Not tired of London

After a day babysitting, it’s advisable to have a good night’s sleep and maybe a lie-in. This is exactly why I booked an early train to London. The real reason was the relatively cheap fare, of course. The bus that took me to Gatley Station carries on to Stockport. I could have done that and joined the train there rather than riding all the way into Manchester Piccadilly. Oh well, we’re still new here and still learning the ropes.

It made sense to go straight to my Airbnb in Kingston to drop off my heavy bag. Not that heavy, but no need to lug it around more than necessary. It was a relatively cheap b&b too, so a relatively cheap weekend away altogether!

The Fighting Cocks in Kingston, where we saw Tom Hingley and the Lovers play a few years ago
Out of Order, by David Mach, refurbished by him in April 2019, so it still looks sparkly and new

First on the list was to revisit the Press Room Café in Surbiton which was closed last time. Delighted to see it’s now reopened, and equally good to see the staff haven’t all been replaced or refurbished too drastically. The coffee was very welcome but, again, I chickened out of ringing the bell, by the door, on the way out to tell them so.

Press Room newly refurbed and open for business

After sitting on buses and trains most of the day, it was liberating to go for a walk, now. So, I set my controls for the River Thames.

As I joined the riverside path into Kingston, I was accosted by a very nice lady. She’d walked from Kingston and was disappointed that the path deviated from the river at this point. She was hoping to get to Hampton Court. I explained that she was on the wrong side of the river. We walked into Kingston together, swapping stories about our families. Hers involves India and Birmingham and the recent sudden death of her husband. Her name’s G’day but I’m pretty sure it’s not spelled that way.

Within a swan’s wingspan of Kingston Bridge, we shook hands and bade farewell, she turned round to walk back towards Surbiton.

Swanning about on the river

I visited John Lewis where, as I passed through the TV department, two partners asked if they could help. I didn’t say that I was only there to use the facilities. Which, in the end were closed, so I had to visit the Bentall Centre too.

There’s a new cinema complex coming to the Bentall Centre and this crane is doing the heavy lifting
Butterflies in the Eden Centre

I was taking this picture of the butterflies when an (even more than me) elderly gent said I should have been here when all the umbrellas were up there. Oh, when was that? A few months ago, he said. I didn’t tell him I’d seen such displays of brollies in more exotic locations than Kingston’s Eden Centre, but that didn’t matter, as he’d already shuffled away.

Surbiton’s iconic art deco station frontage

As planned, I met Helen and Steve at the Allegro café in Surbiton. The owner wasn’t in tonight so we didn’t have to explain our recent, long absences. Pizzas all round and I had a Peroni for a change. It’s always good to catch up with old friends, and some of us are really old, now, with frequent reminders of our own mortality.

Back at the b&b, I met my host, Jenny, and her young daughter whose name wasn’t Ermintrude, nor Peppa, nor Jehosophat, nor Pickle, nor anything else I suggested.

In the morning, as invited, I helped myself to breakfast before catching the bus to Chessington.

While all this was going on, Liesel was buying shoes in Anchorage so I think I win that one. On the other hand, daughter Helen was at the Intercontinental Resort Hayman Island, in the Whitsundays, and I have to say, the photos are stunning, so either it really is a gorgeous location or they have the best Photoshoppers in town!

Helen having a whale of a time on Hayman Island

With perfect timing, I hopped off the bus in Chessington and bumped into Michael the postman, who hasn’t aged more than about 22 years since I last saw him 18 months ago (only kidding). I thanked him again for continuing to forward mail that is still sent to our old Chessington address, although it is now a mere trickle, a rare drib and drab.

Peter and Janet can no longer easily tend their own garden but their neighbours are very kind, helping to keep the weeds under control and the grass cut. Peter invited me to join them for lunch which was kind: they usually go out for lunch these days and while the meals may feel boring and repetitive, having a reason to leave the house has to be a good thing.

We dined at Las Iguanas which has a menu of meals from south America, both meaty and veggie. I had an Argentinian beer, Rothhammer Real Golden Ale which was very acceptable.

We walked towards the station and I left them shopping at Waitrose while I took the train into London. I changed at Clapham Junction, catching an Overground train to Shadwell, somewhere I’ve not been, I think, for 40 years.

Clapham Junction

I walked to Gallery 46 to see an exhibition The Most Powerful Woman in the Universe, celebrated in blood, hairiness and art.

The artwork was variously funny, thought-provoking and just a little intimidating, although this may be because I was the only visitor at the time. It was a pleasure to meet the organiser, curator, whatever, Kelly.

Eve and Eve by Nancy Fouts
Madonna with Safeway Bags, by Nancy Fouts

My best buddy(!) Salena Godden, who I met on a march last year, is here on video, reciting her poem, Red. It is worth watching, here.

The gallery is close to the Royal London Hospital, where Sarah trained and worked for over a year back in the late 1970s. I found her old residence, but the statue of Edith Cavell wasn’t to be seen: I wonder if I just misremembered? Maybe I was thinking of this royal personage

Queen Alexandra

There is a blue plaque for Edith Cavell on Whitechapel High Street, but it’s currently hidden behind the hoarding surrounding the building works.

A Lone Protester but I think he was on his way home from a big protest in central London

Whitechapel Market is just as busy and colourful as I remember: the fruit and veg displays are a work of art and the clothing is so much brighter than typical western offerings.

Whitechapel Market
Muslim clothing shop in a former pub

Looking west, the skyline has certainly changed over the years: you can see The Gherkin and many other new buildings. I thought about walking in that direction, but a bus came along and forced me to climb aboard.

Looking west

Sight-seeing from a London bus is one of my favourite things: I just have to remember to get off somewhere useful. This time, I ended up near Tottenham Court Road, from where I walked to Waterloo.

Stretch limo near Soho Square, attempting a 3-point turn
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child – one day, we’ll get tickets, one day
London is open but this fountain in Trafalgar Square certainly isn’t
St Martin-in-the-Fields in the Sun
London Eye and the Moon viewed from Jubilee Bridge
Waterloo Sunset viewed from the Royal Festival Hall terrace
Charlotte Campbell performing Abba’s ‘Waterloo’ at Waterloo

Me and my aching feet went straight to bed and I read about half a page of my book before drifting off.

After breakfast, I started walking towards Chessington. The plan was to catch the first bus that came by. Even though there were people waiting at most of the bus stops, I didn’t see a bus. I just kept walking to the next stop. In the end, I was off the bus route.

Good to see Tolworth is still the fly-tipping centre of the world

I didn’t see a single bus until I reached Hook Library and there was no point in catching that one, it was going in the wrong direction. So I continued south, towards the World of Adventures. Not only did I get my 10,000 steps in by 11am, I was bang on time at my destination!

Good to see the little children enjoying the playground in Woodgate Avenue

Stella and Ian shared their coffee and battenburg cake, and it was good to catch up on their news too. I mean, they shared with me, not just each other, that would be weird. Their family day out at Chessington World of Adventures the previous day reminded me that, yes, one day, I suppose we’ll have to take Martha and William there!

The train journey into Waterloo was uneventful, other than having to change trains at Wimbledon. Still, on the bright side, it wasn’t a replacement bus service, I suppose.

It was the final day of the Kiss my Genders show at the Hayward Gallery on the South Bank.

Joan Jett-Blakk for President

For me, the main problem with all this gender fluidity mallarkey is using the correct pronoun, he, she or they. I don’t want to upset or annoy someone by getting it wrong. The people I spoke to here, albeit briefly: I think I got away with ‘you’!

Selfie of the day

I didn’t recognise many of the names, but Marc Almond is one of my favourite singers.

Marc Angelo Almond, by Del LaGrace Volcano

Del LaGrace Volcano seems like a fascinating character: they “have possessed and been possessed by a multitude of names, bodies and identities”. And the rest of us just plod on unchanging, never mutating nor migrating.

Rebellious badges

There was probably more to the film Looners, by Jankyn van Zyl, than I realised. In other words: I didn’t get it.

But I found The Memorial Dress quite moving. The names of 25,000 known victims of AIDs-related illnesses have been printed onto a black ballgown. It slowly rotates as you watch.

The Memorial Dress, by Hunter Reynolds

Outside, I strolled along the South Bank for a while, while my over-stimulated mind calmed down. The tide was out and so were the mudlarks. Some are very scrupulous, minutely inspecting every item that isn’t obviously just a plain old rock or stone.

Mudlarks on the Thames foreshore

Obviously, I have no idea what treasures these people found today, but there’s a small display of photos showing the types of artefacts found over the years, things lost in or deliberately thrown into the Thames over many centuries.

Foragers of the Foreshore
City pipe bowl: slave head

I’m so pleased Liesel made us dispose of the human thigh bone we found on the Thames foreshore a few years ago.

It’s strange being in a stranger’s house while they’re there, even as a paying guest. Before getting up and potentially getting in their way, I waited until Mum had fought her daughter to get ready for school and then leave. Other people’s cereal choices are always interesting. Small, bitesize Shredded Wheat with raisins glued in plus a few Cheerios, today. Not the ideal start to the day if I were about to embark on a long bike ride, so it’s a good job I wasn’t.

I rearranged the magnetic letters on the fridge into a small message of gratitude before making my way to London, to the Tate Modern.

Sand maiden

Very light drizzle accompanied me as I walked along the South Bank. The Royal Festival Hall is closed for a few days so I had to miss out on my usual natural break there.

Today’s show which I’d pre-booked was at Tate Modern. Olafur Eliasson In Real Life. This exhibition runs until January and is highly recommended. It’s fun, funny, clever and the perfect depiction of an imaginative soul with too much time on his hands!

Conveniently, I was able to leave my big bag in the cloakroom all day for a mere £4 donation. There’s a tip for anyone travelling to or through London.

This exhibition is well laid out, the map actually makes sense, which isn’t always the case.

Just one of Olafur’s hundreds of polyhedra

The Blind Passenger is a 39-metre long tunnel filled with fog. You can’t see more than a few feet in any direction. And while it’s easy to shrug off the warnings about possible claustrophobia, when you’re in the fog and all you can see is yellow, all you can smell is something slightly sweet and all you can hear are the squeaky doors and the other visitors trying to be quiet, it is a little bit spooky. Then you blink and you’re surprised by how thick, solid, heavy and purple your eyelids are. Maybe that’s just me.

The Moss Wall is made from Reindeer Moss. You’re not supposed to touch it but I think most people look around to make sure nobody’s watching before reaching out and having a quick, soft touch.

Moss Wall, by Olafur Eliasson

The Big Bang Fountain is a water fountain in complete darkness but every few seconds, a flash of white light illuminates the water. Every flash is a momentary, white Rorschach test. A map of the lower 48 states. A jellyfish. A brassiere. A bull with big horns. A bald man.

Your Uncertain Shadow is responsible for one of the images used in publicity for this show.

Uncertain Shadowy selfie of the day

If you haven’t been yet, go to this exhibition. Every item is interesting in one way or another.

Not my review but it could well have been

I walked outside for a while, braving the slight drizzle.

The Ship of Tolerance by Ilya and Emilia Kabakov

The Ship of Tolerance will be here until early October. Each picture is drawn or painted by a local school-child.

Children want peace

One item on my bucket list relies on my (infinitesimal) musical ability. One day, I want to glue two old woks together, bash them about a bit with a hammer then take this contraption busking. Well, someone’s beaten me to it. He was sitting and playing outside the Tate and, to be fair, he was making a rather nicer, more melodic sound than I would have.

Busker with percussive instrument

Liesel and I have seen The Merry Wives of Windsor in the past, at Stratford upon Avon, and Dame Judi Dench was the big name on that occasion. This play is being performed this evening, nearby, but I would be on my train home by then. So, to compensate, I joined a rather large tour group in the Globe Theatre, just along the river from Tate Modern. The guide was Italian, of course, but it was a fascinating tour. It included sitting in two different parts of the auditorium to watch the rehearsal for tonight’s performance. Out of context, it wasn’t obvious whether the fits of giggles were part of the script or the actors just making each other laugh.

Water Point in the Globe Theatre

After watching a play, you’d want to acquire some props in the shop and reenact some of the more exciting scenes. But sadly, you’re not allowed to.

Please don’t fight in the shop

Back in the Tate, I spent some time in the drawing room. It’s actually the Bloomberg Connects Drawing Bar and you can have a go at drawing pictures on the screens which then get displayed and posted to Flickr. My drawing skills are on a par with my musical ability, but I enjoyed creating a special message for my beloved all those miles away.

Hello Liesel

There are thousands of other such drawings, so start here and look around.

You can see my more overtly political offering here!

Blackfriars is a lovely, modern station, straddling the river. I caught the Thameslink train to St Pancras from where it’s a short walk to the British Library. There, I tapped away at the keyboard with all the other young and studious people.

Quiet study in British Library

And from there, a short hop, skip and jump to the ever-congested Euston where I began the long ride home: two trains and a late, late bus. In the bookshop, the sight of this outfit brought me up short. I know it’s from a novel, Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, and it’s publicising the sequel, The Testaments, but, whoa, that was unexpected.

Blessed be the fruit

Two trains and a bus, he said. Huh. The first train was over ten minutes late which was enough to mean missing the second train. So, a quick taxi ride it was instead, to round off a wonderful weekend.

TFL’s are no longer the only bikes for hire in London

These few days in London and Kingston, between two Grandchildren Days, was a good opportunity to catch up with old friends, visit some old haunts and explore some new ones. Taking such a late train home the night before an early rise is something not to be repeated too often, however!

A Tale of Two Cities, and Beyond

It was the best of times.

Well, it really was, and while the rest of Charles Dickens’s introduction to A Tale of Two Cities is without doubt, beautifully written, it doesn’t apply to our gap year experiences. Long may this feeling of travelling, exploring and enjoying life, continue. Even though we are back home, back to normal and back to a certain amount of responsibility, we are looking at everyday things with a refreshed set of expectations. Great Expectations, you might say, if you wanted to acknowledge to enjoyment and entertainment provided not only by Charles Dickens, but by Tasmin Archer, many years later.

Living in Northenden is indeed slowly becoming the norm. The holiday feeling still persists, even if we do miss the temples, castles, crocodiles, wombats, kiwis, lizards, bullet trains, mangoes and sumo wrestlers.

Helen arrived from Australia, failing in her duty to bring some decent weather. It was quite cold and damp when we returned, and sadly for Helen, the weather hadn’t improved much since then.

Helen and Jenny needed some peace and quiet so they could enjoy their massages. We looked after Martha and William, always a joy but always exhausting. The advantage of being grandparents is, we can hand the children back later in the day, apologise for feeding them too much sugar, and leave the parents to fix the damage caused.

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Martha’s hand

We visited the Northern Den café where Martha asked for “A babyccino with marshmallows, chocolate sprinkles and a Flake bar on the side”. Well, no chocolate sprinkles here, nor a Flake: this child is more familiar with Costa’s offerings. And then, while looking for Flakes in the nearby Tesco, Martha spotted the Kinder eggs so that’s what we bought instead. Martha walked home with hers in her right hand and William’s in her left. She enjoyed her molten chocolate, William slept through the whole episode.

Later on, we all had pies at Jenny’s, yep, more pies. Who ate all the pies? Well, I’m trying!

We’re still moving in and before we unpack the last few dozen boxes, we need storage space. That means shelving. A sales rep came round from one of the big bespoke furniture manufacturers, measured up roughly and gave a rough estimate of more than twice our anticipated budget. Instantly, we translated the amount into so many flights to exotic, interesting places. We’ll get shelving installed, but from somewhere more reasonably priced.

Another visitor was the lady who will make Roman blinds for both our living room windows. She was very pleasant and friendly and made us realise how brusque the shelf person had been.

Helen and Jenny took William and Martha out. Both children are very curious about the world. Martha demonstrates this level of interest by asking questions. William’s method is to take things apart. Sometimes, those thngs can be put back together again, but not always. RIP one of our Red Nose Day Comic Relief Red Noses, rent asunder.

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William demolishing an ice cream

Liesel and I went into Manchester to collect our valuables from the Safe Deposit box. This included some cutlery which we needed, as we didn’t otherwise have enough for everyone to eat with, at the same time. Yes, we were invaded by the children, their parents and their Aunt Helen from down under.

Hooray, I did some DIY. As ever, all jobs took three times longer than they needed to, but I got there in the end. We can now hang mugs up in the kitchen. We have a much better storage unit in the bathroom. And the light fitting in the bathroom looks much better. Such a shame, then, that the light bulb we had won’t physically fit inside the globe. Add ‘slightly smaller bulb’ to the shopping list.

The weather was slowly improving and it was a pleasant walk back home from Didsbury one morning, along the Mersey.

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Tree reflected in the Mersey

There were spots and even larger patches of blue sky by now. I donned my hat at times to protect the top of my head from actual beams of sunshine.

I walked past some bindweed happy that my 30+ year war against the stuff in my Chessington garden was now over. And yes, I lost.

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Bindweed

I’m very happy for other people to continue the bindweed wars if they wish, but I’m more convinced than ever that it will one day take over the whole planet.

Myra came up for the weekend, that’s Sarah’s mother, Martha and William’s Great-Granny. We planned to collect her from Stockport station but due to ‘an incident’, trains weren’t stopping there. So we went to pick her up from Manchester Piccadilly. This was no problem but Myra’s ticket was for Stockport so the electronic barriers at Piccadilly wouldn’t let her through. Nor anyone else with the same ticket. Why they didn’t just open the barriers and let everyone through, I don’t know, they just carefully opened the barrier for each passenger, one at a time, very slowly.

Back at Jenny’s, the shouts of ‘Great-Granny’ echoed around the house: we think they both just like saying the words!

In the garden, Martha did several roly-polies, insisting ‘They’re not head-over-heels, Grandad’. I had a go myself, just the once, but, er, I didn’t want to belittle Martha’s achievement: no problem with the disorientation I felt at all, oh no.

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Martha’s roly-poly

In the evening, we went to the Istanbul restaurant for dinner. The food was great, the service was good, the waiters seem to like young children, and we confirmed that William is a fast learner.

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William finishes his ice cream

William drank the last of his ice cream from the bowl, following the example just set by his Grandad (me), to all the other grown-ups’ consternation and dismay. I’m just glad I didn’t lick the bowl, which was my first inclination.

We took Myra to her hotel for the night and collected her in the morning. But she was locked in her room. Once released, it transpired that she had just not pulled the heavy door quite hard enough. Hanging out of the window to get someone’s attention was the best she could do, as there was no phone with which to call Reception.

We watched Martha and William swim really well, before driving over to Dunham Massey, a National Trust property not too far away.

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Old oak tree

It was good to see that Myra and I weren’t the oldest objects here: the oak tree is over 500 years old.

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Foxgloves

It was a gorgeous day for a walk around the gardens. Martha and William sniffed the flowers, admired the bees, ran around, and scootered around while the rest of walked at our various, individual speeds.

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Busy bee
Hosta Fire and Ice

We found a nice little bridge over a stream, ideal for playing Pooh Sticks, so Martha gathered up a few sticks and twigs. Fortunately, the disappointment wasn’t too bad as all the sticks just got stuck in the sludge where the stream used to be. William had no idea what was going on, he just wanted to jump in, I think.

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William looking at a disappointing Pooh Sticks stream

The flowers were very pretty and as usual, I took too many photos of the bright colours. Despite the labels, I can’t remember the proper scientific, or even the common English, names for these yellow and purple blooms.

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Yellow and purple blooms

Some flowers have so many different names. though, in various parts of the country, so I could probably make something up and nobody would know.

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Busy bee on a rare example of Auntie’s Knickers
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Martha being attacked by an Alien Facehugger

When we dropped Myra off at Stockport station the following day, we were surprised and delighted to encounter some frogs.

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Frogs at Stockport Station

This is all to celebrate Stockport’s Giant Leap into the future. Maybe we’ll find more frogs in the city centre on another occasion.

Meanwhile Helen flew off to Edinburgh on a purple aeroplane. Her flight back was on a disappointingly plain white plane. She is the last to have been nearly blown over by the strong wind up on Arthur’s Seat: Sarah and I in the early 1980s, Jenny while she was pregnant. Liesel is looking forward to the experience.

Liesel and I had a very pleasant trip to Ikea. She pointed out that the first route she learned to drive when she moved to the UK was to a branch of Ikea. History repeats itself. The first route she knows here in the north is the way to Ikea.

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The view from Ikea, Ashton under Lyne

Helen was kind enough to cut our hair, as well as Jenny’s, Martha’s and William’s. Liesel and I stayed for lunch before going into Manchester. The International Festival began with a Yoko Ono installation.

In Cathedral Gardens, thousands of people rang Bells for Peace, as requested by Yoko via video. Some of the ceramic bells had been hand-made at workshops during the last few months. Yoko asked us to talk to each other, to talk to the trees and to name the clouds. Well, we were underneath one great big, grey cloud, 100%, so that raised a small laugh.

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Bells for Peace

From Manchester to London, then. This has been the longest period I can remember without visiting our wonderful capital city, since I first moved there as a student nearly half a century ago.

The drive was much more pleasant than anticipated. The roadworks on the M6 have finished. Oh, hang on, no. They’ve just moved further along. We did miss the long purple sausage that used to live on the central reservation during the construction of the so-called ‘smart motorway’.

The first port of call was to visit my periodontist Emily in West Byfleet. Teeth cleaned and polished, I joined Liesel with Helen and Steve in the garden of the nearby Plough pub. (This is our friend Helen of course, not daughter Helen, she’s still up north with Jenny.) I couldn’t eat or drink with a numb and tender mouth but that didn’t prevent me from salivating.

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A tegestologist’s dream wall

We went to Claremont Gardens, probably the closest National Trust property. It was a good place to let my mouth thaw out and to walk around dodging the goose guano. I told one of the geese that I hoped I would be able to eat soon. He said he’d keep his feet crossed for me.

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Feet crossed, Mick

A black swan swam over and said “G’day, mate” and for a moment, I was back in Australia.

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G’day, Black Swan

Steve and I walked around the lake while the ladies, well, Liesel and Helen, sat on a bench for a chinwag, a natter. A great opportunity to take pictures as if I were visiting a strange place for the first time.

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A tree reflected in Claremont Lake

I think we were both waiting for someone to fall out of a boat, especially one of the more obviously unbalanced ones, but we were disappointed.

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Unbalanced boat

The lake is home to mallards and coots as well as the swans and geese. But even where the water was clear, we didn’t spot any fish. Helen’s Dad, Nigel, who lives in Ewell, had very kindly offered to accommodate me and Liesel for a week so we rubbed our hands while planning how best to pester him.

A long anticipated visit to an exhibition in London dragged us out of bed quite early. Something we really didn’t need to see as soon as we left Waterloo Station was a seagull tucking into a struggling pigeon. We had been in London with Helen and Steve the day we witnessed a heron swallow a baby duck too. Coincidence?

The British Museum was hosting the Edvard Munch exhibition, Love and Angst. As an artist, obviously he was a tortured soul, that’s a given, but he produced much more than The Scream. I for one was hoping for more examples of that work, but there were just two versions here, buried in the middle of the display, potentially easy to miss.

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The Scream, woodprint, Edvard Munch

He liked red skies, but ladies’ long, red hair, he found threatening. Probably the saddest painting was The Sick Child.

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The Sick Child, Edvard Munch

His 15-year old sister, Sophie, died from TB, and his Aunt Karen is mourning. Karen had looked after Edvard and his family following the earlier passing of his mother.

We caught a bus to the British Library to see some imaginary maps, based on real maps of old London, old New York and other old maps of old cities. I also found a new book to add to my Kindle list.

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One day, I might be a Manchester Man

I was on my tod walking round and enjoying the Leonardo da Vinci: A Mind in Motion exhibition.

Every time I see what he achieved, studied, deduced, created, invented, I become more convinced that he must be a time-traveller from the future. He wrote backwards, from right to left, an unintended side-effect of his journey back through several centuries, I suspect. His scientific mind was way ahead of its time.

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Why seashells on a mountain?

His study of water flow and rivers, on its own, is a solid body of work, even now. Not that water is solid, but you know what I mean.

For the first time, I wore some VR, Virtual Reality, goggles. I didn’t think this technology and my eyesight would be compatible, but this gentle introduction worked well. I was ‘walking’ through an imaginary city with hundreds of skyscrapers, blue sky and the Moon. I held on to the cable so I was tethered to real life, just in case I walked too far and collided with a real wall.

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The VR view is better IRL with VR goggles, the photo doesn’t do the image justice

Surbiton beckoned. I had an appointment with my optician. While there, of course I had to visit my favourite coffee shop, The Press Room.

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The Press Room under construction

Well that wasn’t planned very well. It’s being refurbished and I had to postpone my coffee until later in the day. I met up with another old friend, Marie, in Orpington, for lunch. Oh, and for a coffee. I hope she visits us up in Manchester soon.

On the way back through London, I bit the bullet and did one of my least favourite things. I went shoe shopping. For sandals, to replace the old ones which have apparently acquired a slightly cheesey tang after walking around the tropics for several months.

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Pretty alleyway near Covent Garden
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My dancing shoes don’t need replacement yet, even at this fab shop
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The Invisible Enemy Should Not Exist

From Wikipedia: [On the fourth plinth, there is a] recreation of a sculpture of a lamassu (a winged bull and protective deity) that stood at the entrance to Nergal Gate of Nineveh from 700 B.C. It was destroyed in 2015 by Isis, along with other artefacts in the Mosul Museum. [Michael] Rakowitz’s recreation is made of empty Iraqi date syrup cans, representing the destruction of the country’s date industry.

Yes, of course, I had to walk through Trafalgar Square. It, together with Waterloo Station, was London, to me, when I was very young. But I am so pleased I found the rest of the wonderful city later on in life.

And so to Chessington, our own ‘hood, the place I lived for 33 years. It hasn’t changed much, but, ooh, there is a KFC where my old favourite caff, Unique, used to be.

The massage from Dawn was very welcome and well-timed as I had cricked my back somehow a couple of days ago. Afterwards, it felt much better, thanks, Dawn!

Over the last few weeks, I’ve experienced more medical consultations than I’ve had hot dinners. Two hearing tests, bowel cancer test, blood pressure check, ECG, optician, periodontist, prescription renewals and a quick examination of ‘the warty thing’ growing on my leg. (Plus a haircut of course, thanks very much, Helen!) The main lesson that I learned from all this (apart from ‘don’t get old’) was: modern day scientific nomenclature isn’t as rigid, precise nor robust as it once was.

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Bindweedy thing growing through a fence

After Liesel and I had been respectively beautified and fixed by Dawn, the plan was to visit a showroomy place in Crystal Place to look at shelving suggestion. Liesel likes it, but I wasn’t so keen, just looking at pictures online. Unfortunately, the showroom was closed today. Instead we visited John Lewis in London’s Oxford Street. We found the same kind, String Shelving, spoke to a really helpful assistant, and yes, I am now a convert. It looks better in the flesh, with real things on the shelves, not so stark and industrial.

We also had a quick look at all the loudspeakers and other hi-fi components to replace the 30-year old system that we discarded when we moved house, since most bits didn’t work anyway. It’s quite exciting, buying new stuff for a new home! Who knew!

We had a Chinese takeaway at Helen’s house, while watching sport from Wimbledon and from the Tour de France. We drove past our old house and it seems to be occupied by a family of Japanese warriors. There are Samurai swordy things in the window.

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Swords in the window

With grim inevitability, we noticed that our erstwhile neighbours are still parking their cars in the shared drive. Not our problem any more.

We were pleased to catch up with Stella and Ian for coffee and cakey things, in their garden, in the sunshine, in Chessington. Their bathroom is being refitted and that’s a noisy process, but it will be great when it’s finished.

On the way home, I got out at Hook Parade shops to buy something. I visited Hook Café in the library. The owner’s doing very well. He recognised me, thought I’d won the lottery and emigrated!

We dragged Helen out of her house and took her to Hampton Court, where we admired the Rose Garden, the kitchen garden and had a late lunch. It’s an obvious thought, but I think for the first time since we returned, a month ago, I consciously registered just what a brilliant, beautiful, interesting, fascinating and historical place England is. I think living here, we just take it for granted much of the time.

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Some flowery things
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Here’s Abundance, feeding a child from her breasty thing

By mistake I tried to enter the children’s playground without a ticket: it must be a new attraction. I did like the nearby guard dog though.

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Hampton Court’s Guard Griffin
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A leafy thing
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A bee with, literally, a legful

While Liesel and Helen went off to Tesco, I walked to Kingston along the Thames tow path.

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One of Hampton Court’s back gates

It was a pleasant walk in the Sun, not many other people about, but as we’d seen at Hampton Court, there were plenty of bees and butterlies.

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A butterflyy thing

I saw an animal run across the path, too big to be a mouse, but I don’t think it was a rat, there was no tail to speak of. I communed with the blackbirds and robins too, but tried not to disturb the bicycle having a rest.

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Lost or discarded bike

We’d all planned to meet up later on for an evening meal. Queen Anne watched as I sat in Kingston’s Market Place and wrote some words, enjoying the sunshine, watching people, not seeing anyone I knew from the olden days.

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Queen Anne

She doesn’t really look like Olivia Coleman who portrays her in The Favourite but here was another tenuous link back to New Zealand, where we saw the film with Pauline and Andrew.

At Riverside Vergetaria, there were six in our party, Helen, Steve and Nigel, Liesel, me and our Helen. Ritchie, the owner, seemed pleased to see us again after all this time.

I walked to Epsom while Liesel drove Nigel to hospital. The old market here is currently a building site and judging by the angle of the Sun, I was here at about a quarter to midday.

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Epsom market and clock tower
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A celebration of Epsom horse racing

After a brief writing session in the library, I decided to visit the South Bank for a wander. Congratulations to the graduates from the London Business School who were gathered in and around the South Bank Centre, taking photos and looking gorgeous and justifiably proud.

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Selfie of the day

It was great being back here, walking by the river, looking down on the beach, trying not to make eye contact with the street entertainers who were later, sadly, moved on by the police. I found an unoccupied bench, sat and wrote for a while. I think I’ve sold the idea of using a stand-alone keyboard connected to a phone by Bluetooth to a very nice young lady who asked.

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The London skyline

The Turbine Room at Tate Modern has been home to many interesting installations over the years. It was empty today, though, unless the two small children running around were both, appropriately, named Art. Sixteen years ago, we lay down here and basked in fake sunshine and fog, an installation called The Weather Project, by Olafur Eliasson. There’s currently a retrospective show of his work here at Tate Modern. His latest idea is to bring in a million white Lego bricks with which we are invited to build future cities.

The seagull that ate the pigeon a few days ago was back. This time, he caught a pink fish from the Thames and proceeded to chow down here, on the beach.

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Seagull v fish

This is why we love nature so much.

It’s good to see they’re still selling second-hand books underneath Waterloo Bridge by the BFI. The skateboarders and cyclists are still having fun in the Undercroft, below the Royal Festival Hall, a facility that was under threat a few years ago. The Spread Riverside is a Street Food Market, open five days a week, with every kind of street food you can imagine. I’ll definitely be back. I had a small pie today, natch.

We drove to Salisbury to meet up with Sarah, a friend who used to live close by but moved to Exeter some years ago. Salisbury is a good midway point to catch up.

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Salisbury Cathedral

We sat in the Cathedral refectory for over three hours, eating, drinking but mainly talking about our travels.

Salisbury is a busy little town, despite its recent reputation for attempted political assassinations.

In the grounds of the Cathedral, people were resting, playing, sunbathing and picnicking but there were also some works of art. They’re all interesting to look at but it was difficult to view them without something in the background to spoil the view. An old gothic building is OK, but boring old semi-detached houses not so much.

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Sky Circles by Diane Maclean

Maybe ‘art critic’ is not the career for me: that last sentence was written with far too much snobbishness!

We spent the night at The Talbot Inn Hotel in Ripley. A hotel named after Mick from The Style Council in a village named after the heroine from the Alien films: how cool is that?

We stayed on the top floor of this old coaching house, in a room complete with sloping floors, very low ceiling and beams. This is where Lord Nelson and Lady Emma Hamilton became ‘good friends’. In fact, our room was named Horatio.

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Lord Nelson, potential room-mate

No one would have believed in the last years of the nineteenth century that this world was being watched keenly and closely by intelligences greater than man’s and yet as mortal as his own; that as men busied themselves about their various concerns they were scrutinised and studied, perhaps almost as narrowly as a man with a microscope might scrutinise the transient creatures that swarm and multiply in a drop of water. Yes, we were being watched and the Martians did soon invade the Earth. We humans won The War of the Worlds, of course, and one of the Martians has been displayed in Woking as a warning to others.

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Martian

There’s also a statue of HG Wells, the author of the book as well as a pub named in his honour. Why Woking? We were here to have breakfast with Rosie but the short drive from Ripley was greatly extended by the difficulty in finding a parking place.

We broke our fast, I felt rotten eavesdropping on Rosie and Liesel talking shop, but so pleased to be well away from office politics.

The drive to Polesden Lacey was quiet, and followed some roads where I have often cycled in the past. We met up with our friends Sandra and Fred, their dog Clyde, Sandra’s Mum Carol who celebrated her birthday yesterday as well as Liesel and Sandra’s former colleagues Vicky and Diane.

One day, Liesel and I will go inside the house at Polesden Lacey, but again, we just went for a walk around the grounds. Last time I was here with Sandra, ten years ago, I did my back in and was off work for three weeks, a personal best for me. I also missed a Mott the Hoople reunion concert at Hammersmith Odeon where I’d seen them in 1973, supported by Queen.

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The view from Polesden Lacey
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An orchid at Polesden Lacey

The rose garden and the lavendar were very aromatic and my sneeze organs began working overtime. The gardeners here though do a really good job.

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Lavendar

And so, after an ice cream with Helen and Steve back at Nigel’s house, Liesel and I set off for home, hoping to arrive before the Sun set.

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The setting Sun as seen from the glamorous M6

Success! What a great drive: we didn’t stop at all, there were no traffic jams, no hold-ups, straight up the motorways, then straight up the stairs and then straight to bed.

Since we’ve been back in England after our adventures overseas, many, many people have told us how well we’re looking and how happy we seem. That is all undoubtedly true, though I for one find it hard to take compliments. I don’t know how to respond when someone says they’ve enjoyed following the blog: all I can manage is a weak, embrarrassed ‘thank you’.

But this morning as we watched Martha and William swimming, I was again reminded of my own inadequacies. Three-year old Martha has, voluntarily, swum further under water than I have in all of my 29 long years on the good Earth. Driving home from swimming, we were overtaken by this gorgeous pair. I think William was, by then, fast asleep in the back!

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Jenny and Martha

The rest of the day consisted of writing, washing, watching cricket and cycling on TV, and relaxing after a fun-packed week down south.

Cricket? Yes, we’re proud to say we witnessed the England Team win the ICC Cricket World Cup for the first time in a nail-biting finish against New Zealand, in a game during which a couple of very obscure rules were revealed. Marvellous! One of England’s top players is Joe Root. His One Day International number is 66. So the back of the pyjama top he plays in says ‘Root 66’. Wonderful!

Cycling? Yes, one week into the Tour de France and we’ve caught up. No Mark Cavendish nor Chris Froome this year, so I guess we’re rooting for Geraint Thomas again.

Melbourne to Manly

A year ago in London, Liesel visited a physiotherapist by the name of Emma. Emma’s partner is also a trained PT, and he is Australian. Under some peculiar, twisted distortion and interpretation of Theresa May’s “hostile environment for illegal immigrants”, his work visa was revoked, and he was forced to move back to Australia. And naturally, Emma went back with him. So Britain has lost two fully trained physiotherapists for no good reason.

They are now living and working in Melbourne. Liesel tracked Emma down and made an appointment to visit her

Saturday sunrise

So, the three of us took a tram to South Melbourne. While Liesel was being poked and prodded, Jyoti and I had a quick walk, to get some steps in and, yes, of course, we had a coffee at one of Melbourne’s famed coffee shops.

Top End Barbering

I always like a good pun when it comes to a shop name and hairdressers and barbers are particularly good at it.

Every now and then, we come across a shop named after a David Bowie song or album. Well, here, we not only had the album, the neighbouring shop was named after one of the songs on that album, albeit abbreviated so as not to offend your nan. Queen Bitch. No, not your nan, that’s the name of the Bowie song.

Hunky Dory

We caught the tram back to the iconic Flinders Street Station. We didn’t go into the pub over the road that my Dad had told me about: he’d been there after the war, in the late 1940s!

Flinders Street Station

We crossed the road to Federation Square, to spend time indoors again.I had been here once before, when the geometrically and architecturally interesting buildings had first opened, in 2002.

Federation Square

I visited Australia in November 2002 specifically to see the Total Eclipse of the Sun. It was a trip that Sarah and I hoped to make together but she died eighteen months earlier. I was in two minds about whether or not to make the trip on my own, but now, I am immensely glad and grateful that so many people encouraged me to go for it. I had a good time, but it was emotional too. A Total Eclipse, Melbourne, Great Ocean Road and on through South Australia to Kings Canyon, Uluru, Alice Aprings, Ghan to Adelaide. A great trip, but the detailed blog remains to be written! And now, back to the present…

“The Clock” is a 24-hour long video comprised of thousands of clips from films and TV programmes. As it proceeds, the shots of clocks in the various clips accurately reflect the time now, in the real world. The joins were seamless, and although there was no single storyline to follow, it was a very interesting 90 minutes that we spent watching it (minus a short nap, each). Where else would you see Ricky Gervais and Joan Crawford together? Snippets from films not seen for years, decades even. Christian Marclay is responsible for this colossal labour of love, but surely he must have employed many researchers? Yes, we thought about returning later in the day to see a different segment, but that will have to wait until next time.

ACMI, the Australian Centre for the Moving Image is based here too. Yesterday, Chris had suggested visiting this collection of film and TV related exhibits, and the zoetrope in particular.

Zoetrope

As it spins, a strobe light gives the illusion that the individual models are moving up and down.

One display celebrated Australian film and TV. The selection was OK but I was disappointed that The Paul Hogan Show was not represented. My flat mates and I used to watch that on late night TV with a tube of Fosters, and it was the funniest show evah!

I did enjoy watching an 18-year old Kylie Minogue with sister Dannii perfoming Sisters are Doing it for Themselves!

The whole place was very reminiscent of the old MOMI, Museum of the Moving Image, in London, but this was much more interactive.

The piano from the 1993 film, “The Piano” was here, but I wasn’t allowed to play it. I’m not sure Michael Nyman would have been allowed to touch it, to be fair.

The piano from The Piano

Replicas were made for the film. A light one, to carry up the hill. And a heavy steel one to film sinking in the sea.

There is an Aussie TV fantasy drama that I now want to watch: Cleverman. They employed Weta Studios to design the special effects, and the aboriginal mythology underlying the story looks fascinating.

Hairy man from Cleverman

And now for the next edition of a favourite irregular item: Toilet Talk.

Saving water

I saw this sign in the toilets and I thought, if I pee twice, I could save eight litres of water. Also, if I’m walking out in the woods and need to go behind a bush, when Liesel rolls her eyes I can just tell her that I am saving 4 litres of water! All this on the day that Network Rail have decided to abolish the six shilling charge for using the public toilets at Waterloo Station. Six shillings, 30p, Liesel will confirm I’ve been whingeing about this charge for years.

Bollards! It’s a shame that these large blocks of concrete are required to protect buildings in our cities, but I do like the fact that someone solved the Rubik’s Cube here.

Big cubes of concrete

We visited the Aboriginal Cultural Centre because it was time once again to shake our heads in disbelief and despair, weep for the past and feel absolute shame at what our British ancestors are responsible for. Australia is the only commonwealth country still without a treaty with its original people. Small pox, massacres, kidnappings, stealing their land, oh it’s a horrible story.

Diprotodon

This chap cheered us up. Diprotodon was the largest marsupial ever to live, about the size of a rhinoceros and is thought to have died out about 45,000 years ago. So chances are, it did live alongside humans for a period. Two metres tall, three metres long, but what a cute, cheeky face.

The other day we found a Chocolaterie and Ice Creamerie. Today we passed by a Fish and Chipperie. But our destination on Lygon Street was Milk the Cow Licenced Fromagerie. It was just along the road from Reading’s Bookerie, where I’d met Barry Humphries, as mentioned before.

Milk the Cow is a combined cheeserie and winerie and actually, my Cider Flight was fab, delicious even.

Four cheeses, four crackers, four ciders for Mick

Four slices of different cheese each accompanied by a specially selected cider. With crackers and bread. Very nicerie, very tasterie.

We passed many, many other restauranteries on the walk home, some with very long queues of people. Our ice creams were just the right size: one scoop was enough, a second would have melted far too quickly.

The worst thing about Melbourne? It’s a great city, it feels a bit like London in places, with its nooks and crannies and alleyways and arcades. But, we have walked through more clouds of cigarette smoke here in the last couple of days than we have during the previous several weeks. There are non-smoking areas, but there are probably more smokers per capita here than in any other city we’ve visited.

Now it’s time to say farewell to Victoria – the place to be. Goodbye to Victoria – the education state. And cheerio to Victoria – the only state named after a Kinks song. Two of those three slogans appear on car registration number plates, or regos.

In the morning, before the Sun came up, we were greeted by the Moon and Venus.

Sunday sunrise with Moon and Venus

Several shots were taken of which, this, the first, is probably the best. An easy distraction from the task of packing. The only extra item I had to squeeze into my pack was the apologetic bottle of wine from a couple of nights ago.

At about 11pm, we heard a very loud, humungous crash. We checked on Jyoti, she hadn’t fallen through or out of bed and everything else seemed to be OK in our little apartment.

When we left the building in the morning though, we had to limbo dance under the Police Crimescene tape around the entrance and the neighbouring passage. We could see no evidence of a car crash or any crime. We’ve found nothing in the news so can only be grateful we weren’t delayed for interrogation.

We took a tram, then a Skybus to the airport. The flight to Sydney was uneventful apart from the disappointment of not being offered any tea or a snack. Don’t sit in row 22!

It was a joy to be collected by Helen again and although it was warm here, it wasn’t as hot as Melbourne had been. And Manly looks magnificent as it always does when the Sun’s out.

Most of the afternoon was taken up with watching some fighting on TV. Adam’s a big fan of UFC. The Ultimate Fighting Championship, is better/worse/bloodier than boxing, takes place in an octagonal ring, usually over five 5-minute rounds of jabs, kicks, holds, bars, parries, jumps, punches, with elbows, knees, feet, fists all involved. I don’t think this will ever become my favourite sport.

Despite discouragement, I went for a walk in Manly, keeping to the shady side of the street. I watched people playing and/or sunbathing on the beaches.

Manly Beach

Helen walked down the road and we met at Fish Bowl where we collected bowls of rice plus veg plus sauce for our dinner. At the grand old age of 31, I still take twice as long to finish a rice-based meal as everyone else. Ridiculous.

We watched “Bohemian Rhapsody”, the new film, on TV, which we found very enjoyable. I was especially pleased to see Kenny Everett portrayed, back at “Capital Radio when it was good” which I am trying to get everyone to adopt as its official name. And of course now, we just want to hear all those old Queen albums in full again, especially A Night at the Opera.

Monday in Manly was mainly medical matters, refilling prescriptions (me), typhoid and hepatitis A jabs (both), dental check-up and clean (both). My plans for a massage made the cutting-room floor: no need to stir up typhoid and hep A juices unnecessarily.

So here I am once again, in Manly Library, typing away in the corner, this time sitting next to (inter alia) books by Keith Waterhouse, who I used to enjoy reading, gulp, decades ago.

Keith Waterhouse books

Meanwhile, Helen and Liesel have gone to a shopping mall to do some shopping. I missed out there. (Didn’t really.)

The results are in, they have been independently verified and certified and all the judges agree. Shine on You Crazy Diamond (pts 1-7) was the final track we heard in the car. Partway through the Ss, nowhere near the Zs. We’ll pick up this alphabetical trawl through our music on another occasion. Meanwhile, Liesel and I have decided we do need a much wider range of music, by a larger selection of artistes. We need to find a way to balance out the discrepancy in volume between loud and soft songs. And we need a random shuffle that is truly random, that doesn’t discriminate against certain people or certain tracks or even some whole albums.

Oops sorry, I usually warn uninterested viewers that this “Music News” is about to appear. But I didn’t this time. If only there were some way to go back in time and fix it.

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).