Post Haste – I don’t think so!

Well, what can I say? This Blogging lark didn’t really keep up the speed it started with!

Off like a Guy Fawkes Rocket – soaring and fizzing and now? – more of a whimper than a bang. With only a couple of blogs in recent weeks, I’m winning no prizes.

Though quality is what counts of course. So – talking of quality, let me start you with the Two Ronnies (Google them if you don’t know!):

A row developed today at Sussex County Council when Library listings were announced and Southern Rail’s new Timetables were listed under Fiction.

A woman complained to Police that a squad of cavalrymen from the Light Brigade had crept up to her house and seduced her. When asked if she would prefer charges she replied ” yes I would. It would be noisy but I wouldn’t be kept waiting so long….”

Boom Boom (as they say). I won’t trouble you with any more.  Sometimes even I am surprised by the funny books Brenda has amassed. I am back in Sydney now – and no pun intended.

After a lively few weeks with Peter & Christine, their four young girls and mother Joan up In Queensland,  the peace of suburban Sydney is quite noticeable. I have been reacquainting myself with Brenda’s very neurotic dog Rimsky (as in…..) taking him for such unusually long walks he’s been flaked out by 7pm. Which Brenda usually is too – after days of trying to teach English to a range of immigrants from all over.  Though I don’ take her for walks!!

By Australian law, if you want to be Naturalised, you must reach a certain standard of spoken English. Some of her students are elderly women who have been coming to classes for years and still speak only Chinese or Iranian!

Meantime, out walking today , I found I may have been in the Bush way north of Sydney before…… spooky, I was only 14 then!

I went walking with one of the women who arranged my first trip out of Sydney when I arrived – remember Tom Groggin Station – the very up-market log cabin in an earlier Blog?  Penny and I hiked, scrambled and walked 12 or so Km through virtually virgin bush (yes there are markers – though I wore a screaming orange hat in case we needed to be spotted by helicopter for a rescue). It doesn’t seem far, but it took several hours. Quite oddly,  you do get a feeling for what the early explorers settlers must have encountered. Such thick and lush vegetation;  incredible trees – I called this one Busty Bertha!!

It is a gum tree of sorts, with the most amazing boles studded all over the trunk – which itself has no bark as we would know it,  just a smooth dark skin, like an elephant. You cannot resist touching it.

And who needs art in galleries, when this naturally eroded rock offers such stunning visuals!!

or this………

The landscape is almost completely sandstone – varying in hue from bright yellow, through orange to deep dark purply red. Sometimes the sand on the tracks is deeper  (and wetter) than an English beach (for want of a better word). Other times the bedrock rises underfoot and we slip and slide from the frequent small watercourses than criss-cross the land. Old oyster shells litter the riverside parts of the track – evidence of the eating habits of the original inhabitants here. Before what my thoughtful friends describe as The Invasion!  That would be Captain Cook and onwards……

Meantime, Brenda (and Penny’s partner Liz) were lazing about at their home overlooking the nearby Hawkesbury River a mile or three away. This vast inland estuary could easily have been the first main outpost rather than Sydney. Fate decreed it is now a very pretty backwater with several villages accessible by boat only, and a very popular spot for commuting and/or weekending from Sydney. Penny & Liz live here full time – high on the hill above the bay, but with vertiginous steps and gardens right down to the water. I didn’t venture down to the bottom; after our walk I rather feared that I might get down there, but my legs would refuse to come up again.

I was very ready, however,  for the barbecued lamb and veg followed by Cherry Mud Pie! (imagine that…. yum).

Barbecues, by the way,  are NOT just a summer occupation here – both Liz and Brenda have large gas barbecues in the back gardens and use them almost daily.

As I sit here now – watching Motor Racing from Belgium on the TV and writing this, I know I’ll be dragging myself up from the seat soon – legs and glutes aching!  and the bike ride I half-planned for tomorrow will NOT be happening!!

This is Penny below as we clambered up another boulder-strewn hillside.

It is just coming into Spring here and plants starting to bud and shoot. Some strange and wonderful sights : this tiny (1 inch wide) bud opening like a tiny, perfect coat button.

There are at least 500 varieties of eucalyptus trees & bushes, dozens of Banksias and even more that look like these previous two but aren’t. I could never be a Botanist.

In fact I discovered the other day that I am a “Scanner”  as a descriptor of how I approach life, work etc. This was a new word to me – but a welcome piece of information, counteracting the guilt I have felt all my life for not “applying myself” to a career. According to my “research”  the behaviour of a Scanner is to dip into everything – the world is fascinating, there isn’t enough time to check everything out etc – and after a period of brief intensity, to move on. Be it acting, exhibitions, poetry, cycling, praying, keeping fit, learning to sketch, writing Blogs (!) singing, looking for work, whatever,  etc etc etc

(The opposite pole, by the way is a “Diver” – the person who needs to microscopically investigate one special subject or topic – down to its atoms etc . Way too much information for me).

Anyway, it seems it’s OK to use my talents this way – and it explains why I have been an office worker, actor, tour director, administrator, Butler, Hotel worker, – and that’s just a few I can remember at the moment.  Armed with such information I shall be planning even more fancy flights of fancy!!

Forthcoming “Scanner” activities will include:

investigating House Sitting / Caretaker (so don’t be surprised if I end up somewhere in Europe when I finish here; come and visit me)

finalising some “consultancy” work  (cough, cough) with my old event pals from the UK who are doing cloned shows here like Better Homes & Gardens / MasterChef Live and the Baby & Toddler Show. Yikes!

More Poetry : a historical/biographical/whimsical poem for every year I have been on the Plant – at least 1949-2009 anyway!  60 for 60.

And on that optimistic note I will close.  Stating only the obvious : this is not a dress rehearsal and what’s the worst that could happen?  (Most of it already happened, anyway!).

Take care. Love to all.

JC

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Derby and Joan………

We none of us are getting any  younger, are we?

Yesterday (Sat 16th) my next sibling down – Philip – was getting a surprise 60th birthday party from my other siblings, family and friends – which I of course was unable to attend, being 11,000 miles or so away.  The Lucky One? – indulging my travel addictions! – but missing family fun.

My friends Peter and Christine – with whom I am staying – live  (with their 4 daughters and his mother)  on the Gold Coast of Queensland, close to the “city” of Surfers Paradise.  Not sure how accurate that name is these days; the entire beachfront here is lined with tower blocks of apartments, hotels and holiday rentals. Those on the second row back will be lucky if they ever see the sun at all!

 

Queensland has always been – it seems to me – a little like Perth.  Like a rather brash, unruly younger brother to its more sophisticated rellies (Sydney/Melbourne) – rather like Leicester Square next to Covent Garden.  Both very popular with visitors but one slightly more garish and with its hair let down.  The Gold Coast –  more Las Vegas than Leamington Spa!!

Brisbane itself I don’t know well, but will be investigating soon.

(( “Rellies” by the way – is a typical Aussie shortening for convenience. We say relatives……  you can try your tongue and brain on “avo”, “dahls”, “smoko” for some more linquistic puzzlers!))

Mine hosts kindly (and very expensively) took me out to dinner on my first night here – to a purpose built dinner theatre venue called Draculas! Think theme park crossed with Rocky Horror Show, crossed with The Trocadero and you get the picture. From the coffin room style entrance, through the Ghost Train cars which took us in pairs down the main dining area; the enormous (a litre?) goldfish bowl cocktail glasses to the serving staff impersonating  Avatars, Vampires or Zombies,  right through to the show itself.  A combination of schlock horror / heavy metal crossed with ventriloquism, cross-dressing, puppetry and plain old rock from the 60s to the 90s which carried us along by force of enthusiasm, noise and sheer-salesmanship for 3 hours. I was exhausted, over-excited and dying to buy my own set of fangs (only $35!!) by the end of the night.

On a gentler note, the BLOG  is titled Derby and Joan – see above – because Joan (Peter’s mother) was quizzing me about England and places she remembered, including – as it happened – Derby. Or Durby as she called it…….

One of the loveliest things about people here is that , despite a rather ambivalent past history with successive British governments, and despite enormous changes in the ethnic make up of the population (even in the 10 years or so since I was last here), so many people still have ties to the UK and Ireland and want to talk about where they or their ancestors came from. Even if they have never been to Europe and don’t plan to go anytime soon!

I keep getting blamed for bringing English weather with me! Though it is winter now, here in Queensland they insist the last 2 years have seen a change in climate towards wetter, colder winters.

This is the first time I have been In Australia in the “winter” and I suppose I would equate it with an English autumn; often cold and misty at night. I notice more than the locals do though, that when the sun shines, there is some heat in it – despite mid-winter – something that would not be the case in mid-December in England, even if the sun deigned to shine!

The last few weeks – though based in Sydney – have seen me making short trips away (usually with my old friend Brenda) both up and down the coast and inland to the Blue Mountains. So-called because the blue-ish green tint of the native eucalypts,  especially in the evening light, gives the mountains that sort of hue. They are very beautiful – incidentally – and it’s fun to imagine the difficulty the first settlers had in getting up the hills to start with. Unlike Britain, where following a river up will usually find a path through mountains, the land here doesn’t do that and often they followed for miles only to fruitlessly arrive at a blank and towering cliff, with little hope of ascending it!

Brenda lived at one time in a small town called Blackheath – around the  4000 feet mark – and there are other friends who recently moved to Richmond. Windsor is nearby,  as is Pitt-town. You will note the derivation / influences of the place names!

Many of the coastal areas bear a combination of Aboriginal as well as European names.  A glance at the map that follows shows quite a selection – and will also give you some idea of the distances involved here.  When compared to the UK, you realise what a very small – and quite crowded – country the UK is.

Spent a pleasant 2 days in Eden – almost as far south in New South Wales as you can go. Once a huge whaling industry was based here; now only tourist come – though they come for whale watching as numbers of Sperm and Blue whales still pass close by the shore on their way south to Antarctic breeding grounds. Sadly, we were too early in the season  to see any – though it was galling to find out that as we drove back on the inland route, whales were being sighted in Sydney, off Bondi Beach!!  Here’s a shot taken near Eden, trying to pretend it is a cliff, rather than a 2 foot riverbank!!


It could be a lunar landscape, almost! Did you ever see such a think sandy riverbank; just where the River runs into the sea near Eden.

I took the train up from Sydney to my current location – on the map above passing through Tweed Heads and into Queensland….. that part of the journey is 11 hours by train. The coastal track stops just into Queensland and the last 3 hours to Surfers Paradise are by coach! A further 1.5 hours would get you to Brisbane.

There WAS a rail track onwards to Brisbane along the sea, but a lack of passengers and poor maintenance of rolling stock, track and stations meant it was closed 2o years ago! As one Rail employee said to me :  1100 Km or track is a lot to maintain.

For the geographically-challenged amongst my readers, that’s the distance more or less, from Lands End to Jon O’Groats!!

Here – by contrast – is Werri Beach – somewhat near Kiama on the above map. Very different country : pastoral, cows grazing everywhere and green meadows running down almost to the sea. It reminded me of parts of Ireland……

Though with different trees and, of course, no Guinness – or diddly-diddly-dee tourism!!

I really am blessed that I have friends here – and that they have friends who embody the Aussie spirit of generosity and laidbackness (what a horrible portmanteau word! I apologise if I made it up).   In the last few weeks, I have been offered (or accepted):

Sheep-farming  (shearing comes later) or cattle farm visits; Sailing in and around Sydney Harbour from 2 different people; Beach houses / millionaire’s country retreats / bush cabins; Cars on loan; Lunches / Dinners in very exclusive venues in Sydney and beyond; Bike riding in the Blue Mountains; Dog walking all over the place – everyone seems to have dogs!!

Not to mention the wonderful vistas and the sheer fun or travelling long distances with no particular rush to get anywhere……. if I go much slower as I adventure along, I shall probably stop completely.

Until the next time…………..

Joan, Joan, where are you…………………………………………???

No Worries?

My main worry is that I am having such a chilled time that I have become very idle in the Blog department! Since my last blog (May 21 I think), a month has flown by and I have been in and out from Sydney a few times, latterly a few hours south to my ex’s (that’s Steven) near Canberra – where his partner Tony has a sheep farm.

Seriously. At the moment there are only 450 sheep on the 3300 acres – their part of the country is only just recovering from an 8-year drought, when animal stocks were almost zero and many farms and holdings were sold off.  Tony’s family has been on this farm since the 1890s – and in Australia since the 1830s, so it’s great that he survived.  Especially since I can now add Sheep Wrangler / Drover to my CV. I think the proper term could also be Jackeroo – but I feel a bit Senior for that.

(Talking of which, I quite blatantly request a Senior Concession Fare on the bus from Brenda’s into the City – tho I am not entitled (being non-Aussie) and also not old enough, as their age for Concessions is 65. So far it has worked and I get full use of trains buses and ferries for $2.50 a day!)

I digress.  Here’s a typical view of the land in the southern tablelands where Tony’s farm is situated.

A very nice young Aussie called Mike came to the farm for half a day, to scan the sheep. As in scan for pregnancy. As I recall, 390 or so were with lamb! They had to be rounded up, passed through a paddock or two and finally funneled into Mike’s machine. He had the worst job – shoving the hand-held scanner between their rear legs to get a reading. This caused lots of them to wee themselves. What a day job, eh?

I was (at first) charged with feeding the ewes up the last little ramp into his machine, but didn’t have the strength to really shove those who lowered their heads and refused to budge. Plus their wool has lots of sharp burrs which – despite my gloves – were really working into my “townie” hands.  Tony had a trick of grasping them somewhere “down below” which I didn’t fancy even trying to learn, so I moved down the line and found I had a good knack for funnel duties – aided by a useful wooden staff I picked up in the meadow, which I used to prod them rather effectively in the left buttock! We soon had them running through pretty neatly.

I shan’t be taking up a career as a sheep farmer anytime soon, however.

Moving on……

This is the Deep Space Station in the hills outside Canberra. There are 3 in the World (all owned/run by NASA):  this one, one in Spain and one in California. They spend their days communicating with satellites / spacecraft / stations we have up there (so to speak) and also listening into Deep Space for any signals that might be coming To Us. ET phone home – that sort of thing.

It opened in time for the moon landing in 1969 and has some stunning equipment, films and footage from those days as well as many other space excursions. At the moment they continue to monitor two spacecraft now at the very edge of our Galaxy and have been tracking for 10 years or more. They are watching Mars, Pluto, probes and meteor showers.  Is their work about looking at the past (light years etc) or the future – who knows what they will find?

As luck would have it, the very time we were there,  this huge disc (300 feet across) tilted and turned till it was lying flat and facing straight up. Like a scene from a James Bond movie!  Though we are actually sitting on the back terrace having tea and cake.

We were out for the day to visit some of Tony’s family history. His surname in De Salis – note the De – not de! And the family dates from ad the 9th century in a Swiss province close to the Italian border called Soglio.   This happens to be the name of the property he currently farms and where I’ve been staying.  Say “solio” not sog – and you realise how Italian it is.  Until about 1930 all the males of the family held a courtesy title of Count – and indeed there is a current Count and Countess Charles De Salis – they run a very upmarket B&B in a stately home in Somerset!

Back in the 1830s,  sons of the then Count came to Australia and over the following generations bought, farmed, sold or lost a number of very large estates – one of which now forms an entire suburb of Canberra itself. Our trip that day took us to one earlier property which even includes a beautiful small walled family cemetery – part of the national heritage trail these days.


This branch of the family is actually called Fane De Salis – but that’s too confusing to try and explain here! Suffice to say, a visit to this historic place – where the cemetery gets the best spot – on a little hill adjoining the two rivers which run through the property – was a really special occasion.

Of these two rivers, one – the Murrumbidgee – runs along the border of Tony’s current property – though Soglio is about 30 miles away!

As a suburban London boy – and never a country dweller really, I find it fascinating and enthralling to explore a family that can trace it’s occupancy of the same land for 150 years and the family itself back over 1000. I feel sure I shall steal some of their story for future writings.

Meantime, their life – that’s Tony and Steven’s – carries on in a gentle and natural way. Steven is an artist (some of you will know that) and now continues to make his art in some of the rooms in the farmhouse, as well as lending hands – when the need arises – to farm stuff. Suffice to say that he prefers making art to sheep wrangling! He is currently teaching art at the Australian National University in Canberra, as well as working on his own PhD with a project concentrating on Bronze Serpents and their appearance and meaning in cultures worldwide

See http://www.stevenmarkholland.com. for some examples of his talent.

I leave you with a dinner scene from Soglio. Jane and Greg (the neighbourly tenants next door), me (serving the roast mutton), Mike De Salis (Tony’s cousin) and Tony  himself. Steven on camera.

Don’t be fooled by the jollity of the occasion. We are having fun of course, rugged up (as we say here) with several layers and the wood stove on which we rely for cooking and hot water. Head beyond this room to the bedroom wing or outside areas and you risk a severe chilling, in a not-so-fun way!!

Canberra is over 3000 feet and I had forgotten till I arrived that we are still in winter here. Frost and not a heater to be found in the shower! Yikes ; high speed washing – if at all – was the order of the day. I began to wonder why I was in the habit of showering daily – I decided I would rather not impersonate a brass monkey.

Sydney or Bust (I think I mean “Bush”)

A fairly straightforward flight from Perth brought me to Sydney one Thursday afternoon over a week ago – and a rapid couple of trains got me via the centre of the City to West Ryde, the nearest train station to my friend Brenda.

I was so early (for that read ahead-of-my-gestimated arrival time) that she’d hardly got ready to meet me and it took longer to do the final 3 miles or so than the whole journey from the airport!!  Our reunion – after 11 years – was brief as an early night called.

We left Sydney at 6am Friday – the 13th – for what became an 8+ hour journey into the wilderness. We eventually arrived at Tom Groggin Station (google it if you like). An old property right on the NSW/Victoria border – indeed, the Murray River which marks the border thereabouts, actually runs through the property! Here are some photos I took there.

Please don’t think for a moment we were roughing it! This is the main house at Tom Groggin.

Below  is part of the old farm down the hill – where a famous Australian poem (and film etc etc) has taken it’s inspiration : called The Man from Snowy River (if you like poetry, Google that as well).

When you enter the property there is the working farm – “our”  house is a further 4 Km (2.5 miles) up the hill, across the River Murray and then across a smaller river (the Omeo) – twice! All our possessions were transferred to a 4-WD Toyota at the farm for the final part of the trip. When the water is too high at the Omeo – everything gets carried over this bridge – which of course we had to try. Terrifying for this townie!!

It’s really a home-made mini-suspension bridge and (as you might imagine) sways and bucks a bit as one crosses! The most disconcerting bit being to look down through the metal mesh and realise only a few Meccano-like screws and a single cable are holding you 40 feet above the rushing river! Oo-er….

Not sure whether to take it at a run – or tip-toe!!

This is some of the view from the house – we are next to a National Park, quite close to Australia’s highest mountain – Mount Kosiosko (not sure about the spelling) and have crossed the Great Dividing Range to get here – in the Snowy Mountains. We came through a snowline at about 5000 feet and are about 3000 feet now in a gentler valley. At night though it is close the freezing, so we are glad of the enormous log fire.

The house is owned by a wealthy Sydney businessman and has 5 bedrooms all with en suite bathrooms, huge lounge and dining areas (inside and out)  and some lovely pieces of modern Australian and other native art.  It has been an enormous treat to be here, watching wild horses (brumbies) grazing up and down the hill, kangaroos (natch!), emus and herds of Black Angus cattle – which also supplied some of our dinners!!

You never saw such clear skies and legions of stars in your life, I bet!! We even managed a full moon, by good fortune.

After a bracing and relaxing weekend away, it was back again to the bright lights of Sydney, including this awesome sign when we stopped to use a road-side service area loo!!

Yikes…….

Good idea to look down the dunny (that’s Aussie for loo)  before using it!!

Pom Thoughts From Abroad

Well, so much for good intentions. Though I did manage a final India “roundup with photos” recently, I realise I have been here in Western Australia for more than a week. And as I haven’t done very much, I can only say that actually, my time here is really the first few days when I have actually felt able to do nothing. I am even doing some sunbathing (sunbaking! as we say here) even though the practice is largely frowned upon and people go to quite some lengths to ensure no sun-tanning gets done.  Kids appearing as white-faced ghosts, grown adults with silver or white cheeks and noses : they know from experience the damage that the sun can do, long-term. It’s not like Jan Austen – or India for that matter – where a pale skin indicated a non-outdoor working life; even the outdoor workers (lifeguards, gardeners etc) are covered up and protected in the main.

I tell myself that my half to one hour in the sun daily is just toning my skin up nicely!  I don’t want to arrive in Sydney looking that a pale Pommie!  See what a different culture I come from! It’s actually about 28 degrees here this week (a hot 82 in UK speak) and clear blue skies mostly. There has been a little rain shower or three, which they need, and (like India) it gets dark pretty sharpish at 6.30 pm.

Since I am a creature of leisure and my hosts have now returned to work, I’ve been borrowing a bicycle and cycling around and usually ending up in the nearest town –  Mandurah – almost daily.  For a proper barista coffee (they don’t drink it at the house) and usually a snack or cake (you know me!). And a leisurely exploration of the area. Mandurah calls itself a City – I think the population is around 85,000 and it is the biggest place in WA apart from Perth (500,000).  Mandurah lies 50 miles  south of Perth and has been quite lucky in recent years in obtaining a new highway, a new railway from Perth (very efficient) and some very smart marina and canal-side housing developments. There are some beautiful waterside homes at prices than can climb towards $2M but you would get quite a lot for that – probably 7 beds and baths, several reception areas, boat moorings etc.

The Indian ocean lies one side (west) and Mandurah sits at the mouth of a river and inlet complex which is pretty huge and includes several conservation areas and legions of birds, inc. ibis, cormorants, pelicans, parrots (of many types) and of course bush creatures like kangaroos.  Only today – as I returned from the cycle, not 200 yards from home, two kangaroos were browsing the grass verge, looking well-fed and sleek and with little interest ine me. They move with a strange, slow gait – almost gracefully for animals with such tiny paws and such large hind quarters!

Reaching for my iPhone to take a picture, I realised – to my utter horror – that I had actually left the phone on top of a publci phone box in the city- half an hour cycle away!  Being too budget-conscious to use the iPhone itself, I tried to call across country using a payphone and (James being James) when it didn’t work, I stomped the receiver down, took back my coins and cycled off – completely forgetting the phone propped up on top so I could read the number to dial! A fatal combination of impatience, irritation, forgetfulness, Jamesness.

But there is a God! Trevor was at home close by and we flew into Mandurah. Astoundingly, there was the iPhone, still sitting atop the payphone – and this on what is Mandurah’s main through road. Thank God – and I say that with humility and gratitude! – that most people have mobiles these days so pay phones get very little use.

I happen to think that Australia is (by comparison to England – and certainly London) a rather more moral place  and that a finder would have handed my phone in. But I am very grateful that I did not have to put that theory to the test. Phew!!

Meantimes, I have been doing a little research into the place called Australind  – almost exactly 100 miles south of Perth. It seemed to me that the name was of such significance (Australia and India – two of Britain’s major colonies) that it must have a special  place in Australia’s founding history.  The truth is somewhat more mundane and sadder.

Though first sighted in the 1650s by Dutch explorers,  no landings were made until about 1802 and only in 1841 did the british purchase (from whom??)  103,000 acres with the intention of settling and breeding horses. For use in Australia and in India – hence the name.  The settlement really lasted barely two years : as someone remarked, there was no rain in the summer and too much in the winter. The land (as it is all along the coast) was too poor to support crops etc and though 440 settlers came from Britain, the site was officially abandoned as a settlement in 1875.  The focus shifted a few miles away to Bumbury, but largely to Perth where the abundant Swan River allowed for an inland settlement and thus ensured its future as the state capital.

Some hardy souls clearly hung on – though it is interesting to note that as late as the 1971 Census, only 418 lived in Australind. Today that may be as many as 7500 but it will never be an important place and (indeed) is bypassed now by the “Old” Coast Road and by a new inland freeway and has no rail connections. I still plan to visit to see the 2/3 buildings that remain from that first attempt in the 1840s.

I realise that my daily cycles around the area are actually filling my mind and imagination with lots more to tell. Not to mention my first visit to Perth in 11/12 years. So I will leave you with an image or two :

a lovely picture  from around the time of the 1st World War  which captures the evening light and the trees that make this such a wonderful landscape to wander. Called ‘Droving into the Light’ by a German artist – Hans Heysen.

And I also include a shot of the ubiquitous local emblem – state, river and Brewery!! The Black Swan!


Keep me in your thoughts, as I do you in mine.

India to Australind.

I know, I know, some of my titling is excruciating – it can only get worse!!

And as for the content, for example:

You call that poetry?

No I do not

I call it verse –

which is far worse,

is it not?

Anyhoo – for my final blog that relates to India – this will be mostly photographic. I baulked – at the last minute – at packing my digital camera in my small case, so all the photos come via the iPhone. And in fact are not toooo bad despite that.

What they lack in composition and artistry, I hope, will be offset by the sparkling wit that goes with them!

Enough, already. Here are a few of my favourite things (apart from raindrops on kittens, bright rubber mittens – or however that song goes!):

This temple roof is completely covered with individual figures – and it all gets re-painted every two years! Talk about the Forth bridge Temple.

This is a proper Juggernaut!! Quite a painting job too!

And in the middle of the surrounding slums and chaos, this beautiful (and beautifully kept) temple in the middle of a “tank” – or water storage facility.

 And how about this for water management? As good (almost) as anything the Romans built – tho it hasn’t had to survive 2000 years yet – maybe 200 and is still carrying water to Mysore City from the mountains.

This is Tipu Sultan’s summer palace away from Mysore – on the river at Seringinpatnam (check that spelling!) where ultimately he was defeated by Wellington.

This stunning carving I mentioned in an earlier post – it is part of the wall / Water Gate at Seriningipatnam (etc!) but now – since the walls have fallen or been partly destroyed by the British, this piece sits at the River’s edge simple as a block of stone, which I stepped off into the River – as I bathed (a bit) to have all my sins forgiven. ;))

Things were not ALL bad! Here’s a solid gold throne from the Tipu’s other Palace!

This strange little house – right behind my “hotel” in Mysore – shows what life was really like for most people say half a century ago!!

I think I will send this to the London Zoo – as an example of how you can manage the litter and be subtle at the same time!!

And so, the Englishman abroad takes a break (in the Temple doorway) – certain sure that the Helpful Attendant will be returning the iPhone(camera) in a moment, together with a reminder that it’s always a good idea to make a small donation to the Temple (i.e. to him!!).

OK Folks – no more India stuff for the time being – until I start on my research for the Maharaja of Coorg (when I get home!).

Hope these give a little flavour of what a strange, smelly (in every way), entrancing and befuddling country India is.

I can only encourage you all to pack a small bag, forget about keeping too clean and laundered, don’t eat anything that hasn’t been cooked immediately before. Don’t drink the water – bottles are everywhere and price-controlled; only eat fruit you can peel. If you want to eat local (as opposed to air-conditioned tourist places) pick the busy places where there’s a queue of Indians.

Don’t expect NOT to be fleeced, no matter how kind and friendly your rickshaw driver / hotel front man / waiter is – you represent £££ or $$$ for them and they will – in the politest possible way – try to remove as much as possible from you. So I always try to keep in mind that – even if I am paying Rupees 150 for a ride that really should cost less than Rupees 100, the reality is, we’re arguing over 40p!!

(Given that there are 70 Rupees to a £1 and you can eat well for 200-300 Rupees!)

Hare Rama Hare Krishna  – from this old ex-hippy to you all!

Singapore

You know, Singapore – sometimes called Gateway to the East! – must have the smartest, cleanest, tidiest airport in the World!  Well, of course I haven’t seen every airport, but I’d still wager it is.  But then Singapore city / island is probably the tidiest city state in the world too!!  As you leave the airport, you could be forgiven for thinking you were in part of a rain-forest – there are so many wonderful and old-looking trees!  But then you realise that actually, it is ALL  construction!

The highways, the planting of trees, the train lines, everything. But it is also so cleverly done, you react comfortably to it – even if you don’t realise that at once.

I remember years ago reading about the “chewing-gum” police who were employed to make sure the streets were kept clean and clear of such deposits! I’m not entirely sure that it was true, but certainly you’d have to search far and wide to find ANY deposits of litter, gum (whatever) on the streets of Singapore.

I arrived at 4.30 am en route from India to Australia – and with a 11 hour wait for the next flight,  the easiest thing to do was dump all my luggage in the Deposit room and head into the city proper.  I got there by about 6, though of course there was nothing open yet. I don’t know Singapore well, but anyway decided to avoid anything with Raffles in the name; I know there’s a whole Plaza for example, over and around the famous old Hotel (which sits marooned in a sea of high rises).

Talking of high rises, though, Singapore does do them well – I am not much of a photographer, but here’s a shot of part of the skyline. (Incidentally, this is my first attempt at downloading a photo here, so if there’s just a blank space, don’t be surprised!). There are some really very unusual shapes….

I came into the City on the Metro (Singapore$4 each way – about £2 for half an hour). But very high technology! Not unlike the latest London lines (Jubilee?) with barriers on the platform that open in synch with the tube doors. Very high spec systems inside with lights that flash showing the next station – which side the doors will open and when – and so on.

Having decided NOT to go to Raffles station (or City Hall – which I  remembered as the middle of the vast shopping area that is central Singapore), I was heading for Outram Park – as I liked the name.

At the very last minute – literally, as the doors were closing – I changed my mind and changed lines for one stop to Marina Bay. Which sounded more like being by the water and, I surmised, therefore cooler. I was very glad I did. Marina Bay turned out to be a very new development, partly under construction, the centrepiece being a Hotel, built of three adjacent towers and next door, a new art gallery.

The Marina Bay Hotel is 57 storeys high and has a roof garden, with a swimming pool and mature trees, on the Roof. The whole thing sits – like a giant skateboard! – atop the towers and indeed, shoots out into the air at one end. My picture below doesn’t do it or the Art Gallery justice.

Thrilling! I was inside the Foyer about 8am, only to find that Visitors must pay to go up Tower 3 and have a look – after 10am.  The Concierge (bless her!) took pity on my crestfallen face and suggested I should go up Tower 1 to the 57th Floor where there was a Bar / Breakfast Cafe that I could go into. As it turned out I didn’t even need to do that because by blatantly using the Concierge’s name on the desk upstairs, they allowed me to just have a wander and gaze across at the skyline above and (on the other side) look down onto the Bayside where yet more buildings are under construction. I counted about 80 large tankers / container ships sitting waiting in the Bay itself. Singapore is a busy city. I was so awe-struck by the sight that I completely forgot to take pictures from the roof, so you’ll have to visit yourself to appreciate it.

Leaving the hotel, I took myself to the shopping mall below for some breakfast while awaiting the opening of the Gallery – also 10am.  Puzzling over a picture in the cafe, a passing young girl took pity on me to explain what a “Kaya Toast Set” is: 2 half-cooked boiled eggs, with toast (and some sweet stuff) and coffee. Oh and you add this sauce (looked like Soy) to the eggs.

Sounded yummy (?!) but I ordered it anyway. To my surprise – being someone who is NOT keen on boiled eggs, let alone half-cooked – it was delicious! Runny, almost grey, half-cooked soft boiled eggs, and the toast that came with was heavily buttered, made into a sandwich and the sweet stuff tasted very much like lemon curd!

And – joy of joys! – the first decent, strong cup of coffee I had since I left England. (India is not good at coffee!! Sorry. Or tea for that matter,  he added, almost heretically!).

I had a second coffee and more kaya toast – without the eggs this time – to enjoy more of the lemon curd. Incidentally, I have now looked up the “lemon curd” and according to my research, this is what it is:

Kaya (pronounced “car-yah”) is a jam or paste made from slow-cooking coconut milk, eggs, sugar vanilla and a hint of pandan leaves.  Well, now I know – not lemon curd for sure!

Feeling much fortified – I headed for my final tour stop – the Art Science Museum – you see it on the right in the picture above.  A very boring Van Gogh exhibition got my attention for 5 minutes (no actual pictures, just giant projections!) but next door was a breathtaking collection – mostly ceramics – from a Chinese shipwreck found close to nearby islands in 1998. Hundreds of porcelain plates destined possibly for the middle east – and mostly made around the years 825 – 850 AD!  That’s 1200 years ago and, whilst we British were struggling out of the Dark Ages with Alfred the Great and the Vikings, China was trading with Iran and Iraq, and copying their stylistic motifs onto their own plates.  Many survived because in the sudden shipwreck they were still packed tightly inside much bigger storage jars!  The exhibition also has some solid gold and silver pieces, but the ceramics are its glory: there’s even a wonderful one-metre high china ewer (jug) with animal head stopper and beautiful colouring. If you’re interested, there’s a brief YouTube and other information / links here  – if they work:

http://www.marinabaysands.com/ArtScienceMuseum/

And so, reluctantly,  back to the Airport. Though this time I was grateful for the giant shopping malls that Singapore is heir to! I stumbled out of the glaring midday sun (didn’t Noel Coward write “Mad Dogs and Englishmen” whilst in Raffles in  Singapore? how apt!). I found this Mall connected, via several others, with the City Hall Mall – from which I could take a direct Metro back to Changhi (Airport).

Tiger Airways – who kindly flew me on to Perth (and indeed, flew me from India, too) is the local Easyjet airline – the staff spend most of the time rushing up and down the aisles with food and drink or merchandise trolleys – all of which are available –  at a cost!  But at least they are friendly, efficient and very well dressed.

From the sublime richness of Marina Bay back to the reality of budget air travel!

Singapore:

City of More.

Shopping Malls and countless halls

Of air-conditioned luxury.

Marina Bay – brand new – has every store

From Prada to Dunhill, from Cartier to LV

There is nowhere you’d go to get more.

In the end I just bought a bunch of watches

At the airport – 4 for 10 Dollars which I bartered

Up to 12 Dollars, as I wanted a bunch of five!

On for each of my friends and me –

Needless to say they ain’t Swiss!

City of More – and less –

More bling than Sing!