An account of our arrival at Heathrow well before dawn, getting from the airport to where we're staying, and what we did for the 11 days between then and Eastercon. Written by Eric with interjections, editing and photographs by Jean. Previous page (Corflu in Boston). Larger versions of some of the photos in this chapter are available on our Bravenet photo storage site. Last updated 2 October 2001.
Tuesday 3 April 2001
British Customs didn't show a stiff upper lip, nor any traditional reserve. We got passed through with minimal formalities and in absolutely minimum time. Baggage collection is after Customs, so it is no wonder that some visitors to other countries (such as Australia) do not realise they have to collect their baggage at their first stop for Customs inspection.
Alison Freebairn had her luggage booked through to Glasgow. She had some time before the flight, and kindly lead us to the Underground. (It wasn't difficult, despite the crowds, but it's always nice to have someone experienced confirm that we're going the correct way, especially when we're not functioning real brightly. - Jean)
We got on the Piccadilly line tube train for our trip across London to Seven Sisters station, via a rapid change of train at Finsbury Park. As Heathrow is the beginning of the line, we got seats and a place to put our luggage, which was fortunate since it's a long trip and passes through central London at peak hour, so the train got quite crowded at times.
Changing trains at Finsbury Park was easy, as all we needed to do was drag our luggage across the platform. Both Judith Hanna and Alison Scott had warned us not to change at any other station, where the distances would be greater and more convoluted.
After some confused exploring of the Seven Sisters platform, we finally located the desired exit, where Jean phoned Judith Hanna. We spent or possibly wasted considerable time inspecting a map of the neighbourhood on the station wall. Reality did not match our map-oriented expectations, due to multiple streets being missing from the map, which was thus more a symbolic representation like the underground diagram.
Judith appeared on the street before we got too confused, and so we took the bags for more of a drag back to her abode. Joseph made a brief appearance in his secret guise of a Public Servant running late, and gave us a brisk formal salutation and handshake on his way out the door.
Judith later revived the household revolutionary gardening credentials by taking us on a walk to see their allotment, entered under a traditional old arching brick railway bridge. We later lost the plot by assisting in measuring the various beds, Judith and I with a tape measure, Jean sitting with a rough diagram. Judith later produced a masterly and very neat drawing of the plot. Naturally I wanted to know when the web version would appear, but was shushed by those present more sensible than me.
We fell upon cheese sandwiches for lunch, a special treat for me as I normally avoid cheese.
After lunch Jean and I both collapsed for a while, with me claiming I didn't need any rest.
I tried updating some of my notes for the trip, and found the left hand of the Psion 7 display was calibrated incorrectly. I recalibrated it, but had to do that again soon after. This seems a bug in the Psion 7.
Alison Scott and Stephen Cain brought their children Marianne and Jonathan (aka Jo-phan) over and Judith served up a tomato and mushroom pasta for dinner. Judith also entertained Marianne, who at four years old is very enthusiastic about Judith's 1/12th scale dolls' house.
We talked until fairly late, over several bottles of mellow red wine. I noted the wines were more mature than we can risk in the tropics, where we tend to stick to recent vintages, and then try to find ones ready to drink while still young (which seems to me to mostly mean a merlot).
Stephen drove us back to their house where we were to stay, and I had to admire the luggage and people carrying capacity of their small people mover.
Wednesday 4 April 2001
Tried to sleep in, but failed to do so when I awoke soon after four a.m. I was also very warm with the heavy bed covers, a problem I had not expected in a cold country.
I'm not sure this is a typical U.K. breakfast, but I had Weetabix, some hot cross buns, and bread with Rose's Lime marmalade. This last I am familiar with from some supermarkets in Australia, and although it doesn't actually taste all that much like a lime marmalade, I rather enjoy it. The Weetabix seemed very similar to the Samitarian Weetbix I am used to in Australia, but had sugar and malt as well as wheat and salt, and had rounded ends and a finer structure rather than the straight cut and large flakes of material I knew.
It was raining and this discouraged us from exploration, especially as we were both still feeling jet lagged and less than at our best. However we did have a loan of an A-to-Z map of London and lots of hints from Alison.
The big excitement for the morning was a rather large Navy rescue helicopter landing in the school ground a hundred metres or so away. Never can find a camera when we need one.
Alison demonstrated Internet grocery shopping, and insists it is faster than actually going to the supermarket. I would have to agree that it seemed slightly faster, but thought the frustration levels still far too high. Still, it was interesting to see someone actually use this technique. Jean avoided this demonstration by falling asleep again, while I took notes. In fact, Jean slept most of the day, emerging for meals.
We went shopping at the local high street markets with Alison in the cold and rainy conditions, only to find that even the market vendors were packing up and leaving. Jean was interested in the clear plastic rain covers over the numerous babies in push-chairs (prams). She found them an interesting adaptation to the climate. I'm sure they would be too hot in our own area. The markets seemed incredibly crowded to me, and the vendors much more numerous (albeit repetitive in their stock) than I expected.
Delicious chicken breasts with orange and olives, accompanied by couscous and salad, for dinner. Alison says she likes cooking. We certainly enjoyed the results.
Thursday 5 April 2001
Victor Gonzales arrived early in the morning, around nine, from a redeye flight from Boston, whereas we had feared his arrival would not have been until late in the afternoon. Said five vodkas had helped him sleep through the flight. Promptly engaged in lively literary debate with Alison, some of it involving his forthcoming joint fanzine with Lilian Edwards.
Alison made what I am sure was a typically wonderful Greek oriented set of starters for lunch, a characteristic I think ensures that lots of overseas fan travellers visit and try to stay for a meal.
The one day travelcard we were advised to buy (cheaper than a return train ticket after 9:30 a.m.) turned out to be a magnetic striped piece of cardboard labelled Walthamstow Central to zones 1 to 4. As expected there seemed few staff visible at the tube stations to check what went through the barriers. http://www.thetube.com
Jean, Victor and I set off for the traditional fannish First Thursday gathering (still known as The Tun). Victor and I talked Roman history while we travelled along the Victoria line. At Oxford Circus we changed to the Bakerloo line for the four stations to Waterloo station.
Finding the Florence Nightingale pub was an interesting exercise, but between having three people looking, plus Alison's directions, and Jean's printed instructions from Dave Langford's web site, we didn't really have real problems.
The meeting was in a dark but large room upstairs, which rapidly became smoke filled as numerous fans arrived. Click photo to see it larger. It certainly was a large meeting by my standards. Dave Langford greeted us, bought me an ale, and gave us a copy of Ansible. This seemed an excellent start. I started handing out fanzines and also flyers for our Relaxa.con plus our GUFF bookmarks.
Bridget Wilkinson gave me Fans Across the World, a listing of fannish conventions and such like. Jean saw Caroline Mullen. I chatted with Bernie Peek, looking dapper in suit and tie direct from his marketing job. He mentioned using IR lasers and cameras to find where subjects' eyes are looking when evaluating billboards.
I had a long chat with Chris Cooper, a software engineer with Symbian, about new models that had been announced.
Avedon Carol and Rob Hansen were there, perhaps our only chance to see them, although I have hopes also for the party Joseph and Judith are doing on Saturday.
There was so much noise from that number of people that I had little chance of hearing many conversations once the numbers increased.
Jean's comments: the smoke and noise were a problem for me too, especially when I couldn't converse with people I really wanted to talk with, such as Jane Carnall and Sandra Bond. Fortunately we expected to see them again at Eastercon, in quieter circumstances. We saw numerous others that evening, whose names we failed to record.
Friday 6 April 2001
We headed off rather late (nearly 11 a.m.) to take a train from Walthamstow to Liverpool Street, and then the No 11 bus around the tourist areas of central London. We took almost no photographs this day, figuring that if we wanted photos we could buy some postcards and get much better scenes than we were likely to take. It does make a trip report a bit dull by modern expectations.
From the train we could see lots of low brick buildings, some small factories but mostly housing, looking crowded together like I associate with inner Sydney back in Australia.
Some of the station platforms appeared abandoned, with greenery breaking up the brick and concrete, just before the train entered the magnificently restored and updated Liverpool Street railway station.
We were amused (and relieved) to see the "Look Right" and "Look Left" signs painted on streets at crossings. Certainly helps tourists, at least if they could read English.
It took a while before a No 11 bus reached us, as the terminal had a black hole that swallowed No 11 buses as they arrived.
Once started, we had a wonderful tourist ride. We sat at the front of the upper deck, where we had a good view. My notes (following) are scrappy and don't pretend to cover everything. The Bank of England, a statue of Wellington on a horse (actually about half the statues included a horse).
In contemporary contrast, we sighted several Starbucks coffee houses, Burger King, and totally unexpectedly, a WestBus looking exactly the same as the ones I used to see in Sydney. There were phone boxes in red, and phone boxes in black, and even phone boxes with email facilities.
We passed St Pauls, and rode along Fleet Street, where I totally failed to spot any newspaper offices, although I did note the Old Cock Tavern proclaimed it was the oldest in Fleet street, dating from 1549. Past the Royal Courts of Justice, and The Strand and Aldwych, where I spotted Australia House, and the area where I managed to get my British bank account back in 1976 on my previous visit. It seemed easy to suffer a surfeit of history, as everything seemed to be labelled as an historic building or monument.
The pedestrians seemed really careless, stepping in front of any vehicle. I was amazed that the bus didn't run down someone walking across the road. There were workers in tee shirts in the streets, looking unconcerned about the weather, while Jean and I were bundled up in every coat we owned inside the bus. Traffic was at a standstill for minutes at a time in what seemed to me monumental snarls. The streets seemed almost uniformly narrow, contributing to my feeling that I wouldn't cope well here as a driver.
Other sights, or should that be sites? Trafalgar Square, Kings College 1829, University of London, Piccadilly Circus, Great Scotland Yard, Parliament Square, Westminster Abbey, and in sudden eye relief from stone, a nice little park on Victoria Street.
New Scotland Yard, Westminster Cathedral, Victoria Station and a bus interchange point. Lots and lots of little shops, on every street, selling antiques, furniture on Pimlico Road, statues and fountains all over.
We rode the bus to the end of the line and turned back on a return bus at Falham Broadway. We were amused to hear a nearby youth start playing tunes, apparently from part of his overcoat. This occurred several times over a few minutes, and then he looked startled, snatched off his CD earpieces and started digging in a pocket to find his mobile phone, which was indeed ringing musically.
We took a long walk through the Westminster area and past Buckingham Palace and the Queen Victoria Memorial before returning to Alison's.
Bernie Peek, Alan Harris and Mike Scott came for dinner, but Martin Smith couldn't attend. Alison produced a wonderful array of dinner items, and always seemed determined that no-one will fail to find delicious things available to eat.
Saturday 7 April 2001
While the weather forecast was for poor and declining conditions, this dawned as a beautiful clear day with blue skies, unlike any day we had seen previously in the UK. So we started washing clothes, which is rather an anticlimax, but seems an inescapable part of a traveller's life.
As the washer took a very long time to do its job, we took a short walk past lots of Church graveyards to nearby parks, all of which seemed to have flooded and muddy paths. So we returned past some nice houses, many converted to a duplex style. Returned to remove clothes from the washer and hang them out to dry. In my case this is because I couldn't work out the superfluous technology of the British combined washer dryer.
Next we walked to the local High Street market, which continues almost forever, although the densely crowded conditions slowed us down so much that perhaps it was only really a few blocks long. I checked phone stores seeking a SIM card to allow me to use my mobile phone in the U.K. This search was a precautionary move for when we get the hire car.
I also checked any places selling Psion organisers, to get a feel for how widespread they were. More so than I expected, and certainly a rebuttal of the U.S.A. newsnet readers who claim it is impossible to find a Psion for sale. It just depends upon where you live.
Back at Alison's home, she supplied quiche as a late snack. Jean seemed very pleased.
Stephen kindly drove us to Brian Ameringen and Caroline Mullen's spacious home, which was close to a station, but radially displaced so one would travel further into London before being able to get the correct line. Stephen was rejected by Caroline's baby at the doorstep, and I was once again impressed by how well some U.K. fans can multi-task.
Brian and Caroline have a very neat multiple level home, with an actual separation of the book collections from the stock for Brian's bookselling business. They were also very organised in fannish terms, as you tend to expect from a bookseller. Although not the least similar in appearance, Brian reminded me a lot of Justin Ackroyd of Slow Glass Books in Melbourne. A similar breadth and interest in literary and other topics leading to him being able to recommend worthwhile books based on the interests of his customers.
Brian and I were able to work out we actually first met at a Boskone at Framingham several years ago, after disposing Aussiecon Three as not the first meeting.
The meal they produced was delicious. A sauce based upon the water from cooking the red beans, with water chestnuts, young corn, English and spicy continental sausages as the main meal ingredients, accompanied by a great red wine from their fine cellar. I could see myself trying to make a similar meal at home, if I can find appropriate sausages.
A lengthy drive in yet another people mover style car to a party at Judith and Joseph's house near Seven Sisters, with streets and a view I thought more typical of US patterns on the motorway section. We emerged on crowded and narrow streets, and traffic was almost at a standstill as we approached our destination. We did see some of the most amazing exhibits of individual interpretations of the traffic code, with the stretch limo going down the wrong side of the road in the face of oncoming traffic almost certainly the winner for eccentric driving behaviour.
Lots of attendees at the party. Click photo to see it larger. Brian and Caroline with their baby, of course. Alison and Stephen and the two children were already there. Rob Hansen and Avedon Carol, who won't be attending Eastercon. Martin Smith was there, first met at the Florence Nightingale. Avedon, Victor, Alan Harris and others headed outside frequently to inhale tobacco smoke in the chill of the garden. Victor was talking about Roman history, and reading Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. Joseph, looking stunning in a satin skirt, was later seen indulging in two glasses of wine simultaneously, having misplaced the first full glass. He was shortly after seen to recline and fall.
(Jean's comments: on our arrival at the party, Judith cheerfully asked me how we were finding London so far. I replied, "It's too cold, too wet, too windy, too crowded, too noisy, and far too expensive." Judith riposted, "Other than that...?" So I admitted, "The people are great." Which, after all, is the purpose of the trip, isn't it?)
Sunday 8 April 2001
Spent part of the morning updating my notes, badly. Luckily Jean will be the one producing the final version.
Continuous argument and discussion raged in the kitchen as Alison edited the fanzine Victor and Lilian Edwards were producing. I was really impressed by the intensity and concentration displayed by all involved. Certainly I'll never produce a fanzine half as good, as I simply don't concentrate on what I am doing. My fanzines are products of a butterfly mind.
(Jean's comments: During a discussion about layout and using PDF as a distribution medium (in addition to printed copies), I remarked that I wasn't concerned when the page layout in the PDF version of my fanzine did not exactly match the printed version (because of differences caused by using different printer drivers). Victor and Alison were predictably aghast at this heresy.)
Again we took the above ground train to Liverpool Street station, thus gaining a fine view of the outskirts of London. Then by tube to Tower Gateway.
Ancient walls from the 11th Century were on view near the Tube station at the Tower of London. We wandered over Tower Bridge, and London Bridge, along Queens Walk, across Southwark Bridge, ignored the Modern Tate Gallery and crossed the Thames at least three times while mostly semi-lost. HMS Belfast was moored in the Thames at a location which appeared impossible for it to actually reach given its height and the bridges downstream. The weather helped us decide against taking tour boats along the Thames, but we had a fine walk.
Monday 9 April 2001
Jean and I went separate ways this morning. I got away at ten, via Tube for Euston, then Northern heading south to Tottenham Court Road. A little more complicated than expected, as to get to the appropriate platform involved going up and down rather a lot of stairs and escalators. Jean was heading off later by bus towards Greenwich, while I was shopping.
Tottenham Court Road seemed full of electronics and computer shops. The nearest comparison I can think of is some of the 42nd Street area of New York. They also each seemed to have clones of the Lebanese staff for these shops, each with their own counter. I wandered somewhat bemused until I entered furniture store territory, which I'd been advised was the end of the line, and then returned on the other side of the street.
I had a fine time doing comparison shopping, but have to admit that the prices for what I specifically wanted were not startlingly good. Doubtless compared with High Street they were a great saving, but many of the shops had obsolete computer software in stock, which I doubt will move. I checked Psion 7 prices at a few places, to get a feel for pricing, and they all wanted at least £100 more than I paid in Australia in January. I checked Compact Flash cards, just in case, but the prices shown were way above the A$185 (~£65) I paid for 64 MB back in January. I was specifically looking for a Psion compatible PCMCIA card modem, however the Dacom Gold Card prices seemed unreasonably high. The lowest I could find was an OEM version at £100, and since I had no evidence it really was compatible, I decided it was not for me.
I did get a copy of Palmtop NV Street Planner UK, for £43 (they claim it is listed at £69, which I think is true). I could get an electronic version from New World Technologies and possibly elsewhere for less, but then I wouldn't have all the maps on CD, and would have a massive and expensive download.
Comparison shopping completed, I took the Central line east to Bank, after following signs (and someone who appeared to know what they were doing) down a really steep and long circular stairway. The Tottenham Court Road station appears to be a fairly early tube station, with many passages that appear considerably older than in some other stations I've seen. The narrow spiral staircase down was just one instance. There were also old barriers separating traffic in each direction, and numerous signs saying keep to the left.
The Docklands Light Rail to Cutty Sark station near Greenwich took me out of the Tube system. The above ground views of the large new buildings by the water were a considerable contrast to my previous views of historic old London. I can't imagine how the developers managed to get access to so much area in which to build, unless wartime damage was the clearance method. Although I have to admit that the building crane seems to be the most common bird in all of London.
Greenwich was less than perfectly signposted for silly tourists, so I managed an extra walk. This took me past Sir Francis Chichester's custom around the world yacht Gypsy Moth (right), and the famous clipper ship Cutty Sark (left). Both were certainly a lot larger than I had imagined, but then Cutty Sark was a merchant vessel. I did however wonder if the deck ports formerly covered a battery of light guns. Piracy in the South China Seas isn't dead even now.
I found Jean at Royal Maritime Museum at 2 p.m., after some frantic hand waving at her as she wandered away, and a little running, as I was coming from the wrong direction.
The Royal Observatory was up a steepish but small hill, but provided a wonderful view over Docklands and parts of London. Worth visiting just for the view, even without all the history the place evokes. Nearby there were even clean loos that were free, something I've had considerable trouble locating in tourist London.
The park in which the Observatory was set is just one of many all over London, which seems to have set aside all sorts of land for such purposes. I gather some of the many parks were preserved for Royalty, which almost seems a sufficient reason to want to continue such a quaint custom.
Goddard's beef pies each for a late lunch, from a little family store near the railway, surrounded by construction barriers, and a good deal they were too at under a pound. I just hope Mad Cow Disease really has been eliminated (to be honest however it wouldn't surprise me if isolated cases of human infection were seen for the next fifty years).
We walked a tunnel under the Thames to Island Garden DLR station. The tunnel turned out to be narrow at the far end, as if a large band aid had been applied inside a leaking pipe. It also had a lift for Jean to use. I was happy I could still cope with the steps, albeit not as fast as the children racing their parents up to the street.
At Stratford shopping centre we wandered looking at shops. Found a crazy prices style shop with UK road map for £1. With luck the roads shown in it won't be too wrong. Compare and contrast the value and usability this with the quality of the £43 computer map noted above (especially when you neglect to bring a GPS gadget to connect to the computer map).
The bus back from Stratford took us past numerous interesting looking small business premises. I can certainly see how the "nation of small shopkeepers" tag arose.
The narrow houses we saw from the bus seemed much the same nearly everywhere we went around London, and reminded me a lot of the areas in which I grew up in Sydney. The houses are a single room wide, with an entry door on one side. I get the impression that many opened onto either a hall or a narrow entry foyer, whereas what I recall from Sydney was the front door opening directly on the front room. Perhaps the climate leads to these different approaches. Upstairs on the Sydney houses was often an open veranda area, which I don't recall seeing in London.
Some larger houses has a fairly similar one room wide pattern, however the rooms were far wider. Rooms from half landings lead to perhaps five levels of rooms, offset vertically from each other by a half room high stairway. I noticed this mainly because there seemed to be stairs everywhere.
I recall in Sydney that older terrace houses were perhaps 16 feet wide, and that the larger ones seemed about 33 feet. In the suburbs, land was often sold as 66 feet blocks, for individual houses several rooms wide across the block. This eventually became the standard housing pattern in all Australian suburbs.
Internet phones (no, not the sort you think that connect voice via the Internet - these provided email) abounded in the streets. We must have seen half a dozen red BT phone boxes that offered email access for 20p an email. They had a very small display, and a robust but small keyboard. We thought it a great idea for travellers lacking connectivity. We also noted several internet cafes at exceedingly good prices around London. I think this may have been the evening Alison and Stephen took us to their local Italian pizzeria, Mondragone, for a traditional restaurant meal.
Tuesday 10 April 2001
I worked on the first two parts of the trip report, and Jean did a rough edit on it ready for an initial upload. A very boring day in trip report terms.
John Harvey collected us at Alison's place, and we left around 5 p.m. We drove around in circles a lot, because someone had changed all the roads on John. Our confidence in our own navigation potential plunged to a new low.
Wonderful and very sudden transition to green and pleasant fields less than 20 miles from Central London on the way to Tonwell.
Business associates of Eve and John were staying at their home for a while, and they had a dinner ready for us. Shepherd's Pie, yum! Eve wasn't due back from Cyprus until later in the evening.
Eve claims I am to blame for introducing John (somewhat disastrously) to Bundaberg Rum at Aussiecon Two. I'd try to deny this if I thought I creditably could.
Wednesday 11 April 2001
A lazy morning visiting Eve and John's office at The Maltings owned by the French and Jupps malting company. Lots of interesting small businesses there to keep each other company.
John and Eve kindly took us on a countryside drive, and a visit to interesting small towns nearby like Ware and Hertford. At Ware we walked along part of the pleasant path alongside the River Lea or Lee. Canada Geese and ducks lay in wait for a wary Jean, who seems to attract aggressive water fowl. We couldn't continue our plan of walking across the bridge back into the main street, as the bridge was closed and being renovated. There were vast numbers of tiny lanes leading off the main street, with interesting looking buildings along each.
We had an enormous pub lunch at Checquer's some distance by car away at Wareside. We were later to discover such enormous meals were not uncommon at pubs.
Then we were on our way to St Albans, named after the first Christian martyr in Britain. http://www.stalbans.gov.uk/tourism/index.htm
We visited the fine Roman museum near the excavation site, showing Verulamium, third largest town in Roman Britain, and depicting everyday life in Roman Britain. The museum had a fine range of reconstructions and original material removed and restored, but good guides to the way parts of the buildings were used.
The Verulamium site has a hypocaust underfloor hot air heating system, mosaics of a bath suite, part of the third century city wall and London Gate. There is also a Roman theatre excavation.
The evening meal included steak and kidney pie for me, a fine trout for Jean, while John and Eve raved about the pie with Stilton cheese at the friendly local pub, the Robin Hood and Little John in Tonwell. Nothing beats local advice on which of the local pubs to visit. Mind you, there is only one local pub in Tunwell, but it is a good one.
Thursday 12 April 2001
John and I went shopping at Tesco for snacks to consume at the convention, just in case. This probably ensures that we will have a plenitude of food available once there, but hints about the isolation of the Eastercon site make me unwilling to take a chance. I also bought Jean a replacement umbrella, as since her brand new one broke, and she had taken to stealing mine.
John and Eve took us on a long but interesting drive to Cambridge through the countryside. They went off to check a (musical) keyboard store, while Jean and I wandered through historic Cambridge.
We rapidly decided either the Cambridge streets were too narrow or else the buildings were too high. We tried to locate all the colleges so we could see at least their entrances, if not every detail. (Jean: We were far too stingy to pay to go into any of the colleges. In retrospect, this was a mistake. We should have inspected at least one, just for the experience. We did wander along bits of the river that we could reach, cheerfully rejecting the numerous opportunities to be taken for a river "cruise" on a punt. I expect that would have been a pleasant experience too.)
After walking many streets we spent a fair amount of time in an excellent and well presented (and free) natural history museum. Lots of material about British birds we would never have seen otherwise.
On emerging from the museum, we came upon Eve and John only a block or so away, as we all headed for our rendezvous point.
On the way back to their house, we stopped at a really nice Waitrose supermarket, that I liked better than any Sainsbury or Tesco I had seen. I have no idea whether it was typical, as I don't believe I ever encountered another one.
Another feature of the return trip was John and Eve giving instructions on finding B&Bs. I had totally failed to notice the signs on the buildings before this. I think I was expecting them to be advertised on site via the garish (and large) billboards I associate with motels in Australia.
We dumped our preliminary GUFF report pages on starting the trip and Corflu up on our web site. I also showed John the ftp built into all Windows machines.
Continue to the Eastercon report page.