Europe 2002 Xmas Newsletter 2002/3                                                  Home

Written by Chris in August/September 2003

This year (we are still pretending that this is our Xmas 2002 newsletter!) as in 2001 I spent the summer months doing all those daily chores when we had homestay guests and running two adventure tours with Andy.  Almost exactly on cue in March - (towards the end of summer for you northern people), I had a call from my old employer Department of Conservation to come and work as an external consultant in the conservation services levy's area.  They were suffering another staffing crisis, and needed someone who knew the work to help over the period before they could appoint a new staff.  So from my at home managing my own agendas back to the daily office routine - as it turned out until early July......  Having the money was good but - I decided to go with earlier plans to be in the UK for summer (as I had done in 2001), and planned this time to spend more time in Scotland.

So July saw me back in Exeter before visiting parents before traveling with a friend John Cooper, conveniently from Sidmouth, on the train to Glasgow with our bicycles.  The plan was to cycle for two weeks around western Scotland, ending up at gay outdoor gatherings in Oban and Aviemore on the two weekends, and joining the GOC for a few days cycling around the island of Mull.  Best scenic thingy was the boat trip to see Fingel's Cave - basalt pillars which geologically are the other end of the Giant's Causeway in Ireland - better than following the bus loads to Iona!

John and  had only met for a day art the GOC meeting in Exeter in 2001 - and so we were both I think pleasantly surprised that we were so compatible - or is that tolerant - of each others eccentricities.  We cycled everywhere, everyday - and seemed to cycle at about the same pace - John is incredibly fit and has cycled daily for years, including back to Devon from Heathrow after overseas trips..... about 6' tall like me but weighs les than 65kg's - 10kg's less body to lug around than me.... seriously skinny but strong, single-minded and unfased by silly stuff like bad weather or camping rough (anywhere would do as long as it was free!).

So back to Exeter after a wonderful two weeks cycling a bit of reorganising, and then good luck of Mother having a spare car she was going to trade in but didn't, I drove off up to London to meet Andy fresh from diving in the Philippines. Up to Horncastle in Lincolnshire where Andy was doing a summer locum vet job - then back to Scotland to try and organise work in the Edinburgh Fringe Festival - a plan from the previous year so I wouldn't have to select what shows to see and have just a rushed expensive stab in the dark experience of the Festival....  Nik Janiurek, one of Andy's relations, works as a sound/lighting technician at the Fringe every year, so he pointed me in the right direction and somewhere to live when I arrived in Edinburgh, a week before the start of the Fringe.

By good luck I got a job at the Assembly Rooms box office - one of the main venues for the Fringe, and also the venue where Nik and his partner Carmen both worked.  We were all working crazy shifts - so hardly ever even saw each other - even at home!  Just as space was running out at Nik's place, I had an offer of another place to live - which was wonderful - a gay guy with teenage kids.  He was very generous 'cos he already had several other people associated with, or visiting, the Fringe - booked in already - and like Nik's place he was within walking distance from 'work' - useful when the night shift and or shows (which I could see for free!!) didn't finish until 2am.  Will never forget the damp misty weather the first two weeks there - fog swirling around at street level and roof tops often hidden in low clouds and drizzle.

I worked usually 7 days a week for a month - and when I wasn't working I was seeing shows.  Hardly any time to do all those mundane things like eat and stuff....  Spent the final 10 days or so at another guys flat, much more space - just the two of us and great to be in yet another part of the inner city.  I loved being in Edinburgh - fascinating feel to it - and heaps to do.  Had a lots of similarity to the atmosphere around Wellington - and all the punters were soooh patient and friendly, both in person or on the phone booking lines (part of our box office jobs).

Caught up with my old caving friend Rob Kay who lived not to far away in Kilsyth (north and east of Glasgow), and a new friend David Hendrie who lives near Stirling on one of my rare days off...  I was also totally impressed by the architecture of new Scottish Parliament building (still being built but they have a wonderful visitors centre)

So after a great time at the Fringe back down to see Andy, then a wonderfully relaxing week or so in Devon staying with John Cooper - albeit with 4 days of hill cycling the Devon lanes with Andy and hoards of gay cyclists from London.   Wonderful re-visiting beaches in East Devon I hadn't been too since I was a teenager.  Then up to London in my trusty big huge estate wagon/car thingy house sitting a friend Philip's house in London (Hatch End near Harrow) for a week or so before my three week trip to Europe.  We also had a great day out visiting the Helligan Gardens in Cornwall with Andy my Mother (Queenie) and John Cooper.  Got there early and had a lovely day wandering around the gardens and restored woodlands of this old Victorian country estate.

Have never had so long in London before - so instead of setting out on any planned agenda - just went into the city every day and did whatever seemed right to do that day.  Also went on a day trip south to meet up with Fred and Hazel in their upper class rural bliss!  They were both looking fit and healthy - lots of fresh air and gardens and biking helps lots.....  My old car I sold them last year was still going strong - although not without problems.... Had some great days wandering around in the sun - went to a play "Stones in his Pocket" which was fun..... and then, ever so quickly it seemed, it was time to be off to Copenhagen, Berlin and Warsaw - staying with friends in each city.

In Copenhagen I stayed with Chris - Nik's brother, and his one year old son who he was sharing looking after with his ex-partner, and learning proper Danish at school, and managing a 'juice bar' called seJUICEyou with a Danish guy Thomas who Chris also worked with as a scuba diving instructor.  Had a great time wandering around Copenhagen and working usually once a day at the juice bar - learning how to make orders from the Danish menus in the kitchen....

Then onto Berlin to stay with Kristian - our ex-flatmate.  Andy and I were both there in 2001 - so it was great to be back to visit Kristian and Berlin, which now - like Copenhagen, has become a relatively familiar place.  Watched the 35,000 runners in the Berlin marathon was amazing - especially as we somehow got to be in the middle of street (near the start) with them all running past each side of us.

Then finally to Warsaw to meet Grzegorz - who I had only met briefly at Autumn Farm the previous summer - and invited me to come and stay with him.  So I did.  I usually reckon on only visiting places where I know someone who lives there.  So I probably would never have got to Poland except for the chance meeting of Grzegorz.  But I really learned heaps about the place and picked up a real energy from staying there a week or so - doing my usual unplanned wandering around all day thing.  Grzegorz has a flat in one of the few remaining old buildings downtown - and some of his flat is still missing - never rebuilt from the bombing/demolition in the 1940's - and I had his flat to myself for much of my time there as he had to rush off on a business to one of those new and relatively 'unheard-of ' countries in Eastern Europe.....  Warsaw had a wonderful feel of energy and positive-ness about it - lots of new stuff happening - and prices more like in NZ for a change!!  It was the only place in Europe where I felt I could afford to eat out!!!

Back in England I stayed with a guy I met on the Out in the UK weekend at Aviemore - Dean Swan.  He had a flat in Earl's Court - being from NZ just had to sample the place in London where we are all supposed to reside!!!  Dean was great at showing me around the sites of London - we did regular late night walks for hours - people in London seem to go to bed early so after eleven the streets were empty - all very odd - no people about at night....  but we had the place to ourselves.  Dean is from Singapore and had been in London a couple of years as a graphic designer - he was off at work during the day so I spent a week walking from his place to the museums in South Kensington - just up the road really.  Wonderful having no particular agenda and time to dream or browse...

Andy and I were off to Amsterdam at the end of October for a gay party weekend that we enjoyed heaps in 2001 - so with only 3 weeks left I was back up to Horncastle to stay my last few weeks with him - it seemed that we had hardly seen each other for more than a few days since he left Wellington to go diving on the Coral Cays trip to the Philippines back in June!

Horncastle was cold and damp and a reminder of what winters would be like in the UK - if we were to ever forget about summers in NZ.  I tried to sell my car but I think I was asking too much dosh for it - had to leave it at a car auction in Exeter in the end - just before leaving for Amsterdam.  Had a very slow uneventful time in Lincolnshire - visited Andy's sister's family and his Mum and Dad - and saw lots of films and went supermarket shopping.  Visited John and David who Andy stayed with in 2001 - John is a farmer and very generously stores our UK car (a 2CV look-alike - called a Dianne) in one of his barns...

Amsterdam was winter for sure - great parties and having a week there did more of the relaxed wandering about than I had time to do in 2001.  Then off back to NZ - Andy went to California and spent nearly a week with a fellow plant-a-holic David, driving up to northern California visiting trees, and smaller plants and in passing some big hills covered with snow.   I meanwhile stopped off in Toronto, Calgary and Vancouver to visit old friends from my living in Canada days (1980-85) - Steve Worthington in Dundas, Ian McKenzie in Calgary and Cathy Alpaugh in Vancouver.  I also by sheer chance arrived on cavers pub night in Calgary - so met Mike Boon - who I hadn't seen since 1985 and John Donovan (Donny) who I had not seen since our caving trip together in New Guinea in 1975 - bit of a surprise for both of us - nearly 30 years of getting old (I was only 22 when we last met!!).  Wonderful surprise to see him - he was just as I rebreed him - just like me older - but with just the same bright lively eyes, and enthusiasm for the outdoors and people.

I arrived in San Francisco at Ricks house on Russian Hill (Lombard Street  - near the old cable trams and ziz-zag street) - to find Rick but no Andy - he was still away in northern California tree spotting....  Rick is such a wonderful host - we met for the first time last year - despite looking tired from a recent illness - he was nonetheless very pleased to see me and keen to get out and about.  Andy arrived after a day or two, just in time for to enjoy an amazing spell of warm summer weather - sitting around in cafes enjoying the ambiance of the Castro hinterlands.  Then farewell to Rick and off to LA - now loaded down with all Andy's SCUBA diving gear and a very thorough baggage inspection at SF airport - including looking for smidgens of explosives with an important looking chemical analyser machine on sample swabs taken from all Andy's gear.

Back in NZ - great to be reunited with Kris again after four/five months away - I'm not sure he felt the same about his space being invaded though!  Just kidding - he was VERY pleased to see us both.... and us looking forward to being at home and me wanting to survive for as long as possible without full-time 'proper job' type work. [In fact I survived until May 2003 sans 'proper job']

Again like last year it was really good to get away to Europe for a reasonably long period - but for me this year without the hassles of a fulltime job.  In fact looking at the finances of the two years - the combination of poor pay rate (I suspect because government doesn't rate conservation type jobs as needing to be properly paid!) and high costs of establishing my flat in Peterborough and living independently - meant that it didn't seem to cost any more in 2002 without a job (except for the month at minimum wage at the Edinburgh fringe!) than it did in 2001 with one.....  So I'm not convinced about these UK jobbies particularly like the one I had at English Nature which was a reasonably senior position with heaps of responsibility, some degree of stress, loads of deadlines - but except for it being a great insight into marine conservation in the dis-united kingdom and EU in general - the 2002 holiday session gets my vote for the most fun and new experiences I've had for lots of years....  yummmmm yum.

Plan to be back in the UK in 2004.....  Andy will no doubt be working again in Horncastle - and maybe this time we can persuade Kris to come visit us for some of the time at least like he did in 2001.