A Tale of Two Cities, and Beyond

It was the best of times.

Well, it really was, and while the rest of Charles Dickens’s introduction to A Tale of Two Cities is without doubt, beautifully written, it doesn’t apply to our gap year experiences. Long may this feeling of travelling, exploring and enjoying life, continue. Even though we are back home, back to normal and back to a certain amount of responsibility, we are looking at everyday things with a refreshed set of expectations. Great Expectations, you might say, if you wanted to acknowledge to enjoyment and entertainment provided not only by Charles Dickens, but by Tasmin Archer, many years later.

Living in Northenden is indeed slowly becoming the norm. The holiday feeling still persists, even if we do miss the temples, castles, crocodiles, wombats, kiwis, lizards, bullet trains, mangoes and sumo wrestlers.

Helen arrived from Australia, failing in her duty to bring some decent weather. It was quite cold and damp when we returned, and sadly for Helen, the weather hadn’t improved much since then.

Helen and Jenny needed some peace and quiet so they could enjoy their massages. We looked after Martha and William, always a joy but always exhausting. The advantage of being grandparents is, we can hand the children back later in the day, apologise for feeding them too much sugar, and leave the parents to fix the damage caused.

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Martha’s hand

We visited the Northern Den café where Martha asked for “A babyccino with marshmallows, chocolate sprinkles and a Flake bar on the side”. Well, no chocolate sprinkles here, nor a Flake: this child is more familiar with Costa’s offerings. And then, while looking for Flakes in the nearby Tesco, Martha spotted the Kinder eggs so that’s what we bought instead. Martha walked home with hers in her right hand and William’s in her left. She enjoyed her molten chocolate, William slept through the whole episode.

Later on, we all had pies at Jenny’s, yep, more pies. Who ate all the pies? Well, I’m trying!

We’re still moving in and before we unpack the last few dozen boxes, we need storage space. That means shelving. A sales rep came round from one of the big bespoke furniture manufacturers, measured up roughly and gave a rough estimate of more than twice our anticipated budget. Instantly, we translated the amount into so many flights to exotic, interesting places. We’ll get shelving installed, but from somewhere more reasonably priced.

Another visitor was the lady who will make Roman blinds for both our living room windows. She was very pleasant and friendly and made us realise how brusque the shelf person had been.

Helen and Jenny took William and Martha out. Both children are very curious about the world. Martha demonstrates this level of interest by asking questions. William’s method is to take things apart. Sometimes, those thngs can be put back together again, but not always. RIP one of our Red Nose Day Comic Relief Red Noses, rent asunder.

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William demolishing an ice cream

Liesel and I went into Manchester to collect our valuables from the Safe Deposit box. This included some cutlery which we needed, as we didn’t otherwise have enough for everyone to eat with, at the same time. Yes, we were invaded by the children, their parents and their Aunt Helen from down under.

Hooray, I did some DIY. As ever, all jobs took three times longer than they needed to, but I got there in the end. We can now hang mugs up in the kitchen. We have a much better storage unit in the bathroom. And the light fitting in the bathroom looks much better. Such a shame, then, that the light bulb we had won’t physically fit inside the globe. Add ‘slightly smaller bulb’ to the shopping list.

The weather was slowly improving and it was a pleasant walk back home from Didsbury one morning, along the Mersey.

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Tree reflected in the Mersey

There were spots and even larger patches of blue sky by now. I donned my hat at times to protect the top of my head from actual beams of sunshine.

I walked past some bindweed happy that my 30+ year war against the stuff in my Chessington garden was now over. And yes, I lost.

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Bindweed

I’m very happy for other people to continue the bindweed wars if they wish, but I’m more convinced than ever that it will one day take over the whole planet.

Myra came up for the weekend, that’s Sarah’s mother, Martha and William’s Great-Granny. We planned to collect her from Stockport station but due to ‘an incident’, trains weren’t stopping there. So we went to pick her up from Manchester Piccadilly. This was no problem but Myra’s ticket was for Stockport so the electronic barriers at Piccadilly wouldn’t let her through. Nor anyone else with the same ticket. Why they didn’t just open the barriers and let everyone through, I don’t know, they just carefully opened the barrier for each passenger, one at a time, very slowly.

Back at Jenny’s, the shouts of ‘Great-Granny’ echoed around the house: we think they both just like saying the words!

In the garden, Martha did several roly-polies, insisting ‘They’re not head-over-heels, Grandad’. I had a go myself, just the once, but, er, I didn’t want to belittle Martha’s achievement: no problem with the disorientation I felt at all, oh no.

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Martha’s roly-poly

In the evening, we went to the Istanbul restaurant for dinner. The food was great, the service was good, the waiters seem to like young children, and we confirmed that William is a fast learner.

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William finishes his ice cream

William drank the last of his ice cream from the bowl, following the example just set by his Grandad (me), to all the other grown-ups’ consternation and dismay. I’m just glad I didn’t lick the bowl, which was my first inclination.

We took Myra to her hotel for the night and collected her in the morning. But she was locked in her room. Once released, it transpired that she had just not pulled the heavy door quite hard enough. Hanging out of the window to get someone’s attention was the best she could do, as there was no phone with which to call Reception.

We watched Martha and William swim really well, before driving over to Dunham Massey, a National Trust property not too far away.

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Old oak tree

It was good to see that Myra and I weren’t the oldest objects here: the oak tree is over 500 years old.

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Foxgloves

It was a gorgeous day for a walk around the gardens. Martha and William sniffed the flowers, admired the bees, ran around, and scootered around while the rest of walked at our various, individual speeds.

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Busy bee
Hosta Fire and Ice

We found a nice little bridge over a stream, ideal for playing Pooh Sticks, so Martha gathered up a few sticks and twigs. Fortunately, the disappointment wasn’t too bad as all the sticks just got stuck in the sludge where the stream used to be. William had no idea what was going on, he just wanted to jump in, I think.

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William looking at a disappointing Pooh Sticks stream

The flowers were very pretty and as usual, I took too many photos of the bright colours. Despite the labels, I can’t remember the proper scientific, or even the common English, names for these yellow and purple blooms.

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Yellow and purple blooms

Some flowers have so many different names. though, in various parts of the country, so I could probably make something up and nobody would know.

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Busy bee on a rare example of Auntie’s Knickers
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Martha being attacked by an Alien Facehugger

When we dropped Myra off at Stockport station the following day, we were surprised and delighted to encounter some frogs.

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Frogs at Stockport Station

This is all to celebrate Stockport’s Giant Leap into the future. Maybe we’ll find more frogs in the city centre on another occasion.

Meanwhile Helen flew off to Edinburgh on a purple aeroplane. Her flight back was on a disappointingly plain white plane. She is the last to have been nearly blown over by the strong wind up on Arthur’s Seat: Sarah and I in the early 1980s, Jenny while she was pregnant. Liesel is looking forward to the experience.

Liesel and I had a very pleasant trip to Ikea. She pointed out that the first route she learned to drive when she moved to the UK was to a branch of Ikea. History repeats itself. The first route she knows here in the north is the way to Ikea.

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The view from Ikea, Ashton under Lyne

Helen was kind enough to cut our hair, as well as Jenny’s, Martha’s and William’s. Liesel and I stayed for lunch before going into Manchester. The International Festival began with a Yoko Ono installation.

In Cathedral Gardens, thousands of people rang Bells for Peace, as requested by Yoko via video. Some of the ceramic bells had been hand-made at workshops during the last few months. Yoko asked us to talk to each other, to talk to the trees and to name the clouds. Well, we were underneath one great big, grey cloud, 100%, so that raised a small laugh.

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Bells for Peace

From Manchester to London, then. This has been the longest period I can remember without visiting our wonderful capital city, since I first moved there as a student nearly half a century ago.

The drive was much more pleasant than anticipated. The roadworks on the M6 have finished. Oh, hang on, no. They’ve just moved further along. We did miss the long purple sausage that used to live on the central reservation during the construction of the so-called ‘smart motorway’.

The first port of call was to visit my periodontist Emily in West Byfleet. Teeth cleaned and polished, I joined Liesel with Helen and Steve in the garden of the nearby Plough pub. (This is our friend Helen of course, not daughter Helen, she’s still up north with Jenny.) I couldn’t eat or drink with a numb and tender mouth but that didn’t prevent me from salivating.

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A tegestologist’s dream wall

We went to Claremont Gardens, probably the closest National Trust property. It was a good place to let my mouth thaw out and to walk around dodging the goose guano. I told one of the geese that I hoped I would be able to eat soon. He said he’d keep his feet crossed for me.

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Feet crossed, Mick

A black swan swam over and said “G’day, mate” and for a moment, I was back in Australia.

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G’day, Black Swan

Steve and I walked around the lake while the ladies, well, Liesel and Helen, sat on a bench for a chinwag, a natter. A great opportunity to take pictures as if I were visiting a strange place for the first time.

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A tree reflected in Claremont Lake

I think we were both waiting for someone to fall out of a boat, especially one of the more obviously unbalanced ones, but we were disappointed.

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Unbalanced boat

The lake is home to mallards and coots as well as the swans and geese. But even where the water was clear, we didn’t spot any fish. Helen’s Dad, Nigel, who lives in Ewell, had very kindly offered to accommodate me and Liesel for a week so we rubbed our hands while planning how best to pester him.

A long anticipated visit to an exhibition in London dragged us out of bed quite early. Something we really didn’t need to see as soon as we left Waterloo Station was a seagull tucking into a struggling pigeon. We had been in London with Helen and Steve the day we witnessed a heron swallow a baby duck too. Coincidence?

The British Museum was hosting the Edvard Munch exhibition, Love and Angst. As an artist, obviously he was a tortured soul, that’s a given, but he produced much more than The Scream. I for one was hoping for more examples of that work, but there were just two versions here, buried in the middle of the display, potentially easy to miss.

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The Scream, woodprint, Edvard Munch

He liked red skies, but ladies’ long, red hair, he found threatening. Probably the saddest painting was The Sick Child.

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The Sick Child, Edvard Munch

His 15-year old sister, Sophie, died from TB, and his Aunt Karen is mourning. Karen had looked after Edvard and his family following the earlier passing of his mother.

We caught a bus to the British Library to see some imaginary maps, based on real maps of old London, old New York and other old maps of old cities. I also found a new book to add to my Kindle list.

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One day, I might be a Manchester Man

I was on my tod walking round and enjoying the Leonardo da Vinci: A Mind in Motion exhibition.

Every time I see what he achieved, studied, deduced, created, invented, I become more convinced that he must be a time-traveller from the future. He wrote backwards, from right to left, an unintended side-effect of his journey back through several centuries, I suspect. His scientific mind was way ahead of its time.

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Why seashells on a mountain?

His study of water flow and rivers, on its own, is a solid body of work, even now. Not that water is solid, but you know what I mean.

For the first time, I wore some VR, Virtual Reality, goggles. I didn’t think this technology and my eyesight would be compatible, but this gentle introduction worked well. I was ‘walking’ through an imaginary city with hundreds of skyscrapers, blue sky and the Moon. I held on to the cable so I was tethered to real life, just in case I walked too far and collided with a real wall.

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The VR view is better IRL with VR goggles, the photo doesn’t do the image justice

Surbiton beckoned. I had an appointment with my optician. While there, of course I had to visit my favourite coffee shop, The Press Room.

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The Press Room under construction

Well that wasn’t planned very well. It’s being refurbished and I had to postpone my coffee until later in the day. I met up with another old friend, Marie, in Orpington, for lunch. Oh, and for a coffee. I hope she visits us up in Manchester soon.

On the way back through London, I bit the bullet and did one of my least favourite things. I went shoe shopping. For sandals, to replace the old ones which have apparently acquired a slightly cheesey tang after walking around the tropics for several months.

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Pretty alleyway near Covent Garden
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My dancing shoes don’t need replacement yet, even at this fab shop
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The Invisible Enemy Should Not Exist

From Wikipedia: [On the fourth plinth, there is a] recreation of a sculpture of a lamassu (a winged bull and protective deity) that stood at the entrance to Nergal Gate of Nineveh from 700 B.C. It was destroyed in 2015 by Isis, along with other artefacts in the Mosul Museum. [Michael] Rakowitz’s recreation is made of empty Iraqi date syrup cans, representing the destruction of the country’s date industry.

Yes, of course, I had to walk through Trafalgar Square. It, together with Waterloo Station, was London, to me, when I was very young. But I am so pleased I found the rest of the wonderful city later on in life.

And so to Chessington, our own ‘hood, the place I lived for 33 years. It hasn’t changed much, but, ooh, there is a KFC where my old favourite caff, Unique, used to be.

The massage from Dawn was very welcome and well-timed as I had cricked my back somehow a couple of days ago. Afterwards, it felt much better, thanks, Dawn!

Over the last few weeks, I’ve experienced more medical consultations than I’ve had hot dinners. Two hearing tests, bowel cancer test, blood pressure check, ECG, optician, periodontist, prescription renewals and a quick examination of ‘the warty thing’ growing on my leg. (Plus a haircut of course, thanks very much, Helen!) The main lesson that I learned from all this (apart from ‘don’t get old’) was: modern day scientific nomenclature isn’t as rigid, precise nor robust as it once was.

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Bindweedy thing growing through a fence

After Liesel and I had been respectively beautified and fixed by Dawn, the plan was to visit a showroomy place in Crystal Place to look at shelving suggestion. Liesel likes it, but I wasn’t so keen, just looking at pictures online. Unfortunately, the showroom was closed today. Instead we visited John Lewis in London’s Oxford Street. We found the same kind, String Shelving, spoke to a really helpful assistant, and yes, I am now a convert. It looks better in the flesh, with real things on the shelves, not so stark and industrial.

We also had a quick look at all the loudspeakers and other hi-fi components to replace the 30-year old system that we discarded when we moved house, since most bits didn’t work anyway. It’s quite exciting, buying new stuff for a new home! Who knew!

We had a Chinese takeaway at Helen’s house, while watching sport from Wimbledon and from the Tour de France. We drove past our old house and it seems to be occupied by a family of Japanese warriors. There are Samurai swordy things in the window.

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Swords in the window

With grim inevitability, we noticed that our erstwhile neighbours are still parking their cars in the shared drive. Not our problem any more.

We were pleased to catch up with Stella and Ian for coffee and cakey things, in their garden, in the sunshine, in Chessington. Their bathroom is being refitted and that’s a noisy process, but it will be great when it’s finished.

On the way home, I got out at Hook Parade shops to buy something. I visited Hook Café in the library. The owner’s doing very well. He recognised me, thought I’d won the lottery and emigrated!

We dragged Helen out of her house and took her to Hampton Court, where we admired the Rose Garden, the kitchen garden and had a late lunch. It’s an obvious thought, but I think for the first time since we returned, a month ago, I consciously registered just what a brilliant, beautiful, interesting, fascinating and historical place England is. I think living here, we just take it for granted much of the time.

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Some flowery things
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Here’s Abundance, feeding a child from her breasty thing

By mistake I tried to enter the children’s playground without a ticket: it must be a new attraction. I did like the nearby guard dog though.

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Hampton Court’s Guard Griffin
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A leafy thing
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A bee with, literally, a legful

While Liesel and Helen went off to Tesco, I walked to Kingston along the Thames tow path.

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One of Hampton Court’s back gates

It was a pleasant walk in the Sun, not many other people about, but as we’d seen at Hampton Court, there were plenty of bees and butterlies.

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A butterflyy thing

I saw an animal run across the path, too big to be a mouse, but I don’t think it was a rat, there was no tail to speak of. I communed with the blackbirds and robins too, but tried not to disturb the bicycle having a rest.

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Lost or discarded bike

We’d all planned to meet up later on for an evening meal. Queen Anne watched as I sat in Kingston’s Market Place and wrote some words, enjoying the sunshine, watching people, not seeing anyone I knew from the olden days.

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Queen Anne

She doesn’t really look like Olivia Coleman who portrays her in The Favourite but here was another tenuous link back to New Zealand, where we saw the film with Pauline and Andrew.

At Riverside Vergetaria, there were six in our party, Helen, Steve and Nigel, Liesel, me and our Helen. Ritchie, the owner, seemed pleased to see us again after all this time.

I walked to Epsom while Liesel drove Nigel to hospital. The old market here is currently a building site and judging by the angle of the Sun, I was here at about a quarter to midday.

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Epsom market and clock tower
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A celebration of Epsom horse racing

After a brief writing session in the library, I decided to visit the South Bank for a wander. Congratulations to the graduates from the London Business School who were gathered in and around the South Bank Centre, taking photos and looking gorgeous and justifiably proud.

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Selfie of the day

It was great being back here, walking by the river, looking down on the beach, trying not to make eye contact with the street entertainers who were later, sadly, moved on by the police. I found an unoccupied bench, sat and wrote for a while. I think I’ve sold the idea of using a stand-alone keyboard connected to a phone by Bluetooth to a very nice young lady who asked.

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The London skyline

The Turbine Room at Tate Modern has been home to many interesting installations over the years. It was empty today, though, unless the two small children running around were both, appropriately, named Art. Sixteen years ago, we lay down here and basked in fake sunshine and fog, an installation called The Weather Project, by Olafur Eliasson. There’s currently a retrospective show of his work here at Tate Modern. His latest idea is to bring in a million white Lego bricks with which we are invited to build future cities.

The seagull that ate the pigeon a few days ago was back. This time, he caught a pink fish from the Thames and proceeded to chow down here, on the beach.

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Seagull v fish

This is why we love nature so much.

It’s good to see they’re still selling second-hand books underneath Waterloo Bridge by the BFI. The skateboarders and cyclists are still having fun in the Undercroft, below the Royal Festival Hall, a facility that was under threat a few years ago. The Spread Riverside is a Street Food Market, open five days a week, with every kind of street food you can imagine. I’ll definitely be back. I had a small pie today, natch.

We drove to Salisbury to meet up with Sarah, a friend who used to live close by but moved to Exeter some years ago. Salisbury is a good midway point to catch up.

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Salisbury Cathedral

We sat in the Cathedral refectory for over three hours, eating, drinking but mainly talking about our travels.

Salisbury is a busy little town, despite its recent reputation for attempted political assassinations.

In the grounds of the Cathedral, people were resting, playing, sunbathing and picnicking but there were also some works of art. They’re all interesting to look at but it was difficult to view them without something in the background to spoil the view. An old gothic building is OK, but boring old semi-detached houses not so much.

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Sky Circles by Diane Maclean

Maybe ‘art critic’ is not the career for me: that last sentence was written with far too much snobbishness!

We spent the night at The Talbot Inn Hotel in Ripley. A hotel named after Mick from The Style Council in a village named after the heroine from the Alien films: how cool is that?

We stayed on the top floor of this old coaching house, in a room complete with sloping floors, very low ceiling and beams. This is where Lord Nelson and Lady Emma Hamilton became ‘good friends’. In fact, our room was named Horatio.

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Lord Nelson, potential room-mate

No one would have believed in the last years of the nineteenth century that this world was being watched keenly and closely by intelligences greater than man’s and yet as mortal as his own; that as men busied themselves about their various concerns they were scrutinised and studied, perhaps almost as narrowly as a man with a microscope might scrutinise the transient creatures that swarm and multiply in a drop of water. Yes, we were being watched and the Martians did soon invade the Earth. We humans won The War of the Worlds, of course, and one of the Martians has been displayed in Woking as a warning to others.

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Martian

There’s also a statue of HG Wells, the author of the book as well as a pub named in his honour. Why Woking? We were here to have breakfast with Rosie but the short drive from Ripley was greatly extended by the difficulty in finding a parking place.

We broke our fast, I felt rotten eavesdropping on Rosie and Liesel talking shop, but so pleased to be well away from office politics.

The drive to Polesden Lacey was quiet, and followed some roads where I have often cycled in the past. We met up with our friends Sandra and Fred, their dog Clyde, Sandra’s Mum Carol who celebrated her birthday yesterday as well as Liesel and Sandra’s former colleagues Vicky and Diane.

One day, Liesel and I will go inside the house at Polesden Lacey, but again, we just went for a walk around the grounds. Last time I was here with Sandra, ten years ago, I did my back in and was off work for three weeks, a personal best for me. I also missed a Mott the Hoople reunion concert at Hammersmith Odeon where I’d seen them in 1973, supported by Queen.

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The view from Polesden Lacey
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An orchid at Polesden Lacey

The rose garden and the lavendar were very aromatic and my sneeze organs began working overtime. The gardeners here though do a really good job.

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Lavendar

And so, after an ice cream with Helen and Steve back at Nigel’s house, Liesel and I set off for home, hoping to arrive before the Sun set.

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The setting Sun as seen from the glamorous M6

Success! What a great drive: we didn’t stop at all, there were no traffic jams, no hold-ups, straight up the motorways, then straight up the stairs and then straight to bed.

Since we’ve been back in England after our adventures overseas, many, many people have told us how well we’re looking and how happy we seem. That is all undoubtedly true, though I for one find it hard to take compliments. I don’t know how to respond when someone says they’ve enjoyed following the blog: all I can manage is a weak, embrarrassed ‘thank you’.

But this morning as we watched Martha and William swimming, I was again reminded of my own inadequacies. Three-year old Martha has, voluntarily, swum further under water than I have in all of my 29 long years on the good Earth. Driving home from swimming, we were overtaken by this gorgeous pair. I think William was, by then, fast asleep in the back!

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Jenny and Martha

The rest of the day consisted of writing, washing, watching cricket and cycling on TV, and relaxing after a fun-packed week down south.

Cricket? Yes, we’re proud to say we witnessed the England Team win the ICC Cricket World Cup for the first time in a nail-biting finish against New Zealand, in a game during which a couple of very obscure rules were revealed. Marvellous! One of England’s top players is Joe Root. His One Day International number is 66. So the back of the pyjama top he plays in says ‘Root 66’. Wonderful!

Cycling? Yes, one week into the Tour de France and we’ve caught up. No Mark Cavendish nor Chris Froome this year, so I guess we’re rooting for Geraint Thomas again.

Spider with Rosie

Walking by the Mersey, I came across this stairway to nowhere. There’s a shorter one in Chessington, just a few steps leading to the back of someone’s garden fence.

Stairway to the M60

But this one looks far more interesting. I didn’t climb up, but I think if I did, and went through the little door at the top, I would find myself on the hard shoulder of the M60, Manchester’s Outer Ring Road. How scary/exciting is that!

There are lots of beauty parlours, nail salons, hairdressers, tattooists, body piercers and other related establishments close to where we live here in Northenden. One place I won’t be visiting for my next spray tan is only a five minute walk away.

Spray tan

Actually, maybe I would go, if I wanted to look like Shrek or The Hulk or something.

Our first gig was at Stoller Hall in Manchester. We saw Eddi Reader for the 4th or 5th time in real life, although she did entertain us in our rental cars while we were away. We sang along to all the songs we knew, not so much to the new ones.

Eddi Reader and her band

Once again, Boo Hewerdine accompanied Eddi, and it was his turn to sing Patience of Angels tonight: fair enough, he did write it.

The support act was Siobhan Miller who we both took to straightaway. And yes, I did buy a CD. Or two.

Siobhan Miller and her band

Our first non-familial visitor arrived: Rosie came up from Surrey for the weekend, and was delighted to be able to sleep on our sofa-bed. Not so delighted with her sleeping partner, a harmless little spider. Rosie and Liesel went out for the day, visiting Lyme Park (sorry I missed it) and Ikea (not sorry I missed it).

We all went to the seaside for a picnic. Formby is our nearest beach: in fact, it seems to be everybody’s nearest beach. We thought everyone went to the Trafford Centre on a Saturday, but no, they all came to Formby today.

Dunes

Above the beach, I was reminded of a book we had to read at school, Lawn ‘n’ Dune. I should read it again, I can’t remember whether it was any good or not.

From the car park, you walk over the dunes onto the beach. Most people then turn right for some reason, or just plonk themselves down at the earliest opportunity. We turned left and found plenty of space. Yes, we could see and hear other people, but we found a good spot to sit down for our picnic.

Big wide beach while the tide’s out
Where’s Liesel? Where’s Rosie?

I’m not one to complain, haha, but the ridges of rippled of sand on the beach were quite hard to walk on today. I think we all tried to find smoother, harder, easier patches to walk on.

The Sun in the sand

The police officer took her horse for a walk on the beach and, judging by the hoofprints, this wasn’t the first visit of the day.

PC with GG

What a lovely day on the beach, blue skies and warm sunshine with a very subtle breeze.

A pair of noisy, midnight black crows watched while we were eating. When I finished my apple, I was going throw one of them the core, but Liesel wouldn’t let me, even though that’s what it had been asking for.

Caw said the crow…
Selfie of the day

We re-visited the air raid shelters in Stockport, reliving the blitz. It was colder in the tunnels than outside, so what a surprise when we emerged.

Air raid shelter tunnel

In Manchester, we enjoyed a walk and then a couple of hours in the Art Gallery, until we were chucked out at closing time. Yes, we’ll have to go back and explore some other galleries.

Rodin’s “Oh no, I forgot to put my trousers on”

We’ve seen Grayson Perry on TV and heard him on the radio, but I don’t think we’ve seen any of his artwork before. This vase is fascinating and very colourful: I could have looked at it for ages.

Jane Austen in E17 by Grayson Perry
Jane Austen in E17 by Grayson Perry

Some of the captions have been given a ‘feminist revision’ that make you realise just how engrained is the notion that ‘male’ has always been and still is the default gender.

A feminist revision
The original text
Mesh man floating above the stairwell

We found Emmeline Pankhurst as we continued our wander around the city centre.

Emmeline Pankhurst, Suffragette

Today was Manchester Day, an opportunity to celebrate and enjoy everything that Manchester has to offer. Somehow, we contrived to miss everything, the parade, the bike ride, the music, the street food, everything. We’ll make more of an effort next year.

I don’t know how many times we’ve driven up to visit Jenny, observed and ignored the signs to Quarry Bank Mill. Well, today we drove there, a mere 15 minutes from home. This isn’t just some small mill by a stream. It’s a big place, with large grounds, and very good demonstrations of turning cotton into clothing.

Quarry Bank Mill

Samuel Greg started the business having moved to the area from Belfast. He didn’t want to be in Manchester itself, close to all the other mills, but found this ideal location in Styal.

Yes, his slaves were mentioned as part of the display.

As Boris Johnson is set to be ordained, crowned, annointed Prime Minister, we found an extract from his manifesto regarding the employment practices to which he wishes to return.

Be it remembered, we have it easy today
Cotton spindles used as a screen

After lunch at the mill, which we shall certainly re-visit, Liesel and I dropped Rosie off at the station for her long trek back home.

Meanwhile, Liesel and I rested our eyes for a while, glad to be inside just in time before the rain returned!

To Townsville

We had another chat with Judy before leaving for breakfast at Joey’s in Mission Beach. We enjoyed a walk on the beach hoping to see one or two sky-divers coming in to land, but there weren’t any about while we were there. Inevitably there’s a warning sign. If the plants and animals aren’t out to get you, falling humans will have a go.

Parachute warning sign

Yes, I was tempted, a little, to do another parachute jump myself, it would be a great experience over the Great Barrier Reef, but time wasn’t really on our side. Next time, maybe.

Mission Beach

There was some interesting wildlife on the beach. Nothing big, so I drew a crocodile in the sand. Millions of small crabs each with their own little hole surrounded by lots of balls of sand from below. Plus one single caterpillar.

Crab and caterpillar, the Ant and Dec of the beach

On the way back to the car, we found what may have been the caterpillar’s mother, who knows?

Butterfly

On the way out of town, we passed by more of those banana trees with the fruit now ensconced in plastic bags. We wondered whether they were to deter cassowaries rather than insects?

Bananas in pyjamas, er…

Judy had said not to bother stopping at Cardwell because there are crocodiles on the beach. So we had to stop at Cardwell to see for ourselves. Not one croc. Not even the slightest indentation in the sand that might have been a croc’s footprint.

Cardwell Beach

We passed under several of these ‘fauna rope bridges’ which I’m sure are a great idea, but we’re not sure how the animals know where the crossings are, nor how to use them. From our sedentary position in a fast-moving vehicle, it was very hard to work it out.

Animal rope bridges

Near Rungoo, we stopped at a lookout to look at the rather large Hinchinbrook Island, almost a holiday destination in its own right. In fact, we met a couple who had been there and we directed them to a better viewpoint, the lower one being ruined by intervening power lines.

Hinchinbrooke Island over there

I heard Liesel say “I have forgotten my teeth” so I queried that statement. She claims she actually said “I have food caught in my teeth”.

Hmm, I thought, that looks good, pies with my name on.

Mick’s Pies

Four kilometres later, we turned right at the traffic lights to find that the place was closed. C’est la vie.

Onwards to Ingham where we took some time out to do some laundry. Luckily, the laundrette was open, very few other shops were. I went for a walk, and I found one coffee shop open.

There’s a pub here that doesn’t sell beer, but that doesn’t matter because we didn’t go. It was probably closed anyway.

Pub with no beer

By contrast, there were some unexpectedly good photo opps here. Unexpected in the sense that we weren’t really looking out for interesting flora and fauna, it was purely about clothes: wash Ingham and dry Ingham.

They like big trees here: grow Ingham
They like ti trees here: plant Ingham
Swallow or swiftlet: it’s hard distinguish Ingham
Grasshopper with his legs: rub Ingham

If the plants don’t get you and the animals don’t get you and the humans don’t fall out of the sky on top of you, then the buildings will definitely have a go.

Warning: asbestos

Having had coffees and drink Ingham, we didn’t need a Driver Reviver, but what a great idea: free coffee.

Driver Reviver

We passed an RAAF base where one of their latest fighter planes had come to stop just in time before hitting the highway.

RAAF old plane

As I told Liesel, the last time I was in Townsville, a third of a century ago, we were driven in, sharing the front seat of a tow truck with the driver. Our campervan had broken down. We didn’t see much of the town on that occasion. But we arrived here today in the sunshine, and headed straight for the Strand.

We saw a dolphin!

Jolly dolphin

Not a real one: it would be cruel, sticking a real dolphin to your garden wall.

It’s election time so be sure to place your cross between two trees.

The Strand, Townsville

We thought we’d walk to the end of the pier, which we did, only to find it occupied by people fishing and, at the far end, filletting fish. Not the typical seaside pier, really.

It was good to see so many cyclists, roller skaters, roller bladers and runners using the path above the beach. But we’ve never seen so many dog walkers. All the dogs were on leads, we saw no dog mess, we heard no signs of aggression from any of those dogs.

90 minutes before sunset

The Sun was incredibly bright but with a bit of jiggery-pokery, I captured this image. It looks like a nice beach too, although we didn’t walk along it this time. There’s a small swimming area, with a jellyfish net around, but very few people in the sea.

The beach at Townsville
Where’s Liesel?

We dined at a Laos/Thai restaurant and again, I couldn’t finish my meal. I think my stomach must have shrunk or something. We found our Airbnb: we’re sharing with a lovely couple, two dogs and a cat. The neighbours have about 43 dogs between them by the sounds of it! They’re taking it in turns to start a Mexican wave of barking.

To Mission Beach

Mossman Gorge is just north of Port Douglas and was the venue for our first hike of the day. There’s an Aboriginal Village between the visitor’s centre and the gorge itself, and we were requested not to walk through. So, along with just about everyone else, we took the shuttle bus service, and enjoyed a much shorter walk.

Small stream

In the rainforest, you’re always on the lookout for something different: unusual trees and other plants, maybe even animals. Sometimes it just looks and feels prehistoric, but it’s always gorgeous. We’re grateful for the boardwalks they’ve installed, it’s easier for us townies, but it means that you are still in touch with modern life, with civilisation and to a certain extent, that’s what we’re trying to get away from.

Mossman rapids

Just one bloke ignored all the warnings and jumped in the water to ruin everyone else’s photos.

Liesel was delighted to walk across the relatively new Rex Creek Bridge. It was a bit wobbly but we all survived.

The challenging Rex Creek Bridge

Normally, there’s nothing special about moss, but this large patch was almost glowing.

Moss, man

Back at Port Douglas, we walked up to the Lookout and along some of Four Mile Beach.

Four Mile Beach from the Lookout

We both commented on how pleasant the temperature was, after being in the heat for so long. One day, we’ll be complaining it’s too cold, I know, but right now, it’s just right.

It’s a nice beach, flat, with perfect sand, but there are three main hazards to look out for. Box jellyfish might come along and sting you. Crocodiles might come along and eat you. Humans might slip off the rocks and fall onto you.

Another warning sign

A small section of the sea was safe to swim in as there was a net keeping the box jellyfish out. Both Liesel and I fought the temptation to leap in.

The safe swimming area

We brushed the sand off our feet and set off for Cairns. The winding road by the coast was great but it was nice when it straightened out for a while.

Liesel pointed and said that that was one job she wouldn’t want to do, and I can see that it might become a wee bit exhausting and even boring and repetitive. Putting plastic bags over the new bunches of bananas before they grow too big, presumably as a pest deterrent. I assume they’re not conventional plastic bags, but allow air and moisture to flow through. Hundreds, if not thousands of trees in fields, different coloured bags making it all look quite artistic. I wonder if we’ll see more sometime, and get a picture?

In Cairns, we looked at the menu outside Yaya’s Hellenic Kitchen and Bar and there were plenty of nice-looking vegetarian dishes to choose from. We went in and the sign at the door said “Please wait to be seated. Grazie.” Hang on, I thought, that’s Italian, not Greek. Greek would be Ευχαριστώ. As we realised we’d entered the wrong place, we were being shown to a table. We had Italian food instead, the waitress was very friendly but we didn’t ask whether her accent was American, Irish or something else: it was certainly flexible.

While eating, we heard one solitary rumble of thunder, and as it was cloudy, we thought a storm was on its way. We had felt a few spots of rain at Mossman Gorge. But no. We later wondered whether it was thunder after all, maybe it was a jet.

After lunch, we walked along the Esplanade and enjoyed watching birds out on the mudflats. The pelicans were a lovely surprise.

Australian Pelicans

They’re so elegant when they glide just a few inches above the water with barely a twitch of the wings.

Curlew rooting away
Curlew with food plus photobomb

We passed by the war memorial, always sad to see, but the big gun has been out of commission since the 1960s, so the birds are safe.

25 Pounder artillery gun/Howitzer

This chap was standing still for ages, to the point where I wondered if it was real.

Very stationary egret

He had his eyes on something, I was poised with the camera, he didn’t move, I didn’t dare blink, I stretched to relieve a crick in my back and boom, he moved, I missed the moment, but he walked away with a juicy morsel and I’m sure he winked at me as if to say “gotcha”.

Caught something tasty
Yellow-fronted beachcomber

A couple of exercise areas caught our attention, briefly, but we decided to leave the equipment for other people to enjoy. Not that there was a long queue or anything.

Promenade gym

The children’s play area by contrast was fully occupied and we thought these serving suggestions were pretty good.

Playground

Back in the car, as we progressed in a southerly direction, we were treated to two signs indicating “The highest mountain in Queensland”. Well, we thought, they can’t both be right. The two contenders are neighbours. Mt Bartle Frere is 1611 or 1622 m depending on which source you believe while Mt Bellenden Ker is a mere 1593 m above sea level. In any case, these mountains had their heads in the clouds as we drove by.

One of the highest mountains in Queensland

It’s election time in Australia and the radio adverts are the same old same old, but this large mural is hard-hitting in a fun way.

Vote for … somebody

We made a quick detour to Etty Bay, E Bay for short, because it’s famous for the local family, group, herd, whatever, of cassowaries.

Etty Bay

The beach was packed: just one young lady reading or meditating or something. I walked to the far end to use the facilities and when I told Liesel there actually was a toilet and I didn’t need to use the bush, she decided to go too. I said I’d walk back up the hill looking out for cassowaries, and she could pick me up when I thumbed a lift. Hah. The only cassowaries I saw were on road signs. I did find some very tasty-looking red berries though.

Juicy red berries

No, I didn’t eat any, no idea what they are.

Liesel drove up the hill, big grin arriving well before she did. Did you see a cassowary, she asked? No, I replied. I did, she boasted, by the campsite.

Liesel’s cassowary

I was tempted to say, oh please, please, please, take me back, but it was getting dark. The Sun sets behind the mountains and, being still in the tropics, there’s no real twilight period.

Sunset over the mountains

In Mission Beach, we have a room in the house shared with the host, Judy. She is a very friendly, chatty kiwi. She told us there would be no naked people in the pool, so that put the kibosh on my plans. She didn’t need to see one of her guests bending over outside without any clothes on, again. The pool was lovely, though, I just floated around for about 15 minutes, looking up at the lack of stars. It had been overcast for most of the day.

Mick in the pool

You can do a sky dive here at Mission Beach, landing on the actual beach. I wonder? I will if Liesel does…

Nitmiluk: Katherine Gorge

The nighttime shenanigans will be dealt with later. Getting up at dark O’hundred seemed such a good idea when we made the plans but the practical side of dragging our carcasses out of bed so early always raises doubt about our sanity.

We drove towards the sunrise and saw beautiful, bright Venus leading the way. Then, just before the Sun appeared, we saw a very thin crescent Moon.

Hello Venus

The sky was partially cloudy, but it looked like we were going to have a wonderful day.

All kinds of animals should be stirring at dawn, we thought. There were a couple of kangaroos ‘having a rest’, but our excitement was piqued by the sight of some snakes warming up by the side of the road. No way was I going to get out of the car, but the photo taken from the passenger seat is pretty damn good.

“Snakes”

I thought about selling this picture to National Geographic or something, but that would just be money for old rope. I’m sure we’re not the only visitors to fall for this jape.

Blue-headed honey-eater

We arrived at Katherine Gorge, Nitmiluk, Visitor Centre, with plenty of time to spare and we joined 12 other people for a cruise along the river, through the gorge. Nitmiluk means cicada country.

The birds didn’t come too close but the blue-headed honey-eater is very pretty. His song was drowned out by the sound from many, many bats though.

There are 13 gorges on the Katherine River, numbered 1 to 13 and we were going to see the first two, accounting for about a third of the total length. Each gorge is separated from the next by rocks and rapids, so we had to board another boat for Gorge No 2.

On Katherine River

The water was calm, a couple of fish jumping, a few birds flying by, but mostly we just gaped in awe at the immensity of the rock formations.

So many rock formations

On a previous cruise, someone had asked the guide if this bird was a penguin?

Little pied cormorant

Well, it’s black and white and hiding behind a branch, so an easy mistake to make.

The rocks are sandstone, fragmented and cracked, and eroded by water over millions of years. The trees are fascinating, sometimes growing in the most ridiculous places.

Tenacious trees and sweeping sandstone

Crayfish are caught in a yabbie trap. Usually, only freshwater crocodiles inhabit this river, and they’re fairly harmless. They only eat things they can swallow whole, such as fish and birds, so we’re quite safe. Unless we annoy them by stomping on their tail, or something. Which we didn’t.

But, after the Wet, and the floods, sometimes gingas, saltwater crocs, can make an appearance.

Yabbie trap

Evidence of their presence includes badly mangled yabbie traps. The river isn’t opened to the public for recreational canoeing until the rangers are certain that there are no gingas.

Another method of detection is to leave some red, blood-soaked polystyrene balls on the surface. A curious croc will take a bite, decide it’s not really food, and move on. The tooth prints will indicate whether it’s a saltie or a freshie.

The red-ball croc detection system

We did see one, small, freshwater crocodile today, a long way from the boat, by the shore, and as soon as he saw us, he swam into the caverns behind.

Freshwater crocodile

It was fairly obvious when we’d reached the end of Gorge No 1. Many rocks across the river, and some rough water just upstream.

Rocks at the top of Gorge number 1

We disembarked and walked about 400m to the next boat. The boats higher upstream are brought in when the river’s in flood, and left there for the season. No heavy lifting required.

The walk itself was interesting: we saw some small frogs in a puddle and some 10,000-year old Aboriginal rock paintings, including underneath where a big chunk of rock had fallen off, many thousands of years ago.

Aboriginal rock painting

The local, Jawoyn, clan can read these paintings like a book. The information board didn’t tell us which book, though.

Some of the trees are growing right down at water level. They’re so lush, even the water looks green in places.

Trees with snake-necked darter

Because of the way the rocks fractured, some of the bends in the river are very nearly right angles.

A very sharp bend in the river

In places, you can see where a fracture on one side continues through the rockface on the other side. Again, my geological knowledge is limited but I would be fascinated to learn more about these structures.

This apparently is the view everyone wants:

Katherine Canyon

Due to eddies and currents and erosion, the water at this point is about 20m deep. This is where the Rainbow Serpent is resting and it’s Jawoyn law that nobody’s allowed to swim here, in case they wake the Serpent up.

We were told about some films that have been made in this area. Jedda, or Jedda the Uncivilised, was released in 1955 and was the first to star two Aboriginal actors. We passed by Jedda’s Rock. An imminent release is Top End Wedding which we’ll look out for. The best recommendation was Rogue, about a crocodile that chases tour boats. Our tour guide (spoiler alert) said that it did have a happy ending though: the tour guide survived.

Selfie of the day

The water is typically about 6m deep in this area. During the floods of 1998, the water rose 20m, engulfing the higher of these two holes in the wall, although you don’t really get the scale from the picture.

Erosion occurs in all directions

At the height of the flood, enough water flowed through the Katherine to fill Sydney Harbour evey nine hours. That is a staggering statistic.

Water from the recent, disappointing, Wet Season, is still making its way through the channels. We saw a couple of cascades today, but many more black stained rocks indicating the presence of waterfalls at other times.

A light waterfall

There are plenty of inviting sandy beaches too. But this is where the crocs lay their eggs, so very soon, signs will appear telling people to stay off. After laying the eggs, the mums aren’t interested and there are enough predators around, without people compacting the sand and making it difficult for hatchlings to emerge.

Nice sandy beach

We returned to our starting point, transferring back to the first boat, feeling exhilarated but tired, and not really up for the hike we’d considered.

Lots of noisy bats in the trees

Some birds and a lizard watched us make our way back to the car park, and we picked up some coffee to take away. The noisy construction will result in a brand new Visitors’ Centre, so we’ll have to come back and see that, one day.

The drive back to base was punctuated by several stops.

Beware, your hat might fly off
An old abandoned car

We saw a bright green and red parrot-like bird. Actually, it probably was a parrot, it was too big to be a lorikeet. We saw some large birds poking at and trying to wake up the resting kangaroos mentioned earlier, to no avail.

Some of the side roads looked interesting, but we didn’t explore. Some said they were Private Property, some didn’t say but they probably are too.

Long straight track to nowhere

Liesel took her first flying lesson today, but I don’t think they’ll be asking her back.

Crashed areoplane

We took a chance and parked our hire car in front of a barn decorated with very many old car number plates.

Lots of regos

I was too slow to take a picture of the dingo that ran across the road in front of us. And similarly not fast enough to snap the pig snuffling by the side of the road. Then it looked up, with its pink collar and its doggie head. The back end still looked like a pig though.

The powerlines are supported by metal posts. I suspect between termites and annual deluges, wooden posts wouldn’t last very long.

Metal post

Other sightings included somebody’s trousers in the middle of the road, some cows, goats, horses and some houses on stilts, although I expected to see more of those.

Back home, we had tea, toast and a nap then I played with the butterflies in the garden. We went back to Woolworths for some shopping and decided against a proper, long walk today.

Here’s an early warning for squeamish visitors. I’m about to relate an incident from last night. This is the Northern Territory and Things Live Here that we don’t normally like to see indoors. Maybe in an outhouse, but not in the main, clean, tiled, inhabited part of a house.

If you’re still with me, I apologise in advance.

As regular visitors may recall, I have reason to visit the lavatory once or twice every night, sometimes more often. And if I can’t sleep for some reason, there can be several nocturnal hikes. Such was the case last night. I couldn’t sleep because I knew we had to get up early and so I ended up losing sleep at both ends of the night.

The first time I went into the bathroom, as soon as I sat down, I felt something scratch my arm. Now, the last time I felt something scratch my arm like that was when a mouse ran out of a mail bag at work, up my arm, and into the prep frame. So obviously, I deduced that this too must be a mouse, in my middle-of-the-night torpor. To investigate, I turned the bathroom light on, something I don’t usually do because it wakes me up too much. I was relieved to see that what hit my arm was a bottle of moisturiser that had fallen off the top of the shower screen when I slightly nudged it.

On the other hand, I was shocked, horrified, surprised and not at all delighted to see a cockroach sitting on the bathroom sink. Not as large as the big red one I saw at Jabiru but worse, because it was indoors. Waving its feelers in my direction. Sorry, but I have to admit, I washed it down the plughole when I washed my hands, and put the plug in the sink. I took some slow, deep breaths to calm myself down, hoping I’d get back to sleep very quickly.

I needed to go to the loo a second time but by now, it was 5:15am and very nearly time to get up anyway. So I turned the bathroom light on only to see the cockroach sitting on the floor. Laughing at me. How the heck did it escape? The plug was still in place. It must have come up through the overflow. I was taking my ease when it started moving towards me. I was quite philosophical when it was running about on the floor. But when it started its fast little jog up the outside of the toilet bowl, I screamed to myself, grabbed it with loo paper, and flushed it away. I don’t know what the ‘going to the toilet’ equivalent of coitus interruptus is, but that’s what happened.

No time to continue so I washed my hands. I released the sink plug and immediately, out popped the original cockroach, looking around like an Alien. Giving me the finger. Swear words echoed around but only inside my head as Liesel wasn’t quite awake yet. I grabbed it with loo paper and flushed it away to join its twin.

I have no idea how many cockroaches we’re sharing the house with but I hope none of them stow away in our bags when we leave.

Not a big problem really. This is the Northern Territory, where every conceivable environmental niche is probably inhabited by bugs of one kind or another. That’s what makes it such a fascinating place. Not just the bugs themselves, but the bigger animals that prey on them.

All together now: Good night, sleep well, don ‘t have nightmares.

A day in Katherine

Here’s another one of those days that took a while to get us moving. The Sun rose on time, I’m sure, and the birds welcomed it with their song. But that was hours in the past by the time Liesel and I stirred our stumps. Tea and toast for breakfast followed by a drive to Cutta-Cutta Caves.

Welcome to Cutta-Cutta Cave

The first European to discover this cave was a stockman, Mr Smith, so for a while, it was known as Smith’s Cave. He’d noticed some of his cattle had gone missing, and he found them by the cave. They’d probably smelt the water.

There are five species of bats living here, and we saw a couple fly by very quickly: probably too early in the day for them, too.

It’s full of stars

Some of the calcium carbonate glistens giving the impression of stars, which gives the cave its name Cutta-Cutta. At sunset, the bats take these star out of the cave and place them in the sky so thay can more easily find their food. Then, as the Sun rises, they take the stars back into the cave. A lovely Dreamtime story from our guide.

We saw stalactites and stalagmites, columns and other formations.

Stalactites and column

During World War 2, many local servicemen came into the cave and shot up the structures that had taken millions of years to grow. The guns were so loud, they deafened themselves, thus qualifying for medical discharge. Some of the newer stalactites have only been growing for about 70 years so they’re very delicate right now.

Baby 70-year old ‘tites

Along with the whole of the Katherine region, this cave was flooded in 1998. The water caused a lot of damage but most of the formations survived. This structure on the ground, ‘oyster shell’, is very delicate and is likely to be destroyed the next time water comes flooding through.

Very delicate structure

A couple of people told us that the recent Wet season was relatively dry: a cyclone took all the water away, so the story goes.

There are tree snakes in the cave too, although we saw only a clutch of recently laid eggs. We saw spiders’ webs and some of the other guests saw spiders, but we didn’t.

A rock wallaby lives in the entrance to the cave, and it’s a sub-species with feet specially adapted to be able to cope with the slippery limestone floor. Hmmm, another mistruth for the visitor?

Tree roots can be seen hanging from the roof – even roots of trees that have been burned above ground level. These roots will eventually petrify, become calcified, and be the starting point for new stalactites, perhaps.

Tree root absorbing moisture

It was a much shorter walk in the cave than some of the others we’ve visited, but, being a Tropical Cave, it was much warmer inside too. No sheltering from the heat here.

Afterwards, Liesel and I went on a short bush walk, admiring the trees and the rocks and the gravel and the termite mound with some twigs sticking out. And for a few minutes, we watched an ant struggling with a piece of grass five times its own length, trying to carry up the sheer cliff face of a step. An ant friend tried to help, but without success.

Hard-working ant defeated by a sheer wall

From ants to termites. I stopped to take a picture of a big termite mound city. Instead on one enormous mound, there are scores of smaller ones, but maybe in years to come, each one will be a magnificent eight-footer.

Termite City, NT

Katherine Museum closed at 4pm so we only had about 90 minutes left to explore it.

Nice buns, Mick

The town has a fascinating history and it seems a shame, in retrospect, that we spent a third of the 90 minutes watching an old TV programme about the infamous floods of 1998. Everybody lost just about everything as the Katherine River flooded up to a record-breaking twenty metres.

Dr Clyde Fenton was the local flying doctor, and his plane, Gypsy Moth, is on display at the Museum.

Gypsy Moth with ‘security detail’

We read about the ‘stolen generations’, the ‘half-caste’ children taken form their parents and brought up mainly by churches, Catholic, Methodist, they all had a hand in this travesty.

Ironically, one of the oldest-looking artefacts at this venue was the sign outside.

The battered Katherine Museum sign

Liesel drove back home while I walked along a path that took me pretty much to our front door. Not that Google Maps knew that, of course, it kept telling me to re-join and walk along the main road.

The community gardens were pleasant and I saw some ibises there doing whatever they like to do with their long, curved bills. I do like the Australian sense of humour, it doesn’t even stop at the gates of a cemetery.

Of course I love you. Now get me a beer.

I thought it important to make a pilgrimage to the actual river, thinking I’d be safe, there are no crocodiles in this neck of the woods.

Another croc warning

Was I wrong! Not one but two kinds of crocodile live in this area. I tiptoed back and up the steps to what I hoped was a safe distance.

From the old railway bridge, I could see the river in all its glory. It looked peaceful enough from this height.

Katherine River

There were some other passers-by on the path too, some very colourful specimens.

Purple hair burning rubber

The old steam engine was well decorated, not sure how official this artwork is. Still, better than boring old tags.

A 100-year old steam engine

Can you imagine what it must be like if you live with a stutter and you’re trying to tell a taxi driver that this is where you live?

Stutterd St

I arrived back at base literally dripping with sweat, from the heat and the exertion. But people of a squeamish nature should look away now because here comes today’s…

“Things I Didn’t Want Or Need To See, Thank You Very Much”

On the walk back from the museum, I passed a playing field which was fenced in all round. That’s not unusual, but the barbed wire along the top was, maybe. From a distance, I thought: oh no, even here, people hang their little black bags of dog mess on other people’s fences, that’s disgusting. But as I approached, the awful truth revealed itself.

Bats.

Dead bats.

Dead bats in various stages of decomposition. One corpse had a zillion flies buzzing round. At the other extreme, there was just the bare skeleton of what I think was a fruit bat, since the middle corpse still had some reddish fur. My guess is that they landed on the fence, got stuck in the barbs, and couldn’t get away.

Yucky bats. The sky’s pretty, though.

Good night. Sleep well. Don’t have nightmares.

Nourlangie and Yellow Water

It was a short stay in Jabiru but our next abode wasn’t too far down the road. We drove via Jabiru Town Centre, or Plaza, where we refuelled the car. The bakery shop was probably very good in its day, but it’s now closed down.

The Post Office proved useful. It’s late, but we posted the rest of Martha’s birthday present. We could get used to this slow, unhurried, leisurely pace of customer service, stopping to chat to all the local customers, trying to extract confidential information about an on-going case from the local cop, telling someone obviously known to the counter clerk that she couldn’t take away someone else’s packet without formal id. We bought a newspaper too and read it from cover to cover while waiting for the paperwork to be completed. Well, slight exaggeration. Then, to cap it all, the machine didn’t like my payment card.

As we drove along the road, we were on the lookout for wildlife of course. Our score? One kangaroo and two black cockatoos. Yes, we’re 99% sure they were black cockies but they flew away as soon as the car stopped.

Our first proper stop was for a walk to Nawurlandja Lookout. This harsh, rugged, rocky landscape was typical Northern Territory. Bare rocks but with lush vegetation breaking the monotony. Although ‘monotony’ isn’t the right word, really, the whole place is just fascinating.

Nawurlandja Lookout

The rocks reveal the course of flood water cascades during the Wet. Black algae grows where the water flows, then it dries out and leaves what looks like sooty stains when it’s dry.

Water was here

We admired the tenacity of one lone tree, surviving at all, and keeping lookout over the plains of Kakadu, towards Anbangbang Billabong.

The lone tree

The escarpment way over there would be a challenging climb, but not for us, not today. We proceeded up as far as we were allowed to go on this Lookout, the breeze cooling us down as we gained altitude. It felt more humid today than it has for a while, and this was confirmed by a local, later in the day.

Nourlangie Escarpment (I think)

Big. That’s the word. Big environment, big place, big country.

Where’s Liesel?

And it’s not just the landscape that is too big to comprehend. Some big rocks are standing and there is no obvious explanation for how they arrived where they are.

A standing stone

Rocks, green grass and other plants and again, just the rare, odd splash of red.

A dash of red

We were going to walk to Anbangbang Billabong but the path was closed. Probably flood water or maybe a muddy path, we surmised.

Seasonal closure

A shame to miss it but there was plenty more to see. You can add Kakadu to the list of places where we’ll never spend enough time.

And if there wasn’t enough to worry about, snakes, spiders, crocodiles, floods, mosquitoes, we also have to take care to avoid Heat Illness.

Heat Illness

One litre of water per person per hour while exercising outside is recommended, but that’s a lot of water to carry around, so this limited the distance of any hikes we planned to do. But, if we come back…

My new favourite place name is Nourlangie. It, like the word ‘favourite’ itself, contains all five vowels. We went for a short hike here, to see more rock art.

Kangaroo

The escarpment was much closer now, but still, too much of a climb for us.

There’s no escaping the escarpment

A lot of the artwork was painted on walls underneath overhanging rocks, so sheltered a bit from the elements. When an overhanging rock looks dangerous, they prop it up with the thinnest tree trunk they can find.

Holding up well

Or maybe that was just put there for comedic effect, a lie to tell tourists.

I feel so proud of the Europeans that came here and tried to civilise the natives.

Hooray, we gave guns to the Aboriginal people

I wonder if, like the Maori, the Aboriginal clans were given firearms if they converted to Christianity? Or, at least, pretended to?

Dancing is a big part of ceremonial occasions, and is depicted in many paintings.

John, I’m only dancing
Now there’s a story

Some paintings have been altered, against Aborginal conventions, probably for whitepellas’ sensibilities. But the old stories are still being told. Namarndjolg eventually became Ginga, the estuarine or saltwater crocodile.

Today, the Gunwarrdehwarrdeh Lookout walk was a more practical option for us than the 12 km Barrk Walk, fabulous though that would undoubtedly be.

It’s a Lookout, the clue is in its name, so why am I still surprised by a stunning view?

Narmandjolg’s Feather

Namanjolg’s Feather is a small rock perched high up. It’s the feather that his sister took from his headdress after they had broken the incest laws. She placed it here to show what she had done. Later, she became the Rainbow Serpent. Even on the sign depicting the story, the poor fella’s name is spelt two different ways. As if he wasn’t suffering enough already by having a boulder in his hat, euphemistically referred to as a feather.

Selfie of the day

Later on, we passed a gorgeous little billabong, and Liesel requested this photo, taken from a low angle, presumably so that the croc wouldn’t have to jump so high to eat me.

Reflective, peaceful billabong

Other than a few insects, we saw no animals here, but I did hear what I thought was a frog, possibly a bullfrog, as its croak was so deep.

We spent some time at Warradjan Aboriginal Cultural Centre. There were many stories, some passed down through the generations, and some modern people telling their own stories. Some were very sad, about how the country has changed, and been taken over by other people.

We decided not to visit Yellow Water Billabong right now, which is just as well because the road was closed due to seasonal conditions. Probably mud or floods or something, again.

Our new place is not an Airbnb, it’s a Lodge. Cooinda Lodge if you believe the booking form, or Gagudju Lodge, Cooinda if you prefer the sign outside. Home of Yellow Water, as the sign says.

There are boat trips onto Yellow Water, and we booked one straightaway for this evening, ending at around sunset. So we only had a short time in our room to recharge ourselves and recharge the phone battery before joining over 20 other visitors in two buses to the jetty.

The driver opened the gate that had prevented our earlier visit and closed it after the bus passed through. As the bus went down the track towards the jetty, the water became deeper and deeper, and produced quite a wash.

The bus needed a wash

This is why the place was closed to casual visitors like us, we thought. But no. The real reason is that a 4-metre long crocodile had taken up residence in the flooded part of the car park. Everybody breathed in sharply at this news. We were very carefully shepherded from the bus to the jetty which was enclosed in very thick metal fencing, and then onto the boat.

Our croc-proof boat, not sure about ice-bergs

The boat looked strong enough, the sides were very strong metal mesh and there was no way we could pester the crocodiles through that.

It was a very pleasant two hours out on the water, mainly in Yellow Water, the billabong, itself but also venturing into the East Alligator River.

How did Yellow Water get its name? I recalled the book titles we made up at school ‘Vegetarian Breakfast’ by Egbert Nobacon for instance. Or ‘Yellow Waters’ by I P Daly. Well, from experience, when I’m dehydrated, I produce a lot of yellow water and I’m sure that’s quite common in these hot and humid places. But that’s not the origin of this placename. Buffalo were introduced here about two hundred years ago and they had the habit of eating the marsh grass, then walking around and compacting the clay so it was impossible for anything else to grow. When the rains came, they washed the clay away, turning the water yellow.

First East, now South Alligator River: how come, when it’s crocodiles that live here? Unfortunately, the guy that gave three rivers the Alligator name just got it wrong when he saw hundreds of crocs. He probably didn’t want to get too close to them, either.

Shark!

There was almost a cheer when we saw the first croc before even setting off from the jetty. I was impressed at how quiet the engine was and it made me wonder why many boat engines are so loud.

Our first decent crocodile picture
White egret

We were really lucky with the amount of wildlife we saw, in its natural habitat. As Damo, Damien, the pilot and guide said, they’re probably all used to the boats now and know we mean them no harm.

Side by side
On her own

We’d brought water with us but we had to refill our bottles a couple of times from the boat’s own supply. I thought walking around such a small vessel might affect the balance, but it was only genuinely of concern when everyone went to the same side to take pictures.

Bugs and clouds

It was a cloudy sky and Damo suggested this might enhance the sunset. Lots of bugs came by. The dragonflies are ok but we soon got fed up with the mosquitoes, so we applied bug dope.

One guy had a huge video camera and another had a very long zoom lens. I’m sure they have some terrific pictures and film, but I’m quite happy with my little phone camera. Next time, however…

Crocodile and sky

We saw about four or five different crocodiles, mostly female, and the only thing that could have been better is seeing a whole family or group having a siesta on the bank.

Sea eagle

We’re over 100 km inland, yet we saw a few sea eagles. They’re very graceful in flight, and happy to pose on a tree, but not if you get too close.

Whistling ducks gathered on the bank, and whistled a merry, if warning, tune as we sailed on by. Their only fault is in being the same colour as the sand, so quite hard to spot.

Whistling ducks

After seeing the warning sign yeserday about the presence of buffalo, we knew we wanted to see one. And our wish came true. Damo spotted one hiding behind a tree, having a rest, chilling out, eating grass.

Buffalo behind the tree

He wasn’t bothered by the boat, just looked up in a nonchalant manner. He may have been bored with this group of whistling ducks though, with their tuneless and insistent whistling.

More whistling ducks

As the Sun slowly sank, it occasionally peeked through the clouds, taunting us with the possibilities of a glorious sunset.

Still water, gorgeous tree

Cormorants go fishing here as do snake-necked darters. They too like standing there, drying their wings out.

Darter drying his wings

We saw more crocodiles, some of which stayed on the surface and some of which dived when the boat approached too closely. I think everyone who spotted a croc was torn between announcing it to the whole boat or keeping it to themselves for better photos without strangers breathing down their neck. Oh, just me then!

Cloudy sky

The East Alligator River is the only river system in the world wholly enclosed in a World Heritage Site National Park. So, in theory, it has the cleanest water. Unfortunately, some fishing people don’t care, and beer cans have been seen floating by. But the main problem now is with salvinia, a fast growing weed that is in danger of blocking the waterway. It was once sold as decoration for domestic aquariums and it’s thought that someone just poured the whole lot down the drain one day. They’re trying to combat it with a weevil imported from South America that eats salvinia, and only salvinia. I would have thought that after the cane toad episode, Aussies would be very reluctant to import another biological form of pest control. Salvinia fights the lotus lilies for resources, but I think we all agree which looks better.

Salvinia v waterlilies

We saw a family of jacana, little birds with long legs, again, hard to spot because they’re so well camouflaged.

Spot the jacana (spot the subtle clue)

For a brief few seconds, it looked as though the Sun might deliver, but the moment passed, and we went back to looking out for animals.

On the way back, we passed a black-necked stork, a jabiru. Neither name is correct, they’re trying to introduce the Aboriginal name for it, which Damo couldn’t recall in the heat of the moment. The name ‘jabiru’ is taken from a South American bird which it was mistaken for on the day it was named. And its neck isn’t black, it’s more of a dark iridescent blue.

Quick pic of the stork before it flies off

But the consensus is still that it is Australia’s only stork. And I still think storks look prehistoric. The boat drifted by slowly but it was very patient with us.

The stork posed for us

Even if the sunset was doomed, which in general, it seemed to be, there were odd moments of sheer beauty. The Sun has the power to set trees alight.

The tree catches the light

We passed by the buffalo again, and now he was standing up, and in a much easier place to see.

Buffalo out in the open

He was big. Mahusive. Probably the size of a rhinoceros, much more massive than a moose, if a little shorter in height.

Sunset arrived and as anticipated, it wasn’t as glorious as it often is. This silhouette of a darter in a naked tree in the foreground isn’t too shabby.

Sunset at Yellow Water

Damo had to get us onto the buses quickly: it was dark within minutes and as he said, those crocs could be hiding anywhere.

Back at the Lodge, we had a meal outside while being eaten by mosquitoes. They’re not normal, these things. Most mosquitoes come along, sit down, rub their hands together and then sink their teeth in. These ones just come at you nose first, straight into the skin. No warning tickle of a hair being touched, no high-pitched whine, just straight in. They kept going for my right arm and ignoring the left, for no reason obvious to me. I applied more bug dope and that helped a bit.

I also anaesthetised myself very slightly by drinking my first beer in many weeks. Fair to say, I’m not a fan of kamikaze Aussie mozzies.

It felt strange going to bed without checking up on all the social media and emails. There is no wifi here and Liesel and I aren’t on Telstra, so there’s no 4G for us either. Totally cut off. It’s surprising how often I quickly look something up online each day. Not today, though. I can’t listen to the radio, I can’t download books or even newspaper articles.

But as the sign here says, without wifi, you have a better connection with Kakadu. And that’s very precious.