Bug bites and batteries

There’s still a moment in the morning when I wake up and wonder where I am. And still a momentary flash of disappointment when I remember that we’re back home, but away from the midges. Itchy legs and arms still and I even have a bindi where one of those little blighters bit me while in the Highlands. We are glad to be away from those microdots of torture. No other animal bites you and leaves a mark a thousand times larger than its own body size. I bet they miss me though: I’m quite tasty, they didn’t go for Liesel at all.

Wythenshawe Park

Wythenshawe Park looked nice and tidy, freshly mown, and I even had the place pretty much to myself. Sneezes erupted and followed me around and I realised I couldn’t carry on much longer without taking some anti-histamines. My hay fever really is much worse here at home than it was in Scotland, but then maybe my immune system was concentrating on attacks from those nasty little black beasties.

In our flat, when we leave the windows open, we get visits from flies the size of small humming birds. They can find a way in, but we have to open all the windows wide before they find their way out again. I say ‘they’, but it might be the same one coming back every day.

Welcome to our first exciting day out out since we returned from the extreme north. We’ve wanted to visit Tatton Park, a National Trust property, for a long time and today was the start of The Foodies’ Festival. Neither of us were particularly interested in the Foodie side of the Festival, oh no, we went primarily to see some live music.

We wandered around the gardens, yes, still socially distant from other visitors. So it was a bit strange seeing a large group, maybe a coach party, having a guided tour all in close proximity, some with masks, some without.

Rhubarb
Poppies
Selfie of the day

It was relaxing hearing the birds singing, but the peace of the Japanese Garden was disturbed by the noise from the robot lawn mower. They have modern tech like this, but one of the gardeners was trimming the edge of the lawn with shears that really needed sharpening. Or replacing!

Japanese Garden
Liesel the fountain

We didn’t see as much wildlife as we would have liked in Scotland, so to see some today was, well, wild. Some deer way over there in the distance and this little chap:

Frog

He is a very small frog, barely bigger than my thumb nail.

Nescio quid hic flos est

This is a very pretty flower, we had some in our garden in Chessington. I never knew what it was. [Thanks to Stella, we now know this is St John’s Wort. No wonder I didn’t recognise it, the last time I saw St John’s Wort, it was in the form of little off-white tablets in a bottle.]

There’s a big kitchen garden here at Tatton too, which must take some looking after, but all the indoor venues were closed. As midday approached, we wandered over towards The Foodies’ Festival. The queue was quite long already and Liesel and I were both bemoaning the fact that our poor old backs needed a rest. We knew we were in the right place when we heard the strains of Texas Angel wafting across the fields.

Jessica Lee Morgan and Christian Thomas

Jessica and Chris were playing the music to welcome all the guest to the Festival. ‘Ah, you must be Mick’, said Jessica from the stage and I thought, where? It was good to see them live and in the flesh: usually I see them on YouTube each Tuesday night playing for an hour or so. Jessica’s cousin David and Viv also watch the online shows, and this was the first time of course that we’d met them in real life. Jessica and Chris performing songs without buffering issues: priceless!

They sung a mix of their own songs and covers such as Big Yellow Taxi and You’re So Vain.

We sang and clapped along of course. Sang or sung? The more you think about it, the more wrong both words seem to be. Most people just walked on by, paying no attention to the music. Looking around the stage, it was interesting to see that all the nearby stalls were offering alcohol: prosecco, gin, Kent cider (I took some home), Pimms, beer on an old London bus. Really? Yes, really!

Oxford Circus

We properly met Jessica and Chris after their first set, before wandering off for a coffee and a sit-down. A sit-down in the marquee where the cookery demonstrations were taking place. Before the second set, we bought some cheese and some desserts that we wouldn’t normally look at. There was even a CostCo stall, bizarrely, which I thought out of place amongst all the local produce on offer. What a nice day for wandering around a field and then sitting down to watch more music. I feel bad about not staying for the other musicicans, including the intriguingly named Maybe Gaga, but I had a radio show to do later on.

Upstaged

It was fun to watch this little girl dancing in front of the stage and, in the end, sitting down for a rest. Of course it made us think about taking Martha and William to a performance like this one day.

And yes, of course, afterwards, I asked for a selfie with the stars of the show.

Mick, Jessica, Chris

The radio show this week was a Postcard from Scotland. Some Scottish singers plus plenty of other great tunes, including, of course, one from JLM. I started at 4pm this week rather than 2pm, the idea being that, like today, if we go out on a Friday, we don’t have to rush back: I have to allow a good half hour for the PC to boot up and for me to run all the necessary software.

The Tour de France continues to entertain. Spoilers coming up. Today, Mark Cavendish won his fourth stage this year, making a total of 34: this equals the record achieved by Eddy Merckx, probably the greatest male cyclist ever, in 1975.

This morning we went over to Didsbury, Liesel had things to do, while I walked home, the long way. I was pole-axed on reading the news that Jono Coleman, top radio presenter here in the UK and in Australia, had died. I had to sit down and recuperate in Fletcher Moss Park, with a coffee and a fried egg barm.

Parsonage Gardens

While I was walking back along the river, there was a downpour in Northenden. I could tell by the wet pavements, plus, it was confirmed by Liesel. I stayed dry though, chatting with the duck family who couldn’t swim away from me fast enough.

Ducks

Yep: another photo of animal rear-ends. I think my phone emits a signal that warns them that I’m about to take a picture.

Liesel told me there were three crates of empty milk bottles in front of the neighbour’s car, in our communal car park. When I looked out, I could see no crates, so I told her they’d gone. A little while later, Liesel told me the crates were still there, in front of the car. I looked out but still couldn’t see them. Was I even looking at the correct vehicle? Yes I was. The car is parked facing the fence. The crates were between the front of the car and the fence. So, in front of the car. But to me, in front of the car would place the crates between me and the offending vehicle. Liesel maintains that this would be behind the car, as the crates are closer to the back of the vehicle. We tried to come to some agreement, but basically, the English language is a bit fluid and ambiguous. Imagine the car was, say, a sphere, without a front or a back. Where are the crates now? I still think, between the ball and the fence, they’re behind the object. From our point of view in our second floor luxury apartment, if the crates were in the neighbour’s garden, are they behind the fence or in front of the fence? You might think it doesn’t matter. But if we were trying to direct someone to defuse an unexploded bomb, she would need to go straight to the device, she wouldn’t want to be wasting time climbing over fences looking for it, just because we can’t agree on what’s in front and what’s behind. So from now on, we’re going to use absolute terms to describe locations. Something will be north, east, south or west of something else, or some combination thereof. I hope that’s clear.

It’s a bit of a joke these days that when some thing goes wrong, the advice is to turn it off and back on again. There was an item on radio recently which agreed that, because most things are basically just computers now, this will work. It’s a way of clearing the temporary memory in the device. In the old days of computers, you’d get a message such as ‘Stack Overflow’, which meant you’d run out of memory. Not, you, the computer. So today, when my phone wouldn’t pair with the portable keyboard via bluetooth, I resorted to turning both items off and on again. They still didn’t want to acknowledge each others’ existence. I pulled out some of my hair, not that I have much to start with, and wondered what else I could try. I know the keyboard likes to be top of the list of bluetooth devices that pair with my phone, so I made sure the others were all (both) turned off. So, just the phone and the keyboard now. Will they shake hands and play nice? Nope. Then, in a flash, the thought occurred: batteries. The phone was 85% charged. I changed the two AAA batteries in the keyboard, et voilà, we have lift-off. This is the first time I’ve had to change these batteries, so I’m glad that was the only problem. Here’s a tip: ‘turn it off and on again and check the batteries’ should be the more complete advice when something stops working properly. 

Durness to Ullapool

All good things come to an end and that includes our first ever experience of glamping, here at Durness. Glamping? Yes, even though we were staying inside a modern day shepherd’s hut, it qualifies as glamping. No yurts here, or big tents with all mod cons.

Glamping at Aiden House

Part funded by the European Union. I wonder what you’d have to do to join such an organisation. We couldn’t bid farewell to our host Sandra because, overnight, she had to take her husband to hospital. In Inverness. Let’s hope he recovers soon, that’s a long way from home. Many of the photos today will be of the spectacular highlands scenery. There are not enough superlatives to describe the place. It’s big, it’s stunning, it’s almost overwhelming.

Final view from Aiden House

We thought we’d fill our flasks with hot chocolate. But, the first disappointment of the day was finding that Cocoa Mountain is closed on Mondays. And so to Ullapool, about 90 miles south. We didn’t stop at Smoo Cave in the end, we just pointed the car in the right direction and followed the one-lane road with passing places.

Sea loch

It was bright and sunny but quite windy. The further south we drove, the warmer it became and the wind died down a bit too. But looking at the scenery genuinely does put real life into perspective. These mountains will still be here long after our current inept government has been forgotten.

During the day, I was reminded of a few works of art that have entertained us over the decades. Here at Keoldale for instance is the monolith from 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Standing stone

There were very few trees and bushes, which I think makes the landscape appear more rugged. Plenty of sheep and lambs around but we realised that other than on warning signs, we haven’t seen any deer yet. Then we saw on Twitter that that bloke from Location, Location, Location has been shooting them all.

Middle Earth

This could easily be somewhere dark and menacing from Lord of the Rings.

We stopped briefly near Scourie. From about this point, the road had two lanes including white lines down the middle. It’s funny how you get used to using passing places, you miss them when there aren’t any more.

Scourie Harbour
Selfie of the day

This selfie was taken from Kylestrome, looking over, we think, Loch a’ Chàirn Bhàin. Sometimes, we just don’t know exactly where we are, which is a shame.

You’re driving along, gasping at every new vista, and suddenly, even something manmade can jump out, someting with a ‘wow’ factor.

Kylesku Bridge

This bridge should look out of place, but it really fits in, as minimalist as a bridge can be, not attempting to draw attention from what nature has to offer.

The view from Unapool
Beautiful blue loch

Everywhere you look, there is something stunning, almost out of this world. The next scene took us back to New Zealand.

Why did the sheep cross the road?

Nothing to do here except wait for the slow one at the back to catch up.

We pulled into laybys a couple of times, just to look around. Sometimes there’s a map. Here’s a tip to whoever produces these maps: please don’t put South at the top. We’re all used to North at the top. There’s no good reason for it, other than to wreak havoc and cause confusion amongst visitors and tourists.

Lunch was taken by the cool, clear waters of Loch Assynt.

Loch Assynt

Another couple stopped at about the same time as us, and, being British, we each complimented the weather and engaged no further in conversation.

From our picnic position, we could look over at Ardvreck Castle. Why didn’t we stop and have a closer look at the castle? Mainly because everybody else had.

Ardvreck Castle

Closer to our picnic site though was what’s left of Calda House, a Scheduled Ancient Monument.

Calda House

It doesn’t look like there’s enough rubble there to rebuild the other two walls, so I suspect a lot of the stone has been recycled into other buildings.

Did I mention Lord of the Rings? Well, we found a place called Elphin. In fact, we stopped at Elphin Tearooms for coffee and cake, and sure enough, all the locals have pointy, elfin ears.

Knockan Crag National Nature Reserve is just a short distance along the road and by the time we arrived, we were well fortified, full of beans and ready to go. Why? Because the elfin barista made non-decaffeinated coffee for us by mistake, and it would have been churlish for us to reject it. We just tweaked her ears instead.

If you’re interested in geology, this is the place to come. So many different kinds of rock to study but first, we looked at the deer much higher up the hill, behind a fence unfortunately, but it was exciting to finally see some in the wild.

Spot the stag

No, I don’t know if Spot is really his name.

The rocks here have been accumulating for over a billion years.

A geologist’s dream

There is a beautiful hike here up to the top of the crag. There are slopes and steps made from the local rocks, and the whole track is reassuringly solid. Hard to believe that the views can become even more spectacular as you climb, but they really do take your breath away.

The geological history of Scotland over 600 million years is fascinating. It’s certainly moved about over the millennia.

Around the world in 600 million years
Scotland is near the equator

Inevitably some people will look at 200 million years ago, when dinosaurs ruled Scotland, and they’ll think, huh, nothing’s changed then. Not us, of course.

Up and up we go, stopping to look around every so often.

Stairway to heaven

It was hard work climbing some of these steps, plus it was a lovely warm day. We certainly felt like we were getting to know the crag. It’s high and mighty and again, makes you realise that something like not having a wifi signal is not really a big problem in the great scheme of things. Not having a 4G signal here though, what a disaster. Here’s a tip: if you’re in the middle of nowhere and there’s no realistic chance of acquiring a 4G signal, put your phone into aeroplane mode, otherwise it’ll drain the battery as it keeps searching for non-existent radio signals.

Liesel having a well-deserved breather
Look at it. Just look at it

There came a time when we had to turn back. A number of factors combined to help us make the decision. I felt bad about not going any further with Liesel, but she said she was beginning to feel uncomfortable too:

  • I’ve never been too keen on heights, and I suddenly realised I was too high, well outside my comfort zone;
  • It was surprisingly hot, even at this altitude, and we’d brought no water with us;
  • After some short flights of steps, my legs were shaking, and taking a couple of minutes to recover;
  • Similarly, I was getting a bit out of breath;
  • Even though we wanted to climb to the top, we just couldn’t see how much further there was to go.

Do something scary every day, they say, and this was quite scary for a while. Really glad we got as far as we did, though, it was a physical challenge and the view from such a great height was definitely rewarding. Photos just can’t give a realistic idea of the scale of it all. But they’re a great reminder of a fabulous adventure.

Another surprise was seeing this homage to the Alaska pipeline.

Strathkinaird pipeline

And here we are, back in ‘civilisation’. Ullapool always reminds me of Jeff Wayne’s War of the Worlds, because the Martians’ death cry is ‘Ulla’. (Sorry, spoilers.) We’ve been in the footsteps of Susan Calman to a certain extent, as featured in the TV series Secret Scotland. She tells the story of when she went on holiday as a child, with her parents, in a campervan. The only cassette they had to play in the van was War of the Worlds. Where was I? Oh yes, back in civilisation. How do we know? There are way too many people in the streets of Ullapool. Plus, there are double yellow lines on the roads.

Yellow yellow
I wonder what time we arrived here

This clock is the lovechild of Cogsworth and Lumiere from Disney’s Beauty and the Beast.

We wandered down to the harbour to watch people. So many to choose from. One family group were putting on their waterproofs, about to embark on a hair-raising, fast, boat ride. This guy from the Orkney Islands was very busy mending ropes.

George Roper

Well, I hope his name is George, but I didn’t ask. (I did ask if I could take his picture.) He loves it here in Ullapool, but he’d rather be reading a book and looking at the view.

We found our accommodation, Ceilidh Place, hotel, bar and restaurant, bookshop. After settling in, we went for a walk and joined the queue (yes, a queue) outside the chip shop. We took away our supper and ate al fresco, on the grass opposite our place. Very nice, very tasty.

Now, back in our room, I’m writing, Liesel’s crocheting, I’m listening and Liesel’s (occasionally) watching the Tour de France. There is a family of seagulls outside, three cute, fluffy chicks, and we’re glad their parents haven’t yet told them how to steal chips from tourists.

Yellow daisies

What a beautiful day.

Two distilleries and another castle

What else has gone wrong? Nothing really, just a few more bug bites. Mick is obviously more tasty than Liesel, she hasn’t reported any bites so far, not even a tickle. It’s not nice being bitten, but it’s still sad to see so few insects around. We were talking about how, in bygone Summers, you’d arrive at your destination with a windscreen caked in dry, squished bugs. You’d have to scrape them off with a hammer and chisel.

The first exciting port of call after leaving our Inverness b&b was, wait for it… Aldi. Yes, already, we had food shopping to do. But it was nice to meet Dorothy, our host, just as we were leaving. She’s hoping for more guests later in the year as Covid restrictions are lifted.

Aldi, yes. The less said, the better, as the song goes.

We drove over a couple of bridges today that I cycled over way back in ’91. Kessock Bridge out of Inverness and Dornoch Firth Bridge. The latter was opened in 1991 by HM The Queen Mother, but two or three weeks before that, a group of us cycled over it on our way to John O’Groats from Lands End. We felt very privileged: I think it would have been a 60 mile detour without that bridge!

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Kessock Bridge was longer than I remembered and soon after the crossing, we stopped for a short walk. Path to North Kessock, the sign said, 100m. I hoped it was 100 metres rather than 100 miles, and so it was. Down steps. 146 of ’em, that we had to walk back up again.

Kessock Bridge from North Kessock

While at the bottom, we had a quick chat with a couple of locals. They were saying that they used to see dolphins and seals all the time in this, the Beauly Firth. All we saw today was a man fishing. The other attraction here was a Costcutter supermarket. If only we’d known. We could have bought our shopping here instead of Aldi and lugged it all the way up 146 steps.

The first distillery we visited, Glen Ord of Singleton, was probably very interesting. We would have loved sampling the wares. But it was closed. It’s Monday. Oh well, onwards and upwards. Here’s a tip: check that places are open before you turn up unannounced.

We checked and the Glenmorangie distillery was open. And very popular. I tried one whisky and it was so smooth, we had to buy a bottle. I know, I know, we buy whisky faster than we drink it at home but, new year’s resolution: we will finish at least one bottle soon.

Glenmorangie giraffes

What is the significance of all the giraffes? There are pictures all over the place, and several models, all with extremely long necks. This distillery has the tallest stills in Scotland, which we could just see through a mesh, not ideal for taking pictures, so it’s a good job we’re not into industrial espionage.

Yes, I sampled about a quarter of a dram of whisky so of course I found it hard not to nod off in the car. The scenery is always spectacular of course, and we’re not even in the highest of highlands yet. But I’m sure I missed some beauty spots while resting my eyes. Oh, and in case you were wondering, Liesel was driving.

It wasn’t raining today, but we still ate our lunch in the car, admiring a field of barley or something like that. The seeds had spread far and wide, encroaching onto the precious space set aside for a lay-by off the A9 or wherever we were at the time.

Today’s castle was Dunrobin.

Dunrobin Castle

I found this one more interesting than the other two, partly helped by the fact that it was well illuminated. The Covid-inspired one-way system worked well too. Lots of stags’ heads on the walls, and lots of portraits of Dukes and Earls of Sutherland and their gorgeous wives. The portrait of Queen Victoria was I think the best I’ve ever seen of her, but not easy to take a picture of, unless you want to look up the royal nose.

The castle looks out over some well maintained gardens, and beyond those is the North Sea. We’d pay extra for an Airbnb with this view.

The view from Dunrobin Castle
Selfie of the day

I’d like to say our selfie skills are improving, but this one disproves that assertion. If I lost some height or if I could persuade Liesel to wear extremely high heels, that might help. Still, we keep ourselves amused by trying.

Cups of coffee were taken here before we left for our final destination today: a cottage way up a hill, just south of Helmsdeep. No, not Helmsdeep, that was the site of a big battle in Lord of the Rings. We’re just south of Helmsdale. I was last there 30 years ago, on the same bike ride referred to earlier. We set up our tents on the beach, close to a shipwreck. In the morning, I noticed what must have been a rabbit hole between the inner and outer sheets of my tent. Do rabbits really burrow on sandy beaches?

Tonight though, after driving up the steepest road imaginable, we are indeed enjoying a beautiful view.

Top view

Over the water from left to right, there is Norway, Denmark, Netherlands, Belgium and Scotland. We can only see the last one on that list of course.

After supper, I went for a quick walk. I couldn’t get much further up the hill because the vegetation was too dense. So I walked down.

Anyone lost an exercise bike?
Me and my shadow

The length of that shadow! And there are still three and a half hours until sunset. This is the day of the Summer Solstice, so days start getting shorter now. It’ll soon be Winter. Yeah, I know how to bring the mood down! And yes, that lump in the middle of the road is horse manure. That horse must have had 27 pints and a huge curry last night.

The yellow of the gorse was very nearly surpassed by the purple and the white foxgloves.

A pair of foxgloves
Gorse, of course

Our evening music was provided by Wings, the London Town album, and by Martha Tilston, as many albums as we can fit in before bedtime. We haven’t turned the TV on anywhere except briefly so we could listen to BBC 6 Music. I finished my book last night, a detective story that was good but, I think, a bit long, just one too many false leads being followed. But we’re in Scotland now and I am looking forward to reading Fireflies and Chocolate by Ailish Sinclair, a depiction of more historical Scottish events that we don’t learn about in school. I loved her previous novel, The Mermaid and the Bear, so I know I’m going to enjoy this one, even if the use of the Scots language slows me down a bit!

Oh dear, look what I found

Our host Ruth has left us these treats. Well, it would be rude not to. Cheers! Slàinte Mhath!

The Wall

It’s Quiz Time! Yes, however long it takes you to read this post, that’s how long you have in which to guess what I did today for the first time since about 1996/7. So, not really a quiz at all, just a guessing game. And there are no prizes either. If you scroll straight to the bottom, then you are a rogue and a vagabond.

Most of the country were looking forward to the final episode of Line of Duty on TV. I even rustled up a snack for me and Liesel.

Cheers!

I broke into the bottle of whisky that Liesel bought for my birthday. Sorry to say my birthday chocolate was nowhere to be found, long sinced enjoyed secretly in my secret lair aka my studio.

A lot of viewers thought this final episode was an anti-climax, but I’m not so sure. There are still a lot of unanswered questions and loose threads. No spoilers here, but having watched all, yes all, of the preceding episodes during the week, it does make sense, there were clues.

Whinge of the week can be summed up in two words: the weather. Meanwhile, in NSW, they’re backburning in the bush, so Sydney catches the smoke and residents can’t breathe. On the plus side though, all that muck in the atmosphere makes for some pretty sunsets.

Sunset in Manly NSW

This is what Helen has to look at from her flat every evening. The bad news is that there are now a couple of Covid cases in NSW, with all that that implies: visits to other states may be prohibited.

Northenden continues to surprise me. I’ve been walking the same streets for a couple of years, but I’m still seeing things I’ve not noticed before. Often for the simple reason that I’ve been on the other side of the road.

Sorry Protection Sells

The outside wall of this house has been beautifully(?) decorated, I can only imagine how glamorous it is inside.

As Spring (sort of) makes progress, the leaves on the bushes on the island in the river are nicely hiding all the plastic rubbish that was caught up during the floods a few months ago. The heron has been a bit elusive this week, but he knows how to tease: I can just see him lurking behind the fence!

Foliage hiding the rubbish

Liesel was having problems with her laptop this week. It spontaneously reboots for no obvious reason. I had some ideas and so did Liam, thank you, Liam. Part of the diagnosis involved leaving a Zoom call open while doing something else on the laptop: not quite testing to destruction but trying to see if it was over-heating or something. I had installed a program to show us the temperature of the innards (sorry about the technical language). I was the other participant in Liesel’s Zoom call and I was messing around with different backgrounds.

Selfie of the day

I wasn’t really Zooming on the beach. And my hair isn’t really in a cloud of candyfloss. Have you guessed yet what did I do today for the first time in nearly a quarter of a century?

The other thing I did was turn off the laptop’s option to automatically reboot. So, if something does go wrong from now on, we should have a chance to see any error message that might pop up. And yes, of course we’ve done the first thing any decent IT support person would suggest: we’ve given the computer a jolly good talking to.

We had a lovely walk at Quarry Bank again this week, and I won’t mention the weather.

Fluffy clouds

Except to say, blue sky and fluffy clouds in one direction were very pretty. The solid grey lumps of lead in the opposite direction not so much! We felt a few spots of rain and even hail, but nothing too horrible.

Azaleas and rhododendrons

As I’ve mentioned before, we love a splash of colour, that always lifts the mood.

Pink rhododendrons

As Liesel pointed out, this rhododendron is more of a tree than a bush.

Yellow rhododendrons

And as Liesel reminded me, I don’t think we ever saw Isabella Plantation in Richmond Park at the real height of its flowering rhododendron gorgeousness. Just before and just after, yes, but not on the actual day.

It was that time again: I visited the dental hygienist. Meanwhile, Liesel visited  her beautician way over there in Gatley. But then she drove to CostCo, a trip that I missed out on. After loading up the trolley, queueing at the checkout and being invited to pay, Liesel realised that her debit card was out of date. It’s so long since we’ve been to proper shops and she’d forgotten to put the new card, received a few weeks ago, into her wallet. Fortunately, CostCo now accepts credit cards, so they didn’t force her to replace everything on the shelves.

Here’s a tip: when you go shopping for the first time after a long lockdown, make sure your payment cards have not expired.

I was feeling quite relieved about having dodged a trip to that place. But Liesel realised she’d forgotten one important item, something we can’t find anywhere else. So, as we were driving away from Quarry Bank, she asked, would I mind if we went back to CostCo to pick up the missing item? I was so shocked by this unexpected invitation, I couldn’t immediately think of a good enough reason to say ‘no way, José’. And off we went. Things are getting back to normal. I know this because we both whinged about the amount of traffic near the Trafford Centre and also the quality of some of the driving.

I thought I might as well have a quick look at the DVD players while I was there in a big warehouse, but we couldn’t find any. Neither could we find what Liesel had forgotten earlier in the week. There was none on the shelf. Yes, we were looking in the right place, there was plenty of similar stuff, but not specifically what we needed. Instead, we just bought baked potatoes for lunch, which we ate in the car, since the restaurant seating has all been removed, presumably because of Covid restrictions.

We have made a guest appearance on someone else’s blog this week. Thank you Jacob for inviting us. So here is another small contribution to our Warholian fifteen minutes of fame.

This week’s Radio Northenden show was all about The Letter Z. Jazz, pizza, ZZ Top and Iz. Catch up here if you mizzed it!

So, here it is. Did you manage to guess what I did today for the first time in nearly 25 years? Well, here’s a clue:

Long-haired yeti

Woke up, got out of bed, dragged a comb across my head. Then I spotted some new hair ties that Liesel had bought the other day. I couldn’t resist the temptation to tie my long lockdown locks into a pony tail. It won’t last long, though. The pony tail is, as I’m sure you’ll agree, a total delight, but the large ill-defined bald patch on top is just embarrassing. Sometime during the next couple of weeks, I should visit a barbershop and have a slight trim.

Bulldog clips and fences

You just can’t find a bulldog clip when you need one.

We enjoyed a few local walks this week, by the river, and beyond. It’s colder, especially when wind fresh from the Arctic comes along.

Crocodile in the Mersey

Of course, it’s not really a croc. We’re not in the Northern Territory any more, sadly, but we’re still on the look-out for dangerous animals. I wonder how far this log travelled? Is it now lodged on the part-time island in Northenden? Or is it a potential threat to shipping in the Irish Sea?

Even more mushrooms

It wouldn’t be a proper walk without encountering mushrooms. Are these liberty caps? Magic mushrooms? We now need a mycologist on our panel of experts, along with the botanist, arborist, architect and historian who can help out with my embarrassing lack of knowledge in those fields.

Erin McKeown

Liesel went to bed, but as the loyal fan I am, I stayed up until midnight to watch Erin McKeown online. She was performing outside her home in New England, celebrating the 20th anniversary of the release of her first album, Distillation. It was a fun show, and I slept well when I eventually turned in.

Northenden sunset

Sometimes, we glimpse a half-decent sunset from our living room, it’s just a shame about the intervening buildings.

We wandered over to Fletcher Moss Park and enjoyed a coffee under The Joshua Tree. ‘Not the Joshua Tree’, said Liesel, but I disagreed, pointing out the commemorative sign attached. I never knew Josh of course, but I was moved by seeing the lyrics from an Oasis song.

 
The Joshua Tree
That was a nice tree, that was

Elsewhere in the park, tree surgeons were at work. I say ‘surgeons’, but another word came to mind. This was a very nice tree, it didn’t harm anybody.

Selfie of the day

If it’s Tuesday, it must be time to watch Jessica Lee Morgan online again. So I did.

More pretty flowers
The heron

We don’t see our herons every time we go out, but it’s always a delight to be the first to spot him. Or her. This one was sitting there, surveilling his territory. Sometimes, we see one rooting about in the grass, maybe tracking something, but definitely treading quietly and carefully.

 

 

Needle-felt gnome

 

Indoors, Liesel is busy with her crochet and now, some more needle-felting with the WI. This chap with a big hat is very cute on our bookshelves. While Liesel was busy with this, I continued my search for a bulldog clip.

 

 


For the first time in a very long time, we walked over to Cheadle Hulme and back. Just because we can’t see William and Martha in the flesh doesn’t mean we can’t give them books from time to time.

Autumn colurs in Cheadle Hulme

This was by far the longest walk of the week, and we both felt much better for it. As we walked over a stream, I looked it up. It’s called Micker Brook, and, look, according to Google Maps, just over there a bit, there’s a bagpiper for hire.

Crash barrier in a residential area

What a shame that so much of our road system is geared up to cater for the worst of the bad drivers. This barrier makes it ridiculously difficult for pedestrians to cross the side road at this point. I wouldn’t want somebody driving into my house either, but that’s what speed limits are meant to be for.

The world-famous Gatley fence

This is the ever evolving ricketty fence in Gatley. The elderly gentleman can often be seen repairing it, introducing new branches, planks and, as you can see here, a couple of wooden pallets on this occasion. Apparently he’s always refused any help in repairing the fence properly, once and for all.

Bulldog clips

As we wandered through Gatley, I spotted this shop. Hooray! I went inside and asked for a bulldog clip. ‘Sorry,’ was the reply, ‘we don’t sell bulldog clips.’ But you have loads in your window, I pointed out. I was glared at, so I still don’t have a bulldog clip. Oh well.

Pretty fence

Ah, this fence looks much better, especially now with its new Autumn colours.

And, sorry, but here’s the oblogatory weekly photo of fly-tipping here in Northenden. This time, a carpet and lots of garden waste.

Fly-tipped carpet etc

Anyway, never mind that, here is some much more uplifting (I hope) family news.

Helen and Adam have been together now for fifteen years, and it don’t seem a day too long. To celebrate, they went for a balloon trip over the vineyards and the curious kangaroos of New South Wales. What an adventure!

Ballooning over NSW

Nearer home, Martha is doing very well at school. The first parents’ evening revealed nothing embarrassing, and the teacher is very happy to have Martha in her class, very interested, very observant, even to the point of noticing something that’s lined up for a surprise later on.

William told his Mummy one morning ‘I can’t get the puff out of my nose.’ A wheat puff, a vital component of his breakfast. Mummy and Daddy looked up the orifice but couldn’t see anything. Was he joshing? Hovering between laughing and sheer panic, a solution was found. I’d never heard of a ‘mother’s kiss’ or ‘parent’s kiss’ before but it’s very effective. So here’s a tip for parents of little ones with foreign objects rammed up the hooter:

  • Tell the child they will be given a ‘big kiss’
  • Place your mouth over the child’s open mouth, forming a firm seal as if performing mouth-to-mouth resuscitation
  • Close the unaffected nostril with a finger
  • Blow until you feel resistance caused by the closure of the child’s glottis
  • Give a sharp exhalation to deliver a short puff of air into the child’s mouth, which passes through the nasopharynx and out through the unoccluded nostril
  • Repeat if necessary

In William’s case, the wheat puff shot out and ricocheted around the room. But if not, you might shift the object enough for it to become visible.

The following morning, at breakfast: ‘Mummy, I can’t get the Rice Krispie out of my nose.’

And finally, if you’d like to hear two hours of fabulous music about my desires to be a spaceman, listen to the show here on Radio Northenden.

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