Spider with Rosie

Walking by the Mersey, I came across this stairway to nowhere. There’s a shorter one in Chessington, just a few steps leading to the back of someone’s garden fence.

Stairway to the M60

But this one looks far more interesting. I didn’t climb up, but I think if I did, and went through the little door at the top, I would find myself on the hard shoulder of the M60, Manchester’s Outer Ring Road. How scary/exciting is that!

There are lots of beauty parlours, nail salons, hairdressers, tattooists, body piercers and other related establishments close to where we live here in Northenden. One place I won’t be visiting for my next spray tan is only a five minute walk away.

Spray tan

Actually, maybe I would go, if I wanted to look like Shrek or The Hulk or something.

Our first gig was at Stoller Hall in Manchester. We saw Eddi Reader for the 4th or 5th time in real life, although she did entertain us in our rental cars while we were away. We sang along to all the songs we knew, not so much to the new ones.

Eddi Reader and her band

Once again, Boo Hewerdine accompanied Eddi, and it was his turn to sing Patience of Angels tonight: fair enough, he did write it.

The support act was Siobhan Miller who we both took to straightaway. And yes, I did buy a CD. Or two.

Siobhan Miller and her band

Our first non-familial visitor arrived: Rosie came up from Surrey for the weekend, and was delighted to be able to sleep on our sofa-bed. Not so delighted with her sleeping partner, a harmless little spider. Rosie and Liesel went out for the day, visiting Lyme Park (sorry I missed it) and Ikea (not sorry I missed it).

We all went to the seaside for a picnic. Formby is our nearest beach: in fact, it seems to be everybody’s nearest beach. We thought everyone went to the Trafford Centre on a Saturday, but no, they all came to Formby today.

Dunes

Above the beach, I was reminded of a book we had to read at school, Lawn ‘n’ Dune. I should read it again, I can’t remember whether it was any good or not.

From the car park, you walk over the dunes onto the beach. Most people then turn right for some reason, or just plonk themselves down at the earliest opportunity. We turned left and found plenty of space. Yes, we could see and hear other people, but we found a good spot to sit down for our picnic.

Big wide beach while the tide’s out
Where’s Liesel? Where’s Rosie?

I’m not one to complain, haha, but the ridges of rippled of sand on the beach were quite hard to walk on today. I think we all tried to find smoother, harder, easier patches to walk on.

The Sun in the sand

The police officer took her horse for a walk on the beach and, judging by the hoofprints, this wasn’t the first visit of the day.

PC with GG

What a lovely day on the beach, blue skies and warm sunshine with a very subtle breeze.

A pair of noisy, midnight black crows watched while we were eating. When I finished my apple, I was going throw one of them the core, but Liesel wouldn’t let me, even though that’s what it had been asking for.

Caw said the crow…
Selfie of the day

We re-visited the air raid shelters in Stockport, reliving the blitz. It was colder in the tunnels than outside, so what a surprise when we emerged.

Air raid shelter tunnel

In Manchester, we enjoyed a walk and then a couple of hours in the Art Gallery, until we were chucked out at closing time. Yes, we’ll have to go back and explore some other galleries.

Rodin’s “Oh no, I forgot to put my trousers on”

We’ve seen Grayson Perry on TV and heard him on the radio, but I don’t think we’ve seen any of his artwork before. This vase is fascinating and very colourful: I could have looked at it for ages.

Jane Austen in E17 by Grayson Perry
Jane Austen in E17 by Grayson Perry

Some of the captions have been given a ‘feminist revision’ that make you realise just how engrained is the notion that ‘male’ has always been and still is the default gender.

A feminist revision
The original text
Mesh man floating above the stairwell

We found Emmeline Pankhurst as we continued our wander around the city centre.

Emmeline Pankhurst, Suffragette

Today was Manchester Day, an opportunity to celebrate and enjoy everything that Manchester has to offer. Somehow, we contrived to miss everything, the parade, the bike ride, the music, the street food, everything. We’ll make more of an effort next year.

I don’t know how many times we’ve driven up to visit Jenny, observed and ignored the signs to Quarry Bank Mill. Well, today we drove there, a mere 15 minutes from home. This isn’t just some small mill by a stream. It’s a big place, with large grounds, and very good demonstrations of turning cotton into clothing.

Quarry Bank Mill

Samuel Greg started the business having moved to the area from Belfast. He didn’t want to be in Manchester itself, close to all the other mills, but found this ideal location in Styal.

Yes, his slaves were mentioned as part of the display.

As Boris Johnson is set to be ordained, crowned, annointed Prime Minister, we found an extract from his manifesto regarding the employment practices to which he wishes to return.

Be it remembered, we have it easy today
Cotton spindles used as a screen

After lunch at the mill, which we shall certainly re-visit, Liesel and I dropped Rosie off at the station for her long trek back home.

Meanwhile, Liesel and I rested our eyes for a while, glad to be inside just in time before the rain returned!

Much more Melbourne

On the way to join Jyoti and Chris for breakfast, I was again reminded of 2001: A Space Odyssey.

My God, it’s full of stars!

Other than that, the walk and the tram ride were uneventful. Yes, Jyoti is back in town to spend time with Chris and so we decided to pester them too. Actually, Chris suggested the venue, The Auction Rooms. Liesel and I arrived first and there was already a queue of people waiting to be seated. So, a popular place with locals: always a good sign.

Chris, Jyoti, Liesel, Mick

It was wonderful to see those two love birds, gazing into each others’ eyes, holding hands and, in another place, the Morality Police would have been on the scene, blues and twos, no doubt! Chris had to work (we keep forgetting some people have real lives with jobs and everything) so the three of us went to the Museum.

The Revolutions: Records and Rebels exhibtion was previously shown at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. Now in Melbourne, it includes reference to the fight for Aboriginal rights in the 1960s. It was fascinating, lots of memories for me. Unbelievably, at the time, I wanted to be a little older than I was. Not so keen on that idea, now!

Yes, it was all very interesting, and it’s just so sad and disappointing that some groups of people are still having to fight for equal rights, you know, real weirdos such as women, black people, gay people, Australian Aboriginal people. But we did leave with some fund-raising ideas for the WI.

How many joints in the jar?

The ’60s music was good, too, and we enjoyed watching The Who at Woodstock, just 50 years late to that particular party.

Roger Daltrey

There’s a replica of the first ever computer mouse, invented over 50 years ago.

Computer pointing device

I never knew until today that there was a road named after a top Australian rock band. AC/DC Lane is popular with visitors, partly due to the street art in the area. As usual, the creative work is ruined slightly by the boring, unimaginative tagging.

AC/DC Lane
Jimi, or not Jimi? That is the question
Melbourne

Vegetarian Paul McCartney would probably not be too happy with this tribute to his old band.

Wings night

We wandered around the 19th and 20th century Aussie art display in the Federation Square complex. We would have stayed longer, but at closing time, even we were politely asked to leave. The then new Sydney Harbour Bridge was still under construction but the painting’s finished.

The Bridge in-curve by Grace Cossington Smith, 1930

I was disappointed not to see any works by Michael Andrews: maybe we just missed him by a room or two, but this depiction of the red centre is quite evocative.

Central Australia by Sidney Nolan, 1949

On the way to the old Young & Jackson pub, we made a detour to another lane, where the street art is striking. One of the main news items at the moment here in Australia is about Freedom of the Press. The police raided the offices of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation and the home of a journalist, in an attempt to discover who leaked some secret information. Someone was quick off the mark with this image.

AFP USB
Binge thinking

Many years ago, my Dad told us about a pub he’d visited at the end of the Second World War. I don’t think he remembered its name but he said it was opposite Flinders Street Station. He told us about a painting on the wall inside, a girl called Chloe. After three or four visits to Melbourne, it was time to track this pub down. If it wasn’t Young and Jackson, then I don’t know where else to look. He visited when he ended his war, serving in the Royal Navy, here in Australia.

It is an old pub, yes, and it’s seen a few changes in the 74 years since Dad was here. But I was really pleased to find Chloe, now 144 years young, on the wall in the upstairs restaurant.

Chloe by Jules Lefebvre, 1875

Cheers, Dad!

Chris joined us for an early evening meal, before he and Jyoti went home. Liesel and I walked over the river to revisit the Arts Centre.

Lazarus

I’ve seen Lazarus twice in London, Liesel just the once, and it was just as good and fun and entertaining but a little sad this time: the David Bowie songs are timeless and always magnifico. The stage set was totally different, and both Liesel and I had a much better view of the stage on this occasion.

Tommy and Elly played by Chris Ryan and Phoebe Panarentos

Fewer people sung along than I expected, so I had to project more to compensate. No, I didn’t, I was sotto voce all the way.

What an unexpectedly busy day then: a museum, an art gallery, some street-walking, a couple of meals out and topped off with a musical performance. Thanks, Melbourne!

And so we come to the final, full day on our travels. We’re looking forward to being home, not necessarily to the 24 hour journey getting there.

After a bit of a lie-in, we went out and enjoyed egg muffins for breakfast. Thinking about home, and being away, it was disconcerting to see this on the wall.

Where are we now?

I had to visit the Optus shop to query a large mobile phone bill I’d been sent even though I’m on a different kind of plan. No need for the AFP to come after me when I get home, I’ve seen what they’re like at the ABC. Thank goodness the bill is for the previous user of my Aussie phone number: forget it, nothing to worry about, the clerk will sort it out. So, fingers crossed.

We visited the ridiculously expansive Queen Victoria Market, walked around for a bit, passing time until Jyoti and Chris joined us.

I bought a couple of apples. Jyoti bought a new coat. We admired the Melbourne skyline. We bought coffee.

Melbourne skyline or a futuristic painting?
Melbourne, Mick and coffee

Yes, Melbourne does like its coffee, there are so many coffee places to choose from, we even saw Japanese, Korean and Vietnamese coffee shops in close proximity this morning.

We listened to Rhys Crimmin busking in the market, he’s not too bad, played the didgeridoo as well as guitar, harmonica and a drum, a good old-fashioned one-man band.

Rhys Crimmin

He performed the Men at Work song, Down Under which always raises a smile.

Again, poor old Chris had to go home to work, leaving the three of us to have a jolly good time. We walked to Royal Park and it was very pleasant, the Sun was out, it was warm, I tried not to whinge too much about being forced, well, requested, to wear jeans today rather than shorts. But we’ll soon be back in an English Summer and I can get my legs out again, for everyone’s delectation.

Royal Park

This view reminds me of the album cover for Mike Oldfield’s Hergest Ridge. So yes, now I have that music in my head.

Final day, last supper. Round at Chris’s with his missus, to coin a 25-year old phrase.

Our Aussie adventures conclude with this sunset as seen from Chris’s apartment.

The Sun goes down on our travels

So we bid farewell to Jyoti and Chris, and to our final Airbnb up on the 9th floor looking over an alleyway into an office block.

And farewell to Melbourne, to Australia, to our adventures.

Here we are at the airport, waiting, waiting…

Wilson’s Prom to Melbourne

Rainy Days and Mondays always get me down. Well, that’s a slight exaggeration but a gloomy, windy, rainy Monday is a good enough reason to stay indoors. These occasional enforced ‘days off’ are quite welcome, to be honest.

Our damp, little red friend came by for breakfast, so we had a little chat about Brexit, Trump and The Carpenters’ back catalogue.

Good morning, Rosie

We passed the time by reading, writing, watching TV and looking out of different windows hoping for an improvement in the weather. There’s a Kind of Hush all over the house so we put some music on. Ironically, no Carpenters.

Later in the afternoon, we did venture out briefly, for a walk around Tidal River. We even walked along the river bed itself, there not being much water in it at this time: the tide was out.

Tidal River estuary

In fact, the tide was a long way out, it would have been a major expedition to even get ankle deep.

Very low tide

Liesel suggested a selfie and like the Superstar she is, she posed for quite a few attempts.

Selfie of the day

Yes, we are dressed up for Antarctic conditions, but it wasn’t quite that bad. 11° here, 11° in London and 11° in Anchorage right now. However, it’s Winter here and it’s meant to be Summer at home. We’ve only just begun walking through the campsite when Liesel spotted a wombat crossing the path.

Why did the wombat cross the path?

I hope we didn’t spook him too much as we approached. The pincer movement was accidental, really, I just wanted a shot of the wombat with Liesel, or vice versa. And here he is about to leap out and surprise her as she is on the phone, Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft, I think, or maybe messaging a friend.

Wombat eyeing up Liesel

The wind and rain had caused some damage, at least one tree had fallen down.

Why did the tree fall across the path?

We enjoyed watching a wombat going about his business. He half-heartedly dug a hole, not as efficiently as a rabbit would.

Digging a hole

After a bit of a stretch and a bit of a yawn, revealing some pretty lethal teeth, he made our day by producing several green cubes.

Look at those gnashers
Another crap photo: wombat’s, this time

Yes, they are famous for their cubic poo, although Liesel was disappointed by the lack of sharp edges.

We saw some more birds on the way back, and a couple more wombats, including this one playing Solitaire in the flower bed.

Hiding

From Tidal River, you can see the 558-metre high Mount Oberon, with phone masts and transmitters perched on the top.

Mt Oberon

We walked up the path all the way to the summit, a nice, long, steady climb. There wasn’t much to see on the way up, just a glimpse of a view through the trees now and then.

Can’t see much through the trees except more trees

Then, as we approached the top, the trees opened out more, revealing a blue sky at first and then a magnificent vista. Yes, it was a bit of a slog, but well worth the effort.

One of the hairpin bends

Sometimes on this long trip of ours, I’ve wished to be on my bike rather than walking. I used to sing to my velocipede, I won’t last a day without you, yet somehow I’ve managed 10 months without a single pedal stroke. (Exercise bikes in gyms don’t count.) Today’s uphill tramp would have been tough on a bike, the gradient wasn’t too steep, but it was relentless.

Antennae

The only vehicle on the track was a tanker that had just delivered fuel to the antennae at the top: no electric supply here. On the other hand, what a great 4G signal!

After climbing several steps, we reached the summit. From the bare, bald rocks, we looked down on what could have been a model village Tidal River next to Norman Beach and Norman Bay.

Looking down on Tidal River

We’re on the Top of the World looking down on creation, with a 360° view.

Yes, of course I tried a panorama shot but it didn’t really work, just too much contrast between north and south, between Sun and shade.

Where’s Liesel now?

I know I’m retired from the mail delivery service, but I can sense a few of the more cynical readers saying, Please, Mr Postman, prove that you actually reached the summit. OK then, I will.

Triangulation point

After a bit of rest at the top, the return walk was a little easier. The 2 hour walk actually took us 2 hours and 14 minutes, including a couple of breaks to catch breath and to remove small stones from shoes. Yes, I must walk funny to attract so much grit, but Liesel walks a different funny, splashing muddy water up the back of her calves even when there are no puddles.

I left Liesel in Cambridge while I went for a solo tramp towards Mount Bishop. At a mere 319m altitude, I couldn’t be bothered. Well, I could, but the walking distance involved would have seen me descending at sunset, and I didn’t want to be out alone in the dark. Instead I did the delightfully named Lilly Pilly Circuit Walk and the Lilly Pilly Gully Boardwalk. I saw just two other people on the circuit, a few small birds fleetingly, but no other animals. Mainly trees, ferns, fungi.

Tree
Fern
Orange fungi

This path was also well-maintained, albeit with a few modern obstructions, more recently fallen trees.

I stood by this little waterfall and stream for a while to see if there were any fish climbing up the rock or any crayfish climbing up the trees.

Waterfall and stream

Are you mad, I hear the more cynical reader suggesting? Possibly, but this is Australia, the animals aren’t normal. Lilly Pilly burrowing crayfish climb trees. And Climbing Galaxias nip up waterfalls and sheer rock faces like Edmund Hillary on speed.

Crayfish climb trees
Galaxias climb mountains

We’ve seen plenty of evidence of bush fires, whether controlled or accidental, and there was one here 10 years ago. The place was devastated, but it’s all part of the cycle, and these pictures show the difference between then and now.

Bushfire 2009
The same path today, 2019

I arrived back at the Unit just on sunset.

Sunset from the Lilly Pilly Gully carpark

There are now two crimson rosellas pacing up and down, waiting for a hand-out. (They Long to be) Close to You, Liesel, I gently crooned.

We slept, we ate breakfast, we packed, we departed. We have a Ticket to ride back home soon, but we’ll be busy for a couple of days in Melbourne. Or as the recently reformed Spice Girls might call it, Melb. We said Goodbye to love, well, goodbye to Wilson’s Prom, and as we left, we saw six, yes six emus in total: four in a field and two crossing the road. The funniest thing was seeing two people peering into bushes, apparently oblivious to the emus not that far behind them.

A couple of emus

A few days ago, we passed by a place called Bumbo, and the 12-year old me wanted to live there. Today, we saw a sign for Poowong. One day, I want to move there instead!

It didn’t feel like rain today, but there was total cloud cover. The scenery was captivating, as we retraced part of the route we’d followed from Walhalla.

There are a lot of cattle in NSW and Victoria, big black bulls, white and brown cows, signs telling us they might be crossing the road. We’ve seen lorries taking herds of them to their final holiday destination. But we’re very disappointed with how few sheep there are, though. Not even José Merino sheep, brought over to play football a couple of centuries ago, unless I’ve misremembered my Geography lessons. For all we know, they’re hiding up in the trees, dislodging the drop bears.

Tooradin appeared at exactly the right time. There’s an honesty box for the car park fees which we didn’t raid, honestly.

Big chocolate fisherman
Beach at Tooradin

A short while later, Langwarrin’s big silver gnome cheered us on.

Big silver gnome
We passed an old episode of Doctor Who

Before dropping the car off, we made a detour to Liesel’s favourite place in the whole wide world. A little bit of America in Australia.

Where’s Liesel?

We bought a couple of things to take home and had a greasy cheesy piece of pizza for lunch. Better than a slap round the face with a wet fish, I suppose. This branch of CostCo even sells caskets, or coffins, which we both found dead funny.

We traversed this bridge twice today. Once in the car, then again on the Skybus from the airport to Southern Cross Station.

Fair dinkum bridge architecture

When we dropped the car off, the attendant seemingly was not interested in the intermittent beeping from the car, warning of open doors when they’re all slammed closed. And then on the inevitable online follow-up survey, there was nowhere to make such a comment. Oh well, so much for seeking to improve the customers’ experience.

We deposited our new, super-heavy case at the airport until we leave this wonderful country in three days’ time.

It’s a short walk from Southern Cross to our new b&b apartment on the 9th floor.

9.10

Why does this door remind me of a Beatles song? Because it’s the One after 909.

It’s also a short walk from our b&b to the nearest laundrette. While Liesel watched the washing go round and round, I went out to buy us some drinks. I have a pocket full of loose change to dispose of. Why? We’d been saving $1 and $2 coins for the laundromat. But in this one, here, today, The Lonely Sock, you pay electronically, with a card. 50% impressed and 50% peeved at lugging all that weighty coinage around for so long!

Back to Manly

We had a breakfast of Linda McCartney sausage rolls plus peanut butter on toast plus bananas plus a cup of tea. Later on we had coffees, snack bars and a cookie. Our evening meal was wood fired pizza and soft drinks from nearby Bundaberg. This concludes today’s exciting foodie blog.

While breaking our fast, we saw a couple of bush turkeys out in the field.

Bush Turkey 1: Oh no, there’s a human.
Bush Turkey 2: Suppose we’d better run away.
BT1: They’re OK, it’s Jack that worries me.
BT2: Yes, he gives a good chase, him and his one sticky-up ear and one lying-down ear.
BT1: That always makes me laugh.
BT2: I’m not sure his heart’s in it really, he very rarely even barks.
BT1: Well, as a last resort, we can always fly a bit, he can’t, he won’t catch me.
BT2: I’m not that worried. That dog couldn’t catch a cold on a wet Tuesday in Macclesfield.
BT1: Oooh, Macclesfield, aren’t you well-travelled!

We thanked Susie for her hospitality, for the peace and quiet, and set off for another long day in the car.

An almost empty road with a distant mountain

After all the rain, or maybe it was our imagination, everything looked a little bit brighter and greener. Well, not everything, not the sky, that varied between very dark grey and very bright blue with white fluffy clouds.

We stopped by a school playing field and successfully avoided being arrested.

This magpie approached: maybe he’s used to being fed by passers-by.

Magpie on the running track

As I walked around the running track, I was keeping an eye on the trio of kangaroos just lying there. I managed to approach closer than expected before they stood up. I cautiously stayed behind a tree. They were big, I think the tallest kangaroos we’ve seen so far.

Uh-oh, here comes trouble, I’ll stand up
Hello, Big Boy
Maybe a quick hop is called for

Our first planned stop was just south of Rockhampton. We’d had to give both Rocky and Yeppoon a miss this time, but today was a landmark occasion.

Tropic of Capricorn

We crossed the Tropic of Capricorn so for the first time in 71 days, we are no longer in the Tropics.

Capricorn Spire

This Spire marks the position and other cities on this line of latitude are commemorated too.

Where to next? Rio de Janeiro or Johannesburg?

We saw several goods trains, each with dozens of cars. I hate to think how many tonnes of coal were being taken south while empty cars were being taken back north. The coal industry is a big debating point during the current elections here.

Part of a coal train

We didn’t expect to see a giraffe in Queensland, except in a zoo maybe, but nevertheless, here is one.

Giraffe

Liesel commented that some of the conical hills look like Hershey’s Kisses.

We wondered whether Mount Jukes is a real mountain and what are the criteria for a hill being a mountain anyway?

The lush, green landscape gave way to what one of us called “brown and ugly”. I disagreed and said it had its own kind of beauty. The red/brown colour of the clay seems to be the default colour in a lot of places, though.

The sign warning us of “Slow trucks carrying explosives for the next 5 km” should have caused alarm, but it was another interesting or fascinating feature that eluded us.

Driving north along the A1, Bruce Highway, Highway 1, there were several convoys of army vehicles. We wondered whether they were heading for far north Queensland in case emergency help and rescue is needed once (now ex-) Tropical Cyclone Ann strikes land. Or maybe Cyclone Trevor has already caused damage? It’s very hard to keep up to date with an intermittent internet connection.

One rare sight today was the petrol price: 147.7 per litre. Point seven? Petrol prices are always something-expensive.9 in whatever currency.

We passed a sign pointing towards the Old Bruce Highway. Who was Old Bruce, I wondered. Probably Robert the Bruce, suggested Liesel. He would never come to Australia if he knew about the spiders here, I surmised!

At some point, Liesel said we should be recording some of the bizarre conversations we were having in the car. I thought that was a good idea so I have just done so.

Musical ents today were provided by Martha Tilston, Kirsty MacColl and Sam Brown.

Cécile met us at the b&b in Maryborough. She’s From France, lived in Fiji for five years and is now in Queensland. I didn’t ask her who she’s on the run from.

We went out for a pizza but the place we were aiming for appears to have closed down. Plan B was a Wood-fired pizza place.

Over the road, we watched children and others having a good time in Anzac Park, the skate park. We saw people on BMX bikes, skateboards and scooters, all doing crazy stunts and sometimes falling off.

Fun in the skate park

We’ve been waiting for this moment for a very long time. At last, here is Liesel together with Mary Poppins: two practically perfect people together at last!

Mary Poppins delighted to meet Liesel

Mary’s creator, PL Travers, was born here in Maryborough, and Maryburgians are very proud. Crossing the road here is a delight, so I did so couple of times.

Pedestrian crossing lights

When we returned, Cécile showed us a lovely, shiny green frog that she’d found in her garden: they live in the area. It was croaking for help and I was glad to see it released again. Spooky that it doesn’t appear in any of my photos. I think it must be a vampire frog.

It was a long day in the car, but we enjoyed it so much, we opted for a second long day in the car. This time, all the way to Brisbane where we had an appointment with a Tiger. A Tiger Air flight to Sydney. We felt bad about not giving Maryborough much of our time, but that’s not unusual these days.

Goodbye Cécile. And…

…Goodbye, Mary

We also missed out on the Sunshine Coast, Caboolture, Noosa Heads. Next time!

Google Maps took us on a road parallel to the A1, probably because it felt the three minutes saved were important. It would have saved even more time if it had told us to turn right at a certain point rather than insisting we stay on the same, wrong road for 53 km.

We passed by a few kangaroos grazing at the far side of a field.

Fascinating cloud formations

On Highway 15 to Gympie, we saw signs warning us of the possible presence of all kinds of wildlife on the road: kangaroos, horses, koalas, school buses, echidnas. And all we saw were a few cows and a few goats, not even on the road.

We also saw a convoy of Morris Minors, all bright colours, beautifully polished, I’m guessing not off to the breakers on this occasion.

The A1 became the M1. For a long time, we’ve been seeing signs for PC World, and I thought it was a bit strange. Turns out PCW stands for Pacific Coast Way. This road must be the one of the most polynymous in the world: A1, M1, PCW, Bruce Hwy, Hwy 1, State Hwy 1. No wonder Google Maps gets confused.

But it wasn’t long before we dropped the car off, flew to Sydney, and found ourselves on board the Manly Ferry. A flock of seagulls (not the 1980s synth-pop band) joined us on our voyage across Sydney Harbour. The nearly full Moon was peeping out from behind the clouds and I spent far too much time and wasted far too much film trying to get a photo of a bird in front of the Moon. Well, not film, but the limited storage in my phone.

Artistic shot of the day

It was lovely to see Helen who met us with food from the Japanese restaurant, Mira: we wolfed it down back at her apartment. Sorry about the further outburst of foodie bloggage.

In real life, the results of the Australian General Election were coming in. Good to see so many women but other than that, what a widerange of old, middle class, white males on display, both politicians and TV presenters.

To Katherine

The next day was spent mainly in the Lodge area, or Resort. We didn’t make it to either of the open air pools, despite assurances that there are no crocodiles lurking there.

A late afternoon walk saw me heading towards the river.

Road to the river

As I walked further along the road, I realised that if I kept going, I’d be able to walk right into trouble. This was the boat launch road. I scrambled up the rocks to reach the path supposed to be used by pedestrians such as myself. I couldn’t walk onto the jetty at the end as the gate was locked.

No boats

Interestingly, this sign tells us we can’t use boats in this protected part of the South Alligator River. So instead, I just took some photos of all the interesting wildlife I could find. Which amounted to some green ants.

Ants

Nothing else was stirring apart from a few remote birds. And the crew unloading some scaffolding from a lorry.

Another day on the road and some of the dead straight highway was a bit monotonous. Yes, we were looking out for wildlife all the time, but it was the trees that attracted most of our attention.

We did see some galahs on the road, but they didn’t want to come and say hello. Galahs? Well, we think so, but darker pink and darker grey than we usually see.

Bobo, galah in flight

A dingo also disappeared as soon as we slowed down and showed interest in it. This one wasn’t as well fed as the one we saw a couple of days ago.

Bobo, dingo in retreat

There were plenty of sea eagles and kites flying by too.

Kite

The landscape is fascinating: we both regret not pursuing geology more assiduously in the past. Liesel took a unit as her science at school, and I didn’t follow up on the Open University course all those years ago. Btw, this fabulous institution has just celebrated its 50th anniversary, so, happy birthday to you, OU.

Looking up, behind the trees and the birds, the clouds are a constantly changing, ever entertaining white-on-blue Rorschach test.

Strange clouds

Down below, blackened leaf and plant litter hinted at recent fires. There were miles of ashes, some still smouldering. In places, very small, presumably new, termite mounds were under construction.

Smouldering and blackened

We assume that if the authorities aren’t concerned about us driving by such hot spots, then we shouldn’t be, either. Some trees were singed, but most seemed to be totally unharmed.

There were piles of boulders here and there too, and the road seemed to wind between them. Maybe they are part of the Aboriginal story: they certainly do use rocks to mark the passing of a loved one.

We witnessed a kite playing chicken.

Why did the kite cross the road?

We won: it flew off into the safety of the canopy, well above the smoke and soot.

More fire damage

We missed out on a couple of diversions because the roads were closed. The termite mounds still astound us and they seem to be a darker colour here, south of Cooinda, approaching Pine Creek.

More termite mounds

The marsh grass is unusually high: normally, during the ‘knock ’em down’ monsoon season, it’s flattened. The tree density varied a lot too. Sometimes, the trees were very densely packed on one side of the road while on the other, they each had a lot more space. We couldn’t work out why that should be, there was no evidence of logging in this area. We were still, just, inside Kakadu National Park.

Thud! A stone thrown up by a passing campervan made us jump but, thank goodness, it didn’t crack the windscreen.

Termites aren’t the only makers of mounds. We saw other mounds on the road itself. Big, big mounds. We decided it could only be buffalo scat. And so much of it.

Rental car eclipsed by a buffalo turd

And so we drove out of the National Park. Bobo, Kakadu: this strange word means ‘see ya later’ in the local Jawoyn language. And yes, we do hope to come back.

A quick pit-stop at Mary River Roadhouse for coffee and bickies. I was headed for the dunny outside when the man cleaning the windows said I should use the nice one inside, this one’s for bus parties.

Shut the door!

Yes, I made sure the door was closed when I’d finished. I was tempted to buy some new protective footwear but they didn’t have my size.

Territory safety boots

Soon after this roadhouse, we saw signs for a golf course. In the middle of nowhere. I would have played a round but the irons were too hot to handle and the woods had been nibbled by termites.

We followed the mile markers most of the way to Pine Creek. PC 90. PC 80 etc. I was hoping to see the one with 31 km to go, because then I could take a photo and sing “PC 31 said ‘we’ve caught a dirty one'”, but they only counted down in tens. And now of course I can’t get Maxwell’s Silver Hammer out of my head, do-doo do-doo do.

I tried to help this butterfly off the hot road surface, but it really didn’t want to leave.

Why did the butterfly keep returning to the road?

We drove parallel to the Ghan railway line for a long time and we talked about it, one of the great train journeys of the world. We’d not booked tickets on the grounds of cost, but again we wondered if that was the right decision?

I’d ridden on The Ghan from Alice Springs to Adelaide over 16 years ago and it was OK, but I’d gone cheap, no sleeper compartment for me. So I slept in my seat and I still remember the disappointment at sunrise when the landscape looked exactly the same as it had before sunset the night before.That, plus they didn’t have any proper food on offer. I believe the service is much better now, but you pay a lot for it too.

We pulled off the road into a ‘picnic area’. We watched galahs and a couple of other, magpie-like birds but mainly, we had just parked on a ginormous anthill.

I walked around for a while and saw evidence of large animals having walked through the long grass. When I realised I was just a few feet away from the creek, I made a hasty retreat.

Flattened, bent grass
The perfect spot for crocodiles to lie in wait for a buffalo

And still no kangaroos or wallabies! But at least the trees aren’t going anywhere and some of them really are archetypal Northern Territory and beautiful.

NT tree not an ent

Today, we did see our first road-train. And the second close behind. By the end of our trip today, we’d seen several. Three trailers is impressive enough, but the drivers with three tankers in tow are amazing.

Just before Katherine, The Ghan train passed us by on the left and then crossed under our road.

The Ghan overtaking us

There was no way we could catch it up, but I thought we could go to the railway station and look at it there.

It’s a weekly service from Darwin to Adelaide, the journey takes 54 hours with a long break in Alice Springs. Weekly. So how lucky were we to see this train? It almost made up for the fact that we’d seen no marsupials on the road!

The Ghan at the station

We caught up with it at the station just as it was departing, so we had no opportunity for a proper close-up look.

Katherine Information Centre provided us with some information. Woolworths provided us with some food. We drove to our new Airbnb, settled in and Liesel did some laundry while I caught up with online stuff because, yippee, we have 4G and wifi as well. Well, partly yippee, but partly, what a pity!

We call it Highway 1 but some signs name it A1.

A1 sign

And it’s just like the A1 at home except… it’s totally different,

We have a microwave so we had a delicious warm meal, thanks, Liesel.

Our host, Toni, is a photographer and a writer. I’ve downloaded her first book, A Sunburnt Childhood, onto my Kindle. She was raised on Killarney Station, which is bigger than Luxembourg. Almost a year ago, we were in Ireland, visiting the original Killarney. That seems a long time ago now!

It’s been a while since the last music update, in which we share the music we’ve been listening to on the road. If you’re not interested in the soundtrack to our travels, then you’ll miss nothing if you stop reading… now.

Connecting my phone to the Bluetooth in the hire car from Darwin was so much more straightforward than in a couple of other vehicles we’ve had. To recap, we’re playing all the tracks on my phone, in alphabetical order by song title. This is beacuse the so-called random shuffle isn’t random: it has its favourites and it refuses to ever play some songs or indeed any songs by some artistes.

We picked up from where we left off: Shine On You Crazy Diamond by Pink Floyd, the full 18 minute version.

It took a week to reach the end of songs beginning with S, but there were some wonderful juxtapositions on the way.

There are a couple of albums where many of the tracks were yet to appear, even this late in the alphabet. 5 out of the 6 tracks on “Station to Station” by David Bowie for instance. 5 out of the 11 tracks on “Great Expectations” by Tasmin Archer are still further along the alphabet. (Hello, Tasmin!)

We heard three versions of Sound and Vision by David Bowie, all different. There are two versions of Space Oddity, neither by David Bowie, in this, the song’s 50th anniversary year. Space Oddity is the same age as the Open University: wow!

We heard seven songs with ‘Song’ as the first word of the title.

Sleeping in Paris by Rosanne Cash was followed by Tasmin’s Sleeping Satellite.

Something Awesome, Something Good and Something Good to Show You were a fascinating trilogy.

In general, we noticed just how many of David Bowie’s songs start with an S. I think we had four in a row at one point, not necessarily all performed by him.

Neil Diamond and Ian Dury are an unlikely pairing, but where else would you hear Sweet Caroline followed by Sweet Gene Vincent, except on my phone?

And if that’s not enough sweetness, how about Sweet Memories by Rosanne then Sweet Sweet Memories by Paul McCartney?

A big cheer was cheered as the Ts, finally, began, a whole week after we’d picked up the car. Take me Home, Country Roads and Take my Hand, Precious Lord are totally different songs even if the titles have the same rhythm. That’s Israel Kamakawiwo’ole and Ladysmith Black Mambazo respectively.

The Bloke Who Serves the Beer followed The Bewlay Brothers: Slim Dusty followed David Bowie.

And there are many more songs whose title begins with the definite article. I hope you’ve been taking notes because I may ask questions later. That’s all for now, folks!

Sky High in KL

We’re staying in a complex here in Kuala Lumpur that includes a Creativity Hub. It could be a shopping mall but good for them, there are several ‘shops’ where people display their artistic wares and crafts instead. In the foyer, we found a diorama, a detailed model of somewhere south of Melaka, I think.

Model Malaysia

The sky is a lovely shade of blue which adds to the authenticity.

KL Forest Eco Park gave us an opportunity to walk about outside for a bit. I lost count of the number of stairs. Come to think of it, I even lost count of the number of flights of stairs we had to climb in order to reach the canopy walk itself.

Boat lily (I think)

High up in the canopy, the heat was just as intense, despite the shade, but the noise from the city was slightly dampened. I can’t work out why it seems so loud in this city, more motorbikes, yes, but traffic is traffic.

Canopy walk and one of its towers
Typical cityscape seen from the canopy

After climbing all those stairs, it was a delight to discover that we didn’t have to backtrack and climb down. And neither did we we have to climb down at the other end. We exited the eco park at just the right place, very close to the Kuala Lumpur Tower.

KL Tower seen from the canopy

What a shame we won’t be here on April 21st. Every year, there’s a running race up KL Tower’s 2058 stairs. I’d be up for that. I conquered BT Tower’s 1000 steps a couple of years ago, no problem. (In the end, there were only 870, sorry but thanks if you sponsored me: we were all short-changed!)

A challenge that we’ll miss

We bought tickets for the highest possible observation deck, the Sky Deck. In a world first, Liesel got a senior ticket. By mistake, I hasten to add.

As an aside, usually in restaurants, the waiters take a moment to understand that we both want to order the same item. I don’t know if we have funny accents, or their English is nearly as bad as ours, or if it’s really unusual in Malaysia for two people in a party of two to both order the same thing. Lots of questioning, checking, double takes. We get what we ordered, but the ordering process is unnecessarily troublesome. Here, at KL Tower, surpringly, “one adult and one senior” was interpreted as “two seniors”. Much to Liesel’s chagrin and my delight!

There are four lifts in KL Tower, one of which was out of order, so we waited a while before being transported up 300 metres to the Sky Deck. In a lift with 21 other people. After the 54 seconds ascent, it was a relief to be able to breathe again.

The view over the city was good, just a bit hazy so hard to see the hills in the distance.

Petronas Twin Towers

I was surprised to see that the Petronas Twin Towers appeared to be just a little taller than the KL Tower itself.

Our tickets also included a Sky Box. I don’t know why they thought we needed a device to receive digital television broadcasts from the Astra satellite at 28.2°E, but that was just a misunderstanding. Here, the Sky Box is a glass box that overhangs the observation deck. You can walk on it, sit on it and have your photo taken on it. Nope. Palms are sweaty enough already, thanks very much.

Eeeek Sky Box

Another surprise as we walked around the Sky Deck, edging past not one but two Sky Boxes, was spotting another pair of Petronas Towers. Who knew?

Petronas Towers

Palms sweaty enough already, did I say? Imagine staying at Platinum, going for a swim, and getting out of the wrong side of the pool.

The palm-sweatingly placed Platinum pool

Back down on planet Earth, we found our way to St Mary’s Cathedral. It started off as a cute little wooden church, and it is still expanding. It’s not big nor highly decorated but we were entertained by the organist for a while, in the cool. I recognised the tune he was playing, but couldn’t quite remember who wrote it. Bach? Maybe. Definitely not Vengaboys, thanks, Shazam! The pipe organ was built for the church in 1895 by Henry Willis who also made the organ for St Paul’s Cathedral in London and the original Grand Organ of the Royal Albert Hall.

St Mary’s Anglican Cathedral

It was a short walk to Dataran Merdeka, Independence Square. We didn’t see it at its best, due to building works. But next to the square is an early example of Moghul architecture in Malaysia. Known as Sultan Abdul Samad Building, it now houses a couple of government ministries. But just along the road is the National Textile Museum and this was our next respite from the heat outside.

The magnificent Sultan Abdul Samad Building
Nicely decorated lampposts

We would love to be able to go for a long walk around the city, but we are, let’s be honest, wimps, and the heat is just too much. Added to which, every time you survive crossing the road is a bonus, just ridiculously stressful. But we enjoy museums, and this one especially is right up Liesel’s street.

Examples of Batik

We discovered how batik is done: there are many more stages than we thought. Not something you can easily knock up at home.

There was some lovely jewellery here too. Here’s a preview of Liesel’s birthday present.

Ear studs

Round gold earrings with a central star design and studded with roughly-cut colourless stones. They were worn by Malay and Nyonya women in Melaka during the 1940s.

Not convinced by the Malaysian remake of Doctor Who

The Grab app to grab a cab works really well and the drivers are all very skilled at negotiating the traffic, the motorbikes, the jay-walking visitors, ahem. But there’s a competition to see who can have the most impaired view through the windscreen.

Are we there yet? How would I know, I can’t see a thing!

Stickers plus religious artefacts plus mobile phone plus everyday dirt all add to the adventure.

The National Museum of Malaysia repeats a lot of the history we’ve seen elsewhere. I feel so proud that the British came along to save the locals from the clutches of Spanish, Portuguese and Dutch invaders. Independence Day in 1965 is still a cause for great celebration. Merdeka! Merdeka! Merdeka!

Grand entrance to the National Museum

What a lot of stairs to climb up to enter the museum. You think that’s bad enough? Wait until you see the stairs you have to walk up to access the disabled toilet!

Grand entrance to the disabled toilets

Pengkalan Kempas is near Port Dickson and is the source of these monoliths: carved granite, known as “sword” and “rudder”, found near the grave of a sheik who died in 1467.

Two carved granite monoliths

There were more royal seals here, and to pretend they’re older than they really are, the dates are given using the Islamic calendar. This is the seal of Sultan Omar Ibni Sultan Ahmed, 1286 AH.

Seal of authenticity

1286 AH is 1869 AD, more or less.

Kris handle from Bali

The 100-year old Balinese Kris is a dagger, a weapon, but the workmanship of the handle is stunning. The hilt is in the form of a squatting Hindu deity with a decorative copper ring at the base.

The ceramic plate has a colourful geometric design, definitely Islamic influence here.

Just like our Sunday best dinner service at home

Would I like a new pair of slippers for Christmas? Yes, if they’re as cute as these ones.

Comfy slippers

There’s a lot of history here in Malaysia, and as we discussed, Liesel and me, we’re so disappointed that none of this was taught us at school. Certainly my history lessons mainly involved the lives of the kings and queens of England. The East India Company was mentioned but only as a Great, British enterprise to be proud of. We were totally oblivious to other cultures, overseas, at that time.

So when we’re reading descriptions of the items on display, and reading stories, there are always references to people and places that are meaningless to us. The overall impression we have though, is that Chinese, Indians, Malays, all the various peoples in the region traded with each other, and all got along pretty well. Some people converted to Islam, some didn’t, there was no big falling out. Until the Europeans came along, maybe just to trade at first, but then to take over, to invade, to conquer.

It’s interesting to see how successfully Malaysia is managing, in its multi-racial, multi-cultural, multi-lingual ways. I’m sure there is an element of racism in some places, but it’s not as overt as it is in little England right now. Here’s funny thing: you have to read it.

Ancestral Origins of the Rulers of Melaka

So, Bat came from a cow’s vomit? I thought that was just Nigel Farage!

It’s time for Conundrum of the Day. The universal sign for a restaurant or a café seems to be an icon depicting a knife and fork.

Signs of the times

But in Malaysia, in a restaurant, you’re usually given a spoon and fork to eat with. I use the spoon as if it were a knife, to cut and to push the food. We sometimes do get a knife and fork, but rarely. And there was that one time when I was given a fork and fork by mistake. Strangely, we’ve never been offered chopsticks, not even in Chinese places. Explain that!

The Mid Valley Megamall is as big and as bad as it sounds. It’s a short distance from the museum but the cab took ages to fight its way through the traffic.

While inside the mall, we missed the rainstorm. But we did walk up and down, miles and miles of shops, even though we had no intention of buying anything. Nice to see a ToysЯUs and a Mothercare, even though supposedly, both have gone out of business.

I did look in the bookshop for a Slitherlink Puzzle book, to no avail. Meanwhile, Liesel was walking around the furniture shoppe testing out the chairs (quite right too).

Every now and then, we detected the slight stench of durian, not very strong, but we were surprised they were allowed to sell such things in a mega mall. Liesel wondered why I was taking so many photos inside a shopping arcade. Well, this portrait was specially requested, even though M&S Foodhall didn’t have anything we required.

Liesel and Marks & Spencer

But the other pictures can provide plenty of fuel the next time your favourite radio presenter asks you to build a person out of shops’ names.

The Body Parts Shoppes

Yes, I did make one of them up!

And then, very nearly a disaster. I received a message from the service provider telling me that I’d nearly used up all my allocation of data! Not only that, my phone was down to less than 20% charge. There was a very real possibility that I might not be able to Grab a cab to get home. Luckily, I squeezed out enough bandwidth and energy, and we didn’t have to walk all the way back to our residence.

But we did walk home from the vegetarian restaurant where we had a nice meal, apart from the mushrooms that were made from leather so not totally vegetarian at all.

There must be something strange in the food here. If you’re not bovvered by other people’s dreams, you are permitted to leave the room here and now.

I was thinking about riding my bike to school. I remembered doing so before (I never did in real life) avoiding the main road, the A3100, but riding a road parallel to it. (There isn’t one IRL.) But as I was about to set off, I realised that I would never get up Holloway Hill in Godalming on the old 3-speed postman’s bike. (Holloway Hill is long and steep and they’ve now installed handrails on the steepest part, IRL.) This was on a Thursday and I knew that Friday would be my last day of school so I parked the postman’s bike by the house over the road (from my childhood home) and caught the bus to school as usual.

The sense of relief on waking up almost brought tears to my eyes. No school, no postman’s bike, phew.

Wan Wan Coco Ful Baskit

Liesel and I went to the Cow’s Nest again for a coffee. We chatted with Nina: she told us about the edible sea snails the midnight torch-bearers were looking for last night. She told us about the 4-week drought and the dams that are becoming too dry.

We watched and listened to the storm roll in. One clap of thunder made me leap out of the seat, clutching my heart which I carefully reinserted into my chest.

It was good to watch the rain from inside. There was a brief power cut and so my second coffee was postponed.

Nobody in the pool when it’s raining – guess they don’t want to get wet

Again, I messed up the Slitherlink puzzle in the paper: I need more practice with these.

We were again joined by a couple of geckos for supper, but the peacock didn’t turn up this time. This is a terrific venue for families: we really enjoyed watching the children play. We especially enjoyed seeing the twins, each wearing one blue and one yellow shoe.

Liesel’s prediction that we wouldn’t leave this hotel resort at all for the whole weekend proved to be correct. We’d eaten at most of the venues here, avoiding the World Bank Group where possible. And every time we passed the sign, I read it as Cow’s Nest. It is of course Crow’s Nest, but with dubious typography.

Our final sunset at Port Dickson accompanied by cocktails

We were glad this was our final night when the new neighbours moved in. Lots of shouting late at night and early in the morning. A total, lairy wunch of bankers.

A useful tip on the puzzle page of the newspaper

The driver who took us to Kuala Lumpur was not at all chatty and we suspect he didn’t speak much English. So far, in all the cab rides, I’ve not heard one radio station that’s made me want to tune in at other times. Very similar feel to Britsh commercial stations, but some of the adverts are much more sexist than we’re now used to. Help your wife out by employing someone to clean the house!

The highway was littered with billboards, something I’d not really noticed before. But oh what excitement when we first saw the Petronas Towers in the distance.

Petronas Towers in the distance

Kuala Lumpur was our first proper capital city since Wellington. It’s a mix of old and new, tatty and shiny, very busy and very noisy.

We’re in a 23rd floor apartment and because it wasn’t ready when we arrived, we hung out in the local coffee bar, Jamaica Blue.

Wan Wan Coco Ful Baskit

We can’t seem to get away from these little sayings and mottos and homilies, all sound advice, no doubt, but I wonder why they’re so ubiquitous here in Malaysia?

We’ve moved in now, so we’re allowed to refer to the city as KL, like the locals do. According to the weather app, on arrival here it was 34°C (93°F) but it felt like 42°C (108°F), due to the humidity and just being in the city where the buildings were radiating heat too.

In the evening, we again watched a storm, this time from the safety of our apartment. The sky really did light up.

Sheet lightning

Our first KL breakfast was at Jamaica Blue, which is just a two minute walk from the gate. At least we can now use the gate, we have an electronic key. The first time we came in, we had to show ID to the security guy and we wondered whether we’d have to do that every time.

The Islamic Arts Museum of Malaysia was as fascinating and interesting as we’d hoped it would be. I like the geometric designs, the astronomical equipment, the calligraphy. Liesel likes the manuscripts and the textiles. The various old editions of the Qu’ran were illuminated just as beautifully and as intricately as our old, medieval Holy Bibles are.

It’s strange how things evolve: the Arabic script developed in different ways in different places, and in the end, Square Kufic looks just like a modern day QR code.

A selection of scripts

They wouldn’t let me take the dismantled astrolabe from the cabinet. I was just going to fix it for them, that’s all.

Astrolabe

But as least I have a picture. For a long time, we thought photography wasn’t allowed, but nobody else was being told off, so I joined in.

I tried to draw some of the patterns, but I really needed a ruler, compasses and maybe even cheat a bit with a protractor.

Patterns in windows

The domes. Oh wow, they were gorgeous. I had to lie down to look at them, so well designed and the decoration is so well executed.

Looking up into a dome

There were weapons on display, jewellery, fabrics, clothing, scale models of various mosques worldwide, even the Taj Mahal.

Small detail of very fine embroidery

Here’s a tip: if you ever come to Kuala Lumpur, visit the Islamic Arts Museum. You might bump into some strange characters, but it all adds to the fun.

This ancient warrior looks like Liesel

And even while we were outside waiting for the next cab, I just stood there mesmerised by this, possibly the most beautifully decorated pillar in the world. Magic.

Same tiles as our bathroom at home

In the evening, we walked to Tarma, an Iraqi street food restaurant, if there can be such a thing. We walked through a street market, we fought off several men trying to thrust their own menus into our hands. It was a bustling part of the city, that’s for sure.

You Can’t Stop When It’s Laffa Time

And what’s this? Oh no, another slogan on the wall! Not complaining though, the laffa, the Iraqi bread, was fabulous. As was the rest of the meal: Liesel says it’s the best one so far!

We walked back a different way, less busy, just as difficult to cross the roads. There are pedestrian crossings, few and far between, but the green man only gives you one or two seconds to cross the road, and the red stop lights don’t seem to apply to motorcycles anyway: mind your toes.

Illuminated KL Tower

We decided not to visit any of the night clubs, but this would have been my choice: it evokes memories of comatose old Father Jack suddenly jerking back to life, for some reason.

Eat, drink, man, woman

Yes, a wise decision to walk home. We could have chosen public transport but probably would have caught…

Lorong bus

It’s nearly the end of March but it’s also nearly the end of May, hooray! After Thatcher, I never thought we’d have a worse prime minister and we’ve just had two in a row. Waiting for the hattrick.