Saturday, 13 June 2009

Here I Go Again...

...but not on my own.

RIGHT, I'm off on another adventure, albeit shorter and more rigorously budgeted than the last one. Rachel and I are heading to New South Wales and Western Australia for the next little while. I plan to blog from faraway fields and tell tales of experiences and local history, as you have come to expect from my gibberings.

While I fly across the globe and assemble my thoughts, I have dredged up below an assortment of blogs, comments and pictures from my previous expedition. Please do take a look if you've never seen this content before, as I cannot guarantee the quality of what is to follow!

Opera By Night

Simon Says...: Bumpy on the Bay of Bengal
Flying to Singapore; expectations; Today's Best Mix
Simon Says...: A Lizard Watched Me In The Shower!
The remarkable story of Thomas Stamford Bingley Raffles; exploring Singapore; Fire Toast
Simon Says...: Welcome to Paradise
Pulau Ubin and Chek Jawa
Simon Says...: The War The World Forgot
Changi Prison and Museum; reflections on war
Simon Says...: A Day In International Territory
How not to spend ten hours in Changi airport
Simon Says...: I'm a Natural Blue
To the Great Barrier Reef; big fish, little fish and 'Rotund' fish, apparently
Simon Says...: Never Smile At A Crocodile (ya flamin' galah!)
Conservation Volunteers Australia (CVA); Claude the Cassowary
Simon Says...: Imposter! / Interlude
Rachel fills in for me as I have lots of fun in the rainforest; notes on the Stinging Tree (the Gympie Gympie)
Simon Says...: In The Jungle, The Mighty Jungle
Cloudland Nature Refuge with CVA; teaching Koreans words like 'onomatopoeia'
Simon Says...: Steve
A man called Steve: friend of the Aborigines, discoverer of dinosaurs and guru of megafauna; safety advice for Englishmen
Simon Says...: Senoritas y Margaritas
Cape Tribulation; the discovery of Australia; Captain Cook
Simon Says...: In Memory of Kirsty
Week 2 at CVA: tree planting at Mission Beach; bush bashing with machetes; the man who liked shrimp
Simon Says...: Johnstone River Crocodile Farm
OzExperience begins; Davo the galah; a severe rant about a crocodile farm
Simon Says...: A Pinker Shade of Tanned
All at sea; sailing around the Whitsunday Islands; swimming with turtles
Simon Says...: A Fringe Of Leaves
Aborigines and Europeans; Eliza Fraser and her island
Simon Says...: What A Beauty!
Visiting Australia Zoo (Steve Irwin's zoo); wombats on leads and marvellous monotremes
Simon Says...: It's A Small World (After All)
Arriving in Sydney; run-ins with the police; coincidental meetings with school friends; a statue of a pig; chocolate by the bald man; Julia
Simon Says...: Kookaburra Sits In The Old Gum Tree
The Blue Mountains; Blaxland, Lawson and Wentworth; the story of the Three Sisters; a terrifying little train
Simon Says...: Australian Capital Territory
Arriving in Batmania (or, as we know it now, Melbourne) via the nation's capital, Canberra
Simon Says...: The Great Divide
Wandering around Melbourne; Melbourne vs. Sydney
Simon Says...: Go! Go! Go!
The Australian Grand Prix (minus racing cars, grandstands, television crews and people)
Simon Says...: Another Multicoloured Blog
Rachel fills in for me while I have a Very Nice Time
Simon Says...: Not With A Bang But A Whimper
The plight of the Tasmanian Devil
Simon Says...: Sunrise to Sunset
Reflections on the beautiful continent of Australia; onwards to New Zealand
Simon Says...: In Treebeard's Domain
Six days in New Zealand, and already I'm exhausted
Simon Says...: And In The Darkness...
Horse riding, like the riders of Rohan; Queenstown/Lothlórien
Simon Says...: Paikea
Kaikoura to Rotorua; Whale Rider
Simon Says...: Waewae takahia kia kino*
A Maori Marae and hangi feast
Simon Says...: Where Poets Speak Their Hearts
Climbing One Tree Hill with Catherine Holley; on to Fiji
Simon Says...: If You Pick A Raw Paw
The Hurricane
Simon Says...: Fifty Nifty United States
On landing three hours after taking off (eighteen hours ago); Washington DC
Simon Says...: A Is For Parrot, Which We Can Plainly See
New York in two days
Simon Says...: Perfect to Stay
The Boston Tea Party, live from Boston; coming home

GeoffSo you think you know what life is all about?I shall call him Clive
A Colony of BatfishThe shot factoryCapitol Christmas
All at seaPrettyView From The Otherside

Scorched Blue

A few follow-up posts and further stories I wanted to tell at the time:

Simon Says...: A is for Parrot (Again)
John Lennon's poem
Simon Says...: Dear Anonymous
In defence of my views on the Johnstone River Crocodile Farm
Simon Says...: Re: Not With A Bang But A Whimper
Hope for the Tasmanian Devil
Simon Says...: Sai yau levu na lotu keina lomavinaka...
A lost story from Fiji: island life on Waya Lailai; my friend Sau; "Jesus is strong in Fiji"

All images taken by me, published here.

Saturday, 6 June 2009

Bricks and mortar

AND then the sun came out, if only for a while, scorching the land and catching the majority of folk off guard. The Underground had to play recorded warning messages about carrying water and having a sit down if feeling unwell; sun lotion went flying off pharmacy shelves; and high street shops emptied as people flocked to the parks.

A couple of weekends ago I was up in Birmingham for Rachel’s belated birthday celebrations, an extended weekend of good food, lots of time in the park and the excellent new Star Trek film. On the Saturday, as various friends went back to Selly Oak on the train, Rachel’s sister, her boyfriend Gary and I opted instead to walk back along the canal. It was a glorious day, and the canal is a good way to cut through the city but remain away from the bustle of a bank holiday city centre.

The canal follows the train line, past the Botanic Gardens and through leafy Edgbaston, past the university halls of residence and then the university itself before reaching Selly Oak. If you were to stay with the canal it would head past Selly Oak hospital, which resembles Shawshank prison, and then directly to the Cadbury factory in Bournville. Where it goes beyond that I can only wonder.

We started our walk at Gas Street Basin, formerly a junction between the Worcester and Birmingham Canal and the Birmingham Canal. Nowadays the barrier between the two no longer exists and the intermediary toll gates have also been removed. Gary knows the basin well, having finished here after one of his many walks in the past. He had to admit, however, that the sight of the basin, the biggest canal basin in Birmingham but still not much to shout about, was somewhat of an anticlimax after hours of counting down the milestones promoting this mythical end of the line. Nonetheless, just seconds from Broad Street and minutes from the city centre, the change in pace down by the water is worth savouring, no matter how small the basin is. From here we were off to the Mailbox, now home to fashionable shops, restaurants and overpriced inner city apartments, aesthetically unpleasing with their numerous, postmodern and pointless appendages and trendy colour contrasts. I find the Mailbox a bewildering place, as it oozes wealth and yet is bordered by derelict car parks and decaying office blocks. The contrast continues elsewhere: Gary has walked the canals out to Solihull, where he tells me the canal path has been repaved and the waterside environment modernized, but it remains in the shadow of dilapidated warehouses.

As we left the ultra-modern we returned to the classic canal landscape, all brick with vegetation creeping through cracks. A weed with a tumorous growth; specimens of the plant that bloke on the telly said is better than dock leaves at soothing nettle stings; and longboat captains dipping their hats in salute to the passer by.

Two days later I was on a train, taking the scenic route back to London. The Moor Street to Marylebone line is a hidden gem of England. It is slower than the Virgin line from Euston to New Street but it passes through some of the best countryside on offer: the Chilterns. But at the Birmingham end it is a whole other landscape entirely, as the track weaves through a maze of disused and abandoned train lines, coated with weeds and opportunistic plant life. Old siding tunnels become independent business, but with the rusting train tracks still in place. Old embankments and brick elevations remain, creating isolated pockets of the city beneath, but stop when they reach a major road: nobody has felt the need to dismantle these relics of a bygone age of the train, and yet they now become useless and derelict obstacles to regeneration. It is a captivating world, and one I hope will remain for a long time. Peculiar how we despise decay of that that remains functional, but enjoy the sight of a derelict and abandoned landmark.


The story goes on. As you can tell, my spirits are lifted when the weather shows this world in all its glory. Sunshine on my shoulders, as the song goes, makes me happy.