Down House

Yesterday we took trams and buses to visit Down House, which was the family home of Charles and Emma Darwin for most of their married life. They had 10 children altogether, with Emma having her last baby when she was 48 years old. There is a biography of her life which I will look into as she seems to have been a remarkable woman.

Charles Darwin was very fortunate in that he always knew he would inherit wealth and he ackowledged himself that perhaps he didn’t really apply himself at university because he knew he didn’t really need to. Another reason was that he had his own areas of interest and may not have really cared for much of what he was being taught.

After living on The Beagle for five years, travelling to remote places, doing long field trips and studying plant and animal life, he arrived home, married, moved house once, and pretty much stayed put for the rest of his life. He developed stomach problems, probably due to contact with a particularly nasty beetle, which sometimes made it difficult for him to work. And work he did. He walked in the grounds of his house three times a day – doing a particular circut five times in a row before lunch.

He would work in his study in the morning, writing and doing research, then walk, then have lunch, have some time with Emma (she often read to him, but they were in the bedroom away from the children, so may have engaged in other activities, leading to more children). Then I think he went back to work. He was a fond father and pretty relaxed for the times, when fathers tended to be distant and stern. He actually sounds like a rather nice person.

They bought the old house, adding to it over the years as they had more children. The house is now open to the public and run by English Heritage, a sort of rival to the National Trust. However, in this case I think they did a very good job of setting the house up for the public. They had some rooms set up with displays about Darwin’s life and research and some set up as much as possible as they were when the family lived there.

The gardens are still very well looked after, with Darwin’s walk (the Sand Walk), greenhouses, vegetable garden with the same vegetables that were grown in his day. Of course, they had servants to look after them and the butler appeared to be a very good friend to Darwin. They had two cooks over the lifetime of living there, and the second one wasn’t much good, but they don’t appear to have considered getting someone new to replace her.

When doing modifications to the house, Darwin said that he wanted the servants to be comfortably housed as well as the family. He was always an opponent of slavery.

Of course, having wealth meant that he didn’t have to worry about earning a living and could focus on his own areas of interest, which were many and varied. But, he could have been lazy and self indulgent, like many wealthy people.

We set out at about 11.30 and arrived home about 7.00. We had warm weather. It continues to be fairly comfortable in the shade, it’s not really hot, but being in the sun isn’t pleasant for us and we avoid it as much as possible. Our bedroom was hot when we got home and I opened the sliding door as wide as possible and put the little fan on. By the time we went to bed it was reasonably comfortable.

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The Sand Walk. We explored the garden after 4.30 when it was a bit cooler. I didn’t do the whole circut as I wasn’t sure how long it was and if I would be back before they closed the house. Long enough to try to imagine being Darwin doing the walk, of course.
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They had the obligatory digital headset and device for exploring the ground floor and gardens. Here is Stephen imagining he is Darwin, sitting in the garden.
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We see lots of these little fellows whereever we go.
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Darwin’s greenhouse. There is a little laboratory attached and photos of schoolgirls doing experiments there (the house was a school for some years)
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Today we plan to continue our scientific journey with a visit to the Science Museum in London. We are counting down the days until we leave. Thursday we will clean the house and probably have a local outing. On Friday we change all the linen and do a lot of washing before catching the very slow bus to Heathrow. We have a hotel booked nearby where we will stay the night. The Heathrow Shuttle will then take us to Terminal 2 to catch our 9.30 a.m. flight on Saturday.

Hampstead Heath

Yesterday we did our usual Sunday morning thing – speaking with Matt via Facetime. Hidde wasn’t there and Matt definitely makes more effort to speak when he knows it’s up to him. The staff member holding his iPad did help out a little.

This week promises to be quite warm and sunny, with temperatures in the mid to high twenties and nightime lows up to 15 or 16. Our apartment has windows getting lots of morning sun and it really heats up. The circulation system doesn’t work very well and because we have no fly screens opening the sliding doors means we get flies. It’s humid and quite uncomfortable at night even with the sliding door open. I’m really glad to be going home to winter weather. I’m glad about the weather from the point of view of people who live here, of course.

We caught the train and bus and underground to Hampstead Heath, partly because Stephen wanted a bus ride through the Monopoly part of the city and partly because he doesn’t like changing trains at Clapham Junction for some reason. We caught the London Overground to Clapham Junction on the way home and it was very quick. It was still very light when we arrived home at 9.00 pm.

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Trafalgar Square – there was an Indian festival happening here.

We visited a stately home, Fenton House, near Hampstead Heath first of all. We had set out at about 3.00 p.m. and arrived there about 4.00. I took some photos with my iPhone.

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Fenton House
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beautiful bedroom

Afterwards, we walked through one of the Hampstead Heath paths to Parliament Hill, which has a view of London. It’s partly blocked by some bushes. Being a weekend there were heaps of people there, having picnics, swimming and generally behaving as if the hot weather had arrived.

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Stripping off to enjoy the sun. This was at about 8.00 p.m.
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View from Parliament Hill at full zoom

Annoying minor ailment

I spent yesterday in bed. In the morning the problem was the cough, but I was taking cough medicine and avoiding dairy products, and the cough is now a minor problem. Then my nose started and hasn’t stopped since.

Stephen went out yesterday in the late afternoon to visit the local museum. He wants to get the paper this morning and also has a mission to get something to stop the nose. Plus more boxes of tissues.

Our photos are backed up on hard drives, but also on Google photos and Flickr. Google photos likes to do small compilations and modifications, and the featured photo is a then and now of Stephen, courtesty of Google Assistant, wearing exactly the same jacket. I think the first photo is from about eight or nine years ago when we were in Canberra for the National Folk Festival. I make this deduction both on the background to the photo and the type of camera used, a Sony NEX 5.

We have beento the Canberra Folk Festival three times now, we flew the first couple of time, but the last time we went with our caravan. The second photo was taken a few days ago in Hastings on Stephen’s iPhone 8.

Stephen noted a couple of differences – that the resemblence with sister Lesley is stronger and he has a bit of a stoop in the latest photo. He wasn’t wearing a backpack in the older photo which may have helped with standing straighter.

Visiting West Hill

Yesterday we went out for breakfast at a fairly pleasant cafe/bakery and felt once again rather thwarted. I had hoped for really comfortable seating with a long table, we ended up sitting at two different small round tables. There were no specific breakfast options so we had toast and jam. At least I was able to have a very nice coffee. Stephen opted for coffee as well. And, I was able to do yesterday’s blog.

We went back to our AirBNB and packed up our things. Our hostess was there and gave us a little later time, until 4.15 p.m. Stephen had a couple of museums to visit and I wanted to take a lift to one of the hills. There were two, but by the time we spent roaming around West Hill we felt that we didn’t need to go to the other one. There was light cloud, some mist, and some sunshine and it was very beautiful. The Hastings Castle is a ruin, and seemed a bit expensive to us, and I just took photos of the outside.

We had lunch at the West Hill Cafe, which looks like a fairly traditional tea rooms, but had French staff. We could enjoy the views from the large windows. I took some video of the scenery as it seemed the best way to show the panorama, with gulls flying and a breeze. We enjoyed the herring gull sound all the time at Hastings, even in our room.

We picked up our bags and went to the station waiting room until our train arrived. We had a comfortable four seater area with a table. Although passengers came and went at the various stations we were able to maintain our spot. I was reading part of the time, but we also enjoyed the views as we went through the countryside. At first we were by the sea as the train went towards Eastbourne, then headed inland towards Croydon. We arrived home very tired and feeling very happy with our little holiday by the sea. I was particularly happy to come home by train and not have to drive.

Yesterday the cough that has lingered since we had colds a few weeks ago became much worse. I woke up this morning with my voice mostly gone and feeling very congested, with difficulty breathing. This improved once I Croydon GP Hub, with no appointment necessary. It is an alternative to going to Emergency with lesser ailments and open 7 days a week.

I was seen by a nurse after about a 20 minute wait.   She took medical details and checked vital signs, then I was seen by a GP. She confirmed that I didn’t actually have a chest infection. She said to go to Emergency if I had any chest pain and difficulty breathing and precribed lots of fluids and no dairy products or bananas. The experience as a whole was very good, I felt they took me seriously, and I was treated with courtesy. It was also free, even though we are visitors here.

I’ve had a restful day. Stephen went and did the shopping on his own. It is probably going to be our last big shop before we leave here.

Following is a slideshow from our visit to West Hill. The lift has been in operation for 120 years and cost a mere 2 pounds for a return journey. In fact, we walked down the hill afterwards, it wasn’t far, but would quite tough to climb up. With the slideshow it’s best to take it to full screen mode and enable HD for best quality.


East Croydon weather update

OK, I have to admit that we are still spending most of the time in our apartment, just going out to shop, walk in the park, or get the paper and have a coffee as we did today. I didn’t feel up to going somewhere for a major walk and we are also aware from past experience that a long weekend at the beginning of the school holidays is not the time to visit London attractions such as museums and art galleries. They tend to be particularly busy and children are naturally pretty noisy!

Today was quite good for getting out. It was warm and quite sunny by midday after a foggy morning. Heavy showers and thunderstorms are still forecast for tomorrow, with a break during the day on Monday before more possible showers and thunderstorms late in the day.

beside the busy road
Before photo

Our apartment complex is part of a larger complex of row houses with gardens and lawns. We noticed that a number of the trees have been severely cut back. New leaves are starting to come through and we predict that the trees will be covered in green leaves before we leave. We plan to take more photos of the trees as the leaves get thicker.


As we walk around the local area, it isn’t exactly pretty. There is a lot of public transport – trams and buses, plus the East Croyden Railway station. Yet, whenever we go outside we can hear bird calls and there are often lovely scents from flowers and flowering trees.


There are some quite intersting old buildings in the downtown area, but also a lot of cheap and nasty sixties buildings that don’t even appear to be being used.


The trams run along a normal width road mixing with cars and buses. But it somehow all works out.


We’ve had an email from the supervisor of Matt’s house to say that he has a sore throat. I do hope he doesn’t get a cold, it’s hard for him to cope with a blocked nose and cough as he doesn’t have the strength to blow his nose and cough properly. She said he is still in good spirits and eating well thank goodness. At least we know he didn’t catch the cold from us. Like Stephen, Matt has had the flu vaccination, but what we really need is a vaccine for the common cold. Matt has seen a locum and they have a script for antibiotics in case he needs it.

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Suzhou canal bridge 9th May, 2018

This photo was taken when we had a free afternoon in Suzhou. We took the underground, then walked through to the canal. We ran into other members of our tour group who had done the same thing. Difference was, our plan was to take a taxi back to the hotel, which meant we could walk further into the park without having to worry about a hard slog getting back. One of the advantages of being in China is that taxis are cheap, at least from our perspective.

Was it the McVitie’s?

The featured image is a view from our balcony on Tuesday evening when it was fine and sunny.

I started out feeling really ill yesterday, likely a combination of jet lag and the cold. Stephen still has a cold, yet started about five days before me, so I’m feeling it is likely to continue. After lunch I had a sleep, setting the alarm for about an hour to avoid sleeping for too long and upsetting the adaptation to the new time zone.

Stephen had a ‘flu jab just before we left for China and I didn’t. It didn’t make any difference to getting what we think is probably just a bad cold.

In the afternoon we had a cup of tea and a chocolate biscuit (McVitie’s) and watched ‘Churchill’, the 2017 movie, which I downloaded by mistake, thinking it was the latest one ‘Darkest Hour’. We enjoyed the movie regardless. I’m worried about the tendency to make Churchill a hero, since he was also quite bloodthirsty and advocated the saturation bombing of civilian targets such as Dresden.

By then I was feeling much better and we went out for a walk. Needing to buy milk was an incentive. We rugged up, and found we were initially cold, then too hot by the time we returned. The temperature was on the border of being cold, but the breeze could make it chilly. Once we were in more sheltered areas of the town we were warmer.

When we were here last time there was a construction taking place next to the train station. It is now finished, with an atrium food hall as the centre. The food shops are tiny, with a good deal of variety. It wasn’t very busy when we walked through.

food hall

It is rainy today and we don’t have any plans. Maybe another movie this afternoon?

I listened to the instructions on our flight about turning off electronic equipment when coming into land and realised that there were different instructions regarding mobile phones. They had to be switched to flight mode, but were otherwise allowed to be switched on. Which means you can take photos and videos when coming into land. Which is how I was able to film this:

As we were flying Air China, the instructions were in Mandarin and English!

From next week when we are hopefully feeling a lot better, we are thinking of renting cars for a couple of days at a time in order to explore places that we can’t readily access via public transport. It is likely to be only a little more expensive than buses and trains as we don’t get any special discounts here.

To East Croydon by plane and very slow airport bus

We had a busy weekend in Chongqing before setting off for England on Monday morning. We caught an Uber style taxi to the airport thanks to Della for ordering and paying, then the flight to Beijing, then changed to our flight to London. I didn’t get a photo, but we boarded from the tarmac at Beijing Aiport and I felt we should have have been dressed in 50s style clothing.

The plane had some empty seats and Stephen and I were able to have two double seats next to the window, which meant we travelled in almost business class luxury. We were booked through Singapore Airlines on Air China for the two flights. The aircrafts were very modern and comfortable, but the food was mediocre and they didn’t serve hot drinks at meal times. I ordered a tea with milk and got a coffee with sachet whitener because they didn’t actually have milk. After all the lovely Chinese food we had in China it was disappointing and not up to Singapore Airlines standard.

We caught a bus to East Croydon, a sort of airport shuttle, that was very slow. We then had to drag our luggage all the way to the apartment. Not much fun, but the thought that we have six weeks here made it worthwhile. We can now rest and make ourselves comfortable before going out exploring.

On Saturday night we went out with Della and Tony on a boat trip to see the lights of Chongqing. We met with Yaxuan and Tony’s parents for lunch during the day. On Sunday they took us in their car to a lovely park. We had a great lunch in a nearby restaurant and walked around the park in sunshine. It was hot, about 31 and humid, but still felt refreshing.

For our last meal in Chongqing we found a restaurant and enjoyed some more good food. We ordered only three dishes, that is the Australian way of having Chinese.


Today Stephen was feeling a bit better. We took a hop on hop off bus ride around the local area, hopping off at the convergence of the Yangtze and Jiang Rivers at Chaotianmen. There is a major construction going on at the site and we had to find beauty where we could, taking in the two bridges and the rivers.

It was a very wet day yesterday and started out with a bit of rain this morning, then it was a mostly fine, though cloudy and foggy day.

After the bus ride we chose a place for lunch that was a fresh food store with cafe. We ran into problems as it was set up for people to pay through apps on phones and we only had cash. Thanks to a kind waitress we were able to purchase our sandwiches and a very nice coffee for me. I’m not sure, but I think she paid and we reimbursed her in cash.

More washing has happened today. Stephen only has three summer shirts and he has been doing a lot of hand washing to keep up prior to arriving here.

The above photo is where we had lunch.

These photos are from where we had dinner. We chose our meals from picture.

This evening we watched The Shape of Water which we rented from iTunes. A very entertaining fairytale.

This incredible looking theatre is just around the corner from where we are staying.

Dao da Chongqing

We arrived in Chongqing yesterday afternoon. It was 36 degrees and our taxi driver dropped us off about 700 metres from the hotel. That doesn’t sound a lot, but dragging all our stuff in the heat was pretty trying. When we arrived we were told that our water (2 bottles a day as standard in Chinese hotels) was in the fridge getting cold. It was very welcome, as you can imagine.

When we were planning the trip I had looked at apartment style hotels, but they seemed expensive after our normal $40 per night hotels when travelling in China. But, we have had had pretty good accommodation on the tour, and then paid 1500 rmb for a two night extension at our last hotel in Beijing, so 3000 rmb for five nights seemed quite a bargain. For the money we get breakfast, including Western items such as toast and cereal, and a studio apartment with a small kitchen and a washing machine tucked away in cupboard.

We met with Della and Tony for a lovely meal at a nearby restaurant. We had lots of catching up to do, as well as enjoying beautifully presented and delicious food. We had not been able to find the little supermarket we used to go to before meeting with them, so Della and Tony showed us where it is, tucked away downstairs. There is another one nearby that is more upmarket and has some Western foods. Not that I think we will need it.

On Tuesday we went to the China National Museum where I spent my time in the lovely cafe whilst Stephen went exploring. In the evening we had arranged to go out with Stephen’s former student, Felix (English name, not his real name). There was quite a lot of rain, some very heavy, in the afternoon and evening, so we were dodging showers. The rain didn’t seem to affect the smog very much. We enjoyed catching up and he did his best to understand us – he said he doesn’t get opportunities to speak English, and I felt he managed extremely well.

Our room in Chongqing decorated with our washing.