All about PIGEONS.....from the guys who know

After dropping into the Larkhall Inn for a quick 'lemonade' (yeh!), I learned more than I've ever known about pigeons! So I ordered my lemonade, walked out to the back garden of the pub and sat down enjoying the late afternoon sun. All of a sudden I heard "cooing" noises coming from the road and turned around to see some guys carrying in baskets and baskets of pigeons. Me being the "nosey parker" I am asked them what the birds were for (and hoping they weren't on the menu at the pub for dinner) was delighted to be told that they were racing birds getting ready for tagging and release the next day. Of course this wasn't enough information for me, so I spent the next two hours with Simon, Dave, Steve, Janet and the rest of the Bath South Road Pigeon Club, learning all about how, where and why you would race pigeons. I must say I had no idea how complex the process is.

Did you know:
- During a race, upwards of 6000 birds can be released at EXACTLY the same time
- Pigeons are fed a special mix of maise, corn, maple peas and supplements
- Pigeons tend to mate for life (however some of the friskier cocks might have "a bit on the side" ever so often) I'm told
- The birds all have bands on their legs (some have state of the art electronic tags) that are 'clocked' when they arrive back home at the end of the race
- The pigeons start racing at about 6 months of age and have to 'train' just like any other athlete
- During WW2 pigeons were often the safest means of the military to communicate and a couple of pigeons received the Victoria Cross as a result of the support they provided in the midst of immense threat, during the war
- Lots of racing pigeons are killed by Sparrow Hawks and Peregrines (because their numbers have increased due to being protected species)
- Racing pigeons can fly 1880 yards per minute (depending on wind velocity)

The "pigeon pals" I met were en route to Little Hampton, where they would be released the next morning and it would take most of them about 1 1/2 hours to fly home.

So thanks to Dave, Steve, Simon, Jane (the publican), Kevin, Janet, Dave, Rob, Brian, Dave (again) and a mystery man (we'll call him 'the phantom' who is hiding in the back of the photo), who provided me with all of this information and who were all so friendly and generous to a nosey Aussie who knew NOTHING about pigeons, but was keen to learn!.

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Visiting the team at CDAS, Bath University

The work begins! Before the "fun and frolicks" which I'll tell you about later I did do some work! I spent the first week in Bath at the Centre for Death and Society at the University of Bath. A great welcome awaited me with Glennys Howarth CDAS Director, taking great care of me. CDAS has a number of wonderful programs but the one that really inspired me was a foundation degree they conduct for Funeral Directors......wonderful initiative. In addition, Glennys's major interest is in ritual and after death care, so of course we have a lot in common. We had a number of indepth discussions about how we treat the dead both immediately after their death and how we prepare them for burial, interment or cremation. We also talked a lot about how we maintain relationships with those who have died. I also got to catch up with an ex-Melbourne friend, Allan Kellehear who hadn't seen for three years, which was great!

Glennys linked me in with the Centre for Interdisciplinary Arts people who had some great ideas about linking performance, visual and creative arts with death education and care of the dead. Mulling over all of this information while I slept, I must say I thought of some brilliant ways of applying some more 'radical' approaches to what we do at home, particularly around memorialising, so watch out........I'll be coming home ready to shake things up a bit!

Bath University is a beautiful place, with grounds filled with gardens and walking paths, a lovely environment for the students! I even stumbled across a group of guys playing 'footy' on one of the lawns, must say I felt like asking a few of them if they were interested in playing for Collingwood.......'nough said!

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The Roman Baths.(Aquae Sulis)......a place for body AND soul

Those Romans sure must have been clean! The Roman Baths (of course in Bath) are a great example of the ingenuity of the earlier civilisations. We tend to be very arrogant in thinking that the post industrial/technology generations are the epitome of civilised living, but when you think about how poorly we care for ourselves, each other and the environment, it may well be time to look back at how things were done in days gone by. Now I'm not naive, I don't know that I'd have wanted to be a woman in Roman Britain or in Minoan Greece for that matter, however if you were a bloke, relatively well off, young and healthy, I think you really could have lived a relatively pleasant life (so long as you weren't a soldier). Walking around the Roman Baths, you could really get a feel for both the community nature of the baths as well as the spiritual aspect of reverence and dignity that is incorporated in the ritual of cleansing and contemplation. They obviously valued the sense of community and camaraderie that relaxing in the baths allowed them (in addition of course to the healthy influence of bathing in the mineral springs, sweating away the cares of the day in the steam rooms and sitting around chatting and exchanging ideas). Remarkably the influence of women is clearly evident in the complex, where not only are there areas designated for women, but where most of the deities are female.......lots to be learned here! So maybe being a woman wasn't too bad in Roman Britain (with the same caveat applied as to the men), but of course you wouldn't want to be poor, old, ugly or sick..........nothing much has changed in this respect really, has it?

Photos include the golden head of the goddess Minerva and a shot of another goddess (an Aussie one) hanging out with the temple priest, this goddess was obviously feeling the cold that day!)

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Top of Bath Abbey Tower

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Looking out from the Bath Abbey Tower!

You may not believe it, but I climbed the 212 steps to the top of Bath Abbey.....and back down again!. Bath Abbey is absolutely beautiful. The Abbey itself is full of headstones, leadlight, statues, alcoves and an awesome bell tower. I climbed the very skinny spiral staircase up to the bell tower and looked at the bells which are held in place by huge beams containing graffiti from the 17th century.......amazing! In behind the bell tower itself is a little room that is directly above the altar and there is a small hole (about 2cm in diameter) in one of the beams that looks down onto the nave so that the bell ringer could see the bride and groom during a wedding and therefore would know when it was time to ring the bells! I guess it wasn't practical to have a priest running up and down the stairs giving the bell ringers their cue.
Attached is a picture of the hole, the bells and also a video of the view from the Bath Abbey tower.

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Grosvenor Lodge......a little bit of heaven in Bath

The warm, welcoming arms of Grosvenor Lodge drew me in from the cold, harsh realities of missing my station.
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Lost on the moors.......ooooooohhhhhh!!!!!!

"Let me out" didn't make any difference when I yelled it at the station master, he just frowned and shut the door!

My trip to Bath started well enough, despite having to drag my 50 tonnes of luggage all over Paddington Station before finding the right train. I hopped into the comfy seat in the carriage and settled down with my book ready to enjoy the scenery until I was due to change stations at Westbury. We travelled through some beautiful countryside and I was enjoying the quietness of the carriage (there was only two other people), when the voice over the PA said, "next stop Westbury". I knew I'd have to wait there for about an hour before the Bath train arrived, but that was OK because the lady at Paddington had told me there was a cafe at Westbury, so I was looking forward to a coffee and a sticky bun. I got out of my seat, collected my voluminous array of paraphernalia and stood at the door as the train pulled into the station, and there I stayed! I stood and waited, waited, waited for the door to open and nothing happened. I started to get a bit 'edgy', so said to a man sitting close by, "How do I get out?" He flew out of his seat and said, "you have to open the window, put your hand thru and open the door from the outside", all while he was doing just that. As he tried to push the door open the station master came running down the platform......."Shut the door, SHUT THE DOOR" he yelled. "This lady needs to get out" my rescuer yelled back........."NO" boomed the stationmaster and before I could say anything appropriate to the situation, the train had pulled out of the station and was heading into unknown territory!

My rescuer said, "don't worry, you can get a train back from the next station". That's alright I thought, thanked him and sat back down. I still couldn't understand why what had seemed like the Emergency Evacuation instructions printed on the door were actually not for emergencies at all, but were for normal departure from the train!

So when the train stopped at Castle Cary, my rescuer opened the door for me and I disembarked. By the time I had loaded my backpack onto my aching shoulders and looked around, the train was gone and I was on a totally empty station, with the wind blowing a gale and frost beginning to form on my nose and fingers! Without boring you all, the next hour and forty five minutes consisted of me sitting in a tiny shed, rubbing my hands together to try and keep warm and ducking the torrential rain that intermittently blew directly into my little shelter.

The sky was black, the wind was blowing, the rain was pouring, there was no one to be was silent apart from an occasional bird who chirped and then flew away (because it had more sense than to stay with me). I started to feel a bit anxious, to be honest, I didn't know whether to laugh or cry, but kept telling myself, "this is an adventure, there's a reason for me being here". For some crazy reason I began to think about that movie, "An American Werewolf in London", when the young tourist guy is waiting for the train, in the wind and rain, all alone out the back of rural England, and gets attached by a werewolf! I shook my head to try and get rid of the thought. The wind blew in a huge gust, a metal sign banged against the side of the shed, I jumped three foot in the air, my eyes on stalks.............."AND IN THE DISTANCE A BULL ROARED"!

To cut a very long story short, eventually (1 3/4 hours later) a train did come. I quickly hopped on. By this stage a couple of wise local people who were catching this train en route to Bristol had just arrived at the station from their warm firesides and hopped on with me. In my carriage a group of young lads who had in their possession a Claxton Horn, took great joy in frightening each other by blowing it unexpectedly, all the way to Bath. Suffice to say, even though I knew this was going to happen every so often (and each time I SAW it about to happen), I jumped three foot in the air EVERY SINGLE TIME!

I won't bother telling you about my difficulty explaining to the cab driver where I wanted to go once I got out at Bath station, or the drudgery of carting my bags to the door of my new abode, I will end this long winded story on a jolly note. Arriving tired, wet cold and with my nerves shot at the door of Grosvenor Lodge, I was met by the warm and friendly Colin, who escorted me into his beautiful, warm and classic Georgian B & B and showed me to my room where he left me to settle in. The room is beautiful, the bed large and sumptuous with an arctic strength doona and embroidered linen. On the beautifully patina'd dresser there is a porcelain cup and saucer next to the jug and a view from the heavily draped window of the rolling hills..............and that was before I went down to the lounge where the antique dining table was set for breakfast with bone handled silverware, porcelain china (Carlyle pattern!) and crystal candelabra. AAAAAAHHHHHH heaven at last!

I know you're waiting for the moral of this long and sorry tale, but I'm afraid I'm yet to work that out myself. Maybe it's "Good things come to those who wait" or "You don't know what you've got till it's gone", but I'm more likely to think it was all a scheme of my dear old Dad's to give me an opportunity to tell a story that includes his classic storytelling line, "And in the distance......a bull roared"! If so Dad, it's done now, so my ongoing adventure needs no further intercession! Type remaining message over this text.

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Guy's and St Thomas's Charity

A place where the arts are costed into the infrastructure and capital budgets! I was most fortunate to meet with David Jones and Karen Sarkissian at Guy's Hospital in London. David is the E.D of the Charity and Karen the Director of Art and Heritage. Given the history of both the Guy's and St. Thomas hospitals, retaining and building on their heritage is core business for the Charity. The Charity funds multiple cutting edge projects and contributes to education and research. I was keen to gain an understanding about how the arts are incorporated in new capital projects and Karen very generously showed me a number of specific installation commissions and exhibitions they have supported over the past few years, including a beautiful glass installation they incorporated in the rebuild of the counselling/ bereavement area.

They have an extensive performing arts program including resident musicians who provide regular weekly lunchtime recitals, in addition to a writer in residence who works with patients, all supported by the Charity. The Guy's and St Thomas' Charity also supports education and research and is currently providing 4.5M in funding the Modernisation Initiative End of Life Care project for Lambeth and Southwark. This project focuses on establishing partnerships, evaluating the model of care and developing a range of innovative pilot projects (with a special focus on dementia) to ensure dignified death in place of choice for older patients. Of course, I was very interested in this and hope to find out more when I visit with the Director later this week. Follow the link for more information.

An installation funded by the Charity (and Friend's of Guy's Hospital), was one of the first things I noticed as I walked into the Guy's Hospital complex from tube station. It is a wonderful bronze statue of poet John Keats, who trained as a "surgeon-apothecary" at Guy's Hospital in 1815-16. The thing I love, is that this piece isn't just a statue, but a true installation, that invites you to interact. Keats is just sitting there waiting for you to join him on the bench!, a temptation I had to resist as someone had beaten me to it!

I did get to talk to a living poet later in the day though. After leaving Guy's I was a bit thirsty (and it was time for dinner), so headed down to a pub in King's Cross, where I met Finn, a modern day 'angry Irish balladeer", who provided me with an evening of interesting conversation and insight into his view of contemporary Irish attitudes to death and dying. A very educating day, all in all!

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Farewell to "Bud" Tingwell

It was with great sadness that I received the news from home of the death of Charles "Bud" Tingwell! Bud was a great friend to the palliative care sector, not only via his heartfelt performances in Alan Hopgood's play "The Carer", but by his generous promotion of the philosophy and providers of palliative care, particularly in Victoria. It is because of Bud in fact, that I met Alan!

Let me paint a picture for you. I was asked to be responsible for the launch of National Palliative Care Awareness Week in 2005, ( a somewhat daunting task). I was wracking my brains to think of a high profile public figure who would not only understand palliative care, but entertain and educate the audience. We'd managed to get a wonderful venue at Federation Square, catering and all the other arrangements were made and all that was missing was the guest speaker! I don't know how I managed it, but I got a phone number for Bud from the phonebook and rang the number, expecting to speak to his manager or secretary. Lo and behold, when the phone was answered, it was the great man himself! I introduced myself and explained to him what I was after. We talked for some time on the phone and I must say I hung up thinking what a kind and accommodating man he was. Bud put me on to Jo Baker, his manager, to make sure the date was free...........and the rest is history. Bud did an amazing job, and in the true spirit of the man he was, he didn't charge us anything because he believed in the importance of spreading the word of palliative care into the community.

I grew up watching Bud in children's shows on the telly as well as in classic Australian movies like "Smiley" with "Chips" Rafferty and later "The Castle". I saw him in multiple award winning British movies made in the 40's and 50's (of course I saw them in the '70's and 80's), including "The Desert Rats".

There are two roles I will remember him most fondly for, the first of which was a regular segment on "The Late Show" (also a Working Dog production) called "Charlie the Wonderdog" in which Bud played "Gramps", a funny old bloke whose dog could always avert a crisis, despite being visibly dragged along on a lead by the off-screen handler. The second, very poignant role was that of a bereaved husband in "Tulip" directed by Rachael Griffiths in the late '90's. This is a beautiful short film that clearly demonstrated Bud's empathy and humour.

Bud lived an amazingly rich life, a loving wife and family and a body of work that will continue to give joy and entertainment to many in the future. He will be sadly missed, but the thing I will remember most fondly about Bud is that even though he had received an Order of Australia and was a household name for as long as I can remember, he answered his own phone and said "yes" to some woman he didn't know from a bar of soap who called him 'out of the blue' and asked a favour. Now that's generosity!

You can read more about Bud by following the link:

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The Tower of London........I came, I saw AND they let me leave!

The Tower isn't just a goal, it's a royal village with a unique feel of it's own! My time spent wandering around the Tower of London was another unique experience. Given that it has over 6 million visitors a year, it retains the "vibe" of it's origins. The actual towers (where people like St. Thomas More and Anne Boleyn were locked up) are pretty sad, scary places. Many of them have retained the feeling of desperation and despondency that those imprisoned within the walls must have felt. There are carved names and Roman Catholic symbols in many of the walls (numbers of these etched by Jesuit prisoners), that are a stark reminder of the miserable lives people lived awaiting their ultimate fate (which was more than likely execution). On the green there is a memorial to people who were beheaded or hung and numbers of people who were buried in unmarked, unconsecrated grounds within the walls were exhumed and reburied in the Chapel Royal of St Peter and Vincula (including Anne Boleyn and Anne of Cleves) by Queen Victoria.

The Waterloo Block which houses the Crown Jewels is a sight to behold and there is a great display explaining the excavation and preparation of a number of the significant stones that are incorporated in some of the crowns (including the Cullinan 1 diamond and Koh-i-Noor among another 23,000 plus diamonds!). The Yeoman Warders (commonly called "Beefeaters") provide a great tour full on interesting information, wit and whimsy, but I found it immensely interesting that they have to be active armed forces personnel for 23 years and reach the highest rank (for an enlisted man) before they are eligible to apply for a position as a Yeoman Warder!

There is so much to see in the complex and I was lucky that currently there is an exhibition called, "Henry V111: Dressed to Kill", which comprises armour, weapons and sporting equipment that belonged to the famed Henry (including the worlds oldest soccerball, made from a pigs stomach wrapped in cloth). How those blokes walked around in all that chainmail and armour, I haven't a clue, let alone the poor horses who had to carry them in addition to being covered in their own armour from nuzzle to tail! I also found it surprising (even though it WAS the fashion of the day) that the suits of armour included an insitu codpiece! It reminded me of "Blackadder", in fact the whole time I was walking around The Tower of London, I was expecting to see "Baldrick" lurch around a corner, covered in filth on some errand for "Sir Edmund", but the closest I got was walking past a peasant asking a group of French high-school kids if they liked "blood and guts", the appropriate response to which, none of them seemed to know!

I once again showed my antipodean ignorance when I asked the Yeoman Warder why there were so many crows around on Tower Green (I thought it must be to do with people leaving around scraps of food from their lunches). To which he let out a hearty " don't know your history girlie", which I must say I thought was a bit harsh, but I wasn't saying that to a man who had spent at least 23 years in the army! The "crows" it turns out are actually ravens (der!) the famous "Guardians of the Tower" who were protected (it is said) by Charles 11 and were seen as a good omen, in fact Charles is attributed with saying "If the ravens leave the Tower, the kingdom will fall........" So obviously everything is done to keep them happy, including having a "Raven Master" who looks after them (whatever that means) so that they won't WANT to leave!

I even saw a recreation of the bed of Edward 1 ("Longshanks"), the nemesis of William Wallace. He was called "Longshanks", not because he liked to eat the legs of sheep all lined up in a row, but because he had very long legs himself! In fact he was 6 foot 2 inches tall (they know this cause they opened his tomb and measured him). They say the bed was portable, as he had to take it everywhere with him. The bedroom recreation also has samples of the mattress, sheets, blanket, pillow and furnishings that you can touch....................sure am glad I didn't live in the 13th century cause there's no way I'd be able to sleep on one of those mattresses!

So the Tower was a great place to visit, and I've only given you a "sniff" of what it was like, but I have attached a few photos, so you can see some of the highlights (including one of 16C Jesuit graffiti, Baldrick look-alikes and "Longshanks" bed).

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Of things Spiritual...................

There's so much religious history in London. There are Churches of every persuasion, young, old and ancient, many of which I have always been eager to visit. One in particular is the Temple Church (and may I say, well before a certain novelist made it a "must see" for conspiracy theorists), which on my third attempt I found open. I had gone down to New Temple when I first arrived, walked around and sat in the gardens, but couldn't find the Church. The second time I actually found the Church, but it was closed (as the choir was practicing for a performance of Handel's Requiem (very apt!), so I sat on a concrete bench outside for a while and just listened. Finally I made sure I got there when it was open and I was so glad I did! Apart from the Knight's Tombs (which everyone makes a bee-line for), the leadlight windows are stunningly beautiful and I stood for ages just watching the sunlight move through them, transforming the floor into a multi-coloured tapestry of light. The nave of the church is beautiful, despite a number of "restorations" (including one beginning in 1678 by Christopher Wren). The "Round" is where most people focus their interest, because this is where the tombs are and surrounding the walls the "heads", originally made of Caen stone, but replaced in the 1820's (during yet another refurbishment), with heads made of Portland stone. They are truly ugly, one picking his nose, one having his ear chewed, others with horns and all with ugly reminded of something Mum used to say when we "pulled faces" when we were kids, "If the wind changes you'll be stuck like that", I wondered if this was what happened to the poor models for these heads?

My spiritual quest has also included attending Evensong at both St. Paul's and Westminster Abbey. These are two absolutely amazing Anglican cathedrals, the architecture of each illustrating their original functions. Westminster Abbey is obviously a monastery church and a beautiful one at that! Walking around and seeing the burial site and memorials of Sir Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin, Geoffrey Chaucer, Anne of Cleves, Charles Dickens, Thomas Hardy, Sir Lawrence Olivier etc. is extremely moving. The building itself is in the process of being extensively restored and you can see the effects of the years on the architecture, but you know, I actually like that!

My experience at St. Paul's was totally different. It wasn't being surrounded by the graves of so many eminent people that moved me, but the music of the place. There's something about the acoustics that makes you feel that you are "wrapped up" in the music of the choir, surrounded by angelic voices that make you feel weightless. My heart felt like it would was absolutely awe inspiring! Afterwards I walked out onto the steps, just hoping I might see he "bird- lady", but alas, she was nowhere to be seen. Ah, well!

So I'd better get myself to Westminster Cathedral (the Roman Catholic cathedral) next before I'm excommunicated! But before that, it's off to the Tower of London for me (anyone notice the irony here???????)

Photos (from bottom up): 1. Temple Church 2: Westminster Abbey 3: St Paul's Cathedral

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Churchill Trust U.K and British Museum

The Winston Churchill Memorial Trust in the United Kingdom I was lucky to meet with Major General Jamie Balfour CBE, Director General at the offices of the Trust here in London. Getting there was my first major challenge as it meant not only buying a ticket and getting on "the tube", but also changing stations midway through the journey (which was a little daunting). I must say, if you just get in among the crowd and allow yourself to be carried along by the throng, how easy it is to navigate the system! To be perfectly honest, I hardly had to think about it and any queries I had I just asked one of the very helpful people at the ticket box and was given simple instructions about platforms, directions and changes. I was stunned by how many trains come and go so regularly. I think the longest I waited on a platform was 3 minutes (a bit different from home). It was also really easy to get a seat! Even if there wasn't one when I first got in, by the first stop I was sitting comfortably reading my book like a local!

Jamie was very welcoming and informative, advising me that he had been visited by Mike White (a fellow 2008 Fellow) only a week before. The U.K Fellowship program works a little differently from the Australian program, but I was interested to know about the achievements of some of the past U.K recipients.

After leaving the Trust offices, I headed to the British Museum (another couple of trains, but I was really getting the hang of it by now)........boy, I really should have allocated a week to look around the museum alone! What an amazing collection of gigantic things, statues, columns, tombs from Egypt, Greece, Asia........all over the place really. I had to elbow people out of the way to get a good look at the Rosetta Stone, but it was just as awesome as I had always imagined. I think I took about 360 photos at the Museum alone, but interestingly the building itself is equally as impressive as the exhibits. It's a bizarre feeling walking around among treasures from antiquity, it makes you feel so small and insignificant and yet at the same time so much a part of EVERYTHING! I guess that's the "unified field" for you!

I must admit, I did show my ignorance (quite proudly) by asking one of the information people where the English history displays were (seeing I'd walked for miles and seemed to be getting no closer to anything from iron age, dark age or medieval Britain). The lady said "oh you're looking fro room 46", and I guess I was! So I made my way, back through the noisy throngs of school kids, up the great marble staircase and wondered thru Roman Britain, Iron and Bronze Age and Medieval Britain (of course I did it all out of order........I'm not too good at following signs), looking at jewellery, pottery and ceramics, weapons etc. until I came across a small case that contained a real gem. It was the wax death mask of Oliver Cromwell! I must have stood there for ages, just looking at was so amazing, I just kept waiting for the eyes to open and for him to say, "Welcome to the British Museum madam".

After I tore myself away from Mr. Cromwell, I went down and walked through the Living and Dying exhibition which displayed ritual clothing and accouterments used by diverse historic and contemporary communities to celebrate life and memorialise those who have died (see I am keeping on message!)

By this time my feet were blistered, my shoulders were aching, so it was off to the pub for dinner and then home to bed, ready for another day of exploration and education.

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"They're changing guard at Buckingham Palace, Christopher Robin went down with Alice"

I believed A.A. Milne but when I arrived at Buckingham Palace, there was no Christopher Robin and no Alice! My walk down to the Palace though was weird, I kept seeing all these names of places I had been building little green houses and red hotels on for years! Of course there was no "Molly Carlile Hotel" on Regent Street, Oxford Street, Pall Mall or the no collection of rent, no pass "Go" and collect $200 (bummer, I could do with it!) It's just extraordinary to walk around and look up at these street names I have known since I was a child and see them in reality. I walked for miles today (in fact am absolutely exhausted), to Temple complex, along Victoria Embankment, to Whitehall, past 10 Downing Street and on up to Parliament Square via St James Park. I also went to the museum of my benefactor, Winston Churchill and visited the Cabinet War Rooms. The Churchill Museum is spectacular and the War Rooms really give you a feel for what it must have been like stuck down there under "the slab" scouring over maps and planning strategy while bombs rained down on the city. It all gives you a really good insight into Winston the man, I must say there are a number of really funny quotes included in the exhibition, so I gather he was a bit of "stirrer" in his few moments of respite. After spending quite some time with Winston, I headed off up Birdcage Walk to Queen Victoria Monument and Buckingham Palace. By this time, I must admit, I was a bit weary (hence why I may have missed seeing CR and Alice), however was soon shaken from my "tracked out" state, by a lovely young guy from Belgium who was with a group of friends and their teacher. He asked me if I would put on a hat they had made and have my photo taken in front of the was part of their media course. "Sure" I said, then asked them what it was about. They laughed and then told me that they had to make a "Queenly" hat and then convince some passerby to put it on for a photo! I WONDER WHY THEY PICKED ME????? Maybe he saw my previous effort on the Blog and thought I was impressive? Seriously, this whole getting dressed up like the Queen thing is getting a bit scary! I agreed to do it (cause I'm a nice accommodating sort of person, (plus I don't think they understood a word I said,so there was not point arguing) but a note to all.........this is my "swan song", I won't be dressing up in any sort of royal regalia at any time in the future! I have officially retired from impersonations of any kind (for the time being anyway).

Anyway, where was I? Oh, yes. From Buckingham Palace, back down The Mall to Admiralty Arch, past Nelson's Column (which seemed to be following me all day), past the Coliseum, St Martin in the Fields (where they often do "Songs of Praise" you wonder how I know that?!) and then to Covent Garden (in keeping with my fixation with Charles Dickens, by this stage I found myself humming, "ya gotta pick a pocket or two boys" alternating with "feed the birds, tuppence a bag"...........) a bizzare mix I'll give you that! To truly get into the spirit of things, for some reason I started calling everybody "luv", amazing the impact of childhood stereotypes, when you want to feel like you belong somewhere. By this stage my feet were blistered, I was tired and hungry, so what better way to get the energy to make it back to Bloomsbury, but to stop at a pub and have a nice cold lemonade???!!! I don't remember much about the walk back as I was so tired I just marched all the way back to the hotel (of course stopping to look at Freemason's Hall on the way). I collapsed into bed with my head full of pictures and sounds and my camera groaning with the volume of photos saved in the memory card and that was my first full day in London.

Don't think it's all just fun and frolicks though.......I did work today, for as Eliza Doolittle would say, "I'm a good girl I am!", but I'll tell you all about that in the next entry as it's been another full on day and I'm ready to "hit the hay", but before I go, the wonderful Jane Fennessy from Blue Vapours has added a comment option to the Blog, so for those of you who don't have time to send me an email, you can simply leave me a note in the comment box (be mindful I can choose whether to delete it or not, so be nice!)

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London is "a buzzin"!

London cold????? No way! I arrived in London after a long flight from the U.S, gathered my bags and walked out of Heathrow bracing myself for an icy wind and grey, miserable sky and guess what? First I took off my coat, then my scarf, then my cardi.........(don't worry, I stopped at the teeshirt) and I was still hot! Who said London is dull, cold and gloomy? Lucky for me I had booked a shuttle transfer to my hotel in Bloomsbury and there were number of other people on the bus who got dropped off first, so I got a free tour around town before I'd even checked into my hotel! (well it wasn't actually free, but I could have been dropped off first and seen nothing). Spent a relatively quiet day unpacking and wandering around the local area getting my bearings. Found a nice pub and sat outside for an early dinner before heading back to bed. I couldn't work out why my face felt tight, until I looked in the mirror and saw I was sunburnt!!!! Me? I'd just come from 25-35 C in North Carolina and Florida and then got burnt in London, "I don't believe it!!"

Must mention I'm staying just up the road from the home of my favourite British author. Imagine my delight as I walked down the street to find a plaque to Charles Dickens, the voice of the ordinary people! Wow this place is cool! I wonder when there will be a plaque on the home of my favourite Australian playwright? Mmmmm, wonder who that could be (hint, his photo is below)!

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My amazing friend Alan Hopgood as "Clarrie" in Four Funerals in One Day

Plays all over the place! While I was at the theatre with Cathy watching "Shipwrecked" in Florida, "Four Funerals in One Day" (sometimes known as "Four Footprints") was playing in my hometown and surrounds. It was great to hear that it went so well with bucket loads of people turning out to performances across Gippsland. I must admit I was really sad I couldn't be there, particularly at the Leongatha and Wonthaggi shows, but wanted to make sure my thanks go to all who organised the tour, my dear friend Alan Hopgood and the wonderful cast Michelle Hall, Jenny Seedsman, Margot Knight and the ever vigilant production manager Erin Prater, Anthony Hooper, Consortium Manager for Gippsland Region and my mate Mandy Geary (who spent many a sleepless night counting ticket sales, wine bottles and blocks of cheese). Would love to do a reprise when I get home! Thanks also to my brother Matt who sent me this wonderful photo!
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A few random shots that were too good not to upload.
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A stack of frisky butterflies!

Oh how I love butterflies! Thought you might like to share my experience?
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Last day at Shands, "Clowning around"

My last day at Shands saw Paula Patterson push me well beyond my comfort zone! The day started easily enough, after meeting and talking about our common ideas and issues around grants, programs and the future of arts in health with Kris Sullivan, I joined the rest of the AIM team for their weekly "Artist Rounds". This was a wonderful opportunity to meet members of the team I hadn't met to date and to listen to their reflections on the work they had been doing with patients during the week. All of the artists use this meeting as a peer support and mentoring opportunity as well as a time for critical reflection and planning. I was thrilled that Tina invited me to talk about our work in the North and West Metro Region Palliative Care Consortium, the Churchill Trust and my Fellowship and of course I took the opportunity to "plug" "Four Funerals in One Day" and "Jelly Bean's Secret" (when you're given the floor you need to make the most of it!). The team were all very interested in all of the above and conversations continued during lunchtime in the garden. It was then that I had to put "professional me" in the cupboard for an hour as I walked around the hospital dressed as a "goofy" waiter with Paula and one of her volunteers, handing out chocolates to staff in celebration of International Nurse's Week. I must say it was WAY beyond my comfort zone, particularly walking into the nurses stations impersonating the John Cleese "silly walk" (all part of the routine, I'm told). I must say I never realised that "clowning" was such a serious business! But I think I'll leave it to the professionals in the future, I don't think I'd make a very good living if I had to depend on my clowning skills.

After my clowning performance, the pace changed somewhat as I spent some time with Nancy Lasseter looking at the mind/body renewal program.......far more my speed, especially sitting on the massage chair as I really needed it by then! Nancy runs a great program where staff can book in for a massage in addition to providing yoga, meditation and guided visualisations. Most impressive. Finally I met the Palliative Care CNS, who I had a long chat with (and I hope I convinced to come and visit us in Melbourne).

My stay at Shands @UF Arts in Medicine sadly finished and I said goodbye to a stack of new friends with whom I know I'll keep in touch in the future. I was so grateful for their generosity, their honesty and their interest in my work. All in all I have met some wonderful people in the U.S, in Buffalo, North Carolina and now in Florida and I know I've established relationships that will be ongoing in addition to learning heaps about how others use the arts in a mainstream health facilities.

I finished my Shands visit with a night at the theatre and funnily enough, the play, "Shipwrecked" was about a French born Englishman "Louis de Rougemont" who ran away to sea and (of course) was shipwrecked somewhere off the coast of Australia. How much of his story was true and how much delusional, we never found out, but it was most entertaining and I am very grateful to Cathy DeWitt, who took me along as her guest. Also funny, at the reception prior to the performance (for the local PBS radio station), I met a woman and her husband who'd lived in Melbourne for 10years, she taught in Ascot Vale and he in Broadmeadows and they lived in Carlton (right by Princes Park), it sure is a small world!

Before I packed my bag to head to London, the lovely Madeline took me out to the Harn Museum, where I not only saw some wonderful art, some gigantic skeletons and a great floral art competition, but got to spend time in the "butterfly house"..........just my sort of place, extremely hot and humid, lush and filled with colourful flying things.........AH, HEAVEN!

So "toodle pip" United States, thanks for having's been a ball!

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Patchwork, featuring Cathy DeWitt

Entertaining patients, family and staff!
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On to music and literary arts

My second day at Shands started very early, visiting the adult Dialysis Unit with the wonderful Madeline Austin. It's so obvious the joy these patients get from the work Madeline does with them. Some of them have been coming to the unit three to four times a week for dialysis for over 20 years! Madeline does a variety of visual arts based projects with the patients and the ward is decorated with cranes the patients have been folding in addition to making cards, writing personal reflections and decorating Madeline's funky stuffed gloves on a stick ( I guess you had to be there!). From there I went with Mary Lisa to the paediatric Dialysis Unit, where she was working with the kids on a variety of different projects. I must say the kids I met were all amazing artists.........their drawing and painting skills were very impressive! In addition they were a really friendly bunch of kids who seemed to enjoy the fact that I "talk funny"!

Lunch was in the Wilmot Healing Gardens where Cathy DeWitt (Musician in Residence) and her band "Patchwork" entertained an audience of patients, staff and carers. This provides a great opportunity for people to get out of the hospital and relax amongst the trees, with some great music and just reconnect with nature........a rare opportunity for some of them. After the concert Cathy took me over to AGH, which is another campus of Shands, but was originally the local community hospital. Here I met Barbara Esrig (Writer in Residence) and we talked a lot about her Oral Histories program........something very close to my own heart! The three of us spent some time with an extraordinary patient who is an author and poet and who entertained us by reciting a very moving poem he had written and then talked about his own personal story..........people really amaze me talented they are and how ready to tell their stories, all they need is someone to listen!
Barbara showed me the AGH history installation she had put together, which documents the development of the site from its beginnings and we talked a lot about the importance of history and legacy......a woman of my own heart!

My day finished with a trip to the Farmers Market, downtown and then I met up with Mary Lisa, her husband Lance, Cathy, Annie and her hubby Keith and Barbara for a lovely relaxing dinner and a couple of wines at a local Japanese restaurant. A fitting end to another extraordinary day. Photo of Barbara at the AGH History installation. Photo 2 of Barbara, Anne, me and Mary Lisa at dinner.

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Ceiling tiles in the Paediatric areas

One of these amazing kids even painted a tile with and Egyptian theme focused on Isis....amazing!
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The funkiest lift waiting areas you will see!

A couple of photos of the wonderful mosaics and the decorated ceiling tiles that are installed in all of the paediatric areas (including NICU), all painted by the kids!
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My adventures in Florida

Florida is a real place of contrasts! It's bizarre that the weather is so very hot and yet you go inside and freeze because all of the buildings are icily air conditioned (at least to me). Florida is an amazing place though. I've spent a wonderful few days with the Shands @ University of Florida Arts in Medicine (AIM) team, who are an amazing bunch of people doing extraordinary work. My first day I was instructed to meet Tina Mullen, the Program Director by the "Healing Wall" in the foyer of the hospital. Wondering if I would miss the spot (the campus is absolutely enormous!), I walked in thru the main entrance and there I was, facing this absolutely amazing tiled wall, made up of individual hand painted tiles, that had been created by the AIM team and patients. It gave the entrance such an aura of peace and reflection, even in the face of people rushing about (as happens in hospitals). As I sat there waiting for Tina (I was better believe it!) I watched as people stopped and looked, some momentarily, some for a few minutes and some people actually sat down and studied the contributions that make up the wall.

The Healing Wall sets the tone for much of the visual art displayed throughout the hospital and more impressively, the works are created by partnerships between patients and the AIM artists in residence. As Mary Lisa Kitakis Spano (the Artist Coordinator) is a visual artist and builds amazing mosaics, there are mosaic installations everywhere..........I've never seen such beautiful lift waiting areas, all decorated with mosaics of different materials, telling different stories and honoring the partnership between patients, artists and health professionals, that is integral to a healthy hospital environment. I was so fortunate to spend time with Mary Lisa and Sibet doing an art workshop in the paediatric unit and loved watching the sheer joy on the faces of these very sick kids as they focused intently on painting their canvases. Tina, Kris Sullivan and the lovely Jill Sonke took me out for lunch (which was a real treat) and this gave me an opportunity to talk to them all about the history and scope of the AIM program at Shands. It was great to catch up with both Jill and Kris as they were the ones who facilitated my visit, so I'm very grateful to them! Later in the day, Adria Klausner took me to the Mother/Baby Unit where I got to see her working at the bedside with mums who may spend the bulk of their pregnancies in the hospital. She helps engage them in all sorts of art and craft activities and carries all of her gear around on an "art cart", so everything is very portable. Finally I met Paula Patterson, the Dramatist in Residence (who is also very persuasive........more about that later) who took me to the very top of the hospital and toured me around, demonstrating her bedside artwork with patients. I must say I was exhausted when I got back to the hotel........I think I walked a million miles, but at the time I didn't really notice, because the beauty of the work surrounding me on the walls, on the ceilings and in the lift waiting areas, totally distracted me......I understand why this has such a positive impact on the patients......and staff! Photo of the Healing Wall

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Fried Green Tomatoes.........oh yeh!

You probably all know my favourite movie is "Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistlestop Cafe" Well, I don't have a clue where Whistlestop is, but I found FGT's at Harry's Cafe and Grill in Gainesville, Florida and I must say, they were awesome! No wonder old "Ms Thredgood" loved them so much. Luckily I had a very helpful waitress who explained how to make them, so watch out everyone at home, I'll be frying them up as soon as I get home!
BY THE yet to receive a single email from home. Just letting you all know! I even listened to the Hilltop Hoods today, and that wasn't even enough, so get "tapping" you guys!

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Foyer of Duke Medical Centre

The Duke Medical Centre foyer is amazing! Atrium, fountain and grand piano.
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Sam Morrison and me, Betty Haskin

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Health Arts Network at Duke

The Health Arts Network at Duke (HAND)! Well I spent a couple of days with Olivia Woodford, Betty Haskin, Sam Morrison, Grey Brown, Jessica Blaustein and performers of the HAND team at Duke University Medical Centre and was extremely impressed with the extent of their programs, given as with all arts programs, they manage to achieve so much on a limited budget. Betty took me on a tour of the hospital, which I must say is ENORMOUS (924 acute beds/19 psych beds and planning to build more!) The architecture of the place is really interesting. Given that the original hospital building I visited was built in 1925, the rest of the development has been very well designed and though the buildings are all different, they seem to complement each other. The site is huge, in fact it's like a self contained city and encompasses not only the acute hospital but two large outpatients clinics, a big paediatric unit and clinics, plus the university schools of medicine, nursing etc. Needless to say I got more exercise in two days, than if I'd walked around the MCG ten times!
From the moment you enter the huge entry atrium (including a waterfall), the arts surround you, from the beautiful grand piano in the foyer (that anyone is welcome to play, in addition to the scheduled musicians) to the installations that include sculptures, textiles and paintings. Betty took me to the "Touchable Gallery", which has an amazing variety of exhibits that visitors are encouraged to touch (hence the name of the gallery!) Most of the artwork is commissioned and therefore meets the "healing" mission of the HAND program. Throughout the hospital there is an extraordinary amount of visual art, some of which is in semi permanent installations, others are part of focused thematic exhibitions. Sam took me on a tour of the exhibits and told me about how they are developing an electronic database for the collection..........he also dropped me off at the Chapel for a 1/2 hour guided meditation, then off to look at the "Martin Luther King Jnr." exhibit. Sam sure know his way around the place (thank goodness or I would have been lost a million times). There is an amazing collection of children's art that covers the walls along the hallways that lead to the paediatric units. The thing I found the most impressive about the visual art displays, was not just that all of the work was original, but that it was well framed, well hung and well lit! A far cry from the recycled old impressionist prints we often see hanging crookedly on walls in big hospitals! I was also able to walk along with Steven, one of the performance artists as he walked from patient room to room playing the guitar and singing........a terrific initiative and the patients really got into his performance, some singing along, some clapping or just watching him intently as he played. HAND has quite an extensive performing arts program and Jessica gave me a great overview of the performances they have planned for the courtyard space over the summer.

The literary arts program is also inspiring. I spent time with Grey Brown who conducted a journalling session in the Psychiatric Unit which I was very lucky to be a part of. The impact of this 90 minute session on the patients was extraordinary. They created poems, reflections and prose during the session that I was fortunate they were happy to read aloud at the end. It was extremely moving and I am grateful they allowed me to participate.
I saw so much in my two days at Duke and even managed an unscheduled visit to Joanna Parker at the Bereavement Department. Thanks to Florence Nash (who I met at the Literary Roundtable- where reading aloud is celebrated and practiced), I also got to meet Carl Weisner the Director of the Duke School of Divinity, which was a nice way to finish my placement as he and I had a long discussion about the impact of spirituality on health and the how we do things in Palliative Care in Australia around holistic care, which was great.........I finished off talking funding with Olivia and I must say this is the ongoing constant for us all.......getting the dollars and getting as much as we can for the amount of dollars we have!

So, that's it from North Carolina, I had a wonderful stay, saw heaps of interesting history and got a glimpse into the future. Ate my first "Buffalo wings" (which I really should have eaten in Buffalo) and my first "crab cakes", finally found out what "grits" are (though I didn't try them) and met lots of friendly southern folks, including Elisha who worked at the hotel. A BIG thanks to Now off to Florida.

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