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twisted distortion and interpretation of Theresa May’s “hostile environment for illegal immigrants”, his work visa was revoked, and he was forced to move back to Australia.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.

Two Walks, Two Dips in the Sea

I didn’t make it, but Jyoti was up early today to watch the sunrise. She joined in with all the activities on offer, as well as a few of her own invention. Balancing on one foot without falling over is a skill we should all adopt.

The main event today was the walk up to North Head. The three of us set off hoping to reach the end and to arrive at the Quarantine Station before it became too hot.

On the path down to Collins Beach, we saw warnings about 1080 poison and ‘soft jaw traps’ being present in an effort to eradicate foxes. Not very nice for the foxes, but who are the vermin who brought them to Australia in the first place?

There were just a couple of people on the beach as we walked by and up the hill again, past the Australian Institute of Police Management and on to the Barracks Project.

Possibly the only bandicoot we’ll see

We walked on through the moving War Memorial area to Fairfax Lookout which looks towards South Head over the entrance to Sydney Harbour from the Tasman Sea.

Jyoti and Liesel walking towards Sydney

In the distance, you can see Sydney’s skyline, including Sydney Tower where we were to venture later on. (Oops, spoiler alert.)

I’m glad I’m no longer a postman and really glad I’m not nine feet tall. As a postie, one of the hazards of the job was walking face-first into spiders’ webs, carefully wrought overnight, across paths to people’s front doors. Here, in the heathland, the spiders make their webs higher than our heads, but it’s still a bit worrying walking underneath, you never know whether one of those gigantic arachnids might drop down your neck.

Just one of many big spiders just hanging around

Jyoti was heard to say something along the lines of “I won’t be going for a walk in the woods”, because of the spiders.

We were on the lookout for lizards too, but no luck there.

North Head view
Sydney viewed from North Head

After lunch, accompanied by a turkey, we walked down to the Quarantine Station. Jyoti and I went for a walk along the beach and on hearing the siren call, I ripped off my clothes and plunged into the briney sea to cool off. We looked at the shells on the beach, the barnacles and the limpets on the tidal rocks. Realising the tide was coming in, I recovered my clothing from the secluded rock and we went back to rejoin Liesel.

Oh to be in quarantine

The Q Station itself is very interesting, and as the poem shows, humour didn’t totally desert people struck down by horrendous diseases.

While waiting for the ferry, we had a drink in the café where I was horrified to see that they serve alcohol to mynas.

Myna on the mooch

We enjoyed the Fast Ferry ride to Circular Quay but I was horrified to see the slow ferry fart a large cloud of black smoke.

The Famous Manly Ferry

SailGP launched over two days here in Sydney Harbour. Six international teams, including GB and Australia compete in identical supercharged F50 catamarans. They can exceed 50 knots. While the race is on, we mortals on workaday ferries have to slow down to 6 knots. Which is great when you’re not in a hurry and want to get some photos! Unfortunately, at the time, I didn’t really know what was going on so photos of the racing boats will have to wait until later. (Oops, spoiler alert.)

Our new boat

We gawped at The Explorer of the Seas, docked in Circular Quay with its 3000+ passengers and scientists on board. Even though it was only one stop, we caught a train to be closer to Sydney Tower.

Model inside Sydney Tower

I last visited this building in 1986, with Sarah and 2-year old Jenny, when it was known as Centrepoint. Then, we were amazed that we could see the airport in the distance. From the viewing deck today, though, I couldn’t see the airport either because the Sun was too bright or because Sydney has literally grown, mainly upwards, in 33 years.

View from Sydney Tower
View of and from Sydney Tower

I won’t be trying Betty’s Burgers any time soon, I’d be worried about the ingredients, and not just the meat.

Betty’s Burgers and … what?

In the evening, we met up with Helen and Adam at Mex and Co, a restaurant that we’d been to before, overlooking Manly Beach.

The following day’s long walk was from Coogee Beach to Bondi Beach, along the east coast, in the full glare of the Sun.

Coogee Beach
Bali Memorial at Coogee Beach

This fascinating, intricate sculpture is a memorial to the 88 Australians killed in the Bali bombing of 2002.

Clovelly Beach’s clear water

There are several beaches along this walk, all gorgeous, all tempting, the water was clear, but we held off until we reached Bronte Beach. Here, there’s a small ‘pool’ separated from the main thrust of the sea by well-placed rocks.

Bronte Beach

Jyoti and I jumped in for a quick, refreshing dip. What I hadn’t anticipated though was that the water was so shallow, my knees would graze the rocks below. We walked to the next refreshment opportunity where, to remove the taste of sea water, I indulged in a chocolate milkshake.

We walked through Waverley Cemetery and mourned the loss of so many people at such a young age. Most of the graves are over 100 years old but the most recent is from only a couple of years ago.

Occasionally, the path approaches a cliff edge and one of us was brave/daft enough to venture that little bit closer to the edge.

Jyoti living life on the edge

And finally, round the corner, we saw Bondi Beach in the distance.

Bondi Beach, a welcome sight

Adam had recommended a place to eat. I had no ID so I wasn’t allowed in. L&J had theirs, they got in and had a lovely salad. I’m not looking for sympathy, but in the first place I went to, the staff looked up and continued to chat with each other. The next one thought the idea of takeaway coffee was infra dig. But I did eventually find coffee and a biscuit.

We’d travelled by ferry and bus to Coogee and we returned by bus and ferry.

In the harbour, the SailGP races were taking place and again, the ferries had to slow right down.

China and GB catamarans
Australia and France cats

Helen is Manly’s top hairdresser and she offered to give me a much-needed trim. As usual, it was the perfect haircut and I am very happy with my hair. My offer to return the favour was declined.

The Australian mangoes were described by Jyoti as being aphrodisiac while Liesel suggested that they should ideally be eaten in the bath, naked. (It’s a long story.)

This was our final evening in Manly, for the time being, and as the weather was so good, we had a barbecue down by Manly Cove beach. Helen prepared all the food and Adam barbecued the meat, corn on the cob and veggie sausages, thereby gaining credit for all the work, as is the way with bbqs.

Adam looking for his head under the barbie
Helen, Jyoti, Adam, Mick, Liesel

We enjoyed watching the Sun set, the sky change colour and as it got darker, we visitors were surprised to see bats flying back to the tree we were under, that being their roost for the night.

Sunset, what a stunner
Looking up at the bat tree
Gotta be quick to catch a bat!

While sitting there, leaves and twigs fell from the tree and Liesel especially was pleased that (a) they all missed her and (b) it wasn’t bird deposit, something she has a magnetic attraction for.

Wide Sky for Anna

Back at the flat, we were treated to Amarula, a cream liqueur from South Africa made with sugar, cream and the fruit of the African marula tree. It was very tasty, very more-ish.

A perfect end to our week in Manly, thank you for your hospitality, Helen and Adam. And congrats again, Adam, on your exciting new job! Cheers!!

One night here, while unable to drift off to sleep, I calculated that on October 30 last year, I was exactly twice as old as Helen. I need to check my mental arithmetic of course, but while that’s an exciting revelation, I felt sad that I hadn’t realised at the time!

The End of 2018 is Nigh

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

Waaa-hoooo!

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

Hitachi!! Att-shoo!!

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

Ahpprr-shoooo!!!

Looking into it
Jumping into it

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

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

Escaping the rock
Back view – very clever

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

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

Yah-shphrewwww!!!!! Sorry.

A red, discarded Christmas tree

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

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

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

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

I can’t believe it’s not Buddha

Ah-ah-ah—shooooooo!!! Well, bless me.

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

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

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

Save the jetty
Rebuild the jetty might be a better idea

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

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

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

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

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

Andrew and Pauline staying afloat
Liesel and Mick staying afloat too

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

Dragonflies
Dragonfly on a feather on the water
More dragonflies

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

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

A good path: suitable for prams

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

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

Sophie’s rock

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

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

Our old pet rocks

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

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


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

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

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

Christmas in Christchurch

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

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

Pauline and Andrew sending out a secret nautical message

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

A Fishing Life
A fishing boy

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

Islands of sky on the beach

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

A crumbly hill – safe for now

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

Mussels and mussels, alive, alive-o

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

Pauline on top of Cave Rock

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

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

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

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

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

The Heathcote River

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

Some Made-up Acronyms R Cringeworthy

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

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

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

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

Selfie of the day

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

Our view of the pitch

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

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

Chopsticks technique scores 10 out of 10

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

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

Anchorage Coffee in Christchurch

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

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

The old pavilion at the Oval

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

A permitted pitch invasion

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

Touching up the white lines

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

Action on the anamorphic ANZ advert

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

The boundary: old rope and some recycled Toblerone boxes

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

The TV confirming the taking of another wicket

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Lotus Spa (this is not an advert)

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

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

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

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

Bula, Pacific Harbour

This entry will over-use the words ‘hot’, ‘sticky’ and ‘sweaty’, so be warned. The first thing we noticed when we got off the plane at Nadi Airport was the heat. It was hot. 29°C, about 375°F, much like an oven.We instantly became sticky and sweaty.

We were greeted at Nadi Airport by a trio playing us a lovely welcome song. The Feejee Bee Gees, possibly.

Chore 1: buy a portable wifi device. Yes, buy. I thought we were renting it but the answer to the question “Do we bring it back to this desk?” was “No, it’s yours to keep.” I don’t know whether it’s 4G or Feejee 3G.

Chore 2: see if we can get Feejee money from the ATM, and we did, on the first attempt. Feejee dollars.

Chore 3: buy some sunblock. It was hot.

It was hotter outside. And because neither of us had slept particularly well on the 8-hour flight from Tokyo, we were both a little cranky too. For the first time ever, I was able to lie down and spread out over four seats, but I still found sleep hard to come by.

We located the bus to take us to our next place of accommodation, and when we saw one without windows, we thought, that’s great, cheap aircon. Our bus had proper aircon though, so less hot, sticky and sweaty. The entertainment for the first two hours of the ride was reggae, including reggae versions of songs that came from other genres, pop, rock and so on.

But just before we reached our final destination, someone put in a movie DVD: Rules of Engagement. Well, that brought me out of my torpor. Loud, violent, lots of swearing, ideal for the young families squashed together on the bus. I dozed a bit, but from the bus, we saw a horse (a Feejee geegee), a buffalo and a goat. Plus mangoes. Hundreds of mangoes being sold by the roadside. Quite a few mangos too.

Our destination was Pacific Harbour Post Office. Of course, we got off a stop early. Outside the Police Station. The officers were very helpful though, suggesting we don’t walk to our b&b in this heat with those bags, it’s too hot. We used their toilet and their phone and in the end, we took a taxi. Doug, our host, was expecting to meet us at the Post Office. When we phoned him, we got his wife, who was at home. A lot of confusion, made more frustrating by being all hot and bothered by the heat, and tired as well.

Doug’s a Kiwi, he showed us our place, and we had a lie down. No aircon here, but there is a fan, we’ll need that, he assured us.

He drove me to the local shop where I was able to buy a converter for the electric supply.

“Two seventy-five”, said the shop assistant.

I started counting out three $100 bills, those being what the ATM gave me.

“No, mate, two dollars, seventy-five.”

Tired. Not thinking straight. And used to the big numbers of yen in Japan, 100 yen is about 66p. $2.75 here is about £1.10. We’ll have to be careful about that.

There is no hairdryer. Liesel hasn’t not used one for eighteen years. I asked for a cheap one in the shop. No, mate. They don’t use hairdryers in Feejee, apparently.

The view outside our Pacific Harbour Airbnb

I went for a quick walk to the beach. It was 6.00pm and still light. In Okinawa, at 5.35, boom, out goes the Sun. It’s light here until about 7.45. And hot. I was sweaty and sticky so I had a quick shower before going to bed. It was still light.

The beach: hope this is high tide
I’ve got a loverly bunch of coconuts

The birds outside are loud. Bulbuls or songthrushes, it’s hard (for us) to tell, but this chap would make a terrific alarm clock.

A very loud songbird

Despite the heat and no aircon, just a fan and being a bit sticky, we slept well. Doug gave us a ten minute warning that he was driving to Suva. He’d offered us a lift, it’s 48 km away, so we left without breakfast.

His wife, Loata, drove along roads that varied between Surrey-style patched quilt and potholes, to quite nice surfaces for the odd couple of metres. The drivers here are mad, we’re now glad we didn’t rent a car. Suva was very busy and after being dropped off in the heat, we were very sticky by the time we’d reached the hotel bar over the road. Yes, the bar. We were one minute late for breakfast in the restaurant so instead, we were shown to the bar where we had a late breakfast or early lunch, looking out over the pool with the ocean beyond. Naturally, I had English breakfast tea: Feejee Tips.

Grand Pacific Hotel view

We crossed the road again and walked through the Botanical Gardens. Crossed the road! If only it were so easy. In Japan, everyone waited at crossings for the green man to appear, even if there was no traffic in sight. Jay-walking was strictly forbidden. Here in Feejee, in Suva at least, jay-walking is pretty much compulsory. You, well, we, stayed close to locals and followed them across the road: safety in numbers!

Pretty tree and lovely wife in the Botanical Gardens

It was hot in the gardens and we built up quite a sweat by the time we reached the Museum.

The cashier told us the fee, $10 each, and I pulled out what I thought was a $20 bill. But no, it was a $7 banknote: an easy mistake to make as they’re more or less the same colour.

The museum has artefacts from as far back as 3500 years ago. I found the boats most interesting. And the language, which seems very similar to Maori, even Hawaiian. Wai is water in all three. Waqa is a canoe here, waka is a canoe in New Zealand.

Waqa dura, two-hulled

The gift shop had aircon on, full blast. You hang around in there too long, and all the sweat will freeze on your skin, brrr.

Feejee is populated by people from all over the place. Indians were brought over as indentured workers in the early 19th century, and there is still a large Indian population here. After five years, they could either work for another five years to get the ticket home or, as many did, choose to stay to build a new life.

Indentured? Yes, they were all given false teeth on arrival.

The Queen and Prince Philip visited the islands in 1953 and were presented with this model village that people had slaved over for several months. Her Majesty donated it to the local museum.

Oh no, Philip, we’re not taking that thing home

In the wildlife room, we saw some dead animals. The butterflies are pretty but this beetle, which can grow up to 6 inches long, just looked wrong and creepy.

Xixuthrus heros – Heer

Too big for its own good.

We walked slowly back to the bus station: the last bus of the day left at 5pm and as I said, it would have been a long, 48 km, hot and sweaty walk back.

We went into some shops and bought some things to use on the beach: yes, we’d decided tomorrow would be a day on the beach. Also, some of the shops were a bit cooler than the streets.

I was a little dehydrated I think: I kept wanting to sit down before I fell over, so the mango smoothie was very welcome.

We also bought some vegetables in the large market, they call it a Flea Market, but it all looked like good produce to me. Even the mangoes. More mangoes. We could choose between sweet and sour pineapples. We took neither.

The bus ride home, despite the AC was, you guessed, h, s and s. And it was still too h when we got off to think about cooking or even preparing something cold, so we took a pizza home instead! Our first Feejeean pizza.

We couldn’t remember whether Feejee is north or south of the equator. I could have Googled it, but where’s the fun in that? It’s a well-known fact that water runs down a plughole clockwise one side of the equator and anti-clockwise the other. I couldn’t recall which way round, but never mind. In the shower, I watched the water to see whether, when it drained, it looked ‘right’, something I’m used to seeing, or looked odd. Well, the water pooled at the southside of the shower stall because the house is on a slope. Well, I say ‘house’, but ‘re-purposed shack’ would be more accurate. A bure. We didn’t come all this way to push water down a shower plughole with our newly washed feet, but there you go. It’s all an adventure. And if we drop something that rolls, we know we’ll find it in the deep south, by the kitchen sink.

Everything is s-l-o-w in Feejee: the internet, the electricity, the lifestyle. Well, everything apart from the traffic in Suva, that is. I had to come to the beach to acquire a signal strong enough to actually post this nonsense!

By now, you’re thinking, “Poor sod, the Sun’s got to his head. He was feeling woozy and now he can’t even spell the name of the country properly”. But if this spelling is good enough for the Museum Shop and History Gallery, then it’s good enough for me.

Feejee teehee

And $7 bills? Really? Yes, really.

Seven dollars – even more nuts than a quarter in USA
We are the Champions!

They were produced to commemorate the Fiji Rugby 7s team winning gold at the Rio Olympics in 2016.

Sayōnara, Nihon

That was a very enjoyable five weeks in Japan. We’re now on our way to the next exciting destination: Fiji. I’m writing this at Narita Airport, Tokyo, before we hand in the Pocket Wifi. Then, we’ll be offline, set adrift, out of touch with the outside world.

Our last full day in Naha entailed a spot of shopping, first at the local arts and crafts shop and later at a more conventional shopping arcade. We could have spent far longer here in Naha, in wider Okinawa even, but I think we agree, it’s been a nice relaxing final week in Japan. Liesel knows how to plan a trip, thanks!

Selfie of the day in front of the chip shop

Liesel enjoyed a bag of cheesey chips at a shop devoted to potato chips, but not as we know them, Jim: there was a tomato flavouring too.

We passed a Monkey Bar with Monkey Girls inside but didn’t go in. There are, apparently, spider monkeys to play with while you eat your meal. Somehow, we’ve managed to avoid dining with and/or petting monkeys, dogs, cats, hedgehogs, owls, and otters since we’ve been here, and we’re not too sure about the place with dead snakes outside in jars, either.

Sadly, not girls in monkey suits

We went up to the roof garden of the shopping arcade which was ok, apart from, this was where the smokers gravitate. There were instructions on how to become a smoker, what skills are involved, and a bin for the dog ends.

Holy smoke!
Best view from the roof garden, Naha

We had a meal, a Japanese one, and again, it was disappointing. I showed the lady my crib sheet saying, “I’m a veggie, no meat, no fish”, she appeared to understand, but my noodles were still polluted by meat. I thought the dish smelt meaty but Liesel convinced me that it was just strong cabbage.

On the other hand, here in Narita Airport, we’ve just had a lovely vegan meal, Japanese in style, but no animal products.

Many restaurants display their offerings in the window, the plastic food often looks quite realistic.

Plastic food

Usually in restaurants, Liesel and I sit opposite each other. We’ll be given one copy of the menu to share, so we both read it sideways. It’s great that often, we are given an English version: I can’t imagine English restaurants going to the trouble of producing separate, say, Japanese menus. Some staff have a basic grasp of English, certainly superior to our Japanese, but not all: maybe 50-50.

If it weren’t for the fact that most food here is fish or meat based, I’m sure we would have eaten in Japanese restaurants more often. But even a basic meals such as pasta, mozzarella and tomato sauce came with free lumps of bacon in it. And, not that I am an expert on pig meat, not very nice looking bacon either, mostly fat, maybe 25% actual meat.

Usually the bill is left on your table when the meal is delivered. If you order dessert or coffee, you receive a second bill. It’s all added up at the till on the way out. I wonder how often the second bill is ‘forgotten’?

One thing we like is that tipping does not take place. Top service is given all the time, it’s what they’re paid for. If you try to tip, for exceptional service, the implication is that they usually don’t give such good service, and that is considered insulting.

Sometimes, it’s quite a long wait before you’re served and then another long time before the meal arrives. But so what? Just because we expect instant service at home doesn’t mean we shouldn’t learn to be more relaxed and patient here. Equally, we don’t get pestered to vacate the premises as soon as we’ve finished the last mouthful to make room for the next customers.

The streets of Naha are very narrow, not wide enough for pavements in some cases. Not even wide enough to paint a white line to separate pedestrians from vehicles!

Narrow street in Naha at night

And so to bed for our final time in Japan. We videoed a bedtime story for Martha and William and proceeded to have a restless night.

I’d lightened my bag by throwing away all the unnecessary paperwork, but it was still hard to zip up. Again. Our host had requested that we leave our bag of rubbish by the door of the flat below. I hope this was a mutual arrangement, and that we haven’t inadvertently contributed to generations of conflict and strife between two rival families.

Today is the day of the annual Naha Marathon. This is Japan’s biggest with about 30,000 runners coping with 25°C at 9am! We wished them all good luck as we set off on our own, easier marathon.

Early leaders in the Marathon

They were supported by Darth Vader and some Startroopers which seemed strangely appropriate. One thing we’ve noticed in Japan is that, if there are marshals telling you where to walk to avoid roadworks, or where to park in a car park, they’ll often be using sticks that light up. I don’t know if they’re, strictly speaking, ‘light sabres’ but I bet they have a good time when they return to base!

Stormtroopers
A man with his light sabre

At Naha Airport, there is a moving walkway, a travellator, that confuses some people. Well, me. If there’s nobody on it, you can’t tell whether it’s moving or not, because it’s not split into individual segments, it’s just one very big rubber band. That’s a tip for you: beware joke travellators.

Is it moving? Can you tell?

It was good to see that the Marathon was being covered on TV, but during the few minutes I watched at the airport, I didn’t see any non-Japanese runners. Mo Farah may have been here, but I didn’t see him.

The plane was half an hour late taking off due to excess traffic at the airport. That’ll be all the buses taking passengers to the aircraft from the departure gates, then! I boarded before Liesel because I had the window seat and window seat passengers board first, here, today. Always different.

One of Okinawa’s 363 islands

Two hours or so later, we landed here at Narita. I was hoping we’d fly over Tokyo, or at least see it and of course, I was hoping to see Mount Fuji one more time. But in the end, the approach to Narita was pretty good to look at.

Looking good, approaching Narita
Tee time

We posted some items at the post office and then left our big bags in the coin lockers while we ate our late lunch. Coin lockers have been a very useful facility at airports and railway stations, for leaving heavy bags while we explore. Well worth the money, so it’s worth keeping some loose change when you’re in Japan. Somehow, we acquired some Chinese and some American coins in our change. I think these must have been given in change from a vending machine, grrr, I’m pretty sure people in shops wouldn’t give us the wrong coins like that.

We’ve found the public transport systems here in Japan to be fantastic: yes, we’ve made a couple of mistakes and been frustrated by not understanding the system fully, but the service itself has been terrific. Trains, Shinkansen, buses, Yui monorail, ferries, even internal flights have all been a positive experience.

The trains run on time. They employ people at railway stations to adjust the clocks according to when the trains arrive. No, not really, but they could. We’ve only encountered a couple of delays, and one of them was due to an accident. The signage is is several languages, including English, which is good for us: but without that, maybe we would have been more diligent in trying to learn some of the language, written at least.

One thing we did have a problem with was that if you’re going to a particular destination, you really need to know the final stop for that train, because that’s the name you look out for. In some places, there is a rapid service, a semi-rapid service and a local service, one which stops at every station. So you also need to check that you’re on the correct type of train.

Platforms are marked out to show where the train doors will be. If you have reserved seats on car 3, you know exactly where to stand. On the Yui Rail system, there are footprints painted on the platform to show you where to stand while waiting, and which way to face. If you follow the instructions literally, you would bounce onto the train à la kangaroo.

Don’t trap your claws in the doors!

The buses like their announcements. So much so that occasionally, you hear two voices at the same time, one man, one woman. It’s like the worst possible radio breakfast show combo, except we can’t understand what either of them is saying and the lady isn’t cackling at the bloke’s hilarity. Sometimes, the battery runs down, and it sounds like a dalek is talking to you.

The best announcement was on the long bus ride to Emerald Beach. It starts out with birdsong, turns into music and then the lady tells you what the next stop will be. I tried to record this but, you know, sod’s law, after more than five minutes, she just lurched straight into her vocals without the birdsong preamble. Very disappointing.

Travelling on buses with backpacks on our backs was an experience not to be repeated if we can avoid it. On airport shuttles, it’s probably accepted, but I dread to think how many elderly Japanese ladies I’ve backpacked off a bus merely by turning round. Actually, I find it hard to wear a backpack in the first place. Some muscle in my neck really doesn’t like being stretched in that way.

At Kagoshima and Naha airports, for domestic flights, the check-in baggage is screened before you see it disappear behind the scenes. So, if there is an issue, you can discuss it with an officer at the time. You don’t see your bag disappear on the conveyor belt only to have it searched by a sweaty TSA officer who won’t repack it correctly. What a great idea. So it will never be adopted by ‘wastern’ airports.

It was good to see signs assuring us that the X-rays won’t damage camera film up to ISO 1600. Those were the days, when you had to worry about X-rays fogging up your film and messing up your photos.

Most of the country is very clean, not much litter despite the shortage of rubbish bins in many places. Sadly, on Okinawa island, we saw more litter than anywhere else. We also encountered our first lump of discarded dog shit. Very close to a children’s playground. Very sad to see, but I can live with one disgusting, antisocial dog owner every five weeks, rather than the dozens we encounter each day at home.

In Tokyo, most of the vending machines had litter bins close by. You’re supposed to consume your product straightaway and discard the packaging. Or, take it away completely. Eating and drinking while walking along is frowned upon and very rarely seen, probably just us foreigners, out of habit.

Walking along the pavements, or sidewalks, is very usually very pleasant. Smoking is prohibited while walking, and you’re unlucky if you pass too close to a designated smoking area. I remember the first discarded cigarette butt I saw at a train station a couple of weeks ago. In Tokyo, the rule was to keep left, but that’s not universal. You share pavements with cyclists and nobody’s bothered. Except when a teenage boy comes hurtling at you out of the blue – but this only happened once.

It is sad to see so many American shops here: McDonalds, Starbucks, 7-Eleven, Hard Rock Café, useful though they sometimes are, and a lot of American and European fashion shops. Which is strange, because Japanese clothing is so much more elegant than ours. Maybe it’s just the novelty. But we’ve seen very few locals who we would describe as scruffy. Liesel has more of an eye for that sort of thing than I do, but she hasn’t really mentioned scruffy dressers. Some people’s shoes are funny though. The sumo wrestler with his platforms. Actual platforms, like little wooden pallets.

She’s got diamonds on the tops of her shoes

Some behaviours that I thought were just British turn out to be more universal. Like standing around and chatting in doorways. Like getting off a moving escalator and stopping dead to decide where to go next. Like not walking in a straight line along the pavement. Girls especially do like taking pictures of each other and there are some facial expressions that have caught on here too, duck lip pouts (not sure of the technical term), V-fingers at various angles. It seems that using a mobile phone renders the user unable to walk in a straight line, even though there’s a nice wide yellow stripe on the pavement to follow. And sad to say that even here, it’s mostly little old ladies who queue for ages in a supermarket, wait for everything to be scanned, see the bill and then, and only then, start fishing in the depths of their bags for the money.

Kawaii, the idea of Japanes cuteness, is adorable. Usually. Little 3-year olds being blessed look really cute in their grown-up outfits. Grown-up ladies look fabulous in their kimonos. Some of the cartoon characters can only be described as cute with those big old Asian eyes. Pastel colours will always remind us of our childhoods. But sometimes, just sometimes, it goes too far. At one place, we had a very nice kettle. It was half white and half pastel pink. The shape was very curvy. Very cute, But the spout was wrong. A proper spout points away from the kettle so that it pours without dribbling. To give a more aerodynamic, cute shape, the spout of this kettle bent inwards towards the top. So, you had to tilt it further than normal to pour water out, and then, when you put it upright again, it dribbled. Water dribbling? That’s not really a problem in someone else’s house, you might be thinking. But this is boiling water, remember and it’s dribbling down my leg. Looks cute, but zero points for usefulness.

Airbnb places here are a bit hit and miss. They’re great for a few days but not for a longer period. Imagine a kitchen without running hot water, or without a draining board, or without a work surface, or without cooking utensils or cutlery. We’ve had all those. Imagine a toilet with a seat that wants to toast your derrière rather than just warm it up a bit. Or a small useless bathtub. We’ve had those. Places with little to no storage, no seats to sit on, no tables or shelves to put stuff on. We’ve been there. But I think everyone has had a TV set. Everyone has had an air con/heating sytem, which we’re just getting used to being able to control after several weeks, as the controls only have Japanese text on the buttons.

Hotel rooms are smaller here than anywhere else we’ve been. I think every hotel bed has had one side right against the wall. Again, very little space to spread out, no wardrobe, no worktop, no chairs.

Toilets in Japan, well, I’ve written about them before. And yes, the second-worst ever invention (after car alarms) is the little ‘lid’ they have above the toilet roll. What’s it there for? The paper is perforated so you don’t need a straight edge to tear it against. (Yes, the perforations aren’t that good sometimes, so you get most of the sheet but then a long trail of thin toilet paper is left behind.) It just gets in the way when you can’t immediately see the edge, so you have to lift the lid, roll the roll around and around until you find the edge again. All this while you’re sitting there, business complete, trying to be quiet because the door between you and the person in the next room is very thin and might even have a grill in the bottom half. And as for all those controls, bidet, front wash, back wash, harder, softer, heated seat, hotter, cooler, auto flush or not, all that technology built in to a toilet that’s squeezed into the smallest possible space. We’ve made notes on what we need should we ever remodel our bathroom now we have a good idea of what works and what doesn’t.

And so here we are, waiting for our flight to appear on the board so we can retrieve our luggage, check in and then look forward to an eight-hour flight, overnight. We’ll reconnect with a Fijian pocket wifi device as soon as we can.

Over and out, for now.

Okinawa OK

We came to Okinawa to spend some time on the beach. After a late start on Sunday, we walked down to the nearest one, a couple of miles away.

Pavements eat broken pots

Naminoue Beach is now my favourite beach. Not because you can gaze upon not one but two motorways over the water while sunbathing, but because the word itself contains all five vowels. (Cf Carnoustie and Cointreau.)

Nice beach, shame about the view

There were just a couple of people actually swimming in the sea, but most people, me included, just went in up to our ankles. I thought it was probably safe enough to swim there, but if the locals weren’t going in, then neither was I.

The sand was very coarse: you should have heard some of the language it came out with! Very good though for exfoliating ones feet.

On the walk back, we encountered another Shinto ceremony.

Another beautiful family, another blessing

This chap looks quite intimidating. His job might be to frighten away evil spirits, but he didn’t deter us visitors.

Alligator? Dragon? Scary either way
Artistic photo of the day

Kokusai Dori, one of the main shopping streets, is closed to traffic each Sunday afternoon. This provides space for local bands and musicians to perform, and allows children to play in the road, legitimately.

Banging drums and dancing
Playing in the road

We walked back via a supermarket that we’d found last night. This one is called Max Valu. It sells Top Valu items. Still, it’s a pleasant change from the ubiquitous 7-Elevens, Family Marts and Lawson Stations. I thought to myself, wouldn’t it be funny if we saw some belly dancers here in Naha? Well, we turned the corner, into Makishi Park, and guess what we saw?

I’ll be your belly dancer

Emerald Beach might be more visually attractive than Naminoue, we thought. This was a bus ride away: nearly two and a half hours in each direction. Five hours sitting on a bus is not something we want to do on a regular basis. On a train or a plane, you can get up and walk around a bit: for some reason, people don’t seem to do that on buses.

On the way to the bus stop, via the Visitor Information Office, we came upon a load of old rope. Literally. Every year in Naha, there is a Giant Tug of War involving up to 15,000 people. Liesel and I would have had a go, but the sign said not to.

The biggest rope in the world
The legend

One thing we’ve noticed is that, if you ask for bus related information, people are very helpful in telling you which bus stop to use, and what time to expect the bus, but they seem strangely reluctant to divulge the bus number. If the bus is due at 12:10, you get on the one that turns up at 12:10 and hope you’ll be OK.

We walked through the Ocean Expo Park, past the Aquarium, said hello to the captive manatees and turtles, and made our way to Emerald Beach.

We walked down these nnn steps (forgot to count)
American manatee sent as a gift from Mexico

And it didn’t disappoint. It is very pretty, no motorway to spoil the view. We were surprised to see that you’re only allowed to swim in the sea between April and October. Well, it looked pretty calm today but again, nobody was in the water. Indeed, there were signs all over the place telling people that it was forbidden to go into the water.

Health and safety gone mad, was the tabloid phrase that came to mind. Then I saw the poster depicting the reasons. Box jellyfish have a nasty sting, cone shells are venomous, sea snakes are venomous, you can be impailed by long-spined sea urchins, stone fish (which look like algae-covered rocks) can sting, blue-ringed octopus are venomous, lionfish have poisonous pectoral fins and striped eel catfish can sting. We stayed well away from the water just in case an octopus with a particularly long tentacle tried to grab us.

Emerald Beach
Holy mackerel, stay out of the water

Instead of swimming, or even paddling, we sat on the beach and read for a while, wondering if it would rain. The clouds began to look menacing and the temperature did fluctuate, but it never really felt like a storm was on the way. I went for a quick solo walk and marvelled at the beach and the small number of people here. Again, the sand was very coarse, and there was a lot of broken coral. Some of it was quite soft. I assume that this too was damaged by the typhoons a couple of months ago, and it’s still being washed up onto the beaches.

The time came when we had to go home. From 4pm, there were only three more buses back to Naha. By now, we were too late for the 4pm one, so we walked slowly up the hill and the steps and even used the outdoor escalators to find ourselves at the bus stop in good time for the 4.39. We did see an octopus in the end, but he’s quite a harmless fellow.

Octopus? More like a quadropus

We boarded the bus, paid the fare (usually, you pay when you get off) and sat down.

When the bus was 50 metres down the road, we realised we’d left the green shopping bag on the seat by the bus stop. Usually the green bag has snacks in it, or shopping, or rubbish. Today, it also contained the internet. I’d left the pocket wifi with Liesel while wandering around the beach area and so it was transferred to the green bag away from its usual home, in my famous manbag. By the time the bus had travelled another 50 metres, Liesel had told the driver to stop and he did so. I’m waiting for Guinness to ratify this claim, but I ran all the way back to the bus stop, picked up the bag and ran all the way back, 200 metres, in 17.8 seconds. Admittedly, it was a humid day and I broke sweat slightly, but that’s not a bad achievement for an old fart like me.

We found a restaurant, Ethnic Vegan LaLa Zorba where we enjoyed a good curry. The musical accompaniment was mainly Anandmurti Gurumaa (Hare Krishna) and Bob Dylan, although we did hear John and Yoko’s Happy Xmas (War is Over). Did Yoko ever find her daughter Kyoko, do we know?

Did I mention it? Yes, the curry was very nice, very tasty.

Taking it easier the following day, our first Japanese dance lesson went very well, thanks for asking.

Dance steps 101

We took the monorail to Onoyama Park where we spent an enjoyable couple of hours. We walked slowly, observed a group of old men (even older than me, according to Liesel) playing baseball.

Old fogeys’ baseball

We sat for a while and watched the children playing in the playground. It would be lovely to bring Martha and William here, if only so I’d have an excuse to climb to the top of the very long slide.

Young kiddies’ slide

There’s a running track through the park that is marked with distances and is very slightly cushioned. It was a warm day, but even some of the runners were wearing leggings and two or three layers on top. I was dressed sensibly, shorts and shirt, but I resisted the temptation to try and beat my 200 metres PB from yesterday.

Ms. They’re like M&Ms but half the size

We perambulated in an orderly manner alongside the river and crossed the bridge.

You shall not pass (we did)

We eventually found ourselves back on Kokusai Dori, so went into Edelweiss for coffee and cake. Edelweiss, Edelweiss, every morning you eat me.

There were some strange things on show in the shops and we are so glad that we’d already decided not to buy any of it.

ET and Jaws together at last
Not for us, thanks
Ho ho ho, Merry Christmas, everybody

Yes, Christmas is all over the place, no getting away from it, here. It feels strange: it’s November, but very warm, 23°C, 72°F, so it doesn’t feel at all Christmassy. Hearing Silent Night performed that fast doesn’t help with the Christmas mood, either!