This is the first missal of Geoff and Chris as we set off on twelve months of travel. If your gut reaction is “Ahhhh! Take me off the list!”, please say so now and we will! Otherwise, boil the kettle, make a cuppa, collect your Iced Vo-Vo (that's an Aussie joke) and relax. This is the second-best to packing you in our luggage.
Talking of luggage, we managed to squeeze it all in to 60 kg and three suitcases with the help of plastic bags that you suck the air out of with a vacuum cleaner. One suitcase with all our winter woollies stayed firmly shut until we reached Edinburgh.
As our taxi drove off to Canberra airport on 10 November, Chris did shed a quiet tear at the thought of not seeing friends and kangaroos for so long. A good number of friends will visit us in the UK, though, if not the kangaroos. And Geoff was jumping out of his skin with excitement in a good impersonation of a roo.
We left knowing our house is in the good hands of our friends, the Braggs. Sarah and Simon have each cat sat for us over the years. Now their father, Graham, has adopted our house as his Canberra base while working his Grenfell farm with Caroline. We couldn't have asked for a better arrangement.
We landed in Brisbane for a full-on Ledger celebration. Niece Catherine celebrated her engagement to Justin in the spacious room under a Queensland house. In the crowd there, we met new great-nephew Samuel as well as other members of the growing tribe. We stayed with nephew, Michael, and Bec where we practised our rudimentary parenting skills on long-suffering four-month-old Matthew, another newcomer. The next few days were spent catching up with folk in Brisbane and Nambour. Along the way we added two new birds to our bird list, i.e. the white-headed pigeon and the channel-billed cuckoo, as well as spotting platypuses in the river at Nambour.
While we were in Queensland, we found ourselves followed around by the soon-to-be-elected PM, Kevin Rudd. There he was at Nambour High School and when we went to meet our friend, Glynthea, at Southbank in Brisbane, the Kevin07 campaign was in full swing there too. Chris likes to think she has things in common with Kevin, having grown up in Southeast Queensland and studied and been part of the Christian community at ANU at the same time. She also likes Iced Vo-Vos.
From Brisbane we flew to Sydney to connect with our international flight. We arranged an extended stopover there so we could meet good friends Mandy and Geoff for dinner in anticipation of their weddiing 36 hours later. Yes, we just missed their wedding by a whisker.
We left our land girt by sea on Friday, 16 November. Our first stop in Bangkok was two days of pure self-indulgence as we recovered from the effort of organising this twelve months of adventure. We made full use of the hotel's pool, masseurs, dining room, wireless internet and bed. The only time we ventured out was to see the Royal Palace with a guide who, with quiet and patient desperation, tried to keep tabs on us as well as two Filipinas as we scattered in different directions. He safely deposited us at the Bangkok railway station where we dutifully stood for the national anthem at 5 pm. As we went to board our sleeper train, we spotted the Oriental and Eastern Express at another platform, looking as if it it had just arrived from the 1930s. It was splendid with wood panelling, lavish furnishings and passengers dressed up to the nines. We skulked back to our cosy little cabin lined with stainless steel and fitted out with upper and lower bunks.
As morning arrived, so did we in Chiang Mai and we were met by Mr Noi from the Christian Conference of Asia (CCA) who drove us to our now-familiar second home at the church education office guesthouse. We quickly unpacked and were off to the CCA offices for Geoff to finish handing over his responsibilities as honorary editor and general volunteer for communications matters. The CCA is based on the campus of Payap University and from our window we had great fun watching the rehearsal, the full dress rehearsal and the photographic shoots for the university graduation.
Then, late on Friday afternoon, Chris's laptop went on strike. A weekend of fireworks followed with rockets of panic when we thought the hard disk had died followed by a frenzy of sparklers as we backed up data when the computer resurrected for brief intervals. Meanwhile, the Australian federal elections were in full swing and via Geoff's laptop we followed the results and thanks to the time difference, knew the result by dinner time. This set us free to go out on the streets and down to the river close by to celebrate with real fireworks. It was Loi Kratong, the Thai Festival of Lights. Lamps were floated down the river, balloons were released into the sky and fireworks exploded. This continued into Sunday with a finale of floats and a fireworks spectacular right outside our window.
In the quiet, cool dawn of Monday, with the help of the local Apple centre, we found that the fan in the laptop was not working and should be simply fixed in Edinburgh. We slept well again. Most of the CCA staff had decamped to Bangkok for a meeting. Geoff quietly continued with his work, mainly proofreading.
By the time we left Chiang Mai the following Sunday, we had added the olive-backed sunbird, the greater coucal, the scarlet-backed flowerpecker, the ashy woodswallow, the common tailorbird, the yellow-browed warbler and the common kingfisher to our list of Thai birds. The list is up to twenty.
This is the olive-backed sunbird in the tree under our window
We have now been in Edinburgh a week and feel right at home. The first night was spent in the Thistle House B&B. We had a full breakfast to the strains of recorded bagpipe music and Bengali conversation emanating from the kitchen. The next day, our friends, Anne and Robin, gave us a grand tour of their house and neighbourhood and then flew to Melbourne leaving us in possession of their lovely home. Despite it being winter, there is birdsong in the garden and the list is already too long to inflict on you. We can see the craggy Arthur's Seat from our window. We have negotiated buses, grocery shopping, bank accounts, phones and computer repair. We were warmly welcomed to New College at the university and shared in their Christmas communion service and mince pies. We have enjoyed a meal in an Edinburgh home with Louise Scott's friends. We worshipped on Sunday at St John’s Scottish Episcopal Church in the city. In short, we are thoroughly enjoying ourselves. Yes, it is cold, but we are looking forward to our winter Christmas.
This is our house in Edinburgh
This is the view we have of Arthur’s Seat from our house