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  • Day38

    The Return Journey

    October 3 in Australia ⋅ ⛅ 11 °C

    Return journeys are funny things. Some people can't wait to get home, while others don't want to go back at all. Me? A little ambivalent. Part of me wants to keep on going. Part of me wants to returm home. It's been such an intense 38 days that it is somewhat challenging to just stop all of a sudden. My brain is still on go.

    We are doing pretty well especially given that we've just completed a 22 hour flight and are now doing a 3 hour train trip from Sydney. We need to be home to receive some deliveries tomorrow otherwise we would have stayed over night in Sydney and slept. As it is, we'll have a post 1am arrival in Newcastle. But it is what it is. Travelling has its challenges as only travellers will fully undertand. There are lots of times where aceptance of a situation is your only way through and your only link to sanity.

    Actually, our flight went better than what I thought it would. Definitely better than the same flight over to the UK. I am wondering whether the difference is that we flew out out of London in the later morning and so had many hours of daylight to fly in before getting tired and hunkering down later in the night. Whereas we flew out of Sydney a month ago in the late afternoon just before sunset, into the dark, but full of adrenalin.

    Personally, apart from Typhoid Mary sittiing across the aisle from me who coughed from London to Singapore and would not wear a mask, my flight was pretty good, as far as you can call long-haul flights good. I spent the time reading a whole book, Travels with Epicurus - Meditations from a Greek Island on the Pleasures of Old Age by Daniel Klein, watching the remaining six episodes of The Gilded Age starring Christine Baranski and Cynthia Nixon, a catty gossipy 1850s New York high society story in dresses, bonnets, parlours and balls, eating and sleeping, or more properly called when flying, napping.

    I now have aches and pains in my body in places that I did not know existed. We are both pooped physically, but emotionally, we're in a good place, happy that we have undertaken this odyssey, having talked a lot about us during its course, laughed a lot, and looked out for each other every day.

    I am sitting on the train now as I write this last footprint. It still feels a bit weird, a bit foreign to be back here, but that will melt away pretty quickly I think and in the meantime, I can look forward to us sleeping in our own bed, having our own shower and bath back again, having tasted of the delights of world travel in an adventure that neither of us will ever forget. At the end of a very long day, it is good to be going home.
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    Traveler

    Welcome home

    10/3/22Reply
     
  • Day38

    Limping to the finish line

    October 3 in Australia ⋅ ⛅ 14 °C

    After our QANTAS flight was delayed for a whole day (due to, and I quote "a rotational issue downline", our train to Newcastle has also been redirected from Central to Strathfield at 10pm on a public holiday evening due to "operational issues." Stu and I are in an immaculate mood considering we have just done 22.5 hours of travel stretched over 40 hours of calendrical time. We did at least get through customs and security breezily. And the Heathrow Hilton was gorgeously deluxe.

    I was in a good mood and okay health for most of the flights. Maybe I am really starting to develop as a person.

    Maybe it was the codeine, atenolol, ibuprofen and pseudoephedrine. Who can say?

    I watched a Michael Bay dumbfest called "Ambulance" and ate a Margarita Calzone on the plane. I liked the name so much, I toyed briefly with making that my drag name. Apart from that it was naps, self pity, dissociation, and watching the screen of the woman in front of me watching "Seven Years in Tibet."

    Home in a few hours. Everything now is pure logistics, without a shred of sentimentality.
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  • Day36

    Goodbye London

    October 1 in England ⋅ ⛅ 16 °C

    Today has been a funny day. it was a day we did not expect. Due to strike action, we can not get a Tube out to Heathrow and so have booked an Uber driver, Gabor, to take us out there at 3.30pm. We've got a night at the Hilton and will have to be at Terminal 3 tomorrow morning about 5ish.

    So, today was a take it easy day. Not too much energy. Check out of the hotel at midday, ask them to look after our bags until 3.30 when Gabor arrives.

    In the morning, it was out for a proper brekky, which frankly, surprised us both. Mostly, we've just been having coffee and a plain croissant, or Chris, a pain au chocolat. But today, we wanted eggs. We walked a bit trying to find something nice, aside from the franchises, and eventually happened upon Dolci, a small affair, run by hot baristas and a wonderfully personable female waiter, and whose internal wall is covered in blooms with some neon signs. We both had eggs how we like them, mine, I must say, was an objet d'art, the way it looked in its rasberry-coloured bearnaise sauce. The coffees, probably the best we've had in the UK. So, thank you Dolci, Earl's Court Road.

    After brekky, a stroll though Holland Park. Lots of people enjoying themselves, either walking, riding, chatting, sitting or playing sport out on the field. Back to the Hotel to have a nap, which surprisingly, we both fell into immediately. I think it shows how tired we are.

    Then, after checkout, a Tube to Victoria Station where we had chips and a beer and watched the people below in their hundreds navigate the train system in the middle of the strike action.

    Then back to the Hotel where Gabor picked us up and drove us through a nasty traffic snarl that added on at least twenty minutes to the journey. We tipped him of course. Stupidly, I allowed my phone to slip from my leg onto the floor and Gabor drove off with it. After contacting him via the Uber app, he had to navigate the traffic and dropped it back to me out the front of the Hotel. He didn't want to take it, but I tipped him a second time.

    So here we are. In the Hilton Hotel at Heathrow, sitting in their bar, having a beer, awaiting some food, and processing that this trip is now all over.

    A few things for those interested. I had always put off coming to Europe in my 30s because I was then still single, not out, lonely and had always thought that when the time came, I would come here with someone special rather than doing it by myself. In this trip, that set of thoughts and the rationale behind them has come true and become real. Chris is with me, we have seen places and had experiences that we never dreamed possible for us, and we're still talking. Actually, Chris and I travel very well together. As in life, so on holiday.

    Some miscellaneous thoughts:
    * the arrows on the road pointing back to the other side seem to me to be pretty useless or ignored;
    * crossing large intersections in the car, there are no lane markings as you go around, so it's a bit of a free for all;
    * I still haven't worked out where to walk having tried the left and the right to no apparent joy;
    * people queueing at an intersection waiting for the little green man always go before the green man appears (a sixth sense?);
    * this sceptered isle is full of vaping shops and barbers;
    * kids are vaping as a way to look cool in the way we smoked in my day to look cool;
    * there is still a lot of smoking in the UK and it's pretty easy to cop a lung full just by walking down the street;
    * driving in cities in a rental is not my idea of fun; * driving in Surrey and West Sussex where the roads are narrow and all the locals are cock-sure is not my idea of fun;
    * I've enjoyed local lagers wherever we have gone;
    * the UK is drowning in franchises, not as many indpendent businesses as in Australia;
    * I've never seen so many pubs in my life as in the UK - you only have to look up and there's a pub.

    It's been a big thing for me. I feel very much at home in the UK. In many ways, it feels like coming home. Having grown up on British tv and music, and having the Westminster system of responsible government, this place does not feel foreign to me. Scotland has a wonderful sensibility that I want to see and experience again. Regional cities have their own personalities that are quite apparent. And London. Well, London has an energy that is magical.

    I will never forget this wonderful trip and I hope to relive many of the memories as I re-read this blog in the coming years. And to you who have come along for the ride, I thank you and hope that you enjoyed it.
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    Traveler

    😭💓✈️

    10/1/22Reply
    Traveler

    Absolutely loved hearing about your travels. Just brilliant! G&J

    10/1/22Reply
    Traveler

    Happy that you had a wonderful trip.Look

    10/1/22Reply
    Traveler

    Forward to hearing more details over coffee on your return 😄

    10/1/22Reply
     
  • Day36

    I'm better at hello

    October 1 in England ⋅ ⛅ 16 °C

    Sitting in the Hilton Airport Hotel, having just checked in to our morning flight, and organised a taxi to the Terminal. The afternoon sun is very gentle. I've just been crying in our hotel room, which is fine because everything has been very intense.

    Besides, these tears were nothing compared to the full body sobbing I did in Sydney's airport hotel on the way here. I was really upset then. I was crying because 1. I knew the trip would change me and I was scared of that, plus 2. I couldn't believe that I'd actually made it to a trip after so many months of denial and numbness. I honestly didn't believe it was going to happen. Surely something would prevent it, some drama, some tribulation.

    Anyway, today was a sweet day. I'm getting sick and have a sensitive throat and a few sniffles, so I woke up feeling a little bit spacey. We went to Dolci for breakfast, and I actually ordered eggs instead of just a "pain au chocolate" (that's French for chocolate coated pain, it's very existential). We went home and had a nap for a while before cramming our bags full of the crap we've been lugging around for a month, then going for one last tube ride to Victoria Station for a beer and some people watching. With the industrial action disrupting the train network, there were plenty of people crowding about to watch.

    Home after a too-strong coffee in Kensington... wait, did I say "Home"? I mean back to the Prime London to pick up our luggage, and get an Uber to Heathrow. Today was soft transit.

    I'm sad to be going, but I have to remember that tomorrow's taxi, flight, train ride, and taxi home are going to be adventures in themselves.

    I feel very bonded to Stuart by this whole experience, and when it comes to the idea of coming back, I wouldn't want to come back on my own.

    Life is sweet.
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    Traveler

    Love you babe. It's been a delight. And you remain, as if it could ever change, the love of my life ❤️

    10/1/22Reply
    Traveler

    The best part of travel is people. You were the best part of going to the UK. Better even than Fentiman's Rose Lemonade.

    10/1/22Reply
    Traveler

    Wow!

    10/1/22Reply
     
  • Day35

    The return of the rain

    September 30 in England ⋅ 🌧 14 °C

    Stuart pointed out that it was raining when we arrived, and now it's raining on our last night in London.

    QANTAS got in touch to say that our flight had been delayed. I also noticed that there is industrial action tomorrow and that the Piccadilly line to Heathrow will not be operating. Small inconveniences, and no doubt not the last of the trip. We have booked our stay in an airport hotel, at the Hilton no less, but only because the Aerotel was all sold out.

    I woke up feeling like crap after a bad journey home from Upton Park last night. In fact, I feel like I"m on the brink of a cold, which is also a nice bookend to the trip.

    We caught the tube this morning to the Natural History Museum after hearing from a girl working at Foyle's Bookstore in Bristol that it was "UGH-MAZING". And you know what? It was ugh-mazing, from the very moment the building curved into view. It is preposterously, monstrously, palatially large, and even from the moment you walk in, the very first exhibit is of a Blue Whale skeleton, which is also preposterously large. (In fact, it's the largest creature that has ever existed.)

    Many of the exhibits in the Natural History Museum were interesting, but the building itself was the prime exhibit. Stuart and I walked around with our jaws agape photographing the architecture rather than the suspicious didactics of glass-case taxidermy. Everywhere we looked in that "German Romanesque" building we saw little statues and decorations of animals and plants. There were very few statues - one of Charles Darwin positioned in a provocative placement so that he looked Messianic (I didn't approve) and another of Thomas Huxley with his knuckles clenched ready to fight for acceptance of the theory of evolution. (If only he knew this fight would still be going on!)

    I slouched and trudged and winced through the place, high on painkillers again, and ultimately spent as much time in the cafeteria as I did at the exhibits. Of course I went briefly apeshit in the giftshop. (Stuart: "Why are you buying an Ankylosaurus?" Me: "Because it is my FAVOURITEST DINOSAUR!" Stuart: "You have a favourite?")

    After the Natural History Museum I limped over to the V&A but didn't have the muscular strength to go in. I offered to Stuart that he could have a look through while I went to a cafe, but he was tired too. We tried finding somewhere to eat in Harrod's but it was too posh to endure, so we went to Thunderbird Chicken in Earls Court instead. Beer and chips, food of the Gods I tell you.

    This afternoon was a bath and some KFC. We are ready to go home, I think. The rain is gorgeous. We have had such unexpectedly and such uncharacteristically fine weather, from Surrey to Inverness, that some tears from heaven on the final day seems sweet and apropros.

    We might watch Lord of the Rings tonight before conking out. Off to Heathrow tomorrow.
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    Traveler

    What an incisive description!

    9/30/22Reply
     
  • Day35

    London Coda 3 - Natural History Museum

    September 30 in England ⋅ 🌧 14 °C

    We slept in. It was a good thing. We needed the rest. However, not five minutes up and about, we both received the same message from Qantas that our flight home would be delayed by twelve hours and that we would ultimately fly out of Heathrow not tomorrow evening (Saturday), but Sunday morning at 8.40. Three to four hours at the airport before the flight home immediately meant that we would need to stay a night in the airport hotel. So, off to Cafe Nero at Earl's Court we went to provide coffee and croissants while we organised accommodation. Thank goodness for the internet and smart phones. To complicate things, there will be industrial action starting that day which means that there will be no Tube out to the Heathrow. We would have to Uber it. So, we organised that too.

    That left us with a lovely day ahead to do something new and nice. So, we decided we would go to the Natural History Museum, that extraordinary building in the heart of London built in the 1850s. If the building did not have any exhibits in it, you would still go, just to see the building. It is exquisite in different coloured brick work, tiles, and carved animals adorning every column, every floor piece, every section. There are stone animals everywhere you look. The floor is tiled in the best Roman fashion, the ceilings are painted in the best 'great house' fashion. It is a masterpiece of architecture and true beauty.

    The collection is probably urivalled anywhere in the world. The vast and cavernous grand hall at the entrance has the skeleton of a blue whale hanging down over you, while at the top of a grand stair case which goes right and left at its apex sits a white marble over-sized Charles Darwin, looking out over the proceedings as if he were some deity.

    In fact, there is a clear and unmistakable reference to religion and great cathedrals in this building. Grand arches not aisles, vast halls not naves, huge galleries not transepts, statues of scientists not saints. There is a quote by one of the scientists, I think it might have been Richard Owen, the guy who thought up the whole idea for this place, that this building was to be "a cathedral to science". So, it's no mistake or coincidence.

    Chris and I enjoyed the parts of the exhibtion that we looked through: central hall, birds, minerals, the Vault where precious stones are kept (and no mention of monetary worth made at all), and marine life including the great whales. There is a model of a blue whale in this exhibit that I swear I find it hard to believe that it is true to size. Its length took up the whole gallery. Its girth was wider than a B Double truck, about two storeys high. The scientists tell us that the Blue Whale was and remains the largest creature ever to have inhabited the earth.

    We stopped by the cafe to replenish and get off our feet, then had a cursory look through the dinosaur exhibit, but lots of people, plenty of screaming kids, not really our scene. Then off to the Museum shop for the obligatory touristy things that are always fun to purchase and that can only only be purchased in situ.

    Lunch back in Earl's Court, a nap, and then dinner back down in the High Street, just some KFC tonight, but perched up in the window watching passers-by scurrying along in the London rain, the streets shiny and refelctive and romantic. This was our last 'free' night in London and the UK. I loved it. It's been a wonderful day together and a lovely evening.
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    Traveler

    A wonderful footprint Stu.

    9/30/22Reply
    Traveler

    Thanks Jo and Graham, am feeling a bit sad to leave this wonderful place behind. Every city and town we've visited or stayed in has endeared itself to me. A rainy night here probably captures the exact mood for me.

    9/30/22Reply
    Traveler

    So glad you have loved the UK Stuart - it is definitely our favourite and that’s why we try to visit it every time we come near to Europe. It’s like coming home. You now have lots of lovely memories to dwell on in the years ahead.

    9/30/22Reply
     
  • Day34

    ReLondoning

    September 29 in England ⋅ ⛅ 10 °C

    All the pressure is off now. It's delightful. Stuart and I woke up yesterday with every intention of being spontaneous, and the idea that spontaneously occurred to Stuart was a trip to St Paul's. I had heard of it - wasn't it a cute little English church? - so we got on the tube at Earl's Court and made our way to St Paul's Station.

    It was funny turning down a little alley and seeing a juggernaut Cathedral staring down at us. London is planned around this church; its streets and buildings defer to it, and even in some cases lean to one side to ensure there are uninterrupted views of it. Now I'm just glad I'm not some anti-religious heathen who thinks that every Church should be deconsecrated and turned into a public secular space - haha, what kind of insufferable bore has *that* for an opinion? - but even so I didn't feel much like going inside a Church again.

    My feet were aching and my quota of Christianity was full. Stuart was gorgeously amenable to the prospect of me going to a cafe while he did a tour, so I found a sweet foxhole in Caffe Nero, bought an Oat Cap, and sat down to read a book of poetry I had bought in Berwick. The tour went way overtime, but ultimately it worked out well because I got to decompress a bit, and read a powerful queer book too. Plus, did you know that St Pauls is right next to the London Stock Exchange (God and Mammon are neighbours!) so all the financial types in their tailored suits were walking past or buying coffee, so I got a great perv on all the Tory guys. (I'll disavow them all three times before sunrise, but they do look good in a tailored suit).

    After that we went to Covent Garden because Stuart's Dior Sauvage was Dior Boring and he was running out of chances for a really great niche perfume in one of the perfume capitals of the world. After a quick burger, it was back to Bloom Perfumery to see the lovely Sarah, and she got to work trying to target Stuart's taste. It didn't take her long - only fifteen minutes of sampling was enough to get Stuart down to "Vetiver Santal," "Rasputin" or "Liqueur Charnelle." Stuart chose the latter, liking its spiciness and subtle cognac notes. It's a great smell. (I liked something called "Ciel Immobile" but I will not be buying any more perfume until 2047)

    Back to The Prime and our luxury Georgian cupboard of a room for a nap before I got on the train to Upton Park to meet my friend Nick at The Boleyn Tavern. I got lost on the way there (tube, cab, tube) and lost on the way back (walk, walk, uber) but at least I got to see a fair tranche of London at night, with a fox roaming quiet streets, a bunch of men in tuxedos outside a fancy hotel, a drunkard dancing, and the lights of a bridge - possibly Waterloo bridge - changing colour beneath the neon magenta of the London Eye.

    Even when it's not being special, London is special.
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    Traveler

    Your look is So London

    9/30/22Reply
     
  • Day34

    London Coda 1 and 2

    September 29 in England ⋅ ⛅ 16 °C

    Getting to London from Bristol was more challenging then what we thought. I had not been looking forward to driving in London itself, as we had planned to drop off our rental car at Euston - St Pancras' Station, but that ended up not being too difficult at all, to my surprise. I thought I would be all sweat and tears, and dings, and bumps, and prangs and all things imagninable vehicularly horrific. Well, it wasn't. Between Chris and the GPS, we managed to get through the traffic, drop the car off with no dings, and catch our first black London cab to our hotel in Earl's Court/Kensington.

    No, the challenge was on the M4 on the way to London. You see somewhere the London side of Swindon where we stopped for a coffee and bathroom break, we encountered the mother of all traffic snarles. We ground to a halt, and so did all the other traffic ahead of us, behind us and adjacent us, and we just sat there for about 30-40 minutes, as still as the Ancient Mariner's ship in his becalmed sea, not knowing what was going on. Eventaully, we did start crawling, starting and stopping, and learned that a lorrie had caught fire. When we passed it, there was nothing left of it at all.

    Our hotel, although pokey as hell (I am writing this footprint with my keyboard on one corner of the bed, is located centrally, just around the corner from the Tube station and all the shops. It's lovely down there, epecially at night. We had a good pub meal at The Drayton Arms, a drink, and breathed in London air again, a treat we were not expecting to do again this trip. We watched another episode of the new season of Locke and Key and slept pretty well although we were both beset by lots of dreams.

    Today, we set out late and headed over to St Pauls Cathedral. I took a tour while Chris coffee-ed in a nearby Cafe Nero and finished reading some poetry.

    St Pauls is hard to describe without overdoing the superlatives. It is massive, cavernous, beautiful, airy, clean, ornate, ancient and welcoming. I paid 20 quid to do a half-hour highlights tour, but the old guy, Allan, was a bit garrulous and spent too long at the front door, so the half hour went for 45 minutes.

    After the completion of the tour, I took myself around the inside, photographing here and there. Finally, given that other people, including old ladies and babies were going up to the outside of Christopher Wren's dome to the open elements, I thought I should go up too.

    Readers of this travel blog may recall that I struggle with vertigo somewhat these days, but I spoke assertively to myself in the manner of, "oh come on Stuart, you can do this for goodness sake" and answered the lady at the doorway when she asked was I okay with stairs in the affirmative and up I trotted all 376 stairs. One wide-ish timber spiral stair-case later, one set of labyrinthine dungeon-like stone corridors, and then three or four very narrow stone spiral stair-cases later, I emerged to my great relief out into the air, high above London, my legs already a bit wobbly from the climb. The girl at the top of the stairs said, "you made it", to which I answered, "yes, and now I have to deal with a bit of a fear of heights'. She was immediately concerned.

    I stepped out cautiously on to the deck and tried to look out rather than down. I slowed my breathing in order to slow my heart-rate and eventually began to settle. It was never really bad, just present enough to make me feel physically uncomfortable. I started my way around the dome, when all of a sudden, the girl at the top of the stairs came to me to make sure I was okay and to offer to take me to a "taster" of the even higher second tier of viewing platforms. She led me to a metal staircase with a small landing on top and led me up it and allowed me to hold on to the railings. I looked out and down, and although I felt the effects of stress on my body, I stayed there while she talked to me reassuringly, and took in the sights of London. Incredible!

    After that, I went back down to the inital landing and waked around it and even out to the edge to touch the small columns and to take some pics. This was successful. Then it was time to go back down. I did not want to keep Chris waiting for too long. The only trouble was, the moment I descended abour three steps of the stone spiral-case, I felt wobbly and frightened. I scrambled back up, let some others go before me, and thought, "shit, how the hell am I going to get back down"? Well, all that castle work in other cities came in handy. I managed it by gripping the rail, never stopping and just turning my foot each step so that it fit on the stairs without hanging over the edge. And down I went. That's when I counted the steps.

    Safely back on cathedra firma, I bolted down into the huge crypt in order to see a few famous graves: Horation Nelson, the Duke of wellington, Lord Montgomery of Africa. Florence Nightgale was down there too, but the Cathedral shop called and I did want to buy a souvenir and get to Chris, so I abandoned Florence for two fridge magnets, and set off to find Chris.

    After another round of coffees, we headed for Covent Garden, there to have some lunch and to buy me a cologne from the very shop, Bloom Perfumery, where Chris bought his a month ago. Sarah remembered us and was once again, extremely helpful. I am quite proud of my self for getting up on to St Paul's Cathedral dome. And yes, I would do it again. A relaxing evening awaits and we can both say, this first day of a London coda was most pleasant.
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    Traveler

    Bravo Stuart!

    9/29/22Reply
    Traveler

    Thank you 😊 Very glad I did it.

    9/29/22Reply
     
  • Day33

    The lure of London

    September 28 in England ⋅ ⛅ 11 °C

    I don't have to ask if I'll ever come back to London again because I've already gone to London twice. I'm here now.

    The fabled addictive quality of London is no fable at all. As soon as I got the chance, I came straight back. Stuart and I sat in The Drayton's Arms pub tonight enjoying our beer and feeling absolutely at home.

    But it has been a long hard day getting here. I'm really glad we didn't try to go from Cornwall to London on the day of our flight. We would have been shattered before even getting on the plane.

    We got up at 6.30 and looked at the sun rising over Bristol and Castle Park. Bristol is such a hilly place and so full of terraces and tenements, it had a weird echo of San Francisco about it. We immediately set about packing up our whole existence into our collection of bags, tidy organs in our tidy luggage body. Everything for the next 8 hours was pure logistics and plans. We were stalled by the need to settle a bill for some furniture back home, and stalled again by a fire on the M4, but otherwise it was a continuous run from Bristol to Euston Station.

    We had our first London Black Cab from Euston Station to our hotel, The Prime. This was a really lovely tour experience in many ways, as we both relaxed (He the driver, I the navigator), and looked out the window at Hyde Park, at Royal Albert Hall, at Madame Tussauds.

    The Prime London is a converted Georgian Terrace, very tidy and tight, small and spare, but absolutely canny. The paint job is immaculate, the marble is new, everything feels renovated and trustworthy. The concierge lady is a laugh a minute. ("The password is Welcome To Prime, not Welcome To Crime!" and "Did you find a pharmacy? I think the medicine you need is a bottle of Jack Daniels!") The whole place is disgustingly instagrammable, and I am going to instagram the shit out of it, no doubt.

    We have not discussed what we will do in London. I guess the London Eye is a possibility again. So is the Natural History Museum.

    I am not sure if I need to get a new suitcase so I can fly without anxiety. I'll think about that tomorrow when I'm stronger.
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    Traveler

    How lovely

    9/28/22Reply
    Traveler

    Totally get this! We have enjoyed our train trips in Spain, less stress, more time.

    9/28/22Reply
    Traveler

    This is a wonderfully evocative picture.

    9/28/22Reply
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