How’s that for an inspirational title?
We have been home a week, and the blog has not had a look-in. The van battery had been recharged, the garden weeded and ready for spring planting, the summer clothes are organised, a photobook has been compiled (priorities, you know!), a few walks have been undertaken…..now to finish off this journey in blogland. For the sake of ease, I am going to type directly from my journal, which was written in a state of stupour on various trains and aeroplanes, but I will save you the agony of reading my theological thoughts about goings-on in Westminster Abbey and leave them in my paper journal!
Because we had turned the boat at the winding hole yesterday and moored at the wharf overnight we were able to have a relaxed start to the day. On waking everyone greeted each other with with cries of, “Only eighty hours til we’re back in bed!” Is it romantic optimisn that hopes everyone will do OK? I don’t expect complete absence of tears or grumpy faces or even exhausted exasperation, but if it can be contained to a low-grade stress level, I will be one happy Mama.
My hopes will be raised later on the bus when Mboy10 will tell us that he has a strategy for not getting too tired and grumpy; when he feels his eyes start closing “like this” (you gotta see his expression – one of dopey resignation with eyelids drooping downwards), he will turn off the movie or game and let himself fall asleep. Not a bad strategy if he manages to employ it. Sleeping BEFORE complete exhaustion would be even better and we may well suggest it, but it is encouraging to see his intention to self-regulate his behaviour wisely.
We will also be impressed at the way everyone takes our advice on the plane with regards to water. They will all prove to be very responsible with staying hydrated, limiting juice intake and almost totally restricting fizzy (only a couple slipped through the gaps on that score).
But first there’s the last day.
We check out of boat, miss the train from Aldermaston by two minutes (the place must be jinxed!), wait an hour and head towards Reading on the next one. We don’t even try to make the connection to London! Not because we thought we’d fail (again), but because we’d decided to take the short stroll up the high street (actually called Broad Street) to get foodie provisions. Old and new stand side by side, in fact new seems to squeeze inside the old. Buildings are old with modern interiors and signage. Broad Street is a wide (broad?) pedestrian precinct lined with shops….take an escalator up from teh street and you find yourself surprisingly in a large open mall. Thankfully for us it provided some seats ot perch on to eat our last lunch in shelter from the unforecast but persistent drizzle.
Arriving back in London at Paddingtom Station, the first priority was to find the statue of Paddington Bear! It was smaller than most of us had expected, but satisfying to see and touch nonetheless, especially for the Short People, who are delighted by his antics.
We had entertained thoughts of going to Covent Garden to eat, but our packs were heavy (with chocolate and Marmite!) and quite frankly it seemed too far to be worth it! Instead we took the direct route across Hyde Park (cue squirrels and more threatening drizzle) towards the coach station we would leave from later. Having scouted out a place for dinner, the young souvenir-hunters took an age to decide on their London purchase, and we raced to Westminster Abbey for evensong.
My oh my, what a building. It soars majestically up to the heavens. The stained glass windowns hold your eyes captive. The hundreds-of-years-old memorials to dear departed ones engage your emotions. The flagstones underfoot are worn smooth. You notice Wilberforce, Isaac Newton, William Pitt, Faraday – and that’s just the beginning. We cannot “sightsee” as we are there for a “service only”, but there is plenty of opportunity to soak up much as we walk up the side aisle to be seated, as we sit listening, as we walk still-awed out again afterwards. The service was similar in many respects to the one at St Pauls – choir, prayers, readings, lessons, pomp and circumstance. Yet it was different too. Sadly there were no hymns for congregational singing, it was shorter, the organ was not played as impressively.
From where we were sitting we could not see the choirboys, but we had seen them file out after their pre-service practice, all dressed in red robes with white ruffled collars. I couldn’t help, but think of a poem I had read about them (and now cannot lay my hands on – anyone know it? first stanza about an angel in the choirstall, second stanza about a ragamuffin slipping out the back door – both about the same boy), and I wondered what out-of-abbey life consists of for each of them.
It was a fitting way to end our time (note to self: refrain from typing out pages of questioning treatise and move on to dinner)….maybe not quite “end”, we still have to linger over a pizza-pasta-salad buffet before checking in at Victoria Coach Station late at night, where the attendant was incredibly friendly and went out of her way to speak to the driver to ensure we boarded the bus first. She even physically restrained someone else who tried to sneak in before us! While embarrassed at the singling out, with such a long haul ahead, we were grateful for the privilege and claimed seats all together at the very front of the high bus, which had the added advantage of plenty of legroom. Although there would be an hour’s break at border control at some undisclosed hour after midnight (including removing packs from bus and having them x-rayed), and then the semi-excitement of going through the Chaneel Tunnel, everyone did *some* dozing, and some got a decent one.
It’s interesting how the mind plays tricks on you.
After a week on the boat (in spite of the rolling not being significant and in spite of getting off to walk every day) some of us ended up with a drunkard loll around London with the pavenment swaying all over the place. That much we had expected.
What we did not expect was to drift off to sleep on the bus, wake with a start and see the canal ahead with a set of lock gates. I immediately reached down to the floor to put my shoes on quickly so that I would be ready to jump off and work the gate. My shoes were done up before I realised I was on a bus and the canal was actually a rain-soaked motorway – the lock was the back of a truck in the distance.
A couple of hours later Jboy16 would wake and see two gates straight ahead and also think they were lock gates. And Grandpa would confess he’d had a similar experience in the night – but instead of boats passing us on the water, they turned out to be cars. FatherBear still insists he saw many canals!
Thursday 16 October
6am we arrive at Charles de Gaulle Airport. There’s half an hour of excitement as the bus gets stuck at the bottom of a ramp, another bus wedged in behind and and a long string of impatient honking taxis all the way up the ramp to the main road. We are facing two gates (the ones Jboy16 thought were lock gates!), anda cherry picker parked in the way is preventing our passage. Eventually both busses end up reversing the length of the ramp and finding a different route!
CDG is a huge sprawling airport and so we took a shuttle to the right terminal….where…somewhat amazingly we alighted outside the very desk we would have to check in at; we could ended up at any of fifty counters stretched down the elongated hall.
Organic blueberry yoghurt with a hint of lime, nutty muesli and fair trade bananas made a delicious wake-up breakfast before needing to check in. (I remembered how the kids had objected to washing our bowls in the toilets when we left NZ on the first trip…..now they think nothing of it).
Kgirl13 was clearly tired at this point and looked with little interest on FatherBear’s equally tired and silly antics! At least everyone else was still smiling, and FatherBear *really* was.
I wonder why there are so many posters of the Eiffel Tower in the duty free shops we tramp past and realise we are in Paris, not London! Evidently I’m a bit tired too.
We had thought there might not be much sleeping on the first eleven hour leg to Los Angeles as it was a daytime journey, but everyone managed to doze or sleep enough to keep spirits high. (In retrospect, we would have encouraged everyone to really try to sleep instead of movie-watch this leg, but hindsight is a wonderful thing is it not? With two seats each we should have made better use of them, especially as the following two planes would turn out to be completely full.)
With about three hours to go ERgirl6 started asking somewhat persistently when dinner would be. On reflection, we realised her internal body clock was telling her it was well past bedtime and she ought to have eaten by now! However, it’s not like there had been no food – after the hot lunch there had been a constant supply of focaccia sandwiches, snack bags and macaroons available for the taking, along with neverending beverages. All the same, it was a beaming delighted little girl who came back from a walk with one of the flight attendants – she’d been taken to the business class galley and given two enormous plates of dessert. I must say the passionfruit cheesecake with a layer of choclate in the base was very very good!
And then……the turbulence started. And went on. And on. And on. And got worse. And went on some more.
“When we get over these mountains it should pass.”
“When we get past the thermals above the desert it should pass.”
“When we get over these mountains it should be better.”
We were right the last time – there was nowhere else to go as we were at LAX! A number of our party (and not only kids) felt sick. Tgirl8 couldn’t even touch her meal that arrived in the midst of it all. ERgirl6′s drink spilt with one of the more violent turns. I lost my footing in the toilet and stumbled back to my seat holding on to others’ seats as I went. A bit more excitement than anyone wanted and it did not serve to make time go faster! Finally we touched down in LA and breathed a collective sigh of relief. Everyone else transferring to Tahiti was due to leave in just a few hours and they were herded through to the windowless dingy transit lounge. We had been squeezed on a different flight and could not bear the thought of sitting in that room for nine hours and so we went through the process of customs, collecting bags, transferring them on, changing some money….and we headed to Santa Monica Beach.
Zombie-like we wandered. Tgirl8, Mboy10 and Lboy11 had fallen asleep on the bus, and now they were not interested in the beach at all (although the fresh air was pleasant).
“Oh look at the sea, it’s so far away across the sand, let’s lie down here on the grass.” And they did.
The others wandered down to the pier, which was strongly reminiscent of Brighton – roller coaster, big swings, merrry-go-round (none of which were attractive to our still-turbulent tummies), and lots of people strolling.
It was an interesting assortment of folks. A drunk guy looking for a light for his cigarette ended up stealing another man’s fag. A man was pushing a tandem. There were groups of young people hanging out. Families. Homeless. Fat people. Skinny people. Black. Tanned. An old lady with a cane. Runners. Walkers. A lady tottering in six inch high heels. And on the corner were three guys with a snake and three parrots (one each of red, white and blue). I’m not quite sure what they were up to. They didn’t do a show or anything, but did talk amongst themselves loudly with a colourful and very limited vocabulary.
The sun, an orange ball, sank down to the sea. It was a deep sunset, a beauty that I was aware we were not really appreciating.
Then back on the bus to the airport ERgirl6 lost the plot. She whined and kicked and pushed and argued for the entire trip and then settled completely upon our arrival (thank goodness). Then it was Mboy10′s turn to refuse to do what he was told to (which very unreasonably of us was to tell him to sit down for a rest!) He went through the security checks with a face like thunder. (Speaking of security checks….ERgirl6 and Kboy15 were both chosen by the beeping twinkling machine for random drug tests, and when Tgirl8 presented a cast, she too was taken off for testing!) We still had a couple of hours until boarding and so everyone lay down on seats or on the floor and SLEPT.
Jgirl18 suffered from her usual exhaustion response – crying out and sobbing inconsolably as she failed to be able to wake herself from a bad dream (strangely enough this one was being in a canalboat that was sinking and she could not get out – she was quite distraught). Apparently. I didn’t notice as she was a) across the other side of the departure lounge and b) my spot on the floor was confortable enough to allow sleep to overtake me completely for the first time.
Kids staggered to their seats on the plane and the ParentBears took control. No movies or games or anything for at least five hours. They could eat the meal, but apart from that they ought to try to sleep.
I was the only one still awake for the midnight takeoff! Tgirl8 did not get to her first meal until half an hour before the second one arrived!
Given that we had been on the go for over fifty hours before any significant meltdown occurred, I think they’d all done really well.
Wednesday 17 October
It could have been a disaster. ERgirl6 was sleeping very uncomfortably with her head falling into the aisle and being knocked by passers-by. I knew she would not last long in that position, and if she did, she’d wake feeling very sore. So I made the executive decision to swap seats with her so she could lean against me. Well, when you wake a hibernating bear (because, of course, she did wake despite my best efforts to move her slowly and unobtrusively), don’t expect a pretty sight. She kicked the seat in front half a dozen times and my heart sank. When we had arrived at the airport after her bus trip antics, I had sat outside with her until she settled. I could hardly take her outside now. Lacking a guarantee that it would work, but with very limited options available at 36,000 feet, I did up her seatbelt, told her to sit still, gave her permission to stay awake (but not move or disturb anyone else – the rest of the plane was sleeping) and ignored her. She fell asleep, spread over me and stayed that way for five hours. Whenever I was tempted to wish I could get comfortable I considered how she could be awake and making a scene. Any contemplations of slaking my thirst were quenched when I thought of the performance that might ensue. When she woke there were just three more hours to endure.
At this point the journal scratchings peter out. I don’t remember when we arrived in Papeete….yes, it must have been dawn as it was still darkish. I lay down and went to sleep, dreaming inevitably perhaps that I was on a swaying canalboat. Evidently FatherBear managed to have a shower. It appears the latter served as better refreshement than the former!
My journal records the barest of details:
Thursday 18 October
We leave Papeete on Wednesday, but it is already Thursday in New Zealand. We’ll be crossing the International Dateline and losing a day.
(Actually I went on to record six pages of post-trip(almost) reflections ranging from whether I’d do it like this again, long distance walking, canalboating versus motorhoming and camino thoughts.) But this post is already long enough.
All that is required now is to say that after a delightfully short five final hours hours on the plane we arrived early afternoon on Thursday, kind friends picked us up from the airport, we got home and started churning through the mountains of washing, and managed to stay up until……OK so we didn’t make it to anywhere near bedtime as we had intended – the youngest kids were asleep by 6 and the last of us tumbled into sweet bed at not quite 7pm. The next few nights would get later by only a small increment each time, we would wake at 4:30 but refuse to get out of bed….and then suddenly after a week, we’d find ourselves adjusted. We’re just glad it was much quicker going the other way and we were not struggling for our entire time in Paris!