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Saved by the Cat

Thursday, December 30th, 2004

Our mates are OK!

John e-mailed them on Monday which I though futile because, although they now have internet access in the house in Negombo, that would be the last place they would be.

But they replied. It turns out that the cat, Gizmo, has a tail infection so S & A stayed at the house over Christmas to administer his medication and mother him. Otherwise they would have gone to a beach resort along the southern or eastern shore and, as S succinctly put it: “we would be dead. —Saved by the cat!”


Sri Lanka: The Situation in the East

Thursday, December 30th, 2004

At last news has begun to trickle through about the situation along Sri Lanka’s East coast—and it looks bad.
[read on]

Killer Tsunamis

Monday, December 27th, 2004

One of the biggest earthquakes ever recorded hit the Indian Ocean on Sunday morning. At 9 am local time, without any warning, Sri Lanka was pounded by a series of Tsunamis.

I am trying to get my head around this, but I can’t. Names and faces keep flashing before my eyes: Trincomalee, Batticaloa, Arugam Bay, Tangalla, Weligama, Mirissa…

The Harbour Master, the people at the ‘French Garden’, the owner of the ‘Arugam Bay Hillton’, Raja, Lalith’s beach hut (at least he should have been on his Christmas break—hopefully!)

The shanty towns on the beaches around Trincomalee, the fishermen in their huts around the villages, the schoolchildren of Muttur.

Our mates are down there now. They should have been in Kandy for Christmas but who knows, maybe they decided to be a bit more adventurous this year. They have arranged to hire a car for a month and maybe decided on Christmas at the beach after I have been raving about the east coast. We don’t know, of course. Over a million people are cut off.

Merry Christmas after all

Sunday, December 26th, 2004

‘Christmas happens, no matter what. —I might as well roll with it.’

These were my thoughts as I placed the last remaining frozen Free Range Norfolk Goose into our shopping trolley. It was the night before Christmas Eve, just enough time to defrost the bird in time for our festive dinner (in keeping with German tradition, we have our meal on Christmas Eve. This has several advantages: More time to prepare the food without getting up at the crack of dawn, a romantic meal by candlelight, the wine and port go down easier and last but not least a lie-in on Christmas day followed by a second leisurely lunch—this time with crackers—of the already prepared smoked trout tart, goose with blueberry and apricot stuffing, roasted root vegetables and spiced cabbage.)

And so it came to pass that among the unpacked boxes and upended furniture that crowded our new flat we had Christmas, nonwithstanding a brief mishap to do with cooking a large goose in a tiny oven. At the end of a late lunch, we sat back with a contented sigh. Time to venture out.

In England, pubs tend to shut on Christmas Day—that is unless your mates run the pub.

“How did you get in?” Topper called out from behind the bar as John shut the back door behind him: “Alright, come on through. —But shut the bloody door!”

Gradually the pub filled up with a few more select mates. A bottle of Talisker we’d brought for Topper was opened, as was the box of chocolate we’d brought for the barstaff.

As the evening drew into night, we hit the liqueurs, ‘Love Actually’ dripped saccharine-sweet from the big screen and John stuffed his face with leftover chocolate pudding, courtesy of the chef. Surreal or what?

After the movie had finished and long after the others had left, John beat an increasingly drunk Topper at pool (not a big feat after half a bottle of whisky, but John likes to boast about it) and we played a selection of favourite tunes on the jukebox. I can’t remember what time it was when we finally staggered back across a frosty landscape which glittered silvery under the light of a full moon.

I think I’ll feel at home in Tadley…

Tadley’s National Dish

Thursday, December 23rd, 2004

The Tadley Butty
1 large plate of chunky chips; 4 slices of buttered soft white bread; good handfull of sauce sachets

Liberally drizzle the chips with ketchup and brown sauce. Line them up on a buttered slice. Roll the bread top to bottom to resemble a hot dog roll (this only works if you give it a good squeeze so don’t be too liberal with the sauce). Enjoy with a pint of Best or a mug of tea (although the local youth prefer alcopops); but careful, the chips should be hot.

Wonderful—soft bread followed by a tiny crunch as I sink my teeth into the chips, then the steaming hot fluffy centre and the tang of sauce. Mmmmmh.

After a succession of dire motorway services, walking into the pub in Tadley felt like coming back to life: Oasis on the jukebox, Footy on the big screen and the lights twinkling on the Christmas tree. —We had arrived in our new home.

Backpacking with a Removal Van (1)

Sunday, December 19th, 2004

I would never have guessed that moving house at Christmas time would feel just like backpacking.

The chaos, the spontaneity, not knowing where you spend the night or where your next destination will be—it’s all there. Even down to the food poisoning.

True, the choice of destination is restricted to a toss-up whether we’ll spend Christmas in Borth or Tadley and the food poisoning is due to a seasonal bout of gastric flu, rather than exotic bugs. And where we’ll spend the night is determined by when we finally finish packing and loading the van and whether we’ll be snowed in on the way. But still—it feels much the same as being on the road. Without the sun and the scenery, but thankfully also without the touts.

This move is definitely something worth chronicling over the next few days, but because we don’t have internet in the flat yet it may have to wait a bit. In the meantime: Happy holidays! And you Bootsnall party people: I hope you had a great time and recover quickly from your hangovers—there is more to come!


A new Kid on the Blog

Friday, December 17th, 2004

I have started a new blog. Because it has nothing to do with travel (except perhaps ‘inner travel’) it cannot be a part of this one. In fact it is about a completely separate project: a factual book I am writing about having a nervous breakdown :} —and having the piss taken out of you as a consequence of that :{
[read on]

Portugal Pictures (link)

Tuesday, December 14th, 2004

I’ve posted a few pictures here:

—The Bootsnall photoalbums are a nicer format and it was easier than uploading the pictures on this blog, but I will use some to illustrate future entries of which there are a few yet to come. On damp, dark winter afternoons, I will look at my notes and, if I can decipher them, tell more tales from Portugal.

On a personal side: we are still living in suspension. John is staying at the Treacle Mine, a pub where he has regular lock-ins with the owner. I have packed most of our belongings into boxes, thirty of them, and we are both waiting to hear if we have a new flat. The letting agents are currently credit-checking us (which, in my case, is a bad idea!) and have come across the first hurdle: our current address does not exist (it is not on the Royal Mail database!). Next they want to check whether I am a ‘valid person’. I probably don’t exist, either.

This will be a merry-go-round Christmas!

Blogger’s Block

Sunday, December 5th, 2004

I’ve got Blogger’s Block.

The stress of the imminent move is getting to me. We have not yet found a flat—or rather we have but the landlady is away so we don’t know if we’ll get it (and it is the only civilized place in the area, even though it is 100 above budget)—and my landlords have already announced they found someone to view the Stirling flat.
[read on]

Images from the End of the World

Wednesday, December 1st, 2004

Here, along with the text of a previous entry, are some photographs of Sagres .

Sarges was once considered to be the End of the World. Here, the seemingly endless ocean thunders into sheer cliffs over 100 feet high.

Sagres lighthouse.jpg

Across the bay at the Cabo de São Vincente, the Romans thought that the sun would sink hissing into the sea at the end of each day.


But Sarges was also the beginning of the age of exploration.

Henry the Navigator Prince set up residence here in the fifteenth century and founded the world’s first nautical academy. Magellan and Vasco da Gama went to school here, as did Bartolomeu Dias who discovered the seaway to the Indian Ocean in 1488.

The surviving north wall of the once mighty Fortaleza high on a clifftop dominates the scenery.

Sagres fort.jpg

It is a pity then that the fort itself should be up for a special award for worst developed historical site, if there was such a thing. The ancient walls are obscured by a coat of ugly concrete in dire need of a coat of paint and more concrete buildings are found inside. Only a few remnants of the once seminal school of navigation remain scattered on the site. Still the imposing walls of the fort offer some startling views:

Sagres fort 2.jpg

Sagres fort 3.jpg

Sagres fort 4.jpg

A cobbled path leads around the windswept, rugged clifftop to a modern lighthouse at the tip.

Sagres plain.jpg

Fifteenth century cannons still face menacingly out to sea.

Below the fort, surfers play in the waves. The beach, a bay of golden sand surrounded by spectacular jagged cliffs, is deserted as everybody is in the water.

I go down to sit on a rock and watch the sun fizzle into the ocean beyond the rim of the world. If I had a board, I would be back tomorrow.