Anzac Day in London

 

Back at home in Australia sometimes you’ll find us engaged in banter at the pub with our neighbours from New Zealand. We’ll give each other a little good-humoured grief about our accents and get into heated debates about who boasts the best cities.

We can make fun of each other at home, you know? But overseas when we run into an Antipodean on our travels we more often than not stick together.

It’s a little like how in your family you can make fun (within reason, obviously) of siblings or cousins, but if someone else tries to, we’ll automatically defend the other.

A lot of this mateship goes back to war times, and on 25 April each year our nations commemorate Anzac Day to observe when our troupes landed at Gallipoli in 1915.

Today Anzac Day still stands as one of our nations’ most important occasions and is marked by a public holiday each year, as well as moving dawn services and daytime military marches.

Incidentally, it’s also my birthday.

Indeed, many of us make the pilgrimage to Gallipoli in Turkey for special dawn ceremonies.

And, there are always services in London including a dawn service at the Australian War Memorial, Hyde Park Corner which is – you might be surprised to know – usually overflowing with attendees.

If you have spent any time travelling or living abroad, you’ll appreciate that the sense of patriotism is often stronger when you’re away from home.

Add that to an emotional national day and you’ll usually find a hive of expats huddling together flying their flag.

On Anzac Day, Aussies and Kiwis unite, and being this far away – just as our men were 102 years ago – it’s a poignant moment to be part of.

It’s for this reason that I jumped on an opportunity that a colleague at work – a lovely lady from New Zealand – told me about.

Each year our High Commission offers passes to special ceremonies, and those with an Australian or New Zealand passport can apply.

You can try this link from the beginning of each year (or if it’s not working, Google ‘Anzac Day London High Commission’).

You must apply for passes to attend this special service, held at the Cenotaph war memorial in Whitehall, and followed by a church service at Westminster Abbey up the road.

Here’s a sample of what we experienced:

The day was moving and memorable. Highly recommended – add the task to your diary from February next year. We’ll definitely do this again.

 

Travel and terrorism

Earlier this week an awful event took place in central London which has had me fielding queries and concerns about travel and terrorism and indeed about how safe our lovely London actually is.

You would have caught the news about a man who drove a car onto Westminster bridge and into a crowd of 50 people before stabbing others outside Parliament. He killed four people, including a police officer, and seriously injured numerous others.

As someone living and working in the city, I can attest to the fact that no matter where you are in the vicinity, it is unnerving to know what’s unfolding.

My work’s security team shared advice with staff and let us know that we were welcome to stay inside if fearful of travelling at the end of the work day.

During the afternoon we didn’t know if anything further would occur, and the insensitive, irresponsible Twitter users sharing photos of the dead from the scene in central London were not helping!

A number of my colleagues were also visibly shaken because memories of the 7/7 bombings of 2005 are still all too close-to-home – one of the bombs exploded on the no. 30 bus directly outside our building and with catastophic results.

Over the 24 hours to follow the events in Wesminster, Cooper and I received numerous calls, texts and messages on social media from apprehensive family and friends who were unsure of what to make of it all.

Now none of this is to diminish what has happened (and continues to) in places not too far from us in the UK, including France, Belgium, Tunisia, Syria… unforunately the list goes on.

But when things like this happen on your doorstep, there’s no escaping the truth about the nature of conflict and hate in today’s world.

That said, the next day, life continued.

We were all on the buses, tube and trains in order to show up at work on time. My friend Jackie and I even ran into this young hero from the day before in the lift in our workplace.

‘Keep calm and carry on’ was a slogan developed by the British government back in 1939 as World War II loomed.

The famous phrase was intended to raise morale in those dark days, and has found meaning and international fame in our contemporary landscape too.

Back in 2005 after the transport system – the beating heart of this metropolis – was attacked, people came back outside and stepped onto public transport in record numbers. They went on determined, just as they did after the many devastating air raids during the war.

Londoners will not be held to ransom by crazy people. None of us should be. I’m inspired by this tenacity.

The topic of travel and terrorism is raised in our circles quite a bit. People worry about us being in a city where terrorism a real threat.

But actually, terrible things happen every day, even in sublime and seemingly unsuspecting locations like Queensland, Australia, from where we hail.

It does upset me that the media makes a real meal out of influencing people towards a fear mindset.

Even before any details were available on the Westminster attack this week, the news had labelled it a ‘terrorist act’.

Can you tell me they are not trying to sell papers and seek ratings by inciting fear across the globe?

I’m seeing the same on this very day about a cyclone striking the eastern coast of Queensland and am trying not to worry too much myself, but it’s hard not to when the images, language and stories being shared are drumming up worst-case scenarios.

As for travelling here to Europe?

London is one of the safest places we’ve travelled to. We feel entirely safe living here, walking around and getting about.

Sure, there’s the risk of terrorism but that’s everywhere these days, especially with misguided individuals taking it upon themselves to wreak havoc on behalf of organisations they’ve often only seen represented online or in the news.

My point is, don’t let a disillusioned few stop you from being curious and getting out there to travel and explore.

Be mindful, sensible and don’t take unnecesssary risks, certainly. But whatever you do, do not choose to stay at home if adventure beckons. That’s letting the bastards win.

Responding and contributing to fear energy only magnifies it around the world.

I’ve read helpful advice on this that encourages us to acknowledge what’s gone on, reflect or meditate on it in our own way and send kind thoughts to those who have been affected.

You can do something positive to counteract the fear by showing up to your own life with determination and light, and inspiring your family, friends, kids and colleagues with that spirit.

Let’s not feed the beast.

And if you’re finding news or social media reports too much or too upsetting – turn them off! There’s never any urgent new updates you need; the reports are merely the same dire tales told in different ways.

Caring makes you human. Focusing on traumatic media stories though, only breeds fear and certainly does not help anyone.

Keep calm, carry on… and travel, I say.

If more of us appreciate first-hand the world and its many different perspectives we might eventually conquer the small-mindedness that leads to ignorant and evil deeds.

What do you think? Let me know in the comments below.

 

Christmas in England and Norwich’s Tunnel of Light

 

We’re Australian and while we sometimes miss the sun and prawns at this time of the year, there’s a certain magic to Christmas in England and we found extra sparkle at Norwich’s Tunnel of Light on the weekend.

This unique Tunnel of Light installation is a one-of-a-kind in Europe and intended to simulate the Northern Lights (or aurora borealis).

The trip from Liverpool Street is about two hours to Norwich, and it’s well worth it for a few reasons:

  1. The city has a really nice vibe and boasts clean streets, pretty views, a cathedral and cool pubs (important here in England!).
  2. There are lovely markets in the city, undercover so it doesn’t matter if it’s raining. At the markets you’ll find sweet hand-made goods and delicious fresh food to get stuck into after a hard day’s worth of shopping. At Christmastime there are festive markets open too.
  3. We discovered a fab little shop called Cupcakes & Bubbles – yep, champagne and sweet treats. Amazing.
  4. Plenty of cute dogs in the area too, and it was lovely to see a group of people in the town centre raising awareness for Action for Greyhounds, an organisation that campaigns for these lovely dogs who can sometimes be mistreated when their owners are finished racing them.
  5. If you visit Norwich, don’t miss a lovely waterside dining and entertainment precinct (just around the corner from the train station), Riverside Norwich.

Then of course there is their very special Tunnel of Light, right in the city centre. Hopefully it will be installed again next year, but in the meantime it’s on display until 5 January 2017.

 

For more on the area and the Tunnel of Light, take a look at the city’s official tourism site, Visit Norwich. We bought train tickets in advance on Trainline which meant for two of us it cost around £35 return trip on Greater Anglia trains.

 

More of Norwich and the Tunnel of Light – view our Flickr gallery:

England at Christmas | Norwich