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400 Day LETS Odyssey
Copyright � James Taris

JAMES TARIS around the World- (2003-4)

A typical cob house, made primarily from mud and grass.

ENGLAND - Falmouth, Bradford-On-Avon, Bath (1 week)
Week 24 of World Tour

1. Cob Houses, Foogoos and Hecklers

I was fortunate to be invited to stay in Falmouth by Rob Follett, the designer of the best LETS web site (Falmouth LETS) on the planet. Soon I realized I was following in some famous footsteps when Rob showed me a photo of another visitor back in 1996, John Turmel (without his world-famous hard-hat).

Falmouth LETS is in Corwall, home of the Cornish Pastie (a daily treat for me). And the first thing that caught my attention was the Cob House being built in the Green Centre by a number of nature-loving enthusiasts, including many LETS members.

A cob house is a mud brick home built on a foundation of rocks. It’s made from balls of mud and straw packed tightly on top of each other. This is then sculpted to leave beautifully designed features on the exterior and interior, and it’s strength lies in the shape of the walls. They are all curved, with no straight walls or corners evident anywhere. This cob house included a few small, but interestingly shaped and coloured, windows. But the roof, which was still being built when I was there, was rather amazing. It was a live roof. That is, it had a solid wooden structure, but on top of that was a layer of waterproof plastic, a couple of layers of water-retaining carpet, and finally a couple of inches of soil. This would allow moisture caught in the layers of carpet to feed the plants growing in the roof’s soil. Not like a garden, but more like a lawn of grass and moss.

This foogoo was once a prehistoric man's humble abode.

Another hut I visited was prehistoric. Foogoos are like little underground huts built from rocks, and several of these can still be found in Cornwall. The one I saw was in Constantine, 8 miles (13 kms) from Falmouth. But we had to scale a fence and do some trespassing to get there. A small heard of cows was between us and the foogoo, but luckily we couldn’t see any bulls.

“Raise your arm to appear larger than them,” I was told, when I showed some concern about being attacked by the cows. So as soon as a cow showed me some interest, my hand immediately shot towards the sky. I wasn’t taking any chances.

The foogoo was nothing like I expected. I imagined it to be just a pile of rocks, but it was more like a small man-made cave with rock walls and roof. The roof was covered with grass (was this the first cob house?) and there were openings at both ends. Was this done as an escape route for prehistoric men being chased into their foogoos by sabre-toothed tigers? Or was it a simple form of air-conditioning? Maybe we’ll never know.

And then there was … the heckler!

I guess it was bound to happen to me some day. After traveling to so many countries and giving so many presentations, Falmouth was the site of my first encounter with a heckler.

I don’t want to go into too much detail, but my heckler was drunk, and an idiot (a bad combination).

But it was a growing experience for me as a public speaker, especially when I realized that his heckling was due more out of being insecure than anything else. I’ll be better prepared for my next encounter.

Jazz's owners, Andrew and Sonja, were my hosts in Bradford-On-Avon.

2. Jazz The Black Cat

No-one was at the station when I arrived at Bradford-On-Avon. So I rang them, but the line was engaged when I rang at 8.00pm. I tried again at 8.10 and 8.20. Then at 8.30pm I left a message that I was catching a taxi. But I’d have to wait another 15 minutes for the next cab. Luckily my host, Sonja, arrived just before the taxi arrived, and a couple of minutes later I was at their home, being greeted with a warm smile and big hug from her partner, Andrew.

“You won’t believe what’s just happened,” Andrew said. “While you were trying to get through to us, Sonja’s daughter was talking to her boyfriend. And when she hung up we got your messages. So I pressed dial-last-caller thinking it would ring you at the public phone booth, but it rang the boyfriend instead. His name, and this is the bit which is unbelievable, is James Haris. So when I asked if he was James Taris, he said “Yes”. Then I told him we were coming to pick him up from the station and he didn’t know what I was talking about. So I figured something wasn’t right and I asked him again if he was James Taris. That’s when he realized the difference and I knew I was talking to the wrong guy. Isn’t that amazing?”

It surely was, and half an hour later I got to meet with young, 17 year old James Haris.

My stay with Andrew and Sonja allowed me to catch up on hundreds of backlogged emails. But I did have a couple of memorable encounters with Jazz, their black cat.

My sleeping quarters were in the lounge room. The couch in the lounge room, actually. But this is also where the cats liked to sleep as well. On my first night, at about 3am in the morning, I was woken by some knocking noises. Even though I’d shut the lounge room door, Jazz had entered through the serving window connecting the lounge room to the kitchen, and was trying to sleep on a wooden chair in my room. Unfortunately, one of the chair legs was on a thick rug, and each time Jazz tried to make himself comfortable, it caused the chair to rock, making a loud noise on the hard lounge room floor. So rather than taking the chair leg off the rug (I was half asleep at the time and couldn’t think straight) I got up and carried Jazz out of the room, closing the door behind him.

But then the next night I had another Jazz experience. At about 3am (this must’ve been his bedtime) I heard a constant and unusual animal noise which I thought (in my sleepy daze) was coming from outside. Eventually I had to get up to see if it was in my room. It wasn’t. But it wasn’t far off. When I looked behind the roller-blind covering the serving window, I was confronted by Jazz who had a dead mouse in his mouth. But when I started to lower the blind, I saw Jazz looking for an opening to jump through. At that point I thought I’d push him away. But I didn’t like the idea of touching the dead mouse, so I opted to poke Jazz back with the stick at the base of the roller-blind. Unfortunately, the end result of a weak stick, a determined cat caused the stick to break, and Jazz weaseled his way into the lounge room anyway. I had visions of Jazz enjoying his snack all over me, so I tried to push him out of the room. He was determined to stay though, and as I pushed him along, he kept growling at me and stopping after only moving a few inches. I did persevere, however, and eventually Jazz was out in the cold again … and back through the serving window! Needless to say, I persuaded him to leave the room once again, and this time he stayed out.

When I woke later that morning, I had a look around for Jazz and friend. And I found the remnants of ‘friend’ on the welcome mat in front of the main door entrance. Andrew was pleased to see that Jazz was doing his job and, without a word, removed all evidence before the family woke up.

There was only one thing left to do. So I confessed to Andrew and Sonja that I was responsible for breaking the roller-blind stick (for which they quickly forgave me). After all, I didn’t want any of the kids blamed for it.

Bath is the second-most popular tourist city in the UK because of these Roman Baths.

3. The Queen Crapped Here

“Did you know,” Tom said, “that a toilet is constructed everywhere the queen goes and then destroyed once she’s left?”

“Why?” I asked.

“So people can’t open it to the public and say “The Queen crapped here””.

I was in Bath, the second most popular tourist city in the UK (after London), only about 10 miles (16 kms) south of Bristol. Bath is famous, not for the abovementioned toilets, but for being the site of the ancient Roman Baths, built in 55 BC. These Baths have 250,000 gallons of naturally hot waters (37-45 degs. celcius) flowing through them every day and were very popular because it was believed they had medicinal qualities about them.

Unfortunately, in 1978, a swimmer died from Meningitis contacted from bathing in one of the pools, and the baths have been closed to bathers ever since. In fact, the tour guides make a point of warning tourists not to touch the green and steamy water with their hands. I guess one related death is enough to have to cope with.

Today’s Roman Baths were rebuilt in the 1880’s over the original foundations, which were all that were left of the original baths which were destroyed when the roof caved in many centuries ago. One of the ancient practices the Romans had was throwing coins into the pools like a wishing well. But they also had a devious nature about them and wrote curses onto lead strips which they threw into the pools as well.

But the thing that really impressed me was the concrete. The Romans invented concrete way back then, a skill which died along with the Roman Empire about 1,500 years ago. They even found a way to make it set underwater which they used to their advantage as they traveled the world conquering everything they came across.

Actually, Bath is one of only 3 World Heritage Cities in the world. The architecture is amazingly well preserved, and the history is equally impressive. It’s also one of only 2 cities in the world that has a bridge with shops built along it. The streets are built about 20 feet (6m) above the Roman level, so the houses can have a street entrance at the first floor level, with the ground floor and basement taking up space under the road!

Bath has been popular with many famous people over the years, one of which was Agatha Christie. In fact, she even used Bath as the location for a couple of her mystery novels.

And my hosts in Bath, James and Gil Elliott, also had close links historically. James was related to Sir Isaac Newton. Isaac Newton didn’t have any children, but his sister did.

And James is one of her descendants. And their son, Tom (38) was very interesting too. He’s a talented artist who exhibits his work regularly. And we had a lengthy discussion about the Louvre and some famous artists. But he also shared a couple of other interesting things with me. The first one was the opening paragraph of this story about the queen. And the second was a new drink he introduced to me … the root beer shandy. One part beer and one part root beer. Mmmmm!

This article is taken from the ebook,
400-Day LETS Odyssey

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