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Claire at the Sandalmere Gate

It was a lyrical scene and if I was an artist, I’d have tried to capture it.

Late Friday afternoon we arrived at our rented property just outside the Riverland hamlet of Cadell. Smeared by the blue-grey fuzz of saltbush the flat ground was already seared dry despite the wet winter.

A friend once observed that even improbable landscapes have beauty, you just need to unlock your eyes and mind. But if not for our great river dissecting the countryside these towns, including sleepy Cadell, wouldn’t exist.

With the merciless spring wind shoving through but the sky a hopeful azure I stopped our car by the iron gate. Sandalmere, the swinging-sign announced. Freshly greeting our latest holiday digs, we were again on that privileged, effervescent cusp.

Pushing open the passenger door Claire then tended the gate. Spectating through the windscreen I was swiftly transfixed as my view had the compositional elements for a Heidelberg School by McCubbin or Streeton: native bush; rural cottage; iron gate; elegant wife.

How fantastic to be surprised by your partner; to momentarily see them anew; to be jettisoned and allow wonder to take command?

Claire loosened the chain and opened the gate.

At this instant time paused and a thousand bright thoughts presented themselves, as a succession of gratitudinous waves. It was an arresting image.

For decades Claire had wrestled with gates in different ways and in various locations, so I revered her as she did this now, for me, for herself, for us.

We talk often of the film The Descendants during which George Clooney’s character Matt says to his wife Elizabeth, “As a spouse your job is to make their passage through life easier” and this maxim’s become a shared aspiration. Claire’s gatekeeping might’ve seemed a minor gesture, but against the lengthening arc of our intertwined lives it twinkled like a solitary star.

With the gate opened Claire looked back at the car where the tinting meant I was likely an indistinct figure behind the dark glass. Nonetheless she smiled wholeheartedly as I engaged first gear; a smile that swept the world away like a flimsy film set. Still beaming, this was magnified in the gilded light by her Audrey Hepburn sunglasses and frolicking hair.

The gate was safely latched and with Claire reaching the car door, I was tempted by that ancient lark: as her hand grasped for the handle, lurch the car forward! Go on, how wacky. Of course, this is what both of us would’ve done, probably did do many times back in those murky, disappearing decades. Although it’s the automotive equivalent of a whoopee cushion, sometimes it’s disappointing if not attempted. It’s now funnier as an ironic gag than in its earliest comedic form.

Later, over our weekend I’d finally enact this antique prank but not on our initial entrance for I was enchanted by a brief vista of deep, resonating beauty: Claire at the gate.

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By George said Ringo to Paul while sitting on the John

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June 9- Michael

Walked to St Johns Wood and to Lords. Elderly tour guide was cheeky and cockney. Long Room, museum and media centre. The playing surface drops eight feet from off to on-side. Whilst certainly attractive is not as naturally beautiful as Adelaide. Bought Dad a souvenir- not Phil Tufnell’s autobiography- and headed across to Abbey Road.

Humble white studio but the front fence is thick with graffiti. Much of it corny: “By George said Ringo to Paul while sitting on the John.” Photo taken at pedestrian crossing. Ambled along Regents Canal. Lots of canal boats which seemed to be houses.

Bought lunch at Pret a Manger- magnificent chocolate cake- and ate in Hyde Park near Marble Arch. Walked through the Park to the Serpentine and had coffee. Continued to Albert Monument and Albert Hall.

Natural History Museum for a few hours. Dinosaurs, animals, birds, great spider and web exhibit and the blue whale. Superb.

Onto Kensington Palace. Saw lots of squirrels. The first one was nearly taken by a swooping raven. The Round Pond was great and then we headed to Oxford Street and our internet café. Back to our hostel, and after a big day walking, to be about ten.

June 10- Michael

Coffee and hot chocolate in Trafalgar Square and then to Buckingham Palace. Enjoyed the changing of the guard: music, colour, ceremony. Entertained equally by French school kids.

Westminster Pier and down to St Katherine’s Wharf. Had lunch. By Christ, it was a poor chicken burger. Tower of London. Enormous crowds. Joined a guided tour with a yeoman warder who’d a superb presence, voice and humour. Learnt more about Anne Boleyn, three blind mice Henry VII and royal history.

Checked out the Crown Jewels, White Tower, wall walk, Cullinan Diamond display, Royal Chapel and The Common. Stood on the steps at Traitors Gate and marvelled at this place which has been palace, fort, prison and site of English history’s most poignant moments.

Called into a supermarket for some supplies and beer- wheat lager (shite) and Stella Artois. Caught parts of a TV show commemorating Prince William’s 18th birthday. (NB- the after-party starring Harry probably more entertaining- Editor)

June 11- Kerry

On the road again. Up early, packed and walking to a location near Euston Station at the Thistle Hotel. After a reasonable delay, it was on the bus and winding our way through London to Dover.

The countryside was lovely. Lots of beautiful scenery (Michael slept). Dover was great but things were a bit rushed as we were late. But the white cliffs were interesting and in all a quaint seaside village with a HUGE port. Our ferry, the Provence, was massive. We walked on and made our way to the deck to wave goodbye to jolly old England.

Went downstairs for an ale and a bit of a look around and before we knew it we had crossed the channel in just under two hours and were arriving at Calais. Met up with our tour manager whose name is Ute, and our driver Giro (if I was a bogan I’d suggest the roles should have been swapped- Editor).

Time was short so we were quickly on the road to our first stop- Brussels, Belgium. Ute talked to us about the tour and other general things and this helped while away a fair chunk of time- looking out the window and taking in the scenery is good- to a point. I did recall however a time travelling from the city to Gawler on the train and someone saying it was like France, and I have to agree.

Arrived at the Holiday Inn on the outskirts of towns across the road from a big stadium about 7pm after winding our clocks forward an hour. After a quick tidy up we were downstairs to get a map then on the train into the centre of town. The main square, Grand Place is cool- lots of very big, very old buildings and no cars.

We quickly found the fountain Mannekin Pis, took some photos then looked for food. Ate at a Greek café called Plaka- the food was superb- falafels and a plate of open lamb yiros. YUM.

Had a bit more of a look around the side streets including one full of seafood restaurants before catching the underground home. TIRED!

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