Back on the motorway, this time to London’s most popular boarding house for Australian travellers, also known as Sue’s house. At a dinner Sue hosted for a group of folk in town for an Anglican meeting we met up with old friends (including Robert, who was in the same form as Geoff at Essendon High School) and made new ones.
The main reason we were in London was to be reunited with our passports. We had entrusted them to Royal Mail five weeks earlier in Shetland along with applications for Russian and Belorusian visas. It was good to have them back as we felt quite naked without them.
That achieved, we devoted the rest of our time in London to a family history pilgrimage. Armed with a London A–Z and a list of addresses from the birth, marriage and death certificates of Chris's ancestors, we set out. First we found the church where great-great grandparents were married in the heart of London. Then we headed south and found council houses on the spot where a grandmother lived as an infant before boarding a ship for Australia with her parents. Next we stood in front of the house that a widowed great-grandmother left behind as she set out with her children for a new start in Sydney. Not far away was the church where she was married and the cemetery where her young husband was buried. This trip helped us to realise that our marriage has brought together the streets of London and the wild remoteness of Shetland. A passion for family history is taking root!
Was the door of No. 9 blue when Chris’s great-grandparents lived there?
A week ago, the long train journey from London to Hong Kong began when we boarded the Eurostar at St Pancras. Geoff promptly went to sleep as the train plunged beneath the English Channel. Now we are in the familiar surrounds of Haarlem, a 15-minute train journey from Amsterdam. We were here two years ago and are back to look after the now more elderly cat, Wolletje, while his staff, Rosmarie and Rinze Marten, take their summer holidays. Our arrival coincided with an international organ festival at St Bavo’s, the Great Church, where Rinze Marten ministers and which houses the famous Christian Müller organ, played by Handel, Mendelssohn and Mozart. Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D minor never sounded so magnificent!
The Christian Müller organ in all its splendour in the alcove where the western window used to shine
On our travels so far, church services have been far from ordinary. In Shetland, Geoff’s family made up the whole congregation for a special ‘hamefarin’ service for the Williamsons. In Luing, we found a lively church that is clearly a vital part of community life for the population of 170. (The ferry timetable is constructed around the minister’s travel.) In Harrow, with Sue, we heard a choral evensong where young choir members were awarded their prizes. And here in Haarlem, the Sunday service incorporated the festival’s organ music and a professional choir.
So we leave you here in Haarlem where we are bicycling for our groceries and walking the canals again. The hydrangeas are in full bloom in front gardens and come in as stunning a variety of forms and colours as do the bicycles.
Just one of the many sorts of hydrangeas in Haarlem