Wedding Weekend

Sometimes you go to bed at the end of the day and you have no recollection of anything that happened. One day this week passed in such a manner. It was a Thursday. We did some more tidying up, we started packing for the weekend ahead, and that’s about it. I took zero photographs, which is very unusual. A busy, productive day but totally unmemorable. I don’t know why I mentioned it really. I’m sorry I wasted your time on this paragraph.

Jump to Friday. Pauline and Andrew drove to the airport to pick up Robert, who’d flown in from Vancouver. Yes, Liesel and I only saw him fairly recently, but this was the first reunion with his mother, my sister Pauline, since he moved to Canada all those years ago.

Now we are six. For the first time, there are six people staying in our flat overnight, which seems to have shrunk in size. Rob drew the short straw (we drew it for him) and he slept on an inflatable bed in the office/studio, curled around the legs of the desk.

Before settling down for the night though, we had fish and chips from the local chippy. We bought far too many chips. Which is why, for breakfast the following day, we had egg and chips.

And so, after years of anticipation and planning, the Wedding Weekend began. I am pleased to announce that my daughter Jenny was marrying Liam at an event postponed for a couple of years because of the pandemic.

We woke up to a beautiful Saturday morning. After our stodgy breakfast, Pauline, Andrew, Rob and I drove to the venue, Knockerdown Cottages, near Ashbourne, on the cusp of the Peak District National Park in the Derbyshire Dales. Yes, what a beautiful part of the country. Just look at the view!

The view from Knockerdown

After a lovely drive, despite a couple of diversions, we arrived and parked at the venue at about 11.45. I saw Liam and walked over to say hello. I was immediately told to go to the back of the line over there, to join Jenny, as they were timing the walk up the aisle. Well, a trail of hessian mats on the grass, that led to a gazebo in front of which the ceremony would be conducted. I felt bad that the others were unloading the car without my help. (Afterwards, not at the time, I was in a whirlwind out of my control.) We had a lot of stuff. For the weekend and for a couple of weeks afterwards too. We spent much of the weekend meeting old friends. Danielle, Louise, Katie and Sarah, Jenny’s friends from school, along with the leader of the gang, Helen, were all there leading the procession, followed by Martha and William, with Jenny and myself walking slowly behind. This wasn’t really a full-blown rehearsal. Another long-time friend, Ross, took us through the ceremony, advising us who stands and sits where and when and of course all I can think of is how I can possibly will probably mess the whole thing up.

Meanwhile, back at home, Liesel and Leslie drove to the airport to pick up Michael (Sarah’s brother) and Astrid, visiting from Norway. After a quick trip to Quarry Bank Mill, they joined us at Knockerdown later in the afternoon.

I was glad our car was amongst the first to arrive in the morning, we could be useful for a bit. We moved bottles of wine and fizz from one cottage to another, we moved some furniture. As a former postie, I was given the task of delivering the Welcome letters to each of the cottages.

Most of the guests arrived soon after 3pm, as did the groceries we’d ordered. Ours came from Ocado as usual, but during the course of the afternoon, Tesco and Sainsbury were represented.

The venue includes a games room and a swimming pool. I confirmed at various times over the weekend that I am still no good at pool (it was a manky table, but I don’t think it made much difference), table tennis (the table seemed much smaller than I remember from my youth) and table football (despite spending too much time on the game while at university).

With about 75 guests in one place for the weekend, there had to be a disaster. And the first one sadly fell to Martha.

Rescuing a mermaid from the tree

For some reason, she threw her mermaid into a tree. It took several people, several sticks, a ball, a pool cue and a broom to finally dislodge the doll from the arboreal resting place.

Pizza Pi turned up and set up his wood stove in the courtyard, right outside our cottage. Nice and convenient and we wondered, unnecessarily, would our cottage be filled with smoke? The pizzas were very tasty, and were accompanied by a variety of leaves and salad.

It was good to see Michael and Astrid again after all these years. Also here were several members from Liam’s wider family including Una’s sisters and Alan’s brother Lawrence.

In the evening, everyone sat down and ate more pizza and snacks and drank copious amounts of alcohol and non-alcohol. Matt, a very entertaining friend of Jenny and Liam, took us through a number of fun party games.

People playing silly games

Modesty prevents me from saying that our team, number 10, won. After each task, someone had to run up to Matt and declare their team number. Our table was the closest. But that doesn’t mean we weren’t the best! Obviously.

After a busy, exciting and fun day, of course it was quite hard to get to sleep that night. Finally, after all this time, I was within hours of delivering the Father of the Bride speech. Those who know me know I am not a natural extrovert, I don’t enjoy being the centre of attention and I certainly don’t perform in front of more than four people at a time. So the butterflies were slowly gathering together in my stomach.

When I emerged from my pit on Sunday morning, the kitchen was a hive of industry. Liesel and Pauline were making sandwiches for the children’s lunchboxes, and Leslie was making use of her origami skills, folding and sealing the lunch boxes with all the other lovely components.

I ate a hearty breakfast, spent some time alone going through the speech for the hundredth time. I’d been working on it for nearly three years, on and off, so of course, by now, it made no sense, it was absolute rubbish. Fortunately my secret proofreader/editor has helped out recently, thank you, Helen!

Another disaster. Someone gave me some cash with which to pay the bar staff when they arrived. Liesel saw me put it in my pocket. Later on, I couldn’t find it. I asked around, I retraced all my steps, but no. People agreed with me that this new-fangled plastic money is so easy to lose, when you pull something out of your pocket, for instance. The bar staff were paid, so don’t worry about that.

Three days later, in a place a long way, away, I bent down to put my trainers on. There was some sort of obstruction in my left shoe. Yes, you’re ahead of me. It was the cash I now remember putting there for safe keeping. I think it’s fair to say, pre-speech nerves adversely affect the memory.

Back to Sunday. The children had a Hearts Trail to follow, a series of 18 heart-shaped wooden plaques carefully hidden by adults.

Wooden heart (not the Elvis song)

William started well but later, I witnessed one of Liam’s aunts completing his sheet on his behalf. Shh, don’t tell anyone.

Another disaster, oh no. William was stung by a wasp. He soon got over the shock but that was something else we could do without.

While chatting with Uncle Lawrence by the pool, I saw Pauline walk by with a couple of the lunch boxes. I was going to help deliver them, but alas, I’d missed my opportunity.

The weather couldn’t have been better for an outdoor event. A bit cloudy but sunny and with bright blue skies.

I wandered around the site for a while, and even though I knew Jenny and Liam wouldn’t be going anywhere soon, I wondered whether I should attach a ‘Just Married’ sign to the back of this old vehicle, for their post-ceremony departure.

Mouldy old plough

My moment arrived. Time to have a shower and put my wedding attire on. I’d picked up my suit from Best Man in Stockport on Thursday: one of the tasks that I seem to have performed on autopilot.

I was pleased that my clothes all fitted well, even though they felt unusually tight.

Guests made their way to the gazebo where seats had been placed. I was pacing up and down in my cottage, waiting to be summoned.

Someone gave me a pretty little boutonniere to wear. Another potential calamity. In my nervous state, I was bound to prick my finger on the pin and get blood all over my pristine, new, white shirt. But no: this particular disaster was averted and I continued to wait.

Gazing longingly towards Jenny’s cottage, waiting, waiting

Forlornly, I looked through the window towards the bride’s cottage while waiting for the call. Many other people were coming and going but all I could do was walk around the living room again. And again.

I obtained some new spectacles recently. Same prescription as my everyday ones, but these don’t turn dark in sunlight. I remembered to wear them. I would not be ruining photographs today by having shades in front of my eyes.

I paced up and down a bit more. This was like waiting for a baby to be born or something. Exciting, but nerve-wracking.

The bridesmaids all looked gorgeous, the guests all looked splendid, my family all looked very smart and well-turned out. I probably looked OK but as I wore out the carpet in our cottage, of course I had my doubts.

At last, I was called to meet the bride. She looked stunning. I knew she would, but even so, I had to swallow something hard and jagged.

Father seeing the bride in all her bridal gorgeousness for the first time

Thanks to Ross, the celebrant, for taking this picture. I’d left my phone behind in the cottage. Mainly because I wouldn’t be able to take pictures for the next hour or two, but also because the pockets in my hired jacket had been sewn shut.

I accompanied Jenny from her cottage all the way to the gazebo without once tripping over my own feet, despite wearing brogues, which I’m not used to and which are longer than my trainers. In addition, I didn’t stand on Jenny’s dress while various girls tried to keep the train under control. Jenny and I followed William at a distance. He was behind Martha who was keeping a good distance behind the bridesmaids.

Other potential faux pas were avoided. My trousers didn’t fall down. I did not have a coughing nor a sneezing fit. And I think I was in the right place at all times.

After turning past a certain tree, Jenny and I heard the processional music, an instrumental version of Elton John’s Can You Feel The Love Tonight, from The Lion King.

After delivering Jenny safely to Liam, and shaking his hand, I went to stand next to Liesel in the front row. Ross soon told us all to sit down, and I breathed a sigh of relief: so far, I had not messed up.

The Humanist ceremony was really nice, and I look forward to reading Ross’s words at leisure later on. They were delivered beautifully at the time, but half my mind was elsewhere. Martha performed her reading really well, and so did Liam’s Mum, Una.

During the slow walk back, we each picked up a small bag of (biodegradable) confetti with which to shower the newly married couple and their children, mainly for the benefit of the photographer, Marc.

(I’ll post one or two of Marc’s photos at a later date, but as mentioned above, my phone wasn’t with me during these events.)

Between the wedding ceremony and the Breakfast, we enjoyed drinks and snacks in the courtyard again, conveniently close to our cottage. I collected my speech, printed out in a large font and glued to a set of seven cards. I checked I had this set of cards in my pocket a dozen times. I checked they were in the right order another dozen times.

Guests gathered for the Wedding Breakfast in, what felt to me at the time, the hottest room in all of England. The Sun was pouring in, I was still wearing my suit and I was trying to suppress my state of nervousness.

I looked around and reminded myself, as Chris had said, that these hundreds of people are on my side, that they’ll listen politely while looking forward to the other speeches. Writing this now, a few days later, I realise that my lack of confidence is really showing through. Hundreds of people? Well, seventy-five including about twenty-five children.

Chris’s entrance into the room was quite flamboyant. Jenny and Liam followed with a little more dignity.

I was introduced by Matt, I stood up and read from my crib cards for four of the longest and quickest minutes of my life. It went very well. I’m glad I raised a toast to Jenny’s Mum, Sarah. I was delighted when people laughed at the right time, at the jokes. Again, I’m pleased to say my worst fears were not fulfilled: I didn’t drop the cards, I didn’t read them in the wrong order, I didn’t move away from the microphone and my trousers didn’t fall down.

Modesty forbids me from mentioning how many people came up to me afterwards and the following day to say how much they’d enjoyed my speech, that I’d hit the right tone, the right mix of seriousness and humour, that my nerves hadn’t shown at all.

Helen gave a speech too, with a little help from Martha. She was followed by Liam and by Chris himself.

We guests had selected our meals some months ago, and like most other people, I’d forgotten what I’d opted for, so thank goodness for the personalised menu on the table in front of us. The food was very good, prepared and served by some friendly, helpful caterers. I enjoyed my spinach and artichoke pie and mash with a parmesan crisp served with various beans and peas. This was followed by Bakewell tart with ginger cream which I ate before I had a chance to take its picture.

An ex-Bakewell tart with ginger cream

Yes, I had retrieved my phone by this point. So of course, I shot Jenny and Liam too.

Jenny and Liam

Between the end of the Breakfast and the evening activities, I think I just socialised, and enjoyed having successfully delivered a Father of the Bride’s speech.

Jenny threw the bouquet over her shoulder towards all the single ladies.

Martha with her bouquet

Martha was delighted to pick (some of) it up but I’m not sure whether she knows the significance.

The Sun was beginning to set and this was a great photo opportunity for Marc and for the rest of us.

Sunset, Jenny and her supporters

I’d forgotten there were so many formalities at a wedding. I was quite happy to grab a slice of cake and tuck in. But there was the matter of the official Cutting of the Cake.

Cutting the cake

Martha was on the scene and very quickly announced ‘I want that bit’.

A little later, Jenny and Liam took to the floor for the first dance. The first song I remember the band, Funtime Frankies, playing was Summer of ’69. The dancefloor soon filled but my feet kept themselves to themselves, at least until a pint of beer later. The band were really good, performing old songs with great skill, and I know it’s an old-farty thing to say, but they were really quite loud.

Jenny and Liam dancing

During the evening, we made several visits to the bar for a wide range of beverages. And water.

As darkness settled on Knockerdown, I think we were all still a bit high from the emotion if not from the alcohol. More food was available and I feel sorry for those folks who mistook the jalapeños for mushrooms. Hello Andrew!

Michael and I had a nice chat about Sarah and the wider family. He and Astrid went to bed and I moseyed on over to the After Party, much to Helen’s surprise, I think. I had a bottte of beer, very rare for me at around midnight, before hitting the sack myself. I said good night to the new Mr and Mrs W.

Breakfast for me on the day after consisted of veggie sausage roll, although bacon butties were available for the carnivores. This plus a few cups of tea were very welcome. But I think one of the most memorable sights this day was seeing that Martha didn’t change out of her pyjamas all day. She and all the bridesmaids and Jenny and Helen were wearing personalised robes and I think Martha just didn’t want to take hers off.

We had fun and games in the field including a 9-hole Crazy Golf course that materialised early in the morning. I played two rounds. Once against Pauline and Andrew and once with Martha, Emily and Papa. On both occasions, I got the highest score so I think that makes me the winner.

Crazy Jenny and Liam playing Golf (*words to be rearranged)
William captured by rogue space hoppers

William played tag with me and Emily for a while. There was a short race course for space hopppering around. The track itself was William’s safe ‘base’ while the island in the middle was ‘super-base’. William’s other job, which he took upon himself, was to carry a crate of bubble mix around. Bubbles were blown.

William bearing bubbles

There wasn’t enough food here this weekend, thought absolutely nobody at all. So it was lovely to welcome the barbecue in the afternoon. At this point, the wind got up and blew one of the gazebos across the patio. I ran over to unload the children from the bouncy castle, just in case, and the rain followed soon after. I’m glad I had my ice cream before the rain set in, since the freezers were outside, exposed to the weather: and wet weather and electricity are not a good pairing.

Weddings are of course mainly about the people, so there will follow a few mug shots, just some of the guests. I hope they don’t put you off your next meal.

Rob, Pauline and Andrew
Martha
Michael and Astrid

Shortly after this picture was taken, so were the subjects. Liesel and Leslie drove them back to Manchester Airport for their return flight to Bergen.

Liam and Matt

They missed some of the early evening entertainment which included children’s Pass the Parcel and a Pub Quiz. Liesel returned just as the last question was being posed, which is the only reason our team didn’t win. In fact, the winners were the team led by Liam and Jenny which seems only fair. The prize consisted of a few items of old tut previously donated by Liam and Jenny.

Annabel, Martha, Emily and William

The end of the day meant lots of goodbyes of course and I for one was glad of a slightly earlier night in bed.

In the morning, we had to vacate the cottages by 10am. We then hung around a bit to help Jenny and Liam load up their van and Helen and a couple of others to take their stuff out. I think we finally hit the road at about 11 o’clock, having agreed to meet up with Pauline, Andrew and Robert in Bakewell. But that story’s for another day.

Several days later, I can still feel the positive vibes from this wedding weekend, and I mean no disrespect to those who organised and attended my own weddings when I say that I think this was the best, most enjoyable wedding I’ve ever been to. So well planned by Jenny and Liam. Thanks a million to them and thanks to everyone else for making it all so much fun. I can’t wait to see Marc’s professional photos and share one or two here, such as:

Beautiful

We need to talk about Juneau

Jyoti picked us up, me and Liesel that is. Not physically, but in her car. We spent some time at her place and went for a short walk in the woods nearby, overlooking the bluff. We sat outside her condo for a while, admiring the tree that’s been chopped down (for some unknown reason) but is slowly trying to come back to life.

Jyoti’s regenerating tree

It was entertaining to watch the relationship between the dog, Basil, and the cat. Don’t ask who’s in charge, because it’s very hard to tell.

Jyoti kindly drove us to the airport and then back home so that Liesel could pick up her passport. Then back again to the airport. Did you know, Ted Stevens Airport at Anchorage is the fourth largest cargo airport in the world? At least, according to the mural inside.

We were flying to Juneau, the isolated state capital, only accessible by air and by sea.

My pedometer caused grief as we went through security: just because you never walk anywhere, doesn’t mean the rest of us can’t keep records of our daily perambulations, Sir, I thought but didn’t say out loud.

The flight was delightfully short: everywhere should be this close. As the plane started its descent, we saw Southeast Alaskan mountains for the first time. You can never have too many pictures of mountains. (Oh yes you can.)

Mountains (southeast Alaska)

Michael drove the shuttle bus to our hotel. Entertainment here was provided by an Indian lady berating her husband. Sadly, not in English. The ingratitude of the wife rose an octave when she saw the fairly dilapidated state of the Driftwood Hotel. It really does need some TLC. It’s supposed to be a completely smoke-free environment, but our room had the faint tinge of cigarettes from years past, which almost but not quite concealed the aroma of cleaning chemicals.

Having said that, our room was clean and comfortable and secure enough. We were on the top floor. Our friend Monica was staying here too while working in Juneau for a week. The staircase closest to her room was taped off. I don’t think it was long for this world.

It was lovely to see Monica, and she really didn’t deserve the extreme pain and grief I caused while hugging her and squeezing the shoulder injured a few weeks ago when she slipped on ice. I was mortified. There was no way I could undo the damage. If you’re reading this, Monica: once again, I am truly, truly sorry.

We drove to Auke Bay where we ate at the Forbidden Peak Brewery. At these breweries, each person is only allowed to consume 32 oz per day of alcoholic beverages. None of us reached this target. I ate salad and chips, which is my default option at these meat-heavy places. Very nice, very tasty.

On the way back to Juneau, we stopped off at Mendenhall Glacier for a few minutes.

Mendenhall Glacier

It was too late to walk to and around the glacier on this occasion, but it’s been added to the ever-growing list of places to return to, one day.

A nearby hut displayed copious information about the glacier and the surrounding area. This hut had been invaded by a couple of families of swallows, we saw them nesting in the rafters.

Mountains (the view from our hotel window)

We slept well and as Monica was working, we rose quite early for breakfast. Needless to say, I was the slowest to get ready, but I soon caught up with Liesel and Monica at The Rookery. Even if Google Maps took me the really long way.

The barista drew a wonderful fern on my latté. I complimented him on his artwork, he said he’d give it a C. The second cup (yes, yes, I had a second cup, so what?) he thought he decorated better. C+.

Northern lights

The atmosphere is enhanced by photographs displayed on the walls. We won’t see the northern lights at this time of year in Alaska, so this is a good second best. Yes, I should have made a note of the photographer’s name, sorry.

Monica went to work, leaving Liesel and me to visit the museum. Which, strangely, is where Monica was working.

It covers the whole history of Alaska, from its first settlement from across the then Bering land bridge, the Russians, the Americans. Again, we were embarrassed by the white Europeans mission seemingly to disrupt and destroy any other culture that had survived for thousands of years.

Thunderbird screen

Xeitl X’een Thunderbird screen

In southeast Alaska, Tlingit clan history was preserved in precise detail between generations. Stories of their origins and early activities were passed orally over thousands of years. Elders coached young people to commit to memory these histories. Accuracy was very important. These histories are also represented in songs, personal and place names, and as symbolic crests on regalia, totemic carvings, and other decorated objects, To this day, clan history, tangible and intangible, is considered sacred property. This screen documents the history of the Thunderbird House of the Yakutat Tlingit. In the early 20th century, clan leader Frank Italio, Kuchein, commissioned the screen from artist Woochjix’oo Eesh (In Everybody’s Arms-Father), a L’uknax.ádi man. The Shangookeidi clan claims the thunderbird crest through their ancestors’ contact with the creature. At the center of the screen is the sculptural carving of the Thunderbird, and painted below this figure are two Shangookeidi ancestors. These figures may be young men, whose fatal encounter with a thunderbird’s feather is memorialized in a clan song. Four stylized raindrops fall down the sides of the screen, and two long black clouds float above the thunderbird’s wings. The faces all around represent hailstones, falling on the Thunderbird’s mountain home.

[Xeitl X’een Thunderbird Screen Thunderbird House (Xeiti Hit), Shangookeidi clan, Yakutat Tlingit, 11-3-845]

I’m glad I committed this story, from the museum, to memory: I just wish I knew what the Tlingit words all actually meant.

The focus was on south and southeastern Alaskan natives, which Liesel found particularly interesting since her previous knowlecge focused on the northern peoples.

Totem pole fragment of the first white man

This totem pole fragment marks the local people’s first encounter with a white man. You may think he looks familiar. The wood carver, over 100 years later, based his design on Abraham Lincoln, probably the most famous white person known at the time. The local Indians were considered a problem for the invaders. ‘The only solution of the problem of the Indian is found, it seems, in the simple theory that there are no good Indians except dead ones’. No, this isn’t from a current edition of The Daily Mail, it’s from Douglas Island News, December 1900.

Well, to cleanse our palates from the interesting, if sometimes disturbing, exhibits in the museum, we walked around Juneau, making our slow way towards the tram. There’s a map of the world marked out in studs on the boardwalk.

Map on the boardwalk (down by the sea…)

I wonder how many of the thousands of passengers from the cruise ships actually notice it?

Tram

This tram took us 1800 feet up Mount Roberts from where we enjoyed a terrific view of the town and the inlet. It’s a very popular destination for cruise ships, of which we saw four docked today, and a few different ones later on.

Cruise ships visiting Juneau

Disney Wonder: 2,400 passengers.
Viking Orion: 930 passengers.
Quantum of the Sea: 4,905 passengers.
Zuiderdam: 1,916 passengers.
That’s a substantial increase on the city’s resident population, about 32,000 people.

Up at 1800 feet, the last of the snow is melting. Liesel wasn’t interested in a snowball fight so, like a tourist, I just posed.

Mick v snow
So many restrictions!

Many towns have a surplus of pigeons. Not Juneau. No, here, ravens rule the roost, and I think their song (if it can be called a song) might well be my next ringtone.

Raven

Back down in town, our late lunch was a shared plate of nachos, nothing special, but with a nose-eye view of one of those ocean-going liners.

Take a bow

Our wandering continued, upwards. Inside the Russian Orthodox Church, we weren’t allowed to light candles in remembrance of our lost loved ones. It’s very dry here right now, and people are very conscious of the risk of fire.

Russian Orthodox Church

Cope Park marked the summit of our ascent on this occasion, nice and peaceful, with a river running through.

Did I mention how steep some of the roads are?
Cope Park

Given how much it snows here, I was surprised to see that most of the roofs aren’t as steep as this place.

Steep roofs (or is it rooves?)

There are stories of rooves (or is it roofs?) caving in under the weight of so much snow and ice. Yet we at home in England begin to worry when there’s more than half an inch of snow!

We found the Whale Fountain and sat there for a while. Monica set out to meet us but didn’t quite make it. Well, you wouldn’t, if you walk in exactly the wrong direction!

Takhu the whale
Takhu with bonus rainbow

I calculated the best place to stand in order to see rainbow colours in the water spray. Spherical geometry, trigonometry and knowledge of the refractive index of water all played a part. Really? No, I just stood with the Sun behind me, that worked.

We were delighted to see our hotel bedecked in bunting for Her Majesty’s Platinum Jubilee. Nope, it was for America’s Memorial Day this weekend. Monica was back from work now, and we walked over to a restaurant called Salt for dinner. Several of Monica’s colleagues joined us: Ellen, Sarah (from the UK), James and there I’m afraid my memory runs out. James’s partner is one of a set of identical triplets. By an amazing coincidence, Monica has met with another identical triplet, from a different family, all interested in the field of restoration and preservation

Thinking I might have dessert, I had a so-called starter as my main course, a salad in fact. But: American portions, no dessert for me.

It had been a busy old day, lovely to meet some new people of course, but I was glad to find myself horizontal in bed, with no desire to read nor listen to a podcast. Zzz.

Sandpiper ravens

Next door to our hotel is The Sandpiper, probably so-called because of the ravens that have taken up residence here. This is where we broke our fast before another day of sightseeing.

I think Liesel and I very quickly came to realise how much we liked Juneau. And how we would like to spend more time here. But the weather was gorgeous, warm and sunny on this occasion. It’s famous for its rain and occasional very strong winds, I wonder if we’d be so keen in such conditions? I commented on how nice it was not to see the the usual suspects, McDonalds and Starbucks, anywhere. Liesel said she had seen a McD, but it was much closer to the airport.

Impulse buying doesn’t only apply in supermarkets, when you grab a bar of chocolate at the check-out desk. Native gift shops are quite attractive too. There’s a lot here that we couldn’t buy, because we can’t take it out of Alaska, or into the UK, such as seal fur, walrus and mammoth ivory. But that didn’t stop Liesel buying a pair of earrings. Or me buying a tie. Yes. me, Mick, bought a new tie for the first time since I had long hair and a full beard. What on earth is going on?

Monica drove us to Jensen-Olsen Arboretum, where we enjoyed looking at and sniffing the flowers. Plus, a quick walk on the beach.

Jensen-Olsen Arboretum
Japanese wood poppy

A short drive away is the Shrine of St Thérèse. For someone who only lived to the age of 24, she seems like a good sort, and is very popular. The shrine did bring back a memory that I long ago buried though. When my Mum was dying, I wondered whether, as a lapsed Catholic, she might take some comfort from being visited by a priest. When I suggested this to Dad, the look of horror, fear, defiance, even hatred, on his face, told me that that was never going to happen. So sad.

National Shrine of St Thérèse
Merciful Love Labyrinth

No, we didn’t walk through the labyrinth: too risky, we might get lost. Or leapt upon by a hidden wild animal.

Driving back towards Juneau.
‘Why are those people letting their dog go to the other side of the road? And why are they taking pictures of it?’
‘That’s not a dog, it’s a bear.’

And it was, a black bear minding its own business noshing on something. Those people had stopped for the photo opp, but by the time we realised, we were too far away. Still, I can tick ‘black bear’ off the list, now!

There’s just one bridge between Juneau and neighbouring Douglas Island, and that’s where we spent the rest of the afternoon.

I’m so insecure in my cultural awareness, I had to make sure it’s still ok to call this thing a totem pole.

Totem pole

It is, and this bright colourful one is right by Savikko Park, which is partly a nice sandy beach. We watched some people having fun in the sea, which I assumed would be quite cold because over the other side, you can see freshly melted snow running down the mountains.

Mountain (from Savikko Park) > snow > ice > water

Further along, there’s a nice trail on and around the old Treadmill mine. If you want to set up a mine of your own, there is plenty of discarded old (and sometimes rusty) equipment just left lying around.

Flange (used for flangeing, I think)

Actually, just leave it all where it is. Some of the mines are nearly half a mile deep, and I am reminded how lucky I am to be around in a time and place where I didn’t have to work in such places.

Wharf

This is what’s left of the wharf where all the equipment and supplies were delivered.

For a late lunch, we had pizza at The Island Pub, as recommended by a couple of people.

Back in Juneau, we rested by the whale fountain for a while. I noticed how prickly the grass was, but maybe it’s for walking on, not lying on.

After Japan bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, people of Japanese ancestry living on America’s West Coast were forcibly removed and incarcerated in isolated government internment camps.

In May 1942, the seniors at Juneau High School left an empty chair during their graduation ceremony to underscore the absence of their Japanese-American valedictorian, John Tanaka. By extension, this empty chair honors all of the Japanese uprooted from their homes and communities.

The Empty Chair Memorial represents the void the people of Juneau felt for their missing friends and neighbors impacted by this injustice. The names of those interned are etched on the bronze floor.

A time may come when these names will be forgotten, but the symbol of the empty chair will remind future generations of the lessons learned from this compelling and poignant story.

Yes, we made the pilgrimage.

Empty Chair Memorial

Monica literally drove us to the end of the road. This was south, along Thane Road, through a place called Thane, to the signs saying ‘This is the end of the road, turn around, go back, here be dragons’, or something. A reminder that Juneau can only be reached by sea and air.

Speaking of which, we returned to the airport where Monica dropped off the rental car, and we went through security before our flight back to Anchorage. And, in another first-time-ever scenario, my hat was searched. I was too, but my hat looks big, so, do you mind if I have a look at it?

Note to self: when smuggling contraband, the hat is no longer a safe hiding place

Isolating and Walking

It is the worst of times, it is the worst of times. Coronavirus, Covid-19, coronapocalyse, it’s all over the news. The government advises this, the health experts say that, the response to this global disaster is different in different countries, definitely do this, preferably do that, so much advice, and why isn’t the UK following WHO guidelines and testing, testing, testing? So it’s not the ideal time to visit hospital on two separate occasions for different examinations, unrelated to the current contagion. Did I pick up the virus? Or did I leave it behind for someone else to avoid? We’ll never know.

Somewhere over the rainbow

I waited for the bus home after my echocardiogram and was enormously cheered up by this rainbow. Not so much by the bus that rolled in declaring ‘Sorry Out Of Service’. Only after opening the door for a microsecond and then driving off did the driver decide to change the display, confirming that this was, in fact, the bus I’d been waiting for.

Things were better the day we took William to the zoo. He was interested in seeing the newborn Asian elephant, Riva Hi Way, of course but in a surprise move, he also asked to go to the Zipline. Literally. He rode the Zipline once before taking off the harness, he wasn’t bothered about walking and climbing the rest of the Treetop Challenge!

But he does like going into the forest, to explore and to hide and to pick up sticks.

William hiding in the forest

When I saw this graphic from a distance, I thought, Chester Zoo haven’t really got this human evolution thing quite right, have they?

Bear necessities

But it’s just showing all the different species of bear compared with a human. Very educational. The other mistake I made was when I saw a sign for ‘Beermats’ through the bushes. Not being a tegestologist, I wasn’t that interested. Only on closer inspection did I realise it was the sign for ‘Meerkats’. I resolved to clean my glasses.

Pretty little orange flowers

And if that’s not orange enough, what about this frog?

Golden mantella

Initially, William had asked to see the blue, poison-dart frogs, but we couldn’t see any in their tank. The volunteer suggested they’d been taken away for some reason.

Camel 1: I’m bored.
Camel 2: Me too.
Camel 3: Me three.
Camel 1: What shall we do?
Camel 2: I know, let’s have a game of noughts and crosses.
Camel 3: That’s a great idea. Have we got any paper and a pencil?
Camel 1: No, but I have some duct tape.
Camel 2: How will that help?
Camel 3: We could make up a noughts and crosses grid somewhere.
Camel 1: But where?
Camel 2: Well it was your idea, 3, so let’s use your hump.
Camel 3: Oh, alright then.

Like a camel with a sore hump

The other thing William specifically asked for was to see the lady who cleans up the elephant poo. Well, he saw the lady and he thoroughly investigated the poo.

William investigating a big dump

Don’t worry, we all washed our hands several times during the day and when we got back home.

We picked Martha up from Nursery and then, back home, she and William built and demolished several towers.

In this time of Covid-19, it’s harder than usual to make a GP appointment, even when they’ve sent a message asking us to do so. They answered my call after 20 minutes, I made my appointment and so did Liesel who hijacked my phone after listening to the ringing on her own for the same amount of time. But as the GP surgery doesn’t want potentially infected bodies turning up, we just each had a 20-minute phone consultation. Marvellous.

After admitting to our newly acquired cough, we’re now self-isolating. We think it’s just a post-holiday cold, and I’m a few days behind Liesel with the tickly and sore throat and cough, but here we are.

We’re allowed out for walks as long as we don’t socialise. The recent storms must have weakened this tree which appeared on the pavement between walking one way and walking back maybe twenty minutes later.

A recently fallen tree

You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink, goes the famous saying. But sometimes they spontaneously go and stand in a puddle while drinking the water.

A horse enjoying the water

The river is always a good place to see people doing silly things, such as jogging. But trying to row these canoes without putting them in the water seems a bit bizarre.

Wannabe canoeists

Another bit of a tree, a dead one, fell in and drifted towards the bridge.

Tree in the Mersey

When Liesel and I walked along the river, towards but not all the way to Didsbury, we passed fewer people than usual. Again, we noted the rough path, not ideal for walking on and definitely not much fun cycling on it, although we saw a couple of people try. One lady was pushing her bike. But if she’d been cycling on the other side of the river, along which we returned, she too would have had to negotiate the puddle that straddled the width of the road. We managed to get by without falling in.

A challenging wide puddle

It would be so easy to fall into gloom and despair while in isolation, so it’s good to see the Spring flowers are making an effort to cheer us up.

A very pretty roadside bed

While stuck indoors, I’m sure we’ll be doing a lot of reading, writing, TV and film watching, radio and podcast listening as well as puzzles. In fact, this weekend, for the first time, I successfully completed a Sandwich Sudoku in the Guardian. I was beginning to think these were a spoof, a hoax perpetrated by naughty work experience teenagers at the newspaper, as I have messed up every single one. Until this weekend, hooray! Here’s the grid if you want to have a go:

Place the digits from 1-9 in each row, column and 3×3 block. The clues outside the grid show the sum of the numbers between the 1 and the 9 in that row or column.

 

Valletta and Sliema

Guess what? I rashly did something I hadn’t done for over forty years and the chances are I won’t repeat the experience for another forty years.

I went out for a walk around Paceville with a couple of chores in mind. Plus, of course, the desire to clock up at least 10,000 steps. I am in training for a major challenge in March, remember.

Anyway, I was admiring the local flora and fauna, some of which is very surprising.

The tactful cactus by the roadside

Yes, I wondered too, and I can confirm, this is a real cactus. It looks a bit out of place amongst the dandelions and other small weeds flowers. I was going to walk to the top of the hill, but once the pavement disappeared and the road became too narrow for safety, I gave up.

Eventually, I found my way to the barbershop and I was invited to return an hour later. I passed the time back in Valyou buying just four items and managing to get one of those wrong. What I thought was moisturiser turns out to be moisturising soap, although the word ‘soap’ appears nowhere on the bottle. So confusing. How I yearn for the ’80s when everything was a system. A bar of soap was known as a ‘hand-washing system’. You knew where you were, then.

Anyway, back in the barber’s, I declined the offer of an espresso and asked for a glass of water instead. I enjoyed some nice easy listening, such as Adele and this was followed by the whole unexpurgated version of Gangsta’s Paradise. Coolio! In fact, they played the whole album.

What did I want? A trim and a shave. A wet shave? Oh alright then, yes please. So began a whole hour of being ‘pampered’. So much goo and gloop on my face and hair. Some of the product stung a bit, the green paste smelt a bit like chocolate, the hot, wet towel over the face was nice, once I got over the feeling of being water-boarded. All conveniently located orifices were poked, prodded, probed and shorn and  eyebrows were trimmed. But my first wet shave in nearly half a century wasn’t at all refreshing nor relaxing.
What a haircut
When I returned home, the first thing Liesel noticed was my red face and red neck. Several hours later, she noticed red spots of blood and other marks on my chin and cheek. And even the lighest shower later in the day made my face sting. ‘Is your face hurting?’ Yes, a bit. ‘Because it’s killing me!’ Haha. Liesel did like my new smooth skin, something she has no previous experience of. But it’s interesting, and disappointing, to realise that the skin on my face and neck hasn’t toughened up one iota since I was a teenager.
All you need is love
The shadow is cast mid-afternoon. The sculpture well located. Its twin casts a shadow on the water of the bay, but it’s not easily readable except, presumably, on a really calm day.

Meanwhile, Liesel nodded off at home in the Sun, which is OK, but she also forgot to put the chocolate fingers back in the fridge, and that’s not OK!
Sunset over St Julian’s
We can see the sunset from our fifth floor apartment, but as it’s behind a very built-up area, on a hill, it’s not as spectacular as some others we’ve witnessed.

In the evening, we went for a short walk for some dinner. Italian rather than Maltese, so we’re getting closer to proper local food. It was a bit chilly walking back: yes, even I have to admit that!

The plan was to get up early and set off for Valletta. Well, the first time I looked at the clock, it was just before 10am. I slept well despite the ridiculous work-related dream in which the house numbers were in the wrong order and I had both a bike and a trolley to contend with. So glad I don’t have to do that sort of thing in real life any more!

We caught a bus to Valletta, retracing some of yesterday’s walk. We didn’t realise beforehand that this is Carnival weekend, and we were delighted to see a collection of brightly coloured floats.
One of the floats
The square was very busy and most of the children were dressed in very elaborate costumes. We saw princesses and unicorns, Disney and Harry Potter characters but also quite a few fire fighters, soldiers and other public servants.
Policemen get younger every year
Luckily, he didn’t arrest us. But what a shame that it’s no longer deemed acceptable to take pictures of strange children in strange places, even when they’ve gone to the great effort of drawing attention to themselves.
Independence Monument
Here in the Independence Ground, I indulged in a crêpe and, being British, I chose lemon and sugar. The person in front plumped for a pancake covered in Nutella to which the young lady added three Kinder bars. In unrelated news, Malta apparently has the highest rate of childhood obesity in Europe.
The cat sat on the train

Elvis lives
Some of the music was a bit loud, which safely drowned out me singing along to Abba.
A bee but not a Manchester bee
Once past the city gates, Valletta occupies a mere 1 km by 600 m peninsula, at the end of which we find St Elmo Bay and Fort St Elmo.

Liesel had a rest in the warmth of the Sun while I set off in search of a public toilet. It didn’t look too far to walk on Google Maps but in reality, I had to walk all round the houses, up and up a hill, into a nice little park. I know, TMI maybe, but, mid-stream, a foghorn went off and I jumped out of my skin!
Cargo ship with a very loud foghorn
It was only this huge cargo ship, almost too big for the harbour, but it got my heart rate up for a moment!

I feel sad and disappointed that we’d missed out on Expo 2015 in Milan, probably on account of not knowing about it at the time. I’m sure it would have been good fun. But, no matter. On the way back to Liesel today, I went into (the back door of) the Malta Experience museum, by St Elmo Bastions, to see if I could buy a couple of coffees to take away. Yes, of course. I don’t think many people ask for this service, but all the tables were occupied.
Expo 2015 cup
No, we didn’t keep the cup as a souvenir.

As well as seafood, the main meat on offer here in Malta seems to be rabbit.
Rabbit, tastes of chicken, apparently
We did try our first pastizzi today: one cheese and one pea. Lava-hot molten cheese on an unsuspecting tongue was made bearable by the overall experience of very flaky filo pastry. Liesel’s not usually a fan of mushy peas but this was more than OK!

We were persuaded by a very persuasive man to go for a ride on his karrozin, a horse-drawn carriage. He offered us mates’ rates, €35 instead of €40 plus, he’d drive us all round the city for 40 minutes instead of 35! Well, he chucked us off after a mere twenty minutes and of course, with a tip, we paid €40 anyway. I told his horse it might be boring dragging visitors around Valletta all day, but at least he didn’t have to run the Grand National.

One thing we noticed in Valletta, and even away from the city, is the large number of memorials dedicated to World War 2. In fact, the first stop on our karrozin mini-tour was the World War 2 Siege Memorial.
WW2 Siege Memorial
Mick and Liesel with our horse (centre)
We both commented on how slippery the pavements were. Very smooth, totally different to the ‘textured’ (lumpy, bumpy, unfinished) sidewalks in Paceville. It was funny to see that even the locals would occasionally slip and slide on the smooth marble-like paving stones. On the other hand, where the gradient was too steep even for Maltese feet, they put in some steps.
A pair of sidewalks
We watched people in and around Upper Barrakka for a while. I found a cup of coffee for 40 cents, which was nothing special, but it came in a polystyrene cup! I’d rather have a 5-year old Milan Expo cup, thanks very much!

In terms of wildlife, we didn’t see much. Just a shark, a cat and an octopus, really.
A sleepy cat, a tasty octopus and a scary shark
We caught a bus back to Sliema where we dined and imbibed before walking back home. As soon as the Sun dipped below the built-up western part of town, we noticed a dip in the temperature. We’d been told that the tap water here is safe to drink, just not very nice. But we didn’t expect to be buying water all the way from Wales, in a glass bottle! Mind you, they probably get enough rain there to top up the supply.
Water from Wales
I can’t get over the irony of this town being quite hilly and bumpy, and yet our walking has primarily been fairly flat, along the water front. After a good night’s sleep, we again walked to Sliema. The plan had been to catch a bus back to Valletta and visit the National Museum of Archeology. But the queue at the bus stop was huge and very disorganised, we thought we’d rather walk than stand up on a bus.

For the first time since the 2012 London Olympics, we saw some water polo being played. Only little people, but it was good to see. If only I’d brought my cossie.
Water polo
Again, we enjoyed seeing what other people were up to, whether locals or visitors. Imagine you’re standing underneath a rusty drainpipe during a rainstorm. Well, that’s the only possible way that lady acquired hair that colour. We passed a lady painting the view, and I felt inadequate for merely touching a white button on my phone to capture the same scene. I suspect her picture has more soul, though. The man standing over there waiting to be drenched by an incoming wave was very brave/daft* (*delete as applicable).
An artist at work
A wannabe Cnut
Some of the pedestrian crossings appear to be sponsored by a chain of coffee shops.
Crossing the line
Well, this subliminal advertising didn’t work on us: despite what I said earlier, we made a return visit to French Affaire for coffee and lunch. And I uttered not a single word of French, except when Liesel asked me what French for carrot cake was, and I replied ‘gâteau des carrotes’, which I think is pretty close.
Diana failing to attarct us too
Of all the images they could have used, the late Princess of Wales doesn’t make me want to visit this place.
A new build on top of a more attractive older one
By now, it was too late to visit the museum, so we went home, listened to the radio and read our books. I succeeded in completing a couple of sudokus, wrote for a while and we fought the ant invasion in our fifth-floor Airbnb apartment!

It’s peaceful here but we do hear quite a few sirens in the distance, not to mention probably just one or two boy racers riding their motor bikes at 100 mph while still in first gear. The building works have stopped for the weekend, but we haven’t heard as many church bells as we expected on a Sunday.

2019 into 2020

Another year over and a new one just begun. I’ve lost count of the number of jokes about 2020 Vision and this being the only year named after a popular cricket format. MMXX. As a residential speed limit sign might say, 2020 is plenty plenty. I resisted the temptation to show π to 2020 decimal places, sorry, Liesel. Before the new year started we were in a period apparently known as Twixmas, a term I’ve never heard before, and I hope never to hear again. Oh well, this is why we love the English language, I suppose: anything goes.

If I were commuting, I would welcome this safe cycle parking facility that I came across by a Metro station. The Bike Locker Users’ Club is the sort of club I’d like to join, if I were a bike locker user.

Bike locker

While I was out on a long stroll, via the GP (don’t worry, it was just to take in a prescription request) and the bank, Liesel was at home completing the jigsaw puzzle she received for Christmas, just five days earlier. What a star!

Liesel’s completed Wasgij jigsaw puzle, wow!

There is still a lot to learn about our neighbourhood. Wythenshawe is, according to the sign, one of the greenest places in Manchester. What the sign doesn’t say is that it is also one of the most littered places in Manchester. Probably. You’re never more than three feet away from a discarded can or coffee cup or lolly wrapper. We must make more use of our litter picker-uppers. If David Sedaris and Ian McMillan can do it, then so can we!

Wythenshawe, the home of Wythenshawe Market

Farewell, old friends in the European Community

Presumably, this sort of support from the European Community will stop when the UK leaves the EU at the end of January. But still: blue passports, hooray!

I was listening to Serenade Radio in bed late on New Year’s Eve, some nice, relaxing, easy listening. The feed online was a bit delayed so I leapt a mile when all the local fireworks went off at what I thought was well before midnight! Liesel got out of bed to look at them, I couldn’t be bothered. Hello 2020, and Happy New Year.

Fireworks from Queenstown, NZ, not Northenden, UK, thanks, Helen

Meanwhile, in NZ, Helen and Adam enjoyed these fireworks in Queenstown, but despite the temptation, neither of them did a bungy jump. They’ve been in 2020 slightly longer than the rest of us and other than the smoke from the Aussie bush fires drifting across the Tasman Sea, there is nothing bad to report.

Liesel and I joined the wider family for a New Year’s meal at Alan and Una’s house. There were fourteen of us on this occasion: the same bunch of ne’er-do-wells from last week plus John and Geri, Paul’s parents. Geri, aka Nana Strawberry as far as William’s concerned!

Jenny and Martha

For the first time in ages, I think I may have eaten too much. Usually I stop as soon as I’ve had enough, but there was so much lovely food, thanks, Una!

Several mega-calories to burn off then, which I did the following day, walking to the GP (it’s alright, I was just collecting the prescription that I’d requested a few days ago), then to a pharmacy. Boy, was I glad I wasn’t on my bike when I saw this sign.

1 in 29, how does anyone manage that?

The gradient is greater than 1:29, it was hard enough walking up it, never mind cycling. Actually, to be honest, I didn’t even notice the very slight incline and wouldn’t have given it a first, never mind a second, thought, if I hadn’t seen the warning sign.

I was taken back to my childhood for a moment as I stood on a bridge and watched a very long train pass by underneath, on its way to Gatley.

Commuters in the area would love seeing a Northern Rail train this long, rather than the 3-carriage options that are over-crowded every morning

This time, though, it wasn’t a steam train and my Mum and I didn’t have a coughing fit as we were enveloped in clouds of smoke, and we weren’t picking off smuts for the rest of the day.

Liesel and I accepted the invitation to look after the children for a day while Jenny ‘filled in her tax form’. At first, I thought this was a euphemism for ‘have a nice relaxing massage without those pesky kids ruining the peaceful atmosphere’, but I think she really was filling in forms, judging by the ink blots on her fingers.

So we took William and Martha to the zoo where, as usual, we emerged from the car to a much colder wind than we had at home. Should have worn a thicker coat, said Liesel. As she always does. Only to forget on our next visit.

Puddles, elephants, bats, and the Treetop Challenge were today’s big hits. We saw just one lion in the new enclosure.

Lion planning her escape

Too high to climb it so I’ll just roll under it, if that’s alright

Treetop Challenge, safety harness, down a couple of short zip lines

Giant Owl butterfly: none of them wanted to settle on Martha’s sleeve this time

Unusually, we timed it right, and saw the penguins at feeding time. But the most entertaining aspect was watching one of the zookeepers waving his fish net around, trying to keep the seagulls away.

Penguins fighting off the seagulls with a little help from the keeper of the net

I’ve said it before and I’ll no doubt say it again, they are delightful children to spend time with, great fun, and very interested in the world. Their only fault is not appreciating good music when it’s on offer. “What song do you want me to sing?” I ask from the front of the car. “No song”, comes the chorus from the back. Oh well, their loss.

A bit of jiggery-pokery with the photo editor on my phone and I produced this masterpiece

The first Saturday of the year found us walking to Didsbury, along the river, past the golf course.

Just one of a few strange characters we met on our walk

As Liesel noted, all the runners and joggers seemed to be scowling today. Maybe they were carrying a bit too much extra flab after the Christmas feasting. Or maybe they were regretting their New Year’s Resolutions!

“Edgar?” I commented, “That’s a funny name for a dog.”
“No”, said Liesel, “He said ‘good girl’.”
Nothing wrong with my hearing.

Here are a few more of our new acquaintances.

Poor chap thinks it’s still nighttime

A family of Owls in Didsbury Park – there are some talented wood-carvers around

Outside the fish shop, believe it or not

Liesel couldn’t watch it all but I enjoyed the first episode (of 3) of the new TV drama based on Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Did someone say it was a bit scary? They did indeed. It is. Fantastic. And the only nightmare I had was another work-based dream, in which I was ‘invited’ to work for a few hours on a Sunday so I’d be ahead of the game on Monday. Trouble is, this is just the sort of nonsense Royal Mail might come up with in real life. It’s four years almost to the day since I last had to go to work, so why I still dream about it is a total mystery.

Stop the Coup

Oh we do like to be beside the seaside. So we took Martha and William to Formby. We were hoping for a nice day, but not so nice that everyone else would be there. The beach was fairly deserted and we had a fantastic but short time there.

William playing on the beach

There was a strong, cold wind: several layers of clothing required. William had a go at building a sandcastle. Martha wanted to walk to the sea but the tide was out. Miles out. Halfway there, fighting the gale and the sand-blasting, she said she wanted to go back to the car.

William sat down in a puddle. To pass the rest of the day, we took them back to our place for a bath, which they both enjoy, despite there being no proper toys nor bubbles.

This would be the final Grandchildren’s Day for Liesel for a while. She jetted off to the Sun. Well, to Anchorage, to see her family and friends, to start work for Amrit and to decide which of the items we sorted out last year she really wants to bring back to the UK.

Don’t worry, I can look after myself. I’ll keep the piles of laundry and dishes separate so it’s easier for her to catch up on the domestic chores when she returns.

Her trip didn’t get off to a good start though. Manchester Airport was an awful experience. But things improved later. She met up with Holly briefly in Seattle then, on the final flight into Anchorage, she had a row of three seats to herself.

A welcome whole row for one person

Meanwhile, I went to Specsavers for another hearing test. It was much more thorough than the one at Boots, and the audiologist and I agreed that I don’t need hearing aids right now.

A wild bear in Wythenshawe

Martha’s in a new swimming group now, and again, I was amazed at what she can do. Swimming under her Mum’s legs? I couldn’t do that at 3 and I can’t do that at 93 either.

La Vuelta a España has started, the Spanish Grand Tour bike race. The first crash was when one of the team cars went around a corner too fast. I’ll watch the highlights programme each day and relay highlights of the highlights to Liesel.

Liesel spent time with Jyoti who, a couple of days later, left to spend some time with her parents before flying back to Australia.

Our lovely friend Trudi is visiting Alaska from Hawaii and I am disappointed to not be seeing her myself.

Liesel watched our nephews Asa and Gideon playing football, just as we did last year. So she’s been quite busy and with a bit of jet-lag to start with, she’s a little tired.

Monica, Jyoti, Una, Trudi, Liesel, together again, at last

I got my exercise one day by taking the rest of the bikes, the tandem and the rest of the cycling paraphernalia to the storage unit.

Bikes, bits and bobs

Up and down the stairs several times, carrying awkward items out to the car, which had to be locked every trip, I was perspiring very heavily.

Unfortunately, there is still a lot of stuff in our second bedroom, grrr. But we’re getting there. Someone might be able to sleep in there soon.

My first solo Grandchildren’s Day was great. I survived, both children survived and I think we had a good time.

Apologies if this video of Martha attempting to lick her own elbow appears sideways on your screen too. Just turn your device 90°!

Martha showed me the bruises and cuts and grazes on her arms and legs, none of which were too bad, just signs of being slightly too active maybe.

In the afternoon, we went for a short walk: I had some shopping to buy. As soon as Martha saw Costa, she said she wanted a babyccino. So both she and William had a small cup of frothy milk, with chocolate sprinkles and marshmallows.

Angels with dirty faces

When she saw this picture, Jenny suggested I’d taken them to an unskilled facepaint artist! And yes, of course I had a coffee too, it would be rude not to.

It’s time to get political again. I attended not only my first but my second protest in Manchester, both on the same day.

Another first: I rode a tram into the city centre. When I alighted at Deansgate, I couldn’t help but notice this outsize bike, which would get you nowhere fast.

What a big bike

It was a bright day, perfect for protesting. Extinction Rebellion (XR) is a worldwide organisation campaigning to save the planet from the climate emergency. So far, the protests have been peaceful disruption in city centres. They have set up camp in Deansgate, Manchester, for the weekend. This is the busiest, most highly polluted road in the city and now it’s blocked.

A boat on Deansgate

Camping on Deansgate

I didn’t spend too much time here because as I walked along Deansgate, the clouds darkened, the first few spots of rain fell, the first couple of umbrellas were deployed and I walked into Veggie Pret as if that had been the plan all along. A vegetarian Pret a Manger, the perfect place to hide from the rain for a while. And yes, I had a coffee, it would be rude not to!

Manchester and its rain as seen from Veggie Pret

Who says there are no good right-wing comedians? One comment I read about the XR rebels was that this is what the UK will look like after brexit, when there’s a soap shortage!

The rain began to ease off so I donned a hat and jacket and continued my walk towards Cathedral Gardens. This was the focal point of todays protest against Boris Johnson’s unprecedented long prorogation of parliament. There were all sorts of people here, labour supporters and tories, leavers and remainers, all incensed at the erosion of democracy in our country.

Manchester’s umbrella protest

The crowd bearing brollies was reminiscent of the crowds protesting in Hong Kong for similar reasons.

Some of the captions on the banners were, as usual, very funny.

Just some of the placards

Smokin’

EU blue and gold smoke bombs were let off. Speeches were given which I couldn’t hear being right at the back. The chants were mainly “Stop the Coup” and “Boris, Boris, Boris, out, out, out”!

As I wandered round I saw a few police officers, some on horses. I came across a larger concentration of hi-vis policemen and women. They were ‘protecting’ the pro-brexit, free-Tommy protesters. About 20 of them, so more than one PC each. Their one line was “We won the vote in 2016”. No interest in the illegal actions of the Leave campaign, the lies told, the promises made about sunlit uplands, easy deals and so on. A couple of them were agitating for a fight so this was my cue to head back to XR.

Because I dawdled, the “Stop the Coup” march to Albert Square caught me up so I joined in with a vocal contribution. This was just one of over sixty such protests all around the country. And beyond: some British Consulates in Europe also witnessed protests.

Thousands gather on Albert Square

The will of the people

Back at XR, I thought about having a coffee but decided to head home instead. It’s the end of the month so bills to pay, admin to deal with. I checked on eBay and it’s taken a few weeks but it looks like everything we put up for sale will be gone soon.

August fades to grey and September comes along to replace it, dragging leaves from trees, dropping the temperature slightly so children don’t feel so bad about going back to school.

I watched Martha and William swimming again, both doing their own stunts. I thought the dress Martha was wearing was very pretty. Turns out, it was made by Sarah, Martha’s granny, thirty-plus years ago. Wow.

Martha in a dress lovingly made by her Mum’s Mum

Darwin to Jabiru

We’re back in the land down under, where beer does flow and men chunder. Specifically, we’re now on a road trip in the Northern Territory. We’ll see sights unique to Australia, enjoy experiences unique to The Territory and potentially learn words from about forty different local Aboriginal languages.

The first port of call as we left Darwin is a common place here in Aus but no longer seen in the UK. Woolworths provided some vittles for the next few days as well as a short, sharp kitchen knife, something missing from otherwise well-appointed Airbnbs.

I also bought Darwin’s only flynet, for Liesel, just in case. It took some tracking down and the bad news is, it’s attached to a baseball cap. But beggars can’t be fashionistas, as they say.

As I walked to the ATM, a man asked me where the post office is. I apologised for being only a visitor and then remembered that actually, we had some stuff to post too. Oh well, it’s all in the bowels of one of our bags, now. It can wait a few more days.

The one disappointing sight in Darwin was this.

Homeless folks not welcome here

A row of three former flower beds by the looks of it, but now devoid of plants, just some rocks embedded on the otherwise flat surface. I think this is to deter homeless people from kipping there. It’s sited at the back of the Uniting Church which had so much else on offer to the community. Very sad.

As we drove out of the smallest Aussie capital, we passed by numerous termite mounds of various sizes. There seems to be no pattern to their location, out in the open, right up against trees, some in shade.

We enjoyed watching the birds of prey hovering and swooping: there must be some tasty titbits around. We couldn’t identify the birds sharing a carcass on the road, but they were like very large overgrown crows.

Humpty Doo is a lovely placename but we had no reason to stop there, with such a long drive ahead of us.

We turned off the Stuart Highway onto Highway 36. At least one sign said ‘A36’. And it was exactly the same as the A36 at home apart from there was much less traffic, there were no potholes, the sky was blue and there were termite mounds at the side of the road.

Highway 36

We stopped for a quick coffee at Allora Garden Nursery. Did I say quick? Make yourself a coffee and sit back, it’s a long story.

Probably not a real stuffed dragonfly

We entered the nursery, passing by some very kitschy garden ornaments and sat down in Estelle’s Café. There was nobody behind the counter so I gently rang the bell for service.

A young man arrived, let’s called him Bruce. What do we want? Two coffees please. I’ll have to get someone to make the coffee.

A couple of minutes later, a young lady arrived. I’ll call her Sheila. Can I help? Yes, we’d like two lattés please. She went behind the counter and looked at the coffee machine.

We then heard an announcment over the PA asking Estelle to come to the café. She arrived and made us our coffees. Very nice. We looked around at the various garden ornaments, including tigers and giraffes. There were some actual plants to admire too.

When we’d finished our beverages, I went up to the counter to pay. Oh no, we don’t have a cash register here, you’ll have to pay at the front desk.

At the front desk, we ended up behind an Australian lady who had fallen in love with a concrete dog and she just had to buy it. Bruce was there, politely wrapping it in several layers of bubble-wrap. Oh, but she did love this dog, as soon as she saw it, she knew she had to have it.

Another lady, Doris, cooee’d me to the other cash register. I’d like to pay for my two lattés please. Two lattés? Yes. Bruce, how much does a latté cost? I have no idea, sorry.

Doris then walked all the way back to the café presumably to ask Estelle or Sheila how much a latté cost. I don’t know if there was a correct answer because on her return, Doris suggested, $5 each, is that alright? Yes, just let me out of this place, I said as I threw the money at her and pounded on the counter. No, not really.

A big, 8-foot tall termite mound

The car told us it was 35° outside and we could believe it although we were much cooler in the vehicle.

We made a slight detour to go for a hike, a tramp, despite the temperature. We’re here to see nature, and that’s easier to do outside the car.

We never did find out whether Bird Billabong was so named because of the ornithological delights here or because it was discovered by a Mr or Ms Bird, thousands of years after the Aborigines first found it.

It was so quiet. When the birds and insects briefly ceased their singing and buzzing and chirruping, there was no sound. Nothing. Not even the wind rustling the leaves in the trees. The faint thumping sound was blood pulsing through our ears.

The gentle path to Bird Billabong

The path was well-defined and we made good use of the sparse shade. We also stayed in the middle of the path because… snakes. We stomped to warn them of our presence but the side-effect of this was that we scared the insects away too. The sad thing is: we’ll never know how many snakes we’ve deterred because they’ve legged it after sensing our vibrations. Legged it? Hmm, yeah, that’ll do.

This was a great walk for entomologists, so many butterflies, dragonflies, damselflies and other flies. If only there were a Shazam for insect identification. We heard but didn’t see grasshoppers.

A pretty and populous dragonfly

As I brushed something off my arm Liesel asked if we’d just walked through a spider’s web. It certainly felt like it, I agreed. We accelerated very slightly but neither of us turned round to see what gigantic, lethal spider we’d potentially upset.

There’s the billabong

One interesting thing we noticed was different kinds of scat. We told ourselves, kangaroo, wallaby, echidna, but definitely not crocodile, oh no, no, no, never.

Probably wallaby poo

The quiet, the sky, the solitude, all wonderful. Yet for some reason, while I was really pleased and excited to be here, it didn’t send the same shivers up the spine as my first visit to Uluru or Henbury did, all those decades ago. But there is something almost electric in the air, something very special, a connection with the first people here, perhaps, and with nature.

Odd splashes of colour emphasised just how green and lush the landscape was, after what was apparently a relatively dry Wet Season.

A butterfly enjoying some raspberry coulis

The flash of sky was too fast for my shutter finger. The bright blue dragonfly wasn’t going to be caught on camera that easily. But blue flowers certainly appealed to the orange butterflies.

Two butterflies sharing

It was terrific seeing so many butterflies here, and so many different kinds too. We lost something really special at home by using all those pesticides for so many years.

One more butterfly

The view over Bird Billabong from the lookout point was stunning. We sought out frogs sitting on lily leaves but suspect it was the wrong time of day for them. We stayed still and some birds did come a little closer but they know about the crocodiles that live here and were on full alert. I think we both hoped to see a pair of nostrils and a pair of eyes on the surface of the water, but sadly no such luck today.

Picture of lilies

Despite what the Lonely Planet Guide said, this was not a circular walk, so we retraced our steps back to the car park.

Ooh, just caught a glimpse of blue

We noticed other tracks. Certainly at least a couple of motor vehicles had driven along this trail. But there were also horse hoofprints. Unless of course the local crocs have taken to wearing horse shoes.

Out of the blue, a kangaroo hopped across the path in front of us, closely followed by a second. Well, that made the whole exercise worthwhile!

Then we saw a couple of small, beige birds up in the trees. Bugs are great, but birds and mammals, especially marsupials are greater. Sorry, bugs. The magpie geese were numerous, we saw them from a distance but they weren’t going to hang around for us. The rubbish, blurry black and white photos are now nothing but a memory.

Soon after rejoining the main highway, we saw an emu cross the road in front of us. Wow, a actual emu! And then another. We couldn’t believe our luck. This is when you need a dashboard camera on 24/7, to catch the things that I’m too slow for.

There was a kangaroo by the side of the road, eating grass, not necessarily waiting to cross.

Then another. Then another pair. And for the next couple of miles, we lost count of the roadside kangaroos. We knew that slowing down or stopping would be their cue to hop off into the bush, so we just kept moving.

They all looked up as we passed, but none of them waved at us. In fact, even the other drivers didn’t wave back at us. In the old days, driving in the Aussie outback, all drivers acknowledged each other with a wave. Not the Aussie wave of a fly being swatted away from in front of your face. It was more raising the forefinger of the right hand as you approached and passed by an oncoming vehicle.

Welcome to Kakadu National Park

Kakadu National Park is a name that resonates. It’s real outback Australia, old, old, Aboriginal history, rugged, Crocodile Dundee country. And here we are!

The speed limit in Northern Territory is 110 kph except where otherwise stated. We assumed this meant that any exceptions would be slower. No. We passed signs indicating a limit of 130 kph, that’s 81 mph in English money. No, we didn’t. The highway was dead straight, perfect surface, no potholes, no side roads but still, we’d seen animals cross the road. Yes, we let some other vehicles overtake us, but we were in no hurry. The road surface was quite loud, we realised. It has to withstand very high temperatures all year plus flooding for possibly months at a time. It’s probably a much more resilient and harder material than the cheap stuff British roads are made of.

There are many signs telling us we’re about to cross a Floodway with depth meters close by. This whole area must totally change at the height of the Wet Season, and would be interesting to see.

Most if not all of the creeks and rivers that we crossed warned us of the presence of crocodiles, and suggesting it’s best not to swim. But it’s so hot, I can see why people might be tempted to jump in the water.

We decided not to join a cruise to see jumping crocodiles. We know they jump naturally if they fancy chomping on a bird, but to encourage them to jump for visitors seems a bit risky. As Liesel said, one of the only advantages we have when running away from a croc is being able to climb a tree. You don’t want something like that jumping up after you!

Small bug close by or big bug a long way off?

Although we didn’t come across any flooded roads today, we did pass several areas of wetlands, just off the side of the road. I’m sure there are crocs lurking there too, so no, not really tempting.

Welcome to Jabiru

We were welcomed to Jabiru by a jabiru, a black-necked stork: in fact, Australia’s only stork, and we soon found our new place. We looked at the Bush Bungalow, the so-called ‘Love Shack’ that we’d booked online, the one without aircon, and we looked at another room, which did have aircon. Yes, we chose the latter. We needed some decent sleep.

We’re in one room in a block of six, and the receptionist, with her gorgeous east European Aussie accent, told us that we’d probably have the place to ourselves anyway. If not, we’d have to share the bathroom.

Our next-door neighbour was very friendly, and very nearly answered to the name Skippy.

What’s that, Skip?

We had a nice, simple salad and some nice crusty rolls to eat. And yes, we had a good night’s sleep, despite the AC unit being the loudest we’d so far encountered!

But we agreed that our decision not to rent a campervan on this trip was a good move. It’s fab country and the heat makes the place what it is, but neither of us sleep well if we’re too hot, and that just makes both of us cranky. Yes it does.

Pulau Perhentian Besar

To the Island

We left Kota Bharu after breakfast. One of the door staff and I had a nice chat about the place and he very politely didn’t laugh too much about brexit. As Liesel and I were about to climb into the people carrier, he asked for a photo of the three of us together. We didn’t need a picture of him.

We picked up a few more people from a couple of other hotels, and the mad driver drove us all the way to Besut in Terengganu, the next state south of Kelantan. I say mad, but there are probably more appropriate words. Such as Reckless. He used his phone while driving. He overtook several vehicles when there was no need and not really enough space. He put his seatbelt on as we approached a police station then took it off again after we’d passed. What an adventure.

The boat ride to the Perhentians’ Big Island took about 40 minutes. The pilot was very good, it was a nice, comfortable, non-scary ride. Still an adventure, but in a more positive way.

We passed by the other, smaller, inhabited island and were disappointed to see plumes of smoke. Yes, even here, the disposal method of choice is to burn the rubbish.

On the smaller island too, by the shorefront, there’s a mosque. On stilts. And close by is a telecom tower. I know it would be an eyesore if the tower were located on top of the hill, but there might be more reliable phone coverage too.

A boat not similar to the one we travelled on

Not a selfie, Mick and Liesel

Unfortunately, at high tide, the top end of the jetty is under water, so we had to wade up to the beach. Still, my feet needed a wash, so no problem.

Partially submerged jetty

There are advantages to being aged. The compulsory conservation fee is reduced for the over-60s.

There was another couple on the boat, and I think they’re from t’north of England, but so far, we haven’t asked.

Tuna Bay Island Resort

We’re at an island resort for a week with limited mod cons. The electric supply comes from a diesel-powered generator, which is less than 100% reliable. So, lights, the AC, everything can turn off with no notice. There is no phone signal anywhere, as far as we can determine. And the wifi, when it works, is only available in the kitchen, restaurant and dining area. Tap water is not safe to drink, so we’re using an embarrassing number of plastic bottles.

There’s a tree growing in the dining area

Our room is very cosy. And usually cooler than the bathroom. The other door doesn’t lead to Narnia but, if the neighbours choose to let us in, we can enter their room. No fridge, no cooking facilities. Very basic but that’s ok, a nice contrast to a luxury hotel. Our room looks out over the garden which is mostly sand covered with just a few plants growing there. The staff are very welcoming, friendly and helpful.

There are not enough sunbeds on the beach for everyone, and it was a little disappointing to see the old European trick of leaving your towle behind, staking your claim, and then disappearing for hours at a time.. Disappointing? Well, not really, we’re not that bothered. On the first day, we just pitched up in the shade of a tree and sat/leaned on the (almost too) hot rocks.

Sunset behind the other island

What’s That Noshing on my Laig?

The sea is remarkably clear here: even when it’s too deep to touch, you can still see the bottom. You can also see fishes swimming by.

I felt something knock against my leg, and again lower down then a third time by my ankle. I wasn’t scared, but I was concerned that we hadn’t been warned about the man-eating fish in these parts. At first, Liesel didn’t believe me: she thought I was making it up, playing silly peoples.

Then she felt the fangs of a fish just below her knee. Now she believes me. She is the proud owner of a rare fish hickey.

Liesel’s fish hickey plus knee-surgery scar 🔞

We swam out to a pontoon from where we could look into deeper water. Shoals of littles fishes drifted by and a single parrot fish. We’ll have a proper look later in the week, with snorkelling equipment.

The current is quite strong here, look away for moment and you drift a long way along the beach.

Walking in the Sand

I walked along the beach with bare feet but next time, with Liesel, we wore sandals. The sand’s ok, if a little hot in places, but the coral can be quite sharp.

The big surprise for me was seeing so many butterflies near the beach, some quite pretty ones too.

Make a bridge out of some old pipes…. go….

Stairway to… the top

One of the trees bore unusual fruit which I later identified as pandanus tectorius, or hala.

Pandanus tectorius

We went for a walk along the beach, past some jetties, fishing boats, by some rocks and we found a nice secluded beach where the jungle really did meet the sea.

Jungle, meet the sea; sea, meet the jungle

Despite the name, Shark Point, we didn’t see any sharks. In fact, the only fish we saw here were very small ones.

Fake turtles (unless and antil we see real ones)

The water was lovely and clear, we stayed in for a while, enjoying the alternating warm and cold currents. On the way back, we saw a couple of big birds circling high up, riding the thermals. Too far away to identify, but they may have been sea eagles. Oh, and a few crabs scuttled sideways into the sea.

6° north of the equator, midday: what a short shadow

As I was walking along the soft, white, sandy beach, I acquired an ear-worm which was quite welcome for a while but it can go now, thank you very much. Listen to it here, if you dare.

Little mermaid

The oldest swinger in town

The Girl with the Pocket Watch Tattoo

As Liesel and I discussed, it’s very hard not to sound pervy when you comment on how nice it is to see so much flesh on display here. It’s warm, and sunny, we’re by the beach, you don’t need to wear much. But some poor people are covered top to toe, and we feel sorry for them. We saw one young lady sporting a couple of tattoos. Liesel pointed out that one was a picture of a pocket watch, hanging from a chain. Well, thank goodness for that. Last night, when I saw her, from across the dining room, I thought it was something totally different. Thank goodness I didn’t go up to her and express my admiration for her sperm tattoo.

Local fishing boats

Jungle Trecking

We thought it was right and proper to go for a hike in the jungle. It’s a small island, so we knew we couldn’t get lost.

Jungle trecking

What we hadn’t really anticipated was how heavy a few bottles of water can be when you’re carrying them up a steep path, stepping over many, many tree roots and water pipes. And it was hot and humid and the sweat was pouring off us. All that’s ok. But then the mosquitoes arrived and we’d left the bug dope behind. Mosquitoes here carry dengue fever as well as malaria, so we erred on the side of caution. In any case, there was no birdsong, minimal insect noise, and really, this wasn’t fun. But the good news is, walking back, we did find the local massage parlour. I wonder if they’ll take you on when you’re all hot and sweaty?

Wheelbarrows

We haven’t seen so many wheelbarrows since we were in Dublin’s fair city, where the girls are so pretty, almost a year ago now. They’re fairly ubiquitous here at Tuna Bay Island Resort. Our luggage was brought from the boat onto land in a wheelbarrow, wheeled along the narrow jetty, even through the water, as the tide was in. All the housemaids, or cleaners, use wheelbarrows to carry their paraphernalia. It all makes sense, they’re weatherproof and easy to use. Where there are steps, they’ve built ramps in some cases. Quite a steep ramp and then, when you get near the top, the gradient increases sharply. Not the most wheelchair or buggy friendly of places.

And the award for “the most challenging ramp” goes to…

Inside Outside, Leave me Alone

When we’re not outside enjoying the sunshine and the beach, or even in the dining area, dining, we can probably be found in our slightly cooler room, reading books or attempting to solve puzzles. We have a wide variety, sudoku, cryptic crosswords, kenken, futoshiki, kakuro, slitherlink, killer sudoku and more. It’s a brilliant way to keep the Sun-baked brain active. The only downside to having limited wifi is, we can’t stream as many radio programmes as we’d like, and we’re limited to downloading podcasts, which are great, but there are very few music-filled ones.

People

Every day, some people leave and new ones arrive. It’s interesting to see the new people, like the first day of a new school year. There are lots of Europeans and oh yes, you can easily detect the Americans, they’ll be the loud ones shouting at each other. There are lots of families here too, which is great. There’s another child wearing a pair of squeaky shoes. We always know where he is.

One day, our friends from the north suggested we more our sunbeds because dead, sharp leaves were falling from the tree. Well, I thought, at least it’s not coconuts. A while later, a couple of members of staff came by and asked us to move. We did. One of them climbed the tree, straight up, no messing, and pulled off a couple of large, dead branches. They landed on the ground with a bit of a thud.

Looking up at a palm tree

Some other bark and debris fell down. And the ants all landed on me. Only little ones, but they had quite a bite to them. Like a girl, I ran screaming into the sea to wash them off. Sometimes, you just can’t be nonchalant.

Sunday Morning

Sunday morning at ten o’clock and it’s time for Mass. No, not Mass. Massage. That’s right. For the first time ever, I had a massage on the beach, under the shade of a tree. I thought it might be too hot outside but the breeze was nice and refreshing. The mssage lasted for two hours, which I wasn’t expecting. Also, it was the first time I’d been massaged by a male, a masseur. His hands were rough, I think he must be a builder in his spare time. It’s hard to remain totally sand-free on a slightly windy beach, but the exfoliation was limited in its scope. As soon as we’d finished, his attention was immediately taken by the next client. I found Liesel on a sunbed: yes, they’re easier to come by now than they were on the first day.

The days pass slowly, we agree that we’re glad to be here only a week, though. It’s time to enjoy some longer walks again.

Eerie blue light at around sunset

Singapore (Part 1)

We landed at Changi Airport and, for the first time ever, we were going to venture out into the wider city/state. Not the first time for Jyoti though: she’d lived here for a while as a youngster.

Sunset over Singapore, seen from the plane

The taxi took us to our new Airbnb and for such a small island, it seemed to take a really long time. Singapore is just a small red dot of an island off the southern tip of the Malay peninsula. Surely is should only take five minutes to reach anywhere on the island? But, it’s nearly twice the size of the Isle of Wight and that can takes a while to traverse too. I think we (I) were (was) tired from the flight with no sleep, desperate to be horizontal, push up some zzzz.

We finally arrived at our new luxuriously spacious studio apartment. Shirley, our host, met us at the door, and showed us round.

At last, all ready for bed, teeth cleaned, lights out, and what’s this?

Too many lights

It’s like Houston Mission Control over there, all the lights and LEDs from the TV, the wifi router and all the other electronic gallimaufry.

Jyoti makes no bones about the fact that she is here primarily for the food. Liesel goes bananas at the mention of food too. Finding somewhere to eat is as easy as pie. Our first breakfast was Indian: dosa masala. Huge. And a mango lassi. For breakfast.

Jyoti needed to visit the Apple Store in Orchard Road (there’s a long story here).

Jyoti back at Orchard Road

This is one area that she knows well from many years ago. The journey by train was easy enough and a good way to do some quick sight-seeing.

Singapore World Water Day Month

Coffee design: hope it’s not something offensive in Chinese

Following the purchase of probably the most expensive phone in this sector of the galaxy, we went for a walk, shops, lunch, and on to the National Museum of Singapore.

Lunch? For me, the most disappointing meal ever. The picture and description made it look good. Kaya toast is a local favourite. The toast and coconut jam was ok. The boiled eggs were yucky, runny whites, and the tea was too sweet, probably made with condensed milk. The picture on the menu still looks like two halves of a hard-boiled egg to me. The official description is ‘half-boiled’. Just serve up raw eggs and be open about it!

I consoled myself with a pineapple and sour plum smoothie. And later, an apple.

Information Office: leading edge technology here

The Museum was fascinating (and cool), the whole history of Singapura through British colonisation to full independence in 1965 and remarkable economic and cultural success since then.

One of the first maps depicting Cincapura

Rickshaw and old colonial house

In the evening, we went for a walk in the Botanic Gardens. We’re just one degree north of the equator here and I’m not sure the seasons match what we’re used to. The gardens were lovely, but there were very few flowers, not what you would call a colourful place.

Gymnastic acrobat in the bushes

The path was well-made and the only one that had cobbles and bumpy stones was named the “Reflexology Path” and I thought, what a clever bit of marketing.

We entered the area comprising the Singapore Botanic Gardens UNESCO World Heritage Site. I don’t know what’s wrong with the rest of the gardens: it’s not like they’re all weeds or something.

The Evolutuion area was interesting: ammonites embedded in the path, petrified trees and a small homage to Stonehenge.

Fossils on the footpath

Small Stonehenge and tall tree

There’s an area dedicated to plants used for medicinal purposes, another with aromatic plants, and a whole lot more that we didn’t have time, nor legs, to visit.

As we turned one corner, we saw a bird run across the path into the bushes. It wasn’t going to be a kiwi this time, obviously, but we thought it might be something exotic and interesting. As I watched, in the shadow under the bush, I realised the bird was feeding three chicks, clearing back the leaf litter, letting the little ones peck at their own food. Only when she emerged from the shadows did we realise how exciting our find wasn’t.

Chicken (a real one)

I know Jyoti’s only little, but look at the size of these leaves. we know where to go should we need an umbrella.

Small Jyoti, big leaves

I was sad to learn only recently that Dean Ford, the lead singer with Marmalade had died at the end of last year. I think their best song was Reflections of my Life. The lyrics include the following:

The world is a bad place

A bad place, a terrible place to live

Oh, but I don’t wanna die.

Yes, the world can be a pretty scary place. On our travels, we’ve seen signs warning us of earthquakes, tsunamis, snakes, sharks and now, today, this:

Beware of lightning and falling branches

We should have donned our hard hats for this garden, not our flimsy sun hats.

A very bright leaf

Back in the city centre (actually, the whole country seems to be city centre), we visited one of Jyoti’s favourite restaurants from 1947, Komala Vilas.

Komala Vilas

It was very popular, very busy and we had to wait a short while for a table. Dosa for breakfast, and now, dosa for supper. Huge things.

Dosas too big for the table and for the photo

We shared the three but, needless to say, none of us could finish. Trying to eat one-handed is a challenge: you’re not supposed to use your left hand while eating. Unless you’re using a fork, which is a handy get-out clause. I would have liked a knife too, I am British, don’tcha know, but a second implement, if available at all, always seems to be a spoon. The lady at the table next to ours was entertained by us, but in the end, we made eye contact and she smiled. Her husband, though, adept at one-handed eating as he was, was a messy pig. No, not pig, that’s inappropriate. He was a very messy eater.

We were in an area named Little India so it was no surprise to pass by a Chinese Theatre performance on the way back to the station.

Live action Chinese theatre

We returned to our luxuriously spacious studio apartment where we cooled down in the shower and retired to bed. You think my description of the place is exaggerated? Nope.

Luxuriously Spacious Studio Apartment – Official

We’d walked over ten miles today, far too much for Liesel, so we agreed to take it easy the next day.

9+((8+7)*((6!/5)-4-3-2-1))

We spent the end of 2018 in the company of Olivia Colman. She played Queen Anne in the film, The Favourite, which we saw at the Deluxe Cinemas at The Tannery. Olivia is always enjoyable to watch but the story behind this film was quite sad.

More sadly, the strange typeface used for the end credits rendered them fairly illegible. I had to confirm later, via IMDB, that it was indeed Elton John performing his song Skyline Pigeon from very nearly half a century ago.

The light drizzle as we left made the decision for us: we went home rather than to an open air event. We stayed up to see the New Year in but I think we were all in bed by five past midnight. We’re definitely not the party animals we once were, half a century ago!

If you performed the calculation represented by the countdown in the Heading, I hope you felt suitably rewarded.

2019 began with Liesel and me picking up our rental car from the airport. It’s a Mazda 3, with a 1998cc engine, slightly more spacious than our Mazda 2 at home in England. It’s silver.

Our first drive, after picking up the luggage from Pauline’s house, was to Caroline Bay, Timaru, where we met Pauline and Andrew. They’ve joined us for a few days on our road trip. Where we go on South Island will largely be determined by the weather forecast.

We listened to the singer performing at the carnival, covering Adele, Duffy, and Dusty amongst others.

Caroline Bay Carnival is her real name

We didn’t go on any of the fairground rides but we did eat from one of the food wagons while admiring the slightly unusual cloud formations.

Spookulo-nimbus clouds

On the walk back to our car, we passed a war memorial, a sundial, gym equipment with instructions and The Face of Peace.

The Face of Peace

The memorial for John McKenzie overlooking the town of Palmerston reminded us of Glastonbury Tor as we were driving towards it.

Cairn for John McKenzie

We couldn’t drive through Dunedin without visiting Baldwin Street again: the steepest street in the world. I walked halfway up leaving Liesel near the bottom to take the pictures. I wouldn’t want to be a postman here, with a bike, with a trolley or with just the shirt on my back!

My failed attempt to walk halfway up the road

Our Airbnb tonight was at St Kilda, a nice little house just a couple of minutes form the beach. We all went for a quick walk there after supper, and watched the Sun set.

Sun, sea, sand, smiles and a super selfie

All the way on the road, we’d been comparing the countryside views with what we’d seen in Japan from trains. New Zealand is very green, whereas in Japan, you could travel several miles and not see any greenery between the buildings. The views were quite stunning too, sometimes resembling Scotland, sometimes Alaska, and often a children’s drawing of what hills should look like, nice and round.

The beach at St Kilda is top class. The sand is so soft and walking on it in bare feet sends good vibes the length of your body.

In fact, it felt so nice Liesel and I paid another visit before setting off for the following day’s drive. The sand was warmer now, but still just as soft and despite my best efforts, probably not the best ever exfoliation of the heels.

The dunes at the top of the beach were just like those near Hemsby in Norfolk, only much longer, steeper and higher. And harder to climb up because the sand was so soft!

Dunes at St Kilda beach

We were planning to meet Pauline and Andrew again later in the day, but we made a quick detour to Kaka Point and the Nuggets. Quick. We drove a long way off our main route, including a precarious, winding, narrow road towards the lighthouse at Nugget Point.

We walked along a continuation of this track right up to the lighthouse itself. Good old Google Maps thought we were still in the car, advising us to do a U-turn whenever possible.

We looked down upon some sealions that were easier to hear and to smell than to see. At the right time of day, we should be able to see penguins, but as they’re much smaller than sealions, we knew that would be much more of a challenge.

Nugget Point Lighthouse

The Nuggets are a group of rocks just offshore which I overheard some locals describe as a wonderful climbing challenge.

The Nuggets

Purakaunui Falls is (are?) a ten minute walk from the car park. By the time we arrived, P&A had been so they set off for the next destination. Liesel and I enjoyed the short walk and in the end, we had a good sight of the falls without other people obstructing the view with their brightly coloured clothes!

Purakaunui Falls

A not-so-good selfie

Who’s that hiding in the hollow tree?

Tautuku Beach seen from Florence Hill Lookout

The next Airbnb is at Mataura, near Gore. Although we’d wanted to spend some time in The Catlins, we found ourselves beyond, in Southland. It’s in the middle of a large plain, almost totally surrounded by hills, so we wondered whether it’s a large volcanic crater. So, the middle of the plains and we manage to find a b&b up a steep hill. The car is parked on a drive as steep as Klaus and Leslie’s in Anchorage. After supper, Pauline and I walked down the road to the nearest pub, The Falls Hotel. It was grim. We had a drink, but the only two other customers soon left us alone with the tattooed and not very friendly barmaid. Then of course, we had to walk back up the long, long, steep hill to our accommodation! The entertainment on the way back was provided by a couple of young boys with fishing rods, who had captured a baby bird. Pauline advised them to leave it under the bush for its mother to find.

It might be a lepidopterist’s idea of fun but when Liesel was in bed watching a video and I was in bed reading my Kindle, we were dive-bombed by millions of moths. They kept heading for the illuminated screens, bouncing off and hitting us on our arms and faces. Thousands of them. When I turned my screen off, Liesel then wondered where they were all coming from. Hundreds of the things. Trouble is, on the ceiling above my bed, there are several of those glow-in-the-dark stars, which attracted the moths who then bounced off the ceiling, onto my pillow. Dozens of the things. Eventually, we fell asleep and in the morning, we found no corpses in our room but several dead moths in the bath. I’m closing my window tonight.

These nocturnal adventures meant a late rise. But after breakfast, Pauline, Liesel and I went to Dolamore Park, just the other side of Gore, for a very pleasant walk in the bush. Walk? It was definitively a hike!

We’d decided on the Whisky Creek Track but due to inadequacies in the signage department, we missed the start of our walk and walked an extra, unplanned, hilly loop.

When we crossed over the creek, we saw a chicken by the water. That’s very unusual. A chicken but no ducks. From which we can only deduce, the chicken had eaten all the ducks.

It was a good path, not made up, but just cleared enough so you could see where you were going and not keep brushing against the vegetation. The path was steep in places, and I was so pleased that I could just keep going: that breathlessness issue I had last week does seem to have been just an off-day. I did run out of puff a couple of times, but only after a long period of sustained climbing, and it was easy to get my breath back.

There are no bears nor moose to worry about here, but it was reassuring to see this sign: no threat from cyclists nor daleks, either.

No cycling. No daleks.

The only problem I had while walking was one toenail digging into the toe next door. So I took advantage of a breather to cut off the offending nail. I also cut my fingernails at last, they’ve been too long for too long.

I did one thing today that I don’t think I’ve ever done before, ever. It comes under the heading ‘disgusting bodily functions’ so feel free to ignore the rest of this paragraph. I blew my nose gently, using an inferior tissue. Some of the snot missed, it formed a bubble which floated away and settled on a fern leaf where it popped just as I was getting my camera out. Very proud of my mucous bubble, temporary though it was.

We walked down to see the waterfall: this path was probably well constructed steps at one time, but some of the stones have now shifted. The man carrying both his children was very brave, we thought. The lady waiting at the top with her baby was probably doing the right thing. Her baby gave me a most beautiful smile.

Whisky Creek Falls

We also accepted the challenge of walking up to Poppelwell’s Lookout. Up and up. This path was even more winding and at places, we had to navigate mud, mud, glorious mud. We stepped over many tree roots too. And then, just as we were nearing the summit, we encounted the most scary looking yellow triffids you could possibly imagine: you don’t want to fall onto one of these maneaters.

Big scary yellow spiny vicious thing

Mr (or Ms) Poppelwell must have been delighted to reach this location, just as we were, to see a couple of park benches on which to have a rest.

The view south over the plains was wonderful and as ever, a photograph does it no justice. If only I could paint, but even then, how can one convey the scale, the distance and the majesty of the land before us?

Part of the view from Poppelwell’s Lookout

After a snack, we set off back down. And it did feel good to be walking down again, even if some parts were quite precarious.

Pauline slipped on some loose stones and the noise scared some kind of an exotic bird into taking flight. Well, a pigeon*.

*I have been berated by a wife and a sister. It was no ordinary pigeon. It was a wood pigeon, a kereru.

On the way back to the car park, Pauline told us to feel this tree.

A surprisingly cold-to-the-touch tree

Compared with all the others, it does indeed feel cold. What kind of witchcraft is this? How does a tree make itself feel cold to human touch?

Another quick snack back in the car, then a quick coffee in Gore. We arrived just in time: it closed at 5pm. In fact, the last couple of days, we’ve missed out on a lot of coffee because the places have closed really early, 4pm taking things to the limit. And to make things easy, we bought pizzas to take back with us, only to find that Andrew was baking a quiche and a potato dish for us. We tried not to feel too bad.

NZ very proud to have given votes to women very early, 1895

And in case you didn’t get it…

9+((8+7)*((6!/5)-4-3-2-1)) = 2019. Happy New Year!