Drive Around The World (Australia)

One family, one car, one year, one planet

Paris, France – Brighton, England (and then some), Day 168-182, 16 September – 10 October 2008

Paris, France – Brighton, England

Day 168-182

16 September – 10 October 2008

507km

Total: 20,170km

Soundtrack:

‘Paris’ – Edith Piaf

‘April in Paris’ – Louis Armstrong, Count Basie, Bill Evans, Charlie Parker, Billie Holiday, Thelonious Monk, Ella Fitzgerald et al

‘Living Room’ – Paris Combo

‘London Calling’ – The Clash

‘Down in the Tube Station at Midnight’ – The Jam

‘Red Light Indicates Doors Are Secured’ – Arctic Monkeys

‘Rumble in Brighton Tonight’ – Stray Cats

‘Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere’ – The Who

‘I Thought About You’ – Frank Sinatra

‘Better Be Home Soon’ – Crowded House

‘Comfortably Numb’ – Pink Floyd

Dedicated to the late Leo Rosner

DB: The flight into Paris was tolerable, though not a lot of sleep was had. Interesting that no matter how bad airline food and coffee is, air stewards still insist on waking you up 45 seconds after you’ve finally nodded off asking if you want some.

To our great fortune, my mum and her partner would be in Paris at the same time. Given we had struggled with a Paris real estate agent to confirm our reservation of an apartment or have it ready for our early-morning arrival, we were thankful to be able to tumble into mum’s small apartment and collapse.

After finally organising access to our apartment we walked over, with rolling bags in tow, like a family of ducks heading to a pond. Our apartment, in the Marais district, promised to be fabulous, with the only drawback being that it was on the fifth floor, with no elevator.

We met the owner who showed us around and, after my third trip up the old timber staircase, we marvelled at our new home for the next week. It was old, though not run-down, colourful, bright and, thankfully, sans Ikea furniture. What is it about the need to fill homes with standardised Ikea gear? Perhaps in generations to come archaeologists will surmise that the world was conquered by a Stalinesque interior decorator…

(Pic: At the Arch de Triomphe)

We immediately felt, well, different. Everything had a distinct colour, flavour or aura that was the antithesis of much of North America. After high-tailing it to Halifax and dealing with the fraught tasks of packing the truck, shipping it off and flying to another country, we immediately had a sense of winding down.

SK: Paris was, well, Paris in the autumn. Glorious sunny days filled with walking the streets, drinking espresso in cool wood panelled corner bistros, exploring by foot and metro and absorbing everything with great delight. And eating chocolate crêpes. Perfect!

We traipsed through numerous museums, and at the Louvre marvelled at the people marvelling at the Mona Lisa. We admired the view from the Eiffel Tower, trawled the Champs Élysée, climbed the steps to Sacré Coeur, scoured the flea markets and much more. Our dear friend Susan had written a treatise on what to do and see in Paris, and we attempted to work through the list.

(Pic: With Danny’s mum, Anna, at the Eiffel Tower)

Maddy and Raffy thrived in Paris. Maddy would go shopping by herself to the supermarket across the road from our apartment, and Raffy could negotiate with ease the ticketing machine in the Metro. Our simple French was more than adequate for communication, and navigating.

On the list of places we could live, Paris easily knocked the previous entries off their perch. Why is it that some places just touch your soul? That you want to put down roots and be part of a city? Yes, this is romaticised, and I wouldn’t want to live in the notorious ‘burbs. But put me in a 19th century apartment in an inner ‘arrondissement’ and give me a high paying job so I could live the café lifestyle, and I’d be happy. Not much to ask, surely.

(Pic: Raffy was rather pleased with the back lanes of Montmartre)

But Paris also is a city that seems to lack overt self-promotion. It simply is, and you like it or not. Tourist signage is adequate but minimal. People just don’t rush with the frenzy of London or New York. There are lots of green pockets, and clever urban planning. You sleep where you shop where you work where you hang out.

(Pic: Dusk from our apartment)

DB: Parisians are often considered notoriously, and most unfairly, arrogant. However this has never been our experience. A tourist’s impression or experience of Paris, like most places, can be somewhat unrealistic, as one can easily get the impression that the way in which you engage with a place must be the same as the way the locals engage. Surely this is not the case, as people have jobs, school, chores, complications, worries, and mundane repetition like everywhere else. Yet the intangible magnetism of a place that is so steeped in ancient, and more modern history, is so pleasing to the eye, relatively reserved and unhurried and inhabited overwhelmingly by people who take pride in their very presence in the world is palpable. Glitz and glam are non-existent, or at least hidden. Crowds on the Metro are patient and orderly. Narrow streets blocked by delivery vans do not cause the type of civil unrest that would be standard fare in other parts. People take time to observe, converse – promenade. Most media refrains from howling and instead informs in somewhat quiet restraint. It’s as if the entire city – people, buildings, streets, parks, galleries – has a genuine smile and one raised eye-brow.

(Pic: Lunchtime at Jardin des Tuileries)

And, as a universal indication of a prime existence, the coffee is fabulous. Yes, we got ripped off at Montmartre, and the reality of a large, complex and diverse community is often simmering and seething, but to amble, sip and gaze in Paris is one of the world’s great delights.

SK: It was then with great reluctance that after a week we packed up, said goodbye to our landlord Ugo and his funky apartment, and trundled off, again like ducks with bags in tow, to Gare du Nord, the Eurostar train and to London.

(Pic: Maddy sometimes walked around as if she owned the place)

It needs to be said that I am not afraid of much. I hate mosquitos and bad politics, but these things don’t make me quake. The idea of being in a tunnel, underwater, is however something that makes me weak and I turn an unattractive shade of green. What kind of wacky alcohol-fuelled conversation created this masterpiece of engineering? An underwater tunnel! Didn’t they too worry about the whole thing collapsing?

The Eurostar, unfortunately, is the quickest and cheapest way of travelling from Paris to London. And so on this train we were to go. Not helping the situation was the knowledge that there had recently been a fire (A fire! Requiring emergency evacuation! In a tunnel! Underwater!) the previous week.

(Pic: Waiting for the train at Gare du Nord)

Danny was well prepared for my anxieties en route, and medicated me with the three W’s – whisky, wine and West Wing. So I slowly became numb over the hour to Calais, then managed to get through the twenty or so minutes when there was no daylight around us (we were in the tunnel, but don’t tell me). My eyes were glued to our laptop ‘Donna’ as we watched some disaster unfold in the White House (and for those of you paying attention, our computer is named after the WW character – she knows everything even before you know you need to know it). Then we were out into the grey English countryside and I began to breath again. Kind of coincidental after having read Tim Winton’s newest book in Paris. 

As a consequence of the three W’s, I was pretty odd company when we arrived at the home of Caren and Richard, our friends in London.

(Pic: Getting our bearings in Covent Garden, London)

Nevertheless, our hosts were warm, welcoming, and we had a great time with them and their gorgeous daughters. Our car was due to clear customs the first week we were in London, so we spent the days exploring the city, and the nights in scintillating conversation. Ideal! I also was lured into a surprise and teary reunion with my cousin Stéphanie, by the giant Sequoia tree in the Natural History Museum. A reunion that, I later found out, had been planned by Danny and Stéphanie before we’d even left Melbourne!

(Pic: Surprise! When Sandy met Stéphanie in London)

So though London was filling our days, and even managed some sunshine, we were getting antsy and, surprise surprise, there was no news from Thamesport about customs releasing the truck. Was this history repeating itself? We extended our time with Caren and Richard by a few days and had the opportunity to share Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) with both sides of their families. (Thanks again Rachael and David and Jacqueline and Jonathan for delicious meals and good company.) But it was time to move on, and we headed to Brighton, still awaiting that magic call.

(Pic: All this travelling makes for tired children, London Underground)

DB: I became enthralled at the differences between London and Paris. The more I reflected the more I became convinced that the English Channel serves less as a waterway that physically delineates between France and the UK and more of an invisible cultural vortex that transforms everything from one side into its opposite on the other. Fashion, design, language, cuisine, pace, entertainment, politics, music, light, space. Nobody in Paris would have the Gaul (!) to consider ugg-boots or the top of one’s bum crack a fashion statement, or drinking warm beer and eating roast ox and mustard crisps a legitimate past-time in and of itself. I never saw a Parisian with a woman’s name tattooed in cursive script on the side of his neck, or a stained football shirt stretched across a flabby stomach. If I was to make a rash, broad and probably unfair generalisation it seemed that England was more gritty, aggressive, and, not to put a too finer point on it, their inhabitants somewhat less graceful, than their continental cousins. There is some delight in considering what Australia would be like if the French got there first – would Dad and Dave, or Kath and Kim, have been relevant? All in all, given there is so much common history between the English and French cultures, and their relative close proximity to each other, it is wondrous they are so different.

(Pic: Trafalgar Square)

SK: Maddy and Raffy were affronted at Brighton Beach – pebbles! Where’s the sand? But quickly adjusted and would soccer their way down the esplanade, happily scuffing pebbles along in their wake.

We had secured a great little cottage (with thanks to Heather and Hilary from Best of Brighton) near the water, and proceeded to make home. We cooked, the kids did homework, we watched the drizzle descend, hung out with Stéphanie and Heath, and did some exploring. And finally we got the call to come collect the car. After a two hour-plus train ride and an hour’s paper pushing, we were on our way. Finally back on the left side of the road and meandering through the gloriously green English countryside. We had a pub lunch in a small town on the way home, and with cheers pulled up back in Brighton.

(Pic: The truck arrives in Thamesport, England)

(Pic: Very large grains of sand, Brighton)

We spent another day planning our route, and, after a radio interview with his favourite ‘Coodabeen Champions’ team on ABC radio in Australia, Danny organised extra car parts with the great assistance from Dale in Melbourne who helped match part numbers. It was goodbye to Stéphanie (though Raffy was quite keen to have stayed with her and wave the rest of us off) and we were off to Stonehenge and Bradford-on-Avon for our first real day on the road in Great Britain.

(Pic: Down our street in Brighton, with the English Channel at the end)

DB: We headed west along the south coast to Worthing, where we collected some long-needed replacement parts for the truck – mainly oil, fuel and air filters. The truck needed a service and these parts had not been readily available in North America.

We headed towards Bradford-on-Avon along quintessential English country lanes, away from the hectic ‘A’ roads, scraping past hedgerows and the front doors of village homes, pubs and shops. In the distance were cathedrals and castles, and finally over the ancient bridge in Bradford to our rustic, creaking lodgings. We had discovered that inexpensive self-contained accommodation in Britain was very difficult to find, especially for one night, and the weather made camping out of the question. So, for at least tonight, we would bunk down at the inn and grab a pub dinner.

(Pic: Stonehenge)

All was well in the world, made even more obvious with Maddy and Raffy giggling in the open loft space above us. We slept well and woke albeit a little late for breakfast provided by our inn. Then, as we were finishing our meal and finalising our day’s route into Wales, my phone rang.

My father called to tell me that my grandfather had passed away.

Sandy, Maddy and Raffy saw it in my face before I had finished the call. Sandy and I knew there was the distinct possibility that this would happen as he had not been well and in decline, but the overwhelming shroud of grief had a mind and persistence of its own.

I confirmed the news to my family and, somewhat surprisingly, Maddy howled tears of anguish like I had never heard her do so before. Raffy looked slightly afraid and came to hug me and pat my shoulder.

It was Friday morning our time – evening Melbourne time. The funeral would be on Sunday. We – or should I say Sandy – had to think fast.

We had always committed ourselves to returning home in such an event, but now I was conflicted. For whose benefit would I be going? What would Sandy and the children do in that time, and for how long? Can we afford it?

“I’m going,” Maddy sobbed. “What do you mean? Where?” “To the funeral. That’s it. I’m going.”

Sandy and I weren’t sure what to make of this, but we had some time up our sleeve to try to make a decision. We were at least two hours from Heathrow, and we still didn’t know whom, if any of us, would fly to Melbourne, or where the others might stay for the duration.

We went back to our room and Sandy hit the computer and phone. In no time two seats were booked on a 10pm flight. We decided to head back to Brighton, where Sandy and Raffy had some familiarity with a town and a flat, and Sandy’s cousin Stéph could keep them company.

This was my first experience of dealing with the death of a close family member and was feeling numb. While Sandy was booking flights, accommodation for herself and Raffy and packing clothes, I held Maddy who was quite distressed. Now was no time to query her decision to fly home.

We packed the truck in silence and headed out to the most direct route to Brighton. Sandy juggled the A-Z UK map and the phone, and I tried focusing on the road. Music became a torment instead of a distraction – everything currently on our iPod or on radio at once seemed innocuous and yet had some kind of connotation or reference to our circumstance. We drove in silence.

The flat we had checked out of only a day before was available. The agents were supportive and suggested a smaller place for Sandy and Raff, but it was agreed that they needed a familiar space, and it had reasonably secure parking. We rolled into the space at about 2.30pm, having skipped lunch. Sandy and Raff began carrying things into the flat while I had a quick chat with Maddy. Did she know what it would be like for the four days we would be in Melbourne? About being on planes for two days? Jetlag? Dealing with grieving family members? Was she thinking that this was an opportunity to catch up with friends? Maddy was determined. It was important for her to be there for her great-grandparents, for her grandmother, for her Dad. I wept with pride.

Sandy discovered that a mini-cab to Heathrow from Brighton was almost the same price as a cab to Brighton station, a train to Victoria station in London and another to the airport. Maddy and I packed a bag in a fug while Sandy and Raffy attempted to feed us. We then had about 45 minutes to while away and so did what any civilised family would do in such circumstances.

We went to the pub.

In the little corner public house in our street Sandy raised a toast to my grandfather and we drank in some silence accompanied by Frank Sinatra crooning ‘I Thought About You’ on the pub stereo, being ably supported by the barkeep. My grandfather was a professional musician for his entire life, and adept at choosing songs to fit the occasion. He would have loved it.

We loaded up the mini-cab and moved out into the furious Friday evening traffic. Traffic reports on BBC radio were not encouraging. Motorways recently expanded to accommodate increased road traffic were, unsurprisingly, clogging up. We had plenty of time up our collective sleeve, but there is little more frustrating than crawling in first gear on a twelve-lane freeway.

Dropped off. Elevator to ‘Departures’. Check in bag and get boarding passes. Through security. Take your shoes off. Maddy gets frustrated with her new Doc Martin boots. She sets the machine off with a piercing beep. Airport staff ask my permission to search and Maddy gets padded down like she’s been arrested. I resist the temptation to intervene. Nothing doing. Hand-luggage through the X-Ray machine. Out the other side. Plane departs in an hour. We got something tasteless to eat and I had a warm beer. Bloody England. We buy some chocolate wrapped in Union Jack print for my grandmother. I get waves of anguish and heartache and Maddy holds my hand.

Gate lounge. Loud and annoying game-show on the telly. Annoying fashion victims in enormous sunglasses and ugg-boots yapping like hyenas into mobile phones. I wonder if they’ve seen the brilliant ‘Little Britain’ TV program. “Yeah but, no but, she’s like such a cow, shuh’up!” I want them to go away. Very far away.

Queue up. Boarding passes and passports. Airbridge. Welcome aboard. Get to seat. Buckle up. Qantas piped music – someone doing a cover of Crowded House’s “Better Be Home Soon.” Where’s home? Taxi up the runway. Blast off. All too weird. It almost feels like an out-of-body experience. Conflicting emotions. Leaving my partner and son in a flat in southern England while I head with my daughter to my grieving family in Melbourne, Australia. I will not have been away this far, or for this long, from Sandy since 1993. Returning to my home environs that will undoubtedly, for numerous reasons, feel strange. I think about travelling for a day by air back to a place from which it took us six months to drive, and feel a little resentful. Not necessarily feeling anxious or entirely overwhelmed, but rather anaesthetized. Comfortably numb.

 

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4 Comments»

  David Taylor wrote @

Hi Guys. 4pm Sun Arvo, 19th. Just finished reading latest blog, with tears in my eyes. Anyway, beautifully written yet again, & I think the photo’s are getting better. Or maybe, just more of them. What wonderful adventures, good & not so good. Sandy, what a sooky, sooky la la, in the chunnel. The remedy sounded real good. Had a good laugh about that. To all of you, what can I say. I say memories, the good, the bad, & the ugly. They are the best things to have. They are a wonderful comfort, that help us all through difficult & sad times. Sorry I didn’t see you Danny & Maddy, when you were here, but I understand the time restraints.
You were all in my thoughts & prayers. Emma kept me informed.
Glad you had the link to the radio interview, cause I missed it. Great listening.
Keep well all of you, stay happy & safe,
Luv & peace, David.
ps. Gerty says Hi.

  Allie Bailey wrote @

ahhh… truly intrepid travellers… what an awesome blog – i say wiping tears from my eyes. this is a beautiful testament to the sadness and shock of losing someone you love when you’re so far away – maddy you’re an absolute trooper! im very sorry for your loss, and what a foggy surreal trip home and back. i hope when the jet lag subsides, and the even weirder space of amsterdam settles (this being a process you could embrace were you sans kids and 20 years younger, or if you were me!) – that you’ve got time to play some fitting tunes and retell some great stories about your grandfather.

aside from that, sandy i completely concur with the tunnel terror – and as im typing to the dulcet tones of WW season one, disc 2, i think your medication was spot on. i can’t do the burnley tunnel, let alone a recently evacuated channel – much as the ferry is terrifying, its most reassuring to know that at least at the beginning of the journey, that yr on top of the water, rather than under it. thats just wrong.

happy travellin, look forward to more, and love to you all xxx

  David Taylor wrote @

Hey there all you Guys,
Where are you???
Missing You.

Luv, David.

  Hilary wrote @

touched by your time in paris, where your grandparents had spent some good postwar times, and leo had made music with astonishing world musicians.
heard the coodabeens – with your interview right at the end. another month eh? word will get back…
hil


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