Memoirs: June 2001 – Make a wish


Remembrance Day 2001 ushered in our second year of marital bliss!

(In a few shot weeks, we’ll be celebrating 18 years!)

To celebrate this auspicious day, spouse and I made a pact to get as far away from London as humanly possible. Packed up the compactest little Peugeot we set off for the coast of Cornwall and the most westerly point of this little island.

The start did not bode well…

When people say it takes two hours to leave London, they are not joking.

The maze of criss-crossing lanes, traffic roundabouts and one-ways are designed to trap Londoners in the city’s commercial web.

Navigating our way out of the city made me feel like a young Princess Leia, hair in doughnuts, shutting her eyes tight and praying while Hans Solo put the Millennium Falcon through her paces.

Why Cornwall?  Spouse is interested in dolmens and standing stones.  A preoccupation with life after death on the eve of his 30th?

(This turned out not to be a phase. 16 years later and I’ve finally agreed to erect a dolmen for him when he shakes off this mortal coil!)

We arrived in the South West in the middle of the night and promptly got hopelessly lost.

Each road we turned into got progressively narrower and narrower until our side mirrors were brushing against front doors that opened directly onto the street.

I mused vaguely on how many accidents occur in St Ives when people open their doors and step out into the sunlight only to be mowed down by a passing tourist in a BMW.

After some marital discussion, where I prevailed. We did what my mother taught me and asked a policeman the way.

He told us.

We listened.

We didn’t understand a single word.

We drove on.

Given that St Ives is a very small town and there is only way in and out, you may wonder, quite rightly, how we got ourselves lost in the first place.

We followed the coastal road (track), to our bed and breakfast, down a steep cliff and collapsed into bed.

Damn good thing we arrived in the dark.

When our landlady  said, “Any closer to sea and you’d be in it”, she had not exaggerated our precarious position on top of a sheer cliff face looking down at the Atlantic Ocean.

The view was breathtaking.  The sea stretched endlessly across to America and the cliffs hid pirate caves and secret smuggler passageways.

Winter must be extremely bleak, but summer glosses everything over in bright greens and vivid pinks and purples.

Armed with a dicey map showing the very approximate locations of standing stones and druidic memorabilia, we set off in search of ancient Celts.

Our first stop was the Merry Maidens stone circle. The story is very Footloose (minus Kevin Bacon).

A group of merry young maidens snuck out on a Sunday, managed to coerce some studly young pipers to pick up a tune and went dancing. This pissed off the gods who promptly turned the whole lot to stone. The pipers ran for it. The gods caught up with them two fields away and turned them to stone too.

One would think these types of stones would be easy to find, after all they are a national heritage and so obvious looking in the photos you’d think you could spot them a mile away, not so.

We drove down little lanes with Cornish hedgerows rising on either side, blocking out the view completely. The little square fields stretch for miles deceptively flat and eerily empty after the horror of foot and mouth.

We trudged down an increasingly muddy footpath for miles to look at the remains of a chapel built next to a wishing well.

People coming to be healed and make wishes tie little ribbons on the trees surrounding the pool like little prayer flags.

I plunged headfirst into the little copse to make my wish without heed for personal safety.  Without warning I found myself rapidly sinking into the side of the holy well.

In the first flush of panic, scenes of sinking sands and peat bogs sucking unsuspecting travelers to their deaths flashed before my eyes.

Then I settled into hysteria, between fits of laughter and tears I tried to get my husband’s attention to my plight:  “Marc,” I cried, “I am in a really bad place.”

Silence, then very quietly a reply, “Physically or spiritually?”

“Both!” I cried.

When he appeared through the trees he stood quietly watching me quizzically and then asked what it was exactly I was doing.

“What do you mean, what am I doing?”  I howled, “I’m stuck in the mud.”

Stuck in the mud, with all that entails.  My shoe had disappeared into the depths of the Cornish landscape, I stood knee deep in brown slushy goop. Every step I took sent me deeper into the squish. I remembered survival techniques of throwing your body across the sinking sand to spread the weight.

I could hear people chatting as they neared the well and terrified of discovery, made my wish. It was granted and they did not see me in such an undignified situation and simply walked on by.

So, the well does work, even if it is in mysterious ways.

Marc did his best not to laugh at me, but was determined not to wade in and rescue me Indiana Jones style either. Extrication was a lengthy and pungent task, I tried to calm myself by thinking about the healing properties of mud. It didn’t really help.

I did fish my shoe out though, so far it has gone through 3 rinse cycles, but I think it is beyond resurrection.

I crept back into our room and ensconced myself in the shower. Once I had wrapped what shreds of self dignity remained we went to the local pub (the only other building for miles and miles) for a folk music evening.

It was surreal. The food was amazing. The folk music was country and western, not Celtic chants. The Americans and us were relegated to the back room as non-regulars and were repeatedly sent to the back of the queue as regulars wandered up and asked for “the usual”.

Our predilection for stone monuments met with more than little bemusement, the locals could not understand why we wanted to trek over hill and down to take a look at rocks that are little more than barriers to effective farming.

However, we embraced the local legend of the stones wherever possible and even crawled through on hands and knees, a hole in the middle of a circular stone, to cure backache.

We also had some less than successful endeavors, walking around for hours in the rain looking for a barrow, only to discover the next day that we had been standing on top of it all the time.

On the way home we stopped to have lunch with friends in Somerset, similarly devastated by the ongoing slaughter of livestock, so we had to bathe our car and shoes in foul smelling disinfectant each time we stopped.

Our host regaled us with horror stories of Cornwall in the late 1970’s when he and a friend spent the night off-season on the floor of a local pub (none of the bed and breakfasts would let them in).

The story goes that their landlady was born in the village and her family moved to Australia when she was eight.

As an adult, she returned to the village and was welcomed home like the prodigal son/daughter.

She then committed the unforgivable and married a Yorkshireman.

The villagers never spoke to her again, they ostracized her and lynched her children’s pets.

So, that was nice.






Tourist at home

Johannesburg is my home. I know where to get the best coffee, the best mechanic for a Aircooled VW and where to find a 50s dress with flamingos on it.

However, I’ve never seen the city from the point of view of a visitor.

I suppose, much like New Yorkers who have never been to the Statue of Liberty. There are things that you know of, but don’t actually see as part of your everyday reality.

Looking for something to do we jumped on the Joburg Sightseeing bus tour and set off from Rosebank for a tour of Egoli. And, I realized that tourists probably know more about the history of the place than most of its residents!

Constitution Hill

Street art

Johannesburg is well known for its vibrant street art, and traveling around by bus gave me a great opportunity to snap away as we rode by. If you want a more tailored street art experience contact Past Experiences (

People, places, faces

As a city of so many people, so many cultures and such a radical divide between haves and have-nots, the tour offers quite a juxtaposition between the two extremes.

There’s a giraffe in my luggage


Standing at the international check in at Oliver Tambo International Airport you can always pick out the tourists going home.

They’re the ones with life-size wooden giraffes packed in brown paper towering over the luggage.

wooden-giraffeWhy on earth would you want to take something that unwieldy home as a souvenir?

Aside from which every house in all of London must have one by now.

It’s hardly going to set you apart from the neighbours.

It’s not just people coming here.

It’s when we go there, wherever there may be.

As soon as we go on holiday somewhere far far away we see stuff we have to have or we’ll always regret it.

Like not buying the life-size giraffe.

Over a cup of tea one of my best friends related her story to me.

She shall remain nameless, but we will call her S.

Statue-LibertyS and her Best Beloved went to New York.

They could have bought home a life-size Statue of Liberty.

They didn’t. Not quite.

They had rented an apartment. In the apartment was a cleaning appliance. Specifically a mop.

But not just any old mop.

It had a little canister on the front you fill with water and detergent that you can spray ahead of you as you clean the floor.

Of everything in NYC, S had to have one of these.

So, off she went, Best Beloved in tow.

Best Beloved has learned that sometimes it is easier to just go with the flow and not fight the unstoppable current that is S.

Rubbermaid-mopShe got her mop.

Sadly, on getting back to the apartment she realised it was a new model that came with a disposable canister.

This meant that as disposable canisters could not be purchased in sunny South Africa this model was a no go.

S would not be thwarted.

She simply left the new one, the better one, in the apartment and decided to take the original home with her.

Only, the original did not fold up nice and compactly like the new one.

S did not care. She taped it up in bin bags and heaved it off to the airport.

South African mop
South African mop

At check-in they regarded this bizarrely shaped item with some perplexity and sent it off to customs.

At customs three burly officials from the Bronx unwrapped it.

“Ma’am,” they said gently, “This is a mop.”

“Yes,” said S, “Obviously.”

“Ma’am,” they tried again, trying and failing not to laugh, “Do they not have mops where you’re from?”

“Not. Like. This. One.” S spat.

They quietly wrapped it up again.

S and Best Beloved went through this conversation at about three more airports on route home.

S did not care. She had her mop. All was well in her world.

A few days after returning home, Best Beloved went to the supermarket.

What people usually bring home
What people usually bring home

He phoned S.

“Darling, I am at the supermarket,” he said gently.

“I am aware of that,” said S.

“Yes, well, I am standing in front of a rack of mops,” he said through gritted teeth.

“Oh no!” said S, “Not MY mop?”

Not the ACTUAL fridge, but close.

“Yes, YOUR mop! The same mop you made me carry more than halfway across the damn world because YOU said we didn’t have them here. THAT mop.”

“Oh,” said S, “Sorry about that.”

Unlike the giraffe though, at least the mop is serviceable, although as a memento it is a bit out of the ordinary.

I wonder if she’ll magnetize the mop and add it to the collection of chips from Vegas, hotel key cards and other travel related stuff that she’s put on the fridge?

Kulala desert lodge – kids on safari can be done…

There are a few options for “Best Job in the World”. I think my schoolfriend has had most of them. If you have ever considered a safari and wondered whether it would be better to simply feed your children to the lions rather than take them with, she can answer your questions.

Read her wonderful article on moving her family from the Okavango to the Nambi Desert…

“Having emerged from the lush Okavango Delta into Namibia, my family took a little while to adjust to the change in environment. At first, I was concerned that my kids would balk at the change in scenery – used to lions and elephants, and baboons hanging off trees to laugh at…I was uncertain how they would feel about endless sand dunes, stark images of thousand year old trees and an infinite, magnificent sky. The attraction of space to breathe and think, solitude and the mind-boggling fact that anything survives there at all are all very adult appreciations. I am sure there are some kids out there who take time out for the good of their souls, but mine are not them.”

Kulala desert lodge – kids on safari can be done….

The blonde was called Freedom, the dark one Enterprise

toe 7

My family is defined by small moments, by snapshots.

No matter how many years pass once that second is framed you are stuck with it.

Great Uncle Wilsie who got his big toe stuck up the hot tap.

My mom who wore a bright green micro mini to meet my very conservative grandparents in 1961.

And me. The girl who ran away to the Transkei.

Except I didn’t. Not really.

It was eighteen years ago and not one goes by without someone reminding me of it.

It was the main source of conversation at my grandmother’s funeral. She even saved the newspaper clippings. My father mentioned it at my 21st, my wedding and whenever the mood strikes. I was blamed for being a bad influence when my younger cousin had a similar experience a few months later.

On the first day of school this year an innocent father of some small child happened to hit the nerve by remarking, “And it’s not like you ever ran away or anything?” I went from calm to spitting mad in under a second. “I did NOT run away. It was not my fault the car broke down.” Poor guy had no clue.

It is time to set the record straight.

Heartbroken after my first love kicked me to the curb and needing to crawl into a dark hole and recover, I retreated to my father’s apartment in Cape Town to lick my wounds.

Hearts recover quickly when you are young and by the time the bus arrived in the Mother City I was over the heartbreak, or at least over the grief, and moving into the “I don’t give a damn” category.

Eighteen years old and the world was waiting. So was trouble. I was ready for it.

I hooked up with some friends and proceeded to make a series of small decisions that butterfly-like have fluttered through the years regardless of all attempts to kill them off.

The Mercenary and the Fallen Angel
The Mercenary and the Fallen Angel

So, we have me – the Flower Child, the Free Spirit, the Mercenary (not really, he was a ex-Recce, but mercenary sounds better as a moniker) and the Fallen Angel, a Dutch import.

The Fallen Angel was one of Michelangelo’s creations landed on terra firma.

At this point no-one seemed to know where he had come from, but he took our little group of girlfriends by storm.

Seven of nine succumbed to his charms.

Years afterwards we compared stories and laughed at the same lines that brought us to our knees.

But I had all this to discover when I decided to cancel my bus ticket home and join the merry band on a trip to the Grahamstown Art Festival.

We did not travel in comfort or in style. The Flower Child and her boyfriend the Mercenary, a very manly man, had the front seat of a very small bakkie.

The Fallen Angel, Bruno and the Jalopy

The Fallen Angel and I squeezed into what space remained after our luggage into the back canopy along with Bruno the German Pointer, a chainsaw and a surf board.

The close quarters didn’t dull our enthusiasm for the road trip.

Neither did our complete lack of a monetary safety net.

By the time we reached Grahamstown we were getting a little frayed.

I found a friend with a shower and took full advantage while the rest of the gang set up on a sarong the homemade, bamboo ashtrays and bongs with which they planned to make a financial killing. It didn’t go very well. We weren’t cut out for commerce.

The Free Spirit

In the pale light of the early morning the Free Spirit produced the world’s most inedible scrambled eggs. Things went a little south about here.

She caught a look in the Mercenary’s eye and shortly afterwards pans of soggy undercooked scrambled eggs were being thrown with deadly aim at anyone in the near vicinity.

The Fallen Angel, Bruno the dog and I squeezed under the bakkie in the hope of avoiding any fall-out with varying degrees of success.

Grahamstown breathed a sigh of relief when we hit the road.

By the time we ended up in East London the jalopy had developed a rather startling hiccup-like motion.

I decamped to my grandparents causing a bit of a stir at the old aged home where the inhabitants viewed our coming like small children watching a circus come to town.

Despite my grandmother’s advice to grab a flight home I was determined to continue on the Great Road Trip. Anyway, as far as I knew we were on way back home and it was the last leg. HAH!

We didn’t go home. We went surfing. In the middle of nowhere.

Welcome to the Transkei.

As we drove through the streets of Bisho I stopped to call home from a tickie box. Only, the lines out of the Transkei were down and had been for over a week.

Oh hell, I thought, it’s only a few hours.

It wasn’t.

We drove very very slowly along dirt roads while crowds of children emerged from the bush to surround the car and demanded sweets.

The Mercenary and his dog surfed.

I lay on the beach and listened to Bauhaus.

When the stars came out I realised we weren’t going anywhere. The stars poured down upon our heads and Jim Morrison crooned, “I met two young girls, the blonde was called Freedom, the dark one Enterprise”.

Our chariot was not going anywhere. Everyone but me seemed to take this in their stride. I knew then that my parents were going to be M.A.D.

And I was hungry.

We ate chicken liver pate that was gift for someone and traded our clothes for crayfish brought fresh out of the sea by nimble little pikinins. They squealed as they hit the boiling water and nothing has ever tasted so good.

At the Spaza

Come the morning the Fallen Angel was dispatched to a nearby school for fresh water and the Spaza shop for milk with our last R10 note.

He returned beaming with a box of Umkomaas, cheerfully telling us that it was much cheaper than regular milk.

Stony faced we forced him to drink the soured congealing drink and watched in ill-concealed glee as he realised his mistake.

Later that day I ran out of cigarettes. This was the last straw.

Not to worry, it is the Transkei and a very happy farmer was provided some of the, um, local tobacco. It didn’t help the hunger, but it made the time pass quicker.

At some point the Mercenary decided that it time to talk to the police. Not a bad idea. Except that the resident policeman was three sheets to the wind and nodding happily at us proceeded to do nothing about contacting our families. Little did we know.

The Fallen Angel, the Free Spirit and the somewhat reluctant Flower Child.
The Fallen Angel, the Free Spirit and the somewhat reluctant Flower Child.

With no cash on hand, the Mercenary press ganged the Fallen Angel into chopping wood for the local hotel and the Flower Child and the Free Spirit were duly unloaded with all our belongings in the parking lot.

Shortly after they had disappeared into the undergrowth the two of us were sitting morosely and dust covered on our suitcases when we found ourselves held up at gunpoint.

It was my first real life example of why brothers and sisters should not marry and procreate.

The couple looked down the barrel of a very old and lethal looking rifle while drool leaked down their misshapen chins.

Right about now the Free Spirit lost her core of calm and began to get slightly hysterical.

I was exhausted, dirty, fed up and not in the mood. I waved away the gun and asked where the bathroom was.

Astounded, they gestured vaguely down the path and I collected my towel and shampoo and informed the Free Spirit that enough was enough and I was going for a bath.

It was the best bath I have taken. I lay in lukewarm golden coloured water and thanked the gods for indoor plumbing.

The communication barrier between us and them resulted in another dead end on the parental communication front and we retreated back to the beach.

As we sat in the dark glumly watching the flames send sparks up to become part of the Milky Way, we were joined by a Guardian Angel.

This local fisherman and Spaza Shop owner took pity on the poor little white kids and towed us off to take up residence in a series of dead bakkies parked at his store.

He explained that sooner or later… tomorrow maybe… just now… at sometime in the future… someone would be travelling into Umtata and would give us a ride to the city.

As he mixed up an enormous potjie of pap for his pack of little yellow dogs he must have caught our looks of salivating approval. Standing up he made us an offer we couldn’t refuse. If we were hungry he’d give us 10 minutes at the pap before he let the dogs out. We ate like kings.

Meanwhile in the real world about six days had passed and our parents were insane with worry. They tracked us by my ATM withdrawals and helicopters were sent out to scour the countryside for our remains. Friends and family members descended on the Transkei in all manner of vehicles.

And I lay in the courtyard of the Spaza Shop in the load bay of a rusty Isuzu wondering how the hell I was ever going to get home.

One morning a little white Honda pulled up at the gate.

The Mercenary’s mom had arrived.

She took one look at my dusty visage and said, “Your father is not impressed.” An understatement of the century, I think I blurted out, “Look, can’t you just leave me here?”

The Free Spirit, the Mercenary and I were unceremoniously packed in the tiny hatchback leaving all our belongings in the dirt.

The Fallen Angel was left to guard the remains if the bakkie. He waved as disappeared into a cloud of dust amid promises that the Mercenary would be back the next day. He ended up waiting nearly two weeks.

We wandered back into the furore over four missing teenagers in Umtata. Posters with terrible photos of us were photocopied and put up on every corner. We were greeted with effusive hugs and kisses from total strangers with no idea of what was going on. The local hotel put us up for the night and we hit the all you can eat buffet like the starving.

The drive home was taken in complete silence. You could cut the atmosphere with a knife. To this day my stomach tightens in dread when I take the last curve on Long Tom’s Pass towards Harrismith. It was there I fed coins into a call box and prepared to face the wrath of my father.

I was sent to Coventry. The remainder of my vacation was spent with my Godmother where the circumstances of my visit were politely never referred to.

When I finally made it home no-one said a word. It was the large pink polka dotted elephant in the room. Then my grandfather died, the one in East London.

Almost eight months later I found myself driving out of East London towards Umtata yet again.

As the final buildings faded behind us my father calmly turned his head and said, “We have 8 hours ahead of us. Why don’t you tell us exactly what happened in the Transkei?”

My father was an investigative journalist. It was the longest 8 hours of my life.

I would never survive Guantanamo, I cracked in under 2 seconds.

Eighteen years on, the Free Spirit has dedicated her life to saving an endangered parrot in New Zealand which according to Douglas Adams on TED is the world’s most stupid bird and mainly needs saving from itself.

The Mercenary was deemed responsible by the insurance company and had to pay off the helicopter search time for the next 10 years.

I grew up to be a hippie suburban mother and writer driving around in a 1976 VW kombi.

The Fallen Angel travelled the world, charmed more women than he could count and ended up taking staid corporate bankers out of their comfortable cubicles and throwing them off bridges and down mountains.

But on a beach in a quiet corner of the world, on an unspoilt beach a part of us will always be dancing to The Doors under the stars.

Damn if it wasn’t some of the best days of my life.

The Penguin and the Mother City


Wife: “Have you packed?”

Husband: “Yes, but I think I may have forgotten something.”

Wife: “Underpants, toothbrush, socks?”

Husband: “Yes. I travel a lot you know.”

And so we journey to the airport relaxed with time to spare. We open the boot and… no suitcase. Nothing. Not even the ghost of a suitcase. Husband responds with panic stricken shock and horror. Wife tries and fails to stifle guffaws of laughter.

Wife returns home, retrieves suitcase and gets on a flight to the Mother City, the gracious Cape Town. On boarding she is dismayed to discover a very large, very scary woman in her window seat. She contemplates the forced removal of said larger than life female and decides the aisle seat will be fine. Nonetheless she stews over the unfairness of it all the way to her destination.

This was how my romantic weekend getaway in Cape Town, just the two of us, began. In perspective, the last time we went away together without the brood was about four years ago to a wedding. This was a BIG deal. Grandparents had been co-opted to babysit. Children had been bribed to behave. I was not going to let anything ruin this.

Like many Joburgers most of the time I can’t see the point of Cape Town. Until I arrive there. Then I remember. There is something almost spiritual about being sandwiched between the majestic mountains and the vast Atlantic. There is an awareness that we are insignificant and living in this paradise only on the sufferance of Mother Nature.

The drivers are anything but spiritual. They are abysmal. I actually missed the decisive action of my hometown taxi drivers. No-one seems to care much how long it takes to get anywhere. For some reason this aggravates the Mad Max in me.

We checked in at the 4 star Strand Hotel. The room was a shoebox, the bath a cross between a bidet and a fish bowl. Various bits and pieces kept falling off the plumbing. I hastened to the swimming pool. Looked down upon by a high rise parking lot, the pool appears to be nothing more than a rather large and ineffectual bird bath. The lifts were not affected in anyway by the various buttons you could push. They went where they wanted. Slowly.  In fact hotel wise, the only outstanding feature was breakfast cooked up by the resident Ninja, a large taciturn Chinese lady named Cindy. The nights were punctuated by the abuse laden shouts of drunken Bergies. I finally fell asleep dreaming of sitting at the window with an Uzi silencing the local atmosphere. For the same price you can do better. I suggest you do. Try the Grand Daddy.

But, who cares about the accommodation, I was in Cape Town! Now Helen Zille may not be able to toyi-toyi to save her life, but she’s done something absolutely marvellous to the city of Cape Town. There was not a single piece of litter. There were dustbins on every corner. Intrinsic to every inhabitant rich or poor is an inherent and deep-seated pride in the city they call home. If Cape Town is a beautiful woman in her prime, Johannesburg is an overblown lady of the night desperately trying to pick up a quick trick.

It was with some sadness we discovered La Med, the once rustic and casual bar on the beach, has been remodelled into a Camps Bay Paris Hiltonesque gourmet bar called The Bungalow. Exceptionally beautiful decor it was packed with singletons in their late thirties poured into skin tight dresses on the prowl for husband number 2, it has somehow lost the charm of the splintery wooden benches and fish and chips of the past.

We made our obligatory pilgrimage to the Boulders Beach in Simon’s Town determined to ferret out some penguins to display proudly to some out-of-country friends. Up rocks, down rocks, crawling on hands and knees through rocks, just as we were about to give up, I turned around and ended up nose to nose with a thoroughly disgruntled looking penguin. I felt like doing a dance of joy.

Of course I missed my plane home. I was too busy Googling houses on sale in Simons Town and wondering if I could conceivably buy a bookstore in the city centre.


The painted elephant

“How would you feel about moving to India?” asked the husband in an offhand way.

It got me to remembering my first grand adventure when my parents slipped me out of school for three months and we explored the sub-continent.

My parents got Delhi Belly,  I didn’t.

I saw what a Thai lady can do with a ping-pong ball (I wandered into the cabaret by mistake).

I almost got swallowed alive by a folding bed.

It was amazing.

I sat and mused remembering when

I rode an elephant and then

I was ignominiously placed on a camel

And wept and wept holding on to the saddle

While my mother in fits of hysterical laughter

Snapped photos of my trauma for ever after

I remember the scent of sandalwood and cedar

Sweet Campa Cola and the fresh lime soda

Flocks of green parrots that filled the sky

And lurking vultures watching the road go by

I swung on a python and danced with a bear

Until even my father shuddered in fear

I sat in traffic waiting for cows

While drivers made an unholy row

I drank my tea with water buffalo milk

Not a flavour that went down like silk

I walked in the footsteps of ancient kings

I wore silver chains and bells and rings

I felt the mystery, the magic in the air

Hot spices and flavours to good to share

There were tigers watching from the trees

And monkeys that chattered and giggled at me

I wish I could take you there

And dance through the streets without a care

The little engine that did

Imagine if, for just a day, you could leave behind all the trappings of the 21st century and experience something simpler, something richer, something that makes your heart sing and rejuvenates the spirit?

When visiting the UK, most people think of London and not much further.

The truth is that the countryside is filled with experiences and adventures that hark back to the Famous Five, Rupert the Bear and Thomas the Tank Engine.

Hidden in the Norfolk countryside is the Bure Valley Railway Station. It is even home to Clarabelle and Annie.

Meandering through 9 miles of countryside from Alysham to Wroxham the train passes an ancient Roman town and the villages of Brampton, Buxton and Coltishall.

It is the longest 15-inch gauge line in Britain and is manned entirely by volunteers. If you have ever have a model trainset this is the closest you will ever get to experiencing the joys of steam rail travel.

The Bure Station also has a magnificent shop dedicated to model train sets and their fans.

If you have ever wanted to drive a steam train, you can arrange to here – just don’t make plans to go anywhere afterwards as you face will be covered in soot!

The railway is built on the trackbed of what was the East Norfolk Railway (ENR). The ENR began operations in 1877, but stopped transporting passengers in 1952. Until 1981 the line still transported freight and coal, but the station formally closed in 1982.

The Bure Valley Railway opened on 10 July 1990, and a long distance footpath (rail trail) opened alongside it in 1991.

It is currently home to Aylsham Bypass Tunnel, Norfolk’s only operational railway tunnel, which carries the railway under the Aylsham Bypass.

We travelled on the Spitfire, an exquisite little engine who puffed out, “I knew I could, I knew could” all the way to Wroxham and back. The carriages seat up to 22 people on crafted leather seats to which we  gave thanks as we jolted and bumped on way along the track.

Young Master J opened up his window (despite warnings from my Dad about the soot) and stared ecstatically at the engine and the countryside. The allure of the steam train, like that of an ancient castle, cannot be overstated when it comes to small boys (and big ones).

In Wroxham you can wander down to the town and take a boat trip around the broads on Broads Tours, or just enjoy the swans and beauty of this little town.

On our journey back we were lulled to sleep by the gentle rocking of the carriage, except when I was distracted by a peculiar conversation behind me.

Man 1: “Look, this is the picture of the newt I took yesterday.”

Man 2: “Marvellous, I am sure you can enhance that on your PC.”

I’d never heard people talk about newts with such excitement before. This group of men were wandering the footways of Britain with backpacks and cameras and little else. It sounds like a wonderful adventure albeit a slightly damp and muddy one.

You can visit the Bure Valley Railway online here:

Or follow them on Facebook here:

A Norfolk Broad

No, I don’t mean a woman – at not in the traditional sense – I mean a boat – the Queen of the Broads to be precise. She was launched in 1977 and takes 160 visitors twice a day around the magical Broads.

Swans in Wroxham

The Broads are one of the places you can only experience by water and Broads Tours was created to give visitors a glimpse at the heart of this watery haven.

It began when a group of men persuaded a friend to take them around by boat. As they all differed in opinion about where they wanted to go it was decided they would each rent a boat from their friend and go their own way.

You can still do that today by choosing either a guided passenger trip or renting a boat for yourself.

Many people choose this as a holiday destination renting a houseboat or holiday home and cruising around the 120 miles of waterways.

Once upon a time, in the foggy mists of history much of Norfolk was wetland, but as more people moved to the area the marshes were drained for agricultural land.

When the Norsemen arrives they were appalled to discover the locals using timber for fuel. Timber was held sacred by the Norse and used only for ships.

They dug deep into the marshland to discover rich deposits of peat and started the process of what is now the Broads.

From the 12th to the 14th century great pits were dug to extract peat.

Gradually, they filled up with water creating one of the most important communication and trade networks in the country.

In those days Norwich was second only to London and Great Yarmouth was an important port for wool, agriculture and weaving.

In the 18th century it became an important tourist destination and is nowadays used largely for recreation.

George Formby’s House

You may not know the ukulele, but one of the world’s top players, George Formby, owned a house on the Broads where spent holidays with his beloved wife Beryl.

Houses here have to be built on deep piles and raised to prevent flooding.

Most choose the lightest construction methods they can find using the traditional thatching to reduce the weight of the roof.

One gorgeous home is on sale for the paltry amount of 1.5 million pounds.

The Broads is home to an enormous amount of plant, bird and animal life and speed limits on the waterways are strictly adhered to.

Should you speed, the water police will intercept you, fine you and may ban you from using the water.

This is to protect the many nesting birds you can see along the banks or swimming along trying to keep groups of young fledglings going in the same direction.

The two-hour trip takes you far away from the smog of the city and right into the heart of Wind in the Willows. I think Mr. Toad would have chosen George Formby’s house.

The best way to make a day of it, is to catch a steam train from the Bure Valley Railway in Aylsham, travel through the countryside to Wroxham and then take a boat ride through the Broads.

Simply messing about in boats

“The Mole was bewitched, entranced, fascinated. By the side of the river he trotted as one trots, when very small, by the side of a man who holds one spell-bound by exciting stories; and when tired at last, he sat on the bank, while the river still chattered on to him, a babbling procession of the best stories in the world, sent from the heart of the earth to be told at last to the insatiable sea.” Kenneth Grahame, The Wind in the Willows, Ch. 1

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And the Buhr Valley Railway here:

Eggs don’t fly

Egg with Wings by David the Divine

Eggs have the potential to fly – if you could say that the inane flutterings of a chicken resembles flying.

However, an egg does not travel airbourne well.


You can try this at home – stand on one side of the kitchen and fling the egg across the room and watch what happens.

One unholy mess.

This being the case it begs the question why, oh why, do airlines insist on serving eggs for breakfast.

Here is an itemised list as to why they should stop this revolting practice post-haste.

1. Eggs should never be made in bulk

2. Eggs should not be freeze-dried or reconstituted (unless you are in a space station orbiting Mars and have run out of everything else – maybe not even then)

3. Eggs should not be reheated. This does something to their quantum physics and turns them a thing closely resembling crunchy rubber

4. Eggs should not be eaten in close confined spaces – like aeroplanes – this is because egg exhaust fumes are released as a dark brown sulphurous cloud over the inhabitants leading to mass rioting

5. Immigration queues are best irritating, but when hundreds of travellers come together after an airline egg breakfast it becomes beyond tolerable – especially when the loos are strategically placed on the far side of passport control

Not that the continental option is much better. Having been frozen solid for 8 hours you can use the croissant like a deadly icy boomerang.

I give up, next time I am taking sandwiches and a gas mask.