A Funny Thing (Or Two) Happened on the Way to Melbourne…

By Susan Roberts

It was supposed to be a stress-free visit to family and friends in Australia, to celebrate my birthday and have a bit of a holiday before the silly season hits us. But just getting there turned out to be more alarming than I’d bargained for. And if you believe (like I do) that things happen in threes, then you might need to check back here in a month or so and see if I’m still around and kicking.

Travelling from Durban to Melbourne includes two extra flights – one each end of the trip – which shouldn’t really be necessary but they are: Durban to Johannesburg; Johannesburg to Sydney; Sydney to Melbourne. I had to get up early on the morning of my travel day, check in two hours before departure in Durban and fly to Johannesburg so that I could spend four and a half hours waiting there before my flight from Joburg that evening. Within an hour of leaving Joburg, my plane flew back directly over Durban. That’s right, I waved down at my home which I had left almost eleven hours before and felt like I had gone nowhere yet.

Yes, eleven hours and that was just the start. But wait, there’s more…

After a night in the air, the same plane flew me over a cloud-covered Melbourne on our way to Sydney where I had to wait another three hours before I could catch my final flight back to Melbourne. It seemed like such a waste of time – if only the Joburg plane could have just stopped in Durban to pick me up and then stopped again in Melbourne to drop me off. But life is never that simple, is it?

I know it seems like I’m complaining when in reality air travel is faster and safer than most other forms of travel. However, before my long triple flight was over I would have time to doubt those maxims – more than once.

On the first flight – from Durban – the plane was about to touch down in Joburg, and the obligatory sigh of relief was about to be exhaled, when the pilot suddenly pulled the plane out of its final approach. We lurched upwards and soared back into the sky again, leaving the Joburg runway far below us. Bewildered passengers all around me began to ask each other what on earth was going on. After a few anxious minutes, the pilot announced that dangerous crosswinds and a warning from the tower had caused him to lift the plane out of the potential danger zone. He then had to turn it around and attempt the same approach a second time.

Then followed twenty agonising minutes, during which my whole life began to flash rather unattractively through my mind’s eye. I may not have made a huge impact on the world in my lifetime but, at 52, I wasn’t ready to leave it just yet. I could almost smell the breath of the Grim Reaper and it wasn’t welcome. I mean, I know we all have to die some day, but just before my holiday was about to start? Afterwards would be preferable, but not at all would be even better! We don’t know the way we’re going to shuffle off in the end but I had hoped for something a little more meaningful than a charred stain across the windswept runway of Joburg airport!

To the combined relief of all passengers and crew, we finally bounced down onto the concrete with a bump and a shake, skidding our way to a stop in the most terrifying landing I have ever been part of. To say that I needed the toilet after that would not be an exaggeration.

Four and a half hours and several cups of comforting Mugg & Bean tea later, I sat in my seat in the tail of my next plane – a Qantas jumbo – ready for the second leg of my triple flight. Through the window I could see lightning illuminating the rain-lashed ground beneath the plane; I could feel the howling wind and hear the thunder. And we hadn’t even left the safety of the departure gate yet.

We sat, fully loaded, in the pelting rain at Joburg airport while no fewer than ten planes lined up to take off, all delayed by at least an hour because of the weather. When it was finally our turn to join the queue, we taxied out to the end of the runway and watched two British Airways, one star Alliance, two SAA planes and one smaller plane whose logo it was impossible to read, take off before it was our turn. One every two minutes, the pilot told us. Three places behind us in the queue was another huge jumbo – Air France this time – towering over its companion planes just as we were. If it was this crowded on the ground, I didn’t want to think too much about the potential traffic jam in the sky above.

With our forward facing wing lights lighting up the stormy skies around us, we eventually left the ground and took to the skies an hour after our scheduled departure time. Finally we reached cruising height, but my second sigh of relief of the day was likewise thwarted as a flash of light outside the windows lit up the sky for a brief instant.

A few minutes later, our pilot announced in his laid-back Aussie accent that we had been struck by lightning. I began to wish that I’d never watched those ten seasons of Lost! Vivid memories of the fate of the “tailers” in the cheap seats began to surface. Then the pilot continued: “No worries, no damage, this is a fairly common occurrence.”

The following day we landed safely in Sydney without any further incidents. Later, as I made my way through the airport building to catch my connection to Melbourne, I overheard a fellow-passenger asking the pilot about lightning strikes and just how common they actually are.

“Used to be very common,” he told her, “but I haven’t had it happen to me in about ten years.”

Needless to say, I’m not really looking forward to my return journey in four weeks’ time…

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Eyes Alive

By Jacqueline Dowling

image from tinglebytes.com

image from tinglebytes.com

It may be because I’m partially sighted that I feel such empathy with the very elderly and sight-challenged members of our library: of which there are many. And why The Friends have managed to set in motion sourcing of a screen which fits over a page, and magnifies the words. Our local Specsavers franchisee and Worcester Institute for the Blindare helping with this project and, if successful, we hope to open a far wider world of reading to those who need it.   Not sure whether the screens, if they still exist, are measured in diopters or whether they have an adjustable height, we’ll see – hopefully.   Since our library is no longer able to buy large print and talking books, the need for alternatives has grown even greater. It’s a pity about the Talking Books but, human nature being what it is, our collection has suffered from heavy-handed usage, scratching, breaking of discs, ‘mislaying’ – the list is endless. So, no more TBs.

Now, why am I partially sighted and do I want to share the reason? Yes, I do because it’s an avoidable virus and, because I picked it up as a small child, I’ve grown accustomed to being one-eyed and am totally thankful for the good health of what remains!   It freaks me out to see dogs and cats licking children’s and adults’ faces. These animals, to put it crudely, lick their bottoms – and then are allowed to lick humans’ faces.   The virus is Toxoplasma or Toxocara; carried in the mucous of dogs and cats, their droppings etc and passed on to humans. It took twenty one years for me to be diagnosed, by which time the sight in my left eye was zilch. Cortisone injections into the eye cleared the periphery, but the pain during childhood, the blinding headaches are something I’d never wish on any child.   Recently I was shown a picture of the back of each eye. The left looks as if a mound of volcanic lava has been deposited – the result of blood vessels rupturing in the choroid coat.

But I’m one of the lucky ones, I have a good strong right eye and lead a normal ‘fully sighted’ life. It can also affect the brain and legs.

So, if this non self-pitying blog has passed on any useful info, GOOD. I’m happy to pass on the images to anyone interested, and just so you know I’m not drivelling on and beating a drum.


by Penny M

What day is it?

Okay, so it might have something to do with the fact that I have woken up after a door to door, twenty-six hour journey that ended yesterday evening.

The beginnings of my other blog started in Dubai Airport, until a fellow traveller interrupted my thoughts to tell me of her journey to India (a two and a half hour flight away!). She painted a picture from the Exotic Marigold Hotel. I was glad I had watched that movie, twice in fact, and so could well imagine her delight. But the blog stopped there.

Freedigitalphotos.net - Ambro

freedigitalphotos.net – Ambro

I woke this morning with a movie in my head and a strong desire to capture it before it escaped my memory. I had no idea of the time – my mobile phone had somehow adjusted to Abu Dhabi time and I could possibly have slept for two days, without alarm.

I literally closed my eyes and typed what I saw in my imagination. Never mind the typos, the structure and whatever else good writers are supposed to control, I was on a roll and in the role of my life.

I had to go online to establish that it was GMT +2 on Thursday, 16 October. This was the time on my laptop which I had a hard time believing. It was 09.56 a.m. Forgive me – my blog is late, I think.

So, before I lose the emotions involved with the creation of my movie script …

Let’s raise our glasses to autumn

By Sue Trollip

Chardonnay, rosé, burgundy, I’m drunk on the opulence of autumn.

I’ve spent most of my adult life living at the coast in the heat and humidity of the city with a view of the blue-green sea and its bucking sea horses. It was warm all year around with not much in the way of seasons. My view also consisted of houses dotted between streets and trees with splurges of purple jacaranda blossoms.

I still miss that sky, steel-green in a storm or with windswept clouds and shimmering blue heat. Don’t get me started on the sunrise over the horizon, where every colour you can imagine mingles until the day breaks.

In the semi-desert that I now call home there are cerulean coloured lakes and a babbling river, but the rest of the countryside is 500 shades of browns and greens. With a lot of effort, and large green thumbs, some gardens are an oasis of sunflowers, hollyhocks, daffodils and black-eyed Susan’s. Here the summer sky is monotonously perfect, every day it’s picture book blue with a big yellow sun. (Did that sound like a complaint? It’s not.)

Then one morning autumn arrived and every day since I’ve been dazed by the glamour of the diamond and ruby coloured leaves.

October is also the month of pumpkin spiced lattes and pumpkin shaped cookies and ghosts and ghouls and witches and candy. Halloween, in all its sugary splendour. I’ll keep you posted …

Until then I’ll return to my couch with a glass of merlot to ward off the slight chill in the air. I won’t think of what’s to come as winter approaches, instead I’ll raise my glass and drink a toast to the glory of autumn.

A Day at Hobbiton

By Susan Roberts

One of the highlights of my recent trip to New Zealand was a day spent at Hobbiton. As a fan of both Tolkien’s writing and Peter Jackson’s films, I had to see it. My niece cleverly slotted the excursion between an overnight stay with friends in the hills of the Coromandel Peninsula and the first evening of the Chinese Lantern Festival in Auckland.

We left our Coromandel friends early in the morning and drove south to Matamata. As is always the case in New Zealand, the weather threatened to douse the day, but as we quickly learnt from the New Zealanders, the weather changes every ten minutes and once you accept that fact, you just get on with things.

Hobbiton is easy to find because it is well signposted, and the sun smiled down on us as we entered the car park. We were booked on the 11h30 tour, but there was plenty to see before our bus arrived. In fact, it was tempting to spend my last few (preciousss…!) New Zealand dollars on mementoes of Gollum, Frodo and Bilbo, but I managed to restrain myself. Sort of. At least until after the tour.

As our bus (called Gandalf the White despite its dirty windows) took us up over the hill, the driver pointed out various areas that had been used for wardrobe, make-up and catering vans, and told us ridiculous stories about the local sheep whose moment of film glory had been snatched from them. Apparently another breed of sheep had been brought in as extras by Peter Jackson because he thought they looked more like Hobbit-sheep.

When our bus reached the out of sight second car park, our guide took over. The first thing he made each of us do was to pick up an umbrella from the shed next to the car park. He knew we would need them. We did, but not for the first ten minutes or so.

He ushered us along a path and through a set of bushes and… there it was! Hobbiton in all its glory. Just like in the movies…

What can I say? We did the regular tourist thing – shuffled along the paths, taking happy snaps of ourselves with our nearest and dearest in front of a variety of Hobbit houses all built artistically into the hillsides, complete with painted round doors and beautifully arranged gardens. It rained a bit but we scarcely noticed. Every photograph I have of myself from that day shows me smiling from ear to ear like a delighted child.

We hung over gates, poked our heads into the hobbit-holes we were allowed to enter, and zigzagged our way up the hill past the pond, the sunflowers and veggies, the smoking chimneys and the wash-lines, to Bagshot Row at the top. Bilbo and Frodo’s house, Bag End, boasted a beautiful view back over the village, the party field, the lake and the bridge across it to the Green Dragon Inn.

A team of full-time gardeners went discreetly about their business while we ooh-ed and aah-ed over their handiwork and the handiwork of the set-builders whose work has been turned into the most satisfying of theme parks. I hesitate to use that phrase “theme park” because Hobbiton doesn’t come with rides and Hollywood-style side-shows; it is kept as naturally as possible, notwithstanding the fact that it was created from an empty rolling hillside on a remote sheep farm over a decade and a half ago.

By now you probably think that this post doesn’t have much to do with writing. It does, however, have to do with something that is of prime importance to writers – creating worlds and making them come alive.

Tolkien created the world of Middle Earth, including the Shire where the hobbits live in the village of Hobbiton. It is the epitome of a pastoral paradise from another age; an age that never existed but could have done because it is so real. The visual impact created by Tolkien’s books is so strong that a universal imagery has sprung up from his words.

In the decades following the first publication of his epic Lord of the Rings, this world was depicted in drawings and paintings by many artists. Among these were twin brothers Tim and Greg Hildebrandt who produced three painted Tolkien calendars in the late 70s; Canadian fantasy illustrator John Howe, who had himself been influenced by the Hildebrandt brothers while still in his teens; and Alan Lee, an English artist whose 50 watercolours of LOTR were incorporated into an illustrated version of the book in 1991. Howe and Lee were the artists that Peter Jackson chose to develop the conceptual art for the LOTR film trilogy, and were influential in choosing the location for Hobbiton.

Jackson and his team travelled from Wellington to look at the farm outside Matamata as a possible location, and took Howe and Lee with them. On arrival, both artists immediately began to sketch the landscape, putting in the fictitious hobbit houses, chimneys, roads and hedges. The reality of Hobbiton was born.

Once Jackson had decided that the location was perfect, his team set about building the village. Facades only, of course, because all interiors were shot inside the studio in Wellington. The set creators also planted flowers, shrubs, vegetables and trees which were then encouraged to flourish. Paths were cut, hedges grown, and then flowers and weeds allowed to ramble and grow over them, as if the greenery and the village had been there for centuries.

Man-made additions included extending the lake and building a rustic bridge across it; a man-made pond (from which a colony of noisy frogs had to be re-settled beyond the hill each day before filming began); and a hand-decorated, purpose-planted, huge tree above Bag End itself.

A more recent addition is the gloriously reconstructed Green Dragon Inn where refreshments are served after tourists have finally finished their tour. This last need arose since the site became a tourist attraction. In the original LOTR films, the inn was also a facade with the interiors filmed in a Wellington studio, but due to the now constant demand from thirsty tourists, a new version of the inn was constructed from scratch and made completely practicable.

As I sat sipping my complementary ginger beer in the Green Dragon, I thought what a pity it was that Tolkien was no longer alive to see this three dimensional version of his village of Hobbiton. I’m sure he would approve of it, and I can’t think of a more flattering legacy for a writer than having his world not only faithfully recreated for a film, but left there and looked after for visitors and lovers of his books to enjoy as well.

How many writers ever get that lucky?

Bag End, home of Bilbo and Frodo

Bag End, home of Bilbo and Frodo

Inside the Green Dragon Inn

Inside the Green Dragon Inn

View through a hobbit’s window

View through a hobbit’s window

Hobbiton across the lake

Hobbiton across the lake

The author, wishing that she lived there

The author, wishing that she lived there