England ’86 – Part 1

Here follows the first part of a day by day summary of the trip my parents, brother and I made to the UK in 1986, culled from my diary and vague memories. I’m posting it mostly for my own convenience (what is a blog if not an online notebook?) but perhaps some others may find it momentarily distracting…

Friday March 21st to Saturday March 22st – Flying from Perth to London via Mumbai (or “Bombay” as it was called at the time). We bought fancy leather wallets decorated with the Taj Mahal at Mumbai airport (mine was pickpocketed before we even got back on the plane). Met by Mum’s family at Heathrow and driven to Aunty Mary and Uncle Doug’s place in Warsash.

Sunday March 23rd – Attended Palm Sunday Mass at Saint Mary Margaret’s at Park Gate

Monday March 24th – Shopping at Fareham. How exciting!

Tuesday March 25th – Trip into Southampton

Wednesday March 26th – Brother and I drive up the M3 to London with Uncle Tony. Stay with him and Grandmadge (Mum’s stepmother) in Palmer’s Green.

Thursday March 27th – Brother and I act as two of 800 altar servers at the Chrism Mass at Winchester Cathedral. Other 798 English altar servers harass us mercilessly because the hymns are sung to different tunes in Australia and we keep getting the notes wrong. I am also quite disappointed that Westminster Cathedral is not Westminster Abbey.

Friday March 28th – Good Friday Service, I presume at Saint Monica’s, Palmers Green.

Saturday March 29th – Driven back to Warsash by Uncle Tony. Take back roads rather than motorway and are hit by a vicious hailstorm. Back at Warsash attend Easter vigil mass even though I would rather be asleep. Sang like a crow in protest.

Sunday March 30th – Easter Sunday. Brother and I wake up early and look for eggs. Don’t find any because “they don’t do that in England”. In retrospect this is a damnable lie to cover for the parents forgetting to hide them. Pick up Aunty Jo (who is a nun – Oh, did I not mention Mum’s family are Catholics?) from Southampton Coach Station.

Monday March 31st – English relatives had kept back my birthday presents earlier in the year so we could have a fake birthday party for me today. Very gratifying. Hampton Court Palace catches on fire. Less gratifying.

Tuesday April 1st – Went to the Queen Elizabeth Country Park. Learned the Butser Bill Song. Visited the Butser Ancient Farm where they were experimenting with smelting iron. Got a really cool looking piece of iron ore. Went to Portchester Castle, but the castle bit within the walls was closed. Saw a set of medieval spurs that had been dug up only a few days before.

Wednesday April 2nd – Went to Portsmouth to see what was left of the Mary Rose, which was not much and mostly obscured by water cannons. Then we “saw bamby”. I presume this means we went to the movies and saw Bambi, but I have no recollection of it.

Thursday April 3rd – Dropped Aunty Jo back at the Southampton coach station, then went to an art gallery. Found a shooting range set up in the back of a truck by “the Regiment”, presumably as a recruiting gimmick. I missed everything, Dad (an Airforce reservist) effortlessly hit every target.

Friday April 4th – Went to Winchester. Visited various Military Museums and then the Cathedral. Was very puzzled about how someone could swim beneath the cathedral to fix the foundations.

Saturday April 5th – Got up “at 2:00am” to arrange flowers at Saint Mary Margaret’s. I hope I was being sarcastic when I wrote that.

Sunday April 6th – Church at Saint Mary Margaret’s followed by a long walk on the beach where my brother found an intriguingly shaped stone.

Monday April 7th – Visited Fishbourne Roman Palace, followed by Arundel Castle. Annoyed the guide at Arundel by immediately identifying the ‘unicorn horn’ as coming from a narwhal and ruining his spiel. Was quite impressed by the stuffed owl from an extinct species, apparently not realising that it went extinct because people kept shooting it to stuff and put on display.

Tuesday April 8th – The Tudor House Museum in Southampton.

Wednesday April 9th -Spent some time sitting in a car looking for squirrels in “a long driveway”. I suspect this was the driveway at Aunty Mary’s work.

Thursday April 10thNetley Abbey, Netley Castle and what’s left of Netley Hospital (not much).

Friday April 11th – Got caught by snow at Stonehenge. Retreated to Old Sarum and then Salisbury Cathedral.

Saturday April 12th – Back at Saint Mary Margaret’s, cleaning the brass work (we didn’t get paid for any of this).

Sunday April 13th – Church (naturally). Lunch at Mary and Doug’s friends Sheila and Mike’s for their daughter Sarah’s birthday.

Monday April 14th – The Dorchester Dinosaur Museum. Impressed in equal part by the dinosaur bones and a computer (it was 1986, give me a break). Stopped into another museum to identify my brother’s rock. Conclusion… it’s a rock. Visited the Roman Townhouse. Now, I know that at one point we visited Maiden Castle, but my diary doesn’t mention it. Maybe it was on our previous UK trip a few years earlier?

Tuesday April 15th – Went to the New Forest Butterfly Farm. Bought Mum a keyring with a preserved scorpion in it because that’s the kind of thing small boys think is awesome. Visited Breamore house and saw the cursed portrait that kills anyone who touches it and hadn’t been cleaned in over a century. Was terrified that Dad would volunteer to dust it.

Wednesday April 16th – Drove to Burgess Hill to visit ‘friends’. This is the first of several entries about going out of our way to visit ‘friends’. These were all people Mum and Dad happened to know but anyone reading the diary could easily assume we were involved in some kind of cult.

Thursday April 17th – Visited Broadlands House. Decided that a hidden movie theatre is the ultimate home accessory.

Friday April 18th – Drove to Wells via the Pelican pub at Serrington. Saw the Cathedral and the Bishop’s Palace where the swans are trained to ring a bell when they want food (which must get bloody annoying). Continued on to Cheddar Gorge where my brother saw a sign warning of falling rocks and spent the rest of the drive cowering in his seat with his arms over his head. Visited various caves and their associated tourist traps. Was not impressed by one of the caves having a concreted floor.

Saturday April 19th – Drove to Bath. Stopped at the Pelican in Serrington again which quite freaked out the staff who (it being 1986) had no convenient Bill Murray movie to reference. In Bath we started at the Georgian Pump House where we got to try the water (which was utterly foul). Visited the Roman Baths museum, then the Baths themselves, then the costume museum which Mum loved and I found extremely boring. Walked around town to see the Circus, the Royal Crescent, the bridge with shops on it and the Abbey which has angels climbing ladders carved on the front. Finally we hit up the toy museum which the oldies enjoyed even more that my brother and I did.

Sunday April 20th – Church of course. Then an auction in the Parish Hall where we tried to buy an “owl hand pointing” whatever that may be. Got a phone call from Radio Devon who we’d previously spoken to about finding some relatives down that way. I presume they had found some.

Monday April 21st – Trailed all around Fareham trying to buy plaster of paris for some reason.

Tuesday April 22nd – Visited Titchfield Abbey which was crawling with school kids (who let them in?). Then drove to visit the Bishop’s Palace at Bishop’s Waltham, but it was closed.

Wednesday April 23rd – Left Warsash to go and stay with Uncle Fran and his wife Sally in Frome.

EDIT: It turns out Uncle Fran actually lived in Frieth which makes some of the places we visited while staying with him much more sensible

Took in Avebury along the way where parents insisted we waste a whole load of time looking at the Manor House instead of visiting every single standing stone and Silbury Hill which was my preference.

Thursday April 24th – Drove to the Bekonscot Model Village, and then took in Stonor on the way back to Frieth.

Friday April 25th – Visited Hampton Court, which had suffered a major fire on my fake birthday a few weeks earlier. This didn’t bother me as all I was interested in was the maze. Watched some people play Royal Tennis. Around midnight UK time – while we were tucked up in bed back in Frieth – some engineers in the Ukrainian SSR carried out a very poorly planned safety test on a nuclear reactor at some place named ‘Chernobyl’.

Saturday April 26th – Assisted Uncle Fran in laying paving slabs in his garden, then went for a walk in the woods to see a badger sett. Over in the Ukrainian SSR the worst nuclear disaster in human history continued on its merry way.

Sunday April 27th – Skipped church. Haha, who am I kidding? After church visited Sally’s grandmother then went to Whipsnade Zoo, of which I have absolutely no memory. We then visited the Whipsnade Tree Cathedral, which was a major disappointment in every way.

Monday April 28th – The Soviet Union broke its silence on Chernobyl. Rather than wait for the radiation to come to us in Buckinghamshire we drove off to meet it at Uncle Fran’s other house in Norfolk. Took shelter underground at Grimes Graves, then stumbled over the rather amateurish Iceni Village at Cockley Cley. Finally arrived at Uncle Fran’s house at Cley Next the Sea right next to James Blunt’s windmill.

Tuesday April 29th – Went in to Norwich. Visited the Cathedral and the Castle Museum where they apparently had dragons. Appropriately we went on to have dinner at the George and Dragon back in Cley, where I imagine the conversation centred around iodine tablets.

End of Part One! Check back soon for more radiation soaked adventures in Thatcher’s Britain!


2 thoughts on “England ’86 – Part 1”

  1. The Bill Murray reference went over my head but overall a fun read. Good for vicarious fun when one is stuck in a hotel room.

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