Category Archives: Nostalgia

Heading North to Stroke City: Wednesday 12 August 2015 (Day 80)

3:50 pm – Train to Derry

Jim asked about my quest – if I had one, which I mostly don’t. That is what leaves me often asking: “What am I doing here?” “Why am I doing this? Is is just the seeing? The doing? The meeting of people?” Maybe. Maybe that’s all there is to it – to all this endless movement.

He spoke of his quest around trad music and Irish culture.

I said that while, likewise, I have an interest in thinking more about the Jewish stuff that, by and large, there’s no where I can go and find the descendants of my antecedents’ neighbours … still going to the same old synagogue, still walking the same streets, etc. They are all, or nearly all, gone. He asked about Israel. I said Israel is more Israeli than Jewish – it’s a different thing, a different place. I suggested it’s like if he had to go to Boston to experience some echo of Irish culture because the Irish no longer lived in any real numbers in Ireland.

I do want to go to Israel, yes, I should do that.

But right now I just want to get to Germany. I’ll have 51 days to get from Cherbourg to my flight from Berlin to Chicago.

I just messaged with Laura a bit – when it works, I do love the WiFi on trains and buses. She’s in Tokyo – has been there 40 minutes and already loves it, as I had presumed she would.

She reminded me it’s about the experiences I’m having. And she’s right of course. It is. And I know that but it was also clarifying – just to have her say that.

10:20 pm – Hostel Connect, Derry

I was last in Derry in 1995 as part of the advance team, the event team, setting up President Bill Clinton’s first visit to Northern Ireland. It was my one foreign trip for the White House and it was a momentous one.

There’s a good short video overview of the trip here – one in which I’m pretty sure I catch the occasional fleeting glimpse of my 26-year old self well in the background.

Part of why I’m in Derry now is to revisit the city and see how much it’s changed, or stayed the same.

Our major event – a gigantic outdoor rally – was in Guildhall Square, we had a smaller event in the Guildhall. So, today, coming from the train station, walking past the Guildhall, through Guildhall Square, was kind of surreal. It felt the same but different. I was then the same and also so very different.

My roommate – there’s only one – is Jennifer from Indiana. She’s here to do the Masters in Peace Studies at Ulster University at Magee. The program with the Tip O’Neill Chair which we endowed 20 years ago in the Guildhall.

One of the strangest experiences I had as an advance person came in relation to Magee College. Our team was recruiting volunteers from the student body and I needed to get to campus for the meeting. None of our embassy supplied cars were available to run me over there from the Guildhall. Nor did our Secret Service colleagues have a free car. But their paired agency, the Royal Ulster Constabulary, did – if I didn’t mind going in a Land Rover. I didn’t realise at the time that meant a militarised SUV with uniformed and armed driver plus one. I needed to get to the meeting and was grateful for the ride so I jumped in and we drove, rather quickly, through the Bogside to the University campus.

It was a peaceful time in Derry but I was well aware of the history I had just sidled into. On a narrow residential street we came to a halt behind a double-parked car. Our driver honked and when nothing happened the other constable jumped out and pushed the car out of the way. Really, that happened.

When I arrived on campus – there were a lot of students milling about, many of whom turned to look at the Land Rover as it arrived and watched me exit with curious and sceptical eyes. I thanked the constables for their time and went to find my meeting.

Back to the present … I invited Jennifer, my hostel roommate, to find a beer. Here’s what I learned: She was in the navy for four years, attended Indiana University, and worked for 11 years for a federal judge, before she quit to come get a master’s degree in Northern Ireland. She’s arrived with a giant suitcase full of domestic tools and personal hygiene products, like soap. She’s both a little embarrassed that she’s brought all this stuff and also like, well, I didn’t know what they’d have and I’m picky.

I Need Some Time to Rest and Plan: Tuesday 28 July 2015 (Day 65)

Tuesday 28 July, 10:25 am – Cornelia’s

As we drive Cornelia is telling me tales from her life and work when this oh-so-Irish comment jumps out at me: “All they talk about at tea breaks is hurling.”

Hurling is a religion in these parts. The Kilkenny team is the Yankees of the sport having won 36 championships (of 129 played – they’ve also been runners up 26 times). Next closest is Cork with 30 championships and 19 as runners up. We’re in season and the team’s colours fly everywhere in Kilkenny. I don’t understand the game but am charmed by the continuing health of a very-definitely provincial sport with no aspirations of, you know, going global. Hurling is Irish.

I looked at a bunch of photos which all depicted some level of inexplicable sporting madness.
I looked at a bunch of photos which all depicted some level of inexplicable sporting madness.

It’s nice tagging along with Cornelia –  it gives us time to just hang-out and chat in the car as she drives between the various puzzle pieces of her life.

In 1988 she was travelling with her friend Nicola and I was travelling with my friend Jerry Lee (whom I visited in Florence a few weeks ago). We were all heading to Greece when we met at the train station in Bari, Italy. We fell in together and spent a few weeks in company.

Jerry Lee, Cornelia, Nicola, and me on the ferry from ... Athens to Santorini maybe?
Jerry Lee, Cornelia, Nicola, and me on the ferry from … Athens to Santorini maybe?

We’ve kept in touch off and on over the years but I last saw her in 1995 when I was in Ireland with President Clinton.

I’m missing being on the bike but know I need some rest and I am not missing the ‘travel’ per se – the packing and unpacking, the finding a place to sleep, etc.

Also, my lack of interest in Kilkenny is a real sign of needing a break.

Some ideas/questions bubbling away:

  • Volunteering at the festival, yes (as part of the ‘say yes ‘project);
  • Make a flying visit to London from here (Derry, Belfast, Dublin, London);
  • Ferry from Rosslare to Cherbourg and visit the French in Caen; then to Tom B’s and the Vuelta. A train someplace;
  • How important is getting to the Vuelta?
  • Can I get to the Rugby World Cup? More Pool A & B tickets go on sale on Thursday

Anyway … I’m still not sure – but I’d like to settle some plans for the next couple of weeks – set some accommodation, book transport. Dunno, dunno.

I just need to get through the stuff that needs doing, spend a few quiet days moving in an orderly way through stuff would be good.

And look for the energy and spirit of it to come back into it.

Yeah, a few quiet days, that’s what I need.

Pop Music, Pop Culture and Clotted Cream – 11-13 July 2015 (Southampton – Bridport – Dorchester)

Saturday 11 July

I’m here for the Let’s Rock Southampton! festival.

No, that’s not quite true. I’m here to see Tom Bailey play Thompson Twins songs at Let’s Rock Southampton!

I am ambivalent about 1980s nostalgia gigs. If everyone is having fun, where’s the harm? Right? But revisiting the scenes of youth, in middle age, with the bands you loved when you were a teenager and they were in their 20s and 30s … there’s something weird and a little unsettling about it. It invites melancholy and a sense of mortality. When last I saw Tom play these songs I was 18 and he was 33, now I’m 46 and he’s 61.

About five years ago Tom and I spent an afternoon walking around Sydney and catching up. He was then certain he’d never do this – never play these songs again. But things change – and he is. So here I am – in a field in Southampton surrounded by sun-burnt middle-aged Englishmen and women.

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Every time I look at this picture it makes me laugh.

Tom’s manager, David I think it is, meets me. He’s a thin, pale man dressed for sailing to South America in a linen suit and panama hat. He asks if I’m Lisa – close enough, he escorts me into the back stage area. And then there’s Tom – with his funny, lovely smile and fabulous hair. Looking every bit as expected.

In the tent Tom introduces me to his band (Angie, Emily and Amanda), the manager’s fiancée, and the lighting guy’s girlfriend, Donna. We talk of my journey and Couchsurfing, of the gigs they’ve been playing, and of how I know Tom. He says I’ve probably seen more Thompson Twins shows than anyone else there – I started to try and count them but couldn’t – it’d be in the 20s.

Most of those I worked. I was an intern on their final US tour. I skipped my high school graduation ceremony so I could be in Arizona in time for the start of the tour. It was a crazy wonderful month or so.

Tom is amazed at my memory of those times but I was 18 and on tour with the Thompson Twins so it was all very memorable for me. “Really?” he asks, “You did the laundry? And bought me socks?” Yes, Tom, yes I did.

It was nice reminiscing with him in this way. Then a particularly weird thing happened.

Before I met the Thompson Twins I was member of their fan club. Back in the day this meant posting away to a PO box in London, sending a money order for a few Pound Sterling – in return I got a membership card, a subscription to a newsletter, exclusive news and things like that. Their fan club was run by a formidable woman named Viv.

She and her daughter came to California for a couple of the gigs there. When she found I was working on the tour she lost her mind. She confronted Tom and Alannah about it. She thought if they were going to have a fan on tour it should be herself or her daughter or there should have been a contest. She’s yelling at them in the dressing room 20 minutes before they go on.

I was worried not so much that her argument would win out but that her craziness would taint my presence on the tour, that it would seem like too much of a pain in the arse. I still remember the anxiety I felt hearing her raging down the corridor.

In the end it was a positive turning point for me. I’d been working diligently at all I was asked to do and tried to be helpful wherever I could. My fellow worker-bees saw me as part of the team, and then more so, really, in comparison with the weird woman.  They were all very supportive and told me not to worry about her.

But my original reaction had stayed with me. So when Tom turned to me and asked if I’d met her, my blood ran cold for just a second … things from one’s teenaged years live on and echo at a particular resonance.

She had arrived and wanted to come say hello to him. He asked me to go help David find her. When we were all standing together some minutes later Tom asked her if she remembered me, she said she didn’t – and maybe that’s so.

Meanwhile a litany of 1980s pop musicians were playing their sets and I was missing all of them in favour of the genial social scene in the tent. When the second last act, Kim Wilde, went on Tom and his band went to get ready. Donna and I joined the crowd in front of the stage.

And then they came on. And it was wonderful. The lights and visuals were fantastic. It was, yeah – so, so nice. And when they finished with ‘Hold Me Now’ and everyone sang along, it really was kind of special and heart-warming.

The set was great – a short-sharp attack on some of their best songs, played well and sung well: In the Name of Love, You Take Me Up, Lies, Sister of Mercy, Lay Your Hands on Me, Love on Your Side, If You Were Here, Doctor! Doctor! and Hold Me Now.

It was as much fun as I had hoped and not nearly as morose as I had feared.

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The set was great.
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Older … better than the alternative. Always nice to see Tom.

Sunday 12 July

Having slept in I took a stupidly expensive train to Weymouth – £24.70 for a ride of less than two hours. There, the start of my ride, was in a windblown spray of rain. Despite that, and the low clouds obscuring what are meant to be fantastic coastal views, it is beautiful and oh, so English. There are rolling hills with paddocks of sheep and there are dog walkers in tweed and wellies.  I stop at a tea room in Abbottsbury – a village of thatch-roofs and stone-houses – to gorge on Dorset apple cake served with clotted cream and a nice pot of tea.

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It was so very good.

If you are familiar with the show Broadchurch then you’ll know West Bay. The nearly-gothic cliffs which loom over the main beach are, in themselves, a star of the show and a star for West Bay. I roll around town laughing at the English-summer and have some disappointing chips.

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Amazing spot.

My Warmshowers hosts for the night are in Bridport, up the hill from West Bay. They must get a fair few visitors because as I’m riding into their subdivision, even further uphill, a woman in a passing car encourages me on with a: “You’re nearly there!”

Malcolm and Jude are truly lovely hosts. They are 60-ish and have a beautiful home and garden – rambling and productive. They are passionate people, chatty and interesting. Jude is a bit of a pagan and Malcolm, I think, indulges her more than he joins. They are kind and welcoming and easy to get on with.

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Malcolm and Jude’s gorgeous garden

After dinner, Malcolm offers to run me around in his car to the Broadchurch murder house and back through West Bay for the night time vibe.

Getting to the house involves driving narrow, hedged, winding lanes illuminated only by his head lights. We arrive in a gravelled car park and there it is, at the top of a little rise. It’s spooky, evocative, and really fun to see.

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Taken in available light at 10:30 pm – appropriately creepy.

Monday 13 July

I worked all morning and then peddled away after lunch. Malcolm made this amazing cheese toastie – toasted and buttered home baked brown sourdough covered with a mix of grated cheddar and hard goats’ cheese, put under the grill and served with Vegemite!

The ride today was good: foggy and windy, but dry and so so green. The height of the hedges bordering the road make passing traffic a bit of an issue but they also block the wind. I saw a pair of fellow cycle tourists and realised I miss the busyness of Italy and even France. I’ve seen almost no other tourers here and not many riders in general.

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England … so very English.

I roll into Dorchester just after the tourist office closes – I can see them still in there but the door is locked and they avoid seeing me. I wander the high street eyeing three or four hotels and then pick one. I could have been more discerning but I’ve been riding all afternoon and I just want a home for the night. It’s a gobsmacking £89 – which is like A$180 – but I’ve not paid for accommodation the past nine nights, so averaged over 10 that’s $18 per night. That’s how I’m going to think of it anyway.

I’ve been on the road for 50 days now and I’m feeling strong and content. Things are good. I’m enjoying the adventure, the people I’ve met and the places I’ve been. Finding the right balances – around how to spend my time and my money – continue to be a bit of a challenge but I think I’m shifting my expectations toward what can be and away from some ideas of what should be.

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Making my way (and then circling back to get the camera).

Weeping for What Will Come and What Will Stay Behind

The tick-tock of time passing is getting very loud. Today is my Going Away Party. As I write I await the first of my guests. I feel anxious, nervous, excited and sad.

When I planned for a prologue ride in Australia, which begins next Sunday, I was thinking of it as a test of my bicycle, my gear and my physical readiness. I’ve realised this week it will also, and maybe most importantly, be a test of my emotional readiness.

I’ve been a bit sad all week. I love Sydney; I love my mates here, my life here and as much as I’m looking forward to my adventure I am also looking forward to coming home at the end of it. I know I will be changed – if I’m not I haven’t done it right. So, perhaps some of the sadness is in saying farewell to the me I am today, the me that my friends here know and the bit of trepidation around what I will find out there, and what I will find in myself as a result.

This past week I spent several days on Queenlsand’s Gold Coast for the baseball Junior League Nationals. For 15 years I have handled media and public relations for Major League Baseball International’s office in Sydney. I thought a few days of watching Under 14s playing baseball would be a good point of departure. It was lovely in many ways. What I hadn’t anticipated was the ways it also eased me toward life on the road and travelling alone. I was away from home and when the day’s playing was done I was on my own to make what I would with my evenings: dining alone, befriending the man at the gelato shop and going for walks.

On my Wednesday night flight home the moon, red and three-quarters full, hove into view drawing my attention to the window. The lights of Sydney slowly filled the space beneath us. The confused roadways of the northern suburbs sparkled like luminescent tracers with streetlights and headlamps. I was seated alone in my row but on the aisle so the view was perfectly framed by that familiar oval – and into that frame came the Sydney Harbour Bridge and then the Opera House – for it seemed nearly a minute there they were. The iconic symbols of my city, of my home.

I wept.

I was listening to Jim Moginie’s Alas Folkloric:

And we live in stolen moments … solitary moments of truth sometimes shine through

The first time I flew into Sydney my flight came in over the city and my first view of the Harbour Bridge and the Opera House was also from the sky – but in daylight.

The next time I fly into Sydney will be in May 2016 at the end of this particular road I am about to set off to follow. Whoever I have become, whatever I have experienced, the Harbour Bridge and Opera House will welcome me home and so too will my friends – just as today they will gather to see me off. I will weep – probably with a mix of joy at being home and nostalgia for the journey just finished. And I’ll be that little bit more Australian for having been away and for having made the long journey home again.