Katie, get your hands off that man’s tightrope!

And other things that have been said over the last 3 days.

Less arty than the last post, as our guest blogger has had the computer wrestled off him – I mean, graciously relinquished the blog, but 5 times more chaotic.

‘Ok, everyone look at the camera!’

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‘I think one scoop of icecream is enough.’

(Followed closely by the often repeated ‘Did anyone bring wipes?’)

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‘Millie, you can’t follow the big kids up to the top of the windmill.’

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‘I’m not sure you can all fit on… never mind.’

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‘Toby, smile for the camera.’

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‘Meredith, be careful of your (recently broken) arm!’

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Never said once: ‘I wish you cousins could get on with each other better.’

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No limbs broken (or rebroken), and one day left for some of the cousins to hang out.  Luckily we only have a couple of months before they’ll all be together again over Christmas.

Katie, get your hands off that man’s tightrope!

Kwade ochtend baby in Den Haag!

Okay. Is this thing on?

Right.

Hi Everyone. Tony here. I’ve taken over the blog been generously invited to use Min’s blog to launch my newest photographic art exhibition. The official catalogue title is Kwade ochtend baby in Den Haag (series one). For those of you not yet completely fluent in the language, this loosely translates to ‘Evil Morning Baby in The Hague’

About the work:

Inspired by a poorly timed 5.15am wakeup, and finding myself unceremoniously thrown into the streets of a Dutch city at sunrise, I was struck by the ironic juxtaposition between my own grainy-eyed exhaustion, and the bright-eyed, cheerful disposition of the baby that I was wheeling around, and resisting the urge to push into a lake. Instead, I decided to capture the granduer of the city, scaled against an eleven month old, by nearly abandoning said child in large empty plazas, deserted cafe forecourts, and barren window art exhibits. Referencing the early work of John Bracks and Jeffery Smart, but with the added frisson of potential investigation by child services, Kwade ochtend baby in Den Haag, is available for purchase (the baby, not the photos) for only 25 Euros*

Kwade ochtend baby in Den Haag 1: 6.15am – De straat bij zonsopgang

The sun rises thorugh a morning Haze of deserted cafes.
The sun rises through a morning Haze of deserted cafes. The subject’s serenity defies the screaming of 45 minutes earlier.

Kwade ochtend baby in Den Haag 2: 6.27am – Het meisje met het lege meer

In the distance, the Mauritishuis Gallery, home to Vermeer's iconic 'The Girl with the Pearl Earring', forms a gentle counterpoint to Millie's 'The girl with no regard for daddy's sleep'
In the distance, the Mauritishuis Gallery, home to Vermeer’s iconic ‘The Girl with the Pearl Earring’, forms a gentle counterpoint to Millie’s ‘The girl with no regard for daddy’s sleep’

Kwade ochtend baby in Den Haag 3: 6.48am – Slaap is voor losers

An empty plaza, a tiny pram. The granduer of the architecture outweighed by the lack of caffeine in the artist's system at 6.43am
An empty plaza, a tiny pram. The granduer of the architecture outweighed by the lack of caffeine in the artist’s system at this ungodly hour of the morning

Kwade ochtend baby in Den Haag 4: 7.03am – De duivels speelplaats

An empty playground in the early morning. The only screams of delight those of a father, napping on a park bench while his daughter observes the surrealist playground equipment.
An empty playground in the early morning. The only screams of delight those of a father, napping on a park bench while his daughter observes the surrealist playground equipment.

Kwade ochtend baby in Den Haag 5: 7.24am – Waar de straten geen naam hebben

Lost in translation, and in The Hague, the artist looks back not in anger, but in weary resignation. At this point, bed is but a dream, a glorious hallucination.
Lost in translation, and in The Hague, the artist looks back not in anger, but in weary resignation. At this point, bed is but a dream, a glorious hallucination.

Kwade ochtend baby in Den Haag 6: 7.44am – Ik weet niet veel over kunst…

Finally heading home, artist and subject find a beach in a shop window. The art becomes part of the art, the circle of creation (and of the centre of Den Haag, roughly 3 kilometres) is complete
Finally heading home, artist and subject find a beach in a shop window. The art becomes part of the art, the circle of creation (and of the centre of Den Haag, roughly 3 kilometres) is complete

About the artist:

Best known for his continuing performance instillation ‘Toby and Millicent, an adventure in fatherhood’, Tony Eaton continues to push the boundaries of art into the realm of parenting, fearlessly exploring the nexus between exhaustion, joy, and surrealism. The artist wishes to thank his manager, Imogen Marjorie, for her support for this project.

* or any reasonable offer

Kwade ochtend baby in Den Haag!

Farewell to old England forever…

…well, for 5 weeks or so.

Yesterday, we packed our bags (again), bid a fond farewell to Sugarhouse Close in Edinburgh (but not to the bed), and caught a train to Newcastle.  The train trip was fairly uneventful – it was the Virgin Edinburgh – London service, so it was fairly busy.  It also had a few groups determined to make their trip into a celebration, including the family next to us who broke out the rose wine and cider at 10.05am. They were still going strong when we got off at Newcastle, so goodness knows what they were like by the time they got to London.

At Newcastle we were met by an old friend of mine from my debating days, and her gorgeous 6 week old son.  Ness has always been a powerhouse of efficiency, energy and organisation, and she has not changed over the years.  Despite having a newborn, she had worked out where we could leave our luggage (Newcastle train station no longer does left/checked luggage, it turns out), and where our bus was going from.  Then she took us for good coffee (probably the best we’ve had since leaving Australia), a very quick tour of Newcastle city centre, great lunch, and showed us where to buy fruit/mobile vouchers/wipes/everything we needed before leaving.  The only problem with the whole stop is that I failed to take any photos whatsoever.

We then made it back to the bus stop and out to our ship.  In keeping with the Grand Tour aspects of this trip, we decided at least one ocean crossing was called for.  So instead of flying to the continent, we sailed on the King Seaways with DFDS.  It was really a lovely trip.

We had a great cabin, that comfortably fit us all.

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The cabin had the biggest bed we’ve had since leaving Australia.  I’m not sure if this is an endorsement of the ship, or an indictment on English & Scottish beds, but either way it was nice.

The sea was as flat as a pancake as we left (which is good, because those who are close to me can attest I’m not the best sailor).

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We had pre-booked dinner at one of the restaurants on board.  We assumed it would be dreadful but were pleasantly surprised.  The food was actually good – fresh, tasty, nicely cooked, and in a lovely setting.  So satiated, we took a final stroll round the deck and waved goodbye to England.

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This morning, we docked at IJmuiden, in the Netherlands.  Tony’s sister, Sue, came to pick us up, and took us back to her house.  We went out to lunch with her, and she promptly absconded with both the kids.

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Sue’s kids were at school today, but we’re going back to her house tomorrow for COUSIN MAYHEM.  It should be fun.

We’re all now fairly exhausted, but are in a lovely (and huge) apartment in Den Hague.  The staircases are ridiculously steep (getting the suitcases up was fun), but the ceilings are high, the living room opens up with beautiful floor to ceiling windows, the washing machine is efficient and the kitchen is more than functional.  Add in a great location, and family nearby – and we’re very happy.

Farewell to old England forever…

Britannia Rules the Waves

It’s been a busy two days in Edinburgh.

Yesterday we went to a Edinburgh Fringe showing of The Cat in the Hat.  It was great fun – Toby really enjoyed it, and much to our surprise so did Millie.  She sat in my lap and was entranced by the goings on on-stage, and even clapped of her own accord when she liked certain parts.  The whole Pleasance Theatre venue is taken over by children/family shows in the morning, and it’s amazing but mad.

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I wish we could have gone to more shows, but it just didn’t work out with our schedule (and children).  There are things on everywhere, and so many of them look fantastic.  This is the street leading down from the Pleasance Theatre – the posters by the side of the road are just a small sample of what’s on.

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We’ve decided to do the festival properly you’d need to come back a) for at least a week and b) with babysitters. So, grandparents, I’m looking at you.  Want to join us in Edinburgh one August?

Today we headed over to Leith.  We caught a bus, and to Toby’s delight it was a double decker, so we sat at the top at the front and had great views all the way. On an aside, going over cobblestone streets on the top deck of a double decker bus is precisely as comfortable as it sounds.

We had booked into the Royal Yacht Britannia before we left Australia (I highly recommend pre-booking the tickets if you do go – it saved us a very long queue).

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I must admit, I had thought this would mostly be a Tony thing, and I wouldn’t find it too interesting.  But it was fascinating.  It was another beautiful Scottish day (I don’t understand why people gripe about the weather here…)

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…and the tour was really well done.  Most of the ship was open, and the audio guides were actually interesting.  The stratification between classes was remarkable.  On the top, royal levels, Toby rang the ship’s bell.

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We saw the Queen and Prince Phillips’ bedrooms: both single beds, in their own room, with an interconnecting door.

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The only double bed on the entire ship is in one of the Royal Family rooms, and it was brought on board by Prince Charles for his honeymoon with Princess Diana.

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The lounge/sitting room is absolutely amazing.  It’s bizarre to think that this is on a ship that would go on the high seas.

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There were a lot of really interesting photos and maps on the walls.  I really liked the diagrams for the various inspections of the fleet, with each ship’s place mapped out and then the Royal Britannia’s route planned out to sail past each.  In the early maps, the Australian warships are included with the general Commonwealth fleet, but by the 1960s, they were identified as Australian as well as Commonwealth ships.  There are also a lot of portraits of the Royal Family, which is how I discovered that Princess Anne was a bit of a babe in the 1970s.

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Toby looked at the photo and said ‘Oh Mummy, that looks like you!’.  ‘Really?’ I said, pleased.  ‘Nah’  he said.  ‘Just kidding.’

Little ratfink.

Down from the Royal rooms everything became progressively less glamorous, as we went through the officer’s mess, the petty officer’s mess, the marine’s bunks, the sailor’s bunks and so on.  There are still stickers on the lockers from when the Britannia was sailing (she was decommisioned in 1997).

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There was a bit of an Australian theme going: all the crew bars served Fosters on tap.

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We kept going below decks, to see the traditional fudge shop (perhaps that is a post-decommission addition).

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All in all, we all enjoyed it.  We did have to cut the engine room tour short as we were booked in for lunch at Restaurant Martin Wishart, a Michelin starred restaurant in Leith.  I made a few bookings before we left home.  At this stage, we should have gone to three of them.  We cancelled two already, so I was determined to make today’s!  And I was very glad we did.

The food was amazing, the service was impeccable, and they dealt wonderfully well with two kids.  The kids menu for Toby was decidedly not fish fingers and chips.  He behaved like a little champion, and was suitably impressed with his dessert.

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In fact both the kids did really well – lunch took over two hours, and Millie only got ratty towards the end.  Millie is having a bit of a culinary adventure herself.  Her food intake today has been:

Breakfast: A whole banana, yoghurt, black pudding, egg and haggis.

Lunch: Beetroot macron with horseradish cream, olive bread, smoked salmon (left over from Toby’s entree – absolutely amazing smoked and cured Scottish salmon), spinach, lemon sole, raspberries.

Dinner:  Much more boring pasta, tomato and sausage.

She is also standing a bit by herself (mostly without realising, I think), so we may see some walking while we’re away.  Just what we need – more mobility!

That’s the end of Edinburgh for us, sadly.  We’re having a quiet night in tonight before another jam packed day tomorrow.  It’s also going to the end of our time in the UK for now.  The continent awaits!

Britannia Rules the Waves

Moving North

After we left Oxford, we drove up to York.  It’s more or less due North, and in theory an easy drive.  In practice, the miles (quite literally) of roadworks made it a little more stressful.  We did stop at a ‘rest stop’ for a quick bite to eat.  I say ‘rest stop’ because it was unlike any rest stop I’ve ever seen in Australia.  As well as the usual fast food options (though this was more like a food court than a dodgy roadside KFC), there was a newsagent, supermarket, hotel (the idea that anywhere in mainland Britain is so far away that you’d have to stop for the night is slightly laughable.  I mean, I guess if you were driving down from John O’Groats* or somewhere, but surely in that case you could plan ahead to something better than a Days Inn by the M1?) and, most bemusingly, a gambling hall.  The whole rest stop was called a ‘Welcome Break’ and the gambling part (pokies aflashing) was the ‘Lucky Break’.  I know that when I’m on a long road trip, there’s nothing quite as refreshing as staring at flashing lights and losing lots of money.  Makes me in a great state of mind to rejoin traffic!

Anyhow.  We made it to York, and to the very nice apartment we were staying at.  By the time we got there, and returned the hire car, it was 5pm, so we only had time to do a quick shop for dinner and then settled two very tired children for the night.  (In terms of shopping, I’ve now been to a few supermarkets, and my order so far is Sainsbury’s > Waitrose > Sainsbury’s Local > Asda > Tesco > Tesco Express.  In terms of Tesco Express though, the one in central York is far superior to the one on Holyrood Rd in Edinburgh.  Just in case you were tossing up between the two.)

The next day was our only day in York, so we were determined to make the most of it. We woke to a beautiful day, and walked to the corner to see this as our morning view.

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(St Georges Keep).

Our first stop for the day was Jorvik, which I thought my viking obsessed little boy would like.  He did, though some of it was a little sobering for him.  (The particularly gruesome explanation of wounds to the stomach and leaking bile has caused a few discussions).   The ride around Jorvik is much the same when I went back in 1994 – though the animatronics have improved!  The smells are still the same.

We then headed to the Jorvik Dig which is a more recent addition to the various historic museums/attractions.  It is aimed at kids, and the idea is that they get to experience being an archealogist for themselves.  There are four work sites set up for four different excavation sites (Roman, Viking, Medieval and Victorian).  They all have actual artifacts discovered in York set into the ground, covered with rubber pellets of ‘dirt’.  The idea is you expose an object and try and work out what it is, and what it meant about the people of the time period.

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Toby found lots of oyster shells in the Viking section – in fact the actual archaeological dig uncovered over 750 000 oyster shells!  Obviously a delicacy of the time, they would have been brought up the River Ouse by visiting traders.  We also found broken pottery in the Roman section, a skeleton in the Medieval section, and a broken chamber pot in the Victorian section.

After we dug, we spent some time classifying found objects – bone, antlers, leather, brick and so on, and also saw (and touched) fossilised viking poo. (Coprolite, if you want the technical term).  Toby also played around with making stained glass patterns.

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After the dig, we wandered around York for a bit.

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I didn’t actually realise there was a wool shop there until after I took the photo.  But then of course I had to visit it.  And after I bought some wool to make Millie a birthday dress/cardigan (what, it’s over a month away.  I totally have time.  It’s not like I’m doing anything else over the next month), I had to visit the wonderfully named Dutton’s for Buttons to get (unsurprisingly) buttons as well.

We stopped for lunch at an open air food court and marvelled at the number of people.

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It turns out there was a fairly big horse race on, and there were 40, 000 visitors in York on Saturday.  No wonder it was a little more crowded then I remembered.

This morning it was northwards once more – to Edinburgh.  We caught the train from yet another beautiful railway station.

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Toby did a really good job of doing his journal on the train.

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Toby is obviously missing a lot of school, so we are in charge of keeping him up with his schooling.  He has some online work from his teacher, but a big thing we are working on is his handwriting.  So he writes in his journal as often as is practical (daily when not in transit, not so often when it’s frantic), and we’re writing lots and lots of postcards. Feel free to let me know if you want a Toby postcard of your own.

We got into Edinburgh at lunchtime today.  None of us have ever been to Scotland, so we couldn’t resist the temptation to add it to our itinerary.  We are staying at private student accommodation for the University of Edinburgh, and though it’s not the same as the Oxford College accommodation, it’s certainly not without charm.

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Note two things above:  One is blue sky.  It’s a beautiful day here, but everyone has been saying it’s very unusual.  Certainly the forecast looks different for tomorrow.  The second is the big green outcrop in the first photo.  That’s Arthur’s Seat in Holyrood Park.  We plan to walk at least some of it tomorrow.  But that will depend very much on point one.

As you walk out of our apartment, you enter the Royal Mile.  This is the first thing you see.

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There are spots like this all over Edinburgh.  It’s full of amazing buildings, and bridges, and is just ridiculously beautiful.  I love it.  Right now the Edinburgh Festival and Edinburgh Fringe Festival are on, so it is also amazingly crowded.  There are things happening in every pub, venue space and corner.  There was a double bass and clarinet act in the Apple store.  Toby is not entirely convinced by all the street performers.

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He did however find giant plastic inflatable balls to go in:

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(Note the crowd control system.  I’m amused by the recycling.  I guess Scots do have a reputation of being thrifty.)

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We now have three nights in Edinburgh before we head south again, and tomorrow is full of lots of adventure to come.

*Yes, I looked at the map to pick that one.

Moving North

Didn’t Harry Potter go here?

We have just spent a whirlwind 40 hours or so in Oxford.  Our reason for going was twofold – firstly, it’s on a nice point between Highclere Castle and York (our current location).  And second, and far more importantly, it let us visit our friend Ben.  Ben is a gentleman and a scholar and an all round wonderful friend.  We haven’t seen him for two years, as he is irritatingly insisting on staying at Oxford with his offices at Christ Church College and wonderful academic lifestyle.  Personally, I don’t see why he doesn’t give it all up and come back to Australia.

But I digress.  Visiting Ben, we were lucky enough to get the (patented – or if not it should be) Ben S. guided tour of Oxford – access into all the cool places, knowledge about absolutely everything, and even a punt on the river.   I’m not kidding about the knowledge about absolutely everything – if there is ever a Trivia Pursuit Oxford Edition challenge, I would move heaven and earth to have Ben on my team.  So, for the highlights edition of our trip…

We stayed at Keble College.  As alluded to in the last post, it does feature bricks fairly predominantly.

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It was fun to stay there, and pretend for an instant we weren’t the overtired parents of two doing a (fairly insane) trip across England, and instead were young and eager university students, off on a big adventure.  That was helped by being able to bypass signs like this:

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To have breakfast here:

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Toby enjoyed it (he spread out the napkin of his own accord).

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After breakfast, we met Ben and headed out to see (some of) the sights.  We saw the Divinity School and its glorious ceiling.

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We climbed to the top of the Sheldonian Theatre, and saw vividly the roofscape that Philip Pullman described in the Dark Materials trilogy.

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The staircase was small, and windy, and Toby was of course a model of proprietary.

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(This photo, as are all the really good ones in this post, is courtesy of Ben.)

After a bit more walking, we then went punting.  Ben is an elsuive creature to photograph, being often behind the lens, but I did get him in a dodgy selfie.

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Tony then had a turn punting, and we sat back, relaxed, and fed (and nearly caused a riot between) the ducks.

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Even though it was overcast, it was ridiculously idyllic.  I can only imagine what is like when the skies are blue and the sun is shining.

In the evening, Ben took us for walk around the gardens of Christchurch.  It seems to be my week for beautiful gardens.

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A highlight was the Jabberwocky Tree:  allegedly the inspiration for the poem by Charles Dodson (Lewis Carroll) who was a lecturer at Christ Church.

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The tree is around 350 years old – no-one knows for sure.  But that’s the age Ben told me, so I’m sticking to that!

It was a fantastic trip, and we were sad to leave.  Luckily Oxford is only a short train trip from Worcester, so we may well be back later in the year.

Didn’t Harry Potter go here?

Sadly, Lord Grantham wasn’t home to visitors.

We drove from Southampton to Oxford today.  On the way we stopped at a little pile of bricks and stone in the countryside.

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We got fairly majorly hooked on Downton Abbey last year, having somehow been under a rock and missed it until then.  We bingewatched seasons 1 – 5 in an indecently short period of time.  So when I learnt that Highclere Castle was open to tours, it was one of the first things I booked for our visit.

There was no photography allowed inside, so words will have to do.  It was fascinating to see such familiar rooms –  the library, the entry hall, the staircase, Cora, Sybil and Edith’s bedrooms were all on display, as was the dining room and the drawing room.  It is a ridiculously opulent house, completely over the top and almost too much – but still strangely beautiful.  Some of the rooms, like the library, seemed smaller than expected after seeing them on the screen.  It was still very impressive though.  When descending the main stairway, I did my best pretending-to-be-Mary walk.  I think it was hampered by the baby strapped to my back. The current Earl and Countess of Carnavon (the owners of Highclere) have their photos and portraits and family history all over the place – but it’s very clear the visitors are there for the fictional Granthams and not the real aristocracy.

My favourite part of the house was actually the gardens though.  They are huge, and absolutely stunning.  And luckily photography is allowed outside.  There were rolling lawns (complete with many picnicking families), and shaped hedges.

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Beyond the walled garden was the secret garden that was simply glorious.

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Every way you turned there were beautiful flowers after flowers.

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On the strength of how much I enjoyed it, I’ve decided I want something like it at home.  So now I only need to get a 5000 acre estate with an English climate in Canberra, and I’ll be set.

Ok, I’ll settle for one planted border.

On the way back to the car, we walked back to the castle through a field of wildflowers.

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I was particularly taken with the white ones, which are flat when fully in flower, but furled up either before or after (I had a good look, I couldn’t work out if they unfurled to flower, or furled up after flowering).

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And finally we went to Jackdaws Castle, an 18th century folly overlooking the house (in fact, it predates the current house).

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Overall, it was well worth a visit.  Toby was exceptionally well behaved, and did enjoy the gardens.  Millie chewed the back of my shoulder.

And now we are in Oxford.  We are staying in Keble College which is, to quote an unnamed friend, a ‘red-brick monstrosity’.  It is very red, and very bricky, but it’s also awesome.  This is the view from the kids’ room.

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I’m typing this now looking out of our window onto the Computer Science Department of Oxford University which looks unlike any Computer Science Department I’ve ever seen.  We’ve already had a wonderful time here and it’s only been an afternoon – I wish we had more than two nights!

Sadly, Lord Grantham wasn’t home to visitors.