Saturday, November 17, 2007

Together again ...

after nearly 40 years!

Today I had the very great pleasure of spending the day with my old school buddy, "Bish"!

I last saw her when I left England and moved to Australia in 1970. We were just kids, 17 years old, and we didn't keep in touch at all. So imagine my surprise when I walked into the bank where I heard she was working - and there she was, she hadn't changed at all.

Same cheeky grin, same infectious chuckle.

So the four of us went out to Dulverton - one of those beautiful little rural villages with tiny streets, magnificent churches, and interesting little shops. We wandered around, and then went for lunch in one of the village pubs.

Everyone says English pubs have changed since you can't smoke in them any more, they say the English pub is dead or dying ... it's just not true. This was a delightful warm, friendly place with folks sitting around tables and on sofas, chatting over a drink. We were quite surprised when a group came in with two large dogs, and settled comfortably into a corner - the dogs tucked themselves away under the table and we didn't hear a peep out of them. Another gentleman came in with a big dog, and it sat quietly at his feet while he drank at the bar. The dog group had their meal and left, and another group came in with a large dog and occupied the same corner table.

Englishmen and their dogs! I began to feel out of place without one.

We had some local cider to drink. It was quite surprising to us that it was still, not sparkling, and tasted quite similar to the kambucha tea I used to make years ago.

Then we went on out to Tarr Steps. Wikipedia says:

The Tarr Steps are a prehistoric clapper bridge across the River Barle in the Exmoor National Park, Somerset, England.

Pretty place, very old. Oh, clapper bridge?

A clapper bridge is an ancient form of bridge found on the moors of Devon (Dartmoor and Exmoor) and in other upland areas of the United Kingdom including Snowdonia and Anglesey. It is formed by large flat slabs of granite or schist supported on stone piers (across rivers), or resting on the banks of streams. According to the Dartmoor National Park, the word 'clapper' derives from an Anglo-Saxon word, 'cleaca', meaning 'bridging the stepping stones'.

So now you know, and so do I.

To finish off a great day out we went to Bickleigh Mill. This place has the biggest display of crafts, and knick-knacks, and doo-dabs, and even clothes ... you go in and through and up and around, room after room. So we stopped for a cup of tea.

[Yesterday a friend and I went out for dinner in a place really close to us here in Torquay, and it was called "Bickley Mill"! Things can get confusing in these parts.]

Friday, November 16, 2007

Walkies around Torquay

To get from here to anywhere else in Torquay, we pretty much have to go back to the main road first - and the main roads are often choked with traffic. So places that are very close by "as the crow flies" are quite a distance away by road.

So this afternoon we decided to leave our car sitting where it is, and try walking along some of the public bridle paths and footpaths through the woodland areas.

Some paths have gravel, concrete, or bitumen, sometimes there are steps or stiles to climb over.

At the bottom of our hill we came across this Gatekeeper's Cottage. It was closed, but through the dusty windows we could see someone sitting at a writing desk ... a dummy for the displays that are open in summer.

There were several small lakes - ponds, really - and lots of these very unfriendly plants with massive (prickly) leaves.

The ducks seemed very glad to see us, all twenty or so of them came across the water at us like exocet missiles - but we had nothing to offer.

This little robin hung around like he was trying to get our attention - in all the stories you are supposed to follow the robin ... but when he headed into a dark corner behind the big prickly leaves we decided we weren't in the stories.

And then the path led right through this house, with the gate that is closed at dusk - these days that would be around 3pm.

Then we came to Cockington Village. I gather in the summer this place is a tourist Mecca. Everything closes between September and Easter.

It's certainly very rustic. We had been walking about an hour, it was 3-ish and it was getting dark - time to head back up the hill to our place.

Monday, November 12, 2007

And then there's Brixham

It's so pretty. Just down the road, a lovely little fishing village.

There's even a working model of the old Golden Hind - remember that from history lessons?

Obviously that is just a tourist attraction. But the whole "fishing village" thing is real and active - you can see the fishing boats come in and they unload their fish.

We just went down there for a quick look-see, a couple of hours walking around and some fish and chips for tea. We didn't see Berry's Head or the light house or anything.

We are looking forward to going out there again sometime soon

Sunday, November 11, 2007

GREAT Britain

What's so great about Britain? How come we don't call ourselves Great Australia? Well, we do have the Great Australian Bight, and the Great Barrier Reef - but you'd think a country like Oz could be called "Great" all over.

Maybe it's so obvious that it just goes without saying.

Recently we have met a few Great Brits, though. If there are enough of them in this country, then it really must be great!

Take Andy, for instance. He's the guy we bought our car from.

It's a pretty unremarkable car - we've never even taken a proper photo of it. But a remarkable fellow that sold it to us.

He lives in Newton Abbott, which is not far from here - but the road between here and there (where it goes through the village of Kingskersell) is always a nightmare. It's just a bumper-to-bumper crawl, pretty well any time of day or night. You have to pity the people who commute to Exeter from here, because there is no other way to get there, only a dotted line on the map with "proposed" indicates the government's intention to start thinking about doing something after the year 2010 or so.

Anyway, Newton Abbott itself has tiny, hilly, tangled streets. I spent ages poring over the map book to find Andy's place, and we drove up there in the hire car we still had. We got there OK, Peter driving and me navigating (as usual). We examined the car, and Andy took us for a drive in it, out onto some faster roads so Peter could get a feel for it. We were very satisfied, and Andy gave it to us for a really fair price. Then we went into his place and met his wife and daughter and had a cup of tea while the papers were filled out and cash handed over.

And then - the moment of truth. Only Peter was insured to drive the hire car, I had to drive the 'new 'car home. I had not driven any car for about three years, and I had never driven in the UK. We had to both find our way out of Newton Abbott and through Kingskerswell, and the traffic had begun to build since we came there.

Peter would follow me, naturally, and keep an eye on me. After more than two weeks of driving the hire car he had finally got used to the fact that (apparently the thing in Britain) the indicator stalk is on the left and the windscreen wipers on the right, and had stopped trying to indicate with the wipers - however I knew this would still be a problem for me.

I was sitting in the car, peering at the map, trying desperately to memorize the road numbers and turns to get us through Newton Abbott. Observing my distress, Andy - who no longer had any reason to care about what happened - suggested that he drive his wife's car (as he no longer had a car) and lead us out of there.

What a great guy! And so he did. He took us all the way out of the town and stuck with us until we were on the road I was confident about. As he finally turned off, I flashed my lights and waved my windscreen wipers at him to say 'thanks'!

And then there was Keith.

We saw a notice in the local Post Office that these people were selling a bunch of stuff. We went around there and bought a few things from him.

Our little car wouldn't take the stuff we'd bought, so Keith loaded it onto his trailer and brought it around. Helpful bloke.

Then we bought this little computer from him - not the screen or keyboard, just the actual computer - to set up as a second computer in our house, in one of our future student rooms.

It's a cute little thing, and Keith sold it to us very cheaply, and it was soon set up and working beautifully. So I was working upstairs on the laptop, and Peter was downstairs on our new computer and we were having these loud conversations up and down the stairs ... but at least we weren't taking turns on the computer, it was great!

And, all of a sudden, it just died on us. Dead as a maggot, couldn't do anything with it.

We phoned Keith, because he was such a friendly guy, and we thought he might have a few ideas about what to do - seemed like a cluey chap, computer-wise.

Keith came around, took it home and worked on it - and got it going again. But he was most concerned that he might have sold us a dud, just couldn't stomach that idea.

That was great for a week or so, and then it did it again. Keith had said he would happily take it back and give us our money back. Which he did, and sold us his laptop instead - we were more than happy to buy something else from this great Brit!

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Torquay in Autumn

Torquay is very beautiful. And this part of England is generally warmer than the rest. Here we have a bright, sunny Autumn day.

Even the ducks like a bit of sun now and then.

It seems like the trees are doing their best to outdo the colourful ducks.

We have autumn in Australia, too, but not like this. In Oz we have a lot of Eucalypts (gum trees) and a lot of those are not deciduous - they don't drop their leaves. There's not a whole lot of leaf-dropping going on in Oz in Autumn.

And if I found a pile of leaves like this in Oz I certainly wouldn't go kicking though it like this, because who knows what might fly out at me (not to mention the dust!).

Despite the delightful weather, Torquay is pretty quiet this time of year - imagine what this parkland is like in summer!

Except, of course, for the squirrels.

They have so much to get done.

All that twitching and switching and jumping about.

Nuts to find, nuts to hide ... to play maybe ...

things to look out for.

As for us people, when we are not out kicking leaves, there are some great walks around Torquay. That's another thing we don't generally have in Oz - Public Foot Paths, they are all over the place and you can do some great hiking or even just gentle strolls.

In the summer a lot of people come to Torquay for the beaches.

Yes, I know, they are not a patch on Australian (especially West Australian) beaches.

And that red sand would take a bit of getting used to. But, hey - this isn't Oz (or anywhere else). This is TORQUAY, and it's kinda nice, isn't it?

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Our new WEBSITE!

We've got a website, take a look and see.

It's called English Torq. (Because we teach English and we are in Torquay, and you talk English ...)

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

A Home in Torquay

Most people have heard of Fawlty Towers, and are familiar with Basil Fawlty's little hotel in Torquay ...

There was one particular episode where a woman who was hard of hearing and refused to turn on her hearing aid (because it would use up the batteries) wanted to complain about the view from her window. Basil points out to her that it is, in fact, a view of Torquay Harbour, and asks her what she expected - "wildebeest sweeping across the plain ...?"

Yep, that's Torquay Harbour. (No, that's right, no wildebeest.)

And here is our new home in Torquay.

And that's even our car parked out front.

This is from the back. It's the second-last house in a cul-de-sac, up on one of the many hills of Torquay, and that big window has sweeping views of the bay.

Like all views, it's always changing with the weather and time of day. I especially like looking out at night when it's full of twinkling lights.

Unlike the places where we've lived lately (in crowded cities like Wuxi (China) and Istanbul), we have a garden - quite a big one really.

There's an oak tree in the middle of the garden. Even though we are well into Autumn and the streets are full of piles of leaves that are rather fun to kick your way through ... our tree still has most of its leaves. I'm thinking we are going to have a bit of a raking job to do when it finally drops them.


We have an upstairs! You have to realise that this is exciting for us West Australians.

It feels very romantic going upstairs to bed. There are three bedrooms upstairs.
And there is a bathroom upstairs, and a toilet downstairs as well.

There's another bedroom downstairs, too.
The kitchen is lovely, again with a great picture window over the sink.

Through the kitchen there is a laundry, with all mod cons.

And in the hallway, tucked under the stairs, a piano!

The main living room is big and bright and airy.

There's one of those instant gas fires that has flames and feels just like a real fire (without the smoke and mess) in the grate.

And, looking the other way, down the other end is the dining room with that huge picture window and views over the bay.

We reckon Torquay is a great place to live, and we are looking forward to having people stay with us and enjoy it with us.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Memory Lane

I spent my formative years in these parts, here in Devon at least. It may be a long time ago, but they were important to me.

Church Street, Cullompton - until we drove here recently I had never realised what a tiny, narrow street it is ... unless they have somehow made it narrower in the last 40 years.

It didn't seem so small when I was riding my bike.

And then there was Gravel Walk, just around the back of the church.

You can't help noticing the big red house - well that wasn't ours. We lived in the little white house.

Not so little, though. There were 15 rooms, and half an acre of garden - and orchard - out the back.

Here is a photo of the front of the house in the '60s. That's my brother John putting food on the bird table.

The garden backed on to the Mill Stream, just the place for many hours of childhood fun!

The Mill Stream is still there - it seems someone has converted the old mill into a home - but it has developed a little island (complete with tree!) right at the bottom of our old yard.

This is an old picture looking out over our back yard (and next door's) and the mill stream from my bedroom window back in the day.

Every summer my cousins would come to stay for a while. This is looking at the back of the house - it needed a lick of paint, didn't it? It was really old, even then - about 300 years old, they told us. So I guess it's more like 350 years old now.

Apart from that, it's remarkable how little anything has changed in nearly 40 years. When we lived here they had just built "The Bypass" across the fields at the back. Now it's the M5, and the noise from it sometimes sounds like a plane coming in to land.

Going Back Even Further

In about 1964, in the few months before we moved into the Gravel Walk house, we lived about a mile out of Cullompton on the hilly road to Tiverton, in "Little Tom's Cottage".

That's my youngest brother, Mark.

It was winter, and very cold. The cottage had no running water inside, we had to use the outside pump.

This old picture of my sister, Mary, pumping water for Mark is water-damaged, but you can still see the vege garden.

The other day we drove out to take a look.

Yep, still there! The front door is gone now. In those days it was two residences, we lived in the left-hand part. Now it is all one.

And they park their car where the pump used to be. I guess they have water inside now!

Over the road was - and still is! - Wells Park.

New gate, new wooden fence instead of the old hedgerow.

The Old Grammar School

I don't have any old photos of Tiverton Grammar School. It actually stopped being a grammar school soon after I left.

It's a primary school now, but it really doesn't look any different.

The gym where we used to have assemblies - 500 or so big kids all sitting cross-legged on the floor. I think when we got to the big end of school maybe we were allowed to have chairs.

We used to thunder up and down these stairs, pushing past students trying to go the other way.

The classrooms have computers now, but otherwise they look the same. I was explaining to this present day teacher about how my brother, John, had left some chemicals on the radiator to dry out, and the teacher had leaned on them and blown a hole in her shirt-sleeve.

This house had just been purchased by the school then, and was used for some sixth-form classes - we felt very special and important having lessons in there.