9+((8+7)*((6!/5)-4-3-2-1))

We spent the end of 2018 in the company of Olivia Colman. She played Queen Anne in the film, The Favourite, which w\ne saw at the Deluxe Cinemas at The Tannery. Olivia is always enjoyable to watch but the story behind this film was quite sad.

More sad\nly, the strange typeface used for the end credits rendered them fairly illegible. I had to confirm later, via IMDB, that it was indeed Elton John performing his song Skyline Pigeon from very nearly half a century ago.

The light drizzle as we left made the decision for us: we went home rather than to an open air event. We stayed up to see the New Year in but I think we were all in bed by five past midnight. We’re definitely not the party animals we once were, half a century ago!

If you performed the calculation represented by the countdown in the Heading, I hope you felt suitably rewarded.

2019 began with Liesel and me picking up our rental car from the airport. It’s a Mazda 3, with a 1998cc engine, slightly more spacious than our Mazda 2 at home in England. It’s silver.

Our first drive, after picking up the luggage from Pauline’s house, was to Caroline Bay, Timaru, where we met Pauline and Andrew. They’ve joined us for a few days on our road trip. Where we go on South Island will largely be determined by the weather forecast.

We listened to the singer performing at the carnival, covering Adele, Duffy, and Dusty amongst others.

Caroline Bay Carnival is her real name

We didn’t go on any of the fairground rides but we did eat from one of the food wagons while admiring the slightly unusual cloud formations.

Spookulo-nimbus clouds

On the walk back to our car, we passed a war memorial, a sundial, gym equipment with instructions and The Face of Peace.

The Face of Peace

The memorial for John McKenzie overlooking the town of Palmerston reminded us of Glastonbury Tor as we were driving towards it.

Cairn for John McKenzie

We couldn’t drive through Dunedin without visiting Baldwin Street again: the steepest street in the world. I walked halfway up leaving Liesel near the bottom to take the pictures. I wouldn’t want to be a postman here, with a bike, with a trolley or with just the shirt on my back!

My failed attempt to walk halfway up the road

Our Airbnb tonight was at St Kilda, a nice little house just a couple of minutes form the beach. We all went for a quick walk there after supper, and watched the Sun set.

Sun, sea, sand, smiles and a super selfie

All the way on the road, we’d been comparing the countryside views with what we’d seen in Japan from trains. New Zealand is very green, whereas in Japan, you could travel several miles and not see any greenery between the buildings. The views were quite stunning too, sometimes resembling Scotland, sometimes Alaska, and often a children’s drawing of what hills should look like, nice and round.

The beach at St Kilda is top class. The sand is so soft and walking on it in bare feet sends good vibes the length of your body.

In fact, it felt so nice Liesel and I paid another visit before setting off for the following day’s drive. The sand was warmer now, but still just as soft and despite my best efforts, probably not the best ever exfoliation of the heels.

The dunes at the top of the beach were just like those near Hemsby in Norfolk, only much longer, steeper and higher. And harder to climb up because the sand was so soft!

Dunes at St Kilda beach

We were planning to meet Pauline and Andrew again later in the day, but we made a quick detour to Kaka Point and the Nuggets. Quick. We drove a long way off our main route, including a precarious, winding, narrow road towards the lighthouse at Nugget Point.

We walked along a continuation of this track right up to the lighthouse itself. Good old Google Maps thought we were still in the car, advising us to do a U-turn whenever possible.

We looked down upon some sealions that were easier to hear and to smell than to see. At the right time of day, we should be able to see penguins, but as they’re much smaller than sealions, we knew that would be much more of a challenge.

Nugget Point Lighthouse

The Nuggets are a group of rocks just offshore which I overheard some locals describe as a wonderful climbing challenge.

The Nuggets

Purakaunui Falls is (are?) a ten minute walk from the car park. By the time we arrived, P&A had been so they set off for the next destination. Liesel and I enjoyed the short walk and in the end, we had a good sight of the falls without other people obstructing the view with their brightly coloured clothes!

Purakaunui Falls
A not-so-good selfie
Who’s that hiding in the hollow tree?
Tautuku Beach seen from Florence Hill Lookout

The next Airbnb is at Mataura, near Gore. Although we’d wanted to spend some time in The Catlins, we found ourselves beyond, in Southland. It’s in the middle of a large plain, almost totally surrounded by hills, so we wondered whether it’s a large volcanic crater. So, the middle of the plains and we manage to find a b&b up a steep hill. The car is parked on a drive as steep as Klaus and Leslie’s in Anchorage. After supper, Pauline and I walked down the road to the nearest pub, The Falls Hotel. It was grim. We had a drink, but the only two other customers soon left us alone with the tattooed and not very friendly barmaid. Then of course, we had to walk back up the long, long, steep hill to our accommodation! The entertainment on the way back was provided by a couple of young boys with fishing rods, who had captured a baby bird. Pauline advised them to leave it under the bush for its mother to find.

It might be a lepidopterist’s idea of fun but when Liesel was in bed watching a video and I was in bed reading my Kindle, we were dive-bombed by millions of moths. They kept heading for the illuminated screens, bouncing off and hitting us on our arms and faces. Thousands of them. When I turned my screen off, Liesel then wondered where they were all coming from. Hundreds of the things. Trouble is, on the ceiling above my bed, there are several of those glow-in-the-dark stars, which attracted the moths who then bounced off the ceiling, onto my pillow. Dozens of the things. Eventually, we fell asleep and in the morning, we found no corpses in our room but several dead moths in the bath. I’m closing my window tonight.

These nocturnal adventures meant a late rise. But after breakfast, Pauline, Liesel and I went to Dolamore Park, just the other side of Gore, for a very pleasant walk in the bush. Walk? It was definitively a hike!

We’d decided on the Whisky Creek Track but due to inadequacies in the signage department, we missed the start of our walk and walked an extra, unplanned, hilly loop.

When we crossed over the creek, we saw a chicken by the water. That’s very unusual. A chicken but no ducks. From which we can only deduce, the chicken had eaten all the ducks.

It was a good path, not made up, but just cleared enough so you could see where you were going and not keep brushing against the vegetation. The path was steep in places, and I was so pleased that I could just keep going: that breathlessness issue I had last week does seem to have been just an off-day. I did run out of puff a couple of times, but only after a long period of sustained climbing, and it was easy to get my breath back.

There are no bears nor moose to worry about here, but it was reassuring to see this sign: no threat from cyclists nor daleks, either.

No cycling. No daleks.

The only problem I had while walking was one toenail digging into the toe next door. So I took advantage of a breather to cut off the offending nail. I also cut my fingernails at last, they’ve been too long for too long.

I did one thing today that I don’t think I’ve ever done before, ever. It comes under the heading ‘disgusting bodily functions’ so feel free to ignore the rest of this paragraph. I blew my nose gently, using an inferior tissue. Some of the snot missed, it formed a bubble which floated away and settled on a fern leaf where it popped just as I was getting my camera out. Very proud of my mucous bubble, temporary though it was.

We walked down to see the waterfall: this path was probably well constructed steps at one time, but some of the stones have now shifted. The man carrying both his children was very brave, we thought. The lady waiting at the top with her baby was probably doing the right thing. Her baby gave me a most beautiful smile.

Whisky Creek Falls

We also accepted the challenge of walking up to Poppelwell’s Lookout. Up and up. This path was even more winding and at places, we had to navigate mud, mud, glorious mud. We stepped over many tree roots too. And then, just as we were nearing the summit, we encounted the most scary looking yellow triffids you could possibly imagine: you don’t want to fall onto one of these maneaters.

Big scary yellow spiny vicious thing

Mr (or Ms) Poppelwell must have been delighted to reach this location, just as we were, to see a couple of park benches on which to have a rest.

The view south over the plains was wonderful and as ever, a photograph does it no justice. If only I could paint, but even then, how can one convey the scale, the distance and the majesty of the land before us?

Part of the view from Poppelwell’s Lookout

After a snack, we set off back down. And it did feel good to be walking down again, even if some parts were quite precarious.

Pauline slipped on some loose stones and the noise scared some kind of an exotic bird into taking flight. Well, a pigeon*.

*I have been berated by a wife and a sister. It was no ordinary pigeon. It was a wood pigeon, a kereru.

On the way back to the car park, Pauline told us to feel this tree.

A surprisingly cold-to-the-touch tree

Compared with all the others, it does indeed feel cold. What kind of witchcraft is this? How does a tree make itself feel cold to human touch?

Another quick snack back in the car, then a quick coffee in Gore. We arrived just in time: it closed at 5pm. In fact, the last couple of days, we’ve missed out on a lot of coffee because the places have closed really early, 4pm taking things to the limit. And to make things easy, we bought pizzas to take back with us, only to find that Andrew was baking a quiche and a potato dish for us. We tried not to feel too bad.

NZ very proud to have given votes to women very early, 1895

And in case you didn’t get it…

9+((8+7)*((6!/5)-4-3-2-1)) = 2019. Happy New Year!

The End of 2018 is Nigh

This has been a very pleasant way to end the year, notwithstanding a minor lurgy that seems to have passed from Liesel to Mick. It’s been very quiet, on the whole. But there was that one night when I was woken up by the sound of a hundred squirrels foot-tapping and gnawing in the roof. Followed by hedgehogs (I think) (I hope) stomping on the gravel right outside our window. This set off the terrier next door which also sounded like it was in the room. I got up to investigate: Liesel slept through the whole lot. In the dark living room a deep voice growled, “Be ye not afeared, ’tis only I, Andrew”. He was sleeping on the couch for a while as it was too hot in his bedroom.

Waaa-hoooo!

And so, when I returned to my room, assured that nothing untoward was occurring, I expected to drift away peacefully and slowly to sleep. The birds had other ideas. Sensing the imminent arrival of daylight, they all began shouting and squawking at each other, cheeping and chirping, whistling and warbling. I like being woken up by the dawn chorus, but preferably when I’ve had some actual sleep to begin with.

Hitachi!! Att-shoo!!

The four of us went to Diamond Harbour for a walk. It faces Lyttelton on the bay. The drive via Dyers’ Pass was spectacular as always, and you have to admire the cyclists riding up the steep slopes on such a narrow and busy road. There’s not much room for manoeuvre either, with a ditch close to the side of the road in some places.

Ahpprr-shoooo!!!

Looking into it
Jumping into it

Being a harbour, it’s quite hilly and poor old me experienced his old trouble again. I got out of breath really quickly and felt my heart was about to explode: the long-lasting side effects of my blood pressure meds from a few years ago, I suspect. Anyway, mustn’t grumble. But I probably will.

Phwee-ooooh!!!! These tissues are rubbish.

Escaping the rock
Back view – very clever

Stoddart’s Cottage was interesting, there was a lot of local artwork for sale and a few exhibits from the olden days. The lady running the place was quite friendly but not a fan of cyclists riding on roads. She used to live in Chessington: what are the chances?

Plans to walk up to Mt Herbert were revised, mainly because it was too far to go in one day, but partly because of my breathlessnessness, not that I’m complaining. Much. Liesel felt pretty good and Andrew was coping with his dodgy hip OK, too.

Yah-shphrewwww!!!!! Sorry.

A red, discarded Christmas tree

Orton Bradley Country Park was a short drive away and the car was parked in the shade. We did manage to walk up to Big Rock, literally a big rock at the top of the hill. Pauline and Liesel both climbed to the top of the rock but I chickened out: it was too steep for me in my sandals and I don’t like going back down afterwards, plus, being a little tired and short of breath didn’t help.

Chphhh-choooo!!!!!! Hoooo!!!! Yee-uk.

Big Rock
The door into Summer
A very big multi-trunked conifer and a sister

On the drive home, we stopped off at Governors Bay for a coffee at She Universe café. Well, I say coffee and café but really the main attraction at this chocolaterie was the chocolate drinks. Pauline and I had dark mochas which came complete with a chocolate teaspoon. Yes, decadent and very tasty but any hope of it being a cure for my lurgy were soon dashed.

I can’t believe it’s not Buddha

Ah-ah-ah—shooooooo!!! Well, bless me.

I’d been sneezing all day, for couple of days, really, and there had been complaints about me causing tinnitus in others and potentially setting off seismic activity.

We were beginning to think that I’d picked up Liesel’s bug from a few weeks ago, albeit with slightly different symptoms. It might explain my breathlessness issues, the sneezing, which I’d put down to hay faver, and the slightly sore throat.

There is a campaign to save the jetty at Governors Bay, which extends over mudflats. It is in a much worse state than we expected, and we weren’t allowed to walk on it.

Save the jetty
Rebuild the jetty might be a better idea

The Botanic Gardens were nice and quiet and provided shade from the hot sun. Amongst my other ailments, my sunburnt schnozz was now peeling and not very appealing.

Three on a bridge
If only there were a saying that related ducks with water

The Avon is the main river that flows through Christchurch and we walked along its banks for a while. We thought about taking a boat out, or hiring a punt, but, no, sense prevailed, we stayed on dry land. Visited a pharmacy for some drugs for myself.

The Groynes is the name given to a recreational park to the north of Christchurch. (We went by car, not by public transport. I wanted to travel on the Groynes train, but that pun, alas, fell on deaf ears.) There are walking trails, fishing ponds, children’s play areas and best of all, boats for hire on the lake.

Liesel and I took out a double pedal-boat, as did Pauline and Andrew. It was gentle exercise, we enjoyed watching the fishes, including eels, which the boat-hire man fed by his little jetty. There were kayaks available, but having fallen out of one such in Sydney Harbour a few years ago, Liesel wanted me to stay dry this time.

Andrew and Pauline staying afloat
Liesel and Mick staying afloat too

Those of you who were with us in Anchorage will recall my many failed attempts to take a photo of a dragonfly. I had several opportunties here out on the water today, so here are a couple of the best shots.

Dragonflies
Dragonfly on a feather on the water
More dragonflies

For a few days now, we’ve been talking about visiting a ricketty house which I thought, here in Chch, didn’t really narrow it down much. Chch is a common abbreviation for Christchurch, recognised worldwide, in Chch. Anyway, Riccarton House, for that is what was meant, was closed today, but we were able to take a hike through Riccarton Bush.

Canterbury’s sole remnant of kahikatea floodplain forest, Riccarton Bush has national significance. For 300,000 years, the shifting gravels of the Waimakariri River triggered a changing mosaic of podocarp forests across the Canterbury Plains. In response to a continual cycle of flooding, forests established wherever suitable conditions were created, only to be destroyed in their turn. These 600-year-old kahikatea trees are the latest generation of a forest that established on this site 3000 years ago. They have survived through two cultural periods, Maori then European, that saw widespread fires sweep the Plains and native vegetation give way to pastoralism and cropping.

A good path: suitable for prams

The paths are well-made and it’s a very peaceful place. I know I was having a bit of a whinge about the birds singing a few days ago, but here, in this forest, it was lovely to hear them, even if we couldn’t see them very easily. Pauline did, but she knows better what to look for and where to look.

There is a great, fun scheme going on where small rocks are decorated and left in places for others to find. I found one of Sophie’s rocks in a flower bed at Riccarton House and duly reported it to the relevant Facebook group

Sophie’s rock

where I was told that someone’s 4-year old had re-hidden it! My task is now to hide it somewhere else, for the next lucky person.

I do feel bad now about the ‘pet rocks’ that I buried in our garden, back in Chessington, all those mnonths ago. No, not really.

Our old pet rocks

The evening was rounded off again with a few hands of 500, accompanied by chocolate and Baileys. It’s a fun, fascinating game, until you begin to lose concentration, which I did. That’s my excuse, anyway. My partner Pauline and I won the first game, then Liesel and Andrew won the next two! Still, one out of three ain’t bad.

How did Sri Lanka get on in the Test Match against New Zealand, then? Well, it was an exciting game, but there was only about twelve minutes play on the fifth and final day. The score was as follows:
New Zealand won by 423 runs
New Zealand 178 & 585/4d
Sri Lanka 104 & 236/9
NZ claim series win by winning second test in Christchurch.


And so, as the lawn mower of destiny cuts the last few grass blades of eternity and the final slice of bread is burnt in the toaster, I notice it’s the end of the year. On a personal note, I can’t believe I’ve been doing this for eleven months now, with encouragement from many people, especially Liesel, my lovely wife and travel companion.

As I write, it’s mid-afternoon on December 31st and we’re planning to go out later, maybe to a movie, maybe to a show, what we end up doing, I really do not know.

In any case, a million thanks for reading this blog, and I hope you continue to do so in 2019. Liesel and I send you our very best wishes for the new year and we hope our adventures keep you entertained, informed and educated, the way Lord Reith would have wanted.

Christmas in Christchurch

Christchurch, Christmas, crackers, cricket, Krakatoa! Crazy! Crumbs!

On Christmas Eve, we went for a walk by the beach, specifically to Monck’s Bay and Shag Rock. We’ve been there before but it looks a lot different now.

Pauline and Andrew sending out a secret nautical message

The sand is always shifting anyway, revealing different rocks at different times. The area has been occupied for a very long time, and there are still people looking for fish and shellfish on the beach.

A Fishing Life
A fishing boy

The ebbing tide left behind some puddles, but there was nothing of interest other than that the water was pleasantly warm on ones feet.

Islands of sky on the beach

Many of the houses on the hill above the beach have now been demolished following damage sustained during the earthquakes. The loose rocks have also been removed, so the area below is as safe as possible, with the help of netting and other restraints.

A crumbly hill – safe for now

One thing we like to see on a beach is a display of rippling muscles. Unfortunately, the ones we saw stuck on the rocks were spelled wrong.

Mussels and mussels, alive, alive-o

Pauline and I conquered Cave Rock on Sumner Beach, the remains of a legendary whale according to, er, legend.

Pauline on top of Cave Rock

We walked back to town where we had a very pleasant brunch and coffee. We passed the evening by playing 500, a fascinating game but the playing cards were by now becoming sticky. There’s a reason why you shouldn’t eat chocolate while playing cards and I think we discovered it. Good game, complicated, confusing and your (and your partner’s) fortune can turn on a sixpence. Whisky. Yes, we were drinking whisky too: Glenfiddich, to be precise! Slàinte mhath!

Merry Christmas! We weren’t disturbed by the sound of reindeer hooves on the roof and woke up for a gloriously restful Christmas day. Andrew collected his mother from the home where she now lives and we had lunch with her.

Actually, restful? Well, Pauline prepared most of the dishes and the rest of us took it in turns to help. It was all vegetarian and very tasty and of course, there was too much for us to consume in one meal!

We pulled crackers that were hand-made, from a kit, donned the paper hats and groaned at the jokes. Why don’t reindeer dance? Because they have two left feet.

Later in the afternoon while Andrew visited his son, the three of us went for a pleasant walk by the Heathcote River. It was flowing fast, but we saw a trout keeping amazingly still by ‘swimming’ upstream. There were a few cherry trees that were keeping the birds entertained as well as fed.

The Heathcote River

On the way home, we passed by a school where The Kids Are Samart.

Some Made-up Acronyms R Cringeworthy

I still felt sated and the thought of eating more for supper didn’t appeal… until it was actually placed in front of me! I ate plenty more, thanks.

We played 500 again, this time with Liesel’s playing cards, which weren’t at all sticky. There was no joker, so we had to use the 2 of hearts as a joker… just as well that only 43 cards are needed for the game, the 2s, 3s and two of the 4s being put aside. So we have a game in which, when there is a trump suit, the jack of the other suit of the same colour pretends to be that suit, and is of higher value than the jack of the trump suit, which is higher than the ace. But these can all be beaten by the joker which is this case was the 2 of hearts. I think we all ‘misremembered’ at one point or another, and played the ‘joker’ as if it really were a heart when it wasn’t. Well, all except Andrew, who had taught us this game and encouraged us to play. Just one more game. OK, then. Ah, just one or two more pieces of chocolate. Hmm, just one more glass of whisky. Cheers!

Boxing Day began cloudy and grey and not looking good for a cricket match. But what’s the worst that can happen? If it rains, they stop playing, we go home.

Pauline drove us to Hagley Oval, in the Park, to watch the first day of the second Test between New Zealand (Blackcaps) and Sri Lanka. Cricket can be a slow game, but we saw plenty of runs scored and lots of wickets taken. We tried to explain the game to Liesel and I think towards the end of the day, she wasn’t quite as bemused.

Selfie of the day

We were sitting on blankets on the ground, on a bank that surrounds the actual playing field. I knew that if I kept changing position and moving around, I wouldn’t get that thing where it feels like my leg is about to fall off my hip: that happened a lot when I sat on the floor to play with children, until I realised what was causing it.

Our view of the pitch

We had a picnic (thanks, Sis): bread, cheese, salad, crisps*, fruit and we bought coffees**. The most popular ‘food’ item purchased by fellow spectators was a battered hot-dog sausage thing on a stick, drizzled with what could only have been watered-down ketchup. Not a corn-dog, reports our food correspondent, Liesel, but something far, far worse. Apparently, it’s a New Zealand delicacy and it appears in the top ten items you have to try here.

In other food related news, the funniest, maybe coolest sight, was that of a young lady eating popcorn. With chopsticks.

Chopsticks technique scores 10 out of 10

* Hot chips were available too. Hot chips in NZ is just chips in the UK. Chips in NZ is crisps in the UK. Another little trick in the nomenclature to catch out the less wary visitor.

** The queue for coffees was so long, we had to give a phone number so they could text us when it was ready! And of course, we had to support Anchorage Coffees (not just because it was the closest vendor to where we were sitting).

Anchorage Coffee in Christchurch

The day warmed up but the Sun never really came out. There was a small patch of blue sky, but mainly we just had a pleasant day in the Land of the Long Grey Cloud, as Andrew described it.

I was no good at cricket at school, as determined by Mr George Watkins, the games teacher. Yes, the ball is hard and I’m a coward, so I usually ended up in the pavilion, keeping the score. That’s a job I could do now, if it were still a manual task.

The old pavilion at the Oval

During the lunchtime break, we punters were allowed to walk onto the pitch, not the wicket area, but the rest of the field. It became a temporary venue for many impromptu games of cricket mainly between fathers and sons.

A permitted pitch invasion

The announcer announced that we could buy tickets for subsequent days’ play on dub dub dub dot ticketek dot co dot nz. I thought, great, saying ‘dub’ is a lot faster than saying ‘double-you’, whereas in fact, you don’t have to say the ‘www.’ bit at all any more. But I did enjoy watching the painter and line toucher-upper at work.

Touching up the white lines

I was pleased to be able to walk up to one of the anamorphic ads that look perfectly square when you see them on TV. It must be an interesting mathematical challenge to paint it in exactly the right place. I wonder if maybe the task could be made easier with the use of laser beams or something.

Action on the anamorphic ANZ advert

I couldn’t believe the number of adverts. There are TV screens along the whole boundary, the boundary itself is an ad for a bank. There are even big TV screens in front of the sight-screens. When the batsman requests it, big curtains are drawn in front of these displays. After an hour of play, the players stopped for a refreshing drink of Powerade or something equally vile, according to the announcer.

The boundary: old rope and some recycled Toblerone boxes

All in all, a very fine day. Persons of a squeamish disposition should scroll to the next photo. There was one thing I saw that I will never be able to unsee. There was a guy sitting to our right, maybe twenty feet away. He was wearing a black cap, black shorts and a black vest. He was heavily tattooed. As I glanced over once, he leaned forward. The gaping hole in his vest, to the south of his armpit revealed, and I apologise in advance if this ruins your dinner, it revealed sidemoob in all its ugly glory.

The TV confirming the taking of another wicket

During the whole day, there was but one, half-hearted, Mexican wave.

The score at the end of the day’s play was as follows:

Blackcaps 178 all out, Sri Lanka 88 for 4 and unless something unfortunate happens, with the weather, say, it looks like there will be a proper result in the end.

It was a hard day, sitting in the park, in the sunshine watching cricket. Liesel and I were both ready for bed ridiculously early.

Early to bed, late to rise: the most annoying kind of sleep, the one with a three-hour gap of insomnia during which I can read but can’t bring myself to get out of bed and actually do something useful.

If I were a quadruped employed by Father Christmas to pull his sleigh but once a year, this morning I would be known as Mickey the red-kneesed reindeer. Yes, I have sunburnt inside knees from sitting cross-legged yesterday at the cricket for too long. Oh, and mainly because I failed to apply sunblock despite advice and pleas from sister and wife. I should know by now: ladies always know best.

Pauline and I went for a walk to the library and to the chemist where we purchased some aloe vera. “‘Allo, Vera.” It feels lovely on my lallies.

The Lotus Spa (this is not an advert)

This spa looks nice. The Sun was out, it was hot, but the wind became stronger and colder.

Meanwhile, in other news: this year’s Christmas catastrophe was in Indonesia, hit by a tsunami possibly caused by landslides following the eruption of Anak Krakatau. Their tsunami warning system has been out of order since 2012. It appears politicians and policy-makers everywhere look at a problem and think, “meh, it’s only poor people who’ll be affected” and proceed to mess things up. Grenfell, Windrush, Flint, etc.

Liesel and I are so lucky to be away from real life for a while: this trip was our Christmas gift to each other.

Speaking of real life, we all went to see a movie this evening: Vice. It’s the story of Dick Cheney, arguably the most powerful man in USA at one point. It’s a great film, well-made and the story is well told. But the story is just horrible.

Lyttelton

Well, I woke up this mornin’, the Sun was shinin’. I said I woke up this mornin’, the Sun was shinin’. It was too early to get up, so I plugged in the earphones, turned on the phone and listened to a recent episode of I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue (ISIHAC) (series 70, episode 5, to be precise). I don’t think my convulsions of laughter disturbed Liesel too much, but she did get up before me.

The chairman was Jack Dee and my mind went back over ten years to when the late, great Humphrey Lyttelton was the chairman of this antidote to panel games. He would read things out, not alway understanding the innuendo, the double meanings, the wordplay and would be surprised at the audience reaction. He was also a top jazz musician and at one time, a cartoonist (Note 1).

The late Humphrey Lyttelton

Humphrey Lyttelton’s father George William was the second son of the 8th Viscount Cobham, Charles Lyttelton. Charles was the son of the senior George William Lyttelton (1817-1876). He, our Humphrey’s great grandfather, was a member of the Canterbury Association, set up to encourage people to move to New Zealand, specifically, to the Canterbury Plain on South Island.

His name was later given to the Port of Lyttelton, known to the Māori as Ōhinehou.

By accident or design, it was Lyttelton that we visited today, just 20 minutes or so from Pauline’s house.

Fluffy clouds

It was a gorgeous day, beautiful blue skies and fabulous, fluffy white clouds that could have been drawn by a young child.

The Lyttelton Arms

We did not visit this pub on this occasion, but I feel I ought to out of some weird sense of loyalty to the Lyttelton dynasty (Note 4).

Pauline drove us there over the hills and we enjoyed the views and admired the many cyclists riding up the long, long and occasionally very steep gradients. In places, the road was quite narrow too and I’m sure I would have felt quite intimidated by the traffic, if I were cycling here. Or, more likely, pushing my bike.

Living on the edge

The town was bigger than I remembered from my last visit and our first job was to walk down to the Farmers’ Market where we purchased a wide variety of veggies and apples and bread.

Lyttelton sustained serious damage in the earthquakes of 2010 and 2011. The Timeball on its stone tower has only recently been restored and we enjoyed seeing it slowly sink at 1.00pm precisely. Well, I did: Pauline blinked and missed it!

The Timeball ready to drop

We were eating our lunch at the famous Shroom Room having taken our shopping back to the car. The plan was to walk around the town and we decided to go up into the hills on this occasion rather than down to the harbourside.

We passed a school, the school’s grassy play area known as The Grassy, a children’s playground, a skatepark and a swimming pool as we ascended the foothills. And then, soon after, a cemetery.

Skateboard park down to the harbour

Looking back at the view of the sea was a fine reward for all the climbing.

The house is upright
It even looks steep in this picture

We walked round in a long loop, back to the car. Hilly, yes, but a really cute little place. I can’t imagine what it must be like to live up in the hills. It doesn’t snow very often here, but I wonder how many vehicles roll down the slope due to faulty brakes?

Up, up and away

The drive back was much faster. There is a tunnel between Lyttelton and Christchurch, another remarkable feat of engineering.

In the evening, the four of us went to the movies. We saw The Children Act, at The Deluxe Cinemas back at The Tannery. The rain had held off until now, but we weren’t too wet when we sat down inside.

What a film. Emma Thompson is always great of course, but she excelled in this role, you really felt for her character, a judge. And how lucky are we that we don’t have to make such life and death decisons as part of our jobs.

Too much chocolate, how to decide…

Back at home, we played the doubles version of 500. It’s complex and interesting but when it goes on for a long time and you’re playing with a partner and you’re scoffing peanut butter chocolate and you’re drinking red wine and it’s well past everyone’s bedtime, it’s quite a challenge to concentrate! Suffice to say, Pauline and I came a close second to Liesel and Andrew’s victory.

A bottle of Baileys was bought at Barrington Mall on my Sunday afteroon walk. Pauline and Liesel had been out shopping earlier and returned with a very small bottle of the Irish Cream ‘by mistake’. So now we have two bottles.

I walked back via Sydenham Cemetery, where I possibly found some long-lost relations. I’ll have to check the family tree sometime when I get home.

Related to Mick’s in-law Hoares a few generations ago?

Many of the stones and other memorials have been straightened up but not re-erected following the earthquakes seven years ago.

As the day progressed, it became sunnier and sunnier. Liesel did one load of laundry which dried satisfactorily outside. Pauline did some weeding in the garden. Andrew baked a cake. Liesel made a pasta dish for supper. So, to call it a lazy Sunday afternoon seems a bit mean, but other than my walk, it has been very relaxing!

I say, Holmes, what’s that growing in Pauline’s garden?

A lemon tree, my dear Watson

Note 1: Among the musicians who have played with Humphrey Lyttelton is one Tony Coe. Tony’s son, Gideon, is a good friend and a top presenter on BBC 6 Music (Note 2). I’ve seen Tony Coe play live a couple of times, once at Kingston’s Rose Theatre (Note 3) and once in the foyer of the Royal Festival Hall in London.

Note 2: We haven’t listened to as much radio from home as we would like. But this weekend, as well as ISIHAC, I’ve listened to Tom Robinson and Guy Garvey, also on BBC 6 Music. At Pauline’s house, we’ve heard a lot of National Radio New Zealand, in the background at least.

Note 3: We had tickets to see Humphrey Lyttelton at the Rose Theatre in the Summer of 2008. I got a phone call in April of that year telling me that he’d passed away and that my money would be refunded. All I was concerned with was the disappointment that he’d died, that we’d missed out on seeing him perform his legendary music. It was very sad, but the guy at the theatre seemed to be more concerned that I was happy to receive my refund, which I thought was quite sad in itself.

Note 4: The Lyttelton Arms here in Lyttelton, NZ, is not to be confused with The Lyttelton Arms at 1 Camden High Street in London. This latter one was indeed named in honour of our Humphrey, soon after the second world war. It is located opposite Mornington Crescent underground station. And as you know, Mornington Crescent is one of the most popular games played in the radio show I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue. Which, as I said earlier, used to be chaired by Humphrey Lyttelton. Funny old world, innit!

Christchurch

A rainy day in Christchurch, it seems like it’s rainin’ all over the world. We’ve been so lucky with the weather during the last few months, so we shouldn’t really complain but this rain in Christchurch is just so ///wet/// and penetrative and persistent. We could have stayed in all day and looked miserably through the windows but we had to go out for reasons of health and beauty. I was forced to wear my actual waterproof coat, the weather was that bad! So, if you’re not interested in bodily or medical issues, just scroll down to the first picture.

It’s three months since my last visit to the dental hygienist so it was time to have another session of oral torture. She was very good, realy, a couple of sensitive spots, but mostly OK. She didn’t know my kiwi periodontist back at home.

I also visited the local GP to obtain a prescription for my next three months of medication. The limit of three months at a time seems to be universal.

Liesel was attended to from top to bottom. Eyebrowsn and eye lashes all polished up and then a pedicure which was different to the ones enjoyed in Alaska.

Liesel also wants a massage and/or some physiotherapy. Her ‘slipped disc’ / piriformis muscle issue is still not resolved. We didn’t walk nearly as far in Fiji as we did in Japan so that helped a bit, but those two days in Auckland reminded us of the level of discomfort that can be felt.

On the other hand, I feel pretty good. I’d like a massage but don’t feel I ///need/// one right now, but they usually find something that needs loosening up, in the shoulders or thereabouts.

Occasionally, one of my feet complains. It’s like there’s a length of string between the second toe and the heel that just doesn’t want to stretch for a while, so I have to walk funny, almost limping. Pauline said I always walk funny anyway!

That is the end of the medical news! Spoiler alert: there’s a haircut coming up soon.

Rain on the decking, in case you don’t know what rain on decking looks like

We bought some groceries and then hung around waiting for the rain to stop. And waited. And waited. We had coffee and tea and muffins. And waited.

In the end, we started walking home but just as we left the shopping centre in Barrington, a taxi pulled up in front of us. The driver dragged us in, kicking and screaming, and reluctantly, we took a ride home to Pauline’s house.

When my sister asked me a while ago what food I wanted in New Zealand, I suggested PIES! I have missed pies, with proper pastry, and I’ve missed proper, tasty, crusty bread.

Tonight for supper, we had a pie. It was fabulous. So pastry-y and tasty. There was a filling too, apparently, but the pastry… mmm.

While walking to The Tannery the following day, we were in danger of an attack of homesickness. (No, not really.)

Palatine Tce

Palatine Road is the main shopping street near where we now live in Northenden. And this poor old postman still has use of a bicycle. I think if he tried harder, he could really load it up.

Kiwi postie’s bike

It was a pleasant walk, not sunny, but at least it was dry. There are many areas around here that share their names with parts of London: Sydenham, Beckenham, Waltham, Edgeware, even a St Martins.

We always go for the low-hanging fruit. Well, Liesel does as she’s so short. But I think this is the first time we’ve been scrumping, for plums, in New Zealand. Small but sweet, and if any officers of the law are reading this, it was Liesel’s idea.

Small plum tree. The plums are small, the tree was quite big
Small plum or big fingers

One local sport seems to be fly-tipping. These guys parked across the pavement, forcing us to walk in the road, while they threw hundreds of plastic bottles over the fence. It might have been a legitimate place to dispose of the waste items, but what a bizarre way to go about it. They could have driven into the yard, just along the road a bit.

Let’s park on the pavement while we’re fly-tipping
The owner needs a p

The Tannery is a cute, little Boutique Shopping Centre in Woolston. There are bars and restaurants too. When we arrived, there were two girls performing but they soon disappeared, unfortunately: they were making quite a nice noise.

While we ate lunch, we enjoyed some classical music but as there was so much background noise, Shazam was unable to confirm it was by Mozart.

While Liesel went window shopping, I found a barbershop and had a haircut and a shave. The girl was from Greenwich, has been in NZ for twelve years and hasn’t lost her accent. Yet.

Pauline joined us after work and we had drinks at the chocolate shop.

The Tannery
Trompe l’oeil great tiles

In the evening, while Pauline was doing stuff in the kitchen, Liesel, Andrew and I played a game of Scrabble. Then, Andrew taught us a new card game: 500s. I don’t think I’d heard of it before but it was fun learning a new game. Especially one in which, under certain circumstances, the jack of clubs pretends to be a spade.

Friday was Pauline’s last half-day at work this year and to avoid meeting her just after lunchtime, Andrew drove us into town. He joined us for a short while in the Botanic Gardens and we continued after he left for home.

Very colourful Botanic Gardens
Southern hemisphere Sun dial
Invisible reindeer
Chaffinch
Diminish and Ascend by David McCracken, 2014
Waxeye

We continued our slow walk into the city centre.

Rubbish selfie of the day, in front of big bubbles

It’s all new to us of course, and I don’t suppose the earthquakes were at the front of other people’s minds. There is a lot of building work going on, but apart from that, Christchurch is a lively, bright, functioning city. It’s not as busy as usual because at this time of the year, many people go away, especially to Nelson at the north of the island. There are plenty of visitors such as ourselves, of course.

This building needs a lot of support and love
Cathedral and cairn

There is a great window display in the big department shop, Ballantyne’s, and plenty of other Christmas decorations, but it doesn’t ///feel/// like Christmas to me. I know it’s the middle of December, but this whole adventure of ours sometimes feels so unreal, it’s hard to add more excitement to it.

Christchurch Christmas tree and bauble
The Merry Mice of Dunstable House, window display

We took the bus home and arrived an hour before the rain. Pauline was in the garden pulling up some big weeds. I was not at all gallant, I didn’t offer to help. I would only pull up the wrong things.

Auckland to Christchurch

Auckland is built on a volcanic bed consisting of about fifty volcanoes. Each is considered extinct though the field as a whole is merely dormant. There have been 90 eruptions in the last 90,000 years.

It is located on an isthmus which is just 2 km wide at its narrowest. There are two harbours: the northern one takes you to the Pacific Ocean and the other takes you to the Tasman Sea.

It is home to one third of New Zealand’s total population and everyone has very strong thighs. It’s a very hilly city and some of the hills are quite steep. We know: it feels like we’ve climbed most of them during the last couple of days.

We had breakfast courtesy of Joanna and Ian, while we all chatted, and so Liesel and I left the house on both days a little later then planned.

Two days, two Museums, fourteen miles walking in Auckland, two decent eating places, many fantastic views, zero bungee jumps and Christmas music seeping out of some shops.

Ghostly apparition

Our wanderings took us along some busy roads, so we were glad of the opportunity to take a ‘short cut’ through Myer’s Park. It’s a cute littel patch of green, with a fab children’s playground, and we were entertained by a man playing his piano-accordion.

Sculpture in Myer’s Park

Our destination was Auckland Domain, one of the bigger parks in the city and we couldn’t beliece how green Auckland is. Yes, there are plenty of high-rise buildings but there are green patches and trees in between, totally different to Tokyo.

We happened to pass by the art gallery and it just happened to have a café and we went in by mistake and had a coffee.

Mojo Coffee, above the art gallery

We sat outside, but under cover. It was warm and the sky was blue except for over there where it looked like a big black storm was brewing.

Ominous

We walked through Albert Park, where the sculpture that I thought might be a sundial turned out not to be. I couldn’t find a plaque so I can’t say what it really is.

We said hello to Queen Victoria and I made a short speech from the podium at Speakers’ Corner.

Queen Victoria
Bollocks to Brexit! And I am unanimous in this!!

Auckland Domain was hilly too, so it was only fair to test-sit many of the park benches.

There’s a word for this kind of tree

The trees were fascinating, multiple trunks in many cases; the paths were very well maintained. And as if that’s not enough, there were some really interesting sculptures too.

Numbers are the Language of Nature

At the top of the hill is located the Auckland War Memorial Museum. The views from the top are wonderful, a fine reward for all the effort. The Museum is very interesting but very moving too. There’s the history of the Maori settlers, the arrival of white Europeans with their Christianity and firearms as often seems to be the case.

There is a butterfly collection which is very pretty, but it feels a bit wrong to collect that many specimens.

Butterflies

As it’s a War Memorial, there are stories of all the conflicts that New Zealanders have been involved with, usually for the sake of the mother country. There are two Halls of Memory listing all Aucklanders lost in battle. And if that’s not enough, there is this:

Let these panels never be filled

We walked home and when we were caught in the rain, we took shelter in the bandstand for a few moments.

The Maritime Museum is down by the harbour so we knew this day’s walk wouldn’t be as long.

Millions of dollars

I couldn’t resist the temptation to have a go on one of the electric scooters operated by a company called Lime.

Mick on the scooter

Liesel wasn’t too keen and I didn’t go too far as I didn’t have a helmet but some other people were going by at very high speed.

In the museum, I chose to join the guided tour at 1.30pm. Liesel sat and read her book while Tony took me and all the others around for two hours. All the others? There were none. I had my own personal guide, and he explained everything, from how the Maoris arrived here in the first place, right up to Sir Peter Blake winning the America’s Cup for NZ in 1995.

Waka tiwai – river boat made from half a log
Tukutuku panels tell a story

On the way back home, we were very nearly tempted by this pub:

That’s a good deal

But really, this is my new favourite venue, and there is no prizes for telling me why:

Harbourside

This was a surprise too: Tony had mentioned the Rainbow Warrior in the museum earlier, but we didn’t know about this memorial:

Rainbow Warrior memorial

It was a short stay in Auckland, but we’ll be back very soon.

Our flight to Christchurch was short and sweet and again, we had seats a row apart.

It was good to be by the window, not above the wing, and I enjoyed the bird’s-eye view of Hagley Park.

The Oval in Hagley Park

We’re in Christchurch with my sister Pauline and her partner Andrew. We’ll be here for Christmas and until we get kicked out.

It’s our first visit here since the catastrophic earthquakes. Pauline’s house was finally re-built last year, after waiting six years.

Tenaha te Aotearoa

One more drive to Port Denarau for a final, Indian meal, before leaving Fiji. It was a beautiful sunset and it was with some reluctance that, back home, we began to pack our bags.

Sunset at Port Denarau, the Sun is behind us

Will we come back to Fiji? Yes, it’s been a fantastic experience, but some of the poverty was quite striking and stark. The beautiful, well-maintained bright and shiny resorts are just a stone’s throw away from families selling fruit by the side of the road. Lots of people don’t have running water and while it may be their choice, many people were walking round with bare feet. I like taking photos but sometimes here, there was no pleasure in seeing folks in such straits. I don’t think I could be a photo-journalist, I’d be wanting to help and intervene too much, I suspect.

Onwards and upwards. It was time to move on to the land of the long white cloud. The hire car was returned, what was left of it. All week, we’d noticed more and more bits missing: the volume control knob, the blades in the air con vent, all carefully photographed so we don’t get the blame. It always sounded like it wasn’t going to start and indeed, when we filled up with petrol, it really didn’t want to go, straightaway. Still, it was useful for a few days. The good thing about it having so many dents is that, if we’d acquired a new ding, it wouldn’t have been so obvious. But we didn’t, despite the best efforts of some of the bad road surfaces, loose chippings, gravel etc.

A dent in the hire car

I like a good logo and I thought this one at Nadi Airport was particularly clever.

Gloria Jean’s Coffee

If you can’t see it, the swirl of steam is the G and the hand holding the cup is the J. Gloria Jean. No? Just me, then!

The flight to Auckland was uneventful and we were greeted by this oxymoron from Middle Earth: a five-metre tall dwarf.

Welcome to Middle Earth

We couldn’t get a portable wifi device so we both ended up with local NZ sim cards. We should have internet access while we’re here, especially if our various lodgings have wifi that we can use.

It was a scorching 31°C yesterday in Nadi and the forecast suggested it would be much colder in Auckland when we arrived. But no, it was a fabulous 22° and not a sign of the thunderstorms they’d experienced here yesterday. Perfect!

We enjoyed a ride courtesy of Super Shuttle. It was a roller-coaster of a ride but the driver did slow down for a couple of the road humps. He didn’t like having to take one couple to their home as it was out of his way. Maybe he wasn’t meant to be a public service vehicle driver. He didn’t seem too enamoured of the local Chinese population either. One third of the people living in Auckland are Chinese, apparently, and the young ones all drive expensive cars. There are more Ferraris per capita in New Zealand than in any other country.

We were safely delivered to our Airbnb in Ponsonby and by luck, the trailer with our luggage was still attached.

Our hosts are poms, Ian and Joanna. We came all this way to get away from English people… haha, only kidding!

We had a chat and an introduction to the house. Liesel and I went for a walk to find something to eat: we won’t be cooking here, they live in the house too. But Joanna has promised us breakfast tomorrow morning.

We came across Bic Runga’s sister’s shop, just round the corner.

Boh’s Bohtique

Yes, we were looking for somewhere to eat, but the sports on offer at this pub didn’t really do much for us.

Not much on TV

Probably the most famous landmark is the Sky Tower. We’d been driven by it earlier but it’s hard to see much when you’re bouncing around while gripping the seat in front so tightly.

Sky Tower

We won’t be bungee-jumping off it, or the Harbour Bridge, or any other edifice. I did one once, in 1994 and there’s no need to repeat the experience.