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Indian Cow

India, 24 Sept 2012

Good morning everyone from New Delhi where it is around 36 degrees and sunny.

Evenings are warm and gentle with the guards mostly quietly sitting around in their clusters all along our street happily playing cards and drinking cups of chai freshly made for them by the chai wala down the street.  As we pass they lift their heads, nod in recognition, smile, greet us and return to their game.  It is like this every day… the same smiling faces treating us with respect and watching that the inevitable stray dogs keep away from us as we pass by on foot, watching that they are safe from us and we are safe from all strangers.

As we walk all manner of bicycle adaptations pass by weaving through the parked cars and potholes calling “hare hare” to encourage sales of the products piled high behind them.  Others collect piles of recycling for sale.  By night many of the faces change, the numbers increase, dogs bark periodically including the two huge guard dogs at the base of our building and from time to time whistles sound as guards pass messages to one another about people who may venture on and off the gated estate.  On each of the balconies of the houses pigeons roost and coo. By evening the baby dragons, as Liam calls them (ghekko) crawl across the kitchen window, usually only one each evening.

As I type this I have just been to school with Barry and our chauffeur Anand, collected Liam, played with him in the school playground and eaten the chocolate crackle cake he made for me at nursery this morning. Last week I visited his class at The British School, met his teacher and the teaching assistants and had a lovely time with them looking at their classroom and discussing how they do things.  

They are studying food at the moment so each day I come his teacher calls “Mr Liam, Grandma is here,” then she hands me the special treat Liam has cooked for me. The British curriculum is followed in the school and in a beautiful way with an Indian twist. I enjoy our daily routine of school pick- up, something I did not get to do with my own children as they attended the school where I taught. Now home, as I type I hear the sounds of our maid Shamila turning our home into a palace for us and Liam calling me to once again play football.  In India this is how we live.

Now that the monsoon has mostly passed the trees are lush and green and a huge jacaranda tree shares its beautiful mauve flowers with me each time I glance from the balcony of my bedroom.  It never ceases to amaze me how huge and glossy the leaves are at this time of year; dark green and shining and some sporting enormous and exotic flowers.  

Having seen the same trees in winter covered in dust and straining for air and moisture one wonders how the monsoon could make such an extraordinary difference in such a short time.  But this is India, an India where when the torrential rain strikes as it did on our trip back from Rajasthan on Sunday. People come out in their hoards on foot and on motorcycles weaving through the traffic, drenched to the bone, no raincoats used, laughing and chatting as the rain continued to team down.

Sometimes two adults and up to 3  children on a small motorcycle out enjoying the monsoon together.  Everywhere the brightly coloured saris of the women on the back of the bikes brightens the brown muddied waters that flow quite deeply everywhere.  The road, broken up in many places, has huge barriers that drivers weave through in huge numbers tooting horns to vie for position. At many junctions it was like driving through fords of long ago NZ.

I so admired my daughter as she chose carefully the vehicles to follow to allow us to gauge the depth of those swiftly flowing waters to bring us safely home after all the hours of drivng needed to get us back to Delhi, using the all the Indian driving conventions to ensure we could take our rightful place in each queue.  That in itself is a real art!!! We were not to guess these conditions having driven down to Neemrana in Rajasthan in brilliant sunshine and traffic jams just the day before! Everywhere we travelled people glanced at us, then suddenly looked back, followed by long stares….  It appeared we were the only Europeans on that road and certainly the only vehicle with a white  woman driver!  People appeared to be fascinated with my skilful daughter!

Although very short, that trip was well worth it, allowing me to glimpse a variety of aspects of Indian rural life which I found fascinating, to drive through herds of horned cows and weave through roadside shanties, shops, dogs, children, beggars, camels, donkeys and carts to catch a glimpse of the most magnificent Fort Palace climbing a full hillside gleaming and brick red in the sunlight and oozing the wealth of the few from former generations.

Such a contrast of wealth and culture!  Down below in the valley the persistent call to prayer from muezzin hollered out from loudspeakers never ceasing day or night. That magnificent palace was to be our home for the weekend! A chance for us to experience, albeit for a short time, what it would be like to live as an ancient Indian prince or princess. If you would like to see it Google Neemrana Fort Palace Hotel Rajasthan.  

On our way back at the sides of the road camels trudged laden with their loads, mules, donkeys and thousands of brightly coloured trucks hooted to one another and to other motorists as they jammed the highway, dodging floodwaters and helping each other as inevitably people got stuck.  On an eight lane highway, with a central island at the four lane mark, often reduced to just part of one lane with floodwater or roadworks, in each direction we struck herders herding hundreds of Brahma cattle.  Women accompanied the herds carrying huge bundles of grass on their heads for the cattle, some cattle were decorated with coloured beads and each herd headed by a sole herder turbaned, sandalled feet and wearing a loose whitish cotton shirt and longhi.  Others followed behind chasing any erring stock with carefully placed hands or sticks.

Neemrana Fort Palace is what is known as a non-hotel hotel.  These are heritage buildings that have been converted  to hotels to preserve them. We stayed right at the top, with huge golden monkeys entertaining Liam from above when we woke in the morning.  Liam loved being here but was unwell for all of the visit. He had travelled well and enjoyed the trip but we had not long arrived when once again he relapsed. It didn’t  stop his fascination for all he saw or from enjoying the entertainers who charmed us with music, dance and their feats with fire.

He was less enthusiastic as a dancer stood behind us with a large tray covering us with hundreds of frangipani petals as we accompanied by traditional music instruments from his little band but later asked Genevieve to come up with him to join a chain of dancers who moved like a conga around the room. He was also fascinated with the male dancer who dressed as a peacock danced among us then posed for photographs. Throughout our visit we could hear real peacocks calling well into the night near the base of the fort, making it real for him.

As the entertainers performed I was grateful for and enjoyed the starter of chopped vegetables laced with fresh onion and covered in tiny spicy Indian crackers and sipped my lemon soda designed to rehydrate me after the long hot sunny day.  Some others around us were more reluctant to try the delicious Indian treats.  I loved it, but took care to eat within boundaries of common sense.  

We followed the other  guests into the magnificent dining room and enjoyed a dinner of Indian treats interspersed with supporting and tending to Liam as once again the sickness took hold of his little body, his frustration apparent to all.  Liam loved the palace and so badly wanted to explore it! We had to work within compromises to allow this to happen and to keep close to much needed toilets. For Genevieve especially this was a long and busy day…

The hotel had two beautiful pools.  Liam loves to swim but this was not to be for us this time as Liam’s stomach again and again reminded us of how precious this little man is to us all. Between his bouts of illness he played with his cars, football and trains and loved climbing all the marble steps to different levels within our hotel apartment. Later in the evening  we were about to climb down the hundreds of steps that took us down to the amphitheatre and beyond and nearby to the  car park to view the magnificence of the palace when lit up at night.  

Liam loved all the lights!  Genevieve and I set our cameras to catch the magic of the beautifully lit palace and capture the happiness we had as a family on that lovely balmy evening.  This was the week of Genevieve’s birthday so we had driven down to celebrate.

Liam, of course, has been the reason for my visit to India; a visit that has been hard to describe because his condition has fluctuated so much from day to day. During this time we have done all we can to show him love, keep him occupied and stimulated and to try to find any kind of food he will try and that will actually stay in his body!  An illness that has severely tested his stomach and been challenging for us all for several months.

During the time I have been here Liam has also had a battery of tests.  Together with the tests that have now arrived from Singapore everything has been sent to the doctor and Genevieve and Barry were planning to have a meeting with her this week to find out what it all means for them and for Liam.  It looks as though the original diagnoses of cholera may well have been wrong.  In the meantime we have tried some  dietary changes I have suggested, together with the foods  Liam is asking for himself and the diarrhoea, at least for the last two days has subsided. In the meantime Liam is back at school and is playing with us a lot. It is wonderful to once again hear his laughter echo through the marble of our home.   

I am getting quite good at a range of games and sports for an active three year old!!!  I have also been pleased to have had some recent nursery teaching experience as I have been able to follow up with him the work he is doing at school, compensating or the days we have been forced to keep him home, sometimes for health reasons and also when advised to do so when the strikes occurred in the area where his school is located and once when the school contacted us to say they were closing as a threat had been made against the US embassy nearby. So much happening in such a short time.

With my IPad, dinosaurs quickly bought from the local toy shop which Liam loves, games, balloons,  soft footballs, songs and general body strength building activities we have managed to keep this little man happy and less focussed on his stomach.   Barry and Gene teach him lots too and while this has been happening we have been seeing him apparently getting stronger. There is still some way to go as even minor change of routine so far has meant we start back at square one so we have had to be very careful about choices we make.  

In the meantime we have a little boy who loves to go out and be active so is asking to do lots of things. We have worked hard to find a balance and this seems to be paying off.  While writing this letter Barry has just come in to tell me that the doctor has just rung Genevieve to say the reason Liam used to get lots of colds etc in Amsterdam and why he caught this dreadful bug in Spain then Delhi and Singapore is that he has a weakened immune system.  

The bug has left him deficient in a range of vital nutrients including iron and potassium amongst others which will now need to be rebuilt. She has increased the frequency of his prebiotics and we are to continue with the wheat free and lactose free feeding we introduced to protect his stomach as this seems to help him make progress every day.  We are now seeing a more active child and certainly a much happier one!  

We were delighted to hear he is not celiac and less happy to hear it could take at least another four weeks before he is fully recovered.  In the meantime his laughter,enthusiasm and increased activity are like a piece of heaven. For me this trip has been well worth it and all too soon I shall be jetting my way back to the UK and my own usual routines.

Yesterday we went shopping in the malls of Gurgaon, a first for me and quite a change from the shanti style of shopping we usually do here in Delhi. There are over 25 different mall complexes side by side in central Gurgaon.  We visited just two on this occasion.  Liam played in a little soft play area in one of them for an hour  with Genevieve.  Barry and I became engrossed in a wonderful book shop while we waited for them.  For lunch  we had a selection selection of trays with South Indian treats.  Genevieve was keen for me to try this style of food as for two days this week this will be how she eats while on business at Chennai.

We were in a large Indian food hall at the time. Some I managed, others were a little too spicy but I particularly enjoyed  the rice with yoghurt and cardammon used to calm digestion after the meal and the interetsting selection of Indian breads and dips.  This week I have shopped at Indian supermarkets with a very good range of interesting foodstuffs on offer, many of which I have never seen before.  I saw huge barrels of rice, never realising how much variety there is for rice.  We see so little of this in the West. The spice, dried fruit and nut sections were also fascinating.  The more I see the more I love India!

For some it is a harsh existence, but as long as you have some money it is also a wonderful, varied, happy and colourful place. I feel so fortunate to have had the chance to have experienced these wonderful things and to meet the wonderful people I have met. Today at school I sat on a little bench and talked to a woman whose husband is a diplomat at the Kuwait embassy about her experiences of living in Japan, then India while our children played happily in the sun. Each evening at bedtime I have buried myself in Dave Rager’s book Delirious Delhi which has helped me to appreciate so much more the opportunities around me here. Once finished Barry has bought me behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo which is also recommends as being true of life here.  I do so love it when books come to life!

On Saturday, for Genevieve’s birthday we opened gifts at home then headed for lunch at the Leela Kempinsky Hotel in Delhi in the Qube restaurant.  It was the most magnificent smorgasbord I have ever seen and I have had some beautiful ones in a number of countries in the past.  We dropped off the car to the valets followed by a young woman who was delivered in her silks in a brand new shiny Rolls Royce.

The staff in clean fresh cream tunics and deep maroon turbans bowed and treated us as royalty as we were escorted through the various rooms and corridors with huge carved dressers made in solid silver and, magnificent chandeliers until we were delivered to The Qube which has floor to ceiling windows opening out onto a magnificent water lily garden.  The food was wonderful.  Liam was a little reluctant at first but soon joined us, selecting foods he would like to try and would be able to eat. Incredible lamps that rippled with subtle colour changes hung in clusters from the ceiling. We kept pinching ourselves that it was really us in this magnificent place!

In contrast, here every day brings new experiences and challenges.  The other day amongst our many power cuts followed by the generator kicking in there was a large explosion followed by smoke in the living room and Barry’s expensive amplifier blew up while workmen were testing power outside.  Today we have come home to a workman smashing down sections of wall and exposing the most horrific looking electrical cables I have seen in walls in every floor of the stairwell in the building. This crashing and banging is going on as I write and while he works all our electricity is still on!  Not sure what is protection he has as his hammer smashes down  each section of wall!!!!  This after all is India  and also what makes the place kind of magic, at least to me anyway.  I wonder what tomorrow will bring?



Indian Cow

India, 27 Sep 2012

Thanks so much for letting me come!  This little boy, Liam, has a wonderful sense of humour and is hilarious, his language is quite sophisticated now with tenses, conditional clauses, words like especially, actually etc all being correctly used.  He slips between Dutch and English very easily, talking to Barry, then turning to me and explaining in English what’s being spoken about in perfect English!

But his games have become really sophisticated too. Now that he is feeling healthier he is playing, talking and laughing flat out all day, runs a lot in the house, plays football skilfully with a range of indoor balls and regularly rides his bike up and down.

He has some puppets; his favourite being Fozzy bear from The Muppets.  I put Fozzy on my hand and he has great conversations with Fozzy  about all sorts of things! I have pretended that Fozzy is scared of his T Rex dinosaur I bought him.  When we were in the car especially he says ‘T Rex’ to Fozzy and I get Fozzy to hide behind his car seat.  He loves the game and really chuckles.  We now play it in lots of other places too..

At bedtime he likes me to read his story and put him to bed, especially when Gene is not here at bedtime.  His routine is that you read two books that he chooses, then he lies down, you give him a kiss and cuddle and his bottle, turn off the light and sit on a chair beside his bed.  He drinks his bottle, hands it to you, turns on his side, holds your hand and falls asleep pretty quickly.

Last night he held my hand in both his hands.  They are just like our kids’s hands and feel lovely.  Such a sweet little boy.  He has games for everything now.  Liam is really intelligent and creative. We have been talking lots about what he has been learning at school and I have been building on that in our games, especially phonics.

We have been playing little games with the letters on in the cupcake game too and he roars with laughter, falling about like Jas used to do. Once home from school and often later in the afternoon he likes to come into my room, get under my quilt, lie still and pretend he isn’t there, then jump out and surprise me.  He comes in  and watches little video clips and plays games on my IPad with me..

We have been learning lots about dinosaurs, even listening to little dinosaur songs.  He has his own IPad but loves to use mine so he can be with me.  If my battery is low I just bring his IPad into my room and he is perfectly happy.  Liam can concentrate for hours, a very good sign for his learning and is now really observant.  Every day we are playing together for hours.  He has lots if toys and has a lot of variety in a day now.

Every day after school Barry and I play with him in the playground, sometimes with other kids too. When we go out of the school main door, as soon as he sees Anand he runs flat out, throws up his arms, runs, jumps up and gives Anand a big cuddle.  So lovely to see and Anand clearly really loves him too..

We went to the National Science Museum yesterday after school because there are dinosaurs there.  Liam enjoyed it, although initially being a little scared of the huge moving dinosaur models, which are also in the dark in Delhi.  Barry was great with him and we went though the section several times talking to him about the dinosaurs he saw and especially the ones he knew. Dinosaur names jut trip off his tongue, even one pretty sophisticated names! He also enjoyed he hall of mirrors, mirror maze and some games where ball bearings are sent hurtling through big wire tracks in a variety of ways.

Since being here I have also treated the house fir cockroaches for Barry.

Gene has been in Chennai for the last 2 days.  All went well at home here.  She us now up so I will go and say hello.  She came home after I  went to sleep.  She wasn’t looking forward to going as it has all it pretty political.  Hope it went well.  She sounds happy and relaxed out talking to Liam at the moment in the lounge.

Love you.  See you soon.


Letters home, 2000, Christmas letter

Christmas Greetings from Elaine & Ewart

Greetings from St Albans where we have now been living for the last 18 months!  We’re still here and we still love it.

We had our first English Christmas with snow for a day mid week, and a little more a week later, lots of beautiful coloured lights in towns and on homes, carol singing and bands in the street playing Christmas songs and the most moving church services in Wing and Stanbridge.  The main highlight for us was being given tickets to attend the ‘carols by candlelight’ service in St Albans Cathedral – 2500 people each with a candle and surrounded by the most beautiful choral singing we have ever heard.  And we stood in the freezing cold one magical night and sang carols in St Brelades Place with our Jersey Farm neighbours. Genevieve came over for a month.  After her trip up to Edinburgh for Hogmannay and ours to the River Thames to celebrate the millennium New Year (we were right underneath all those fireworks in London you saw on TV) we all travelled to the Costa del Sol on the Spanish Mediterranean coast for a one-week holiday. We stayed in Torremolinos and visited Gibraltar, Seville, Ronda, Cordoba, the magnificent walled city of Alhambra near Granada and drove along the Mediterranean Coast.  Our main focus for this adventure was Moorish architecture.  We CAN be intellectual.  Since then Genevieve has studied for and passed two courses in Spanish language at Auckland University.

We celebrated our silver wedding anniversary in Paris, just the two of us and only for a weekend.  We enjoyed visiting many of the places we had studied as teenagers learning French in high school.  The architecture of central Paris is stunningly beautiful and we look forward to returning some day to continue our romantic walk along the banks of the Seine.  Lately we have been having other anniversaries – our second Garden City 10 and our second Guy Fawkes night in the frost on Jersey Farm Park.

In the UK Ewart has been kept busy with a range of IT contracts, beginning at first with the large banks in London City. This included West LB and several branches of Deutschebank, mostly as a hardware technician but also as a member of the migration team installing the new style managed desktops on company pc’s.  He also did spells at Maidenhead, Luton and Slough and while on this last job, he left Paddington Station just four minutes ahead of the trains in the Paddington rail disaster.  I had spent the day in blissful ignorance on a school trip with seventy 7 year olds in Suffolk visiting an Anglo Saxon reconstructed village and museum.  Later Ewart was to get a contract in Belgium for 8 weeks working for the Opel Belgium car manufacturing plant in Antwerp.  One week of this coincided with my school holidays so I flew to Belgium to meet Ewart, was put up at the Hilton in both Brussels and Antwerp by Ewart’s contracting company and spent a wonderful week exploring first Brussels, and then Antwerp, on foot.  The architecture was gorgeous and the churches and galleries wonderful – as was the shopping!  I gained a real love for Belgian lemon ice cream – and Belgian chocolates weren’t bad either…. The company paid for Ewart to fly back to England each weekend to spend time with me – home each Friday and back each Sunday night.  It was fun for a while but we were pleased it was not too long term – it is a bit difficult living in different countries from each other but we both managed to enjoy the sights of Belgium when we had time.  While at work Ewart was working long hours so he did not get about that much.  Ewart now has an IT contract with General Electric (GE) at Welwyn Garden City, not far from here, so we are managing to spend a lot more time together.  He is on contract to TESCO, the largest supermarket chain in Britain.

Before leaving NZ I signed up with a teacher supply agency.  I have since signed on with three additional agencies and they have together managed to keep me in full time teaching work.  I have now worked in about seventy different schools in Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire.  It has given us a regular income and plenty of holidays in which to go exploring.  I am currently working at a middle school in Barton-le-Clay (north of Luton) in Bedfordshire.  My contract is about to be renewed until July.  It takes me around 45 minutes each way to commute.  At times the traffic can be very congested but with a bit of local knowledge you learn when to be on the roads and when to avoid them.  It also helps to learn the direction that the traffic flows and then apply for jobs in the opposite direction.  After Christmas I will be training through DeMonteford University in Bedford to have my teaching qualifications recognised.  I have been hit by a new European ruling that means because I don’t have an EU passport my quals are not automatically recognised and some form of retraining is necessary.  The county is paying for it and it will take me 13 weeks instead of the usual year.  Because of this,  to date I have had to be paid at an unqualified teacher rate.

We  have enjoyed being in England and have made lots of new friends amongst family, neighbours and work colleagues.  We have made a point of taking up any offer made to us and we have had many wonderful adventures as a result.  We have really enjoyed visiting the historical features within our financial reach – this has included castles, museums, Roman ruins, roads, houses, buildings in London City, bridges, even the Shuttleworth museum where I got to sit in a Spitfire aircraft at the time of the Battle of Britain celebrations.  Because this was strictly against the rules they closed off a hangar to allow me to do it and send photos home to my dad.  His special friend flew Spitfires in the Battle of Britain.  St Albans is a lovely place to live – it has wonderful huge trees, which change colour with every season, daffodils, bluebell woods, lots of Roman and royal history.  We are less than 10mins from Hatfield House, where Elizabeth 1 grew up and where she was when she was told she would be queen.  Henry Viii still casts his shadow over here, right down to the nunnery ruins near the centre of town, the Queen Mother grew up not far from here in a little Hertfordshire village and the Spensers (Princess Diana’s family) still own a lot of land around St Albans.  We have a wonderful cathedral, one of the oldest in Britain and it takes just 35mins by train to get right into the middle of London if we want a night out or a day exploring.  We both love exploring London and although we have done lots of things there are still many more to do. In fact, we are going to Aldwych, right down by the Thames Embankment in London City, for a Christmas party with Ewart’s GE collegues as one of the last things we’ll do in England before we come home.  Any excuse to go to London …  During the year we have also had visits from several NZ friends who have come exploring with us and we have been out for meals with work colleagues and English friends we have made here.  Some have also invited us home and we have been able to see a truly English view of life.  At every school I have taught at I have asked the children where I should visit and what we should do. The suggestions they have made have given us some wonderful days out together; not to mention pancake day, the Advent calendar with a little present for every day for the last month before Christmas … so many charming, new things.  We have even managed a couple of good local theatre shows.

We have our own lovely little rented flat in a block of ten.  The neighbours are young and friendly professionals and regularly drop in for a chat or a coffee, especially in summer when we all feel more like sitting outdoors.  We have a pretty little enclosed garden of our own which we supplement with potted plants year round.  I have just potted up 18 pots of bulbs (tulips and daffodils) which should flower just after we get back from our Christmas trip to NZ, 14 Dec to 14 Jan. The lawns take 5 minutes to mow!! We have bought identical beige 1983 Austin Metro cars which we have labelled ET1 and ET2 with dayglow stickers.  They are nice and cheap to run and cost little to purchase in the first place.  Being hatchbacks they also come in handy for shopping and for going to the recycling plant.  Being highly populated, recycling is a big issue in the UK and we have got right behind it.

We have really enjoyed getting back to our roots in the UK and have spent a lot of time with our respective families.  They have been very loyal to us and contact us by phone on a regular basis and invite us to share meals and family celebrations with them.  Ivor and Iris have been a great support to us.  We lived with them for four months and now live just around the corner from them.  We are all the best of friends and see each other or phone most weeks.  They were wonderful in showing us the ropes initially also – especially how to find our way around English roads and how and where to get the best shopping deals.  Iris introduced us to shopping at the market in St Albans and that is now our Saturday morning task followed by a cappuccino at our favourite Italian restaurant, in French Row, which has an English folksinger playing traditional music outside.  We have go to know John (the singer) and have been to folk club at Redbourn with him.  Here in St Albans we are right in the centre of Tearle country.  We also travel up to Leicester on a regular basis to visit with my Scottish cousins who now live there.  In the New Year it is our intention to travel north to Galashiels in the Border Country where my great grandfather came from and where my grandmother visited by sailing ship when she was nine years old.  I still have family living there.  They are looking forward to meeting us and showing us how the family lived and still live in that area.  Others I have met here tell me the area is beautiful – so far I have only seen pictures but I have heard fascinating stories from Jack, Kate and Susan.  

While here we have both taken up fitness activities – Ewart has been running long distance and has competed in a number of ten-mile and ½ marathon races and done very well.  Just this week we are really delighted to learn that he has been accepted as a competitor in the 2001 London Marathon.  It is really hard to get into so we are very proud and delighted.  At the moment his training has him running about 45 miles per week.  My efforts are very recent and far more modest.  Ewart has devised a walk/run programme for me that we do every second night after work together, in the dark and cold, lit only by the street lamps.  I put in about 13 miles per week, and already I feel a lot better for it.  We are enjoying doing it together.

We have been delighted with all the letters, parcels, visits and emails we have had since coming to England.  Our wonderful family and friends have considerably enriched this wonderful holiday we are having.  We are united in saying this was a very good decision for us.  Each day we feel privileged to be here, to be able to explore such a beautiful place, which is so steeped in history going back thousands of years and in which there is so much to do.

We are returning to NZ for just a month at Christmas to attend my parents’ golden wedding and to catch up with family and friends.  All of our parents have been unwell at times during the last year and we are really looking forward to spending time with them, as well as with our precious Genevieve.  She has done so well while we have been away: studying, working, doing lots of sport and gaining a promotion at work.  She is now Assistant Production Manager Cultured for the NZ Dairy Group, based at the Takanini plant in Auckland.  She has bungy jumped, tandem parachuted from 12 thousand feet, run, skied the west ridge of Whakapapa, played for two netball teams which are doing well in the championships, surfed, go-carted, partied and travelled to Australia, England, Scotland and Spain – in other words, she has as usual filled every waking hour!!!! We intend spending some quality time in Auckland exploring her life with her.   Merry Christmas!

Ewart and Elaine


Letters home, 2001, March 11

March 11 2001

Dear Mum and Dad

It’s Sunday and I’m just in from running 21 miles.  That is SUCH a long way – it’s more than 30km and everything on me that I try to move hurts.  My schedule wanted me to do 20 miles in 3 hours, but I was a bit quicker than that and I did the 21 miles in 2:58:06.  I didn’t intend to be quicker, but I had picked up a rhythm at the start and simply kept it up.  To run a marathon in under 3:30 hrs means I have to be able to do a 1:37 half-marathon and a 42 minute 10km.

Last weekend I did my half-marathon in the prescribed time, but I haven’t met the 10km speed requirement yet.  I’m sure it will come.  I have to do another half-marathon next weekend and I really want to attack that time.  The following Sunday I have to do 20 miles, the next Sunday, 22 miles and the Sunday after that 18 miles.  My schedule is following the theory of a very famous British coach, Bruce Tulloch, who says that in order to get the time you want in a marathon, you have to run 100 miles in the long runs (those Sunday runs) in the month or so before the start.  On Tuesdays I do speed training and on Wednesdays and Thursdays I do medium distance runs of 8 to 10 miles at just under or just over my marathon pace.  Fridays I always have off, Saturday morning is a funny little slow run of 5 miles and Monday night is a slow run of 4-6 miles to help recover from the Sunday exertion.

The trouble is I don’t know if the London Marathon is even going to be run this year.  I have entered 3 races so far and all of them have been cancelled because of the foot and mouth disease outbreak.  They kept my entry cheque, too.  I have had notice that the two other races I have entered are also cancelled, so I won’t get a race before the marathon and even that looks doubtful because the race starts in a big park in Greenwich and there is a lot of stock in that park.  There are movement restrictions on all farm animals so the stock can’t be moved out of the park unless it’s to slaughter – and then only under a special permit.  

In St Albans, all the local parks have been closed including Jersey Farm Woodland Park just up the road and Verulamium Park where we like to go sometimes in the weekend.  The area around us is large-scale commercial cropping, mostly for rapeseed oil (canola) and oats or barley and there are very few animals of any sort.  However, most of the farms have notices on the front gate asking people not to drive onto their properties and all the local walkways and bridle paths that go through farmland are closed.  

The road gates of all the farms are padlocked and the front gate of each farm has a bed of bright yellow straw soaked in antiseptic that a visitor would have to drive or walk over.  Some of the restrictions have been put in place by government and also by local bodies. However, some restrictions have been set up voluntarily by desperately worried farmers, who have also lobbied their local clubs and organizations to close events that encouraged large groups of people to go on or near rural roads or byways. All except one of the races that I have entered was closed by the organizer after approaches were made by their local farmers. The other one was closed by order of the local council.  Strangely, though, the football is unaffected.  I suppose that is because the football grounds that the big clubs own are all urban and the visitors are kept in town.  But I still think it’s odd.  The golf clubs are still well attended, too.

I’ve got a bit of a problem with other countries selecting the English to treat specially. Foot&Mouth isn’t carried in sandwiches, dairy products or handbags. It’s held in a pig’s throat and the pig breathes out millions of the virus onto the wind where it will waft for about 30 miles. It is also carried on feet and wheels and can live in the earth for 6 months. When an infected animal is killed, the virus dies with it. The virus is not in its meat, it’s in the throat, but of course it can also be in the soil attached to the animal’s coat.

So let’s say I walked along a country road and a Landrover from a farm drove past me and I stood on the dirt thrown up from its wheels and say that dirt had the virus in it. A week later I got on a plane and headed for Germany. Everyone on the plane should be disinfected, because anyone on the plane could have picked up the virus from the tracks left by my shoes, not just me and the other people from England. It’s silly just to sterilise only the English. If there’s one person from England on the plane, and they are going to disinfect that person then the entire crew, passengers and interior
of the plane should be disinfected as well. I still think they have absolutely slack border controls.

We were horrified when the government allowed doggy passports and the free passage of dogs with the passport … I mean, what border controls? If you mention such things as F&M you’re scare-mongering, aren’t you? They’ve just forgotten how incredibly expensive these things can be and how eternally vigilant your borders have to be to keep them out. Look at all the illegal immigrants that get in! As I said, what border controls? I have just seen on the BBC website that F&M is in France. Let’s see if they can do any better. They are blaming imported British animals. I wonder if countries are now going to sterilize all French people coming off planes?

It’s actually the tourism industry that is suffering the most. Farming gives the economy about 21BN pounds a year, but tourism injects about 200BN. Farming is small bikkies by comparison. All of rural Britain is shut down and farming is losing about 20M pounds a week … tourism, though, is losing about 10x that.

We are not in gaol, though. I can still run on the rural roads, we can still go to rural towns; it’s just that all the bridle paths and walkways are closed as well as most of the parks and common lands. It’s not as dramatic as the fuel blockade was, but it is going to last a lot longer. In 1967, the number of cases ended up at over 1200 and we are only at about 200. There’s a long way to go, I think.

And then there’s the weather.  After a month of absolutely beautiful weather in NZ, we came back to a very cold welcome in England.  We had heard about the snow near Christmas time and we were very disappointed we had missed it because till now, there had been only one snow in a year and last year it had been very light.  A couple of days after we returned, we had a 2-week visit from one of our best friends from Otorohanga, Elizabeth Marshall, and for her the weather turned on all the fireworks.

I was sitting at work on the first day and there was just the slightest flurry of little white flakes and I had to go to the window to have a look.  Gradually throughout the afternoon the snowfall became heavier and the bare trees on the other side of Shire Park became more indistinct.  I even drove home through the falling snow. It was pitch black, of course, because at that time of year night falls at 4:30pm and I was on the shift that finishes at 6:00pm.

It snowed on and off for the next three days and while it didn’t actually inconvenience anyone because it didn’t build up into drifts like you see in other cities, clearing the snow and frost off the car each morning was a pretty cold chore.  Elizabeth went off adventuring each day, mostly catching the bus to the station and then the train into London about 40min away.  In the evenings she would show us her treasures and tell us the stories of places she had been and people she had met.  She is a straight-forward, no-nonsense sort of person but someone who can also tell the funniest stories about her day of anyone I have ever met.  It didn’t matter how cold she felt or how lost she got, Elizabeth kept her cool and soaked up everything London and St Albans offered her.  She also managed to get home every day before dark.

Anyway, this is about the weather and I have digressed.  On the Sunday morning I went early for a long run through the country and I was very surprised to feel how cold it was and to see how much snow was lying about.  There was even snow on the footpath and my feet were crunching through it and sliding slightly as though it was sand or little glass pebbles.  We thought we’d take Elizabeth to Kingsbury Mill for a breakfast of waffles and a tour around Verulamium Park and St Albans’ beautiful cathedral.  For the first time, we saw snow on the ground around the cathedral deep enough to cover the grass and there was snow on its roof and hanging on the trees.  

We took photos of the graveyard with the snow sitting on the gravestones and helped people up who had slipped on the frozen path.  We walked down the hill past the Fighting Cocks pub, with deep snow on its shingled roof, and as we walked on into the park we saw that Verulamium Lake was almost completely frozen over and there were black-coated people walking and even skating on the ice.  Of course I went for a walk on the lake; gingerly, carefully, but I did it nonetheless. Later, Ivor said that the last time the lake was frozen was in the 1960’s.  We probably would not see it again in our lifetime.  

We walked right through the park marvelling at the hoare frost clinging to the bare branches of winter-bound trees and watched the geese splash-landing in the small patch of water left unfrozen on the whole lake.  We had wrapped up very warmly at home with long-johns, heavy winter trousers, jerseys, big coats and thermal gloves, but our feet were still really cold when we finally arrived at Kingsbury Mill on the far side of the park.  

The waffle house there has a big fire and a warm atmosphere and we ate our breakfast waffles of hot raspberries and maple syrup while our feet warmed up.  We now have three beautiful photos: one looking back over the River Ver to the Fighting Cocks pub, one of the Victorian brick bridge over the narrowest part of Verulamium Lake and the last is of Elizabeth and Elaine close to the edge of the iced-over lake with its island of frozen trees in the background.  Everything is white, dark green, black or grey; the photos are almost monochrome and the day you can see in the photos is overcast and foggy with a dead white sky.

Then it rained.  It’s only just stopped, really.  House Lane, the road from here to Sandridge, is closed because it’s flooded in two places between us and the village.  It’s also flooded between us and Smallford, on the road to work.  Fortunately, there’s a diversion so I can still get to work without too much trouble.  House Lane is about 60 feet below us, so there’s no possibility of our being flooded, although we do get quite a flow of water, from the football field near us, past our front step when it rains heavily.  

The locals say that the water is so high in House Lane and it won’t drain away because the level it is sitting at is the water table.  Also, it doesn’t have to rain very much here for the water table to stay high, because it is being replenished by rains on the Chiltern Hills.  People are reporting flooded cellars and garages, but it doesn’t seem as though their houses are flooded.  The storm-water pipes are so full of water that it is pouring out of the inspection covers.

Now, it’s nearly spring.  Here, spring starts officially on 22 March, when day and night are the same length, but the peach trees are getting pinker by the day and the cherry blossom is fat with expectation.  The daffodils are massing and the crocuses are already in full and glorious colour.  The English bush them up around the trees and they make a very colourful display while much else is still in its winter browns.  

We can see why the Europeans like spring so much – it is such a contrast to the winter and it comes on in such a burst of colour and activity.  Also, it’s considerably warmer.  Only a week ago, it was –2C in the mornings and barely above 8C all day long, now the frost is gone and the day temps are around 13C.  No wonder the plants get into such vigorous action because they are spurred on by the sudden change in temperature and the rapidly increasing daylight hours.

After lunch today Elaine wanted to try out a new route to her work so we hopped in her nice new (1993!) Rover Metro (aren’t we going up in the world?) and I navigated while Elaine drove up the M1 until we got to junction 12 and I had to wake up and pay attention to the map. Normally she has to drive through much of Luton in 8:00am rush-hour(s) traffic and this new route is designed to keep her out of Luton.

Well, it was a very pleasant trip through a bit of rural Bedfordshire to Barton-le-Clay. Did I tell you that Barton was where William the Conqueror and a few of the kings after him got bricks made? It’s a very cosy and tightly packed little village with an old heart of Tudor houses with their bricked in wattle and daub walls surrounded by a substantial new housing estate in very late 20th Century brick.

Elaine was quite pleased with the new route and thought it might save her a bit of time, but more importantly would give her a much quieter, more rural and more scenic road to work. We went along the road a little more to have coffee and lemonade at The Raven, a majestic older-style pub in Hexton where Elaine and some of the staff have lunch on a Friday. We thought we’d see if there was anything interesting going on in Milton Keyenes, but got waylaid by the sight of a most beautiful church in Toddington.

Opposite it was a Greene King pub called The Sow and Pigs. Greene King pubs are always interesting because they are always in an old building and serve real ale, so they are keen to keep up English traditions. Alongside, and possibly part of the inn history of the pub is a Tudor building in all sorts of angles with white-washed walls, blackened timbers and a deeply hollowed tiled roof. Inside, there was a crackling fire and all the jokes in the world about pigs and sows, in frames on the walls. The tables were blackened oak, but the benches had comfortable padding. I pinched a Greene King cardboard coaster to put in the treasure chest because they are an unusual shape and design.

We had coffee and a pint of lemonade (I have to drink a fair bit after a run) and because it was after 4:00pm we decided that Milton Keynes could wait and we would go home. I’d had a long look at the church opposite from the warmth of the pub and I’ve decided we must go back to Toddington to have a much closer look, but wandering around the outsides of buildings in winter in England is not good sport. We drove home through flurries of what is called snow showers. A snow shower has a bit of snow, a bit of rain and sometimes a bit of hail. They don’t all come at once, they are interspersed, but now when they warn us of snow showers on the weather forecast, I know what they are referring to.

ET1 has gone. I am very unhappy about it because I loved that little car, but it refused to start a couple of mornings in a row so I took it to the Metro Centre. They pointed out all the things that would have to be done to it and I reluctantly gave it up to be scrapped. I now run around in Elaine’s former car, ET2, and Elaine has the nice new, white Rover Metro I referred to above. ET1 was only supposed to last us a few months and she would still have saved us a lot of money in car hire and a lot of time in missed bus trips, but she lasted for over a year, so I can’t complain, but she was a little sweety.

About three weeks ago, Elaine and I went to Eastleach. It’s not easy to find because it’s a bit off the Oxford road, down some country lanes and hidden deep in the Cotswolds. Elaine was trying to find traces of her grandmother’s father’s family, the Whitings. Joe Whiting had a huge fight with his blacksmith father, went to Durham at only 14 and then left for NZ. He never returned. We didn’t find the Whitings or any sign of them and none of the locals we stopped and asked could remember the name, but we did find two beautiful Norman churches, built around 1100AD, and a little Cotswold village of substantial wealth.

We looked through both churches and tried to read many of the gravestones, but the name just didn’t seem to be there. The Cotswold cottages are made of quarried limestone blocks, not much bigger than a brick, but enough bigger that you can easily see the difference. We were invited to visit the house of Mary and Ray Jenkinson, one of the longest-standing families in the Eastleach area and they were in a 16th century house. You could see that the blocks were cut with a saw, because of the vertical saw-cuts on the outside face.

These people knew a lot about the Saxon and even the Celtic history of Eastleach, but they couldn’t remember ever having heard the name Whiting. Still, the 1880’s were a fair while ago. We also found out that the early wealth of Eastleach (apart from farming) came from water cress. The Leach River is absolutely the clearest water we have seen anywhere. It reminded me of standing watching trout in Ngongotaha, but the river is not that deep. I looked for trout, though.

The water cress used to be laden onto wagons and sold in Covent Garden in London. I forgot to ask him if was still harvested, but he showed us his orchard, the river running through it and the fountain by the river that used to supply the locals with their house water. The villagers would come to this very ornate fountain with their buckets and be uplifted by the religious figures carved into it while they filled up before lugging the heavy burden home. We had lunch in the Victoria pub, which was also made mostly of Cotswold limestone blocks, and was quite self-consciously Victorian in its décor, as well as having a few pictures of the great queen herself. We debated going the extra 50 miles to Gloucester, but we decided that one town well explored on one day was a good day out.

I looked up my stats at work on Friday and compared them to the others on the team. My stats are so far ahead of anyone else, it’s a crime. I have logged 889 jobs in the month and the nearest other is 720. I have recorded 47% contact time with the customer and the nearest other is 36%, I have an average talk time of 284 secs, which is within acceptable limits, though the ideal is 240, so although I have a high number of jobs and a high amount of customer contact time, my talk time is not too high nor too low. I still had time to train two new analysts. So now not only am I the most senior person on the Online side of the helpdesk, I am also the best. That’s a nice thought.

Lots of love

Ewart and Elaine



Letters home, 2001, March 26

26 March 2001

Dear Mum and Dad

Did another 22 miler yesterday, Sunday. I’ve got a sore right knee, but the archilles and knee problem I had in my left leg has gone! That’s funny medicine, all right.

Daylight saving started this weekend so we got up in the almost dark this morning, but I’ll be running in the light, after work, for the first time since we came back from NZ. I forgot that when I was signing on for the London Marathon I was also signing on to train all through winter. Tell you what, though, these long runs are the business, all right. Every single time I have done one, things have improved by a big leap. I have so far done 4 runs of 18 miles or more.

They don’t consider 15 miles to be a long run and they think 16 miles is the lowest limit, but 18-22 miles is the band. Each alternate weekend has been a 1/2 marathon as fast as I can go. That time hasn’t changed (1:36-ish) but my 6ml time is down to 41:30-ish and my 3 mile time is 19:51 When I input my 6-mile time, the calculator said I could was capable of a 3:12:00hr marathon. Not this year, mate. Also, my pulse is down to 39/min. I checked it at lunchtime today – how sad, no-one to talk to so he took his own pulse.

We went to Waddesdon a couple of weekends ago. Normally one goes to Waddesdon to see Waddesdon Manor, built by the Rosthchilds in about 1880 in lavish 1800 French style, then dumped on the taxpayer for the National Trust to run. Well, sort of, anyway. It’s a fabulous place with stone towers and Louis XIV wall panelling, a huge fountain of plunging horses and mermaids near the front gate and large, ornate gardens. It was closed, but we weren’t going there, anyway. We wanted to see the garden centre and to wander around the little village, which has two beautiful Victorian buildings, one a pub and the other the town hall, as well as a building that was very similar to the alms houses in Wing.

On close inspection, we could see that it did use to be an almshouse and is now 5 privately owned cottages. Lovely. Opposite is one of the local antique shops, calling itself Junk and Disorderly and right outside it was a quite magnificent Victorian bed warmer. What caught our attention, apart from the long handle, was the brass lid. Normally these bed warmers are made completely from copper and Elaine doesn’t think the colour is right, but brass is the perfect colour and with a brass lid and that long dark handle, it looks really good hanging in our living room. We had a coffee in the pub (very nice) and a wander around the garden centre (very ordinary) but it was a nice sunny day, made particularly beautiful by having lots of snow lying about.

When Elaine paid for the bed warmer with a cheque, the storeowner said, “Now there’s an old Waddesdon name,” and handed us the telephone book to see for ourselves. There were three Tearles in the book.  Two of them lived in Waddesdon, one a plumber the other a builder, while the third had a Wing address and of course, that was Millie Tearle, Thelma’s mother.  He’s the first person we have met in England who knew a Tearle.

Then last weekend, while Elaine went to the market, I took a short drive up to Woburn to have a closer look at a most peculiar church there.  I had lunch at a Greene King pub, the Royal Oak, which is quite a large and unique looking thatched building with huge beetling brows scowling over thin, hoop-topped windows. I had a very passable cottage pie.  The day was cold for wandering about in and his fire was very comfortable but St Mary’s Church, right in the middle of Woburn, has this most odd gothic steeple stuck on top of its Norman tower and I didn’t want to go back home without having had a closer look at it.  

Now a Norman tower is massive, square and has those battlements along the top.  Imagine a short steeple from the Notre Dame stuck on top.  It’s very dramatic against a dark sky, but it just looks odd.  St Mary’s church is decommissioned and now belongs to a group of guardians.  It’s a very small church with a detached tower – I haven’t seen that before – and there used to be a bell in the gothic steeple.  It is now a museum for the local district and won’t open till May. I’ll go back and have another look then.

That reminds me – this last 12 months has been the wettest ever recorded and the records started in 1765.  The water table in the Sandridge and Jersey Farm district has risen by 16 feet!  In Kimpton, not far from here, the River Kym is flowing again and that hasn’t been seen for 50 years.  The springs that used to bubble up around here when it was a marsh are flowing again and lifting the seal off the roads.

The foot and mouth outbreak is almost a complete disaster.  So far there are 612 cases, with forecasts of up to 4000.  That’s 612 farms and tonight the disease is in the Lake District.  We are very lucky that it isn’t here yet, but no one is thinking that it won’t come.  We are much less likely to get it because all our stock are housed, but it takes only one careless person to bring back something that is carrying the disease from the Lake District or the Cotswolds (and we were there only a short while ago) to spread it to our local farms.  You can feel the sense of dread.

I hope you are well and that you are prepared for your next winter.  We’ll be in touch soon.

Lots of love, Ewart and Elaine.


Letters home, 2001, April 15

15 April 2001

Dear Mum and Dad

I have received my latest Marathon Update magazine and with it the registration card. Someone has to go to the London Arena near Greenwich and get me registered because I’m not allowed the time off work.  Elaine has volunteered to go because she will still be on holiday that day. With registration comes a gear bag, my running number and a big sticker with my running number on it that has to go onto the gear bag. There is also the ChampionChip that I have to wear on the day of the race. No number and you can’t run, no chip and you won’t get a time. You wear the chip on your shoe, and relace it to take the chip.

The gear bag gets taken away just before the race starts, and they will only accept the official LM gear bag. You pick it up after the race and hopefully it will still have your warm clothes in it. I’ll put in Elaine’s cellphone, too. If it gets pinched, too bad we can always get her a new one.  Elaine will have mine because that phone has better reception in London and its number is the one all my agents ring me on and it’s cost me an awful lot of money to get that number known. I have photocopied the relevant pages from my Runner’s World mag and from the Marathon Update. I’ll ask Elaine to go on the Wed so if there is anything missing, she will have time for a return visit. We looked at the railway timetables yesterday and found out that if we catch the Thameslink train to Brighton, get off at London Bridge and catch the Connex South train to Blackheath, I will be there on Sunday morning around 8:00am ready for a 9:30am start.

The marathon starts on Shooters Hill Rd in Greenwich Park and ends in The Mall, outside Buckingham Palace.  At about the 6-mile mark we go past the Cutty Sark, cross Tower Bridge just before the half-way point, run past the Thames Flood Barrier at about the 30km mark, then along The Embankment to Birdcage Walk, with St James’ Park on our right, swing past the Victoria Monument outside Buckingham Palace and finish a couple of hundred yards up The Mall.

There is an area in Horse Guards Road where they have put up A-Z letters on poles. You arrange to meet under the letter that corresponds with your family name. Good idea. But the best news is that I have a BLUE start. Only the elite and serious runners get to go from the blue start. The green start is for the not serious and the red start is for the Football Challenge, the fancy dress runners and other team and fun events. I can only guess that from my entry form where I said that my best time was the Petersfield 1/2 Marathon at 1:38:12, and was aiming for a 3:30:00 time, someone must have deduced that this was my first marathon and I wasn’t mucking about.

After having watched me start, Elaine can walk through the Greenwich tunnel under the Thames and see me pass the 6 mile mark, then walk about 1/2 mile further along and see me pass the 20-mile mark. We’re still trying to work out how she gets to Buck House to meet me at the finish, but it looks most likely that the Docklands Light Railway will be able to deliver her very close to The Mall.

The weekend before last we took a trip to Birmingham so I could to run a 22-miler with the Runner’s World magazine pacing team and that was quite interesting. I rang the Sutton Court Quality Inn hotel to make sure the park was still open, and they said it was. I thought that was a bit unusual because there should be deer in the park somewhere and the Lake District, where the heaviest concentration of foot and mouth disease cases is to be found, isn’t very far away. However, the park was open, and in spite of the rain on Saturday afternoon it looked very pretty.

I looked up the postcode for the Sutton Court hotel on multimap.co.uk and printed the maps to get there. We followed the maps carefully and then, when the landmarks looked right I said, “It should be here, on your right.” And there it was! A Victorian building, with creaky oak stairs, tarted up with modern signs. We thought it would take about 3 hours to get there, but going up the M6 was very smooth and we were there in around 2 hours. The locals call themselves Brummies.

Sutton Park is huge – 2400 acres – and it was easy to devise a 22mile run there. A while ago it was used for a leg of the International Motor Rally. There’s a forest in there of a 750 acre stand of oak trees. The town itself is called The Royal Town of Sutton Coldfield and Sutton Park was a hunting ground of Henry V111, that man again. He was there with Bishop Veysey in 1528 when he was charged by a boar, but before it hit him the boar was felled by someone’s arrow. Henry looked around for the huntsman and a rather attractive young woman came up to him, bow in hand and it was she who had killed the pig.

In gratitude, Henry gave her family some land and gave her village the Tudor Rose to use as its emblem. The town charter for Sutton Coldfield was given to the town in 1528 by Henry himself and you can see the Tudor Rose on many of the civic works and, of course, in the town’s coat of arms. There’s not much of the old village left, apart from a few Tudor buildings in the main street but there are lots of very nice Victorian buildings and evidence of an enormous amount of 1930s and 1950s building.

Running with the paced group in Sutton Park has highlighted the need for much better organization on my part. I didn’t organize my Saturday well enough and I didn’t organize my breakfast and drinks well enough for the Sunday run. Unfortunately, there were only 2 drink stops, one at 10.5 miles and the next at 20 miles. We were told at the beginning that the laps were 7.5 miles each, so I was not prepared for such big laps with so little water.

As a result, the last 1.5 miles I spent almost walking. It was so humiliating. If it had been the marathon, I’d have been 5 miles short and looking at taking at least another hour to finish. The time for the run was 3:15:00hr and I finished in 3:17:00hr, so that’s not too bad, but it has woken me up to the perils in store. Physically I think I’m ready but I suppose because of the lack of race experience, made worse by all the races I have entered being cancelled, I do not have a good organization worked out for race days. I’m very pleased I went and got such a knock to waken me up – it would be truly horrible to put in so much effort and then have it all ruined because I ran out of energy 4 miles from the end. Proper organization for London should get me to the finish on time.

For a while, I ran with a small group that included a young woman who said she’d run London before and this time, to raise funds for her charity, she was making pizzas. I told her I was running London as my first ever marathon and she said, “You’ll enjoy it so much, the atmosphere is huge. There are bands playing and groups singing and people all along the track; you’ll love it.  Don’t try too hard for your time because London is to be enjoyed rather than raced.” She said she had run it several times but that running the London Marathon was still the most important thing she had ever done in her life. “At the end of my life,” she said, “I don’t care what they do to me, but I want to be buried with my London Marathon medals.” How cool.

I wish someone would make some decent socks! All of the socks I have worn so far have got raised seams and most even have knots. The 1000 Mile socks were no good, either. The only ones that are ok-ish are new Nike terry socks. As soon as they are washed, they are too stiff and scratchy to run in for a long distance. All the rest are too scratchy anyway. I couldn’t find any Thorlos socks, but I’ll try them next. The main thing I have missed out on in the build-up to the LM has been racing.  I have had so many races cancelled on me. I realised last weekend that if I’d had more races, I’d have been better prepared for the event. My organisation would have been better. So fun runs and races are good. Fun runs, where no-one expects or wants you to race, will be good out-and-about stuff and won’t harm training.

At races you meet people who are different from people you have ever met before. Elaine and I have been very pleasantly surprised at the friendliness and quality of the people we have met. I think the reason for their extra qualities is their willingness and ability to concentrate on a task and organize themselves to achieve a goal they have set themselves. It’s quite interesting. If you are a member of a team, you help the whole team achieve its goal(s), but usually those goals are set for you. As a runner, you set your own goals and only you care whether or not you achieve them; most of the time, also, you are the only one who knows.

Thank you very much for your letter explaining your situation. The last time I spoke to you, you thought you would be out of the house within a month and you have lasted two months.  Well done. I couldn’t see how you were going to get through the winter lugging all the wood in and keeping things going while you were so obviously not very fit. Elaine and I are very impressed with the huge amount of work you have done and the responsibility you have shouldered in sorting out your affairs and taking care of all your property.  Sheryll has emailed me to say that you have given Bryan all the photos and correspondence to look after until I collect them.  She and Bryan are quite happy to look after that material and I will pick it up in due course, or arrange for Joni to collect it.  Rest assured it will be well looked after.

I have spent a most interesting weekend reading all that material that Janette Stallman and Jim Spence sent me.  When I read it first I saw it only through the fog that was left of my brain after Jason’s death and I got all sorts of facts wrong.  This weekend has been most enlightening. Mum’s parents were born in NZ, but her father’s parents were all from Ireland while her mother’s parents were English. Janette Stallman’s father, Robert, was my grandfather James Ewart Dawson’s (Mum’s dad, Lofty) brother.  He would have been Uncle Bob to Mum.  Did she know him?

That makes me and Jeanette second cousins, though I have never met her. The Dawsons have been in Lisburn, just outside Belfast in what is now N Ireland, since at least 1776. They were Presbyterian. It’s interesting to speculate whether they considered themselves Irish or British, isn’t it, in the light of the division of Ireland. Anyway, if we skip to 1852, that was when Richard Dawson’s son, William (1821-1889) married Ann Ewart, in Lisburn.  

They had 9 children; one, William, was to be Lofty’s father, and another, James Ewart Dawson (1860-?) is of interest to me.  Lofty’s father, William  (1857-1910) served in the Royal Irish Constabulary in Sligo, Eire, until he was dismissed in 1881 and soon thereafter he emigrated to NZ.  Janette Stallman says that the Dawson name is Scottish and the Dawsons would have gone to Belfast from Scotland, a distance you can almost row, to work in the plantations.  

She says that Ewart is a Saxon word to do with sheep-herding, so that the Ewarts probably have an English ancestry, but from where is unknown.  Ann Ewart (1826-1898) was the daughter of John Ewart and Jane Kirk, also of Lisburn, married in 1809. She names her fourth son, James Ewart Dawson.  Now, Mum’s grandfather, William goes to NZ in a ship called Crusader, in 1882.  My bet is he went from Belfast to Christchurch.  8 Years after he arrives he marries Margeurite Matthews.  Married in The Manse, Leeston, Canterbury, 12 April 1889.  Look at that name, Margeurite.  Mum’s grandmother.

The Matthews come from the other side of what is now N Ireland.  Remember the Omagh bombing?  The Matthews come from near there, in County Tyrone; a place called Lisnacloon, 11 miles south-west of Strabane.  They were a farming family, paying rent on properties which were let to them “for life.” Margeurite’s parents were Matilda Kinnear and John Matthews. Matilda’s father was David Kinnear, born in the 1790’s. So they have been in the area for a while, haven’t they? And it clears up the mystery of Mum’s two names. There is another very interesting point, though, and that is that John Matthews’ older brother, James, married a girl called Marianne KYLE, in 1827.  John and Matilda are married in the 1840’s so Matilda would have known the Kyles well.

Now, when she gets married in NZ, look what Margeurite does:  

  • A daughter, Matilda
  • A son, James Ewart
  • A son, Thomas Edwin Kyle (whom Mum called Uncle Kyle)

Isn’t that interesting!  And Lofty, in his turn, called his only daughter Margeurite Matilda.  He probably called Mum Matilda after his sister, Tilly, who died at only 36yrs, of TB, but you can see where the name came from – Matilda Kinnear of Linsacloon.

And then I had a look at Mum’s mum and I got an awful shock.  Elsie’s parents were English.  Not only that, but they lived not far from here! Elsie’s father was Albert Edward Orange (1865-1942) and he was born in Glen Parva, Leicester. He came to NZ in 1878, via Garonne in France and Melbourne.  Now Leicester, as you will know from a few of my earlier letters, is about 2 hours up the M1 from here and we go there to see Elaine’s cousin Jack Dalgliesh and family.  So Leicester isn’t exactly unknown to us.  

There are several Glen … places to the south of Leicester city and just in the crook of the M1 where you turn onto the outer ring road is Glen Parva.  Next time we go to Leicester, we’ll have a little wander and see what’s still standing from the 1870’s.  All of that would have been familiar to Albert.

When he got to NZ, Albert married Helen Hinkley (1888-1928, div 1924.)  She had come out to NZ in 1883 and was the daughter of John Hinkley and Susan Henderson.  She was born at home, 53 Union St, Southwark. That place name rang all sorts of bells and I found it on a street map of London.  Union St, Southwark is about ½ a mile from Blackfriars.  It’s on the south of the Thames, you just cross Blackfriars Bridge and keep going south until you get to Union St.  Simple.  We are going to go there to see what remains of 1860’s London.  There could be a lot, there could be a little.  But it will be interesting.  

Frank’s mum (Sadie) came from Wing in Buckinghamshire and his grandfather, Levi, came from Stanbridge in Bedfordshire, six miles away, on the other side of Leighton Buzzard. I have

walked from Leighton Buzzard to Wing and it’s not very far. Levi and his new wife, Sarah, shifted to Wing very soon after they were married and their first son, Arthur, was born in Wing but baptised in Stanbridge.  I found out recently that you can’t baptise your children, nor be buried, in just any church. Levi’s mother was still in Stanbridge and he went there often all through her life to see her.

Because of where he had been born, brought up, got married and only just left, he was required to go back to Stanbridge to have Arthur baptised.  As I said, it’s not a very long trip from Wing to Stanbridge.  Arthur grew up in Wing, where Levi built a very prosperous blacksmithing business. Sadie’s parents were killed in unusual and tragic circumstances and her brothers were sent to an orphanage where they were very badly treated while Sadie grew up with her maternal grandmother, Catherine Scarlett, in deep poverty in the almshouses in Wing.

She and Arthur courted while working for the Rothschilds in Ascot House, Wing. Dad’s brother, Fred was born in London and Sadie and Arthur emigrated to NZ in 1911. Dad was born in Hastings in NZ in 1915 and his father died the same year, aged just 40. If Dad had been born in London instead of Hastings, I’d have a right to a British passport the same as Fred’s kids do. They don’t want it.

The most interesting thing to me is that almost every Tearle in the world is from the same family. Unfortunately, there are now a few people whose first name is Tearle, but it just migrated there, like my name is Ewart and that’s my Irish great-grandmother’s maiden name, hence it was my grandfather’s middle name. Mum wanted to call me after her father, but she didn’t want to call me Jim, so I got his middle name. Bryan was called Bryan because Mum liked the name, Theodore after Dad (but I’ve never found out who the original Theodore was) and Richard after Mum’s brother.

I had a very interesting night late last year when Ivor Adams, Donn Heath and I all met for the second time. We were discussing our respective grandparents. Mine is Sadie, Ivor’s was Joe, Sadie’s brother and Donn’s was Fred, Sadie’s other brother. When they got it clear, both Ivor and Donn sort of stopped and looked me. Their relationship to their Adams grandparent was exactly the same as mine. They thought I was a foreigner and in the end, it’s just my accent. It was a fascinating moment – even though I had lived with Ivor for over 6 months and he knew what my relationship with Sadie was. It sometimes takes more than just saying something actually to make real sense of it.

My contract at Tesco is on its last legs but may go until the end of June. So it looks like I am about to find a new adventure. It’s been very nice working there and it has been very good having a steady income for such a long time, that has certainly helped us to stay here AND we got home for Christmas AND we got Elaine a nice little car AND we paid our taxes, both in NZ and in Britain. All of that doesn’t help us to save very much, but at least we are still here, we have a nice little flat and we are still debt free.

Oh, yes! I got an award. It’s called the Tesco Values Award – for living the Tesco values, you see. “No-one does better for customers,” and “Treat others as you want to be treated.” It seems that a whole department nominated me. It came right out of the blue and is relatively rare. I was quite chuffed, still am.

It was very sad to convey to you the bad news about Clarice. She was a lovely lady and when we needed her, she was there. She and Thelma and Sheila came all the way to NZ to be with us in the year Jason was killed.  I spoke to Thelma about it last night and it was one of the great adventures of her life.  Thelma and Clarice had always been close, but their trip to NZ was a special bond.  It depends on when the funeral is, but we’ll try our best to go and we’ll go and see Keith and Jill soon anyway. Let’s hope they like Ilfracombe, because they have only just shifted there – they moved farm, stock and everything to be closer to Clarice. We have bought a card to send from us, but we have also bought a card to send for you and Mum.  I know it will be deeply appreciated and it was a privilege to be asked to send it for you.  It’s also a lovely card.  The English make beautiful, thoughtful and memorable cards.

Outside at the moment the weather is doing its best to imitate the blasted heath in King Lear because the wind is noisy, the rain is being whipped along and the sky is a deep and heavy grey.  However, the cheeky daffodils are nodding and if they are not overly bothered, why should I be concerned?  And I have the funniest news.  You know there is quite a decent sized pond outside our flat; it’s kidney shaped and about 30m x 10m with trees planted closely around its banks but heavily overgrown with raupo.  There’s a lot more reeds than water.  

About three weekends ago, I noticed a lot of fish jumping about near the bank closest to our flat so I went over to see what was going on.  It wasn’t fish, the disturbance was being caused by dozens of spawning, brown froggy things.  I contacted the University of Hertfordshire by email with a message to Christine Shepperson, in which I asked her to pass on my worries about whether the creatures were frogs or some nasty little noxious toads.  If they were the latter, I reckoned that someone who knew these things would have a very good opportunity to clear out lots of toads.  

Christine said that she would pass on the message about the frogs/toads but would I like to keep an eye on the pond and let her know when the dragonfiles were flying.  So I said I’d keep a lookout.  Next thing I get in the mail is my membership of the Hertfordshire Dragonfly Group … unbelievable. Their bi-annual newsletter is theBrachytron and I am the proud owner of issue only number 3.

My job for the rest of my sad life is to haunt the ponds of Hertfordshire, beginning with our little Milford Close pond, on the lookout for Small Red-eyed Damselfiles, Azure Damselflies, Blue-tailed Damselfiles and the Large Red Damselflies.  Keep a sharp lookout for the Brown Hawker and the Norfolk Hawker, both true dragonflies.  Elaine says if I go out on a Sunday afternoon, with flask, binocculars and hamper at hand wandering the countryside looking for dragonflies then she’ll know that I will finally have totally flipped and there’s no further hope for me.  

But I suppose that means that you can send a search party to retrieve me should I ever write to you in great excitement that I have found only the second breeding site known in Britain of the Lesser Crinkle-back Banded Demoiselle.  The dragonfly enthusiasts are migrated bird-watchers. I’ll keep an eye on the pond because Christine asked me, but don’t worry I won’t be wandering through the copses looking for mating dragonflies.  The toads, by the way, turn out to be common English brown frogs and perfectly respectable to have as neighbours.  At the moment their frenzied efforts of a few weekends ago have become thousands of tiny, black, wriggling tadpoles.  Good luck to them.  May the herons be blind.

Keep well, won’t you.

Lots of love

Ewart and Elaine.


Letters home, 2001, May 8

8 May 2001

Dear Dad

I received your letter dated 1/5/2001 this morning.  We will be delighted to welcome Jan and Gilly to England.  If they let us know asap when they will be at which airport when, we may be able to pick them up.  If they are going to be in London for a while, we are always on for going there to show friends around.  We can also put them up for a few nights on our spare bed in the lounge. If you recommend them – and you have – we’ll look after them for you. We live only 40 minutes by rail from Kings Cross station in London.

I heard you were having some really foul weather – even some flooding in places – but I guess with the onset of winter, the good weather has to end.  Jimmy Mark, the cocky who leases our farm, says it’s one of the best seasons he’s ever had and he’s still milking twice daily.

I hope the visit to the doctor next week goes well – be careful and be cool.

My next target is a sub 40 minute 10km.  The best I have done so far is 2km at 4 min/km, so 10km at that speed will be a bit of a challenge.  I am recovering nicely from the marathon and I did my first 8 mile run this evening. I feel fine.

I have finally been given my notice for the job at Tesco – I am out of work as of 25 May.  I have had a few phonecalls from agents so far, but a really promising one today of work in Hatfield, about the same distance from home as the present job, and a pay rise.  He said my cv was very impressive.  He’s right – my cv has some very good jobs done for some very big projects in some very large companies and I am well qualified for the sort of work I am looking for.

I have written back to you straight away so that Jan and Gilly know at the first available opportunity that they will be very welcome. Our address and phone details are attached.

Lots of love to Mum



Letters home, 2001, May 19

19 May 2001

Dear Mum and Dad

I took my London Marathon medal into one of the local jewellers to be engraved, but after telling me it would cost GBP13.00, he said the engraver wouldn’t do the job because the gap left on the medal was too small for the machine to write in. He also thought the metal wasn’t the right sort. I then took the medal into the Maltings and spoke to the fellow on the trophies stall, who had done other jobs for me. He spoke to his engraver who said the space on the medal was too small for machine work, but he would hand engrave it for me. I asked how much, “7.50.” Done. We went next door to one of the best coffee shops in the country, Costa, and had a beautiful big latte while we waited the 1/2 hr he said it would take. When I picked up the medal he said, “Blinding time, well done!”

We had a wonderful day yesterday at the Duxford May Display. Duxford is near Cambridge and was one of the Battle of Britain air force bases. It holds the first air show of the year and they had mostly WW2 planes. It was so exciting to see these wonderful and historic planes swooping past and doing aerobatics under the clouds. There was a whole section devoted to De Havilland and we were interested in this because De Havilland had his factory in Hatfield, just down the road from us.  There’s a full-sized model of the De Havilland Meteor that broke the world long distance speed record when it flew to Australia, mounted by The Meteor Roundabout opposite The Galleria, near here.

Ivor said that late in the war they could hear the huge screams of jet engines under test. De Havilland built the Vampire, and the Meteor and today, the only two non-military aircraft in the world that can cruise faster than sound are Duxford’s De Havilland Meteor and Concorde.  Both of them are over 30 years old. We also found a most peculiar link.  Elaine’s father’s boss, Maurie Andrews, flew Hurricanes and Iris’ father put the electrical wiring into them. I didn’t say it was a close link, but we did stand there and digest that while we looked over the Hurricane on display.

There was an entire flight wing consisting of two Hurricanes, a Spitfire and a Corsair all in RNZAF colours and all NZ owned. I didn’t find out if they had actually seen active service for the RNZAF.  The most impressive flying we saw all day was the Harrier jump-jet. He climbed vertically off the runway, hovering noisily but perfectly still, then he went sideways, backwards, drifted slowly forwards and then took off up into the cloud cover with a howl and a roar of pure power that still gives me goose-bumps just thinking about it.

There was also, of course, the Avro Lancaster and a section devoted to the Dam Busters.  We have an interest in that because the mayor of Te Kuiti, Les Munro, flew over 100 missions in the Dam Buster squadron.  There was also a mounted practice bomb, filled with concrete, of the type used in the dam attacks and a piece of film showing the planes practising dropping the bomb.  It’s a big, cylindrical bomb and there was a small motor in the plane to make the bomb rotate backwards at 500 rpm. The plane had to be 60ft off the water and travelling at 220 mph when the bomb was released.  Barnes Wallis’ office was in London Rd, St Albans, where we get our cars serviced.  He also was on the design team of the Wellington bomber.

On static display, and taking up most of a huge hangar, was the B-52, 4-engined Stratofortress: measure it out – 182 feet of wingspan. There was also the Vulcan bomber and I can still remember it coming to Rotorua when I was in primary school. Concorde was there and so was the Blackbird. This is a spy-plane and it carries no weapons, just a camera – mind you, a good one, it can read the number-plate on your car from 100,000ft.  

It’s much bigger than I thought a single-seater, twin-engined plane would be, because it’s about the size of Concorde.  It probably goes about Mark 4 and travels at around 200,000ft, but it broke world records at Mark 3.1 and 120,000ft and no-one’s seen it do anything more.  Anti-aircraft missiles are too slow and can’t get high enough to catch it.  One of the guys who works at the museum was chatting to me about it and he said that when a missile blows up near it, the plane is going away from the blast so quickly that the blast seems to implode rather than explode.  We didn’t see all of Duxford by any means, but it was a very good day out.

On Monday it was the May Bank Holiday so we thought we’d go and have a look at the Knebworth County Show in the morning and then visit Chenies Manor House in the afternoon.  Knebworth is on the A1(M) just out of Stevenage and when we got to within a mile of junction 7 the traffic just stopped, on both lanes going north.  We thought that since we were only a mile short of the turnoff, we’d wait in the queue but 3/4hr later, when we were still ½ a mile short of the place, the queue was still pretty well stopped.  

We thought that perhaps the priority was Chenie because it was open only seldom and we’d been to Knebworth before. The right lane was moving quite a bit quicker, but so it should have because no-one was turning off it. We drove up to junction 8 and used the cloverleaf there to get us back onto the southern lanes.  When we got back to junction 7, we could see that there was a considerable tail-back and no reason at all for the right lane to be stopped. We measured the tail-back; three miles of it.  People must be starved for a bit of country, so the entire population of Hertfordshire must have decided to go to Knebworth.

Chenie is a tiny village just to the east of Amersham, on the A405, but it makes up for its lack of size in being entirely exclusive.  There are two-storey expensive houses and a very toffy school, but the manor house and church were a revelation.  It was a Norman church, built around 1220, because the first minister was recorded on one of the walls as having been there from 1232.  On the walls were the most beautiful brasses.  In medieval times the rather more wealthy would have a brass plate made on which was a portrait of the occupant of the grave.  

Many of the plates are deeply carved and quite ornate, with biblical inscriptions and descriptions of the deeds of the person portrayed.  They were usually on the floor of the church and lately people have realised that 800 years of walking on these brasses is ruining them, so the brasses have been lifted and mounted on the walls.  In their own way, they are highly expressive and deeply moving.  Not all that many are dated, but those that are have 1300 and 1400 dates. I haven’t yet seen a date later than 1540.

These churches are basically walls, about 3ft thick, with arches held up with elegant round pillars. There’s a bell-tower which doubles as a lookout tower (or the other way round) which has a steep stone staircase inside.  From the staircase people inside could fire missiles through narrow slots in the walls out onto attackers.  The roof is usually framed with wood and then tiled or slated.  A very simple roof, it’s the walls that do the work.  These Norman churches feel solid, protective, comforting and somehow ageless and solemn.

They are not very big and must have been relatively cheap to build, because England’s population wasn’t very numerous or particularly wealthy and yet these churches are often only a few miles apart in the centres of very small villages.  They are always built of local material so they have a regional flavour which reflects whatever the commonest building material of the time was.  In spite of their great age, most of them are still in use and for me they are the most romantic symbols that England has. There was an annex and we could see through big windows that there were quite a few big sarcoffigi and some large carvings against the walls.  The most remarkable was of a Norman knight in full chain armour lying with his head on his dog, also wrapped in a chain.  Next to the knight was his wife, dressed in beautiful medieval clothing.  They were full size and carved to represent as closely as possible the people in the coffins they lay on.

Chenie Manor, it turns out, was the original home of the Earl of Bedford, the Russell family, of Bertrand Russell fame.  The whole house was built over a deep, dark crypt which was first a wine cellar and then a dungeon. Nice – people were actually incarcerated there.  Henri V111 gave the Russells Woburn Abbey when he dissolved the monastries and they shifted there, but retained ownership of Chenie Manor until about the 1700’s.  In a small paddock close to the house is a 1000-yr old oak tree, rather battered by time, but with a huge, broken trunk.. Henry V111 visited the Russells quite often, once with Anne Boleyn when Elizabeth was a baby.

We were sitting on a seat outside the house discussing the oak tree and Elizabeth when we noticed the manor’s unusual chimneys.  “That’s Christopher Wren,” says Elaine, because those are the same chimneys as Hampton Court Palace.  Well, she was right.  It may not have actually been Wren, but it was the same workmen. The chimneys have this unique twisting brick pattern built into them. Then we found out that the Russells had built the extension on the church and that most of the Russells are interred there.  It was private property, so we couldn’t go inside, but I would have loved to have seen in there.  The statuary was quite remarkable.  A funny little thing I found out – Midsummer Night’s Dream was written for the marriage of the Third Earl of Bedford and Lucy Harrington, I assume at Chenies Manor. And lastly, think of this; there is a young oak tree growing in the same paddock as the old one and is intended one day to replace it.  The young oak is planted from an acorn taken from the same branch of the tree used to hang the last Abbot of Woburn ….

We saw on the front page of the local newspaper that on the weekend immediately after 22 April, St Albans was going to celebrate ANZAC Day at the town cemetery opposite St Paul’s Church in Hatfield Rd.  This area of St Albans is called Fleetville, but I’ve no idea why and the cemetery is quite a large one.  We thought that if St Albans was going to put on a service for the ANZACs the least we could do was to be there.  I suppose about 50 people turned up along with the Girl Guides, the Burma Star soldiers, a man in full military uniform from the Australian High Commission, the Secretary to the New Zealand High Commissioner and the Mayor of St Albans, Rona Phillips on her very last official engagement.

It was a quiet and dignified occasion and people remembered the soldiers who had died of their wounds in the two hospitals in St Albans.  There was a cup of tea in St Paul’s afterwards and there we met Mark and Margaret Gill from the NZ High Commission in NZ House.  He was a very nice chap, thoroughly enjoying his stay in Britain and have, like us, lots of adventures and taking full advantage of the travel opportunities being close to Europe gave him.

Now you may not believe this, either, but Elaine and I were invited to Die Fledermaus, the opera by Johann Strauss 11.  I was pretty worried because I wasn’t too keen on being bellowed at all night in German, but it was actually quite a light-hearted affair and it was sung in English.  It’s an awful plot concerning a wealthy man and his wife, both of whom want to have a fling and actually end up with each other.  I even knew a few of the tunes; I simply didn’t know they came from this opera.  Pretty up-market for St Albans, all right!  

The costumes were good, and the orchestra was very good, but the singing was a bit … average.  It’s called Die Fledermaus – The Bat – because she gets invited to a ball but she has to dress in disguise and she comes all in black with a high-winged mask looking somewhat like a bat.  It’s part of the plot that he doesn’t recognise her in her bat dress, she looks absolutely stunning and very mysterious and he tries to seduce her.  Nice music, though.

So to follow that up, we also get invited to the Phoebus Trio: harp, flute and viola.  They were superb.  At times the viola sounded like a cello and the music they played had been written especially for this trio of instruments.  The most beautiful piece was written by an English composer, William Mathias and was a musical portrait of the three musicians he wrote the piece for.  Not particularly lyrical, but evocative and emotive, at times wild and at times peaceful, just like real people.  On Monday night we go and see the last of the musical goodies, the Ionian Singers who sing mostly unaccompanied.  That should be a treat.

I’m about to start my last days at Tesco and Elaine has made a very nice feast of afghans and apricot fudge for me to take to work..  I’ll miss the people at Tesco because they were a very pleasant group to work with.  It’s a very good company, keen to keep its traditions and to upgrade its members’ culture.  To that end I now have THREE Tesco awards.  I am the only one on the helpdesk who has so many because these awards are nominated entirely by the customers – by the people who ring up the helpdesk. The other guys say, “Oh, yeah, that’s just because they like your Australian accent.” All my awards have been nominated by women, and the other helpdesk analysts know I’m not Australian – they just want to “take the mickey” as it’s called here.  I have had two or three phone calls a day from IT placement agencies, but no offers of work, so it’s a bit of a worry.

I have largely overcome the effects of the London marathon, I’m back to being able to run 10 miles and tomorrow morning I do 12 miles then some sprints.  I’m having a go at getting my 10km time below 40min.  That is hard work.

Last weekend we got invited to a football match where a group of kids from Elaine’s class was playing in the Barton Town club team.  They were playing in the final of their competition and were so thrilled to have made it to the final, they wanted us to go up and cheer them on.  They were such charming boys and they played their hearts out, with a lot of skill for boys of only 9 and 10yrs.  They didn’t win, but they still treasure their finalists’ medals.  After the game we drove into Bedford and had a walk along the banks of the Ouse. It was a beautiful, sunny day, the third in a row as though it were full summer and people were lying about sunbathing or picnicing under the trees.  

The Ouse itself is big enough to allow quite a large ship to sail to Bedford from The Wash, which was one of the reasons it was such a strategic city.  These days it’s not so important and the river is the most horrible greenish brown colour you have to wonder how polluted it is.  We called in to explore the lovely St Paul’s Church in the middle of Bedford and we lit a candle for Jason.  We walked back along the river tow-path to our car and then the three-day drought broke with heavy clouds, a dozen flashes of lightning, crashing thunder and a torrent of rain as we drove home.

Remember we went to Leicester to see the Leicester Tigers’ grounds with Jack Dalgliesh?  And we met Dean Richards?  Well, today we watched Leicester win the Heineken Cup in grand style with three tries to none, over Stade Francais.  It was a great game – Mum would have loved it. The Heineken Cup is THE rugby trophy of Europe.  We watched it on TV, of course, but since we had been to the Leicester grounds and we’ve got the tiger to prove it, we’re happy to support Leicester.  Many of them are in the Lions team which is about to tour Australia and guess who is the coach of the Lions?  Graham Henry.  Go Graham.  Another interesting thing is that the assistant coach for England was John (?) Mitchell – he’s gone back to Waikato and we hear he’s doing great things with them. Talent will out.

The foot n mouth outbreak is nearly over.  Yesterday was the first day in which there were no new cases and the countryside is slowly opening up.  There are lots of arguments and recriminations, of course, but the thing that is most clear for me is the massive extent to which English farming is subsidised.  But the same is true for all European farming.  Some of these farms are 45 acres sustaining 100 ewes and 170 lambs.  The farmer concerned stands in front of the camera bawling that his livelihood is being taken away from him.  I’d cry with him if he was talking about his little flock that he had carefully bred up in his spare time – but a livelihood?  

They were paid 26 POUNDS per sheep destroyed.  It’s unbelievable.  It’s also incredible that a whole family can live on 45 acres with 100 ewes.  Although it was poor farming practices that caused the outbreak, as they have caused the BSE/CJD outbreak, it wasn’t just the farmers who suffered and it wasn’t even them who suffered the most, but they are the one who will get compensation.  The ones who suffered the most were the tourism industry, which itself is worth 10 times more than farming, and rural businesses dependent on farming and tourism. And they will get no compensation at all.  They shouldn’t either; in business you take the smooth and bank it to get you over the rough.  If you don’t you shouldn’t be in business.  The same applies to farming.

By the way, no, we do not eat beef on this side of the equator.  We eat lamb – there’s no mutton or hogget here – and pork and poultry and we don’t use Bisto or any other beef extract, nor beef sausages, nor hamburgers, or steak n kidney pies. It’s likely that the current crop of  CJD cases is the forerunner to a very much larger group of people who will all die in the pandemic.  It’s estimated that one-tenth of Europe will die because the affliction can take 20 years to develop.  This recent group are those most easily affected – there are many more to come and cattle are still being found, in France and Germany, for instance, with BSE. We’ll try to stay away from it and only eat beef on our visits to NZ.

 That reminds me; we left NZ on 31 May 1999 and arrived in England on 3 June 1999.  Very shortly, we will have been here for two years.  Whenever I see my workmates feeling depressed and harassed because they feel their life is jailing them I tell them that the only walls they have are the walls they erect around themselves.  They are in a jail of their own making.  There are so many jobs here, and many of them pay very well for people of skill and talent, there is no need to feel that life is closing them in.

We have a long weekend coming up – here they call it a Bank Holiday – and we are going up to Suffolk to interview someone who has applied for a job in NZ.  It should be most interesting and we’ll see lots more countryside we haven’t seen before.  That reminds me, one of the guys at work was looking on the Internet for a castle to take his girlfriend to for a holiday and he said to me, “Hey Ewart, you’ve seen more of England that most of us have, what’s it like in Bristol?”  

So I was able to tell him about the incredible bridge over the Bristol Channel and how the tides rise 16 feet in Infracombe on the North Devon coast because of the amount of water that flows up and down the Bristol Channel every tide. And the sheer between the incoming tide and the outgoing tide. And the smugglers coast. We had a good look, too at all the castles pictured on the Internet and how few of them were actually castles at all, more like manor houses.  The only one that looked really like a castle – like Warwick Castle, for instance – was GBP400 per week, I think per person. He thought he might take her to Ilfracombe instead.  Cheaper and still very pretty.

I hope this note finds you well and that you are enjoying life in Tairua.  Dad’s sharpener is ordered, it should turn up any day and I’ll forward it to you as soon as I see it.  We’ve sent Geoffrey a very nice birthday card and a present we hope he’ll have a lot of fun with.

Lots of love

Ewart and Elaine


Letters home, 2001, July 10

10 July 2001

Dear Mum and Dad

Thank you VERY much for the photo of Hahei.  It’s a real beauty and Elaine and I will put it in a frame this weekend and hang it in our living room.  Those lovely blues of the sea and the sky will provide such a contrast to the other two pictures we have of Verulamium last winter.  I know you miss your little house, but we do hope that life in Tairua is not too bad.

We were very distressed to hear of Mum’s fall and we are pleased that it was not as bad as it could have been. Still, a cracked shoulder bone is not fun and we hope it doesn’t hurt too much.

I know a broken shower is a pretty weak excuse, but if it works – to get yourself a new workshop – I reckon you should go for it and exploit the situation to the ultimate.  If you’re lucky, you may be able to remove the wall between the shower and the bathroom and so expand the workshop … best of luck!  I knew that sending you the sharpener would lead to better things.  Sharp tools call for a sharp workshop.  Well done ….

Also well done to Dora and Ian – it was good of them to go and see you.

Elaine is all ready for her inspection and a couple of exams to finish off her QTS – her Qualified Teacher Status.  Incredibly, the EU does not recognise NZ teacher qualifications and it takes between 1 and 3 YEARS to gain it here.  In the meantime, the local education authorities benefit handsomely because they get good, highly qualified teachers at rock bottom unqualified rates of pay for up to three years while they put them through the QTS hoops. Elaine will be finished – they allowed her to take 6 months because she is so highly qualified and experienced – by September, but even then we’re not sure whether she will be paid full rates right away or not until they have actually sent her the paperwork.  All the more reason for them to delay. I’ll stay in IT.  At least it’s fun.

There you go.  Have a good week.

Lots of love

Ewart and Elaine


Letters home, 2001, July 29

29 July 2001

Dear Mum and Dad

I have landed a very nice job as a Technical Support Analyst on the Help Desk for Sainsbury’s head office in Rennie House, Rennie St, Southwark.  Pronounced SUTHic.  The place is often confused with Suffolk because lots of Brits can’t say the th in Suthic, so it comes out suffok anyway and people say to me, “Oh, you’re working in Suffolk – that’s a long way from St Albans ….”

Now Mum’s mother was Elsie Orange, eldest daughter of Edward and Helen Orange.    Helen was originally Helen Hinkley and she was born in 1865 and lived at 53 Union St, Southwark.  When she left for NZ in 1883, she left from a very good place to leave. It’s easy to picture the Dickensian pea-soup smogs and imagine peering through slit eyes as you pick your way to work through the grubby brick buildings listening for the trains hissing and rattling noisily overhead.  She was a nurse in London, did you know? I don’t think Mum ever met her – she died in 1928, and Mum would have been 7 at the time.  Also, and she divorced Edward Orange in 1924, so it’s quite possible she would have had nothing to do with the Orange family, including Elsie, after that.  

However – back to Southwark.  I was very surprised indeed when I was asked to go to 168 Union St for my job interview with Sainsbury’s and I had a brief look around the area that afternoon.  Since then, I’ve taken to walking all around the Bankside area that Helen would have been familiar with and I have been looking for anything older than 1883, so that what I am looking at, she would have seen.  Well, there is a lot.  

Firstly, her house is still standing.  It’s just the shell and is being refurbished for business premises, but many of the houses around it are still in 1883 condition and you can easily get a sense of the dust, grime and poverty of the area.  It was primarily a warehouse district and many of the Victorian era buildings still standing, although converted to modern use mostly as offices, have retained the lifting gear attached to the outside walls.  

She would have been familiar with the Southwark Cathedral, which was called the Church of St Mary Overie when she lived there – it became a cathedral in 1910 and it’s only a few streets away.  She would have been familiar with the stories of The Clink – the prison that gave all others the name.  It’s just a few streets away, even though it wasn’t an active prison when she lived there, the rubble from a huge fire in the area in 1814 was still there in 1883 and its underground vaults still exist, too. It was the prison for the Duke of Winchester in Winchester Palace and it started life in the 1300’s.

It’s a really horrible place.  Southwark has been home to prostitution and crime since Saxon times.  The Duke of Winchester “regulated” the brothels and owned a large section of Bankside since King Stephen gave it all to the Bishop of Winchester in the 1130’s. As you can see the title has become a secular one. The Clink was his private prison and he held life and death over its inmates until the prison was destroyed in 1780. Incredible. In its turn it was a firstly a prison for the population under the Bishop/Duke’s control, then it was a prison to hold Catholics for Henry Viii, then to hold Protestants for Mary, then reverted to holding Catholics for Elizabeth 1.

Its last use for most of the 18th and 19th centuries was as a debtor’s prison.  For all of this time, the owner could extract fines and payments from the inmates.  He made an awful lot of money out of misery.  I saw in an issue of last week’s Metro newspaper that the Duke of Winchester is the wealthiest man in Britain.  He owns 300 acres of inner London and is worth 10 billion pounds.  So now you know it; there is wealth, power and respectability in being a pimp. There is a little bit of Winchester Palace still standing – a wall and a large rose window – and under that is the Clink. In Clink St, of course.  The palace itself, in its heyday, was inside a fully-walled area of about 200 acres; all that’s left today is that bit of wall with the window, and the remnant of the Clink.

She would also have been familiar with St Paul’s Cathedral towering over the Thames on the other side of the river, and all the other works of Sir Christopher Wren in the area built in the late 1600’s, early 1700’s.  His chief mason, by the way, was a man called Edward Strong who was a citizen of St Albans and is buried here in St Peters Church. The Blackfriars bridge Helen crossed to get to The City from Bankside is the same one I cross to get to work.  It’s called the Blackfriars New Bridge, built 1860 to replace the original bridge built in the 1760’s, by an engineer called Rennie, incidentally.  

She would have been familiar with the Blackfriars rail bridge, too, that crosses the Thames and swings through Southwark on a big brick viaduct.  I suspect that then the arches would have been open, but today they are bricked up for lockups – and there is a very large amount of space to be let under the arches of a rail bridge.  Blackfriars Bridge would have looked a quite a bit different from what I can see today because on the Southwark side of the bridge was a huge Romano-Greek building in stone called the London, Chatham and Dover Railway station.  

On its facade were carved the destinations you could travel to by rail in those days.  Part of the facade was placed in the railway building I walk through, so I was able to read what she saw: Paris, Moscow, St Petersburgh, Rome, Marseilles – lots and lots of places on the Continent.  Maybe it gave her itchy feet …  There were two other interesting things I found out – one was that the City of London ends on the other side of Blackfriars Bridge.  I always thought the City ended on the north bank, but at least in the case of Blackfriars Bridge, the City extends right over it and a few yards on the south side.  The other interesting thing is that Blackfriars Bridge, Tower Bridge, London Bridge and one other (I think Waterloo) belong to The Bridges House Trust.  It was given property in London, I think by Henry Viii, and it looks after those four bridges, including replacing them when necessary, “without recourse to public money.”  In other words those four bridges were built and are maintained entirely without calling on taxes or rates.

Ivor Adams, my cousin on my grandmother Sadie Tearle’s side, who has worked in The City most of his life, said that Bankside was the haunt of the Teddy Boys in the 1920’s and 1930’s and even today, in spite of all the upgrading that has been done there, areas just to the south, like Elephant and Castle, North Peckham and Peckham, are still poverty-stricken and crime-ridden.  If you stay close to the river, you’re ok. It’s very nice.  In Southwark, there are two named areas close to the river.  One is called South Bank and extends from Waterloo Bridge to Blackfriars Bridge and the other is called Bankside and extends from Blackfriars Bridge to London Bridge. I work in South Bank.  

I walked 7 minutes from work down The Thames Walk to the Tate Modern, a coal-fired electricity station that has been converted into the largest indoor space I have ever seen. And they use all this space for an art museum. Free admission, too.  I could only spend 10 minutes there but the building outside is massive in brick, dominated by a tall red-brick chimney that has been a feature of the Bankside skyline for nearly a century.  Inside, it is light and airy and there are overhead cranes quietly tucked away waiting to move large and heavy exhibits.

The last night of Music in Marshalswick turned out to be the best night of them all because it was a celebration of Elizabethan madrigals. The choral group was about 20 strong with 8 men and the group was usually divided into four voices and sometimes six. They sang these really lovely, lilting tunes from the 1500’s, many with direct reference to Queen Elizabeth I, for whom they were actually written, but some also were religious pieces.  

It’s interesting that musicians and poets of the time wrote about religious and secular things in the same idiom. And it’s also interesting that some madrigals are still being written – Vaughan Williams wrote a couple for QEII’s coronation and Aaron Copeland, the American, wrote some, too. But arranging “Home Boys Home” as a madrigal is rather like a Barber Shop Quartet singing Heartbreak Hotel in 4-part harmony; it sounds pretentious and insincere. The modern madrigals lack the romance and feel for the genre that the Elizabethans had and those songs were uplifting and so, so sweet.  

We found ourselves at a loose end a couple of weekends ago, so we drove up to Stockwood Park in Luton.  Now, I have driven past the park lots of times and always promised myself that I would call in to see the Mossman Collection – whatever that was – but I had never got around to it.  It was a bright sunny day and Elaine said her kids had told her the whole thing was free, so since they had recommended it, we thought we’d go and see what it was all about. It was a revelation.  

The first thing we saw was a gypsy caravan exactly the same as the one Graeme made.  It was mounted on a dray with the front steering wheels able to swing in under the tray of the caravan, a centre section of the roof lifted for head clearance and lots of carving and colourful paintwork all over it. Graeme’s caravan could have showed the constructor a thing or two about craftsmanship, though. It wasn’t rough by any means, but Graeme’s was better.

After that, there were sections on display of the crafts and farming activities of the 1800’s; brickmaking (10 million bricks a year in Luton alone) haymaking, poaching, hatmaking (the Tearles of Stanbridge were heavily into strawplaiting and hatmaking) the blacksmith, heart and soul of every village in the country, as well as displays of kitchen life and home crafts such as tatting and lacemaking.  It was very impressive, the displays were detailed and had authentic clothing and tools.

Stockwood was originally a large farming mansion very close to Luton, but its owners sold it to the council and in the 1960’s the council demolished the house, but left the grounds and the tall imposing brick wall that enclosed the grounds.  Inside the grounds they have set up Victorian gardens and some large hothouses.  Inside one of the hothouses is the cafe. Nice.  That was all we had time to see and we’ll have to go back to see what the Mossman Collection is all about, but it’s free, so one day when we are at a loose end and want something interesting to do for free …

Last Saturday afternoon we went to Harlington, of all places, to see The Pirates of Penzance. Actually, they were really good.  I haven’t seen the show since Rotorua Girls and Boys High schools combined to put it on when I was in high school.  They made their own costumes and set and hired a very good set of lights. Remember “Poor Wandering Heart,” and that beautiful trilling that Mabel does that sounds like a skylark?  Well, this Mabel did it really well; I still wake up in the morning with that powerful impression of her sparkling eyes and perfect pitch and I can’t rid myself its simple, clever little tune.

Harlington is one of those little villages with a very old centre of Tudor houses heavily cloaked with protection orders and surrounded in expensive modern houses.  It even has its own railway station and almost everyone who lives there gets on the train and goes to London every day.  It’s the same train I use. When they are on their way home these are the stations they pass and in this order: Blackfriars, City, Farringdon, Kings Cross, St Albans, Harpenden (another little, expensive, commuter village) Luton Airport Parkway (you catch a free shuttle to Luton Airport), Luton, Leagrave, Harlington, Flitwick (you call it FLITTick) and Bedford. They travel from Southwark to Bedford in about an hour.  

In the morning the train also stops at Gatwick airport and terminates at Brighton.  Although I don’t know of anyone who commutes from Bedford to Brighton every day, I do suspect that some commute to and from Gatwick because it’s a very big airport and it would need lots of engineers and IT people, so why not from Bedford?

At the bottom of our hill is House Lane, which goes in a more or less northerly direction to Sandridge and above the lane are large fields of rape and barley.  For most of the last three weeks there has been a gradual reddening of the rape field so we walked down to see what was happening.  The rape field in full flower is bright, bright yellow and very dense because the raceme of the rape plant is about 8 inches high with about 100 flowers on it.  Spread that densely over a 50-acre field and you can see how the colour could become so intense.  As the yellow died away, the red colour had been spreading and intensifying and now we could see what it was.  Poppies.  Here they call them field poppies to distinguish them from cultured varieties.  

I thought they were weeds, probably brought back from France and Belgium on the clothes and in the pockets of soldiers of WWI. But I’m wrong.  William Cowper, English poet and man of letters during the 1700’s was in St Albans recuperating from mental illness and he wrote about the field poppies of St Albans, so they have been here for a while and this spectacular display of massed blooms lasting about 2 weeks is repeated almost every year; it’s just that some years, like this year, are better than others.  

So Elaine and I have become much more thoughtful about English wildflowers. They are not weeds, they are real plants and Jennie and Thelma are very enthusiastic about them, as was Clarice.  I thought why get excited about weeds?  I’m beginning to see why. Remember last spring we went up the hill to see the bluebell wood?  The bluebells have a 10,000 year history here.  The ground was set up for them by the retreating ice at the end of the last Ice Age and they come up, flower and die away early in spring before the other forest floor creepers and greenery get a start.  

There are bluebells all through Europe, but they don’t mass anywhere there like they do here. It seems that the timing of the poppies is just as fortuitous.  The rape flower drops and the poppies are tall enough to catch the light while the rape seed pods are ripening.  The bright yellow turns to bright red. Alongside the roads are massed bunches of pink blooms held stiffly like feathers on tall spikes – there is plenty of hemlock, but the pink blooms are packed together rather than just scattered about. Thelma says they are willow weed. Jennie says that all these things are governed by the seasons, which are so pronounced here, so that without having to read a calendar, the person who can read the wildflowers can tell exactly where in the year she has got to.

While we were inspecting the poppy display, Margaret Martin, who was staying with us on holiday for a while, asked us for a couple of flint stones that she could take home.  That’s not difficult – pick and field stone and it’s flint.  As the glaciers retreated north about 10,000 years ago they left this land smoothly undulating but the terminal moraines are heavy in clay and water-rounded flint stones.  I thought I’d have a go at being a new-age Stone Man, so I picked up a couple of likely looking flints and banged them together. Nothing.  Why didn’t they shatter and give me a nice axe or something?  

I threw first one then the other very hard down onto the road.  Still nothing, they just bounced away. So I picked up a broken one that had a very obvious flaw in it and looked around for a stone to bang it with.  I decided I’d try a nice round stone because it would probably be stronger than a broken one and, holding the broken one in my left hand whacked it on the flaw with the round stone.  This time the flawed stone broke nicely into two.  I then whacked the very edge of the break and with a satisfying little ping a shard fell off.  When I picked it up and examined it, my little shard had a razor edge and a thick, blunt edge. It could easily cut meat held as it was in my fingers, or be mounted into a piece of wood with glue (they used resin) or tied in with string to make a slicer or a scraper. In ten minutes I’d gone from 21st Century Man to Cave Man.  Elaine and Margaret both reckoned I’d only make it to Neanderthal, but I’d still have been able to carve the roast.

My last piece of good news is that Elaine has successfully finished her QTS. That means she has qualified teacher status. We were both flomoxed when we arrived here to discover that Elaine’s NZ teaching qualifications and experience counted for nothing.  She had been recruited in NZ for supply teaching in England by Select Education and they hadn’t told her this rather important fact.  For the past two years, Elaine has been teaching in England as an untrained and unqualified teacher, even though for most of the past year she has been the mentor for a teacher in training.  Britain has an acute shortage of teachers – about 10,000 too few and it is heavily recruiting in NZ, Australia and South Africa.  

Because it doesn’t tell these people that their qualifications and experience are not recognised and won’t be paid for, they come here in all innocence and don’t know for months firstly that their are on the lowest pay a teacher can get, but they also don’t know that if they don’t get their QTS in two years, they won’t be allowed to continue teaching and therefore will have to go home when their money runs out.  Accidentally or not, Britain gets lots of highly qualified and experienced teachers almost for free.  The QTS usually take one to two years, but Elaine was allowed to do hers in six months.  She has now finished and will be paid at the proper rate in due course.  It also means, of course, that she will be able to continue teaching if she wants to.

Yesterday we got half of one our oldest wishes – to go to Luton Hoo.  As you know, Luton Hoo was the house used in the movie Four Weddings and a Funeral.  There was the long drive through trees and a front view of a quite magnificent house. All week we had seen advertisements for a Robin Hood Fayre at Luton Hoo, so we had to go and the half of the wish that came true was the long drive through the trees.  

The house has been sold and a hotel corporation is turning the house into a luxury hotel so sooner or later we are going to get the second half come true.  However, the fayre was a beauty and well worth going to.  As we drove up to it, we could see large white pointed tents with St George flags on the tallest poles and lots of bunting hung between them.  There were lots of re-enactments of rural life in the 1350s and there was also an ensemble playing music from the Tudor period and there was an American playing a range of musical styles using a hammer dulcimer. It’s quite a wide instrument with a peg to hold it off the ground and the musician plays it by tapping the strings with felt-tipped, curved little hammers.  It makes a very pleasant resonant sound like a clavichord, but much more mellow.

The music he was playing wasn’t particularly old, but the hammer dulcimer is certainly a Mediaeval instrument.  I mentioned to him that my younger brother makes Appalachian dulcimers and he said that the Appalachian dulcimer had a Northern European history, quite different from that of his own instrument.  Just inside the gate as we walked in was a group re-enacting family life in the 1350s.  They had a long, heavy wooden table with earthenware dishes and wooden plates.  

The women were wearing white linen full-length dresses drawn at the neck and sometimes with a tunic dress over the top.  The men wore woollen breeches, white linen blouses in much the same cut as the women and with jerkins over the top.  It was very warm clothing for such a hot and sunny day.  They were cooking meat patties for lunch.  In a small enclosure next to this little group were three colourful tents with knights and soldiers showing off their swordsmanship and demonstrating the use of Mediaeval pikes.  

In another enclosure off to the right there was a stage where small groups of musicians with Mediaeval instruments played traditional English tunes, some of which I recognised from Shakespearean plays – not that Shakespeare was Mediaeval, of course, but they always take a few liberties. On the same stage another group played a variation on the St George and the Dragon story that we had seen in a mummers play in Romeland, St Albans. They always play this story for its laughs, but St George killed the dragon and got the ever-thankful girl. She was so thankful it hurt laughing.

It’s just wonderful going to events like this and it’s one of the reasons we like being here so much.  At last we are in touch with the roots of the culture that made us who we are and we can understand better why we love the things we do.

Lots of love

Ewart and Elaine