How to earn a Get Out of Jail Free card

  1. Lie on the bed next to your mom, who is studiously ignoring you while working on a Sudoku.
  2. Stand up and step on her.
  3. Sing "magic feet, magic feet" while your feet work some magic.
  4. Karate chop up and down her back.
  5. Rub her scalp.
  6. Put her puzzle magazine on the nightstand. You need to enjoy this more than you enjoy Sudoku.
  7. Do more magic feet. 
  8. More karate chops.
  9. Place her feet in a bowl of cool water. I'm putting your glasses on the magazine.
  10. Rub her scalp.
  11. Magic feet! Magic feet!  This is your favorite part, isn't it?
  12. Massage her fingers.
  13. Karate chops. I need to close the blinds.
  14. Rub her scalp.
  15. Rub her shoulders. Let me loosen your shoulders a bit. 
  16. Magic feet! Do you think I'm good at this?
  17. Rub her back.
  18. Karate chop.  I think I should do shiatsu when I'm grown up.  
  19. Rub her scalp. I need some scented candles.
  20. Magic feet. But I want to be a cop.
  21. Rub her scalp.
  22. Karate chop.
  23. Rub her scalp. I'll do this again in the morning, okay?
Rock could have gotten away with just about anything this evening.

The Lunacy of helmet laws & helmet promotion

Roll up! Roll up!

Catastrophic climate change has expanded the question of our survival, the notion of climate justice, and our global responsibilities.

Notwithstanding the recent rain, we must reflect upon our diminishing coastlines, routine dust storms, dying rivers and other worrying signs that tell us the 'canary in the mineshaft' is long since dead. It is a question of survival to cycle whenever and wherever we can in a bid to curtail carbon emissions. The current global zeitgeist clearly demonstrates that not only is cycling an achievable start to tackling this issue but it comes with unexpected benefits in terms of health, traffic de-congestion, and tourism.

It is wanton lunacy if we continue as we are, & we know that helmet laws and helmet promotion contribute significantly to this lunacy.

The NSW Government has diminished my autonomy

What about, for the sake of argument, we flip everything upside down, and see how the state government would go defending an 'imaginary' charge of 'Deprivation of Civil Liberties' as a result of excessive helmet promotion followed by mandatory helmet laws - with a defence of necessity!


As we all know, for the defence of necessity to be available, the circumstances must create a situation of necessity whereby a person commits a crime in order to avoid serious consequences that could arise from the situation. An accused must honestly believe that serious consequences would ensue if they did not commit the crime, and they must hold this belief on reasonable grounds. In addition, the conduct of an accused must be proportional to the consequences sought to be avoided.

1. Necessary belief - so would the government have it?

Could the government respectfully submit that the evidence collected by the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons during the 1980s in a bid to bolster helemt promotion would be important in assisting the court to assess their evidence as a ‘genuine belief’ and not a misconceived notion?

To establish that government belief is based on expert opinion and not a misconceived notion, the government would have to demonstrate that the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons are experts.

Questions to ask would be were the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons experts under section 79(1) of the Evidence Act? Did the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons have specialised knowledge based on their training, study and experience with regards to the mechanics of brain injury and design of devices for anatomical modification ? Did the Royal Australaian College of Surgeons' evidence contain the required elements of knowledge in this area as distinct from belief, and was their knowledge specialised in this area rather than generally held in the community?

Upon the facts it would appear that whilst the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons are experts in the field of surgery, it may be questionable as to whether they are experts in the field of the mechanics of brain injury, design of anatomical devices and traffic engineering.

2. Proportionate response - has the harm inflicted been less that the harm sought to be avoided?

Questions to ask would be whether the conduct of enacting the restrictive Road Rules 2008 Regulation 256 has been proportional to the consequences that government sought to avoid?

It would appear that govenment rationale for the enactment of the Road Rules Regulation 256 was that it was necessary to protect the community from the risk of serious danger to their lives from cycling accidents.

But in the circumstances was it out of proportion to the danger to be averted ('supposed' severe brain injury or death)?

Statistics show that in Australia, the large increases in population helmet wearing rates have not resulted in reduced head injury rates - in fact head injury rates have increased relative to the amount of cycling.

No randomized controlled trials have been done on the subject of helmet safety. Current data comes from two main types of observational study; "time trend analyses" and "case control studies". Most of the literature that mentions helmets and helmet promotion refers back to a small number of these studies, rather than actually providing primary evidence. Notions of common sense, anecdotal evidence and medical supposition would not constitute a proportionate response, and any imagined community benefits from helmet promotion and mandatory helmet laws would appear to have been outweighed by the distinct and damaging disadvantages in the decreased numbers in overall cycling.

3. Imminent peril - the situation must be so urgent and the danger so pressing that normal human instincts cry out for action and make a counsel of patience unreasonable (Perka v The Queen [1984] 2 SCR 232)

The legal safeguards established by the Magna Carta and the Bill of Rights (1688), which are received law in Australia, appear to have been suspended. There was no documented imminent risk to the community and there was no emergency - merely supposition. In fact we know that general road safety in the 1980s had been improving as a result of many factors including improved road conditions.

There were reasonable alternatives to the 'Deprivation of Civil Liberties'. Notwithstanding the recommendation by the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons that helmets offered significant benefits in terms of the community and cycling, a committment by government to invest in cycling infrastructure and an intensive education programme for motorists would have ensured that 'Deprivation of Civil Liberties was not necessary - the imminent peril requiring the enactment of mandatory helmet laws was not evident.


Therefore in view of all the facts & circumstances and upon my understanding , I believe a defence of necessity would not be able to be found in an imaginary charge of 'Deprivation of Civil Liberties'.

Helmets interfere unjustifiably with our liberty

(...a couple of my 'London' pals, prior to our 'London' days)

Naturally, helmet manufacturers have had a problem with bias and this in itself has skewed an over-emphasis on the safety of helmets. Further, public policy has allowed helmet manufacturers to promulgate their spin, which in turn has convinced Australian governments and communties that helmets are better than they really are.

Evidence for their mandatory requirement has been sorely lacking.

In one of Mr William Curnow's peer reviewed papers, he questions the Cochrane review’s conclusion that its five included studies established scientific evidence that standard bicycle helmets of all types protect against injury to the brain. Curnow claims that it is not supportable because none of the studies possessed the requisite scientific rigour.

Further evidence from Curnow cites a report from the National Health and Medical Research Council, warning that ‘the wearing of helmets may result in greater rotational forces and increased diffuse brain injury.’ Curnow reiterates that the Cochrane ‘review’s conclusion is not in accord with scientific theory of brain injury which is supported by experimental evidence and that it is a result of misinterpreting data.’ In fact, Curnow recommends that ‘in view of the influence of a Cochrane review of bicycle helmets on policies for wearing’ the current review on bicycle helmets should be removed from the Cochrane Library.

It is interesting to note that the Cochrane Collaboration is currently under scrutiny for a review concerning the effectiveness of tamiflu against swine flu. In December 2009, they proffered a ‘media mea-culpa’ when Professor Chris Del Mar, the coordinating editor of the Cochrane Collaboration's acute respiratory infections review group, revealed that data collected in a review by the Swiss Professor Laurent Kaiser, summarising ten different trials, upon further analysis could not be found to draw the same conclusions. When questioned about this discrepancy, Professor Kaiser admitted that the trials had been conducted by Roche Pharmaceuticals, and referred the subsequent reviewers to the company for the information they were seeking.

Given that Curnow provides compelling evidence that mandatory helmet laws are irrational, I can see no reason why I should be required by law to don a helmet which offers next to no protection. I am not lacking capacity, and there are no circumstances in which the current interfering with my liberty is justified. Unquestionalby, these laws are an infringement on our civil liberties & they must be repealed ASAP.

Cycling infrastructure & its attendant philosophy

Voila! le "Bike Pod", a rather weird bicycle tardis

This 'bike pod' was located in the car park just off Swanston Street where I deposited my humble vintage bicycle (sniff! - parting is such sweet sorrow!)

"...I cycle therefore I shower"

...a quick "Cycling-Pit-Stop" provided by Glen & his mate at their new cycling enterprise along the Yarra River Trail

Cycling in Melbourne is popular, and almost totally helmet compliant (unlike Sydney!) The infrastructure is well established, and motorists appear to 'watch-out' for cyclists. Sharing the road with the trams is comfortable once you've appreciated the yellow-line factor and that you must always cross tram-tracks with wide angles!

For sure, the cycling culture is well and truly entrenched...but it's not an inclusive one, and was evidently hi-jacked by the 'Sport of Cycling' long ago.

As a result the actual separate cycle-ways are a 'bun-fight' and surprisingly intimidating. They look like they have been designed:

(a) as exclusive outdoor velodromes, admittedly somewhat linear minus the steeply banked tracks & bends, and

(b) purely for elite cyclists

Speed is definitely of the essence (as is lycra), and this makes sharing the pathway with other pathway users tense. Bell ringing abounds, and hopping on & off your bicycle to take photos along the way is discouraged.

I much preferred the cycling experience on the city streets, where there were plenty of magical Melbourne moments to 'smell the roses' and take in the surroundings...and it's this part of the cycling story that is so exciting in Sydney!!!

Cycling is rejuvenating in Sydney through a heady mix of 'grass-roots' and 'political' will. Consequently the wishes of a very diverse group of stakeholders are being taken into account, and this element promises to deliver an inclusive and vibrant cycling culture. We know we're all entitled to share the road 'dressed-however' and 'riding-whatever', so perhaps our intitial cycling weakness in terms of infrastructure will turn out to be a strength as we rebuild our car-congested city into one that accommodates all cyclists of 'all tastes, ages & stages' with infrastructure for all cyclists of 'all tastes, ages & stages'.

Oh! and back to Melbourne, all 'merit' points earned for 'fabulous cycling infrastructure' are completely deleted for hosting 'hideous 2010 Formula 1 Australian Grand Prix' - when is the global community going to ban this destructive event? - we can only weep for Albert Park, unprotected by tokenism in the face of dollars and G-forces.


On Saturday I had the pleasure of receiving a card from Emma's parents; they seemed to like this post I wrote about her. This must be a very difficult time for them, so I was really touched to get that card.

Yesterday I had lunch with Julie at Five Loaves and a drink at the Masonic. She's taken a massive hit from the collapse of three finance companies. It's so sad that people of her age - who can least afford it - have lost out the most, to companies whose chairmen, or whatever you call them, are simply cowboys.

I've just had at email from the States; they want another 35 puzzles from me. That should keep me busy, and being currently out of work, it's a potential lifeline. I've also just finished making a giant cryptic crossword which I hope to upload on to my website soon.

My overall profit on PokerStars hit $400 yesterday, and that's despite this hand which eliminated me from Saturday's tournament in 13th place (twelve paid):

PokerStars Game #41765335062: Tournament #254836334, $2.00+$0.20 USD
Badugi Pot Limit - Level X (250/500) - 2010/03/26 23:16:57 ET
Table '254836334 7' 8-max Seat #6 is the button
Seat 1: douganized (2580 in chips)
Seat 2: mcbane1988 (11285 in chips)
Seat 5: scott3437 (14655 in chips)
Seat 6: rain_2 (5510 in chips)
Seat 7: plutoman20 (14370 in chips)
Seat 8: kizzle72 (8899 in chips)
plutoman20: posts small blind 250
kizzle72: posts big blind 500
Dealt to plutoman20 [5c 3c 4h 3h]
2 folds, scott3437: calls 500, 1 fold, plutoman20: calls 250, kizzle72: checks
*** FIRST DRAW ***
plutoman20: discards 2 cards [5c 3h], Dealt to plutoman20 [3c 4h] [Jh As]
kizzle72: discards 1 card, scott3437: discards 2 cards
plutoman20: checks, kizzle72: checks, scott3437: checks
plutoman20: discards 1 card [Jh], Dealt to plutoman20 [3c 4h As] [5d]
kizzle72: discards 1 card, scott3437: discards 2 cards
plutoman20: bets 900, kizzle72: folds, scott3437: raises 1600 to 2500, plutoman20: raises 3400 to 5900, scott3437: raises 3600 to 9500, plutoman20: raises 4370 to 13870 and is all-in, scott3437: calls 4370
*** THIRD DRAW ***
plutoman20: stands pat on [3c 4h As 5d], scott3437: stands pat
*** SHOW DOWN ***
plutoman20: shows [5d 3c 4h As] (Badugi: 5,4,3,A)
scott3437: shows [Ah 3s 2c 4d] (Badugi: 4,3,2,A)
scott3437 collected 29240 from pot

The good news is that I'm running a bit better than that in the cash games.

Dad is flying out to the UK this evening; I'm just going to give him a quick call.

Soul Mazal Guestbook - Were You Here?

More Melbourne - the Yarra River Trail

Melbourne tram in Swanston Street on the way to Federation Square and the Yarra River Trail (eat your heart out, Sydney!)

Swanston Street, Melbourne

...on the Yarra River trail heading towards Abbottsford Convent, looking back towards the city

Bridge over the River Yarra

Designated cycleway #1

Designated cycleway #2

Designated cycleway #3

...every bend is beautiful!

OK, so a little off the beaten track here at the back of Carlton United Brewery! - must have missed a bridge?

...eventually Abbottsford Convent

'Lentil as Anything' at the Abbottsford Convent - & lunchtime!

Studley Park Boathouse just a little further on from Abbottsford Convent

The Australian Bush & the end of our Yarra River Trail (although there is more on the cycle map! - next time!)

'Flowers' by Wendy Cope


      Some men never think of it.

      You did. You’d come along

      And say you’d nearly brought me flowers
      But something had gone wrong.

     The shop was closed. Or you had doubts —
     The sort that minds like ours
     Dream up incessantly. You thought
     I might not want your flowers.

     It made me smile and hug you then.
     Now I can only smile.
     But, look, the flowers you nearly brought

     Have lasted all this while.

Wendy Cope is an English poet, born in 1945 and educated at Oxford. She has the wonderful gift of being funny & witty and heart-achingly sad at the same instant. This poem makes you smile but the last two lines are capable of somehow enabling you to understand the underlying sorrow being expressed.

She has the ability to stick a pin in the bubble of pretension. Her poems always seem to be about men and love and are usually very funny but still contain that persistant hint of melancholy.

Here's one more:

          Bloody Men

Bloody men are like bloody buses -

You wait for about a year

And as soon as one approaches your stop

Two or three others appear.

You look at them flashing their indicators,

Offering you a ride.

You're trying to read the destinations,

You haven't much time to decide.

If you make a mistake, there is no turning back.

Jump off, and you'll stand there and gaze

While the cars and the taxis and lorries go by

And the minutes, the hours, the days.

Plans, plans and more plans

This blog is going to cover our trip to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (thanks to a reader for pointing out the correct appellation) in 2010.  Before getting to the plans let us deconstruct that country name:
  • Britain: OK, although the Britons as a genetic identity probably died out a couple of millenia ago.
  • Great: once, certainly.  Now is more dubious.
  • Kingdom: Why isn't it a Queendom?
  • United: The place contains England (OK that wants to stay); Northern Ireland (about half the population wants to stay, even though they have got a separate mention); Wales (got their own Parliament and see N Ireland); Scotland (see Wales); Isle of Man (happy to stay as long as they don't pay taxes) and the Channel Islands (last time I checked they are two States and they are only in it for Foreign Affairs and a cheap army - see Isle of man  but the Channellers probably would rather be French).
The big picture of planning was that the trip was to involve touring Gothic Cathedrals and birding sites.  The driver of the process was the cathedrals, following the success of a tour of this nature around L'Ile de France in about 1997.  There are pages about those attributes elsewhere as linked.  This left us three things to book:
  1. Flights;
  2. Accommodation; and
  3. Rental Car.
There seemed to be no real difficulty with flights so I thought the first thing to do was the accommodation in the UK.
This was made relatively easy by Frances finding the Enjoy England website.  Indeed the only problem with the site was sorting out the plethora of places they had on offer.  We ended up selecting three places as looking rather good:
Is it not astonishing that each of these places is not only part of an internet based travel booking system but has its own website.  If only the banking system was as good!

We changed our mind a couple of times about the order to visit them, with that shown being the 1st selection and the final one after the Barn couldn't take us for the second week.  I wondered about doing the West Country first but it turned out the Glastonbury Festival was on that week which seemed to make it likely that part of the UK is going to be full of punks and junkies.  Thus we ended up as shown.

All three property owners seemed most excellent in terms of being very responsive and helpful to us (and it might be noted from the end of the trip they continued those traits even after meeting me).  Getting the three places organised took us about a five days elapsed time with Martin putting in perhaps 2 hours contact time.

The only issue was generated by the banks.  It appears that to send money to an account in Europe it is necessary to use an International Bank Account Number (IBAN).  This seems to identify the bank, the branch and the account.  Thus get rid of all the other crap about names etc.  Not for WESTPAC. (I have put in the link in the hope that all readers of this page send that company some email advice!)

Having seen the array of stuff they seemed to require for an on-line transfer (most of which I didn't have, and the one bit I did have contradicted info on the Westpac site) I decided to go for a serviced transfer. That got kiboshed because the teller needed the address of the Bank in England.  So I sent an email to the owners seeking this info.

Then I got an email from another property which looked as though it should work - even though the IBAN contradicted the WESTPAC advice - because it told me they were dealing with the Royal Bank of Scotland.  On doing this online it emerged that all that was really needed was enough detail to identify which of an array of bank names were to be used.  It seems that WESTPAC deal with Royal Bank of Scotland under a range of situations and they all have different SWIFT codes.  The only one that looked sensible referred to transfers so I picked that and it generated a SWIFT code.  There was no need to know the address at all.

So, back to situation 1.  The problem was that the info from the owners didn't include the name of the bank.  The appearance of the letters MIDL suggested 'Midland Bank' but that was taken over by HSBC some years ago.  So I googled GB69MIDL and up popped 4 webpages.  One of them, the membership page for the European Museum indicated the Bank name was none other than HSBC.  So I included that and again got a list of possible bank names: most of these looked fronts for the Corleone Family or the source of letters advising me that I had won a squillion dollars in a lottery I had never entered; however buried in the middle of it was "HSBC all British Branches" which looked to fit the bill.

What a palaver for something so simple.  The offending mob of idiots got a nice email pointing out the problems with the system.

A linguistic aside: in the old days 'bank-robber' referred to someone who robbed banks.  These days it is probably used as much to identify the banks as a subset of robbers!

In early research I had found that Emirates was back being a cheap airline and one of those that flew directly into Manchester (a key driver of this process being to avoid Heathrow).  I very quickly found flights that matched our requirements and set about booking the flgihts.

Suddenly I found myself back at the WESTPACsite filling in something from Mastercard Secure "to ensure my security".  Having mentioned the s-word you can probably see that this is not going to be happy.  Sure enough the screen clears and I am told to contact my Emirates Office.  GRRRRRR!

So I ring Emirates and it turns out that the problem was that I hadn't registered with Mastercard Secure before starting the process.  Never having heard of this service before it was hardly surprising I hadn't registered with them.  The good thing about this was that the young lady taking the booking requested nice seats etc for us. 

Back to westpac, on the phone, with a whole lotta short, Anglo Saxon, words in my mind.  Their starting point was that only some companies use the Mastercard secure 'service' so it isn't really part of their system.  (ie it is Emirates fault.)  To get me registered, to prevent a recurrence of this lunacy, we search the WESTPAC site for Verified by VISA!!  I pointed out to the young lady - a different one, but also nice - that I used a Mastercard she said "Yes, but if you search for that you won't get to the right place."  The short, Anglo Saxon words got almost past my teeth!  After 17 minutes we had finished the exercise: as I commented to the young lady, I hope someone was recording the call so that they realised how appalling the system is.

Car rental
We decided this didn't have to be done for a while, so it wasn't.

Google Earth images

As we have been planning away I have been recording the places we want to visit on a Google Earth file in the hope that I'll be able to transfer it to my netbook and refer to it while away.  This post is to provide the ultimate back up of the images.

Things that can stuff plans

Ash clouds
We decided that we would avoid Heathrow Airport as though it had developed mutated, extra-virulent, bubonic plague.  Everyone we have spoken to reckons this is good strategy.  So we are flying in to Manchester (it is also close to North Yorkshire).

Stone the sanguinary corvids!  Today ( 15 April 2010) flights into the UK are basically cancelled left right and centre due to volcanic ash from bloody Iceland.  Just under 50% of flights into Manchester - and a much higher percentage of those earlier in the day - get cancelled  First the cod wars; then their banking crisis and now they shovel ash into the way of tourists flying into the UK!

I hope this is well resolved by mid June!  The latest stuff  (10 May) seems to be that a fair chunk of Western Europe (France Spain Portugal, Ireland ) have shut down their airspace because of a new cloud.   Oh well, 6 weeks to go.  By May 17 Manchester Airport was stuffed (hopefully for a brief while).

Thailand does military rule!
To add to the entertainment the Red Shirts and the military in Thailand seem to be getting rather antsy.  From a selfish point of view one hopes they keep the action away from the airport.  From many other points of view one hopes they actually take a good hard look at themselves and realise that what is going on is crap.  But they're all politicians so that sentence is extremely naive.

Wireless Internet access
We acquired a netbook last year so that I cold record things while we were in Peru.  It did a pretty good job, but of course nowhere in Amazonas had electricity worth speaking of, let alone wireless internet!  A problem appeared to arise that it couldn't connect to our home wireless connection,  giving weird LINUX error messages about 'receiving offers' and 'persistent databases'.

After spending a lot of time in e-contact with a very helpful LINUX guru and phoning an ex-ABS contact I was still a bit in the dark.  Thus I invoked IT Rule 1: flail about at random enough and you will eventually fix the problem.  It emerged that somehow a password had been deleted.  I replaced it and Bingo!  I have now tested it at the National Library and it all looks good!

As at least 2 of our hosts offer wireless access that will be a great outcome.

We won't bother with a fancy in-car GPS jobbie.  I reckon it would take us 3 weeks to learn how to program it!  My version of Linux doesn't as yet link to Google Earth but we have printed off some directions from Google Maps to get us between the main accommodation places (and to/from Manchester Airport).

Other things needed

As well as the big ticket items there were other things we needed to do:
  • Join a birding organisation
  • Join the National Trust of Australia
  • Get a road Atlas
  • Get the Good Beer Guide!!! 
  • Sort out mobile phone coverage;
  • Sort out crrency arrangements
Each of these will be covered below.

Join a birding organisation.
My initial thought was the British Trust for Ornithology: I can't remember why I thought this, but on contacting a British birder of very good repute he rapidly advised to join the RSPB instead.  It was obvious from their website that the cost of membership would be way less than the Reserve entry fees (and car parking fees) that we would otherwise incur.  Duly signed up.

They have sent us a nice little welcome package including a book of their top Reserves.   They enter the list of good guys.
Join the National Trust of Australia
 Frances found out some time ago that they have reciprocal rights with the UK NT but charge about 1/4 the annual fee an this should get us, gratis, into all sorts of stately piles in the UK.  If, of course, we should come across stately piles we wish to enter!

Unfortunately the ACT Branch of the NTA seem to have learnt their marketing strategy from some dodgy Merchant Bank.  In addition to the advertised $95 subscription - roughly double that of the RSPB - they were going to slug us a $35 joining fee.  This makes it no more expensive to join the UK NT! 
Get a Road Atlas
The deal seems to be publications of the Automobile Association.  For reasons I cannot comprehend it is about half price to get them through Amazon than the AA.  Whatever, done.  The book has duly arrived and looks rather good.  It even has the village I grew up in (Mayland) shown and n the right place - in the past the village was either not shown at all (the usual situation or positioned) at the primary school about 2km from the main cluster of huts.
Get the Good Beer Guide
To anyone that reckons this should be a big ticket item I will only say "I know where you are coming from" but then add that I hope the UK has advanced as has the USA where good beer is available everywhere in large and interesting amounts.  (It is always good to hope.)  To assuage the tender sensibilities of beer fanciers I will ask you to note that I have created a Pommie Beer page in this blog.  It will be rather empty until we get there since British beer is damn expensive in Australia.

At first glance it appears that the Good Beer guide is like the AA Road Atlas: it seems to be cheaper to buy through Amazon than from CAMRA!  Which is nuts.  On second glance I have actually ordered the 2009 edition which cost Stg 1p (plus Stg7 postage) through Amazon rather than the 2010 edition through CAMRA (Stg15 plus Stg7 postage).  As I said, this is nuts!

On studying the tome  the reason for cheapness appears to be that it is a used copy!  I came to this conclusion on noticing a few pencil comments against a couple of items.  This then explained why several hundred brews had been highlighted.  I counted 89  highlighted brews from the breweries beginning with 'W' (assuming this is a more less representative sample that means well over 2,000 marked in total). My conseqent questions are if the previous owner tried all of these,
  1. how come the book was in such good order?and 
  2. was the owners liver in equally good shape?

Mobile phone coverage
Both Frances and I have VIRGIN mobile phones which offer roaming in the UK.  However, they also seem to offer a subsidy (approximately covering the entire cost of the project) to Richard Branson's space shuttle program in the charges to each call.  The sensible way to go seemed to be to buy a pommie SIM card as soon as we can.  The other alternative - relying on UK Telecom phone boxes - is obviously ridiculous, both from our expectations of:
  • the likely charges; and 
  • the probability of finding one that works anywhere that we are likely to be going.  
One of these is high and the other low: guess which is what.

This topic appeared to advance a bit when Frances got an email from the Visit Britain folks spruiking a Global SIM card for which you paid Stg43 and got Stg25 of airtime.  Unfortunately they didn't give any info about the call charges other than an assertion that their charges were "up to 75% less than standard mobile charges".   This is sort of like "Trust us, we're from a Telecom company!". I suspect that
  • this company learnt their trade flogging "genuine Swizs watches" off a barrow in the Strand; and
  • was founded by C M O T Dibbler from the Discworld.
We will see how the plot develops when (or if) I find out what their charges are.

Surprisingly I have not got  a response from Visit UK so I explored the vendors website.  It is full of that which you find after a herd of bovines have passed through a paddock, which does of course confirm the views expressed in the previous paragraph.  Their rates for calls within the UK are 37P per minute, whereas Virgin UK are 20P per minute!  The only problem is to find a VIRGIN store - to my astonishment they don't have one in Manchester airport!

In fact Virgin shops turned out to be very hard to find.  However on our first day of touristing I spotted a Vodaphone shop in York and as their rates were similar to Virgin I acquired a SIM card from them.  The next issue was that my phone was still locked to Virgin Australia, but fortunately there are many shops in the UK that specialise in unlocking mobile phones! 

Currency arrangements
We have in the past shown great skill in stuffing up conversions between currencies, in that we have moved money from one to another in such a way that we got the worst rate in both directions.  However at the time of writing this the Australian dollar was doing rather well against Sterling so we thought we'd get some £ Sterling while it was cheap. 

Obviously we didn't want to schlep around large amounts of folding stuff - we may pass close to Bradford (for example).  From reading the consumer information - I should probably get an award for slogging through the 50 pages of PDF this involved - about our Mastercards it appeared that Westpac also had a space shuttle subsidisation program with each transaction attracting charges like a candle in rain forest attracts bugs (not forgetting the arbitrage which is never going to be in our favour).  However our financial adviser mentioned an ANZ Travel card as a good thing.  Indeed it did so appear on reading another 50 pages of PDF: other than the fact that ANZ get to have our money, earning interest for them while we aren't spending it, the charges are quite minimal (although there is a nasty little 1.1% of each reload, so we worked out what we thought we might spent and put it all in the initial transaction). 

Bazza Mackenzie was nearly right.

This is a variant on my 'brickbats and bouquets" pages of my main blog.  With this blog I intend to give bouquets as and when they arise so this is going to be pretty much a kvetch page.

Bazza Mackenzie is a cartoon character invented by Barry Humphries.  I am not sure he invented a two word phrase implying that most people from the UK are illegitimate but certainly used it a lot.  This post is devoted to those we find who deserve the appellation.

The UK Passport Office.
I believe they are now known as the Identity and Passport Office .  Whatever.  I had my UK passport effectively cancelled when I emigrated to ensure that I did my two years before leaving the country.  I found I could get an Australian one a year later, which saved me about $500 on a plane fare back to the UK, and have never revitalised my British one.   I have thought about it several times but on each occasion the rules and rubbish have been such that I have abandoned the project at early stages.

Low points in their past performances have been
  • the introduction of charges to make a phone call to the establishment here; 
  • moving the office out to the airport; and
  • charging an arm and a leg.
Additional nadir inducing efforts are:
  • anyone with an old passport (and my expired 37 years ago)  is treated as though they have never had a passport at all and thus have to produce a whole nunch of documents; and
  • you have to be interviewed (presumably to check that you don't have any bad habits such as lying about WMDs); and
  • the interview is done at a Post Office Shop.
Again I save myself time and about $200 by sticking with my Australian passport.

Mr Plod and friends
It will not be a surprise that this element is not about the friendly police person depicted by the nice Ms Blyton, nor the old codger from Dock Green who started Saturday evening on BBC in the 1960s.  This is about the current crop who seem to share personalities with Toby Meres frm Callan.

It appears from what I have read in the media (who never lie - stuff is on the internet so it must be true) that the UK has the highest level of video surveillance of anywhere in the world.  This seems to be exemplified by the presence - according to my AA Atlas - of 4,000 fixed speed cameras.   I feel a recording task coming on: how many speed cameras did we see today?

This task was made difficult by the appearance every few miles of a sign about speed cameras.  All this meant was that the forces of repression might use an annoyance in the area, not that they had one positioned waiting for our pleasure.  Judging by the number of people that zipped past us the devices were rare.  I think we saw 1 cop running  mobile unit during our trip.

In fact the only place we saw a lot of cops was the Norfolk Show.  Of course, there was absolutely no reason for them to be there at all: a better behaved crowd would be hard to imagine.

A taxonomy of pains in the back acre

While thinking about this trip I suddenly recalled a English folk(ish) song "Jobsworth".  This is devoted to low order public officials who do nothing but stp other people from doing things.  The refrain includes (repeatedly "Jobs worth, jobs worth, it's more than my job's worth".  This has led to a challenge on the trip to actually get someone to say "It's more than my job's worth."

Of more relevance to the heading of this section is that there are at least three types of interfering nuisances:
  1. Mr Plod  (sworn in and, occasionally, sworn at);
  2. Jobsworths (not sworn in but very often sworn at);
  3. Private security guards (not sworn in and not sworn at, unless you have a very good relationship with a dentist).
I suspect there will ample opportunity to look at all three major types and possibly further develop the classification.

The Loony left
The following comes from the Australian newspaper (which would never ever tell a porky: it is owned by News Limited and if you can't trust them who can you trust?).  However, I have just noticed that this was published on 1/4/2010: come in sucker?
  • A BRITISH grandmother has been heavily fined and electronically tagged for selling a goldfish to a child, triggering criticism of over-zealous use of animal protection laws.
  • Pet shop owner Joan Higgins, 66, was fined £1000 ($1640) also given a dusk-to-dawn curfew for selling an animal to a person under the age of 16, but her 47-year-old son Mark - also ordered to do community service - slammed the ruling as a farce.
  • The pair were prosecuted after the local council sent a 14-year-old boy to buy a goldfish in a "sting" operation following reports that their shop, Majors Pets, had sold a gerbil to a teenager with learning difficulties.
  • The shopkeepers sold the fish without asking his age or how the fish would be cared for, prosecutors said.
 I foresee some interesting times ahead.  Perhaps I need a page for bizarre media stuff observed while over there?

British Birdtrack
Since I believe strongly that having had the privilege of seeing birds the information gained should be use for conservation purposes, and the British Trust for Ornithology had a stand at the RNS advertising their birdtrack website I decided to give it a go.  This was despite some communication with a British Bird Atlas person who convinced me that the whole exercise was unduly complicated.  (A reference from Sean Dooley in "Anoraks to Zitting Cisticola" seems appropriate: he defines ornithologists as people who call stamp collecting 'philately' and themselves "onanists".)

The first thing I found was this load of lawyerly garbage: "The BTO has published some health and safety information for volunteer fieldworkers. Please take a few minutes to read this leaflet which can be
found here:  Following these simple The BTO has published some health and safety information for volunteer fieldworkers. Please take a few minutes to read this leaflet which can be found here: Following these simple guidelines will help to ensure that your birdwatching activities are both safe and enjoyable.
"  One can feel the enjoyment draining away as one reads!

Then I found that everything was set up for repeated records by people who know the area well.  I tried to put in some data for an area of North Norfolk and found that I had to attest that it was all in an area shown in a Google earth image.  I didn't have a clue if it was all in that area, and I certainly wasn't going to repeat this exercise for the 15 or so other areas for which I had data. Pass, on helping them.

General stuff

This page is odds and sods which I think are interesting but can't work out where else to put them.

This page has some interesting insights into English society.  Having gone to University in Kent and worked (aka slaved) in Sussex just before I saw the light I suspect the author is a bit too focussed on the area around London rather than the rustic denizens of the area.  But then it is possible that things have changed a bit in the last 39 years!

Election issues
Of course we will be visiting the country fairly soon after their 2010 election.  Dare one say the first of their elections in 2010?  At the time of typing this (11 may 2010) no-one seems to have a clue what the heck is going on! As usual Private Eye seems to have been on the look out for cock-ups!  I can see that I will be buying a few souvenir copies of 'The Eye' if it is sold in the hinterland!

By 13 May everything seems to have calmed down with the Conservatives  and Lib-Dems now firmly declared as "new-best-friends-forever'.

Plus ca change seems to apply.  In the last couple of days (early June) a Lib-Dem minister has quit due to him paying his male partner for a flat and then claiming this as an expense.  His replacement has also turned out to have had dodgy financial dealings!

Cost of living
One of the most vivid memories of my migration to Australia in 1970 was how cheap everything was.  Many things in Australia were same number on the ticket but it was $ per kilo rather than Stg per lb (in effect things were 4x the price n the UK,
The two particular products I will be looking at will be real ale and petrol.  I have got a fair amount of info about the price of petrol In Australia and will be investigating the price of beers in some detail.  I expect to complete a page about prices of beer and petrol.

Oil spill
There has been obviously much in the media about the size of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.  One website has come up with an innovative way of presenting this in ways that people not familiar with the Gulf region can comprehend.  In essence they had mapped the boundary of the slick and developed a small application (in Google maps methinks) to move it to another location.  The following image shows it moved to a map centred in Westminster UK.
During our visit;
I didn't really get into the print media while we were in the UK.  I purchased a Daily Mail the day after England departed the World Cup ( covered in a daily post).

At one point bought a copy of The Times to find out what the thinking Pom is considering these days.  In brief the thinking Pom either:
  • is thinking about celebs and their (or anyone else's) chest size; or
  • has vanished from the face of the Earth; or
  • now reads The Independent!  In that regard I note that Aldaily has stiffed the Times but continues to carry the Independent.
I would not dream of suggesting that this has anything to do with the Thunderer joining the Murdoch stable.

The electronic media were initially obsessed with the Russian Spy saga (especially Anna Chapman for some reason  note bullet 1 above).  They, and the print media, then reduced coverage of that story and became obsessed with the unfortunate Raoul Moat.

All of this must have poetry to the ears of the Government as it completely overshadowed discussion of the Lib-Dems issues in dealing with a trivial little issue such as a complete overhaul of the British voting system (they are trying to emulate Australia but I fear will end up achieving Italy with several hundred candidates for dogcatcher, let alone MP).

Background to Birding

I have had a number of Field Guides to European Birds for many years.  Unfortunately I feel obligated to minimise the amount of stuff to schlep for this trip so I am planning to use "The Hamlyn Guide to Birds in Britain and Europe" Brunn et al .  This is primarily because it was printed in 1989 (after a revised text in Swedish in 1986) whereas my other favourite "The Birds of Britain and Europe" Heinzel et al dates from 1974!

So I should be able to identify the birds subject to the limits of my competence.  Where are the little blighters?  I am hoping that joining the RSPB will assist me to find them (as well as saving a number of $ on entry fees and car parking.  My basic planning source will be "Birdwatching in Britain A site by site guide"  Redman and Harrap.  Reference will also be made to "Wild Britain" by Douglas Botting.

Although this isn't going to be a twitching trip (apart from anything else I am too idle for that) I thought it would be good to sort out what birds I have previously seen in the UK and which I have not.  My first thought was that my Birdinfo software would have a good list for the UK: not so it was only 146 species rather than 530+ on the official list from the British Trust for Ornithology.   So I am creating my own using the BTO list as a base (fiddled with according to my memory of which birds I have seen in the UK).   It is interesting that even though the BTO shows 'International names' for some species they are not always the names I am familiar with.  For example they:
  • list 'Baltimore Oriole ' which has been  known in the US as the Northern Oriole for many years (unless talking about the baseball team);
  • translate the UK Great Northern Diver as the 'Great Northern Loon' while the usual name in North America - where they are far more common - is Common Loon.  (In this case the BTO appellation is somewhat egregiously wrong since the more Northern loon is the Arctic Loon.)
Oh well I guess I'll just stop kvetching and update my own list myself.

Background to Cathedrals

Other than our experiences in Ile de France the initial source of information about the Cathedrals of England was "The Cathedrasls of England" by Pevsner and Metcalf .  We have also acquired a book from giving 365 Churches, Abbeys and Cathedrals.  As with everything else emanting from the UK we paid a lot less than the Stg5.99 cover price (we got it at Academic Remainders for $A4.95)

The topic has also been informed (I felt nauseous typing that) bymy memory of sites visited by the Mayland Women's Intstitute and Latchingdon Parish Summer outings. At the risk of boring folk with Old Father Flabmeister's memories of days gone by both of those organisations deserve a few words.

The WI was the main organisation providing some sort of social focus for the village of Mayland.  This was - and probably still is - a strange little place with a Church somewhat over a mile from the centre of the village, 2 shops and no pub!  It appears from the page linked above that the pub situation has changed somewhat - as has the population, which at 3401 would be about 8 times what it was when we lived there (athough I have difficulty guessing how many folk lived  at the extension in Maylandsea - mainly a summer enclave).  The big events were coach outings to Stately Homes, Cathedrals and (of course) the "seaside".  These semed a huge adventure in my youth going to places as far as 40 miles away!

Latchingdon was the next village to the West: - from the linked page it doesn't seem to have grown much since I left - it was always bigger than Mayland in those days.  In fact, with only 1 pub listed while I have clear memories (altthough they start to get a bit hazier once I passed 17 for some reason) of 3 very active ones in the village. I attended church in that village after the vicar of Mayland failed to support Dad in a dispute with the Church.  It seemed a major trek to go some 2 miles on my bike on a Sunday!  Again, the congreation used to organise coach outings to various spots in the summer.

One of my concerns about Cathedrals in the UK is that they are used by the Church as revenue raising facilities.  My memory of a visit to Cantebury Cathedral in 1979 was that you couldn't see the architecture for all the mendicant signs.  This from the second wealthiest (after Mrs DaGreek) and toughest landlords in the country.  I have just got an indication this may be the same, since trying to locate Exeter Cathedral on Google Earth got me about three screens full of commercial crap!

Pommie Beer page

I have previously referred to Mr B Mackenzie who went to the UK with a suitcase of personal effects (ie cans of Fosters Lager).

In 1971 when I went back to the UK to let my parents know I was staying in Australia I arranged for a couple of slabs of Fosters to be delivered by mail to my parents place.  My dad was a little surprised to find the postman staggering to the front door with 48 tinnies in his arms.  These days I wouldn't drink Fosters in a fit (unless 1: I was suffering from extreme thirst and 2: there was no other beer available).

My only recent (ie since 2002) experiences of British Beers have been:
  • a couple of bottles of an Adnams product which were very enjoyable and found in the Plonk shop at Fyshwick Markets.  (Note that I am a bit worried about Adnams since this site kept trying to divert me into wine: bugger that, they are BREWERS not whine (sic)  merchants).  
  • a bottle of Black Sheep (see below) Riggwelter Ale from the same source.  Most excellent beer
 However the following list of points will report on what I find on safari later in the year.

I think this might come under the "nice try but no cigar"  category.  Our first stop, at Ingleby Manor is close to Great Ayrton where there is a Captain Cook memorial marked in the AA Atlas.  On Googling this I was linked to an entry in  Wikipedia which includes the statement " the 18th and 19th centuries was a centre for the industries of weaving, tanning, brewing and tile making."   Who cares about the death of the weaving, tanning and tile making industries?

After Frances found a reference to Theakstons in a guide book I did a little research on it and came across a page from 1998.  The Good Beer Guide says that the Theakston family have re-acquired the original brewery so possibly they are running both breweries again.  The Black Sheep has a webpage also.  It sounds like Masham will have to be visited (and possibly Frances will be driving afterwards).  [I contacted Theakstons about their opening hours and got back a helpful reply in under an hour!  That is what I call a client focus!!]

This was but the start of my theoretical research.  My next attempt was to read through the Breweries section of the Good Beer Guide to see which ones were in range.  Unfortunately I had noted 7 good looking establishments before I had got out of the 'Bs'.  So I went for plan B which was to mark the location of our accommodation on the maps and see what was around them.  North Yorkshire and Somerset had a few interesting looking entries at first glance with a Black Sheep (see above) house very close to the Manor.   "Our" part of Norfolk looked be suitable for renaming as "Leglessshire" since:
  • the village we're staying in has a pub tied to Buffy's;
  • the next village towards Norwich has facility of the Blue Moon Brewery (makers of inter alia Liquor Mortis); and
  • the 3rd village has house beer by Wolf and specialities from Beeston!

As she is spoke

Some years back I was reading a Lonely Planet guide which talked about English accents.  Their advice was to be very careful about asking people what language they are using, since it might well turn out to be English.

With that in mind I note that the areas in which we will be based have some rather good specimens of the accents available.  At least they were available when I was wearing short pants.

A challenge is going to be finding a way of representing these terms in text.  To try to kick things off, a great example of the Yorkshire accent was our physics teacher at Maldon Grammar (which was a Government school, despite sounding like the toffee places in Australia where Grammar= huge fees).  The brats - myself included - went to fair lengths to get him to refer to the gas given off at a cathode during hydrolysis of water.  The way he pronounced the outcome can I think be reproduced as "Boobles of iiidrigin."

A small side issue on this may be recording some of the bizarre names of places, reflecting their genesis in a mediaeval language and changes through the years.  The thought has arisen from the name of a village quite close to Ingleby: Rudby Sexhow.  Following our trip down the Hume Highway I must confess that English names will mostly seem quite sensible compared to places like Wangaratta, Wagga Wagga and Yarrawonga.  (Also, the Australian examples may translate as something just as funny as 'Sexhow'.)

Don't need to be a weatherman ...

.. to know which way the wind blows.  We will disregard the metaphorical intent of Mr Dylan's ditty and instead marvel that this is the last topic raised.  Not only is the weather the most frequently discussed issue anywhere in the world but escaping Winter on the Monaro is a large part of the reason for the timing of this trip.

I am not sanguine about the prospect of fine weather.  This comes about from:
  1. my recollection of the foul climate when I was growing up in Essex (theoretically the driest part of the UK) which leads me to describe grey drizzly days as 'English weather';
  2. the frequent comments in James Heriot's TV series 'All Creatures Great and Small'  about it being a" a fine soft day"; and
  3. looking at the weather for Middlesbrough on The Weather Channel website.
However I will try to record what descends from above each day (and hopefully not grizzle too much about it).  I do however have a theory that it is the weather that leads to the stereotype of the whingeing Pom!

Doing the training

The group with whom we go walking (for plant purposes) on most Wednesdays assess if they should go according to the weather.  There have been a couple of occasions recently when they have decided not to go because of the rain, wind and low temperatures.  I have complained about this as I felt we needed to get in some acclimatisation before starting this trip.  The response has been that I was quite welcome to go out and walk around in it.

This morning (17 June) I did emerge into reasonably steady rain (7mm since 6:30 am), fairly good winds and 8 degrees C.  I can see why we are going away from this and just hope that it will be better in Yorkshire in 2 days time!.

18 June: Trip over

Start of the trip, to Sydney and head off to Manchester.

I have declared the blog to be final apart from any changes which I might make as other things occur to me or I find errors and fix them up  Enjoy!!

As seems to be the case these days this trip started with taking the small dog to the friend who is looking after her. Tammy seemed to make herself at home and seemed to get on well, albeit it excitedly, with the friends dog. Here is hoping.  (Update: small dog had a brilliant time with a Corgi playmate and excellent care.)

The drive to Sydney was fine, although a slight bummer that the car didn't have cruise control as expected. Fuel consumption was negligible!

We got slightly cranky with Emirates that the online check in seemed to achieve nothing. People who went to the 'normal process' seemed to get through as quick, or quicker, than we did. After this we browsed the duty free shops and saw Penfolds Grange – 2005 vintage – for a cheap $599.00! We ended up in the low-rent part of the international terminal. Somewhere along the way we saw a forecast for Dubai: a temperature range from 32 to 46C. So glad we are not stopping there.

The inflight entertainment was very comprehensive but it took me some time to work out. (I think I was stressing about the drive to Ingleby so not really relaxed.) There was an unusual icon appeared from time to time in the route map sequence. Eventually I realised that one part of it was the cube in Mecca which the hadjis parade around and this icon was indicating the direction of the Holy City. At one point the map showed an airspeed of 957kph and a ground speed of 785kph, which resolves to a head wind of 172 kph. That bit – across central Australia was rather bumpy. The red wine was excellent – 2007 St Emilion appelation controlee.  The 'beers' offered were Budweiser (US version); Heineken or Amstel Light.  I see a new objectivefor CAMRA!
The airport at Bangkok was rather dowdy. Outside temperature was 33C hot at midnight. After a short leg to Dubai we found it to be 33C there at 5am. The place was a hive of activity in a very impressive structure. A particular hive was the dunnies which seemed to be well undersupplied.
For some reason our plane parked a fair way from the terminal (given the size of the UAE we may have been in the next country). As we bussed to the building I recorded 4 species of birds: probably all on my list from 2005.  The amount of construction activity observable as we had headed to the terminal was most impressive: my impression (from the return trip) was that considerable progress had been made in three weeks, but we didn't take a comparson picture.  Here is the way over:
The flight to Manchester was reasonably unremarkable except for the number of crying babies in our part of the plane. There were a couple of good views from the plane:
  • the Burq al Haj in Dubaii: currently the world's tallest structure (not visible through the murk); and
  • a large (say 50 turbines) wind farm about 1km offshore in the North Sea. The mst astonishing thing to me was that at 10,000m (ie 10 kilometres away !!!) altitude even my crappy eyes could see the blades turning!  (I didn't have the camera ready for taking a snap of these.)

19 June: To Ingleby

Arrive Manchester, drive to Ingleby Manor.  Probably do sleep!

The immigration guy was very chatty and friendly. No way was he a jobsworth!  In fact Manchester airport was very good in all respects.

The hire car was picked up in a very friendly way. It is a turbo diesel Skoda and rolls along very nicely (especially as it has cruise control.) As predicted by the AA Atlas we are using there are speed cameras everywhere, including a long stretch on the M56 which used average speed. Despite all this many cars went past me, who was sitting on 70. (I assume that is still the motorway limit – there are no signs to say so! ) As we have driven around it is very difficult to work out where the speed cameras are.  There are many signs - in some cases 4 or 5 within 2 miles - but rarely do I spot a camera.  In fact these are mainly the equivalent of "speed cameras may be used in this area" and not an indication of a fixed item: however I am still amazed that anyone in the UK who travels more than 10 km from home has a driving license.

While trying to work out where we could park in Middlesbrough I spoke to a couple of Middlesbrough Wardens. They said they didn't do parking, so couldn't help me but were very friendly.

Our visit to Middlesbrough was generally a bit fraught as I had basically had it – by this time we'd been travelling for 38 hours with not much sleep so I was stuffed. We got some cash and some groceries and that was about it. We found our way to Ingleby Manor where we were greeted by our very charming and friendly hostess and introduced to the Gun Room which is excellent.

A fair number of birds were seen on the way. First was a wood pigeon, and the best a kestrel (defined as best because I like them)!

The weather was ungood. 13C , overcast and windy. Our hostess said that the previous week it was 26 and sunny! No particular linguistic items, but the average denizen of Middlesbrough has an accent that could break rocks. (On the flight to Dubai we spoke to a young guy from York and, when speaking to us, he had a strong accent but when he was talking to another bloke at full speed I could not understand a word!)

20 June: York and Rievaulx

It's Sunday so go to Church.  Probably two churches: York Minster and Beverly Minster.  This should balance the number of pubs and breweries scheduled for later in the week.

I went for an early morning prowl (after waking at 4am that wasn't hard – the issue was waiting to a time not to disturb others, not daylight, which starts at 3am). Added a few birds to the list.

Off towards York with no problems on the country roads. Then we got to the A19 where we needed to go South. Due to road works various intersections were closed so we went North for 3 miles first. As we were following an old horse float this was not fast, and neither were the 5 miles back South. Whatever: we then headed off to York, at which fair city we were directed to a car park about 3 miles from the centre. We then moved on to the try to find a car park closer to the Minster.

The first one we found astonished us by charging Stg1.7 an hour. As we would be gone for 3 hours that would be Stg 5.1. Apart from sticker shock we didn't have that amount of coins (and being helpful the machines didn't take cards or notes). We shifted to another park, outside a Sainsbury's and when we later went shopping got our fee back!

The Minster was, as usual for cathedrals, half covered in scaffolding. The streets were full of cyclists many of them on 'novelty bikes'. It emerged they had been to a cyclists service “Bless thy chain set and keep thee from the path of punctures”? 
Inside the cathedral it was surprisingly light compared to the European and US cathedrals etc we had visited. However the proportions were definitely Gothic and soaring. The choir part of the service was OK although they were drowned out by the organ (or perhaps the sound was absorbed by the soaring ceilings).  I didn't take any pictures of the cathedral - possibly due to brain-death - but they had a good display of work being done on restoration including some of the figures used as decoration.  I liked this one, especially the coins which thoughtful folk had added.

We then wandered the streets of York, well crowded by tourists and visited a Vodaphone shop to get a SIM card. This was done – a great pity my phone still appeared to be locked to Virgin!

Having decided not to extend the driving by 30 miles each way to Beverly we headed back to Ingleby by the scenic route.  There were hundreds of motorbikes on the road. It emerged they had been to a rally in Duncombe Park and were using the chance to go flat as a maggot on the twisty road. As there was a sign talking about 45 motor cycle casualities in the last 5 years I guess the challenge was real. They, and the cops looking after proceedings did a good job of clogging the market square at Helmsley so we didn't stop there but headed off to the National Trust place at Rievaulx Temples – an old folly looking down on a ruined Abbey. An interesting wander, scoring wrens and a Robin!  I didn't take any images of the National Trust site, which was really just a path along a ridge with a couple of imitation Greek temples, but here is one of the ruins.

Back at the Manor we then did a short walk to avoid going to sleep at 4pm!

The weather was pretty good: lots of sunshine, little wind and a top of about 18.

Answering the hardest questions

Every parent knows that children are nonstop question machines. We also know that we can't answer all the questions all the time, and the sanest among us don't even try. Some of the questions make us laugh, others make us think. Some are asked by every child, others are utterly unique. Some are easily answered, others pose a challenge. Some challenging questions we can brush aside until a more convenient time, others we can even pretend not to hear. But we all know that there are some questions, some hard questions, that we simply cannot evade.

We rehearse our answers to those questions, trying to guess when that particular moment will come and imagining ourselves giving the best answer for that child at that age in that circumstance.  Where do babies come from? Did YOU ever try drugs? Did you and Dad wait until--?

Adoptive parents have an additional set of questions that they prepare themselves to answer: Why was I adopted? Why did you choose ME? Why didn't you and Daddy make me? Why didn't my other mother want me? We prepare for those questions by talking to the social workers, reading books, talking to other adoptive parents. We want to be ready with the best possible answers.

Both my sons have always known that they were adopted. They each have a small photo album with pictures of the day my husband and I saw them for the first time, held them, became their parents.  They both know the story of "their day."  We decided from the beginning that the more information they have, the better; the more open we are with the information, the easier it would be for them to ask questions and for us to answer them.

My older son, now 12, has never asked any of those basic adoption questions. Ever. My younger son, now 7, has started to talk about having been adopted, has started asking questions, and I've realized with a jolt that the answers I'd prepared for his brother just don't work for him. 

Part of this is because their adoption stories are so different.  While I won't share either story here -- because the stories are theirs to tell, not mine -- I can say that my older son's story is pretty much the "ideal" situation that a couple imagines when they start talking about adopting a baby: a young woman from a good family who knew she wasn't ready to be a parent. Answering his questions would be so easy. My younger son's story is not so "ideal," so my answers have to be a little more guarded. He'll get the full story, but not until he's older. Much older. 

The other reason the answers I would have given my older son won't work with his brother is that our family has changed, and the answers I prepared 12 years ago no longer make sense. "Why did she give me to you?" "Because she wanted you to have a mommy AND a daddy." What a sweet, straightforward answer that any child of any age could accept. But that answer lost its usefulness the day their daddy died, and I forgot to prepare a new one.

So I was blindsided when my 7YO asked that question, But why did she give me to YOU? In a flash, I knew where the "mommy-AND-a-daddy" answer would wind up. At the very least, he would say, "But I don't have a daddy." But he might say, "She should give me to a different family now, one that has a daddy." (All our conversations about having a Daddy in heaven and how Daddy lives in his heart don't really support the weight of a little boy who just wants a dad to play with.)  No, I needed a different answer, and I needed it fast.

Really, Mom. Why did she choose you and Daddy?

The honest answer would have taken too long, and it wasn't really what his 7YO ears wanted anyway. So I went with the truest answer. Because she loved you. She loved you so much that she wanted you to have the home and family that she couldn't give you but that we could.

Because she loved you ... and so do I. And, really -- isn't that at the heart of the answer to all the hard questions?

Originally published on this date on the now-defunct 50-Something Moms blog

21 June: Flamborough

The main business is Flamborough Heads and other cliffs in the area.  There are a few other spots on the way back and forth,

We woke fairly early and by 7am were on the road heading towards Bempton Cliffs. We took a route along the Northern and Eastern side of the Moors. This was quite an interesting drive as we actually got to see some heather! (Most of the North York Moors National Park appears to be farmland of one sort or another: presumably there are some limitations on what the owners or tenants of the land can do.)  Here is a piccie of the moors, followed by a close up of the cottage.

The last several miles were through villages again which were merely tiresome and made life navigationally stressful.
However we eventually arrived at the cliffs, and used our RSPB membership to sally forth. What a fantastic place. 
Frances made a call at some point that it was like an Amazonian claylick with heaps of birds flying around and sitting on the cliffs (or the sea below). The two most notable species for me were Kittiwake and Fulmar because both were lifers:
  • the kittiwakes were in tens of thousands - many with chicks;

  • fulmars were much less common, but once the eye was in (thank you UK birder for pointing out the stiff wing jizz) they were quite easy to pick up on the wing and the beak was very obvious when sitting.

Also excellent were the gannets and auks:

  • Razorbill (with a big fat dark bill);
  • Guillemot (with a fine pointed bill); and best of all (see entry for Day 18 for a close up of these at Portland Bill).
  • Puffins with a very colourful bill when not hidden under a wing).
Another person was heard to comment that in total there were 250,000 birds on the cliffs.  I would have thought there were more, but it is a good number.

After about three hours we left and headed back along the coast road home. This was quite scenic but villages and towns every few miles. It was rated an A road but made the older bits of the Princes Highway look like a freeway. I cannot imagine what it will be like in a few weeks when the holiday season is in full swing with every second car towing a van or boat.

After a few bits and pieces, and reflections on how signs at crucial turns do not have the name of the place you are heading for, we got to Middlesbrough where I got my cell phone freed from the influence of Virgin Australia so that I could use a UK SIM card. This was done successfully (although I am not sure how legally, but since I am well past my contract date with Virgin I don't care).

The weather was excellent.  Lots of sunshine and topping out at about 24.  Is this really Northern England?