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!

Seaspray

That was a little bit scary and definitely a first for both of us. We were escorted to the cashpoint machine. And all because we needed tomatoes.

We never anticipated becoming involved with the Fijian criminal underworld yesterday while visiting some gorgeous islands.

We got up unusually early to join the bus at the nearby Mercure Hotel at 8am. We waited and waited, got worried because nobody else was waiting and no buses appeared. We decided that if we were still waiting at 8.30, we’d go in our own car. But finally the bus turned up, more of a people-carrier really. Fiji time. Fiji bus.

The ride to the Port of Denarau was short but sweet, and as soon as we arrived, we knew we’d have to come back to spend more time in the port itself. All those shops.

Counter clerks in Fiji do like using their staplers. They’ll never give you one piece of paper when three or four will do, all stapled together. And the boarding passes for the day’s boats appeared fastened in this manner, to a pamphlet.

We’d opted for the all-day Seaspray Day Adventure as it took us via a few islands to our main destinations.

Looking back at Denarau

Most of the young people chose to spend the day on South Sea Island doing young peoples’ things. Energetic activities.

South Sea Island

Treasure Island and Beachcomber Islands also look exactly as you’d expect south Pacific islands to look. Not as wild as in Robinson Crusoe’s day, there are now buildings and jetties and facilities. Transfer to these islands was on a small tender. After 90 minutes on the high speed catamaran, we transferred to another boat at Mana Island.

The Seaspray Day Adventure would be our home and base for the following six hours.

Mana Island – where you can stay overnight

There were nine of us passengers, guests, and seven crew. Not a bad ratio. While sailing, they played music for us, gave us champagne and offered drinks throughout the day. There was shelter from the Sun but mainly, we just gazed upon the sea and the islands. And just a few, fluffy clouds to break up the monotony of the blue sky. Liesel saw a turtle in the middle of the ocean, it came up for air and said hello.

Our lovely crew

Modriki Island was the first port of call for us. We went snorkelling. Liesel had a much better time than I did. I don’t know whether I’ve just forgotten how to breathe using the equipment or mine had a leak, but I took on board far too much sea-water. Liesel saw shoals of little blue fish, scissor-tail sergeants, an eel, a parrot fish but she didn’t find Nemo nor Dory.

I spluttered my way to the beach, had a quick walk and waited for the little dinghy to pick us all up.

Modriki Island

Then, it was lunchtime. Plenty of barbecued meat was on offer but the salads I chose were far superior IMHO. We realised we hadn’t eaten potatoes in this form, boiled, for a long, long time. Couldn’t get enough potato salad!

The neighbouring island is Yanuya. Here, we visited a Fijian Village and were welcomed with a traditional kava ceremony that was genuinely not just something for tourists. Kava is a drink made from the root of the kava kava plant, and it is quite bitter. But, in the end, not as bitter as I’d anticipated. And no side-effects.

There was a market area, where many of the local women had their arts and crafts for sale. Well, probably not their own work, the clue being that most of them were selling the same set of items.

The village itself was fairly deserted and the school was closed for the six week holiday.

Liesel trying out for the Rugby 7s

Like a lot of Fiji, the sunshine, the heat and the torrential rain has taken its toll on many of the buildings. The village is, apparently self-sufficient, but the drinking water is brought in on tankers.

How did that tyre get round the bottom of this mature tree?

There were a few signs of life, a couple of little children running around, the sound of faint music from a couple of house, but I think most of the adults were either working over in the fields or enjoying a siesta.

Laundry day
Recently installed solar panels
Yanuya Island

Some of the more adventurous and confident guests jumped in for a quick swim before our boat returned us to Mana. We disembarked onto a very hot jetty to wait for the fast catamaran back to Denarau.

Swimming

We wanted to visit a nearby Hindu Temple but on arrival, we realised, we couldn’t go in because I wasn’t wearing trousers. I haven’t worn trousers for ages, and it never occurred to us to consider the Hindu dress code.

Sri Suva Subramaniya Hindu Temple

We’re in Fiji for just a couple more days so we’re trying to eat as much of our food as we can before moving on. Liesel wanted to make salsa again and the only ingredient missing was tomatoes. The local supermarket didn’t have any and the guys outside were charging far too much for their produce. So, off to the big city, well, Nadi, we went.

Parked up, fed the meter, looked around getting our bearings, trying to remember where the market was located. A dark voice behind us asked if we were looking for something. “Ah, the market, it’s over there, follow me,” he said. So we did.

We crossed the road, turned right, turned left, went down a narrow street, turned into a narrower alley, turned right, walked up some stairs, passed a room where some lads were playing pool. I wondered why the market was upstairs, it wasn’t last time. We were shown into a room filled with Fijian works of art. All genuine Fijian craft, we were assured, no Chinese or Korean knock-offs. Compare this heavy wooden turtle with that cheap one from China, made from balsa wood. There were big masks, bangles, jewellery, ornaments, turned wooden bowls, all great stuff of course, but nothing that we could buy and carry with us.

Our guide was by the door, another man was ‘selling’ the wares, an elder turned up and lit a cigarette then asked if it was ok to smoke here.

In the end, we bought a small painting. It will go with our new curtains at home, we think! We didn’t have enough cash on us, and they didn’t use credit cards because their money isn’t put through the banking system.

Liesel and I looked at each other, wondering what kinda mess we’d gotten ourselves into.

Our guide took us to the nearest ATM, I withdrew the cash, paid him and he then showed us to the market that we wanted to go to in the first place.

Quite possibly the most expensive three tomatoes we’ve ever bought, ever, anywhere.

He then took us back to our car.

I think we may have had a close shave with the Fiji Mafia, but so far, we seem to have got away with it. If we wake up with a horse’s head in the bed, we’ll think again.

As anticipated, we returned to Denarau where we ate lunch, keeping a look-out for gangsters on our case. There was one suspicious character. I said, be careful, his bowtie is really a camera.

Merry Christmas: this tree is made from plastic bottles

It was a lot more overcast today, so we were lucky with our trip to the islands, yesterday.

The Port of Denarau

We drove home the ‘long way’, in order to take some photos.

Didn’t expect to see this
Sugar cane train engine
One of many roadside markets
Roadside goats

I went for a quick walk but the main road isn’t that interesting or photogenic, so I came back, changed into my swimmers, and spent a while in the pool. Yes, this Airbnb has a pool and it has an awning that isn’t entirely waterproof: it let the rain in!

Mick, coffee, pool, rain

There is also a small fish pond with a lot of large koi. They often come up to the surface and say hello too, when we walk by.

The rain was pretty half-hearted, but at least it did encourage the frogs to come out.

It’s raining frogs

So, salsa, rice and bhaji (a local spinach-like vegetable), crackers, crisps, rose apples, pineapple, mango, chocolate biscuits, ice cream and an apple all made for a very nice, balanced but wide-ranging supper.

Was my sleepless night due to lack of exercise? Too much coffee? Too much food? Concern about the local triads or other criminal organisations? I lay awake for ages worrying about this and in the end, I picked up my book for a while. Yes, of course I read it.

Our final full day in Fiji was filled with fun on the internet. This. And Liesel was booking flights and cars and things for the next couple of months. We listened to the radio: Cerys Matthews, Amy Lamé, Tom Robinson, Bob Harris Country and very little Christmas music, just the way we like it.

Chillin’

We’ve had a relaxing few days. We’ve done nothing. Zilch. Nada. Well, the bare minimum, anyway.

Wednesday was a day at the beach. The overnight rainstorm was loud on the old tin roof of the bure, but it was nice and warm and dry inside.

The Pacific and Liesel

We sat on the beach, went for a dip in a warm Pacific Ocean, greeted the few passers-by and generally soaked up the Sun.

The wind blew an old plastic Coke bottle along the beach, and we thought about chasing it and binning it… nah… But it’s the thought that counts. Taking it easy.

Selfie of the day

The toilets and showers were locked up: it’s not the busy touristy season which is why we had the beach to ourselves. The newly purchased beach blanket and towels were tested to the limit. As was the SPF 30 sunblock.

I went for a nice Fijian massage. I wasn’t expecting two ladies, one at each end, but it was a very nice, relaxing experience. One picked up the tightness in my feet from all the walking. The other found the knots and tightness in my neck and shoulders. (Hey Dawn, you’re still my number one choice for a massage but if there were two of you…)

Thursday again began with a thunderstorm. The rain continued all morning, on and off, the poor little birdie outside looked a bit sorry for himself. He could have taken shelter, yes, but I think he enjoyed me imitating him mimicking the other birds.

We did walk down to the shops for a coffee, I did some things online that required a better signal than we can get at home. Liesel read her book, I wandered round, sent postcards to a couple of people who aren’t online and who don’t have to put up with this drivel. Laid back, yes, but not totally idle. We bought a bag of tortilla chips that turned out to be stale, even though well within the best before date. Such a to-do.

Nudity is frowned upon in Fiji, apparently, and on most south Pacific islands, but don’t worry, I was let off with a caution.

We have to admire people who are working in these conditions. I’m just typing but my fingers are soaking up the humidity like a sponge: anyone would thing I’ve been in the bath too long with wrinkled old fingers like this. It’s certainly confused the phone’s biometric fingerprint scanner.

The young lady that cooked our samosas in a hot kitchen is a hero. Heroine. She’s a star.

Liesel and I both have good books on the go at the moment, we still haven’t felt the need to turn the TV on, and I have a huge backlog of radio programmes to listen to. We’re still waiting for the UK Government to collapse and/or Brexit to be cancelled but that reality is so far away from here. We look at each other across the room, sigh, wipe the back of a hand across a damp, furrowed brow, get up and walk about a bit, have a drink, have a snack, sit back down again.

I went out to talk to the birds and my reward was several mosquito bites. Other wildlife we’ve seen include a Fijian ground frog in our bathroom. Liesel asked Doug to remove it. He said it wasn’t poisonous, but we weren’t planning to eat it, anyway, to be fair. I did tell Liesel that if she’d kissed the frog, it might have turned into a handsome prince. She said the last time she kissed a frog, she got me and she’s not making that mistake again.

Not our frog but a very good likeness

We have a pet gecko in our room too. We’re keeping him because he can hoover up the ants and other bugs.

Something makes a horrible noise during the night, it might be frogs, it might be werewolves screeching at each other, it could be guests in other villas on Hibiscus Drive shouting at the rain. Pretty sure it’s not the gecko.

We were idly wondering what to do next. This was tempting: Fire walking.

Fire Walking sign needs fixing

Unfortunately, we couldn’t work out exactly where to go. Bummer. Next time, maybe.

Drinking coffee at the Skinny Bean Café left us wondering: is the design on my latté hibiscus or, as Liesel first though, plumeria?

Coffee and hibiscus

I think this was as profound a discussion as we had all day. A pair of brains taking a day off. Two pairs of feet putting their feet up too.

Yeeah, maaan

Friday began with another storm. There was also a very loud cricket outside, chirruping away, maybe a couple. As the rain became louder, so did the cricket (or grasshopper, or whatever). Somehow, Liesel slept through the whole thing!

Other loud noises included fireworks and a really loud thunderclap right overhead. The lights dimmed for a moment: but we have candles to hand, just in case.

We have another gecko in our room. The first one was a surprise, so a little bit scary. This new one is a baby. We’re now looking out for a ginger one, a sporty one and a posh one so we have the whole set.

Baby gecko

During the night, I felt a couple of rainspots on my arm. I couldn’t believe there was a hole in the roof, but in the morning, I did notice a very slight gap between two of the tiles. Taking into consideration factors such as ferocity of the rainstorm, its duration, the size of the gap in the roof, wind conditions, angle of slope of the roof, the area of my exposed skin, height of room, height of my bed off the floor, I calculated that the chances were that 2.14 drops of rain would land on me. Isn’t mathematics brilliant?

We took the bus into Suva. Our third bus ride, and the third method of payment. The man I sat next to said ‘Bula’, and shook my hand, and we had a chat. We’re not in London any more, I realised.

We decided to take a taxi rather than another bus to Colo-i-Suva Forest Park. The driver told us that Prince Harry was here a couple of months ago and that he planted a tree using the same shovel that his grandmother used when she visited in the 1950s.

Brand new Welcome sign

Summertime and the living is easy. We had a nice walk in the forest, but it too was loud. The odd bird but mainly, cicadas. They have an eight-year cycle in Fiji and although we didn’t see any, we certainly heard them. It was like walking through a tunnel of tinnitus, albeit a slightly lower frequency than what I usually experience.

Nice new path

There is supposed to be a lot of wildlife here, but all we saw was a mongoose run across the road. One dragonfly and a couple of butterflies.

We stopped by the car park for a natural break, wishing that we, like others, had had our taxi drop us off here in the first place! Oh well.

The park ranger told us that Prince Harry was here a couple of months ago and that he planted a tree using the same shovel that his grandmother used when she visited in the 1950s.

The trail now was narrower and definitely made for walking on. Newly improved too, for some reason, at grest expense. There were bures on the way, picnic tables, even rubbish bins. We heard the waterfall before we saw it, and we climbed down to the Upper Pool. There were a few locals enjoying the water, and I thought it would be nice to cool off too. The thing I was most worried about in the water was leeches and I’m so glad I never encountered any. No frogs either.

I heard: “There are frogs in there.”

What Liesel actually said: “My glasses are fogging up.” (We’ve both agreed to have hearing tests later on.)

Don’t go jumping waterfalls
Please keep to the lake
People who jump waterfalls sometimes can make mistakes

The water was cool, but very refreshing, and the water falling on my head was quite forceful: so glad I wasn’t wearing the toupée.

On the way back to the entrance, a charming man offered us a lift in his car We had a nice chat. He told us that Prince Harry was here a couple of months ago and that he planted a tree using the same shovel that his grandmother used when she visited in the 1950s.

Nice plaque for Prince Harry’s recent visit

We waited just a few minutes at the entrance to the park for our taxi to arrive.

Suva City Library was helped in its early days by philanthropist Andrew Carnegie, whose name it now bears. We spent a few minutes here looking at the children’s books. Was it air conditioned? Nope. But the windows were open! We were here to video us reading a couple of books to Martha and William. We send them a new one every few weeks.

Then, over the road to Hare Krishna Vegetarian Restaurant. Here, I ate my breakfast: a plate of six curries, a thali, most of which was delicious but number 6 was far too salty.

Don’t see ads like this any more at home

It started raining when we were on the bus back to Pacific Harbour, and it was still precipitating slightly when we walked home.

Doug and Loata passed by and we later realised, judging by Doug’s beery breath, they’d been to the pub.

Advert outside a shop that did have avocados in stock
Papaya don’t preach

Our hosts, Doug and Loata, left us a bowl of fruit. Unfortunately, the mangoes hadn’t ripened by the time we left.

In other news, our Alaskan friends and family are still experiencing strong aftershocks in Anchorage. Young William has taken his first few steps. Santa has written to him and Martha, following our request at North Pole, Alaska.

We’ve now moved on to Nadi, another three-hour bus ride, and another method of payment! All the buses have a sign “No eating, no drinking, no smoking”. Well, we’ve seen nobody sparking up so I suppose one out of three ain’t bad! A lot of people carry a lot of stuff on buses: big boxes, sacks, bin bags all full, presumably, of food. I asked Liesel if that was a chicken I could hear at the back of the bus and she said no, it was the soundtrack from the TV show.

Some of the cattle (outside, not on the bus) looked really healthy but there were some that looked like a blanket had been thrown over a clothes horse. All in the same field, so you’d think, with the same access to good feed.

In Japan we had MaxValu. In Fiji, it’s MaxVal-u Supermart. Here in Fiji, as in Tonga, some men wear skirts. It’s rude to stare but you can’t help but do a double-take sometimes.

Our new Airbnb here in Nadi has air conditioning which is welcome. I went to the local shops, missing out on the rain, while Liesel did the first of two loads of laundry.

The 4G signal here is much stronger too, so I have been able to listen to a couple of my radio programmes with . . . out the . . . . . . . . contin . . ual b . . . . . . . uffering.

At the airport, where the bus dropped us off, I was delighted to see this advert for The Bangles’ new single.

Walk Like an Egyptian

The bad news is that Liesel’s voice is a bit croaky right now. Thank goodness you can get Strepsils even in Fiji!

We’re having a very quiet, relaxed Saturday evening and we are surprised by how warm it really is, every time we visit the bathroom.

A day in

Thunderstorms featured briefly in one weather forecast but they never materialised. In fact, it was a nice day. We spent it indoors, mostly. One of us had a long lie-in while the other watched a couple of TV shows on her phone.

I read my book for a while and spent too long trying to fix a problem on my own phone: one in which email headers are displayed but not the body of the message. Yes, I emptied the cache, yes I turned it off and on again and no, the bug wasn’t fixed.

I did a few hours typing, we went shopping just up the road. Liesel concocted a delicious leek and potato soup.

I went for a quick walk myself, not too far, just downstairs, three doors along into the barbershop. It was great to get my hair cut, finally, after failing to do so in Anchorage. Neither the barber nor his wife spoke English, I spoke no Japanese. I think my sign language conveyed the right message: at least, I came away with a decent trim. I wasn’t seriously worried about the cutthroat razor, nor being turned into a pie, since there are no pie shops nearby. I got a free shoulder and neck massage too which I wasn’t expecting but that may be the normal service here.

We listened to radio programmes, mostly music, from BBC 6 Music, Radio 2 and Classic FM. I’m so glad we acquired the bluetooth speaker, it’s so much more pleasant to listen to than the tinny speakers in our phones.

I’m sure there are interesting Japanese radio shows being broadcast too, and I’m sure I’ll investigate them at some point. But for today, we just wanted something familiar from home.

What a nice, relaxing day for both of us.

To Takatsuki

Our time in Tokyo is over. That went fast. We saw about 0.01% of what was on offer, including some of what we’d planned to see. But after more than 40 years, there is still a lot of London for us to see, so what chance did Tokyo have?

We packed, ate most of the rest of our food for breakfast and left a few bits in the fridge for the next people. Our final walk back to Yamagome station with full bags this morning was hot and sticky.

This shopkeeper hasn’t quite got the hang of the 24-hour clock

Thank goodness we chose to travel light! But everything is relative, and we could both do with travelling lighter, that’s for sure.

Interestingly, we noticed that on the stairs to the platform, we were supposed to ‘keep right’. The ‘keep left’ ‘rule’ doesn’t even apply to the whole of the railway system never mind the whole of Tokyo or the country in its entirety.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, our lovely Martha and William were enjoying preparations for Halloween. Thanks for sending the pictures so we can stave off homesickness!

Martha and William being spooky
Martha (behind) and pumpkin (front)

The main task today was to validate our JR (Japan Rail) Rail Passes. The assistant was very helpful and very thorough, but what a palaver. We had vouchers and expected to be given real Passes. We didn’t anticipate that so many pieces of paper would have to be printed, annotated, highlighted, dated, stamped, signed, stapled, filed and when she started processing a Filipino’s form with my passport, I think I was quite justified in becoming a little worried. But, being British, I kept my mouth shut, of course.

Our Passes were subsequently stamped, that is to say validated, by the first ticket inspector we saw. We can’t use the automatic barriers, we have to show our Passes to a real person each time, in and out of a station.

The first, crowded, train took us to Tokyo Station. We then reserved seats for the second train, as this would be a three hour long ride on the Shinkansen service, the world-famous Japanese Bullet Train.

Our train arriving at Tokyo station

The seats are in groups of 3 and 2 separated by the wide aisle. There is plenty of legroom too.

Inside a bullet train carriage
Scrambled eggs, oh my darling, you’ve got lovely legs*

The ride was smooth and very comfortable. The highest speed we saw on my little phone app was 280 kph, about 175 mph.

Google Maps plus Speedometer

I think we were hoping to see more countryside once we left the metropolis of Tokyo, but the whole country seems to be pretty built-up. In some places, I had to look away from the window as the flickering of the fast passing buildings was making me feel a bit ooky.

We were hoping to see Mount Fuji, of course, but the train passed through a long sequence of long tunnels. The lady sitting behind pointed out Fuji, now way behind us, and while it was exciting to see it at last, in the flesh, it was too far away and I was too slow to take a picture. So, I had to make do with a photo of an advert at the next station!

(A poster of) Mount Fuji

We saw the sea for a a brief moment and eventually, we did see some actual rural scenery.

Fields whizzing by at over 100mph
Hills near Yasu
The sea at Atami-shi

In the station earlier, I’d used another app to translate the labels on some of the snacks in the shops. For some reason, the English translation was displayed upside down. And of course, the phone is so smart, when you turn it round, it turns the image round too, so it’s still upside down. But we were glad to have snacks, as the on-train service was hard to pin down. At least two crew members pushed a trolley through the carriage, but so fast, it was impossible for us to flag them down. What was cute though was that every member of the crew who passed through the carriage turned round and bowed before they left.

As we approached Kyoto, the densely built cityscape became more dominant again. Amongst the ordinary structures, we saw the beauty of an old shrine standing proud.

A shrine near Kyoto

The train was quiet and peaceful. There was nobody shouting the odds on their phone, nobody playing loud music through inadequate earphones, it was all very civilised. In fact, it’s normal here to turn your mobile devices to silent, and not to use them as phones while on board. So imagine how mortified I was when my Google Maps app started telling me where to go while we were on the train. It’s not like I was driving and had any control over where we went. Some apps are just a bit too up themselves.

Three hours on a bullet train and we duly arrived at Shin-Osaka station.

Shinkansen at Shin-Osaka
Escalator does a whoopsie

The escalator thinks it’s a staircase. It goes down for a bit, then it levels off and then it goes down again, as if it has to pause for breath halfway down. (Or, indeed, up.)

In the stations, and outside, we noticed that many people were dressed for temperatures far colder than we were experiencing. Did they know something we didn’t? I’m still in t-shirt and shorts and I feel fine. Liesel feels cold well before I do, so her cardigan was on and off almost as fast as a pulsar.

The third train ride of the day was only about 20 minutes duration. We went back from Osaka towards Kyoto, as the new Airbnb is halfway between the two cities.

At Settsu-Tonda station, we were met by our host for the week, Masako. She actually gave us a lift in her little car to our accommodation and of course, on this occasion, we hadn’t had time to buy flowers to thank her for the lift! Oh well.

Our pink Airbnb home for a week

The house was easy to find from the station and it is pink: it reminded me of our old house in Peterborough. Masako showed us round: we had the choice of downstairs or upstairs. We went upstairs as it seemed more private. Plus, we’d be further away from any karaoke activity taking place next door.

We have much more space here too: it’s good to be able to sit and relax on a sofa. There’s a decent kitchen with cooking paraphernalia. The cutlery drawer is mostly full of chopsticks, but I’m sure we’ll get by.

We had a quick walk back up the road to the convenience shop, 7-Eleven. Not convenient enough to sell fruit and veg, though. So I walked further along to a greengrocer where I was able to procure apples, bananas and grapes. No tomatoes, though. And yes, I did ask for English tomartoes and for American tomaytoes.

Our evening entertainment was the start of a sequence of Slow Sunday programmes from last Sunday on BBC 6 Music. Cerys Matthews, Russell Crowe and Guy Garvey all played some fantasic, relaxing music.

Our beds are components from an old bunk bed, so it’s quite hard to get out of them with sides higher than the mattress thickness. At least we won’t fall out. And we won’t be struggling to get up from the floor, either! We’re here for a week, hooray!

* Scrambled eggs, oh my darling, you’ve got lovely legs… apparently these are the original lyrics to Paul McCartney’s song, Yesterday. No prizes for finding another Beatles song title here somewhere.

Basketball

Today’s afternoon walk only took me as far as KBC. The initial plan was to walk to the nearest barbershop, but it proved to be too far. If I could walk in a straight line across the international airport, it would have been a 20-minute walk. Going the long way round would take well over an hour and half. So my hair is still uncut, unkempt and certainly not making growing fast enough to give me a ponytail any time soon.

In the evening, we went to watch Kiran playing a couple of games of basketball. As we left the house, Liesel pointed out the moose. What moose, I asked, looking into the distance. That moose, said Liesel. Right by the car!

There’s a moose, loose, outside the hoose

Phil was coaching Kiran’s team and we watched from the gallery, with Una. Basketball is a very fast game, a lot more scoring than soccer, of course, and all the players were very skilful with the ball. Between the two games, Una took us to a nearby coffeeshop that shall remain nameless. No, it wasn’t the Voldemort Coffee shop.

Goal!!!
Yes, a very fast game

The venue was BHS. Not the now defunct UK chainstore, but Bartlett High School, way over on the other side of town.

The students are Bartlett Bears.

To round the evening off, Una took us to the Anchorage Ale House to watch and listen to an ’80s music covers band, I Like Robots. Really, ‘I Like Robots’ is the name of the band. (The copyrighted name for the Alaskan-based tribute band that we’re putting together is AnchoRage Against the Machine.)

I only had one beer, thanks
I Like Robots with all the best hits from the ’80s

We had a good old-fashioned singalong and had the pleasure of meeting a couple of Una’s friends, Lesley and Tina.

The place was heaving, really crowded, the music was loud, the hubbub was louder but man, was it a relief when we finally got seats! I think this is the latest we’ve been out, getting back home just before midnight. The Moon was peeping through the clouds accusingly.

Meanwhile, we’d missed the People’s Vote march in London. An estimated 700,000 people made it the second largest march ever in the UK. More people even than the total population of Alaska! No trouble, no violence, no arrests. A few weeks ago, 7,000 people attended the Leave Means Leave march and caused plenty of trouble. I hope I’m able to participate if there is a second referendum, especially if the option to remain in the EU is included.

Over the last few days, I’ve caught up on a few radio programmes and podcasts. Highlights include Danny Baker talking to Sir Bernard Cribbins and playing Right Said Fred by Maya Angelou and Jessica Mitford! Who knew? And the now award-winning podcast Fortunately! with Fi Glover and Jane Garvey, which you sometimes have to listen to through your fingers.

Thirteen

We were hoping to visit Hope to join Una, Phil and Kiran for the day but Jyoti didn’t sleep much and Liesel’s knee wasn’t in a fit state to drive. It was also raining hard. All weasel excuses maybe, and I feel we let Una down, especially after her request to bring along some toilet paper.

Instead, we went out for breakfast with Liesel’s parents. Gwennie’s Old Alaska Restaurant was very busy, lots of people and lots of stuffed animals. And upstairs, lots of photos from the old days.

Arctic fox (stuffed)
Beaver (stuffed)
Gwennie’s old car

The highlight of the day was the start of a new series of Doctor Who. There was a global simulcast, presumably to limit the number of spoilers. Jodie Whittaker is playing the thirteenth Doctor and we enjoyed this first episode. No, we didn’t watch it live, as we were out for breakfast. To make time for more adverts, BBC America didn’t bother with the opening titles nor the closing credits. So disrespectful to the production team.

There is a balcony outside the main bedroom at Klaus and Leslie’s house. It was built thirty years ago with half a dozen wooden planters attached. No plants can survive the winds that constantly bombard them. And a few days ago, one of the planters, earth and all, fell off and covered the Durango in soil. So this day, Liesel and I helped Klaus dismantle the rest of the planters before they had a chance fall onto my head.

In the process, the botttom fell out of one, missing Liesel, who was emptying the dirt by a rock wall. She did however suffere from water spray when we hosed the floor of the balcony down.

We met Una when she finished work and went for another walk along the coastal trail. Again, it was really clear and we could see Denali way over there.

View from the coastal trail

I found Jupiter, another point on the Planet Walk.

Jupiter on the coastal trail

On the return walk, for the first time, I felt the cold breeze and actually donned my jacket.

Una took us into the courtoom and we visited her office with the new artwork.

The court’s in session
Seal of the State of Alaska

How she gets any work done with a view like this is beyond me!

View from Una’s office window

The War Memorial in Delaney Park Strip is quite extensive, and it was very sad and moving to see that conflicts on the other side of the world are still claiming local lives.

Anchorage War Memorial
So sad and unnecessary

Twitter told me that there would be an announcement on BBC 6 Music about David Bowie. It was on at half past midnight our time and I couldn’t not tune in to listen! The exciting news is that there will be two TV programmes featuring David Bowie. The first is this month: an hour from the two-hour set he performed at Glastonbury in 2000. Then, next year, another documentary in the Five Years series. David Bowie: The First Five Years includes stories from his early auditions at the BBC, 1964-1968, I guess. I’ve asked Jenny to record both for me, but anyone else in the UK, please record these for me, I’ll come round and watch them when we get back, and I’ll be your best friend forever!

Despite staying up late, we had to get up early next day as Liesel had another physio appointment. More dry needling in the butt.

I walked up to Kaladi on Jewel Lake Road where she picked me up to go to CostCo, woohoo.

The main objective here was to receive our flu jabs. Flu shots, as they say here. My resistance had finally been worn down by the combined forces of my wife and two daughters and I had my very first flu vaccination. It didn’t hurt at all. Pulling the plaster off my hairy arm later did hurt. Liesel also had a tetanus jab. Hepatitis A and B was on offer too, but I’ll need time to think about that.

In the evening, Jyoti drove us to the Beartooth for dinner. Una joined us as did Suvan and Kayla. Later that evening, Jyoti left for Indianapolis. We’ll see her again in February, in Australia.

After all the needles poked into her today, I’m glad Liesel didn’t drink too much water, she would have leaked like a cartoon watering can.