Edinburgh

We enjoyed watching William and Martha swimming again for what would be the last time at such an early hour. From next week, their classes begin at 11.00am. We’re grandparently proud of their promotions!

The long drive north to Edinburgh was uneventful. Apart from a couple of bad accidents and the occasional downpour, that is.

High pressure rain cleaning the windscreen

Yes, off to the gorgeous capital city of Scotland for a couple of days to take in a very small percentage of the Festival and Fringe events.

Tebay is probably our favourite service station thanks to its Farm Shop. It’s not an online buying and selling site based in Yorkshire, whatever it says in the Uxbridge English Dictionary. The vegetarian sausage rolls and vegetarian Scotch eggs are highly recommended!

We hadn’t realised how many wind farms there are now: good to see that the gales and hurricanes that blow our way aren’t totally wasted.

Old energy vs new energy

Neither of us brought our passports but who knows? This might be the last time we visit Scotland while it’s still part of the United Kingdom.

Welcome to Scotland

Liesel commented that some of the landscape reminds her of her home state, Alaska.

Ecclefechan

Sarah, Jenny, Helen and I stayed in a b&b in Ecclefechan on what would be our final visit to Scotland all together. It remains Helen’s favourite placename to this day.

This time, Liesel and I are staying in Bathgate. That is the correct name of the place. In the past, I have also stayed at places called Lochhead and Pathhead. Over these few days, I think I referred to our present location using every possible combination of the words loch, head, gate, bath and path.

In the early evening, we caught a train into Edinburgh for our first event.

Bathgate Station: trains are under starter’s orders

We thought we had a nice, easy walk to the venue. But it’s been a while, we’d forgotten how hilly Edinburgh is. Not only that, we had to scale The News Steps. 124 steps, I think. We arrived at the summit breathless and not just because of the beautiful view of the city below.

Circa: Humans took place in a Big Top. A troupe of ten performers, very nimble and very strong, doing the sort of callisthenics that we do each morning, only slightly more skilfully, and with a musical accompaniment.

The music was at different times insistent, percussive, rhythmic and funny. One routine to the song The Impossible Dream proved conclusively that it is impossible to lick ones own elbows.

Stunts included human pyramids. Only, not always pyramids: in some cases, one guy bore the weight of two others.

The poster (photos of the performance not allowed)

Like most shows at The Fringe, this one lasted an hour. They had some fantastic ideas, very imaginative choreography and it was all executed flawlessly. ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

The Humans thanking the audience

Twice in a row now, I’ve inserted a USB cable correctly on the first attempt. I think my luck might be changing. Or, maybe not. Although we’d planned to go into Edinburgh from Bathgate by train every day, our second attempt failed. It was a working day, and the station car park was full. In fact, over full: some cars were dumped in the most ridiculous places. So, reluctantly, we drove into the auld city. Both days, we managed to park close to the final venue of the day, making for a quick getaway.

Greyfriars Bobby (statue)

We admired Greyfriars Bobby’s well polished nose. He’s the dog that sat beside his master’s grave waiting for the opportunity to dig up some bones, I think.

We’ll bin our jokes if you bin your litter

The city was really tidy, on the whole, but the bin jokes should have been binned. What’s Beethoven’s favourite fruit? Ba-na-na-naaa.

The International Photography Exhibition at the Photographic Exhibition Centre exhibited about 230 photographs from over 2000 submitted from all around the world.

Photography Exhibition attendee having a rest (still life)

There were some imaginative pictures here though some had obviously received a certain amount of post-production doctoring, or editting. I was hoping to get some ideas for my own future pictures.

Railway lines – London to Plymouth by John Widdows

The damselfly photo was magnificent and as I said to Liesel, I wish they’d sit that still for me! And my photo of that photo was of course out of focus. Curses! But for the exhibition as a whole: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

A few years ago, Jenny and I visited Edinburgh together. We enjoyed the veggie food at Henderson’s and I was glad to see it’s still going strong. Liesel and I had lunch of (veggie) haggis and mashed root veg, a mid-Winter meal, really, but outside, it was particularly dreich for that half an hour. The toilets here are interesting. They’re labelled ‘H’ for Hers and ‘H’ for His. The toilet paper is dispensed one single-ply square at a time from what can only be described as a very tight cat’s bum. You have to iron each sheet before applying it to your own. Actually, I think the ‘H’ stands for Henderson’s but the stylised gentleman and lady on the doors aren’t that different from each other, so I’m sure mistakes must be made.

The Edinburgh Wheel

We went for a sightseeing ride on the ferris wheel known as The Edinbugh Wheel, Festival Wheel or Big Wheel depending on who you talk to. It’s erected by Princes Street Gardens and I think I enjoyed the ride more than Liesel did.

View from the top, you can just see the Forth bridges in the distance

Along the road, we witnessed Master Bones dancing along to Ghostbusters. The puppetmaster was very skilful, even encouraging Master Bones to surpise an inattentive visitor sitting on a nearby bench.

Master Bones

While waiting to see his show, we witnessed The Reverend Richard Coles queueing at a van to buy a coffee or a g&t or something, yes, queueing with normal people. If we hadn’t been at the front of the queue into the venue, we might have walked over for a selfie opportunity.

The Reverend Richard Coles, Communard, vicar, broadcaster

He entertained for an hour, telling us his life story, A Simple Country Parson or, as he described it, Edinburgh’s only One Parson Show. It certainly deserves ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

The Usher Hall is probably one of Edinburgh’s finest venues. The audience for the performance given by the 140-year old Shanghai Symphony Orchestra was much better dressed than for our other shows (present company excepted, sorry). It was part of the official Edinburgh International Festival. The first piece sounded a bit Chinese, some of the instruments were very reminiscent of the music played from stretched tapes in Chinese restaurants a few decades ago. But Qigang Chen’s The Five Elements was an unexpected delight.

Dvořák’s Cello Concerto was eye-closingly romantic and moving, but I’m not convinced that the soloist was Chinese, with the name Alisa Weilerstein!

Alisa Weilerstein with her cello
Shanghai Symphony Orchestra’s view of the Usher Hall audience

I wasn’t allowed to take pictures, so I borrowed these from The Herald Scotland website. The highlight of the performance was Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony, which I remember borrowing from Hammersmith Library over 40 years ago, so definitely time to listen to it again! There was a short encore and the conductor joked that he was now off to enjoy some Scotch whisky. A ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ performance.

Oor Wullie is possibly the most famous Scottish cartoon character, featuring in The Sunday Post newspaper since 1937.

Natural Healing, Oor Rail Bridge, Flowers of Scotland and Wullie’s Seat
Oor Crossing, Oor Coal Miner, illegible plaque and Oor Skeleton

There are over two hundred of these sculptures not just in Edinburgh but all over Scotland, each designed by a different artist. The Oor Wullie Big Bucket Trail is a fundraiser for children’s hospitals in Edinburgh and Glasgow.

Edinburgh Castle

One of my favourite modern artists is Bridget Riley. Obviously, the doodles I come up with while speaking on the phone aren’t in the same league as her abstract, geometric paintings, but I find them fascinating. Yes, if you look at some of them for too long, you might begin to feel a bit nauseous, but we spent a long time wandering around this exhibition at the Royal Scottish Academy.

Part of Cataract 3 by Bridget Riley

I walked by Cataract 3 while videoing the picture. The end result is much better than I anticipated. I showed some other attendees and they proceeded to copy my idea.

One work of art, Rajasthan, is painted directly onto the plaster wall. When it’s time for this exhibit to move on, it will be painted over and Bridget Riley with assistants will paint it again onto a wall in the new venue.

Rajasthan by Bridget Riley

Continuum is a reconstruction of an old structure that you can walk through. It’s a short spiral with black lines like a lunatic barcode on the walls which can make you forget where you are momentarily. Overall, this exhibit deserves ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

We had a coffee in the café at the neighbouring National Gallery of Scotland. The two ladies on the next table were having an in-depth psychoanalytical session but we couldn’t work out which was the doctor and which the patient.

Surgeon’s Halls

After a lot of walking about the city, Liesel chose to visit the Surgeon’s Hall Museum while I went for a walk further afield.

Blue sky and cranes seen from the bottom of the climb

I’m glad I collected my jacket from the car because halfway up the stone steps to Arthur’s Seat, the heavens opened and the rain came down. No, not down: sideways. It was fairly incredibly windy, my back was drenched while my front stayed dry. At least until I turned round to walk back down.

View obscured by rain
Ominous clouds

The view of the city was diminished, you couldn’t even see the cranes decorating the city.

Liesel said to me, as we were walking along, “What I really miss is seeing elephants, maybe we should go to the zoo.” I replied, “Well, I’m hungry and I quite fancy a bagel, right now.” What are the chances of finding this shop round the corner?

Elephants and Bagels

The Voices of Bond was a nice relaxed show in a small venue, The Space @ Symposium Hall. The singer, Phoebe Katis, performed songs from the James Bond films and provided a narrative history of the Bond film franchise. Yes, she even used that particular F word. She and her band were very good, though I was disappointed that more audience members didn’t sing along, to drown my voice out, if nothing else.

Phoebe Katis

No, I don’t think that’s the real MI6 insignia, but even so, a ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ show.

We went into the library to escape one short downpour and came across probably the most philosophical stairs in the world.

Library stairs

The Royal Mile was always very busy, probably a 50-50 split between entertainers and entertained. I watched this couple for the full six minutes of Bohemian Rhapsody.

Top buskers

I think these were the best of the buskers, although the ones we saw and heard were all good, possibly helped by not being allowed to use any amplification.

Scott Monument

Sticking to our Scottish diet, we had The Best Pizza in the UK at a place just along the road from our final event.

Jeremy Nicholas is a public speaker and broadcaster. He was the MC at West Ham FC’s home games for many years which was lucky as he is also a staunch West Ham supporter. What Are You Talking About? is the name of his Fringe show this year.

What Are You Talking About? poster

The talk was very funny, lots of true stories though not all with humorous endings. We received some tips on public speaking and if I ever feel compelled to partake in such activity, I know where to go for some advice and training. ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Over these few days, we’d confirmed that we can’t really do more than one late night in a row any more. Straight to bed and straight to sleep, the night. (Yes, a little Scottish thrown in there.)

The long drive back home was uneventful: we stopped at Tebay Services again.

So next time: we’ll go for a longer period, we’ll go to fewer shows each day, we’ll try and avoid too many late shows in succession. Plus, of course, Edinburgh is a lovely city to visit even without a Festival or Fringe. Yes, we gave all the shows five stars because they all really entertained us, doing things that we could never do ourselves. I’m sure they’d all give us five stars too for being such good audience members!

Tranquility

Chester Zoo is featured in a TV series and it’s also the closest to where we live. We had a good day there with Jenny plus Martha and William and Auntie Helen. I told myself there was no need to take any pictures, we’ve seen all these animals before and they won’t have changed much.

The latest news is that just a few days ago, a chimpanzee gave birth and yes, the baby’s very cute, though we didn’t need to see the mum dragging her innards behind her like a really old, tatty, plastic bag. Sorry if you’re having your tea, but don’t worry, I didn’t waste any film on that.

We enjoyed being buzzed by the fruit bats in a dim, dark and very ammoniacal habitat. I’m not convinced their sonar had been correctly calibrated.

Fruit bats

William described one of the large, newly installed, predators as ‘scary’ which is quite perspicacious: I thought it was scary too, and I know it wasn’t real. But all the dinosaurs and predators are big, they all move and most are quite vocal. Rroarr!

Dire wolf
Martha being held by Helen with a Giant Bear behind (Winner, Obvious Caption Awards, 2019)
Quetzalcoatlus

The playground was great fun, with, amongst other equipment, a long, high slide. Martha found herself hanging around for a while.

Martha dangling

And as usual, children just can’t help copying each other.

Monkey see, monkey do

We were able to get remarkably close to an orang utan, just separated by the thickness of the glass. I don’t know if he/she was happy or not, but we humans were all being observed closely.

Looking into the eyes of an orang utan

The main objective of visits to zoos, of course, is to wear the the children out, and today, William was the first to succumb.

William having a nap

On this day, fifty years ago, I was enjoying a Geography lesson. The teacher wore a bright, primrose yellow dress and I’m embarrassed to say, I can’t recall her name. But I remember the lesson because she let us watch the launch of Apollo 11 on TV, slightly more interesting than the market towns of East Anglia. Saturn 5, you really were the greatest sight.

To celebrate this 50th anniversary, tonight was a full Moon and a partial eclipse. I went out for a walk late at night, but the light pollution near where we live is terrible. Not only that, I hadn’t realised just how many tall buildings there are all around. I did see the eclipse but I don’t think we’ll see a good sunrise or sunset from where we now live.

Partially eclipsed Moon

Another day out with the grandchildren found us at Stamford Park, Stalybridge. It still feels strange seeing these northern placenames on roadsigns.

It was a lovely, peaceful day, perfect for a gentle walk or, if you’re Martha, running around and climbing on all the playground equipment, or, if you’re William, running around and faceplanting in the sand.

Playing in the fountain

Later in the week, we had a couple of meals with the family, once at our place, once at Solita and then, all of a sudden, it was goodbye to Helen. She flies back home to spend some time with Adam before he jets off somewhere for work. I’m still no good at selfies so I’m glad Helen always manages to press the right button. Or, aims in the right direction and presses the button at the right time.

Helen, Liesel, Martha, Mick, William, Jenny, Liam

Didsbury in Bloom has won many awards for its floral displays over the years. And it is indeed a pretty nice little village to wander round.

A big bee (not scary)
One of many beautiful planters in the back streets

Liesel and I walked home, even though it threatened to rain. We had a stroll around Marie Louise Gardens, just off the main road. I like reading the plaques on park benches, there’s always a story, but I’m amazed at how many have a word spelt wrong. ‘A beautiful child and beautiful women’. It detracts from the sincerity of the message, somehow.

One advantage of letting the buddleia grow wild over the pavements is that it deters people from parking their cars there, which is a fairly ubiquitous phenomenon in Manchester.

Buddleia

There’s not much wildlife around here, so imagine our delight when we encountered some horses in a field.

Wild, wild horses

In the evening, we travelled by bus into Manchester, and walked to the Cathedral. It’s a busy old city, even early on a Saturday evening. We can never get away from cigarette smoke completely, but tonight was the first time we’ve had to hold our noses as we battled our way through clouds of the stuff.

The Cathedral has been a place of welcome and hospitality for over 1300 years. But for reasons well within our control, we arrived a little late, couldn’t find adjacent seats and the view of the performers was less than optimal.

Obstructed view

Yes, we should have left home just a couple of minutes earlier, then we would have caught the bus that we saw departing and avoided a 13 minute wait for the next one. Lesson learned. The restricted view didn’t spoil my enjoyment though. These old ears were very happy with the acoustics, and I couldn’t even hear the sound of traffic or people from outside during the quiet passages. This was a classical concert, with music by Mozart, Bach, Albinoni and a surprise tango, Oblivion, by Piazzolla. Nobody else got up to dance around the aisles, so I sat back down.

Stained glass window

The main piece at ‘Vivaldi – The Four Seasons by candlelight’ was The Four Seasons by Vivaldi. The conductor of the London Concertante chamber orchestra also read the sonnets that Vivaldi wrote to accompany the music. It was all very enjoyable. There was applause between the movements of every piece, almost the musical equivalent of grocers’ apostrophes, but there was no chatting amongst the audience members, something that’s de rigueur at modern music gigs.

It was still quite light at the end of the performance so the candles weren’t as delightful and homely as they might be in the depths of Winter.

Music by candlelight
The angelic keyboard player

In domestic news: number 1 on my ‘to do’ list is to bring together all the other ‘to do’ lists. There’s a lot to do. Good job I like lists. And doing things.

I stayed up to watch the Eagle land at Tranquility Base but I wasn’t allowed to stay up to watch the first Small Step taken by Neil Armstrong. Outside, looking up, I remember not being able to see the two men on the Moon but not wanting to disappoint my parents, I said I could. Fifty years ago, wow.

Much more Melbourne

On the way to join Jyoti and Chris for breakfast, I was again reminded of 2001: A Space Odyssey.

My God, it’s full of stars!

Other than that, the walk and the tram ride were uneventful. Yes, Jyoti is back in town to spend time with Chris and so we decided to pester them too. Actually, Chris suggested the venue, The Auction Rooms. Liesel and I arrived first and there was already a queue of people waiting to be seated. So, a popular place with locals: always a good sign.

Chris, Jyoti, Liesel, Mick

It was wonderful to see those two love birds, gazing into each others’ eyes, holding hands and, in another place, the Morality Police would have been on the scene, blues and twos, no doubt! Chris had to work (we keep forgetting some people have real lives with jobs and everything) so the three of us went to the Museum.

The Revolutions: Records and Rebels exhibtion was previously shown at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. Now in Melbourne, it includes reference to the fight for Aboriginal rights in the 1960s. It was fascinating, lots of memories for me. Unbelievably, at the time, I wanted to be a little older than I was. Not so keen on that idea, now!

Yes, it was all very interesting, and it’s just so sad and disappointing that some groups of people are still having to fight for equal rights, you know, real weirdos such as women, black people, gay people, Australian Aboriginal people. But we did leave with some fund-raising ideas for the WI.

How many joints in the jar?

The ’60s music was good, too, and we enjoyed watching The Who at Woodstock, just 50 years late to that particular party.

Roger Daltrey

There’s a replica of the first ever computer mouse, invented over 50 years ago.

Computer pointing device

I never knew until today that there was a road named after a top Australian rock band. AC/DC Lane is popular with visitors, partly due to the street art in the area. As usual, the creative work is ruined slightly by the boring, unimaginative tagging.

AC/DC Lane
Jimi, or not Jimi? That is the question
Melbourne

Vegetarian Paul McCartney would probably not be too happy with this tribute to his old band.

Wings night

We wandered around the 19th and 20th century Aussie art display in the Federation Square complex. We would have stayed longer, but at closing time, even we were politely asked to leave. The then new Sydney Harbour Bridge was still under construction but the painting’s finished.

The Bridge in-curve by Grace Cossington Smith, 1930

I was disappointed not to see any works by Michael Andrews: maybe we just missed him by a room or two, but this depiction of the red centre is quite evocative.

Central Australia by Sidney Nolan, 1949

On the way to the old Young & Jackson pub, we made a detour to another lane, where the street art is striking. One of the main news items at the moment here in Australia is about Freedom of the Press. The police raided the offices of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation and the home of a journalist, in an attempt to discover who leaked some secret information. Someone was quick off the mark with this image.

AFP USB
Binge thinking

Many years ago, my Dad told us about a pub he’d visited at the end of the Second World War. I don’t think he remembered its name but he said it was opposite Flinders Street Station. He told us about a painting on the wall inside, a girl called Chloe. After three or four visits to Melbourne, it was time to track this pub down. If it wasn’t Young and Jackson, then I don’t know where else to look. He visited when he ended his war, serving in the Royal Navy, here in Australia.

It is an old pub, yes, and it’s seen a few changes in the 74 years since Dad was here. But I was really pleased to find Chloe, now 144 years young, on the wall in the upstairs restaurant.

Chloe by Jules Lefebvre, 1875

Cheers, Dad!

Chris joined us for an early evening meal, before he and Jyoti went home. Liesel and I walked over the river to revisit the Arts Centre.

Lazarus

I’ve seen Lazarus twice in London, Liesel just the once, and it was just as good and fun and entertaining but a little sad this time: the David Bowie songs are timeless and always magnifico. The stage set was totally different, and both Liesel and I had a much better view of the stage on this occasion.

Tommy and Elly played by Chris Ryan and Phoebe Panarentos

Fewer people sung along than I expected, so I had to project more to compensate. No, I didn’t, I was sotto voce all the way.

What an unexpectedly busy day then: a museum, an art gallery, some street-walking, a couple of meals out and topped off with a musical performance. Thanks, Melbourne!

And so we come to the final, full day on our travels. We’re looking forward to being home, not necessarily to the 24 hour journey getting there.

After a bit of a lie-in, we went out and enjoyed egg muffins for breakfast. Thinking about home, and being away, it was disconcerting to see this on the wall.

Where are we now?

I had to visit the Optus shop to query a large mobile phone bill I’d been sent even though I’m on a different kind of plan. No need for the AFP to come after me when I get home, I’ve seen what they’re like at the ABC. Thank goodness the bill is for the previous user of my Aussie phone number: forget it, nothing to worry about, the clerk will sort it out. So, fingers crossed.

We visited the ridiculously expansive Queen Victoria Market, walked around for a bit, passing time until Jyoti and Chris joined us.

I bought a couple of apples. Jyoti bought a new coat. We admired the Melbourne skyline. We bought coffee.

Melbourne skyline or a futuristic painting?
Melbourne, Mick and coffee

Yes, Melbourne does like its coffee, there are so many coffee places to choose from, we even saw Japanese, Korean and Vietnamese coffee shops in close proximity this morning.

We listened to Rhys Crimmin busking in the market, he’s not too bad, played the didgeridoo as well as guitar, harmonica and a drum, a good old-fashioned one-man band.

Rhys Crimmin

He performed the Men at Work song, Down Under which always raises a smile.

Again, poor old Chris had to go home to work, leaving the three of us to have a jolly good time. We walked to Royal Park and it was very pleasant, the Sun was out, it was warm, I tried not to whinge too much about being forced, well, requested, to wear jeans today rather than shorts. But we’ll soon be back in an English Summer and I can get my legs out again, for everyone’s delectation.

Royal Park

This view reminds me of the album cover for Mike Oldfield’s Hergest Ridge. So yes, now I have that music in my head.

Final day, last supper. Round at Chris’s with his missus, to coin a 25-year old phrase.

Our Aussie adventures conclude with this sunset as seen from Chris’s apartment.

The Sun goes down on our travels

So we bid farewell to Jyoti and Chris, and to our final Airbnb up on the 9th floor looking over an alleyway into an office block.

And farewell to Melbourne, to Australia, to our adventures.

Here we are at the airport, waiting, waiting…

Wilson’s Prom to Melbourne

Rainy Days and Mondays always get me down. Well, that’s a slight exaggeration but a gloomy, windy, rainy Monday is a good enough reason to stay indoors. These occasional enforced ‘days off’ are quite welcome, to be honest.

Our damp, little red friend came by for breakfast, so we had a little chat about Brexit, Trump and The Carpenters’ back catalogue.

Good morning, Rosie

We passed the time by reading, writing, watching TV and looking out of different windows hoping for an improvement in the weather. There’s a Kind of Hush all over the house so we put some music on. Ironically, no Carpenters.

Later in the afternoon, we did venture out briefly, for a walk around Tidal River. We even walked along the river bed itself, there not being much water in it at this time: the tide was out.

Tidal River estuary

In fact, the tide was a long way out, it would have been a major expedition to even get ankle deep.

Very low tide

Liesel suggested a selfie and like the Superstar she is, she posed for quite a few attempts.

Selfie of the day

Yes, we are dressed up for Antarctic conditions, but it wasn’t quite that bad. 11° here, 11° in London and 11° in Anchorage right now. However, it’s Winter here and it’s meant to be Summer at home. We’ve only just begun walking through the campsite when Liesel spotted a wombat crossing the path.

Why did the wombat cross the path?

I hope we didn’t spook him too much as we approached. The pincer movement was accidental, really, I just wanted a shot of the wombat with Liesel, or vice versa. And here he is about to leap out and surprise her as she is on the phone, Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft, I think, or maybe messaging a friend.

Wombat eyeing up Liesel

The wind and rain had caused some damage, at least one tree had fallen down.

Why did the tree fall across the path?

We enjoyed watching a wombat going about his business. He half-heartedly dug a hole, not as efficiently as a rabbit would.

Digging a hole

After a bit of a stretch and a bit of a yawn, revealing some pretty lethal teeth, he made our day by producing several green cubes.

Look at those gnashers
Another crap photo: wombat’s, this time

Yes, they are famous for their cubic poo, although Liesel was disappointed by the lack of sharp edges.

We saw some more birds on the way back, and a couple more wombats, including this one playing Solitaire in the flower bed.

Hiding

From Tidal River, you can see the 558-metre high Mount Oberon, with phone masts and transmitters perched on the top.

Mt Oberon

We walked up the path all the way to the summit, a nice, long, steady climb. There wasn’t much to see on the way up, just a glimpse of a view through the trees now and then.

Can’t see much through the trees except more trees

Then, as we approached the top, the trees opened out more, revealing a blue sky at first and then a magnificent vista. Yes, it was a bit of a slog, but well worth the effort.

One of the hairpin bends

Sometimes on this long trip of ours, I’ve wished to be on my bike rather than walking. I used to sing to my velocipede, I won’t last a day without you, yet somehow I’ve managed 10 months without a single pedal stroke. (Exercise bikes in gyms don’t count.) Today’s uphill tramp would have been tough on a bike, the gradient wasn’t too steep, but it was relentless.

Antennae

The only vehicle on the track was a tanker that had just delivered fuel to the antennae at the top: no electric supply here. On the other hand, what a great 4G signal!

After climbing several steps, we reached the summit. From the bare, bald rocks, we looked down on what could have been a model village Tidal River next to Norman Beach and Norman Bay.

Looking down on Tidal River

We’re on the Top of the World looking down on creation, with a 360° view.

Yes, of course I tried a panorama shot but it didn’t really work, just too much contrast between north and south, between Sun and shade.

Where’s Liesel now?

I know I’m retired from the mail delivery service, but I can sense a few of the more cynical readers saying, Please, Mr Postman, prove that you actually reached the summit. OK then, I will.

Triangulation point

After a bit of rest at the top, the return walk was a little easier. The 2 hour walk actually took us 2 hours and 14 minutes, including a couple of breaks to catch breath and to remove small stones from shoes. Yes, I must walk funny to attract so much grit, but Liesel walks a different funny, splashing muddy water up the back of her calves even when there are no puddles.

I left Liesel in Cambridge while I went for a solo tramp towards Mount Bishop. At a mere 319m altitude, I couldn’t be bothered. Well, I could, but the walking distance involved would have seen me descending at sunset, and I didn’t want to be out alone in the dark. Instead I did the delightfully named Lilly Pilly Circuit Walk and the Lilly Pilly Gully Boardwalk. I saw just two other people on the circuit, a few small birds fleetingly, but no other animals. Mainly trees, ferns, fungi.

Tree
Fern
Orange fungi

This path was also well-maintained, albeit with a few modern obstructions, more recently fallen trees.

I stood by this little waterfall and stream for a while to see if there were any fish climbing up the rock or any crayfish climbing up the trees.

Waterfall and stream

Are you mad, I hear the more cynical reader suggesting? Possibly, but this is Australia, the animals aren’t normal. Lilly Pilly burrowing crayfish climb trees. And Climbing Galaxias nip up waterfalls and sheer rock faces like Edmund Hillary on speed.

Crayfish climb trees
Galaxias climb mountains

We’ve seen plenty of evidence of bush fires, whether controlled or accidental, and there was one here 10 years ago. The place was devastated, but it’s all part of the cycle, and these pictures show the difference between then and now.

Bushfire 2009
The same path today, 2019

I arrived back at the Unit just on sunset.

Sunset from the Lilly Pilly Gully carpark

There are now two crimson rosellas pacing up and down, waiting for a hand-out. (They Long to be) Close to You, Liesel, I gently crooned.

We slept, we ate breakfast, we packed, we departed. We have a Ticket to ride back home soon, but we’ll be busy for a couple of days in Melbourne. Or as the recently reformed Spice Girls might call it, Melb. We said Goodbye to love, well, goodbye to Wilson’s Prom, and as we left, we saw six, yes six emus in total: four in a field and two crossing the road. The funniest thing was seeing two people peering into bushes, apparently oblivious to the emus not that far behind them.

A couple of emus

A few days ago, we passed by a place called Bumbo, and the 12-year old me wanted to live there. Today, we saw a sign for Poowong. One day, I want to move there instead!

It didn’t feel like rain today, but there was total cloud cover. The scenery was captivating, as we retraced part of the route we’d followed from Walhalla.

There are a lot of cattle in NSW and Victoria, big black bulls, white and brown cows, signs telling us they might be crossing the road. We’ve seen lorries taking herds of them to their final holiday destination. But we’re very disappointed with how few sheep there are, though. Not even José Merino sheep, brought over to play football a couple of centuries ago, unless I’ve misremembered my Geography lessons. For all we know, they’re hiding up in the trees, dislodging the drop bears.

Tooradin appeared at exactly the right time. There’s an honesty box for the car park fees which we didn’t raid, honestly.

Big chocolate fisherman
Beach at Tooradin

A short while later, Langwarrin’s big silver gnome cheered us on.

Big silver gnome
We passed an old episode of Doctor Who

Before dropping the car off, we made a detour to Liesel’s favourite place in the whole wide world. A little bit of America in Australia.

Where’s Liesel?

We bought a couple of things to take home and had a greasy cheesy piece of pizza for lunch. Better than a slap round the face with a wet fish, I suppose. This branch of CostCo even sells caskets, or coffins, which we both found dead funny.

We traversed this bridge twice today. Once in the car, then again on the Skybus from the airport to Southern Cross Station.

Fair dinkum bridge architecture

When we dropped the car off, the attendant seemingly was not interested in the intermittent beeping from the car, warning of open doors when they’re all slammed closed. And then on the inevitable online follow-up survey, there was nowhere to make such a comment. Oh well, so much for seeking to improve the customers’ experience.

We deposited our new, super-heavy case at the airport until we leave this wonderful country in three days’ time.

It’s a short walk from Southern Cross to our new b&b apartment on the 9th floor.

9.10

Why does this door remind me of a Beatles song? Because it’s the One after 909.

It’s also a short walk from our b&b to the nearest laundrette. While Liesel watched the washing go round and round, I went out to buy us some drinks. I have a pocket full of loose change to dispose of. Why? We’d been saving $1 and $2 coins for the laundromat. But in this one, here, today, The Lonely Sock, you pay electronically, with a card. 50% impressed and 50% peeved at lugging all that weighty coinage around for so long!

Eden to Bairnsdale

The Whaling Museum in Eden is probably interesting, but many other delights awaited us. Again we reminded ourselves that we can’t see everything, and what we miss will still be here next time we visit. We were not wailing at missing the Whaling Museum.

Ben Boyd was a popular guy. We have Boyd Town, East Boyd and the Ben Boyd National Park named in his honour. Not bad for a humble Scotsman.

We drove to the National Park to see The Pinnacles. But before we set off, we had to liberate yet another lethal Australian stowaway from the car.

Exotic beetle evicted from the car

The Pinnacles is/are is a stunning erosion feature, another study in text book geology plus, for us, an opportunity for a nice, gentle walk.

I wonder where all the logs came from to make this staircase?

We’ve realised that we can’t see too many beautiful beaches with beautiful turquoise seas. Lovely to walk on but lovely to look at from a distance too.

View from The Pinnacles Walking Trail

And if the sea isn’t a vivid enough colour, we were bowled over by The Pinnacles. Two different coloured layers of sandstone, still in the process of being worn away by the elements.

The Pinnacles stratified rock

Later on the loop, we saw what looked like termite mounds. In NSW? Not as big as those in Northern Territory, and this one at least was given a head start by being built around an old tree stump.

Termite mound
We’re not sure why so many trees have been felled here in the Park

We made our way to The Seahorse Inn in Boydtown, as it was recommended by a couple of people, features in the Lonely Planet Guide, has its own road signs, and it a very impressive and imposing building. But it was closed.

The beach was pleasant though, and it’s good not to have to worry about gingas lurking in the bushes this far south.

Boydtown Beach

As the day progressed, the weather worsened, cloudier, greyer and then it started to rain. Then we discovered there was no water in the windscreen washer bottle. So we now wanted it to rain harder so that the windscreen could be cleaned a little bit!

This was the state in which we arrived in the state we’re in. We crossed over from New South Wales into Victoria.

Welcome to Victoria
This is the song appropriately playing as we crossed the border

Cann River in Gippsland was a good place to stop for a break. Liesel wasn’t happy when I told her about the 10-feet long inch thick earthworms that live here in Gippsland. And how unhappy was I to discover that the Earthworm Museum in Bass is permanently closed. That was our punishment for not visiting the Whaling Museum. Karma.

The little church caught our eye: a cute little building catering for several branches of the Christian community. Uniting and Co-operating, no less.

St John the Evangelist, Cann River

Cape Conran doesn’t sell furniture, that’s The Conran Shop. My mistake. But there’s a beach, there were big waves, a pair of oyster catchers and an opportunity to enjoy the fresh air for a short while.

Beach with oyster catchers
And without … but look at those waves …

A sign warned us about the shallow sandbar, strong currents, submerged rocks and slippery rocks. There’s no life-saving service. The nameof the place? Sailor’s Grave Beach. There’s probably a sad story behind that name, but what a strange way to warn people of the dangers.

Cape Conran Coastal Park and Beware Reef Marine Sanctuary to give the place its full name. We walked on the beach, yes, but that was as big a risk as we wanted to take.

At Marlo, we looked at the Snowy River Estuary Walk and I walked down the path a short way.

Snowy River with Bass Strait in the distance

The sand dunes needed us to go over with a piece of cardboard to slide down on. But, no sheets of cardboard with us on this occasion.

Sand dunes by Snowy River

We drove by a sign on a dilapidated structure.

Don’t think this is the Snowy Rail Bridge

We arrived at our next b&b near Bairnsdale, dropped off our bags, and went out for a Mexican meal. The restaurant is called OzMex. We were called ‘walk-ins’ as we didn’t have a reservation. No idea why, but we were both just very tired.

The house is a new build, just a couple of years old. It blows hot air into our bedroom. When I woke in the middle of the night, what a relief to realise that it was the heating system making that noise, and that it wasn’t pouring down with rain.

We shared the house with our host family, and now, because of our squeaky bedroom door, they know how often we have to get up during the night.

Here’s the bit you may have been dreading: please go away now if you’re not interested in the in-car entertainment we’ve been enjoying this week.

I downloaded some new music and deleted some of the old that we just don’t need to hear any more for a while. This car has Bluetooth, it connected to my phone almost without human intervention, just the way it ought to. We played our new stuff for a few days: Dolly Parton, Good Morning Vietnam soundtrack, Mary Poppins Returns soundtrack, Duran Duran but best of all, IMHO, lots of old Bee Gees tunes.

We (I) had a good old singalong.

But we are now back on so-called ‘shuffle’ and we’re finding again that it just ignores some tracks, focuses on others, and isn’t properly random. I have many ideas about how this could be improved and I shall be writing to Google and Samsung in very due course.

Dubbo Zoo

‘Twas a cold night in Orange. That’s the second time I’ve been able to say that. It occurs about every one third of a century.

In 1986, Sarah, Jenny and I slept in a campervan in a campsite in Orange. It was cold. So cold, there was ice on the windows in the morning. It was our coldest night camping ever.

Today, we woke up to a temperature of 45°F (7°C). A few months ago, we were enjoying 45°C (113°F). One extreme to the other. There was dew on the grass, maybe even frost, that’s how cold it was.

Cold, crunchy grass

During the nearly two hour drive, we passed a few wallabies and kangaroos wondering why their early morning grass was so crunchy. But it warmed up nicely, the sky was clear and blue, so a good day was definitely in store.

I’d last visited Dubbo Zoo in 1986: a return visit was well overdue.

Rainbow in the fountain

We arrived just in time to Prowl the Pridelands, to look at the lions. The bus accommodates over 20 guests, but there were just the three of us on this tour.

Four young brothers live and play together, and take advantage of the shadow cast by the bus.

In the shadow
In the light

Their parents are in a large, separate area, and they all looked very content. So would we if we could sleep for 16-20 hours a day.

It would be cruel and heartless to pull a lock of hair from a lion’s mane, but that’s exactly what someone has done.

Lion’s mane hair

It’s surprisingly coarse and it would have been difficult to untangle the dreadlock into which it had been wrought.

Taronga Western Plains, aka Dubbo, Zoo is very spacious, 300 hectares, so the animals have plenty of room to roam. The disadvantage for us visitors is that sometimes, they’re way over there on the other side of the field.

We hired a buggy to drive around the 6 km circuit. It didn’t necessarily mean less walking altogether, but we were able to visit pretty much all the inmates.

Parking the buggy

The meerkats were very active: well, some of them.

You have a rest while I do all the digging
Black rhino taking it easy

The zebras and other big animals are behind a moat and a fence that are well concealed until you’re up close, giving the impression of wide open spaces.

Zebra laughing at our shadows
Giraffes over there by the trees

In 1986, when we visited Dubbo Zoo, we hired bikes to cycle around. Sarah had 2-year old Jenny on the back of her bike. After a short while, I realised there were no brakes so I rode back to complain, and was told that you have to back-pedal to brake. Obvious. Well, later on, as we rode towards the hippopotamus pond, down a slope, Sarah momentarily forgot how to brake and she and Jenny nearly ended up joining the hippos in the water.

Today, we arrived at the hippopotamus enclosure in style, on four wheels. We listened to the Hippo Talk, haha, no, we listened to a zookeeper talk about the hippos. There is one way apart from the obvious to tell the difference between males and females. A nice, neat pile of poo is probably deposited by a female. Males tend to poo and pee at the same time and get their tail spinning round like a propellor to spread it far and wide. A better metaphor for Brexit I have never seen.

Hungry hippo
White rhinoceros way over there

We watched a baby elephant having a nice mudbath followed by a dry dirt shower.

Elephant eating apples

I started singing “There’s a starman waiting in the sky” as we approached the black apes. The sideways text on the sign soon became clearer: siamang.

Siamang hanging about

Two of them were playing on the rope bridge over the water. Later on, one ate a carrot while the other ran off with a lettuce or something. Both kept their backs to us, they obviously know humans would be after their food, given half a chance.

Liesel and I hadn’t seen camels in the wild in the Northern Territory, so we were delighted to see some here. Liesel asked the question so I told her about the two different kinds. Bactrian camels have two humps, like the letter B. Dromedaries have one hump, like the letter D. I was hoping to find a sign confirming this.

Camels

The sign just described all the residents here as Arabian Camels. No Asian Bactrians, it seems.

We heard a booming noise. I thought it was the siamang using the echo chamber built into his throat. Liesel thought it was the lion. We never did find out the origin of the slightly spooky noise.

A quartet of locals: emu, koala, echidna and quokka

The quokka was cute but we couldn’t approach any closer than from the viewing platform, several metres above.

Towards the end of the afternoon, we were sitting outside the giftshop. I was eating my apple and this did not go unnoticed. The ring-tailed lemur over the water was watching me like a hawk. It wanted my apple but I don’t feel guilty about eating the whole thing all by myself, thank you very much.

Salivating ring-tailed lemur

If we’d wanted to visit Africa, this signpost would have been very helpful.

Kalahari: this way or that way?

It was a fun day at the zoo, probably one of the best zoo days we’ve ever had. Not once did we think the animals looked a bit unhappy or stressed and that makes a lot of difference. The weather was perfect, there weren’t too many other people, the buggy was fun to drive and none of us fell out.

The drive back over the hills to Orange was pretty, especially as the Sun began to set.

Sunset near Orange
Mick resting his eyes

This photo is being used as evidence that I fell asleep in the back of the car. Well, yes, I did rest my eyes for a minute or two.

As we were in Helen’s car, we mostly listened to her music. So lots of Snow Patrol and Killers. At Liesel’s request, we listened to the soundtrack from the film The Big Chill.

We kept the house slightly warmer tonight, but the floor was still cold, made from some material designed to suck all the warmth out of your feet.

Castlerock Farm Eco Stay

Before leaving Dolphin’s Head Resort, I went for a quick walk as we were in for a long drive later. The part of the beach close to us was rocks but way over there in the distance is a nice sandy beach.

The rocky beach

But it is out of reach to us mortals. All the ‘beachfront’ accommodation is private property. I could buy a house here and get my share of the beach, but I’ll leave it for the crocs and jellyfish to make friends with the occupants instead.

One of the exclusive beachfront properties

We refuelled the car, bought some vittles and set off. We decided to miss out on seeing Mackay due to time constraints.

It was Mother’s Day here last weekend and I always miss my Mum on that day. This year, I would have bought her the best present ever.

Happy Mother’s Day

It was another grey day but not raining. The road was long, we drove for the best part of five hours. We passed more sugar cane, more cattle, more trees, lots of grass, caravans, campervans, a crocodile… yes, that was a surprise.

Crocodile on a shop front

Some of the roadsigns were quite funny.

How long to go, Dad?
Still 2 hours to Rockhampton, kids!

We saw signs warning us of stock on the road for the next 10 or 20 km, but we only saw cattle in fields.

There were signs telling us about the presence of koalas for the next 20 km, but we didn’t see any at all. In fact, as far as we could tell, there weren’t many eucalyptus trees for us to look in as we drove by.

The authorities have our welfare at heart. So many signs telling us to have a rest, where the next rest area is. “Rest or RIP”.

I thought this one was a Batman logo from a distance.

Driver fatigue crash zone

“Don’t sleep and drive”.

Today’s soundtrack was provided by Pink Floyd. I tapped my foot and drummed my fingers on the door handle. Liesel accused me of tapping completely out of time with the music. I pointed out that Pink Floyd sometimes have very unusual time signatures and crazy rhythm patterns and… but I couldn’t keep a straight face.

Tropical Cyclone Ann is likely to make landfall in northern Queensland in the next few days, the first May cyclone to hit since 1989. I heard a couple of guys talking the other day about a place that had been evacuated.

After hours and hours of taking it in turns to drive, we turned off the A1 (Highway 1) towards Byfield National Park. I keep saying Byfleet of course, because my larynx has muscle memory of familiar placenames from home.

A hillock in Baga National Park

In an otherwise flat or gently undulating area, this rock could not be more out of place.

Susie met us at Castlerock Farm Eco Stay, where we are staying in a caravan for a couple of nights.

Our home: caravan plus tarp cover

A caravan with an awning. It’s gonna be a tight squeeze. The waterless composting toilet is quite a trek so we’ll leave a couple of lights on. The cooking area is ok but not 100% mosquito-proof. We’ve been warned that small bats sometimes come in and leave their mark on the floor.

We really are in the middle of nowhere, no 4G, the only wifi is just outside Susie’s house and it feels a bit rude to loiter there too long, although she said we were welcome to.

We’ve heard several birds, especially around the time of sunset.

A bit of a sunset

Susie told us about the snakes and the huntsman spiders, putting a little more adventure into our planned bush walks!

It rained all night and when it wasn’t raining, water continued to drip (pour) onto the tarpaulin ‘roof’ just six inches above our dozing noses. Despite that and a few nocturnal bladder-related excursions, I felt refreshed in the morning. Liesel not so much.

Hello there, Sunshine

I brought cups of tea and bananas back to the caravan. Liesel later brought back jam and peanut butter rolls. Then we got out of bed and went for a walk around the farm hoping to see spiders at least, but no such luck. No snakes either which I have mixed feelings about. A few birds and butterflies full of the joys of what passes for Autumn here

I lost count of the number of mosquito bites I acquired: the Germolene will be working overtime later.

Very pretty red and yellow flower

We enjoyed walking by a variety of fruit trees: lemon, lime, mandarin, persimmon, mango, banana and although we didn’t come across any, there are avocado trees here too.

Fruit bowl

It was the perfect temperature, just a little damp. We’ve gone from hot and humid to comfortable but damp in just a few days.

Small pond

We both returned to our kitchen/living quarters with sweat pouring off, something we’d not anticipated.

The rest of the day was a day of rest. Reading, writing, arithmetic. Well, two out of three, anyway. We listened to the wind in the trees, the odd few birds, we chatted with Susie before she drove into Yeppoon.

The outdoor shower water is heated by a donkey. Not that sort of donkey, but a wood fire burner water heater that Susie lights each day at 4pm. We can have showers at other times, but we’d have to fight, I mean light, the donkey ourselves. It was a very pleasant shower: I think we both would have stayed longer if the water was on tap rather than from a tank. Maybe a bit strange having a shower outside while wood fire smoke billows around, but it was a mosquito-free zone.

The Moon rose and the Sun set marking the end of another fantastic day.

Moon behind the palm trees

The buzzing sound in the kitchen was made by what we thought was a plain old housefly, but it was much more interesting, we noticed, when it landed on the window.

Pretty fly

Again, it rained for much of the night but being inside, under cover, warm, cosy and dry is a wonderful feeling.