COVID-19 DIARY – REVIEW OF THE AUSTRALIAN ARMY FLYING MUSUEM AVAILABLE ON WEEKEND NOTES

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                                    Copyright Lloyd Marken. The view of Oakey airfield.

At the gym on Friday night I saw on the TV that India became the second country to pass 9 million COVID-19 cases. The only one since the U.S.

Per chance I was about to catch up with my brother from another mother the next day who had family in India. 

It was a scary time but we intended to have a nice day out in each other’s company.

 

November 21

 

We were driving out west to the small town of Oakey.

Famous for the race horse Bernborough and where I had recently been reminded my grandmother had been born.

As a result I wore a hat that my grandfather had worn in travels when I was a boy. The hat fitted his head better but I wanted to wear it and pose at the statue of Bernborough like he had in a photograph many years ago. 

It’s true.

They live on in us.  

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                                Copyright Lloyd Marken. Me with Bernborough.

I was with my wife Karen, her sister and her husband, as we had been a few weeks earlier when we travelled to Capriccios Pizza in Maleny in the wake of his Uncle passing from COVID-19 in India.

I’ve never met a man who didn’t work harder. As we drove along he passed along information of everywhere we went. A ride share worker who had previously driven cabs and worked his way up in trucking to drive semis interstate. He knew when we were coming up to the well known Fernvale Bakery in Ipswich, he told us of businesses off the main track he’d gone to as we started to get out in the country. He quietly advised and offered stories of so many places.

We did stop at the bakery in Fernvale although I went for the sweets rather than their famous and beloved pies. We will have to return and partake properly.

Around people I truly love I relaxed a little and even started to sing songs like Don McLean’s American Pie and Cold Chisel’s Flame Trees. I am not a singer so spare a thought for the poor people in that car who had to conjure their best poker faces as they realised, “Oh man Lloyd’s really going for it!”.

It was a beautiful sunny day,  the Museum is housed in a hangar that is located on the perimeter of the fencing of the defence base. You do not need to enter the base to enter the museum as a result. Very cleverly located. 

 

Maintained by local volunteers it is a wonderful display of aircraft and stories from Australian Military Aviation. 

I wrote a review which I was lucky enough to have published on Weekend Notes which you can read here Australian Army Flying Museum – Brisbane (weekendnotes.com)

 

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We had a late lunch at the Oakey RSL Club.

 

 

Having driven north from Ipswich through Fernvale, past Wivenhoe Dam and through Esk I decided on the way back we would drive through Toowoomba.

I was hoping we would find the University of Southern Queensland campus where there is a beautiful Japanese peace garden but we actually googled just a public garden in Toowoomba and ended up there. A callback to simpler times when sometimes you just turned down a road and found you were where you wanted to be.

The Japanese Garden are well known and are quite beautiful and peaceful in these troubled times.

At one point we went over a bridge and looked down at ducks in a pond. In the late afternoon I exclaimed with excitement when I saw a creature underneath the water and realised it was not a fish. I grabbed everybody’s attention and the words escaped me on instinct “Look a platypus!”

A platypus sighting at that time of day with those amount of people would have been very special indeed but alas what became abundantly clear in the next couple of seconds was we were looking at turtle.

Oh well, still pretty special.

 

 

As we drove out of Toowoomba my sister-in-law spoke of working as a speech pathologist in the town years ago making long commutes for the job. My wife had also worked around as a speechie. 

In the late spring of Australia, the jacarandas were in full bloom in Toowoomba and so much more beautiful there. 

It was only a 2 hour drive out of Brisbane but it had been years since I had come to Toowoomba and I had no memories of Oakey. Seeing this part of the world buoyed my spirits in the way only getting out and about can. I understood I was becoming older and now came to understand weekend trips as a child where we were packed out and driven out to dams and beaches that held no interest for me then.

As much as I appreciated my freedom which earlier in the year had not been possible and was not currently for so many around the world. 

What I appreciated more was the company I kept. 

It was a good day out.

 

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                                                             Copyright Lloyd Marken.

November 22

On the 22nd of November the World Health Organisation reported there had been 57,939,958 confirmed cases globally with a daily increase of 625,981.

There had been 1,380,494 deaths globally with a daily increase of 9,831.

In Australia there had been 27,807 confirmed cases with a daily increase of 18. There had been 907 Australian deaths.

In Canada there had been 320,719 confirmed cases with a daily increase of 4,968. There had been 11,334 deaths with a daily increase of 69.

In the United Kingdom there had been 1,493,387 confirmed cases with a daily increase of 19,875. There had been 54,626 deaths with a daily increase of 340.

In India there had been 9,095,806 with a daily increase of 45,209. There had been 133,227 deaths with a daily increase of 501.

Coronavirus news highlights: Delhi continues to post high Covid-19 numbers  with 7,486 new cases, 131 deaths | Deccan Herald

In the United States of America there had been 11,789,012 confirmed cases with a daily increase of 191,033.

America surpassed a quarter of million deaths due to COVID-19 on the 21st of November, 2020.

250,607 with a daily increase of 2,036.

On the 22nd of November there had been 252,460 deaths with a daily increase of 1,853.

Ballbag played golf over the weekend.

-Lloyd Marken

 

COVID-19 DIARY – A BEAUTIFUL OLD TOWN CALLED MARYBOROUGH

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Copyright Lloyd Marken.

August 16

The World Health Organisation reported 21,570,528 COVID-19 cases globally with a daily increase of 253,701.

There had been 767,267 deaths with a daily increase of 5,374.

In Australia there had been 23,288 confirmed cases with a daily increase of 253. There had been 396 deaths with a daily increase of 17.

In Canada there had been 121,889 confirmed cases with a daily increase of 237. There had been 9,024 deaths with a daily increase of four. Spring was a good time in Canada in terms of decrease in numbers compared to earlier during the pandemic.

In the United Kingdom there were 318,488 confirmed cases with a daily increase of 1,040. There had been 41,366 deaths with a daily increase of five.

In India there had been 2,647,663 confirmed cases with a daily increase of 57,981. There had been 50,921 deaths with a daily increase of 941. This was the day the number of deaths in India reached more than 50,000.

In the United States of America there had been 5,312,940 confirmed cases with a daily increase of 54,375. There had been 168,345 deaths with a daily increase of 1,144.

August 17

Monday I was on holidays again during my secondment. Not something I particularly wanted to occur but there is not much the manager of that area can’t get me to do if she is the one telling me to do it.

I had worked on a story to be published about a retired Principal over the weekend, I went to the Queensland University of Technology on Monday or Tuesday to see if enquiries about records there would pay off in researching about former teachers who had studied at the old Kelvin Grove Teachers College. There were no specific dividends sadly but I had received gotten some insight into a time and a place.

I also attended a Doctor’s appointment.

I know how to party.

Things were further developing in Victoria while we all held our breath about what would would happen in Queensland.
The below clips are again the excellent ABC program Four Corners on the second wave in Victoria and the next is from 60 Minutes Australia for nurse Dan Collins who contracted COVID-19.

Dan Collins is one of many extraordinary heroes who have served us, saved lives, comforted others and suffered. The courage of him and all our health care frontline workers cannot be honoured enough and when people try to justify ignorance and risk they should ask themselves – would they do what our nurses are doing?

Dan Collins is 24 years old. 24 years old. I stand in awe.

August 19

With the number of active cases in Queensland still relatively low and on holidays I was keen to strike out and support local areas with tourism dollars.
I have travelled as far north as Longreach in my home state but had never driven in my own car further north than the Sunshine Coast.

So Karen and I drove up to a town called Maryborough for the day.

Maryborough is the hometown of Mary Poppins author P.L. Travers and a beautiful old town. I didn’t know it at the time but I was about to interview two teachers who live and work in Maryborough in the days ahead.

I chose to drive the 255 kilometres from Brisbane to Maryborough after a doctor’s appointment starting late so there wasn’t a lot of time when we got there. We walked around the town and looked for a place to eat but nobody would have us. We instead took in prawns from the Parkyn Parade co-op at Mooloolaba which was a real treat on our way home.

However we did get to see the Maryborough Colonial and Military Museum which has been developed by local volunteers into a first rate place in recent years. Nearby Hervey Bay famous for whale watchers is where a lot of veterans have retired too.

Model airplanes hung everywhere as well as some military vehicles and uniforms adorned the place. Most impressive was the number of medal collections of former serving members. Both military and civillians who had risked their lives and been recognised for gallantry.

These included Keith Payne who was awarded the Victoria Cross during the Vietnam War and served in Korea, Malaya and Oman. His work with veterans post military service saw him awarded the Order of Australia medal.

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Keith Payne’s Medals. Copyright Lloyd Marken.

Western Australia Police Constable Timothy Britten was on leave from his overseas posting to the United Nations Mission in East Timor in 2002 in Bali when the Sari club was bombed by terrorists. In a singlet top, shorts and thongs Constable Britten ran 800 metres to the club and went into the fire to try and retrieve a woman as gas cylinders exploded around him. Forced out by the flames Britten went back into the fire three times and with a man named Mr Joyes he got her out. He pulled survivors out of the club all night. 202 people were killed in the terrorist bombings including 88 Australians. Constable Britten’s efforts in saving lives and risking his own saw him awarded the highest civillian award for gallantry – the Cross of Valour.

Major Harry Smith served in the Malayan Emergency and the Vietnam War. He was the Commanding Officer of Delta Company 6RAR when it was pinned down in the rubber plantations of Long Tan in a desperate fight for survival from a numerically larger enemy force. A long contested battle over many decades saw the veterans of Delta Company recognised more appropriately for what they lived through that day.

James Runham witnessed a bank robbery and followed the robber being fired upon point blank and wounded. He received numerous death threats leading up to testifying at the trial. He has served in the Queensland Rural Fire Service through several natural disasters, been a Cadet Instructor for Naval Cadets and formed the Australian Bravery Association. His bravery in this particular incident saw him receive the Star of Courage.

Major General John Cantwell you may recall me writing about a long time ago. Cantwell served in the Persian Gulf War, the war in Iraq and commanded the deployment of Australian forces throughout the Middle East and during the horrendous Victorian bushfires of 2009. An extraordinary man who has worked through PTSD. I once went to a welcome home parade for troops from Operation Slipper, Australia’s operational deployments to Afghanistan. I was absolutely delighted to see a retired General Cantwell at the head of it marching in uniform. This will sound extremely stupid but I had wanted to give thanks to those who served and having him be one of them was such a delight and surprise.

All of these individuals have shown exceptional courage and shown lifelong service to the community at great risk to themselves. Just like nurse Dan Collins.

-Lloyd Marken

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Dinner at Parkyn Parade, Mooloolaba. Copyright Lloyd Marken.

COVID-19 DIARY – EATING AND WALKING, WALKING AND EATING – PART IV

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The Polish Place. Copyright Lloyd Marken.

July 3

Friday morning we packed up our gear and headed off into the morning for our last brunch and walk of our holiday.

We had made a 10am booking at The Polish place which boasts spectacular views. My in-laws had stayed in the accommodation there previously and were very happy with their stay. It is well known on the Mountain.

We got an early booking because like every other establishment we had eaten at that week they could only make bookings for their indoor area at 50%. Random show-upperers could probably get a spot but booking capacity was limited by COVID. I didn’t run to risk it and just as well. Despite not being a morning person we rocked up at 9:30 with cars parked outside and a few couples waiting in the courtyard outback as it was watered down with a karchered down.

A popular joint.

We were given an option of outdoors and shown to the table we picked. Karen and I ordered Polish coffees (a bit too strong for us) and potato pancakes.

Suddenly two lorikeets popped up on the railing next to our table, they didn’t flinch when I shooed them with my arm. They just stood there for a while before toddling off.

When the young waitress came back, I asked if the birds were going to be a problem. She assured me they absolutely could be known for jumping up on tables while you’re your meal. She did helpfully point out however they seem to be go for the sweet stuff so the delicious cream in a jug that came with our coffees must have gotten their attention.

I’ll put you out of your suspense. We never saw the lorikeets again.

The next bird we saw was The Polish Place’s signature dish a roasted duck for two. Stuffed with Granny Smith apples and marjoram and served with red cabbage, Polish gnocchi, fried apple and cherry sauce.

It was bursting with flavour, I wasn’t used to a savoury dish with lots of sharp tart and fresh flavours mixed in the meat. I quite liked it and again, as tempting as the chicken in creamy dill sauce looked, we were enjoying something that was possibly fairly unique to this place.

As soon as we were done with the duck I looked to a nearby tree where three magpies flew into view and perched themselves. As soon as we stood up they flew down and the waitress did have to push them out of the way as she cleared our plates. Karen was surrounded by the three before she left the table. This amused her as I walked over to her and asked her to come with me.

We hadn’t really bothered been bothered by the birds, the staff was lovely, the views spectacular and the food amazing! Still I wondered if next time I would dine indoors.

 

 

Then we walked up the road to the beginning of Witches Falls, a 3.5km circuit I believe. There was a sign at the beginning that said not to work it during rainfall and as we went along I could see why. The path was narrow, elevated and would be very tricky if it became muddy due to rain.

Thankfully it was a beautiful day and as we descended there was literally a metre where the path was covered in vines and as you walked through it you moved from bush to rainforest. Amazing.

There was a fork in the circuit where you could go on and find the lookout, go back the way you came or continue and finish up the circuit. We went on to the lookout, when we came back we noticed a lot of people pausing and so I offered directions.

I had dressed for the restaurant so with my jumper off I was wearing a dress shirt with suspenders and black trousers.

This amused a lot of people, as a group of older women came by and I offered directions they noted I was very dressed up and one of them even offered “I hope she says yes.”

This cracked Karen up.

We began our ascent and left a scrunchy we found on the path on a post.

 

 

We got back to the car and just started driving back to Brisbane.

I left gifts for my Mum and Dad in their backyard and then called them. To my surprise they offered to talk to me through the window.

Instead when I went to the backyard they set up chairs for us to sit apart and chat.

It was the first time I had seen my mother in person since the 8th of March and my Dad the 15th of March. It was the 3rd of July.

A reminder sometimes you have got to push your luck.

My parents had not entertained visitors as restrictions lowered and active case numbers became single digits in Queensland. The wisdom of this strong stance was only going to bear out as the right call as the situation continued to deteriorate in Australia.

Yet here was a little respite for me, for them, for the country.

The perfect final touch to my very unlikely holiday in years during a pandemic.

-Lloyd Marken

 

COVID-19 DIARY – EATING AND WALKING, WALKING AND EATING – PART III

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Stonehaven Guest House. Copyright Lloyd Marken.

July 2

If I had ever entertained the idea of going up to Mount Tamborine and relaxing with my spa and backyard my wishes quickly evaporated. Sprung loose from our regular dwellings Karen was ready to seize the day. So Thursday we drove a short drive to Gallery Walk.

Gallery Walk is what a lot of us think about when we think about Mt Tamborine. It is where all the niche shops are lined up on one long street like so many small towns that cater for couples of all ages getting away to a romantic B&B, staying nearby as somebody they know gets married our just hoping to live it up at a winery.

You know the type of strip I’m talking about, there was a German cuckoo clock shop with stein mugs, there was a crystal shop, a leather shop, a retro clothes shop and a few liquer shops.

 

 

Karen and I walked up and down it twice figuring out what gifts we were buying and for whom. Karen’s main goal was to pick up a bottle from the Tamborine Mountain Distillery. Years ago this had been located elsewhere and the owner was a bushy white bearded man who’s wife had come from the former USSR.

I have memories of going up there to get a bottle for my sister and send it to her in the UK. It felt like I had wandered into a garage shed and picked up a Soviet knickknack. The new location and owners lacked this sense of discovery or character. Now it was just another business sadly but Karen liked her liquer and I liked that she was happy.

She also wanted to check out the Red Baron airplane at the Bavarian Cafe which I had gone to by myself years earlier while attempting to go hiking. This is where we saw the beginning of the trail for the Witches Fall circuit. We did see some of the beautiful sunset as well as a crowd gathering but we were hungry.

 

 

That night we had a booking at Belvederes to sit and eat inside where we were served by wonderful staff and ate some great wood-fired oven made pizzas. Highly recommend.

The shop is hard to miss, just look for the place painted in the colours of the Italian flag. I clocked four other couples dispersed across it, every one of them looked like city people on holidays at a B&B. Must be interesting to live in a town where people are constantly coming to your place to get away from their own.

 

 

That night I went down to the backyard again in the evening where a voice called out to me in the dark. He told me not to be alarmed, his name was Quacker and I had met him earlier that week.

A duck came out from the shadows into the light. I said “Hello,” and he replied “How’s it goin?”. After exchanging pleasantries he informed me that he had a couple of mates who were trying to sell their house.

 

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Quacker when I met him earlier in the week. Copyright Lloyd Marken.

 

I sympathised given the market, I myself was still trying to save up for a deposit. He told me the house wasn’t too expensive because his mates were fairies.

He took me up the creek where I met his friends who had a beautiful home with a stepping stone path. I asked how much and their price was very reasonable.

The fairies set one condition, they were hoping to stay in Brisbane from time to time and would the new owners let them stay overnight during these times. They would be out by morning they promised and would leave the place spick and span.

I said I thought I knew some owners who would be happy to accommodate that. So I bought the house and thanked Quacker and the fairies and handed the house to my niece and nephew the following weekend and asked them to honour the deal which they seemed more than happy to agree to.

It had been a productive day so I went inside to have my spa and go to bed.

-Lloyd Marken

 

COVID-19 DIARY – EATING AND WALKING, WALKING AND EATING – PART II

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Copyright Lloyd Marken.

 

July 1

Karen and I awoke Wednesday to enjoy our holiday at Mt Tamborine. We walked down from where we were staying to enjoy a hearty breakfast at a local cafe where a Kookaburra sat outside from a nearby creek.

 

 

The Curtis Falls walk was just outside the cafe.

This set the pattern for the next couple of days, brunch followed by walking so our pants wouldn’t be too tight when we stat down for an early dinner followed by an early dinner and a spa bath.

In fact you can skip the next couple of posts after that paragraph. That is pretty much what happens.

We went up to Curtis Falls which had quite a few people on the track, it was school holidays. We tried to maintain social distancing and it seems most people were on board with that but it is important to note that at the time the number of active cases in Queensland were single digits. There were still some restrictions in my place but we were feeling a little safer.

It was a quick 1.5km circuit walk although we were to find that we are not as fast as we used to be when covering these small distances.

 

 

Next up inspired by Curtis Falls I was keen to check out one of the more epic waterfalls I knew this area had to offer. We ended up at Purling Brook Falls circuit at Springbrook National Park.

This was 4km which involves quite an descent and ascent but it was pretty easy going. For the sights it is quite worthwhile and unlike say Mapleton Falls in the Sunshine Coast this walk allows you to climb down to the valley floor and take the waterfall in from another angle.

As we descended a group of young people came up behind me. Out the front was some gym bunny with a blonde ponytail and tight bike pants that she had probably never worn while actually riding a bike.

There was no “Excuse me,” or a polite inquiry if I could move aside. She just came barreling down on top of me hoping the sound of her voice as she chatted on with her companions about some people she knew right now right behind my head would be hint enough that I should just jump out of her way and let her inherit the world as clearly my time had passed on.

 

 

I paused and turned as the blonde black blur passed me still informing the valley about her latest personal developments. I smiled at her companions who smiled back, they seemed grateful for my courtesy and I appreciated theirs.

I didn’t hear Bunny Girl much after that as I was too busy doing an impersonation of her for Karen’s enjoyment or probably more accurately my own.

We never saw her again but we did take in the beautiful views, listened to the wildlife around us or took time to take pictures of our lovely surroundings.

There was even a moment when I went fairly close to a ledge up high. Just cause.

Down on the valley floor the falls looked spectacular and once we got to the job I went back on the track to the first look-out just to take it in one last time.

It was not lost on me that people were having to isolate home and worse and yet here I was on holidays looking out over a valley. I guess when you’re denied so many things long enough you have a new found appreciation for well..anything..all of it-life!

 

 

On the way back we stopped at the top of Mt Tamborine. Cars all pulled over to the side of the road and people walked over to a lookout hill. We were spread far and wide, metres apart, socially distancing but we sat down together as one and we watched the sunset.

There was something communal and comforting in that small window of time after weeks of being cut off from groups.

Many years ago I worked long hours in a job that stressed me out. On weekends I would go into the office and on a sunday afternoon I would walk across the road to Eagle street pier and watch the sun set over my river.

It seemed to help and it has never been lost on me that perhaps we should take time more often to watch the sun set rather than racing home or setting out dinner which is how it often seems to be.

Anyway Karen and I picked up pizza from a place called Belvederes at North Tamborine, ate our fill from the box and went outside to the backyard which was beautifully lit up.

The night was fairly cold so we eventually went in for our spa and bed.

-Lloyd Marken

COVID-19 DIARY – EATING AND WALKING, WALKING AND EATING – PART I

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Karen and I on holidays with the last days of my beard. Copyright Lloyd Marken.

 

As the year moved on I was told at work in the strongest terms despite the pandemic or even because of it, I should give myself a break. At the time there was a possibility that people may only be able to travel up to 250 kilometres from home. So I planned around that.

I had not taken recreational work from work in many years. We had gone to Newcastle for a long weekend in 2017, my first holiday in six years. I had attended my sisters wedding in London in country for 58 hours in 2018, there had been stays in hotels for a night or two but this was me taking recreational leave from work for the first time in a long time.

I did not want to stay at home on the couch and watch Netflix but I also didn’t want to spend a lot of money.

I also wanted Karen to have a holiday too.

So while thousands died across the world, I went on holidays and I am going to write about it. I’m sorry if that seems tone deaf. I guess I was following health advice from my government, maybe spending money in the area was good for some businesses but I went on holidays. I had a nice time and know that is only due to the grace of God.

June 30

Karen and I drove down to where we were staying at North Tamborine.

It was a Scottish themed manor named Stonehaven Guest House, by that I mean there was a lot of wood in it and Scottish themed paraphernalia everywhere. We stayed in a room called Edinburgh. Next day was Balmoral. One day I walked downstairs musing to my wife about the Australian battle Coral-Balmoral during the Vietnam War and wondering how Balmoral related to Scotland.
It’s where the Royal Family holidays of course which my wife reminded me of with the patience of a saint. Damnit and I’m the one with the Scottish heritage.

We loved the place, the staff were great but kind of left us alone which suited us. There was a beautiful backyard with a creek and a gazebo that was lit up at nights.

 

 

Our first night we walked around our up the road and got a layout of our surroundings. Up the road was a series of shops and the local ANZAC Memorial.

 

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Tamborine Mountain ANZAC Honour Roll. Copyright Lloyd Marken.

 

We went to a nearby Irish pub but they were booked out until later with the spacing required due to COVID-19. Fair enough. I looked around on my phone and made a call to a place called The Fox & Hounds Inn.

The gentleman on the other end said he would be happy to take a booking and asked me what time and I said now was fine. He laughed and told me he still didn’t open for another 8 minutes so we agreed to half an hour.

The pub was cosy on a cold winter’s night and even with social distancing there were a few customers that night. I got some salmon with a thing called bubble and squeak. I didn’t mind but didn’t love the bubble and squeak but my goodness the salmon was amazing. Karen really enjoyed her Guiness pie too.

Some of the pub is made with parts of a pub imported from England contributing to the construction of the inn.

 

 

There were also English ales available with a range more varied and authentic than say what you would get in Brisbane at the franchise Pig’n’Whistle. Nothing against the Pig’n’Whistle which I love but when in Rome you hope you’re enjoying something you can’t get back home.

There is also the Foxy Lady Ginger Cider which is brewed locally and exclusively for them.

We finished off with dessert, I got a Raspberry Eton Mess which basically was a mixture of cream, meringue and raspberries in a glass and my goodness it was good.

I think Karen had an apple and rhubarb crumble but I didn’t care because I had the best dessert after she beat me with the best meal. An even draw.

All night there was one waitress working the floor, taking orders, delivering food and passing good vibes along to every customer as they waited for food or got served drinks.

The owner out the back worked the entire kitchen by himself and the food was delicious and kept coming.

The waitress was so good, I called him out from the kitchen to pass on how much of a credit she was to the place and he agreed advising me he didn’t have her there full time because she was still going to school.

A lot of us will live entire lives without being able to remain that calm and quick under the pressure of a restaurant setting. I think she’ll go far, I wished I had also passed on what a great job he did.

 

 

It could have been being on holidays for the first time in a while but there was a little magic in the air.

The kind of magic you have when you’re on holidays and you find a little place to eat that just fits the bill and the staff are so good and the place is so nice you feel it was almost done all for your benefit.

We had a similar night at a place in Maleny in 2008 called Capriccios and it was nice to have it again.

Now though we made our way back to Stonehaven, our home for the next three nights and the spa we had in our room.

-Lloyd Marken

 

ROCKET MAN – AN AUSTRALIAN IN LONDON

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Copyright Lloyd Marken

I awoke rather late in what would be last day in a foreign capital. I should have risen at dawn, I should have carried on throughout the night but I didn’t. My funds were limited and my mind was elsewhere. When I got back to the Premier Inn at Bexleyheath I took a bath and tried to clear my head. I awoke late on Thursday April 5th and walked towards the train station. Originally I had envisioned leaving the wedding to sit at the airport with my brother until our planes took off. But the flights booked included one out of Heathrow at 10:35pm so I was going sightseeing. I got to Bexleyheath station and hopped on a train that had been delayed. In 2002 I caught trains for 3 weeks without incident, now I was finding out why locals mocked the reliability of British rail.

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Copyright Lloyd Marken

We did eventually move as I studied my old maps from 2002, the line went into London finishing at Charing Cross. I was keen to see Hyde Park, Westminster, Tower Bridge and most importantly St Paul’s. So I figured I would change trains and head for St Paul’s but then I saw Charing Cross was at Trafalgar Square I decided I would just hop off there. Years ago I had gone on a tourist bus there and we had gone into a local pub for lunch surrounded by businessmen doing the same. Romantically I envisioned a similar destination this time with me taking the chance to try a warm beer for the first time. The journey was slow but slowly the houses gave way to apartment buildings and leafy parks to industrial areas. More and more buildings climbed higher into the sky and then started to become of older architecture. I didn’t need a map to tell me I was getting close and then when I hopped off my train I saw clearly the London Eye.

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Copyright Lloyd Marken

Coming out onto the main street on a sunny afternoon I looked around for a pub but soon decided I didn’t want to spend time or money on food. I saw a shop named Garfunkels that served British breakfast for about 10pound, I suspected it was a franchise and in I went to sit down with a nice window seat looking at Trafalgar. I settled in to do some people watching but instead ended up reading my Michael Caine biography What’s It All About? Reading about someone who came from London while in London also seemed appropriate and fulfilling.

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Copyright Lloyd Marken

Having chosen a rather boring meal to eat while in a foreign land I noticed with the sauces there was bottle of something I did not recognise – malt vinegar that the bottle said was to be poured over the chips. I could tell from its placement that this was as common in England as the other sauces and while not a huge vinegar fan I decided to have a go and found I quite liked it. Now I was truly cosmopolitan and eating something different.

I paid and walked over to Trafalgar Square. I was thrilled to be in old London town and such a place made the experience all so real and yet I was alone and with vaunted memories of 2002 that today couldn’t possibly measure up to. It was here in 2002 during a particular heat wave that Nadia and I joined others climbing into the world famous fountains to cool our feet. Now there were signs everywhere saying keep out of the water. Lions I had once bravely climbed towered above me out of reach. These were feelings I would often have throughout the day.

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An elderly gentleman kindly took this photo of me outside St Paul’s. Copyright Lloyd Marken

So I set off for the one place I wanted to go above all else – St Paul’s Cathedral and headed straight for Paul Mall.

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Copyright Lloyd Marken

I didn’t get too far before I righted myself and found if I stuck to The Strand it would take me there. Apologies to all Londoners who will be tearing their hair out at my lack of geographical mainstays. So off I went, the amazing thing about London is there is so much to see or do in such a small area. At one point I saw a black gothic building and stopped to take a picture as the battery on my phone gave out. I had a spare charger on me but needed the phone to last a while yet so I stuck to The Strand and headed for my destination. Along the way I saw police and a gentleman outside a Church that looked like some trouble brewing or blowing over.

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Copyright Lloyd Marken

When I got to St Paul’s there were bag inspections and dozens of people sitting down on the steps. I walked up and was asked to open my bags and I warned the gentlemen that one compartment had dirty clothes in it. Those around me were asked if I was going to the evening service but not me. The Church had closed to the general public in the last half hour or less but there were evening services. I will tell you about my love for St Paul’s another time but it was one of the highlights of my trip to London in 2002. Over the years when I ask people who have gone to London did they go and see it and they always helpfully reply that they’ve been to St Peter’s in Italy or there is really quite a nice cathedral in Kent. Having not gone to those places I will give them the benefit of the doubt but how you can dilly daddle around with Big Ben or Trafalgar Square when St Paul’s Cathedral is right there is really beyond me! Ahem but to each their own.

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Copyright Lloyd Marken

I walked and sat down on the pews waiting for the evening service and taking in the grand sight above me. There was something comforting in how it was just as beautiful and grand as I remembered her but soon my thoughts turned to how in less than six hours time my flight home was scheduled to take off. Could I afford to spend my time here taking in what I believed would a be a very special experience. Perhaps not. I got up and walked over to those who had welcome me and said “I’m terribly sorry but I’m going to have to leave.” As I stood there with a suitcase wrapped around me she replied “Maybe you can come back tomorrow.” And I smiled and I said “That would be lovely.” And it would be and maybe if not tomorrow then one day soon. On my way out I grabbed my loose change and put it in the donation boxes and hoped this squared me away with God who had been kind enough to get me here to see my favourite place in London and to support the staff who had kindly taken me in for the evening service I was now abandoning.

In 2002 one of the few well known tourist attractions we did not go to was The Monument so off I set to see that. My journey that day became a series of seeing the hint of famous landmarks in obscure and unexpected ways that let me know I was finally nearby. The Monument was designed by Sir Christopher Wren and Dr Robert King and erected as a memorial to the Great Fire. Standing at 202 feet or 61 metres if laid down on its foundations the end of it would reach Pudding Lane where the fire was believed to have begun in 1666. I am getting worse with heights and more out of shape every year so I was glad I had been recently going to the gym when I entered the narrow spiral stone staircase of 311 steps leading to a viewing platform. I stopped as other came down past me. One gentleman hopefully said to me “That I would have left the suitcase at home.” Out of breath I fired back “There is no home.” So I told him. Heh. Ahead of me was a father taking his kids up the monument with their grandfather. Dad was struggling but with great pride noted aloud that his father in his 70s was shooting ahead. Age is just a number I guess.

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The view of Tower Bridge from The Monument. Copyright Lloyd Marken

When we got to the top I heard the father pointing out to his kids where Granddad had grown up. Not far from Michael Caine or Beetley Pete I thought. In fact Tower Bridge was in front of me and I did think of Pete knowing he did not grow up far from there. I struggled around a full lap of the viewing platform and took a selfie showing how far the ground was below.

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The selfie with the ground nearly 50 metres below. Copyright Lloyd Marken

I’ve abseiled off Kangaroo Point at 18 metres and off 20 metre towers. I’ve stood on top of the Sydney Harbour Bridge but it was just as well I did not know that I was 48.7 metres above the ground right at that moment.

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Copyright Lloyd Marken

The Copper Urn with flames gives the monument the extra 13 metres. To be truthful though with the wire fencing around to stop jumpers made me feel more safe and I felt pretty comfortable despite the height. As I went to leave I suggested to a couple at the door “You go first, you’ll be faster than me.”

 

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The Tower of London, Copyright Lloyd Marken

Now I made my way to the Tower of London which was understandably closed and then I walked across the beautiful and unique Tower Bridge. Years ago Nadia and I spent a day in London together where we went to Tower Bridge, HMS Belfast, Globe Theatre, Piccadilly Circus, Convent Garden and yes Trafalgar Square.

Chockfull of peak hour traffic Tower Bridge was still enchanting but I was now strictly sighting tourist landmarks rather than experiencing them. Instead I experienced the hum of the city as workers left for the day and young people and tourists took to the river for entertainment or a meal. The day’s ending suited my own feelings of wistfulness and farewell but also that a new part of the day was starting.

I crossed the river 3 or 4 times I think finally crossing the Millennium Bridge which I had not done fifteen years ago. I was on the wrong side of the river when I went past the Globe Theatre which Nadia saw in 2002 while I was on HMS Belfast. Maybe next time.

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HMS Belfast infront of Tower Bridge. Copyright Lloyd Marken

Some things had changed and looked more touristy, some things remained the same. There were a lot of concrete structures on each bridge that looked like old worn down ticket turn stiles of a bygone era. But I did not remember them from last time.

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Copyright Lloyd Marken

The sun continued to lower and I looked to see The London Eye off in the distance not thinking it could be much further but it was. Finally I came to an area with a Merry Go Round around Southbank where a busker was playing a beautiful version of Rocket Man. I took note of his name at the time and gave him all my loose change but I cannot remember it for the life of me.

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If you look carefully in the background you can see the very talented busker. Copyright Lloyd Marken

The lights were coming on now and the song moved me as I strolled away. These kinds of moments are what make trips, of what makes life. I was impressed by how many performers were entertaining people along Southbank. There is a whole culture to buskers in London followed by bloggers with their own dedicated youtube sites. Some make a living, not great money but a living doing what they love and my hat off to their achievement of that, their talent and to what they bring to the river Thames every day.

I walked all afternoon covering at least 10 kilometres with 7 kilos are my back. I don’t know if Karen would’ve liked that but not for the first time did I think about her being there.

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Copyright Lloyd Marken

The London Eye came into view and I knew I was close. Big Ben was surrounded by scaffolding as I crossed Westminster Bridge.

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Copyright Lloyd Marken

It was where we essentially started our journey as London tourists in 2002, the tourist vendor on the corner I checked out to see if there were suitable gifts. This was where we first came in 2002, this was where that bastard attacked and killed people on 22 March, 2017 injuring 50 and killing five. I had thought about us on that bridge as a family fulfilling a lifelong dream on a weekday morning back in 2002 when that terrorist attack took place. As soon as I saw the concrete structures again on Westminster Bridge I knew what they were for and that they had not been there in 2002.

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Copyright Lloyd Marken

Less than a year after September 11, 2001 we travelled across the globe with new restrictions and laws and heightened security and at war. Now all these years later there had been even more terrorist attacks and more heightened security. Yet all around me were people out and about having a good time. That made me happy.

I saw up ahead Churchill’s statue and decided I would say hello before leaving. Photos of me with my siblings and Churchill were some of the first taken of as a family in London all those years ago. I was coming full circle almost by design but when I saw the Cenotaph I knew I had one more place to go. My face was red from wind blast, my steps were slow and deliberate due to blisters. In the beautiful blue twilight of a European autumn evening with golden shimmering lights and dropping temperatures I crossed the road and bowed my head in front of the war memorial.

When I descended down Westminster station I asked for directions. It was getting late and I had not the time nor energy to waste. A kind staff member sensed this and told me to catch the next train and switch at South Kensington. I swapped and waited anxiously for my train. I’ll admit that I had left in good time but if my train was delayed like earlier that day I was well and truly stranded. As a man who does not think of himself as brave I am it would seem casually reckless none the less. Next I had to swap trains again as I was going to Heathrow Terminal 4 and this train was only going to Heathrow Terminal 1, 2 or 3. One more anxious wait and my train came, soon I limped up to Terminal 4 to get my bag checked. I was asked where my boarding pass was and I helpfully replied “I thought I was getting that from you.” Thankfully again this good staff member showed me where to go where China Southern Airlines and I returned a few minutes later with my boarding pass. I had an hour to spare until take off but he told me with relief that I had just got in. Fair enough.

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Copyright Lloyd Marken

I now entered a gift shop having gotten things for some family members at The Monument, I now got a tote bag for Karen, a stuffed toy for my older sister, a tea towel for parents and a snow globe for some children. Plus magnets. A long term collector of spoons I didn’t get one. It did not seem long until we had boarded and were taking off from the tarmac. I had made it, I was on my way home. When I first booked the flights my imagination had gone to taking Karen to London in the near future. Now I was not so sure. It had been an eventful trip, it felt like a monkey was off my back in my long term longing for travelling overseas and yet also it seemed more possible now than ever. Seeing London again was wonderful but Karen’s absence also made me realise that there were other things more important. I don’t know what the future will bring, who does? The golden lights of a metropolitan city lay out before us outside the window. I looked desperately for a landmark and seconds passed as I failed to recognise anything. Then I saw what looked unmistakably like Tower Bridge and I smiled. In that moment for whatever reason I was struck by a feeling of farewell like I was seeing London for the last time and so I wished it well and thanked that beautiful grand old city of fond memories and my sister’s home. The wings tilted and the ground went out of view and I began my journey to Brisbane and my home.

-Lloyd Marken

ROCKET MAN – THE WEDDING OF THE YEAR

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The tie made of Italian silk was given to me by my sister years ago and is only worn on special occasions. The headpiece and beltpiece were made by my amazingly talented sister. Copyright Lloyd Marken

 

I wish Harry and Megan the best but for me there was only one wedding to attend this year and it was the one of Nadia Marken and David Ward. After waxing lyrical about how coffee is served on Southern China Airlines and Dutch biscuits it would seem rude to speak less about the whole point of my trip but it involves people who deserve some privacy although I am emboldened by the fact that my sister has her own blog. There are things simply put, I cannot share but I will try to get across something. We raced home Tuesday morning along Bexleyheath in my sister’s car. British traffic is more aggressive that I’m used to and it gets really interesting when driving around the narrow streets of suburbia. My sister though was an old hand at driving on English roads, more an English driver now than an Australian one. Her wedding was in less than 24 hours but she was for the most part relaxed if mission focussed. Dave took my brother and I to a local burger joint that he and Nadia frequented while Nadia went for a hair appointment. Having lost some weight on the flights over I chowed down on some delicious greasy food. Dave seemed to know the manager well and I got the sense that this was one of the hangouts for them and their friends. This is also where I met Dave’s parents who are two very lovely people.

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Dave’s parents with the happy couple. Two wonderful people and very happy parents. Copyright Lloyd Marken.

Dave’s siblings and our parents couldn’t make it to London. Dave and Nadia will travel to Canada to celebrate their wedding there and next year will come to Australia to celebrate with us. I’ve called it the tour throughout the Commonwealth but don’t know if it is catching on. Dave’s family and our family have experienced some of the same emotional journeys in watching their loved ones fall in love with each other far from home. There was something reassuring in getting a chance to talk to people who have had a similar experience to your own. On top of that they are pretty cool people in and of themselves. Dave’s Dad can cut a rug pretty fine even if the floor is made out of hardwood and can reverse any motor vehicle out of a tightly spaced park.

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Copyright Lloyd Marken

Dave’s Mum has the biggest heart and so it was no surprise when her and me volunteered to help unpack with Nadia at the reception venue The Crown Tavern in Lee that afternoon. We arrived with all the tables and chairs already set up by the fantastic staff, Nadia surveyed all and talked to the manager.

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The Crown Tavern in Lee the day before the wedding. Copyright Lloyd Marken

Place settings, table plans to go on easels and welcome signs all designed by my sister were unboxed and set up. I was impressed to see a bride well organised and decisive without being stressed. There was something relaxed in how she had picked up me up from the airport and gone from one location to another ticking off things for the wedding but now the day was coming to an end. We were located on the second floor of the pub with a beautiful balcony outside with plenty of space to smoke cigars. I wondered if such a thing had been as big a consideration for her as it was for me when looking at wedding venues. There was a dancing area away from the assembled tables with a bar and a fireplace that had a bookshelf painted on it. I loved it. At the end of the main room was a long table and I was informed that I would be seated on the end of it with my brother. Dave’s parents would be seated at the other end. I nodded, touched by the gesture. 

 

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Bexleyheath. Copyright Lloyd Marken

I was asked throughout the day how I was doing with jet lag but I stayed up quite easily until that evening and work up comfortably early Wednesday morning. I believe this was primarily because I had already been running on London time when I was in Brisbane but who knows. Along the main thoroughfare of Bexleyheath there are plenty of pubs with long histories and odd names. I went into one and encouraged by my loosening pants ordered some toast and a coffee which came to less than five pounds I think. The quiet Wednesday traffic seemed to consist of mostly old regulars a lot with thick working class English accents. No families or tourists but the manager didn’t seem to mind, not exactly a peak time for business and I liked the quiet.

I then made my way to my sister’s place where we were served generously by Dave, Johnny Walk Blue each in a tumbler to celebrate while Nadia had her hair and make-up done. This was where I witnessed Dave’s Dad impressive manoeuvring skills with a motor vehicle. I met some of Nadia and Dave’s best friends in England which was a real privilege. I wrote years ago that my sister has a family now in England and this was my chance to get to meet them. They too are fine people, all teachers, and all super smart and dare I say kind of hip. They reminded me of a recent Judd Apatow show in the way that they spoke, quick witted, political and philosophical with a smattering of deadpan and earnest. I could only dream of talking like them.

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A natural shot of the couple ascending the stairs at Danson House in the last few minutes before they were married. Copyright Lloyd Marken

The ceremony took place at Danson House upstairs in the Sir John Boyd room. The earliest records of Danson estate go back to the late 1200s. Originally built in 1766 Danson House had fallen into some disrepair during the 20th century. English Heritage and Bexley Heritage Trust worked to restore and reopen Danson House from 1995 to 2005. Since then Danson House has become the register office for Bexley borough and I was told at one point the impressive number of weddings that go through there on an average Saturday. I think each ceremony is done over a 30 minute period as opposed to the hour or two allocated to the Churches I looked at in Australia for my wedding.  The official running the ceremony was a sweet woman who when told my brother was live streaming the wedding on his phone to my parents was visibly touched and said hello to them on screen. From then on she made sure my brother was close to the action with a good view of proceedings. My father, mother, older sisters, sister in law and wife watched in the middle of the night from the other side of the world. Where I had expected myself to be instead of where I was now missing my wife. When the phone was held up to me I spoke briefly and smiled.

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Copyright Lloyd Marken

I’ll tell you the truth gentle reader, I didn’t do this for my sister nor did my presence serve her wedding well. I came because I wanted to for myself and I’ll never be sure if that was the right call but she came for me and so somewhere deep inside me I was driven to go for her. Someone I discussed the possibility with simply said “Yeah but she’s your sister.” And it struck a nerve so there I was in Bexleyheath but to what success I can’t say. No matter my sister beamed on her wedding day and I got to be there. Is there anything else to consider but that?

 

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My brother Earl looking suave with Nadia and Dave just after we left Danson Stables and the sun had come out. Copyright Lloyd Marken

The Sir John Boyd room only housed 25 guests, again a great honour my sister had given me to be included at late notice, and so all guests met up at the Danson Stables to enjoy the moment due to the rainy weather. Meanwhile my stalwart 73 year old father drove his girls’ home in the middle of the night after the ceremony around Brisbane. We received a text telling us everybody was safe at home in the tardy bright sunshine of an early afternoon as we left Danson Stables. The connection across vast differences and realities never ceases to amaze me.

Next we headed to the Crown Tavern in Lee. The formal proceedings got underway as four speakers, Nadia and Dave’s closest friends, got up to speak along with Nadia and Dave themselves. Most of these friendships went back to Dartford in 2009 or 2010 where a bunch of foreigners landed in England to teach. All the speeches were full of amusing anecdotes but what I enjoyed the most about was the sentimentality and open expression of love that they each carried in their own way. I was most touched by Dave’s speech, I’ve always loved a wedding and there is something very special about a couple in love on their wedding day and I was moved by the sight of how happy my sister and her husband were in that moment. I believe I had Pan fried Gressingham duck breast, duck leg croquette, chicory, roasted sweet potato and cherries in brandy followed by whisky treacle tart with clotted cream. Delicious whatever it was.

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Copyright Lloyd Marken

As the festivities got under way I went outside on the balcony with the smokers and had a cigar that my brother Earl kindly cut for me despite not smoking himself. The crowd waned and changed on the balcony over the evening but again and again it was where I returned. My father had kindly given me the jacket he took to London in 2002 and I was grateful for it since it had recently snowed in London and I didn’t know how cold it would be. On the balcony surrounded by Londoners and Canadians this jacket briefly seen being worn by me at Danson Stables was brought up.

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Copyright Lloyd Marken

I insisted I wasn’t that cold which I hadn’t been (pay attention to these words) and so began a long night of “enjoying” the cold. Having not felt very cold last winter and suffering through the humidity of a 6 month Australian summer I found being a little chilled refreshing but have to admit later on when I took off my suit jacket I was at times shivering. Nonetheless I enjoyed my company, it was like all the cool kids hung out on the balcony and everybody was very nice to me even though I was an outsider. I enjoyed just listening to them for the most part since they as witty as they were.

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Copyright Lloyd Marken

At one point we saw a fox crossing the road which is less likely to happen in my neck of the woods. Sometimes I stood out there for a brief couple of minutes alone and contemplative.

 

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The famous fireplace. Copyright Lloyd Marken

I saw the newlyweds cut their wedding cake a 3 tiered creation from 3 different friends with 3 different flavours, all impressively made.

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So many practice runs were made by each tier maker that word of the cake spread far and wide. Copyright Lloyd Marken.

I saw my sister share her first dance with new her husband and shared a look with my brother in that moment.

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My favourite photo. Copyright Lloyd Marken.

Later Earl danced with Nadia growing in confidence and busting some serious move whereas at the end of my song with her we had swayed in one spot not even rotating a full 360. Finally the time came for Nadia and Dave to leave and we wished them well. Two of her friends, a wonderful married couple were also staying at Bexleyheath Premier Inn and we ubered home with them. Again my outstretched notes were denied. I was due to fly out in 24 hours and so had decided I would see some of London but the most important part of my trip was now over. My congratulations and best wishes to the happy couple Nadia and Dave. It was so lovely to spend time with you on your wedding day with your English family.

-Lloyd Marken

ROCKET MAN – THE RETURN COMMUTE

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Sunrise onboard Flight CZ 0381, Airbus 330. Copyright Lloyd Marken

CZ 0304

We’ll skip ahead now gentle reader to the return commute as it won’t hold much interest in comparison to once you have read about my time in England. I was scheduled to leave Heathrow 22:35 local time CZ 0304 travelling 5911 miles in 11hours 10minutes to Guangzhou. I noticed this was a shorter flight than the one I took over and put it down to the aircraft now being a Boeing 787 Dreamliner. The 787 is a newer aircraft but not the true successor to the Boeing 747 Jumbo Jet. Boeing instead designed this to replace their 767s with technologies that made the plane weight less and travel more efficiently. The Airbus A380 is the biggest passenger jet now as the Boeing 747 starts to be retired out of service and even it is in a battle to draw a profitability for Airbus. That makes me very sad. We used to build grand things, now we just build efficient ones but as a passenger who knows nothing I was happy to catch the 787 to get home faster but probably enjoyed being on the A330s more.

Upon boarding I noticed I was now on the right hand side facing the front and the side rows were 3 abreast and the seats had coverings that were more purplish than blue. Alas no Angry Birds. I was seated between two young men in the centre but they couldn’t have been nicer. We did fine accommodating each other but barely spoke. People don’t get names or make small talk anymore, if they ever did, everybody locks into their screens and politely gestures to each other and that’s about it. I had my meal which was lovely and then tried to sleep but I couldn’t, my legs were stiff and sore and I just couldn’t nod off. So I went to the bathroom and stood outside for half an hour stretching and generally just standing hoping I didn’t look weird. Eventually I returned and did manage some sleep, I think at some point Daddy’s Home 2 (I hadn’t even watched the original) and The Foreigner with Jackie Chan and Pierce Brosnan were watched and The Fantastic Mr. Fox. Or maybe that was the last flight. The windows were tinted out blue rather than needing actual shades to be pulled down, the kind of technological breakthrough that amuses some and befuddles me.

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Copyright Lloyd Marken

I’m a strong believer routine makes new realities lived in very quickly and I was coming off the end of a long week where a large part of it I had been a passenger with Southern China Airlines and I was getting used to it. The ads you couldn’t skip that ran before each movie for Lexus in Chinese, the safety videos at the beginning of the flights and the terminals at Guangzhou. I was going to miss it you see.

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Dreamliner parked at Guangzhou. We exited the pictured ramp on a outside stairwell. Seeing ahead I got myself ready to take this shot at the bottom of  the stairs before racing for the bus otherwise there would be no good photo of the only 787 I’ve ever caught. I’m glad how it turned out. Copyright Lloyd Marken

We landed 16:45 local time and I promptly went to the toilet after clearing customs. Changing my socks and undies in a vain attempt to make up for a lack of shower facilities I charged my phone and read my Michael Caine biopic. I returned to the shops to pick gifts for loved ones, my only regret is that I had to limit myself due to carry on weight and money, Chinese pizza will have to wait for another time too. In my earlier trip I had noticed a smartly dressed Panda and fell in love with the idea of getting it for Karen. I have since discovered her name is Pia.

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Not the plane I caught, just a shot from the airport. Copyright Lloyd Marken

 

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No good shots of this spectacular main thoroughfare but hopefully you get the idea. Copyright Lloyd Marken

The airport made me think of a real cool idea for purgatory. I don’t mean it was unpleasant to be there, the place was sleek, modern, glass and steel with planes lifting off into the heavens outside. Brightly lit stores and eateries beckoned and small nooks of carpeted corners made me think of cool hiding places for kids. The smog outside and the unfamiliar surroundings were very atmospheric to me along with all the strangers that surrounded me. I was alone but there were clearly families and couples. What if there was a way station like this in heaven? There is a film from the 80s called Heavenly Kid which has a subway station as purgatory, why not an airport? Once again reading Michael Caine made me sleepy so I went for a walk but this time I was only in China for 4hours 45 minutes and they start boarding before then. To be quite honest it struck me that 5 hours was a perfect break for such commutes rather than racing to your next flight to save a couple of hours in transit. Again I recommend China Southern Airlines and the Canton Route although I was grateful I had not been there for a 17 hour stop over.

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CZ 0381 Copyright Lloyd Marken

CZ 0381

We were scheduled to fly out of Guangzhou at 21:20 in an Airbus A330 with CZ0381 to cover 4388 miles in 9 hours and 5 minutes. On my fifth and final flight I got the window seat with a young Asian woman sporting heavy make-up next to me. We didn’t talk much either but she didn’t get grumpy when I had to wake her to get past her. Before we left we were told there was a hold up due to some kind of activity around Hong Kong. I started to nod off and continued as we taxied but managed to be wide awake as we flew down the runway and up and away. The meals offered for dinner and breakfast are usually of a Western and Asian bent. I had tried them all and enjoyed them but decided to pick the Asian ones after getting a noodle soup for breakfast on the Dreamliner. I had previously been worried there would be too much liquid and was worried about spilling it but this wasn’t the case at all and it tasted fantastic. When I got the meals this time the flight crew member serving me smiled and said “You always go the Asian one.” approvingly which just tinkled me pink for some reason. Maybe that was unusual.

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Copyright Lloyd Marken

As the sun rose I took some photos and also as my homeland finally came into view making use of my window seat.

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Copyright Lloyd Marken

When we reached Australian shores a lot of the flight was still to come which gives you a sense of the distance you have to cover in Australia to get anywhere. 20180407_072312In an afternoon I had walked over 10kilometres, last year in a day I had driven over 900 kilometres and in my last plane flight I was covering 7061 kilometres in about the same amount of time as the driving to Newcastle took. 20180407_073845The Captain apologised for the delay getting us to Brisbane but these things happen and again I was very happy with their service.

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Not long before home and having to turn phones for the descent. As exciting as the landscapes of foreign lands thrilled me, there was something comforting in this sight. It can’t be the only landscape that looks like this but it felt like home. Copyright Lloyd Marken

During our descent at 4,000 feet we went past the airport and banked right the 240,000 odd kilogram passenger jet over Moreton Bay with me looking right out the window at a sea of water. I quite enjoyed that and then we came into land.

It was a beautiful sunny Saturday morning and I looked out the window to see aircraft personnel loading and emptying cargo in shorts and polos with bronzed arms and legs. How Australian I thought. There was something that felt very Chinese to me in Guangzhou, very Dutch to me in Amsterdam and very English to me in Heathrow too. How to describe it I don’t know but I find something comforting in how all of those airports and all those people were the same and yet through some kind of quirky thing different. It’s something we should celebrate too and one of the joys of travelling far and wide. But I was home now as I got into my car with Karen and drove to our apartment.

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Copyright Lloyd Marken

Total distance traversed within the week in planes was 20,607 miles or 33,163 kilometres. I had been in London just under 58 hours, my total commute time was easily over 32 hours on the way over and close to 25 hours on the way back or roughly I spent 57 hours travelling to London and 58 in it. I’m actually surprised by that, I was assured my commute would be longer than my hours in country so I’m embarrassed to have come up short. Still my brother in law was right; Nadia was in Australia from Friday morning to Monday morning. 3 days and 3 nights. I had been in London 3 days and 2 nights with a slightly longer commute. If she wants to take back the title for craziest commute she is more than welcome, I’m just glad we got to go to each other’s weddings. I’ll tell you more next time about Bexleyheath, an Australian in London and one of said weddings.

-Lloyd Marken

ROCKET MAN – THE CANTON ROUTE

 

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Copyright Lloyd Marken

The Commute Over

Karen and I awoke just before 6am and sunrise on Monday morning the 2nd of April in Brisbane. I had stayed up until roughly 4am writing a review of A Quiet Place for Scenestr Magazine. Karen drove me to the departures drop off at the International terminal. It was to be some of the longest time we had been apart since I left a part time job about two years ago that occasionally I had stayed away on. There is a shame I feel in blasting across the world on a trip while she stayed home. It’s more complicated than that of course but I hope I can make it up to her in the future or that maybe we can work together towards a fulfilling goal in the future along similar lines.

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Copyright Lloyd Marken

 

CZ 0382

My first flight CZ 0382 was an Airbus A330 scheduled to take off at 9:55am to fly 4,388 miles from Brisbane to Guangzhou in 9hours and 5 minutes. Disclaimer, I’m going off the Itinerary not necessarily the exact miles and times that transpired in reality. In a reoccurring theme all my flights seemed to be down the other end of terminals in far narrow corridors. I was seated in the centre of three seats on the left with the aisle seat. Next to me was a small boy of five with his grandfather on the right hand side aisle seat. Fantastic I thought plenty of elbow space. Strapped in for my first international flight of 15 years and first airplane flight in 9 years I kept my eyes peeled taking in the moment. Turning my head to the far away windows to catch a look of the passing and falling away countryside. Flight has never become boring or routine for me and I always wait with excitement for that instant where the plane lifts away and rises. The kid next to me could care less at one point taking off his seatbelt which I quickly put back on with his grandfather’s thanks. Once he was able to get back to playing Angry Birds on the screen at the back of the chair in front of him the better. I enjoyed dinner and managed some sleep amongst my own attempts at Angry Birds.

I learnt quickly if I wanted to go to the toilet go before they come out with the food since you’ll have your tray out until they come and collect plates roughly half an hour later after the all the meals have been consumed. I was also closer to the rear then I realised and had my eyes on the toilet to the front before a kind cabin crew member showed the back one was vacant. No matter, I could use the walk depending on how serious I was taking the DVT threat and how helpful I thought ten extra paces was to combating it. Since I was going on less than two hours sleep I found it easy to nod off but would always be disappointed when I awoke to find only half an hour or at best two hours had passed. I don’t remember if it was this flight or another where I slept through most of the live action remake of Ghost in the Shell but I did. I also constantly put up a 3D display of our plane and route which had come a long way since the maps I watched on a big screen in 2002 on the Qantas flights. As we landed this display seemed to interest the kid and he looked at it and outside the windows seeming to now feel more connected to the experience now he could see a rendering of what was going on outside. Fair enough, maybe I had started something. He had certainly turned me onto Angry Birds.

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Copyright Lloyd Marken

 

Eventually we landed in China and I stepped off onto foreign soil for the first time in 15 years and the first time in China. I went through customs with over 7 hours to kill in Guangzhou airport. As a man I naturally went to the bathroom opening a door to see a squat toilet. While considering the old when in Rome mentality I figured not all would be the same and sure enough another door revealed what I was more used to. That killed a good hour. I looked at the shops, considered getting a pizza in China just to see what it was like but in the end decided to hold onto my money and see how the trip panned out. Outside the air had some smog to it and gave way to night time quickly.

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Copyright Lloyd Marken

 

I had wondered if China Southern Airlines would be a cheap alternative to other airlines but I would highly recommend them. The staff were polite and spoke Chinese and English to their passengers switching from one to the other with ease. The food was great including instant coffee they served premixed with milk and sugar into a plastic cup. I could imagine true believers would think it too sweet, and horrible to have it in a plastic cup but the taste and convenience was right up my alley. Many years ago when I flew with Qantas people placed chairs literally 45 degrees back whether somebody was sitting behind them or not. I don’t know if the chairs go that far back on China Southern Airlines because nobody tried it. Everybody seemed to be on their best behaviour, maybe it was the formal politeness of the crews, maybe something in their culture but I would happily fly with China Southern Airlines again. Apparently Guangzhou is the home base of the airline and it has been aggressively seeking the Australasia market since in China the government made Air China the national carrier and it has the North American market so Southern China Airlines are trying to build up the Canton route for Australians to Europe over the traditional Kangaroo route. I even like the colour scheme of Southern China Airlines with blue chairs and blue livery on the plane and blue fibreglass on their boarding stairs and the uniforms are very umm.. smart.

Image result for china southern airlines uniforms

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Copyright Lloyd Marken

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Copyright Lloyd Marken

After looking over the shops twice and starting to nod off reading my Michael Caine bio I decided to walk around the place again. Ending up in another area I came across some multi-coloured leds and a walkway that talked about the history and current status of Guangzhou. I enjoyed this very much and maybe one day I will check out the city itself with its large media tower.

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Copyright Lloyd Marken

 

CZ 0307

Finally it was time to board CZ 0307, another Airbus A330 scheduled to fly 5689 miles over 12 hours and 40minutes leaving at 12:05am local time. This was to be my longest scheduled flight and so I descended some stairs to an underground bunch of terminals again away from the main fanfare. This time there was no plane outside the door but a big bus that we all squished into standing up holding onto dangling grips. We drove for what seemed like one end of the airport to the other at one point stopping abruptly as another vehicle whizzed by in front of us. We got out to ascend mobile stairs into our plane which I always find more exciting than just going down those extended walkways. Now I was on the left hand side with the aisle seat in a row of two. A small young Asian man had the window seat and seemed polite enough although he was coughing which made me wonder if I would come down with the worst of a cold on my sister’s wedding day. Again I seemed more fascinated than others by the fact that the plane was taking off looking out the windows as best I could.

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I found it interesting in 2002 that I was flying over war torn Afghanistan and now I was flying over the snowy wastelands of Russia and China. It’s best not to think of what would happen if you survived a plane crash, oddly I still enjoy turbulence like it’s a carnival ride but now a little older I was more aware of how fragile the whole enterprise is. I was 30,000 feet up in the air with some tin around me. I ate dinner happily, having forgone the pizza earlier and managed to nod off, wake up, nod off. Not long after finding out I had only been asleep a little bit I would thankfully manage to nod off again. The time went and I looked down and there was Europe. I couldn’t make out if it was snow or water below when I saw Holland but whatever it was it was beautiful.

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Copyright Lloyd Marken

 

 

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Copyright Lloyd Marken

 

CZ 7858

I landed in Amsterdam local time 6:45am to catch CZ 7858, a Boeing 737-800 Jet operated by the KLM Royal Dutch Airlines scheduled to take off at 8:35am local time to cover 231 miles to London in 1 hour 25minutes. I cleared customs, walked along the airport to my waiting terminal off by itself somewhere again. When we boarded I found myself in the middle for once of a 3 seated row on the right hand side. There was also no screen on the back of the chair which kind of took me by surprise, was I about to engage in conversation with my fellow travellers? I found the Dutch crew very warm and friendly, the Dutch accent and language to my ears sounds joyful and I really enjoyed my time with them.

There was a message about getting a form if you did not have a European passport. I mentioned I was Australian to the flight crew and they gave me the form as a precaution. On the window seat was a gentleman who took this as an opportunity to ask me what I thought of the cricket. I told him what I thought but ironically and apologies to my late grandfather I don’t really follow cricket and added this to the conversation. The man and I talked a bit, he had just finished working many years in warzones. I asked if he was a correspondent or been in the service, he said he’d been working for non-profit as part of his Church. He was now looking to travel the world with his family for the next couple of years. On my other side was a middle aged Kenyan man whose family was in the row in front of us.

When I boarded my flight in Brisbane I had noticed a lot of Chinese people who gave the appearance of tourists. I had wondered if they were all going home, how many of my fellow passengers would be taking the whole trip with me. I can’t tell you who did but it seemed a lot of people from the first flight had been going home to China, the second a lot had been leaving China for Holland and now a lot of people were making a connection with flights out of Africa to come to London. We were served biscuits and possibly sandwiches for our outrageously short flight, the biscuit was a Dutch brand with a caramel filling which to this ‘ere sweet tooth was delicious!

We were told by the Captain over the intercom there was some congestion over Heathrow and we would be going into a holding pattern. Fine by me, what’s another twenty minutes between friends after all this time? Sometime after 9am Tuesday London time we were landing on the runway and I looked out and saw green as only England seems to make it and wide body fire trucks that suddenly my brain remembered admiring one early morning in 2002 over the exact same airport. My brother had arrived a couple of days earlier and guided me to my sister’s car and we set off on the highway for her home.

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The Bride to be with her two brothers. Copyright Lloyd Marken.

I had made it, I don’t know quite how to describe what that meant to me. How impossible such a trip has seemed all these recent years and how much it meant to me to be in the car with my two younger siblings who I grew up with in a house all those years ago. In that moment I felt really happy. Next up we will cover the return commute because it would be really anti-climatic if that came at the end.

-Lloyd Marken