Friday, July 27, 2012


I hate it when it’s dark and my brain goes, “Hey, you know what we haven’t thought about for a while? Monsters!”

The Greek philosopher Aristotle (384 BC - 322 BC) is credited with the traditional classification of the five sense organs: sight, smell, taste, touch, and hearing. Imagination is the brain’s ability to form images and sensations without the use of these five senses.

A well-developed imagination can be a wonderful and powerful tool when you combine it with positive thinking; anything becomes possible. Man’s imagination is the source of every great invention and every brilliant story… unfortunately it is also the source of every nightmare and anxiety attack. Both good and bad, our imagination influences how we feel from moment to moment. 

For some of us, once the sun goes down our brains go into hyper drive in their ability to imagine things. Often this is a good thing with solutions found, problems solved, great inventions and stories evolve… sometimes however a little voice inside our head whispers something about monsters…

From as far back as I can remember I have from time to time been scared of the dark. As a small child my sympathetic parents always left the hall light on until after I had gone to sleep. I have no idea what triggered this irrational fear of the dark but I suspect it originated from a scary dream and was fuelled by an overactive imagination.

My older brother Tom used every opportunity to encourage the development of my overactive imagination as only older siblings can.

When we were about five and seven years old we were given beanbags as a surprise present from our Gran. They arrived in our bedroom unannounced under the cover of darkness one night. In the gloomy predawn light of the following morning I made out two unfamiliar shapes near our wardrobe. One was large and orange and the other was smaller and purple.

While I lay in bed watching these unfamiliar objects Tom whispered to me from his bed, “They’re monsters… I think that orange one ate some of my Matchbox cars.” For a brief moment I believed him (he was seven after all). It was quite a relief to discover shortly afterwards (once the sun had come up), that they were in fact squishy sorts of chairs you could hide under anytime you wanted to watch scary television shows. Don’t ask me how those beanbags protected us from the daleks on Doctor Who but somehow they did.

Fortunately as I grew older I learnt useful techniques for dealing with my intermittent fear of the dark, namely hiding in bed under my doona and wishing I had a snorkel to breathe with. These days I find my most successful technique is to block all scary thoughts once the sun goes down… something I find far easier to do in my 40s than when I was 12.

As Albert Einstein once said “Imagination is everything. It is the preview of life's coming attractions.” …I’m hoping he was referring to cool things; like teleporting a freshly baked croissant from a patisserie in Paris to my kitchen table… as opposed to monsters.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Edgar and Annie in Paris

On Wednesday last week Edgar and I managed to successfully board the 12.24pm Eurostar London to Paris train. Travelling at speeds of 300km/hr, this 495 km journey begins at St Pancras Station in London; goes under the English Channel and resurfaces in France, ending at Gare du Nord in Paris. It is an engineering marvel that began construction in 1988 and finally opened to the public on May 6, 1994.

We spent over three days in Paris taking in the sights (I spent over three days eating croissants still warm from the oven of a nearby patisserie… but I digress). Thanks to travel agent Kirsten’s careful planning we were able to visit the Louvre and the Moulin Rouge.

Our first morning in Paris we got up early to visit the iconic Eiffel Tower (built in 1889 and measuring 324m high); having been warned to expect lengthy delays for up to four hours as there was only one lift in operation. We arrived just after 8am and already there was a reasonable queue even though the tower didn’t open until 9am.

In my best French I turned to the young couple in front of us and said, “Bonjour, parlez-vous anglais?” (Good morning, do you speak English?). Luckily for me and my almost non-existent French, the young couple were Nicole and Chris from Sydney. After a quick chat it was decided that Chris and I would go off in search of breakfast food while Nicole and Edgar waited in the queue. We returned before long with a couple of very fresh baguettes, some ham, cheese and a big bunch of grapes which sustained us all nicely until we made it up the lift and to the second level of the Eiffel Tower.

Edgar and I had to remain on the second level, as there were quite a few steps up to the next lift that went all the way to the top; at 115m the view from where we were was still most impressive.

In the evening we enjoyed a delicious dinner and an absolutely spectacular show at the Moulin Rouge. Established in 1889 the Moulin Rouge is a Cabaret or Music Hall. The artist Toulouse-Lautrec secured rapid and international fame for the Moulin Rouge with his posters and paintings. More recently the 2001 film Moulin Rouge! by Baz Luhrmann, starring Ewan McGregor and Nicole Kidman renewed the general public’s interest.

A visual feast of colour, choreography and dancing girls as well as a number of other entertaining acts, including the world’s fastest juggler, Mario Berousek. The show was non-stop entertainment for several hours and definitely a highlight of our trip.

The next day Edgar and I spent the afternoon at the Louvre with our very helpful multilingual French/Algerian guide Nabila. The Louvre is the most enormous complex and the quality and sheer volume of artwork it contains is almost incomprehensible. Originally built as a 12th century fortress, it was converted into a royal palace in the 14th century. The French King Francis I established the first art collection at the Louvre in the 16th century. One of the works of art he purchased was the now famous Mona Lisa painting.

As you can imagine there were thousands of people there, all wanting a glimpse of the Mona Lisa; Leonardo da Vinci’s famous portrait painted in the early 1500s. This was one of the times where Edgar’s wheelchair came in handy as we were given priority viewing in a cordoned off area right in front of the Mona Lisa.

Our last day in Paris was the 14th July, Bastille Day. The French national holiday celebrates the 1789 anniversary of the storming of the Parisian prison the Bastille during the French Revolution. At 11.30pm we flew out of Paris as the celebratory fireworks began across the aptly named “city of light”.

We arrived back to Barham around 11am Monday morning and I stepped out of the car at Willow Bend and into the arms of Max, Sam and Henry. It has certainly been the most incredible trip and an amazing four weeks but at the end of the day, in all the world, there really is no place like home.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Touring England in a Kia

This week saw us collecting our zippy little six-speed diesel Kia hire car and setting out to trip around England. After watching the Korean’s Black Eagles synchronised fighter jet routine at the Waddington International Air Show I have a newfound respect for all things Korean.

After a traditional fish and chip lunch with Gary and Donna Brooks at Cleethorpes following a tour of the 100 Squadron museum at Waltham, we hit the road for… well I wasn’t sure where but during the course of the day we went past former RAF bases Lindholme (now a prison) and Finningley (now Robin Hood Airport near Doncaster), where Edgar was based in 1943.

Saw Andy & David’s Vulcan Bomber languishing with some mechanical problems on a runway at Finningley, so we stopped to take some photos. Continuing on we eventually found some lodgings at the Chevin Inn in West Yorkshire that unexpectantly but happily turned out to be a mere two miles from the home of Margaret Berry who we were meeting the next day.

Margaret is the widow of Edgar’s good friend and fellow Lancaster pilot Jim Berry who sadly passed away last year. During the war Margaret was a WRAF (Women’s Royal Air Force) Sergeant and watch-keeper at the Lindholme control tower. One of life’s true treasures; had she not been heading over to the south of France with her family, I would have kidnapped Margaret and taken her along on our most excellent adventure.

After a lovely morning looking at photographs and lunch with Margaret, we said goodbye and headed up to RAF Leeming, the home of 100 Squadron, Squadron Leader Bruce Farquhar and his Hawk fighter jets. We spent a fascinating few hours at the base and were lucky enough to see the last Tornado fighter jet fly in; its final flight before being decommissioned.

From RAF Leeming we drove towards the Yorkshire Dales and stayed at a traditional English pub, The Golden Lion in Leyburn on the eastern edge of the Dales. Our plan was to drive through the middle of the Yorkshire Dales the next morning but our plans were thwarted due to unseasonal flooding which caused road closures.

Not to be deterred I found a (goat) track north of the main road which turned out to be part of the Pennine Way (famous English hike). For the next few hours I felt as though we were on the set of “All Creatures Great and Small” and perhaps we would encounter James Herriot around the next corner (we didn’t). All we passed in the fog and rain were hikers, stray sheep and the magnificent English countryside until eventually we came to the county of Cumbria and the beautiful Lake District.

The 18th century Brakenrigg Inn at Watermillock was our accommodation that night overlooking the beautiful Ullswater Lake. Before leaving the next day we enjoyed a two-hour ferry ride up and down the entire length of the lake. Of all the country we covered on our Excellent Adventure, the Lake District has been the most picturesque of all.

Last Saturday night we arrived at The Fountain, a 1769 inn at Ingbirchworth formerly known as The Rag & Louse. On Sunday we started heading towards Oxford and got as far as Shakespeare’s home, Stratford-upon-Avon.

Back in 1685 when William Shakespeare set out to London he was a young, twenty-one year old man, married with three children and no career in sight to support his family… I can’t help thinking he turned out ok.

Not far out of town we discovered The Blue Boar Inn near Temple Grafton. Established in the 1600s and now with free wifi (wireless internet…. is anyone else finding this amazing?!). 

After a delicious roast beef dinner with Yorkshire pudding we set about meeting some of the locals (Gemma, Sam, Cathy, Gerry and Chris), who were great… as was the Navy Rum which has been making a big contribution to this week’s column… hoping it turns me into a literary genius…

Tomorrow (which technically is last Monday to you dear readers), we will be staying with former “Cadell” jillaroo Sarah, who lives with her husband Tony on their farm south of Oxford.

By the time you read this we will be in Paris on the final leg of the EAAEEAE (Edgar and Annie’s Excellent Epic Adventure to England). Hmmm… I may need to change the acronym for next week’s column to EAAEEAP…

Friday, July 6, 2012

Edgar meets the Queen

Behind the Barr in Britain

Welcome to the next edition of the EAEEAE (Edgar and Annie’s Excellent Epic Adventure to England). Last week we attended a number of Bomber Command ceremonies and events.

Tuesday morning (26th June) we caught a bus to the Air Forces Memorial at Runnymede in Surrey for a wreath-laying ceremony. The memorial at Runnymede commemorates by name the 20,389 airmen and women who were lost during World War II in operations from bases in the United Kingdom and North West Europe, and who have no known grave.

That afternoon we were to attend an afternoon tea reception at Australia House in London… but alas, our bus broke down on our return journey from Runnymede and we spent three hours by the side of the road. Sadly no-one appeared to notice that a coach containing forty seven veterans and their carers had failed to return to London, so we missed out on our cucumber sandwiches that day.

On the eve of the Bomber Command Memorial dedication Edgar and I were invited to a reception at London’s historic Guildhall (circa 1400s), where the Lord Mayor on behalf of the City of London welcomed the Bomber Command veterans.

The day of the Bomber Command Memorial dedication and unveiling brought weather straight from Darwin (a very hot and muggy 28 degrees). Edgar and I caught a London cab to Green Park where we managed to safely negotiate the security checks into the Memorial Area to where Edgar was being seated. Before I left for the Salute Area (where I would be sitting) I suggested to Edgar to “Have fun and shake hands with the Queen for me.”

The emotionally moving ceremony included the last flying Lancaster in England. The Battle of Britain Memorial Flight (BBMF) Lancaster flew overhead with Ron Clark on board and opened its bomb bay doors to shower the crowd of seven thousand plus people at Green Park with red paper poppies. The ceremony concluded with the Queen and other royals walking along the front row of the Memorial Area and shaking hands with some of the Bomber Command Veterans.

As I watched the big screen in the Salute Area I suddenly saw the screen filled with none other than Barham’s own Squadron Leader Edgar Pickles DFC and Bar as he shook hands with Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. The Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall, the Duke of York, the Earl and Countess of Wessex, the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester and the Duke of Kent were also in attendance.

The memorial itself is a magnificent design by Liam O'Connor and built in Portland stone, it features a bronze nine foot-high sculpture of a seven-member bomber command aircrew.

The following day (Friday), we left London for the 550 Squadron Reunion at North Killingholme with Monash University’s Associate Professor John Arnold (President of 550 Squadron Association in Australia) and Doctor Damien Williams (who is completing a paper on the veterans of Bomber Command). The English countryside was looking very lush and green as we passed a number of very impressive wheat and canola crops along the way.

Edgar thoroughly enjoyed catching up with his old flying mates and their families and was particularly moved by the effort the 550 Squadron Association had made to welcome him back to North Killingholme. President of the Association and Edgar’s Deputy Flight Commander in 1945/46, Jack Harris made a special presentation of a book and photographs to Edgar during his speech at the 550 Squadron reunion dinner.

The following day we marched a distance suitable for decrepit ninety year olds, to the 550 Squadron Memorial Stone, while the village residents joined us for the service in the rain. Wreaths were laid for departed mates and the BBMF Lancaster arrived precisely on time and made three nostalgic passes over the memorial.

On Sunday we had an early start with Gary Brooks (son of Edgar’s Mid Upper Gunner, the late Len Brooks), driving us down to the RAF Waddington International Air Show near Lincoln. We spent the day as guests of Air Show Director, Paul Sall and his lovely wife Kay.

There were innumerable spectacular displays of flying from various air forces from around the world. The Republic of Korea Air Force’s aerobatic team the Black Eagles put on an incredible routine with their distinctive T-50 “Golden Eagle” supersonic light-trainer jets. The famous and equally impressive RAF aerobatics team, the Red Arrows in their Hawk T1A trainer jets, followed the Black Eagles.

During the course of the day Edgar as a former member of 100 Squadron was introduced to current member and Hawk fighter jet pilot, Squadron Leader Bruce Farquhar. Before long Edgar had persuaded Bruce to allow him into the cockpit of his Hawk fighter jet… although Bruce remained unconvinced about allowing Edgar to take it up for a circuit.

However, Bruce did invite us to visit the current home of 100 Squadron at Leeming in North Yorkshire, so Edgar remains ever optimistic that he will once again get airborne in a military aircraft.

On Monday we were given a personal tour of the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight planes by Squadron Leader and former Vulcan Bomber pilot David Thomas and his good friend and Vulcan Bomber navigator, Squadron Leader Andy Marson. A highlight of the day was getting Edgar (for the first time since 1946), into the pilot’s seat of England’s last remaining flying Lancaster Bomber.