Metagalactic

It was time to go our separate ways. Pauline and Andrew took the high road back towards Chch as Pauline goes back to work on Monday. Liesel and I took the low road deciding to stay on the east coast rather than go west, because the weather forecast looked so grim. In fact, on this Friday it was raining. A lot. Every time we thought we were heading towards brighter skies, the precipitation found us again.

Windscreen wipers splishing splashing

So we saw a lot of the countryside through frosted glass. Not literally frosted, it was still fairly warm, but… But not all was lost: we were able to listen to music on the way and what a wonderful variety of tunes: Neil Diamond, Rosanne Cash, Björk, Paul McCartney, Anna Neale, Tasmin Archer, Terra Naomi, Pink Floyd and eventually, at last, David Bowie! The shuffle mode should be random, you’d think, but the number of tracks played by certain artistes bears no relation to the number of tracks available on the device. Ian Dury? Bic Runga? Murray Gold? The Unthanks? Dozens of tracks, zero plays today.

Tautuku Beach seen from Florence Hill Lookout (again)

We spent some time in the museum at Owaka and we learned that there is nothing new even in these days of modern technology.

Have you tried…?

“Turn it off and turn it on again” was a recognised solution even in the 1920s.

Everyone’s Dad’s House

With a name like that, of course I had to cross the road and have a quick look. The person inside looked quite nice actually and the place, apart from a few cobwebs, was spotlessly clean.

The Lady of the House

We ended up driving all the way back to St Kilda, Dunedin and since our usual(!) Airbnb was booked, we ended up at Adrian Mole’s place. No, that’s not right, it was Adrian’s Motel.

The following day was a total contrast. Blue skies, a few fluffy clouds, sunshine and a perfect day to go for a long, long walk on the beach. There were many more people here today, incluing children playing in the sea and even a guy trying to surf. Liesel later saw a sealion too.

You can see the curvature of the Earth!
Oystercatchers

Pauline confirmed by electronic communication that these birds with clothes pegs where their beaks used to be are indeed oystercatchers.

Selfie of the day

We drove to Moeraki where we found the Boulders on the beach. I remarked how funny it is how memory distorts things. I’m sure that the last time I visited this place, there were just a few, very large boulders on the beach. Today, there were far more, they were all smaller than I recalled, and some were even in the sea, as the tide was in.

Mick demonstrating wondrous balancing skills
More Moeraki Boulders
Seal having a stretch

Our stopping point for the night, in fact, two nights, was Oamaru. Another motel, to boot.

I went for a walk to book tickets so that we could later on go down to the the blue penguins coming ashore for the night.

Oamaru Fire Station

I thought the tower at the fire station was quite interesting, being taller than most of the buildings in so-called Victorian Oamaru.

We went to the penguin colony for 9pm and joined hundreds of other penguin-hunters.

On the rocks, a seal was basking but the announcer assured us that seals don’t eat penguins, as they have a very similar, fish-based diet. She then gave a list of predators by way of explaining why the penguins would arrive in groups, known as rafts, each comprised of about 15 penguins.

No electronic equipment, cameras, phones, laptops, tablets were meant to be used as the lights disturb the penguins. So I took just a quick one or two from the back of the stand, with no flash of course, just using their own lighting system which apparently doesn’t affect the penguins: they just think it’s moonlight.

Blue Penguins resting from their exertions

A whole day in Oamaru was a great opportunity to explore this fascinating, old town. But it rained. A lot. I did go for a walk leaving Liesel behind to take care of the laundry, thanks, Liesel. The museum was closed so I visited Steampunk HQ instead and this really was a lot of fun. There are some clever people out there, turning old, rusty, metal objects into new, working gadgets. Many come from outsde our own galaxy and some are even brought here by time-travellers.

Metagalactic Pipe Organ

I had a go on this Metagalactic Pipe Organ and amongst the various noises and sound effects, I did manage to knock out the five-note theme from Close Encounters as well as the beginning of Bach’s Toccata and Fugue.

Bosca on top of a Standard 10 automobile

Bosca is made from the ancient bones of plains gorillas. These bones lay in the soil, became rock then iron ore.

This iron ore was mined by huge steam-powered shovels and smelted in great coal-fired crucibles to create cast iron and steel.

These materials were used to build the works of men: bridges, machines, cars, planes and ocean-going ships.

When these machines broke down, their bones were used to create Bosca.

Bosca is the distillation of millions of years of struggle.

The sculptor was Chris Meder, responsible for many of the exhibits here.

The Portal Experience

The Portal Experience was great fun too. Up to six people stand in a small space where the walls, ceiling and floor are mirrors and hundreds of lights are reflected hundreds of times to give the illusion of floating in space. Magic!

Another selfie

I took a selfie but this isn’t me and Liesel, it’s me and someone else. Liesel was still in a cold, lonely motel room. Where I joined her sooner than planned after leaving Steampunk HQ because the rain was like a big hairy spider: it was torrentialler. I stopped on the way back to buy us hot coffee and hot chips.

The rest of the day was spent fairly horizontal, reading (me), watching Doc Martin (Liesel), snacking (both), napping (both) and blogging (neither).

Wandering around Bunkyō

After two days walking pretty much solely on concrete, we thought we’d do something different today.

We went for a walk, but we kept to the area close to our Airbnb. It has the feel of a village about it, you wouldn’t really know you’re in Tokyo.

Rikugien Gardens has manmade hills and a manmade pond. We walked around the park slowly, making us of the many benches on offer. We passed the tea house, resisting the temptation to have matcho tea.

Weeping cherry tree

The weeping cherry tree would of course have been prettier earlier in the year. The large American commented ‘oh shoot, this is like being outside’, purely because the toilet had no door and no windows.

Bridge over the pond
Constant reminder that there’s a city outside the park

Komo-maki is the fine art of putting straw belts around trees to catch and remove harmful insects, as they climb down looking for a warm place to stay for the Winter. Even these purely practical items are turned into works of art.

Straw belt – the original debugging tool?

This hut is about 150 years old and it unusual structure includes pillars and beams made from rhododendron wood. You could almost imagine kicking the central pillar over, it looks so fragile, yet it’s obviously doing a great job.

This hut is more robust than it looks

While we’re pleased we got away from Anchorage just in time (it is now snowing there!), we do miss the Autumn colours. Tokyo hasn’t quite got that far yet, so when you see a red tree, you know it’s special.

Autumn colours

There were, of course, plenty of fish in the pond, many of them hanging out by the bridges, presumably waiting to be fed. But it was a delight to see a couple of turtles in the water and one sunbathing. I hope he was sunbathing and not just starnded on the rock because I would feel terrible about not having helped him back in to the water.

A fish out of water, well, not a fish
Fishes and turtles

We thought about walking around these gardens again but instead, decided to move on to the next one.

On the way, we stopped for a coffee and, as with most cafés and restaurants, there was a box underneath the seat in which to place our bags.

Liesel’s pumpkin latté

Some of the roads in this area aren’t wide enough to accommodate pavements, but those that do, just like in Shinjuku, have a tactile strip, presumably for visually impaired people. Follow the yellow brick road and you will be taken straight to the pedestrian crossing or another hazard.

The yellowbrick road

In Kyū-Furukawa Gardens, we walked on more large boulders, some gravel, up and down steps, much better for Liesel especially than all that flat concrete.

The birds here were quite a bit louder and there were no ravens to drown them out.

Birdseye view of the rose garden

As we crossed one bridge, there was a splash in the water. No, not one of us, probably just another koi hoping for a hand-out from a human. Being later in the day, there were many more people here, and passing them on some of the steps was quite challenging The ‘keep left’ rule didn’t always work.

Autumnal reflections

It was here in the shade that I did some typing. No distractions other than the birds, some clanging over there where some construction was taking place, the sight of elderly couples and of young couples enjoying their time together. (I typed too soon. The raven is over there, cawing louder than a Deep Purple concert.)

Here is a 15-stone pagoda, but I think it weighs a lot more than fifteen stone.

A fifteen stone pagoda, count ’em

This English looking house was designed by and English architect, and even though we’ve only been in Japan for a week, we felt it looked out of place. It’s funny how quickly different things, sights, buildings become the norm.

A house in the English style

Even the rose garden could have been plucked from Hampton Court – apart from the Japanese text on the identity cards.

Roses

Number plate of the day, possibly the first car ever manufactured.

Number 1 car

So far, we’ve avoided all Japanese TV, apart from a dodgy game show they had on the flight into Tokyo. But we had a treat in store. The evening entertainment back at our b&b was provided by David Bowie. His 2000 Glastonbury performance was broadcast last week on BBC4 last week and Jenny and Liam recorded it and sent it to us! I could have waited until we returned home, but thanks for sending it!

Number 1 rock star

If you’re having problems with image sizes, sorry, you’re not alone, we’ve been having problems with the WordPress app: it’s been crashing a lot, lately and it doesn’t always accept our changes to images, so some pictures will appear huuuge while others may seem way too small. We can only view the blog on our phones right now, so we have to hope for the best, to a certain extent. Here ends the public service announcement.


Crabs

A few more-relaxed days while Asa and Gideon are at school. We’re into our final week here in Anchorage and so we have been planning our trip to Japan. We? A million thanks to Liesel who has been so much more pro-active in this respect.

I walked around the neighbourhood a couple of times, even though it was drizzling slightly.

No idea what inspired this bike rack design

We watched Star Wars on TV, Chapter 4, ie, the first one made but later enhanced with more special effects. I particularly enjoyed the ‘ding’ sound when the startrooper bangs his head on the door frame, definitely not in the initial release.

We had lunch with Amrit and her husband Siri. He’s a retired teacher and has spent a year demolishing a house and recycling anything that could be reused.

Liesel, Amrit, Siri

We ran a few administrative errands in town under cover of battle grey clouds. In fact, I was reminded of chilly, grey, cloudy November days at home. In food news, we had grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup. I think those two statements might be related.

Pizza: we each customised our own pizza. We? I am indebted to Liesel who made mine perfectly!

In wildlife news, I saw some crabs in Sagaya, a nearby supermarket with, by luck, a Kaladi coffee bar.

They’ve got crabs

In sailing news, here are some yachts correctly sailing with the wind.

The boats on the post go round and round…

And in gardening news, this is a great idea and a great pun!

Garden of Weedin’
One bed per gardener
How to make a boring fence look attractive

Homework

Gideon went to a birthday party where the highlight seems to have been consuming a whole bowl of pilfered Doritos! Kids, eh?

Asa went for a bike ride, something we weren’t too keen on: suppose he got kidnapped by a bear? Liesel and I went for a walk with the dog. It’s alway great exploring a new city, you’re always finding new things. I didn’t know about the Martin Luther King memorial until today.

Dr King
Hmmm, food for thought

The snow on the mountains is a few more inches lower down. It’s now officially a race: does the snow reach Anchorage before we leave? Or will we have to beg, borrow, buy or steal snow shoes? Watch this space!

Icing sugar sprinkled on a slightly stale and chopped up chocolate sponge cake

Another thing you don’t expect to see in the city centre, a long way from the railroad, is No 556, an S-160 class locomotive. It was one of 2,300 locomotives built for the US Army in 1944. They lacked the typical steam engine domes because many were sent to Europe where the bridges and tunnels were much lower than in America.

Funny place to park a steam engine

No 556 was built in 1943 by the Baldwin Locomotive Works in Pennsylvania. They were stripped down for war action and acquired the nickname ‘Gypsy Rose Lee’ locomotives, after the famous striptease, burlesque dancer.

In the evening, we watched Indiana Jones, Raiders of the Lost Ark on TV. Asa and Gid played video games where far too much was going on for us old farts to keep up with. Learning to use the X-box controller really is, for us, beyond rocket science. We happily accepted that Gid had no homework and that Asa had finished all his.

Sunday morning, Gideon played a couple more games of Futsal. In the afternoon, while Asa was having his cello lesson, Gideon and I went to a nearby school where we had a go at soccer.

Calm down, girls, but these are the socks I was ‘encouraged’ to wear. With shin guards that flew out whenever I kicked the ball.

Cool socks

I displayed limited ball skills, but it’s fair to say, my goal-keeping days are well over: mainly because I didn’t want to get my clothes dirty by diving onto mud where the grass used to be.

Gideon’s drop-kicking is very good

But he really is good with the ball, and this was a good way to pass an hour while Asa was bowing away.

We happily accepted that Gid had no homework and that Asa had finished all his, so we went to the movies and the choice today was Goosbumps 2: Haunted Halloween. It was very funny, scary in a cartoony way and I think the boys liked it!

Can’t wait to see this film in December

Back at home, Asa revealed the Time Capsule that he’d made for his project. Fallen Autumn leaves stuck to an oak chest with real mammoth blood.

Time capsule to be opened in 2118

Then, an hour bedtime, Asa realised that he did have more homework to do, after all. Kids, eh?

Once upon a time, a man went into the car registration service center. The clerk asked him “What would you like your six-character number plate to be?” The customer thought about it for a long time, umming and ahhing. The clerk got fed up with waiting.

Mmmmmm

Socktober

A very lazy morning: I ate breakfast while messing up a Sudoku puzzle. In the afternoon, I walked to the coffee shop and back, enjoying the sunshine but not so much the cold. It’s borderline right now: too cold without a jacket, too warm with it.

Jewel Lake branch

It’s Socktober: a campaign to donate socks to homeless people. Elsewhere it’s Inktober, a challenge for artists all around the world to draw an ink picture every day and post it online. And it’s Stoptober, the campaign in England to help people give up smoking. But I like Socktober as a word…

Socktober

After dinner, we went to Aaron and Jodi’s. They were packing for their trip to New Orleans. Asa and Gideon went to bed after we watched a couple of episodes of Flight of the Conchords on TV.

Gideon likes to go to Campfire, the big breakfast party at school. Which is fine, except that it starts at half past seven. Far too early for civilised people. Liesel drove him while I stayed behind to look after Asa, who then walked to school on his own.

Liesel had another physio appointment and we walked there as it’s not too far from the house. We took the dog, Zipper with us, and while Liesel was being treated, Zipper and I found the coastal trail. Zipper pulled a lot and sniffed everything. I didn’t.

Someone had a placard in their front yard which I thought was quite sad.

The caption speaks for itself

After meeting up with Liesel again, we walked home via a baker slash coffee shop that we’d been to before: Fire Island: On the way, we passed dear old Star, the reindeer. Not the same Star that was here before, apparently. Like the good Doctor, Star regenerates every few years.

Star the Reindeer

It’s a pity he, she or it has to be behind such a dense fence though, with just a small area of dirty perspex to look through.

Ain’t nobody gonna get outta here

But we did like this park bench, seemingly inspired by Vincent van Gogh.

Front porch bench project

At Fire Island, we had a second, late breakfast.

In the evening, we took Gideon to play Futsal. He and his team wear the red shirts of England, hooray! It’s an indoor version of soccer, similar to 5-a-side football that I was no good at, at school. The indoor court is probably about the same size as a basketball court. The ball is smaller and less bouncy than a soccer ball and the goals are smaller too. But there are still five players on a team.

Klaus and Leslie met us there to look after the boys while Liesel and I went out for a Thai meal with Bob and Margot. Bob was Liesel’s boss in Anchorage until I dragged her kicking and screaming away to London. It was good to see them again, and Liesel and Bob caught up on news of many old acquaintances.

Bob and Liesel

We collected our charges from their Opa and Oma. I read Gid the first chapter of The Wolf Book after which he pretended to be asleep.

Here’s the first of today’s bonus pictures:

Registration number of the beast

My Dad had a Vauxhall Viva with the number THO666H, and you can imagine what teenage me and my sister thought of that! It was seen on TV once. No, not as a getaway vehicle on Crimewatch. More innocently, in the car park at Epsom races.

And here is the optical illusion of the day. I’ve seen it posted several times on Twitter and Facebook recently, so here it is, just so you know what you’re missing.

You want it to stop, but it won’t ….

Thirteen

We were hoping to visit Hope to join Una, Phil and Kiran for the day but Jyoti didn’t sleep much and Liesel’s knee wasn’t in a fit state to drive. It was also raining hard. All weasel excuses maybe, and I feel we let Una down, especially after her request to bring along some toilet paper.

Instead, we went out for breakfast with Liesel’s parents. Gwennie’s Old Alaska Restaurant was very busy, lots of people and lots of stuffed animals. And upstairs, lots of photos from the old days.

Arctic fox (stuffed)
Beaver (stuffed)
Gwennie’s old car

The highlight of the day was the start of a new series of Doctor Who. There was a global simulcast, presumably to limit the number of spoilers. Jodie Whittaker is playing the thirteenth Doctor and we enjoyed this first episode. No, we didn’t watch it live, as we were out for breakfast. To make time for more adverts, BBC America didn’t bother with the opening titles nor the closing credits. So disrespectful to the production team.

There is a balcony outside the main bedroom at Klaus and Leslie’s house. It was built thirty years ago with half a dozen wooden planters attached. No plants can survive the winds that constantly bombard them. And a few days ago, one of the planters, earth and all, fell off and covered the Durango in soil. So this day, Liesel and I helped Klaus dismantle the rest of the planters before they had a chance fall onto my head.

In the process, the botttom fell out of one, missing Liesel, who was emptying the dirt by a rock wall. She did however suffere from water spray when we hosed the floor of the balcony down.

We met Una when she finished work and went for another walk along the coastal trail. Again, it was really clear and we could see Denali way over there.

View from the coastal trail

I found Jupiter, another point on the Planet Walk.

Jupiter on the coastal trail

On the return walk, for the first time, I felt the cold breeze and actually donned my jacket.

Una took us into the courtoom and we visited her office with the new artwork.

The court’s in session
Seal of the State of Alaska

How she gets any work done with a view like this is beyond me!

View from Una’s office window

The War Memorial in Delaney Park Strip is quite extensive, and it was very sad and moving to see that conflicts on the other side of the world are still claiming local lives.

Anchorage War Memorial
So sad and unnecessary

Twitter told me that there would be an announcement on BBC 6 Music about David Bowie. It was on at half past midnight our time and I couldn’t not tune in to listen! The exciting news is that there will be two TV programmes featuring David Bowie. The first is this month: an hour from the two-hour set he performed at Glastonbury in 2000. Then, next year, another documentary in the Five Years series. David Bowie: The First Five Years includes stories from his early auditions at the BBC, 1964-1968, I guess. I’ve asked Jenny to record both for me, but anyone else in the UK, please record these for me, I’ll come round and watch them when we get back, and I’ll be your best friend forever!

Despite staying up late, we had to get up early next day as Liesel had another physio appointment. More dry needling in the butt.

I walked up to Kaladi on Jewel Lake Road where she picked me up to go to CostCo, woohoo.

The main objective here was to receive our flu jabs. Flu shots, as they say here. My resistance had finally been worn down by the combined forces of my wife and two daughters and I had my very first flu vaccination. It didn’t hurt at all. Pulling the plaster off my hairy arm later did hurt. Liesel also had a tetanus jab. Hepatitis A and B was on offer too, but I’ll need time to think about that.

In the evening, Jyoti drove us to the Beartooth for dinner. Una joined us as did Suvan and Kayla. Later that evening, Jyoti left for Indianapolis. We’ll see her again in February, in Australia.

After all the needles poked into her today, I’m glad Liesel didn’t drink too much water, she would have leaked like a cartoon watering can.

The Price is Right

In May 1980, Sarah and I were enjoying the World Snooker Championship Final on TV. Suddenly, the game was interrupted by a urgent news report.

A group of six armed men had stormed the Iranian Embassy in London a few days earlier. During this very exciting snooker match, the SAS stormed the Embassy in a bid to end the seige and liberate the hostages. All very exciting, yes, but we wanted our snooker back.

There were only three TV channels in the UK at the time and all of them were showing live pictures from the Iranian Embassy.

I think hundreds, maybe even thousands, of people must have complained to the BBC because fairly soon, we returned to the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield to watch the rest of the match. Canadian Cliff Thorburn beat Alex Higgins, becoming the first ever non-British World Snooker Champion.

All this came back to mind this morning when Klaus became very animated when his favourite TV show was interrupted by a long breaking news item. Bill Cosby has been found guilty of drugging and sexually attacking a woman, and will serve between three and ten years in jail.

Can’t we have ‘The Price is Right’ back, begged Klaus. To be fair, the report did go on a bit too long, and really, it’s not that big a news story. Certainly when compared with the storming of an embassy.

The big question now of course is, why were we in the same room while that show was on TV? Well, breakfast. The other question is, will Bill Cosby follow in OJ Simpson’s footsteps and write a book called “I didn’t drug and rape that woman but if I wanted to, this is how I would have gone about it”?