Surveying England for "English in England Tour", January, 1999

Eleven days in England, freezing at first, then just cold. Four days in London, then driving in a hire car for seven days.


TUESDAY

I will send this when I get an Internet account. The small hotel I am in has a telephone line in the room that I can connect the computer to. Leaving the room in Bangkok the taxi went over the Krung Thon bridge but then he went on a road I had not been on before but which took him to the Rama 7 bridge. He then went to the Expressway. Even with his unusual way of getting there I was at the airport before 4.30 and the counter for CX at 19.00 did not open until 17.00. As it was I was in to the departure lounge at 17.00 and read my book for an hour and a quarter. It was the first Morse story I had read and was very good. I will have to read some more. I left the book with a girl on the plane when I had finished it but I don't know if she took it. She spoke English.
On arrival in HK they had a girl at the end of the tunnel with my name and others. The flight I was supposed to catch was going to be late so they put me on an earlier flight so I only had to wait half the time before leaving.
I did not change into my new tracksuit and I would not have had a chance to lie down if I had. Managed my normal hours of sleep except in bite size packages instead of one big lump. On the plane we were told that the temperature in London for our arrival was -2 degrees Celsius.
Getting off the plane and my luggage was no drama except expecting them to have left my bag in Hong Kong. Walked around and around looking for an ATM and information without any success until I asked about ATM's and got 300 pounds. Put on the tracksuit under what I had on and took the Underground Heathrow Express to Paddington. Cost 10 pounds. I had expected accommodation boards like in Australia but instead there were two companies selling accommodation and they weren't going to be doing the special offers I wanted. Information about England was light on as well. I expected it to like Singapore. It wasn't.
Train trip was good. Could sit near luggage in its rack and it was quick. At Paddington still no information so I got out the hotel map I got from the British Embassy in Bangkok and phoned a couple of hotels until I got one cheap enough. I had selected ones within walking distance. Asked a station worker where to go and headed off into the refrigerator. The big case was 19.8 kg when I checked it in at Bangkok. It still was. But just as well it wasn't any heavier as it was a bit further than I thought to the hotel. Got to the hotel and asked about a discount if I stayed four days and as it was too cold and the guy on the desk got the manager out of bed who chopped off 20%. At this stage it was about 06.30. It is 30 pounds per night with a full breakfast. The desk chap took me to a room in the basement, no lift, stairs, which was OK but I wanted to see what else was on offer. We left the luggage in the room and I took the key to the alternative room. Puff, Puff, Puff. No lift, and the room was on the fourth floor. I left the luggage where it was. I paid him for two nights and he said breakfast was 7-9 but I wanted to go for a walk as it was now just after 7am. Did not get the camera, as it was not too bright and walked down to Hyde Park. When I got outside the hotel the cars had snow on them. And it was cold. There was no wind so it was not bad enough to go back to the hotel. People on foot and in cars and a lot of taxis were heading off to work. At this stage rang you in Bangkok. Tried again in about five minutes because when I got to Hyde Park there was snow all over the ground. The trees were large and bare and much less dense than I had expected. I walked a short distance into the park and there was Peter Pan of Queens Park. The original. Kept walking. People were walking their dogs. No leashes. Joggers were in their tracksuits and joggers and made me feel that going for a walk in such conditions was OK. I had my map with me and with it and the signs and after various changes of direction I ended up on the other side of the park at Albert's memorial. Half way across the park the sun had been coming up. It was 7.30am. Walked back by a different route and bought a new razor (5.99P) and a box of tissues (1.69P). At the hotel checked that my booking was for that night and if so I wasn't entitled to breakfast. They said have it anyway. I just had cereal and toast as they had kept feeding us on the plane. Unpacked the suitcase and decided I did not need the tracksuit under everything else. Walked down to the corner of Hyde Park after I had changed. I knew Marble Arch was down there somewhere. Underpass maze. Took a photo of the snow on the grass at the corner with some buses behind. Next underpass to try to find Mark's and Spencers was filled with blanket-covered bodies and cardboard boxes, some of which had been recently got out of. The two sides of the underpass were a continuous line of homeless. Not a happy sight. I walked through there at a faster rate than I had been and got to the other side. Couldn't see any sight of the shop. Asked a newspaper seller and he told me "2 sets of lights down on the left" so off I went. I had forgotten this was Oxford Street and on the map it is red for shopping. Found the shop and got a girl to find the shirts you wanted. Left a message as no red colour. 12 pounds. Had thought I might go and see the changing of the guard at the horses but decided to check out the shops and the British Museum was down this way. Shops, shops, shops later, and after several side trips to look at interesting buildings, ended up at the museum. Started with Greece. IMPRESSIVE. Kept wondering why the countries the British had removed all this stuff from didn't want it back. Loads and loads of stuff. Eventually wanted a break. Went outside and a couple of university students video taped an interview for the Y2K for their university, as I smoked my cigarette. Went back in and tackled Asia until I definitely needed to sit down and asked about the "sightseeing buses". The seats outside earlier had been wet from melted snow. A stop was outside. Went out, along came a bus, he picked me up, took me to his next stop, as I hadn't been at one, just a bus stop, and explained their tours. He next left in ten minutes so I went into Russell Square that he was parked beside and took some photos. Then off we went, with me following my map and his map to get my bearings. He was the Green Tour. Thus I saw the parts of London covered by the Green tour and then the Yellow Tour. These were most of the places on my itinerary. Trafalgar Square, Piccadilly Circus (and Eros), No 10 Downing Street, Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament, Westminster Abbey, Harrods, Buckingham Palace, The Tower of London, the different bridges over the Thames we went over, HMS Belfast, etc. When I got back to Piccadilly Circus just after 4pm I went to have a hamburger at Wendy's and then waited for the tour bus that went near my hotel. The temperature at 4.30 dropped so that as the bus went towards the hotel I was shivering. Was worn out and had a lie down and went to sleep for several hours. The hotel has central heating and is nice and warm inside.


WEDNESDAY

Next morning I woke at 5am and went up to the reception to have a cup of coffee. A chap was there talking to the chap on duty. He is from Kuwait and is a fervent advocate of Viagra. After an hour I went back to sleep but my coffee resulted in me starting this but the battery got low and I still did not have an adapter. After breakfast went to find a tour bus as the ticket lasts 24 hours. Saw Baker Street and Mrs. Tussauds before getting back to Piccadilly Circus. Was going to get to the Horse Guards for 11am but the bus chap pointed out The Changing of the Guard was taking place at Buckingham Palace. Got there by 11am to join a fair size crowd. It was cold. The chap beside me was as tall as me so we did not get people standing behind us to shelter us from the slight breeze. A couple of bands with soldiers eventually marched in (very stirring), some more music etc but the main action was around me as there were several Americans and a couple from Sydney who were all talking after a while. Mainly about how #$%%^&*& cold it was and who in their right mind would be there. Eventually most left but I stayed talking between frozen lips to a Sydney chap Justin's age. Then they all marched out the front gate which made the wait worthwhile. Finished the roll of film. Still had no gloves. Changing the film was a bit difficult. I was cold. Walked towards Victoria Station and found an Outdoor shop where the very helpful young chap sold me a most appropriate pair of gloves. God the difference. Had a hamburger at Victoria as it was 12.30. Wanted to ask some questions at the Tourist information place but they were very busy and just got some pamphlets. Asked about train fares to Manchester in the station. At least 41 pounds. Went to find my adapter and Internet connection. Ended up down the street a bit when I was told I could find them back at Victoria. The Internet connection was free. Decided I was ready for a rest so I bought a paper and got the Underground for the first time back to Paddington. But we got to South Kensington. So I got off to see the Science museums. While I was smoking a cigarette before going in a coach came up for a group so I asked the driver about rates. He assured me 250-300 pounds was the day rate for a coach (when I rang England I had been told 400), and they could take a group at 18 pounds a head through the tunnel on a day trip to France. It makes the 16 day tour less than 80,000 Baht. Bought a White card in the Museum (16P) as a single entry was 6P. Went through the Earth Museum and then Natural for two hours. The temperature inside was quite warm. Very, very impressive. The time I have allotted for the museums is too short. The building itself was very impressive. Dinosaurs, whales, fossils, gold, gems, rocks. Got the crowded train to Paddington and after another hamburger went to the hotel where again a lie down watching TV resulted in intermittent wake and sleep. Charged up the battery and at 11pm continued with this until 1am.


THURSDAY

Have had breakfast and just got to here by 10am. Walked through Hyde Park along The Serpentine in the sunshine. The forecast is for cloud this afternoon so I am making the most of the sun. And it looks good. Took a photograph of the birds standing on the water.

Serpentine04

Until then I did not realize it was iced over. Some daffodils had come out on the other side of the park. Left the park and ended up at Harrods where I had a bit of a look. Then went to the Victoria and Albert Museum that my White Card is good for. This has got an enormous amount to see. I wanted to see the Guns and Armour but did not mind getting lost a dozen times as it looked good. Glass, iron, art from all over, tapestries, musical instruments, jewellery. The only bad bit was as I was leaving the Cafe was on the way so I thought I would have a bite to eat. Got the girl to give me the pork. I ended up with two small slices of pork with some sauce. This was 5.95P. I got her to add some potato. A small helping was put on the plate. This was an extra 0.90P. I then asked about the bread and butter and that was extra. I told her the price was ridiculous and left her with it. Went across the road to the Science Museum and found the entry not as dramatic as the Earth Museum. You go through a number of large engines. The Earth Museum had a rotating sphere, which the escalator ascended through the centre of. The sphere was covered with sheets of different metals which creaked and groaned as it rotated. Went around each of the levels to see what was there and thought it was OK but the umpteen little kids rushing around and enthusiastically handling the controls of the different exhibits were much more impressed. Spoke to a girl who was about to demonstrate rocket power and she told me about organizing a visit. Got an information kit and an email address to send queries to. There are picnic areas at the museum to eat lunches you have brought, as even here the food appeared to cost at least 4P.
Outside found a bus driver about to leave and he gave me the contact number for his company which should have even better prices than the ones I was told yesterday. Was outside the Underground entrance so went to the station. Ended up buying a day ticket. Went to Westminster. Asked about the water taxis at Westminster Pier but they stopped a couple of years ago. Got a pamphlet with prices from a water tour operator. Walked to Westminster Abbey but it is no longer free and 5P for the short time left was too much. Went back across the road to the Parliament and ended up going in to see the action in the House of Commons. It is bad as in Canberra, with most of the politicians being absent. Their publication explaining the system is better than what you get in Canberra. It did not take long for me to have been there long enough despite the building. Went back to the station and went to Embankment to walk up to Trafalgar Square. Went in to the National Gallery and walked around the paintings. There are heaps of them, most worth just a glance but a lot of works by famous painters I recognized and other worthwhile works by names I did not recognize. One woman had achieved tremendous translucent skin in her paintings.
Decided to return to the hotel and to catch a bus. The bus stop turned out to be outside the British Tourism mob, so went in to get some brochures and complain about the rail passes not being on sale in Bangkok. Got on one but then saw somewhere to eat and got off. Decided the toilet had higher priority and went down the Underground to the toilet. Seeing I was there I decided to have fish and chips at a pub near the hotel. So I got the crowded train there. The beer was OK and the food was eatable.


FRIDAY

Phoned car rental places this morning after breakfast to have a car to go to the south of England and then up to Manchester and the Lakes District and the Yorkshire Dales and to see the other places on the itinerary. The staff here suggested one was within walking distance so I went to see it but it was Hertz which would have been too expensive, not that it had any cars anyway. As I was looking for the second one they suggested you phoned.
It was really good to hear from you. Generally when I think about phoning it is an inappropriate time. I then decided to go and get your shirt. There was no blue in size 16. I looked again for shirts for Ja's boys but at 35P they were too expensive. Got an adapter for the phone line but the computer got upset this morning when I tried loading the free Internet connection software from an English company. It is still upset.
I took the Underground to near the Imperial War museum. I had lunch at an Irish Pub - pie and chips.
The Trench Experience was first class. You enter the end of a trench and pass the soldiers doing the various things they would have, like writing, shooting, waiting, all with sound effects and lighting effects. There were tanks and guns and dioramas, like in Canberra at the War Memorial.
I then took the underground to Covent garden and went through the Market, which is a much bigger version of Fremantle markets. The London Transport museum was next door where there are trams and buses, OK but not marvellous. Then went to the Theatre Museum. Not my cup of tea but if you are into makeup, costumes and such things it would be OK.
Then went back to the Science museums to have another look and to see Stevenson's Rocket but it is in storage. Then went back to the hotel.


SATURDAY

Anticipate hiring a car and heading out of London so pack the bags and leave them with the staff. Walk through Hyde Park on a different path and end up at Hyde Park Corner. Continued walking through Green Park past Buckingham Palace and then through James Park. This last one is the best of all. Ended up at the Horse Guards but didn't know it even though I took a photo of them. Walked along Whitehall past No 10 Downing Street to Westminster Abbey. Paid my 5P and was really pleased that I did. Awesome is the only descriptor appropriate. They will need a crash course in English kings and queens. Elizabeth I, Richard II, Cromwell make interesting stories that I know.
Walked to Westminster Bridge and took some photos. Then got the U/G to the Tower of London but thought it would take too long. Instead went up the Tower Bridge and took some photos. Then walked to Hays Galleria to see what it was like but Covent Garden Market is far, far superior for what we want. Took the U/G to Victoria and got the car after I bought a road guide for England. Drove back to the hotel to get my bags but it is just as well I walked around and took the sightseeing buses as I took the wrong turn and had to make my way back to the right route. After I had my bags I just wanted to get out of London so headed north to the M1. Eventually got on it and charged up to Coventry where I am recording this. Thought there would be lots of accommodation visible when I got off the main road but this place which was found only after driving right through Coventry was the first. It is cheaper than London but enormously superior.


SUNDAY

They didn't start breakfast until 8am but eventually I left to see the Cathedral in Coventry. Drove around it but as it was still before 9am assumed all would be shut. It was cold and better in the car anyway. Decided to go and see Shakespeare country. Headed for Warwick. Saw a sign for a Roman Fort near Coventry but got there to find in opens when it gets warmer. Got to Warwick by side roads which meant I saw more which was better if slower. Parked in the car park at Warwick Castle and walked up to the entrance but did not go in. 9.5P. Got rid of some of my cups of coffee.
The houses around Warwick were the things you think of for Shakespearean times. It was raining, cold and parking on the road was a problem as I could not find a space, so I did not take any photos until I came out of the Castle and took a couple of a pub. Headed for Stratford and made a scenic detour on the way which went through some attractive country. Got there and saw lots of barges (English style) on the river. Aha! Avon River. Drove around and around and around - place was crawling with people and their cars. His birthplace you could not drive past - had to walk, so I will see that another time. Again the houses were a picture to see but for the same reasons I took no photos. Decided to go to Chester via Hereford and Ludlow. Got to Hereford after getting lost at Alcester and had to ask a couple walking their dog in the rain how to get on the right road. Bypassed Worcester on the way. Hereford - of cow fame, had good houses too and I took a look in the Cathedral. Impressive like Winchester and you could take photos. Outside you had to watch where you put your feet to avoid where the dogs had been.

Hereford04

I had seen a sign on a bus saying Hay on Wye, so I asked a local sitting in a truck (a hard working road worker) and it was only about 16 miles. I saw which highway number I needed on my map and when I saw the sign off I went. 16 miles later I was at Ledbury. Trouble was I had gone east instead of west. There was a big viaduct just outside Ledbury. I was near Eastnor castle at this stage and decided to go to it. It opens when it gets warmer too. The road to access the M50 I found on the map and headed off. A four-wheel drive was in front of me. You did not need that but I was wishing he would turn his lights on, as the very windy road was quite literally one car wide. It would not have been possible for another car to pass most of the time. I had been thinking I would head north when I reached the M50 but on getting to it I decided to head towards Wales. I wanted to see some mountains and the Black Mountains looked like they would fit the bill. The going was good on the A40 after Ross on Wye until Monmouth when there was a hold up on the highway. I thought I would get around it and got onto a side road in Monmouth. A bridge there is 10'3" wide. Got confused with the roads and asked at a garage. Had a Cornish pastie there. Very good. Followed the instructions and ended up at the traffic hold up. Decided "no way" and took off inland. Miles and miles of the narrow narrow roads flanked by hedges, sometimes very tall. Took a couple of photos of the road. This was only possible on longish straight stretches so a car coming from where ever could stop in time. Most of the time the road was a continuous twist. Eventually got to Llantilio-Crossenny which was in a hollow and looked good so I pulled in to a farm and took a couple of photos, watched by kids in a car from the back window. Eventually got into the mountains which were actually just hills. Got to a sign saying Hay on Wye in time to get there before they shut. It was drizzling and close to 5pm so I tried parking near the shops but there were no spots so parked in the Parking area and walked through to some of the bookstores.
Heaps of them. Checked the prices but they were as dear as new books. Tried out three shops. It was 5pm but still light so headed off to Leominster and places north but today it got dark earlier so stopped here at a bed and breakfast when I reached the town. Costs 18P for B&B. The people where I stayed have a son who teaches English language, has taught in China. I got his contact details so if I need a teacher in England he can help, or do it himself.


MONDAY

Drove to Ludlow. The A49 here is very scenic. Drove around the town and to a hill above it. The sun was cooperative and came out to give me some better photos of the castle. Stopped in the town where it looked OK to park and started taking a couple of photos when the scurrying to the Bank and back to her car of a woman had me rapidly departing in case parking was not allowed. Bought some tasty apples in the market. Couldn't find the picture you see in the adverts for the town. It is supposed to have more old buildings than most, but perhaps that is relative to its size as so far I have seen a lot of towns with as many.
Got to Shrewsbury on the A49 and then lost the road when I went to find an interesting looking church and after wandering around a bit because it had come up cloudy and north and south were the same. Eventually got on the A5 and then the A495 which were all scenic. There were some deep river gorges we went over on high bridges as we approached Chester. Chester is a must for the tour.

Chester06

The place is all it is written to be. The wall makes it easy to find your way around. I walked along it for a bit and took a few photos of the heaps of people there. It is the mid-term break and presumably people are on holidays but it was cold there, although not as bad as when I first got to this country. It looked like rain but it did not happen. Got a map for 1P from the tourist information place at the town hall to find a toilet, and after that kept running into the signs to them. The place is shops, shops, shops.

Chester13

The people seem to walk right around the wall. and now it was off to Manchester to talk to the YHA about groups staying there. The surrounds are very good. The area has been redeveloped. There are canals right near the YHA. The building is spacious and new. The Granada Studios are just around the corner. The Science Museum is across the road. I thought that they would not be able to get to their rooms during the day but evidently they can.
The Information office for the area is next door and the chap there told me the history of the redevelopment and told me some of the things they could see. There are different walks they have pamphlets for. I then headed off to Blackpool to see what is there. The place gets millions of visitors each year. As you approach you see the Tower and the Roller coaster.

Blackpool04

The hotels extend along the coast for miles and miles. The wind when I got out to have a look was strong and freezing. The sun came out for a while so I took a couple of photos. It was not the least bit pleasant in the wind. Headed inland and found a large shopping centre where I had some pasta for lunch/dinner as it was 5pm. Thought I would get to the Lakes District before it got dark but did not make it and arrived in Kendall in the dark. The first two places I tried were full so I was pleased when the third wasn't. The woman here doesn't talk to her guests, unlike the woman last night with whom I had a lengthy talk about Australia because her daughter had only been back a few months after working there for two years.


TUESDAY

To Windermere from Kendall and was very impressed by its beauty. This area is definitely a must to visit. The sun wasn't high enough to get into the Lake so I did not take any photos here. On to Ambleside, taking a couple of photos before it. These towns are really something.

LakesDistrict02

When I got to Wordsworth's Rydal Mount drove up to it but it was shut on Tuesdays, not that I would have gone in probably, particularly as it did not open until 10am and it was now 9am. Took a photo of it. On to Grassmere and Dove cottage which was shut but took a couple of photos.

LakesDistrict01

The daffodils in the area were not out either. Drove through Keswick and tried phoning Ploen from a parking area beside Bassenthwaite Lake. It was blowing a gale and was very cold and the signal was poor but I left a message. It was about 5pm in Bangkok at this stage. Got to Cockermouth and twice drove along the street where he was born but could not see the house, but it is a short street so it will be not far to walk. Decided to drive back through the beautiful scenery I had just passed and did so as far as Keswick but then took the road to Penrith thinking it went somewhere other than where it did. Ended up on the M6 and charged down to the South. Got off at 37 and went to Sedburgh to get information on the Yorkshire Dales. Asked the woman the route she would take to see the Dales. Had a couple of pies for lunch and then took her path. The scenery again was picture book stuff. Most of the time it was not sunny but on occasion the sun did shine in the right spot and I took a few photos. Crossing one of the high bleak spots it snowed for a short time. This was between Hawes and Muker. The roads were wider than those I drove on down south but very windy and while two could pass it was a tight fit so it was wearing me out. Missed one of her turns and ended up in Richmond and took a couple of photos of the castle and then decided I needed a rest and an early afternoon so headed for the coast at Whitby of Captain Cook fame. This is a bit like Hobart with the boats moored in the middle of the town. The sea was very rough and you wonder at Cook taking to the sea when you can see what it is like. Very windy as well.

As I drove here there were drifts of snow in the paddocks and along the road. The bed and breakfasts do not generally appear to have off street parking so eventually found a small hotel, which does. It is near the sea and I walked down the cliff half way before I thought it was too windy and I would get wet from the spray. My cigar was burning very quickly because of the gale force wind blowing as well. Had dinner here including roast beef and Yorkshire pudding.


WEDNESDAY

Late departure as not up until 7.15. To Pickering along the A169 across the moors which were more vegetated than the ones in the Yorkshire Dales. The railway seen from the road goes through some photogenic gorges. Onto the A64 to York. Parked the car and went to look for an Information Centre to get a map. Couldn't find one but the signs around the place got me to the different places I wanted to see until I bought one at the Minster. Parked at the Coppergate shopping centre car park. The Jorvik Viking centre is nearby and I photographed the queue waiting to get in. It had got longer when I went past half an hour later. Went to find the Shambles and it was OK but they will have visited better shopping areas before they get here.
Found the Minster and donated 2.50P but was disappointed as the woman in Leominster thought it was better than Westminster Abbey. It isn't. You can walk around the wall at York, not that I did but I saw some people on it. After I got my map I could navigate my way. The place is very compact for what I wanted to see and after I went through the Shambles again I had a cup of coffee and an apple strudel in the Coppergate shopping centre.
Walked down to the River Ouse which was quite photogenic and took a photo.
A cruise boat had just got in as I got there but I don't think it would be worth the expense. The is a museum but they will be up to their ears in museums from London. Looked up the map and got back on the A64 with no trouble to head for the Peak District National Park. Ended up on the M1 and got off at 34. Would not do that again as trying to get across to the Peak District was difficult as the traffic was slow and dense, there were road works. I could see on the map where I came off M1, the Castle Market is a huge shopping centre. They could get lost in there for an hour at least by the look of it. Eventually got the road to Glossop A57. The appearance of this area is different to the Lakes and Dales. Then A6103 to A625 to Hope.
Had a cup of coffee and a pastry here. Very good coffee. Carried on along A625 to the caverns but didn't go in. It was raining and cold. Could drive a car up over the spectacular hill to carry on to Chapel-en-le-Frith. Took the road to Buxton along which there were traffic hold ups due to road repairs. There are often such delays. Through Buxton towards Ashbourne. Initially very scenic but then fairly ordinary. This park has numerous quarries in operation. Went through Derby (all red brick) from here to Nottingham (big place) to check out Robin Hood. The actual castle has gone in Nottingham and in its place is a mansion which is a museum so can be given a miss. The Robin Hood world could be anywhere so could give this place a miss. Went up to Sherwood Forest where at least they have trees, some of which are quite large. The place opens when it gets warmer. Had to search for a place to stay which was open.


THURSDAY

The Red House where I stayed for the night was out on its own surrounded by farmland and forest. I got out early to smoke a cigar after I put one case in the car and waited for breakfast. The temperature has gone up considerably. It is going to be 10 degrees Celsius today. It is supposed to rain in the north and west and be fine and sunny in the east. So after breakfast I headed for the east. I wanted to see Cambridge and Lovejoy country. There was a bit of a delay in the traffic so I headed off to the side roads. Went through dairy farming country like out at Tim Cooks. Got to Cambridge and drove around it before heading off to Newmarket which was close because of Dick Francis stories. A chap showed me around. They have their first meeting on the 13,14 and 15 April. Then decided I would give up on Lovejoy and headed for London but saw a sign for the Imperial War Museum. Followed the signs, only getting lost once, before I got there. The location is Duxford Airfield. There are several hangars containing many airplanes including a Concorde which you can walk through. There is also a B52. There are five hangars of planes and then a display of USA war planes, and at the end a display of tanks and other land warfare items. The place is spread over hundreds of metres and will take at least an hour to rush through. I went off to go south-east of London to Rochester. There was a slow down of traffic to a crawl. When I got to the reason the occupants of a car on the other side must have all died and everyone was taking a look. The car was squashed flat. A truck was being towed away with damage to it. Rochester is great. There is a castle, a Cathedral which is as good as York, and the Dickens Centre, which is the reason for going there. The whole is compact and looks good. Got some information from the Dickens Centre and from the Tourist Office. Also got the phone number for Cathay Pacific from a travel agent and booked me on Saturdays flight as I am exhausted. I will try to finish seeing the itinerary places south of London by Saturday lunchtime. Drove to Canterbury and saw the Cathedral, which is better than Westminster and the others I have seen. It feels more religious than anywhere else does. Perhaps it is, for Anglicans. Decided to see the cliffs of Dover before it got too late and made it easily. Stayed overnight in Dover.


FRIDAY

An early start as did not have breakfast. Drove to Folkestone and parked on top of a cliff near many very nice places to live. Saw that the beach was stony and descended the paths and steps to the beach. Obsidian, quartz, would have been a wonderland in the days when people were keen on tumbling rocks. No sand. Decided it was going to rain so ascended puff puff rapidly, for me. Drove on a mile or two and discovered that the road came back to the stony beach at its level. There had been no need for the considerable exertion. Further on a substantial wall had been built and in one place it appeared to be the remains of a WWII fort. Eventually stopped to look over the wall and lo and behold, we had sand. Soon after headed inland for the Romney churches but it wasn't sunny or anything to take photos. Rye was a good looking town with a wall of buildings facing you as you approached.
Got to Hastings at the same time as the fog appeared and it was very thick. Decided I wouldn't be able to see anything and drove inland to Battle. The entrance was also a school entrance and I drove in and saw the site of the Battle of Hastings when Harold got an arrow in the eye. Asked a chap where the road went and discovered I was on a feet only path. Left. Headed for Brighton and entered on the road the Royal Pavilion or whatever is on.
Drove to the stony beach and walked on more rocks-no climb this time. Place looks tattered and torn. Drove off along the beach which was slow but had more to see. After a while went to the A27 and speeded up. The town of Arundel is one to visit when it is sunny. It is one of the most photogenic towns I have seen. Got to Portsmouth. Headed for the Victory. Got lost. Went around the block and approached from a different direction. Got lost. Reversed my tracks and found the correct path. Got lost. Eventually found it and the car park just outside the gates. A food place was between the car park and the entrance. My stomach reminded me it had no breakfast. It was 11.16 and as it had opened at 11am I was able to get a couple of cups of coffee and a cheese macaroni dish which had heaps of cheese running off the macaroni and was best eaten with a spoon. It was very tasty. Went over the road and took a photo of one of the ships in the museum. Paid 5.75P to just see Victory. Could have paid more to see all ships but did not have time or inclination. It was 12.05 and the time she offered me for a tour was 14.05. The rest were full. I needed an earlier time and she found some 12.25 tickets. There was a tour at 12.20 which I thought was them calling our tour. So did a lot of others. Eventually got in and an exsailor showed us the ship and told us where Nelson lived and died, how the ship's complement lived and fought. It was an excellent tour. Then took a look at the Nelson Museum and was suitably impressed, and then a quick look at their other museum when I got into it as the entrance was not visible to me. Finally got back to the car and headed for Salisbury. The traffic in the town was crawling along and parking was not obvious so the tall spire which could be seen from miles away did not get a visit. Headed for the rocks at Stonehenge thinking that the traffic could be very bad as a radio report earlier had told of an accident. It sounded horrendous, with paint all over the road. Passed the van with its back bashed in and a little paint splashed on the road but all the holdup had gone. It was raining when I got to the rocks and I drove slowly passed thinking we could see that later. I wanted to see the accommodation at the YHA at Holmbury St. Mary and eventually found it. The chap in charge was not wanting a group for 6 or 7 days, was always full on weekends, and was probably full in April. I took the place off the itinerary. It was good for city kids being adjacent to 4000 acres of woodland but for people wanting to speak English it was 400 yards from the nearest house. It was not 5.30pm and I needed somewhere to stay for the night. That was not to be solved for a couple of hours as I kept getting lost trying to find somewhere with a single room. Stopped behind a traffic policeman in a car who had just pulled over a motorist.
Waited while he talked to his victim and just as I was thinking he would be free soon a succession of cars came to a sudden halt right beside where he was talking to the driver. Probably a car had turned right into the road there or was trying to but I couldn't see. Five cars successfully stopped without hitting the car in front but then one came along who was obviously thinking of other things. He passed me without slowing down. I waited for the crunch. It came after the requisite squealing of brakes. The policeman was going to take even longer. I got out of the car and lit a cigarette.
Only half way through he came towards me and was able to show me where I was on the map and suggest which way I needed to go to get accommodation nearby and then at Heathrow when he found it was my last night. Unfortunately after his friendly assistance I discovered after a short time that I had once again got on the wrong road by making a wrong turn somewhere. Eventually found somewhere near Kew Gardens and had a delicious Italian meal next door. The hotel room is the most expensive since I have been in England but I was desperate and had no choice. The place is not maintained. I just had a shower and ended up standing in a shower full of water as the water was not draining away. I had earlier tried opening the window as the lack of ventilation has given me a headache but it would not budge. The rope on one side was broken and it was painted in. I jammed the room door open. The air coming in was cigarette tainted but options were nil. A cup of coffee was next on the menu. It is now 06.27, I woke up at 04.30 to start this, and I feel that if I stay awake I will sleep better on the plane tonight. The kettle insides looked evil green. I washed it out twice and then boiled it and emptied it and rinsed it again before boiling it to use. The coffee I have made is my normal Nescafe they have in the room but the taste is a good reason for recording this as you will know why I died. However breakfast isn't until 08.00 and beggars can't be choosers. The en-suite room has a shower in the corner with a sink attached to it-the water has a problem getting out of this as well. The board at the bottom the shower is obviously chipboard as it has the distinctive swollen appearance of weathered chipboard. Anyone with an ounce of pride in his establishment would have replaced it long ago. There is a small wardrobe in the corner diagonally opposite the shower and a three drawer small cupboard on which the tray with the suspect kettle, one cup and the usual assortment of coffee, sugar, etc. A TV on a small table sits near the wardrobe but I haven't tried it out. The bed is a single, which is what I paid for, which is quite comfortable, or it must be because when I collapsed on it last night for a short rest I went to sleep and only woke up at 04.30. The best bit of the whole room is the bed cover which is a deep rich floral pattern with a linen feel. For 39P which I know is cheap by London standards this room is not good value. The breakfast will have to be good but whatever it is I hope the next hour disappears quickly as I am starving. Driving around the last week I have tended to forget about lunch when I have breakfast and yesterday was different as I left Dover at an early hour as it was the last day and I hoped to get as far as Torquay. This was very optimistic.


SATURDAY

Breakfast was big - the woman who cooked it obviously believed in giving good value, not like the two men who ran the pub. Found where I was on the map from one of them. Just down from Kew Bridge and a five minute walk from the front gate of Kew Gardens. Packed and went to have a look through the Gardens but it was 0900 and they opened at 0930. The Thames was in the next street so went to have a look at it. There were heaps of rowers getting in some practice, so I took a heap of photos of them. Walked along the towpath to the gate along the river. Some joggers went by in both directions. I offered to help one with a few puff puffs but he assured me he didn't need them. He looked as though he did. Paid my 5P to get in and asked where he would nominate as the best things to ensure I saw in the hour I had. Check out at the pub was 1100. Followed the map but February is not the time to visit. When the flowers are out the place must be spectacular but in February there weren't any on the parts I first walked through and the trees without their leaves don't add anything to a floral display. The rhododendron display must be absolutely beautiful when in flower because the plants are huge and over a big area. Would be a lot bigger than in Melbourne. The bamboo shows lots of different types but they all looked the same to me. Took a few short cuts over the grass to save time, making sure to avoid bird turd because there were lots of them around the lake. Only took a couple of photos, one of the first hot house, 150 years old this year, and one of a pagoda which shows the bare trees well. Saw the Japanese garden but was not over inspired. Charged up to the other end looking for the toilet as usual. There was not one on the direct line I needed to take. Looked in at the other hot houses on the route and the orchids were good for London but normal for Thailand. Got to the toilet, got to the main gate, got out, and saw the best display of flowers outside. There were a whole lot of daffodils out in the park at the front of the Gardens. They had made up my room at the pub so as I had twenty minutes I unmade it to use the soap and towel. Finished packing, tried cleaning my wet boots but later when they dried out you would not have known it. Put everything in the car and as I pulled out a taxi driver told me where I could try shopping for the things I still needed to get. As usual I immediately took a wrong turn and ended up in the traffic for the England-Scotland Rugby game. Took a side road and headed away from the traffic. Eventually found Richmond shops which the taxi driver had suggested. Parked at Waitrose (spend 10P and get the first two hours parking free). It turned out to be only a supermarket so I concentrated on light items as my luggage was too heavy already. Different tea bags, chocolate, a small cheese, a four pack of beer, a tin of dog food for the boy's pooch. Came to 15P. It weighed more than I thought so went to put it in the car. Eventually found it and went to buy Ploen some more tops. Wanted stuff that said "Made in England", but after a few shops found an M&S and bought Ploen another one there and bought her sister one. The football shirts for Arsenal were 42.99P at a previous shop. It has been the same in London and out of London, so the boys do not get their football shirts. Had a cup of coffee and a ham and cheese on bread thing which was somewhat heated in the microwave but could have been a bit hotter. OK but could have been OKer. Sat outside and watched the shoppers go by. All descriptions, and as the weather has warmed up enormously in much less clothing than they would have needed a week ago. Told the guy it could have been hotter but OK and was greeted with friendly backchat. Decided to find a park to walk in while I smoked a cigar. A fruitless search. Found a shopping centre for another cup of coffee at the M&S. Took off for a park and ended up on the M4. Went past Heathrow towards Windsor. I had nearly two hours so I charged up the road. Got into traffic clogged Windsor with glimpses of the Castle looking for a parking area with a toilet? Drove out to Old Windsor, drove back to the Castle, drove towards the M4 and diverted to the town there and found a pub where I rushed in, used the toilet and then bought a half and sat at their tables out front and smoked a cigar as they watched the E-S game. A chap across the road told me where the nearest garage was so when I finished most of the cigar, but not the beer, I headed of and found it without getting lost. A woman told me the way to go to the M4 and in no time I was near Heathrow. Saw the sign for rental cars to H4 but did not know that included me. Got to H2 and discovered it did, but as I continued on the signs directed me back to where I should have gone. Others have done it before. Followed a Europcar bus and parked where their returned cars were. Sorted out the paperwork and loaded the stuff from the car in my bags. Gave the beer to the chap who meets you as I was well overweight. Their bus took me to H2 but I was supposed to be at H3. Walked there and checked in. As I picked up my small black case the handle came adrift. Went looking for somewhere to fix it and ended up in a cafe where I could smoke a cigarette, drink a coffee, and find the bits to my handle and use the pocketknife to fix it. After I finished the Sydney chap who had been at Buckingham Palace with his wife and the Americans on the freezing day we watched the Changing of the Guard, came up and had a chat. His daughter was of to New York for 10 days before going back to Australia. He was off to Scotland the next day, but at present that isn't the daunting prospect it was a week ago. Went into departures to the myriad of shops but was overloaded anyway with the small black case, computer bag, and a brown carry bag holding the green back pack, and besides, they were calling for people to board. Wanted to get on board soon to ensure I could stow my bags. Got on and had no trouble, but the plane was very full and late arrivals had to search for space. A Japanese girl beside me had spent five months in London doing English. It had been an expensive time and she had trouble communicating with me. She had not seen anything of the rest of England. I think we must be able to do a better job. Told her how to understand her bosses English by getting him to read the paper with her, like I did with Sa. She had known how to read English before she went to London. Two weeks reading the paper for 20 minutes a day would have saved her the money. Had to rush at Hong Kong because of the tight time and the plane was late. On board they had already told me the gate number. Rushed down to gate 3, which was a km or more away. Jumper and jacket so got hot. Onto the plane. A Frenchman in front was typical as I tried to get to my seat to take off some clothes. At Bangkok took a long time waiting in the queue to get through passport control, and then no bag. Expected as much and had my information ready for the chap at baggage. Could not get Ploen on the phone. Got to the room, turned on the computer, and the battery needed charging, set it up and turned it off as I needed to sleep. Had a shower and was sound asleep when Ploen had the sense to ring at 22.30. Woke me up. Had a bit of a headache, probably from no coffee, but that was not on, so ate some of the bread I had bought. Went back to bed and woke up at 0730 feeling OK.


And after all that -

the English Language school I went to London to prepare the itinerary for had agreed with my assessment of their original tour proposal with another company and had changed to a format more in line with my comments with someone else while I was in England.BACK