Giving it 300 percent

We enjoyed a mini-heatwave, a few days when the temperature approached 30°C. So we went for a walk one evening when it was just a little cooler. We kept to shade as much as possible, avoiding the worst of the ultraviolet (there’s one) rays.

Selfie of the day

We found some blackberries in full bloom so I’m sure we’ll be back later in the year to enjoy the fruits. And, just a little further along the road (please don’t tell anybody where), we found some wild raspberries too, just a bit too far back through the thistles and brambles to approach in our besandalled feet.

Wild raspberries, for future enjoyment
Fireweed

Liesel pointed out the fireweed and explained that when this flower blooms, it will snow six weeks later. Quite an education (there’s one)! I suspect this is just Alaskan folklore, but, as a precaution (another one), I’m keeping my snow shoes handy.

The small tortoiseshell would look better against a natural background
Kindle error

The evening presented us with the first of the week’s technical faults that could have developed into an immensely vexacious (boom) affair. My Kindle displayed an error message that I’ve never seen before. Fortunately a hard reboot fixed it, which meant that I could continue my struggle with ‘Middlemarch’. After trudging through 11% of the text though, I’m sorry to say, I was so discouraged (aha), I gave up. I very rarely give up on a book once I’ve started. On the other hand, How to Argue with a Racist by Adam Rutherford is very readable.

Standing outside our luxury block of luxury apartments, looking up at the blue sky through the oak tree’s foliage, in a slight breeze on a hot day, is delightful. One branch is dead and bits of it fall down now and then. Maybe it was malnourished (oof) when it was younger.

Oak tree, blue sky, dead branch

Now that things are slowly opening up again, we enjoyed a couple of days out at National Trust properties. For the first time since the lockdown was implemented, we went to Dunham Massey. This is usually a very busy, popular place, but on this occasion, we had little problem keeping a safe distance away from people. We try to keep our levels of anxiousness (da-dah) down, but when you’re breathing the same air, the risk is always at the back of your mind.

This duck would look better against a natural background

I always investigate the sundial near the main entrance but it has never occurred to me before that the statue supporting it might be offensive: a ‘Blackamoor’ with white bulging eyes. There’s white privilege for you.

Blackamoor statue removed
A field with a few shrink-wrapped cows, I think

The deer were very prominent today: I suspect they’ve become used to people not being around, recently. Other visitors were indulging in the questionable (badoom) activity of approaching the deer and stroking them.

We paid a quick visit to Jenny to drop off some food items. It was an ideal day to deliver butter: 30° or so! We had a quick chat with Martha and William through the window, and I managed to get a good photo this time!

Martha and William through the window
Installing update
Unwanted software

Technical issue number 2. My PC still runs Windows 7, which has not been supported by Microsoft since January. So I was surprised one night when turning it off, it said it was installing an update. My heart sank.  This was not authorised (ooh) by me. Next time I booted up, it gleefully told me that Microsoft Edge had been installed. Ever since, it’s been nagging me to accept its terms and conditions. Why? I didn’t want it in the first place! I’ve been uninstalling a lot of unused software recently, and this is another candidate for the chop. But why am I worried? Because once when I uninstalled iTunes from a PC, it also took away that machine’s ability to play CDs. Technology’s great, when it works.

I can’t remember the last time I had a twelve hour sleep with only one interruption. But this happened at the weekend and I can only say I felt fantastic afterwards. Even the smell of freshly baked scones didn’t disturb my slumbers. Thanks, Liesel! We drove to Quarry Bank Mill, the second of the week’s National Trust venues, under changeable skies. Sunny and blue for a while, then cloudy and grey. We mostly avoided the rain and enjoyed a fabulous walk around the gardens. The mill itself is still closed, but we were able to buy a coffee, so that’s encouraging (bazinga).

A gorgeous display of colour
Mick in the thick of it

At one point, we could look down and see the rain in the valley. We felt just a few spots but took shelter under one of the rocks, which strangely, was reminiscent of the painted rocks in the Kakadu, albeit much cooler. Growing out of the cliff-like rock, was this tree, just clinging on by its finger-nails.

Hanging on
This dragonfly would look better against a natural background

As well as all the pretty flowers, they grow a lot of food here, but I was dissuaded from scrumping an apple.

Apple tree, artichoke, kohl rabi and coffee, cheers
Old, gnarly tree
More colour
Something went wrong

The third of our technical issues was on TV. BBC iPlayer usually just plods along and does its thing, once you’ve navigated to the programme you want to watch. But again, our hearts sank when we saw this. Could our Freeview box be on its last legs? Was a transmitter struck by lightning in one of the ongoing storms? Anyway, it was soon rectified and hasn’t recurred. It briefly interrupted our enjoyment of the Glastonbury Festival. This year’s 50th anniversary festival has been cancelled due to Covid, but the BBC are showing several performances from previous years.

Dolly Parton and her saxophone
Barry Gibb with Coldplay

So far this year, we’ve watched or re-watched quite a few of our favourites, most of whom we’ve never actually seen in real life. So, thanks to David Bowie, REM, Florence and the Machine, Christine and the Queens, Adele and her potty mouth. Coldplay persuaded the Glasonbury King, Michael Eavis, to sing My Way and sang a couple of Bee Gees songs with Barry Gibb. Dolly Parton is always good value too. As well as many of her greatest songs, she performed Yakety Sax on her saxophone. Elbow’s songs are often pretty straightforward, but Guy Garvey’s voice and his magnificent instrumentation (ooh, another one) always make the performance something special. Even from the comfort of our own living room.

What? You’re wondering how I can just briefly mention David Bowie at Glastonbury and not dwell a little longer on the subject? At the time of writing, I have watched this programme twice. It’s the first time the full performance has been broadcast on normal TV.  He enjoyed it, we fell in love with his bass player, Gail Ann Dorsey all over again, the band was all together.

David Bowie at Glastonbury in 2000. He’d first performed there in 1971 at 5.30 in the morning, there was no curfew in those days.

The set list:

Wild is the Wind
Little China Girl
Changes
Stay
Life on Mars
Absolute Beginners
Ashes to Ashes
Rebel Rebel
Little Wonder
Golden Years
Fame
All the Young Dudes
The Man Who Sold the World
Station to Station
Starman
Hallo Spaceboy
Under Pressure
Ziggy Stardust
Heroes
Let’s Dance
I’m Afraid of Americans

We still miss Mr Bowie, and many of us think that the equilibrium of the world was upset by his early death in 2016. So happy we still have his music.

The heatwave came to an end and the rain returned.

I can’t stand the rain against my windows bringing back sweet memories

It was a quiet Sunday, but I was definitely wabbit by the end of the day: wish I could justify my state of exhaustion (yes).

Liesel’s been busy knitting a beautiful hat.

A bobble hat before the application of the pompom
Sanny Rudravajhala

Radio Northenden broadcast its 50th show today, Monday, and I, Mick the Knife, was invited to take part, have a chat and pick three songs on lock, three tracks that I like to listen to while on lockdown. Thanks for the opportunity, Sanny, and I hope I’m not too embarrassed when I listen back later!

If you want to hear me and my little show, visit the Radio Northenden showreel and listen to Monday 29th June 2020.

So there’s a 50th, and here’s a 300th. Yup, you are reading the 300th post on this blog so as a bonus, to celebrate, here is a list of 300 words, each of which contains all 5 vowels. I’ve been collecting these for several years. In fact, the first one I was aware of was while still in education (ding). A teacher at school accused me of being facetious (dong). I very nearly said, “Did you realise that ‘facetious’ contains all five vowels?” But luckily I realised just in time that that would just be confirming her ridiculous opinion.

I’ve been adding to the list pretty much ever since then, moreso recently, as I know how fascinated Liesel is(n’t) when I announce a new discovery. Most of them are from books, some from subtitles or dialogue (ooh) from TV shows and, this week, in the space of ten minutes, I spotted a few on my Twitter feed.

In (more or less) the order I noted them down, here are 300 words all containing at least one incidence each of A, E, I, O and U:

        1. Precaution
        2. Precarious
        3. Exhaustion
        4. Nonsequential
        5. Equiproportional
        6. Persuasion
        7. Insouciance
        8. Remuneration
        9. Augmentation
        10. Autoinjector
        11. Overpopulation
        12. Delusional
        13. Ecuadorian
        14. Dishonourable
        15. Rheumatologist
        16. Unsociable
        17. Expostulating
        18. Coeducational
        19. Neuroradiology
        20. Recapitulation
        21. Pseudobirthday
        22. Neuroplasticity
        23. Favourite
        24. Gregarious
        25. Intermolecular
        26. Consequential
        27. Equinoctial
        28. Manoeuvrability
        29. Autopsies
        30. Equatorial
        31. Malnourished
        32. Institutionalised
        33. Exsanguination
        34. Encouraging
        35. Repudiation
        36. Proceduralism
        37. Deucalion
        38. Autoimmune
        39. Anxiousness
        40. Hermaphroditus
        41. Refutation
        42. Unequivocal
        43. Authoritative
        44. Communicative
        45. Dehumanisation
        46. Misdemeanor
        47. Deputation
        48. Reputation
        49. Unifoliate
        50. Eunomia
        51. Unconscionable
        52. Housewarming
        53. Pterosauria
        54. Overqualified
        55. Uncontaminated
        56. Discombobulated
        57. Housemaid
        58. Unnegotiable
        59. Reconfiguration
        60. Moustachioed
        61. Denticulation
        62. Neurological
        63. Insurmountable
        64. Intercommunication
        65. Pelargonium
        66. Unprofessional
        67. Sequoia
        68. Authorised
        69. Authorities
        70. Endocarpium
        71. Autoerotic
        72. Mountaineer
        73. Education
        74. Abstemious
        75. Unmethodical
        76. Facetious
        77. Harbourside
        78. Carnoustie
        79. Cointreau
        80. Immunotherapy
        81. Evacuation
        82. Bivouacked
        83. Businesswoman
        84. Regulation
        85. Recuperation
        86. Euphoria
        87. Euphorbia
        88. Nonequivalence
        89. Unfashionable
        90. Revolutionary
        91. Cauliflower
        92. Behaviour
        93. Chivalrousness
        94. Pneumonia
        95. Boundaries
        96. Authentication
        97. Gelatinousness
        98. Absolutist
        99. Evolutionary
        100. Exclusionary
        101. Unaffectionate
        102. Encrustation
        103. Equation
        104. Prosecutorial
        105. Tambourine
        106. Unprofitable
        107. Auctioneer
        108. Trepidacious
        109. Tenacious
        110. Emulation
        111. Evaluation
        112. Undiscoverable
        113. Seismosaurus
        114. Ostentatious
        115. Crematorium
        116. Quaternion
        117. Discourage
        118. Mountainside
        119. Exhumation
        120. Functionalities
        121. Unemotional
        122. Preoccupation
        123. Semiautomatic
        124. Byelorussia
        125. Mendacious
        126. Excruciation
        127. Beautification
        128. Ejaculation
        129. Reunification
        130. Undomesticated
        131. Warehousing
        132. Documentaries
        133. Atrioventricular
        134. Fontainebleau
        135. Questionable
        136. Autofellatio
        137. Overcultivate
        138. Simultaneous
        139. Documentation
        140. Perambulation
        141. Auditioned
        142. Discontinuance
        143. Exculpation
        144. Exultation
        145. Sanctimoniousness
        146. Instrumentation
        147. Andouillettes
        148. Microcephalus
        149. Pandemonium
        150. Endeavouring
        151. Spermatogonium
        152. Nefarious
        153. Vexatious
        154. Manoeuvring
        155. Mozambique
        156. Ratatouille
        157. Bougainvillea
        158. Renunciation
        159. Biconjugate
        160. Savouries
        161. Endocranium
        162. Houseplant
        163. Intellectualisation
        164. Unequivocally
        165. Heliopause
        166. Duodecimal
        167. Boatbuilder
        168. Sacrilegious
        169. Sequestration
        170. Reuploading
        171. Filamentous
        172. Unapologetic
        173. Ketonuria
        174. Overfatigued
        175. Resuscitation
        176. Coequality
        177. Gubernatorial
        178. Labourite
        179. Simultaneously
        180. Flirtatiousness
        181. Dunbartonshire
        182. Boardinghouse
        183. Numerlogical
        184. Quadrisection
        185. Outdistance
        186. Jalousie
        187. Ultraviolet
        188. Aeronautical
        189. Unintentionally
        190. Unostentatious
        191. Authorise
        192. Glamourise
        193. Radioluminescent
        194. Communicated
        195. Contextualisation
        196. Conceptualisation
        197. Gigantopithecus
        198. Authenticator
        199. Perturbation
        200. Austronesian
        201. Fluoridate
        202. Uneconomical
        203. Unexceptional
        204. Grandiloquence
        205. Misbehaviour
        206. Muscoidea
        207. Beaujolais
        208. Boulangerie
        209. Praetorium
        210. Dauphinoise
        211. Jailhouse
        212. Questionableness
        213. Preoccupational
        214. Gauloise
        215. Consubstantiate
        216. Quatrefoil
        217. Plesiosaur
        218. Misfortunate
        219. Undemocratically
        220. Secularisation
        221. Dialogue
        222. Antineutrino
        223. Obituaries
        224. Heterosexuality
        225. Efficacious
        226. Uncomplimentary
        227. Unconstipated
        228. Gelatinous
        229. Repopulation
        230. Dehumanisation
        231. Neurobiochemical \
        232. Speculation               /   these two in a row in this book 
        233. Portraiture
        234. Sulfonamide
        235. Tenaciously
        236. Langoustine
        237. Excommunication
        238. Carboniferous
        239. Eunoia
        240. Pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis
        241. Crenulation
        242. Gourmandise
        243. Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious
        244. Enumeration
        245. Menstruation
        246. Overhauling
        247. Pasteurisation
        248. Reevaluation
        249. Neurofibromatosis
        250. Boulevardier
        251. Conceptualise
        252. Physiotherapeutic
        253. Automobile
        254. Autoshield
        255. Pseudohermaphrodite
        256. Larcenious
        257. Outpatient
        258. Unmotivated
        259. Uncontaminated
        260. Contextualise
        261. Autosuggestion
        262. Magnanimousness
        263. Overenthusiastically
        264. Equivocal
        265. Consanguineous
        266. Permutation
        267. Unexceptionable
        268. Armouries
        269. Humectation
        270. Underestimation
        271. Australopithecus
        272. Hallucinogen
        273. Europeanise
        274. Tragedious
        275. Putrefaction
        276. Fountainbridge
        277. Expurgation
        278. Groundbreaking
        279. Thermocoagulation
        280. Revolutionary
        281. Abstentious
        282. Miscellaneous
        283. Multimillionaire
        284. Audiophile
        285. Elocutionary
        286. Praseodymium
        287. Unsensational
        288. Housecleaning
        289. Eukaryotic
        290. Genitourinary
        291. Mykobacterium
        292. Abdoulie Sallah
        293. Prepublication
        294. Unsportsmanlike
        295. Anticoagulative
        296. Countersurveillance
        297. Decoagulation
        298. Gratuitousness
        299. Salaciousness
        300. Misevaluation
        301. Recurvation
        302. Ambiguousness
        303. Inoculated
        304. Tautologies
        305. Outlandishness
        306. Overenthusiastic
        307. Regularisation
      1. Oh, extra, extra, here are a few that don’t really count!
        1. (Tamsin) Outhwaite
        2. Jo Caulfield
        3. (Simone de) Beauvoir
        4. Serge Gainsbourg
        5. Liquorice Allsorts
        6. Au revoir!

See you soon for the 301st!

 

Bird watching

We’ve been to the Green Note, London’s favourite music venue (Time Out, 2015) a few times. My last visit was with Esther a few years ago and we enjoyed watching and listening to Erin McKeown perform live. Well, the venue’s not open right now so they too are putting out shows online. We watched Erin McKeown, Dar Williams and Cara Luft at virtually at Green Note and it was really enjoyable. We sat on our own sofa rather then the beer kegs that you get in real life, if you’re a bit late to the party. Of course, at the end of a virtual gig, there’s no point hanging around for a selfie or an autograph.

Erin McKeown

We’d recommend watching and buying Erin’s latest single, The Escape, which reflects what many of us are thinking about right now. And there can’t be too many songs that namecheck ‘Hydrochloroquine’!

For some reason, the video won’t load or play here, but here’s William at home, laughing  at a cartoon called Bing about feeding ducks that he finds hilarious. We miss his laugh in real life.

William

We took a couple of nice walks by the river this week too, still avoiding people even if they don’t always try to avoid us. Joggers are the worst culprits in this respect.

Heron
Ducks
Magpie
Heron on the weir

Hmm, I don’t know whether we have more than one heron in Northenden, or whether this is the same one having taken a short flight.

Girls, girls, girls

Three girls daring each other to get into the water which was absolutely freezing apparently. It looks deeper here than I’d realised, making me reconsider my plan one day to wade over to the gravel island.

Geese on the island in the stream
Keep Northenden Tidy

Thanks, bin, we did enjoy our walk and he had no rubbish to take home. One day, we’ll go out with litter pickers and pick up the litter that litter bugs have littered all over our little village.

Some other highlights this week. Bin day: it was the turn of all the landfill bins, the food waste bin and the paper and cardboard recycling bins. I disposed of more of the oak tree. there’s one or two dead branches and every few days, another big, dead lump falls down.

As I was putting out the bins, overhead honking alerted me to a skein of geese flying south. They weren’t in a V-formation, though. Something went wrong with the organisation, there was just one leg of the V: a /-formation, so to speak.

Ocado came and delivered again, as they do about every three weeks now. The driver said if we keep ordering that much, he’s gonna need a bigger lorry. Liesel wonders whether we have more food her now than we ever had in Chessington. I don’t think so because we have so much less storage space.

Car insurance. Every year, we have to buy car insurance but it seems to some round much faster. After a bit of searching, I found a policy that was less than half the price quoted by our broker of several years. They couldn’t match the new quote, so we jumped ship. Oh yuss.

These things really shouldn’t be the highlight of the week, should they! It’s funny how every day, trivial matters have acquired greater significance and importance and even entertainment value.

We’ve just started watching the whole of Doctor Who, starting with series 1 from 2005. It’s amazing how much of it I remember when I see it again, but if, out of the blue, you asked me to jot down the story lines, I don’t think I’d be able to write much. Funny how memory works. I would love to watch the classic series from the ’60s and ’70s, of course, but I’m happy to save those for the next pandemic lockdown.

We’ve both read last year’s Booker prize winning novel, ‘Girl, Woman, Other’, by Bernardine Evaristo. We both gave it five stars out of five, making ten altogether.

Next on the list is a virtual visit to Manchester Museum to see Egyptology in Lockdown, at 3pm BST, every Thursday.

Apropos of absolutely nothing, here is a short list of notable people who have all five vowels in their name.

      • (Tamsin) Outhwaite
      • Abdoulie (Sallah)
      • Jo Caulfield
      • (Simone de) Beauvoir
      • Serge Gainsbourg

Lockdown week 10

Welcome to Week 10 of the official Lockdown. Liesel and I had been isolating for a while beforehand but that seems a long time ago, now. And now, despite the UK still experiencing hundreds of Covid-related deaths every day, HM Goverment want to relax the restrictions next week. Yes, even though many scientists are saying it’s still too early. Then there’s the whole Dominic Cummings (government advisor) thing last weekend: he broke the rules that he helped implement, because he feels very special and entitled. He managed to unite the country, ironically against himself. Then there was the murder of George Floyd in America, another black man killed by a police officer pretty much because he was in the wrong place at the wrong time. All of these news stories, whether they affect us directly or not, slowly, slowly erode any sense of well-being. This isn’t the place for a commentary into current affairs, but if you, dear reader, detect a slight undercurrent of dismay in this post, that’s why, and I apologise. But I’ll try to keep looking up, not down.

We miss going to all the music festivals this year, like everyone else. Well, we sometimes go to one in Hyde Park. Instead, we watched the Folk on Foot Front Room Festival from the comfort of our homes. It was a wonderful, uplifting day of music. I produced a list of performers who we would like to see live in concert at some point and whose music we need to buy more of:

O’Hooley and Tidow
      • Chris Wood (he was sitting in a wheelbarrow while performing)
      • O’Hooley and Tidow (with baby Flynn) (we’ve seen them once live)
      • Gwilym Bowen Rhys (lovely Welsh songs)
      • Kathryn Tickell (Northumbrian pipes)
      • Cara Dillon and Sam Lakeman (we’ve seen these two too)
      • Duncan Chisholm (fiddle)
      • Kitty Macfarlane (guitar)
      • Rioghnach Connolly and Ellis Davies (Antrim girl now lives in Manchester)
      • John Smith (guitars)
      • The Unthanks (presented their film “As We Go”) (we’ve seen them!)
      • Frank Turner and Jess Guise (The time of my life)
      • Kate Rusby and Damien O’Kane (the voice of England)
      • Johnny Flynn (guitars)
      • Eliza Carthy (you know Eliza)
      • Richard Thompson and Zara Phillips (you know Richard)
All of the performers

I would recommend any of these and if you wish to enjoy the festival too, it’s still up here on YouTube.

The Sun set as the show ended and I realised that we haven’t seen nearly as many vapour trails in the sky as we usually do.

Pink con trail

We did go out a couple of times to walk around the area, for some fresh air, for some exercise and to enjoy a hot, hot late May. It should be peaceful, but there was a lot of noise. Just up the road from us, someone was trimming a hedge and their friend was blowing the trimmings off the road and back into the hedge. Round the corner, someone was washing a car with a powerful powered hose. Up the road, there were men at work. Except they weren’t, they had downed tools for a welcome break.

A man with a leaf-blower
A robin

The robin often appears when we walk along this path. A bit later, we were walking by the river and we heard the sound of a creaky gate approaching. It was our old friend, the heron flying by and, if the passer-by (socially distanced of course) is to be believed, it nearly gave her a heart attack.

Yes, it’s much hotter now, and there are many more insects about. Of course, I always feel obliged to count the spirals on a daisy, just to confirm they are Fibonacci numbers!

Fly on a daisy

On different days, one or both of walked on and around the golf course, just for a different point of view, really. One day, a player asked if I’d seen where his ball went. I hadn’t, and I didn’t feel comfortable lying that it had ended up in the river, either.

A path through the golf course

I walked on this side of the river, adjacent to the golf course, because there was nobody else here. There were many groups of people on the other side, some of whom were having a picnic on a small ‘beach’ that I’d previously been unaware of.

To the left, the golf course; to the right, the Mersey

There’s more to golf than walking around and bashing a ball until it falls into a rabbit hole, it seems. Staircases and bells are involved too.

Stairway to Heaven
You can ring my bell

The duck family were nowhere to be seen, the geese have moved in instead.

Goose family

Hot, hot, hot, and a good enough excuse for some folks to go out sunbathing.We just go out for a walk, keep going, however far, avoiding everyone, go home and check for mail.

Soaking up the rays

We walked along the river, to Stenner Woods, then Fletcher Moss Park, on to Didsbury.

View from the Rockery

One thing you don’t expect to see in Didsbury is a squat: I apologise if this isn’t a squat, but that’s what we both thought.

Homes for people, not for profit

We wandered through Marie Louise Gardens then back home. One thing you don’t expect to see in the Mersey is people sunbathing.

Soaking up the rays

We visited The Northern Den for more coffee and Viennese whirls. The local council seem to be deterring people from sitting outside on park benches, sadly. They’d squirted tomato ketchup over them, and nobody wants to sit on that, thank you very much.

A moment of excitement soon evaporated when I realised this wasn’t a real Tardis.

Not the Tardis

In between our trips outside, what have we been doing?

I watched ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’ from the National Theatre. Gillian Anderson was in it, and the play itself was good and well performed, if a little long. But that might be because I was fully aware of and distracted by the camera work. Yes, the play was performed ‘in the round’, but that doesn’t mean I want to watch while walking round and round the stage.

We’ve been listening to lots of radio, BBC Radio 2, 6 Music, Classic FM and even local Radio Northenden is back this week!

We’ve watched a lot of TV, a lot of lot of TV. Current favourites include Killing Eve, series 3 and we’ve  watched 8½ series of Spooks so far, but we have avoided news most of the time.

I’ve been watching YouTube a lot, not just folk festivals. On the Cracking the Cryptic channel, you can watch Simon solving sudoku puzzles, some of which are ridiculously complicated, but his enthusiasm and enjoyment are infectious.

We’re listening to ‘Harry Potter and the Philosophers’ Stone’ being read by a series of actors and others who have links with the Harry Potter world. Harry Potter at Home.

Simon Callow reading chapter 5

If that’s not enough good stuff from JK Rowling, I can recommend her latest, being published as a serial online for now, 2 or 3 chapters a day. The Ickabog shouldn’t give you nightmares, but, so far, it’s a good old fashioned fairy tale!

Many museums and galleries have put their exhibitions up online too. As ever, we can’t wait until we can visit these places in real life.

This morning, I played the album Young Americans from my phone. It was on shuffle mode, which I had a little whinge about. ‘Why does it matter?’ asked Liesel. Because it messes with my expectations, I said. And then, of course, it repeats one track and another while some tracks remain unplayed at all. To make it funnier, Liesel misheard the lyrics to Fascination as vaccination!

(Fascination) Your soul is calling
Like when I’m walking
Seems that everywhere I turn
I hope you’re waiting for me
I know that people think
That I’m a little crazy

Well, we’re trying not to go crazy in these crazy times, there’s certainly plenty of good stuff out there, but it doesn’t take much bad news to rock the boat. Stay safe, stay alert, stay at home!

Keep on the Sunny Side

This year’s Easter Sunday featured no eggses for Liesel and me, but we did enjoy watching William and Martha playing with bubbles! Yes, of course, we would love to have been with them in their garden, but we’re all still in lockdown thanks to Covid-19. And it looks like we’ll be here for several more weeks, too.

Martha floating after a bubble
William chasing a bubble

We’re not getting out very often, in fact. I go out every two or three days for a walk and Liesel comes out less often. It’s nice to see so much support for the NHS. We clap for the nurses and doctors and porters and cleaners and all NHS workers every Thursday night, some people bang pots and pans, some let fireworks off, some blow vuvuzelas, but Liesel and I are just happy to lean out of a window and politely applaud. There is more support and gratitude expressed out on the pavements of Northenden too.

Awesome NHS

Stay at home, says the wall, but if I had followed the instruction, I wouldn’t have been able to read the instruction and it’s this sort of paradox that leads to rifts in the spacetime continuum.

Colourful leaves

As Spring progresses, we’re seeing more and more colour, hooray! Even the oak tree outside our flat is now showing some foliage: I was beginning to think it was a deceased deciduous but no, it’s doing alright! I wonder how the baby oak tree is doing in our old garden in Chessington?

Wall flower

Sit down with a cup of tea, because here comes a story about a potentially risky and ultimately pointless adventure. Regular visitors will know that I go to donate blood every twelve weeks or so. My appointment loomed and they kept sending me reminders, telling me it was still safe, that they were taking extra precautions to protect the staff and us donors from coronavirus, and it all looked ok for me to go along as normal. However, travelling by bus into Manchester didn’t seem to be such a good idea given the current isolation regime. So Liesel kindly offered to drive me in, despite the fact that she, as a more vulnerable person, is definitely meant to stay indoors. Well, I suggested, if you’re driving into Manchester anyway, why don’t you offer to give blood as well? That’s a good idea, said Liesel, and she proceeded to register online.

Everyone she told said it probably wasn’t such a good idea, really, but the messages we were now both receiving from blood.co.uk gave us confidence that this would be one of the safest, cleanest places we could possibly visit, outside our own home. Dear reader, if you can, please consider giving blood, you never know, you might need it back one day!

Blood day arrived, and we drove along almost empty roads to the Blood Donor Centre in Manchester. The man in the booth raised the barrier and we parked in a surprisingly crowded car park. Liesel went first, answered a few questions, and when she went in, I was requested to go and wait in the car: they didn’t want too many people inside at the same time. Well, of course, Liesel had the car key, so I couldn’t sit in the car. Instead, I took some exercise, walking round and round the car park, taking photos, enjoying the sunshine and changing direction whenever I saw another person within about 50 feet.

Scenes from a Blood Donor Centre car park

The time of my appointment arrived and I went in, answering a few basic questions. I didn’t see Liesel, so I assumed she was either still being processed or was in a back room somewhere. The nurse did the usual finger prick test and asked a few more questions. Since my last session, I’ve seen the GP about my shortness of breath issue, which has resulted in a number of medical tests. My next appointment has been postponed, because of The ‘Rona. Because it’s my heart that’s being investigated, they said they wouldn’t take my blood today. Well, that was very disappointing, but understandable: they don’t want me keeling over and having to visit the hospital over the road. They’ll be in touch in six months. I left with my tail between my legs. The receptionist nurse said that Liesel had donated, so that was good. It was also wrong. They’d tried, but they couldn’t find a vein, told Liesel she was too dehydrated and sent her away.

What a palaver! All that time and effort: giving blood, we thought, is one of the few things we can do at the moment for the benefit of other people. Oh well, it was a day out.

The empty field near Northenden’s Rosehill Community Farm and Garden
Bug box

Yes, I was daft enough to watch this Bug Box for a few minutes but saw nothing more interesting than a couple of flies.

Dead hedge? Or not dead?

The hedge around our apartment block is still covered in brown leaves that we feel should have fallen off last Autumn. But, for the first time, this week, there are signs of life. The new leaves are red rather than green, but a few days sunshine should sort that out. Looking forward to a lush, green barrier very soon.

Queen Anna from Frozen 2

Again, we have to enjoy the children’s activities from afar. Here is Queen Anna and apart from reluctantly taking off this costume at bedtime, Martha has been living in it for days!

On Liam’s birthday, we had another Zoom session, I won’t say how old he is but it’s the same age as Martha, just with a zero afterwards.

Daisies and dandelions

People have asked and yes, we do sometimes miss our garden in Chessington. I don’t miss my 30-year war with bindweed and dandelions, they were always going to win. But I would like to apologise to all the bees and butterflies that could have enjoyed the dandelions in my garden, if only my preference wasn’t always for other flowers (or weeds).

There’s not enough Martha in our lives at the moment, so we watched a different one perform from home on t’internet. Martha Tilston has been one of our favourite singer/songwriters since the early 2000s: I think I first saw her at Kingston’s Rose Theatre before it even acquired that name! Liesel and I have seen her live several times and we look forward to doing so again. But this online show was fantastic, we really enjoyed it, she sang many of our favourite songs.

Martha Tilston at home in Cornwall online on Facebook on Liesel’s phone

We even had a glass of whisky to accompany the show. It was only fitting then that we have a music session the following day. Liesel and I took it in turns to play some long neglected CDs:

      • Wynton Marsalis
      • Brave, the Disney film soundtrack
      • Pink Floyd, Dark Side of the Moon
      • Martha Tilston, Bimbling
      • (some of) D#rty F#n M#l# (which, correctly, Liesel described as gross)
      • Beatles, Let it Be Naked
      • Nilsson, Harry
      • O Brother, Where Art Thou? film soundtrack
From the last of these, one song in particular struck a chord:
Keep on the sunny side, always on the sunny side
Keep on the sunny side of life
It will help us every day, it will brighten all the way
If we keep on the sunny side of life.
PS As I write Sanny has just played this very song on Radio Northenden, at my request, so I shall add that mention to my 15 minutes of fame as predicted by Andy Warhol. And by coincidence, Andy Warhol by David Bowie was the first song played on today’s show, the penultimate one. You can listen to all 14 shows here.

To Airlie Beach

We said goodbye to Trudi, and drove up to see the view from Castle Hill. That’s a high outcrop in Townsville, not to be confused with the school of the same name in Chessington.

Castle Hill

We drove, but many people were walking, cycling or even running up the hill. Not a pleasant walk, we thought, with all the traffic. After parking, we walked around, climbed to the highest points, and looked down on Townsville and the surrounding area. The views were stunning, helped by it being such a clear day, contrary to the earlier forecast.

Townsville with mountain
The Strand

The Summit Loop track at 260m was one of the shortest walks on offer and the only one we completed. Radio transmitters are on top, and they are today’s hazard – no crocodiles, snakes, parachutists, asbestos here, just radio signals out to boil your brain.

Castle Hill conveniences

We had another long drive today and I think we enjoyed watching the changes of scenery, but less time in the car would be nice.

We drove by Billabong Sanctuary but decided not to stop for koala cuddles.

Billabong Sanctuary entrance

This was another place Sarah, Jenny and I visited in 1986. The highlight was being chased by an emu known as Gonzo. At the time, I thought it was because he thought I had some tasty emu treats in my camera bag. When the photos came back from the film processor, I realised what was going on. In profile, me and my bulky bag were a very similar shape to an emu. I think Gonzo just fancied me.

Billabong crocodile

Brandon is a nice up-and-coming little place: they even sell videos, now, in one shop.

We stopped in Ayr for breakfast and I was disappointed not to find the Ayrdresser. I thought the speed cameras might be labelled Ayr Traffic Control but the closest we got to that was the sign showing the end of the Ayr Traffic Zone.

Bowen was bypassed so if there were any archery shops selling Bowen arrows, we’ll never know.

As suggested by Alison whom we would meet later, we made a detour to Cape Gloucester. We walked on Hideaway Bay beach which had a much steeper camber than any of the beaches we’ve seen for ages.

Hideaway Bay

The sand was coarser too and there were rocks and coral and many seashells. An interesting beach, yes, but not proper seaside.

Selfie of the day

I have no idea how that Egyptian pyramid got into the picture. Liesel reckons it’s a small island to the south of Gloucester Island, and she’s usually right.

Shark, brown bread
Coral, tree

Airlie Beach greeted us and we looked at the lagoon, visited the booking office and ate at the Hog’s Breath Café, or Hog’s, Australia’s Steakhouse.

The Lagoon, Airlie Beach

Our new Airbnb is up the hill and boasts views of the town, the sea and the mountains, depending on which window you look through. We met Alison and Trevor but their dining companions vamoosed as soon as we showed up: no offence taken.

Here’s the next (and possibly final) episode in the ongoing in-car entertainment saga. It’s not for everyone, so if you want to stop reading the post at this point, no offence taken.

The car we hired in Cairns doesn’t like to play music from my phone, so we’ve been playing the songs through our little portable speaker. Normally we think its acoustics are ok, but with all the background noise in a car, it’s really hard to tell.

The main problem is still that different CDs and other music sources provide music at vastly differing sound volumes. I hope we can find a way to fix this at some point.

Imagine you were having a dinner party and you could only invite people from songs on my phone with titles beginning with the definite article. Who might turn up? A strange collection of folk, that’s for sure. Hundreds of ’em!

  • The Artisan
  • The Charmer
  • The Colliers
  • The Courier
  • The Hurlers
  • The Ranger
  • The Saddest Crowd
  • The Sender
  • The Wanderer
  • The Emperor’s Wife
  • The Impossible Girl
  • The Speeder
  • The Fool on the Hill
  • The Lovely Linda
  • The Lovers that Never Were
  • The Man
  • The Other Me
  • The Real Me
  • The Bewlay Brothers
  • The Laughing Gnome
  • The Supermen
  • The Man Who Sold the World
  • The Man With the Child in his Eyes
  • The Maid of Culmore
  • The Bloke who Serves the Beer
  • The Boxer
  • The Only Living Boy in New York
  • The Little Cowboy
  • The Player
  • The Rascal
  • The Poor Stranger

Them Heavy People just miss out an an invitation because the song is the first after the ‘The’s.

The excitement in the car was palpable as we finally reached the end of the Ts and we were eager to plough through the Us, Vs, Ws. Whoa, lots of Ws, many asking questions, Where, When, Who?

A couple of good segues came up by accident. Tomorrow Never Comes was followed by Tomorrow Today.

The raunchy Wake up and Make Love With Me was followed by the innocent Walking in the Air, which made us chuckle.

No Xs, lots of Yous and other Ys

Today was a landmark day, though. We’ve played all the music tracks from my phone, from A to Z. Actually, there were a few before the As even started: punctuation and numerals are sorted before the alphabet.

The first Z was Ziggy Stardust (performed by Seu Jorge rather than David) and we knew there wouldn’t be many Zs.

The final Z song came to an end. Zui-Zui-Zukkorobashi by Hiro Fujikake and James Galway.

But wait, there’s more!

What comes after Z? ÞAð Sést Ekki Sætari Mey, an early Icelandic song by Björk, that’s what! It was playing as we drove past the Billabong Sanctuary, a moment to be cherished throughout the ages. People will probably write songs about the occasion.

Meanwhile, what do we do now for in-car musical entertainment? We’ll revert to ‘random shuffle’ knowing that some songs will never play, but the plan is to download some new music when we get a good enough wifi connection. The request list (from both of us) is quite long.

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!