maandag 29 april 2013

Travelling England (8)

Friday, July23, 2010:

The weather was fine again yesterday when we drove through Sussex and Kent to Rochester. A nice but somewhat long ride of two and a half hours. I was happy to get out never feeling too well on coaches. I sat next to an elderly but lively lady from California who greatly enjoys her wine and a good talk, though her ideas about Dickens seem a little puritan to me. She told me her husband died of a heart attack while working on the Hubble telescope.

Dickens' World is a nice attraction for children on a school trip but I felt myself a bit too grown up for it. I did enjoy myself however at The Six Jolly Old Porters before lunch: a buffet we would regard as just appetizers in Holland. There were no knives and forks provided which I thought rather messy and quite unhygienic. Yet I ate a fair bit to avoid travelling back in the coach on an empty stomach. There was some good red wine though, to the enjoyment of the lady from California and myself.

Gad's Hill Place was more interesting. I didn't know there's a school in it now. The headmaster could be straight from one of Dickens's books should we judge him by half the alphabet behind his name. He wasn't present, perhaps to avoid an unpleasant comparison with one of the angry, cruel and intellectually not very impressive schoolmasters that crowd the works of Dickens. There were still some remnants from the days of Dickens like the famous decorations on the stairs and the study which is now the headmaster's office. Much has been done to preserve something of the atmosphere of the days when Dickens was living in the house. The school will move out of the place in two years time, we were told, and there seem to be plans to turn it into a museum. We were taken around by a very attractive young lady in charge of the school's public relations who did a very good job.

Returning to Eastbourne we had a pleasant dinner at the Chatsworth followed by a spectacular performance by Gerald Dickens, the actor who read from the works of his great grandfather exactly as we know Dickens himself would have done. He was accompanied by a fine looking woman, Elizabeth Hayes, who played the piano. I bought her CD afterwards.

It's interesting to meet people from all over the world. Today I had a talk with a lady from Japan, teaching English at some university out there. I found it a little hard to understand her at times, but as her English was infinitely better than my Japanese we got by. We had three lectures this morning. Professor John Bowen on Hard Times, Michael Madden on legal practice in Dickens's time compared to the present and Jacky Bratton on Dickens as a dramatist. They were all most interesting and presented with much enthusiasm. Fortunately no one reading aloud from a piece of paper. I usually doze off after a while, but not this morning. Just after the last lecture, when it was time for questions and answers, the fire alarm went off, but everyone remained seated as if nothing was the matter. After a few minutes the alarm stopped and we learned nothing was the matter indeed. After lunch we had a short ride to Penvensy to see the remains of the Roman fortress in which William the Conqueror built a Norman castle, also reduced to a ruin through the ages. Penvensy looks a pastoral medieval village in which I felt quite at home. The temperature could have been a little more friendly, but at least it didn't rain.

vrijdag 26 april 2013

Travelling England (7)

Wednesday, July 12, 2010:
Eastbourne, Clairmont hotel, room 126.
The train left and arrived exactly on time. A taxi put me off at the Chatsworth hotel where we are supposed to register for the Annual Conference (of the International Dickens Fellowship) later this afternoon. I wasn't on the list of guests. After one or two telephone calls I was told I am staying at the Clairmont, just a few hundred yards further down the road. That's how it goes. I was one of the first to pay the complete fee thinking that would guarantee a room at the Chatsworth overlooking the sea. However, I am now at ten minutes walk away with a room at the back, overlooking an alleyway. It's a large room though, it's more quiet at the back and I will see enough of the sea anyway in the coming days. Besides it's on the ground floor and it has a very large bathroom, actually for the use of invalids. No idea how they got the idea I would be an invalid, but I hate being high up in hotels and I don't like small bathrooms, so I'm quite fine where I am. I'll be off for a pint before I go to register and get the definite programme of the conference.

I arrived in sunny weather, but when I left the hotel again the sky was grey and it rained heavily. After a few minutes I went back to the Clairmont for a Guinness on the porch. I smoked a cigar and had a friendly talk about nothing with an elderly gentleman sheltering from the rain. I was told Eastbourne is one large old people's home and looking at the people passing by I got the idea I am one of the youngest here, though every now and again small groups of children obviously on a school trip sauntered disappointed along the seafront, which by the way is beautifully decorated with blossoming flowers.

Thursday, July 13, 2010:
Yesterday it rained for over three hours, but then the sun returned. After my Guinness and my chat I went to the Chatsworth, the seat of the conference, where I registered and got the programme. More and more Dickensians arrived from all over the world. Amongst them many Americans and Pieter de Groot, our secretary, with his Irish wife Ann. The three of us somewhat younger than most of the participants. Quite a number of retired officers who readily believed the story I told them of my military career as a young lieutenant with the Dutch forces in Surinam at the beginning of the 1970's. One sweet elderly lady, born in England but living in Australia, looked so strikingly like my aunt Ann from Newton-le-Willows that they easily could have been twin sisters. Dinner was surprisingly good and the atmosphere congenial, almost like we were old friends getting together after so many years, which actually will be the case for many people who regularly attend the Annual Conference. Afterwards the mayor of Eastbourne gave a reception which was the formal part of the evening. Unfortunately the president of the Fellowship is still on his way from Scotland, being delayed by the bad weather in the north. Walking back to the Clairmont I watched a brass band playing at the seafront after which there was a display of fireworks. I watched it for a little while but feeling tired I went to my room quite early for a good night's rest.

maandag 22 april 2013

Travelling England (6)

Tuesday, July 20, 2010:
A surprisingly nice day, yesterday, but now it's cloudy again. Under the clouds one aeroplane after the other, since we're in a flightpath to Heathrow. They are not much of a nuisance, still flying reasonably high, but the helicopters are. Gigantic, angry horseflies. I arrived in London around four o' clock and took a taxi from Euston station to Fulham. The Eastbourne trains run from Victoria, which has a direct connection with Parson's Green, so tomorrow I'll take the underground. Taxi's are expensive in London. Even more than in Holland. Had a nice walk with Debby and Saskia in the gardens of Fulham Palace, but when we went for a drink at the cafe, around five thirty, it had already closed, just like the one at the other end of the park. They know how to make money. We went to The White Horse on the Green instead. We sat outdoors so I could smoke my pipe. I noticed the people around looked a fair bit less rough than in Chester. It's either imagination, the effect of the weather or I went to the wrong places up north. They served quite a collection of Belgian beers but alas all of them triples whereas I only drink dubbel. We had dinner in the garden at Debby's, after which we had a long talk about John and Stella. She had a lot of support from John's friends after he died, and still has, just like my friends did a lot to drag me through the aftermath of Stella's illness and death.

No news about a new government or not in Holland. It's five hours sailing to the east, but it seems non-existent in the news. We tend to think that Holland, particularly Amsterdam, is the centre of the world. Compared to London and even Thessaloniki it's a provincial backwater. Never mind Dordrecht. Just a dormitory suburb of Rotterdam, but when I'm having a drink on a nice summer day at the river side, it is the centre of the world again.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010:
The house is still asleep, but I did already pack my suitcase for the trip to Eastbourne. We slept early last night after I took Debby and Saskia out for dinner at a local Italian restaurant. Willem is staying with a friend. Fairly good pizza's but not as good as those of Costa d' Oro in Dordrecht. A nice place run by nice people, but unfortunately it was too cold to eat outside.

Yesterday I took it easy. I went to Victoria station to get my ticket for Eastbourne and had a look around the local W.H. Smith where I bought Annette Carson's Richard III. The Maligned King. It was too early for a pint but we were to have lunch at around one, so I had some time to kill. I remembered that nice place, The Troubadour, in Old Brompton Road where I met with Moniza Alvi last year, so I took the tube to Earl's Court from where it is a short walk. It has a nice secluded garden where I had a cappuccino and smoked my pipe. I did a bit of quiet reading as well before returning to Fulham. After lunch I sat in Debby's garden and finished reading The Return of Captain John Emmett, a fascinating historical novel and very well written.

I seem to have left Chester just in time, because in the northwest they had days of heavy weather whereas it was quite nice down here.

Talking at lunch Debby and I were wondering how people can still believe in the humbug of christianity. There's one activity at the Annual Conference I will definitely give a miss and that's going to church on Sunday.

donderdag 18 april 2013

Travelling England (5)

Monday, July 19, 2010:
Packed my suitcase and discovered I've forgotten my bow tie for the banquet at Eastbourne. I'll have to look for one in London. Cousin Debby will know where. I've skipped breakfast since I had a copious dinner at the hotel last night. A little too copious. I didn't write much in Chester, only one poem and the beginning of a travel story. It was good staying here, but it was also a bit of a disappointment. Probably because of the bad weather and the many rather uncouth people on the streets and in the pubs. I felt somewhat insecure on my own. Much more than on my recent visit to Lisbon. I'm glad therefore I'll be staying at Debby's for a day or two. A pity I didn't make it into Wales. I saw the Welsh mountains in the distance. They were calling me, but the rain made me decide not to listen.

Took another long walk yesterday until lunch, after which I wrote in my diary. I felt rather tired and took a nap, as I usually do when in Greece. Afterwards I enjoyed myself in the bar with a few pints. I prefer much stronger Belgian beers to the English these days, but they weren't available, so I drank Guinness. I asked for Theakston's Old Peculiar, but they didn't have that either. I'll be leaving at eleven to have coffee and a bun at the station. I mustn't forget to buy my ticket from London to Eastbourne in advance to save myself a couple of pounds.

Three weeks ago, translating one of her poems, I asked Joanne Limburg what 'PG Tips' meant. I'm drinking it right now. Of course I should have known it was a brand of tea, but I hadn't realized. She mailed me the answer right away. Yet when you translate from English, you ought to visit the country at times, even if it has to be on your own. From now on I'll have company. First cousin Debby and the children and at Eastbourne my fellow Dickensians. The weather seems to improve, though there are still some clouds in the sky.

maandag 15 april 2013

Travelling England (4)

Sunday, July 18, 2010:
Cold and rainy again. No weather to make a trip. I thought of taking a train to Llandudno or Conway, but I'll leave it until another time. Had dinner at The Gate of India last night. Not bad, but I had a better meal at India Corner in Haarlem. I went rather early, around six thirty. When I entered it was almost empty, but half an hour later people were queuing up to get a table. Afterwards I went straight to the hotel. Somehow I felt it wouldn't be wise to go out this evening. Maybe it's nonsense, but the atmosphere seemed a bit threatening, with just too many rowdy young men grouping together. Maybe I got the idea from John Burnside's book Waking Up In Toytown which I recently read. Coming back at the hotel I sat down in the garden with a pint and a pipe. The wind was a little too sharp and the temperature not really pleasant, but I felt like smoking. Smokers have been reduced to pariahs and separate smoking rooms, like the larger pubs in Holland have, seem unknown phenomena in Britain. I smoke very little, mostly pipe, never any cigarets, but I detest this non-smoking hysteria which is becoming ever more annoying in most of Europe. When it became too chilly I went to my room to read Elizabeth Speller's The Return Of Captain John Emmett.

Walked for over two hours after it stopped raining. Slowly the temperature rose and every now and again the sun came out. I took a lot of photographs, particularly of places that brought old memories. The Roman Garden, the walls, which were actually too slippery to walk, the cloister of the cathedral. I couldn't find the pub though where Wendy and I saw each other for the last time ever, somewhere in August 1970. Maybe it doesn't exist anymore. I haven't heard from her since the end of 1970, I don't even know if she's still living in England, if she's still alive. I always kept the letters she wrote me in the two years we were lovers, she on the Wirral, I on the Island of Dordrecht. We met in 1968 in Corwen in Wales, mere children yet. I sat down on a bench by the river Dee to smoke my pipe, remembering our walks on warm summer evenings when I went to stay in Redvers Avenue, Hooton, and our trips to Liverpool from there, taking the Birkenhead ferry. I remembered the way she kissed, the way we loved, sometimes even her smell, her wonderfully exciting smell, came back to me. The tide was out. A rusty dinghy in the mud looked like a stranded baby whale. 

zondag 14 april 2013

Travelling England (3)

Spent £ 46,= on dinner. Not bad considering the kind of hotel, but tonight it will be an Indian restaurant. I just tried the trousers of my best suit. They fit again, so I could allow myself a full English breakfast. However, I prefer the French way: a strong coffee and a croissant. Slept very well after dinner. The food was average: cream of tomatoes, monkfish with 'real chips,' a spoonful of vegetables and a bottle of red Chilean wine. The fish was good, but the cook should make a trip to Flanders to learn what 'real chips' are. The cream could have done with a little more salt and taste. The girl serving me was sweet and rather good looking too. I shouldn't have ordered a whole bottle of wine though. If I order a bottle I drink it, but it was a little embarrassing for the waitress having to wake me up at closing time.

Received the map John H. drew me to find my way to the hospital, a very friendly gesture. I know where to go from Newton station, but Earlestown is closer. I think though I would have remembered enough of the place to make it on my own. Waking up I thought with pleasure of the girl I met in the street last night close to the hotel who gave me a very friendly smile. She was noticeably well dressed in a city where most women seem to be looking rather shabby.

Back from my visit to cousin Brian. I can't say he was too cheerful about the operation, but he didn't seem to be worrying too much either. We looked at the x-rays which show the fracture in his pelvis was not something overlooked by the surgeon, but developed after the operation because of a weakness of the bones. They'll be adjusting the construction in Birmingham. He's more concerned about the possibility of another infection than of the outcome of the operation. John H. wrote me the hospital was quarter of an hour walking from the station, but in fact it was only five minutes. I was half an hour early, but since it is a very small and quiet place, rather sleepy in fact, a nurse allowed me in and directed me straight away to Brian's room, where I stayed for more than half an hour after the official visiting time. Very considerate, I did after all travel all the way from Holland. It was good to see Brian again and to talk about the old days. I bought him Peter Mandelson's Memoirs and a copy of the Times Literary Supplement. From the train, somewhere in between Warrington and Earlestown I saw a weird character next to the track who had his face painted blue. I thought the ancient Celts used to do that before going to war, but he didn't look very much like a worrier to me.

Back at Earlestown station I had half an hour until the next train. I thought of having a drink in a nearby pub but it didn't look very welcoming so I sat down on the platform to read. A girl asked me if she was on the right platform for the train to Llandidno. I said she was after which she excused herself for moving into the sun which just appeared in between some clouds. Once on the train, which was crowded, a sweet young lady offered me her seat but I refused. It was just a short ride and I'm not a grumpy grandpa yet.

Phoned John H. back at the hotel to thank him and to tell him about my visit. It's almost six o' clock. Time for a pint after which I'll go and look for an Indian. I noticed an Italian restaurant yesterday but no Greek or Cypriot.

zaterdag 13 april 2013

Travelling England (2)

Friday, July 16, 2010:
Chester, Queen Hotel, room 1103.

Very luxurious even for a four star hotel. My room is large, very large, and named after king Duncan I of Scotland. It's well furnished, equipped with a desk, a CD player and LCD television set, but surprisingly it hasn't got a minibar. The airco was on 17º Celsius, which I immediately turned up to 22º. It's windy, chilly and cloudy. It looks like rain, like in Harwich, but up to now it's dry. My window overlooks the garden where a wedding party is going on.

First of all I took the train to London this morning. I could have done myself a favour sailing from Rotterdam to Hull, from where it's a relatively short train ride to Chester, but I wanted to repeat the traditional voyage we used to make when I was a child: Dordrecht - Hoek van Holland - Harwich - London - Chester. Though in the old days it wasn't Chester, but Manchester, and from there to Newton-le-Willows. On the train I met Pete, an American from English descend, who's touring the world on his motorbike and thinking of writing a book about it. He visited relatives in England, while his bike is on its way to the States from Rotterdam by boat. We talked for a while, mostly about the Great War, until the train got crammed with commuters.

Once in London a had a dreadful trip on the underground. I had to change at Moregate which meant no elevators and negotiating an endless number of stairs during the rush hour while carrying a heavy suitcase. Never again! Next time I'll take a cab. Exhausted and covered in sweat I arrived at Euston station. I got on a direct train for Chester, but once on our way I found the airco wasn't working which made the ride rather tropical. The guard seemed unable to do something about it. I arrived in Chester just after twelve and was happy to find the hotel right across the road from the station. After a good shower and checking my e-mail on the computer near the bar (free of charge) I took a walk to the city centre. John H. sent a message that cousin Brian will be moved to Birmingham to be operated on his pelvis on Monday, which means I'll take a train to Earlestown tomorrow to visit him in the Newton-le-Willows Cottage Hospital. Depending on the weather I may take a trip to Llandudno on Sunday. A day trip to Llandudno by boat from Liverpool used to be one of the highlights of our summer holidays in England. Last time I went there was in 1995 together with Stella in the only summer we did not spent in Greece during the twenty years of our marriage. I'll probably feel sad walking the Great Orme on my own, but somehow I believe it will be a soothing experience as well.

Public transport is unbelievably expensive. I paid £ 90,= for a first class single ticket, the equivalent of € 120,= for a distance, more or less, from Dordrecht to Groningen. It would have been cheaper bringing the car along, but I didn't want to drive without company and certainly not drive through London.

I walked the Roman walls and noticed that the small cafe where I once had lunch with Stella, is still there. We were surprised it didn't have any toilets. I wonder if that's still the case. I sat down at a place called The Cheshire Farm, run by two lovely looking young ladies, for a sandwich and a beer and later on smoked a pipe sitting outside The Staffordshire Arms, near the cathedral and the town hall. A very friendly publican but a few too boisterous fellows around. After a while they moved on. I heard them saying they were off to The Cheshire Hangman. A place to avoid tonight.

vrijdag 12 april 2013

Travelling England (1)

Thursday, July 15, 2010:
On board m.v. Stena Brittannica, cabin 8238.
When entering I became somewhat worried, seeing two bunks, while I had booked for a single cabin. No way I would share with someone else. In the end nobody showed up so they seemed to have upgraded me in some way or other. I arrived on board around six in the afternoon. After settling in I went to one of the bars to finish reading Het geheim van Paros (The Secret of Paros) by André Oerlemans. Quite a well written thriller. I'm not too keen on thrillers, but I'd given this book a chance since the writer is from my hometown. As usual there are a few coincidences too many, but on the whole it's enjoyable enough when travelling. Sadly there's a bad ending for the stunning beloved of the hero, but I find that rather refreshing. After finishing the book I had an agreeable dinner: poached salmon, fried potatoes with chicory and carrots, preceded by cream of tomatoes, followed by French cheeses and fruit and accompanied by a fairly good red wine.

On the train from Rotterdam to Hoek van Holland I had quite a conversation with the guard who's trying to grow the largest walnut of the Netherlands. He asked what I did for a living, so I gave him the usual mix of reading and writing history and literature, commenting on Dutch radio and translating poetry. He spoke with a rather heavy southern accent, I guess he came from the deep south, somewhere near Maastricht, which made him hard to understand every now and again.

The cabin is on the port side which means I'll have a good view of the town when we put in at Harwich tomorrow morning. It's an outside cabin overlooking the sea. There's hardly any wind so I expect a quiet crossing. I remember one or two very rough crossings on the Duke of York when I was a young child, with my mother seasick and my dad hardly knowing what to do. I believe I got some of my granddad's sailorsblood, as I never get seasick. Poor Stella did, which is why we did not do much sailing when in Greece. I remember us once crossing over to Paxos from Parga with a rather strong wind in a small kaïk. She felt so miserable while I quite enjoyed the ride. I can hear the engines start which means we're about to depart. Time for the bar.

Friday, July 16:
Stena Brittannica-Harwich.
It's raining. The sky is unwelcoming. I slept well and had no problem getting up early in the morning. Last night I drank moderately and went to sleep at around eleven, English time. I had a light breakfast and took a few buns with me for on the train. It's quiet on board. As most tourists travel on weekends I purposely sailed on a Thursday. It's still quite difficult without Stella. No doubt travelling alone gives you optimal freedom, but I'd rather do with less if that would bring her back. It's over three years now since she died and the pain hasn't lessened. We're waiting for the signal to disembark. There's an island right in front of me to travel.

dinsdag 9 april 2013


February 1982. I was staying for a week or so in France with friends, somewhere near Carcasonne. I'd recently taken my BA in History. One of the more popular books at the School of Language and Literature (now named The Hague University) was Montaillou by Le Roy Ladurie. On our way to Andorra we passed the famous settlement, where this photograph was taken. It was still freezing in the Pyrenees. Most of the mountain passes were still closed because of snow, so in the end we would not make it to Andorra. Montaillou was deserted, but it seems a handful of people from Paris is holidaying there in summer. No trace of the mother-in-law of the priest who had the poor woman's tongue teared out. No old women in black gossiping about the latest events in the village. Not even a lost goat. Maybe just a brown bear hibernating somewhere in the nearby mountains. We decided not to go and look for it.

donderdag 4 april 2013

Deceptive beauty

Farewell Rijmenam. The title, in translation, of a poem I wrote the day after this photograph was taken. We visited Fa (middle) and Agnès Claes who lived in a farmhouse at Rijmenam. Shortly after they moved to Bruges. Chief editor of the literary magazine Kruispunt, John Heuzel (second left) and his wife Marie-Thérèse van Dycke (far right) came from Bruges that day. For years Fa and I contributed to Kruispunt which has since gone out of circulation. It was the first literary magazine in the Dutch language that published poems by my late wife Stella Timonidou (second right). It was a reunion of good friends. Something to do more often. We did, but Stella wasn't present at the Kruispunt farewell party in 2009, when the final edition was published. There's no fighting against the cruelty of nature. Nature which looked so beautiful that day in Rijmenam. Beauty which is too often deceptive.