Wednesday, 2 June 2004

I arrived in London in the afternoon and pretty promptly found my way down to Dorking, in Surrey. There I tried calling Dad (not realising that his phone had been nicked as well as his passport), then cold-called Laurence, who we were visiting. Cold, meaning that I hadn't met him since I was about 8 months of age, a time since which I have changed fairly considerably. Anyway, he came and picked me up and we chatted, later also with his wife Jane, for a few hours until Mum turned up. A bad turn had made her 1-hour trip from Heathrow into a 2-hour exploration of the Chessington area.

Dad called later that night to say that he would get in about the same time the next day, thanks to wonderful help from Gabrielle and great credit to the workings of the Australian Embassy in Paris. To pass the morning, Mum, Jane, Laurence and I climbed Leith Hill, and went for a pub lunch at a village nearby. In the afternoon, Mum and I negotiated an unnecessarily circuitous route to Heathrow to collect Dad, before winding a similarly indirect one home. The dialogue upon arriving focussed, as had the previous nights, upon family history and the question of "what is XXX doing now", with XXX encompassing anyone and everyone who lived in the Solomons in the late 70s.

On Friday morning we headed off, in the wrong direction as it happened, towards Wantage, where we were booked into a youth hostel that evening. As we had learnt the previous day, and as was reinforced, one is not given much opportunity to anticipate turns on minor English roads, and this made navigation a fairly intense exercise. Still, the view at the end was probably worth it, and the hostel was, in all, pretty good. Its worth noting, too, that Dad is, by habit, the driver in the team, and Mum the guardian of the money, but these roles were reversed by the previously mentioned Parisien pickpocket.

Saturday morning we headed south, to a couple of small villages near Newbury called Enborne and Bucklebury. At each, we visited the local church and were greeted enthusiastically by what we assume where the vicars, both of whom were very keen to help us and to chat about almost anything, despite obvious other commitments. I have been pretty skeptical of the whole grave-walking thing, but the reception, as well as the 12th and 14th century churches, made it pretty pleasant.

In the afternoon we visited Sheena, my great aunt (via Dad), and the previous torch-bearer of the family history, as is now carried by Mum. Although pretty infirm physically, and lacking her hearing aid, she is still pretty sharp, and we spent a good couple of hours talking (well, the others did - I just listened) with her before trucking back to our hostel.

Sunday, we headed pretty directly (having grokked to some degree the map situation) across to Ivinghoe, near Luton. We spent an hour or so walking along the canal and admiring the workings of the locks, before a nice pub lunch of pie and veges: so simple, and yet, when done well, on par with most things I've had in France. In the afternoon I jumped on a train to London, where I stayed the night in a hostel in Earl's Court. The tiny box that they gave me as a bed was, I suspect, punishment for my not having contacted Sandy or Dave to arrange a better option.

The trains back to Paris and Rennes were uneventful, allowing me to finish both the cycling book that Sandy had sent me, and Steinbeck's wonderful Of Mice And Men.

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