21 January 2009


new hollandt on the old globe
New Hollandt, in the Museum of Ancient Maps

You know what? I am so jetlagged that I can’t be arsed writing properly about Italy. I feel really weird and kind of dreamy and it’s not even 9am at the time of writing*, so I can’t sleep for HOURS AND HOURS AND HOURS! [* It's now 6pm, so I will be able to sleep SOOOOOON!]

We got upgraded on the flight home, which was AWESOME! It meant having more (some!) leg room, friendly staff, noise-cancelling headsets, seats that reclined enough to make sleeping possible, and a glass of champagne before takeoff. Fantastic! We left the flight feeling almost human! It helped that our lovely friends SJ and Es were there to meet us and take us home.

painted building, scooters
Painted building and scooters = Italy!

OK, but Italy? THAT WAS FUN! I’d never met N before, and it was great to stay with him for a couple of nights, meet his cute dog and his flatmates, walk for miles and miles around the city, visit 34980 museums, eat enormous pizza, drink good coffee, and teach him about cricket. Internet friends are awesome!

n&j are mysterious
N and J being mysterious

jack is skeptical about waking up to say goodbye
The cute dog, Jack

Given that I am so jetlagged and lazy, you are very lucky that N has blogged about our adventures already, so you can read all about it there! You can also see his picspam of my face here!

square with cyclist
Beautiful Bologna!

Huge pizza

You can find more photos from Bologna here.

eye in the basilica

And that is that, I suppose! We've had a nice day in the sunshine, meeting E for delicious brunch at Tin Pot and going to her parents' house to watch some Obama stuff and drink champagne laugh at inappropriate moments. It's hot here, but I'm glad we didn't fly in yesterday during the daytime, because it got to OVER 40 DEGREES. YUCK! Bring back the ice and frost!

19 January 2009


I don't know how many people read this blog who wouldn't have already read it on my trans blog, but I'd really appreciate it if you could check out this link: Getting Pronouns Right: A Guide for Spoken Conversation. I've had to deal with too many pronoun fuck-ups recently, so if you think you have made/might make a mistake (or someone you've spoken to has made/might make a mistake), I'd like you to read the linked blog post. It's difficult for me to deal with, so please educate yourselves. Thanks.

18 January 2009


A better night sleep for D, but still not perfect. Woke feeling better than he had done since he’d been ill. Slight improvements every day – hopefully by the end of the holiday he’ll be well – just in time to go back to work. J watched a stunning sunrise out the window, and marvelled at the much changed scenery before him. The mist and frost of the previous few days had gone, and the horizon had broadened considerably.

J&D went down to watch an early morning episode of Mountain with Griff over breakfast. Halfway through the episode, A came down to greet us with the news that, overnight, their home in London had been flooded! Apparently, they got a call from my mum’s sister at about 2AM, which had them really worried about my mum’s parents’ health. So when she said, “No, it’s just that your water tank has burst and totally flooded one side of your house, totally destroying your bathroom and half your kitchen, and who knows how much longer some of those walls will be standing?” they actually breathed a sigh of relief! They sat up for most of the night trying to organise things and decide what to do, but have taken the whole situation very philosophically, and have spent the day excitedly planning new designs for their home. The upshot of it is that they will go and live with my mum’s parents (just like they did when they first got married 38 years ago!), while J and D will be staying with E and L.

Speaking of E & L, they headed back to London today, and stopped in on my parents place to survey the damage, and salvage as much food as was salvageable (apparently quite a lot, which is good because they will soon be entertaining some unexpected guests).

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, in between phone calls coming and going, updating and filling in those who needed to be updated and filled in, we decided to go for a little afternoon stroll. We all piled into one car and drove to the pretty little village of Minster Lovell. We walked across a horrendously muddy field, which turned out merely to be a small taster of what was to come for much of the rest of the walk. We arrived at an attractive old church, which sat beside an impressive ruinous shell of a former manor house. So for us, there were two ruined houses in one day.

We walked on alongside the wonderfully named River Windrush for a while, our shoes slipping all over the place in the heavily churned mud. The hike was only short (it took us 2 hours in total), but hard going. Our feet were heavy with caked mud, and we had no grip, but we waddled on, and were relieved when the path eventually led us onto a tarmaced road, which we gratefully stomped down back into the village, leaving a trail of brown sludge in our wake. The village itself was very picturesque, full of beautiful old houses and exquisitely thatched roofs. But we didn’t stay long. We scraped as much mud of our boots as we could, then got back into the car and headed home. J made a delicious and fresh buffalo mozzarella salad, which he mixed with left over pesto pasta, for a tasty afternoon snack, before all going off to soak in well-earned baths.

We headed out for a light supper in Burford – the only places that were open on a Sunday night were the town’s 2 pubs. We picked one, and had adequate meals, before heading back to the house that, thankfully, still stood in one piece.


Dan was feeling slightly better than the day before, which was good because today we were driving to Cheltenham to catch up with I & J, who were coming over from Bristol to see us. The drive to Cheltenham took us through a magical winter wonderland, with frost clinging to everything – the trees all looked as though they had been sprayed with white powder. J spent most of the drive with his mouth hanging open in awe, not quite believing the beauty of the landscape.

The frost thinned out and disappeared completely as we entered tropical Cheltenham, and we headed to the appointed meeting place. We found I & J, and then all bundled back into the car, and left Cheltenham to return to the white world surrounding it.

We headed through some marvellously named little towns and villages (Birdslip?), parked the car in Brimpsfield and set off on a little wander around the area.

In the centre of the village, we came across some adorable ginger spotted pigs, complete with rings in the ends of their noses!

Are spider webs ever as beautiful as when they are covered in frost?

We clambered over a style and headed down a path into a little valley. It was stunningly beautiful and wonderfully silent. We were even treated to the sight of a deer leaping agilely across our path! The path got dangerously icy in places, which just made it more fun, and we saw many spent shotgun cartridges strewn in little piles periodically along the path – this was huntin’ country.

We began the ascent out of the valley, and decided that the quickest way back to the car would be to take the road, which provided us with more exciting scenery.

Earlier in the walk, we had been passed by a large convoy of Range Rovers, all, we presumed, off for a shoot. We were proved correct, as we now passed a solitary flagger, standing bored and trying to keep warm, waiting for the action to begin. Slightly further up the road, a car, full of young hippy types, pulled up next to us and asked us if we had seen a hunt nearby. We pointed it out to them and cheered the protestors (we presumed they were protestors) as they drove off to fight the good fight.

We returned to the car, and drove to an isolated country pub, the Green Dragon Inn, for lunch. After lunch, we dropped I & J back in Cheltenham, said our goodbyes, and then headed back to Burford for an uneventful and relaxing afternoon.

14 January 2009


Dan was feeling extremely poorly, so he decided to spend the day at home. I, on the other hand, was more than ready to go for a nice long walk. One of the circular walks in the Cotswolds guidebook provided by the cottage went close by, and was a bit over 8kms in length, so I set off by myself.


The walk was amazing – everything was covered in frost, and the heavy mist meant that visibility was poor.


However, the mist made everything look white and magical, and I realised that sometimes this makes the scenery even more beautiful – every new landmark appears out of nothing in front of you and vanishes behind you, lending an air of mystery and discovery even to the most common objects.



It also makes navigating by guidebook instructions amusing, as you can’t always see the “trees in the opposite corner” that you’re meant to head towards, and when you do, they loom up quite mencingly!



I was swaddled in numerous layers of thermal clothing and waterproofs, but after a quarter of an hour, I had to take off my jacket and hat and wipe away the sweat I’d worked up. About twenty minutes after that I touched my hair and realised that a frost was forming in it!


That was pretty much the most amazing thing that had ever happened to me, so I was glad that an old Welsh man and his dog appeared out of the mist and I could share my excitement. The dog even had frost on her ears!


About a third of the way through the walk I heard some strange swishing, crushing sounds, then a few gun shots – not too far away. Peering carefully over one of the drystone walls, I saw a few huddled figures standing at regular intervals alongside a field of dead corn waving large white, yellow and orange flags.


At first I didn’t quite understand what was going on, but I bumped into a couple of fellow walkers (from Leicester) who explained that it was a pheasant shoot: a number of beaters walked through the corn, herding the (somewhat farmed) pheasants towards the shooters, the pheasants would run until they had no room left and then take flight, and the people with flags would try to ensure the pheasants would fly in the direction of the guns. The pheasants weren’t all that stupid, however, and we saw quite a few take off in the wrong/right direction. I say the pheasants were ‘somewhat farmed’ because they were raised from chicks in a yard opposite the field, and then released into the cornfield and fed regularly until it was shooting season (one shoot a week for 14 weeks, I believe). I was in two minds about what I was watching – on the one hand, I am vegetarian and not particularly into the idea of shooting defenceless birds as a ‘sport’, but on the other hand, I doubted I would witness such an event again for a long time, if ever – and it does seem somehow quintessentially English. (More on this in the next day’s blog!)


I ended up walking with the Leicester couple the rest of the way to Burford, which was mostly pleasant, as they had spent the past week in the area and had some good suggestions for things to see, walks to do and places to go.


We were all impressed by the iciness and wintry appearance, especially as we made our way down the gentle slope of Dean Bottom, and the old medieval church of Widford appeared to our right.


We visited the church to see the wall paintings, dated from around 1350, and looked at (but didn’t explore) the ditches and mounds that are the remains of the medieval village.


We made it back to Burford after the last bit of easy strolling along the river.


Well, it was easy apart from the slippery ice, which almost did for one of my companions a number of times! We parted ways and I walked up and down the main street, ate my little roll, and then headed back towards the cottage.


I met up with M, A, E and L near the house and showed them the footpath to Burford.


It’s a very quick walk to the main street, down through a field and then straight over the bridge. We looked in a number of shops along the street – a cosy little second-hand-antique-collectibles shop was the highlight, and I bought a country gentleman scarf from the Oxford Shirt Co.


We had lunch at the bakery, which was bustling and friendly, and the meal was filling and warming.


As it gets dark at about 4:30, there wasn’t much chance for more exploring, so we had a lovely dinner and sat around in front of the fire watching DVDs, playing sudoku, and reading until bed time. LOVELY DAY!


On Thursday, Dan was feeling pretty ill, so we had a bit of a sleep in, then packed the cars and headed off to our cottage in the Cotswolds. We decided to stop off in Marlow on the way, because Dan’s family often had holidays there when he was a kid, and I still hadn’t made it there in all my trips to England. It was quite lovely – the winter sun was bright, the view from the bridge over the water was delightful, and the lunch we had at the Marlow Bar and Grill was very tasty (the chips were great, and I’d love to have the rich, fragrant mushroom risotto again).

marlow church in the river

the thames at marlow fork in the path reflection / reality

Dan was feeling worse and worse, so M drove her car with D as a passenger, and I went in the other car with A. As we drove along the M40, we saw a few red kites, and we passed over the Ridgeway Path. I had a bit of a giggle to myself as I remembered the guidebook telling us that the noise from the motorway would soon fade (it didn’t!) as we entered the small stand of trees. The scenery was very different in winter than in autumn – the trees were for the most part bare, and the fog was creeping in along the valleys. We passed around the top of Oxford, and I noticed the big hill we’d skirted when walking the Thames Path in 2006. It is pretty awesome to think that we’ve covered quite a bit of ground during our travels!

We arrived in Burford as it was getting dark (so, about 4pm!), and after asking directions a couple of times we made it to our cottage. The place is beautiful – 3 storeys, with a kitchen, conservatory and lounge on the ground, two double bedrooms and a bathroom (with a claw-footed bath) on the middle floor, and two more bedrooms (1 double – ours! – and one twin) and another bathroom on the top. It is attached to Manor Farm, and sits on top of a hill, so from our window we can see a row of gorgeous Cotswold stone buildings, and we have a view over the fields and down to Burford. . . At least, we have a view if it’s not too misty! There are two fireplaces, too, so my childhood of building fires, and watching my parents build them, has helped us out – even though the wood hasn’t been properly dried, so it’s very fizzy and smoky and hard to light.

our room at westhall cottage

13 January 2009



We had breakfast at the hotel after a lie-in, then went back to Haarlemmerdijk for more of a look around and a cup of tea at teabar. I had green tea with nuts, vanilla, and spices, and OMG IT WAS SO YUM – I bought some to take away with me.

We saw two sets of cousins along the way, too! On the way back to the hotel, we got slightly lost and somehow ended up walking the wrong way! Luckily we realised pretty quickly and eventually hopped onto the tram back and to the hotel with time to spare.

We sat down for lunch in a lovely café, but ended up having to get the food takeaway so we could catch our bus.

espresso and biscotti

sardegna olive oil choco & chilli tea

We ate the food in the airport, and it was DELICIOUS. Oh my word, the Brussels sprouts and beans cooked with garlic and onion were superb, and the roast pumpkin was delicious. The risotto was good, with whole cloves of garlic and tender but not overcooked pieces of broccoli, topped with slices of pecorino (I think).

At check-in, the assistant called over another staff member and asked her about the discrepancy between the F on my passport and the Mr on my ticket. I told her it was because I’m trans, and she was very accepting of that. “Don’t they change the passports in Australia?” she asked, and when we told her it wasn’t easy she shook her head and said, “It’s your life, I think.” She was awesome and I loved her. The end.

The flight was half-full and very short – we arrived about 20 minutes early. Despite my worries about my cold and the lack of PROPER decongestant, my ears didn’t get too painful. They popped when they were meant to, and so I counted that as a victory to the nasal spray. We got to watch the sun set from the runway in Amsterdam, and then again just as we were coming in over London. It’s the first time I’ve flown that way – we saw the Channel, and it’s true that England and France are very close together! We flew in to London on the north side of the Thames, so we saw the bridges, the Millennium Dome, and various other landmarks. By that stage it was getting a little dark, though, so we couldn’t make out much detail. However, we could see heaps of ice and white patches in a lot of the parks – it was exciting!


M picked us up from the airport in the pitch black of 5pm and drove us home via the chemist, where I picked up some blessed, blessed sinus tablets with pseudoephedrine! My ears started feeling better within half an hour of taking them. Back at the family K residence, A had heated up some delicious soup, and we sat around and had a chat for a while before D and I fell into bed at some ridiculously early hour and slept and slept and slept.


Wednesday was a family day – I hardly have any time in London, I’ve just realised, so it was good to see heaps of people. We have one day in London, then to the Cotswolds from Thursday to Monday, Tuesday in London, Bologna from Wednesday to Friday, the weekend in London, then flying home on Monday.

from the window in finchley: winter

In the morning D’s sister in law came over with her son T and our newest and snuffliest nephew Y. S, D’s cousin, also dropped in to spend the day – she is here from South Africa. The family is in the process of making a video for E and L’s wedding, so a friend came over with a mini-setup (2 lights, camera and mic, etc) to do some filming. Adam arrived for that, so combined with E (the cleaner) and L (the office assistant), the house was pretty full! I escaped at one point to have a nice long bath, and consequently missed H (D’s grandfather) popping in for a visit. L (D’s grandmother) was quite ill recently and had to go to hospital a couple of days ago. She is feeling much better now, but she and H weren’t able to make it to the Cotswolds after all.

I spent a bit of time fiddling with some chords on the piano, to get a small song out (it’s been simmering in the back of my mind since Ameland, but I needed a piano to write it), and D did some admin stuff. However, D wasn’t feeling very good, so he also had a bit of a nap, and I looked after him before we all piled in the car to go to R & B’s house for dinner. I hadn’t been there before, so that was nice. D’s cousins B & A were also there, and it’s always good to talk to them.

B was telling me about the time he spent on a small island in the middle of a huge lake in Germany one winter – it sounded amazing. There are two islands, one with a monastery and one with a nunnery, and the one he was staying on could be walked around in 15 minutes (I don’t know if that’s an exaggeration). When he was there, a heavy mist surrounded the island for the whole week, so he could only see a few metres in front of him at any time. He was there for an osteopathy conference, and really the only other people on the island were nuns and people visiting the nunnery on a silent retreat. It sounded like an incredible (and slightly eerie) experience!

Dinner was very tasty, and I got to meet the ancient cat, who is 20 years old and quite . . . well, I’d say scrawny, but she is so beautiful despite being decrepit that it hardly seems a suitable word. Aww. I do like cats. There were a few in shop windows in Amsterdam, and I took photos of a couple, but most of the pictures didn’t turn out so well!

cat on the shelves

cats in amsterdam: hello?

cats in amsterdam: NO FRESH SANDWICH FOR YOU!