Full circle

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It’s now UK Monday evening and I’m back at the Charing Cross Hotel and back in the same room I had before, and back in a grey and sporadically wet London. Since the last post, I have been over to Kingston-on-Thames and Long Ditton, and then to Scarborough, Hunmanby and Hornsea. I’ve also rebooked my flight and am coming back a few days early (I’m suffering Mozeleyitis I think), so I’m now in the last week of my travels.

The conference was a UK/Australasia event, with me as the token kiwi (!). We started off in the Travelodge at Kingston for a night. I should have known what was coming when the front entrance was in a back alley; when there was a sign saying there was a revolutionary pricing structure starting at 26 pounds; when I saw the warning about the noise from the disco next door; and when we were offered breakfast at check in and asked to pay on the spot and then asked what time we wanted the breakfast box delivered. No rosemary and lavender shampoo and conditioner at this place! However it was cheap and cheerful and, after a dinner at Kingston’s best restaurant, it didn’t make much difference.

The seminar itself had a wide range of people from Universities, government, agencies. A couple of grumpy old men, three Vice Chancellors (all women) some civil servants and it was actually very useful. As it was only useful and interesting to about 300 people on the globe I won’t bore you all. It was based at one of these management centres that you seem to get all over England. They’re in the country (but not far from a city); they have nice walks, lots of trees, occasionally lakes, sometimes golf courses, often tennis courts, none of which anyone seems to use. In the middle is normally an old country house, rather messed about and a general feel of slightly dilapidated splendour. They seem, however, to provide the right environment for people to get excited about strategy, policy, plans and development (not easy). In the evening of the first day, the weather turns quite pleasant and I go and sit outside by myself for a while amongst the golf course, trees, tennis courts etc, and watch the the sun go down (ie about 9.30!). My first pleasant summer evening (and, it would seem, the last!)

The seminar finishes Saturday lunchtime and I hurtle off to Kings Cross to get the train to Scarborough. I always like travelling North on a train, so I look forward to it. The train is full and very fast and after just three hours and twenty minutes, I’m in Scarborough being picked up by David. We worked together at Greenwich for a long time and he has ‘retired’ and moved up to North Yorkshire where he and Maureen have bought five acres of land on a hill overlooking the North Yorkshire coast from Flamborough to north of Scarborough. Many years ago I remember David saying that when they retired he would have a house in the country and two dogs. He’s kept his promise but added 42 sheep, six geese, any number of chooks and five pigs (at the latest count)! Add to that several hundred rabbits, a labrador and a gorgeous view and this is rural idyll. In addition, the two of them seem to have taken over much of the organisation of the county, despite coming from one of the area’s most disadvantaged minorities – townies – and not even just townies, but Southerners, and even worse Londoners (think Remuerans in Invercargill). However, they seem to have taken to it, and it seems to have taken to them. David is a local councillor, and after five months, in the ‘cabinet; they’re involved in local organistions and have turned their hand to dramatics with David appearing in pantomime as Baron Hardup. So ‘retired’ doesn’t really mean much!

A large part of the day does seem committed to feeding, watering and tending the animals as well as keeping five acres trim. I don’t think they quite intended to accumulate so many animals – they bought the house for the view, and thought a few animals would improve the view – but I suspect they have discovered that life with sheep, pigs, geese and chooks has advantages over life in a University or bank (though the behaviour of the inmates may be similar on some occasions).

On Sunday, Maureen is doing a five kilometre walk to raise money for Cancer Research, and David and I head off to Hornsea where I’ve arranged to meet the tenant of our house, Derek. On the way we stop at a Sunday morning market where I buy a shirt and a sweat shirt for 7 pounds. The stall holder takes pity on me and reduces it to six. It’s just about as cheap as Shanghai (which I very vaguely remember having visited recently). The drive down to Hornsea is very pleasant, green with the land getting flatter and the sense of space, the sea nearby and the big skies. I thought Easy Yorkshire was pretty quiet but it seems relatively crowded compared with the North. Get to Hornsea with the sun popping out and it looks much as I remebered it, and seems as attractive as before. The house always makes me blink because it is so cute and unexpected and, apart from the garage doors, looks in good condition. Derek, who is an engineer, is just about to head off to St Petersburg, but we have a cup of tea. Although the house is too small for us, it doesn’t feel at all cramped and has the same nice, relaxed feel, helped by the warmth of the Raeburn in the kitchen. Apart from the kitchen ceiling falling in because of a bathroom leak, the house is in good order and Derek (and sometimes his daughter) clearly enjoy living there. So much so that when I explain we want to sell the house by October 2008, he is keen to come to an arrangement that means we won’t have to put it on the market, and he won’t have to leave. He brings me up to speed on some local gossip and then heads off to the airport. David and I have a mooch around Hornsea looking at some of our (Ann and I) old haunts and have a ceremonial fish and chips on the seat looking out over the North Sea. Not much has changed though another restaurant has closed down – food isn’t Hornsea’s strong point. I go to see if our neighbour Gary is around. His family has had an awful time over the last few years, and has effectively broken up in tragic circumstances, and I would have liked to talk to him. But I can’t find him though I do bump in to another neighbour who provides a bit more gossip and reminds me that Hornsea is being spoilt by skateboarders, graffiti artists, indeed anybody under the age of 21. She teaches at the School.

So eventually, having been to the sea, the park, the mere (where there are still several hundred geese and swans, and too many people from West Yorkshire), we head off up North again. I ask David to drop by Ulrome Sands, a place where Ann, Daisy and I used to go for a walk. The local road is closed because the cliffs have been falling down and a huge chunk has disappeared. The coastline here has been receding over the centuries and about 30 villages are reputed to be under the sea. Even in our time, Ann and I have seen, paths, roads, houses, caravans, and even a hotel disappear. There appears to be some desperate work going on to stop the current problem, whch seems worse than normal.

Then back to SpellHowe. By now the rain is coming in and David and Maureen have a soggy feeding time with their animals. One of the geese has a problem with its wing and the other geese have turned against it so it needs its wing binding and then isolating for its own safety. The two townies are magnificent!

Monday morning and its up early, off for the train and back to London. Tomorrow, its the memorial service at Greenwich which will be quite different and will mean I meet up with a lot of old colleagues and friends, and also meet up with my past again!!

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