Still in the Northern Hemisphere

But not because anything has gone wrong.  Rather, geography was never my strongest subject at school… it turns out Singapore is indeed in the Northern Hemisphere.  Only by 1 degree, but it still counts.

So tonight is our last night in the Northern Hemisphere.  This time tomorrow night we will be at Changi Airport, waiting to board an overnight flight to Sydney, and then on home to Canberra.

We have had a very pleasant two days in Singapore, made especially so by our (almost) surprise visitors.  On the day we left Winchester, Tony’s parents rang to say that they had decided it had been too long since they had seen the grandkids – so they were flying up to Singapore to coincide with us.  (It’s only a 5 hour flight from Perth, so spontaneity is doable).

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Any blurriness is the camera, not me. The Singapore sling I had prior to dinner has nothing to do with it.

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Our little family is all a bit jet lagged – the kids did not want to wake up this morning.  Even after I put Millie in with Toby (usually a guarantee of riotous laughter within seconds), they kept sleeping.

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Still, we have kept them awake enough to have fun with Margie and Poppa Dave.

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No really, Millie’s having fun.

We have had wonderful meals together – including a lovely dinner by the pool at M&D’s hotel, my first taste of Chilli Crab, and a trip to a hawker’s market in Chinatown that was hectic but fun.

Today we headed out to the Gardens by the Bay, which is a beautiful garden (surprisingly enough) development on reclaimed land.  Our favourite part was the Cloud Forest, which is a 35m tall artificial mountain with a waterfall (the world’s largest artificial waterfall), planted with cool-moist rainforest vegetation – all entirely indoors under a dome.  It’s nuts, and absolutely gorgeous.

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Along with the plants, are little touches of whimsy – statures dotted throughout, and in one bed, Lego plants interspersed with the real.

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It was beautiful to see the views out over Singapore – and I braved the (very high) walkway to see them. So after one last family reunion on our big trip, we are finally on the cusp of heading home.  It’s been fantastic, and I have very mixed feelings about it all coming to an end.

Still in the Northern Hemisphere

Our last night in the Northern Hemisphere

Things I will miss about England

1.  The casual littering of historical things everywhere.  This is a grave of a man who died in 1680, also marking the burial spot of his son who died in 1669.

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It was placed outside what was then a church.  Winchester, however, had lots of old churches (still does) and this particular one has long ceased serving as a church.  Instead, the remains of the building now house the public toilets.  So poor old Benjamin Clarke Esq, having had his tombstone laid outside the church, now lies outside the loos, with cigarette butts adorning his grave.   It’s sad, in its way, but also staggering – there is simply so much history here that 17th century graves are unremarkable.

2.  Exploring the food of Hampshire – we’ve been having some fun while we’ve been here.

With Autumn upon us, that has meant lots of game.  We’ve cooked partridges (but no pear tree), wild duck and buffalo burgers.

British bacon is a beautiful thing – our favourite is non-smoked, dry cured, thin cut.  Clotted cream is also fantastic.  I went through a little clotted cream binge, before I read that the fat content is high enough to actually be classified as butter in the US.

We’ve also had some truly spectacular mushrooms from the farmer’s markets.

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By far the best discovery though has been this:

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Some call it smoked garlic butter, others call it magical food crack.  Addictive and transformative, it makes the best scrambled eggs in existence.  Served over some local dry aged steaks it’s not bad either.

3.  Convenience Foods.  I always wondered why Jamie Oliver railed against pre-made meals so much – surely people didn’t eat them that often?  Then I got here and realised – oh, they’re actually good here.  Not all of them, to be sure (and there are a staggering variety – and an entire supermarket chain devoted to selling frozen pre-made meals), but enough that it’s not a horrific concept.

I’m sure it’s a chicken and egg situation – people eat them because they’re good, they’re good because there’s a demand for them – and I certainly wouldn’t want them too often.  That said, especially while away from my pantry, it’s nice to be able to pick up something tasty and easy without having to buy yet another thing we’ll have to leave behind half-finished (last count: paprika, fennel seeds, coriander, soy sauce, fish sauce, sriracha, olive oil, cider vinegar, sesame oil, chipotle sauce and coconut oil.) .   For our last night we’re having a very good Butter Chicken with tumeric rice.  It’s fresh, and tasty, and very very very easy.

4.  Watching Dr Who and Downton Abbey as they air live in England.  It just seems right somehow.

The rest of British TV is not quite so enjoyable – it seems to consist entirely of shows about stately homes and/or gardens, the X Factor, and repeats of Top Gear and Don’t Tell the Bride.

5. A White (or at least winter) Christmas.

It’s clear Winchester is gearing up for Christmas – the lights are going up in the streets, and the air is getting colder.  There is an ice-skating rink being built behind the Cathedral, and winter markets going up.  This is a city that will wear festive cheer well, and I’m sorry we’re going to miss it.

Things I am looking forward to about going home.

1. Everything.

This has been a fantastic trip, and it’s bitter-sweet to know it’s ending.  We looked forward to this for so long, planned it, discussed it and dreamt about it.  We know full well it will be a long time, if ever, we get a chance to travel this far and this long as a family again.

But, we are ready to go home.   I am ready for our house, our dog, our chickens, our garden.  I’m ready for blue skies, and gum trees, and summer sun.  I’m ready for Toby to go back to school (oh boy am I ready for that), and for our normal lives to return.  It’s a good thing we’re not flying Qantas home, because I think I’d dissolve at the first strains of I Still Call Australia Home.

Before then, though, we have two nights on planes (strictly economy class this time) and three nights in Singapore.  A final little jaunt to round out this amazing experience.

Our last night in the Northern Hemisphere

Boys Day Out…

Hi readers! Tony here! I’m guest blogging again because I know you just can’t get enough of me. Plus also Min is making sausage rolls out of leftovers (with just three sleeps to go until we start our journey home again, we’re eating down the fridge…)

When we first arrived, we had three days in London. On our first full day here, we had grand plans that were rudely interrupted, which meant that I didn’t manage to show Toby a couple of things I really thought he’d enjoy. So today we decided to make the most of our dwindling time here in the UK, and that he and I would head up to London for the day. Our original plan was to get there bright and early, catching a 7.45 train to get into town at 8.50, so that we could be at our first destination when it opened at 9.00. With this in mind, I duly hauled my sleep loving son out of bed at 6.30 this morning and we fed, clothed, got packed and rugged up, and walked up the hill to the station.

Where we discovered that a return peak hour ticket for the day would set us back 99 POUNDS! Or we could wait until 9.00 and pay half that much.

So after a false start (walk back down hill, make tea for Imogen, feed Millie…) we finally got up to London quite a bit later than we’d hoped.

That was fine, though, because on the tube we took selfies. Which Toby took great delight in ‘enhancing’

This was one of the better ones, sadly.
This was one of the better ones, sadly.

It wasn’t a problem, though, because we weren’t on the tube for very long before we arrived at our first destination: The Bloody Tower!

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I first visited the Tower of London about 20 years ago, on my first visit to London. I remember it being a fantastic experience, partly because it was the dead of winter, pouring with rain, and as a consequence there were only about 5 people in our tour group. Today wasn’t quite so apocalyptic, but it was nevertheless a fairly grey day, and there were no queues or enormous crowds. In fact, the biggest groups getting in the way were school excursions.

We started off doing the tour directed by one of the Yeoman Guards. These are rightly renowned for being highly devoted to providing  entertainment as well as informative value. The guardsmen themselves are all former servicemen, have all received military honours for their service, and – having been continuously in service since 1485 are one of the oldest continuous corps of servicemen. The tour was fantastic, though Toby did have to get his head around the whole concept of beheading (which, let’s face it, is a fairly major theme in the history of the tower). Luckily he was assisted by our Yeoman Warder, who ended each section of the tour as follows:

Yeoman: Are you all still happy to keep going with the tour?

Us: Yes!

Yeoman: Excellent. Then let’s be-heading up (these stairs/this passage etc…)

Seriously, that joke just never got old.

Toby. Keeping his head during the tour
Toby. Keeping his head during the tour

After the tour, we took a look at the crown jewels, which we both enjoyed (but which can’t be photographed, so no pics, sorry.) THen took a walk around the tower grounds and along the walls, stopping only a few times for Toby to shoot imaginary arrows from the battlements.

Take that, you pesky iconic bridge!
Take that, you pesky iconic bridge!

Other highlights included watching the Welsh guard marching up and down the square:

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And having a go in the guardbox ourselves, trying to stand to attention and ignore all distractions*:

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Then, thanks to our later-than-planned start, it was time to get moving again. We took a quick stroll across Tower Bridge (which, thankfully, had survived Toby’s imaginary onslaught from a few minutes earlier)…

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To our next destination, the HMS Belfast museum.

The Belfast is a retired battle cruiser from WW2 and the Korean War. Launched in 1938, she saw a lot of active service in the second world war, was refurbished somewhat for the Korean war, and was then retired to the Thames, where she’s now one of the most amazing museums that I’ve ever visited. The first time I went over her, again back during my first trip to London in my mid 20’s, I remember being amazed at how open the whole ship was. It’s still pretty much the same… you can explore every little nook and cranny from the Admiral’s sea cabin, through the enormous cannons, which could shoot a shell 25 miles (they’re currently trained on a service area beside the M1, a little over 24.5 miles outside London)

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and right down to the magazine and boiler rooms in the very bottom of the ship.

There were a *lot* of ladders. All of them very steep.
There were a *lot* of ladders. All of them very steep.
Toby wasn't too keen clambering down the steep narrow ladders into the boiler room, but he did it all the same!
Toby wasn’t too keen clambering down the steep narrow ladders into the boiler room, but he did it all the same!

There’s an audio guide but, to be honest, it’s more fun just wandering and imagining what life would have been like for the almost 1000 men who lived and worked aboard her for months at a time. It wouldn’t have been pleasant. The officers all got rudimentary sea bunks, but most of the ratings lived in hammocks slung in just about every corner of the fo’castle.

They’ve done an amazing job of keeping the ship ‘as is’, and you really get a strong sense of it as a working, fighting vessel, and of just what life was like for the sailors:

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After almost two hours crawling over the ship, we realised that we were about to run out of ‘off peak’ time on our train tickets, and so had to head for home, pausing only for Toby to work his modelling career:

Finally meeting his... never mind.
Finally meeting his… never mind.

We did some schoolwork on the train, and got home as the sun went down, tired but happy. We didn’t manage our third goal, which was the Globe Theatre, but it’s good to save something for next time.

*Toby managed just a little under 3 seconds, which doesn’t sound like much but, to be honest, was better than I was expecting…

Boys Day Out…

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness.

John Keats wrote Ode to Autumn after an evening walk along the River Itchen near Winchester in September 1819.  Today we went for a walk along that same river, in the Winnall Moors.  However, in late Autumn the former floodplain that is now the moors is less mellow fruitfulness, and more the dying end of the growing season.  So, with apologies to Keats….

Season of mists and Sunday family walks,

Close bosom-friend of a media-free son;

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Conspiring parents just want him to talk

About non-ipad things – and even to run;

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Bend with age the moss’d and gnarled trees

As red leaves form a carpet at their feet;

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And Autumn still shows us her colourful hues,

Though muted this late; grown discreet,

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As we walk under the season’s last canopies,

The coming of Winter stills water and air,

Peace broken only by echo of leather on shoes.*

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(*Yes, I know technically one plays rugby in boots not shoes, but it wouldn’t have fit the rhyme scheme.)

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness.

Back to Bournemouth

The thing about momentum is once lost, it’s very hard to get back.  For the first two months of this trip, we rushed about madly for the most part, always ready to see something, to go somewhere, to pack and unpack and pack again.  Once we got to Winchester, we stopped.  We unpacked.  We didn’t repack.

And then the inertia set in.

I mentioned this to a friend of mine, and said how we were even finding the thought of a train trip to the coast as just too much. He reminded me something I know, but it was to good to hear again – we won’t be back here for a while, and it would be a shame to miss out on seeing what we can.

Today when we woke up, the sun was struggling out from behind the clouds, but the metropolitan weather office informed us that the further West we headed, the better our chances of sunshine.  Tony had been sad about missing out on seeing Bournemouth, and Toby and I were keen for a trip back.  So we hopped on (well, narrowly missed one train, hung out at Winchester train station for half an hour and then hopped on) a train and headed to the seaside once again.

And when we got there we were very glad we did.  Bournemouth put on a show on a glorious sunshine filled day.

Let's not forget this is England in late October.
Let’s not forget this is England in late October.

Without the trappings of a summer day at the seaside – the bouncy castles and dodgem rides of our last visit were long gone – I was struck by the nostalgic glamour of Bournemouth.    There is a fantastic hotel perched on the cliffs above the beach.

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It’s currently a Marriot, but started it’s life in 1875 as ‘Highcliff Mansions’, attracting aristocratic visitors.  It’s all too easy to imagine the ladies and gentleman of the day strolling along the promenade, taking in the sea air.

By 1908 the trip back up to the hotel was made easier by the addition of a furnicular – which is still in operation today.

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Adding to the charm is the row of beach huts along the promenade.  They’re available to hire, and although most are shut up out of summer, there were a few open today.  Each is supplied with a little gas hob and a kettle.  I can’t think of anything much more perfect than sitting reading, drinking tea, and watching the ocean from a little beach hut.  Perhaps stopping at lunch time to fry up some sausages.  (There is, in my mind, something quintessentially English about frying sausages in the open air.  I suspect it’s a Famous Five/Harry Potter thing.)

As long as I could find someone to watch the kids.

The kids loved the beach today.  Millie and Toby played together in the sand for the first time – a development that is making me very happy about our planned Christmas jaunt to Cottesloe.

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Millie put her increasingly confident walking and running skills to the test, and made a break for it whenever she could.

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Although most of the summer trappings had gone, there were a few left.  Toby had a go on the trampolines.

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The time limits were very generous (especially compared to ones we have done in Australia) so Toby had a great time.  We couldn’t convince him to do a somersault, but he did get quite high by the end.

Meanwhile Millie stole my icecream.  (Blackcurrants and clotted cream.  It was delicious.  Evidently she agreed).

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We had a great day out, made perfect by making our train home with a minute to spare, after racing up and over the footbridge, Tony carrying the pram with him (it’s the little things….).  I’ll leave the last picture to Toby, who commandeered the camera on the way home.

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(The hat was meant for Millie, but I failed knitting 101 and didn’t check my gauge, and kept squashing down that inner voice that was saying ‘I know she has a big head, but do you really think it’s this big?’.  No.  It’s not.  Luckily the hat fits Toby, and there is a matching one for Millie now on my needles.)

Back to Bournemouth

Travelling with kids: lessons learned from the road.

After almost three months of this whole travel thing, we’ve certainly learnt a few things along the way.

1. The most important thing in any place to stay is ready access to a good washing machine and dryer. 

Pretty much everything else is optional.  Separate places to sleep?  Nice, but not necessary.  A kitchen?  Good, but can be worked around.  But unless you operate on a continual cycle of throw out and rebuy clothes, you will need a washing machine (and even then, you’ll do that a few times anyway).  And quite often, you will need one now.  Not in the time it takes to walk to a laundromat.  Certainly not in the time it takes a hotel to do the laundry.

Our house in Winchester has the most effective washer/dryer I’ve every come across – it’s also the only effective washer/dryer I’ve ever come across.  (The one in Paris, for instance, took 7 hours to make everything damp and vaguely warm).  This has been good for our peace of mind, and general levels of cleanliness.  Why is a washing machine so important? Well, kids are dirty.  Obviously.  But this also leads us to

2.  Kids have an impeccable, in-built sense of timing as to when would be the worst possible time to do something.

Rasperry vomit all over pyjamas hours before a big train journey?    Check!  Baby explosions while waiting for a bus to take you to an overnight ferry (with no washing machine?  Been there, done that!  You will end up carrying bags of unmentionably gross clothes with you, but if you at least know there’s a washing machine waiting for you at the end of the day, it’s just that little more bearable.

The timing doesn’t stop at mess making, of course.  Kids will, when travelling, do everything at the worst possible time.  Millie has mastered the art of falling asleep 5 minutes before we need to go somewhere.  During landing is her particular favourite (after a whole flight of stubbornly resisting sleep, of course), but she has managed to do it even while being held while other members of the family get their shoes on.

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Or while placed on the bed for a minute before we walk out the door.

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3.  We did in fact need a ring sling, a woven wrap and a travel stroller.

Working out what to take to carry Millie in was the subject of many long discussions before we left, and the answer we came up with was: take them all!  But in fact all have been uniquely useful.

The ring sling is great for quick ups and downs – navigating airports, being taken off for airport security, being put on again – especially in places where stairs and escalators are much more convenient than seeking out the few lone elevators.

The wrap is much more comfortable for longer periods of carrying, and has been brilliant for anywhere you would not (and often could not) take a pram:  the Vatican musuem, walking the beach at Bournemoth, climbing towers in Oxford.

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And the pram has been excellent when it’s just been too hot to carry, or when we need to be able to switch Millie quickly between us – Legoland was the perfect example of this.

The wraps and ring sling have, as we discovered a dual purpose though.  They make an excellent seatbelt/temporary child restraint system.

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4. For every good travel photo, there’s at least one outtake, thanks to the kids.

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And sometimes there’s not even a good photo.

Note her finger placement.
Note her finger placement.

5.  It’s completely worth every messy, inconvenient, unphotogenic minute.

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Travelling with kids: lessons learned from the road.

Grave News from the Dead Centre of Winchester…

…Okay, that’s the last dad joke for this guest post. I promise…

So just in case you haven’t managed to work it out yet, it’s Tony here again, guest blogging for Min while she shops for boots plans exciting new things for the blog in the coming weeks.

We’ve been based in Winchester for more than a fortnight now, putting us more halfway through our stay here (in fact, this time in a fortnight we will be in Singapore and, this time in two weeks and two days, we’ll be back home again! Eeeep!) For now, though we are – as you might have gathered from some of Min’s previous posts – thoroughly enjoying being in one place for a while. We’re all unpacked, and have dropped into a kind of normal family routine, albeit on the other side of the world. In the mornings I head up to the University, where I’m working on my OSP projects and getting a lot of writing done. Imogen and Toby do school work through until about 1 or 2 in the afternoon, and Millie… well, Millie just uses her newfound mobility to keep us all on our toes. (On an unrelated note, I’m predicting that in years to come, Millie will be our child who likes rollercoasters. And bungy jumping. And skydiving. Seriously, the kid has no sense of self-preservation at all…)

Outside, the seasons are changing, and we’re now well into a South West England Autumn. Which is rather like being in the middle of a mild Canberra winter. Maximum temperatures each day are hovering in the low teens, nights are down to two or three degrees, and the weather is grey and cloudy, but with occasional bursts of gorgeous sunlight. The trees are turning various shades of russet, the pavements buried under blankets of golden leaves which Toby is taking great delight in wading through at every available opportunity, and there’s a quiet sort of anticipation of the winter ahead. It’s very different from what we are used to.

And one of the things we are all really enjoying is just gradually exploring Winchester – finding the little hidden bits and pieces that you might miss if just visiting for a day or two. Min will no doubt be posting a few of these in the next couple of weeks, but I wanted to share one of my favourite parts of Winchester with you all.

Every morning, on my daily commute, I walk through the centre of town, past the rather glorious Winchester Cathedral, up and across the train lines and then through the West Hill Cemetery, which conveniently takes me right to the front gates of the University.

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The Cemetery has quickly become my favourite part of the walk, to the point where a couple of my trips have ended up seriously prolonged, owing to me getting distracted wandering among the gravestones.

It’s an old Cemetery, no longer in use. The most recent burials I’ve managed to find were generally from the early 1990’s, but these are spouses of people long gone, finally re-united. For the most part, the last regular burials seem to have taken place in the 1950’s, but most date from a lot earlier than that.

It’s a place that completely sets the ‘writer’ part of my brain buzzing. For one thing, it looks almost exactly like the cemetery described in Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book – built on the side of a hill, the graves are dotted in a seemingly random manner, with rough paths twisting among them from the bottom to the top. There are a couple of old trees keeping sentry, and a crumbling old gatekeepers cottage with gothic architecture at the entrance.

To add to the effect, the whole graveyard is a protected grassland area – a vital little refuge for the biodiversity of the chalk region, which lends it a gorgeous, unkempt air. Wandering through it during the grey silence of an autumn morning is an amazing experience.

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The view across the cemetery - the overgrown grasslands lend the place a lovely gentle atmosphere
The view down the hill towards Winchester from the cemetery – the overgrown grasslands lend the place a lovely gentle atmosphere

And, of course, it’s full of stories. Winchester isn’t a young town, not by a long shot, and West Hill was the cemetery that oversaw (among other things) the late Victorian era and two world wars. Many of them are stories of love and separation, covering large swathes of modern British history (and are also, very often, amazing tales of re-unification…)

“Devoted to the memory of EVELYN SARAH, the devoted wife of George William Till, who died November 7th 1905, aged 47 years. And of HARRY, 4th son of the above, 2nd Lieut Closter Regiment, who fell at Ypres Oct 7th 1917, aged 32, interred here as are the ashes of GEORGE WILLIAM TILL, who died March 10, 1960, aged 101 years”

I posted on instagram a while back a picture of one of the amazing stories of people who waited, but there are also a few really touching stories of people who couldn’t:

“Precious memories of ARTHUR SIDNEY WATMORE who fell asleep 31st March 1963 aged 86 years, Rest in Peace. Also his dear wife, ALICE MARY, who passed away october 22nd 1969, aged 86 years, Together Again”

And then, of course, there are the war graves. There are war commission graves dotted right throughout the lower half of the graveyard, and a cenotaph in the middle on the main pathway, but there is one particular little cluster of war graves which, even when the grass in the rest of the graveyard is at its longest, is kept neatly trimmed and tended:

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In here are stories of those who died young –

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One solitary Australian:

“2704 Cadet G.R.JOHNSTON Australian Flying Corps, 26th March 1948, aged 22”

And many others. Perhaps the war grave that had the most impact on me, though, was this one here:

4804 Serjeant F.J.James, Kings Royal Rifle Corps, 7th January 1918, Age 42
4804 Serjeant F.J.James, Kings Royal Rifle Corps, 7th January 1918, Age 42

He was just a year younger than I am now, and the same age my great grandfather was when he was pulled into WW1, leaving behind a wife and children. There’s such a lot of loss in all war deaths, but this one really hits me.

My favourite graves, though, are the ones which are so old that they’ve been lost or forgotten, or are in the process of returning back to the amazing chalk soil – the ones where the stories are no longer etched in stone, but are faded past memory:

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There are plenty of these dotted all around the cemetery – some have collapsed, some are overgrown with ivy or other plants, some have simply fallen and are slowly crumbling away. All of them evidence of the hundreds of lives and loves and stories, all tangled together in the chalky soil of this altogether very pleasant little corner of the world.

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Grave News from the Dead Centre of Winchester…