In memory of my father, 1939 to 2018

A month ago today my father, Peter Groenewegen, died at his home in Australia. It was in the early hours of the morning after my mother’s funeral. Due to illness he hadn’t been able to attend, but I had recorded the eulogies and he had listened to them. Mum and Dad had been together for 55 years. They had their ups and downs like with any partnership, but they had it sorted and their relationship survived. More than survived, it flourished.

My father was a leading academic in his field, the history of economic thought. He had a long association with the University of Sydney, so it was fitting that Professor Colm Harmon, Head of the School of Economics, officiated at Dad’s funeral. Professor Tony Aspromourgos and Associate Professor Peter Kriesler both spoke of Dad’s professional life, but also his friendship with them. Their eulogies included comments and notes from academics around the world who couldn’t be there at the funeral. There will be obituaries and tributes to Dad in journals and at conferences. Those I can link to I will add here.

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Two other friends also spoke about Dad’s involvement in various groups throughout his life, and his youngest brother spoke of Dad as a kid in the Netherlands and then in Australia.

I didn’t speak at Dad’s funeral as I did for Mum. Too much and too much of a shock. While Dad had been ill, his death was unexpected, so I’m writing my blog about Dad fresh.

When I was at university and later at work I kept running into people who would hear or see my surname and often ask: “Do you know Professor Peter Groenewegen?”* Yes, I would reply, and explain the relationship. They often would say they were grateful for his lectures or tutorials, and sometimes confess their fear of his intellect.

Dad was fiercely intelligent, but as my father I can’t say that I feared him. I know when I was a school student I disappointed Dad, but he still encouraged me to read widely. To think about things. My alma mater was the ANU, not Sydney, and Dad again supported me in my choices even though he didn’t always agree with them on an academic basis. I treasure the many discussions we had about politics of all sorts over the decades.

I discovered SFF as a kid and devoured SF novels as a teenager. My love of Doctor Who in particular has not waned, and outside of my work (of which Mum and Dad were extremely proud) I have been slowly developing a writing career mostly in that amazing universe. Even though both Mum and Dad tolerated my love of SFF, and when I was younger would encourage me to expand my interests, Dad still supported my endeavours. It’s because of him that in the early 1980s I wrote to Johnny Byrne about his Doctor Who story The Keeper of Traken and Vere Lorrimer about Blake’s 7. Why? Because a friend, my brother and I were starting a combined fanzine about those two shows and Dad was keen that we wouldn’t fall foul of copyright. Mum and Dad were able to read my first novel, a spin off of Doctor Who, and they both enjoyed it.

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Both Mum and Dad loved to travel, and I caught that bug from them. I treasure all the trips I took with them both as a kid and as an adult, and also the time when Dad travelled to the Netherlands for a conference and I happened to be working there. We took a week off and travelled to lots of places, including the family home in Utrecht. I understood more about Dad from that week.

It’s incredibly hard to comprehend that my father is, like my mother, no longer with us in person. I miss them both terribly, but I know they live on in our memories.

* Occasionally it would be my Uncle John (a teacher at a school in Sydney), or my Uncle Hans (a university librarian in Melbourne), or my Uncle Michiel (a minister in the church), or my Uncle Guy (an architect), or my grandfather (also a minister in the church), or very rarely a Groenewegen not of my immediate family.

Thames Path: Stage 2 – Waterloo to Mortlake

This morning I caught a bus to Waterloo Bridge and picked up on the Thames Path where I left off on Monday. Early on a Sunday and the only people about apart from me were cleaners, a few joggers, and an artist in the under passages of the Southbank.

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I stayed on the south side of the river the whole way, delighting in the fact that the many diversions that had been in place for years no longer are. One small one has cropped up around the MI6 building at Vauxhall while they rebuild some of the old office blocks there and the slipway. It’s a minor diversion. The other is the remaining one in Nine Elms where work continues on the old Battersea Power Station. It makes such a difference to be able to walk along the river side rather than divert through building works.

This stretch took me past many of London’s key sights – Parliament (clad in scaffolding for long needed restoration work), Lambeth Palace, the London Eye, and the Tate (across the other side of the river). Also past and partially through the still being build Nine Elms area – the architecture is a mix of plain and the quite interesting. Despite the lack of new affordable housing in the area, the rejuvenation will bring a bit of life to the older parts, too.

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Low tide and highly reflective water along the river today. 

The path goes through a few large parks – Battersea with its pagoda, and Wandsworth where people played cricket. Past Putney and into Barnes the path goes into forest and wetlands. Here quite a few people were enjoying the warm sunshine by riding their bikes, or walking, or running. One little thing that irked – three groups of runners had loud music pumping out from backpacks.

Like with Monday, I decided to only walk for half the day. I had lunch at the Ship, a Greene King pub, in Mortlake and then headed to the station for  train back to central London.

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According to my FitBit, I walked nearly 21km (a bit over 13 miles) in about three hours and fifty minutes (not including my lunch break). The map above is from my FitBit app.

Thames Path: from the Barrier to the Source – stage one, to Waterloo

I have planned to walk the Thames path from the Barrier to the source for some years, but never made the time for it. This last week I decided I could break it up in to a series of weekend walks, then take a week off for the last bit or so.

I have done most of the London parts, both southern and northern banks, in bits quite a few times in the past. I’ve also walked some parts of it around Oxford and Reading. Now, 28 May 2018, is the time to start to do it in the right order.

This morning I woke early and jumped on the nearly empty buses to get to the Thames Barrier, south side. The café and visitor centre is closed for refurbishment, not that it would have been open when I was there this morning. I took a few obligatory photographs, although it was very hazy. I did like the IDAHOT display from the Environmental Agency.

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180 miles to go… or about 290km.

Last time I had been this way much of the path around the Millennium Dome was boarded up, being redeveloped. Now most of the path had been restored and for all the new apartment blocks there are signs of the continued improvements along the foreshore with the planting of reeds and other water plants. There’s still a lot of industry in these parts, mostly sand and aggregate plants, but none were operating today. A detour is still in place at the far side of the Dome that takes you past the Meantime Brewery and through to the river again just before you reach the old part of Greenwich. It will be good when they finally finish fixing the riverside path along there.

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Canary Wharf in the haze, from just beyond the Thames Barrier. © SJG.

Greenwich appears from around a bend; the power station chimneys visible first, and then the masts of the restored Cutty Sark. It’s quite quick to reach the front of the magnificent college, today with tents being set up for some kind of festival or market. Usually I go through the foot tunnel to the north bank, but today I decided to stick to the south. Again, much of the housing development had been completed since the last time I’d been here and so I was able to continue along the Thames Path, detouring away from the river through Deptford. Here there are traces of Russian Czar Peter the Great’s four month stay in the area from January 1698. One, a strange statue, the other a plaque to a tree supposedly planted by him (picture below).

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The path along the river through Rotherhithe to Tower Bridge is mostly a mixture of apartment blocks made from old wharves and scarce traces of London’s once thriving river industry and military history.

While there were runners, dog walkers, and the occasional cycling group, most of the path was devoid of other people. That changed at Tower Bridge where throngs of tourists dawdled through the sights. By this point the haze had mostly been burned through leaving blue skies that suggested the forecast thunderstorms and rain might not happen during the middle of the day at least. I ducked and weaved my way through the throngs to have lunch at Doggetts Coat and Badge pub – other favourite pubs in the area either closed or heaving. While lunching, I toyed with the idea of continuing through to Vauxhall, but decided to stick to my original plan of breaking at Waterloo. The crowds, while great to see lots of people enjoying themselves, were too much after the pleasant numbers of people I had seen up to that point.

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According to my FitBit, I walked 23km (a bit over 14 miles) in about four and a half hours (not including my lunch break). The map above is from my FitBit app.

In memory of my mother, 1940 to 2018.

A month ago today my mother passed away in relative peace in a hospital in Australia. She had been unwell for some years, so in some respects it was not unexpected, but that doesn’t prepare you for the loss. The grief.

I had booked flights to Australia the weekend before for the weekend ahead, but I missed seeing her. I am glad that my brother had been with her shortly before, but sad that my father had been apart from her because of his own illness. I made it back for the funeral, which was a small affair with friends and family. Officiated by a minister in the Presbyterian church mum attended for as long as she could, the eulogies presented by a sister-in-law and former school mate, a brother-in-law who had been Mum and Dad’s best man, and me. I have decided to publish my eulogy here on my blog.

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Mum as a child, and subject of a prize-winning photograph at the Royal Easter Show. Photographer unknown.

Over the last few weeks I have been thinking about stories that encapsulate mum and what she meant to me, as though one story ever could. Mum filled her life with many activities and touched the lives of countless in various ways.

Then, I remembered the day back in 2004 when I went to tell Mum and Dad that I had got a job in England and would be moving to live in the UK for a few years at least. I was nervous; it’s a big piece of news to share. But, I needn’t have worried. Mum had guessed pretty much my plans, and I remember her sharing how different things were back in the early 1960s when she embarked for her first big overseas adventure with Dad shortly after they married. Back then regular communication was letter writing, the post carried by sea and taking about 3 months or so to travel between London and Sydney. They had kept aside an amount of money for a telegram in case of an emergency. Phone calls were prohibitively expensive. But, now we have Skype, emails – and even regular phone calls are affordable. And so it was that we kept in contact, adjusting as needed, and we also met up in various far flung places.

As I stared at the map showing the distance my flight had travelled and the distance yet to come on my return to Sydney last week, my thoughts turned to Mum’s love of travel, of exploring new places both in Australia and overseas, and the joy she took in sharing her and Dad’s adventures.

As a family, we travelled across NSW to meet branches of her family – the old uncles in Coonamble and Coonabarabran, a family driving holiday up the NSW coast, another in Victoria, and another around Tassie – Mum loved to drive so much especially out in the open country. Further afield I remember her stories about her and Dad’s driving trip around Ireland. About doing what the locals do to supplement an erratic bus service, and patiently waiting while the locals chatted in the narrow village streets.

Annual trips to Mudgee for the music and wine festivals were a loved feature of Mum’s life while I was studying in Canberra, and I used to enjoy her reports.

Mum, with Dad, explored Europe from West to East – all the way to Russia, and meeting family in Germany and the Netherlands at various times. I remember her talking about the first snow and ice she encountered in the Netherlands on her first trip in the early 1960s.

The UK – both London and beyond – and as a family we lived there twice, and S— was of course born there. Connected to those trips were weeks at a time in Singapore.

Mum also loved her time in New York City, and I enjoyed hearing about her experiences in California and Mexico, and later from Vietnam and Cambodia. Later yet the cruises around the Pacific, and around Australia.

I was pleased to be able to join both Mum and Dad on trips to Hamburg, Rome and Athens on separate occasions. In each we did what Mum and Dad both loved – spend about a week in each city to get to know it a bit better. Mum shared her wisdom in getting us to explore what we wanted to explore, and while we shared dinner together we also shared what we had seen and done. Easier in these days of digital photography to share the photos we had taken, and Mum took some amazing photographs.

Mum curated all the various travels in numerous photo albums, which are a joy to review and relive shared adventures, and to see how the minutiae of international and domestic travel has changed in the kept tickets and timetables.

Mum also travelled far in her books – histories, biographies, novels, and detective fiction. She was a regular at the local library, latterly they regularly visited to deposit a selection. We shared books and our views on them in emails, but more often in person when we met in Sydney, or in the UK, or elsewhere in Europe.

It’s difficult to remember that within all that travel Mum worked for much of the time that she raised me and S— – she loved her job at Formica, and treasured the friendships she made there. They joined long friendships from other places where she had worked, also in the UK on the two long stays there in the early 1960s and early 1970s.

On retirement, she volunteered her time for Amnesty International, and then also cleaning stamps for re-sale for charity – something she was doing until very recently when she could.

But she also took courses and learned how to make books; I treasure the notebooks she made and gave as gifts.

Mum was everything that Aunty Lyn and Uncle Guy have already shared.

A school friend of mine told me how much she remembers Mum being so welcoming when they came over to our house in B—, and later in North Sydney. I remember the many parties of my friends, of her and Dad’s friends, and of course the Groenewegen family Christmases.

Mum lived a long and full life; always giving. She will live on in our memories – and there are so very many memories.