Sunday, 28 February 2010

Back to the future via Singapore

It's back to the future as we prepare to leave Singapore for dear old England, if the gale-force winds allow us to land.

Singapore: clean, spacious, well-managed, traffic-flowing, entertainment island, party- until-you-drop, old buildings like Raffles, new buildings that look like spaceships, Chinatown, Little India, black pepper crabs, smiling natives, tourist buses, river boat cruises and the gorgeous taste and smells and colours of all that food.

Plenty of Singapore noodles but no time for a Singapore Sling at Raffles, Pondside, as your English double, Mrs Bancroft got there first. However, a trip to Vancouver - maybe to visit the Canadian rellies - could be on the cards...

It's been an amazing trip and we're not home yet.

That's about it

Love Maddie x

Saturday, 27 February 2010

Kia ora from New Zealand

On our short road trip on New Zealand's North Island, we spot a giant kiwi nibbling the grass on a distant hillside.

We drive through the Hobbity hills, where every vista looks like The Shire. We stroll through the eggy stench of Rotorua, missing the Lady Knox geyser's daily eruption by 15 minutes. We go down to the glow worm caves of Rotorua by rope, and get through by potholing, blackwater rafting and then rockclimbing out.

We have had hardly enough time to draw breath, let alone do New Zealand justice. But we've certainly tried.

On the excellent girls' day out prior to the wedding, where guests have a chance to meet each other, we battle 48 knot winds to reach Tiritiri Matangi island (the Maori name means buffeted by the wind) while the boys' fishing trip is called off. They sit around in a bar called Carpe Diem while the girls, ever the adventurers, soldier on, encountering rare birds including one straight out of The Dark Crystal and another, the bride's extraordinarily fit grandmother, who leaves us all standing at the age of 79.

Mr Grigg then leads the ladies on a kayak trip off the appropriately-named Big Manly Beach. We meet people who grow Geh-laaa and Brybin ipples (that's Gala and Braeburn apples to you and me). We have fush and chups on the beach, washed down with citrus-flavoured beer.

We are now in Singapore, with more stories to come, including the outcome of the search for the last resting place of my great-uncle, who came out to Australia from England in the 1920s.

That's about it

Love Maddie x

Saturday, 20 February 2010

Here comes the bride...

Hi there...

Haven't blogged in ages but so much has happened on our Antipodean adventure, and much of it without the aid of the internet. Since my last post, Mr Grigg and I have been Waltzing Matilda in Sydney, driving up the coast to Brisbane sampling the delights of the Hunter Valley, looking at the Richmond Valley sugar cane fields through the expert eye of a Somerset farmer who emigrated out here in the 1940s and exploring the sub-tropical rain forests.

And the highpoint? Finding remnants of my great-uncle's life, with a TV series of his adopted town in the offing. Though, sadly, not from my pen but the creators of the Australian version of TV's Heartbeat, who obviously spotted the potential of Rappville, north New South Wales, before we got there. A one-horse, one-track, one-railway track town screaming out for a movie based around it. And in the screenplay I will never write, my great-uncle will be played by Eric Bana. Anyway, more of that later.

Today, Mr Grigg and I are are in New Zealand. And we have just been to the wedding of the year.

Today, the son of our dear neighbour and friend from Dorset, Mrs Bancroft, married Wonderwoman, an all New-Zealand girl with the grace and teeth only the superfit Kiwis seem to possess.

Lots of beauty, sunshine and joy. And here we are, from deep in Dorset, sharing in the happiness of Mrs Bancroft, who Mr Grigg and I love like a member of the family. There are others around the world who shared that joy with us, and I hope I will be able to capture some of that with these pictures.

And do remember, these come to you after copious amounts of alcohol and very high heels from yours truly, coming to you courtesy of a brand new dongle from a Vodafone shop in Auckland.

This blog has taken ages to write: people are splayed out on easy chairs and a post mortem is going on about the night before, which isn't even the night before yet. I've been trying to concentrate, with an ear on the conversation around me, with an iPod mix featuring Elvis Presley and Cilla Black and Martha Reeves.

My main concern is, of course, Mr Grigg, who is lounging around in boxer shorts being worn back to front to avoid embarrassment, and our dear friend Mrs B, who is a bit tearful after her only son's wedding. Her late husband would have loved it.

A few photos:

My feet ($25 shoes from Adelaide. I'm such a sucker for high-heeled shoes):

The lovely Mrs B's shoes:

And here comes the bride:

That's about it.

Love Maddie xx

Sunday, 14 February 2010

On the road

Belly boarding on Bondi, Mr Grigg says he does not need the board because his belly is big enough. The waves greet me like the famous scene from The Perfect Storm. I have a fear of being underwater that goes back to a time when I was saved from drowning at Instow, North Devon, as a child. So I slink back to the beach to watch the beautiful people go by.

We are staying with The Fit Family in a cool Art Deco apartment building. Bondi suprises me because the residential areas are so green and shady. The city is like that all over, I realise, when I take in the view from the Sydney Tower. I look out across to Centennial Park, where at Sydney Showground my grandfather enlisted in the ANZACs nearly 100 years earlier.

This is a holiday about the past as well as the present.

Lord and Lady G near Noosa, My Beautiful Cousin and the Twins in Adelaide, The Fit Family in Bondi, Mr Grigg's cousin - officially Australia's Laziest Man - in the sleepy coastal community of Harrington up the coast in New South Wales, The Sugar Cane Farmer and then the ghosts of relatives past.

Through the wonders of Google, I can visualise my great-uncle's home at Rappville, inland from Evans Head and the surf-dude coolness of Byron Bay. When my grandfather was coming back to England after World War One, his little brother was heading for a new life farming in the New South Wales bush.

Mr Grigg, meanwhile, is currently heading up river with his cousin on a motor boat.

"There are all these creeks," he says, looking at the map before he sets out. "But we haven't yet found sh*t creek."

I think he might be there now, and possibly without a paddle.

A few photos from Adelaide, Sydney and then one from the great New South Wales road trip and my favourite photo so far. The colourful shack and the prevalence of Dukes of Hazzard-style ve-hick-els indicates to me that we are getting closer to the land of my great-uncle.

That's about it.

Love Maddie x

Monday, 8 February 2010

Genes reunited

In the migration museum of Adelaide, there is a verse by Mary Thomas, an emigrant in the 1800s:

Yes, England, I have fled from thee
Fast fades thy beauteous shore
then flow my tears, for I shall see
my native land no more

In 1964, my father's brother took advantage of the assisted passage scheme and left Somerset for the heat of Adelaide, South Australia, as a Ten Pound Pom.

He has returned several times since - for holidays - and the last time I saw him was twelve years ago. It is a hugely emotional experience for me to meet him and his family on the other side of the world.

He walks out on to the pavement from his front door and playfully asks: 'Who's this then?'

I hug him. I can feel the tears running down my cheeks. After 45 years or more, he hasn't lost that lovely and soft Westcountry burr.

He tells me about my grandfather, who was an ANZAC and fought at Gallipoli in the First World War. He tells me about my great uncle, who left in the 1920s and never came back. He tells me about my great uncle's farm I hope to find in New South Wales. He recalls how the house wasn't finished when Uncle Jim moved in. On the first floor, the walls hadn't been put in and you could look from room to room. Jim never finished it either, but he built up a fine farm of 4,000 acres with cattle, horses and dogs. Lots of dogs.

'They used to sit underneath the house to keep cool,' my cousin recalls. 'There were loads of them.'

When Jim left for Australia, he begged his Somerset sweetheart to join him.

'He offered to pay for her to come out but her mother said he'd have to go back and get her,' my uncle recalls.

Both of them grew old and single on opposite sides of the world.

I think of Jim and his lost love as I stay with my extended family (and Jim's) here in Australia. It is a story of loss and regret and what-might-have-been. I hope I can find some remnants of his life here.

Our next stop is Sydney - Bondi Beach to be precise - where an old friend lives with her husband and son. We move on tomorrow from Adelaide, where we have been so welcomed by my family and their friends.

Until then, here's a photo of Jim's great-great-nieces. More photos later.

That's about it.

Love Maddie x

Thursday, 4 February 2010

Laugh kookaburra laugh

In Hong Kong we take a $2 dollar tram to the end of the line and back, just because we can. Black trams, red trams, green trams, purple, advertising everything from insurance to jewellery sales, trundle around like a real-life theme park ride, with us on it.

We pass The Sincere Insurance Building, the HSBC building with its very English Landseer-like lions either side of the entrance and then the Bank of China with guardian lions of the ancient imperial variety. It is the lead-up to Chinese New Year and there are red lanterns everywhere, in between The Honest Pharmacy, The Hong Kong Jockey Club betting shops, Vodafone, Reebok and Clarks Shoes, Dolce and Gabbana, De Beers, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Sam Choy Printing and the Ying Kee Tea House.

The noises are man-made: traffic stopping and starting, over-revved double decker buses, taxis honking and the rat-a-tat-tat of the pedestrian crossings where the arrival of the green man is signalled by what sounds like a frantic toy monkey on a tin drum.

At eight o'clock in the evening, Mr Grigg and I become part of the nightly laser show as we sail across from Wan Chai to Kowloon on the Star Ferry. The next day we get on a bus to Stanley Market and a man in the seat behind is shaving himself with an electric razor. He then slurps his tea loudly, a naughty child experimenting with drinking Coke through a straw for the first time. Up the high peak overlooking Hong Kong we can see nothing but a blanket of mist. It is like being inside a plastic fertiliser sack.

On our way back, we wend our way through the above-ground walkways, merging into maze-like shopping malls full of commuters on their way home from work. These walkways are the pedestrian arteries of Wan Chai, suspended like Tarzan's vines in the jungle.

On then to Australia. An uncomfortable night's sleep punctuated by very good Quantas food and the films The Time Traveller's Wife and Finding Eric and increasingly swelling feet. We land at Brisbane where the man at immigration smirks at Mr Grigg's passport photo and then says he won't let us in unless we can spell our destination of Maroochydore.

The next two days are spent with Mrs Bancroft's very good friends, Lord and Lady G, who initiate us into Aussie culture and hospitality with the most beautiful of houses overlooking acres of green trees,a golf course and then the sea. A walk along white, white sands, the curl of the surf and the most tender lamb and steak on the barbie.

But before that, a stop-off at the bottle shop for a case of wine. After all, it is the Griggs coming to stay.

The world from my window this morning, with a soundtrack of laughing Kookaburras.

Our next stop will be Adelaide where my father's brother tells us on Facebook they are having a party and we're invited. I momentarily worry about recognising my cousin at the airport and she me. But she has a cunning plan. She will be accompanied by her identical twin teenage daughters - blonde and beautiful - who will be wearing their green netball tops. Sorted.

That's about it
Love Maddie x

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

Hong Kong Phooey

Well, it's been a month since my last blog. And after saying I was never going to blog again, three things have happened:

* I feel guilty because so many people tell me they miss it
* I just saw the film Julie/Julia
* I'm in the most incredible place right now

So while the world from my window is as misty as ever, it's not Crowman I see going into the village shop for fags and beer or even Celebrity Farmer for a loaf of bread or Mr Grigg for a Ginster's pasty. Outside my window, on the 23rd floor, I can see lots of human ants scuttling around below.

A sea of Chinese faces on the underground, all of them different. In the land of the very short people, Mr Grigg, at 6ft tall, is king.

We are in Hong Kong on our way to Australia and New Zealand to see family, friends and go to a wedding. It's also a bit of a personal quest - Australia is the place to which my mother and father nearly emigrated in the 1960s, I nearly emigrated in the 1980s and it's the place where my dear uncle actually did emigrate in the 1960s on a £10 ticket. It's through Facebook I've rediscovered my cousin, with whom we will be staying in Adelaide. Hi Deana!

I know Australia is a hot old place but to me it will always be the land of adventure. It's where my grandfather and his friend set sail not long after the turn of the 20th century and then ended up fighting for the ANZACS in Gallipoli in 1915. Grandfather survived that battle, and The Somme and the war, but came back a hardened socialist in a rural landscape where cap-doffing by the peasants to the aristocracy was second nature.

He was a dab-hand with horses, could crack a bull whip even before Indiana Jones was invented and had a thoroughly independent, stubborn streak. He was my hero, even though the man I remember from my childhood was a little old wizened thing, with a deerstalker hat on his head and a roll-up hanging from his bottom lip.

In the 1920s, his younger brother left for Australia and never came back, settling on a farm in New South Wales. He left his sweetheart behind and neither of them ever married. I hope to find his farm or at least the remnants of it.

In the meantime, Mr Grigg and I are enjoying the breathtaking skyscrapers and lights of Hong Kong, the markets, the street food and the hustle and bustle. It's where my nephew took a teaching job when he couldn't find work after uni because there wasn't much call for zoologists. He went to a nightclub and zap, he ended up meeting his future wife. They now have the most beautiful son and my nephew is doing what he's always wanted to do from the age of about three. He writes about dinosaurs.

However, I digress. Whether I will blog again when I get back is another matter, but I do so miss it. Since my last confession (I mean blog), the publicans have had endless parties to get rid of the beer before leaving, with everyone in our street being damned for their demise - too many private events behind closed doors, apparently.

Mr Sheepwash has erected his shed and the Logginses have been entertaining 'poolside' at their temporary but very comfortable home on a caravan park. Nobby has had a knee operation and Mr St John's Birkenstock shoe box was outside his house for three weeks after the recycling men bottled out of tackling the village's rubbish because of deep snow.

The oil thief got off due to lack of evidence despite CCTV footage and numerous barrels decorating his patio like flower pots, MDF Man and Super Mario have been called in to transform the Sheepwash playroom and the nymph is still wearing the poncho.

The most interesting bit of news is something I can't possibly put on the blog, although I was quite clearly told I could. As soon as this information was imparted to me, I had to Google the subject matter. I realised it's something I could sell internationally. However, the person who let me in on the secret me was a little squiffy at the time so I couldn't possibly comment.

In the meantime, here are a few pictures from The World From My Window Down Under.


If my mother is reading this, I apologise for the last photo but the clasp on my new necklace has just broken. Meanwhile, Mr Grigg has found the previews of the naughty channel on the hotel television so that, I'm afraid, is about it.

Love Maddie x

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