Kerry, Naomi, Guy and Simon

This week’s good news is that Liesel has come home, hooray! The bad news is that I had to get up early in order to collect her from the airport. It was no hardship, really, and what a relief to fit the three large cases, weighing 150 pounds, into the car.

And what a wonderful, wet Manchester welcome for the traveller. It rained.

We went over to see Jenny, Martha and William in the afternoon. Martha is now spelling her name, phonetically, and Liesel was impressed at how William’s vocabulary has expanded during the six weeks she’s been away.

Jenny and Liam, with Martha’s and William’s help, will be making chocolate chip cookies for a long time: Liesel brought them back a lot of chocolate chips! Not 150 lbs, but the kitchen cupboard is groaning under the weight.

Pile of choc chips (with Martha for scale)

Walking around the dirty streets of Northenden is usually uneventful but one day this week, I should have been wearing a helmet cam. A sparrow hawk flew by me, throwing a pigeon into the window of Costa. The hawk performed an Immelmann manoeuvre, flew by my head again with its surprised yellow eyes lighting the way. Meanwhile, a bloke sitting outside the café, bent down, retrieved what I now saw was a half-a-pigeon and deposited the half-a-corpse into the bin. Very nonchalant, as if this were an everyday occurrence.

Later on, a helicopter flew overhead, and two fire engines blues-and-twos-ed by. A bit OTT, I thought, just for a dead pigeon.

Despite many requests, I haven’t persuaded Liesel to come for a walk with me, yet: I think the jetlag and general tiredness hasn’t quite worn off. Plus, she’s happier doing some yoga indoors, in the dry.

Liesel’s laptop goes to sleep very quickly, after just a couple of minutes of idleness. We thought maybe it’s overheating, so, wearing my electronics hat, I dismantled the computer in order to clean the fan. In the end, the fan wasn’t as mucky as we’d expected, no reason for it to stick.

Laptop innards, freshly cleaned

Only later, after going through all possibilities, did I find a second place where there’s an option to go to sleep after 5 minutes. After changing that, it now keeps going until you choose to turn it off. This is Windows 10 and we think this setting must have been introduced or changed during a recent upgrade: neither of us would have picked such a short idle period. But, the best news of all is that after putting the laptop back together, there were no bits left over.

Tony Hogan Bought Me an Ice-cream Float Before He Stole My Ma is the somewhat lengthy title of Kerry Hudson’s first book which I can throughly recommend. As Naomi Frisby says, it has the best first line of a novel, ever, notwithstanding Charles Dickens’s “It was the best of times…”

And this evening, we enjoyed watching Naomi interviewing and chatting with Kerry, about the latter’s latest book, Lowborn. This Manchester Literature Festival event was, again, at the Central Library, so we took a bus into town.

Kerry Hudson and Naomi Frisby

It was a fascinating discussion, and quite moving.

Grandchildren Day arrived and for the first time in a while, we both looked after William all day. The conversation can be quite intellectual at times.

L: Is there a monkey in the bed?

M: There’s a fox and a penguin.

We are referring to William’s sleeping companions, in case you didn’t realise.

Later on, I heard myself say ‘Oh no, Rapunzel fell on the floor.’ The doll rolled off the sofa when I was making myself comfortable.

We took William for a walk to Waitrose. It wasn’t cold out but the best of Summer really has deserted us, now. He was happy with his babyccino but the barista was very generous with the chocolate sprinkles. The green frog biscuit looked attractive but the main ingredient seemed to be granite, his little teeth barely managed to nibble off some small chunks. He much preferred Grandad’s and Oma’s biscuits, shortbread.

William with a very hard biscuit

Later, in the park, he watched in awe as the squirrels ran up the trees, but he didn’t attempt to follow on this occasion.

After waking from his nap, he helped Oma make a cake. And after collecting Martha from nursery, she helped decorate the cake.

Liam, Martha and the cake

Oma enjoyed blowing out the three candles, very far short of her actual age, and the cake was delicious.

William, Mummy and Daddy

We’re getting back into our old routine, and this usually means a jaunt into Didsbury on a Saturday morning. So that’s what we did. And who knew people in Didsbury were so political?

Homes for people, not for profit

Not only is there a banner outside potential residential accommodation, but we were accosted by a lady inviting us to join the anti-brexit march in London next weekend. We were pleased to tell her that we’d already planned to be there.

Following my success earlier in the week with Liesel’s laptop, I donned the techy hat again and dismantled my Kindle. It used to keep charge for at least a couple of weeks, but this period has slowly been getting shorter. This week, I was charging it every day. I installed a new battery and I’m delighted to say, so far, touch wood, it’s still working ok. Never have I seen so many small screws in one device: 14 of them, each no more than a millimetre in length. Again, no bits left over afterwards!

The River Mersey was flowing fast again and one of the local golf courses was slightly waterlogged.

The world’s first Water Golf course

There were a couple of signs warning of floods, and sure enough, part of the road was wet and muddy, but not flooded enough, today, to justify turning back.

Mud on the road

Liesel and I went to see both children swimming. The highlight was, near the end of her lesson, when Liam threw Martha at Kirsty, the teacher, and she threw her back.

The part of the sparrow hawk is played by Liam, the part of the half-a-pigeon is played by Martha, the part of Costa’s window is played by the surface of the water

I walked part of the way home and despite my expectations, it stayed dry!

The afternoon was spent at home, listening to the radio: something old and something new. Amy Lamé played the whole of The Clash’s London Calling album, warts, naughty words and all.

In the evening, our next Manchester Literature Festival event was Guy Garvey with poet laureate Simon Armitage in conversation with Katie Popperwell. Delighted to say that Jenny came with us.

Katie, Guy, Guy and Simon

The lead singer from Elbow and the Poet Laureate are friends in real life, and the evening’s discussion was full of laughter, wisdom, modesty, camaraderie, warmth, truth, generosity and so much love, as someone tweeted.

Simon Armitage and Mick

Yes, I bought the new book.

To Port Douglas… and beyond

Goodbye to all the lovely ladies in The Territory: Katherine Gorge, Mary and Adelaide River, Edith Falls and Fannie Bay, Apologies to Alice Springs, we’ll catch up with you next time.

I felt sad to leave NT, almost homesick, which surprised me. Plus, Liesel wasn’t feeling 100% either. We returned to The Fannie Bay Coolspot for one final NT breakfast before jetting off to Cairns. The most entertaining part of the drive to the airport was listening to the Google Maps lady telling us to turn right into Dick Ward Drive. We went round the block several times just to hear her strange pronunciation.

Inside Cairns Airport, there’s a bicycle with a bamboo frame.

Bike with bamboo frame

This bike is much more interesting than our new rental car. New? It’s so old, it’s been driven around the world 5¼ times and it has no Bluetooth connection, just a USB port.

So, hello, Queensland, just a little cooler, we thought, for the drive north to our first port of call, Port Douglas. We didn’t stop, we just wanted to get there, eat and rest, but I did take a few pictures on the way and maybe we’ll get better ones on the return journey.

Just north of Cairns, looking west
Somewhere near Kuranda, looking north-ish

Nicola met us at her house and after she left, we went into town for dinner. We had a bit of a walk before settling down at a bistro near the marina. Queensland teased us with a sunset of weird, spooky and eerie colours.

Sunset over the Marina

I couldn’t see the lorikeets in Batchelor well enough to take a picture, but these Port Douglas residents made up for it. Probably thousands altogether, trees full of them and their chattering.

Rainbow lorikeets in a tree

Ooh, here’s a bonus sunset pic.

Sunset and a yacht

After a good night’s sleep, we rose early to drive even further north. Early, he said, hahaha.

Driving by all the sugar cane fields plus seeing old wooden houses in Cairns plus some of the place names on signs, all conspired to remind me of my very first trip to Australia, in 1986.

Sugar cane field and mountains

There’s an awful lot of sugar in Queensland. We passed a sign to a Tea Plantation and all we needed now was a source of milk. Would you believe it, we actually passed a few cows too. The group of three having a chat about the mechanical digger in their field would make a good photo/cartoon.

The sign told us (as if we didn’t already know and as if this wasn’t one of the main reasons for being here) that this was cassowary country.

Cassowary country

The road was winding so we had to drive slowly anyway, but the frequent road humps, with embedded rocks and a speed limit of 20 kph, forced us to crawl.

We half expected to see cane toads too, either live or squashed, but we didn’t. We did see a couple of birds of prey, one hovering above a field.

When we saw a man crossing the road in front of us, we thought he could have at least worn a cassowary outfit, then us visitors could leave thinking we’d actually seen one.

Looking upstream from the Daintree ferry

So, ferry ‘cross the Daintree ’cause this land’s the place I love. The road became narrower if that’s possible, we really were in the place where the rain forest meets the road.

Daintree Road, take me home

The road took us right next to the coastline occasionally, but there were very few opportunities to pull over for a proper look. Oh and here’s a surprise: a cassowary wearing Father Brown’s hat.

Caution: Cassowary wearing a hat

Daintree National Park is a rain forest, and it does extend right down to the beach. In fact, our first proper stop for a walk was at Cape Tribulation Beach. Lt James Cook had grounding issues with his ship in the area, hence the name.

There were some turkeys: not as exciting as a cassowary would have been! And butterflies, loads of them, all full of energy and determined not to trouble my camera at all. And just when you think it’s safe to walk on the beach…

Warning: crocodiles

…and…

Warning: box jellyfish

But what a lovely beach. Hard, compacted sand, very few people, the water looked inviting, apart from the possibility of box jellyfish, the rain forest behind absolutely stunning too.

Cape Tribulation Beach
Where’s Liesel?

“The only place in the world where two World Heritage listed areas, Daintree Rainforest and The Grest Barrier Reef, exist side by side.”

Selfie of the day

Very few people but surprisingly only one bird. He was very patiently fishing, caught a couple while we were watching.

Cormorant or darter or something else but not a chicken

A bit further along the road, we went for a walk along Dubuji Boardwalk, through the forest but one path also took us down to the next beach, Myall. This was a fantastic walk: fascinating in its own right, but also because we were much cooler than we’ve been for a while and it was mostly in the shade.

We heard noises from birds and animals, but other than butterflies, some shrub fowl and a few fish in the mangroves, we saw nothing but trees, bushes, climbers.

Thick-leaved raphidophora vine wraps around tree trunks
Fig tree climbing up another tree

Myall Beach was as fabulous as Cape Trib Beach (we’re friends now) but a little smaller.

Myall Beach where the rain forest meets the reef
Looking up through the umbrellas

The contrast between the brightness on the beach and the darkness in the rain forest was amazing. And hard to believe crocodiles live here.

Bright sea, dark jungle

On the drive back south, we stopped at Thornton Beach for a quick snack. Blimey, their portions were huge: I think this is the first time I’ve been unable to finish a bowl of salad and chips. We were pestered by a swarm of very small flies.

Pretty fly

No, they weren’t pretty flies, that was the next song played on the radio in the car. Oh yeah, I forgot to say: it won’t even play music from my phone with the USB cable connected. So, Triple M it was. With its fascinating and innovative new programme format. Get a couple of blokes who are funny, or who think they’re funny, and get a girl in to laugh at their every word. It’s a surefire winner. Between that and the election adverts, I think it’s fair to say, we’ll be glad to get back to the music on my phone!

One thing we did learn from Triple M was that the current batch of $50 notes have a misspelling in the micro text: ‘responsilty’ three times. That’s an absolute outrage so I will be returning all ours to the bank and demanding my money back.

Someone should take responsibilty for this

Thornton Beach is another where we could have stayed and walked for much longer, but we weren’t 100% sure when the last ferry would carry us back over the Daintree River.

Little island off Thornton Beach
Thornton Beach

Back on the road again, I was watching the sea on my side and watching the road still looking out for… [expletive deleted] said Liesel as she braked and she was right: there was a cassowary crossing the road right in front of us. Fumble fingers messed up the photo but ooh, how exciting, we actually saw a real, live cassowary out in the wild and we could not have been more excited!

There were a couple of waterfalls too but, well, they’re a lot easier to come by than actual cassowaries.

We stopped at Walu Wugirriga, or Mount Alexandra Lookout, from where we could look over the Daintree Valley towards Port Douglas.

Looking south over the Daintree estuary

Luckily, I got my pictures just in time, before a bus full of tourists turned up. We also set off before them, we didn’t want to be following a bus all the way to the ferry. I know, we’re such snobs.

Looking downstream from the Daintree ferry

Back in Port Douglas, Liesel went indoors while I went into town for a few bits at Coles. On entering, I was delighted to hear the strains of Tasmin’s Sleeping Satellite over the PA and I thought, what a wonderful shop. Then they played something modern and I thought, maybe not. I know, I’m such a music snob!

I’m glad I went into town, because I felt bad about not taking a picture of the cows chatting earlier so I made up for it by snapping a cow on roller skates. No, I was not hallucinating.

Cow on wheels

Tonight’s, early sunset wasn’t as colourful nor as interesting as last night’s but what a fabulous first day in Queensland. A cassowary!

Overnight, we heard some strange animal noises from outside while in the comfort of our room: birds, possoms, squirrels, bats, monkeys, teenagers, I don’t know if we’ll ever know.

Melbourne to Manly

A year ago in London, Liesel visited a physiotherapist by the name of Emma. Emma’s partner is also a trained PT, and he is Australian. Under some peculiar, twisted distortion and interpretation of Theresa May’s “hostile environment for illegal immigrants”, his work visa was revoked, and he was forced to move back to Australia. And naturally, Emma went back with him. So Britain has lost two fully trained physiotherapists for no good reason.

They are now living and working in Melbourne. Liesel tracked Emma down and made an appointment to visit her

Saturday sunrise

So, the three of us took a tram to South Melbourne. While Liesel was being poked and prodded, Jyoti and I had a quick walk, to get some steps in and, yes, of course, we had a coffee at one of Melbourne’s famed coffee shops.

Top End Barbering

I always like a good pun when it comes to a shop name and hairdressers and barbers are particularly good at it.

Every now and then, we come across a shop named after a David Bowie song or album. Well, here, we not only had the album, the neighbouring shop was named after one of the songs on that album, albeit abbreviated so as not to offend your nan. Queen Bitch. No, not your nan, that’s the name of the Bowie song.

Hunky Dory

We caught the tram back to the iconic Flinders Street Station. We didn’t go into the pub over the road that my Dad had told me about: he’d been there after the war, in the late 1940s!

Flinders Street Station

We crossed the road to Federation Square, to spend time indoors again.I had been here once before, when the geometrically and architecturally interesting buildings had first opened, in 2002.

Federation Square

I visited Australia in November 2002 specifically to see the Total Eclipse of the Sun. It was a trip that Sarah and I hoped to make together but she died eighteen months earlier. I was in two minds about whether or not to make the trip on my own, but now, I am immensely glad and grateful that so many people encouraged me to go for it. I had a good time, but it was emotional too. A Total Eclipse, Melbourne, Great Ocean Road and on through South Australia to Kings Canyon, Uluru, Alice Aprings, Ghan to Adelaide. A great trip, but the detailed blog remains to be written! And now, back to the present…

“The Clock” is a 24-hour long video comprised of thousands of clips from films and TV programmes. As it proceeds, the shots of clocks in the various clips accurately reflect the time now, in the real world. The joins were seamless, and although there was no single storyline to follow, it was a very interesting 90 minutes that we spent watching it (minus a short nap, each). Where else would you see Ricky Gervais and Joan Crawford together? Snippets from films not seen for years, decades even. Christian Marclay is responsible for this colossal labour of love, but surely he must have employed many researchers? Yes, we thought about returning later in the day to see a different segment, but that will have to wait until next time.

ACMI, the Australian Centre for the Moving Image is based here too. Yesterday, Chris had suggested visiting this collection of film and TV related exhibits, and the zoetrope in particular.

Zoetrope

As it spins, a strobe light gives the illusion that the individual models are moving up and down.

One display celebrated Australian film and TV. The selection was OK but I was disappointed that The Paul Hogan Show was not represented. My flat mates and I used to watch that on late night TV with a tube of Fosters, and it was the funniest show evah!

I did enjoy watching an 18-year old Kylie Minogue with sister Dannii perfoming Sisters are Doing it for Themselves!

The whole place was very reminiscent of the old MOMI, Museum of the Moving Image, in London, but this was much more interactive.

The piano from the 1993 film, “The Piano” was here, but I wasn’t allowed to play it. I’m not sure Michael Nyman would have been allowed to touch it, to be fair.

The piano from The Piano

Replicas were made for the film. A light one, to carry up the hill. And a heavy steel one to film sinking in the sea.

There is an Aussie TV fantasy drama that I now want to watch: Cleverman. They employed Weta Studios to design the special effects, and the aboriginal mythology underlying the story looks fascinating.

Hairy man from Cleverman

And now for the next edition of a favourite irregular item: Toilet Talk.

Saving water

I saw this sign in the toilets and I thought, if I pee twice, I could save eight litres of water. Also, if I’m walking out in the woods and need to go behind a bush, when Liesel rolls her eyes I can just tell her that I am saving 4 litres of water! All this on the day that Network Rail have decided to abolish the six shilling charge for using the public toilets at Waterloo Station. Six shillings, 30p, Liesel will confirm I’ve been whingeing about this charge for years.

Bollards! It’s a shame that these large blocks of concrete are required to protect buildings in our cities, but I do like the fact that someone solved the Rubik’s Cube here.

Big cubes of concrete

We visited the Aboriginal Cultural Centre because it was time once again to shake our heads in disbelief and despair, weep for the past and feel absolute shame at what our British ancestors are responsible for. Australia is the only commonwealth country still without a treaty with its original people. Small pox, massacres, kidnappings, stealing their land, oh it’s a horrible story.

Diprotodon

This chap cheered us up. Diprotodon was the largest marsupial ever to live, about the size of a rhinoceros and is thought to have died out about 45,000 years ago. So chances are, it did live alongside humans for a period. Two metres tall, three metres long, but what a cute, cheeky face.

The other day we found a Chocolaterie and Ice Creamerie. Today we passed by a Fish and Chipperie. But our destination on Lygon Street was Milk the Cow Licenced Fromagerie. It was just along the road from Reading’s Bookerie, where I’d met Barry Humphries, as mentioned before.

Milk the Cow is a combined cheeserie and winerie and actually, my Cider Flight was fab, delicious even.

Four cheeses, four crackers, four ciders for Mick

Four slices of different cheese each accompanied by a specially selected cider. With crackers and bread. Very nicerie, very tasterie.

We passed many, many other restauranteries on the walk home, some with very long queues of people. Our ice creams were just the right size: one scoop was enough, a second would have melted far too quickly.

The worst thing about Melbourne? It’s a great city, it feels a bit like London in places, with its nooks and crannies and alleyways and arcades. But, we have walked through more clouds of cigarette smoke here in the last couple of days than we have during the previous several weeks. There are non-smoking areas, but there are probably more smokers per capita here than in any other city we’ve visited.

Now it’s time to say farewell to Victoria – the place to be. Goodbye to Victoria – the education state. And cheerio to Victoria – the only state named after a Kinks song. Two of those three slogans appear on car registration number plates, or regos.

In the morning, before the Sun came up, we were greeted by the Moon and Venus.

Sunday sunrise with Moon and Venus

Several shots were taken of which, this, the first, is probably the best. An easy distraction from the task of packing. The only extra item I had to squeeze into my pack was the apologetic bottle of wine from a couple of nights ago.

At about 11pm, we heard a very loud, humungous crash. We checked on Jyoti, she hadn’t fallen through or out of bed and everything else seemed to be OK in our little apartment.

When we left the building in the morning though, we had to limbo dance under the Police Crimescene tape around the entrance and the neighbouring passage. We could see no evidence of a car crash or any crime. We’ve found nothing in the news so can only be grateful we weren’t delayed for interrogation.

We took a tram, then a Skybus to the airport. The flight to Sydney was uneventful apart from the disappointment of not being offered any tea or a snack. Don’t sit in row 22!

It was a joy to be collected by Helen again and although it was warm here, it wasn’t as hot as Melbourne had been. And Manly looks magnificent as it always does when the Sun’s out.

Most of the afternoon was taken up with watching some fighting on TV. Adam’s a big fan of UFC. The Ultimate Fighting Championship, is better/worse/bloodier than boxing, takes place in an octagonal ring, usually over five 5-minute rounds of jabs, kicks, holds, bars, parries, jumps, punches, with elbows, knees, feet, fists all involved. I don’t think this will ever become my favourite sport.

Despite discouragement, I went for a walk in Manly, keeping to the shady side of the street. I watched people playing and/or sunbathing on the beaches.

Manly Beach

Helen walked down the road and we met at Fish Bowl where we collected bowls of rice plus veg plus sauce for our dinner. At the grand old age of 31, I still take twice as long to finish a rice-based meal as everyone else. Ridiculous.

We watched “Bohemian Rhapsody”, the new film, on TV, which we found very enjoyable. I was especially pleased to see Kenny Everett portrayed, back at “Capital Radio when it was good” which I am trying to get everyone to adopt as its official name. And of course now, we just want to hear all those old Queen albums in full again, especially A Night at the Opera.

Monday in Manly was mainly medical matters, refilling prescriptions (me), typhoid and hepatitis A jabs (both), dental check-up and clean (both). My plans for a massage made the cutting-room floor: no need to stir up typhoid and hep A juices unnecessarily.

So here I am once again, in Manly Library, typing away in the corner, this time sitting next to (inter alia) books by Keith Waterhouse, who I used to enjoy reading, gulp, decades ago.

Keith Waterhouse books

Meanwhile, Helen and Liesel have gone to a shopping mall to do some shopping. I missed out there. (Didn’t really.)

The results are in, they have been independently verified and certified and all the judges agree. Shine on You Crazy Diamond (pts 1-7) was the final track we heard in the car. Partway through the Ss, nowhere near the Zs. We’ll pick up this alphabetical trawl through our music on another occasion. Meanwhile, Liesel and I have decided we do need a much wider range of music, by a larger selection of artistes. We need to find a way to balance out the discrepancy in volume between loud and soft songs. And we need a random shuffle that is truly random, that doesn’t discriminate against certain people or certain tracks or even some whole albums.

Oops sorry, I usually warn uninterested viewers that this “Music News” is about to appear. But I didn’t this time. If only there were some way to go back in time and fix it.

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.