This year’s Easter Sunday featured no eggses for Liesel and me, but we did enjoy watching William and Martha playing with bubbles! Yes, of course, we would love to have been with them in their garden, but we’re all still in lockdown thanks to Covid-19. And it looks like we’ll be here for several more weeks, too.
We’re not getting out very often, in fact. I go out every two or three days for a walk and Liesel comes out less often. It’s nice to see so much support for the NHS. We clap for the nurses and doctors and porters and cleaners and all NHS workers every Thursday night, some people bang pots and pans, some let fireworks off, some blow vuvuzelas, but Liesel and I are just happy to lean out of a window and politely applaud. There is more support and gratitude expressed out on the pavements of Northenden too.
Stay at home, says the wall, but if I had followed the instruction, I wouldn’t have been able to read the instruction and it’s this sort of paradox that leads to rifts in the spacetime continuum.
As Spring progresses, we’re seeing more and more colour, hooray! Even the oak tree outside our flat is now showing some foliage: I was beginning to think it was a deceased deciduous but no, it’s doing alright! I wonder how the baby oak tree is doing in our old garden in Chessington?
Sit down with a cup of tea, because here comes a story about a potentially risky and ultimately pointless adventure. Regular visitors will know that I go to donate blood every twelve weeks or so. My appointment loomed and they kept sending me reminders, telling me it was still safe, that they were taking extra precautions to protect the staff and us donors from coronavirus, and it all looked ok for me to go along as normal. However, travelling by bus into Manchester didn’t seem to be such a good idea given the current isolation regime. So Liesel kindly offered to drive me in, despite the fact that she, as a more vulnerable person, is definitely meant to stay indoors. Well, I suggested, if you’re driving into Manchester anyway, why don’t you offer to give blood as well? That’s a good idea, said Liesel, and she proceeded to register online.
Everyone she told said it probably wasn’t such a good idea, really, but the messages we were now both receiving from blood.co.uk gave us confidence that this would be one of the safest, cleanest places we could possibly visit, outside our own home. Dear reader, if you can, please consider giving blood, you never know, you might need it back one day!
Blood day arrived, and we drove along almost empty roads to the Blood Donor Centre in Manchester. The man in the booth raised the barrier and we parked in a surprisingly crowded car park. Liesel went first, answered a few questions, and when she went in, I was requested to go and wait in the car: they didn’t want too many people inside at the same time. Well, of course, Liesel had the car key, so I couldn’t sit in the car. Instead, I took some exercise, walking round and round the car park, taking photos, enjoying the sunshine and changing direction whenever I saw another person within about 50 feet.
The time of my appointment arrived and I went in, answering a few basic questions. I didn’t see Liesel, so I assumed she was either still being processed or was in a back room somewhere. The nurse did the usual finger prick test and asked a few more questions. Since my last session, I’ve seen the GP about my shortness of breath issue, which has resulted in a number of medical tests. My next appointment has been postponed, because of The ‘Rona. Because it’s my heart that’s being investigated, they said they wouldn’t take my blood today. Well, that was very disappointing, but understandable: they don’t want me keeling over and having to visit the hospital over the road. They’ll be in touch in six months. I left with my tail between my legs. The receptionist nurse said that Liesel had donated, so that was good. It was also wrong. They’d tried, but they couldn’t find a vein, told Liesel she was too dehydrated and sent her away.
What a palaver! All that time and effort: giving blood, we thought, is one of the few things we can do at the moment for the benefit of other people. Oh well, it was a day out.
Yes, I was daft enough to watch this Bug Box for a few minutes but saw nothing more interesting than a couple of flies.
The hedge around our apartment block is still covered in brown leaves that we feel should have fallen off last Autumn. But, for the first time, this week, there are signs of life. The new leaves are red rather than green, but a few days sunshine should sort that out. Looking forward to a lush, green barrier very soon.
Again, we have to enjoy the children’s activities from afar. Here is Queen Anna and apart from reluctantly taking off this costume at bedtime, Martha has been living in it for days!
On Liam’s birthday, we had another Zoom session, I won’t say how old he is but it’s the same age as Martha, just with a zero afterwards.
People have asked and yes, we do sometimes miss our garden in Chessington. I don’t miss my 30-year war with bindweed and dandelions, they were always going to win. But I would like to apologise to all the bees and butterflies that could have enjoyed the dandelions in my garden, if only my preference wasn’t always for other flowers (or weeds).
There’s not enough Martha in our lives at the moment, so we watched a different one perform from home on t’internet. Martha Tilston has been one of our favourite singer/songwriters since the early 2000s: I think I first saw her at Kingston’s Rose Theatre before it even acquired that name! Liesel and I have seen her live several times and we look forward to doing so again. But this online show was fantastic, we really enjoyed it, she sang many of our favourite songs.
We even had a glass of whisky to accompany the show. It was only fitting then that we have a music session the following day. Liesel and I took it in turns to play some long neglected CDs:
Brave, the Disney film soundtrack
Pink Floyd, Dark Side of the Moon
Martha Tilston, Bimbling
(some of) D#rty F#n M#l# (which, correctly, Liesel described as gross)
Beatles, Let it Be Naked
O Brother, Where Art Thou? film soundtrack
From the last of these, one song in particular struck a chord:
Keep on the sunny side, always on the sunny side
Keep on the sunny side of life
It will help us every day, it will brighten all the way
If we keep on the sunny side of life.
PS As I write Sanny has just played this very song on Radio Northenden, at my request, so I shall add that mention to my 15 minutes of fame as predicted by Andy Warhol. And by coincidence, Andy Warhol by David Bowie was the first song played on today’s show, the penultimate one. You can listen to all 14 shows here.
A Mermaid greeted us when we went to look after William this week. Of course, it was Martha, not a real mermaid, and it was a shame she had to change into her uniform to go to nursery!
We endured a foggy drive to Chester Zoo this time, but unusually, on arrival, there wasn’t a cold wind in the car park. William set the pace as we walked around, often hanging around in the same area, especially when it entailed standing in the mud. He was as excited to watch a squirrel scurry by on the fence as he was to see the elephants.
The monorail is now being demolished, which is a shame: that was always a good way to pass some time, queueing up for a ride.
We did feel sorry for the penguins, though: someone’s taken the plug out of their pool and they were plodding around, looking a bit forlorn.
William slept in the car in both directions and as soon as we dropped him off at home, Liesel and I went home. We had plans, things to do, places to be.
After waiting for a bus for too long and witnessing several going by in the wrong direction, we decided to drive into Manchester instead. We’d like to use public transport but it’s just not a good or reliable enough service in Manchester.
We enjoyed a burrito at Listo Burrito, infamous for its burritos, apparently.
A Bowie Celebration brings together several musicians who have worked with David Bowie at some point, whether playing live or on record. The Bowie Alumni Band was brought together by Mike Garson, who performed with Bowie over a thousand times. Tonight, the band played at Manchester’s O2 Ritz. Doors opened at 7pm. We arrived in very good time, to join a long line of even more eager people, all hoping to snare one of the few seats available. It’s an old dance hall, really, so it’s pretty much all standing around.
O2, the telcommunication company, obviously provide the wifi at this venue. But I got a better signal from Gorilla, a place over the road. We tried not to stare too much at the fellow audience members, some even older than me, many wearing Bowie t-shirts from his numerous incarnations. There were a few young people too but we saw nobody with the red Ziggy hairstyle or the Aladdin Sane lightning flash on their face.
Inside, we went upstairs and stood at the front of the balcony, overlooking the stage and the dancefloor below. We watched as the venue filled while listening to a Mike Garson record: Bowie Variations, which I can highly recommend.
Even though we were standing, we were able to lean on the barrier and we resisted being squeezed out by other people. Sadly, we’ll never see David Bowie live in concert again, but this would be a good second best. We’ll never see Beethoven in action either, but we still enjoy his music being played live, though not necessarily by people he actually performed with.
Tonight, the band played the whole of the Diamond Dogs album, sharing the vocals between three great but very different vocalists: Mr Hudson, Corey Glover and Sass Jordan.
It was loud, but very faithful to the original album. I sang along of course, and noticed a couple of faux pas on the part of the professionals. It should be ‘fleas the size of rats sucked on rats the size of cats’, even I know that!
I remember buying and playing Diamond Dogs for the very first time, in 1974, amazed that after Ziggy Stardust and Aladdin Sane, Bowie could still come up with some fantastic lyrics and wonderful tunes. Tonight we were both reminded just how much his music has a jazz influence, especially with Mike Garson in the mix.
What a shame George Orwell’s widow didn’t allow Bowie to turn 1984 into a musical, the original idea. Diamond Dogs is a mix between that and his own perception of some future dystopia: but not too far in the future.
We thought there’d be an interval after Diamond Dogs, but no, they kept going. Space Oddity next. By now, I had a slightly sore throat from singing along and my tinnitus had been turned up to 11, but it was worth it, such an emotional show for me, and for many others, no doubt.
Suffragette City was very exciting, and if you’ve never heard 1500 people in unison shriek ‘wham bam, thank you ma’am’, well, it’s very therapeutic!
Rock’n’roll Suicide always brings a tear to the eye.
Everyone sang along to Heroes, another opportunity for the lacrimal glands to kick into gear.
Two hours and twenty minutes of wallowing in the past, fantastic. A good review and more photos can be seen here.
It was a most enjoyable show. But for the sake of us old codgers: a seated venue might be better. And please turn down the bass a tad because we’re already losing the higher frequencies, thanks!
I don’t know. We don’t go out in the evening for a while and then we go out twice within a few days! The 2020 HSBC UK National Track Cycling Championships finals took place at the National Cycling Centre in Manchester this weekend. We attended one session, on Saturday evening, and we undoubtedly witnessed some cycling stars of the future. My favourite cycling team is now Team Terminator: they’ll be back.
The commentary was pretty good, if a little cheesey at times. But there was no ‘turning the screw’, nor ‘putting down the hammer’, nor ‘ lighting the afterburners’ but as Liesel pointed out, these clichés usually apply to road races. One of tonight’s races did ‘go down to the wire’, so anyone playing ‘cycling commentary bingo’ didn’t totally waste their time. Proud to have been part of an ‘awsome audience’, though.
In years to come, we’ll be looking out for the new British Men’s Points Race Champion, ‘the Welshman from Wales’, Rhys Britton. I don’t know the name of the model sporting this rather delightful bobble hat, quite a distraction from the racing, to be honest.
Other names to look out for are Lauren Bell who won the Keirin, Hamish Turnbull, the new Sprint champ and Ella Barnwell, the new Scratch Race champion, taking over from Laura Kenny, who wasn’t here to defend her title on this occasion. I was watching the Derny bike rider leading the Keirin races and I thought, I could do that. If I were looking for a job.
It was an exciting night but next time, I think I’ll take my real camera, the medal ceremonies were just too far away for good pics. The music and the roar of the crowd weren’t too loud today and the tinnitus was not affected, you’ll be pleased to know.
In a change to normal programming, we looked after Martha and William on Sunday while their parents went on a secret mission.
The Ice Cream Farm was very busy today, the water was in full flow thanks to the numerous older children ready and eager to turn on the taps, use the Archimedes screw, open the sluices and generally send water to places it’s not supposed to be.
We played in the sand for a while too. Not ‘we’, I mean ‘they’, of course. Any sandcastle I might have built was soon demolished by William.
The children wore themselves out in the softplay area. Here is Martha carrying the balls to some small cannons, from which she was able to shoot across the play area, trying to hit the targets while missing the other children, mostly.
We drove home and despite the extreme state of exhaustion, sleep eluded us all. And indoors, Martha used Liesel’s crochet hook to demolish a skein of yarn.
Jenny and Liam joined us for dinner on their return, and afterwards, Liesel and I spent over 12 hours untangling the yarn. Next time, we’ll make sure Martha untangles her own tangles.
Two bits of good news. My replacement bluetooth keyboard has arrived, and it works perfectly so, once again, I’ll be able to write blogs and other nonsense while away from home and not in a library or internet café! Plus, my first toad-in-the-hole in the new luxury apartment came out very well. Very nice, very tasty, as they say.
But it didn’t prepare us for what occurred the following morning. There I was, still in bed, Liesel came in, threw back the curtains and said I had to see this.
‘What, rain?’ I asked.
‘No, snow,’ she replied. Lo and behold, it was snowing. I said I wasn’t going anywhere today, thank you very much. Well, the snow didn’t last long and didn’t settle, but when I did go out for a walk later on in the sunshine, I was surprised at how cold it still was outside. I didn’t walk very far today. Brrr.
We met our friend Helen in Surbiton for breakfast. I thought the lights were faulty in the restaurant but it was pointed out that buses stopping outside were blocking the sunlight. Obvious, really, no need to go on womansplaining, you two.
They took the bus into Kingston and I went for a walk to and beside the Thames. It was a good few degrees cooler by the river, I had to put my jacket on. Many people were messing about on the river, skiffs, yachts, dinghies, sailboards and I was surprised there were no collisions nor people overboard.
The sky and water and everything looked a bit grey and drab. The award for the most colourful restaurant today goes to the Thai Busaba near Kingston Bridge.
I walked as far as the bandstand in Canbury Gardens, before turning back to meet Liesel and Helen in the town centre. I think I’d given them enough time to do whatever shopping needed doing.
There was no music on this late October afternoon, but that is a main attraction during the warmer Summer months.
I watched a couple of guys playing tennis but they weren’t taking it too seriously. The man packing up his angling gear didn’t seem to have caught anything for his tea, but maybe sitting on a cold, lonely riverbank for a few hours was an end in itself.
There are some boats moored on the river in the town centre and as I returned, I passed by one that was belching smoke and stench direct from Hades.
I really wanted to put an upturned bucket over the chimney to force the culprits out. One of the first things Helen commented on when I met them, fortuitously outside T K Maxx, was the smell (from the boat) that had by now permeated the town. I took refuge in the Bentall Centre for a while where by comparison, even the smell from Yo! Sushi was acceptable. We all met up again in a café for coffee and cake: well, I’d had a reasonable walk from Surbiton.
We took Helen home to Chessington. And yes, of course we drove by our old house. The neighbours are building a loft extension and we are so glad we won’t have to put up with that!
Back at the b&b, we were relaxing, reading, listening to the radio, when my phone rang. That is very unusual. But it was the Rose Theatre. The other day, we’d tried to buy tickets for the show tonight, a jazz concert celebrating 60 years of Ronnie Scott’s Club in London. It was sold out so we put our names down for any returned tickets. And how lucky were we?
Back to Kingston then and to the Rose Theatre. I always look around to see if there’s anyone I know, and tonight I was delighted to find Stella and Ian. We agreed to meet after the show for a drink.
Before the performance though, I looked at the exhibited photos from the Canbury Camera Club and some of them were fantastic.
The music was fantastic, some well-known and some new (to me) tunes from 60 years at Ronnie’s. They also told the story of the club which I’ve only been to 2 or 3 times. The thought of it now still evokes thick smoke and cool dudes saying ‘nice’ a lot. Tonight at the Rose, though, we just enjoyed the music and the stories. The band was led by James Pearson, the club’s Artistic Director and Natalie Williams was the vocalist, even emulating Ella Fitzgerald’s scat singing very faithfully.
Stella, Ian, Liesel and I walked along to The Druid’s Head, a pub that has certainly been cleaned up a lot since the last time I was there. We had a good chat and in my case, a welcome pint of Old Peculier.
The next couple of days include the long and uneventful drive back home, a walk to the Post Office and beyond, lots of tidying in the spare room, some writing and the usual end of month admin tasks (paying bills).
I did go for a longer walk one day, to Wythenshawe, to the Park and around in a big circle. It’s a pity we live so far from the nearest tram stop, it would be nice not to have to rely on buses all the time.
I do like a splash of colour and while the Autumn leaves are gorgeous, a blast of red from rosehips cheers up the place (and me).
Our car might have a couple of slow punctures, an issue that should be addressed imminently you’d think. But other than a couple of times having to add some air, they’ve been holding up. But when the time comes to get some new tyres for the car, I know exactly where we’ll be going. They sure know how to attract customers in this part of the world.
Oh, hang on, we don’t have a 4×4 or a prestige model so I guess we won’t be enjoying a free Jaffa Cake after all.
Grandchildren’s Day during the half-term break means we get both Martha and William to look after, hooray! We took them to The Hideaway in Partington, a nice softplay area and indoor playground.
Yes, of course this reminded me of the old David Bowie song, There is a Happy Land and when I sent the lyrics to Janny and Henny, I was accused of being delirious. What a strange family.
There’s a ‘planetarium’ here too. Inside, Martha and I lay down on the floor to watch a series of films projected onto the hemispherical ceiling. Aimed at young children, I think some of the concepts were quite complicated: a space shuttle launch, all the planets, what causes the tides. Martha’s favourite planet is the one with the rings, Saturn, although she sometimes forgets its name.
William spent a lot of time climbing, and he’s not afraid of asking for help when he can’t quite manage!
We had a lovely dinner, again prepared by Liesel, including stuffed tomatoes.
Jenny told me that her boss also attended the Graphene lecture last week at the Royal Society. Not Lemn, but Dame Nancy Rothwell DBE DL FRS FMedSci FRSB FBPhS MAE, the President and Vice Chancellor of the University of Manchester. I didn’t look that hard at the time, it was so unlikely I’d know anyone. But I would have said hello if I’d seen her there that evening: we go back a long way. She’s done very well since the days we were contemporaries at Queen Elizabeth College in London. Without consulting my old journals, I don’t know how often I would have stomped on her feet at the Sunday night discos in the student bar. Good old Nancy! Good times!
On the way to join Jyoti and Chris for breakfast, I was again reminded of 2001: A Space Odyssey.
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.
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.
The ’60s music was good, too, and we enjoyed watching The Who at Woodstock, just 50 years late to that particular party.
There’s a replica of the first ever computer mouse, invented over 50 years ago.
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.
Vegetarian Paul McCartney would probably not be too happy with this tribute to his old band.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
A year ago in London, Liesel visited a physiotherapist by the name of Emma. Emma’s partner is also a trained PT, and he is Australian. Under some peculiar, twisted distortion and interpretation of Theresa May’s “hostile environment for illegal immigrants”, his work visa was revoked, and he was forced to move back to Australia. And naturally, Emma went back with him. So Britain has lost two fully trained physiotherapists for no good reason.
They are now living and working in Melbourne. Liesel tracked Emma down and made an appointment to visit her
So, the three of us took a tram to South Melbourne. While Liesel was being poked and prodded, Jyoti and I had a quick walk, to get some steps in and, yes, of course, we had a coffee at one of Melbourne’s famed coffee shops.
I always like a good pun when it comes to a shop name and hairdressers and barbers are particularly good at it.
Every now and then, we come across a shop named after a David Bowie song or album. Well, here, we not only had the album, the neighbouring shop was named after one of the songs on that album, albeit abbreviated so as not to offend your nan. Queen Bitch. No, not your nan, that’s the name of the Bowie song.
We caught the tram back to the iconic Flinders Street Station. We didn’t go into the pub over the road that my Dad had told me about: he’d been there after the war, in the late 1940s!
We crossed the road to Federation Square, to spend time indoors again.I had been here once before, when the geometrically and architecturally interesting buildings had first opened, in 2002.
I visited Australia in November 2002 specifically to see the Total Eclipse of the Sun. It was a trip that Sarah and I hoped to make together but she died eighteen months earlier. I was in two minds about whether or not to make the trip on my own, but now, I am immensely glad and grateful that so many people encouraged me to go for it. I had a good time, but it was emotional too. A Total Eclipse, Melbourne, Great Ocean Road and on through South Australia to Kings Canyon, Uluru, Alice Aprings, Ghan to Adelaide. A great trip, but the detailed blog remains to be written! And now, back to the present…
“The Clock” is a 24-hour long video comprised of thousands of clips from films and TV programmes. As it proceeds, the shots of clocks in the various clips accurately reflect the time now, in the real world. The joins were seamless, and although there was no single storyline to follow, it was a very interesting 90 minutes that we spent watching it (minus a short nap, each). Where else would you see Ricky Gervais and Joan Crawford together? Snippets from films not seen for years, decades even. Christian Marclay is responsible for this colossal labour of love, but surely he must have employed many researchers? Yes, we thought about returning later in the day to see a different segment, but that will have to wait until next time.
ACMI, the Australian Centre for the Moving Image is based here too. Yesterday, Chris had suggested visiting this collection of film and TV related exhibits, and the zoetrope in particular.
As it spins, a strobe light gives the illusion that the individual models are moving up and down.
One display celebrated Australian film and TV. The selection was OK but I was disappointed that The Paul Hogan Show was not represented. My flat mates and I used to watch that on late night TV with a tube of Fosters, and it was the funniest show evah!
I did enjoy watching an 18-year old Kylie Minogue with sister Dannii perfoming Sisters are Doing it for Themselves!
The whole place was very reminiscent of the old MOMI, Museum of the Moving Image, in London, but this was much more interactive.
The piano from the 1993 film, “The Piano” was here, but I wasn’t allowed to play it. I’m not sure Michael Nyman would have been allowed to touch it, to be fair.
Replicas were made for the film. A light one, to carry up the hill. And a heavy steel one to film sinking in the sea.
There is an Aussie TV fantasy drama that I now want to watch: Cleverman. They employed Weta Studios to design the special effects, and the aboriginal mythology underlying the story looks fascinating.
And now for the next edition of a favourite irregular item: Toilet Talk.
I saw this sign in the toilets and I thought, if I pee twice, I could save eight litres of water. Also, if I’m walking out in the woods and need to go behind a bush, when Liesel rolls her eyes I can just tell her that I am saving 4 litres of water! All this on the day that Network Rail have decided to abolish the six shilling charge for using the public toilets at Waterloo Station. Six shillings, 30p, Liesel will confirm I’ve been whingeing about this charge for years.
Bollards! It’s a shame that these large blocks of concrete are required to protect buildings in our cities, but I do like the fact that someone solved the Rubik’s Cube here.
We visited the Aboriginal Cultural Centre because it was time once again to shake our heads in disbelief and despair, weep for the past and feel absolute shame at what our British ancestors are responsible for. Australia is the only commonwealth country still without a treaty with its original people. Small pox, massacres, kidnappings, stealing their land, oh it’s a horrible story.
This chap cheered us up. Diprotodon was the largest marsupial ever to live, about the size of a rhinoceros and is thought to have died out about 45,000 years ago. So chances are, it did live alongside humans for a period. Two metres tall, three metres long, but what a cute, cheeky face.
The other day we found a Chocolaterie and Ice Creamerie. Today we passed by a Fish and Chipperie. But our destination on Lygon Street was Milk the Cow Licenced Fromagerie. It was just along the road from Reading’s Bookerie, where I’d met Barry Humphries, as mentioned before.
Milk the Cow is a combined cheeserie and winerie and actually, my Cider Flight was fab, delicious even.
Four slices of different cheese each accompanied by a specially selected cider. With crackers and bread. Very nicerie, very tasterie.
We passed many, many other restauranteries on the walk home, some with very long queues of people. Our ice creams were just the right size: one scoop was enough, a second would have melted far too quickly.
The worst thing about Melbourne? It’s a great city, it feels a bit like London in places, with its nooks and crannies and alleyways and arcades. But, we have walked through more clouds of cigarette smoke here in the last couple of days than we have during the previous several weeks. There are non-smoking areas, but there are probably more smokers per capita here than in any other city we’ve visited.
Now it’s time to say farewell to Victoria – the place to be. Goodbye to Victoria – the education state. And cheerio to Victoria – the only state named after a Kinks song. Two of those three slogans appear on car registration number plates, or regos.
In the morning, before the Sun came up, we were greeted by the Moon and Venus.
Several shots were taken of which, this, the first, is probably the best. An easy distraction from the task of packing. The only extra item I had to squeeze into my pack was the apologetic bottle of wine from a couple of nights ago.
At about 11pm, we heard a very loud, humungous crash. We checked on Jyoti, she hadn’t fallen through or out of bed and everything else seemed to be OK in our little apartment.
When we left the building in the morning though, we had to limbo dance under the Police Crimescene tape around the entrance and the neighbouring passage. We could see no evidence of a car crash or any crime. We’ve found nothing in the news so can only be grateful we weren’t delayed for interrogation.
We took a tram, then a Skybus to the airport. The flight to Sydney was uneventful apart from the disappointment of not being offered any tea or a snack. Don’t sit in row 22!
It was a joy to be collected by Helen again and although it was warm here, it wasn’t as hot as Melbourne had been. And Manly looks magnificent as it always does when the Sun’s out.
Most of the afternoon was taken up with watching some fighting on TV. Adam’s a big fan of UFC. The Ultimate Fighting Championship, is better/worse/bloodier than boxing, takes place in an octagonal ring, usually over five 5-minute rounds of jabs, kicks, holds, bars, parries, jumps, punches, with elbows, knees, feet, fists all involved. I don’t think this will ever become my favourite sport.
Despite discouragement, I went for a walk in Manly, keeping to the shady side of the street. I watched people playing and/or sunbathing on the beaches.
Helen walked down the road and we met at Fish Bowl where we collected bowls of rice plus veg plus sauce for our dinner. At the grand old age of 31, I still take twice as long to finish a rice-based meal as everyone else. Ridiculous.
We watched “Bohemian Rhapsody”, the new film, on TV, which we found very enjoyable. I was especially pleased to see Kenny Everett portrayed, back at “Capital Radio when it was good” which I am trying to get everyone to adopt as its official name. And of course now, we just want to hear all those old Queen albums in full again, especially A Night at the Opera.
Monday in Manly was mainly medical matters, refilling prescriptions (me), typhoid and hepatitis A jabs (both), dental check-up and clean (both). My plans for a massage made the cutting-room floor: no need to stir up typhoid and hep A juices unnecessarily.
So here I am once again, in Manly Library, typing away in the corner, this time sitting next to (inter alia) books by Keith Waterhouse, who I used to enjoy reading, gulp, decades ago.
Meanwhile, Helen and Liesel have gone to a shopping mall to do some shopping. I missed out there. (Didn’t really.)
The results are in, they have been independently verified and certified and all the judges agree. Shine on You Crazy Diamond (pts 1-7) was the final track we heard in the car. Partway through the Ss, nowhere near the Zs. We’ll pick up this alphabetical trawl through our music on another occasion. Meanwhile, Liesel and I have decided we do need a much wider range of music, by a larger selection of artistes. We need to find a way to balance out the discrepancy in volume between loud and soft songs. And we need a random shuffle that is truly random, that doesn’t discriminate against certain people or certain tracks or even some whole albums.
Oops sorry, I usually warn uninterested viewers that this “Music News” is about to appear. But I didn’t this time. If only there were some way to go back in time and fix it.
That’s two nights here, time to move on, to move on. First stop was Cape Otway Lightstation. We spent more time here than anticipated, it was so fascinating. Jyoti was delighted to find another warning sign depicting her favourite kind of animal. Not.
The seas are quite rough here, it’s easy to see how so many ships came to grief along this coast. Cape Otway was often the first sight of land following the long voyage from Britain. It also marks the point where the Bass Strait meets the Southern Ocean, although the ‘join’ isn’t as obvious as that seen at Cape Reinga in NZ.
The path to the lighthouse itself was not in use but the ‘Caution’ tape confused some people: they thought there was no access to the lighthouse at all. And with an air ambulance, some police cars and other medical staff, it was easy to suppose there had been some kind of accident.
Alas no, the lighthouse was open and as always, I began to count the steps as I climbed, but was distracted by someone running down very, very fast. So I’ll just say, there are about 967 steps to the top of Cape Otway Lighthouse.
Although this is the wrong time of year to see whales in the ocean, we did actually see one outside it.
And against all odds, we saw a kangaroo too.
One thing we weren’t prepared for was how much this area was involved in the second World War. Trouble not just from the Japanese, but the Germans were here too, laying sea mines between Cape Otway and Wilsons Promontory, attempting to prevent access to Port Phillip Bay and Melbourne.
A large area is devoted to understanding the local aboriginal culture. In the Talking Hut, Dale told us about the local history. He’s of aboriginal descent, his great (x3?) grandmother is Bessie Flower, the first ‘educated’ aboriginal woman. Dale is white, he also has Dutch origins.
Outside on our short Bush Tucker tour, he showed us which plants were safe to eat, and we sampled the salt bush (salty), the local rosemary (sweet, then very bitter), the ‘lemonade’ berries (fizzy). The attractive red berries are not edible, but when he squeezed one, the juice was pure magenta dye. Will we eat these leaves out in the wild? I suspect not, we’ll be far too cautious.
He told the story of his 5-year old son going out into the bush, catching a small bee, tying a filament from a particular plant around it, so that when it flew back to its nest, he could follow it. He then pulled a lump of honeycomb from under the stones. One root which resembles a turnip can be cut up and is used for relief of toothache.
When I was at school, we were told that Aborigines had been in Australia for between 20,000 and 40,000 years. It is now thought that it’s more likely to be 100,000 years, although the evidence is flimsy right now.
Cape Otway has the second purest water in the world: the actual purest is on Tasmania. It also boasts the oldest known farm in the world, at 6000 years of age. It really is a place of superlatives.
As we drove away from Cape Otway, we continued to look in the gum trees for a you-know-what. I was driving and when I saw something cross the road in front of me, I braked and we came to a halt. It took a moment to register, it was so unexpected, but there it was: a koala. We didn’t want to frighten him, but equally, we wanted photos, so we all leapt out of the car.
The old-looking koala walked off into the woods surprisingly fast. On seeing the picture, one of my daughters compared his hairy ears to those of a grandad’s. I have no idea to whom she is referring.
At Castle Cove, we enjoyed the sunshine and the views and this was the venue for our long beach walk of the day. Keep on the path. Snakes. We walked down the steps, noting that the sea was rough, the tide was high but even so, there were quite a few surfers.
The rock wall at the top of the beach was beautifully stratified, very soft sandstone and it had a greenish tinge due to iron. There were a couple of small caves, too small to explore and in the middle of all the sand and rocks, this pretty, solitary plant,
Gibson Steps gave us our first sighting of the Twelve Apostles, the iconic limestone stacks formerly known as Toots and the Maytals, no, formerly known as the Sow and Pigs.
What we saw was in fact Gog and Magog, east of Castle Rock. We walked 1.1 km along a further section of the Great Ocean Walk, through the visitors centre, to see the actual Twelve Apostles. It was late in the day, the Sun was low, so we saw the stacks in silhouette. Even so, what a remarkable sight. We walked as far as we could along the path to the Castle Rock lookout. And as if things weren’t scary enough already, this is one of the signs.
As it was Jyoti’s birthday, we thought we’d buy a cake at the café at the visitors centre. But it was Sunday, it was late, it was closed. We began the 1.1 km walk back to the car, away from the Sun now, so a little more comfortable, especially with a slight breeze. L&J were ahead, and some Japanese people pointed to the ‘porcupine’ crossing the path and by the time I caught up, the echidna, for that is what it was, was in the bush.
What an exciting day: a koala and an echidna! And then, as we were driving awa from Gibson’s Steps, in the rearview mirror, I saw a kangaroo crossing the road.
There are many other places to visit on the Great Ocean Road, but as it was late, we headed straight for our new b&b in Nirranda. A shopping trip in Peterborough was disappointing, the single, solitary supermarket mostly specialised in fishing bait.
The b&b is built from old shipping containers. I thought surely a metal wall would make it really hot inside. And so it proved. Thank goodness for the ceiling fans.
We didn’t realise at the time, but we shared our room with a grasshopper. We’d seen ants and flies and heard a mosquito or two, but we didn’t know about this chap until the morning.
I let him out into the garden. One moment he was sitting there, the next, gone. Probably the strongest jumping leg muscles in the world. Well, it is a superlative area. Witness the petrol price at Lavers Hill: $1.70 per litre, compared with $1.20 to $1.30 elsewhere.
Liesel and Jyoti went shopping, all the way to Warrnambool, which takes its name from the whales that thrive in the ocean here. Just not at this time of the year: we’ll have to come back to go whale-watching.
Later, when J&L and I had eaten lunch, I tore down the large curtain from the living room window to take with us. We’d decided to walk to the nearby beach, about a mile away. Well, it was hot and there was no shade but it really did take much longer than the advertised 20 minutes.
This bush looks weird, we thought, and we certainly weren’t going to taste its leaves. It can only be described as a turd bush, since its fruits (?) look like animal droppings.
The dusty, stony, gravelly path continued on and on, up and down, disappointment every time the sea failed to come into view over the brow of a hill.
But then, the end came in sight.
Holding tight with both hands, I started my run-up towards the cliff edge. Suddenly, I heard someone yell “Nooooooo!!!”
Apparently, you can’t go hang-gliding just holding on to a curtain, you have to use specialist equipment such as a hang glider with landing wheels, a harness and a helmet. Oh well, I tried.
The walk down to the beach was difficult too. A very narrow, steep and sandy path. We were all wearing sandals, not the best footwear for such terrain.
We gave up, discretion is the better half of Valerie, or something. It looked like a nice beach to walk on too, what a pity.
We drove to The Arch, an unusual rock formation, but we couldn’t work out how it got its name.
We drove to London Bridge, an unusual rock formation, but we couldn’t work out how it got its name. Especially since London Bridge has fallen down and it’s now just another stand-alone stack.
There’s a beach here too, another nice looking beach, ideal for a walk, but we’re asked to stay away because of the penguins. We didn’t see any penguins of course, but there were plenty of footprints in the sand. Penguins or other birds, we don’t know.
On the path back to the car park, I spotted a small black lizard, probably a skink, but it might have been something more exotic: my hasty photo just shows a black blur in the grass.
We drove to The Grotto, another unusual formation. As we went down the steps to see what is really just a hole, a young girl ran up by us, and then she ran back down past us. She and her two friends were planning to swim in the still water but I did take this picture.
And finally today, we drove to the Bay of Martyrs, part of the Bay of Islands. I walked down to the beach, attempted a selfie with the Sun setting behind me, over the sea.
For supper tonight, my contribution was to pick tomatoes from the plants in the garden. The courgettes weren’t quite ready yet and we didn’t fancy the rhubarb. We had cheese and crackers and chutneys with red, red wine, a belated birthday party for Jyoti. Almost. Still no cake.
Before going to bed, we all went outside to gaze at the stars and to listen to whatever animal was making a noise like fff-fff-fff-fff over and over. In fact, it was still doing this later on when I got up briefly. By this time, the Moon was up too, so only the brightest stars were visible.
Jyoti and I were sitting on the step outside the house, drinking our teas, shooting the breeze, watching the trees, when Liesel told us we had half an hour left. Uh? To pack and to move on. We were away with five minutes to spare. Bit of a shock to the system though: both Jyoti and I had totally forgotten that this was moving day.
We had a pleasant drive to our next b&b, but I did have an agenda. We need a new electric plug adapter since the old one broke. I tried fixing it and it worked well for a while, but here’s a tip: sticking plaster, Band-Aid, Elastoplast, doesn’t reliably stick to plastic for very long. And another tip: if you need tin foil to help make an electrical connection, try to use pieces larger than the torn-off bits from the blister pack containing your drugs.
As if lilies aren’t enough, we soon drove by a farm with a strange collection of animals: sheep, goats, llamas and camels.
Warrnambool didn’t provide us with an adapter. “Oh no”, said the man in the electrical shop, “we don’t sell that sort of thing. Try the Post Office.” I thanked him through gritted teeth for his help.
It’s hard to know exactly where the Great Ocean Road finishes. The GOR, B100, ends at Allansford, near Warrnambool. There, we joined the A1, Princes Highway. On the other hand, some of the literature for Port Fairy considers it part of the Great Ocean Road. Either way, when we arrived at Port Fairy, “The World’s Most Liveable Community”, we’d definitely reached the end of the world’s largest, and arguably the world’s most functional, war memorial, for this trip.
It’s a cute little town, enhanced by protective/advertising hoardings at the base of the lampposts.
After a coffee break, we went to sit by the beach for a while. Yes, sit by the beach. Not on the beach. In the car, in the car park, looking at the beach. Why? The wind was strong and cold.
I still went for a walk, solo, and found two memorials, close to each other, both emotionally moving but for very different reasons.
We checked in to our new, first floor, b&b and wow, we have a view over the beach. But the wind was still strong and we decided not to sit and be blown off the balcony.
I fancied another walk, and I thought the lighthouse at the far end of Griffiths Island would be an ideal goal to aim for.
Short-tail shearwaters or “Mutton birds” nest on the island, but again, we’re here at the wrong time of year.
I did wonder whether these nesting holes might currently be occupied by snakes or other squatters. And then out of the corner of my eye, I saw movement. A kangaroo was hopping across the field.
This was the first one I’d seen in the wild, although J&L had been lucky a few nights ago.
I followed the track to the lighthouse, but the amorous couple sitting outside deterred me from walking right up to the door.
The track followed the beach for part of the way, and I was surprised to see volcanic rocks sitting amongst the soft, white sand.
It was warmer now, the wind had calmed down and I thought maybe J&L would go out for a walk later.
While I was out, Liesel and Jyoti had been planning ahead, making plans for the next month or so. Bookings were made, despite issues with various websites and credit cards.
Unfortunately, up in our b&b, out on the balcony, the wind felt just as strong as ever, though not as cold.
We were talking about our various medical issues and the consensus is, we’ve been pretty lucky and injury-free. Liesel’s piriformis is still a PITA and it affects other muscles at different times. Other than that, a few insect bites, a couple of broken nails, cracked heels is as bad as it’s been.
Now is the time for those viewers not interested in the musical soundtrack to our travels to press the yellow button on your device and be transported to a totally different place.
We didn’t bother connecting my device to the car’s Bluetooth at Uluru because we were only there a couple of days. But with a new car in Melbourne, it felt right that we should play the whole Slim Dusty album for Jyoti’s enjoyment. We then returned to the alphabetical playlist. Picking up where we left off in New Zealand with Nomad Blood. At the time of writing, we are in the Rs. Q was interesting. The first one was a mistake: somebody at the CD factory had entered the song title as Que est le soleil? instead of Ou est le Soleil? And of the genuine Qs, 4 out of the 6 were 2 versions each of 2 David Bowie songs. What will we do when we’ve reached the end of the Zs? And will we even reach the end of the Zs by the time we return this car?
This has been a very pleasant way to end the year, notwithstanding a minor lurgy that seems to have passed from Liesel to Mick. It’s been very quiet, on the whole. But there was that one night when I was woken up by the sound of a hundred squirrels foot-tapping and gnawing in the roof. Followed by hedgehogs (I think) (I hope) stomping on the gravel right outside our window. This set off the terrier next door which also sounded like it was in the room. I got up to investigate: Liesel slept through the whole lot. In the dark living room a deep voice growled, “Be ye not afeared, ’tis only I, Andrew”. He was sleeping on the couch for a while as it was too hot in his bedroom.
And so, when I returned to my room, assured that nothing untoward was occurring, I expected to drift away peacefully and slowly to sleep. The birds had other ideas. Sensing the imminent arrival of daylight, they all began shouting and squawking at each other, cheeping and chirping, whistling and warbling. I like being woken up by the dawn chorus, but preferably when I’ve had some actual sleep to begin with.
The four of us went to Diamond Harbour for a walk. It faces Lyttelton on the bay. The drive via Dyers’ Pass was spectacular as always, and you have to admire the cyclists riding up the steep slopes on such a narrow and busy road. There’s not much room for manoeuvre either, with a ditch close to the side of the road in some places.
Being a harbour, it’s quite hilly and poor old me experienced his old trouble again. I got out of breath really quickly and felt my heart was about to explode: the long-lasting side effects of my blood pressure meds from a few years ago, I suspect. Anyway, mustn’t grumble. But I probably will.
Phwee-ooooh!!!! These tissues are rubbish.
Stoddart’s Cottage was interesting, there was a lot of local artwork for sale and a few exhibits from the olden days. The lady running the place was quite friendly but not a fan of cyclists riding on roads. She used to live in Chessington: what are the chances?
Plans to walk up to Mt Herbert were revised, mainly because it was too far to go in one day, but partly because of my breathlessnessness, not that I’m complaining. Much. Liesel felt pretty good and Andrew was coping with his dodgy hip OK, too.
Orton Bradley Country Park was a short drive away and the car was parked in the shade. We did manage to walk up to Big Rock, literally a big rock at the top of the hill. Pauline and Liesel both climbed to the top of the rock but I chickened out: it was too steep for me in my sandals and I don’t like going back down afterwards, plus, being a little tired and short of breath didn’t help.
Chphhh-choooo!!!!!! Hoooo!!!! Yee-uk.
On the drive home, we stopped off at Governors Bay for a coffee at She Universe café. Well, I say coffee and café but really the main attraction at this chocolaterie was the chocolate drinks. Pauline and I had dark mochas which came complete with a chocolate teaspoon. Yes, decadent and very tasty but any hope of it being a cure for my lurgy were soon dashed.
Ah-ah-ah—shooooooo!!! Well, bless me.
I’d been sneezing all day, for couple of days, really, and there had been complaints about me causing tinnitus in others and potentially setting off seismic activity.
We were beginning to think that I’d picked up Liesel’s bug from a few weeks ago, albeit with slightly different symptoms. It might explain my breathlessness issues, the sneezing, which I’d put down to hay faver, and the slightly sore throat.
There is a campaign to save the jetty at Governors Bay, which extends over mudflats. It is in a much worse state than we expected, and we weren’t allowed to walk on it.
The Botanic Gardens were nice and quiet and provided shade from the hot sun. Amongst my other ailments, my sunburnt schnozz was now peeling and not very appealing.
The Avon is the main river that flows through Christchurch and we walked along its banks for a while. We thought about taking a boat out, or hiring a punt, but, no, sense prevailed, we stayed on dry land. Visited a pharmacy for some drugs for myself.
The Groynes is the name given to a recreational park to the north of Christchurch. (We went by car, not by public transport. I wanted to travel on the Groynes train, but that pun, alas, fell on deaf ears.) There are walking trails, fishing ponds, children’s play areas and best of all, boats for hire on the lake.
Liesel and I took out a double pedal-boat, as did Pauline and Andrew. It was gentle exercise, we enjoyed watching the fishes, including eels, which the boat-hire man fed by his little jetty. There were kayaks available, but having fallen out of one such in Sydney Harbour a few years ago, Liesel wanted me to stay dry this time.
Those of you who were with us in Anchorage will recall my many failed attempts to take a photo of a dragonfly. I had several opportunties here out on the water today, so here are a couple of the best shots.
For a few days now, we’ve been talking about visiting a ricketty house which I thought, here in Chch, didn’t really narrow it down much. Chch is a common abbreviation for Christchurch, recognised worldwide, in Chch. Anyway, Riccarton House, for that is what was meant, was closed today, but we were able to take a hike through Riccarton Bush.
Canterbury’s sole remnant of kahikatea floodplain forest, Riccarton Bush has national significance. For 300,000 years, the shifting gravels of the Waimakariri River triggered a changing mosaic of podocarp forests across the Canterbury Plains. In response to a continual cycle of flooding, forests established wherever suitable conditions were created, only to be destroyed in their turn. These 600-year-old kahikatea trees are the latest generation of a forest that established on this site 3000 years ago. They have survived through two cultural periods, Maori then European, that saw widespread fires sweep the Plains and native vegetation give way to pastoralism and cropping.
The paths are well-made and it’s a very peaceful place. I know I was having a bit of a whinge about the birds singing a few days ago, but here, in this forest, it was lovely to hear them, even if we couldn’t see them very easily. Pauline did, but she knows better what to look for and where to look.
There is a great, fun scheme going on where small rocks are decorated and left in places for others to find. I found one of Sophie’s rocks in a flower bed at Riccarton House and duly reported it to the relevant Facebook group
where I was told that someone’s 4-year old had re-hidden it! My task is now to hide it somewhere else, for the next lucky person.
I do feel bad now about the ‘pet rocks’ that I buried in our garden, back in Chessington, all those mnonths ago. No, not really.
The evening was rounded off again with a few hands of 500, accompanied by chocolate and Baileys. It’s a fun, fascinating game, until you begin to lose concentration, which I did. That’s my excuse, anyway. My partner Pauline and I won the first game, then Liesel and Andrew won the next two! Still, one out of three ain’t bad.
How did Sri Lanka get on in the Test Match against New Zealand, then? Well, it was an exciting game, but there was only about twelve minutes play on the fifth and final day. The score was as follows:
New Zealand won by 423 runs
New Zealand 178 & 585/4d
Sri Lanka 104 & 236/9
NZ claim series win by winning second test in Christchurch.
And so, as the lawn mower of destiny cuts the last few grass blades of eternity and the final slice of bread is burnt in the toaster, I notice it’s the end of the year. On a personal note, I can’t believe I’ve been doing this for eleven months now, with encouragement from many people, especially Liesel, my lovely wife and travel companion.
As I write, it’s mid-afternoon on December 31st and we’re planning to go out later, maybe to a movie, maybe to a show, what we end up doing, I really do not know.
In any case, a million thanks for reading this blog, and I hope you continue to do so in 2019. Liesel and I send you our very best wishes for the new year and we hope our adventures keep you entertained, informed and educated, the way Lord Reith would have wanted.
I think I’ve mentioned before that I am currently reading The Tale of Genji. It dates from 11th century Japan, a time and place with different moral values to ours. I’ve just got to the bit where Prince Genji has kidnapped a 10-year old girl mainly because she reminds him of an old flame. The museum dedicated to the book is at Uji, not too far from Kyoto and we spent a couple of interesting hours there.
It was a good walk from the station to the Museum on a bright, warm day. The gardens were very pretty too, more Autumnal colours.
The exhibits were interesting: some old copies of the book, a wall displaying the story ‘in a nutshell’ and some items dating roughly from the period of the story.
Unfortunately for us, there were very few captions in English, so while we could admire the artistry of the paintings and the crafsmanship of the ox-drawn rickshaw, we didn’t learn much about them. Also: no photos.
We did watch a 30-minute film, in Japanese of course, but there was no way they could do justice to the novel in a mere half an hour. Still, it’s fascinating to see a museum dedicated to just one book.
We walked back through Uju, visiting a shrine and a temple. Are we shrined and templed out yet? Almost!
Ujigami Shrine is, of course, another World Heritage Site.
We heard a steady drum beat and thought it sounded like the dragon boat races we used to watch in Kingston. After crossing the Asagin Bridge, we saw two small dragon boats in a short race. It had to be short because if they’d rowed much further, they would have gone over a weir.
The recommended route around the Byodoin Temple gardens was followed by most people. The golden phoenixes on the roof are relatively newly restored, but the orginals are on display inside. These date from the early 11th century. Older, even, than the Tower of London.
The local café in Uji was, we agreed, the best we’d found so far. The coffee was delicious, as well as very pretty, and the egg salad sandwich was magnifico.
The next café, the following morning, was good too, very nice toast. I do miss decent bread, so it’s nice to find some twice in a row!
We spent some time in old Kyoto, venturing up to the roof garden above the railway station. Then: we were up on the 11th floor watching the cruisers below. No, that’s not it, we were looking for breakfast there but ended up in the aforementioned café instead.
It was a short walk to Higashihonganji Temple, the biggest wooden structure in the world, it says. And it is a huge temple. No photos inside which is a shame, but the hall is huge. But it must be very cold in Winter, we thought.
There’s a large rope made from human hair as conventional rope at the time just wasn’t strong enough
This temple is also famous for its bell, which was rung for us on the hour. The reverberations last as long as the final chord in the Beatles’ A Day in the Life.
We then started walking towards Fushimi Inara Taishi with Google Maps on our phones each giving different directions! Mine seemed to know best, so we followed its route, over the river, towards Inari. It started raining a bit so we caught a train for the last section. But what a shrine that is, well worth a visit. The place is full of foxes and gates.
Foxes and gates: yes, that sounds like it ought to be a board game. I’ll get onto my lawyers rightaway to patent the idea.
Nara was one of the places we particularly wanted to visit but as usual, there’s too much to see and do in one day.
We haven’t been able to find out the name of the Japanese art of knitting electric and telephone cables in the sky.
But this is what we see on our walk to our local railway station.
The trains cater for all sorts of people. There are ‘women only’ carriages which reinforces yet again how nasty and disrespectful some men are. But there are low hanging hangers for short people (hello Liesel).
Two trains later, we arrived at Nara.
On the way out of the station, we were engulfed by Jehovah’s Witnesses. One approached me and said ‘Hello, my name’s Hirokiro, I’m a Jehovah’s Witness, what’s your name?” I was impressed by his honesty. At home, we’re used to JWs offering a free magazine, asking what you thing about the state of the world, anything other than be upfront and admit what they’re trying to sell you.
And that wasn’t the end of the day’s nuisances. Nara is famed for the deer that live in and around the parks in the town centre. Quite nice to see the first one or two, but eventually, we were trying to steer clear. You can buy food for them, and some are so well bred that they bow in the Japanese manner for a tasty treat.
There’s an expression in Nara for when something is blindingly obvious: Does a deer poo in the High Street?
We dodged the pellets and the pee and perambulated towards the parks.
The first, Yoshiki-en Garden, was free for foreigners, which we appreciated of course, but we couldn’t see why they did this.
As you’d expect, it was very peaceful. There’s a Moss Garden which prompted me to hum the David Bowie song of that name (and to play the real thing for Liesel when we got home in the evening). We regretted not appreciating our own moss garden in Chessington, but we wanted grass.
There is great respect for old people in Japan, but also for old trees. They’re not averse to using props to help the oldies stay upright. (Trees, not people.)
We’ve been bitten a couple of times by insects, but we’ve not actually that many. A few flies, a couple of bees, and a bright yellow butterfly that’s followed us here from Tokyo. It usually flutters by too fast but I managed to catch it today in Nara.
Why have a boring old brick wall when you can have something as ornate as this?
A bit further along, we found Isuien Garden. It too was very pretty, and we can only imagine how colourful it would be in Springtime. Yes, we agreed we’d have to come back. But Autumn has its own colours too.
The gravel path was ok on the whole, but every one of the millions of stones tried to get into my sandals and a few succeeded. How the locals must have laughed as this Englishman holding onto a tree while kicking a foot as if at an invisible dog, shaking stones out.
We walked to Todaiji Temple, trying not to trip over the relaxing wildlife. Make yourself at home, I said. We are at home, he replied.
At this Temple, there were no restrictions on taking pictures. The Great Buddha resides in one of the world’s largest wooden structures.
The wooden guardians do a great job: the facial expressions are enough to frighten anyone away. But we were here with good intentions, so I don’t think they minded much.
Equally, they didn’t protect us from the hordes of school children practicing their English language skills. We were approached by several groups, each asking a series of questions. Where are you from? What’s your favourite animal? What do you want to see in Japan? We were given a small origami model by one of the groups, a cue to other groups that we’d been interviewed. Some of the older students, 6th grade, 11-12 years old, I think, asked: What is the goodness of Japan? Well, the people are friendly, helpful, welcoming, the views are stunning, we could have given a long list. Then: What is the goodness of your country? UK? USA? Hard to think of much positive in the heat of the moment, what with Trump and Brexit. So I think I said British weather was interesting. What a cop-out.
They were all very polite, though. We’d spent a day at Disneysea and the children there were all well behaved too: no tantrums, no siblings fighting, I don’t think we even heard any babies crying.
Walking back to the railway station, we passed some of these posts. They played announcements, maybe adverts that we couldn’t understand, of course, and in between, they played some nice, light jazz music.
Amongst all the modern shops, we found this cute little place. Is it a shrine? A private house? It’s a mystery, to us.
On the train back to Kyoto, we fell into conversation with a pair of doctors. The coronary specialist spoke reasonable English, the endocrinologist not so much. But we talked about the Japanese pilot who’d been arrested in England for being drunk in charge of his aeroplane. We showed each other pictures of our respective grandchildren: his two are a few years older and we saw videos of them playing an electric keyboard at home. What a nice bloke and what a pleasant way to pass a long train journey.
After two days walking pretty much solely on concrete, we thought we’d do something different today.
We went for a walk, but we kept to the area close to our Airbnb. It has the feel of a village about it, you wouldn’t really know you’re in Tokyo.
Rikugien Gardens has manmade hills and a manmade pond. We walked around the park slowly, making us of the many benches on offer. We passed the tea house, resisting the temptation to have matcho tea.
The weeping cherry tree would of course have been prettier earlier in the year. The large American commented ‘oh shoot, this is like being outside’, purely because the toilet had no door and no windows.
Komo-maki is the fine art of putting straw belts around trees to catch and remove harmful insects, as they climb down looking for a warm place to stay for the Winter. Even these purely practical items are turned into works of art.
This hut is about 150 years old and it unusual structure includes pillars and beams made from rhododendron wood. You could almost imagine kicking the central pillar over, it looks so fragile, yet it’s obviously doing a great job.
While we’re pleased we got away from Anchorage just in time (it is now snowing there!), we do miss the Autumn colours. Tokyo hasn’t quite got that far yet, so when you see a red tree, you know it’s special.
There were, of course, plenty of fish in the pond, many of them hanging out by the bridges, presumably waiting to be fed. But it was a delight to see a couple of turtles in the water and one sunbathing. I hope he was sunbathing and not just starnded on the rock because I would feel terrible about not having helped him back in to the water.
We thought about walking around these gardens again but instead, decided to move on to the next one.
On the way, we stopped for a coffee and, as with most cafés and restaurants, there was a box underneath the seat in which to place our bags.
Some of the roads in this area aren’t wide enough to accommodate pavements, but those that do, just like in Shinjuku, have a tactile strip, presumably for visually impaired people. Follow the yellow brick road and you will be taken straight to the pedestrian crossing or another hazard.
In Kyū-Furukawa Gardens, we walked on more large boulders, some gravel, up and down steps, much better for Liesel especially than all that flat concrete.
The birds here were quite a bit louder and there were no ravens to drown them out.
As we crossed one bridge, there was a splash in the water. No, not one of us, probably just another koi hoping for a hand-out from a human. Being later in the day, there were many more people here, and passing them on some of the steps was quite challenging The ‘keep left’ rule didn’t always work.
It was here in the shade that I did some typing. No distractions other than the birds, some clanging over there where some construction was taking place, the sight of elderly couples and of young couples enjoying their time together. (I typed too soon. The raven is over there, cawing louder than a Deep Purple concert.)
Here is a 15-stone pagoda, but I think it weighs a lot more than fifteen stone.
This English looking house was designed by and English architect, and even though we’ve only been in Japan for a week, we felt it looked out of place. It’s funny how quickly different things, sights, buildings become the norm.
Even the rose garden could have been plucked from Hampton Court – apart from the Japanese text on the identity cards.
Number plate of the day, possibly the first car ever manufactured.
So far, we’ve avoided all Japanese TV, apart from a dodgy game show they had on the flight into Tokyo. But we had a treat in store. The evening entertainment back at our b&b was provided by David Bowie. His 2000 Glastonbury performance was broadcast last week on BBC4 last week and Jenny and Liam recorded it and sent it to us! I could have waited until we returned home, but thanks for sending it!
If you’re having problems with image sizes, sorry, you’re not alone, we’ve been having problems with the WordPress app: it’s been crashing a lot, lately and it doesn’t always accept our changes to images, so some pictures will appear huuuge while others may seem way too small. We can only view the blog on our phones right now, so we have to hope for the best, to a certain extent. Here ends the public service announcement.