July 18 - August 13, 2007
Click on photos to get full-size images in a separate browser window.
It was two years and six days since we'd left Darlington. It seemed longer, perhaps because we hadn't stayed there very long, or, more likely, just because in a crowded life things do seem long. When we'd left we had no fixed plans for our return; we were going to London to fly to Moscow and what we saw in Russia would determine what we did after that. And, as we had travelled through central London just an hour before the transit bombings of July 7, 2005, if we'd been unlucky we might not have returned at all.
But really none of that was on our mind when we arrived. We'd just come from Paris taking nearly twenty-four hours to do a trip that can be done in four. We'd taken a bus to Calais and then a ferry, which seemed so much more modern and faster than those Jan remembered from her student days, and then a bus through the ever so extensive southern approaches to London. There we waited in what is now an old haunt: the National Express terminal (or more exactly the Victoria Coach Terminal, nearly opposite Victoria Train Station). We knew where everything was: the ATM for a bit of cash, the quietest seats, the rest rooms. We settled in until 11:00 p.m., enjoyed our first "real" fish and chips in two years and then took an overnight bus to Darlington.
The night was short, it being summer, and it was light by 4:30 a.m, so our entry into town was clear, and filled with familiar landmarks. We got off at the usual spot, just opposite the Town Hall and around the corner from the Dolphin Community Center. It being 5:30 a.m. we didn't have the heart to call anybody for a ride and we couldn't find a taxi, so we set off to walk, trundling all of our baggage behind us on our two carts. It was a wonderful morning and we were happy to stretch our legs after nearly 24 hours of travel in commercial conveyances.
We passed through St Cuthbert's churchyard and enjoyed the ancient building and the tombstone dotted grass and crossed the Skerne wondering if the waters were murmuring to us. Then we went up the Great Slope of Darlington, rising maybe 10 meters over 500, and crossed the Main north-south railway line. There we got our first view of the new Darlington Technical college, all modern and not a brick showing and then passed along the overgrown path that runs along the railway line and behind the new (of several years ago) subdivision. This last segment before our door took us past unripe blackberries that made us wish that summer in Darlington had reached its peak before our mid-July arrival instead of spring lingering on to what the calendar said was summer.
Just before entering our door we saw the remains of the Nestfield club. We'd been told in advance that this ancient working men's club, which was never a family favorite, and often an annoyance with its late night music and dancing, had already come down. Over our stay we watched as day by day the rubble was moved and crushed and moved and loaded into trucks and ground into dust and moved again and loaded until there was a neat and tidy level lot.
You might think we'd have opened the door, gone upstairs, and fallen into bed, clothes and all. But we don't work that way. We unpacked and sorted what we'd brought with us and we unpacked and sorted some things like mail that were lying around. And we enjoyed a meal. And then we took a nap before the flood — strike that — the Bates arrived. Within hours we had a series of visits, mostly short, until we'd seen one and all and had heartfelt reunions. The "visitors" were soon out and then we slept.
We'd arrived hardly a week before the end of July and that is Birthday and Anniversay week. It's Dave's birthday and Jhap's birthday and Jan's birthday and Chris and Sam's anniversay. So our place was decorated, particularly for Jhap's 50th birthday, and we got stocked with party food, which is actually real (and real delicious) food when Jhap makes it.
On the day of Jan's birthday we went into town late, wanting to find a place to have a nice meal to celebrate. To our surprise the fine restaurants and the pubs were all closed at the hour we wanted to eat. We were kindly directed to the Dolphin Center cafe. That was in the end quite acceptable, although a long way from first choice, because it gave us a bird's eye view of the market square in torrential rain. We were happy to be warm and dry. A side benefit was that we saw the much expanded and re-organized Center. Its main element, the swimming pool seemed the same as ever. But the main entry way had been redone and it flashed. The center had expanded to the adjoining building and a large cafe there replaced the older, more down market one we were used to.
One of our early "chores" was to get a cellphone, or preferably cell-phone service. Days before we left Australia Gerry had bought a nice Sony-Ericsson W300i and with a new SIM we'd had service all through South Africa. We'd skipped getting service in Paris because it cost as much to get a SIM card as to buy another phone. The idiocy of the pricing made us do without as we really didn't need it. But in Darlington we had a lot of family that it would be nice to reach wherever we were. After looking around a bit it became clear that the obvious answer as to what to do was also the right choice: Get it wholesale from the member of the family in the business. Well, that's not exactly right. Michaela, our neice, worked for O2 [sic! That is what they call themselves] and as they had a pretty good deal going, Gerry got a SIM card, getting, as you would expect, great service from her. (A SIM for Jan's South African phone was out of the question because it was locked to a South African network and we couldn't find anyone willing or able to unlock it.)
Michaela's shop had a great deal on a 4GB Sony M2 card for Gerry's W300i, that would let him carry around more mp3 files for music and audio books. Tempted by it he decided to check the web and found a better deal, 4GB for 40 pounds ($80). He ordered it on the web and just two hours later the door bell rang, with the postman carrying a package for delivery. But it wasn't the 4GB card. That came the next day! It turned out to be such a good deal that we haven't seen one approaching it in any of the countries we've been in since.
Besides seeing Michaela at work we also saw Liam at the ASDA, surprising him when we showed up in his check-out line and surprising us, because he told us he mostly works outside. We were in that store fairly often because it was on the route we walked from our place to the cluster of Bates's that live nearby, often going for a meal or afternoon tea.
In addition to seeing a rapidly maturing part of a generation that could be our grandchildren we got to meet some even younger clan members, Mason Jay and Taylor, the children of Chris and Sam. Other bairns that we knew had grown, and grown more rambunctious. Callum, Harry, and Matthew were decidedly bigger and more active than when we last saw them. At the other end of the scale, we saw Cheryl's digs (new to us) and those of Michaela and Lee (new enough to them that they had a house warming that we attended and where we were decidedly above the average age).
This visit we probably made the fewest outings from Darlington for any of our trips there. With the Heasmans we made a trip to Eggleston Hall, a plant nursery and restaurant, that is a bit more than an hour outside Darlington. There we had a nice meal and a fun walk through their gardens. With Dave and Jhap we made a return trip to Walworth Castle for their Sunday carvery dinner, an English tradition. We always like the atmosphere of the carvery there; it rather surprised us that Dave and Jhap had never been there before. And that was it. No bicycle riding, no swims at the Dolphin Center. But Jan did manage to say hello to old friends from childhood days. A must whenever she's in town.
When we were on our own we had plenty to do. We cooked for ourselves, including shopping at our favorite supermarket, Morrisons, and twice treating ourselves to their BIG English breakfast. A considerable part of Jan's time was spent, as has been true of much of the last year, improving her Russian. Gerry tried to do the impossible and of course failed: he wanted to sort and index all of his digital media. He concentrated on converting his DV tapes to DVDs; he got through about 20 of 160. (There will always be something to do in Darlington!) He often had three notebook computers running: his, Jan's, and Dave's old one which had been handed down to Jhap.
As noted above it was two years since we'd been in Darlington. And that meant it was two years since we'd had our hands on any of the physical mail that had come for us. We'd been in touch and managed our affairs by internet and thus hadn't missed the physical mail too much. After a package of forwarded mail disappeared some four or five years ago we gave up all idea of forwarding to a hotel or any place that didn't have our name on the mail box. For all practical purposes that meant no forwarding because we were almost never in one place long enough to really believe our mail would be delivered. (In retrospect we think we could have had success in Athens and Sydney , but that is in retrospect.)
Several days after we arrived Sue and Phil came over carrying four or five giant bags of mail. We immediately dug into it to see if there was anything important. Most was not, although lots was interesting. We'd accumulated quite a stack of alumni magazines that Gerry henceforth made some dent into. There were plenty of ordinary bank and credit card statements, but none had any new information; we (Jan) had done a pretty good job of tracking our financial affairs via the Net.
There were two exceptions. The first, and indeed a major exception involved Social Security. In May after we'd been in Paris a few weeks Jan started to catch up on accounts that hadn't been too easily done with poor web service in South Africa. And she discovered that Gerry's Social Security had not been arriving since January. We hadn't noticed what wasn't there when checking our Citibank account to which it should have been automatically deposited. In the mail we found confirmation of what we'd already learned from a Paris-to-US telephone call: A year earlier a letter had been sent that, translated to the vernacular, asked if Gerry was still alive. After that and a six-month follow up were not answered a "final warning" was sent: payments will be stopped if there is no response. There was no response and payments were stopped. Fortunately we had enough cash in savings that no immediate harm was done and all ended well: Gerry filled out a form that officially said he was alive and a month or so later he got all of his back payments.
The second exception was a letter from a company called ZooID Pictures Ltd. informing Gerry that he was a published photographer and asking him for an invoice, so that he could be paid! How amazing! A year earlier Gerry had received an unsolicited email asking if he would give permission for one of his photos from our Mexico trip to be used in a book that was soon to be published. The email explained that he would be paid an amount proportional to the size of the published photograph. The photograph was duly sent, nothing more was heard, and the affair promptly forgotten. As soon as he read the letter, Gerry learned the book, "Amigos 1", had been published by Oxford University Press a few months after the initial contact; Gerry immediately sent off an invoice to ZooID and within a week they deposited a small amount of money to our UK bank account. You can find the book on Amazon; this link shows the list of photographs; Gerry's photo is listed as on page 62, bottom right. We initially had the idea that the book was to be an anthropology or history book since the photo was of ancient ruins of a cliff-dwelling at Cuarenta Casas in Mexico. Not so! The photograph of the cliff-dwelling is used to illustrate the Spanish word "casa" = house.
After just over four weeks, our hiatus in Darlington came to an end. We left pretty much as we arrived, but a bit more comfortably: Early one day in mid-August Jan's sister Jo took us to the coach stop, outside of the Dolphin center and soon we were on our way to London. There we had a great day and a half with Dinah and Mick. Then it was time to fly again. From London, instead of flying west we went east, to Frankfurt, where we changed planes and finally went west. After a long, daylight transatlantic flight, which should have been very interesting, but wasn't as there was cloud cover almost the entire way, we landed at Newark.