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it’s surprising he came with us at all

Thursday, November 5th, 2009

Krakow, Poland

“We should take a picture for Grandpa!”
”And one of the sticker too”
”I know! Why don’t you put it on your ear?!”

It all started in Mongolia. We stayed in gers, and gers are not renowned for having very high doorways. Even though he cognitively knew this, poor ol’ Grandpa would knock his head almost every time he came out of his ger, something you do fairly frequently due to the fact that there is not a lot to do inside one of those tents other than keep the fire stoked. Unfortunately for Grandpa, he does not have the protective covering on his head, called hair, and in its place ended up with both a large lump (making him effectively taller than usual and so even more prone to knocking his noggin) and a nasty graze, that turned the stomachs of anyone, who saw it uncovered. Whenever Martin, the big burly ranch owner, saw Grandpa, he called out “Duck duck rubber duck!” – but deep down I’m sure he respected the almost-eighty-year-old man for actually managing to swing himself up on a horse. More than once.

(I *could* insert a picture here as proof of the horse mounting, but it ain’t all that elegant)

That was the beginning. After that, any surface that *could* be used to graze the head, was. Bunks on trains. A suitcase lid. A kitchen bench.
Then there was the motorhome. Again, there was a slightly lower than usual doorway. Donk. And there was a bed in the canopy, which was at just the right height for knocking your head on as you went from the living area through to the cab. Donk donk.
Grandpa looked like he would not be scarred for life, but permanently grazed.

There was not too much to be done about the doorway, but the alcove donking-ground lent itself to some solutions by kind-hearted grandchildren. First of all a piece of foam was fastened to the fairly sharp edge. But it didn’t last. Neither did it work – graze number who-knows-what was scraped in spite of the foam.
Next the kids studiously coloured a danger warning strip black and yellow. Failed.
Daughter-in-law found a pinecone and hung that, embellished with some heather to make it look like an intentional decoration, a bit lower than the edge. It got knocked about a lot, but at least it didn’t leave a graze. No-one knows where it disappeared to or when, but one day Grandpa found himself grazed again.

In desperation he went to Canada, where he was certain he would be immune from such experiences. Turns out it wasn’t to be, but the funniest episode of all happened en route.
In an email Grandpa described the scene succinctly, never one to exaggerate:
“BTW I munted my cell phone – cracked the screen so I have to look for a new one tomorrow.”
Rob’s sister, who was travelling with him, filled in the hilarious details:

You’ll laugh when you hear how he damaged his phone.  We were walking around town taking  photos and had found a quaint medieval street called The Shambles.  The buildings lean over the street toward each other and Dad leant up against a building to get a better angle when he was clonked by a large sign that fell off the wall as he leaned against it.  He quickly stopped it from falling onto the ground and hooked it back up though it was a precarious hold.  He then leant against the same wall to get the same photo as he had been unable to previously and the sign not only fell off the wall it clonked him on the head and fell to the ground.  I turned around just as he was picking it up and putting it back up for the second time!!  As he did a bit of a shuffle when he got clonked he must have leaned against the wall and the hire car key must have pressed hard up against the screen of the phone which broke the LCD display.  It looks like a picture of a shattered window!! 🙁 

After two weeks Grandpa returned to us, still grazed.
More of the same (and we visited some cool castles and mountains).
But in the end he went home! Where he fell off his bike three times in a month, his account of which brought much laughter to our hostel room across the other side of the world.

And so when we were at the Wieliczka salt mine with its reasonably frequent red and white danger stripes on low ceilings and some without any warning whatsoever, our thoughts did not have to move far to turn to Grandpa. He’d have loved it!

But what about the sticker?
That story goes back even further.
In 2001, we were in Malaysia for a family wedding.
We also went to a butterfly park, where we were issued with a little tag on a rubber band for attaching to our cameras to prove we had paid the camera fee. Grandpa had missed that part of the entrance instructions, and so when Rob told him he had to hang it over his ear, he did. Unquestioningly. We saw a good many butterflies, scorpions, lizards and other miscellaneous wildlife samples before he realised he was the source of our out-of-proportion enjoyment at this particular attraction!
We had almost as much fun with the Wieliczka sticker – aren’t memories grand?

Now you know.

from wet-n-windy to windermere

Saturday, July 18th, 2009

by Rach
somewhere in The Lake District, England

“No need to go any further, chaps, let’s build ourselves a wall right here,” declared Hadrian one wet and windy day. No history book will tell you this, but I reckon he had wandered up a bit further north and encountered the same “severe storm” that we suffered through. For two complete days we were blanketed in grey on grey, rain deluging unrelentlessly. Hadrian must have realised the futility of pressing on further north, and we did too. We awoke in a massive puddle having spent two nights being buffeted about so strongly that Tgirl5 had spontaneously had an audible word with the Almighty, “Thank you for this wild weather, God, but please don’t let our vans blow over.”


After a morning playing “spot the tourists” in Lindisfarne (where the priory was closed due to flooding!!), we sat in the still-pouring rain for a family conference.
Scotland or Wales? London or Greece? Windermere or Edinburgh? Warwick Castle or Windermere? “Oh no, don’t make us choose between THOSE two, that’s too hard!”
Greece was voted for in favour of London on the assumption that we are more likely to return to Heathrow than Athens. Not being able to get to Coll, and the fact that the weather forecast was for rain for as long as Met Service could predict, we decided to skip Scotland altogether…maybe another time. (It’s not that we are scared of rain – it’s just that trying to get gear dry in a  confined space with 90% humidity is a nightmare…as it is, we made the kids wear shorts so their trousers wouldn’t get wet today – harden up, it might be only eleven degrees and blowing a gale and at home yes we would call this winter, but we can’t afford to get too wet!!)

So all that remained was for the tide to back out so we could return to the mainland and head for Windermere. At least we had got across and had a rainy look round the village…oh yes, that’s where the spot the tourist game happened. Tourists are the ones wearing rain jackets and sandals. Locals wear full oilskins and high gumboots.
We had also retreated into the Priory Museum, another fantastic hands-on establishment with beautiful artwork adorning the walls, displays creatively presented and lots of information to absorb.


We had visited the church where people have prayed for 1300 years. This is the spot from which England was reached for Christ, where the first missionaries set out from…and where people are still pilgrimaging to today. In fact, the Pilgrims’ Way across the causeway is marked by tall wooden poles to guide the way (when the tide is low, of course).


We had viewed the castle from a distance (two castles actually from our vantage point), we had walked down to the beach, we had read tombstones (a two and a half year old daughter dead, a lady who lost a five year old, and then three children aged 19 to twenty-something and then her husband, and finally in the same year, her only remaining 31 year old son – what heartache).


We had experienced the elements and marvelled at their effect on the priory columns (we couldn’t go IN, but Rob got some good shots all the same), we had admired the beautiful colour of the stone; indeed, we had had a full morning in spite of the rain.

But now being mid-afternoon, we set the GPS for Fastest Route and soon found ourselves driving familiar roads, roads we had already traversed, right down to Hadrian’s Wall. As the rain continued to bucket down we commended the general’s decision to not take on the far north!

About “bedtime” ( a very loose term meaning 7pm for the littlies, but with no sign of bed in sight) the sun came out, we climbed a farm-covered hill and pulled in to a lay-by with an awesome view…time for dinner (ten people fed in ten minutes for six pounds forty pence – thanks Sainsbury’s, where we had stopped a little earlier – one roast chicken, 24 pita breads and a kilo of coleslaw, followed by chocolate log..…mmmmm)


This small climb proved to be the beginning of a greater one, right up to 1903 feet. Without the stone walls, the mainly bare hills would have looked most Mongolian. On reaching the summit we were treated to a marvellous view. Spread before us was a patchwork quilt of varying shades of green, brown and golden fields, stitched with lines of dark green trees, stretching as far as the eye could see.
We ooh-ed and aah-ed our way down, winding back and forth across the face of the hillside. Parking spots abounded, the sun was gathering a golden hue, but we resolved to press on towards the Lake District, the raw beauty we had just seen filling conversation for quite some time and distance.


Around the first lake there were plenty of lay-bys, and we pulled in to them all. We pulled out again after reading the “no overnight occupation of vehicle” signs. The authorities had missed one such spot (or perhaps, more likely, some hooligans had removed the sign), and so we accepted the invitation to remain Right Next To the lake. We hadn’t quite made Windermere, but given the late start, the driving conditions, the shopping stop, the fuelling stop and the water-filling stop, we had done well to get so close.

Waves are gently lapping on the shore beside us. We hope they stay further away than the puddle we woke up in this morning!

Time on the road: need to check Jboy13’s record!
Distance covered: 225km


Thursday, July 16th, 2009
by a ranting member of the lunatic fringe Lindisfarne, England According to newly-released statistics, New Zealand is almost leading the world in obesity statistics (apparently currently coming in third). I wonder if we would have noticed England’s obesity if we had ... [Continue reading this entry]

simple precious mama moments

Friday, July 3rd, 2009
by Mama Stratford-Upon-Avon, England At home she was Mama’s girl. Within weeks of being on the road she was Dadda’s girl, and far more fiercely so than she had ever been attached to me. This special fondness for Dadda was initially ... [Continue reading this entry]

project intentional community

Friday, May 8th, 2009
by a community-minded spirit Berlin, Germany We have stayed in a few intentional communities (and more are coming up in the future) – everything from a group of friends living together “half family half commune” to the website-toting mission-statemented Permanent ... [Continue reading this entry]


Thursday, April 23rd, 2009
the day we travelled from Moscow to St Petersburg on a day train instead of sleeper so we could see the countryside – guess what – pine trees and silver birches!   “Won’t you be lonely travelling for a year?” someone ... [Continue reading this entry]

The Sixteen Second Snowman

Tuesday, April 21st, 2009
by Rachael Day 4 on Train 5, ending up in Moscow Our compartment is still pitch black when Mboy6 stirs for the toilet. As he cracks the door open light streams in and I catch a snatch out the corridor window ... [Continue reading this entry]


Saturday, April 18th, 2009
by Rach Train 5 (day 1), from Mongolia to Russia Were they looking for salamis or what? Three times they unscrewed and removed the ceiling outside our compartment to check the revealed space, which would have been lucky to conceal ... [Continue reading this entry]

Trans-Salami Express

Friday, April 17th, 2009
by the lady who wants to learn to make sausage one day Train 5 Dharkan (night 1), Mongolia to the Ruskie border We haven’t even made it to the Russian border, in fact, we’ve only just boarded the train at Darkhan, ... [Continue reading this entry]

a long tradition

Thursday, April 16th, 2009
sorry this is incomplete – with the strains of “if it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing properly” ringing in my ears, I publish this unproper piece! We’ll get back to it some not-so-busy-catch-up-y day. Orkhon, Mongolia Modern day Mongolians, even urban ... [Continue reading this entry]