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.
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!
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The first Saturday of the year found us walking to Didsbury, along the river, past the golf course.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Despite what the Lonely Planet Guide said, this was not a circular walk, so we retraced our steps back to the car park.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
One of the trees bore unusual fruit which I later identified as pandanus tectorius, or hala.
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.
Despite the name, Shark Point, we didn’t see any sharks. In fact, the only fish we saw here were very small 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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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?
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I know Jyoti’s only little, but look at the size of these leaves. we know where to go should we need an umbrella.
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:
We should have donned our hard hats for this garden, not our flimsy sun hats.
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.
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.
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.
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.
We’d walked over ten miles today, far too much for Liesel, so we agreed to take it easy the next day.
We spent the end of 2018 in the company of Olivia Colman. She played Queen Anne in the film, The Favourite, which w\ne saw at the Deluxe Cinemas at The Tannery. Olivia is always enjoyable to watch but the story behind this film was quite sad.
More sad\nly, 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.
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.
On the walk back to our car, we passed a war memorial, a sundial, gym equipment with instructions and 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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
The Nuggets are a group of rocks just offshore which I overheard some locals describe as a wonderful climbing challenge.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
And in case you didn’t get it…
9+((8+7)*((6!/5)-4-3-2-1)) = 2019. Happy New Year!
On Christmas Eve, we went for a walk by the beach, specifically to Monck’s Bay and Shag Rock. We’ve been there before but it looks a lot different now.
The sand is always shifting anyway, revealing different rocks at different times. The area has been occupied for a very long time, and there are still people looking for fish and shellfish on the beach.
The ebbing tide left behind some puddles, but there was nothing of interest other than that the water was pleasantly warm on ones feet.
Many of the houses on the hill above the beach have now been demolished following damage sustained during the earthquakes. The loose rocks have also been removed, so the area below is as safe as possible, with the help of netting and other restraints.
One thing we like to see on a beach is a display of rippling muscles. Unfortunately, the ones we saw stuck on the rocks were spelled wrong.
Pauline and I conquered Cave Rock on Sumner Beach, the remains of a legendary whale according to, er, legend.
We walked back to town where we had a very pleasant brunch and coffee. We passed the evening by playing 500, a fascinating game but the playing cards were by now becoming sticky. There’s a reason why you shouldn’t eat chocolate while playing cards and I think we discovered it. Good game, complicated, confusing and your (and your partner’s) fortune can turn on a sixpence. Whisky. Yes, we were drinking whisky too: Glenfiddich, to be precise! Slàinte mhath!
Merry Christmas! We weren’t disturbed by the sound of reindeer hooves on the roof and woke up for a gloriously restful Christmas day. Andrew collected his mother from the home where she now lives and we had lunch with her.
Actually, restful? Well, Pauline prepared most of the dishes and the rest of us took it in turns to help. It was all vegetarian and very tasty and of course, there was too much for us to consume in one meal!
We pulled crackers that were hand-made, from a kit, donned the paper hats and groaned at the jokes. Why don’t reindeer dance? Because they have two left feet.
Later in the afternoon while Andrew visited his son, the three of us went for a pleasant walk by the Heathcote River. It was flowing fast, but we saw a trout keeping amazingly still by ‘swimming’ upstream. There were a few cherry trees that were keeping the birds entertained as well as fed.
On the way home, we passed by a school where The Kids Are Samart.
I still felt sated and the thought of eating more for supper didn’t appeal… until it was actually placed in front of me! I ate plenty more, thanks.
We played 500 again, this time with Liesel’s playing cards, which weren’t at all sticky. There was no joker, so we had to use the 2 of hearts as a joker… just as well that only 43 cards are needed for the game, the 2s, 3s and two of the 4s being put aside. So we have a game in which, when there is a trump suit, the jack of the other suit of the same colour pretends to be that suit, and is of higher value than the jack of the trump suit, which is higher than the ace. But these can all be beaten by the joker which is this case was the 2 of hearts. I think we all ‘misremembered’ at one point or another, and played the ‘joker’ as if it really were a heart when it wasn’t. Well, all except Andrew, who had taught us this game and encouraged us to play. Just one more game. OK, then. Ah, just one or two more pieces of chocolate. Hmm, just one more glass of whisky. Cheers!
Boxing Day began cloudy and grey and not looking good for a cricket match. But what’s the worst that can happen? If it rains, they stop playing, we go home.
Pauline drove us to Hagley Oval, in the Park, to watch the first day of the second Test between New Zealand (Blackcaps) and Sri Lanka. Cricket can be a slow game, but we saw plenty of runs scored and lots of wickets taken. We tried to explain the game to Liesel and I think towards the end of the day, she wasn’t quite as bemused.
We were sitting on blankets on the ground, on a bank that surrounds the actual playing field. I knew that if I kept changing position and moving around, I wouldn’t get that thing where it feels like my leg is about to fall off my hip: that happened a lot when I sat on the floor to play with children, until I realised what was causing it.
We had a picnic (thanks, Sis): bread, cheese, salad, crisps*, fruit and we bought coffees**. The most popular ‘food’ item purchased by fellow spectators was a battered hot-dog sausage thing on a stick, drizzled with what could only have been watered-down ketchup. Not a corn-dog, reports our food correspondent, Liesel, but something far, far worse. Apparently, it’s a New Zealand delicacy and it appears in the top ten items you have to try here.
In other food related news, the funniest, maybe coolest sight, was that of a young lady eating popcorn. With chopsticks.
* Hot chips were available too. Hot chips in NZ is just chips in the UK. Chips in NZ is crisps in the UK. Another little trick in the nomenclature to catch out the less wary visitor.
** The queue for coffees was so long, we had to give a phone number so they could text us when it was ready! And of course, we had to support Anchorage Coffees (not just because it was the closest vendor to where we were sitting).
The day warmed up but the Sun never really came out. There was a small patch of blue sky, but mainly we just had a pleasant day in the Land of the Long Grey Cloud, as Andrew described it.
I was no good at cricket at school, as determined by Mr George Watkins, the games teacher. Yes, the ball is hard and I’m a coward, so I usually ended up in the pavilion, keeping the score. That’s a job I could do now, if it were still a manual task.
During the lunchtime break, we punters were allowed to walk onto the pitch, not the wicket area, but the rest of the field. It became a temporary venue for many impromptu games of cricket mainly between fathers and sons.
The announcer announced that we could buy tickets for subsequent days’ play on dub dub dub dot ticketek dot co dot nz. I thought, great, saying ‘dub’ is a lot faster than saying ‘double-you’, whereas in fact, you don’t have to say the ‘www.’ bit at all any more. But I did enjoy watching the painter and line toucher-upper at work.
I was pleased to be able to walk up to one of the anamorphic ads that look perfectly square when you see them on TV. It must be an interesting mathematical challenge to paint it in exactly the right place. I wonder if maybe the task could be made easier with the use of laser beams or something.
I couldn’t believe the number of adverts. There are TV screens along the whole boundary, the boundary itself is an ad for a bank. There are even big TV screens in front of the sight-screens. When the batsman requests it, big curtains are drawn in front of these displays. After an hour of play, the players stopped for a refreshing drink of Powerade or something equally vile, according to the announcer.
All in all, a very fine day. Persons of a squeamish disposition should scroll to the next photo. There was one thing I saw that I will never be able to unsee. There was a guy sitting to our right, maybe twenty feet away. He was wearing a black cap, black shorts and a black vest. He was heavily tattooed. As I glanced over once, he leaned forward. The gaping hole in his vest, to the south of his armpit revealed, and I apologise in advance if this ruins your dinner, it revealed sidemoob in all its ugly glory.
During the whole day, there was but one, half-hearted, Mexican wave.
The score at the end of the day’s play was as follows:
Blackcaps 178 all out, Sri Lanka 88 for 4 and unless something unfortunate happens, with the weather, say, it looks like there will be a proper result in the end.
It was a hard day, sitting in the park, in the sunshine watching cricket. Liesel and I were both ready for bed ridiculously early.
Early to bed, late to rise: the most annoying kind of sleep, the one with a three-hour gap of insomnia during which I can read but can’t bring myself to get out of bed and actually do something useful.
If I were a quadruped employed by Father Christmas to pull his sleigh but once a year, this morning I would be known as Mickey the red-kneesed reindeer. Yes, I have sunburnt inside knees from sitting cross-legged yesterday at the cricket for too long. Oh, and mainly because I failed to apply sunblock despite advice and pleas from sister and wife. I should know by now: ladies always know best.
Pauline and I went for a walk to the library and to the chemist where we purchased some aloe vera. “‘Allo, Vera.” It feels lovely on my lallies.
This spa looks nice. The Sun was out, it was hot, but the wind became stronger and colder.
Meanwhile, in other news: this year’s Christmas catastrophe was in Indonesia, hit by a tsunami possibly caused by landslides following the eruption of Anak Krakatau. Their tsunami warning system has been out of order since 2012. It appears politicians and policy-makers everywhere look at a problem and think, “meh, it’s only poor people who’ll be affected” and proceed to mess things up. Grenfell, Windrush, Flint, etc.
Liesel and I are so lucky to be away from real life for a while: this trip was our Christmas gift to each other.
Speaking of real life, we all went to see a movie this evening: Vice. It’s the story of Dick Cheney, arguably the most powerful man in USA at one point. It’s a great film, well-made and the story is well told. But the story is just horrible.