Four Shops in One Day

The second most repeated comment (after “We have a lot of stuff”) in our luxury apartment is “Oh, what a surprise, it’s still raining”. There has indeed been a lot of rain recently. Many floods in Yorkshire and beyond, some places receiving a month’s rainfall in one day. This amount of rain cannot be good for anybody’s garden, which is how we used to justify the odd shower. But it’s hard to look positively on 6 days out of 7 of continuous rain. Neither of us want to go out when it’s raining that much, and this has a knock-on effect. Over the weeks, we’ve both felt a bit crook: headaches, lethargy and the desire to hibernate.

I had some errands to run so imagine my delight when I was able to walk to the GP practice in the sunshine. It was cold but the heat of the Sun and seeing blue skies really do lift the spirits.

So I continued walking and ended up in Heald Green, another little place we’ve ignored until now.

The pharmacist processed my prescription while I walked over the road to conduct some business at a rare branch of Lloyds Bank.

The pharmacist gave me my drugs and in the same tone of voice as if asking whether I’d like a cup of tea, he asked if I wanted a flu jab. Now? Here and now? Yes, it’s free, on the NHS. As a pharmacist, we won’t overcharge the NHS for providing this service. Actually, he didn’t say that last bit. OK then, I said. Last year, I had no reaction so I thought I’d be ok this time too.

I was going to walk all the way to Jenny’s house but me and a bus reached a bus stop at the same moment, so I cheated, and caught the bus. Please don’t tell anybody. But, not knowing the area all that well, I managed to overshoot my stop, so I probably walked the same distance in the end, just in a different direction.

Liam was out for the evening so he missed a wonderful Indian meal.

The fab four: William, Helen, Martha, Jenny

I reached for a spoon and wham, suddenly my left arm, victim of the flu jab, experienced a bolt of electricity. Keep it moving, was the consensual advice. I did.

Next day, I felt cold and shivery. Not proper flu, but very unpleasant nonetheless. Helen came round briefly to say goodbye: our plans for meeting up with everyone for brunch were, sadly, cancelled. Too many of us not feeling too well.

My very welcome twelve hours sleep meant that I missed Helen’s early departure. And again, for reasons of less than optimal health, we didn’t go and watch Martha swimming. Poor old William and his ailment stopped him from going at all.

But the children and their parents are currently enjoying a break at Center Parcs., leaving us, Darby and Joan, at home to make our own entertainment.

We’ve been to our local Ikea a few times, but it still surprises me as we approach, how garish the big blue and yellow sign outside is. “There it is!” I exclaim, as excited as when we first see the sea on the way to the beach. I know I’ll get a couple of miles walking in at Ikea, so it has its uses.

Help is available

It’s a nice, helpful place, but I don’t know why they have co-workers rather than plain ordinary workers.

We pounded the aisles, bought some stuff for ourselves and for Jenny, ignored all the shortcuts and had a coffee halfway round.

I do like the made-up Swedish names for everything. There is no way you can tell from the name itself what the item is.

S T U V

I found this item interesting because it contains four consecutive letters of the alphabet in the correct order, and that’s quite unusual. But most disappointing was finding out that the toilet brush named Farage does not really exist. This well-named item turns out to be an internet joke. Oh well.

Yes, I’m at Ikea, of course I’d rather be at home

I do like a rhetorical question, don’t you? Even if they did leave out the question mark.

This sign has been reported to the Society for the Preservation of the Correctly Placed Apostrophe

Not too far from this branch of Ikea is a branch of Costco. This once was Liesel’s favourite shopping experience after she moved here to the UK from sunny Anchorage, Alaska. A little bit of America in England. I didn’t walk quite as far here as I had in Ikea, but every little helps, as one supermarket claims.

Costco sells everything form ink cartridges to car tyres, from gateaux to gates. Today, we were on the lookout for a sewing machine. Liesel’s wanted one for a while and during her recent trip home, she used her Mom’s machine and now she has the bug for sewage. Sewing, I mean, damn you, autocorrect.

Unfortunately, they didn’t have any on display, but we did find everything else we needed, including more Kleenex, a vital resource given the nature of our current ailments. It amazes me how much stuff some people buy, two or three trolleys full, in some cases.

After pounding these aisles and paying for the purchases, it was time to eat. The slowest moving queue in the world merely enhanced ones appetite. My slice of five-cheese pizza was ok, but I think I exceeded my recommended daily allowance of grease. I needed more than one hot coffee to displace the fatberg from my mouth.

Sew, next stop, John Lewis. Here, we found the ideal sewing machine and I forced myself to drink another hot coffee, purely for oral-cavity-cleansing purposes.

By far the majority of today’s nominal 10,000 steps took place indoors. It was not a good day to go for a walk outside. The rain continues, and for such a rain-soaked part of the country, it still amazes me how bad the drainage is. If the representative from Guinness World Records were here today, not only would the slowest moving queue have been recorded, but also the largest, deepest puddles, spead over the most lanes on a main road. Not to mention the most people in a queue at a bus stop being splashed by someone driving at speed through such a lake.

The final destination was The Futon Shop in Manchester. We recently ordered a new cover for our futon and came to collect it. Oops, too early. Read the email properly, doofus, they said, and come back in three days time. We will, of course, but to hide our embarrassment, I took some pictures of an attractive rocking chair that would match our futon, if it fits in the living room.

Rocking chair

Four shops in one day: not unusual in itself but this is as exciting as the week was to get.

I decided to make a sandwich for myself, with the jam we’d bought from Ikea. Imagine my disappointment on opening the jar to find a few strawberries, a packet of sugar and a sachet of pectin, complete with really good, explicit instructions. Ikea. Maybe I should have asked for help.

Nomovember

Sometimes it’s hard to keep a secret but I can now reveal that my beautiful daughter Helen is here in England all the way from sunny Manly. Manchester rain greeted her when she was reunited with her sister Jenny and niblings Martha and William at the airport. Helen brought some Tim Tams for us but no actual sunshine, blue skies or warmth. No, I’m not sure ‘nibling’ is a real word but it’s less clunky than saying ‘niece and nephew’ and has a parallel in ‘sibling’.

Liesel and I went to Jenny’s in the afternoon where we apologised to Helen for the atrocious weather and played with bubbles indoors, to Martha and William’s delight.

Auntie Helen and Martha

We stayed for supper and we even drunk some wine. That Helen is a bad influence. But she knows a thing or two about playing with Instagram, a skill we should all develop.

William and Auntie Helen

We missed the Rugby World Cup semi-final between England and New Zealand which possibly explains England’s wonderful victory: we didn’t jinx the team by our presence.

Martha and William had a larger than usual audience for their swimming lessons this week: Helen came too. Later in the afternoon, after I’d walked to Jenny’s house, we enjoyed looking at their artistic endeavours too.

A collage, a montage by Martha

Martha’s collage, made from 5p and 1p coins, morphed from a snowman into a polar bear.

Halloween is approaching and the Blood Donor Centre in Manchester was unusually spooky on this occasion.

Enter if you dare

The care staff were talking about the fancy dress party they’d be going to later and my attendant nurse was extolling the virtues of pumpkin pie. My blood flowed like a well-earned cup of tea, which is exactly what I had afterwards, along with too many biscuits.

Giving blood isn’t scary – and you never know when you might need it back

I said I’d meet Liesel at the Craft and Design Museum when I’d finished, a mere 23 minutes away from the Donor Centre by foot, according to Google Maps. I was therefore stunned and taken aback, not to say, immensely disgruntled when, well over halfway to my destination, and not wanting to overshoot, I checked Google Maps again and it told me I still had 20 minutes to go. So, not that I was feeling weak and feeble or anything, I called Liesel to apologise and we agreed to meet at home instead. In other bad news, my Fitbit battery had died. So all those thousands of steps today weren’t counted. In a coffee shop, I fought the blister pack and installed the new battery.

Break the ruling class

We (I mean Liesel) tidied up our flat so that we could accommodate our guests for a practice Thanksgiving meal. Nut roast, Yorkshire puddings, red cabbage, mashed potatoes, gravy and cranberry sauce that William said was like jelly. Thanks for a fantastic meal, Liesel!

Martha used my PC to type her name. She also pressed other keys that turned the image on the screen upside down, a feature that I’d forgotten even existed!

Helen is here in the UK to surprise her friend Tracey who celebrates a major birthday this week. Helen drove to Somerset, Tracey was stunned into silence and they spent a day at the spa.

A man came by to take away some more of our packing boxes, thanks to Freegle, hooray! The flat is slowly, slowly becoming less clutterered. Still lots of boxes to process, though.

We took William to Chester Zoo again, and on the way, dropped some more stuff off at charity shops, hooray, hooray! We saw all the usual suspects at the zoo, and again, we commented on William’s world basically being an adventure playground.

A man high up in a tree

William weighed it up, but decided not to climb a tree, not even one with low branches that he found ‘in the forest’. Yes, of course he deviated from the carefully constructed path.

A very inviting arbour
William and a tree
Giraffes necking

William slept in the car on the way home again and I collected Martha from Nursery. While she removed the pulp and seeds from her Halloween pumpkin, William was happy to paint a picture of a pumpkin.

Proud Martha (right) with her pumpkin

Alan and Una came round as well and we dined together before Martha and William dressed up to go out Trick or Treating.

Speaking of ‘Treating’, I was hoping to treat the great British public to the wonderful sight of a brand new moustache. I started growing one early for Movember, the leading global organisation committed to changing the face of men’s health.

Well, Liesel didn’t like it so I thought I’d go for the best of three, and seek support from Jenny and Helen. They sided with Liesel. So I decided to go for the best of seven. Huh. I couldn’t even get Martha to lie that she liked the ‘tache. So, off it came, to Liesel’s delight. Given more time, it might have resembled that of a Sikh gentleman’s, or with some tweaking, a Hercule Poirot. No moustachioed Mick for Movember in this manor. Maybe next year.

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.