The Wrong Hat

The glorious Sunrise was visible from our bathroom window, over the lake, but with a few obstacles, of course. It was going to be a nice day. I was tempted to get up early again, maybe go for an early morning stroll. Nah. That didn’t happen.

Sunrise over Lake Taupo

We went out for a quick visit to The Craters of the Moon. This was a fascinating place, but wasn’t the venue I had in mind. I’d mentally assigned this name to a totally different place. And the actual name of the place I was thinking of still eludes me.

Ever-expanding craters

But, this was meant to be a quick jaunt. So, unusually, I decided to go out without my bag. I just had some cash and my phone on me. When we arrived, I turned round to retrieve my hat from the back seat, where it wasn’t. “I took it indoors,” said Liesel. Hmmm. She continued, “But I’m surprised you didn’t bring your bag, you take it everywhere”.

“Yes,” I agreed, “but even if I had my bag, my hat wouldn’t be in it, because I left it in the back of the car”.

It was a hot day, I was going to suffer without a hat. Liesel offered to lend me hers, but then she’d be without one. Ilkley Moor bar t’at is one thing, subtropical, geothermal, noonday Sun without headwear is another.

So, while Liesel was queuing to pay, I went over to the little gift shop, and chose the least worst offering, a black Craters of the Moon baseball cap. I would have preferred a wide-rim sunhat but they didn’t have any. I placed the cap on the counter just as Liesel was paying for the tickets. “I solved the problem,” I announced.

“Oh yes, you’ll need a hat in this weather,” said the assistant, vocally. “Especially a bald-headed old git like you,” she added, telepathically.

The right hat (left) and the wrong hat (right)

And then, no tickets. Instead, we received a dayglo coral coloured handstamp.

We walked around for about 45 minutes under the beating Sun. Steam was venting, there was a very slight sulphurous smell. I could tell I was wearing the wrong hat because the Sun had full access to the back of my neck. Did I apply sunblock? Well, no, of course not. It was in my bag and I’d left that behind.

This was Liesel’s first visit to such a geothermally active place. I’d been before, but I was still surprised at how much vegetation there was, plus insects and birds.

Lush vegetation in a harsh environment
Steam vents
Liesel being hot and steamy
A deep crater

I was disappointed that the mud pool wasn’t bubbling away, but maybe there needs to be more water in it. A bit of rain would have cooled us off beautifully, of course, but the few clouds in the sky seemed to be enjoying the sunshine as much as we were.

Mud, mud, glorious mud

On the way back home, we paid a visit to the gorgeous Huka Falls. Huka is Maori for ‘foam’ and it’s easy to see how they got their name, and why the water is such a stunning colour.

Huka Falls
Not a bad selfie

Even here, that evil alien lifeform known as bindweed has taken hold. Yes, pretty pink and white flowers, but come on, give the other plants a chance!

Grrr
Look at it, taking over the world

We drove up to a lookout from where we could see not only the great Lake Taupo but also the volcanoes in Tongariro National Park, hundreds of miles away…that’s how clear the air was today, different to the mist of yesterday on Kapiti Island.

Lake Taupo and in the distance, Tongariro National Park

We found a nice little coffee shop called Bubu at the Rangatira Shopping Centre. The coffee was so good, I had to have a second cup straightaway. If I didn’t sleep the night, it would have been worth it!

After a spot of recovery in our Airbnb’s air conditioning, I went for a walk down to the lakeside, where I enjoyed a much lower temperature, a slight breeze, and the sight of people, ducks and black swans all swimming together.

Swimming in Lake Taupo
Great Lake Taupo

Later on, Liesel and I ate our fish and chip supper in the very same spot, only one of us (me) didn’t eat any fish. So just chips and chips for me.

You know sometimes on TV dramas, there are butterflies? And to keep them in shot, it looks like they’re dangling from a wire hanging in front of the camera as it pans around? Well, that might not be the case. Here in the garden of our Acacia Bay studio apartment, orange and black butterflies have flown by several times, exhibiting the same behaviour. They flutter by too fast to capture photographically but they seem to be dangling at the end of a puppeteer’s strings. Other butterflies have been observed too, which is fantastic, plus a couple of dragonflies. But, despite the raucous noise of the cicadas, which ceased spontaneously as soon as the Sun disappeared, the only one we’ve seen was dead, and being processed by a swarm of ants. Nature at its wonderful best.

There is a dam at Aratiatia Rapids and if you look closely at the picture, you can just make out rainbow colours in the spray. As ever, not as obvious as it was in real life.

Dam

We paid a quick visit here after leaving Acacia Bay and, yes, we couldn’t resist visiting Bubu once again for more of their delicious coffee, in our takeaway cups.

Our next place is near Tauranga but we made a detour vis Whakatane.

Never mind Cox Lane, Chessington or Church Road, Northenden, this is the sort of address I’d like.

Thermal Explorer Highway

After our terrific success a couple of days ago, I’m still on the lookout for kiwis. And in Whakatane, we struck gold again! Well, bronze, anyway.

Kiwi Boy by James Pickernell

We would love to visit Whakaari, aka White Island, as it’s an active volcano.

White Island (model)

This picture was taken from the model at the Information Centre, we didn’t fork out for a helicopter ride, nor have we invested in a drone.

Amongst the wildlife we didn’t expect to see in New Zealand was a Loch Ness Monster. But they’re here and living in a place called Matata. And yes, I did start singing Hakuna Matata to myself.

Loch Ness Monster but not the real one

And while I was quietly stalking Nessie, I made friends with a couple of pukekos.

Pukekos

We arrived at our new place in Oropi, just south of Tauranga and we sat in the garden, in the shade. A little chick was looking for his Mum and when a larger chook turned up, we thought, oh good. Until she started pecking and biting and picking up and throwing the little one. Nature at its wonderful best. Well, I encouraged the so-called grown-up to go back home, next door, and then all we had to worry about was the cat eyeing up the baby.

Our new, noisy neighbours

We made plans for the next few days, we had a quick chat with our new host, Raewyn. And while typing, I’ve been listening to Chris Evans’s new breakfast show on Virgin Radio, complete with all the old jingles from the Radio 2 incarnation, plus Vassos Alexander but no Moira Stuart, sadly.

We were just drifting off to sleep when suddenly, the room was fully illuminated. In my stupor/delirium, I thought we were about to be kidnapped by aliens and was torn between fear and excitement. I thought mybe the alien bindweed overlords were coming to get me. But it was only the motion sensors turning lights on outside the house. And, while I’m all for security, it did rule out any intention I had of sneaking out in the middle of the night to look at the stars.

We dragged ourselves out of bed, and set off for our day in a Living Maori Village.

The group of visitors was encouraged to learn how to say the name of the place, Tewhakarewarewatangaoteopetauaawahiao, and after a few attempts, I think most of us got it. Fortunately, it’s usually shorted to Whakarewarewa and, sometimes, to just plain old Waka.

Our guide was only 19 years old but was very confidant telling us about the village and about her people. She apologised for her English, but she had only been speaking the language for three years and she did very well. She used to be a penny diver. There’s a cold pool near the entrance to the village and young children jump in to dive for the coins that we visitors throw at them. It’s a long drop, and was one of the activities that Liesel and I both chose not to join in with.

Penny divers, diving for coins

Steam was venting all around us and any concerns I had about the fumes affecting Liesel’s asthma were soon quelled. The sulphur clears the sinuses beautifully. Our guide (whose name I apologise for forgetting) told us about their bathing regime in the hot, mineral-rich pools. They go au naturelle but only after all us visitors have left. The minerals clean the skin and leave it feeling nicely moisturised, no need for soap. But she told us that she does use soap as she doesn’t want to go around smelling like old people!

Quite a big tour group

We looked over at the geysers that were only spouting at half-mast on this occasion, but even so, what a remarkable sight.

Two old geysers, Pohutu and Prince of Wales

We watched a performance of song and dance, poi and sticks and after six weeks in New Zealand, we heard arguably NZ’s most famous song, Pokarekare Ana, for the first time!

For Helen
Maori performance

I managed to get a decent picture of a bug. It sat still while I fished my phone out, it didn’t fly, jump, hop or run off or vanish in a puff of smoke. I didn’t realise until today that New Zealand has some indigenous species of praying mantis.

Praying mantis

We went for a walk a little further afield to be rewarded with the sights and smells of a Green Lake, bubbling mud pools and a dragonfly (that was too fast for the camera) who was about to burn his feet on super-heated water. 140°C as it bubbles and sizzles up from below.

Bubbling mud pool
Green Lake (Roto Kanapanapa)

Sometimes, inanimate objects take control and so it was today. My phone spotted a beautifully tanned foot and decided to press its own button. And I am very proud to share the image.

Nominated for Accidental Photo of the Year in the ‘Body Parts’ category

We had to wait until the steam had dispersed a bit and for our spectacles to clear, but here it is:

Selfie of the day ft the right hat

Today’s Ridiculous Enviro-nonsense comes from a supermarket.

Don’t buy something we’re selling

One suggestion would be to stop selling this one item, if you’re that bothered. But then, I suppose you’d also have to stop selling all the other single use plastic in all these freezers, never mind the rest of the shop.

Buy all this, though, it’s fantastic, plastic

I did my bit for the planet today by again having coffee made in my new re-useable cup (thanks, Pauline). Or, as we used to call it: cup. Sometimes, I wash it in between uses.

While we were suffering in 27° heat, our family in England were below zero and building the biggest snowman in the world!

Martha and her snowman

Suffering? No, it was hot, yes, but what a fantastic place. And we did have an ice cream, of course. The diet starts tomorow…

We drove back via Rotorua and passed the signs for all the various activities that we just won’t have time to enjoy. Active things:

Skydiving, Sailing, River Cruise, Jetboating, Kayaking, Jetboard Tours, Lion Feeding, Zorbing, Sky Swing, Railcruising, Offroading, Horse Trekking, Lugeing. Nor will we visit the Cat Café: yes, there really is one in Rotorua. Some of the walks look interesting though, at ground level and in the canopy of a forest.

More music news. In our alphabetical journey through all the songs on my phone, we have reached the letter I. I never realised how many Dusty Springfield songs are in the first person. You don’t know what to do with yourself? Just close your eyes and count to ten. You can’t make it alone? You only want to be with me? Come to me, Try anything, You’re Coming Home Again. And Riot Squad made an appearance: I’d forgotten they were there too, totally ignored by ‘shuffle’.

To Wellington

From one extreme to another. One day we’re as far north as we can go on this island and just a few days later, we’re pretty much as far south as we can go. Wellington is the capital city but much smaller than Auckland. The route Google Maps chose to take us to our place of abode was bizarre to say the least. It took us off State Highway 1 far too early. We drove up into the hills, at which point, the app changed its mind and wanted us to go round the roundabout and back down the narrow hill we’d just climbed. But after two days on the road, about twelve hours driving, we are now settled in our new b&b for nearly a week.

We decided to come to Wellington as quickly as possible, spend some quality time here before travelling back to Auckland at a more leisurely pace. Was that the right decision? It was a tiring couple of days, but here are some highlights.

The sight of the Auckland city skyline as you go round the bend on State Highway 1 really is heart-stopping. Even though I was expecting to see it, when it finally materialised, I cheered inwardly. If I weren’t driving at the time, there would have been a hundred photos, probably.

We stopped for brunch at Te Hana. I think this is Maori for Greasy Spoon because the all-day breakfast I had wouldn’t have been out of place at Jenny’s in Chessington or any other Joe’s Caff in England. Very welcome!

Near Kinleith

There’s a small toll section on SH1, $2.30, which I remembered to pay online later in the day. That converted to £1.31, much more reasonable than the M6 toll road. But then, there are no toll booths to staff: payments can be made online or at certain other physical locations.

One big surprise was the number of coffee shops that close on a Monday. At one place, even a local couple followed us up to the door and walked away again with disappointed etched on their faces.

We camped for the first time in NZ. Well, I say ‘camped’. We were in a Top 10 Campsite at Motutere, on the shores of Lake Taupo, yes. But we stayed in a cabin and used the communal toilets and showers.

Lake Taupo playing rough

Yes, this boat is in a bit of a heap outside our cabin, but it wasn’t us that took it out onto the lake.

Wrecked

On one of my nocturnal wanderings, I took this photo of the Moon, merely hours after the lunar eclipse that wasn’t visible from NZ.

Full Moon

One of the real highlights was driving through the Tongariro National Park. The stunning sight of active volcanoes never disappoints. And, admit it, there’s always a small part of you that hopes it ‘goes off’.

Mt Ngauruhoe
Ruapehu

Yes, of course, we would love to explore this park more fully but there’s just too much else on offer!

New Zealanders do like their big, funny sculptures. A big trout welcomed us to the Capital of Trout, Turangi. Was there a big wellington boot by the side of the road, you ask? Well, yes there was, but we didn’t go back for a photo here either.

Bulls. Lots of model bulls seemingly on all the main roads leading to Bulls.

Welcome to Bulls

We had coffee at Coffee on the Moove.

Coffee on the Moove

We didn’t visit any other shop with a punny bull-themed name. Nor, sadly, did we come across a Bulls China Shop.

Our next stop was Otaki Beach on the Kapiti Coast, opposite Kapiti Island which we hope to visit later.

Otaki Beach was a bit of a mess, there were literally tonnes of driftwood here. I was going to take a piece home and turn it into a lamp, but, well, I’m just not that skillful.

Driftwood and lots of it on Otaki Beach

Interestingly, the sand was darker than usual, and it felt quite spongey underfoot, especially where it was still wet. The sea was wild, roiling, boiling, stirring up the sand so that even the water looked brown. Some people were in the water but at least there was a lifeguard on the beach, and advice to keep between the two flags which were only about 3 metres apart.

Kapiti Island just visible through the haze

I heard Liesel say “Tourniquet FC” and I thought that was a funny name for a football club. Then I saw it. Lovely rural New Zealand, green fields, cows, barns, shacks. There, in the middle of all that, in the middle of nowhere: a KFC.

There are many more cows in New Zealand than sheep, according to our observations. And they are amongst the most qualified cattle in the world. They’re all outstanding in their field.

We stopped once more, this time in Paraparaumu. Here, at the information centre, we picked up flyers for some of the places we want to visit while in Wellington. We have five full days here. No, it won’t be long enough. Yes, we’ll just have to come back again! We had a coffee too and marvelled at the coincidence in languages between Maori and Latin.

Eat well

It was an Italian restaurant. The translation is Italian. D’oh!

As we approached Wellington, SH1 veered to the right just as it does on its approach to Auckland. But, sorry, Wellington, the city skyline here isn’t quite as impressive. Google Maps took us on an unguided tour and we finally arrived at our b&b. Our host, Craig, made us welcome. He even left a bar a chocolate for me. Yes, me: it was on my side of the bed, so…

It was a ten minute walk down to the nearest shop and more than ten minutes to walk back up, up, up, carrying heavy bags of shopping.

More musical musings from me and a bit of a moan. I won’t be offended if you go and do something more interesting instead of reading this stuff.

We’re following the black highway through the countryside, listening to three different songs called ‘Blackbird’, all nice and gentle and folky. Then ‘Blackbirds’ which is a little more jolly and upbeat. Then, brace yourself: ‘Blackmail Man’ by Ian Dury and the Blockheads kicks in. Wow, that was a shocker: it’s a great, funny song, but it certainly spoiled the somewhat chilled mood on this occasion! That’s the danger of playing songs in alphabetical order, of course, you can’t control the segues. But then, even the shuffle mode itself could bring up such screeching juxtapositons.

On the other hand, we’ve been treated to Billy Bragg, Jack Johnson and others whom I had forgotten were even there, since shuffle chooses to ignore them.

In terms of musical style, we’ve had folk, rock, pop, jazz, even a bit of choral and orchestral. So far, we’ve been sung to in English, Icelandic, Hawaiian, Portuguese, Hebrew and Gaelic, and we’re only part way through the Fs!

There was a challenging half hour or so in the middle of the Ds when it kept telling us what not do do.

Don’t be Careless, Love
Don’t Believe a Word I say
Don’t Forget Me
Don’t go Home
Don’t Jump, don’t Fall
Don’t let me Down
Don’t let the Sun catch you Crying
Don’t let the Sun catch you Crying (yes, 2 different songs)
Don’t let the Sun go down on Me

But during this sequence, I was so delighted to hear the one and only Beatles track on my device, that I played it twice. If Liesel noticed, she didn’t complain.

Do you remember when you bought records and tapes and even CDs from different shops? Then, when you got them home, you filed them by HMV, Virgin Megastore, Harlequin or wherever you bought them? No, nor do I. This is why I don’t get why all the ‘online stores’, Amazon, iTunes, Google, want me to put the downloads (MP3s) I buy from them, in their own little ‘library’ on my PC. I then spend far too long putting them in a location of my own choosing. Sometimes they’re moved, sometimes they’re copied, sometimes they need converting. I want my music to be in one convenient place. And when I copy it to my phone, I want to know it’s all been copied. Once. Not duplicated because of the shenanigans I’ve had to go through previously.

Also, there should be some sort of standard when it comes to the volume of the music. You have to play it quite loud when you’re on the road because the hummmm of the tyres drowns out some of the music’s key frequencies. But some albums are so much quieter than others. When you’ve heard Tom Hingley belting out something, you shouldn’t then have to turn it up to 111 to hear the delicate tones of a more gentle folk singer.

Okinawa OK

We came to Okinawa to spend some time on the beach. After a late start on Sunday, we walked down to the nearest one, a couple of miles away.

Pavements eat broken pots

Naminoue Beach is now my favourite beach. Not because you can gaze upon not one but two motorways over the water while sunbathing, but because the word itself contains all five vowels. (Cf Carnoustie and Cointreau.)

Nice beach, shame about the view

There were just a couple of people actually swimming in the sea, but most people, me included, just went in up to our ankles. I thought it was probably safe enough to swim there, but if the locals weren’t going in, then neither was I.

The sand was very coarse: you should have heard some of the language it came out with! Very good though for exfoliating ones feet.

On the walk back, we encountered another Shinto ceremony.

Another beautiful family, another blessing

This chap looks quite intimidating. His job might be to frighten away evil spirits, but he didn’t deter us visitors.

Alligator? Dragon? Scary either way
Artistic photo of the day

Kokusai Dori, one of the main shopping streets, is closed to traffic each Sunday afternoon. This provides space for local bands and musicians to perform, and allows children to play in the road, legitimately.

Banging drums and dancing
Playing in the road

We walked back via a supermarket that we’d found last night. This one is called Max Valu. It sells Top Valu items. Still, it’s a pleasant change from the ubiquitous 7-Elevens, Family Marts and Lawson Stations. I thought to myself, wouldn’t it be funny if we saw some belly dancers here in Naha? Well, we turned the corner, into Makishi Park, and guess what we saw?

I’ll be your belly dancer

Emerald Beach might be more visually attractive than Naminoue, we thought. This was a bus ride away: nearly two and a half hours in each direction. Five hours sitting on a bus is not something we want to do on a regular basis. On a train or a plane, you can get up and walk around a bit: for some reason, people don’t seem to do that on buses.

On the way to the bus stop, via the Visitor Information Office, we came upon a load of old rope. Literally. Every year in Naha, there is a Giant Tug of War involving up to 15,000 people. Liesel and I would have had a go, but the sign said not to.

The biggest rope in the world
The legend

One thing we’ve noticed is that, if you ask for bus related information, people are very helpful in telling you which bus stop to use, and what time to expect the bus, but they seem strangely reluctant to divulge the bus number. If the bus is due at 12:10, you get on the one that turns up at 12:10 and hope you’ll be OK.

We walked through the Ocean Expo Park, past the Aquarium, said hello to the captive manatees and turtles, and made our way to Emerald Beach.

We walked down these nnn steps (forgot to count)
American manatee sent as a gift from Mexico

And it didn’t disappoint. It is very pretty, no motorway to spoil the view. We were surprised to see that you’re only allowed to swim in the sea between April and October. Well, it looked pretty calm today but again, nobody was in the water. Indeed, there were signs all over the place telling people that it was forbidden to go into the water.

Health and safety gone mad, was the tabloid phrase that came to mind. Then I saw the poster depicting the reasons. Box jellyfish have a nasty sting, cone shells are venomous, sea snakes are venomous, you can be impailed by long-spined sea urchins, stone fish (which look like algae-covered rocks) can sting, blue-ringed octopus are venomous, lionfish have poisonous pectoral fins and striped eel catfish can sting. We stayed well away from the water just in case an octopus with a particularly long tentacle tried to grab us.

Emerald Beach
Holy mackerel, stay out of the water

Instead of swimming, or even paddling, we sat on the beach and read for a while, wondering if it would rain. The clouds began to look menacing and the temperature did fluctuate, but it never really felt like a storm was on the way. I went for a quick solo walk and marvelled at the beach and the small number of people here. Again, the sand was very coarse, and there was a lot of broken coral. Some of it was quite soft. I assume that this too was damaged by the typhoons a couple of months ago, and it’s still being washed up onto the beaches.

The time came when we had to go home. From 4pm, there were only three more buses back to Naha. By now, we were too late for the 4pm one, so we walked slowly up the hill and the steps and even used the outdoor escalators to find ourselves at the bus stop in good time for the 4.39. We did see an octopus in the end, but he’s quite a harmless fellow.

Octopus? More like a quadropus

We boarded the bus, paid the fare (usually, you pay when you get off) and sat down.

When the bus was 50 metres down the road, we realised we’d left the green shopping bag on the seat by the bus stop. Usually the green bag has snacks in it, or shopping, or rubbish. Today, it also contained the internet. I’d left the pocket wifi with Liesel while wandering around the beach area and so it was transferred to the green bag away from its usual home, in my famous manbag. By the time the bus had travelled another 50 metres, Liesel had told the driver to stop and he did so. I’m waiting for Guinness to ratify this claim, but I ran all the way back to the bus stop, picked up the bag and ran all the way back, 200 metres, in 17.8 seconds. Admittedly, it was a humid day and I broke sweat slightly, but that’s not a bad achievement for an old fart like me.

We found a restaurant, Ethnic Vegan LaLa Zorba where we enjoyed a good curry. The musical accompaniment was mainly Anandmurti Gurumaa (Hare Krishna) and Bob Dylan, although we did hear John and Yoko’s Happy Xmas (War is Over). Did Yoko ever find her daughter Kyoko, do we know?

Did I mention it? Yes, the curry was very nice, very tasty.

Taking it easier the following day, our first Japanese dance lesson went very well, thanks for asking.

Dance steps 101

We took the monorail to Onoyama Park where we spent an enjoyable couple of hours. We walked slowly, observed a group of old men (even older than me, according to Liesel) playing baseball.

Old fogeys’ baseball

We sat for a while and watched the children playing in the playground. It would be lovely to bring Martha and William here, if only so I’d have an excuse to climb to the top of the very long slide.

Young kiddies’ slide

There’s a running track through the park that is marked with distances and is very slightly cushioned. It was a warm day, but even some of the runners were wearing leggings and two or three layers on top. I was dressed sensibly, shorts and shirt, but I resisted the temptation to try and beat my 200 metres PB from yesterday.

Ms. They’re like M&Ms but half the size

We perambulated in an orderly manner alongside the river and crossed the bridge.

You shall not pass (we did)

We eventually found ourselves back on Kokusai Dori, so went into Edelweiss for coffee and cake. Edelweiss, Edelweiss, every morning you eat me.

There were some strange things on show in the shops and we are so glad that we’d already decided not to buy any of it.

ET and Jaws together at last
Not for us, thanks
Ho ho ho, Merry Christmas, everybody

Yes, Christmas is all over the place, no getting away from it, here. It feels strange: it’s November, but very warm, 23°C, 72°F, so it doesn’t feel at all Christmassy. Hearing Silent Night performed that fast doesn’t help with the Christmas mood, either!

Kon’nichiwa, Tōkyō

The flight from Seattle to Beijing was delayed due to mechanical problems. This meant we had more time to pass at SeaTac and less time at Beijing, which in turn meant that we definitely wouldn’t have time to leave the airport and go sight-seeing in China for a short while. On the plane, we sat next to a kiwi lady who had lived in Beijing for several years and she told us about the smog. You can fly around the country in clear air then, suddenly, as you approach the capital, you hit a wall of brown.

The plane didn’t have plastic shutters over the windows: instead, they could be darkened to keep the light out. We were flying pretty much towards the west, but we lost the opportunity for good sunset photos.

That really is the Sun, through tinted windows

To paraphrase a David Bowie lyric: Where the heck did Wednesday go? We left Anchorage early Tuesday and would arrive in Tokyo very early Thursday morning. The day between was a very short period of time and the worst thing is, this will totally ruin my Fitbit statistics. How can I possibly walk 10,000 steps in one day when the day in question is just a couple of hours long and spent mainly inside the body of an aeroplane? I know, I know, this is even less significant than a first-world problem.

Crossing the International Dateline in this direction has had another unanticipated side effect. Liesel and I are now ahead of UK time rather than behind. This will take some getting used to. And to add even more confusion, British Summer Time ends this coming weekend.

Entertainment on this long flight was a multimedia experience. I listened to two (out of ten) episodes of a dramatised radio version of War and Peace. I read significant sections from the two books I currently have on the go (*).

I watched Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom and it convinced me that this series of movies should perhaps become extinct. A nice surprise to see the old Detectorist Toby Jones in it though.

And, best of all, at last, I watched Hidden Figures, about the ‘colored computers’ who worked for NASA in the early 1960s, really talented mathematicians and engineers that happened to be black and female at a time when segregation was the norm. (A couple more years of Trump and we’ll be back there.)

Liesel watched Solo: A Star Wars Story and some episodes of The Big Bang Theory as well as some documentaries about Japanese wildlife.

One of the most ridiculous things is that the flight from Seattle to Beijing took us right over Anchorage. So we needn’t have got up so early, after all! Flying in Russian airspace was a first: but not having window seats, we saw less of Russia than Sarah Palin does from her bathroom window in Wasilla.

The cabin was sprayed with something that didn’t smell nice. But other than that, and the duration, I think we liked Hainan Airways. The cabin crew were really nice, and my new best friend is the Chinese girl who looked after me and my vegetarian needs.

We landed at Beijing, taxied for another couple of hundred miles and we still had to disembark in the middle of the runway and take a bus back to the terminal.

I think we would recommend Hainan Airlines

We found the gate for our outbound flight to Tokyo and made our home there for a couple of hours. Coffee and a muffin were had. Of course. And I learnt that the ¥ symbol is used for Chinese yuan as well as Japanese yen. Who knew?

We suddenly realised people were preparing to board the flight and, being British, we had to join the queue. No nonsense about gold members and business class going on first, one queue for everyone, this is China. But what a shame that again Liesel and I were separated by a few rows.

I was hoping to sleep but that didn’t really work out. These cabin crew members very friendly and helpful too.

こんにちは、東京

We landed in Tokyo about 00:25 Thursday, and were delighted at how warm it felt. We were dead tired, but being this warm in the middle of the night certainly lifts the spirits!

We found our hotel at the terminal, and were in bed within an hour. Even after a quick shower, the room was still too warm (!) to sleep in, until the fan kicked in.

Breaking news: in a first, I used the bidet for its intended purpose. It would have been nice if I’d been warned it was coming, but ooh, what a surprise. (Better than a hand coming out to wipe my bum, I suppose.) I’m not convinced, but it was an interesting experience.

We woke at a reasonable time, showered and checked out. The Pocket Wifi had been delivered as arranged so we should have access to wifi wherever we go in Japan. We are now both back on our UK phone numbers, albeit, if we use them, we’ll certainly pay for the privilege.

We bought tickets for the bus to Shinjuku Station. It was a very warm, bright sunny day and I think this alone made it easier for us to cope with the last tendrils of tiredness.

Tokyo wouldn’t be a proper city without water

It was a ten minute walk from the station to out next hotel, The Gramercy. Also known as The Godzilla Hotel.

Godzilla on the 8th floor of our hotel
Stoned Godzilla

We dumped our stuff and despite the temptation to lie down and go back to sleep, we went for a walk in the local area, to acclimatise and to find something to eat.

Fewer local people than anticipated were walking around wearing surgical masks and I’ve been too polite (too scared) to take a photo of them.

Lunch for me was jalapeño cheese toast and Liesel had scrambled eggs and pancakes with a sausage and other meat products. Typical Japanese fare.

We found apples on sale and we bought one. It’s huge, we’ll share it. I hope we can find some proper apple-sized apples next time.

The biggest apple in the world – and we ate it

We walked in a big loop back to The Gracery Hotel and then realised we walked around the less interesting parts of Shinjuku.

This young lady was cleaning the windows for her clients, a pair of moray eels, we think, maybe.

Window cleaning
Blue fishes

We always like random sculptures and this little chap blowing his own trumpet while riding a snail caught our eye.

Boy on a snail – I wish we knew the story

Riding a bicycle on the pavement seems to be accepted here, much moreso than at home. They go quite fast too, especially the old grannies. Younger, fitter people have found a brilliant way to carry two children around.

Child on the back, another on the front, marvellous

We went for a quick walk in the evening. It was dark at 5.30, very sudden and unexpectedly. Shinjuku is very busy, lots of bright lights, clubs, even English-style pubs. There are a couple of places that we’d like to visit, when we’re more fully awake and that need booking in advance.

Robot outside the Robot Restaurant

For supper, I had a pizza and Liesel had risotto. Typical Japanese fare.

We saw Godzilla from a distance too, not so scary that way!

Our Godzilla from street level

Looking at and taking photos of car number plates was an Alaska-based, temporary hobby. But when I saw two cars parked next to each other with mine and my sister’s birthdays, well, out came the camera, of course.

Mick and Pauline’s birthdays

The good news is that as we’re walking round a city rather than hiking trails in bear country, and it’s warm, I was able to wear my sandals today for the first time in several weeks. So, watch out for the return of tan lines on my feet.

(*) I am currently reading:

  • A Brief History of Everyone Who Ever Lived: The Stories in our Genes by Adam Rutherford (in which I learned that I am descended from William the Conqueror).
  • The Tale of Genji by Murasaki Shikibu (I thought I should read some Japanese literature and this is probably the very first novel, written in the early 11th century and first published in the 16th).

London Bye Ta-ta

When we first decided to move away from Chessington and from London, I came up with a few different ways to mark the occasion. Some were more successful projects than others.

1) While out on my daily (-ish) walks, I decided to walk along every road in Chessington, Hook and Malden Rushett one more time. This would retrace all the roads I’d walked along at least once while delivering mail over the previous ten years. The rule was, I had to start at home or finish at home; I couldn’t get a lift to some remote part of the south of the borough, walk around a small block and then get a lift home. In fact, in the end, the only time I got a lift was when Liesel dropped me off at the southern tip of Malden Rushett on her way to work and I walked all the way home, including offshoots such as Fairoaks Lane and West Road. I think in every other case, I left home, walked a few miles, at least 10,000 steps usually and then back home. I completed this project in just a few months. Easy.

2) I thought it would be interesting, challenging and fun to cycle along every road in Chessington, Hook and Malden Rushett in one go, on one single day. But after a bad experience with blood pressure medication leaving me short of breath, riding a long distance became, if not impossible, certainly something not to be attempted lightly. So, this is a fail, so far.

3) One thing I’ve always wanted to do is ride on every line on the London Underground, visiting every station at least once. I started this in 2000 when I was working in London, short rides at lunchtimes, longer ones at the end of the day. Unfortunately, Sarah died before I finished this, so I lost interest and this project was shelved. Well, 16 years later, I thought I’d start again. I did visit Brixton on the Victoria Line soon after David Bowie died, to see the mural and the flowers left by mourning fans. I rode the Victoria Line to Walthamstow at the other end. One line completed. And that’s it, I’ve not pursued this project, even though I have plenty of time. One day, maybe …

4) There are 32 London Boroughs plus the City of London. I thought it would be good to visit each one, to actually visit a destination or venue in each one, not just pass through on a bus or a train. How am I getting on? Here’s the list:

  • Royal Borough of Kingston – This is where we lived, worked, shopped, took children to school, so we I can definitley tick this one off
  • Bromley – I visited my friend Marie in Orpington a few times.
  • City of London – We visited the Tower of London, Tower Bridge and more
  • City of Westminster – Covent Garden, Hyde Park, Tate Britain, all visited many times
  • Camden – Camden Market and London Zoo are just two venues
  • Richmond upon Thames – Richmond Park, Bushy Park, Richmond Theatre and I worked in Isleworth for a short period
  • Merton – Wimbledon Theatre and Wimbledon Common
  • Sutton – Nonsuch Park and the shops
  • Croydon – Fairfield Halls and the college where I had some OU tutorials and non forgetting Ikea and CostCo
  • Kensington and Chelsea – I went to Uni here, lived here, Holland Park, Kensington Town Hall, the old Commonwealth Institute, Biba, Kensington Market, Kensington Gardens
  • Hammersmith and Fulham – lived here, Shepherds Bush Empire, Bush Hall
  • Wandsworth – Battersea Arts Centre
  • Lambeth – Southbank Centre, National Theatre, Old Vic and Young Vic Theatres
  • Southwark – HMS Belfast, Tate Modern
  • Tower Hamlets – Tower of london, Tower Bridge, Royal London Hospital where Sarah trained and lived for a year
  • Hackney – Stoke newington Church Street: Andi’s
  • Islington – Union Chapel, probably our favourite venue in London
  • Brent – Wembley Stadium and Wembley Arena
  • Ealing – lived in Acton for three months, and we’re staying in an Airbnb place here before we fly off to Alaska
  • Hounslow – Heathrow Airport from where we fly off to Alaska
  • Lewisham – Horniman Museum
  • Royal Borough of Greenwich – The National Maritime Museum, probably my favourite museum, Greenwich Observatory, the Millennium Dome (now the O2 Arena)
  • Bexley – Dad took me and Pauline to visit his old haunts in Welling, 50 years ago
  • Barking and Dagenham – I visited the Dagenham Ford Motorworks when I was at school
  • Newham – ExCeL Exhibition Centre, Olympic Stadium
  • Waltham Forest – Olympic Velopark
  • Haringey – visited my Dad’s Uncle Charlie before he passed away in 1979
  • Barnet – we visited Golders Green recently
  • Hillingdon – Heathrow airport spans two London boroughs and the country of Surrey, and we used to stop at Yiewsley when driving from Peterborough to Guildford, before the M25 was complete
  • Harrow – nothing
  • Enfield – nothing
  • Havering – nothing
  • Redbridge – nothing

Not too bad, then just missing out on four and I admit, some of the historical ones are a bit of a stretch!

5) Cycle on every page of the old Surrey Street Atlas. I did this once in the 1990s, a good way to force myself to go on long bike rides to the extremes of Surrey. Again, I was part way through a second pass on this when Sarah died. It would be nice to be fit enough to have another attempt but as I mentioned above, I am a bit, maybe unjustifiably, scared to attempt very long rides because of my breathlessness issues.

There are also some ideas that I discarded as being a bit too ambitious:

Ride every London bus route

Ride every Overground line, every DLR line,

Cycle the length of the Thames from the source in Gloucestershire to the estuary at Dartmouth or maybe beyond. I’ve ridden it all, in stages, from Walton on Thames to the Thames Barrier in Greenwich, plus a short section near Oxford.

We’ll miss London and Surrey and Chessington but moving away is an adventure and it will be fun coming up with similar, equally silly plans in Northenden or Manchester or Greater Manchester. Any ideas are very welcome!

London Bye Ta-ta is a song recorded by David Bowie just over 50 years ago, and, unbelievably, rejected by the record label!

M minus 4 days

This week has been the hottest of the year so far. In some places, even hotter than the long, hot Summer of 1976. That was the year they had to appoint a Minister for the Drought.

So hot, in fact, that all we want to do is sit still, enjoy some cold drinks and relax. Instead, we’ve both been working really hard to finish off the packing.

I spent about 5 hours this morning dismantling the tandem and packing it up into its two Samsonite cases. This should only take about 20 minutes, according to the DVD. The first thing that happened when I walked into the garage brought back happy memories of when I worked. I got a faceful of newly spun spiders’ web. Yuck. I can’t say I miss that feeling, nor the taste and I didn’t need to see the size of the tarantula that escaped. It was huge. And no, it didn’t offer to help with the tandem.

Meanwhile, Liesel was upstairs cleaning every available surface, and there are a lot of surfaces available when the things that used to live there have been packed. And there are a lot of things that sit around for years causing little to no trouble, until you want to take them to a new place. One day, I’ll let you know how many boxes we have, but there are literally too many to count accurately now. Dozens. Scores, even.

Sadly, we’ve packed the tools so a couple of last minute fixes won’t get done. The middle hook on the back of the bathroom door broke years ago and it’s still there. Not the useful part, the hook, just the backing plate.

There are lots of challenges that you don’t think about until it comes to the crunch. What should be take with us in the car so that we have it straightaway? Valuables? My PC? Important paperwork? Decisions, decisions!

What can we leave until the last minute? Bedding? TV, DVD player, Freeview box and all the associated cables? Breakfast stuff?

Yes, apart from all the physically hard work of moving stuff around, putting it into boxes, then moving the boxes around, it’s been quite a challenge knowing what to do next. So many lists have been compiled:

  • Things to do
  • What to take with us in the car
  • Businesses that need to know our new address
  • Things to do in the new place before we go travelling!

Liesel has been a trouper, despite her aches and pains. We’ve both used muscles we forgot we had. Here’s a tip: buy shares in Ibuprofen.

It was strange on Summer Solstice day: we brought everything down from the loft and Liesel was re-packing all the Christmas decorations. One day, well, one Christmas, we’ll get a nice big tree and show them off. Not this year though: we’ll be somewhere exotic. The travel plans keep changing. But we can’t concentrate on that until we have settled in our new place.

It’s been too busy for me to be too emotionally distracted. I’ve lived here for 33 years, lots of happy memories and some sad ones. It is definitely Liesel’s house now though, rather than Sarah’s. I think it’s fair to say that because we’ve been thinking about moving on from here for so long, I’ve been ‘grieving’ for this old house for a while, so it won’t be such a shock on the day we close the door for the last time. 33 years in one place: more than half of that time without Sarah, which just doesn’t seem right.

Facebook Marketplace should be a great place to give things away. But I’ve had responses from Bulgaria, USA and Switzerland. They’re not seriously going to come to Chessington just to pick up a free item of furniture. The way it usually worls is:

I put an item up on Facebook Marketplace with a price of £0, ie Free.

Within a minute someone asks: Is it available?

Within another minute, I respond: Yes, can you collect from Chessington today or tomorrow.

Then I sit back and watch the tumbleweed drift by. Never hear from them again.

But now and then, maybe one time in ten, someone follows through and does turn up to take the item away. And as I sit here in front of a fan (that somehow escaped being packed in a box) in the living, surrounded by nn boxes, three people have expressed interest in my old office desk but none of them have committed to coming over to take it away. The good news is, this is the last item of furniture that we need to dispose of. John, the rubbish man, is coming over tomorrow to take away the old washing machine and some other bits and pieces and if he ends up taking away the desk too, that would be a shame, but we can’t take it with us.

Yes, the old washing machine. The one that Sarah bought soon after she started work again once Helen started school. It’s done well, 26 years hard labour, but it leaks a bit and the on/off switch is broken. The kickboard hiding the thing that you unscrew when there’s a blockage has been kicked off. And it’s very slow by modern standards. We can’t responsibly pass it on to someone else, but everyone has their price…

I had a dream last night in which a nice looking iced bun the size of a loaf of bread had packing paper screwed up inside. In fact, apart from the icing, it was all paper. Such a disappointment. But I haven’t had a work-related dream for a while. The one in which, along with everyone else, I am being asked to perform a task so ridiculous, so time-wasting, so pointless, that we just know we won’t have time to complete the day’s delivery. But then, within the dream, I suddenly remember I’ve retired, I don’t even have to be here any more… and I wake up with a great sense of relief and a big smile on my face.

Liesel designed a beautiful card that we will send out once we’ve moved and we know with 100% certainty that nothing will go wrong with this whole project!

While I’ve been blogging, Liesel’s been writing the envelopes for the cards. It’s preferable to her other option: CPD. Continued Professional Development would entail sitting down with a hot laptop on her lap, and today’s weather is not conducive to such an enterprise. The smell of macaroni cheese is drifting through the door: a hot meal for a hot day, Liesel is to be praised for slaving over a hot stove. No wonder she doesn’t want to get up close and personal with a laptop as well!

Back Home

Returning home after a holiday is always an anticlimax. It’s nice to be home, but we’d still prefer to be doing something different, somewhere else. Best of all though, is not having to go back to work the next day! Neither of us! The journey home was uneventful, but bitty.

After breakfast and a chat with our host, Noreen, then

  • We walked to the tram stop and caught a tram into Dublin city centre, then
  • We walked around the corner and caught a bus to the airport, then
  • We walked to the gate, via the shops, then caught an airport bus, then
  • We walked to the aeroplane and up the stairs and flew to Gatwick, then
  • We walked off the plane and caught a bus to the terminal, then
  • We walked to the station and caught a train to Clapham Junction, then
  • We walked to a different platform and caught a train to Tolworth, then
  • We walked across the road and caught a bus to Gosbury Hill, then
  • We walked around the corner, home, sweet home.

Interestingly, we walked straight out of Gatwick airport, nobody and no machine checked our passports. It was a bit of a shock to be out on the concourse with hundreds of members of the actual public.

Liesel declined my invitation to come for a walk the following day, despite it being sunny rather than the predicted wet. And walking around the streets of Chessington, I was reminded why I usually take out my phone and play music or radio programmes. The sound of traffic is inescapable, even away from what might be described as main roads. The birds around here have to squawk really loudly to compete with the traffic. Walking in the forest last week was so peaceful, hearing the birds singing without having to shout. And the silence in between was only disturbed by the susurration of the wind in the leaves.

Today was the day we caught up on all of our admin, not very interesting really, having to pay bills and check bank accounts and process all the mail, throwing a good 75% of the paperwork straight into the recycling bin.

As far as the house-move is concerned, some progress has been made. We responded to our vendor’s enquiries and our seller’s solicitor has answered some of ours. One thing that is a little disconcerting, that we hadn’t previously even contemplated, is the question: Is our new flat likely to be affected by the impact of the High Speed Railway (HS2) from Birmingham to Manchester?

While away, we tried to follow the Giro d’Italia but now we’re home, we can watch it on TV, or at least, the highlights. Simon Yates has been leading for most of the race but today, he cracked on the final climb, so, excitingly, it’s all to play for! (As they say.)

Today is the final day of the service provided by Which.net, the site of my first websites and our first email addresses. Over the years, I’ve said farewell to a number of different email addresses but I still have a soft spot for some of them:

  • delphinus
  • more-chocolate
  • dark_horse
  • mickeydoodah
  • mick_the_wonder_horse
  • mickey_moose
  • mickeydoooodah
  • mickeydoodledoo
  • mick.freed (yes, one of those had to go because it clashed with an American who shares my name)
  • cc_s435 (my very first one, at Kingston University)