Turning The Page: Another Place, Another Time by John Porter - Read Online
Turning The Page
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A travelogue with a difference. The account of a brief, seven-day trip to the author's home country of England, with often very humorous and poignant comments about the history, geography and sociology of the place. Includes a touching account of a Scottish family wedding, and numerous amusing anecdotes, as well as observations of the English at work and play. Short, snappy, and well worth a look! A real Wow! for casual historians, homesick ex-pats, lovers of real ale, those with travel in their heart, and anyone who likes to read about pleasing adventures and remembering their youth, the joyfulness of family reunions, and the futility of attempting to understand airport procedures! Well illustrated with good photographs.

Published: John Porter on
ISBN: 9781465968517
List price: $3.99
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Turning The Page - John Porter

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dedications

I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers…

Ephesians 1:16

My thanks are due to each and every one of those who have contributed to this little book. That includes the travel agent, the airline and car-hire companies, our insurers, the establishments at which we stayed, the eateries, the castles, the gardens and the other wonderful places we were privileged to visit, our house-sitters and Jackie who minded the shop in our absence, old friends, new friends, all those who invited us into their homes where once I had lived or visited, to all my family and extended family who gave so much of their time and love to us, and to my wonderful Tammy for lovingly making the opportunity possible, and for sharing it with me, despite the numerous hurdles she had to negotiate along the way. Most of all I give thanks to God for bringing us home safely, each filled with happy memories.

And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

Colossians 3:17

Not surprisingly, this short work is dedicated to my dear brothers David and Brian, and to Nicholas and his charming wife Julie, but most of all, given the circumstances, to Chris and his lovely bride Lisa. God bless you all!

* * * * *

Home thoughts from abroad

The introduction

Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done… I will do all my pleasure.

Isaiah 46:10

I have never been widely applauded as a raconteur of any great merit, and my written storytelling has met with mixed responses. If the reader finds this account of our journey back through time and space is dull, empty or overly indulgent and pedestrian I cannot be held at fault. The blame must fall fairly and squarely on the shoulders of all those who have listened to me recounting the stories of our trip, and who have feigned interest and amusement as they’ve listened.

That’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it.

My fingers fly across the keyboard – ‘aeroplane typing’ – the corrections can come later – I relive the days spent away for months as I write down all that Tammy and I experienced – the feelings, the places, meetings, food, and for me nostalgia and reunions. It extends the time of pleasure.

What next? I seek expansions into geography, history and sociology, adding further layers to the travelogue.

Writing one’s experiences makes dreams and memories somehow tangible – expanded and more real than when they merely sit as gradually withering recollections in an aging brain.

Some memories need adjusting, just like the frames of some of the pictures, but the pictures within them remain more or less the same.

This book describes only a very brief period, but when I reviewed my notes and discussed the trip with Tammy, many events became confused and melded together. For that reason I have deliberately sought to disrupt the chronology of the journey by placing the days into chapters, then ordering the chapters into a fairly random sequence. We begin at day five, then jump forwards and backwards in time with careless abandon, until finally towards the end of the book we simmer down and become a little more organised, before finally heading home.

My best advice is not to worry about the where and when, and concentrate on the what and who. Enjoy the ride!

For those who can’t stand the leaping from place to place, here’s the actual itinerary:

Australia

Abu Dhabi

Heathow airport

Hatfield

Cambridge

Branston

Lincoln

Faugh

Glasgow

Luss Balloch

Ribchester

Faversham

Goring-on-Thames

Heathrow airport

Abu Dhabi

Australia

… there now… that’s the entire thirteen days!

Last year I wrote a book, and the year before that I wrote another. One took me two years to write and spanned half a century, and the other took just twelve months and included poems written over thirty-five years.

This one is very different. It has taken only four months, and covers a mere seven or eight days. I suppose the ratio of writing time to experiences is about the same.

Many things go up in price as the product purchased becomes smaller. Bikinis, lingerie and gourmet food are classic examples of this…the less you get, the more you’re supposed to treasure it, delight in it, and savour it. The trip Tammy and I made to the UK was just the same.

A year or so ago my brother David sent me an account of a trip he and his wife Marion took to the historic Inca mountaintop eerie of Machu Picchu in South America. It was well written, and I loved reading about their experiences and adventures. I felt as though I’d been there with them.

Here’s what I wrote to him in response: I call it ‘pre-loved holidaying’…OK…it’s second-hand, but it’s still a delight to jump into the imaginationmobile and zoom off with just the words of a loved one as fuel!

There’s a quote from the Adventurer’s Club in London which goes like this: ‘An adventure is simply an expedition that went wrong.’ I can’t agree with that. Tammy and I went on an expedition, nothing went wrong, and we had a terrific and memorable adventure!

As we all know, you don’t drown by falling into water; you only drown if you stay there, and although there were some dangers for me of being sucked under by the past, and for Tammy of becoming overwhelmed by waves of worry at being so far from her puppies, kittens and birds, we both surfaced easily and found our way back to Australian shores, each clutching a bulging bag of booty to gloat over during the following months and years.

This book is part travelogue, part historical and social comment, part fact and part fiction. Some of it is supposed to be humorous, and other parts pretend at poetic prose or documentary. I hoped as I wrote that my family, and possibly others, might enjoy what I had written, but I was always very well aware that these pages were mostly an indulgence for me, and that the very nature of this particular brief journey is so personal as to be of interest to only a very few.

If just one other person enjoys it, I am happy.

If two others take a pleasure in reading it, it has been worthwhile.

And if three people are pleased with the work, then I’ll consider it a best-seller!

* * * * *

Chapter one: The Fifth Night

So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries.

Today’s trouble is enough for today.

(Matthew 6:34)

A wild wind was at work that night, clawing and tearing at the fresh young leaves on the trees as though trying to shred every trace of the approaching English spring: it didn’t seem a particularly auspicious time for us. Tammy and I peered through the tiny, diagonal lead-glass panes of our warm room, as the scattered foliage was whipped along the otherwise silent and empty road outside. Some words passed between us that night too, which underscored the concerns we had over our expectations of the following day’s events.

No clatter of horses’ hooves and iron-shod wheels had heralded our arrival as they had in days of yore when the String-of-Horses was a stopover between the Yorkshire towns of Brampton and Appleby-in-Westmoreland.

Our arrival was signalled only by the refined crunch on the gravel carpark of the low-profile tyres of our sleek black BMW hire car.

Less refined was the discovery that evening of the unexpected bonus on the card I had made and laminated as part of a wedding gift for the happy couple whose matrimonial ceremony we had travelled half way around the globe to witness. A short, dark, curly hair was laminated to the back of the otherwise beautifully crafted card. It looked suspiciously pubic, and I had no idea how it had got there.

Tammy laughed: I swore. It did little to diminish the uneasy anticipation we both felt as we considered the formal event ahead, and the need to plunge ourselves into a maelstrom of hitherto unknown people, but it was enough to break the tension between us, and the evening was thus returned to one of relaxation and comfort: Tammy early to bed, and myself chatting late with the amicable and hospitable landlord Colin, over a pint or two of King’s Forest bitter from the Geltsdale brewery just up the road at Brampton. Brewed from fuggles and challenger hops, the beer was dark and malty, and thirty-three year old Colin watched with a frown, as I wobbled slightly, then perched comfortably on a tall stool at the bar of the old coaching inn.

Two days earlier I had become lovingly reacquainted with English bitter after a break of sixteen years, and as the finely rounded brew settled its therapeutic nature into my brain, my tongue tripped off on its own, relating all the events of the previous few days. Colin listened patiently, waiting for his last remaining guest to go to bed. As I rambled on for an hour or so, the door behind me constantly opened and closed, admitting the same blustery string of ghostly visitors that I’d noticed earlier in the evening at dinner. I glanced round every now and then, but just as when we’d been eating, no-one visible entered, and the door closed by itself after a few moments.

That morning we had driven up from Lincoln along Britain’s great mesh of motorways, in this case mostly the MI, to Faugh (pronounced ‘Fuff’), near Carlisle. A by-product of the massive infrastructure that comprises the UK motorway system is the way in which the villages and towns along each route have been both partially killed, yet ‘saved by the bell’. The very saving grace of the quaint, out-of-the-way hamlets and bypassed settlements of yesteryear has also been part of their death-knell. They have lost the destructive, thundering trucks carrying provisions from one end of the country to the other, but at the same time they have also lost the revenue from sightseers and tourists who came seeking bed-and-breakfast, afternoon teas, and souvenirs.

Clusters of habitations with English and imported names such as Ackworth-Moor-Top, Wildon Grange, Thirsk, Thornton-le-Street and Easingwold conjured up half-imagined ‘memories’ of times I’d never actually experienced, as we passed by the finger-post signs pointing the way into the hearts of those tiny communities. Normans, Vikings, Angles, Saxons, Romans, and the whole throng of past conquerors and settlers marched past us in my mind’s eye as we travelled through the dust of their ghosts on our way Northwards. We sped along the fast, three-laned tarmac strips, bristling with speed cameras and rife with ‘Welcome Rest’ traveller’s fast-food outlets, and it was frustrating to imagine all the slower country lanes, winding past patiently-waiting mossy-covered gravestones, creaking old tales-to-tell-houses, and babbling brooks. I knew we were passing sheep-grazed pocket-handkerchief fields that lay with all their stories and silent thoughts around the scattered villages nearby. We didn’t have enough time to see and feel and experience all that Britain had to offer. But in truth, if we had had stayed a thousand years, our own past would still have had insufficient time to catch us up.

Few things have helped create the look of the English countryside more than hedgerows. The Romans used hedges extensively, and the Anglo-Saxons used them to define their property boundaries. The 13th century saw a huge expansion of the population, and as new agricultural land was claimed from the forests, fields had to be enclosed, but it was not until two hundred years later that widespread hedge plantings were carried out. Most of the hedges of my youth were planted during the Enclosure Movement of the 18th and 19th centuries when wealthy landowners once again claimed their territories with the useful and very visible rows of thorny shrubs and saplings.

Many years ago I spent a day hedge-laying with an old farmer at Chiddingstone near Tonbridge, in Kent. Using a wide-bladed knife with a hook at the end, he showed me how to carefully cut halfway through all the stems that were thicker than my thumb, and lay them down along the line of the hedge. I could see the work of past years, where new shoots had grown upright from the cut branches of previous years. Over time the hedge wove itself into a living fence. Not all hedges were laid of course, and I have little doubt that the art is now all but dead, replaced with a fleet of tractors and long-arm slashers, but I’m delighted that I had the opportunity to experience that ancient skill at first hand. In a sense, the advent of today’s horticulture was heralded by the new industry that sprang up during the late 1800’s; that of supplying hawthorn plants for use in hedging.

But the one-time patchwork fields were now shockingly bereft of their 6- and 700-year-old hedges, and had been transformed into gleaming broad-acre springtime golden landscapes filled with oilseed rape, grown en-masse for the production of bio-fuels.

That was the single most alarming change that I observed in the whole of our seven-day trip to the United Kingdom. It seemed as though Europe’s grasping talons had reached through the Channel Tunnel and up through the Home Counties, turning green to gold as far as they could reach, grubbing orchards and hedges alike, and replacing the homes of badgers, foxes, rabbits, wrens and thrushes with acres and acres of the dazzling yellow blooms of the cabbage-cousin, Canola. I was struck by the fact that the English choose to call the crop by its traditional name of oilseed rape, rather than by the imported Canadian name used in Australia. Canola is an acronym for CANadian Oil Low Acid, and as such is apparently distasteful to the British, although Australia has accepted the term happily, probably because it’s shorter: Australians like shorter words. So…there, where used to stand tiny man-sized fields of this and that, now shimmered vast expanses of bright golden flowers: where once communities grew their grain and fodder-crops, now stood the acres of potential diesel. And how many people in the rest of the world have no cars, yet cry out for food? I decided not to think about it too much.

Gradually, slowly, the massive sunshine-coloured expanse of the Southern counties morphed into the traditional dry stonewalls of the Yorkshire Dales. Tammy loves Suffolk sheep, and here between the Dales and the ancient North York Moors – James Herriot country – there were plenty of them, with their black faces and black feet – in a strange way reminiscent of the incursions made by African, Pakistani, and Indian immigrants several decades ago, although of course there was no connection. I vaguely wondered whether Britain would one day see yellow-faced sheep, as immigrants from the Asian bloc become more apparent. Do all sheep speak the same language? Do their cultures happily co-exist? Only time would tell.

The walls were amazing…miles and miles of stone upon stone, all placed by hand – some last year, some last century, some nestled together by the careful hands of long-dead shepherds often more than 500 years earlier, when the hedges in the Southern counties were being planted. The same move by landowners towards sheep and cattle farming as an alternative to arable crops led in just the same way to the need for enclosures, although two factors were very different in the North. Firstly, the climate was far less hospitable; the stone more readily available, so walls became the preferred field boundaries. And sadly, from the enormous counties of Lancashire and Yorkshire Northwards, peasants were turned off their traditional pastures, their meagre livelihoods all but destroyed, as the land barons girdled the common lands and extended their properties. Just as in the South, the longest, straightest enclosures along the very highest and most forbidding hills were put in place between 2- and 300 years ago. Unlike the Southern hedges, however, the great longevity of the walls owes nothing to the work of nature, but is a testament to the skills of those who built the walls; packing down the solid earthen core, and placing the splinters of interlocking rock in a way that was designed to serve them, their children, and their children’s children.

As we drove through that amazing and historic scenery, we passed signposts to placenames familiar to both of us – Hexham, Leyburn, Richmond and Penrith to name but a few – except the versions we were acquainted with were on the other side of the world. Another time, another place.

And by the time we reached the turning off the motorway to Faugh, there was no more oilseed rape, no more hedging - everything was given over to vast rolling hills – green pastures dotted liberally with sheep, and divided by those amazing walls. From the motorway we drove on a few B-roads through small villages and past little copses where no doubt pheasant and fox acted out their age-old games of life and death in the woodlands.

The motorway had been swift and dull, but the winding lanes that led us to our destination for the night opened up with scene after scene that could have been taken directly from a BBC drama series set 200 years ago. A tiny, one-lane, dry-stone bridge crossed the muddy, sheep-stamped sides of a trickling stream, edged here and there with gleaming golden tufts of greater celandine flowers. That the celandines survived along the banks where all else failed to avoid being eaten by sheep was a testimony to its toxic and bitter nature. But the blooms were beautiful, like large, lush buttercups.

Along the major roads from Lincoln, Tammy had invented a driving game that she called ‘Identify the road-kill’. We were both surprised at the number of fur and feather bundles laying squashed on the road surface, or tumbled onto the grass verges of the carriageway. We were used to seeing kangaroos, wallabies, more rarely an echidna, and once a hefty wombat lying with its legs in the air as if asleep. Likewise we were no strangers to the battered corpses of innumerable crows and blackbirds – even the red feathers of an occasional Eastern Rosella, and all those turtles and large lizards who never seemed to get all the way across before making unwelcome contact with some great 45-tonne truck. But the creatures that we saw during our journeys in the UK were often mysterious, even to me, who had grown up with them.

Amongst the creatures that had met their fate on the English highways we of course spotted many pigeons and rabbits, and a few domestic pets. But I was greatly surprised by the quantity of raptors – goshawks and kestrels - along with numerous foxes, and a quite a large quantity of hedgehogs. Partridges and pheasants abounded in their grotesquely fixed poses, and I think I saw a large mole at one stage too. Other furry bundles were too long dead for identification at the speed we travelled past their last resting places, and even had we stopped to investigate, many would have been too decayed to guess at their pedigree with any accuracy.