Not tired of London

After a day babysitting, it’s advisable to have a good night’s sleep and maybe a lie-in. This is exactly why I booked an early train to London. The real reason was the relatively cheap fare, of course. The bus that took me to Gatley Station carries on to Stockport. I could have done that and joined the train there rather than riding all the way into Manchester Piccadilly. Oh well, we’re still new here and still learning the ropes.

It made sense to go straight to my Airbnb in Kingston to drop off my heavy bag. Not that heavy, but no need to lug it around more than necessary. It was a relatively cheap b&b too, so a relatively cheap weekend away altogether!

The Fighting Cocks in Kingston, where we saw Tom Hingley and the Lovers play a few years ago
Out of Order, by David Mach, refurbished by him in April 2019, so it still looks sparkly and new

First on the list was to revisit the Press Room Café in Surbiton which was closed last time. Delighted to see it’s now reopened, and equally good to see the staff haven’t all been replaced or refurbished too drastically. The coffee was very welcome but, again, I chickened out of ringing the bell, by the door, on the way out to tell them so.

Press Room newly refurbed and open for business

After sitting on buses and trains most of the day, it was liberating to go for a walk, now. So, I set my controls for the River Thames.

As I joined the riverside path into Kingston, I was accosted by a very nice lady. She’d walked from Kingston and was disappointed that the path deviated from the river at this point. She was hoping to get to Hampton Court. I explained that she was on the wrong side of the river. We walked into Kingston together, swapping stories about our families. Hers involves India and Birmingham and the recent sudden death of her husband. Her name’s G’day but I’m pretty sure it’s not spelled that way.

Within a swan’s wingspan of Kingston Bridge, we shook hands and bade farewell, she turned round to walk back towards Surbiton.

Swanning about on the river

I visited John Lewis where, as I passed through the TV department, two partners asked if they could help. I didn’t say that I was only there to use the facilities. Which, in the end were closed, so I had to visit the Bentall Centre too.

There’s a new cinema complex coming to the Bentall Centre and this crane is doing the heavy lifting
Butterflies in the Eden Centre

I was taking this picture of the butterflies when an (even more than me) elderly gent said I should have been here when all the umbrellas were up there. Oh, when was that? A few months ago, he said. I didn’t tell him I’d seen such displays of brollies in more exotic locations than Kingston’s Eden Centre, but that didn’t matter, as he’d already shuffled away.

Surbiton’s iconic art deco station frontage

As planned, I met Helen and Steve at the Allegro café in Surbiton. The owner wasn’t in tonight so we didn’t have to explain our recent, long absences. Pizzas all round and I had a Peroni for a change. It’s always good to catch up with old friends, and some of us are really old, now, with frequent reminders of our own mortality.

Back at the b&b, I met my host, Jenny, and her young daughter whose name wasn’t Ermintrude, nor Peppa, nor Jehosophat, nor Pickle, nor anything else I suggested.

In the morning, as invited, I helped myself to breakfast before catching the bus to Chessington.

While all this was going on, Liesel was buying shoes in Anchorage so I think I win that one. On the other hand, daughter Helen was at the Intercontinental Resort Hayman Island, in the Whitsundays, and I have to say, the photos are stunning, so either it really is a gorgeous location or they have the best Photoshoppers in town!

Helen having a whale of a time on Hayman Island

With perfect timing, I hopped off the bus in Chessington and bumped into Michael the postman, who hasn’t aged more than about 22 years since I last saw him 18 months ago (only kidding). I thanked him again for continuing to forward mail that is still sent to our old Chessington address, although it is now a mere trickle, a rare drib and drab.

Peter and Janet can no longer easily tend their own garden but their neighbours are very kind, helping to keep the weeds under control and the grass cut. Peter invited me to join them for lunch which was kind: they usually go out for lunch these days and while the meals may feel boring and repetitive, having a reason to leave the house has to be a good thing.

We dined at Las Iguanas which has a menu of meals from south America, both meaty and veggie. I had an Argentinian beer, Rothhammer Real Golden Ale which was very acceptable.

We walked towards the station and I left them shopping at Waitrose while I took the train into London. I changed at Clapham Junction, catching an Overground train to Shadwell, somewhere I’ve not been, I think, for 40 years.

Clapham Junction

I walked to Gallery 46 to see an exhibition The Most Powerful Woman in the Universe, celebrated in blood, hairiness and art.

The artwork was variously funny, thought-provoking and just a little intimidating, although this may be because I was the only visitor at the time. It was a pleasure to meet the organiser, curator, whatever, Kelly.

Eve and Eve by Nancy Fouts
Madonna with Safeway Bags, by Nancy Fouts

My best buddy(!) Salena Godden, who I met on a march last year, is here on video, reciting her poem, Red. It is worth watching, here.

The gallery is close to the Royal London Hospital, where Sarah trained and worked for over a year back in the late 1970s. I found her old residence, but the statue of Edith Cavell wasn’t to be seen: I wonder if I just misremembered? Maybe I was thinking of this royal personage

Queen Alexandra

There is a blue plaque for Edith Cavell on Whitechapel High Street, but it’s currently hidden behind the hoarding surrounding the building works.

A Lone Protester but I think he was on his way home from a big protest in central London

Whitechapel Market is just as busy and colourful as I remember: the fruit and veg displays are a work of art and the clothing is so much brighter than typical western offerings.

Whitechapel Market
Muslim clothing shop in a former pub

Looking west, the skyline has certainly changed over the years: you can see The Gherkin and many other new buildings. I thought about walking in that direction, but a bus came along and forced me to climb aboard.

Looking west

Sight-seeing from a London bus is one of my favourite things: I just have to remember to get off somewhere useful. This time, I ended up near Tottenham Court Road, from where I walked to Waterloo.

Stretch limo near Soho Square, attempting a 3-point turn
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child – one day, we’ll get tickets, one day
London is open but this fountain in Trafalgar Square certainly isn’t
St Martin-in-the-Fields in the Sun
London Eye and the Moon viewed from Jubilee Bridge
Waterloo Sunset viewed from the Royal Festival Hall terrace
Charlotte Campbell performing Abba’s ‘Waterloo’ at Waterloo

Me and my aching feet went straight to bed and I read about half a page of my book before drifting off.

After breakfast, I started walking towards Chessington. The plan was to catch the first bus that came by. Even though there were people waiting at most of the bus stops, I didn’t see a bus. I just kept walking to the next stop. In the end, I was off the bus route.

Good to see Tolworth is still the fly-tipping centre of the world

I didn’t see a single bus until I reached Hook Library and there was no point in catching that one, it was going in the wrong direction. So I continued south, towards the World of Adventures. Not only did I get my 10,000 steps in by 11am, I was bang on time at my destination!

Good to see the little children enjoying the playground in Woodgate Avenue

Stella and Ian shared their coffee and battenburg cake, and it was good to catch up on their news too. I mean, they shared with me, not just each other, that would be weird. Their family day out at Chessington World of Adventures the previous day reminded me that, yes, one day, I suppose we’ll have to take Martha and William there!

The train journey into Waterloo was uneventful, other than having to change trains at Wimbledon. Still, on the bright side, it wasn’t a replacement bus service, I suppose.

It was the final day of the Kiss my Genders show at the Hayward Gallery on the South Bank.

Joan Jett-Blakk for President

For me, the main problem with all this gender fluidity mallarkey is using the correct pronoun, he, she or they. I don’t want to upset or annoy someone by getting it wrong. The people I spoke to here, albeit briefly: I think I got away with ‘you’!

Selfie of the day

I didn’t recognise many of the names, but Marc Almond is one of my favourite singers.

Marc Angelo Almond, by Del LaGrace Volcano

Del LaGrace Volcano seems like a fascinating character: they “have possessed and been possessed by a multitude of names, bodies and identities”. And the rest of us just plod on unchanging, never mutating nor migrating.

Rebellious badges

There was probably more to the film Looners, by Jankyn van Zyl, than I realised. In other words: I didn’t get it.

But I found The Memorial Dress quite moving. The names of 25,000 known victims of AIDs-related illnesses have been printed onto a black ballgown. It slowly rotates as you watch.

The Memorial Dress, by Hunter Reynolds

Outside, I strolled along the South Bank for a while, while my over-stimulated mind calmed down. The tide was out and so were the mudlarks. Some are very scrupulous, minutely inspecting every item that isn’t obviously just a plain old rock or stone.

Mudlarks on the Thames foreshore

Obviously, I have no idea what treasures these people found today, but there’s a small display of photos showing the types of artefacts found over the years, things lost in or deliberately thrown into the Thames over many centuries.

Foragers of the Foreshore
City pipe bowl: slave head

I’m so pleased Liesel made us dispose of the human thigh bone we found on the Thames foreshore a few years ago.

It’s strange being in a stranger’s house while they’re there, even as a paying guest. Before getting up and potentially getting in their way, I waited until Mum had fought her daughter to get ready for school and then leave. Other people’s cereal choices are always interesting. Small, bitesize Shredded Wheat with raisins glued in plus a few Cheerios, today. Not the ideal start to the day if I were about to embark on a long bike ride, so it’s a good job I wasn’t.

I rearranged the magnetic letters on the fridge into a small message of gratitude before making my way to London, to the Tate Modern.

Sand maiden

Very light drizzle accompanied me as I walked along the South Bank. The Royal Festival Hall is closed for a few days so I had to miss out on my usual natural break there.

Today’s show which I’d pre-booked was at Tate Modern. Olafur Eliasson In Real Life. This exhibition runs until January and is highly recommended. It’s fun, funny, clever and the perfect depiction of an imaginative soul with too much time on his hands!

Conveniently, I was able to leave my big bag in the cloakroom all day for a mere £4 donation. There’s a tip for anyone travelling to or through London.

This exhibition is well laid out, the map actually makes sense, which isn’t always the case.

Just one of Olafur’s hundreds of polyhedra

The Blind Passenger is a 39-metre long tunnel filled with fog. You can’t see more than a few feet in any direction. And while it’s easy to shrug off the warnings about possible claustrophobia, when you’re in the fog and all you can see is yellow, all you can smell is something slightly sweet and all you can hear are the squeaky doors and the other visitors trying to be quiet, it is a little bit spooky. Then you blink and you’re surprised by how thick, solid, heavy and purple your eyelids are. Maybe that’s just me.

The Moss Wall is made from Reindeer Moss. You’re not supposed to touch it but I think most people look around to make sure nobody’s watching before reaching out and having a quick, soft touch.

Moss Wall, by Olafur Eliasson

The Big Bang Fountain is a water fountain in complete darkness but every few seconds, a flash of white light illuminates the water. Every flash is a momentary, white Rorschach test. A map of the lower 48 states. A jellyfish. A brassiere. A bull with big horns. A bald man.

Your Uncertain Shadow is responsible for one of the images used in publicity for this show.

Uncertain Shadowy selfie of the day

If you haven’t been yet, go to this exhibition. Every item is interesting in one way or another.

Not my review but it could well have been

I walked outside for a while, braving the slight drizzle.

The Ship of Tolerance by Ilya and Emilia Kabakov

The Ship of Tolerance will be here until early October. Each picture is drawn or painted by a local school-child.

Children want peace

One item on my bucket list relies on my (infinitesimal) musical ability. One day, I want to glue two old woks together, bash them about a bit with a hammer then take this contraption busking. Well, someone’s beaten me to it. He was sitting and playing outside the Tate and, to be fair, he was making a rather nicer, more melodic sound than I would have.

Busker with percussive instrument

Liesel and I have seen The Merry Wives of Windsor in the past, at Stratford upon Avon, and Dame Judi Dench was the big name on that occasion. This play is being performed this evening, nearby, but I would be on my train home by then. So, to compensate, I joined a rather large tour group in the Globe Theatre, just along the river from Tate Modern. The guide was Italian, of course, but it was a fascinating tour. It included sitting in two different parts of the auditorium to watch the rehearsal for tonight’s performance. Out of context, it wasn’t obvious whether the fits of giggles were part of the script or the actors just making each other laugh.

Water Point in the Globe Theatre

After watching a play, you’d want to acquire some props in the shop and reenact some of the more exciting scenes. But sadly, you’re not allowed to.

Please don’t fight in the shop

Back in the Tate, I spent some time in the drawing room. It’s actually the Bloomberg Connects Drawing Bar and you can have a go at drawing pictures on the screens which then get displayed and posted to Flickr. My drawing skills are on a par with my musical ability, but I enjoyed creating a special message for my beloved all those miles away.

Hello Liesel

There are thousands of other such drawings, so start here and look around.

You can see my more overtly political offering here!

Blackfriars is a lovely, modern station, straddling the river. I caught the Thameslink train to St Pancras from where it’s a short walk to the British Library. There, I tapped away at the keyboard with all the other young and studious people.

Quiet study in British Library

And from there, a short hop, skip and jump to the ever-congested Euston where I began the long ride home: two trains and a late, late bus. In the bookshop, the sight of this outfit brought me up short. I know it’s from a novel, Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, and it’s publicising the sequel, The Testaments, but, whoa, that was unexpected.

Blessed be the fruit

Two trains and a bus, he said. Huh. The first train was over ten minutes late which was enough to mean missing the second train. So, a quick taxi ride it was instead, to round off a wonderful weekend.

TFL’s are no longer the only bikes for hire in London

These few days in London and Kingston, between two Grandchildren Days, was a good opportunity to catch up with old friends, visit some old haunts and explore some new ones. Taking such a late train home the night before an early rise is something not to be repeated too often, however!

Raymond Island, Walhalla and on to Wilson’s Prom

We’d considered visiting Raymond Island on the way to Bairnsdale but we’re so glad we didn’t. We spent the following morning there instead, far longer than anticipated.

From Paynesville, the ferry ride was so short, we probably could have waded across to the island. But then we wouldn’t have had a car for the slow drive to the far side of the island.

Typical unsealed road on Raymond Island

The sea was so calm, perfect for skimming stones. But there were no suitable stones lying around which can only mean one thing: they’ve already been thrown in. This island is in the Gippsland Lakes Reserve area, and the water here is sheltered from the main ocean currents by a series of islands further out from the mainland.

Very calm water

We walked along the beach, of course, trying not to step on any of the jellyfish left stranded on the sand.

Jellyfish

The water was so clear, I thought I’d walk to the end of the jetty in the distance, to see if there were any exciting or exotic fish. What I didn’t realise from a distance was that a million cormorants or maybe darters were at home on the far end of the jetty and I was still over a hundred yards away when they decided to take flight.

Heads up, human approaching, time to skedaddle

The exodus began slowly, then the bulk took off. It was interesting to see how long the last, brave few would hang about. I was still nowhere near the jetty when the final one deserted his post.

It’s quite a long jetty and halfway along I began to notice the ammoniacal aroma. I’m surprised the structure hasn’t collapsed under the weight of guano, never mind the birds themselves. But I was rewarded for my stoicism in the face of rank odours. There were indeed a few fish in the water.

Fish in the remarkably clear water
Another crap photo (be glad your device has no smell output)
Looking back along the beach: where’s Liesel?
Black swans having a pleasant swim

It was quite an adventure driving back towards the ferry port and, more importantly, to the Koala Trail. Most roads are unsealed, they all look the same, and as they became more and more narrow, we wondered whether we’d gone wrong. But we found our way back: it’s quite hard to get lost on a small island, really.

The Koala Trail is a well marked path around the developed, inhabited area, facing the mainland. And we were on a koala hunt, looking in the trees, listening out for pig-like growling sounds.

An empty gum tree

It was a nice, easy walk, with very few other visitors on the Trail. A group of young German girls helped our quest by staring up into the more interesting trees, the ones with koalas in residence.

Seeing this first one was wonderful, of course, at least we’d seen what we came for.

Koala needs a kuddle

We saw a few more koalas and yes, many were in the Land of Nod.

Koala having a kip

In fact, there were almost too many to shake a stick at. So I picked up a stick and shook it, for which I received a severe reprimand from Liesel. It was in fact a fallen eucalyptus branch, brimming with juicy leaves and it did, briefly, attract the attention of an erstwhile dozy koala.

Koala looking really kute

We walked the long way round back to the ferry terminal, including along a stretch of very narrow beach.

Innumerable mussel shells

The soundtrack to this tramp was provided by the thousands, millions, of mussel shells that it was impossible to avoid crushing underfoot. The water on this side of the island was a little more active, but still nowhere near as violent as we’ve seen in other places recently.

Gentle waves

We passed by another couple of koalas in a tree in someone’s front garden. And round the corner, in another garden, a flock of rainbow lorikeets and parrots provided a gorgeous, colourful photo opp.

Lorikeets and parrots

A quick return ferry ride and we were soon back on the road. The obvious place to stop for a coffee, a pasty and an eclair was Stratford which by coincidence is on the Avon River.

We are getting better at knowing when to ignore Google Maps’ instructions: sometimes it shows a right turn, but vocalises ‘turn left’. Sometimes it wants to take us off the main road, the A1, go right, left, right, left, right left and then rejoin the A1. Why? For the sake of a few seconds maybe? And why does it sometimes suggest leaving the route and driving around in circles for the rest of eternity?

Passing by and admiring the countryside, we espied a power station in the distance. Smoke belching. And looking it up, I think it was a diesel powered power station. We never even knew such places existed. I know we need a power supply, but this really was a carbuncle on the face of a much loved friend, as Prince Charlkes might say.

Power station

We were leaving the coast behind and heading up into the mountains.

The Star Hotel in Walhalla was built during the gold rush period of the 19th century and rebuilt in 1999, retaining the original façade. We were staying in the Happy Go Lucky Room, nothing as mundane as room numbers here. The view from the verandah was magnificent.

View from our Star Hotel verandah

Dense trees growing up the steep sides of the valley behind a bandstand. Perfect.

Walhalla’s population was about 5000 in its heyday. It dropped to 10 and is currently about 20. We met at least 20% of the population over the next day.

Yarnbombers brighten up Walhalla

The Long Tunnel Extended Mine walk took us about an hour. I put my coat on. It was slightly chilly up here in the mountains, even without the wind. We didn’t go down into the mine, 950 metres deep, and I don’t envy any of the miners that did so. The mine was closed in 1915. From a total of 790,724 tonnes of ore, a mere 25.43 tonnes of gold were produced.

Stratified rocks and a secret green door into the mines
Fairy tale house high on the far side of the valley

The path along what was once a tram track was littered with fallen rocks. A sign told us not to throw stones down from the tramway on pain of prosecution.

A rusty old steam engine

The mist and cloud mixed with smoke from wood fires in people’s houses giving a mystical, ethereal feel to the landscape.

Smoke and mist

Strangely, we didn’t find the smoke here as offensive as it had been in Malaysia. Folks are just trying to keep warm here, not burning any and all of their old rubbish.

The proprietor of the hotel was also wearing shorts so from that, I deduced it wasn’t that cold, really.

Our evening meal was very nice, very tasty, although I’m not a big fan of panna cotta, moreso since I found out it contains gelatin. The bottle of house Shiraz the spot though. Cheers!

After a good night’s sleep and a good breakfast, we checked out. We were invited back, but don’t leave it for thirty years like some people do, he advised. It’s a great place, and I felt bad that we’d only spent one night here. A couple of other walks would have been fun, and we’d certainly recommend this hotel.

The first surprise of the day was just how cold it was. Wipe the condensation from the car’s windows? Easier said than done. It was ice. Proper, frozen water. It’s now meteorological Winter here and it feels like it. For the second day in a row, I put on a coat.

Hazy shade of Winter

Unfortunately, the first ride of the Walhalla Goldfields Railway was at 11.00, and that would mean leaving the area much later than we wanted to.

Goldfields Railway Engine

We drove alongside the railway track for a while, as we left Walhalla behind us.

Railway bridge over the creek

Near Tyers, we saw the power stations again. Yes, there were at least two of them. Thick, belching smoke isn’t that appealing usually, but when it rises to collide with the low clouds, it’s quite a sight.

Smoke and clouds

The first stop of the day was at North Mirboo where we visited the Strzelecki Bakery. That name is familiar because in 2002, I watched a Total Eclipse of the Sun from somewhere near the Strzelecki Track in South Australia. There wasn’t a lot of Sun today!

Mural: picnic and cricket in North Mirboo

The clouds were threatening but it didn’t rain. The views were great but by now, I think we both just wanted to reach our final stop for the day.

Spectacular view, rolling hills

We passed by Yanakie and a sign welcoming us to Wilson’s Promontory, hooray. I said to Liesel, there’s a couple of emus. She didn’t believe me at first, but we did a U-turn and went to have a longer, closer look. They were just eating grass, not bothered by us at all.

Emu having his afternoon tea

How exciting, to see some wildlife within five minutes of entering the National Park. Then, almost as exciting, we saw the sea in the distance. We’d only been away from it for 24 hours, but it felt a lot longer, somehow.

There was much less traffic now, allowing us more time to take in the views. All you can do really is enjoy the scenery, gape in wonder and take photographs that don’t do justice to the reality.

Darby River Valley
Rock thinks it’s a zebra

We’re staying in a self-contained Unit in Tidal River. I finally made it into Cambridge.

Our Cambridge Unit, not a hut, not a cabin, not a caravan, not a tent

It looks terrible from this angle, but there are windows on the other side. Liesel had been driving all day so she was happy to have a sit while I went for a quick walk around Tidal River, the town. Various categories of accommodation are available here but, given how cold it has become, we’re glad we’re not camping. I bet this is a hive of activity at the height of Summer, not so much today.

One thing I’ve noticed all over Australia is the prominence of the War Memorials.

Tidal River War Memorials

At home in the UK, they’re often out of the way, but in Australia, they’re usually in a prominent location on the main street or, as here in Tidal River, right in the centre of town, close to the Information Centre. This ℹ is a good place to visit, plenty of local artefacts and information.

The first birds I saw were ducks, plain, ordinary wood ducks, I think, no offence intended. There’s a river not far away, plus the sea, so why these two chose to try and paddle in a small puddle is beyond me.

Puddleducks

I proceeded along the path in an orderly manner when I was surprised to see a small animal apparently munching on grass. Yes, it was a wombat, and I was really pleased to see it.

Wombat walking with purpose

I approached slowly and was surprised how close I could get. I crouched down to film him/her walking towards me but at the last minute, he got just a bit too close!

Wombat walking by just a litte too close

I walked down to Norman Beach just for a quick look.

Path and gateway to Norman Beach

It felt quite pleasant here, but the clouds over the hill looked ominous. Not surprising, though, as rain had been forecast for the next day.

Storm clouds approaching

It was good to see a couple of birds on the way back to our place. I very nearly missed this chap, he’s so well camouflaged.

Crimson rosella

I think he was eating grass seeds or maybe collecting material for a nest.

These galahs were definitely having a good time pulling up the grass.

Memories of the Great Ocean Road King Parrots came flooding back when I returned to Cambridge and Liesel. A crimson rosella was sitting on the rail of our balcony, dancing, shifting from left to right, from one foot to the other, obviously begging for food. You’re not supposed to feed the wildlife here, but this pretty parrot knows that people means food.

I can eat with one foot while standing on the other

What harm can a bit of muesli do? Nuts and seeds only, we took out most of the raisins and lumps of cinnamon!

What a good way to end the day and to commence a few peaceful days here on Wilson’s Prom. Which for some reason, I keep calling Arthur’s Seat or Arthur’s Pass but we really are at Wilson’s Prom. No idea why my brain is misfiring in that way. The only Arthur Wilson I know is a character in the old sitcom Dad’s Army.

A couple of rolls of thunder and the sound of rain didn’t detract from a good night’s sleep, thank you very much!

Wan Wan Coco Ful Baskit

Liesel and I went to the Cow’s Nest again for a coffee. We chatted with Nina: she told us about the edible sea snails the midnight torch-bearers were looking for last night. She told us about the 4-week drought and the dams that are becoming too dry.

We watched and listened to the storm roll in. One clap of thunder made me leap out of the seat, clutching my heart which I carefully reinserted into my chest.

It was good to watch the rain from inside. There was a brief power cut and so my second coffee was postponed.

Nobody in the pool when it’s raining – guess they don’t want to get wet

Again, I messed up the Slitherlink puzzle in the paper: I need more practice with these.

We were again joined by a couple of geckos for supper, but the peacock didn’t turn up this time. This is a terrific venue for families: we really enjoyed watching the children play. We especially enjoyed seeing the twins, each wearing one blue and one yellow shoe.

Liesel’s prediction that we wouldn’t leave this hotel resort at all for the whole weekend proved to be correct. We’d eaten at most of the venues here, avoiding the World Bank Group where possible. And every time we passed the sign, I read it as Cow’s Nest. It is of course Crow’s Nest, but with dubious typography.

Our final sunset at Port Dickson accompanied by cocktails

We were glad this was our final night when the new neighbours moved in. Lots of shouting late at night and early in the morning. A total, lairy wunch of bankers.

A useful tip on the puzzle page of the newspaper

The driver who took us to Kuala Lumpur was not at all chatty and we suspect he didn’t speak much English. So far, in all the cab rides, I’ve not heard one radio station that’s made me want to tune in at other times. Very similar feel to Britsh commercial stations, but some of the adverts are much more sexist than we’re now used to. Help your wife out by employing someone to clean the house!

The highway was littered with billboards, something I’d not really noticed before. But oh what excitement when we first saw the Petronas Towers in the distance.

Petronas Towers in the distance

Kuala Lumpur was our first proper capital city since Wellington. It’s a mix of old and new, tatty and shiny, very busy and very noisy.

We’re in a 23rd floor apartment and because it wasn’t ready when we arrived, we hung out in the local coffee bar, Jamaica Blue.

Wan Wan Coco Ful Baskit

We can’t seem to get away from these little sayings and mottos and homilies, all sound advice, no doubt, but I wonder why they’re so ubiquitous here in Malaysia?

We’ve moved in now, so we’re allowed to refer to the city as KL, like the locals do. According to the weather app, on arrival here it was 34°C (93°F) but it felt like 42°C (108°F), due to the humidity and just being in the city where the buildings were radiating heat too.

In the evening, we again watched a storm, this time from the safety of our apartment. The sky really did light up.

Sheet lightning

Our first KL breakfast was at Jamaica Blue, which is just a two minute walk from the gate. At least we can now use the gate, we have an electronic key. The first time we came in, we had to show ID to the security guy and we wondered whether we’d have to do that every time.

The Islamic Arts Museum of Malaysia was as fascinating and interesting as we’d hoped it would be. I like the geometric designs, the astronomical equipment, the calligraphy. Liesel likes the manuscripts and the textiles. The various old editions of the Qu’ran were illuminated just as beautifully and as intricately as our old, medieval Holy Bibles are.

It’s strange how things evolve: the Arabic script developed in different ways in different places, and in the end, Square Kufic looks just like a modern day QR code.

A selection of scripts

They wouldn’t let me take the dismantled astrolabe from the cabinet. I was just going to fix it for them, that’s all.

Astrolabe

But as least I have a picture. For a long time, we thought photography wasn’t allowed, but nobody else was being told off, so I joined in.

I tried to draw some of the patterns, but I really needed a ruler, compasses and maybe even cheat a bit with a protractor.

Patterns in windows

The domes. Oh wow, they were gorgeous. I had to lie down to look at them, so well designed and the decoration is so well executed.

Looking up into a dome

There were weapons on display, jewellery, fabrics, clothing, scale models of various mosques worldwide, even the Taj Mahal.

Small detail of very fine embroidery

Here’s a tip: if you ever come to Kuala Lumpur, visit the Islamic Arts Museum. You might bump into some strange characters, but it all adds to the fun.

This ancient warrior looks like Liesel

And even while we were outside waiting for the next cab, I just stood there mesmerised by this, possibly the most beautifully decorated pillar in the world. Magic.

Same tiles as our bathroom at home

In the evening, we walked to Tarma, an Iraqi street food restaurant, if there can be such a thing. We walked through a street market, we fought off several men trying to thrust their own menus into our hands. It was a bustling part of the city, that’s for sure.

You Can’t Stop When It’s Laffa Time

And what’s this? Oh no, another slogan on the wall! Not complaining though, the laffa, the Iraqi bread, was fabulous. As was the rest of the meal: Liesel says it’s the best one so far!

We walked back a different way, less busy, just as difficult to cross the roads. There are pedestrian crossings, few and far between, but the green man only gives you one or two seconds to cross the road, and the red stop lights don’t seem to apply to motorcycles anyway: mind your toes.

Illuminated KL Tower

We decided not to visit any of the night clubs, but this would have been my choice: it evokes memories of comatose old Father Jack suddenly jerking back to life, for some reason.

Eat, drink, man, woman

Yes, a wise decision to walk home. We could have chosen public transport but probably would have caught…

Lorong bus

It’s nearly the end of March but it’s also nearly the end of May, hooray! After Thatcher, I never thought we’d have a worse prime minister and we’ve just had two in a row. Waiting for the hattrick.

Nirranda and Port Fairy

That’s two nights here, time to move on, to move on. First stop was Cape Otway Lightstation. We spent more time here than anticipated, it was so fascinating. Jyoti was delighted to find another warning sign depicting her favourite kind of animal. Not.

Beware of snakes
Rocks and rough seas at Cape Otway

The seas are quite rough here, it’s easy to see how so many ships came to grief along this coast. Cape Otway was often the first sight of land following the long voyage from Britain. It also marks the point where the Bass Strait meets the Southern Ocean, although the ‘join’ isn’t as obvious as that seen at Cape Reinga in NZ.

Selfie of the day

The path to the lighthouse itself was not in use but the ‘Caution’ tape confused some people: they thought there was no access to the lighthouse at all. And with an air ambulance, some police cars and other medical staff, it was easy to suppose there had been some kind of accident.

Alas no, the lighthouse was open and as always, I began to count the steps as I climbed, but was distracted by someone running down very, very fast. So I’ll just say, there are about 967 steps to the top of Cape Otway Lighthouse.

Although this is the wrong time of year to see whales in the ocean, we did actually see one outside it.

Whale sculpture

And against all odds, we saw a kangaroo too.

Steampunk kangaroo

One thing we weren’t prepared for was how much this area was involved in the second World War. Trouble not just from the Japanese, but the Germans were here too, laying sea mines between Cape Otway and Wilsons Promontory, attempting to prevent access to Port Phillip Bay and Melbourne.

Jyoti, Liesel, half a German sea mine

A large area is devoted to understanding the local aboriginal culture. In the Talking Hut, Dale told us about the local history. He’s of aboriginal descent, his great (x3?) grandmother is Bessie Flower, the first ‘educated’ aboriginal woman. Dale is white, he also has Dutch origins.

Outside on our short Bush Tucker tour, he showed us which plants were safe to eat, and we sampled the salt bush (salty), the local rosemary (sweet, then very bitter), the ‘lemonade’ berries (fizzy). The attractive red berries are not edible, but when he squeezed one, the juice was pure magenta dye. Will we eat these leaves out in the wild? I suspect not, we’ll be far too cautious.

Inside The Talking Hut

He told the story of his 5-year old son going out into the bush, catching a small bee, tying a filament from a particular plant around it, so that when it flew back to its nest, he could follow it. He then pulled a lump of honeycomb from under the stones. One root which resembles a turnip can be cut up and is used for relief of toothache.

When I was at school, we were told that Aborigines had been in Australia for between 20,000 and 40,000 years. It is now thought that it’s more likely to be 100,000 years, although the evidence is flimsy right now.

Cape Otway has the second purest water in the world: the actual purest is on Tasmania. It also boasts the oldest known farm in the world, at 6000 years of age. It really is a place of superlatives.

Jyoti, Liesel and the Cape Otway wreck

As we drove away from Cape Otway, we continued to look in the gum trees for a you-know-what. I was driving and when I saw something cross the road in front of me, I braked and we came to a halt. It took a moment to register, it was so unexpected, but there it was: a koala. We didn’t want to frighten him, but equally, we wanted photos, so we all leapt out of the car.

Grandad koala saying goodbye

The old-looking koala walked off into the woods surprisingly fast. On seeing the picture, one of my daughters compared his hairy ears to those of a grandad’s. I have no idea to whom she is referring.

At Castle Cove, we enjoyed the sunshine and the views and this was the venue for our long beach walk of the day. Keep on the path. Snakes. We walked down the steps, noting that the sea was rough, the tide was high but even so, there were quite a few surfers.

Castle Cove beach
Strata well defined

The rock wall at the top of the beach was beautifully stratified, very soft sandstone and it had a greenish tinge due to iron. There were a couple of small caves, too small to explore and in the middle of all the sand and rocks, this pretty, solitary plant,

The only plant on this beach

Gibson Steps gave us our first sighting of the Twelve Apostles, the iconic limestone stacks formerly known as Toots and the Maytals, no, formerly known as the Sow and Pigs.

Not strictly speaking a Twelve Apostle

What we saw was in fact Gog and Magog, east of Castle Rock. We walked 1.1 km along a further section of the Great Ocean Walk, through the visitors centre, to see the actual Twelve Apostles. It was late in the day, the Sun was low, so we saw the stacks in silhouette. Even so, what a remarkable sight. We walked as far as we could along the path to the Castle Rock lookout. And as if things weren’t scary enough already, this is one of the signs.

Warning: Venomous snakes
There’s a hole my stack, dear Liza
The Twelve Apostles sea stacks

As it was Jyoti’s birthday, we thought we’d buy a cake at the café at the visitors centre. But it was Sunday, it was late, it was closed. We began the 1.1 km walk back to the car, away from the Sun now, so a little more comfortable, especially with a slight breeze. L&J were ahead, and some Japanese people pointed to the ‘porcupine’ crossing the path and by the time I caught up, the echidna, for that is what it was, was in the bush.

Echidna

What an exciting day: a koala and an echidna! And then, as we were driving awa from Gibson’s Steps, in the rearview mirror, I saw a kangaroo crossing the road.

There are many other places to visit on the Great Ocean Road, but as it was late, we headed straight for our new b&b in Nirranda. A shopping trip in Peterborough was disappointing, the single, solitary supermarket mostly specialised in fishing bait.

The b&b is built from old shipping containers. I thought surely a metal wall would make it really hot inside. And so it proved. Thank goodness for the ceiling fans.

Shipping containers now containing us

We didn’t realise at the time, but we shared our room with a grasshopper. We’d seen ants and flies and heard a mosquito or two, but we didn’t know about this chap until the morning.

Grasshopper

I let him out into the garden. One moment he was sitting there, the next, gone. Probably the strongest jumping leg muscles in the world. Well, it is a superlative area. Witness the petrol price at Lavers Hill: $1.70 per litre, compared with $1.20 to $1.30 elsewhere.

Liesel and Jyoti went shopping, all the way to Warrnambool, which takes its name from the whales that thrive in the ocean here. Just not at this time of the year: we’ll have to come back to go whale-watching.

Later, when J&L and I had eaten lunch, I tore down the large curtain from the living room window to take with us. We’d decided to walk to the nearby beach, about a mile away. Well, it was hot and there was no shade but it really did take much longer than the advertised 20 minutes.

Turd bush

This bush looks weird, we thought, and we certainly weren’t going to taste its leaves. It can only be described as a turd bush, since its fruits (?) look like animal droppings.

The dusty, stony, gravelly path continued on and on, up and down, disappointment every time the sea failed to come into view over the brow of a hill.

But then, the end came in sight.

Hang gliding and paragliding

Holding tight with both hands, I started my run-up towards the cliff edge. Suddenly, I heard someone yell “Nooooooo!!!”

Apparently, you can’t go hang-gliding just holding on to a curtain, you have to use specialist equipment such as a hang glider with landing wheels, a harness and a helmet. Oh well, I tried.

The walk down to the beach was difficult too. A very narrow, steep and sandy path. We were all wearing sandals, not the best footwear for such terrain.

A beach beyond

We gave up, discretion is the better half of Valerie, or something. It looked like a nice beach to walk on too, what a pity.

We drove to The Arch, an unusual rock formation, but we couldn’t work out how it got its name.

The Arch

We drove to London Bridge, an unusual rock formation, but we couldn’t work out how it got its name. Especially since London Bridge has fallen down and it’s now just another stand-alone stack.

London Bridge

There’s a beach here too, another nice looking beach, ideal for a walk, but we’re asked to stay away because of the penguins. We didn’t see any penguins of course, but there were plenty of footprints in the sand. Penguins or other birds, we don’t know.

Footprints in the sand

On the path back to the car park, I spotted a small black lizard, probably a skink, but it might have been something more exotic: my hasty photo just shows a black blur in the grass.

We drove to The Grotto, another unusual formation. As we went down the steps to see what is really just a hole, a young girl ran up by us, and then she ran back down past us. She and her two friends were planning to swim in the still water but I did take this picture.

The Grotto

And finally today, we drove to the Bay of Martyrs, part of the Bay of Islands. I walked down to the beach, attempted a selfie with the Sun setting behind me, over the sea.

Won’t be trying an artistic shot like this again
Bay of Martyrs beach

For supper tonight, my contribution was to pick tomatoes from the plants in the garden. The courgettes weren’t quite ready yet and we didn’t fancy the rhubarb. We had cheese and crackers and chutneys with red, red wine, a belated birthday party for Jyoti. Almost. Still no cake.

Before going to bed, we all went outside to gaze at the stars and to listen to whatever animal was making a noise like fff-fff-fff-fff over and over. In fact, it was still doing this later on when I got up briefly. By this time, the Moon was up too, so only the brightest stars were visible.

Jyoti and I were sitting on the step outside the house, drinking our teas, shooting the breeze, watching the trees, when Liesel told us we had half an hour left. Uh? To pack and to move on. We were away with five minutes to spare. Bit of a shock to the system though: both Jyoti and I had totally forgotten that this was moving day.

Cactus, not a native Australian, we suspect

We had a pleasant drive to our next b&b, but I did have an agenda. We need a new electric plug adapter since the old one broke. I tried fixing it and it worked well for a while, but here’s a tip: sticking plaster, Band-Aid, Elastoplast, doesn’t reliably stick to plastic for very long. And another tip: if you need tin foil to help make an electrical connection, try to use pieces larger than the torn-off bits from the blister pack containing your drugs.

Lily the Pink aka naked ladies

As if lilies aren’t enough, we soon drove by a farm with a strange collection of animals: sheep, goats, llamas and camels.

Camels

Warrnambool didn’t provide us with an adapter. “Oh no”, said the man in the electrical shop, “we don’t sell that sort of thing. Try the Post Office.” I thanked him through gritted teeth for his help.

It’s hard to know exactly where the Great Ocean Road finishes. The GOR, B100, ends at Allansford, near Warrnambool. There, we joined the A1, Princes Highway. On the other hand, some of the literature for Port Fairy considers it part of the Great Ocean Road. Either way, when we arrived at Port Fairy, “The World’s Most Liveable Community”, we’d definitely reached the end of the world’s largest, and arguably the world’s most functional, war memorial, for this trip.

It’s a cute little town, enhanced by protective/advertising hoardings at the base of the lampposts.

Folk Festival coming up

After a coffee break, we went to sit by the beach for a while. Yes, sit by the beach. Not on the beach. In the car, in the car park, looking at the beach. Why? The wind was strong and cold.

Port Fairy beach towards the lighthouse

I still went for a walk, solo, and found two memorials, close to each other, both emotionally moving but for very different reasons.

In Memory of Thousands of Aboriginal People Massacred
In Memory of Service Personnel from Port Fairy lost in battle
Good idea

We checked in to our new, first floor, b&b and wow, we have a view over the beach. But the wind was still strong and we decided not to sit and be blown off the balcony.

I fancied another walk, and I thought the lighthouse at the far end of Griffiths Island would be an ideal goal to aim for.

Short-tail shearwaters or “Mutton birds” nest on the island, but again, we’re here at the wrong time of year.

Shearwater nesting holes

I did wonder whether these nesting holes might currently be occupied by snakes or other squatters. And then out of the corner of my eye, I saw movement. A kangaroo was hopping across the field.

Kangaroo saying hello

This was the first one I’d seen in the wild, although J&L had been lucky a few nights ago.

I didn’t see the kangaroo that failed to clear this hurdle

I followed the track to the lighthouse, but the amorous couple sitting outside deterred me from walking right up to the door.

Griffiths Island lighthouse

The track followed the beach for part of the way, and I was surprised to see volcanic rocks sitting amongst the soft, white sand.

Volcanic basalt

It was warmer now, the wind had calmed down and I thought maybe J&L would go out for a walk later.

Pedestrians watch your… oops
Seagulls sculpture

While I was out, Liesel and Jyoti had been planning ahead, making plans for the next month or so. Bookings were made, despite issues with various websites and credit cards.

Unfortunately, up in our b&b, out on the balcony, the wind felt just as strong as ever, though not as cold.

We were talking about our various medical issues and the consensus is, we’ve been pretty lucky and injury-free. Liesel’s piriformis is still a PITA and it affects other muscles at different times. Other than that, a few insect bites, a couple of broken nails, cracked heels is as bad as it’s been.

Now is the time for those viewers not interested in the musical soundtrack to our travels to press the yellow button on your device and be transported to a totally different place.

We didn’t bother connecting my device to the car’s Bluetooth at Uluru because we were only there a couple of days. But with a new car in Melbourne, it felt right that we should play the whole Slim Dusty album for Jyoti’s enjoyment. We then returned to the alphabetical playlist. Picking up where we left off in New Zealand with Nomad Blood. At the time of writing, we are in the Rs. Q was interesting. The first one was a mistake: somebody at the CD factory had entered the song title as Que est le soleil? instead of Ou est le Soleil? And of the genuine Qs, 4 out of the 6 were 2 versions each of 2 David Bowie songs. What will we do when we’ve reached the end of the Zs? And will we even reach the end of the Zs by the time we return this car?

A pair of Wellingtons

We spent two days in the capital. One bus driver tried to rip us off but other than that, it’s been a fantastic, positive experience!

I told Liesel that I’d had something for breakfast that she hadn’t. “What’s that?” “A double-yolker.” “So did I!” said Liesel. What are the chances of two double-yolks in the same box of locally produced eggs? Maybe there’s another yet to be discovered.

Double yolk

The bus took us to within a few minutes of The Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, a place I’ve wanted to visit for a long time. Lots of Aotearoa New Zealand history and artefacts of course. So it made sense that we made a beeline for the Terracotta Warriors, Guardians of Immortality exhibition up on level 4. We missed this when it was on in Liverpool and it was worth waiting for. Chinese art, science and technology were so advanced. They knew about chrome-plating 2000 years before it was invented in the west.

2200-year old chrome-plated arrow tips

The pottery fishes may have held stones, possibly children’s toys.

Two pottery fishes

These are not ancient Chinese CDs, but jade discs, circular because that’s the shape they imagined heaven to be: they were placed on the bodies of the dead to ensure immortality.

Two jade discs to preserve immortality

As the UK teeters on the edge of a cliff, about to leave the EU with all the advantages it has to offer, the unification of China struck a chord. The aims were very similar to that of a united Europe: common standards making it much easier to trade.

Unifying an Empire

I think most of us visitors gasped in awe when we reached the room with the Terracotta Warriors. Each one is unique, possibly representing one real person. Flecks of pigment have been found, suggesting that they were all painted at first, the skin being flesh-coloured. It would be interesting to see one repainted, or at least a mock-up.

Armoured military officer
Two chariot horses
Kneeling archer
Unarmoured soldier
The ensemble
Great detail

What’s got four legs and flies? A dead horse! The museum is home to the skeleton of Phar Lap, a very famous racehorse from nearly 100 years ago. I can’t really blame this nag for my Dad’s losses at the betting shop, it was even before his time.

Phar Lap skeleton

The history of Maori culture pretty much agreed with what the museum in Auckland told us: some inter-tribal warfare but much more conflict when white people turned up and ruined everything.

How can you top a dead horse? With a life size model of a blue whale’s heart, of course.

Blue whale heart (replica)

Wellington’s harbour is deep but even so, there are places where you can, if you so choose, jump into the water from a great height and, if you survive, tell your mates about it.

Young jumpers
He didn’t jump, on account of being a bronze statue

In fact, the walk around the museum outside was interesting too. The ‘bush walk’ is necessarily short, being in the middle of a city, but very interesting just the same. Plus, it provided some shelter from Wellington’s famous wind which was up today. We encountered such things as a cave network, moa bones, fake glow worms, pretend stratified layers of rock and local plants.

More bones, moa bones

We took the cable car up the hill for a quick walk in the Botanic Gardens.

Looking towards the city from the top of the cable car ride

It was a quicker and shorter walk than anticipated because we got ‘sidetracked’ and paid a visit to the Space Place at Carter Observatory. It was indoors, out of the wind and I was able to glue down the old toupée again. But it was an interesting place. They are rightly very proud of New Zealand’s contributions to astronomy.

Thomas King Observatory

We walked around the gardens for a short while, enjoying great views over the city. There is an exceptional blend of native bush, exotic trees, plant collections and stunning floral displays, all holding on by their roots and fingernails in the gale.

Tree hanging on
An array of colour

Back down in the city centre, we looked for somewhere to eat. I thought this item, sculpture, work of art was intriguing.

Something very science fiction-y

I walked round to find a plaque telling me about it and the artist. Imagine the disappointment when, at the far end, signs on doors told the me that these were, in fact, disabled toilets.

We found a good place to eat but here’s a tip: if you’re going to wear a red gingham shirt, don’t dine at a place where the staff are also wearing red gingham shirts!

How embarrassing!

Our other entertainment was provided by three sparrows outside fighting over a piece of pizza crust. None of them could fly off with it but I think they all tried. The show ended when a seagull swooped down and stole it.

And then on our final walk home from the bus stop, we saw this unusual flower in someone’s front garden.

Black flowers (succulents?)

We’re staying in the Newtown area which is like a little hippy village. I walked straight back into the 1970s when I came across these posters.

War is Over
Why have boring bollards when you can have fern bollards?

I managed to avoid the shoe-shopping expedition that Liesel went on (which was successful, by the way), but we later met up for lunch and a visit to the Wellington Museum. Again, too much to see in one go and we were kicked out at closing time.

Before that though, we read a sequence of short stories about Wellington, one for every year of the 20th century.

What’s got four legs and flies? You’ve forgotten already? Well, the 1956 story described the demise of the Clydesdale horses formerly used to pull the milk floats.

Rural Retirement or the Knacker’s Yard?

We wandered around the harbour front again before going home.

Oh, look, yarn-bombing by the sea.

Yarn-bombs

Haha, look, very funny toilet signs.

I’m bursting, I can’t wait

And look, there are several of these wooden structures in the area and this one was very comfortable to lie on, in an attempt to ease the crick in the back after two days of plodding slowly around museums.

Something to lie on

And finally, here’s Liesel holding up a metal ball in an attempt to create an eclipse of the Sun.

Nearly total eclipse of the Sun

Five ‘Baby’s

Driving isn’t our favourite thing but it’s a means to an end. I wanted to re-visit Cape Reinga, on the northern tip of North Island and we chose to to drive and visit some other places en route, rather then join a coach tour like Helen and I did 17 years ago!

Matauri Bay, like all the NZ beaches we’ve been to, is stunning. There were a few other people but on the whole, it was deserted.

Matauri Bay

As you can see, we really are honing our selfie-taking skills. But we’re taking plenty of time over the learning process.

Selfie of the day

The north of the island has lots of sand. Not just on the beaches and on building sites, but everywhere. There are sand dunes where you can slide down on a plastic board (or a piece of cardboard, I suppose). We decided not to take part in this activity, mainly because we didn’t want to walk back up afterwards. The tip of the island used to be separate but thousands of years of sea currents plugged the gap with more and more sand.

Sand dunes in the north

Again, I was surprised (but probably shouldn’t have been) by how much the area around the Cape and the light house has been developed since I was last here. There is a proper path to follow, so mostly, we keep off the fragile, and in some cases, unique, vegetation.

Cape Reinga light house

The wind kept us cool as we walked and it was fascinating again to see where the Tasman Sea and the Pacifc Ocean meet.

Tasman Sea meets the Pacific Ocean

The rival currents cause plenty of eddies which bring nutrients to the surface and this can attract bigger and bigger creatures: even whales have been known to come right up to the rocks for a scratch, to get rid of their barnacles.

Bonus selfie, a long way from home

Lovers of the environment and of toilets will appreciate the eco-design of the public convenience here.

Eco-Design Toilet

We visited Rarawa Beach because it has the finest, whitest, squeakiest sand in the north. It did feel really nice on our feet, and, when you get the right movement going, you can achieve quite a good squeak.

Rarawa Beach

Because this beach was so nice to walk on, we did, for over a mile. We decided to give Ninety Mile Beach a miss, all thirty miles of it: we know it will still be there when we come back. Which, as we see more and more of New Zealand, becomes more and more certain.

Our second day on the road took us to see a tree. Not any old tree though, but the fourth largest in the world.

On the way, we passed through Omapere. Liesel couldn’t work out why a place in New Zealand was named after the German word for ‘grandma’ and the French word for ‘father’. No, I didn’t make her get out and walk. Of course, it’s a Māori word, four syllables, named after the local tall, plumed, native grass, mapere.

It also reminded me of my first visit to the area. The name rung a bell, but I couldn’t remember why. Maybe we just passed by on that occasion too.

Lookout point near Omapere

The day was grey and cool and we had a few spots of rain. Mainly on the most winding of roads when you don’t really need your view obstructed by windscreen wipers!

Some of the landcape reminded us of the Lord of the Rings films, so rugged and harsh.

Frodo and Sam are having a rest by that rock

Some of the hills in the distance were hidden in the mist and we were glad we didn’t have to drive through the clouds, especially as the road was so twisty.

Fields are littered with rocks and you have to admire the settlers, Maori and Pakeha, for their perseverance here.

2000-year old Tāne Mahuta is the largest known kauri tree. It’s in danger, as are all kauri, from kauri dieback disease which is spread by soil movement. So we had to wash our shoes before walking the short distance to see one of the wonders of the modern world.

Brush and wash your shoes properly

I’d told Liesel it was only a five or ten minute walk, and luckily my memory was correct, on this occasion.

I’m sure we’ve been able to walk up to and around Tāne Mahuta in the past, but not today. Sad for us, but good for the tree.

The majestic Tāne Mahuta
Lord of the Forest

The Māori guide had traditional tattoos on her chin and she told us about the tree and how they’re all being looked after. Including, would you believe, giving the trees injections to protect them against the fungal disease. There are over 120 other species living in Tāne’s canopy, plant and animal, which makes me feel better about the things I have living on my skin. The guide’s accent was fascinating. We pronounce ‘kauri’ almost as ‘cow-ry’, whereas she said something more like’coe-dee’.

You ain’t stopping me with your boardwalk

We try to pronounce Māori words correctly but their vowel sounds are very subtlely different to ours. I wonder whether they appreciate us making the effort? Or do they think we’re just taking the mickey?

The tree is the focal point of Waipoua Forest which we spent some time exploring. It’s a proper forest too, you can’t see the wood for the trees. The road is completely enclosed and there is no room for manoeuvre on either side.

A thing in someone’s garden

We have no idea whether this is some kind of scarecrow or a North Island attempt at steampunk metalwork, but it was very prominent.

We saw quite a few little churches in the middle of nowhere too: white walls and red roofs that really show up against the green, green and green background. We can’t see how they can survive, each must only serve a few dozen people.

A typical white and red church

Equally, there are small cemeteries here and there. Maybe each is for one family or one tribal group, but they’re all very neat and tidy.

Frodo and Sam under the cloak of invisibility

As we passed by one field, we saw a cow licking a horse. This is not a euphemism. Maybe the grass is hallucinogenic or aphrodisiac.

We passed a goat that was tethered by the side of the road. When we passed by on our return journey, it had gone. From which we can only deduce that it had been taken by a dinosaur during filming of the latest Jurassic Park sequel.

The Māoris made terraces in the past, for defence purposes and, presumably to grow more produce. Those terraces are still visible on some hills and it’s obvious to even this casual observer that some terrace-builders were more skilled than others! Maybe they should have called upon the services of Hire-a-Hubby (see a previous post).

The road surface was really good but in a few places, something had happened, a landslide or some kind of sinkhole collapse maybe, because the surface was (temporarily?) covered with loose chippings.

The other main decoration on the road was carcasses. Lots of unidentifiable but definitely dead critters, some being enjoyed by the birds, some just being left to rot.

There are lots of birds around. When we’re in the woods, we can hear them but usually not see them. When we’re driving along, we can see them, and occasionally identify them. Over two days, we saw birds of prey, turkeys, emus, quails, pukekos, sparrows, ordinary seagulls and southern black-backed gulls which are about twice the size, leading me to accuse one of being an albatross. In fact, one such came by and joined us for dinner.

Southern Black-backed Gull

In the fields, we are still surprised at how many cattle we’re seeing compared with the number of sheep. We wondered whether there’s been a shift in New Zealand’s farming business over the last couple of decades. There are signs giving out a number to call if we need to report ‘wandering stock’.

These purple flowers are, amazingly, bindweed. I lost a 32-year battle against bindweed in our garden in Chessington: it kept invading from all the neighbours’ back yards. One day, it will take over the whole world, in a satanic deal with the cockroaches, probably. Horrible stuff, and just because it has pretty purple flowers here doesn’t make it any less evil.

Bindweed or concolvulus

Readers who aren’t interested in our musical entertainment while on the road can look away now and come back next time.

Thanks for staying: you will glean from where today’s title emanates!

I’ve commented previously on how ‘shuffle’ on my MP3 device seems to avoid playing some songs and even anything at all by some people. Well, hah, I had a brainwave. Play all the tracks in alphabetical order by song title. But the ASCII sort sequence puts special characters such as quotes and brackets, as well as numbers, before the actual alphabet. So before we could hear the first song beginning with the letter A, we had this sort of thing:

The first few songs on our playlist

You’ll notice something right away. There’s a duplicate track. There are quite a few duplicates, in fact. This is due to the unique way in which downloads are handled. I, the user, have great difficulty in controlling this. But we can just press ‘skip’.

Some tracks appear four times. Twice because of the double-downloading-by-mistake issue. And twice over because the same track appears on two different albums.

We got to the numbers and heard ‘5 Years’, ’50 Words for Snow’, ‘50,000 Watts’ then ‘500 Miles’. Yes, in that order, because of the comma.

And then came the letter A. Hooray!

The first few letter A songs

What a fantastic variety we have here. Well curated even if I do say so myself. Ofra Haza and The Unthanks are among those very rarely selected by so-called ‘shuffle’ mode.

The first treat was three different versions of ‘All the Young Dudes’. (For me, that is, not so much for Liesel: ‘skip’ was employed.)

By the end of the first day on the road, we had still not reached the end of the As. On the second day, the last half dozen or so A songs, were contenders to be the final one. We couldn’t wait for the As to finish.

But where else would you find ‘Aretha’,’Arienne’ and ‘Arnold Layne’ sitting next to each other?

The final few letter A songs

As A ends, B begins. But lo, what is this? BBC iPlayer file tags have names beginning with ‘b’. There are quite a few, probably intermingled with actual songs, so the ‘skip’ button might be required more often for a while.

And by the end of our second day, we hadn’t reached the end of the Bs. Who knew there were so many songs about ‘Baby’ something (‘Driver’, ‘Finn’, ‘Loves that way’, ‘Better start turnin’ ’em down’ and ”s Boat’), ‘Bad’ things, ‘Beautiful’ things or ‘Blackbirds’?

Here’s a tip: on your MP3 device or in your library, look at the alphabetic track list because it’s the best way to spot duplicates. I don’t mind a ‘studio’ and a ‘live’ version of the same song but it’s a bit of a waste having exact duplicates. Not that the higher population count helped the ‘shuffle’ mechanism find and play some of those duplicated tracks!

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.