I'm mildly disturbed that all my bags are packed for a month long trip & my bike is firmly in the garden shed. If the small amount of snow that has fallen today, & whatever falls tonight, doesn't bring London's public transport to a standstill before noon I'll be back at Heathrow & then on to Calgary. It seems ages since I've been on a train or the tube - so it's more than two weeks since I did my last bit of walking around London. That particular time I met up with my NZ cousin Chris & we followed the walking tour from Soho down to Trafalgar Square. Unlike in NYC, the origin of the name Soho is an old hunting cry - Soho Square was once part of a royal hunting ground.This walk wound around quite a bit & went down lots of small old alleys that we would have missed otherwise. Of relevance to NZ was a house that the botanist Joseph Banks used to live in & of most interest to me was the site of the Broad Street pump. In 1854, 37 of the 49 occupants of the street died of cholera & Dr John Snow was the one who worked out that the common factor was the water pump that they drunk from. The handle was removed & the death rate fell immediately - this work was perhaps one of the most important in the study of disease. Walking through Chinatown brought on a very interesting discussion with Chris on their family being in, & then evacuated from, Beijing in 1989 amongst the Tianenmem Square chaos. It wasn't long before we were at NZ House, Pall Mall & then Trafalgar Square, where Chris left me & I went on up to Regent's Park.There was still a fair amount of snow & ice lying around on this particular Sunday, so it was a bit of a careful climb to the top of Primrose Hill. But as it was another nice crisp clear day, it was well worth it - good views of the city with London Zoo & Regent's Park in the foreground - & some clowns playing touch in the snow. Crossing over Regent's Canal & past the zoo I seemed to walk around most of Regent's Park. With all the snow & frozen lakes it was quite beautiful & there were a surprisingly large number of people out & about.I think it was the Tuesday before Christmas that I popped out to Hammersmith to take a quick look at a small photographic exhibition of Kenyan wildlife. The photos were quite good & mostly scenes at Nakuru & the Mara - so it was nice to see them. However, I wasn't that enamoured with them to shell out nearly three hundred pounds for each small print. Up the Piccadilly line to drop off a couple of presents for Andrew & Shelley's girls & then I was off to check out the Christmas Fair in Hyde Park. With all the German stalls, great smelling food & amusements it was a very Christmasy experience.Thankfully it didn't snow on Christmas Eve, so the drive down to Trish's sister's house just north of Dover was very easy. Jan cooked up a storm & it was a great day spent with family. As it was a gorgeous day I couldn't help but go for an explore - so a short drive later I was at the top of the famous cliffs. It was a little strange seeing eight ferries sitting in the port doing nothing. But much more impressive was the sunset - I stuck around a good half hour to see it go all the way down. Back home very early on Boxing Day; later that day we went around to Trish's brother's for another great dinner.After a couple days relaxing & getting the bike ready, I was off driving to Taunton to stay with John & Anna the night before what promised to be a very wintery ride on Exmoor on Wednesday. Since I last saw them, the Lambert family has doubled in size with the arrival of twin girls three months ago & their house has much more than doubled in size with the move from an apartment to a two-storey house. It was great to see John & Anna again & meet the girls - a little sick, but thankfully they seem to sleep well (one night is hardly a representative sample, but I was impressed). With a leisurely two breakfasts & getting organised, John & I drove an hour through very close fog to Withymoor - where we eventually met up with four others. Well wrapped up against the cold (we would have been lucky if it got to three degrees Celsius), mud & rain we set off through the village trying to follow a route that Dave had plotted on his Garmin GPS. Mr Garmin was to provide us with much amusement in the rain as he sent us all around the National Park on the most unlikely trails (or non-trails). A nice gentle & reasonable climb to start before we got off the road & on to the grass & tracks - with all the rain the day before, we were quickly soaked by all the standing water. We had some good fun, but thankfully gentle, & slippery downhills. In all we were out about three or so hours & I had a complete blast - it was at least six weeks since I had been on my bike & therefore six weeks since I did my shoulder, I was very pleased with how it stood up to the ride. Unfortunately, by the time we got to the pub they had finished serving lunch. Back to John & Anna's for a much needed bike, clothes & body clean; a quick dinner then it was driving through the night & rain to get back to Andrew & Shelley's before they all went to bed. I'm always surprised at how well I manage to sleep on the floor of their lounge.
New Year's Eve - spent a delightful four or five hours babysitting (two year old) Vittoria - reading books, pretend cooking, chasing her around the house & (the best game of all) pretending to be asleep. After Andrew & Shelley returned I was rather worn out - mostly from babysitting, but perhaps a little for the driving & riding the previous two days. A quick escape for another exploratory walk - this time to the rather delightful little centre of Pinner. We were joined for a quiet New Year's Eve by a friend of the Patricks & we enjoyed a good meal, a strange game of Settlers (never seen so many long roads with four people playing), slight excitement when the new year ticked over, more excitement when Andrew touched the cork on the champagne & it went flying & champagne went all over Shelley & the Settlers set.
New Year's Day was a gorgeous one, if very chilly - and also Andrew's birthday. The six of us went out for a walk around a rather frozen in part lake & Vittoria amused us all by skating on the ice in her wellies whilst hanging on to the safety net of Dad's hand. Lazy afternoon & then I babysat the girls again while Andrew & Shelley escaped for a birthday dinner. A nice cross London drive after they returned & I was back in Sidcup by eleven, ready for a sleep in my own bed & facing another drive - this time north. Trish & I spent the weekend staying with another of cousin of Mum's - very pleasant weekend it was too. A little bike riding around the village, dropped in on my great-uncle Alan (who for almost ninety, is doing remarkably well living on his own & looking after himself). For dinner we met yet another cousin of Mum's (three cousins, but no brothers or sisters present) & also my second cousin, Catherine & her boyfriend, Chris. Catherine & Chris have recently been to NZ & Australia, so it was great to hear their stories. That's about it really for the last few weeks - the last few days have been spent recovering from the week before & mostly preparing for Canada.
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