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.

Back in Northenden

It’s going to take a while to acclimatise to Manchester. We expected some rain, eventually, not this much in just a few days. Luckily, we’re on the second floor, so we don’t need a boat, yet.

Learning the local language might take some time too. I visited Northern Den, the local coffee shop, and asked for a fried egg sandwich. Oops. I was given an egg barm. A barm cake is like a hamburger bun, a big, soft bread roll. Luckily, the word for ‘latté’ is ‘latté’.

We’ve had a chance now to process our ten months away from home.

We left home at the end of July, Day 1 and we left Melbourne for home on Day 316.

During that time, I walked 3,603,072 steps, a distance of 1665 miles. Liesel walked most of that distance with me. The hardest part was counting paces for that length of time, so it’s a good job I had a Fitbit to confirm my enumeration.

We enjoyed 27 separate flights, if ‘enjoy’ is the right word, with a wide spectrum of comfort. Often, you just have to write off the whole day if you’re flying somewhere, with all the queueing and waiting at airports.

We slept in 78 different beds during our travels, and again, with every possible level of comfort from hard on the floor, to mattresses made of marshmallow, with nylon sheets. But how lucky are we: our own bed at home is the best!

Yes, next time we may do some things differently. We’ll make more of an effort to learn some of the local language. We’ll do more research into the local food: finding vegetarian meals in Japan was a nightmare.

We managed well carrying just one small bag each, with one week’s worth of clothing. Liesel is delighted to be wearing something different here at home.

On just a few occasions did we wish we had a pair of binoculars. A proper camera with a decent zoom lens would have given better quality photos of small, faraway objects, but the phone camera was brilliant 99% of the time. I even managed a few shots of the stars at night.

While driving and even sometimes when hiking, there were a few times I wished I had my bike. But that would be a different kind of trip.

Overall, we had a marvellous time, it was a wonderful experience, and we would recommend a gap year adventure to anybody of slightly advanced years, who missed out in their youth.

There are quite a few places that we’d like to revisit and spend more time in. There are very few places that we have no desire to return to, but I think we’ll try to avoid extremely hot places where your energy is sapped, and you can’t fully appreciate the place.

As I think I said early on, I’m no good at remembering names of things, notably flowers and birds and trees. So I apologise for any mis-captioned photos: this blog was never meant to be a guide to the natural world, there are plenty of those already!

Some converstaions are universal. I think I’ve used every possible pronunciation of ‘latté’ over the ten months, and I’m sure some baristas just pretend not to understand this strange Englishman’s accent.

So many people commented on the colour of my Monzo card: hot coral. “You’ll never lose that”, they’d say.

When asked, I’d sometimes say I was from the UK. “Brexit? Hahaha! Theresa May? Hahahahaha!” So embarrassing.

When asked whereabouts in the UK do we live: “Manchester”. “Oh, Manchester United!!” or “Red or blue?”

We saw Fuji, Fiji and Coogee but bypassed Mudgee and Nadgee, ate a dodgy bhaji, listened to the Bee Gees, fed a budgie but not a geegee, used a squeegee in a shower.

We incurred no major injuries, although Liesel is still occasionally in pain if she walks too far, or sometimes even if she walks at all. Insect bites, splinters, sunburn once, minor cuts and a few broken nails are as bad as it got.

We’ve had a couple of days of medical appointments, walking around the local area and trying to find our way around the luxury apartment that we’ve hardly lived in!

Please drive carefully but feel free to park on and block the pavements
Ducks on the Mersey

Moruya to Eden

Moruya is famous for its granite. Between 1924 and 1932, 173,000 blocks of granite were cut, dressed and numbered in Moruya before being shipped to Sydney to face the piers and pylons of the new Harbour Bridge. 240 employees from 14 different nations worked at the quarry, many of them stonemasons from Scotland and Italy. A small community was built around the quarry consisting of 72 cottages, bachelors’ quarters, a community hall, post office, store and a school. This was known as ‘Moruya’s Golden Years’. We can only imagine the noise and the dust generated by all that stonework. Fortunately for us, that was all a long, long time ago and we had a nice peaceful night in our b&b. Still can’t help thinking it would have been easier to build the bridge here in Moruya rather than lugging all that heavy stone hundreds of miles up the coast.

Moruya’s Golden Years

Our journey around the south-east corner of Australia continued and we stopped near Narooma, at the glorious Carter’s Beach. The colour of the sea was stunning.

The sea at Carters Beach

Again, a sign warned us of rips and strong currents, strong surf and submerged rocks. But from above, it looked so peaceful. We couldn’t resist a walk along the beach though. Yes, it was windy, but it was also sunny.

Where’s Liesel?

The sand was good for scraping the last of the mud from the bottom of my trainers. Yes, trainers. For the first time in months, I chose to wear proper shoes rather then sandals for a walk on a nice, safe, flat surface. This is for medical reasons. Months and months in the heat and humidity caused no problems. But just a few days in the relatively cold weather of New South Wales has caused the skin on my heels to crack. Crevasses worthy of an Antarctic expedition. Just a little sore. So it’s back to a regimen of moisturiser, socks and shoes.

Selfie of the day

We drove on to Narooma to look at a rock. Not a lump of granite, but the Australia Rock, so called because the hole in it resembles the shape of Australia.

It was a pleasant walk which gave us some nice views.

Narooma

The crew mowing the grass on the high bank were friendly enough, not so much the woman who drove past us, on the road closed to traffic, with a scowl so sour, she could curdle milk from a hundred yards.

Lean, mean mowing machine

Fortunately, we weren’t on the road a minute earlier, because that’s when a large ant-hill or something was mown, throwing clouds of earth in all directions.

Another day, another campaign against fossil fuel extraction.

No coal seam gas

The steamer, Lady Darling, carrying coal from Newcastle to Melbourne, sank near here in 1880. The site is now protected as an Historic Shipwreck. The masts were visible above water for a while, but no longer.

Adam had visited Montague Island to see and to swim with seals, but we decided not to do so on this occasion.

Where are we now?

The walk along the breakwater was enjoyable, but there was a slight smell. Then we saw why. Seals were basking on the rocks, soaking up the Sun, not at all bothered by us two or the handful of other visitors.

Seal taking it easy

A couple of young ones were playing and play-fighting in the water. I wish I’d caught this moment on video. One of the pups climbed out and nudged his Dad on the bum. Dad leapt about a foot in the air, grunted his disapproval then went back to sleep. We’ve never seen a seal goosed by another seal before.

Seal with pups

As we were talking to a local Aussie lady, we saw dolphins leaping a long way out in the sea. It was only a small pod and they swam right by the little inlet, but that was another wonderful surprise.

Dolphins in the distance

Our new friend told us where to go to see sting rays later on. They come up close to the beach when the fishermen are processing their catch. That’s why we went over to Bar Beach after lunch.

Narooma, Bateman’s Marine Park, Wagonga Inlet, Bar Beach, Eurobodalla, Narooma Bar, Mill Bay, Sapphire Coast. I’m sure they use all these names just to confuse us visitors. Where’s Bar Beach? Oh, this is it, you’re already on it.

I walked along Mill Bay Boardwalk because the sea water here was so clear, you could see the sea bed, the sea grass and any little fish that might come by. There may well have been sea dragons too, little sea horses, but they’re very well camouflaged.

The pelican was just swimming around and around for the sheer pleasure of it, he wasn’t looking for food or a mate, he was just having a good time paddling around in the water.

Pelican idling beacuse he can

Then from underneath the boardwalk, I spied this wonderful creature.

There were no fisherfolk gutting fish today, but I found the table where they would normally do their work. And I guess Ray knew what time of day to come sniffing around.

I found another one having a lie down, and I only wish I had some fish guts in my pocket to throw down for him.

Sting ray

Another breakwater was begging to be walked along, so I obliged. The only lifeforms on the beach were a young couple running and dragging their dogs behind. But, hooray, out at sea, another slice of dolphin action. Fantastic!

It’s always good to learn something new, and today, I found out that I’ve been spelling ‘telaphone’ incorrectly all my life. At least, according to this old phone box in Central Tilba.

Telaphone box

We walked up and down the main street here, admiring all the old buildings. Dairy farming and then gold attracted settlers to the twin towns of Central Tilba and Tilba Tilba.

Central Tilba
Procaffination (sp)

The rest of our drive to Eden was uneventful: we admired the views and hoped to arrive at our b&b before it became too dark.

Bega and its cheese will still be here when we next visit but we ran out of time today.

But how lucky were we today with the wildlife we saw, all totally unexpected! We’d seen signs warning us of the presence of wombats, possoms and kangaroos but we saw none of those on the road, alive, just a couple of corpses.

Our hostess in Eden was named Eve. No, of course not. She was Fran, a retired Maths and English teacher and very pleasant to speak with.

Nitmiluk: Katherine Gorge

The nighttime shenanigans will be dealt with later. Getting up at dark O’hundred seemed such a good idea when we made the plans but the practical side of dragging our carcasses out of bed so early always raises doubt about our sanity.

We drove towards the sunrise and saw beautiful, bright Venus leading the way. Then, just before the Sun appeared, we saw a very thin crescent Moon.

Hello Venus

The sky was partially cloudy, but it looked like we were going to have a wonderful day.

All kinds of animals should be stirring at dawn, we thought. There were a couple of kangaroos ‘having a rest’, but our excitement was piqued by the sight of some snakes warming up by the side of the road. No way was I going to get out of the car, but the photo taken from the passenger seat is pretty damn good.

“Snakes”

I thought about selling this picture to National Geographic or something, but that would just be money for old rope. I’m sure we’re not the only visitors to fall for this jape.

Blue-headed honey-eater

We arrived at Katherine Gorge, Nitmiluk, Visitor Centre, with plenty of time to spare and we joined 12 other people for a cruise along the river, through the gorge. Nitmiluk means cicada country.

The birds didn’t come too close but the blue-headed honey-eater is very pretty. His song was drowned out by the sound from many, many bats though.

There are 13 gorges on the Katherine River, numbered 1 to 13 and we were going to see the first two, accounting for about a third of the total length. Each gorge is separated from the next by rocks and rapids, so we had to board another boat for Gorge No 2.

On Katherine River

The water was calm, a couple of fish jumping, a few birds flying by, but mostly we just gaped in awe at the immensity of the rock formations.

So many rock formations

On a previous cruise, someone had asked the guide if this bird was a penguin?

Little pied cormorant

Well, it’s black and white and hiding behind a branch, so an easy mistake to make.

The rocks are sandstone, fragmented and cracked, and eroded by water over millions of years. The trees are fascinating, sometimes growing in the most ridiculous places.

Tenacious trees and sweeping sandstone

Crayfish are caught in a yabbie trap. Usually, only freshwater crocodiles inhabit this river, and they’re fairly harmless. They only eat things they can swallow whole, such as fish and birds, so we’re quite safe. Unless we annoy them by stomping on their tail, or something. Which we didn’t.

But, after the Wet, and the floods, sometimes gingas, saltwater crocs, can make an appearance.

Yabbie trap

Evidence of their presence includes badly mangled yabbie traps. The river isn’t opened to the public for recreational canoeing until the rangers are certain that there are no gingas.

Another method of detection is to leave some red, blood-soaked polystyrene balls on the surface. A curious croc will take a bite, decide it’s not really food, and move on. The tooth prints will indicate whether it’s a saltie or a freshie.

The red-ball croc detection system

We did see one, small, freshwater crocodile today, a long way from the boat, by the shore, and as soon as he saw us, he swam into the caverns behind.

Freshwater crocodile

It was fairly obvious when we’d reached the end of Gorge No 1. Many rocks across the river, and some rough water just upstream.

Rocks at the top of Gorge number 1

We disembarked and walked about 400m to the next boat. The boats higher upstream are brought in when the river’s in flood, and left there for the season. No heavy lifting required.

The walk itself was interesting: we saw some small frogs in a puddle and some 10,000-year old Aboriginal rock paintings, including underneath where a big chunk of rock had fallen off, many thousands of years ago.

Aboriginal rock painting

The local, Jawoyn, clan can read these paintings like a book. The information board didn’t tell us which book, though.

Some of the trees are growing right down at water level. They’re so lush, even the water looks green in places.

Trees with snake-necked darter

Because of the way the rocks fractured, some of the bends in the river are very nearly right angles.

A very sharp bend in the river

In places, you can see where a fracture on one side continues through the rockface on the other side. Again, my geological knowledge is limited but I would be fascinated to learn more about these structures.

This apparently is the view everyone wants:

Katherine Canyon

Due to eddies and currents and erosion, the water at this point is about 20m deep. This is where the Rainbow Serpent is resting and it’s Jawoyn law that nobody’s allowed to swim here, in case they wake the Serpent up.

We were told about some films that have been made in this area. Jedda, or Jedda the Uncivilised, was released in 1955 and was the first to star two Aboriginal actors. We passed by Jedda’s Rock. An imminent release is Top End Wedding which we’ll look out for. The best recommendation was Rogue, about a crocodile that chases tour boats. Our tour guide (spoiler alert) said that it did have a happy ending though: the tour guide survived.

Selfie of the day

The water is typically about 6m deep in this area. During the floods of 1998, the water rose 20m, engulfing the higher of these two holes in the wall, although you don’t really get the scale from the picture.

Erosion occurs in all directions

At the height of the flood, enough water flowed through the Katherine to fill Sydney Harbour evey nine hours. That is a staggering statistic.

Water from the recent, disappointing, Wet Season, is still making its way through the channels. We saw a couple of cascades today, but many more black stained rocks indicating the presence of waterfalls at other times.

A light waterfall

There are plenty of inviting sandy beaches too. But this is where the crocs lay their eggs, so very soon, signs will appear telling people to stay off. After laying the eggs, the mums aren’t interested and there are enough predators around, without people compacting the sand and making it difficult for hatchlings to emerge.

Nice sandy beach

We returned to our starting point, transferring back to the first boat, feeling exhilarated but tired, and not really up for the hike we’d considered.

Lots of noisy bats in the trees

Some birds and a lizard watched us make our way back to the car park, and we picked up some coffee to take away. The noisy construction will result in a brand new Visitors’ Centre, so we’ll have to come back and see that, one day.

The drive back to base was punctuated by several stops.

Beware, your hat might fly off
An old abandoned car

We saw a bright green and red parrot-like bird. Actually, it probably was a parrot, it was too big to be a lorikeet. We saw some large birds poking at and trying to wake up the resting kangaroos mentioned earlier, to no avail.

Some of the side roads looked interesting, but we didn’t explore. Some said they were Private Property, some didn’t say but they probably are too.

Long straight track to nowhere

Liesel took her first flying lesson today, but I don’t think they’ll be asking her back.

Crashed areoplane

We took a chance and parked our hire car in front of a barn decorated with very many old car number plates.

Lots of regos

I was too slow to take a picture of the dingo that ran across the road in front of us. And similarly not fast enough to snap the pig snuffling by the side of the road. Then it looked up, with its pink collar and its doggie head. The back end still looked like a pig though.

The powerlines are supported by metal posts. I suspect between termites and annual deluges, wooden posts wouldn’t last very long.

Metal post

Other sightings included somebody’s trousers in the middle of the road, some cows, goats, horses and some houses on stilts, although I expected to see more of those.

Back home, we had tea, toast and a nap then I played with the butterflies in the garden. We went back to Woolworths for some shopping and decided against a proper, long walk today.

Here’s an early warning for squeamish visitors. I’m about to relate an incident from last night. This is the Northern Territory and Things Live Here that we don’t normally like to see indoors. Maybe in an outhouse, but not in the main, clean, tiled, inhabited part of a house.

If you’re still with me, I apologise in advance.

As regular visitors may recall, I have reason to visit the lavatory once or twice every night, sometimes more often. And if I can’t sleep for some reason, there can be several nocturnal hikes. Such was the case last night. I couldn’t sleep because I knew we had to get up early and so I ended up losing sleep at both ends of the night.

The first time I went into the bathroom, as soon as I sat down, I felt something scratch my arm. Now, the last time I felt something scratch my arm like that was when a mouse ran out of a mail bag at work, up my arm, and into the prep frame. So obviously, I deduced that this too must be a mouse, in my middle-of-the-night torpor. To investigate, I turned the bathroom light on, something I don’t usually do because it wakes me up too much. I was relieved to see that what hit my arm was a bottle of moisturiser that had fallen off the top of the shower screen when I slightly nudged it.

On the other hand, I was shocked, horrified, surprised and not at all delighted to see a cockroach sitting on the bathroom sink. Not as large as the big red one I saw at Jabiru but worse, because it was indoors. Waving its feelers in my direction. Sorry, but I have to admit, I washed it down the plughole when I washed my hands, and put the plug in the sink. I took some slow, deep breaths to calm myself down, hoping I’d get back to sleep very quickly.

I needed to go to the loo a second time but by now, it was 5:15am and very nearly time to get up anyway. So I turned the bathroom light on only to see the cockroach sitting on the floor. Laughing at me. How the heck did it escape? The plug was still in place. It must have come up through the overflow. I was taking my ease when it started moving towards me. I was quite philosophical when it was running about on the floor. But when it started its fast little jog up the outside of the toilet bowl, I screamed to myself, grabbed it with loo paper, and flushed it away. I don’t know what the ‘going to the toilet’ equivalent of coitus interruptus is, but that’s what happened.

No time to continue so I washed my hands. I released the sink plug and immediately, out popped the original cockroach, looking around like an Alien. Giving me the finger. Swear words echoed around but only inside my head as Liesel wasn’t quite awake yet. I grabbed it with loo paper and flushed it away to join its twin.

I have no idea how many cockroaches we’re sharing the house with but I hope none of them stow away in our bags when we leave.

Not a big problem really. This is the Northern Territory, where every conceivable environmental niche is probably inhabited by bugs of one kind or another. That’s what makes it such a fascinating place. Not just the bugs themselves, but the bigger animals that prey on them.

All together now: Good night, sleep well, don ‘t have nightmares.

Penang

Somebody who shall remain nameless had booked a really early flight from Singapore. Much as we love Changi Airport, we wouldn’t normally choose to rise at 5am, well before the Sun, and well before the birds. In a daze, we took a taxi, checked in, flew for 90 minutes or so and arrived in Penang. Welcome to Malaysia.

Jyoti’s first sighting of Penang, from the plane

Another taxi took us to our new Airbnb on floor 13A. There is no floor 14. There are 14 stripes on the national flag, but I’m not aware of any other significance to this number.

The plan was to walk around George Town to see the sights but we took a wrong turn more or less straightaway, so we just busked it from then on!

St George’s Church

St George’s is the oldest Anglican church in southeast Asia, now 201 years old and with two restorations under its ecclesiastical belt.

Liesel and Jyoti blocking the cycle path in George Town

George Town, what a busy, bustling place, lots of colours, smells, cultures, people.

Joss sticks, incense
Sri Mahamariamman Temple

The Sri Mahamariamman Temple is the oldest Hindu temple in Penang, now 186 years old.

Jalan Masjid Kapitan Keling

The Kapitan Keling Mosque is the oldest in George Town, now 218 years old.

We stumbled upon another Little India and if we thought George Town wasn’t busy enough already, this neighbourhood certainly turned everything up to 11. Indian music came from many shops, there was virtually no distinction between where pedestrians and cars went, yet there was no honking from the drivers.

Little India? Well, it had to be a delicious thali for lunch.

We browsed several shops, looking at the jewellery and other little trinkets. I think Martha might be getting something nice for her birthday, wink, wink.

The clothes, batik or otherwise, are gorgeous.

A feast of colour

And if the colourful clothing doesn’t do it for you, just look at the tiles on the floor. So ornate, it’s almost criminal to walk on them.

This design probably started out as a doodle

Lots of shops, lots of items and yes, in the end, we did buy some more stuff! An artist was selling her wares in a small shop, and even selling things made by her 83-year old mother. Each item is accompanied by this note:

Remember who we are
Very pretty pin cushions

Penang Science Cluster was fascinating, with little wooden models made by the students. There’s even an aeroplane in the room, next to a flight simulator. We had a quick snack here, while pondering this little machine.

Possibly a Rubik’s Cube solving machine

Has it been programmed to solve a Rubik’s Cube? It was in a glass cabinet, so we don’t really know, but I hope so.

We continued walking where we could, but found that many pavements just stopped in the middle of nowhere, and road crossings are few and far between. Learning a lesson from Suva, we just latch on to a local, and cross where we can. Taking the fine art of jay-walking to a whole new level.

Looking towards the mainland, Malayan peninsula

Pavements just stop in the middle of nowhere? Not only that, there are ditches by the side, easy to slip into if you’re not careful. And where the kerb’s too high, just put an extra step there!

A step up to the pavement, over the ditch

In the evening, J&L had a meaty meal at a Korean barbecue restaurant while I went walkabout and found a nice veggie-friendly place. Deep fried lychees are strange but I’ll try anything once.

A plant that thinks it’s a chicken

There were quite a few loose, feral dogs, running between the people and the traffic, not bothering anybody, just doing what they do.

Liesel was feeling a bit under the weather, a bit of a cold, a cough, headache, just bleurgh really, so she missed a fun day up on Penang Hill with Jyoti and me.

Our transport of choice here on Penang is cabs, bookable via an app. They’re quite cheap, and much faster than the buses would be. We took two cabs to the bottom end of the Penang Hill Funicular Railway. No, not one each: we stopped at a place called Let’s Meat for breakfast. I had a nice, meat-free, meal, my first ‘western’ breakfast for a few days.

The funicular train was packed so we had to stand. The sign advised us to sit on a seat if possible. But we weren’t allowed to smoke, vape, eat, drink, carry pets, push, spit or carry durians. So restrictive.

Looking up the Funicular

The resort of Penang Hill reaches 833 metres above sea level and it’s much cooler way up there. Just as humid though.

Looking down at George Town and Jelutong, where we’re staying, I think the haze surprised us both. If it’s water vapour, humidity, that’s not so bad, but if it’s pollution, that’s a different story.

George Town through the haze

There’s a lot to see and do on Penang Hill. The first thing you need to do is fight off all the people who want to take your picture with a nice view in the background. It’s a very pleasant walk, with lots of signs telling us about all the animals we were unlikely to encounter: snakes, yes, snakes again, lizards, frogs, dusky leaf monkeys, flying squirrels, sunda colugo, spring hill turtle, lesser mousedeer, common tree shrew. We saw a few butterflies and other insects, some birds, but I think there were just too many people walking on the paths and talking loudly: any interesting animal with a bit of common sense would have stayed well clear.

We followed a sign off the main path to see some orchids. Well, it wasn’t a big display today, but the one we saw was very pretty.

Pretty in pink

There were lots of other pretty flowers too, and at times like this, I wish I’d paid more attention in my botany classes. Very small flowers and very big leaves. This seems to be quite common here in the jungle.

Orange flowers

Yes, it did feel like a proper jungle, up here in the tropical rain forest. Disregard the artificial, manmade paths, close your eyes, listen to the birds, insects and other remote animals, enjoy the humidity, appreciate the lack of leeches, imagine you’re wearing a safari hat rather than a sun hat, fantastic, and then, the soothing voice of Sir David Attenborough will slowly materialise in your head.

One of the main attractions is the Tree Top Walk, but there is also a Canopy Walk.

The Tree Top Walk itself proved quite elusive. We followed the signs, but the main entrance was blocked off. Go back to the Police Station, the sign said. A nice police officer pointed us in the direction of a makeshift ticket stall. We bought tickets and rode the free shuttle up the narrow path, saving us a long walk.

Both walks are high up in the trees, so it should be easier to spot the tree-dwelling animals. Well, if you’re a long way behind a quartet of loud and lairy Aussies, you just know they’ll have scared anything interesting away.

Canopy Walk

We saw branches and some leaves move near the top of a tree and we did catch a glimpse of a couple of squirrels. I’ve scrutinised my hasty photos with an industrial strength magnifying glass but no good, unfortunately. There is something on one of my videos but blink and you miss it!

Tree Top Walk

It seems a tomato vine had gone totally berserk and grown up one of the taller trees. If not tomatoes, we don’t know what this fruit is, it was certainly out of place! And the fact that some had been nibbled proved our first notion, that these were left-over Christmas baubles, to be utter nonsense.

Possibly tomatoes

We needed some liquid refreshment, rehydration, before returning to the furnace nearer sea level.

Emergency assembly point

It’s common here to see that, in an emergency, you have to gather in groups of four to sing Bohemian Rhapsody.

The ride back down was exciting: we sat on the back of a pickup truck, no seatbelts, with a family consisting of a miserable Dad, two excited children and their lovely, infinitely patient nanny.

On the train back down, Jyoti and I managed to sit right at the front, in the driver’s seat, so you can now ride down the Funicular with us.

In the evening, we all three went to what should be called Little Armenia. The cab sped through quite fast so there wasn’t an opportunity to take pictures of the fabulous street art. There are some wonderful murals in this area. The floor tiles here were very pretty too.

More floor tiles

Down the road from our little family-run (but not Armenian) restaurant is of course a Chinese temple. I suspect it’s the oldest in <pick a suitably narrowed-down area> but I could find no supporting evidence.

Chinese temple at sunset

Liesel was feeling well enough to go out, following her rest day, and, from the cab, being totally totally on the ball, she spotted a Marks and Spencer and a huge Tesco on our first ride of the day. A couple of Starbucks too. Yes, I was shaking my head in dismay as I wrote that.

I don’t know if I’ve mentioned the humidity here. But on disembarkation after a forty-minute ride in the air-conditioned cab, my spectacles misted up instantly. Horses sweat, gentlemen perspire and ladies glow. Not here: everyone just drips.

I accompanied the two spice girls on a pleasant walk around the Tropical Spice Garden. The aromatics were drowned out a bit because we were encouraged to apply citronella, to deter the mosquitoes. Well, we never even saw any of those pesky things. I suspect it also deterred butterflies from settling on our hot and sweaty bodies, which is a shame, so many photo opps lost.

The dragonflies here are bright red, they almost glow.

Very ornate stone path

The patterns on the path were pretty and very well done. Jyoti and I had a go at walking on the reflexology path in bare feet.

Joke reflexology path designed to torture tourists

Four paces was all I could take, those stones are hard, man. I can stand for a while but I can’t put all my weight on one foot, which makes walking incredibly uncomfortable. No, painful.

The Garden had a lot of shade, which helped keep us cool, and at the top of the hill, we had a nice cup of tea from the urn.

Nice cup of tea

It was indeed a refreshing brew but I was unable to translate the explanatory note. From the taste, though, I think the ingredients include pandanus, stevia, citrates and graminaceae.

So after finishing the tea, smacking my lips, rinsing the cup under flowing fresh water, I turned round to see this sign:

Welcome to The Poison Garden

Oh well, we gulped, as we walked up the steps to see what poisons were available. Skin irritants, digestive system destroyers, coma-inducers, they were all here. We trod carefully so as not to even brush against something that, to be honest, looks just like a weed that might grow in your garden.

My lunch was very nice, at the Tree Monkey restaurant, while J&L ate at a smaller, meaty place over the road, before joining me for dessert.

From where I sat, I could watch the sea, and see the beach, and I was impressed by the dreadlock tree.

Dreads

I’m sure it has a proper name, but I missed out on my arborology classes too.

We booked a cab to take us to a batik shop but when we arrived, it turned out to be an unoccupied building up for sale. Proof that Google doesn’t know everything.

So we took a bus to George Town in order to visit an alternative batik shop. Luckily, none of us had bought any durian fruit, as you’re not allowed to take them on buses! The bus journey passed quickly for me as I was engaged in conversation with a man from British Columbia who’s been here for four months, away from his wife, and he asked for an update on the news. Which, of course, I have scant knowledge of as I try to avoid it as much as possible.

From the bus, it was just a five minute walk to the batik shop but when we arrived, it turned out to be a furniture shop. Proof that Google still doesn’t know everything.

We gave up on batik shops. In fact, we gave up on shops altogether, went over the road to a hotel for which we were suitably underdressed, and took refreshments.

Selfie of the day

The cab ride back home was exciting. The roads are full of mopeds and motor bikes and dogs and pedestrians. Most bike riders wear helmets, which is good, but some don’t. For example, with Dad on the front and Mum on the back holding a child, the child won’t usually have a helmet.

Most riders wear flip-flops too, and a good number put a shirt on backwards, presumably to keep the worst of the wind off their bodies.

The chickens in crates on the back must enjoy their final ever journey, on such busy roads. From the cab driver’s point of view, road markings are merely suggestions and if you want to join a line of traffic, just go for it. The concept of “health and safety” doesn’t exist here in quite the same way. Need to dig a hole in the middle of the road? Just go for it. Put a couple of bollards there, have one man waving the traffic by while the work is carried out by a couple of others wearing their faded hi-vis vests.

Once back in our 13Ath storey apartment, we all rested, took a siesta, and none of us ventured out again for the rest of the day.

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.

Nirranda and Port Fairy

That’s two nights here, time to move on, to move on. First stop was Cape Otway Lightstation. We spent more time here than anticipated, it was so fascinating. Jyoti was delighted to find another warning sign depicting her favourite kind of animal. Not.

Beware of snakes
Rocks and rough seas at Cape Otway

The seas are quite rough here, it’s easy to see how so many ships came to grief along this coast. Cape Otway was often the first sight of land following the long voyage from Britain. It also marks the point where the Bass Strait meets the Southern Ocean, although the ‘join’ isn’t as obvious as that seen at Cape Reinga in NZ.

Selfie of the day

The path to the lighthouse itself was not in use but the ‘Caution’ tape confused some people: they thought there was no access to the lighthouse at all. And with an air ambulance, some police cars and other medical staff, it was easy to suppose there had been some kind of accident.

Alas no, the lighthouse was open and as always, I began to count the steps as I climbed, but was distracted by someone running down very, very fast. So I’ll just say, there are about 967 steps to the top of Cape Otway Lighthouse.

Although this is the wrong time of year to see whales in the ocean, we did actually see one outside it.

Whale sculpture

And against all odds, we saw a kangaroo too.

Steampunk kangaroo

One thing we weren’t prepared for was how much this area was involved in the second World War. Trouble not just from the Japanese, but the Germans were here too, laying sea mines between Cape Otway and Wilsons Promontory, attempting to prevent access to Port Phillip Bay and Melbourne.

Jyoti, Liesel, half a German sea mine

A large area is devoted to understanding the local aboriginal culture. In the Talking Hut, Dale told us about the local history. He’s of aboriginal descent, his great (x3?) grandmother is Bessie Flower, the first ‘educated’ aboriginal woman. Dale is white, he also has Dutch origins.

Outside on our short Bush Tucker tour, he showed us which plants were safe to eat, and we sampled the salt bush (salty), the local rosemary (sweet, then very bitter), the ‘lemonade’ berries (fizzy). The attractive red berries are not edible, but when he squeezed one, the juice was pure magenta dye. Will we eat these leaves out in the wild? I suspect not, we’ll be far too cautious.

Inside The Talking Hut

He told the story of his 5-year old son going out into the bush, catching a small bee, tying a filament from a particular plant around it, so that when it flew back to its nest, he could follow it. He then pulled a lump of honeycomb from under the stones. One root which resembles a turnip can be cut up and is used for relief of toothache.

When I was at school, we were told that Aborigines had been in Australia for between 20,000 and 40,000 years. It is now thought that it’s more likely to be 100,000 years, although the evidence is flimsy right now.

Cape Otway has the second purest water in the world: the actual purest is on Tasmania. It also boasts the oldest known farm in the world, at 6000 years of age. It really is a place of superlatives.

Jyoti, Liesel and the Cape Otway wreck

As we drove away from Cape Otway, we continued to look in the gum trees for a you-know-what. I was driving and when I saw something cross the road in front of me, I braked and we came to a halt. It took a moment to register, it was so unexpected, but there it was: a koala. We didn’t want to frighten him, but equally, we wanted photos, so we all leapt out of the car.

Grandad koala saying goodbye

The old-looking koala walked off into the woods surprisingly fast. On seeing the picture, one of my daughters compared his hairy ears to those of a grandad’s. I have no idea to whom she is referring.

At Castle Cove, we enjoyed the sunshine and the views and this was the venue for our long beach walk of the day. Keep on the path. Snakes. We walked down the steps, noting that the sea was rough, the tide was high but even so, there were quite a few surfers.

Castle Cove beach
Strata well defined

The rock wall at the top of the beach was beautifully stratified, very soft sandstone and it had a greenish tinge due to iron. There were a couple of small caves, too small to explore and in the middle of all the sand and rocks, this pretty, solitary plant,

The only plant on this beach

Gibson Steps gave us our first sighting of the Twelve Apostles, the iconic limestone stacks formerly known as Toots and the Maytals, no, formerly known as the Sow and Pigs.

Not strictly speaking a Twelve Apostle

What we saw was in fact Gog and Magog, east of Castle Rock. We walked 1.1 km along a further section of the Great Ocean Walk, through the visitors centre, to see the actual Twelve Apostles. It was late in the day, the Sun was low, so we saw the stacks in silhouette. Even so, what a remarkable sight. We walked as far as we could along the path to the Castle Rock lookout. And as if things weren’t scary enough already, this is one of the signs.

Warning: Venomous snakes
There’s a hole my stack, dear Liza
The Twelve Apostles sea stacks

As it was Jyoti’s birthday, we thought we’d buy a cake at the café at the visitors centre. But it was Sunday, it was late, it was closed. We began the 1.1 km walk back to the car, away from the Sun now, so a little more comfortable, especially with a slight breeze. L&J were ahead, and some Japanese people pointed to the ‘porcupine’ crossing the path and by the time I caught up, the echidna, for that is what it was, was in the bush.

Echidna

What an exciting day: a koala and an echidna! And then, as we were driving awa from Gibson’s Steps, in the rearview mirror, I saw a kangaroo crossing the road.

There are many other places to visit on the Great Ocean Road, but as it was late, we headed straight for our new b&b in Nirranda. A shopping trip in Peterborough was disappointing, the single, solitary supermarket mostly specialised in fishing bait.

The b&b is built from old shipping containers. I thought surely a metal wall would make it really hot inside. And so it proved. Thank goodness for the ceiling fans.

Shipping containers now containing us

We didn’t realise at the time, but we shared our room with a grasshopper. We’d seen ants and flies and heard a mosquito or two, but we didn’t know about this chap until the morning.

Grasshopper

I let him out into the garden. One moment he was sitting there, the next, gone. Probably the strongest jumping leg muscles in the world. Well, it is a superlative area. Witness the petrol price at Lavers Hill: $1.70 per litre, compared with $1.20 to $1.30 elsewhere.

Liesel and Jyoti went shopping, all the way to Warrnambool, which takes its name from the whales that thrive in the ocean here. Just not at this time of the year: we’ll have to come back to go whale-watching.

Later, when J&L and I had eaten lunch, I tore down the large curtain from the living room window to take with us. We’d decided to walk to the nearby beach, about a mile away. Well, it was hot and there was no shade but it really did take much longer than the advertised 20 minutes.

Turd bush

This bush looks weird, we thought, and we certainly weren’t going to taste its leaves. It can only be described as a turd bush, since its fruits (?) look like animal droppings.

The dusty, stony, gravelly path continued on and on, up and down, disappointment every time the sea failed to come into view over the brow of a hill.

But then, the end came in sight.

Hang gliding and paragliding

Holding tight with both hands, I started my run-up towards the cliff edge. Suddenly, I heard someone yell “Nooooooo!!!”

Apparently, you can’t go hang-gliding just holding on to a curtain, you have to use specialist equipment such as a hang glider with landing wheels, a harness and a helmet. Oh well, I tried.

The walk down to the beach was difficult too. A very narrow, steep and sandy path. We were all wearing sandals, not the best footwear for such terrain.

A beach beyond

We gave up, discretion is the better half of Valerie, or something. It looked like a nice beach to walk on too, what a pity.

We drove to The Arch, an unusual rock formation, but we couldn’t work out how it got its name.

The Arch

We drove to London Bridge, an unusual rock formation, but we couldn’t work out how it got its name. Especially since London Bridge has fallen down and it’s now just another stand-alone stack.

London Bridge

There’s a beach here too, another nice looking beach, ideal for a walk, but we’re asked to stay away because of the penguins. We didn’t see any penguins of course, but there were plenty of footprints in the sand. Penguins or other birds, we don’t know.

Footprints in the sand

On the path back to the car park, I spotted a small black lizard, probably a skink, but it might have been something more exotic: my hasty photo just shows a black blur in the grass.

We drove to The Grotto, another unusual formation. As we went down the steps to see what is really just a hole, a young girl ran up by us, and then she ran back down past us. She and her two friends were planning to swim in the still water but I did take this picture.

The Grotto

And finally today, we drove to the Bay of Martyrs, part of the Bay of Islands. I walked down to the beach, attempted a selfie with the Sun setting behind me, over the sea.

Won’t be trying an artistic shot like this again
Bay of Martyrs beach

For supper tonight, my contribution was to pick tomatoes from the plants in the garden. The courgettes weren’t quite ready yet and we didn’t fancy the rhubarb. We had cheese and crackers and chutneys with red, red wine, a belated birthday party for Jyoti. Almost. Still no cake.

Before going to bed, we all went outside to gaze at the stars and to listen to whatever animal was making a noise like fff-fff-fff-fff over and over. In fact, it was still doing this later on when I got up briefly. By this time, the Moon was up too, so only the brightest stars were visible.

Jyoti and I were sitting on the step outside the house, drinking our teas, shooting the breeze, watching the trees, when Liesel told us we had half an hour left. Uh? To pack and to move on. We were away with five minutes to spare. Bit of a shock to the system though: both Jyoti and I had totally forgotten that this was moving day.

Cactus, not a native Australian, we suspect

We had a pleasant drive to our next b&b, but I did have an agenda. We need a new electric plug adapter since the old one broke. I tried fixing it and it worked well for a while, but here’s a tip: sticking plaster, Band-Aid, Elastoplast, doesn’t reliably stick to plastic for very long. And another tip: if you need tin foil to help make an electrical connection, try to use pieces larger than the torn-off bits from the blister pack containing your drugs.

Lily the Pink aka naked ladies

As if lilies aren’t enough, we soon drove by a farm with a strange collection of animals: sheep, goats, llamas and camels.

Camels

Warrnambool didn’t provide us with an adapter. “Oh no”, said the man in the electrical shop, “we don’t sell that sort of thing. Try the Post Office.” I thanked him through gritted teeth for his help.

It’s hard to know exactly where the Great Ocean Road finishes. The GOR, B100, ends at Allansford, near Warrnambool. There, we joined the A1, Princes Highway. On the other hand, some of the literature for Port Fairy considers it part of the Great Ocean Road. Either way, when we arrived at Port Fairy, “The World’s Most Liveable Community”, we’d definitely reached the end of the world’s largest, and arguably the world’s most functional, war memorial, for this trip.

It’s a cute little town, enhanced by protective/advertising hoardings at the base of the lampposts.

Folk Festival coming up

After a coffee break, we went to sit by the beach for a while. Yes, sit by the beach. Not on the beach. In the car, in the car park, looking at the beach. Why? The wind was strong and cold.

Port Fairy beach towards the lighthouse

I still went for a walk, solo, and found two memorials, close to each other, both emotionally moving but for very different reasons.

In Memory of Thousands of Aboriginal People Massacred
In Memory of Service Personnel from Port Fairy lost in battle
Good idea

We checked in to our new, first floor, b&b and wow, we have a view over the beach. But the wind was still strong and we decided not to sit and be blown off the balcony.

I fancied another walk, and I thought the lighthouse at the far end of Griffiths Island would be an ideal goal to aim for.

Short-tail shearwaters or “Mutton birds” nest on the island, but again, we’re here at the wrong time of year.

Shearwater nesting holes

I did wonder whether these nesting holes might currently be occupied by snakes or other squatters. And then out of the corner of my eye, I saw movement. A kangaroo was hopping across the field.

Kangaroo saying hello

This was the first one I’d seen in the wild, although J&L had been lucky a few nights ago.

I didn’t see the kangaroo that failed to clear this hurdle

I followed the track to the lighthouse, but the amorous couple sitting outside deterred me from walking right up to the door.

Griffiths Island lighthouse

The track followed the beach for part of the way, and I was surprised to see volcanic rocks sitting amongst the soft, white sand.

Volcanic basalt

It was warmer now, the wind had calmed down and I thought maybe J&L would go out for a walk later.

Pedestrians watch your… oops
Seagulls sculpture

While I was out, Liesel and Jyoti had been planning ahead, making plans for the next month or so. Bookings were made, despite issues with various websites and credit cards.

Unfortunately, up in our b&b, out on the balcony, the wind felt just as strong as ever, though not as cold.

We were talking about our various medical issues and the consensus is, we’ve been pretty lucky and injury-free. Liesel’s piriformis is still a PITA and it affects other muscles at different times. Other than that, a few insect bites, a couple of broken nails, cracked heels is as bad as it’s been.

Now is the time for those viewers not interested in the musical soundtrack to our travels to press the yellow button on your device and be transported to a totally different place.

We didn’t bother connecting my device to the car’s Bluetooth at Uluru because we were only there a couple of days. But with a new car in Melbourne, it felt right that we should play the whole Slim Dusty album for Jyoti’s enjoyment. We then returned to the alphabetical playlist. Picking up where we left off in New Zealand with Nomad Blood. At the time of writing, we are in the Rs. Q was interesting. The first one was a mistake: somebody at the CD factory had entered the song title as Que est le soleil? instead of Ou est le Soleil? And of the genuine Qs, 4 out of the 6 were 2 versions each of 2 David Bowie songs. What will we do when we’ve reached the end of the Zs? And will we even reach the end of the Zs by the time we return this car?