A Tale of Two Cities, and Beyond

It was the best of times.

Well, it really was, and while the rest of Charles Dickens’s introduction to A Tale of Two Cities is without doubt, beautifully written, it doesn’t apply to our gap year experiences. Long may this feeling of travelling, exploring and enjoying life, continue. Even though we are back home, back to normal and back to a certain amount of responsibility, we are looking at everyday things with a refreshed set of expectations. Great Expectations, you might say, if you wanted to acknowledge to enjoyment and entertainment provided not only by Charles Dickens, but by Tasmin Archer, many years later.

Living in Northenden is indeed slowly becoming the norm. The holiday feeling still persists, even if we do miss the temples, castles, crocodiles, wombats, kiwis, lizards, bullet trains, mangoes and sumo wrestlers.

Helen arrived from Australia, failing in her duty to bring some decent weather. It was quite cold and damp when we returned, and sadly for Helen, the weather hadn’t improved much since then.

Helen and Jenny needed some peace and quiet so they could enjoy their massages. We looked after Martha and William, always a joy but always exhausting. The advantage of being grandparents is, we can hand the children back later in the day, apologise for feeding them too much sugar, and leave the parents to fix the damage caused.

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Martha’s hand

We visited the Northern Den café where Martha asked for “A babyccino with marshmallows, chocolate sprinkles and a Flake bar on the side”. Well, no chocolate sprinkles here, nor a Flake: this child is more familiar with Costa’s offerings. And then, while looking for Flakes in the nearby Tesco, Martha spotted the Kinder eggs so that’s what we bought instead. Martha walked home with hers in her right hand and William’s in her left. She enjoyed her molten chocolate, William slept through the whole episode.

Later on, we all had pies at Jenny’s, yep, more pies. Who ate all the pies? Well, I’m trying!

We’re still moving in and before we unpack the last few dozen boxes, we need storage space. That means shelving. A sales rep came round from one of the big bespoke furniture manufacturers, measured up roughly and gave a rough estimate of more than twice our anticipated budget. Instantly, we translated the amount into so many flights to exotic, interesting places. We’ll get shelving installed, but from somewhere more reasonably priced.

Another visitor was the lady who will make Roman blinds for both our living room windows. She was very pleasant and friendly and made us realise how brusque the shelf person had been.

Helen and Jenny took William and Martha out. Both children are very curious about the world. Martha demonstrates this level of interest by asking questions. William’s method is to take things apart. Sometimes, those thngs can be put back together again, but not always. RIP one of our Red Nose Day Comic Relief Red Noses, rent asunder.

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William demolishing an ice cream

Liesel and I went into Manchester to collect our valuables from the Safe Deposit box. This included some cutlery which we needed, as we didn’t otherwise have enough for everyone to eat with, at the same time. Yes, we were invaded by the children, their parents and their Aunt Helen from down under.

Hooray, I did some DIY. As ever, all jobs took three times longer than they needed to, but I got there in the end. We can now hang mugs up in the kitchen. We have a much better storage unit in the bathroom. And the light fitting in the bathroom looks much better. Such a shame, then, that the light bulb we had won’t physically fit inside the globe. Add ‘slightly smaller bulb’ to the shopping list.

The weather was slowly improving and it was a pleasant walk back home from Didsbury one morning, along the Mersey.

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Tree reflected in the Mersey

There were spots and even larger patches of blue sky by now. I donned my hat at times to protect the top of my head from actual beams of sunshine.

I walked past some bindweed happy that my 30+ year war against the stuff in my Chessington garden was now over. And yes, I lost.

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Bindweed

I’m very happy for other people to continue the bindweed wars if they wish, but I’m more convinced than ever that it will one day take over the whole planet.

Myra came up for the weekend, that’s Sarah’s mother, Martha and William’s Great-Granny. We planned to collect her from Stockport station but due to ‘an incident’, trains weren’t stopping there. So we went to pick her up from Manchester Piccadilly. This was no problem but Myra’s ticket was for Stockport so the electronic barriers at Piccadilly wouldn’t let her through. Nor anyone else with the same ticket. Why they didn’t just open the barriers and let everyone through, I don’t know, they just carefully opened the barrier for each passenger, one at a time, very slowly.

Back at Jenny’s, the shouts of ‘Great-Granny’ echoed around the house: we think they both just like saying the words!

In the garden, Martha did several roly-polies, insisting ‘They’re not head-over-heels, Grandad’. I had a go myself, just the once, but, er, I didn’t want to belittle Martha’s achievement: no problem with the disorientation I felt at all, oh no.

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Martha’s roly-poly

In the evening, we went to the Istanbul restaurant for dinner. The food was great, the service was good, the waiters seem to like young children, and we confirmed that William is a fast learner.

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William finishes his ice cream

William drank the last of his ice cream from the bowl, following the example just set by his Grandad (me), to all the other grown-ups’ consternation and dismay. I’m just glad I didn’t lick the bowl, which was my first inclination.

We took Myra to her hotel for the night and collected her in the morning. But she was locked in her room. Once released, it transpired that she had just not pulled the heavy door quite hard enough. Hanging out of the window to get someone’s attention was the best she could do, as there was no phone with which to call Reception.

We watched Martha and William swim really well, before driving over to Dunham Massey, a National Trust property not too far away.

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Old oak tree

It was good to see that Myra and I weren’t the oldest objects here: the oak tree is over 500 years old.

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Foxgloves

It was a gorgeous day for a walk around the gardens. Martha and William sniffed the flowers, admired the bees, ran around, and scootered around while the rest of walked at our various, individual speeds.

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Busy bee
Hosta Fire and Ice

We found a nice little bridge over a stream, ideal for playing Pooh Sticks, so Martha gathered up a few sticks and twigs. Fortunately, the disappointment wasn’t too bad as all the sticks just got stuck in the sludge where the stream used to be. William had no idea what was going on, he just wanted to jump in, I think.

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William looking at a disappointing Pooh Sticks stream

The flowers were very pretty and as usual, I took too many photos of the bright colours. Despite the labels, I can’t remember the proper scientific, or even the common English, names for these yellow and purple blooms.

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Yellow and purple blooms

Some flowers have so many different names. though, in various parts of the country, so I could probably make something up and nobody would know.

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Busy bee on a rare example of Auntie’s Knickers
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Martha being attacked by an Alien Facehugger

When we dropped Myra off at Stockport station the following day, we were surprised and delighted to encounter some frogs.

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Frogs at Stockport Station

This is all to celebrate Stockport’s Giant Leap into the future. Maybe we’ll find more frogs in the city centre on another occasion.

Meanwhile Helen flew off to Edinburgh on a purple aeroplane. Her flight back was on a disappointingly plain white plane. She is the last to have been nearly blown over by the strong wind up on Arthur’s Seat: Sarah and I in the early 1980s, Jenny while she was pregnant. Liesel is looking forward to the experience.

Liesel and I had a very pleasant trip to Ikea. She pointed out that the first route she learned to drive when she moved to the UK was to a branch of Ikea. History repeats itself. The first route she knows here in the north is the way to Ikea.

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The view from Ikea, Ashton under Lyne

Helen was kind enough to cut our hair, as well as Jenny’s, Martha’s and William’s. Liesel and I stayed for lunch before going into Manchester. The International Festival began with a Yoko Ono installation.

In Cathedral Gardens, thousands of people rang Bells for Peace, as requested by Yoko via video. Some of the ceramic bells had been hand-made at workshops during the last few months. Yoko asked us to talk to each other, to talk to the trees and to name the clouds. Well, we were underneath one great big, grey cloud, 100%, so that raised a small laugh.

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Bells for Peace

From Manchester to London, then. This has been the longest period I can remember without visiting our wonderful capital city, since I first moved there as a student nearly half a century ago.

The drive was much more pleasant than anticipated. The roadworks on the M6 have finished. Oh, hang on, no. They’ve just moved further along. We did miss the long purple sausage that used to live on the central reservation during the construction of the so-called ‘smart motorway’.

The first port of call was to visit my periodontist Emily in West Byfleet. Teeth cleaned and polished, I joined Liesel with Helen and Steve in the garden of the nearby Plough pub. (This is our friend Helen of course, not daughter Helen, she’s still up north with Jenny.) I couldn’t eat or drink with a numb and tender mouth but that didn’t prevent me from salivating.

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A tegestologist’s dream wall

We went to Claremont Gardens, probably the closest National Trust property. It was a good place to let my mouth thaw out and to walk around dodging the goose guano. I told one of the geese that I hoped I would be able to eat soon. He said he’d keep his feet crossed for me.

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Feet crossed, Mick

A black swan swam over and said “G’day, mate” and for a moment, I was back in Australia.

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G’day, Black Swan

Steve and I walked around the lake while the ladies, well, Liesel and Helen, sat on a bench for a chinwag, a natter. A great opportunity to take pictures as if I were visiting a strange place for the first time.

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A tree reflected in Claremont Lake

I think we were both waiting for someone to fall out of a boat, especially one of the more obviously unbalanced ones, but we were disappointed.

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Unbalanced boat

The lake is home to mallards and coots as well as the swans and geese. But even where the water was clear, we didn’t spot any fish. Helen’s Dad, Nigel, who lives in Ewell, had very kindly offered to accommodate me and Liesel for a week so we rubbed our hands while planning how best to pester him.

A long anticipated visit to an exhibition in London dragged us out of bed quite early. Something we really didn’t need to see as soon as we left Waterloo Station was a seagull tucking into a struggling pigeon. We had been in London with Helen and Steve the day we witnessed a heron swallow a baby duck too. Coincidence?

The British Museum was hosting the Edvard Munch exhibition, Love and Angst. As an artist, obviously he was a tortured soul, that’s a given, but he produced much more than The Scream. I for one was hoping for more examples of that work, but there were just two versions here, buried in the middle of the display, potentially easy to miss.

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The Scream, woodprint, Edvard Munch

He liked red skies, but ladies’ long, red hair, he found threatening. Probably the saddest painting was The Sick Child.

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The Sick Child, Edvard Munch

His 15-year old sister, Sophie, died from TB, and his Aunt Karen is mourning. Karen had looked after Edvard and his family following the earlier passing of his mother.

We caught a bus to the British Library to see some imaginary maps, based on real maps of old London, old New York and other old maps of old cities. I also found a new book to add to my Kindle list.

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One day, I might be a Manchester Man

I was on my tod walking round and enjoying the Leonardo da Vinci: A Mind in Motion exhibition.

Every time I see what he achieved, studied, deduced, created, invented, I become more convinced that he must be a time-traveller from the future. He wrote backwards, from right to left, an unintended side-effect of his journey back through several centuries, I suspect. His scientific mind was way ahead of its time.

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Why seashells on a mountain?

His study of water flow and rivers, on its own, is a solid body of work, even now. Not that water is solid, but you know what I mean.

For the first time, I wore some VR, Virtual Reality, goggles. I didn’t think this technology and my eyesight would be compatible, but this gentle introduction worked well. I was ‘walking’ through an imaginary city with hundreds of skyscrapers, blue sky and the Moon. I held on to the cable so I was tethered to real life, just in case I walked too far and collided with a real wall.

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The VR view is better IRL with VR goggles, the photo doesn’t do the image justice

Surbiton beckoned. I had an appointment with my optician. While there, of course I had to visit my favourite coffee shop, The Press Room.

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The Press Room under construction

Well that wasn’t planned very well. It’s being refurbished and I had to postpone my coffee until later in the day. I met up with another old friend, Marie, in Orpington, for lunch. Oh, and for a coffee. I hope she visits us up in Manchester soon.

On the way back through London, I bit the bullet and did one of my least favourite things. I went shoe shopping. For sandals, to replace the old ones which have apparently acquired a slightly cheesey tang after walking around the tropics for several months.

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Pretty alleyway near Covent Garden
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My dancing shoes don’t need replacement yet, even at this fab shop
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The Invisible Enemy Should Not Exist

From Wikipedia: [On the fourth plinth, there is a] recreation of a sculpture of a lamassu (a winged bull and protective deity) that stood at the entrance to Nergal Gate of Nineveh from 700 B.C. It was destroyed in 2015 by Isis, along with other artefacts in the Mosul Museum. [Michael] Rakowitz’s recreation is made of empty Iraqi date syrup cans, representing the destruction of the country’s date industry.

Yes, of course, I had to walk through Trafalgar Square. It, together with Waterloo Station, was London, to me, when I was very young. But I am so pleased I found the rest of the wonderful city later on in life.

And so to Chessington, our own ‘hood, the place I lived for 33 years. It hasn’t changed much, but, ooh, there is a KFC where my old favourite caff, Unique, used to be.

The massage from Dawn was very welcome and well-timed as I had cricked my back somehow a couple of days ago. Afterwards, it felt much better, thanks, Dawn!

Over the last few weeks, I’ve experienced more medical consultations than I’ve had hot dinners. Two hearing tests, bowel cancer test, blood pressure check, ECG, optician, periodontist, prescription renewals and a quick examination of ‘the warty thing’ growing on my leg. (Plus a haircut of course, thanks very much, Helen!) The main lesson that I learned from all this (apart from ‘don’t get old’) was: modern day scientific nomenclature isn’t as rigid, precise nor robust as it once was.

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Bindweedy thing growing through a fence

After Liesel and I had been respectively beautified and fixed by Dawn, the plan was to visit a showroomy place in Crystal Place to look at shelving suggestion. Liesel likes it, but I wasn’t so keen, just looking at pictures online. Unfortunately, the showroom was closed today. Instead we visited John Lewis in London’s Oxford Street. We found the same kind, String Shelving, spoke to a really helpful assistant, and yes, I am now a convert. It looks better in the flesh, with real things on the shelves, not so stark and industrial.

We also had a quick look at all the loudspeakers and other hi-fi components to replace the 30-year old system that we discarded when we moved house, since most bits didn’t work anyway. It’s quite exciting, buying new stuff for a new home! Who knew!

We had a Chinese takeaway at Helen’s house, while watching sport from Wimbledon and from the Tour de France. We drove past our old house and it seems to be occupied by a family of Japanese warriors. There are Samurai swordy things in the window.

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Swords in the window

With grim inevitability, we noticed that our erstwhile neighbours are still parking their cars in the shared drive. Not our problem any more.

We were pleased to catch up with Stella and Ian for coffee and cakey things, in their garden, in the sunshine, in Chessington. Their bathroom is being refitted and that’s a noisy process, but it will be great when it’s finished.

On the way home, I got out at Hook Parade shops to buy something. I visited Hook Café in the library. The owner’s doing very well. He recognised me, thought I’d won the lottery and emigrated!

We dragged Helen out of her house and took her to Hampton Court, where we admired the Rose Garden, the kitchen garden and had a late lunch. It’s an obvious thought, but I think for the first time since we returned, a month ago, I consciously registered just what a brilliant, beautiful, interesting, fascinating and historical place England is. I think living here, we just take it for granted much of the time.

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Some flowery things
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Here’s Abundance, feeding a child from her breasty thing

By mistake I tried to enter the children’s playground without a ticket: it must be a new attraction. I did like the nearby guard dog though.

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Hampton Court’s Guard Griffin
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A leafy thing
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A bee with, literally, a legful

While Liesel and Helen went off to Tesco, I walked to Kingston along the Thames tow path.

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One of Hampton Court’s back gates

It was a pleasant walk in the Sun, not many other people about, but as we’d seen at Hampton Court, there were plenty of bees and butterlies.

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A butterflyy thing

I saw an animal run across the path, too big to be a mouse, but I don’t think it was a rat, there was no tail to speak of. I communed with the blackbirds and robins too, but tried not to disturb the bicycle having a rest.

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Lost or discarded bike

We’d all planned to meet up later on for an evening meal. Queen Anne watched as I sat in Kingston’s Market Place and wrote some words, enjoying the sunshine, watching people, not seeing anyone I knew from the olden days.

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Queen Anne

She doesn’t really look like Olivia Coleman who portrays her in The Favourite but here was another tenuous link back to New Zealand, where we saw the film with Pauline and Andrew.

At Riverside Vergetaria, there were six in our party, Helen, Steve and Nigel, Liesel, me and our Helen. Ritchie, the owner, seemed pleased to see us again after all this time.

I walked to Epsom while Liesel drove Nigel to hospital. The old market here is currently a building site and judging by the angle of the Sun, I was here at about a quarter to midday.

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Epsom market and clock tower
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A celebration of Epsom horse racing

After a brief writing session in the library, I decided to visit the South Bank for a wander. Congratulations to the graduates from the London Business School who were gathered in and around the South Bank Centre, taking photos and looking gorgeous and justifiably proud.

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Selfie of the day

It was great being back here, walking by the river, looking down on the beach, trying not to make eye contact with the street entertainers who were later, sadly, moved on by the police. I found an unoccupied bench, sat and wrote for a while. I think I’ve sold the idea of using a stand-alone keyboard connected to a phone by Bluetooth to a very nice young lady who asked.

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The London skyline

The Turbine Room at Tate Modern has been home to many interesting installations over the years. It was empty today, though, unless the two small children running around were both, appropriately, named Art. Sixteen years ago, we lay down here and basked in fake sunshine and fog, an installation called The Weather Project, by Olafur Eliasson. There’s currently a retrospective show of his work here at Tate Modern. His latest idea is to bring in a million white Lego bricks with which we are invited to build future cities.

The seagull that ate the pigeon a few days ago was back. This time, he caught a pink fish from the Thames and proceeded to chow down here, on the beach.

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Seagull v fish

This is why we love nature so much.

It’s good to see they’re still selling second-hand books underneath Waterloo Bridge by the BFI. The skateboarders and cyclists are still having fun in the Undercroft, below the Royal Festival Hall, a facility that was under threat a few years ago. The Spread Riverside is a Street Food Market, open five days a week, with every kind of street food you can imagine. I’ll definitely be back. I had a small pie today, natch.

We drove to Salisbury to meet up with Sarah, a friend who used to live close by but moved to Exeter some years ago. Salisbury is a good midway point to catch up.

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Salisbury Cathedral

We sat in the Cathedral refectory for over three hours, eating, drinking but mainly talking about our travels.

Salisbury is a busy little town, despite its recent reputation for attempted political assassinations.

In the grounds of the Cathedral, people were resting, playing, sunbathing and picnicking but there were also some works of art. They’re all interesting to look at but it was difficult to view them without something in the background to spoil the view. An old gothic building is OK, but boring old semi-detached houses not so much.

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Sky Circles by Diane Maclean

Maybe ‘art critic’ is not the career for me: that last sentence was written with far too much snobbishness!

We spent the night at The Talbot Inn Hotel in Ripley. A hotel named after Mick from The Style Council in a village named after the heroine from the Alien films: how cool is that?

We stayed on the top floor of this old coaching house, in a room complete with sloping floors, very low ceiling and beams. This is where Lord Nelson and Lady Emma Hamilton became ‘good friends’. In fact, our room was named Horatio.

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Lord Nelson, potential room-mate

No one would have believed in the last years of the nineteenth century that this world was being watched keenly and closely by intelligences greater than man’s and yet as mortal as his own; that as men busied themselves about their various concerns they were scrutinised and studied, perhaps almost as narrowly as a man with a microscope might scrutinise the transient creatures that swarm and multiply in a drop of water. Yes, we were being watched and the Martians did soon invade the Earth. We humans won The War of the Worlds, of course, and one of the Martians has been displayed in Woking as a warning to others.

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Martian

There’s also a statue of HG Wells, the author of the book as well as a pub named in his honour. Why Woking? We were here to have breakfast with Rosie but the short drive from Ripley was greatly extended by the difficulty in finding a parking place.

We broke our fast, I felt rotten eavesdropping on Rosie and Liesel talking shop, but so pleased to be well away from office politics.

The drive to Polesden Lacey was quiet, and followed some roads where I have often cycled in the past. We met up with our friends Sandra and Fred, their dog Clyde, Sandra’s Mum Carol who celebrated her birthday yesterday as well as Liesel and Sandra’s former colleagues Vicky and Diane.

One day, Liesel and I will go inside the house at Polesden Lacey, but again, we just went for a walk around the grounds. Last time I was here with Sandra, ten years ago, I did my back in and was off work for three weeks, a personal best for me. I also missed a Mott the Hoople reunion concert at Hammersmith Odeon where I’d seen them in 1973, supported by Queen.

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The view from Polesden Lacey
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An orchid at Polesden Lacey

The rose garden and the lavendar were very aromatic and my sneeze organs began working overtime. The gardeners here though do a really good job.

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Lavendar

And so, after an ice cream with Helen and Steve back at Nigel’s house, Liesel and I set off for home, hoping to arrive before the Sun set.

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The setting Sun as seen from the glamorous M6

Success! What a great drive: we didn’t stop at all, there were no traffic jams, no hold-ups, straight up the motorways, then straight up the stairs and then straight to bed.

Since we’ve been back in England after our adventures overseas, many, many people have told us how well we’re looking and how happy we seem. That is all undoubtedly true, though I for one find it hard to take compliments. I don’t know how to respond when someone says they’ve enjoyed following the blog: all I can manage is a weak, embrarrassed ‘thank you’.

But this morning as we watched Martha and William swimming, I was again reminded of my own inadequacies. Three-year old Martha has, voluntarily, swum further under water than I have in all of my 29 long years on the good Earth. Driving home from swimming, we were overtaken by this gorgeous pair. I think William was, by then, fast asleep in the back!

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Jenny and Martha

The rest of the day consisted of writing, washing, watching cricket and cycling on TV, and relaxing after a fun-packed week down south.

Cricket? Yes, we’re proud to say we witnessed the England Team win the ICC Cricket World Cup for the first time in a nail-biting finish against New Zealand, in a game during which a couple of very obscure rules were revealed. Marvellous! One of England’s top players is Joe Root. His One Day International number is 66. So the back of the pyjama top he plays in says ‘Root 66’. Wonderful!

Cycling? Yes, one week into the Tour de France and we’ve caught up. No Mark Cavendish nor Chris Froome this year, so I guess we’re rooting for Geraint Thomas again.

Settling in

The ‘holiday mood’ persists and that’s not a bad thing. We’re back in our own place, yes, but because it’s still new to us, it feels like we’re still Airbnb-ing. We’re exploring the local area as if merely visiting. It makes me realise that once you’re settled, you tend to take your local neighbourhood for granted.

The Trafford Centre is as big as a small country. Most of the shops have no interest for us, but the mall itself is fascinating.

Trafford Centre welcoming committee

We were looking at armchairs, we know how to have a good time. Not to mention curtains, blinds, other window accoutrements, lamp shades and light fittings.

Not sure this one will match our curtains

There were some great photos to be taken, so I’m afraid I was looking elsewhere while Liesel was focussed on the main job of the day.

Little Greene Paint and Paper

Yes, we’re in the north now, so it’s only to be expected that on a relatively cold, wet day, the young ladies out shopping will be woefully underdressed.

Marble statue

We thought we were going into an old Egyptian tomb or something but it was only a lift taking us to a whole new level.

Going up
Nooses for curtains

Barton Square is partly a building site, but I’m sure it will be lovely when it’s finished. The glass dome promises to let in the light but not the rain.

Barton Square dome, under construction

Again, we ventured into ancient Egypt, a fantastic theme around the centre. It’s just a bit worrying when a young child screams for ‘Mummy’, you half expect a sarcophagus to creak open.

Spirits of Ancient Egypt

We later met Jenny at Costco where I made sure to get my steps in. Not as fascinating nor as glamorous as the Trafford Centre, of course.

Vegetarian magazine plus unsuitable free gift
They’re making peanut butter out of kangaroos, now

Other than settling in and finding our way around the local area , our main project is getting to know and looking after our two delightful grandchildren.

Martha and William came round while their parents, Jenny and Liam goofed off, I mean, while they enjoyed some quality time together.

Martha channelling Salvador Dalí
William channelling Sherlock Holmes

Both are very curious about the world. Martha barely stops talking and asking questions. William just tries to take everything apart. But they are both great fun, we are very lucky grandparents!

Liesel and I took advantage of a small hiatus in the late April showers and walked to Didsbury. We stayed away from the main roads as much as possible, venturing along narrow, overgrown, nettle-infested, sometimes muddy paths. We knew we were back in Manchester when we found a shopping trolley nowhere near its supermarket.

Modern art? Or rubbish?

Part of me must still be in Australia because when I saw a ripple on the surface of the river Mersey, in the distance, my first thought was ‘crocodile’. No, of course not, it was just a family of ducks.

Ducks cross the Mersey

In Didsbury, I could not resist the temptation to have coffee and cake at a place called FFS. I think it’s a front for something.

The first coffee I ever tasted, mid 1960s, was Camp Coffee: sweet, with chicory. It came as a dark brown liquid in a bottle and was alright, I suppose. At this point in history, we Brits drank tea and Americans drank coffee: that was the law. It was much later that I acquired a fondness for proper coffee, even though, in the UK, it was often over-roasted, burnt, too strong or just tasteless. But during all those decades, I was desperate to be able to send a message by telephone, ordering my coffee, so that it’s ready when I roll up at the café. Well, hallelujah, my dream has come true!

The wait is over

Our sleep patterns are settling down, we’re getting used to the rain but we really want a proper, warm, sunny Summer. One place in Lincolnshire is suffering badly after having received two months of rain in one day. Rivers bursting their banks, sandbags not doing their job. It’s not that bad here in Northenden, but even when it’s not actually raining, it looks and feels like it’s going to start again any minute.

Raindrops and full Moon

Not only was Sunday Fathers’ Day, it was also the day of the Tour of Tameside 7-mile run. I watched the participants with just a hint of envy but with plenty of admiration.

Lucky devils running seven miles

We watched Martha and William swimming too, always a joy, they are both very competent and enjoy their time in the water.

Three of us fathers gathered together at Jenny’s for the big celebration. Liam, his Dad Alan and I all received chocolatey gifts from our respective offspring. Chocolate. Oh well: the diet starts next month!

I’m forever blowing bubbles

We enjoyed playing with Martha, William and bubbles in the garden. Wimbledon tennis championships begin any day now, and we were in training for that too.

Smashed it

Jenny came up trumps again with pies and roast potatoes and vegetables! It was good to catch up with Alan and Una too after so many months away.

Another day, another opportunity to look after M&W so we took them by bus into Manchester. We visited the Museum of Science and Industry where their natural curiosity caused them to press all the buttons, turn all the wheels, move anything that wasn’t tied down. Martha was genuinely surprised and pleased that by turning a handle, she could lift a car into the air. Too difficult to explain gearing systems, but one day…

Red Arrows simulator

When we first entered the Museum, Martha pointed out the train. It wasn’t any old train either. Only the original Stephenson’s Rocket, back in Manchester for the first time in 180 years.

Stephenson’s Rocket

Both children fell asleep on the bus home. Liesel and I managed to stay awake but as soon as Jenny took them home again, we slumped.

We’re looking forward to our first musical performance since coming home. Hard to believe that during the ten months away, we only saw a couple of concerts and one theatre show. Next time, we’ll go out more often. Next time!

Melbourne to Manchester

And we’re home.

On the way to Melbourne Airport, we noticed a few people in crazy costumes. It’s the weekend of Melbourne Comic Con. We left home during the weekend of Manchester Comic Con. What are the chances of that?

We saw some pandas, an unexpected bonus. No, not real ones. To celebrate 2017 Australia-China Year of Tourism, there are about twenty pandas at Melbourne’s Tullamarine Airport.

A row of pandas
A panda
A panda and a koala together

The first laugh of the day was provided by Etihad’s poster – we all know about tolerance in middle eastern countries.

Year of tolerance

It was a long flight from Melbourne to Manchester, lots of hanging around and sitting and not much sleep. Plenty of time to read, watch films and TV programmes, play games, eat the meals, enjoy some of them but mainly to reminisce and think about the last ten months’ adventures.

Looking down on England

Jenny met us at Manchester Airport with Martha and William and it was lovely to see and to spend most of the day with them all! Best of all, though, were the spontaneous hugs from a couple of children who haven’t seen us in the flesh for a significant portion of their lives. Jenny and Liam have done a brilliant job keeping us in their lives, thank you very much!

We went for a walk to a local place for breakfast, the idea partly being for Liesel and me to stay awake until a reasonable bedtime. Martha is a very competent scooter user.

Martha the scooterer
Selfie of the day (thanks, Liam)
William won’t let Oma ride Martha’s scooter

We watched Martha and William swimming in the afternoon, both very happy and very competent in the water.

The Welcome Home evening meal was Pie and Roast potatoes. Gorgeous! We should go away for ten months at a time more often…

Now we have a tonne of boring but necessary admin tasks to perform, household appliances to kick into action, medical appointments to keep and, when we have a moment, many boxes to unpack from last year’s house move!

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…

Manly to Moruya

We packed and dragged our bags back to Helen’s. We then breakfasted at Sketch, sitting outside in the warm sunshine. Helen took us to the next car rental place before we said our sad goodbyes. Not as sad as usual though, as Helen will be coming over to the UK in a month’s time, hooray!

Helen was delighted that the wine order she’d collected last week at Heifer was duplicated: a delivery was made this morning. So the dilemma is: drink it or return it? Helen did the right thing of course and was punished by having to carry the heavy box down to the post office!

The new car was much newer than the Queenland one, but a little smaller which is ironic since we now have a huge case as well.

And so began our final road trip in Australia, before our long journey home. Manly to Melbourne, mostly along the coast road.

After leaving Sydney and its suburbs behind us, we were able to relax a bit and enjoy the scenery.

Coledale was a nice little place to stop, rugged and rocky.

Coledale Beach

This sculpture celebrates the life of all-round local good guy, Mike Dwyer. It just invites you to walk round and round and admire it from all angles.

Comradeship by Didier Balez, 2007

It was quite windy and the sea was crashing onto the beach. Not surprisingly, nobody was on the beach nor in the water.

A little later, we stopped at Wollongong for lunch.

Wollongong Serpent, the Southern Siren

I went for a walk towards the lighthouse but was unable to complete the trek due to my inability to walk on water.

Sometimes, we gnarly old farts need a little help

I did make friends with a pelican in the harbour, though. We swapped stories and fishy tales.

Just the Pelly and Me

Today’s destination was Kiama Blowhole. It was windy enough for a good blow, but the tide was right out, so not much action today. Well, other than everyone walking around trying to keep their hats on.

Kiama Lighthouse

If being blown along by the wind didn’t convince you of its strength, the white horses out at sea certainly would. Yes, it was windy, but the Sun was out and it was a bright afternoon.

White horses

The rock formations in this area are fascinating too, especially the attempt to emulate the Giant’s Causeway in Ireland.

Kiama rocks, OK

There’s a large area of what can only be described as a lunar landscape. And in the middle of all the desolation, there’s one small plant, one giant leap for plantkind.

Little plant growing out of rock

Our b&b in Kiama was called Itchycoo Park so of course I had that song in my head all night.

The wind died down at some point overnight. The brief peace and quiet was disturbed though by a tradesman turning up early to demolish the balcony over our heads as a prelude to Neil, our host, building an extension, with a great view towards the northern Sun.

We returned to the blowhole in the morning where it was performing very well.

Thar she blows
Much calmer Kiama sea today

Today was Jenny’s birthday. I shouldn’t give away a lady’s age, but this is interesting. She is now 6². I am 8². If you add our ages, you get 10². Yes, we are like the squares on the sides of a right-angled triangle. Very special. That sounds better than saying that our ages now total 100, so I won’t mention that.

Liesel and I went for a walk on the beach at Gerroa. The wind had found us again and our legs were sand-blasted and exfoliated perfectly. Fascinating watching the little sand dunes form and move across the beach, like an old Open University Geography demonstration.

Whistling, whispering sands

Despite the strong wind and the raging sea, we found a group of hardy souls, actually in the water, trying to learn how to surf. A Surf Skool in the Sea in a Gale.

Surfers with L plates

Berry is a lovely, quiet little town. There are lots of interesting knick-knack type shops. We saw something nice or cute or unusual in most places, even some furniture that we like the look of, but of course, we didn’t buy anything. Except in the toy shop: that was totally irresistable. I just hope we don’t have to go out now and buy and even bigger case to put the new purchases in!

Alexander Berry, popular with birds, yes, and so popular with people, they named the town after him

The wind in Berry wasn’t as strong nor as cold, so it was delightful just walking up and down the streets, window shopping.

Dog taking shelter under a cow

I found one shop offering Intravenous Coffee, seems like a good idea, so I went in but they just gave it to me in a cup, like a normal coffee shop.

IV Coffee
Dog in a boat on the roof

Proceeding southwards on the A1, we were surprised to see smoke in a few places. Just a few, late, controlled fires even though it’s very nearly Winter here.

Smoke in the distance

By the time we reached Hyam’s Beach, a little later in the day, it was a colder breeze again. Neil had told us earlier that Hyam’s Beach claims to have the purest white sand in the world.

What does the sand at Hyam’s Beach do?

Well, it is white and soft and squeaky but I think the authorities at Whitehaven Beach in the Whitsundays might have something to say about Hyam’s claim.

What else does Hyam’s Beach have to offer? More black smoke over there, a couple of youngsters fishing, plus, at the water’s edge, a young couple reenacting that scene from the film ‘From Here to Eternity’.

More smoke over in the distance
Fishing
Just good friends

But the pièce de résistance was without doubt seeing this cloudbow, which appeared fleetingly just before the Sun set.

Cloudbow

The b&b today stunk: someone described it as ‘funky chicken’. It had the smell of an old person’s flat where they never open the windows, overcook all the food, and smoke. This hosts were friendly enough, admitted to smoking but only in the back of the house and they were proud to be cooking up two days worth of stew. Well, I hope they enjoy it because we certainly didn’t enjoy the stench it produced. We drove into Huskisson where we had a gorgeous meal.

Needless to say, we didn’t hang around in the morning for breakfast, we just wanted to get away before all our clothes became infected with the cigarette smoke and the stew grease fumes and the air fresheners that were fighting a losing battle. I just found it unpleasant, but poor old Liesel doesn’t have the most robust set of lungs at the best of times.

A few deep breaths of fresh air and we were back on the road.

To prevent landslides, there are a few places by the A1 (and presumably elsewhere) where they’ve sprayed concrete all up the hill, a common sight in Malaysia. But here, the colour they’ve chosen here is a better match to the background earthy colours.

We stopped at a place called Milton, where the views could be English pastoral scenes, evoking paintings by Constable.

Milton scenes

Breakfast at Ulladulla was very welcome. The Sun was out, the sky was blue, hardly a breeze, we found a place mentioned in some of the literature, Native!, and it lived up to its reputation.

Ulladulla Harbour

Boats in harbours always make me happy and I wonder if this is because one of my very first jigsaw puzzles, when I was small, depicted such a scene?

A fish out of water

I had more fun than Liesel did in Ulladulla for which I feel very guilty. No I don’t. I sat in the library writing while she sat in the car looking out for Traffic Wardens, or Rangers as they are called here.

When I reached a stopping point, I went to meet Liesel and was delighted to find this sundial, with its unorthodox orientation and gnomon placement. It told the right time as far as I could tell, taking into account the equation of time and daylight savings, but I could see no reason why it was set up this way. It was erected in celebration of Australia’s Bicentenary in 1988.

Sundial at Ulladulla

Burrill Beach at Dolphin Point has no crocodiles, hooray, no mention of jellyfish, fantastic, so a lovely place to go for a dip, you’d think.

Burrill Beach warnings

But even without those hazards, the high waves plus the strong winds were far too intimidating for us.

Burrill Beach surf’s up

I went for a quick walk along the beach and had the place to myself again. At one end of the beach, there was no wind. One minute, I had to hold my hat on, the next I’m standing feeling the heat of the Sun on my back. Magic.

Calm end of the beach

I tried to make friends with the oystercatchers, but they weren’t interested. I was intrigued by the structure of the beach’s surface here, though: usually you see roughly parallel lines in the sand, whether from waves or from wind.

Sand like orange peel

Yet another reason why I regret not pursuing a geology course at some point.

Burrill Beach has many holiday homes and would probably be a great place to spend more time. But a lot of those homes don’t look out over the sea. There are tall trees in the way. Or, if you’re really unlucky, you look out over the caravan park that is right next to the beach.

Just when you’re thinking, ooh, we haven’t seen any wildlife for a while, we turn a corner in Kioloa and find a field full of kangaroos relaxing.

Field of kangaroos

And if that wasn’t enough, just along the road, we passed by a house with several kangaroos in the front garden. These were not at all timid: in fact, they seemed disappointed that I didn’t offer them any food. But I swear the one at the front rolled his eyes when I asked, “What’s up, Skip?”

Garden of kangaroos

It was bright and sunny in Bateman’s Bay too and although we didn’t see much of the town itself, we did find some great sculptures.

The octopus on a buoy certainly drew our attention.

Buoyansea by Jesse Graham
Lavender is an old, old, old, old lady (RIP Ken Nordine)
Dance by Haruyuki Uchida
Selfie on the Bay
Portal by John Fitzmaurice

Our final stop tonight was at our b&b in Moruya. On the way, we passed this sign, so now I had another song in my head.

Roll over, Batehaven

When we entered the premises, we held our breath but, phew, this place didn’t smell too bad at all. And relax!

Mainly Manly

It was delightful waking up in time to wander down to Manly Beach for the main event of the day: sunrise. As expected, the place was humming with humanity. Many people were on the beach or on the parade, doing something or preparing.

Pre-sunrise beach party

It was a beautiful sunrise, no clouds on the horizon, just the Sun emerging from the sea while a few brave souls were out there, swimming or kayaking.

Late Autumn sunrise at Manly Beach

Not forgetting the joggers, cyclists, tai-chiists, dog-walkers, dog-runners and fellow Sun worshippers of course.

My shadow, with a extree leg

It’s the week of A Taste of Manly, the world famous food and wine festival. I watched the workers setting up stalls and stages on North Steyne and The Corso. Lots of tasty looking street food would be up for grabs later on, along with plenty of wine. Grilled halloumi, mmm. The music progam [sic] looked good too.

You only had one job

Too many photos of the sunrise, so I had to go through and edit them. The best place for this was of course Three Beans, so I had a coffee and a muffin to accompany the procedure.

Back home and my new career as a clothes horse began today. Helen asked me to try on a jumper and I think it looks rather fetching. The model’s pretty hot too.

Mick in a jumper

Helen, Liesel and I went for a walk. The food festival was, we felt, too busy to be fun, as Helen had warned us was likely. The beach was busy too, seemingly a different breed of Sun worshipper.

More sedate people on the beach

Liesel and I moved into our new b&b, just a few minutes up the road. Adam was coming home from a week’s work in Frankfurt so it was only fair to give him some space and time to recover. Plus, we didn’t want to be around when he opened his case stuffed with illicit German sausages.

To further distance ourselves from such comestibles, bizarrely, we went to The Bavarian Manly Wharf for a late lunch. We had the best salads, each selecting our own ingredients from the pre-printed order sheet.

To bracket the day, here’s another Manly sunset as experienced from Helen and Adam’s balcony, to which we briefly returned.

Sunset over Manly Cove

The following sunrise was witnessed by Helen and Adam, somehow I slept right through the event.

Helen’s sunrise

Helen made breakfast for us: Liesel’s chilli eggs, a recipe passed down through many generations. Plus fake bacon, or fakon. After this, Adam needed a nap. Well, we probably all did but the rest of us had no excuse, we weren’t fighting jetlag.

Liesel and I caught a ferry to Watson’s Bay.

Here we are, waving at Helen from the ferry

Watson’s Bay is a mere VIII miles from Sydney.

Watson’s Bay milepost

But we weren’t walking all that way, oh no. We had a nice, gentle walk to Vaucluse House. Gentle? Well, it was a bit hilly.

The bridge over Parsley Bay was interesting, very slightly wobbly, but you could make it shake even more if you wanted to. To one side, we could see a small beach at the top of the inlet. To the other, we witnessed people swimming across.

Parsley Bay swim club

Despite Google Maps, we found our way into the grounds: we didn’t walk the extra miles the long way round that it prescribed.

Old gnarly tree, winner of the Knobbly Knees Competition

Vaucluse House was owned by William Charles Wentworth, whose eponymous Falls we visited a few days ago. The house is now set up as it was in his day, the 1860s, including CCTV cameras and barriers preventing you from walking into some of the rooms.

It’s a bit like the Sloane Museum in London, with lots of useful items and many interesting old artefacts, but nowhere near as cluttered.

These books intrigue me, I’ll try to remember to look them up sometime. Maybe even download them onto my Kindle.

A very select selection of books
Crenellations just like those at our Manchester apartment
Wine cellar: Vaucluse House or Helen’s?
Fireplace decorated with old QR codes

After coffee and cake in the tearoom, the walk back to the wharf seemed easier and quicker somehow, which is often the case. We watched people while waiting for our return ferry.

Back at Manly Cove Beach, we sat by the path trying not to inhale (too many of) the pot fumes while waiting to meet Helen. We carried on watching people, some slightly worse for wear, probably too much wine from the festival.

For our final evening meal in Manly, we dined at The Skiff Club. I watched the Sun set behind Helen but the photo of her glowing hair didn’t really work, thanks to the reflective plastic sheet protecting us from the elements.

Adam joined us later, after a long nap. He was due to fly back to work the following day, up to Hayman Island in the Whitsundays.

It did feel odd, sitting outside, albeit under awning, with heating turned on. The sudden change from needing AC to using heaters is quite a shock to the system.

Outdoor space heater
Selfie of the day (Mick’s version)
Selfie of the day (Helen’s, superior, version)

During the night, I remembered why I don’t drink so much beer any more.

On The Rocks

We left Orange behind and drove towards the Blue Mountains. Preventative back burning is taking place, and we realised that the presence of smoke may affect our journey today.

We could see smoke haze in the distance, adding to the blueness of the mountains, but we didn’t want to arrive home smelling of old ashtrays.

Mountain haze from Evans’ Plains

We stopped for a second time in Bathurst, impressed by the extensive war memorial park. Bathurst claims to be the first inland settlement in NSW, with deep gratitude to a Mr Evans who opened up the west.

Mr Evans

There may have been a place of execution here, if the pavement markings are to be believed.

Mick’s in the noose again

The mountains would have moved towards us, I’m sure, but instead, we made the effort, mostly Helen, thank you!

Blue Mountains from Govett’s Leap

The smoke was still too far away to smell, but there was a definitely pall in the distance. The view at or from Govett’s Leap was fantastic, though, the escarpments and the gumtrees. A couple of walking tracks are closed due to landslides, but we weren’t planning a long walk today.

Big beautiful Blue Mountains

As usual, a little picture on a small screen doesn’t do justice to the scale of this place, it’s immense and so impressive.

Selfie of the day

And then we go and spoil it all by doing something stupid like taking a selfie in front of a terrific view.

A café in an old theatre with an antiques display at the back seemed like a good venue for lunch, if only we could find such a place. Blackheath rose to the challenge, and we found ourselves in the Victory Café where I had a liquid lunch, though not in the conventional sense of the phrase: I had curried sweet potato soup, vanilla milkshake and water then jumped up and down to mix it all up.

A very pretty tile just like ours at home

You have to walk through all the crap old and interesting displays to visit the dunny but it’s very risky, the aisles are very narrow.

Lots of antique artefacts at the back of the café

We went forth at Wentworth Falls, just a short loop, but a welcome bit of exercise after lunch. I could just stay there and look at this view all day. Not much happens, clouds glide by, birds swoop, leaves rustle in the breeze, but it’s so quiet and peaceful.

Wentworth Falls view
A bonus nother Selfie

Either we travelled at warp speed or I nodded off in the car but we were back in Manly in no time.

While we were away, the plumber had been in to fix the toilet, to cement it securely to the floor. After using the facility, I put the seat down and closed the door. Only the door wouldn’t close, it was obstructed by the toilet seat. The plumber had tightened up the screws, but only after moving the seat forward by an inch or so.

I found a saw and was about to cut a notch into the door, so that it would close fully, without bashing into the toilet seat, but Helen said she’d rather get the plumber back instead, to move the seat back to its original position.

The sunset is usually good from Helen’s apartment and today was no exception.

A Manly sunset

Helen had to work the following day, someone has to, I suppose, so Liesel and I were left to our own devices. After Liesel visited the local spa for some treatment, I met her over the road for breakfast. We can recommend Sketch, it was one of the best breakfasts we’ve eaten out, and we’re thinking we might return before we leave Manly.

We caught an early ferry to Circular Quay where I had a chat with my new BFF, an Aboriginal gentleman playing the didgeridoo. He’d been to the UK as part of a group, travelling down to Devon and all the way up to John O’Groats. They’d even played at the Edinburgh Tattoo.

Top didg player

We were here to meet an old friend, Maggie, who’d moved back to Australia from Chessington over 30 years ago. It was good to catch up after all this time. Our children no longer need babysitting of course, but their children, our grandchildren, might. She brought a friend, Carol, who I don’t think enjoyed the long-ish walk to The Rocks area for lunch as much as the rest of us did.

Pink telephone box

Maggie is enjoying retirement too and we talked about a few mutual friends from Chessington who are no longer part of our lives. It’s always sad when you lose touch with people, but we can be quite philosophical about it.

There was a cruise ship in port, dwarfing some of the older Sydney buildings.

On the ferry back to Manly, I realised we hadn’t taken any photos with Maggie. I’ll try to remedy that when we meet up again in another thirty years!

Another Manly sunset

Phhh-psst, sneezed the elf living in Helen’s kitchen. Bless you, said I. After several such exchanges, I investigated further. It’s not a little person after all. There’s a machine that squirts elephant repellant into the air every couple of minutes. And it works: there are no elephants in the apartment. No bugs either, so that’s a bonus.