steep bush-clad slope behind it.  The ice cream vendor’s stall was smashed as was the Sea Sports Club building.  The whole of Coral Bay beach was littered deep with rotting seaweed, sun loungers and broken bits of vendor shacks.

A week after we got back home Elaine spoke to one of her pupils who had started her holiday in Cyprus the day we left.  Her holiday was ruined by sand storms so bad she wasn’t allowed out of the hotel and the organisers had to postpone the New Years night fireworks. But us?  We had a week of glorious sunshine and 19C temperatures.

When we took off from Luton bound for Paphos, it seemed odd that we were flying in a northerly direction, but a straight line from Luton to Cyprus goes over Belgium and then the Balkans. Cyprus is so far buried at the eastern end of the Mediterranean, it’s only a half-hour flight from there to Israel and only an hour’s flight to Egypt.

We were shepherded from the plane across the tarmac to a large corrugated iron shed where we picked up our bags in the early evening gloom, passed through customs and found the bus that was transferring us to our hotel. We gave our luggage to the bus driver and rushed over to see the Med. It looked like Lake Taupo, except that it’s bigger so you can’t see the opposite shore, but the waves were similar with little white caps out to sea and a light splashing sound at our feet. There was a sharp breeze blowing in and the beach was shallow and covered in little white crystalline pebbles. There was no tide mark.

On holiday with the English

Let me tell you about the English, then I’ll tell you about Cyprus. The last person onto the bus was dressed in a green shirt and trousers and introduced himself to all of us as the Airtours transfer rep. So that’s the first thing you learn about travel from England to an overseas destination: you are a member of a tour party and everyone on the bus is a member of your tour party and you are always treated as a group, even though the members have never met. It was at about that point I realised that we were on an Airtours tour.

The tour companies lay on everything: the transfer bus to get you to and from the airport, a rep to look after your requests and complaints, the block booking at the hotel, activities and excursions during the day and entertainment at night. They had physed classes, pool activities and fun things for kids and adults to do all day, but they also offered an optional trip by coach (a big, luxury bus) to Nicosia, a day out in Egypt and an adventure tour up into the mountains.

The entertainment at night was the funniest bit. First the hotel did a buffet dinner for 5 pounds each then in a room downstairs the rep organised a 15-question quiz, then a single round of bingo with a 100 pound prize, then the real entertainment like dancing, a floor show or a karaoke night. When they do singalongs, the English have songs they absolutely adore and to those tunes they do movements such as waving their arms from side to side over their heads, or twirling their fingers or do a few line-dancing steps – all sorts of things.  You’ve seen Hi-De-Hi; you’ve got the picture. They re-create Butlins everywhere. They also like their English food; soup, chips, baked spuds, lamb chops, rib roasts, sausages, boiled veges, jelly and ice cream. They don’t want foreign food, they want what they like.

I’m not trying to take the mickey; I’m trying to show you how things work. Every nation does it; all the Kiwis on their big OE live with the Aussies and South Africans in the middle of London and go to rugby matches and watch the Super 12 on Sky and drink Fosters in a local pub. You see what I mean – people like to take bits of their home with them.

When the English go to their holiday destinations, they’re not really travelling; they are going to a resort where they will get looked after and have lots of fun in a climate more agreeable than the one they left behind. In the main they don’t leave the hotel, they haven’t come to experience the local culture nor to explore the local history, they are there to be entertained and to have fun with the same expectations they would have if they were in Blackpool, Brighton or Bognor Regis.

In Cyprus

The rep explained things about Cyprus in general and our hotel in particular as the bus drove from the airport to Pahpos and then from Paphos to Coral Bay, dropping off passengers as it went. Cyprus is safe – there’s hardly any crime. It’s divided into two with the southern half being run by Greek Cypriots and the northern half by the Turks.  The Greeks will tell you the Turks invaded in 1974 and the Turks will tell you the Greeks got control by staging a coup, backed by the military junta then in power in Greece.

 A British army officer drew a line on the Cyprus map with a green pen to divide the island and the line is referred to as the Green Line. It goes through the middle of the capital, Nicosia, and they say that Nicosia is the last divided city in Europe. Don’t put your toilet paper down the loo, put it in the rubbish basket next to the loo.  If you put it down the loo, you will block it because the pipes are too small.  Your loo will backfill and it will flood your apartment. You will then need to get the hotel to send a plumber to fix it and that is VERY embarrassing.

“Eat the local food whenever you get the opportunity,” he said, “because it’s cheap and delicious. The temperatures at this time of the year are mild rather than warm, but in the summer when you step off the plane it’s like walking into a sauna. And, it hardly ever rains here, the water comes from melted snow off the mountains in the middle of the island. Don’t drink the tap water, it will give you a tummy ache, buy and drink bottled water.”

We listened carefully to all of this, because he was actually living on the island with his girlfriend so he knew a bit about it.  While we listened to him we thumbed through our Thomas Cook Travellers CYPRUS book that we had bought before we left St Albans and recognised one of the place names that the coach passed – The Tombs of the Kings.  So the first day was taken up entirely in travelling there.  The hotel was a modern affair of Mediterranean styled villa apartments calling itself Aqua Sol Village with a very good view over the sea.

On the morning of the second day we had to wait until 11am to get our Rep’s Briefing. This was a meeting in the downstairs lounge where the rep gave us some briefing papers on Cyprus and what to expect as well as giving us invitations to various excursions and then explaining how to hire a car.  

We signed up for the coach tour to Nicosia the next day, the day in Egypt, an appointment with the Avis rep the morning after the Nicosia trip to pick up our hire car and spent the afternoon exploring Coral Bay on foot. In the middle of the village is a nightclub, a couple of jewellers, several restaurants, some real estate agents, a small supermarket and a few souvenir shops.

The eyecatcher, though, was the Blazing Saddles pub with proper steak meals, real English food and Sky television with a rolling display of all the English soccer games and when they would be shown – live, of course – on their big screen. All the businesses were open but there were very few customers.

Coral Bay itself is M-shaped, except that the middle leg is quite short, and sweeps upward from the sea inland to an horizon at least 400ft above sea level.  On every yard of that uphill sweep, developers are building houses. Their owners will have a fantastic view of the lapis-blue Med, but there will be a terrible cost to the crumbly, rocky, barren hillside while the individual buildings are just one Mediterranean design endlessly repeated with every one of them painted white.

We wandered along the beach and met an English couple who were sweeping the wide sandy beach with metal detectors looking for coins, rings, jewellery and other metal treasures, then we walked over the rocks to a local fisherman and watched him hold a little red float out into the water as far as he could reach with a very long fibreglass fishing rod.  There was a fresh catch still flapping in a white plastic bag near the upturned bucket he was sitting on. We could see through the plastic bag the shining silver flashes of an exhausted fish barely half a pound in weight.

Dusk turns into dark night very quickly on Cyprus so at about 4:00pm we walked the long way back to our hotel stopping to inspect shuttered houses and to note the mess of broken branches, scattered leaves and water-swept mud left behind by recent storms.

On the morning of the third day we found we wouldn’t be going to Egypt because not enough people had booked and the flight had to be full. Elaine was very disappointed because she was dead keen to see the pyramids and sail the Nile because getting to Egypt is very expensive from England and she wonders if we’ll ever get a second chance.

I was pleased we weren’t going because I wasn’t keen to take a day out from our Cyprus holiday to take a totally unconnected side trip. This was the day of our coach trip to Nicosia. There was a 17km ride to Paphos endlessly interrupted with bumpy rides down narrow, dusty streets picking up passengers from various hotels.

Then there was a long uninspiring ride on the motorway with tantalising glimpses of the sea broken by only two events.  The guide (we picked her up in Paphos) pointed to a couple of rocks in the surf just out of Paphos but a fair way from the motorway and said that was the birthplace of Aphrodite; we took a mental note to come back. And there was a hurried stop for a loo break and a cup of tea in a smoky mountain cafe.

The most interesting thing about Nicosia is the Green Line.  Everything else is generic European City with a few notable exceptions.  There is the Venetian Wall which is a high earth embankment that the Venetians built as part of the defences for the Old City in the 1560s to try to keep out the Turks. The wall would be about 10m high and is faced with heavy sandstone blocks. It didn’t succeed as a defence for very long. There is a 30m bronze statue of Makarios outside the presidential palace – and his heart is preserved in the bedroom! Within the grounds of the palace there is St John’s Cathedral, which is pock-marked rather ominously with bullet holes from the fighting during the coup that toppled Markarios. The cathedral is heavily adorned inside with bright paintings of saints and scenes from the scriptures, many of them painted in the late 1600s.  

Elizabethan ramparts, Berwick

The seats have very tall backs and tilt-up bottoms, with an arm rest for when you are sitting and a higher arm rest for when you are standing because, said the guide, the services can be very long – up to 5 hours on a special day. Behind the cathedral is a museum of, mostly, Byzantine icons.  Icons are paintings of saints, with a special emphasis on the Madonna and the Madonna and Child, and they are holy objects in their own right. They are usually painted on a wooden or cork backing and were made to be portable so they could be carried round the villages. Some of them are decorated with silver over the saint’s halo and the three icons painted by the apostle Luke himself are now totally covered in silver because they are so holy ordinary mortals are not allowed to view the pictures.

We had made up our minds to see the Green Line so we followed a winding and narrowing little street, hoping it lead in the general direction. We passed St Katherine’s. It was converted to a mosque in the 1570s after the Turkish conquest.  It is eerie and uncomfortable to see the stout gothic arches of a Christian church which has alongside it a tall minaret with four large loudspeakers pointing resolutely in each of the compass directions. We walked uncertainly through the gate and along the path to the main door of the building and stopped when we saw rugs in rows on the floor and shoes in rows at the door. A man walked up to us in a white flowing robe. We said hello. He stopped and looked at us. We fled. We felt miserable, isolated, intruders even. Certainly strangers. But I look at those loudspeakers in my photo of the minaret and I wonder. There was a time when a man would climb all those stairs to the platform five times a day and he would call the faithful to prayer. He had to have special qualities in his voice and use the tones that would carry in the wind, those special tones and cadences developed over centuries that make Middle Eastern music so distinctive.  Now, no-one has to make that difficult climb at all, let alone five times a day and no-one has to train his voice so he can be heard by the faithful. Someone turns on a tape player; the amplifier and those huge speakers, they do all the work.
As the street got narrower, so it got dirtier.



The little shops with little houses interspersed were untidy, grubby and uncared for, their paint pealing off, their plaster cracked with holes broken through it in places and their windows translucent with dust. We heard a bandsaw cutting wood and turned a corner to see that the road had ended in a drum-strewn yard enclosed with a tall fence of thick mesh topped with barbed wire. There was a sign, which said in faded paint something about No Photographs. There was an open gate on the other side of the yard so we picked our way across the rubble and saw blue-uniformed soldiers either side of a heavily concreted archway with concrete steps leading upwards.  The windows above us had sandbags piled three-high on the windowsills but the sandbags were growing moss, grass and even small shrubs.

There was no sign this time but we knew were at the Green Line and we guessed that the pale blue uniforms belonged to the United Nations forces that patrol the few metres of space that goes for a no-man’s land along the whole length of the Green Line.  The bandsaw echoed in a building to our left and we could see that it was a builder or a carpenter at work in his business. When we moved a little further up the road so we couldn’t hear it any more, we noticed that the whole place was absolutely dead silent. No vehicles, no birds, no voices, nothing. Elaine was really spooked. She wanted to get out of there – fast. She never wanted to go in there in the first place…  We smiled uncertainly at a soldier who suddenly appeared a little to our right, but he wasn’t carrying any weapons and he just disappeared up some steps we hadn’t seen were even there before he used them. He took no notice of us at all.

We picked up some postcards of Nicosia and a couple of CD’s of Greek music on our way back to the coach. Even the air seemed cleaner as we got further away from the Green Line. The traffic began to roar around us and normality resumed.  On our way home the coach called in at Lefkara, a village in the hills that specialises in a unique kind of hand – drawn lace as well as beautiful filigree silver work.  When we got back to the hotel we changed into our finest and caught a taxi to a Greek restaurant out of town a bit that specialised in Greek dancing for after-dinner entertainment.  The place was actually a vineyard and made its own branded wine.



There was a buffet meal of about 10 dishes, but no desert and we could drink as much wine as we liked, but beer, water and lemonade were extra. Greek dancing affects you a bit like Irish dancing and Flamenco dancing; it’s colourful, fascinating and a musical feast, but once is enough. We had to go, of course, and we hoped it was authentic. They had traditional dances in those distinctive Greek pantaloons the men wear, with one very memorable dance about how to seduce the local water-carrying girl. One of the men performed a dance which ended up with his balancing 50 glasses in a pyramid of trays about 1m high on his head. The troupe finished off the night doing Zorba the Greek to a balalaika and a small accordion.

We had to meet the Avis man, sign our forms and pay for our car at 0900 the next day.  The car hadn’t been cleaned from the previous users, but we grabbed it and ran, deciding that we’d start close to home and work our way outwards.

We called in firstly at a small Byzantine-style Greek Orthodox church that was built on a mound overlooking the Coral Bay beach. We thought we might go there on Christmas morning. The public part of the church was really small with seating for only about 20 people, but it was well worth sitting there because the pictures on the walls and ceiling were spectacular in their bright colours and simple graphics. They were the usual iconic scenes of saints and Bible stories but they were so clear they almost spoke aloud. It was the only Greek church we found open of all the churches we visited. We went to the Paphos market. It was mostly under cover and that was a good thing because the morning was fairly cool with light rain and the wind was a bit crisp.

Greek Orthodox church

Greek Orthodox church

As a market it had lots of stalls selling all the usual things – toys, snacks, clothes, leather goods, bags and suitcases, souvenirs, silver and gold, army surplus and, of course, lots and lots of junk. But there were three incidents that made the visit entirely memorable. The first was the vegetable vendors. Much of the food was in bags either on low tables or arranged on the ground with the vendor squatting behind their wares. There was an awful lot of fresh food lying on the ground, though; I suppose tastefully enough arranged – but on the ground. Are there no food regulations?

I took a photograph of the elderly ladies in their market clothes and pinnies attending to their businesses. Just as we left the vege area, there were two stalls that really shook me. A middle-aged woman with filthy hands was eating a banana and watching over a three-tiered stall of fresh fruit and green vegetables. She had on a grubby floral frock and a faded pink scarf. To her left was a concrete block wall. She threw the banana away and grinned at me with broken teeth. I took her photograph, captivated. On the other side of the wall a woman of about the same age and general description sat on the ground and tended a small stall of fresh fruit. all of which was arranged on the ground. I took a photograph of both the stalls with the wall between them. Someone walked between me and them while I took the photo and it was then I realised that the woman sitting on the ground was sitting in the doorway of the women’s loo.
The market, Paphos

The market, Paphos

Secondly, I was looking for a hand painting of a Cyprus scene, rather like the ones we’ve got of Paris and of Blackfriars. They had paintings all right but they were endless repeats of only 5 scenes. One is of a girl in a Victorian hat and dress walking through a poppy field. Another is a Greek Island scene of fishing boats moored to a stone jetty, another of a domed church by a bright blue sea, there’s one of the moon over the Alps at night and then there’s a scene of Paris. Any of them could have been perfect in the right context, but none of them was about Cyprus. At a stall filled with artists supplies I found a watercolour of Aphrodite’s rock. The picture was old and curled at the corners and it wasn’t particularly well done.  It was, however, a picture of Cyprus and I took it inside because I was sure I could get a better price than the 50 pounds price tag on the back.  I suggested it was too expensive. “No,” said the girl, it’s an original painting and it’s going to be sold for 50 pounds.”  

I said, “It’s been sitting out here on display for a long time, it’s tattered and it’s amateurish. How about 10 pounds?”

She said, “My painting will last a hundred years and it will be sold for 50 pounds or it won’t be sold at all.” I was talking to the artist.  She was determined, I was embarrassed and Elaine was horrified. We left without the painting.  I caught up with Elaine. “How was I to know that the only painting I wanted in the entire place was painted by her?”

“One of these days someone is going to shoot you.  I just hope he misses me.”

The third thing were the tablecloths. They were beautifully made in lots of colours, sizes and patterns.  They were locally produced and they were quite reasonable in price. Elaine spent at least an hour with one of the vendors in a shop that positively dripped table cloths and finally settled on three real beauties, with intricate embroidery, clear, sharp colours and patterns and generous dimensions.
We drove back to the sign announcing the Tombs of the Kings, with a hotel immediately opposite called the Valley of the Kings. The tombs weren’t made for kings but they are so impressive that it looks like they should have been.  They were carved underground out of the solid rock about 2300 years ago. The site is a World Heritage Park, which I think means mostly that Cyprus doesn’t have the cost of looking after it.  The early tombs were horizontal shafts cut into the rock and sealed after they had been used. The later tombs were very elaborate, large square holes rather like an underground house, with a staircase cut into the rock to give access to the rooms below with beautifully crafted doric pillars fronting burial chambers.  Some of the shafts dug into the walls are for just one burial and others are for whole families.
Valley of the kings, Paphos

Valley of the kings, Paphos

Think of it this way; you are standing at ground level looking down into a hole carved out of red rock about 15m square and 5m deep. Immediately in front of you at the bottom of the hole are 5 gracefully tapering columns holding up the roof. To your right is a stone staircase cut out of the solid rock.  Behind the columns are deep horizontal shafts for holding the dead.  What you are looking down into must have been the room the mourners walked down into and held the last ceremonies before sealing the dead in those shafts. It’s an extraordinary feat, multiplied many times and adapted in differing ways as people’s beliefs modified over time. The whole site would have been at least 30 acres with lots of tombs and much of the site marked out for future exploration.

On the way back to the hotel we saw a sign leading past our turnoff that said Coral Bay Sea Caves. It was nearly dark but we knew we wouldn’t be back this way so we went to see the caves. We parked on a flat area that had been formed by the simple expedient of bulldozing the clifftop into the sea below. The rest of the cliff formed a horse-shoe to our right and immediately opposite us we saw the caves, sea-carved recesses deeply undercutting the solid rock cliff that rose about 100ft and then swung upwards in a series of terraces to a horizon about 300 feet high but about a kilometre inland. They were building houses on that steep slope. I couldn’t believe it. I would have thought if they wanted to use this site as a tourist attraction, or even if they didn’t, with those beautiful caves being pounded by deep blue sea at the base of a sheer white cliff, the least you’d do would be to keep the view.

In the CYPRUS book was a walk around Paphos that I was keen to do. The following morning, day 5, we drove into Paphos, parked the car near the waterfront and had a cup of coffee at one of the waterfront cafes that looked out on the old harbour fort while we checked our book to see where the walk should start. It said “1. Waterfront cafes.” There’s a breakwater and a small sheltered harbour with colourful local fishing boats moored alongside multi-storey millionaire yachts.  

We had a look through the old fort which was a part of the city’s defences long ago, but had been used in the 18th century as a prison by the Turks then a salt warehouse for the British and now was a prized and much-loved city landmark. We wandered along the waterfront to talk to the fishermen.  

We couldn’t see they were catching anything. “What are you catching?” Elaine asked one of these men with his super-long fishing rod, no reel and a small yellow float bobbing on the water. “You ask me what I am catching today?” said the man with a huge grin and a shrug. “Nothing. But if you are asking me what I am going to catch tomorrow – anything!” There was a mackerel flapping around in one of the men’s buckets so we thought that was probably the main thing caught.  We grinned back at him and left him to it.

At the back of the harbour was another World Heritage Site with the remains of some magnificent Roman villas. We could see that they were built exactly the same as the houses we had explored and studied in St Albans.  They had the same sturdy concrete foundations – yes, the Romans built in concrete – as the houses in St Albans and some still had the remains of the underfloor heating – called the hypocaust – that we have seen here.  

What put these houses apart, though, was their absolutely magnificent mosaic floors. The pictures were of Roman gods and their adventures. The biggest house with the most complete mosaic floors is now fully covered with a modern roof and viewing platforms so people can move about the house and see these floors without causing any harm.  According to some accounts the more usual pictures were factory made in Rome and you ordered them from the factory or the trader much as you might these days order a roll of lino for the kitchen floor.  The mosaic came on a web backing and you stuck it to the floor.  These particular mosaics are so unusual that it is generally supposed they were made in Cyprus and laid in situ by local craftsmen.

Also on the site was a Roman amphitheatre called the Odeion Theatre and a Byzantine fort called Forty Columns, now in ruins, that had mostly been carved from the solid rock.  A lot of what was left was the catacombs underground.  There were large broken pillars lying on the ground and ruined arches outlined against the sky like skeletons that spoke volumes about how grand and how imposing the fully functional building must have been. Just outside the perimeter fence of the site was a lighthouse and beyond that, stuck fast in breaking waves on a shallow reef about half a mile off-shore was a freighter. When we asked the locals about it, they said that the freighter’s owners had run it aground to get the insurance when the shipping company had run out of money.

My walk said “5.  Agia Solomoni,” so we walked up one of the main streets of Paphos looking for a tree bedecked in handkerchiefs. The tree grows out from under the pavement and its heavy trunk bends sharply upwards, looking as though it were nearly dead and a good wind would topple it. The tree was indeed covered with bits of cloth tied to it, a sign said that the faithful believed they could leave their affliction behind them tied to the tree.  There was a deep, square hole with a narrow rock staircase more or less underneath the tree and since my little book said it was still in use as a church, we went down the steps very quietly.  

When we were in the middle of the hole we could see the sky above but as our eyes became used to the gloom we could also see that the northern wall of the hole had been much further hollowed out into the solid rock to make two rooms.  The room on the right had low forms to sit on, candles glowing in hollows in the wall and in other alcoves someone had set up very old and faded icons of the sort we had seen in Nicosia.

At the end of the room was a table covered with a white tablecloth and there was a large bunch of flowers in a crockery vase.  As we sat down, an old lady shuffled in from the small room next door.  She looked at us for a moment and said, “Church.”  We nodded.  She went to each of the alcoves in turn and bent deep into the space, then very gently and very quietly she kissed each of the icons. We could hear the slight touch of her lips with each kiss. She shuffled back into the small room. A few minutes later when we bent under the door lintel to say goodbye, we found she had gone. I still have no idea how she could have gone so quietly.

By this stage it was getting gloomy and we still had one more visit to make. St Paul’s pillar was supposed to be up a side street a few hundred metres back down the road.  We found the place, marked by a very nice old church flanked by a deep gully with a narrow wooden bridge. The church was called Agia Kyriaki and was built in the 12th century, making it the same age as the Norman churches in England, and when we looked inside we could see that it was used by both Catholics and Anglicans.

Some English people were busy organising the next morning’s Christmas service. In the grounds to the left were two abandoned old low stone buildings with distinctive domed roofs with holes in them that marked them out as Turkish baths.  In front of the church but well fenced off were the ruins of a Roman building, generally thought to be the forum, with a good collection of columns, some still standing, some half broken and some crashed on the ground. We found a sign that pointed to a short, broken-off pillar.  This was the pillar to which the Romans had tied Paul and given him 39 lashes because the Governor objected to him preaching Christianity.  It was dark and we had covered all our walk of Paphos.

We wanted day 6 to be used exploring the northern beaches and reckoned that Polis, only 34km away, had to be only about a ½ hour drive. This was when we saw that the Cyprus economy is made up of a booming tourist and urban economy laid on top of rural poverty. We took a good quality sealed road to Polis and saw quite clearly the deep rural decline.  

All the hillsides, right up to the very tops, were fully terraced for olives or grapes, yet very little was growing anywhere. Fields close to villages have grape vines, olive groves, horses and donkeys but up on the hillsides on terraces up to a thousand years old, nothing grew.  We pulled off the main road and took a winding little sealed road a couple of kilometres into one of the mountain villages where we parked the car and walked around.

Everyone there was old. Half a dozen old men were making a noise in a dilapidated cafe and a few old men shuffled up the road to join them as we watched. An old woman walked down the road with milk and bread she had bought from the store near the cafe. The roofs of the houses have missing tiles and the stone walls of the cottages are buckled, unstable and unpainted for many years.

There was a sign outside a newly renovated cottage, something to do with a department for rural regeneration. A donkey lying a paddock of long lush grass idly watched us walk by as we tried to work out how the Cypriot outside oven was operated.  We had seen them built into people’s garden walls everywhere we had been in Cyprus and there was one in a wall of every cottage we had passed, although none here had been used recently because grass and moss grew in the oven cavity.

The oven consists of three domed cavities of which the centre one is the largest. We couldn’t see a chimney so we didn’t (don’t) know if they actually have a fire in the central cavity or if they simply fill it with glowing embers.   The two side cavities are used for implements and food mixes. We had seen a postcard of two women taking newly baked bread out of one, so we assumed there was some truth in the picture.

The road going north ended at the beach in a fork – left to Latchi and Aphrodite’s bath and right to Polis.  We stayed with Aphrodite and turned left. Latchi is a delightful little village kept painted and bright behind a little harbour protected by a new stony breakwater.  There were at least 20 restaurants selling mostly seafood meals and a couple of boatbuilding yards with fishing boats and launches in dry dock being serviced.

There were no customers in the restaurants.  They didn’t look overly concerned; when the weather warmed up, the tourist season would start again and their customers would come flooding back. We followed the road to Aphrodite’s Bath and at a small restaurant with a spectacular view over Chrysochou Bay, there was parking under a carob tree. I picked up a very dark brown/green, semi-circular carob pod and held it up for Elaine to photograph against the background of the tree it came from.

Five carob seeds (one gram) was the earliest weight for precious metals and gems. It’s the root word for carot, the basic measurement of diamonds and gold. We followed the dirt path up the hill, saying no thanks to the three vans-full of vendors who crowded the path trying to sell us citrus fruit, and walked into a cool little opening in the trees.  A small trickle of water oozed out of the stratified rock, splashed down the cliff and sprayed out into a clear, cold, rocky pool.  A big branch from a tree above bowed deeply towards the water and an eel turned over leaves on the bottom looking for food. There was a very conspicuous sign asking people not to enter the water so I took a photo of Elaine sitting on a rock with this lovely pool in the background. This was where Aphrodite bathed before her marriage. It’s a glorious spot and it’s associated with a charming and romantic story.

We went back to the restaurant, ducking the citrus vendors on the way and had a coffee with one of the most spectacular panoramic views of the Med you could hope to see. From the restaurant we walked down a steep pathway with 179 concrete steps (each one numbered) to the Mediterranean Sea and sat on a rock near the water close to a steep, tree-covered island just off shore. In the bright sunshine with the calm, blue sea and the island close off to our left we felt transported into another world.

A car on the other side of the road, going to the pool, blocked our way on the road back to Polis because the lady driver had stopped for a mule that stood in the road. This must have been a well-rehearsed trick for the mule because he simply wouldn’t move so this well-dressed young lady in a cream suit and long dark hair got out of the car and waved her arms to shoo him away. He looked at her.  She pushed him with her hands and he stood his ground. She went around his other side and leant her shoulder into his flanks. He walked around her open door and pushed his head right into the car and then all the way over the driver’s seat into the rear. She stood watching him, totally non-plussed while her male passenger followed the story with his video camera. The mule must have been satisfied with his inspection (or he couldn’t find any food) because he pulled his head out of the car, backed away a little and walked off. She looked around and saw there was a line of cars behind her and a line of cars behind us, every single one of us with their camera on her and the mule.
Polis had a large, very interesting well-decorated domed Greek church so we stopped to inspect it but it was closed. The town itself was a mixture of 1950’s houses and BP service stations with a one-way system that I think we got wrong … but it did have a most beautiful graveyard with large white marble sarcophagi in measured rows. We drove on the coast road for about 20 minutes with the Med on our left and rather plush farmland of long green grass and low-growing grape vines on our right, until we came to the top of a steep cliff with a commanding view of the sea.  We stopped the car to admire the view and we were hit by an appalling smell from a tightly packed goat farm in a paddock on the other side of the road. People were building new houses here to take advantage of that wonderful view. Didn’t they notice the smell on the day they bought their section? It was dusk. We had gone far enough.

We changed at the hotel and decided we would try one of the local restaurants for dinner on this, our Christmas Eve in Cyprus. Of course we chose a Greek restaurant and ordered the meze.  It was supposed to be lots of small dishes, 7 Cyprus pounds per person, plus drinks.  When we were served the eighth course, I said to the waiter, “How many more?”  And he said, “How many do you want?” Everything was absolutely delicious. They used honey instead of sugar, cooked in olive oil and used a little garlic in some dishes and cinnamon in others. Their bread was fresh and sweet, their vegetables hot but still crisp and their meat just lightly toasted and soooo soft.  Elaine was so taken with this beautiful style that she scoured the bookshelves wherever she saw them for the next two days until she found, at the local supermarket, a magnificent Greek cookbook with lots of different recipes and really good photographs.
Elaine sitting by the hotel pool

Elaine sitting by the hotel pool

One book for her, a second one for Genevieve.  The restaurant was offering a turkey dinner for Christmas night so we signed up for that and drove back to the hotel.

Christmas Day. We wanted to take the coast road that runs parallel to the motorway, but much closer to the sea, all the way from Coral Bay to Agia Napa, if we could, but the one thing we had to do was to see Aphrodite’s rock.  We had travelled several kilometres past Paphos when the first brown sign on the way told us to stop at Paphos Castle.

The big brown road signs indicate sites of interest to the visitor. The site wasn’t open because it was Christmas Day, but a small sign next to the ice-cream vendor-cum-ticket booth said entry to the site was free, the visitor only paid to enter the museum. It turns out that Palaia Paphos was the original location of Paphos and the new town was built in its present location, as a port, when this castle was taken by the Persians in – listen carefully – 500BC.
The town was already 1200 years old … A temple to Aphrodite had been built there in 1000 BC. Some of the original neolithic stones are still in place in parts of the foundations and the lower walls.  The neolithic stones are the largest building blocks on the site. There are parts of the castle that are Persian, Byzantine and Roman.  My guide book said there was a mosaic floor featuring the story of Leda and the swan in a Roman villa 200m from the castle itself.  
This particular mosaic is depicted on many of the postcards of Cyprus and, apart from the statue of Aphrodite herself, is the most memorable and charming Cypriot image. We spent more than half an hour looking and eventually, having climbed through a hole in the fence to a little outbuilding that was mostly a roof, we were able to look at this most beautiful mosaic.  Leda is in an argument with a swan and she is about to sweep away in a huff, swinging a corner of her diaphanous dress in a dramatic gesture. The angry swan is a metamorphosed Zeus, but I’m not familiar with the story.
The picture, though, is a wonderfully crafted piece all the more remarkable because the colours are not painted on the tiny mosaic tiles; the colours used are those of the stones themselves. . It wasn’t very big – I doubt that the whole mosaic was a metre square, decorated border included – but the movement, the humour and the passion were so lovingly and colourfully depicted that we could see immediately why Leda’s mosaic was so well known across the whole island. We felt privileged; we had finally seen Leda and the swan.
Opposite the castle was a small 12th century Byzantine church. It too, was closed, but we did wonder why there was a wrapping of string all the way around the building, about 8ft off the ground. The church in Polis was similarly wrapped, too.

We headed for Aphrodite’s Rock and we had a magnificent view from the road above of three rocks in a deep blue sea.  When we drove up to the beach, we found that the largest rock was called Petro tou Romiou (The Rock of Romius) and that Aphrodite was born out of the foam of the waves around the rock.  That’s how she was named – afros, the sea foam.  We had a cup of coffee in a kiosk nearby and looked out over the stunning blue Mediterranean Sea on a beautiful Christmas morning while we watched the waves splash and crash and foam around the rocks and onto the beach and listened to them telling us one of the great stories of ancient civilisation.

We followed the sign to the Sanctury of Apollo Hylates.  It, too, was closed on Christmas Day but some people who were leaving showed us where the hole in the fence was. On this site was the best preserved and most complete set of Roman buildings we have seen so far – anywhere – but even so, most of what was there were foundations. It seems that almost everything on the island was flattened by several earthquakes in the 4th century.
There were four main buildings: a barracks that held troops to guard the temple, with an ablutions block and toilets – you could even see the Roman tile pipes, and the much smaller lead pipes, that were part of the plumbing.  There was a gallery, which was a narrow building at least 50m long, where the Governor hung pictures and other objects of art for visitors to admire. There was a Roman bath-house with the most complete hypocaust we have seen. The column of tiles holding up the floor would have been a metre high, and the hole where the copper boiler once sat would have held a boiler of about 1.5m in diameter and about 3m high.
The fourth building was the most spectacular because it was the original temple to Apollo, partially restored. My guide book says it was so small, the Romans must have held the ceremonies outdoors. There were several new columns modelled on the very old one that was still standing when the restoration was attempted and part of the back wall was full height. It would have been majestic in its day and it had a panoramic view over the valley and off to the hills in the background.

About 1/2km down the road, unheralded, was a Roman games venue with a sign that said The Stadium.  We just sort of drove into it and it was quite a sight in the deeply gathering gloom.  The walls were big blocks of sandstone arranged in terraces to about 3m high on both sides of a dead flat floor at least 120m long but only about 50m wide. I have no idea what they did in there, but it was a very good venue for it. We were forced to go back to town because it was so dark, and we hadn’t even got as far as Lemisol. There are lots of other places we should go to if we ever go back, but our adventures were intensely satisfying and we both felt that we had seen and done as much as was possible on a quiet, relaxing holiday to Cyprus.
We arrived, washed, changed and in our Sunday best, exactly on time for our appointment with Christmas dinner at the Greek restaurant in the Coral Bay village centre.  The chef made the most tender and succulent turkey I have ever tasted, with a sumptuous stuffing of ground chestnuts, honey, cinnamon and prunes along with all the usual trimmings of veges and baked potatoes. Then he put out the Christmas puds, individually cooked as dumpling-sized cakes in pottery bowls with brandy sauce and a crepe suzette.  There were Christmas candles all around us and hanging webs of sparkling glow-worm lights on a background of Greek fishing vessels, a small Christmas tree and heavy wooden furniture. We had a truly magical night.

On Boxing Day morning we packed up and left Cyprus, arriving in England after dark to a cold, wet, wintry welcome at Luton.

Aegina, Greece

“You must go to Aegina! If you are in Athens for more than a day, then you have time to go to Aegina.” This from George, a jeweller in the Athens Flea-market, who spoke good English because, he said, he had spent many years in Sydney before coming back to Athens.
“Aegina,” he explained, “is only an hour by ferry from Piraeus.” We’d heard of Piraeus – the port of Athens, and the seediest place in all Greece, said Lonely Planet. “It is named after the aegina nuts that have grown there for thousands of years and it is still the main crop – you will see lots of orchards.”
“People now call them pistachios, but they are really aeginas and even the Romans ate them. At one time,” he continued, “Aegina was the capital of Greece.” He stopped and examined us; “You must go there.”

Pistachio nuts growing in an orchard

We took the Metro from Athens to Piraeus and it didn’t take us long to find the kiosk on the harbour front that sold tickets for the ferry to Aegina. It was about 24 euros return for both of us, and the trip did indeed only take about an hour. A pleasant enough crossing, too. Aegina is one of the Greek Islands, albeit pretty close inshore. We didn’t have a hope of getting to any of the other islands, such as Santorini, because some of them take all night on the ferry to get there. We met one of the islanders on the ferry – her parents lived on the harbour and she was attending Athens University, going home most weekends.

As you can see from the pictures below, Aegina simply glows in the sunshine. The temperatures were mild and the food in a cafe near where I took the picture of the fisherman, was simply delicious. We did enjoy excellent Greek cooking all around Athens and now we knew cooking was very much a passion throughout Greece.
Boats in Aegina harbour

Boats in Aegina harbour

Aegina harbour is a little pearl of white houses with terracotta roofs, narrow twisting lanes to explore, some nice Roman and Greek ancient sites and three beautiful churches.
Aegina harbour

Aegina harbour

The most remarkable is the tiny twin-domed church of Agios Nikolaos nestled against the harbour wall and having the most beautifully painted and decorated interior.
Church of Agios

Church of Agios

I saw the priest below sitting in a (bus?) shelter reading and I asked him if I could take his photo. He looked at me blankly. I pointed to my camera and then him, and he nodded once.


After I had taken the photo I told him I would give five euros to the Agios church, but he ignored me. We walked to the church and it was closed, so once we were back in Piraeus I went into the crypt of the church there and gave my euros to the elderly woman custodian. I think she understood what I said.
We walked around the harbour and explored the narrow lanes. There were tiny houses perched upon shops and little market stalls, mostly filled with gaudy trinkets waiting somewhat sadly for the tourist season to return. The souvenirs were of the outer Greek Islands and we couldn’t find a single one of Aegina itself. We walked about 4 miles from the harbour following the coast road, past an orchard of postachios, a small school, a summer playground, a few empty houses built for the season, but nothing of any consequence. Just a nice, quiet walk. We walked back to town and then around the other side of the harbour to the Theatre of Apollo, with its one tall column, but it closed at 3pm and we were just late. Never mind – a nice town, lovely atmosphere and a pretty harbour.
When all is said and done, this is still a harbour and when the wind blows, things get covered in sea and salt. You’d have thought a local would have known better than to park his car alongside the sea wall.
Car getting wet

Car getting wet

As we strolled around the harbour, we couldn’t help noticing that half the taxis here were of the horse and buggy type. This poor, tired horse was typical of the breed as they trotted noisily and colourfully around the small town.
Horse and carriage

Horse and carriage