27/03/89

EASTER MONDAY We got the train into Paddington Station then the tube to Monument Station. We went up the Monument, 202 feet high, the distance from the base to the place in Pudding Lane where the Great Fire started in 1666, then walked along the Thames to the Tower of London which was yet again under siege – this time by thousands of tourists. So we decided not to go in there and went up into the pillars of Tower Bridge instead. After ½ an hour exploring the workings of the bridge we walked down to the London Dungeon¹ where graphic wax models told the grisly story of hanging, torture, boiling alive & various other forms of gruesome death.

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London.

 

From there we wandered around until we found a double-decker to take us to the magnificent St Paul’s Cathedral. We explored there for an hour or so but there is so much to see there that we will have to go back. Stunning is the only way to describe the place. We finished our day in the city with burgers & fries at the Hard Rock Café. We queued for an hour to get in but it was worth the wait for the cheap food and atmosphere complete with many gold discs and instruments from famous bands. We tubed and trained home again.

25/03/89

We caught the 8:46 train from Slough to Paddington then the Bakerloo Line to Charing Cross. We emerged from the station to the most wonderous sight. There before us in the bright English sun, was Trafalgar Square! The statue of Lord Nelson, flanked by 4 lions, rose directly in front of us, grey stone buildings surrounding us on all sides, Whitehall, The Strand and Pall Mall, leading off to our left, right, and ahead. Pigeons were everywhere, perched on walls, monuments and small children who screeched with delight every time a pigeon landed on its shoulder.

The church of St-Martin’s-in-the-Fields, standing on the South West corner of the square, was our first stop. It is a smallish church, the size of Chch Cathedral¹, with Roman pillars at the front. Inside, I asked about where Matthew Blakiston² was buried but all graves had been removed and the Crypt had been turned into a restaurant. We had a hot chocolate down there then went back out into the sunlight.

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St-Martin’s-in-the-Fields, Elizabeth Tower and Horse Guards.

We decided to walk down Whitehall and about 1/2 way down we happened to see the changing of Her Majesty’s Life Guards. Two fierce-looking guards dressed in red and balck with shining helmets were mounted on horses outside the gates of the barracks where, at precisely 11:00 AM, the new shift of guards rode out and exchanged places with them. We jostled for position with the hoarde of tourists & the whole thing was

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Horse Guards.

fascinating.

We continued on down Whitehall past Downing Street, guarded by two Bobbies³, until we came to wonderful scene of the Houses of Parliament. Big Ben rose above us on the left of Parliament Square and Westminster Abbey, parts of which are [sic] cloaked with scaffolding, stood across the grassd area of the square. It was almost too much to take in at once. Everywhere we looked we saw buildings and places we had only dreamed about. We walked along past

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A Bobby at Horse Guards.

the Houses of Parliament, climbed the 13th century jewel Tower, pushed and shoved our way into Westminster Abbey along with a thousand others then wandered through the medieval cloisters at the rear of the Abbey where the 10th century monks who died of the Black Death lie alongside of a grassy quad where several boys from the Abbey school were playing cricket.

 

We had lunch at a street café then caught a river cruise down to the Thames Barrier† and back. The history of London flowed over us like the cold, dirty water of Old Father Thames flowed over the piles & steps of the London docks: Tower Bridge, Executioner’s Dock, Waterman’s Steps, hundreds of old, old riverside warehouses decaying amidst the new docklands developments of flats, pubs and houses.

When we got back to Westminster Peir it had gotten quite cold so we wandered back up to Picadilly Circus and caught the tube back to Paddington then home to Slough.

¹The Anglican cathedral in the city of Christchurch back home in New Zealand.
²My ancestor, Sir Matthew Blakiston, Bt. was Lord Mayor of London in 1760. He was created a Baronet in 1763 and I succeeded him as the 9th Baronet in 1977. When he died, Sir Matthew was buried in the crypt of St.-Martin’s-in-the-Fields. See the post The House of Blakiston for more information.
³ British police are known as Bobbies after Sir Robert Peel who introduced the world’s first organized police force in London in 1829.
† The Thames Barrier is a flood control dam built across the lower reaches of the River Thames.
 

 

 

24/03/89

We had intended to go into the city today but as the buses and trains were running on some unknown Sunday timetable, we decided to only go for a wander round on the main street of Slough.¹ The weather was very cold & showery and we wandered around looking at the large selection of shops. Linda bought a pair of jeans & I bought a track-suit and we had a “1/2 of ale” at a corner pub. We went back to the flat & did nothing.

¹The town of Slough (pronounced to rhyme with “now”) is on the western outskirts of London. Our Australian friends Bernie and Sue Farquhar lived in Slough so we went and stayed with them for the first few days we were in England.

09-10/03/89

A Weekend on the Great Ocean Road.

We left Melbourne at 8:00 on Friday night and drove out to Geelong¹ in Russ’s car. We camped the night in light rain in a camping ground at Anglesea with the surf rolling in a hundred yards from our tent.

Next morning we drove to Lorne for a breakfast of disgusting pies then began our trip along the spectacular coastline. The day was warm with a cool sea breeze blowing off the

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The Twelve Apostles (well, 2 of them)

sea and a swell large enough to send waves crashing high up against the sheer cliffs where the flat, barren island continent meets the strength of the great southern ocean. Millions of years of wave action have chipped & weathered the old rocks into huge monuments bearing names such as The Twelve Apostles, London Bridge, The Sentinel, Thunder Cave and The Blowhole.

For me, the most beautiful and mysterious was Loch Ard Gorge where the sailing ship “Loch Ard” was wrecked in 1878 with the loss of 54 lives. The graves of the four bodies that were recovered lie at the top of the cliffs at

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Loch Ard Gorge.

the entrance to the gorge amongst the bleak, windswept scrub. Buried there too are several pioneer families who spent their lives breaking in the harsh country inland from the gorge. The only 2 survivors from the Loch Ard were a ship’s apprentice and the daughter of an immigrant family from England. They were swept into the gorge clinging to wreckage & the young lad climbed the cliffs & walked 5½ miles thru the scrub to reach a farmhouse.

Standing on the sandy beach of the gorge and looking out to the swell surging through the narrow entrance, you can almost feel the power of the waves that tore the ship as it foundered on the reef outside the mouth of the gorge. A truly beautiful place.

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London Bridge.

We camped that night at a bush camping ground on Cape Otway and drove home, back to the smell and noise of the city on Sunday.

¹ Geelong (pronounced “J’long”) is an industrial city south of Melbourne.

BACKSTORY: Part One, The House of Blakiston.

Over the next few weeks, my diary entries are pretty sparse. In late February and early March 1989, Linda and I were living a quiet life in Melbourne, Australia, working long hours and saving our money for the next leg of our travels which would take us to England. So, while not much is going on, let’s re-cap my backstory and find out about some of the aspects of my life that had occurred before we set off to travel…

I come from Geraldine. Someone had to. My hometown, Geraldine, on New Zealand’s South Island, doesn’t have any notable citizens. We can’t lay claim to being the birthplace of a great politician, or an eminent scientist, or even some famous deviant, serial killer or chef. The closest thing Geraldine has to a celebrity is Jordan Luck: frontman of the band The Exponents. And even then, Mr Luck is actually from Woodbury, five miles west of Geraldine. He did, of course, attend Geraldine High School, my alma mater. He was, in fact, a year ahead of me, and his sister, Tamsin, and I were in the same year. But although The Exponents are an iconic New Zealand band, their fame, unfortunately, hardly extends beyond our shores.    

Furthermore, the South Island of New Zealand doesn’t exactly occupy a prime position on the globe. Our island is close to the uttermost end of the Earth.  It’s about as far south as you can go on the planet. Go much further and you start to go north again. Beyond Bluff, the southernmost town in the British Commonwealth, next upright creature you’ll run into is an Adelie penguin.  That’s how far south we are.

fac bene nec dubitans

As well as coming from the arse-end of the planet, I also come from a long line of travellers: restless souls who roamed the globe searching for adventure and a better life. Some of them were seekers of political change, such as John Blakiston (1603-1649), whose signature appears on the death warrant of Charles the First, executed by Cromwell and his henchmen – of which JB was one, the traitorous bastard  – during the English Civil War.

warrant
The Death Warrant of Charles I. John Blakiston’s signature and seal is second from the top of column three.

My great-grandfather, Charles Robert Blakiston came to New Zealand in 1860 having first tried his luck in the Australian goldfields.  When he arrived in the settlement of Christchurch (which is today New Zealand’s second largest city) he traded a horse for a plot of land which he subsequently sold to the fledgeling city for a fortune.  He ended up a successful lawyer and member of the New Zealand Provincial Government. His son, Arthur John Blakiston, born in 1862, managed a high country sheep station for forty years and lived long enough to be photographed holding me as a five-month-old baby in 1963.

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My father Arthur Norman Hunter Blakiston, 64; my great-uncle Arthur John Blakiston, 103; Ferguson Arthur James Blakiston, 5 months.

Another of my great-uncles, Thomas Wright Blakiston, was an eminent explorer, soldier and ornithologist. He fought in the Crimean War, was on the Palliser Expedition which mapped the border between Canada and the United States, explored the Yangtze River during the Taiping Rebellion, and lived in Japan’s northern-most island, Hokkaido, for 21 years. There will be more about TWB in later posts.

Then there was Lionel Blakiston, Thomas’s cousin.  Lionel was a British telegraph engineer who emigrated to Rhodesia in the 1880s and was subsequently killed in the Mashona Uprising.  Upon hearing that Mashona tribesmen had taken a group of women and children hostage, he rode to their rescue, bringing them home to friendly territory but getting mortally wounded in the process.  A street in Harare, in present-day Zimbabwe, bears his name along with a school, whose coat of arms is that of the Blakiston Family: a cock gules above a bar argent.

In 1760, my great-great-great-great-great-great-grandfather, Matthew Blakiston was elected Lord Mayor of London.  He lived for that year, as all Lords Mayor did at the time, in the Mansion House, a grand, collonaded residence opposite the Bank of England.  His wife, Emily, is the only woman ever to have given birth in the Mansion House. Lords Mayor were usually older men for whom the post was the final, crowning achievement at the end of long, successful careers.  Blakiston, however, in keeping with a family trait of marrying and producing offspring late in life, was still in the process of creating a family when he became Lord Mayor and his son, Matthew, was born at the Mansion House that year.  

For his efforts as head of the City of London, Matthew Blakiston was created a Baronet in 1763, exactly 200 years before I was born.  He died in 1791 and was buried in the graveyard of St. Martins-in-the-Fields.

The Baronetcy is a hereditary knighthood: a “Sir” rather than a Lord, and not a peer. Although the term “baronet” has medieval origins, the modern Baronetcy was established in 1611 by King James 1 as a method with which to fund his Irish wars.  The idea was that any man who could provide the Exchequer with the money necessary to keep thirty soldiers in the field for three years would be granted a Baronetcy. The title would be handed down from father to son, thus ensuring a continual supply of cash to fund whatever war happened to be going on at the time.  

Do well and doubt not.
                        – Blakiston Family Motto

This proved to be a nice little earner for a while; at least, that is, until the sons succeeding to the title began to run out of money.  Just because the title of Baronet had been granted to a wealthy great-grandfather didn’t necessarily guarantee the family fortune would still be intact for his great-grandson to invest in dubious overseas campaigns.  The Baronetcy, therefore, lapsed in its role as a revenue supply for the army and became simply another hereditary title.

The Baronetcy awarded to Matthew Blakiston was passed down from father to son for seven generations until it hit a dead end.  The 7th Baronet, Arthur Frederick Blakiston, a decorated First World War hero, member of the first Barbarians rugby team and Master of the Wylie Valley Hunt, died “without issue” (i.e. without children). It seemed that the title would become extinct.  But the tireless heralds at the Royal College of Arms, keepers of the arcane language and symbols of the realm, were on the case. They traced the male line to my father, Arthur Norman Hunter Blakiston, who acceded to the title of 8th Baronet in 1974.  

Dad never set any store in airs and graces.  A privately-educated, university-trained solicitor he was nevertheless a rough diamond.  He called a spade a fucking shovel and to him, a man’s worth was proved by his actions, not by his breeding.  The title of Baronet was the absolute antithesis of the egalitarian principles he lived by. But he was a perceptive man and he realized that one day, his eldest son might have a use for the title, so he reluctantly accepted it, and that was that.  

He seldom spoke of it.  His friends occasionally ribbed him about it.  My mother’s friends began calling her Lady Blakiston and our house became known as Sandybrook Hall, after the family seat in Ashbourne, Derbyshire.  At school, I was sometimes teased about it. My best friend, Keats, used to call me Sir Bastipol Bock for reasons known only to him. But it was nothing that caused even the remotest bit of hurt and the perpetrators would soon tire of hassling me and find some other unfortunate to pick on.     

My father died in 1977 when I was fourteen.  He was seventy-eight years old. Students of arithmetic will notice that he would have been sixty-four when I was born and they are right.  He was sixty-five when my brother Joe came along. That same family peculiarity, of having children late in life, that had seen Matthew Blakiston’s wife produce the Mansion House’s only baby, had surfaced again.  

It meant that instead of being born in the 1920s, as would have been the case if dad had taken the usual route and started a family in his twenties, I grew up in the 1970s.  It meant that instead of being a fan of Bing Crosby or Cole Porter, I was able to become a fan of Pink Floyd, Genesis, My Chemical Romance and John Denver. It meant that instead of having to go off to World War Two and have my brains blown out for King and Country as my Uncle Jim (my mother’s brother) did, I was able to watch the Gulf War on CNN.  It meant that I would be able to be a part of the technological revolution created by the internet and social media. And it meant that in the year 1988, instead of being a grandfather of seventy-something years, I was able, as the 9th Baronet of the City of London, to set off out into the world…

TO BE CONTINUED