Having Fun

Our final evening in Christchurch was spent in the company of Mary Poppins. The new film, Mary Poppins Returns was released less than a month ago and it felt only right that I should see it with Pauline (and Liesel and Andrew came too).

My sister and I had seen the original Mary Poppins film with our Mum way back in 1964, and it’s unreal and unfair that she passed in 1991, halfway between the two movies. So there was a slightly melancholic feel but, thank goodness, the film itself didn’t disappoint. Jane and Michael Banks are grown up now, Michael has three children of his own buit their mother has passed away.

Mary Poppins returns with a handful of songs, the music often quoting or reminding us of the songs from the first film. There are some very funny moments and we each awarded it 5 stars, a total of 20, making it the best film we’ve seen so far, this year.

When asked, I usually say that my favourite film of all time is Lawrence of Arabia. One of the reasons is that this is the last film I remember seeing in a cinema with my Dad, when I was 7 or 8. (Not because there are no women in it: I only became aware of this fact many years later!) Lawrence of Arabia: he might crop up again later.

Our penultimate meal in Christchurch was a takeaway from the local Indian place, where they very generously gave us an extra dish and an extra starter. Pauline and Andrew have leftovers for a while.

After packing, in the morning, we drove to The Sign of the Kiwi, a small café at the top of Dyers Pass from where there is a fantastic view of the sprawling city below. It’s a good place to hike or cycle to and from. Oh to be fit enough to cycle up that hill one day.

Looking down on Christchurch
Liesel, Andrew and Pauline
The Sign of the Kiwi

We bade a tearful farewell, returned the car, flew to Auckland and picked up a new hire car. It’s not as good as the Chch one and, worse: it’s red. We caught the ferry to Waiheke, an island in Hauraki Gulf to the east of Auckland.

Really looking down on Christchurch
Approaching Waiheke Island

Our new Airbnb is run by Fi and Tom, and they share the house with us. Or vice versa. Of course, they’re poms. From Kent, via London and they’ve been in NZ for 7 years. I managed to speak to Helen on her birthday, in between rounds of drinking and partying (her, not me).

I went for a quick walk before settling in and what perfect timing.The sunset was gorgeous, but I was surprised at how much shorter twilight is here, compared to Christchurch.

Wide Sky for Anna Neale

It was a hot night and neither of us slept particularly well. We were conscious of Fi and Tom being in their room, just over there, and of mosquitoes flying in, and of the heat. And, no, I probably didn’t help matters when I got up in the middle of the night for the usual reason, and ended up going outside for a while to look at the stars and in particular, The Milky Way. The sky being velvet black instead of sodium-lit orange is a bonus in itself but the number of stars in unfamiliar southern hemisphere constellations was mind-boggling. I tried to take some photos, and to be fair, the results aren’t too bad for a phone camera.

Gorgeous night sky

On Saturday, we visted Onetangi Beach but the notion of going for a longer walk in the Sun was soon dispelled. We knew that, later on, we’d potentially be sitting in the full glare of the Sun for several hours.

The popular Onetangi Beach

As we were driving along, I said, “Oh, look, there’s Waiheke Workout if you want to stop.” “Of course I do,” said Liesel. After a beat, she continued, “You did say ‘lookout’, right?”

No, it was ‘workout’, as in, it’s a gym. We didn’t stop.

We had booked a few days on Waiheke at this time because Bic Runga was performing at Goldie Estate, one of several wineries on the island. The venue was much, much smaller than we’d become used to at Hyde Park concerts in London. The support act was performing under the name Lawrence Arabia. I said that name might crop up again, and it very nearly has.

Goldie Estate
Where’s Liesel?

I think he was good but the crowd weren’t going to stop chatting just to listen to the music at a music performance. His introductions to the songs were too long: we don’t know you and we really don’t care, yet.

Lawrence Arabia

Bic Runga was better received but even so, we listened through a hubbub of background noise. So disrespectful to the artistes, never mind the rest of the audience. Sad to see that this antisocial behaviour really is a universal phenomenon.

The stunning Bic Runga

We got our own back, though, by singing along to some of the songs. I hope my voice is louder than Bic’s on your phone’s video, mate!

Selfie of the day: Mick and Bic

One of Bic’s songs has always resonated, even though I’m not and never will be a touring performer. Get some sleep could have been written about Liesel’s and my adventures: sometimes we feel we’re not getting enough sleep either but on the whole, “I believe I might be having fun” and that’s all that matters, really.

Whinges apart, we enjoyed the show immensely and we only feel a little bit guilty about not sampling the wine at a vineyard.

Copious amounts of sunblock had been applied, a few times, and I am pleased that neither of us reported any sunburn at the end of the day, hooray!

Our accommodation was only a 20 minute walk from the venue, so no need to join the throng catching buses and rushing for the last ferry back to the mainland.

Our hosts caught the last ferry back from Auckland where they’d been to see Mumford and Sons in concert. Earlier in the day, Tom had been playing his guitar and singing bits of songs that we mostly recognised.

The plan to get up early and go for a walk in the cool of the early morning came to nothing. I think I was out of bed and breakfasted by midday but I could be wrong.

We spent most of the afternoon on a small, quiet beach in Owhanake Bay. We made friends with a duck who seemed to have been expelled from her family.

Duck of the Day for Marko

I continued reading Nicholas Nickleby, which is still much funnier than I would have expected. I attempted two killer sodukos, one successfully. Liesel tried to plot and plan future excusions, to no avail. But sitting under the shade of a big tree, on a beach, with a slight breeze, was definitely very welcome.

A family of oystercatchers entertained us too. The parents were teaching the chick what to do. Mum would find something attractive in the sand and stomp her feet. This was the cue for the baby to run over and have a tug of some tasty morsel.

Catching oysters

Despite its best efforts to remain anonymous on the street, we found The Little Frog, a nice, small restaurant with great coffee and fab food. If only it were more visible and not overwhelmed by the wine shop next door, I bet it would do terrific trade.

My mint choc chip ice cream was both huge and very minty and choccy. Liesel thoroughly enjoyed her apricot and honeycomb ice cream too. Jealous?

Toilet Talk. The latest in an irregular feature in which we discuss toilet issues. Not toilet tissues, well, not this time, anyway. Having blue water in cisterns has been fairly common here in New Zealand but the vibrant shade of blue that gushes forth in our Waiheke bnb is amazing. Cerulean. If he were around now, Michelangelo would use it for the sky on the Sistene Chapel ceiling. It seems such a waste of hypnotic blue pigment, flushing it down the loo, but that’s typical of the wasteful society we live in, these days, I suppose.

Meanwhile, top marks for this toilet door in a restaurant in Onetangi.

Mermaids and pirates

Banks Peninsula

Continuing the pattern of wet, dry, wet, dry, today was dry. We drove to Akaroa stopping a couple of times for short breaks.

Cormorant colony on the jetty

We drove back towards the penguin colony so that we could have a quick chat with the cormorants on the jetty. Hundreds of them including many babies learning to fly. They’d jump off, hit the water, start running, then eventually take off. It all looked too much like hard work to us mere humans.

Fledgeling cormorants running on water
A hill wearing a very bad toupé

There are signs here and there telling us that “New Zealand roads are different, so take your time”. One thing we’ve noticed is that the speed limits are all multiples of 10: 100, 80, 60, 50, 30 kph etc. But when you approach a slight bend, the recommended maximum speed always ends in a 5: 85, 65, 45, 25 kph. This isn’t a problem but I wonder if there is some deliberate thinking behind this pattern?

Dorothy the Double Decker – a reminder of home

The drive to Akaroa was very pleasant and as we approached the Banks Peninsula, the hills became more noticeably jagged and angular. The whole peninsula, as far as we can tell, was once one big volcano and we were both secretly looking and listening for telltale signs of an imminent eruption, after tens of thousands of years of dormancy.

Small but popular Akaroa beach

We went for a quick walk into woods, The Garden of Tane, into the shade, but it was too hot and too late to go too far. But while messing around with my phone camera, I took this selfie.

Just my shadow

And as with most accidental shots, I’m quite proud of this one!

New Zealanders equally are very proud of their kauri trees: so proud that this one has two plaques. Their wood is very hard, so suitable for construction, but there aren’t very many left after severe logging over the decades.

A very huggable kauri

We gave this one a hug and some words of encouragement, for what it’s worth.

On the way to our b&b at Little River, we stopped at a restaurant called Hilltop. As the name suggests, it’s on top of a hill and the views are stunning. While we ate, we just looked out of the window rather than at each other.

View from Hilltop pub/restaurant

My nachos were ok, nothing special, obviously reheated but that’s ok. Liesel’s pizza was better than the one she’d had a few days ago. Our landlady, Bridget, said the food at Hilltop was awful, she’d like to be able to recommend it to visitors but it just wasn’t good enough. Liesel and I looked at each other wondering whether the rumbling was the aforementioned potential volcanic eruption or a mild case of borborygmus!

The good news is, outside Hilltop, we actually saw a bellbird. A gorgeous yellow bird sitting on top of a post. And we know it was a bellbird because it made the bell-like noises as it flew off. Which, of course it did, just as I was getting my camera out.

Elusive wildlife seems to be a theme on this trip, unfortunately.

We’re staying in Little River in a b&b, not an Airbnb, and we’re the only guests, despite the booking site claiming that this was the only room available. The internet lies: who knew?

Bridget’s a character. She has two dogs, a husband, chickens, horses, lots of land and a strong kiwi accent.

Breakfast both days was fried eggs on toast and a reminder that we don’t need gluten-free bread on a regular basis. The fresh eggs and fresh milk, however, were delicious. I picked up the bottle. “You’ll have to shake that hard,” she said, “there’s a lot of cream on top. It’s straight out of the cow.”

It was a slow start to the day but it did warm up quite soon. Meanwhile, in Anchorage, they are having to put up with sub-zero temperatures and sights like this. Brrr.

Anchorage aka Narnia

We drove back to Akaroa but on this occasion, we followed the longer, scenic, tourist route.

At Pigeon Bay, we decided to go for a walk along a well-defined walkway. We followed the coastline for a bit, into the woods where the canopy made it quite dark and spooky in places.

It’s dark in these woods

We followed the path through some fields, over a couple of stiles, one strong and stable and the other much more like the Britsh government, totally wobbly and unreliable.

Wait for me, Liesel

We carried on driving the scenic roads, up, up, up, and still we climbed. It started drizzling, the view became obscured when we became immersed in the clouds. We didn’t really expect to be this high, and I’m sure the view is magnificent on a clear day.

The mist and murk (but not a Merc)

In fact, on the way back down, when we cleared the mist and the clouds, we saw little old Akaroa in the distance by the bay looking like a well-manicured model village. On the other hand, there were places where, from my window, I could see nothing but a sheer drop, no crash barrier, nothing, and that was a little disconcerting, not to say scary.

Let’s briefly go back to the musical entertainment item from last time… I downloaded a new album onto my phone and it seems to have stirred up the sludge of other tracks on my device. ‘Shuffle’ is now playing things I’d forgotten I had. As well as Murray Gold, we’re now hearing tracks from Duran Duran, Erin McKeown, Billy Bragg, James Galway, The Viennese Boys Choir, Inspiral Carpets and much much more! Plus, even the artistes it selected before are now performing tracks previously ignored by the so-called random shuffle feature. Mott the Hoople and Ofra Haza too had been hiding in the depths of my MP3 folder, unloved and unplayed. But best of all: The Red Hot Chili Pipers entertained us royally today.

We parked and proceeded to walk up and down the length of the main street in Akaroa, partaking of coffee on one side and a late lunch on the other.

A pretty little creek

We visited the Museum too but were asked to leave because it was a very early closing time. There’s a fascinating history here on the Banks Peninsula involving Maori tribes, Brits, Dutch and French explorers. Whaling was big here too and there are still some of the vast oil vats on display in the street.

A wooden campervan – or is it camperveneer?

We’re planning and plotting the next steps of our trip but everything changed when we came across this wooden campervan. If we rent a campervan, we now want a wooden one.

It’s another ‘Karoa sunset

There can never be too many pictures of sunsets, so here’s today, seen as we left Akaroa, climbing into the hills again.

Blackie the old hen

Meet Blackie, Bridget’s oldest chicken. She’s so old, she only lays five or six eggs a year now. But recently, following attention being paid by the rooster, her hormones must have been on a rampage, as she’s laid eight or nine eggs in quick succession. These eggs aren’t very nice, apparently, so Bridget has been giving them to the eels. Feel good story, right? Until you remember that the rooster is in fact Blackie’s son.

We packed our bags and said goodbye to the circus that is Little River and headed off towards Christchurch. We overshot and ended up in Hanmer Springs. What a beautiful drive, despite being on a main highway for most of the time. The clouds were strange, as if the painter was running short of white pigment.

Fuzzy half-finished clouds

There are plenty of very tall hedges here on South Island, too, often macrocarpa, tall-growing trees that need pruning but are often just left to their own devices.

Big hedge

I wondered whether any of these hedges are taller or longer than the supposed tallest and longest hedge in the world, in Meikleour, Scotland, that Fi Glover told us about, gulp, twenty years ago.

These hedges are meant to reduce the effects of strong winds but as is the case everywhere, there are disputes beween neighbours about reduced light and about views being spoiled.

It was 32°C when we arrived in Hanmer. I went and had a dip in the hot rock pools and the cooler pools while Liesel rested her eyes in the car, in the shade. I thought about booking a massages too but we still had to return to Chch. The 40° water wasn’t as hot as the ’40°’ water in the onsen in Japan. I could climb straight in, here, whereas in Japan, I had to enter one delicate body part at a time.

On the way back into the city, we passed by The Fanfare Sculpture.

Fanfare

This fabulous work of art has been on display in Sydney and latterly in Christchurch.

At the Thai Orchid restaurant, we chose to eat indoors rather than outside by the busy main road and this surprised the owner, I think. But the heat from the kitchen was preferable to the car fumes.

And so, to our final full day on South Island, in Christchurch. It’s time to pack again, properly, and so we began by shedding as much stuff as possible. Mainly by throwing away excess paperwork, after photographing it (just in case) and by sending some stuff back to the UK. We bought cinema tickets for this evening, we went to the library to print out some tickets and wow, Christchurch Library is stunning. There are four floors of good stuff, computers everywhere, lots of young children reading, loads of older people studying and some like us, making plans for future trips.

Big Lego bricks for little children

30°C today so a bit of a shame we spent so much time indoors and in the car.

It’s a hot afternoon and soon we’ll be off to the movies and you’ll never guess what we’re going to see… There’s a very tenuous clue in the title of this article. No prizes, though, it’s just for fun! Entries on a postcard…

A Day in Naha

We woke up this morning to news of a big earthquake in Anchorage. All our friends and family are OK, with minor damage to property. As far as we know right now, there are no reports of fatalities nor serious injuries. It’s a world away to us right now, but we’ve seen pictures of huge damage to roads and bridges, shops and houses. Sending love and good wishes to all in Alaska.

Liquor store in Anchorage

We took a gentle stroll to nearby Fukushuen Garden. Naha and Fouzhou in China, are two close and similar cities bonded by friendship that share ties of amicability. BFFs, in modern parlance. The garden has many interesting Chinese features, including a pair of pagodas that are modelled on Fouzhou’s twin pagodas.

Mount Ye and the Pavilion of Ye

Pavilion of Ye, waterfall and rainbow bridge
I thought this was a negative too, at first
Cheers!
Hobbitses live here

The entrance fee was ridiculously cheap: the equivalent of about £1.40. You have to wonder, how can they maintain the gardens with such a small income? Or, conversely, what do gardens in England do with all the money from their (relatively) extortionate entrance fees?

One of two enormous Chinese vases, behind glass

We fed the turtles. Well, we tried, but they’re just not as fast as the fish. If a turtle doesn’t grab a pellet of food within a microsecond, a big, greedy carp comes right up and devours it. We watched the heron too, wondering if it has its eyes on a fish supper. It walked silently from rock to rock, a ballerina en pointe, its eyes gazing a gazely stare into the water, but there was no bird on fish action. Liesel was just grateful there were no baby ducks on the menu, like that day in St James’s Park!

Turtles v carp: ¥100 for a box of carpfood

We wandered home, ate, read and wondered what to do on our final day here in Naha. As I write, it’s just gone midday and mainly we’re just sorting stuff out, a prelude to packing tomorrow morning. Not very exciting, I know.

This is more interesting

This is very pretty… we need Shazam for flowers. Or, alternatively, we could just take notes from the captions by the plants in the garden.

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).

Basketball

Today’s afternoon walk only took me as far as KBC. The initial plan was to walk to the nearest barbershop, but it proved to be too far. If I could walk in a straight line across the international airport, it would have been a 20-minute walk. Going the long way round would take well over an hour and half. So my hair is still uncut, unkempt and certainly not making growing fast enough to give me a ponytail any time soon.

In the evening, we went to watch Kiran playing a couple of games of basketball. As we left the house, Liesel pointed out the moose. What moose, I asked, looking into the distance. That moose, said Liesel. Right by the car!

There’s a moose, loose, outside the hoose

Phil was coaching Kiran’s team and we watched from the gallery, with Una. Basketball is a very fast game, a lot more scoring than soccer, of course, and all the players were very skilful with the ball. Between the two games, Una took us to a nearby coffeeshop that shall remain nameless. No, it wasn’t the Voldemort Coffee shop.

Goal!!!
Yes, a very fast game

The venue was BHS. Not the now defunct UK chainstore, but Bartlett High School, way over on the other side of town.

The students are Bartlett Bears.

To round the evening off, Una took us to the Anchorage Ale House to watch and listen to an ’80s music covers band, I Like Robots. Really, ‘I Like Robots’ is the name of the band. (The copyrighted name for the Alaskan-based tribute band that we’re putting together is AnchoRage Against the Machine.)

I only had one beer, thanks
I Like Robots with all the best hits from the ’80s

We had a good old-fashioned singalong and had the pleasure of meeting a couple of Una’s friends, Lesley and Tina.

The place was heaving, really crowded, the music was loud, the hubbub was louder but man, was it a relief when we finally got seats! I think this is the latest we’ve been out, getting back home just before midnight. The Moon was peeping through the clouds accusingly.

Meanwhile, we’d missed the People’s Vote march in London. An estimated 700,000 people made it the second largest march ever in the UK. More people even than the total population of Alaska! No trouble, no violence, no arrests. A few weeks ago, 7,000 people attended the Leave Means Leave march and caused plenty of trouble. I hope I’m able to participate if there is a second referendum, especially if the option to remain in the EU is included.

Over the last few days, I’ve caught up on a few radio programmes and podcasts. Highlights include Danny Baker talking to Sir Bernard Cribbins and playing Right Said Fred by Maya Angelou and Jessica Mitford! Who knew? And the now award-winning podcast Fortunately! with Fi Glover and Jane Garvey, which you sometimes have to listen to through your fingers.

Shoe shopping and Sunday Soccer

One of my favourite things is shoe shopping. No, hang on, I mean: one of my least favourite things is shoe shopping. But today, Liesel took me to REI and we bought me a new pair of hiking shoes. I tried on two pairs, both fitted ok and were comfortable, so I chose the ones that were 0.5 grammes lighter. And $30 more expensive, of course.

I’ll never forget the day, nearly 44 years ago, when I went out with Sarah, one of our first dates. We were with Sandra and Nick, on one of their early dates. The thing is: we walked the length of London’s Oxford Street, along one side, back along the other, visiting every one of the 19 shoe shops and shoe departments in department stores, Sarah and Sandra trying on shoes in most of them. And we returned to shop number 1, where a purchase was made. Despite this, Sarah and I married a few years later. By comparison, today’s shoe shopping expedition was a breeze.

No. I was tempted to show you a picture of my new shoes, but unless there’s a real clamour, that’s not going to happen!

Instead, here is a shop that we didn’t go into, even though I thought a hash brownie would go very well with a cup of coffee.

Catalyst

In the afternoon, we went to watch Asa play soccer, at the arena in Kincaid Park. It was raining, so we dressed appropriately and took umbrellas with us. Unfortunately, it was very windy too, so the umbrellas spent most of their time being inside out.

The pitch was astroturf and surrounded on three sides by bushes and who knows what beasts were taking shelter there. The game was football, but it mostly seemed to be the blue team kicking the ball into those bushes and the white team going on safari to find and retrieve it.

Soccer
Soccer

I went for a wander, with a view to taking some spectacular photos, get some steps in and oh, alright, I’ll admit it, to try and find somewhere more sheltered from the wind.

There really is a ski trail called Toilet Bowl
Thank you to our sponsors
What a great idea: a bike repair kit

The really tragic news is that my Fitbit battery died and I lost three hours of data, which is probably about 50,000 steps, or 25 miles. I might be exaggerating.

How to open a bear-proof litter bin

In the evening, we went to Jyoti’s for dinner. It was a houseful. I’d met Suvan and Kayla before, of course, and Una. But this was the first time I’d seen Pam on this trip, and the first time I’d ever met Melanie, although I’ve heard a lot about her.

Sorry, there are no photos of the food which was all delicious, Pam’s cauliflower, Jytoi’s chole, Melanie’s kale, Liesel’s cucumber, Jyoti’s rice and koftes.

We watched la Vuelta on TV, despite the uninspiring commentary, before bed.

Wonder

Living in a new place or maybe the air quality or the different impurities in the tap water has affected my dreams. I wake up with a feeling of, that was fun, that was strange or that was exhilarating or whatever but with no recollection of what it actually was.

Saturday morning though, I remembered enough for it to make some sort of sense. Hah: a dream that makes sense? That’ll be a first.

A boy was seeking attention by repeatedly knocking on our door. He was about 13 or 14 years of age. He claimed to be a cycling champion in his age group. But he wouldn’t give us his name. We met his Dad at the gym. He’s been discharged from the Army, he said. While chatting, he was plucking the odd hair from his chest, the waxing wasn’t 100% effective. He didn’t seem to be all that proud of or supportive of his son, which we thought was a bit of a shame.

At home, we looked up ‘cycling champions’ and we found a photo of the boy straightaway. He went by the professional name Mex Tex and that made sense, his shirt had had the word Mex embroidered on the chest.

The next time we met his Dad in the gym, we said we’d found his son on the internet but weren’t sure of his real name. He blanched. He said that he was trying to keep a low profile and that was why he’d changed his haircut and was attempting to alter his whole appearance.

He said that he’d tried to impress on his son the necessity to change his appearance too. But so far, all he’d done was to change his name to Mex Tex, a ridiculous name.

We asked why it was so importent to look different and he blanched again. He told us that he wasn’t discharged from the Army, he’d deserted, and if he was caught, he would be shot.

That’s when I woke up. I would love to see the movie.

The weather had changed. It was raining when we woke up and it was still raining after breakfast. Even after a nice, long chat with Roseanna, we didn’t really want to go out.

I’m not generally one to knock religion, but as I walked up the stairs, I very nearly knocked a picture of Jesus off the wall. Oops!

We stayed in our b&b until noon and set off for Covent Garden for a coffee at the London Transport Museum. The plan was to meet Helen and Steve and watch the end of the Prudential 100-mile bike ride and the professional race afterwards. But the weather was unreliable. Instead, we walked along the Strand and over the Millennium Bridge again (no Bob Marley today), to the Southbank Centre. It’s Chorus Weekend, and we enjoyed listening to some choirs in the Riverside Terrace Café.

In fact, I joined one. Yesterday, I’d turned down the opportunity to learn some Spanish dance steps outside the National Theatre. My two left feet would have stomped too many other people. Today, though, we members of the public were invited to form a choir, learn and perform a song. I can’t sing for toffee, but I reckoned I wouldn’t cause anyone any actual physical damage. And someone said, once, a long time ago, that we should all do something scary every day. Well, this was my scary thing today.

First we had to do some strange choreography, though. Moving feet, stamping, kicking out, waving arms in the air, not my thing at all. Fortunately, this did not form part of the eventual performance.

The lesson was led by a guy from The Choir With No Name. Another member, Brian, sang bits of old songs while we volunteers joined in. Lazy Sunday Afternoon was fun. ‘’ello, Mrs Jones, ‘ow’s your Bert’s lumbago?’ he sang. ‘Mustn’t grumble’ three of us responded in an old lady’s voice!

We learned the Emeli Sandé song ‘Wonderful’. It contains a variety of whoas, woahs, oohs and other woah-oohs. Three part harmony, and I was with the lowest of the three, bass baritones, tenors and me. Whoa, oh, Whoa, oh, we ain’t falling under. Whoa, oh, Whoa, oh, we are full of wonder.
The final performance was helped out by a professional singer doing the solo parts, thank goodness. The thought occurred though that I’m glad to be leaving the country tomorrow, before I’m arrested for offences against the musical arts. If you ever come across a bootleg tape of The Riverside Terrace Café Choir, you can choose to leave it where it is or acquire it and I’ll sign it for you!

The Riverside Terrace Café Choir

We were joined by Helen and Steve for another farewell. We watched and sang along to the West End Musical Choir, still in the Riverside Terrace Café.

Afterwards, we went to Giraffe for our last supper in England for a while. The rain was still on and off and the farewells were again a bit emotional adding to the precipitation.
Monday morning arrived after a very fitful sleep, I got up 99 times to visit the loo, I think. Liesel, once she drifted off, slept quite solidly until it was time to get up. I set my own alarm this time, thanks, Martha, but in the end, I was up

well before it went off.
No time for breakfast at the b&b, we packed, repacked and left for a packed tube train to Heathrow. Butterflies were kicking in so thoughts of a really big, substantial breakfast dissipated and I just had a vegetarian sausage sandwich.

Red sauce, brown sause or no sauce at all? No, no and no: I had Tabasco. Liesel had eggs.

We have bulkhead seats on the plane, so we have plenty of legroom, but unfortunately for us, on this Boeing 787-9, the toilets are in the middle, not at the back. Right near us. As I type, we’ve just entered Canadian airspace. It’s dark on our righthand side but still bright out of the other side.

Going back to cycling again. Geraint Thomas did win the Tour de France, the first Welshman to do so, and a very popular winner too.