Auckland to Christchurch

Auckland is built on a volcanic bed consisting of about fifty volcanoes. Each is considered extinct though the field as a whole is merely dormant. There have been 90 eruptions in the last 90,000 years.

It is located on an isthmus which is just 2 km wide at its narrowest. There are two harbours: the northern one takes you to the Pacific Ocean and the other takes you to the Tasman Sea.

It is home to one third of New Zealand’s total population and everyone has very strong thighs. It’s a very hilly city and some of the hills are quite steep. We know: it feels like we’ve climbed most of them during the last couple of days.

We had breakfast courtesy of Joanna and Ian, while we all chatted, and so Liesel and I left the house on both days a little later then planned.

Two days, two Museums, fourteen miles walking in Auckland, two decent eating places, many fantastic views, zero bungee jumps and Christmas music seeping out of some shops.

Ghostly apparition

Our wanderings took us along some busy roads, so we were glad of the opportunity to take a ‘short cut’ through Myer’s Park. It’s a cute littel patch of green, with a fab children’s playground, and we were entertained by a man playing his piano-accordion.

Sculpture in Myer’s Park

Our destination was Auckland Domain, one of the bigger parks in the city and we couldn’t beliece how green Auckland is. Yes, there are plenty of high-rise buildings but there are green patches and trees in between, totally different to Tokyo.

We happened to pass by the art gallery and it just happened to have a café and we went in by mistake and had a coffee.

Mojo Coffee, above the art gallery

We sat outside, but under cover. It was warm and the sky was blue except for over there where it looked like a big black storm was brewing.

Ominous

We walked through Albert Park, where the sculpture that I thought might be a sundial turned out not to be. I couldn’t find a plaque so I can’t say what it really is.

We said hello to Queen Victoria and I made a short speech from the podium at Speakers’ Corner.

Queen Victoria
Bollocks to Brexit! And I am unanimous in this!!

Auckland Domain was hilly too, so it was only fair to test-sit many of the park benches.

There’s a word for this kind of tree

The trees were fascinating, multiple trunks in many cases; the paths were very well maintained. And as if that’s not enough, there were some really interesting sculptures too.

Numbers are the Language of Nature

At the top of the hill is located the Auckland War Memorial Museum. The views from the top are wonderful, a fine reward for all the effort. The Museum is very interesting but very moving too. There’s the history of the Maori settlers, the arrival of white Europeans with their Christianity and firearms as often seems to be the case.

There is a butterfly collection which is very pretty, but it feels a bit wrong to collect that many specimens.

Butterflies

As it’s a War Memorial, there are stories of all the conflicts that New Zealanders have been involved with, usually for the sake of the mother country. There are two Halls of Memory listing all Aucklanders lost in battle. And if that’s not enough, there is this:

Let these panels never be filled

We walked home and when we were caught in the rain, we took shelter in the bandstand for a few moments.

The Maritime Museum is down by the harbour so we knew this day’s walk wouldn’t be as long.

Millions of dollars

I couldn’t resist the temptation to have a go on one of the electric scooters operated by a company called Lime.

Mick on the scooter

Liesel wasn’t too keen and I didn’t go too far as I didn’t have a helmet but some other people were going by at very high speed.

In the museum, I chose to join the guided tour at 1.30pm. Liesel sat and read her book while Tony took me and all the others around for two hours. All the others? There were none. I had my own personal guide, and he explained everything, from how the Maoris arrived here in the first place, right up to Sir Peter Blake winning the America’s Cup for NZ in 1995.

Waka tiwai – river boat made from half a log
Tukutuku panels tell a story

On the way back home, we were very nearly tempted by this pub:

That’s a good deal

But really, this is my new favourite venue, and there is no prizes for telling me why:

Harbourside

This was a surprise too: Tony had mentioned the Rainbow Warrior in the museum earlier, but we didn’t know about this memorial:

Rainbow Warrior memorial

It was a short stay in Auckland, but we’ll be back very soon.

Our flight to Christchurch was short and sweet and again, we had seats a row apart.

It was good to be by the window, not above the wing, and I enjoyed the bird’s-eye view of Hagley Park.

The Oval in Hagley Park

We’re in Christchurch with my sister Pauline and her partner Andrew. We’ll be here for Christmas and until we get kicked out.

It’s our first visit here since the catastrophic earthquakes. Pauline’s house was finally re-built last year, after waiting six years.

A Day in Naha

We woke up this morning to news of a big earthquake in Anchorage. All our friends and family are OK, with minor damage to property. As far as we know right now, there are no reports of fatalities nor serious injuries. It’s a world away to us right now, but we’ve seen pictures of huge damage to roads and bridges, shops and houses. Sending love and good wishes to all in Alaska.

Liquor store in Anchorage

We took a gentle stroll to nearby Fukushuen Garden. Naha and Fouzhou in China, are two close and similar cities bonded by friendship that share ties of amicability. BFFs, in modern parlance. The garden has many interesting Chinese features, including a pair of pagodas that are modelled on Fouzhou’s twin pagodas.

Mount Ye and the Pavilion of Ye

Pavilion of Ye, waterfall and rainbow bridge
I thought this was a negative too, at first
Cheers!
Hobbitses live here

The entrance fee was ridiculously cheap: the equivalent of about £1.40. You have to wonder, how can they maintain the gardens with such a small income? Or, conversely, what do gardens in England do with all the money from their (relatively) extortionate entrance fees?

One of two enormous Chinese vases, behind glass

We fed the turtles. Well, we tried, but they’re just not as fast as the fish. If a turtle doesn’t grab a pellet of food within a microsecond, a big, greedy carp comes right up and devours it. We watched the heron too, wondering if it has its eyes on a fish supper. It walked silently from rock to rock, a ballerina en pointe, its eyes gazing a gazely stare into the water, but there was no bird on fish action. Liesel was just grateful there were no baby ducks on the menu, like that day in St James’s Park!

Turtles v carp: ¥100 for a box of carpfood

We wandered home, ate, read and wondered what to do on our final day here in Naha. As I write, it’s just gone midday and mainly we’re just sorting stuff out, a prelude to packing tomorrow morning. Not very exciting, I know.

This is more interesting

This is very pretty… we need Shazam for flowers. Or, alternatively, we could just take notes from the captions by the plants in the garden.

Hiroshima

Hiroshima.

The word itself is evocative. Visiting the town was difficult. Were we being intrusive? Invasive? Or were we visiting with good intentions in our hearts?

Yes: definitely the latter. What a moving experience. We spent some time being interviewed by several school children. We passed on messages of peace and love and they gave us origami cranes.

The Atom Bomb Dome
The A-Bomb Dome from the Peace Memorial Park
Before the war

After the bombing

From a survivor
A sentiment close to our hearts

The Museum was very crowded, hundreds of school students reading about the war and the bomb and there were some fairly graphic exhibits too.

140,000 of these small tiles, one for each victim
140,000 tiles make up the picture
The willow tree that survived the A-bomb
Hiroshima Castle
From the castle towards the town
The Peace Bell

The Peace Bell was made in 1949 to console the souls of the people who died from the A-bombing, and to hope for peace.

We sat and thought for a while beside Hiroshima Castle before heading for home. It’s a lovely city and the people, museum staff, passers-by, children were all very friendly.

But I suspect the story from that August morning in 1945 will probably be at the forefront of our minds for a long time to come when we hear the name Hiroshima.

International Travel

No matter how you try to make plane travel stress free, it never is. We had no mishaps, other than Mick leaving behind his reading glasses, but it was still stressful because of immigration.

American immigration agents are always either smart asses or jerks. Do they go to special school for this? After a day of travel neither is better than the other.

Having made it through immigration and customs in Seattle, we rechecked our bags, got our seat assignments and headed to the terminal. You know Alaska is no longer your home when you do not encounter anyone you know waiting at the gate. I knew no one.

Anchorage has changed a lot since I was here last but I’m pleased to say the mountains are still stunning and nothing makes me feel more at home.

Mom and Dad picked us up and drove to their house. We were met by the motor home aka land yacht was parked across the drive. Tomorrow my family is driving to Fairbanks for the week to support my nephews in a state soccer tournament. Can’t say I’m looking forward to the 358 mile drive but being in the motor home is a little like taking the train. You can sleep, eat, make a cuppa, read, watch a movie and enjoy the scenery.

Light Relief

växjö-pendant-lampLast week, we bought a light fitting from Ikea. Yesterday, I installed it. We now have something remarkably like a flying saucer floating above the dining table. All we needed now was a lightbulb that would actually fit. None of our existing ones have the same fitting, of course. What we should have done last week was open the box in the shop, read the instructions and then purchase the correct, presumable Swedish screw-fitting lightbulb. Or read the instructions on the shelves telling us we needed custom lighbulbs. (There are no such instructions.)

So today, we returned to Ikea and purchased not one but two bulbs. Both physically fit but one is brighter than the other and we don’t really know how many candellas or lumens of brightness we need, nor power consumption. All we can say is, we would like it as bright as an old-fashioned 60-watt or 100-watt incandescent lightbulb.

On the way back home, my mind replayed the conversation that must have taken place one day in a dark, smoky room somewhere.

There’s too much CO2 in the atmosphere, greenhouse effect, global warming, we should do something about it.

Yes, I agree. But what?

How about these new energy-saving lightbulbs? We can force everyone in the world to use them instead of the old, reliable, bright, incandescent ones.

So each household will use less energy?

Well, sort of, yes, that’s right.

But they’re not very bright, are they.

We’ll get used to that. And brighter ones will come along soon.

They take a couple of seconds to light up when you turn them on, correct?

Yes, that’s to save even more energy.

Oh of course! But some people like to dim their lights at night, and you can’t do that with these new-fangled energy-saving lightbulbs.

Not all of them, no, but there are dimmable ones available. You just need to buy a special dimming device with each such bulb.

Won’t that use more resources when we’re meant to be saving on energy and materials?

A bit, maybe. The idea is to give people the impression that they’re doing something for the environment: they won’t necessarily be saving any actual energy, overall.

Oh, is that why they’re manufactured in China?

Yes: all the energy saved by not lighting up people’s houses properly is instead used for transporting lightbulbs half way round the planet.

Seems good to me. And when these bulbs stop working, they’re just thrown away?

No, they contain some very dangerous and rare elements and they should be disposed of in a controlled manner, not just thrown out with the rest of the rubbish.

Old lightbulbs came in a cardboard box, is that still the case?

No, of course not. These lightbulbs are much more expensive. They’ll be sold in non-reusable blister packs made from non-recycleable plastic. And there’ll definitely be no way to check that they work while you’re in the shop.

Hardly a giant leap forward, is it?

No, I think it’s fair to say, they’re not to everybody’s taste.

One more question, if I may?

Of course.

Lightbulb: is it one word or two words?

 

L at the end of the T

This is a conversation I had with myself earlier when Radio 2 played a horrible, horrible song for the millionth time this week. Why not play a CD? Ah, good idea. Oh, except we can’t, we got rid of the stereo system. We can play a CD on the DVD player, that’s still connected. Oh, good idea, yes. Except we can’t. Why not? All of the CDs have been packed. So Radio 3 it was, for a while. Back to Radio 2 for Paddy O’Connell sitting in for Jeremy Vine with a loud Brexiteer and a brash Remainer both shouting over each other and reminding me why we don’t listen to the Today programme any more, nor watch Question Time on TV: it’s all manufactured confrontation, everything has to be black and white, one thing or another.

We made our final trip to the tip today to dispose of some wood that we can’t really leave in the garden waste bin, even though technically speaking, it is garden waste. We had to take the old, much loved, heavily used but no longer wanted office desk too. Several people on Facebook Marketplace expressed an interest but none were interested enough to make the journey to Chessington. Hopefully, someone will visit the bric-a-brac area at the tip and find the desk of their dreams. Everything else that we offered has been given away to people or taken to a charity shop. And John came along as planned to take away the washing machine, microwave and a few other bits and pieces.

So everything in the house now is either coming with us or is being left for the new people. Today, I dismantled some furniture, packed up the PC and all the peripherals, while Liesel packed up more kitchen stuff including the contents of the spice drawer. I never knew we had so many spices, all in glass bottles, and that box is really heavy, man.

I think we’re on target to have a nice, relaxing weekend. At the last minute, we’ll pack up the TV and the phone connection and all that stuff.

We briefly discussed going out to the pub tonight but, nah, we’re both too knackered. We’ve got books to read, radio programmes to listen to, beauty sleep to catch up on and then, we’ll see what occurs early tomorrow morning!

Achill Island

There really is no point in trying to come up with more and more superlatives. If you need more, find a thesaurus, look up ‘gorgeous’, ‘lovely’, ‘awe-inspi\nring’ and ‘incrediy moving. It was a pleasant drive to Achill, on good roads, with little traffic, in the sunshine.

There were some sheep on the road, we had the beaches pretty much to ourselves, we had a picnic on a beach but on the whole, we just enjoyed looming at the stunning Irish landscapes.

Keem
Keem
Rush hour traffic
Where’s Liesel?
Mulrahanny

That’s Impossible, Mummy

I went for a walk in Chessington a couple of days ago. During that time, I chatted with four former colleagues at Royal Mail.

Our own Postie, Michael, is very helpful and we’re happy to return the favour, to make his day-to-day duty a little bit easier.

Duncan, the Delivery Office Manager, had a hip replacement last year and says he hasn’t felt this good for a long time. Royal Mail senior management don’t get any better. Duncan has just been copied in to a long thread of emails discussing the sale of Chessington Delivery Office and moving the staff into the spare space the Epsom office. All the plans have been made, values estimated, timetables agreed. But there’s just one problem. Royal Mail sold this office ten years ago and have been paying rent ever since.

Paul usually works indoors, serving customers who come to collect items that couldn’t be delivered. He also prepares the up to seven, yes, seven, door-to-door leaflets (unaddressed junk mail, pizza menus mostly) that have to be delivered to each house. 99% of which go straight into the recycling box.

Steve had two knees replaced last year and is recovering well. In fact, he chose to retire a few weeks ago too and syas he’s loving it. Not having to get up at 5 o’clock in the morning. Not knowing what day of he week it is. He thinks he might get bored one day, in which case he’ll look for a very part-time job.

But he has grand-children too and I have a sneaky feeling he will be spending more time with them.

It’s a funny feeling spending time with our Martha and William, knowing it’s never going to be enough time, but also planning to leave them for a year while we go travelling.

William has just turned 5 months of age. He has a gorgeous, cheeky little smile and if he doesn’t become the number one joker in his class at school, I’ll be very surprised. He will be able to pick us out in an ID parade, no problem, given the amount of time he scrutinises our faces, while trying not to laugh.

And here we are now, boasting about Martha, just over 2 years old. She is incredibly bright. Not only can she count from 1 to 10, she knows when he has 2, 3, 4 or 5 balls in front of her. Proper counting.

Playing in the garden today, she slipped on the slide, and when her Mum asked if she was alright, she said, “I’m fine.” She usually refers to herself in the third person, as Moo-moo. So, pronouns too.

And when her Mum asked if she wanted to climb up the slide, for the second time in two days, and we just looked at each other the first time, she said, “That’s impossible, Mummy.” What a concept for a 2-year old.

Salisbury and Ireland

Salisbury has been in the news recently for all the wrong reasons. A Russian migrant, his daughter and a police officer were affected by Novochok, a nerve agent that can only be made in Russsia. They’re still cleaning up the town, but not everyone wears a biological protection suit. So when Liesel and I went to meet a friend there, we chose to wear ordinary clothes.

A lot of ordinary clothes, as it happens, because it was one of the coldest days of the month. None of us walked as far as we would have liked, from the car park to a coffee bar to the Boston Tea Party for lunch, a quick visit to the bookshop and then back to the car park.

The car park was free of charge for up to three hours, in an effort to attract visitors to the town again.

Today, we drove to Reddish to see Jenny, Liam, Martha and William. We’re staying in an Airbnb place because their house is in a state of flux right now, and probably will be until they can move to their new house.

In a first for Liesel, she asked our Airbnb host to sign her book. Our host happens to be Fionn Davenport, a travel writer who wrote the Lonely Planet Guide to Ireland that Liesel was reading on the drive today, as we’re off to Ireland next week.

Small world, innit?

February 1st, 2018

Hello, good evening, welcome.

Bonjour, g’day, guten tag, hola, ciao, aloha, namaste, hallo, ahoy hoy, kia ora. I think that includes most of our friends and family here on Earth.

Everyone says hi.

Well, when I say everyone, I mean me and my wife. Mick and Liesel. Hi there! We have big plans,  and we feel that at least some of those plans should be documented as and when they come to fruition.

In previous years, February has been used for challenges. For instance, one year, I decided that February would be chocolate-free for me. I forgot that right in the middle of the month, we have Valentine’s Day and our wedding anniversary. Not very well thought out.

Last year, we decided to have a TV-free February. That was OK: we listened to lots of radio and long-neglected records. And on a couple of occasions, we spoke to each other. Of course, the downside was, in March, we had to catch up on all the drama series and documentaries we’d recorded. Again, not very well thought out.

So, why do we think our Big Plans will work out? Well, they will. Eventually, somehow. And when something goes wrong? One of us will write about it here.

Happy 2018, happy February!