She wept. For the third time she’d lost a child. The journalist had offered hope – a way home – but it hadn’t worked. She’d seen it all unfold on her phone and now regretted talking to him. Better to have remained unknown, but she’d done it for her child. The cold killed him – the conditions here. Perhaps it was for the best – they would have taken him from her – another type of loss – knowing he was alive. Now that the eyes of the world were looking on the other side of the earth there was a chance to disappear – find her husband. According to her phone, he was a prisoner. Maybe she could find him.
He is there again on my return journey still working his way up and down the carriage on the Hammersmith an City Line.
‘Excuse me ladies and gents sorry to bother you … sorry to interrupt your journey. I’m currently homeless, I’m eighteen and have no family. I’m trying to get some cash together for something to eat and a room in a hostel tonight. Anything would be much appreciated. Anything? Have a good evening.’
The travellers in my section of the carriage studiously concentrate on what ever they are staring at. The advertisements for ‘Welthify’, their reflection in the window or just thin air in front of them. One woman is looking in her bag.
‘I don’t have any cash, but I might have some food here.’
I shrug as he passes. I seldom carry cash these days – sometimes a pound coin for the locker at the swimming pool but the token on my key ring works just as well. He is young, a few blond bristles show on his upper lip. His face is evenly dirty – blond hair stiff with grime looks as if it was once stylish but it’s grown out. He wears a sleeveless padded vest far too large for him over a hoodie. Grubby blue trackie bottoms sit on top of a still respectable looking pair of black designer trainers.
Two black travellers just past me contribute. The young woman has a handful of coins which she continues to play with. I want to help – offer him a shower and wash his clothes, but I know that’s not wise. An older gay man – could be easily misconstrued. He needs professional help.
As the tube draws near my stop, the young man appears again waiting to get off. He digs into his trackie pockets and withdraws handfuls of coins which he seems to be counting.
‘Ca, ca, ca boom ca, ca, cabomm. Brrroom, cha, cha, cha. Na, nana na, nana na.’ He chants his mantra.
Like me he knows which door of the train will stop by the station exit. I follow him as he bounds up the stairs. I wonder what he will to exit the station. Probably jump over the barrier or follow someone closely through the gates. By the time I get up the stairs he’s on the other side and buying something from the kiosk. A drink or sweets I imagine. I look back as I exit on to the street. He’s rubbing a scratch – card with a coin. I wonder if that works for him?
‘Go over and see if there’s anything we can do,’ she said.
Pete hesitated. He was still deep in shock from the news and couldn’t for the moment think how he could help.
His wife seemed to understand his dilemma. ‘The offer will be enough – to show support.’
He remembered the day they had moved in. The little girl was only a baby, the same age as their daughter. He’d said his name was Mohammed.
‘We’ll call you Mo; we shorten everything here. I’m Pete – no one calls me Peter and the wife is Sue.
Mo was an engineer, he came to help re-build the city after the second earthquake. They’d got on well, after a couple of cultural gaffs. Pete quickly found out that a beer with Mo was out of the question and they wouldn’t be eating Sue’s famous egg and bacon pie – a national dish. Luckily, she was ace at roast lamb and the other national dish, Pavlova was much appreciated. The gesture was returned with a middle eastern version and recipes swapped.
As Pete knocked on the back door, he couldn’t quite believe that his friend Mo wouldn’t be answering. It opened a few centimetres and he could see Jamal’s tear-stained face suddenly full of fear. In that moment, Pete understood that he was a pakeha, a white male, like the arsehole who’d shot his mate Mo and all the others. He’d grown up here around guys like that and mostly gave them a wide berth. He once defended his friend Hemi at primary school from one such bully making anti Maori comments in the playground – the only time he’d ever hit anyone.
‘It’s only me … Pete … can we do anything?’
Jamal relaxed and shook her head.
Pete felt tears welling. He didn’t recall having done this as an adult. He must have cried as a baby but grown men don’t cry. ‘This isn’t supposed to happen in New Zealand,’ he said.
‘We came here because it was safe. Where can we go now?’ she said.
‘It is … it was …’ Tears were streaming down his face. ‘This is not who we are.’ He was shaking with grief and anger. ‘We’ve lost so much today.’
They are at the supermarket every time I go. Dressed almost the same, the mother wears a faded black jacket and straight skirt to the knee, stockings and comfortable shoes. She has alopecia and her remaining lank hair looks unwashed and plasters down her head. A light grey, long diaphanous scarf drapes her head but doesn’t attempt to hide her baldness. The younger woman wears navy and grey in the same style. She has already grown into her mother, without the hair loss. I always smile at them and they like that. They choose a few meagre items, discuss each one, look at the price and read the contents. Often, I see them in the entrance lobby with their full shopping bags, not sitting in the supermarket café, which they can’t afford but hunched on a ledge by the Argos catalogues – keeping warm – waiting.
Tuesday – I’ve got my sights set on Museum Hundertwasser. It’s a bit out of the way – not near a Ubann station, so there’s a bit of walking ahead. I take a seat on the train next to an abandoned newspaper. The youngish woman opposite is taking photographs of articles. She says it’s easier to read them on her phone by enlarging. We get talking – it’s easier just to say I live in London. She says she loves London and that her mother took her there. ‘London people are so friendly,’ she says, not like here. I’m surprised by this and guess that this might have been around 2012, when London suddenly became uncharacteristically friendly. I learn that her mother is dead and get a sort of life story. When she finds out that I’m heading for the Hundertwasser, she insists that I go with her as her dental appointment is near there. We catch a tram and both get out at the same stop. ‘It’s not far, you just turn left then right.’ She’s a bit late for the dentist and disappears. There are signs, but I want to go to the museum first and have to resort to my sat nav. The building is magical, but no photography is allowed. The terracotta tiled flooring undulates unevenly with a claim that the earth is like this. I’m not so sure as, being older, I’m finding keeping my balance a slight challenge. One of the first things I notice is that Hundertwasser mentions being buried in Ao Tea Roa. I’ve never seen my native land spelt in this way before and immediately want to know more. I scan his time line – he was Jewish and changed his name at some point, but there’s no explanation of how he survived the war as a child in Vienna. He went to art school, but didn’t stay. There’s a man dressed entirely in black wearing sunglasses. He has walking poles and walks around the exhibit repeatedly like an automaton. Strange – I wonder if he is part of the show. The walking poles obviously help his balance on the uneven floor.
The art is amazing and colourful. Often representational, including spirals of different colours. He seems to have travelled all over the world but after his first visit to New Zealand/Aotearoa he returned there repeatedly. He became ill and was cared for in a rural hospital and bought a property there. In the end he was buried in Aotearoa, on his property, with a tree planted over him to make use of his molecules in this new life. There’s a picture of the young tree doing well – I’m slightly disappointed that it’s not a native of Aotearoa, but a Tulip Tree or Liriodendron. Mum had one on our lawn when we were young it took twenty years to produce any flowers. Friedensreich Hundertwasser, I’m amazed to learn, designed flags. His Green Koru for New Zealand
is simple and effective. Ex-prime minister John Keys could have saved a lot of time and money by just adopting it.
I’m interested to find that his flag for Israel included a blue star of David with a green crescent moon. He was also great at print making and graphics – an inspirational visit and I’m keen to get on down the road to see the Hundertwasser House – a block of apartments done in his inimitable style, not unlike Gaudi and to be found in various other world cities. It’s gloriously sunny but not over crowded with tourists.
I’m slightly disorientated by now and take a while consulting my google maps to decide which way to walk. I take a risk and find a tram gong in the right direction. It passes an underground station, so I get off and take the Ubann to re-visit Karls Kirche, which we’d passed on our walking architectural tour. The church was completed in 1737 and combines a variety of styles and epochs in world history.
There are stairs up to see the ‘treasure’ – not really worth the climb and my legs certainly didn’t need the exercise. Inside the church are several large inflated silver and transparent globes which reflect the walls and murals. It seems vast and very high. This is due to various tricks of perspective which make it appear so. Marble columns and panels are tapered towards the ceiling. There’s a huge clump of scaffolding in one corner which houses a lift and I take this up to a viewing platform to see the ceiling art-work. Looking down is scary – vertiginous. Luckily there are Perspex panels – blacked out lower down to give a better sense of safety. It’s worth the journey to see the murals and the view down to the street below.
From here, it’s only a short walk to re-visit Secession, also seen in the near-dark on our walking tour. It has been stunningly restored and it’s now possible to go in. I’m down to my last few euros and so ask to pay by card. Many places in Austria still have minimum amounts, like 15 Euros. The nice man on the desk lets me in for the group tour price leaving me 30 cents. The main exhibition space is displaying video art/installation. Very engaging and suitably in the spirit of secession.
Down a level there’s similar work – a young man walking and falling over, getting up and walking – narrowly avoiding being run over by cars, falling down again and so on. There’s someone carrying a white screen which takes up most of the video screen. You just get a hint of the landscape. Down yet another level is the Kimpt frieze. Worth the wait for that. There’s a picture of the original building, the back of which was severely bombed at the end of the war. You can see the frieze of women holding up rings and now a small part of the frieze has been re-created. There’s also a photo of the ribbon of approval the building had from the nazis during their annexation of Austria.
Time to go back to my apartment for a rest and re-group. There’s another local pub style restaurant listed in the Gay guide. Sixta offers traditional Austrian fare and I have soup followed by the most delicious goulash. The clientele is not at all gay – mostly locals but I think the waiter might be.
I’ve booked an evening of Mozart and Johann Strauss music at the Kursalon, a concert venue where Strauss himself performed. I’m early and briefly look in the park to admire a golden statue of Johann. The venue is grand and looks like a wedding cake, all lit up with fairy lights. Crowds of coaches are pulling up and loads of tourists are flooding in. I notice that its €1 for the coat check. I’m all out of cash and so decide to take my coat in with me. That’s not allowed, I have to check it in.
‘But I don’t have a euro.’ I tell the man. ‘Can you do VISA?’ He suggests I go to a nearby ATM. ‘I’m not going to go to an ATM and withdraw one euro. I only do cards.
‘What, you wander around with no cash?’
‘Yes.’ I tell him. ‘Here, I have forty cents.’ He tells the coat check man not to charge me for checking in my coat. Result.
We are in a level concert hall with a dais at one end. Chandeliers drip liberally from the ceiling. I’ve gone for the cheaper seats at the back as I know that the sound should be ok. An usherette parades around the auditorium holding up a card representing no photography. She has a stern look on her face and makes sure that everyone in the hall has seen her. Finally, the musicians arrive; the leader of this nonet is an elderly violinist who seems to have a sense of humour. They start off with a polka – rousing stuff. Then we seem to be working our way through the well-known Johann Strauss waltzes and polkas. The trouble with waltzes is that they are for dancing. The first few staves are fine, then it becomes repetitive. It seems that there is only so much you can do to develop a Waltz. The solution is to bring in a couple of dancers. She’s very balletic with legs and arms going up and down, while he is no Nureyev, but good at leading a Viennese waltz. They can only dance in one plane – across the front of the dais and back – so the choreography is limited and can’t even compare with ‘Strictly’. A soprano comes on and sings an aria from a Strauss Opera – it’s a waltz. Things might look up as a baritone comes on to sing some Mozart. It’s Non Piu Andrai – an aria I used to sometimes sing at auditions. His acting isn’t very good and he doesn’t quite have the right power. We are back to the Strauss waltzes and the dancers. Suddenly there’s Eine Kleine Nachtmusik by Mozart – this also has memories – strange – of performing this piece as part of a clarinet quartet at a secondary school chamber music competition. At last there’s the duet from Don Giovani – La ci darem la mano. The two singers return and they are very good. The baritone has found his place as the seducer. It’s an ok experience, but not stunning, although the Blue Danube is well done. The encore is another strange memory from way-back. Brahms’ Hungarian Dance Number 5. We used to play this in the town orchestra and I could never manage the clarinet part. I remember the gusto with which our elderly rural violinists attacked this piece. Sadly, the opera was all sold out so this is second choice.
The final day is travelling home. I’m ready to do all the airport security in reverse and you can even buy a bottle of drink to take through wrapped up in a sealed transparent plastic bag. Something in my bag has alerted the machine and I’m asked to open up.
‘Have you got any crystals?’ she asks.
‘Yes,’ I reply. I wondered if my swimming medals would cause a problem. Of course, they’re in my swimming bag right at the bottom of my carry-on. I’m in plenty of time, so there is no need to panic and I refuse to be rushed by the woman.
Later, back in London at swim training I ask my team mates if the same thing happened to them. Yes, it did. It’s hard going, the first swim in four days. I did six races, five museums and two palaces. My legs are wrecked.
Sunday morning is the traditional brunch for European gay swim meets and it’s a feast – smoked salmon, cold meats, scrambled eggs and bacon washed down with coffee and prosecco. The Out to Swim youngsters don’t look too worse for wear after the party and many are off to catch flights home. I’m off to look at museums. Mumok is dedicated to contemporary work. Imposingly nestled within the Museum Quarter like a gigantic lump of coal it seems argue with the surrounding Neo-classical surroundings. The main exhibit is a retrospective of Ernst Caramelle (Austrian) from 1974. Apart from several striking perspectives achieved with two dimensional geometric shapes, his work did not engage me. I was more interested in the building – metallic inside with a lift shaft opening onto metal grill landings.
On the other side of the courtyard is the Leopold museum. Its modern walls blend in with the neo-classical surroundings and make less of a statement that the Mumok. Here there is an exhibition of Viennese fashion textile design with mannequins and photographs. The main attraction is work by Klimpt and an extensive exhibition of Egon Schiele (1890-1918) – a tortured soul by all accounts.
There’s time to fit in the Mozart Haus at the end of the day, even though my legs have had far too much work so far this weekend. It’s in a back street off Stephanzplats and a bit tricky to find. This is the only remaining house that Mozart lived in here for 3 years at the height of his success. It is also the most spacious. The audio, included in the entry, is interesting and prolongs the visiting time of a quite sparse exhibition. Nothing, except for the manuscripts and letters remain, so the house displays items which come from the period and which might have been in the household. Mozart was quickly adopted as the darling of the Viennese, but royal patronage was more difficult to come by – another example of populism rubbing up against conservatism. The Marriage of Figaro, almost wasn’t allowed by the Emperor – the play version was forbidden a few years before because of the negative depiction of the aristocracy. Vienna was underwhelmed by Mozart’s opera – not so Prague, who loved it. Vienna woke up to what it was missing, but too late as Mozart was near the end of his life and only just completed his Requiem and The Magic Flute.
I’m not really up for another Japanese noddle dinner nor a naff looking fish restaurant nearby, but find a reasonable Italian place for Linguini Adriactica – seafood. Perfect except for the fact that two couples across the isle are smoking in between courses and they have a baby with them. I’m shocked.
Monday, I’ve booked one of those bus tours of the city and hope that the Friday Art Nouveaux experience on foot is not replicated. It’s not and the bus leaves from the Opera House (rebuilt after being destroyed in WWII). We drive around the Ringstrasse in different directions having various buildings pointed out. The windows are tinted, so no possibility for photography. The Hapsburgs are mentioned, a lot. They sounded a despotic crew who lorded over central Europe for several centuries. We can’t go into the Palace complex but instead head out to their Summer residence, Schὃnbrun Palace. Our guide sets us up with earphones connected to her microphone so that she can keep us all together. No photography is allowed and we only see the ground and grand upper floors. There are no cellars so the ground floor is laid with wooden cross sections – it’s apparently damp. The horse-drawn carriages drove through to the hall-way to deposit guests or straight through to the gardens. On the upper floor, there are beautiful inlaid floors made from Brazilian forests. Empress Maria Therese was fond of oriental decoration and the walls are covered with Chinese silk and porcelain. There are no fire places so each room has a huge porcelain pot-belly heater, which was presumably filled with hot water, brought from the kitchens across the courtyard. Maria Therese was the power and her husband barely mentioned (except for his wealth). We learn that the empress kept loosing wars, but eventually she won one and promptly built a triumphant monument on the distant hill at the end of the huge garden. We have some free time to visit things like the coach house to see gilded carriages. In spite of the warning that I shall have to run up the hill to reach the monument, I give it a try. I’ve seen enough carriages over the years. The view is rewarding and you can see how close the Palace is to the city. They wanted to be near enough to move back into town in the event of an attack. It seems that someone was always trying to assassinate the emperor and eventually the Arch Duke was killed, leading to the First World War and the end of the Austrian Hungarian Empire. The last Emperor refused to abdicate and was banished and the country became a republic. The League of Nations was established and Austria forbidden from joining up with Germany. It all sounds so complicated and unnecessary – no wonder problems persisted in Central and Eastern Europe.
We gather at the coach at 12.20 pm precisely and return to the city. Our tour guide gives us the option to leave the tour at the Belvedere Palace to see the Klimpt collection. A French nobleman who worked as a mercenary fighting the Ottoman Empire to the East, made a lot of money and built this Palace. I’m the only one on the tour getting off here. For me it’s too good an opportunity to pass up. The League of nations was set up on this site and the Great War settlements were agreed. I start off in the lower Belvedere – what was the Orangery. It’s a lovely walk down the formal gardens and the sun is shining. There’s an amazing collection of Medieval Art down here, not normally my thing, but I do like the vibrant colours – still bright after centuries – and every now and then there’s a non-religious scene. Faces are also of great interest to me – how they have or haven’t change over time. One thing is certain, medieval painters couldn’t do babies. I’m about to walk up to the main building when I discover a treasure.
A special collection of women artists. Wow, what a find. It’s interesting to see the way female artists look at women compared with male artists, who sexualise their subjects so differently.
In the Upper Belvedere, there’s a café and I’m starving, my legs have done overtime and I need to sit down. Deep fried chicken with salad is the dish of the day. It turns out to be chicken Schnitzel on a bed of potato salad. There are a few dots of green spring onions. Still in spite of the low green content, It’s tasty.
Here, I find the main Klimpt Collection – since seeing the interactive Klimpt show in Paris last year, I’ve been keen to see the originals. What a treat.
The Vienna gay guide lists a restaurant called Motto at the other end of my street. I almost miss it as the doorway is dark and the sign very discrete. I’m offered smoking or non-smoking – an improvement on last night. It’s not particularly gay and the menu is expensive but excellent. Cheese dumplings come on a red salad and the boiled beef slabs are delicious and both traditional Viennese dishes.
It’s always stressful arriving in a new city in the dark and alone. No matter how much research you’ve done in advance, faced with an automated ticket machine which won’t deliver what you think you want and with a growing queue behind, some panic is inevitable. I’m trying to get a ticket from the airport to town and end up buying a 72- hour ticket. A kind young man reads the German text on the ticket and tells me that it includes the ride from the airport. Most people are taking the regular train and not paying the extra for a sixteen-minute ride. But this is the tricky bit – which platform? Following a small crowd seems like a good idea but what if they are all going somewhere else? A young man opposite takes off his headphones to answer my question. This train is gong to central Vienna – phew. From there it’s only a few stops on the Metro so I’m half an hour early to meet the guy who is going to let me into my Mr B&B apartment. It’s huge and charming, large enough for a family. It’s too late for supermarkets to be open so I go into Stephensplatz, where I’m told restaurants will be open. It’s a choice between takeaway pizza or Japanese noodles. I go for the noodles – cash only and by now it’s 10.30 pm and I’ve got thirty minutes before closing time. Vienna, it seems is an early-closing city.
Friday morning, I find the local supermarket and stock up on breakfast things – bread and butter for toast, cheese and cold meats. I also find the thermostat for the apartment so I can turn down the temperature at night to sleep. I’m starting with the museums and in particular the Fine Arts Museum which is housed in one of two identical neo-classical buildings in the Museum Quarter. It’s slightly cheaper to get a combo ticket for three museums, but I suspect that the Fine Arts will keep me busy for all of the morning. It’s a very grand building inside – marble staircases, elaborate decorative walls and pillars everywhere. This mostly houses the collection of the Austrian Arch-dukes and includes items purchased from Charles I’s collection sold off after his execution. The display starts modestly with artists I’ve never heard of who don’t impress, but it grows. These days I tend to skip religious paintings unless they grab my attention. Velasque suddenly appears – portraits from Spain showing how the Austrian Grand-daughter, Marguerita Theresa, is growing up.
There’s Carravagio, Titian and Van Dyke. Tintoretto is represented and there are loads of wonderful Rubens. Bruegel takes up most of a gallery and there’s Cranach in the side rooms. There’s Durer and Holbein with a small collection of Rembrant. The café looks stunning viewed from the top floor and my legs are ready to have a rest. Looking at art is hard on them. The Viennese sausage is ordinary but the espresso and small salad are good. The waiter seems disappointed that I’ve not ordered any cakes – clearly their speciality. Suddenly a group of Out to Swim guys appear. It will take them the rest of the afternoon to get around here I tell them. I briefly contemplate taking in another museum, but my legs win and I head back for a nap before my walking tour of the city, laid on by Vienna Valentines for the swim meet tomorrow.
The meeting place is outside the Vienna Post Office Bank designed by Otto Wagner. This building is considered the finest of the Art Nouveaux period of the early 19th Century. It stands opposite the later-build neo-classical stucco Ministry of War. Alex, our tour guide is super organised with a team of helpers whom he disciplines with a rolled-up poster which has his notes written on the back.Conductor-like he directs his team who react with mock fear. One lad has a book of images which he shows at various key points in the tour. The post office is indeed spectacular and we are able to go and look at the interior of the bank then around the back to inspect the joining up of the later part of the building.
From here we are on a roller coaster of the diverse architecture of this small period when Vienna rivalled Paris as the art capital of the(western) world. Klimpt belongs to this period. Alex is at pains to point out the significance of the Seccession movement – a break-away group of artists dedicated to high quality art and fed up with the conservative tastes of their contemporaries. Alex talks at length about the diversity of the Austrio-Hungarian Empire and how architects from all over came to Vienna. The Buildings he shows us reflect the diversity of the Art Nouveaux period – including the influence of American architecture. It’s an interesting introduction to the ongoing conflict between conservative elements and the popular innovators. The tour ends up at the Café Savoy, where we are to register for the swim meet. Phil and Mark have been on the tour and I suggest a local middle eastern restaurant I spotted earlier,just along the street. It’s perfect – Turkish/Persian cuisine, just right for filling up the tank for tomorrow.
Saturday, the swimming day, means an early start, getting breakfast out of the way early enough before the warm-up and races. Everything is so close in Vienna that public transport takes no time at all. The pool is sweet and sun-lit with six-lanes. There’s also an area divided by a boom at the shallow end where we can swim down – Bliss. Out to Swim have managed a huge contingent of 23 swimmers for this meet, which alternates yearly between Vienna and Amsterdam. I rarely race 200 metres freestyle so it was good to get it out of the way first up. Was a bit slower than my entry time – I was thinking more of a 400-metre pace but still came away with a gold. Out to Swim seemed to be everywhere, so there was hardly any rest. I was either racing, getting ready to race or cheering someone on. 50 Backstroke followed with a decent time and another first. The 100 Individual Medley was a nice penultimate event of the morning. My rule for Butterfly is only one length of the pool. This translates to 100 IM in a 25-metre pool and 200 IM in a 50 Metre one. The morning finished with the 4 x 50 Medley relays. Out 200 + years didn’t get placed but the youngsters won 100+ and 120+ and battled it out in the same heat. Exciting stuff.
The afternoon was quieter for me with only the 100-metre backstroke and a 4 x 50 freestyle relay. Once again, our younger teams came away with results – a fantastic ending to the day. Out to swim was the top club at the meet. 22 Gold,14 Silver, 6 Bronze – overall 42 medals. Time to retire to my Mr B&B to snooze and re-group before the dinner. I’d booked the party by mistake and managed to swap it for the dinner. It was a good move as I ended up on a table of swimmers from Sweden who actually came from different parts of the world – much like our swimmers. I was sitting next to a Swede who, like me had been an actor and producer but was now working with older autistic people. Fascinating. It was only a short Ubann ride back to my place to collapse into sleep. My body was complaining – a lot.
I wrote this short play, based on my grandfather, George Lockwood, to mark the 100th anniversary of the landings at Gallipoli. Today seems an appropriate time to share it. George never wore a poppy nor attended memorial services.
A short play
Granddad: (George) 70’s tall and frail with bright twinkling eyes – a gentle man.
Charlie: His eldest grandson 18. Also plays the young George
Vicky: His eldest granddaughter 17. Also plays the nurse.
Colin: A Quaker 30’s a stretcher bearer in the medical corps. Also plays Henry, George’s son.
The back lawn of a suburban garden in a small provincial city. George is sitting in a comfortable chair asleep and surrounded by wrapped presents. He stays onstage throughout. Charlie enters with a sack.
Charlie: Happy Birthday Granddad. Here’s my present.
George: Thank you Charlie. I wonder what it can be.
Charlie: You should be able to guess.
George: It’s either pine cones or sheep manure.
Charlie: Brian’s got you the pine cones – not so messy to gather.
George: My tomatoes will be very pleased and Nana will be able to light the fire. Thank you.
Charlie: There’s lots of food. Mum’s done her stuffed eggs, Aunty Dawn’s brought a pav and Aunty Lizzie has made her famous brandy snaps – all the usual.
George: Good. Any sign of Henry?
Charlie: No, they were supposed to be leaving an hour ago.
Vicky enters with a parcel
Vicky: It’s here Granddad, your medal that Mum applied for. She said I should bring it straight out to you.
Charlie: Can we open it Granddad?
George: We should wait for Henry.
Vicky: Oh, please Granddad, they’ll be ages.
George: Alright, but the presents have to wait.
George un-wraps the parcel
Charlie: That’s a pretty flash box.
Vicky: It’s huge. What does it say?
Charlie: 1915 The Donkey and the Wounded ANZAC. What does that mean Granddad?
George: Charlie, go and see if there’s any sign of Henry. There’s a good boy.
Vicky: (Turns the medal over) Australia and New Zealand 5 stars
G.Barker … Granddad, what was it like at Gallipoli?
George: Well, we arrived on boats, there was a beach and we had to line up for kit inspection. We were supposed to supply various things ourselves. For example, we had to have three kinds of soap: Shaving, bathing and laundry and were ordered to produce the items when they were called out. There was a small chap, Jones, I think his name was, didn’t have much in his kit. When the sergeant called out ‘Bath soap’ Jones brought out a small bar of white soap from his kit, held it up and then put it back. When the sergeant called out ‘Shaving soap’, he pulled out the same small bar of soap and held it up. Finally, the sergeant called out ‘Laundry soap’, and Jones, again pulled out the bar of soap and held it up.
Vicky: I always like that story, it makes me laugh … you never talk about the fighting.
George: It’s all such a long time ago … there’s nothing much to tell.
Vicky: Mum says you got shrapnel in your lung …. Not long after you arrived.
George falls asleep.
The camp-site at Gallipoli, It is very cold. George enters in a great-coat with rucksack on his back. There is sound of sporadic firing throughout the scene.
George: Hello, they’ve moved us, I think I’m supposed to be sharing with you.
Colin: Gidday, you just arrived?
George: Yes, a few days ago. George Barker, infantry.
Colin: Colin Levinson, medical corp.
George: Are you doctor?
Colin: No, just a stretcher bearer. You a conscript?
George: Yes. What about you?
Colin: I’m a Quaker … Couldn’t afford the hundred pound fine or going to prison.
George: I’m an Anglican. I don’t know anything about Quakers.
Colin: We don’t believe in war, so this was the only option.
Colin: Take your pack off mate and sit down, you’re a sitting duck standing there.
George: Rightey oh.
Colin: That’s more like it young fella. How old are you?
George: Eighteen, I left school a year ago.
Colin: Brothers and sisters?
George: Two older sisters.
Colin: Only son eh? I dunno. It’s such a waste.
George: What is?
Colin: Just … this fight. (Pause) But, she’ll be right if you keep your coat on and your head low. Bullets and the cold is what’s killing men here.
George: Are you married?
Colin: Fifteen years. I’m just hoping all this will be over by the time my oldest is seventeen.
George: Over by Christmas they told us.
Colin: Can’t see it myself, but what do I know? The British generals are hopeless. See all those bridges there and the steps over that way. We and the Ozzies organised all that. You can even have your hair cut down there by the store. No, it would be over by Christmas if we were in charge. Let’s have a look at your chitty. Nah, you’re not with me, you’re further down the line. Just remembered, you infantry blokes have to be together, ready to go over the top.
George stands and puts on his rucksack. There is a tremendous burst of gunfire. There are ricochet sounds of bullets bouncing off cliffs. George is hit and staggers.
Colin: Hold on there mate. Where are you hit?
George: Here, it hurts.
There is another burst of gunfire and Colin is hit. He falls to the ground. The scene fades into the hospital ship where both men are lying side by side.
Nurse: It’s shrapnel. The surgeon says it’s in your lung so we can’t operate. You might have to live with it for the rest of your life.
George: Live, Nurse?
Nurse: Yes, you’re one of the lucky ones. You’ll be able to tell your children about it.
George: But I didn’t do anything, didn’t fire a shot, except in training.
Nurse: It doesn’t matter. You were here.
George: Where? Where am I?
Nurse: You’re on the Hospital ship Gascon. They’re shooting at us as well, but you should be OK down here. Now try to get some more sleep, that’s what you need just now.
She exits. George looks around and sees Colin.
George: Colin … Private Levinson. They carried us out on donkeys … Are you alright? Hello.
With difficulty, George gets up and gives him a prod. Pause
George: I’m sorry mate.
George drifts off to sleep as the lights fade.
George is asleep again. Vicky enters.
Vicky: We’re all starving, can’t we open the presents? Uncle Henry might be ages.
George: Just a few more minutes.
Vicky: Granddad, what about the food in the war. What did they give you to eat?
George: Well, there was a shortage of flour so there wasn’t much bread or cake. One day, the cook found a sack of flour sitting behind a shed. He was so excited that he made a batch of scones.
Charlie enters with a bag of pine cones.
Charlie: Mum makes great scones.
Vicky: Shh. Granddad is telling another war story.
Charlie: (whispers) They all tell the story of the scones.
Vicky: How did the scones turn out Granddad?
George: Well, they looked great but when the men tried to eat them they were as hard as rocks.
Vicky: What did the cook do wrong?
George: The sack of flour turned out to be Plaster of Paris.
Vicky: Oh. What was that doing at Gallipoli?
Charlie: For setting broken arms and legs.
There is a sound of a car arriving, doors opening, greetings and adult and children’s voices.
Charlie: They’re here Granddad.
Vicky and Charlie rush off. George looks again at his medal then falls asleep.
Henry: Sorry we’re late Dad. Had to sort out some sheep this morning. Anyway, Happy Birthday … Dad? Are you asleep again? Come on, wake up.
He gives him a shake. There is a pause.
Vicky enters followed by Charlie
Vicky: We can open the presents now that you are here Uncle Henry. Shall I call the others?
Henry: No, Vicky. Granddad isn’t going to wake up.
Charlie: Is he dead?
Henry: Charlie, go and ask Nana to come out here please, and Vicky make sure none of the kids come out. Find them some games to play out the front … or something.
Henry picks up the Gallipoli medal and looks at it.
Henry: You never did tell us about it, not properly, just the funny stories. Now it’s too late.
Fade to black.
Thursday: I’ve decided to try swimming in the lake and figure that morning is the best time as after a day at the pool, the last thing I want to do is more swimming. Around ten am the water seems warmer than the reported 22 degree to start with, but gets a little colder as I swim out. One hundred meters is enough and works as a pre-warm up. The water is very clear and fish are abundant.
At the pool there’s just time to catch Neal’s 50m fly before warming up. Several of us are doing 100m freestyle and there are fifty-seven heats, but first we have to wait for the thirty-five heats of women.
As much as possible the heats are run in their age-groups but I’m in a mixed group heat and get to swim in lane five near the centre of the pool. In spite of a dodgy tumble-turn, it’s a good swim and I’ve done a Long course PB of 1.22 – only one second slower that my short course PB, so what with the sunshine, it’s been a good day.
Ian has organised an Out to Swim dinner In Bled. It’s an opportunity for the whole team to meet up – the Syncro women have arrived and it’s great to meet some of them for the first time. Our open water swimmer, Rick Snow drops in for a beer so we are all together for a team photograph. We also have Matthew Lue’s birthday to celebrate and the restaurant improvises a cake. I decide, after much hesitation to try the famous Bled Cake. This is a custard base, with whipped cream on top.
There’s pastry top and bottom. It looks too sweet for me but I’m assured by locals that it’s not. What it is, is huge. It is somewhat sweet and walking home, it lies heavily on top of my mixed grill main course. Well, I’ve tried it and don’t need to do it again. Most cake-lovers, I think will enjoy this.
Friday: Another morning swim in this gorgeous lake. My race today is immediately after lunch. and by the time I get there, the morning session has finished and there are still two hours of lunch break. I time my warm up to end half an hour before the start of the afternoon session. I feel very sluggish this morning and the first 200m is hard work. ‘It’s often like this,’ I tell myself and sure enough in the second 200m I break through the barrier. Then it’s time to concentrate on backstroke, doing a few 50m backstroke kick to make sure my legs are straight. I follow this with backstroke HVOs, front-end to start and back-end to finish in the 50m pool. Again, I’m in lane five with only three other guys of various ages – mostly older than me.
Andy is here to film me and I can hear him as I prepare. It’s great to know that someone from the club is watching. The guy in lane four looks younger and faster than me, but he’s not and I win my heat with another long course PB (actually half a second faster than my Paris short course PB) and a 7th place in my age group. That means another certificate. Now is the time for lunch and I fill up on a large plate of spaghetti and treat myself to a beer, because it’s all over. Andy is racing in the last heat of the last event of the competition but while Neal and I are in the dinner tent, a huge thunderstorm breaks in the middle of the women’s 100m breaststroke. They carry on for a while, but there is lightening so proceedings stop for half an hour. Everyone crams into the dinner tent and we wait. The men’s 100m Breaststroke age group 25-29 is tense and hard fought. Andy is pleased with 5th and a PB. There were two other Brits in the 1:09 time. We’re all drained, emotionally and physically.
Back in Bled, I wander into town with a sort of plan. There’s a new Gazebo/tent showing off rural foods. Someone is doing snack sized cheese and garlic pizzas – that goes down well with a local pint. At the far end of the tent is a stage and there’s what looks like a police melodrama performed by local actors. Moving on to my planned dinner stop, one of the street food tents, I order chicken drumsticks with roast potatoes and vegetables and decide to try the local wine. It’s OK and I settle down in the semi dark to work my way through it all. The huge portion of roast potatoes defeats me and I move on to my last planned stop – a wine bar. I ask for a nice glass of red wine (un-chilled), I try it and it’s good. I put my credit card away when I find it’s only €2.30 for a large glass. I also try a more expensive wine, which is even better and I’m surprised to find it’s a Merlot at €4. I may have that later. I don’t have time as the place is closing.
Saturday: I need to go for my last lake swim early before checking out. After packing, I leave the hired car at the Air B&B place and walk in to look at the 3K open water swim which will start at ten am. The lake looks very organised and I can hear the commentator warming everyone up over in the out-door lido-in-the-lake. I stay and watch the first wave of 25-29-year-old men start, swim towards me then round two gigantic yellow markers before heading down to the other end of the lake. Next, it’s the young women and I make my way around to the enclosure for a closer look at the start.
By the time the 30-34 year-old men start, the first of the young men are returning. It’s won by a Russian, who when asked ‘at what stage did you know you were going to win?’ answers that he had prepared himself to win in his training, which garners a few wry smiles at his confidence.
He entered the race expecting to win. The Italian who came second and gave him a run for his money just comments that the 21 degree water was too cold for him. I’d spoken earlier to a Croatian couple who were not looking forward to the temperature – they’re used to 26 degree in the sea.
Time to retire to a café in town coffee for an early lunch and to catch up on the blogging, keeping the autumnal wasps at bay and reluctantly feeding the cheeky sparrows crumbs of bread from my mozzarella and tomato with pesto. As I make my way back to collect the car, the Open Water Swimmers are still going and the officials in boats are doing a great job in aquatic traffic management – the lanes are all colour coded so not too much can go wrong.
It’s been an amazing week in a fantastic setting. Two PBs and three certificates for being in the top eight in my age group. There’s one last encounter at the rental car return. A woman from the Black Country in my age group has come away with a load of medals. She turns out to be a great fan of the Out to Swim website and loves the coaching tips. She’s looking forward to our GLLAM meet at the Aquatic Centre (hopefully) next year and we’ll meet up at Sheffield in October.
More dreary weather – raining. At 10 am it eases off and I grab my umbrella and head for the Castle. On the way I stop to look at St Martin which nestles into the hillside underneath the castle. It’s part of the panoramic picture of Bled and up-close it’s quite ordinary.
The Parish House next door offers coffee and accommodation, but nothing much is happening in there except souvenirs for sale. Onward, up the steep hill the clouds clearing as I climb. I emerge to a great view of the still mist- shrouded lake, but the sun is now shining through intermittent spots of rain and there’s coffee here.
Like most castles, this one has been rebuilt and developed since the 10th Century. Slavs and other so-called Barbarians settled in this remote and fertile valley after the Romans. It’s fairly cut off – backing onto massive mountains to the North and West. The Museum is curious and not well curated but there is a strange exhibition of an artist who seems to be depicting Bled Cake. The work is strategically placed around the museum. There is little explanation but it seems that the area was also a centre of iron production. Gift shops are in just about every other room in the castle: the old forge, the printing press and so on. Only the chapel with its charming frescoes is till- free. The views are, however stunning. For lunch, I try out the traditional smoked sausage, once again holding back on the available Bled Cake – there’s no room after the sausage.
I could have spent an hour walking to the Vintgar Gorge. It’s been raining again but I need to get going and decide to drive via some of the local villages.
I pass through charming green farmland and arrive at Zasip where I can see a church. Once again, it’s picturesque from a distance. A very young couple walking, are more interested in playing and photographing the local cats who will no doubt appear on Facebook. What is different about St Janez is the recent flower bedecked graves which crowd around the base of the church. No leafy adjacent crematory here, that would be a waste of farm-land.
Rain still threatens as I approach the Vintgar Gorge. There’s a free car park and it’s only €5 entry to the 1.6Km walk-way. Apparently, the gorge was only discovered in 1891 (I’m sure the Romans found it) and was quickly developed and opened to the public. The post-rain mist rises off the warm waters. The green is delicate, reflecting moss and lichen in the water and the vegetation on the banks. The light is very different from any comparable New Zealand gorge and this one certainly stands out.
The walk-way is narrow and often is nothing more than a wooden platform overhanging the often- turbulent river below. In calmer stretchers rock towers have been built. They must get washed away regularly by rising waters but look as if they have been there for centuries. I need my umbrella at times. Even though it has stopped raining, water drips down from the cliffs above in places. There is a stream of wet dogs on leads coming the other way. At the end there is another ticket and ice-cream kiosk. The last of many foot-bridges crosses the final waterfall to the toilets, but you can’t get a view of the falls. I spot a viewing platform further downstream and push on down steps past the kiosk, follow the road across a bridge to the path leading to the viewing spot. Magic. There’s time to review the journey on the return and see it all from a different angle.
Tuesday: I’m not sure about the timing of everything today but think I’ve got time to have a look at Radovljca, a nearby historic town on the way to Kranj. It has a main street of quite impressive, if stolid 19th Century public buildings but where to park?
Eventually I find the Old Town area just up the road where there is free parking for an hour. There’s quite a cute old-town centre. Desperate for Coffee and a few calories I find a café. The cappuccino comes with a huge mountain of chilled aerosol cream and the ham and cheese toastie (the only food available) is plain.
I get to the pool before lunch as I know some of the team are racing before me. As I make my way to warm-up in the indoor pool Andy is heading, with a determined in-his-zone look, towards the marshalling tent for his 200 Breaststroke.
He’s the first Out to Swimmer I’ve seen here, but there’s no time to chat now. I do the first part of my warm-up (OTS standard) then head for the race pool to catch Andy’s race on my phone. There’s time for lunch (Salad) before watching the rest of the team splash and dash through the 50 freestyle. Taking coaches suggestion, I have an espresso before finishing off my warm up for
the 100 Backstroke. I’m in lane zero again but manage (maybe thanks to the caffeine) three seconds faster than the June long course Nationals in Plymouth to get an eighth place. This means that I’m now eligible for two certificates. I return to the popular Pub restaurant for rump steak as I need to stock up for the two hundred Individual Medley early tomorrow.
Wednesday: I have to wait for twenty-three heats of the Women’s Individual Medley but hey, I’ve moved up to lane one, leaving the wall at last. I had some weeks off doing butterfly and breaststroke earlier in the year, so I’ve very gently been working them back in to training. It seems to have paid off and the first twenty-five metres of
fly feels really good. It’s a matter of establishing a rhythm and keeping to it. Even though the stress builds in the second twenty-five, I manage to keep the rhythm going – something that team-mate Stephen Lue comments on. The backstroke length tends to be a bit of a recovery and preparation for Breaststroke, which I find exhausting. I make a mental note to really point my toes in the glide. By the time the freestyle comes around, usually my chance to catch up, I’m feeling really tired but am rewarded with a few milli seconds faster than Plymouth. The Team are cheering me as I stagger back to them. Nice. Neal is in the last and fastest heat – he also comes out looking whacked. It’s a tough race.
After lunch and a good rest, It’s time for more exploring in the late afternoon. I’m looking for a boatman to row me to the Island. Further down the lake, near the island are several points where the boats launch. As I approach several seem to be pulling out but eventually I spot one about to leave with one remaining seat. Propulsion is from two oars in rowlocks either side. The boatman, with one foot forward uses his body weight to push the oars forward and twists them to return in streamlined profile. Our boatman is young slim and blond and explains that it helps to have a few extra kilos around the chest to move faster. No one is complaining, there’s a party of admiring Korean women and a tour-guide with a group from Malta. The boatman moves us around to balance the boat – a husband and wife at the front have to swap sides. All around the island there are landing stages and the boats nimbly turn around and reverse. We have around fifty minutes here, it doesn’t sound long, but in fact it’s more than enough.
There’s a charge of €6 to go up the tower and enter the church. I get some good views by putting my phone though the window grills and close to the bird netting. Inside the church there is a bell rope right in front of the alter. An illustration on the floor, forbids swinging on the rope and another one recommends three rings of the bell. The mystery of the random timings of the bell is explained. Three chaps from somewhere in Europe don’t notice the signs and have a prolonged ringing between them. This brings the ticket seller woman running in to look. There is no emergency, so she leaves. You can have an ice cream or a beer and food here, but I don’t want to queue, choosing to go upstairs and look at a curious exhibition of moulded glass figures and some flat glass rectangles.
The figures are the most interesting, suggesting the holy family, some of them are displayed in the windows so the light can stream though them. There’s time to walk around the island and wait for the Maltese and Koreans to return from their ice creams. The Maltese party are dropped off at their hotel landing leaving me and the Korean women, who are avidly photographing our handsome boatman, to continue on.
I’ve had my eye on the food stalls one the lake walkway and later, veal shoulder with vegetables and delicious roast potatoes all washed down with a beer is perfect, even if the lighting under the dining gazebo is too dim to really see the food.