Monday, 7 November 2016

Sweet Visit (and It's Good-bye to Blogger from Me)

After over 800 posts spanning a period of about ten years, I have decided that this will be my very last post on Blogger.

I will continue to operate my website at https://kaymckenziecooke.com/




Introduction to Lichfield


What a great opportunity while in Berlin, to pop across the Channel and visit my friend C. who has been my 'pen-pal' for over fifty years now. We began writing to each other when we were both 11 years old.

This is the 5th time we've met up over the fifty years, with two visits to NZ by C. and three to the U.K. / Europe by me.



The first thing we did after I arrived at the Birmingham airport, was some grocery shopping followed by a cup of tea.

I wallowed in the welcoming atmosphere. The cafe bubbled with comfortable chatter, friendly laughter and a general sense of goodwill and consideration.

Then it was on to C's home in Lichfield (and most likely another cup of tea). I met Barney their dog who is rather adorable. (He looks just like a giant teddy bear).



That afternoon, a walk around the historic centre of Lichfield was first on the agenda. Not really on the tourist map (apart from the medieval cathedral which is notable for being the only medieval U.K. cathedral with three domes, or towers) Lichfield city is nevertheless a charming, deeply historical place with links to Roman history and to the history of Britain's monarchy. Another claim to fame is that it is the birthplace of the writer, Samuel Johnson.


 C. had many outings and walks planned for my five-day stay, with a balance of both activity and rest built into the timetable. I was impressed with her planning abilities. She should hire herself out as an event planner, she would be very good at it.











Lichfield is full of quaint squares and byways, alleyways, cobblestoned streets and ancient buildings bowed with age and time, with the cathedral towers forming a faithful backdrop.



***

A Day Trip To London


On my second day in the U.K., C. & I caught the fast train to London ...


It was raining. I rather enjoyed experiencing another rainy day in London after nearly forty years since I'd last spent any time there.


Visiting the Dickens' House was a treat ...




St Pancras railway station was our next destination becasue we had a very important appointment to keep ...


St Pancras is right next door to Kings Cross railway station where Robert and I used to catch the train out to Welwyn Garden City, Herts. when we worked near there in 1977 ... The then 'perpetually grubby-looking', draughty old station, its brick smoke-blackened by steam trains -  has since been refurbished, with a glorious, eye-catching new ceiling.


Kings Cross is also famous for something else, of course. Harry Potter's Platform 9 1/2, an idea which the British Rail has adopted with good humour, employing staff to manage the long queue of people wanting their photo taken by the luggage trolley disappearing into the brick wall.


St Pancras, right next door, has also been refurbished. While C. and I wandered about, someone was playing a grand piano, the music beautifully filling the space. You forget you're in a railway station.

Leading to the poet's statue, are plaques with lines from John Betjeman's poetry. A British poet laureate, Betjeman was also one the most notable protagonists for saving this old railway station formerly destined for destruction).




Then it was time for our Very Important Date. A meet-up with C's two daughters. Because of C's many letters and emails over the years, I felt like I already knew her daughters and had to keep reminding myself that this was the first time we'd actually met.




What a gorgeous afternoon tea (a high tea at the Renaissance Hotel) with both a sandwich course and a cakes course. Our teacups were kept topped up with steaming hot tea by attentive waiting staff.


Then it was time to say goodbye to the 'girls' and to London (for me) - for the time being anyway).

***

A Day's Outing To Cambridge


Before we headed into Cambridge, we stopped off at Grantchester - made famous by the poet Rupert Brooks in a poem called, 'The Old Vicarage'. There now is an apple orchard (where Rupert Brook worked) and where you can sit at outdoor tables eating yummy scones with jam and cream, along with a cup of tea (what else?)




Cambridge is chocka-block full of history; every stone has a story.

We took a boat ride down the Cam River which looks on the the backs of the colleges and churches, and heard a lot about the history dating back to the middle ages - most of which I've forgotten.


Barney wasn't too sure about this leisurely boat ride we were taking him on, especially when other punters bumped into us ...


***

A Walk Around Blithfield Water Reservoir


Very nice to walk a snippet of England's green and pleasant land.


Barney was encouraged to walk a ways with me with a bacon snack in my pocket as incentive ... all for the photo



After Blithfield we stopped off at a place for a cuppa (and cake). A cottage on a farm has been turned into a cafe, the cakes baked right there.

***

Time to Say Good-Bye


Outside Dr. Samuel Johnson's birthplace in Lichfield


On my way back from a lone excursion into the town of Lichfield on my last day there, I got a little lost. Those of you who know me well will not be surprised by that statement. I eventually found my way back to C. after asking three people the way - each one pointing me along in the right direction, until I finally 'got it'.

On the way, I happened upon a little ceremony for an oak tree that had been planted in memory of a World War One battle, one hundred years ago. The Town Crier was reading out a poem that had been written for this tree. Stumbling upon this little event (with the Mayor and only three other people attending) is what I call serendipitous. And very English.  


Lichfield Cathedral three towers are called 'The Ladies of the Vale'.



A farewell toast of champagne, plates set to be laden with a scrummy pasta dish C. had prepared.

Thank you C. and P. for a sweet time in England - all too short, but totally memorable.

Until next time.

***

Tuesday, 1 November 2016

Home Body

 Already, after just one week, it all feels like a dream. 

The many mixed and patchwork impressions of my recent trip to the other side of the world, are beginning to merge into an intense collage of memory.

 So much was packed into the time, thanks to my son C. and his partner J. for putting me up (putting up with me?) for six weeks and for making sure I made the most of my time in Berlin. 





... trying to find my place in a foreign environment

Home again now, I am allowing a sense of triumph to gradually seep in: I travelled halfway around the world for the first time by myself and learned how to manage German supermarket checkouts!


Intending to draw a cat (katze) for my granddaughter, I end up (accidentally or otherwise) painting a country mouse feeling all at sea in the city.


"You're such a home-body", a friend recently said to me. And she is right,



... crows became emblematic for me - like spirit animals. At pivotal moments, I'd hear one cawing above noisy Berlin city. Whenever she also heard a crow, my granddaughter would say the German word for 'crow' (krahe - pronounced krau) just as whenever she heard a child crying, she'd repeat, 'wein' (pronounced something like 'vine') the German word for crying ...

Being such a 'home body', I shouldn't have been surprised to find that very soon after arriving in Berlin, I experienced what I can only describe as a form of cultural shock, which quickly transformed into homesickness. I hadn't expected that. Immediate and intense homesickness - after just two days? What was wrong with me?


... right on cue, just at the end of my son's tours that I'd joined that day, a rainbow. I know it's a cliche, damn it, but rainbows do comfort me ...



as do God clouds ... like this one above buildings near to the old water tower, a Prenzlauerberg landmark ...

To gain insight into why I do not cope well with displacement, I read up on my personality type: ' You want to be safe and secure, to fit in and belong. More importantly, you want to have certainty and security. ... A bundle of contradictions, you can be wary and cautious one minute and / or rebellious and courageous the next. Depending on the situation, you can be friendly and outgoing, or reserved and sceptical.' 

How true.


... when I first arrived in Berlin, early autumn temperatures were summer-high. Here I am feeling the humidity (rather than the humility?) standing in front of a church designed, more so than most, to make a statement ...

Meaningful time spent taking my granddaughter on walks, making 'ice-creams' with her in the large sandpits found in the many playgrounds in this area, plus several outings to museums and tree-filled parks with my son, were just some of the experiences that helped restore some of my usual equilibrium.




I found there were lots of quaint little places on the tree-lined cobble-stoned strasses of Prenzlauerberg; cafes where I could spend a couple of hours drinking tea and writing down my impressions of Berlin.



... while in Germany I was able to watch the leaves of the many chestnut and linden trees that line the strasses, change colour ... 

I booked myself on a boat trip down the river Spree where I enjoyed a glass of wine while watching historical buildings slide by. I purposefully clutched the stem of the wine-glass in my fist in exactly the same manner as my mother used to hold a glass of wine. How we'd laugh at her. (Now I do it to comfort myself that her mannerisms still live on).




... the yellow trains are bright and cheerful-looking as they rumble through - and there's never a long wait between ...



Prenzlauerbrg is located in former East Germany and after the Wall came down in 1989, attracted artists' squats full of edgy, creative people doing edgy, avant garde stuff.

In the last few decades it has become more gentrified, rents forcing the artists on to other areas. Prenzlauerberg is now a popular district for young families; fairly evident by the large number of buggy-pushing parents, or parents on bikes with kid (or kids) on board, or in tow.

So many bikes in Berlin!



... spot the blue sheep on a balcony right-hand corner ... it was a marker for me whenever I became a little disorientated (another word for lost). I'd look for the blue sheep and when I found it, I knew where I was. Was the blue sheep possibly feeling homesick, I wondered ...

J's family live in rural northern Germany. Re-visiting them was a high point of my visit, involving two trips to the Baltic Coast and sitting before groaning tables laden with hearty German fare.





... stacked ready for winter ...


... the back part of this house is over 600 years old. We were lucky enough to be invited inside to see where the animals used to sleep. Incredible to reach out and touch centuries old wooden beams rubbed smooth. I could smell time in that house.



Another old relic of centuries gone. In Bad Doberman, a spa town where members of the German royal family once stayed. C. and I one early morning, wandered around the old part of this place, soaking in the atmosphere of times past ... crumbling brick, mole mounds, crows, church bells ... the mist that morning only adding to the sense of everything being doused in the 'mists of time' ... 

As noted earlier, by travelling to a foreign country all my normal settings had switched to 'haywire'. I needed copious cups of black tea. Interesting that in Germany tea is always served in a tall glass.


... another outing with C. to see the illuminations that happen every autumn in Berlin ...





... graffiti is Berlin, or maybe Berlin is graffiti ...  




... I was fortunate to be able to go on two tours with my son. Highly recommend him as a tour guide if you are ever in Berlin ...

In the apartment block where C. J. and their wee daughter, A. live, the young families (from many different countries) all know each other; largely because of the shared backyard playground where they and their kids congregate in summer, and where they have barbecues and get-togethers. They have formed a friendly, supportive community and while I was there, their friendliness helped me feel a part of the place


... C. and I visited the Reichstag one cold windy morning, the German flag flying its bold bands in the grey. It felt historical to be there. On more than one level. (And I'm not just talking structurally). 
After taking in the view, we waited for the cafe to open, where we ordered tea (for me) and coffee (for him) and cake (for both of us). 
I have brought home with me very fond memories of exploring Berlin with my tall son - who never showed a hint of embarrassment at being in the company of his silver-haired, much shorter Ma ...

Any shaky moments due to homesickness (and missing my husband) were offset by the little things - my granddaughter's sweet "Goodnight Grandma", as she ran to give me a goodnight hug, the time spent drawing cats for her ("Noch mere katzen"; "More cats") reading her books (hearing her recite, 'We're Going on A Bear Hunt' pretty much verbatim with her papa).

By J. bringing home flowers and presents of soap and tea and lighting candles and leaving the bubble bath solution out for me to enjoy a bubble bath ... meeting me for coffee or lunch ... helping me to buy boots. Booking me in for a shoulder-neck-and-head massage.

And by C. accompanying me on outings and always making sure his mother was ok.



Those moments I am missing now that I'm back home on the other side, busy being a home body.



P.S. Will write about my UK experience in my next post.

Harbour

Harbour
'how this all harbours light'