Chapter Nine England and Ireland

 

SUPPORTING SLIDE SHOWS

 

Arrival in High Wycombe England

 

Oxford and Blenheim Palace England

 

Blenheim Palace England 2

 

Brighton England

 

Marlow England

 

Day Trip into London England

 

Photos Arrival in Belfast Northern Ireland

 

Belfast Murals

 

Central Belfast and Docks

 

Trip to Ballycastle Northern Ireland

 

Trip to Ballycastle 1 Northern Ireland

 

Drive to Ballycastle Northern Ireland 3

 

Cerrickfergus Castle Northern Ireland

 

Antrim Coastline Northern Ireland

 

Antrim Coast 2 Northern Ireland

 

Trip to Mountains of Mourne 1

Elm St Residence and Mountains of the Mourne 2 and Elm Street Residence Queen's University Northern Ireland

 

Trip to Bangor East On Coast Northern Ireland

 

The Old Inn Crawford burn Bangor Northern Ireland

 

Monday June 30 London

 

Richard was up at 4.00 am in the morning, with the task of dressing me and packing the suitcases by 5.00 am.  He succeeded by 5.15 am, I paid $200.00 to Holiday Inn Express for Margaret’s and my room, a reasonable fee for a roll-in shower and we set out for the airport, about a forty minute drive west. Last night’s downpour had finished, Margaret drove the Buick, and we reached Terminal 1, Pearson International Airport through light 401-freeway traffic by 6.00 am without any wrong turns or difficult situations.  We jumped out of the car and Margaret waved goodbyes as she continued her three-hour trip back to Ridgetown, Ontario to help Ken at the Dixie Lee restaurant. 

 

Here we were in the SARS capital of Canada. A radio news item yesterday had stated that any traveller moving through Pearson International Airport would be quarantined automatically for ten days prior to gaining admittance to Japan.  But we were flying Air Canada to London, England this morning with flight 868 leaving at 9.00 am.  We checked our two suitcases, and passed security.  I obtained a new recruit under supervision and his check took twenty minutes, following every regulation in the book. Check the boots, belt buckle, moneybag, roho cushion and on and on. At last, I escaped; we drank coffee, and shopped duty free for Wiser’s Deluxe rye whiskey, Lindt Swiss dark chocolate and a British-Canadian power adapter for the computer and camera totalling $50.00.  By 8.30 I boarded the aircraft, aided by an effectively strong lift from the wheelchair to the aircraft aisle chair and then to the aircraft seat. 

 

Customs officers intercepted Richard, however, for a random customs check.  It was 9.10; all the passengers were boarded, except Richard.  Thoughts echoed through my imagination. “How would I manage if I flew to England without Richard?  What a catastrophe that event would be.  Should I request to get off if he didn’t board?”  My thoughts began to run away on me, creating anxiety.  “C’mon Pugh,” I told myself.  “Stop fretting, he’ll be on any minute now.  You know he’s not carrying drugs or doing anything illegal.  Tell yourself, he’ll be here soon.”  I reduced my anxiety, but still felt relieved when he boarded two minutes later.  Richard was ashen and mute.  Apparently, he had to show all the money he was carrying and was thoroughly grilled.  Regulations state that no more than $10,000.00 in Canadian cash, can be taken out of the country and Richard was not violating this regulation, but Richard, a refuge from a communist country, has a chronic paranoid fear of bureaucracy.  He had obviously aroused their suspicions. They had asked him if he was travelling with me as a homosexual couple.  This question seemed to me to be a violation of personal privacy, and irrelevant to their concerns.  “Why didn’t you tell them to piss off,” I asked.  He had signed a document detailing all the cash and travellers cheques he was carrying.  “Stop worrying,” I reassured him.  “You haven’t broken any law.”

 

The seven-hour flight overflew Goose Bay, Newfoundland, continued south of Finland to Ireland, and then carried on to London, landing on time at 9.10 pm with a five hour advance in time to my watch.  After two hours into the flight, I began to cough constantly and blow my nose.  This was not an aspiration issue.  Rather, it seemed related to quadriplegia and flying, perhaps the low cabin pressure and air conditioning.  I thought, “Perhaps my days of flying were coming to an end.”  What a depressing thought and I felt sorry for myself.  “How was I going to manage the thirteen-hour flight from Frankfurt to Johannesburg?” I felt worried.  “Everything will be fine,” I reassured myself.  “Take a Sudafed tablet or two and the coughing will stop.  Don’t be a drama queen.” I took a tablet and the coughing decreased, my nose dried up and I was happier.  The coughing stopped on landing, and I felt exhausted and drained by my reaction to the flight.

 

A polite gentleman lifted me into the aisle chair and then into my wheelchair waiting at the aircraft door.  He assisted Richard and I through the mammoth Heathrow Airport, walking fifteen minutes along corridors made of plywood, under construction, from one terminal, I think, to another.  We collected our luggage, I changed $500.00 American dollars to pounds, we obtained express treatment at immigration and customs, and we reached the Alamo car rentals that I had booked via the Internet.  Our help bid us farewell, as we read the note, ‘catch the courtesy bus from bay 20.’  “Fine,” I thought, “but how do I get on a bus, and I needed to be there to rent the car.  Richard couldn’t pick up the car while I waited here as he lacks any credit card to pay for it.”  This could be an adversity raising my anxiety as well, but I simply said to Richard, “There’s bay 20, let’s just turn up and make this wheelchair issue the driver and car company’s problem.”  The bus turned up in ten minutes, and the driver with a strong passenger’s help, lifted the wheelchair on to the bus.  We were taken to the car rental terminal.  My medium size luxury car, a Vauxhall Omega with climate control and seat heaters was a hundred and seventy pounds a week, which seemed reasonable, but large insurance rates, multiple surcharges and taxes drove the rate to nearly $200.00 Australian a day, for the cheapest price I could find on the Internet. Wow! I felt a bit stunned.  It certainly made my large Buick with full insurance for $50.00 a day seems cheap.

 

We set off about 11.00 pm in the dark cold night to drive Motorways M25 west and M40 north from Heathrow to High Wycombe.  Things went smoothly until Richard passed the High Wycombe exit about midnight.  “That’s ok, Richard, We’ll pick up the second exit,” I reassured him.  There was none. “Take the next exit, Richard, onto A404 to Marlow a few miles further,” I instructed. We found ourselves on another four-lane freeway.  “No worries, Richard, take the next exit, go over the bridge and we’ll drive back.”  Fine, in theory, but in Marlow we became disoriented, and then there was road construction and the freeway A404 return lane was closed. 

 

We took the long, slow detour back, and reached High Wycombe’s triple round about at the bottom of a steep hill about 12.30 am.  “How do we get to the old train station?” I asked.  “Take right, left, right, through the roundabouts, and then up the hill,” we were told by a friendly youth. We reached the old train station at 12.30 am.  “Quick, Richard. Stop at Neale’s Taxi Stand, over there and ask directions.  We got directions and wasted fifteen minutes looking for the Crowthers Street without success. I said, “Go back to the taxi stand and phone the Crowther’s.  It’s the only place with activity and a phone this time of morning.”  Richard did, and Jonathon arrived two minutes later and guided us to his house, a right from the taxi stand, first left and first left again to Conegra Street, three blocks away. We had, in fact, just missed his street by about a hundred metres. Jonathon had built a small ramp and removed an interior door to give access. We relaxed until 2.00 am over a Wolf Blas yellow label cabinet sauvignon from Australia and chatted. “We expected a three hour drive, and as it got on to one am, we were worrying,” Jonathon said.” Sorry, we’re a bit late,” I apologized, “But we made it almost to your house in spite of the night driving.”  I fell asleep about 2.30 am after a glass of whisky.

 

Tuesday, 1 July High Wycombe

 

Richard got me up about 1.00 pm in the afternoon, and Andrea fed me coffee, cold chicken and salad.  I had first met Jonathon Crowther in 1975, when he worked with my flatmate Paul Maciuk in an Iron Works in Kwinana, near Perth, Western Australia.  Jonathon had taken some three years to travel and work his way around the world. He had travelled overland on the Trans-Asian Highway by train, taxi and bus, spent two months in Thailand, three months in Indonesia, a month in Singapore and he had driven a taxi in Sydney, Australia.  Jonathon went on to teach English as a second language for six months in South Korea, learned some of their language, and passed two months in Japan. After work, during his stay in Perth in 1975, we would frequently meet up for a beer.  Jonathon moved on in June 1975, and later in his trip, while flying to Korea, he sat next to another traveller, Don Weber, another friend of mine and in conversation they made the connection to me.  Quite a coincidence! 

 

After nearly ten years of dating, Jonathon married Andrea, a nurse, whose husband had died leaving her with four children.  Her daughter, Anne Parsons, visited Perth and worked as a carer for me for a month in 1996.  Jonathon and Andrea have returned to Perth twice, lastly after visiting the Olympics in Sydney in 2000, and we visited them in High Wycombe in 1994 and 1999. Jonathon is self-employed from his home as a health and safety consultant and his business, ‘Crowthers,’ now keeps him very busy.

 

I typed in the afternoon, and then Jonathon drove our rental car confidentially to the hell-fire cave 150 metres deep, in West Wycombe.  The caves were actually tunnels used to extract flint from the gypsum hills and are identified by a stone church style entrance.  In the late 1800’s, the hell-fire club used the caves for having parties and intercourse, giving them the name and reputation.  “When I was a little girl,” Andrea said, “I’d explore them with a candle, with my brothers.  They’d blow my candle out, then run away in the dark.  I’d be really frightened.  The caves now have electric lights and they’re not nearly as exciting.”

 

From the cave we proceeded up a steep lane, wide enough for a single car, shrouded in leafy gloom by the trees entwining over the roadway.  “That’s typical of many of our lanes,” Andrea noted.  “The vegetation joins above, creating a tunnel-like effect.”  At the top of West Wycombe hill, we enjoyed a sweeping view over the town, and of a new luxury apartment complex. We wandered through a large hexagonal mausoleum, open to the public with statues and the urns of previous manor residents.

 

We then proceeded to the home of the nineteenth century British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli, now a national heritage estate, spread over hectares of land, and overlooking an old Norman church, Hughenden Manor which is still in use. Benjamin had imported trees from around the world and had experimented growing them on his property.  A variety of different trees now obscured our view of his home. Richard photographed the interior of the church.

 

We returned to Conegra Street for a delightful dinner of British roast lamb, roast potatoes, beans and red wine. Andrea demonstrated her liquor cabinet, over thirty bottles of liqueurs, rums, brandies and ports.  We dipped into some single malt, schnapps, and a white port.  Richard and I turned in at 9.00 pm

 

Wednesday 2 July Blenheim Palace

 

Richard and I completed our procedures by 11.00 am and I enjoyed a large porridge breakfast and strong black coffee, needed after last night.  Today’s plans include a drive thirty kilometres west through the university town of Oxford, and then on to Blenheim Palace. 

 

Oxford was jam packed with young university students walking and cycling carrying books, laptops and backpacks.  I was amazed at the extensive number of university buildings, noting that the old graceful architecture of brick and stone had been sadly replaced by budget modern concrete structures in the newer university buildings. I wondered at the number of overseas students from Asia. “How do they afford the high tuition and high prices associated with the strong British pound?” I asked Jonathon. “They come for the cachet associated with the name, Oxford,” Jonathon asserted, “and their high salaries compensate them later.”  Student accommodation looked depressingly similar to my experience of my early days at university, tall old brick homes topped with multiple chimney pots containing large numbers of tiny cold dreary rooms, with posters such as ‘stop war’ stuck in their windows. One university town is not much different from another. (WEB SITE)

 

From Oxford we moved on to Blenheim Palace (http://www.blenheimpalace.com) in the Cotswolds, West Oxford.  Jonathon drove our rental car with remarkable confidence, at one point cruising at eighty-five miles per hour on the M40. He zipped in and out of round-abouts with remarkable speed and incessantly changed lanes to travel faster.  “I’ve driven all over the world,” Jonathon told me, “and generally I think the British are good drivers.  If anything, I think they drive a little too fast.”  The palace was built by John Churchill, the Duke of Marlborough, in English Baroque architecture and is today occupied by the eleventh Duke, his wife and two children.  One of the earlier Dukes had helped defeat Napoleon, and the Palace was the birthplace of Winston Churchill, a fact celebrated by a large pictorial display on Winston’s life with audio excerpts taken from his speeches. “I hadn’t realised that he was a talented oil painter,” I told Andrea.  “Yes, he was really very good,” she replied.  “I really like some of his landscape scenes.”  

 

The Palace itself stunned me with the opulent display of wealth apparent in the paintings, statues, carvings, gardens and library. “I wonder about a society which permitted such wealth, when so many people were poor and lacked any opportunity of advancement.  Did you notice the egocentrism, with most of the paintings and sculptures being self-portraits,” I asserted. Andrea assured me, “Their wealth provided many jobs and this is British heritage that we are proud of.  Australia has no heritage except convicts.” We overlooked the garden while we ate a light lunch, drank cappuccinos and devoured scones. 

 

We then walked through the huge flowering rose gardens, with multiple rose varieties, appreciating the stately old arboretum, with massive oaks, maples, firs and copper beech trees, and followed along the creek and sparkling lake through the 2,100 acre verdant park, herb garden and miniature railway. The park provided a matchless setting, framing the grey Palace carvings against the blue skyline.  By 4.00 pm, we were tired but took in the butterfly house and the maze, boasted as the second largest symbolic maze in the world.  “I wonder how today’s occupants could afford to maintain such a large ‘world heritage listed’ property,” I questioned. Jonathon suggested, “Tourism obviously plays a central role in giving the owners an income.  Look at our entrance fee. ($100.00 Australian). Did you notice? Even their private apartment could be visited for an additional $10.00 per head and they are selling bottled water, Blenheim Palace jams, honey, fridge magnets and any other way to raise funds.” 

 

We arrived back in High Wycombe at 6.00 pm, and Jonathon and Andrea took us to a pleasant Thai Restaurant called Eat-Thai (http://www.eat-thai.net) on Easton Street.  We shared dishes including chicken, pork and beef preparations in red chillies and curries, washed down with Bangkok’s chang beer.  Visiting Thai Restaurants remind me of my visit with Richard to Puket two years ago, but more so of hiking through the Thai hill country along the Burmese border in 1977, or exploring Bangkok on my way to Australia in 1975.

 

I was really tired by 10.00 pm and really welcomed the opportunity to ‘hit the sack.’

 

Thursday 3 July Marlow

 

Richard and I had adjusted to our jet lag now and were up by 8.00 am.  I enjoyed a large bowl of porridge, then typed for two hours, telephoned my wife, Lily and emailed her.  At 11.00 am Andrea announced that we were driving to Marlow to visit the ‘queen-bee,’ as she affectionately refers to her eighty-four year old mother Anne Elizabeth.  Jonathon drove our Omega along the A404 in cool, rainy weather and we stopped at a large garden centre, Wyevale, Little Marlow to meet Sean, Andrea’s son, a large tall strapping man who has worked there seventeen years.  He came out to the car to chat.  “Pleased to meet you as I’ve heard a lot about you from Andrea,” he said.  “Not all bad, I hope,” I replied.  “I hope Andrea hasn’t being leading you astray, getting you drunk,” he replied.  “Well, she does have a collection of liqueurs and liquors big enough for the Royal Family,” I said.  “I felt a bit seedy, Wednesday morning.”  Richard paid for a potted plant from Holland for Andrea’s mum and we continued to the Marlow Donkey Pub, where we parked behind the mum’s flat.  Parking is at a premium in English towns and is an expensive commodity that is hard to come by.  Even shopping centres charge parking fees here.  Andrea’s mum, Anne has an enormous flowering garden, both on a patio behind her flat and overflowing the pathway leading to the flat.

 

Anne emerged with Andrea, an athletic lady looking about sixty-four years of age, belaying her eighty-four years.  “She’s truly remarkable,” Andrea told me.  “She gardens, goes out every day with a huge group of friends and is always busy.  I have to book well in advance to see her, as she’s always out and about.” She shook my hand warmly and we set off in light British drizzle to walk to the Marlow lock on the Thames River.

 

Richard and Jonathon took turns pushing the wheelchair to a bridge over the locks and I took photographs of the canal boats and the million dollar flats overlooking the locks.  We then walked along the Thames River to Marlow Parish Church overlooking the River, with numerous grey weathered grave stones dating back to the eighteen hundreds.  The church interior boasted of one of the biggest organs in England with regular recitals.  Jonathon and I walked along the river, admiring the private house boats.  “Perhaps you’ll rent one and spend a few months exploring English rivers and canals,” I suggested.  “I’d love too once I retire, but it would take years to explore the complex canal systems.  They go everywhere,” Jon replied.  We rejoined Andrea and her mum and entered the Hogs Head, a large Marlow Pub, where Richard drank a pint of Speckled Hen while I drank a warm pint of Hook Norton.  Andrea’s mum drank a large glass of white wine.  “She normally enjoys sherry with her friends at lunch,” Andrea commented. My pub meal was amazingly good, a spicy hot chilli with rice and large sized chips to moderate the heat.  We dropped down the street window shopping, to the Coffee Republic for a coffee.  The coffee shop was full. “Marlow is an upper-class town,” Andrea told us.  “The cars are expensive, recent models, such as that Boxler over there, the women all expensively dressed and groomed, and they look as if their only occupation is shopping.  The stores are up-market, and expensive here.”  After the coffee, we window-shopped, walked around town and eventually headed back to Anne’s flat after a three-hour outing.  Anne had not only kept us with us but had often set the pace.

 

After saying farewell to Anne, Jonathon drove us to Rebellion Brewery, a small boutique Marlow brewery that advertised such beers as Legless, Hangover from Hell, Hammer Head, X, Gold Digger, and Ratted.  Jonathon picked twelve bottles from an old stone cattle barn that looked three hundred years old.  We got back about 4.00, in time for an afternoon nap.  Jonathon went out on business while Andrea prepared a chicken and salad dinner and we watched an overland truck expedition, Overland Africique on the satellite Travel Channel. Jonathon and Andrea had visited Zimbabwe for a month in 1998 while visiting their daughter Anne while she taught there for two years.  I turned in at 10.00 pm.

 

Friday 4 July London

 

Richard was planning a trip to London today so he had planned to get me up early.  He appeared later than planned at 8.00 am, saying, “I couldn’t sleep at all last night.  I tossed and turned all night thinking about that Canadian customs interview.”  I was dressed by 10.00 am and Richard finally departed for the station to catch the train to London at 11.00 am, two hours later than planned, hoping to see Parliament and other sights.  I had spent a week in London in 1974 and then visited with Lily in the late 1980’s, but find the city a challenge in a wheelchair.  Jonathon was frustrated, having spent all morning trying to get his telephone divert to work. Finally, at 12.30 it worked, for no apparent reason.

 

I spent the afternoon on Jonathon’s ADSL Broadband Internet until Richard’s return about 4.00 pm.  He described his outing.  “I caught a comfortable high speed train into London, and then took a trip on a local bus to see theatres, and Buckingham Palace.  Then, he saw the London Eye, advertised as the largest Ferris wheel in the world.  The compartments were large, enclosed in plastic and gave an excellent view of London for a fee of twelve pounds or thirty dollars.  I then took a boat cruise of the Thames River and saw all the famous sites including Big Ben, Waterloo Bridge built by women in World War II, the Shakespeare Globe Theatre, London Bridge and the Parliament Buildings.  I heard about the Minerva II, the largest cruise ship to arrive in seventy years, which refused to fit through London Bridge, even with the gates open.  I liked the tower of London, Nelson’s Column and the lions of Trafalgar Square. I was awed by the sheer size and opulence of the public buildings.  They were so large.”

 

Jonathon and Andrea had organised a BBQ party for about twenty of their friends, Friday night beginning at 7.00 pm.  They precooked their chicken, ordered in cheesecakes, and picked fresh vegetables, strawberries and raspberries.  The beef and sausages were pure beef and delicious to eat.  I chatted with the visitors, including neighbours from both sides of the house.  Harry and Pauline, who are in the other side of the four floor semi-detached townhouse, had come from Zimbabwe, although Pauline originated from Ireland.  We chatted about Africa and travel.  They had three delightful children.  Chris and Roz were close friends, with Chris clearing houses for a living and I heard about the numerous restrictions he faced.  Laurel and Bob had done many ocean cruises and convinced me of the value of a South Pacific cruise. Karen and Ian lived next door with Ian in the petro-chemical industry and Karen teaching high school maths.  David and Carol were world travellers who accompanied the Crowthers to Sydney in 2000, and whom had visited Mauritius and Sri Lanka.  I enjoyed Jonathon’s French wines and at 10.00 pm Jonathon impressed the children with a fireworks display. Jonathon and Andrea had themselves visited Cairo and cruised the Nile, in April 2003, in the middle of the Iraqi war, and in December, they had visited the pink city of Petra in Jordan.  I went to bed at 11.00 pm.

 

Saturday 5 July Brighton

 

We were up by 8.00 am and enjoyed a porridge breakfast with freshly ground coffee.  “We have to be on our way by 10.00 am to visit my daughter, Anne Parsons in Brighton,” Andrea asserted loudly, trying to hurry Richard up, as he was having one of his half-hour showers.  We were on A40 headed to the M40 (right, then left, and under railway from Conegra Street) by 10.10 am, with Jonathon displaying his usual prowess, weaving from lane to lane, maintaining 75 miles per hour on the freeway.  Although Jonathon drives quickly, he inspires confidence because of his driving smoothness and refusal to tailgate. We followed A25 on the orbital route around London through rolling green farmland and reached Hove, a suburb of Brighton, about lunch hour. 

 

Anne was waiting at her lovely flat.  I had first met Anne in December 1996 when she visited Australia for a year with a group of friends.  She had finished a BA, and was looking for adventure before settling into a career.  She stayed with me as an attendant carer for a month, and worked in forty-degree heat directing traffic for a road construction crew, before moving on with her friends to drive a van around Australia.  Later in the year she cooked for a cattle station, beginning work at 4.00 am every day, an unusual job for a vegetarian.  When she returned to England, the lure of travel remained.  She worked as a lowly paid volunteer teacher in Zimbabwe for three years, where she met her boyfriend of Indian descent, Musa.  Her tales of AIDS in Zimbabwe were very moving.  Deciding to immigrate to Australia, she returned to England, completed a Bachelor of Education and has now taught one full year near Brighton.

 

Anne looked self-confidence, slim, athletic, tanned and very confident.  “It’s nice to see you again,” she greeted.  “Musa’s gone to London so he’s away today.  Would you like to come in for a refreshment?"  She invited us into her roomy first floor flat, rented for seven hundred pounds monthly, about three blocks from the beach.  Jonathon hauled me up backwards, tilted back; about eight marble steps while Richard guided the front of the wheelchair. Richard never lifts himself because of his bad back, but he is good at organising others so the job gets done. Inside the tasteful pleasant and roomy flat I admired her Zimbabwe art and pottery and chatted for half an hour. 

 

We then walked down to the beach, past six storey apartment blocks.  Although a sunny day, the sea breeze was cool and brisk.  William, a shaggy red and white three-year-old dog, belonging to Andrea frolicked in the ocean.  Richard waded in as well. “It’s not as warm as I would like, but I like the rounded pebble shore,” he commented.  We then got into the car and drove along the beach passing a burnt out derelict pier, Brighton pier and the hotel which was targeted for the Brighton bombing, to Jackson Wharf, a large tourist complex of boats, restaurants and stores.  Our meal at Potters was delightful, a large prawn entrée for me, followed by Penne Pasta cooked in butter and bacon, and washed down by a South East Australian Shiraz.  I paid a hundred pounds or $250.00 for the meal for four people. We explored the Marina admiring a Ferrari Sports car and large yachts.  Then we proceeded into Brighton to the Royal Pavilion.

 

The Royal Pavilion is an incredible structure for Brighton, a palace constructed like the Blue Mosque in Istanbul, with multitudinous domes and minarets, constructed by one of Queen Victoria’s sons, known for profligacy, whom later became King George 4th.   We didn’t pay the ten-pound entrance fee, and I continued on to a men’s clothing store to buy a new belt for $50.00. Things are very expensive here. Then we did visit the nearby museum with excellent displays of Brighton through the ages.  By 5.00 pm, things were closing up, so we said goodbye to Anne and commenced the two hour drive back to High Wycombe.  We refuelled the rental car, for nearly forty pounds or $100.00, and returned to Conegra Street for an evening meal of British cod and chips, with French red wine.  Jonathon was exhausted, having been up until 1.00 am at the party, the night before. I turned in at 10.00, after negotiating a 4.00 am start tomorrow morning.

 

Sunday 6 June Belfast Northern Ireland

 

Richard got up at 4.00 am to pack his luggage in the third story bedroom.  He dressed me from 5.00 to 5.30 am, and then packed the baggage.  By 6.15 am we were loaded in the Vauxhall Omega.  The Crowthers, including William the dog, came out to see us off.  We took the route to the A40, right from Conegra Street, and then left, under the bridge, past the Pheasant Pub, to A40 and the Paper Mill Hotel, where Lily and I stayed in 1999 for $100.00 a night.  Then it was a straightforward drive on the M40 and M25 to the M4 and Heathrow Airport.  The route into the Alamo Car Rentals was confusing, but we followed the signs and arrived without incident at 7.10 am.  I asked Richard to negotiate with the manager to have us dropped off in the rental car at Terminal One, circumventing a bus trip.  We checked our luggage with British Midland Airways at 8.00 am, three hours before the flight.

 

Security was light and quick, a superficial pat taking thirty seconds.  Then, we refuelled our bodies with Costa coffee and a fresh almond bun.  The bun was fresh and coffee tasty.  The duty free shop had a very interesting display of electronic gadgets including palm pilots and digital cameras, but at inflated British pounds.  I settled for a 750 ml bottle of Bailey’s Irish Cream for twelve pound or $30.00.  At 11.00 am I was boarded with an effective lift into an aisle chair, then into the Airbus 321 business class seats for the seventy-five minute flight to Belfast.  Richard photographed the thirty odd planes in view as we took off from Heathrow, then photographed boats as we came into land.  I enjoyed a French red wine during the flight and read a Stephen Coonts novel.

 

As we approached Belfast, I lectured Richard.  Belfast has about a half million people and is capital of Ulster, or Northern Ireland which is British and mainly Protestant.  It uses the British Pound and Northern Irish Pound for currency. Erie or Southern Ireland is an independent and largely Catholic country with a couple of million people but we won’t visit there now. In Ulster, there was extreme sectarian violence between Protestants and Catholics, but a peace process has terminated the bombings and shootings.  We’ll be visiting the Dunlop’s. ” (Robert Dunlop, with family 1956, letter 1966)

 

On landing, we were unloaded by a lift as the air bridge failed to work, and we were assisted with our luggage to the Hertz car rental.  “You’ve reserved your car at the Belfast International Airport, twenty kilometres from here, not at the Belfast Harbour Airport,” I was told.  “Ok,” I said, “What can you do to help me?”  Hertz cancelled the other reservation and rented me a new Volvo S60 diesel, like Lily’s, my wife’s car with leather upholstery.  Richard drove us down a freeway to the City Centre, identified by the Belfast City Hall, and I directed Richard up Malone Street, passed Queen’s University to Queen’s Elm’s Residences.  

 

This was a big residence complex, twenty odd three-story buildings along with two eleven story buildings crowded together with no parking.  “There’s huge crowds of sleepy looking students coming out of this place every morning,” I commented, “but University is out so it’s mainly empty now.”  We parked outside the boom gate and manned Cobra security post, and Richard went in search for the administration.  Thirty minutes later he returned.  “We’re in Beverley, Block K, Rooms G02 and G03,” he told me.  “I’m worried there may not be bedding.  What will we do then?”  “We’ll go and check the rooms,” I said.  The rooms were fine, with bedding, a towel and doona, cold and unheated, although it was July, single beds in tiny concrete cubicles, with large study desks and a sink. Richard and I had a separate but adjacent room. I thought, “What will happen if I need help during the night?” and felt a little anxious but thought again, “You’ve often slept with Lily down the hall. Why not just leave your door open to the hallway, since there’s no-one else here.” I felt better.  The building had a proper wheelchair shower. Great! There was also access to a kitchen and common room with fridges, stoves, microwave, plates, eating and cooking utensils, sinks, a TV and a view. Good value, I thought, two rooms for $65.00 a night.  Security was annoying, with a heavy external door requiring a magnetic card, giving access to a stairwell, a second locked door to gain access to our wing, and the locked room door as well. Then there were two unlocked fire doors as well, heavy and hard to push open. Wow! My Donald Gordon residence at university in Kingston had only a door lock on the room.  Then there was the external car security boom gate to access. It was all time consuming and annoying.

 

I phoned up my friend Robert Dunlop and his wife Daphne after Richard purchased a phone card and we spent half an hour figuring out how to use it.  It required dialling an access number, which then put through the call.  “We’d love to see you.  I’ll wait for you outside Drumbeg Church in my Vauxhall.  Just take the Dunmurry exit on the roundabout.”  We set off, and reached the Drumbeg church without difficulty, meeting Robert, and following his car to his Ballyskeagh home, called the Willows.  “This white bungalow with slate roof is where you and your sister Elizabeth lived with your parents in 1956,” I exclaimed. “You’ve added a big back addition with large picture windows overlooking these beautiful farmers’ fields and the Lagan River. What green sweeping views and beautiful landscaping.”  

 

Robert and I had attended school together in 1956 from January to June, next door to his home, while Ernie, my dad, installed radar control on the guns of the H.M.C.S. Bonadventure, Canada’s first, and now scrapped, aircraft carrier.  My dad worked in the Harlem and Wolfe Shipyards, close to where the Titanic was built.  We played together, running through the woods, along the river, and through the munificent Drumbeg mansion that my dad had rented.  Robert visited me in 1968 and 1969 when he worked as a bellboy for two consecutive summers.  “I worked two jobs, two eight hour shifts daily, and made a lot of money,” Robert told me.  “I was able to travel across the US and Canada at the end of the second summer and visit you.  I remember riding your motorcycle and visiting Queen’s University in Kingston.”  I had visited Robert and Daphne in 1972 at their Bangor home, recalling a meal in a restaurant overlooking the sea and again in 1974 in their Bambridge home.

 

Robert is now retired from the Electrical Board after thirty years of being an Electrical Engineer.  “I’m glad there were no fatal accidents under my supervision,” Robert commented.  “I enjoyed my work and got a good and early retirement settlement.” “My dad worked in power distribution, before he went to university and taught school in the 1930’s,” I told Robert.  “He used to relate some gruesome stories about high voltage accidents.”  Robert’s wife Daphne still teaches high school as a relief or substitute, after raising three children, Katherine, David and Richard.  Tonight David was visiting with his girlfriend, a pretty blonde, called Jacky.  “I’m an occupational therapist,” she told me, “working with young people recovering from psychosis such as schizophrenia.  We use an American intervention model, using teams including clinical psychologists to give intensive early interventions.” 

 

Robert offered Richard and me a Guinness Draft, as we relaxed in his lounge.  “You’ve got a million dollar view here,” I complimented Robert. “Only half a hour’s drive away, and you could be looking out from row housing onto the street on Falls Road.”  Robert and I finished a second Guinness, while looking at photos of Katherine’s wedding at Drumbeg Church two years ago to a husband in kilts from Scotland.  Daphne called us in for dinner, chicken with roast potatoes, bacon rolls with Plat d’Or Red Wine and strawberries and cream desert.  Time passed quickly with seconds in wine.  We returned to the Queen’s Elm Street Residence about 1.00 am.

 

Monday 7 June, Belfast

 

With such a late night, Richard got me up and ready at 3.00 pm.  The residence had been host to a disabled Olympics team, and possessed an excellent wheelchair shower with high water volume and pressure.  This was my first shower since a week ago in Toronto.  We were on an empty wing of eight rooms and a combined kitchen lounge room, with picture window views of a well-landscaped garden.  When we arrived in Drumbeg, Robert suggested a tour of Belfast.  First, however, we viewed the Charlie Memorial Primary School next door to Robert’s house.  George and myself attended this three-classroom building for six months.  “Do you remember the daily queues to be caned for failing spelling tests?” I asked Robert.  “They never caned me because I was a foreigner.  We were in the middle classroom.  George ended up with an Irish accent.”

 

We then visited our rental home, Drumbeg House, which in 1956 looked cold, gloomy and run down.  This three-story mansion is now freshly painted, modernised and well landscaped, the home of Drumbeg Nurseries. I commented,   “Remember that big mound, with the brick tunnels.  That’s gone now, as well as those big pine trees filled with ravens lining the driveway.  They’ve landscaped everything, expanded the old gatehouse, and even mown the extensive lawns.  This place looks really good. I recall walking the old donkey trail for pulling coal barges along the Lagan River canal. ”  Robert told me more about the Lagan Canal, and gave me May Blair’s 1980 book Once Upon the Lagan. He told me, “It was begun in 1756 and closed in 1946, with twenty-seven locks, running twenty-seven miles to connect Belfast to Lough Neagh. The barges carried mainly coal and wheat.”                                                                                     

 

We then explored the Drumbeg Church, beside Drumbeg House, unchanged from 1956. Richard knocked and gained access to the church to take photos.  He also photographed a 1685 gravesite of James Haddock. Robert told us, “There’s a ghost story about this man. After he died his widow appropriated his property that he had left to his son. The ghost appeared to James Taverner requesting him to deliver a warning to his wife, but James, frightened, ran away. Wherever James went the apparition followed, haunting him to an early death. To this day his gravestone refuses to stand upright in the Drumbeg churchyard.”

 

Robert then directed us into Belfast, first showing us Falls Road, and a large Roman Catholic housing estate, flying Irish flags and sporting murals. One mural with a man holding a machine gun bore the slogan, “In Ireland’s darkest hour, her sons and daughters have always rallied to her call.”  “Don’t stop too long, as these areas are unsafe.  See the scorch marks where kids have set cars alight,” Robert warned.  We drove on through the ‘safe wall’ dividing the Catholic from the Protestant section. The gates are now open.  Proceeding down Shackles Road, we viewed union jacks from every street lamp and many houses.  Large wall size murals were everywhere celebrating the Ulster Volunteer Force, stating, “Ulster will always remain British, No Surrender!”  “Keep moving, and keep watch behind us, that we’re not being followed,” Robert warned again.  A police car, actually a bulletproof land rover passed us, as did a British army patrol. The police stations that we had passed were surrounded with razor wire and tall fencing and looked to be built to with-stand bomb blasts. Robert pointed out sites of many horrendous murders, which occurred in the past thirty years, making me thankful for today’s peace. “There the German ambassador was kidnapped and held captive, then suffocated with a pillow by the IRA when he called for help,” Robert told us and piled on details of event after event. “Here’s where four British soldiers stumbled into an IRA funeral, and three were murdered, while one escaped by running away…” I lost track of the incidents.

 

On every street corner or vacant lot we noticed huge piles of wood, old packing cases, boxes, mattresses, anything flammable.  “These will be set alight Friday night,” Robert told us, “People will watch the bonfires and drink lots of beer.  It’s to commemorate the victory of King William IV over James at the Battle of Boyne, which ended the Catholic domination of England.  Here, there’s fights so I suggest you stay indoors and avoid the bonfires on Friday night.”

 

Robert drove us to central Belfast, passed the Europa Hotel, the most bombed hotel in Europe, where I had stayed a night in 1972.  Central Belfast looked like any city, with tall new buildings.  We continued to the dock area passing a mammoth new hockey arena and entertainment centre.  We passed an old brick warehouse where the Titanic was built and two enormous drilling platforms from the North Sea in for repairs.  The Hiram and Wolfe cranes remain and are enormous.

 

“Time to get back to the Robert Stewart pub,” Robert reminded us, and we headed back.  This pub is on the corner next to Robert’s home and features a collection of antique items and photographs nailed to the walls.  Daphne, David and Jacky, and Robert’s youngest son, Richard joined us for Guinness pints. (GROUP PHOTO) “I was in Singapore two years ago, for three weeks visiting my girl friend, an Indian lady, who comes from there.  I also stayed in a Malaysian resort on the east coast, and spent some time in Adelaide, South Australia,” Richard told me.  “I’d love to go back again.” Richard had graduated this year in Edinburgh and his graduation was Wednesday night.  “I’d like to get a job in Australia, if I can,” Richard said.  After three Guinness pints, we walked back to the house for a delicious fresh salmon steak meal with more red wine and an Irish coffee.  Unfortunately for my health the following day, Robert had offered me two Teacher whiskeys first and I had unwisely accepted.  We left at 12.30 with Richard, as driver, being sober.  As we approached our Volvo, my Roho Cushion blew out its valve and deflated for no apparent reason.  “We’ll fix it tomorrow,” I muttered to Richard.  We got to bed at 1.00 am worse for wear.

 

Tuesday 8 June Antrim Coastline (Antrim 2)

 

I awoke at 10.00 am feeling terrible.  My Roho Cushion, an essential part of my wheelchair, ensuring pressure relief for sitting, was flat, and, on examination, irreparable.  I thought, “This is terrible.  These cushions are $1000.00 and are specialist items.  How will I locate one in Belfast?  What a disaster!”  I was anxious, had a fuzzy head, and generally felt lethargic.  “Hold on,” I told Richard.  “We’ll ask Robert to phone Jackie.  She’s an OT. She’ll know all about Roho’s and where too buy them.”  We drove out to Robert’s and he phoned.  “It’s all taken care of,” Robert smiled.  “We’ll drive to Antrim and meet Jackie.  She’ll take is to Mobility and Independent Living Centre where they have a Roho your size for 416 pounds, in Ballymena, about forty miles north of here.  This company services all of Ireland.  Best of all it’s on the route that I planned to take you.”

 

We took scenic green and pastoral secondary roads to Antrim, and then the A26 to Ballymena, passing Lough Neagh, the largest fresh water lake in Ireland and end of the old Lagan canal. Robert’s a motorcycle-racing fan and we followed his route along narrow serpentine roads that are used annually for world motorcycle racing. Plaques on the side of the road identified sites of fatal bike crashes and he knew the details.

 

Jacky took time off work to guide us and talk with the supplier.  “He doesn’t take Visa,” Jackie told me.  We got cash from a local ATM, without any problems.  “I’m wary of those machines when I’m travelling as one kept my card once,” I told Robert.  After a KFC lunch Robert guided us on the A26 to Portstewart and Portrush, where we stopped at his golf club.  We were near a caravan that the Dunlop’s own near the sea and enjoy as a summer residence.  We passed Dunluce Castle where twenty-five servants died when part of the castle collapsed into the sea in the seventeenth century. We drove past the Giant’s Causeway, formed from unique octagonal basalt rocks.

 

“This scenery is amazing, truly unique,” Richard exclaimed. “I like the brightly painted white houses, sweeping chalk cliffs and tiny boat harbours surrounded by rocky outcrops and islands. It’s all photogenic.”  Now it was nearing 8.00 pm and Robert needed to pack for his Edinburgh trip tomorrow. I suggested, “We better take the quickest highway back.  This coastal road is narrow and winds like a pig’s tail.  We’re lucky to do thirty five miles an hour on it.” From Ballycastle, we visited the Bushmill Brewery and took the A26 and then the M2 from Antrim through Belfast to the M1 to Dunmurry

 

We arrived at Roberts at 10.00 pm and stayed for Irish stew and Apple Tart with cream, prepared by Daphne. David and Jacky and Richard joined Daphne and Robert.  I limited myself to one glass of red and no Irish coffee, but was troubled by a terrible cough and runny nose, which refused to relent. Robert suggested further scenic drives to enjoy on our roadmap.  We departed after midnight thanking the Dunlops for their hospitality and encouraging them to visit us in Australia.  “If you don’t do it now, you’ll be unlikely to travel in ten years,” I warned.  Arriving back at our accommodation about 1.00 am, I found myself coughing continuously.  I went to bed, but coughed until 4.00 am.  “God,” I thought. “I’ve got SARS from Toronto or pneumonia. Remember your friend Geoff Lysle who died in six days after a lung infection.”  I quickly dispelled this thought by thinking, “Don’t be silly, you’ve no temperature and left ten days ago. Perhaps you’ve a cold.  If the cough continues, see a doctor tomorrow.” I began to worry about whom to see and the cost, but told myself to forget it, calm down and sleep. 

 

Wednesday, 9 June Queen’s Elm Street Residence

 

I awoke at 1.00 pm, without any cough and Richard dressed me by 3.00 pm.  This certainly was a rest day and a short one at that.  I had finally stopped coughing about 4.00 am and fallen asleep giving me a reasonable sleep but I still felt drained.  No visit to a doctor today though for coughing and I wasn’t dying from a respiratory illness like pneumonia.  I felt a sense of relief and thought, “Perhaps I was chilled last night and warming up in bed dispelled the problem.”  My shower was excellent. Richard and I ate a homemade microwave hamburger for breakfast, and then Richard left to do laundry while I typed on the computer.  At 7.30 pm he returned saying, “The washing machines took my money but wouldn’t work, so I wasted two hours following up with the administration.  I’ve talked with Scandinavian, Chinese, German and Japanese students.  They come from all over the world here. I also phoned Hisako, my wife, and my mother in Poland after I learned that you need a 00 access code for international calls.  I don’t feel confident that anyone has done any travel arrangements for me in Poland. I’m really annoyed.”

 

Richard and I took a short drive down Malone Street towards Belfast to find dinner.  We settled for a KFC chicken fillet and bought frozen take away lunches to microwave for breakfast.  We then returned to our dining room, consumed our food with a Barbados duty free rum and coke and retired to bed at 10.00 pm.  Certainly I felt this was an anti-climactic day but I felt better than yesterday.

 

Thursday 10 June Ballycastle

 

Yesterday, the Dunlops had departed by ferry to Scotland, taking their car. Our plan today included an early start and we wished to follow Robert’s suggested northern coastal route to Ballycastle along the A2 Highway.  The day was cool, about eighteen degrees Celsius, overcast with a light rain, a normal Irish day.  I reflected that I had worn long sleaved shirts and a polar plus jacket for most of this trip through the northern hemisphere in spring and summer. We drove into Belfast around 11.00 am, weaved northward on small streets uncertainly, and then confidently headed North, past the docks towards Carrickfergus on the A2.  Our first stop for an hour was to explore the twelfth century Carrickfergus Castle, which overlooks a yacht harbour and large oil powered Kilroot power generation station for Northern Ireland.  From Carrickfergus we continued to another coastal city of Larne, location for a castle ruin, a departure point for large car ferries, which take eight hours to Fleetwood or two hours to Cairnryan. We continued north through farmlands and the smaller seaside villages of Ballygalley, Glenarm and Carnlough.

 

The A2 from this point became highly scenic as it wound its way between the steep Antrim Hills and the sea.  We were rewarded with sweeping emerald green vistas of mountain slopes supporting sheep, which descend steeply to the ocean.  Dotted along the highway are harbours and small villages with colourful pubs selling Harp and Guinness.  We passed a castle at Glenarm, enjoyed the view and stopped at Angela’s Restaurant in Glenariffe around 3.00 pm for a fresh cod and chips lunch, with a Californian Gallo Cabinet Sauvignon, sitting outside at tables on the sidewalk enjoying a short sunny interlude to the usual ‘Irish mist.’  The meal was ten pound or Australian $25.00.   “I like the small Irish towns best,” Richard noted.  “They are scenic and interesting.  The pubs are good, Irish people are very friendly. The Irish young women are very pretty.”

 

We listened most of the time to the Light Classic radio station, Robert Dunlop’s favourite. The music is pleasant but their repetitive ads for haemorrhoid suppositories jarred badly.  The station announcer described the horrible death of part of a group of fifteen holiday makers in Manchester, whose hotel’s courtesy van, while travelling on the way to the airport to permit them to catch an overseas flight, had hit the central medium strip of the M26, with seven people killed.  “Accidents can happen anytime when travelling, even when relying on the services provided by five star hotels,” I reflected.  “I hope we don’t have a traffic accident.” I felt anxious even contemplating the possibility.

 

The road from Cushendall to Torr Head was described as ‘the scenic route,’ but was a single lane in width, climbing very steep hills to overlook the sea.  The view was tremendous, but the risk of hitting another car was high, as we rounded steep corners, with views limited by stonewalls or hedges. Richard and I had a small altercation over open Volvo doors. “Please shut the driver’s door, when you get out to take photos,” I requested.  Richard replied, “Do you hassle Lily when you are travelling together?”  Twenty minutes later we approached a T-junction with A2.  Richard stopped, then got out to walk across the road, with our vehicle filling our lane at the stop sign, and his open car door blocking oncoming traffic.  Sure enough, a car chose to turn off A2 onto our narrow laneway, nearly hitting our door, blowing his horn angrily. “Way to go, Richard,” I thought to myself sarcastically, but kept quiet. 

 

We reached Ballycastle about 6.00 pm and decided to take the same route home as Tuesday night. Richard said, “I want to see the castle,” and annoyed about the car door incident I decided to humour him and I kept quiet. He took us on a forty-minute drive to Ballycastle Forest, before admitting he had made a mistake. “Where’s the castle?” Richard wondered thinking that Ballycastle as a name implied a castle. We did find the forest. 

 

We reached Belfast without incident, passing one nasty car collision, and took the West Link, exiting near the Belfast City Hall, a huge ornate building. Locating Bedford Street, which feeds into Malone Street, took ten minutes of aggravation.  We finally found the road, stocked up on frozen meals for dinner, and arrived back at the Elm Street Residence about 9.00 pm.  The microwave heated the frozen chicken meal, which I washed down with an Australian Lindeman’s sauvignon, and we were in bed by 10.00 pm.

 

Friday 11 June Mountains of Mourne

 

Richard woke up around 9.00 am and after BT’s, I was ready by 11.00 am. The cleaning lady dropped in with new towels and told Richard, “Tonight’s my favourite night of the year, drinking, dancing, singing, around bonfires.  There’s lots of fights so unless you’re local, it’s best to stay away.”  Richard was intrigued and I could see that he would like to attend, as we had seen numerous bonfire preparations all week.  Old tires, mattresses, and other debris were forming huge piles on vacant lots, surrounded by union jacks and young men with brush cuts or very short hair.

 

The weather was unsettled, overcast, about eighteen Celsius with occasional drizzle, a typical Irish summer day. Indeed, this weather would pass for a typical mid-winter day in Perth, Australia. We breakfasted on microwaved cheesed cauliflower, yoghurt and tea, and then set out in the Volvo for the Mountains of the Mourne on A24 and A2.  We accessed A24 without driving into Belfast using the Governor’s Bridge and were soon driving peacefully in pretty green rolling countryside heading south from Belfast towards Newcastle. These A designated Irish Highways are narrow and winding, but carry sixty mile per hour speed limits, so the driver must be careful and alert. Tractors are always pulling into these highways from laneways or holding up traffic as they commute from one field to another. 

 

Newcastle was our first stop for an hour, for a coffee and meat pie and this picturesque seaside town with churches and odd shaped buildings, backed by the large rolling hills of the Mourne Mountains. “I’m disappointed with the bakeries here,” Richard observed.  “They don’t seem to carry much in them.”  I watched very young Irish girls pushing baby prams and thought that the birth rate must be very high in these smaller towns.  I had seen a lot of girls with babies.  Richard had commented on the beauty of Irish girls.  “They hold their age well, and even at forty the women have smooth creamy complexions like twenty year olds.  They don’t appear to age like people in Australia who are constantly exposed to the sun.” 

 

The Mourne Mountains are fifty million year old rounded and smoothed granite glaciated outcrops, which support thin peaty topsoil, carrying heather and acidic grasses rather than bushes and trees.  They dominate the landscape blending into the mist and rain presenting a unique picturesque scene.   We continued along the coast, passing small farms to Mullartown, where we headed west to Silent Valley, a large reservoir within the mountain range.  This reservoir, built in 1933, supplies Belfast, 56 kilometres distant with thirty million gallons daily from the barren, largely uninhabited Mourne Mountains.  An eight-foot stonewall three feet wide surrounds the Mourne catchment area, and is over twenty-two miles long, built from 1903 to 1922.

 

The small patchwork quilt of farms, which we viewed from the mountains, was surrounded by laboriously built boulder fences, which stretched around every field, often to two metres in height. The walls do not appear to have used cement at all.  Cattle and sheep grazed happily on the green grasses within the small fields.  We drove on via B27 to Hilltown, through the mist and drizzle over the mountains. As it was now 6.00 pm, we took the A1 back to Belfast, bypassing Bambridge and Lisburn.  Richard had warned, “We’d best be back before the bonfires, otherwise the roads might be blocked in these villages.”  I think, “Richard simply wants to be back to experience the bonfire celebration, and he’s Polish, born a Roman Catholic! These bonfires celebrate Protestant hegemony in Ulster. A Catholic would be as welcome as a male at a lesbian ball.” The A1 joins the M1 and we arrived back to shop for dinner at 7.00 pm.  We ate frozen Lasagne with a fresh salad and yoghurt, missing Daphne Dunlop’s excellent meals.  I turned in for an early night at 9.00 pm while Richard explored outside until midnight but avoided going into Belfast to the bonfires.

 

Saturday 11 June Bangor and East

 

Loud yelling from outside our quarters interrupted my sleep during the night.  Some of the July 12th celebration was spilling over from the Belfast bonfires to the Queen’s Elms Street Residence.  I was pleased there were three locked doors and an iron lacework grill over my window for the first time during our stay. Richard showered and dressed me by 10.00 am saying, “We must be back by 4.00 pm so I can complete a laundry session before we leave tomorrow.”  There was, to my delight, sunshine today and a temperature of 20 Celsius, a heatwave by Irish standards.  We ate a breakfast of microwave-heated Chicken and Rice Marsala, a peach, yoghurt, coffee and a banana.  I used my credit card to phone my wife, Lily to hear about her Singapore trip, and then we set off into Belfast to find A2 to Bangor and Portaferry.

 

In Belfast, predictably, we encountered masses of people lining up for the July 12th orange day parades.  This event is definitely bigger in production in Northern Ireland than the movie Ben Hur with ambulances and police cars in profusion, and many spectators dressed in union jacks.  We made several twisty detours around crowded parade routes, as different parts of Belfast seem to each have their own parades. Finally, we located the A2, and drove ten miles or so to Bangor as we had planned.  I recalled visiting the Dunlops in 1974 and riding my bicycle to Bangor with my friend Steven Malone after cycling from Dublin to Belfast.  Near Bangor, in Crawfordsburn, we visited a hotel, called The Old Inn, established in 1614, which still possessed a thatched roof. Richard photographed the lovely old oak beams of the dining room, with oil paintings and suits of armour. 

 

We then drove along the coastline, through a series of villages, threaded together like beads on a necklace; including Groomsport, North Down, Donaghadee, Millsle, Ballywater, Portavogie, Cloghy, Kearney, and Portaferry. Each village was highly scenic, built on the seafront, usually with a long sandy beach, with an artificial breakwater creating a yacht harbour. Yachts are moored along the coast, reflecting off the blue water below cloud-flecked skies. Buildings lining the stone breakwater walls are usually three or four stories in height and like most Irish buildings are usually freshly painted, usually a bright white colour.  There is usually an ancient traditional church, constructed of grey stone, with a soaring spiral, reaching upwards above the other town buildings.  Beyond the villages are emerald green hills. Many buildings fly large union jacks to mark July 12th.

 

At Portavogie we encountered a genuine fishing harbour with twenty or so ocean-going trawlers crowded into the harbour, sporting a confusion of masts, radio antennas and booms.  Each boat flew a union jack, the breakwater was painted red, white and blue and murals were painted on the roadway and nearby buildings.  There can be no mistaking the loyalty to England offered by this small fishing village or the strength of the local Ulster Volunteer Brigade.

 

We moved further south passing local pubs, but Richard was getting tired of driving these very narrow roads with sharp curves, and a constant stream of oncoming threatening traffic hogging the tarmac.  Although distances are small, we averaged only twenty kilometres per hour, creeping cautiously around curves, hampered in part by the size of the Volvo.  Smaller cars are easier to drive here. With stonewalls to the left and our wheels on the white line, I worried that each road bend could become the site of a disastrous crash, or at least a badly scraped rental vehicle. It was 2.00 pm, so I suggested, “Let’s cut Robert’s long route and we’ll return to Belfast from Portaferry by A20, along the large freshwater Stangford Lough.

 

This large lake fooled Richard into thinking he was still viewing seascape, as Canadian geese bobbed along the shore near a large misshapen granite boulder inscribed ‘Jesus is your rock,’ and a sizeable surf licked the shoreline from the strong westerly. We decided to take the Outer Ring Knock Road, bypassing Belfast and arrived at Governor’s Bridge across the Lagan River by 3.30 pm without parades or mishaps.  We shopped for dinner, at the service station on Malone Road next to the Elms Residence. Richard chose frozen Spaghetti Bolognese with an apple, potato, fresh salad and cabernet sauvignon, and then refuelled the car with diesel, costing in total for a week, sixty pounds or $150.00 for a week’s fuel.

 

Richard worked on the laundry and his postcards while I typed. I aimed for a 7.00 pm bedtime in preparation for an early am start tomorrow, but was in bed by 8.00 pm.  Richard and I discussed get up times.  “Even 4.00 am is a little late,” I warned.  “You need to shower, pack, and then the airport is a forty minute drive, provided we don’t get lost on the way and that’s always a possibility.  We have to return the car, too.”  We examined my travel alarm clock to find the battery dead.  No wake up calls here in the empty residence, as we didn’t even have a telephone.  “I’ll drive down and buy a new battery,” Richard said, and that problem was solved.  Tomorrow we have three flights. Our destination is Warsaw via Heathrow and Frankfurt.  Richard opted to finish off the rum, nearly a third of the bottle, and watch a TV movie well after midnight before going to bed.  “I was feeling panicky about tomorrow’s trip,” he confessed.

 

End Chapter 9