Taking it easy. Taking vows and taking to the Road…..

Let’s start where I might end – who knows?

saltireThis is the Saltire – a diagonal cross or (more specifically) St Andrew’s Cross. Since the saint himself was supposedly crucified in this fashion, rather than in the “usual” crucifxion way! At Patras in modern-day Greece, since you ask.

Anyhoo – THIS Saltire marks the crossing from England into Scotland – on the A1 (M) road. Just north of Berwick-upon-Tweed. Where my sister Jean and I crossed into our ancestral homeland a few days ago. Marking something around the mid-way point of my current trip to Europe.

But first, before Scotland was in the picture at all, we had a wedding to get through! Relevant here because it was the marriage of sister’s (see above) son,  Christopher.
To the lovely Steph (Stephanie to you) in Lewes registry office followed by a super village hall “do”. I can’t call it a reception because it was so much more : a party, a celebration, a get-together with closest friends and family. We enjoyed an al-fresco barbecue with great meats and much appreciated vegetarian options and an old-fashioned ice cream bicycle (like you Never see at the seaside anymore) with six varieties and as much as you wanted.  Entertainment by the groom and his group/band followed by the essential disco for the old uncles, aunts and everyone.  A delightful and exhausting time was had by all.

 

Here is the happy couple – at the signing of the register and later in what I am calling “the Magritte Cake moment”. or wedding cake with clouds……

and while we are at the wedding, I’ll add a picture of the Groom with all his cousins (my eight nephews and nieces) and to finish the family theme, myself and my five siblings – parents of all those cousins!

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the siblings

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Strolling through Lewes, east Sussex just before the wedding events above, I couldn’t resist a quick local historical site carrying my name :

England (Britain) is littered with ancient sites – especially religious ones (priories, churches, abbeys etc) most of which were dissolved (and plundered) by Henry VIII and his successors and St James Hospital was no different in losing its wealth and lands. But it continued (and continues) its role providing what we call sheltered accommodation for the old and needy. In modern, less interesting buildings, though, hence no pics : the sketch of the Hospital above shows it fairly ruinous in 1793 when Australia was but 5 years old!! More old ruins to follow……..

So – wedding behind us – my sister and I embark on a fairly intensive circular (well, oval) tour of England and Scotland. Up the east coast, across, then down the west, over about 2 weeks: currently we are about halfway through that.

First stop, Chatsworth House in the lovely Derbyshire Dales,  aka the Peak District. I wanted to visit Chatsworth House, though great stately homes are not really my thing, but a costume and clothing exhibition covering the centuries caught my eye, as the house might catch your’s.  My camera and skills could never do it justice, so a stock photo will better show its vast size and magnificence.

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You can read all about it elsewhere (Google? Wikipedia?). Suffice to say it is the family seat (home) of the Dukes of Devonshire. Family name Cavendish and the land has been their’s since 1549 or so. The family fortunes grew – and how! – with time and the property you see above is the re-build from round about the end of the 17th century. Improvements continued through the years: but there was a lot to work on.  Here’s an extract of the astonishing fortunes of the 6th Duke:

The 6th Duke (known as ‘the Bachelor Duke’) was a passionate traveller, builder, gardener and collector who transformed Chatsworth. In 1811 he inherited the title and eight major estates; Chatsworth and Hardwick Hall in Derbyshire, Devonshire House, Burlington House and Chiswick House in London, Bolton Abbey and Londesborough Hall in Yorkshire, and Lismore Castle in Ireland. These estates covered 200,000 acres (810 km2) of land in England and Ireland.
(Any one of these would suffice, but six!  Enough to be getting on with, I’d say!).

Latterly, the last Duchess but one, was Deborah – one of the Mitford sisters.  Debbo for short, she started the most recent reinventions of Chatsworth to bring it up to date. The Mitfords – and their various marriages and alliances – are subject to many books if that interests you. Another family member who has donated many modern designer dresses to the above-mentioned exhibition is the society model Stella Tennant. Fascinating and bewildering wealth and influence over the years. Would you believe me if I told you that almost every banana in the world these days is a “Cavendish” and owes it’s beginnings to the same 6th Duke above, who imported, cultivated and developed them in greenhouses at Chatsworth!

In fact, the Costume exhibition was not the treat I had hoped. There’s a limit to the number of Alexander McQueen and Vivienne Westwood frocks even I want to see. Or the state robes, that sundry Dukes, Duchesses and Earls have worn to coronations! Though lavishly and tastefully done, with artful lighting, perspex boxes and life-like models, I found I would rather have just seen the rooms without the intrusive exhibitions!  The decoration, the gilding, the fabulously furnished rooms were almost invisible behind the “show” – and the crocodiles of visitors. Us included!
Windows slightly raised – to allow light in ? Or allow us to peek down the garden?
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Here I am trying to capture the ceiling in this double-height hall – full of costumes below – coronation robes and statues. I’m not doing it justice, of course!

I couldn’t leave Chatsworth behind without two pieces of art : this astounding Vestal Virgin (how can marble be carved like this ?):

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I promise you, you stand there holding your breath because it seems she might breathe herself at any moment!

And a serendipitous moment for me, in an Ante Library filled with hundreds of ancient, leather-bound volumes, my eye fell on this one, completely at random:

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John Hunter sailed with the First Fleet to Australia in 1788 as Captain on the HMS Sirius. He was also understudy (so to speak) to the first Governor, Arthur Philip and would take over if he (Philip) should be die en route! Which he did not.  But Hunter was to return as Governor anyway in 1795. This book are his impressions and findings at Port Jackson (Sydney) in those first days.

I SO wanted to take this book down and read it but of course could not. I looked for a copy on eBay later: there was an original for sale (several were published in London in 1793),  at a cost of 8000 pounds!  Can you imagine what the whole Library might be worth if this one (minor) book runs to 8000?

Can you imagine my surprise too, to find I could order a facsimile (printed to order) via an Indian company for just under 20 pounds!! It won’t come with a fancy leather cover but the text and pictures & maps will be the same and will be with me in a couple of weeks.
Unless, of course, I’ve been completely scammed – which is also possible. But if not, what joy it will be to read this stuff : you can be sure more blogging will follow once I return down-under to “Port Jackson”.

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Being the economic folk we are, my sister and I are staying at hostels, courtesy of the YHA – which some may not know, but these days, caters to the opposite of “youth” and even offers rooms with en suites etc.  Gone are the days of dorms (single sex), cold water and rigid (and rigorous) rules and regulations! Well, mostly………. though the places themselves do vary.

We spent our first night high in the Peak district, at Hathersage YHA.  Based around a nice old stone mansion,  though we found ourselves in a modern annexe out back. The twin with en suite turned out to be the disability access suite also. So no steps to worry about, VERY large doors and a loo that doubled as a wet room. Oh, and cold room too!  But the sheets, pillows and duvets were fresh and new, emblazoned with YHA logos on very nice green background .  In any case,  we were only there for the night and down the road we found the only pub still open served wonderful comfort food, The best steak and ale pudding eaten for years!
I did take a picture but it seems to have gone astray; console yourself with a facsimile of the toilet notice in the YHA – their’s was wittier than this but it will have to do:

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Well, it amused me anyway. Even if diapers isn’t very YHA!

Our final day took us north, and westerly, for a final stop before we cross the border into Scotland. This night – anticipating our forthcoming visit to the Holy Island (Lindisfarne) we climbed and climbed and climbed through Northumbria to a little town called Wooler, in the Cheviot Hills.  Surprisingly well-equipped, with a sizeable Co-op, several other shops for provisions, hair-dressing, pharmaceutical needs, arty stuff and at least 2 fish & chippies.  The Black Bull, our inn of choice,  turned out to be welcoming and efficiently run by a team of cheery middle-aged ladies who also cooked and waited. Very popular, busy and to our surprise and pleasure a little group of locals in the adjacent bar entertained the clientele with guitar playing, folk songs and harmonies throughout the evening.

The Hostel itself rather old fashioned – much as I remembered hostels from my youth : barrack-like dining room, spartan bedrooms and all quiet by 11pm.
But they offered (and we rejected) a full English breakfast next morning before 8am and after toast, cereal and pretty good coffee we raced off to our destination of the day!

We raced because Lindisfarne (the Holy Isle) is accessed only by causeway across from the mainland and this is subject to very variable tides. On this day, the Causeway would be driveable until 9.15 am after which access would be impossible till lunchtime.  It is probably as well that I tend to over-manage travel and insisted we leave by 8.20 for a 30 minute drive, as I also managed to mis-read the map and sent us the wrong way up the A1(M) road for several miles. When there was no sign showing Holy Island after 30 minutes, it prompted me to reverse direction and, by hurtling back south down the A1(M), by 7 minutes after 9 we were crossing the Causeway.

Nothing was open till 10am so I wandered as we waited.
To be honest the Holy Isle was a little under-whelming. Not helped by the fact that the Castle, owned by the National Trust (which looks very imposing in pictures), is actually closed till 2018. It is also swathed in scaffolding and protective plastic and impossible to love or appreciate. The Priory – I said there would be more ruins – is long, long abandoned and now in the hands of English Heritage. Too manicured and uninteresting to be frank. Two rather bored ticket attendants stood and chatted in a booth.
Otherwise, several dozen people live on the island and make their living from tourism – and a bit of farming it seemed. Every shop or cafe had a selection of tourist stuff but nowhere was there any feeling of history, what it must have been like to live here hundreds of years back. Of invading, murderous Viking raids, of wild weather and cloistered communities. I was reduced to a passable coffee and feeding the friendly local birds!

Sparrows and starlings waiting patiently in line for the next crumbs; some even cheeky enough to hop up for a bite!  Lindisfarne, thou disappointer! It could have been like this :

or even better, like this !  Ruuuuunnnnn!!!

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Next stop Scotland : I’ll take the High Road…….

Love & Light.

JC

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James’s end of the World in 2012

Well Hello one and All

From Sydney Australia – well not quite – from Woy Woy NSW. Yes really……

and for those who I have not been much in touch with this year, my apologies and my regrets. Finally, here is an update and boy, it has been a year (or two) full of change and exciting upheavals:Image!

No – I have not become a born-again Mormon preacher, neither am I rehearsing for The Crucible (a play, incidentally, which if I never saw again, would be too soon!).

No – I shall be appearing en plein air come the Autumn (UK Spring) in a theatrical event celebrating and reenacting something about the building of the Great North Road (from Sydney to the Hunter Valley). Built entirely by hand, using Convict labour for 10 years  in the 1820s and 1830s it was redundant as it was completed, due to the discovery of steam transportation which meant paddle steamers. So the road was largely unused and is in great shape. I shall expand on that in another Blog!

So, as ever I digress : the sun has returned today, after what they say was the wettest Christmas in memory. certainly it rained solidly from Christmas Eve in the afternoon till the night-time on Christmas Day!  Which made travelling for Xmas lunch a touch dreary, but on the other hand, our water tank – where we collect rain water for the garden etc. and which was 2/3 empty – is now completely full.

I am living here:

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288 Burge Road  Woy Woy 2256 NSW.   I attach a few more shots, with no apologies. I am inordinately proud of the fact that I am looking after a proper garden and am actually growing tomatoes, peas and pumpkins – from seed! Something I have never attempted and – as you will see – the tomatoes at least are coming along well. So, a couple more shots of the front and rear “gardens” – though we use the term loosely. Tis mostly sandy soil, paving and bricks, though I have cleared a little space or two for lawn at the back, which will be turfed very soon.

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Now to the back :

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This is looking across at my little ‘Granny” flat – the next a reverse shot showing where there will be lawn and also the rear carport, featuring a semi-shot of Brenda’s new electric tricycle!!

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And last but not least, my veggie and duck garden! The previous owner here had something of a passion for stone ducks and for weeks after moving in, I was finding ducks behind stones, under plants and all over. I decided that they should be en famille, so to speak and this is the sunniest corner of the back yard, hence it is also perfect for tomatoes – please take a moment to admire them. You can’t see the peas or pumpkin – yet.Image

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I surprised myself with the erection of this self-made A frame to support the tomatoes – forgive an old geezer’s indulgence!!

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Anyway, the earlier Blogs came to a fairly sudden close back in January this year when I returned from Napier (NZ) to make my last Visa renewal, and there were no problems when I returned to Oz.  I see I started to Draft Blog in June and got side-tracked (too much going on) so I must bring you up to speed – and explain what has been going on.

The first and biggest news – if you haven’t already heard – is that I plan now to stay in Australia for the foreseeable future.  I have been living since I arrived (May 2011) with an old and dear friend – Brenda Lea – no, not the singer, for those old enough to remember her, and “Rocking Around the Christmas Tree. Anyway, she was Brenda Lee and is older even than Brenda and me!

Brenda and I were at Drama School in Sidcup, suburban London sooo long ago it hurts (Ok, mid 1970s) and have been best buddies ever since, though she couldn’t work acting in the UK and i couldn’t in Oz. But we kept in  touch, I did go first to Oz in the mid 80s with a play and we always joked that when we reached our dotage (and we have!) we should hitch our wagons together and ride off into the sunset. Unless of course, we had someone else to do that with by then.

Well we didn’t and we have. Hitched the wagons, metaphorically that is, but not yet ridden into the sunset, but moved to Woy Woy. And settled into companionship, support and mutual admiration (hmm, sometimes).

After I had been living with Brenda for a year we applied for a Sponsor Visa which was granted in September so now I am allowed to stay and to work.  It is called a “temporary” Visa but on the assumption that nothing will have changed in two years time, it will become “Permanent” more of less straightforwardly. Three years later Citizenship is a possibility.

Well, if that has come as a surprise to you – imagine what it did to me and to Brenda.  Fate, God, the Furies, the devil’s sense of humour certainly can come up with some unexpected events.  You know, I realised in retrospect that when I first came here in 1985 my heart told me to stay. But my head told me I still had stardom, fame and fortune waiting back “home” so back I went. Somewhere along the line those goals eluded me and though I came and went again several times, it took 25 years for the fates to properly align again!! I can highly recommend going with the flow (in fate’s terms).

GardenXmas2012 014This is Brenda about to take our little foundling poodle – Rimsky – for a walk tonight. She will NOT thank me for the shot where (if you look closely) she is wearing her “poodle patterned” casual slacks!!

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Woy Woy lies on Brisbane Water – a large inlet from the ocean into the Hawkesbury River,  50 miles or so north of Sydney. It is a quiet backwater – if you visited me at Seaford  before I left England, it would not feel so different. Architectural styles nothwithstanding, it is a little run-down – too many charity shops, too many old dears (I suppose that includes me and Bren now!)  Too many low-income kids with their own kids. But people are nice enough and it is about the same travel time from Sydney as (say) Brighton is from London. And this little house is a better proposition in terms of space and location than would be the case were we closer to the City centre.

Spike Milligan’s parents retired here – there is even a footbridge over the water named in his honour – though I doubt many current residents would have any idea who he was! The Goon Shows are so far in the past, even I heard about them from an older generation! Though I often wonder if some of the place names around here inspired him:

Woy Woy is aboriginal and may mean Big Lagoon! Then there is Mooney Mooney,  Tumbi Umbi, Ku-Ring-Gai and Wyong.  Though we also have Blackwall – named for the Thameside suburb, Brooklyn and Copacabana!  There’s even a little place called Tascott – which took its name from the first owner of the land – called Thomas Alison Scott!  Rumoured to be the first man in Oz to grow sugar cane.  Sweet.

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This is a random “bush” photo taken a little inland – typical of the wild and woody nature of what surrounds all the cities in this SE corner of the continent. It would have looked much like this when the first Europeans arrived.

One of the most fascinating things about Australia is that, whilst the powers-that-be in London considered it a Penal Colony, the first few Governors and many of the free immigrants took a different and more humane view. Though you might well have been transported here (often for a very petty offence), the application of hard work and perseverance could lead you not only to freedom but to a grant of land and eventually the sort of comfort that would never have been possible back in the motherland. There are a myriad stories of forgers becoming eminent managers of the Mint, convicts becoming Police Chiefs and female convicts becoming Bank founders!!

I am absorbed and intrigued by much of it and – if it interests you, I recommend you read The Fatal Shore by Robert Hughes, a first rate modern re-examination of the journey out and the realities of coming here.  And for a contemporary and on-the-spot report written by a young Marine officer who arrived with the First Fleet in 1788, but saw the land and the native residents with reality and humanity, search for ‘A Narrative of the Expedition to Botany Bay’ by Watkin Tench. I will happily lend a copy to anyone really keen.

So now I can work and I have fossicked around and retrieved some of the many hats I have worn over recent years.   Event and exhibition work has been coming my way – largely as an MC and/or Compere introducing and bantering with the stars of a popular TV show and live event called Better Homes & Gardens (think Ideal Home Show) and Masterchef – a version which you have in the UK too.

In addition I have registered with acting and extra agencies and have managed a few paid jobs and several small independent films so far. Paradoxically, both the first two jobs featured booze (beer and then Wild Turkey bourbon respectively) which will amuse those who know how much booze I ingest these days!!  then i have been an irascible school-teacher, an old letcher (don’t ask!), a wedding guest and of course (the highlight of my acting year) –  Santa Claus for the delight of the kids in a posh North Sydney suburb (think Golders Green). Think Debenhams and you’d get an idea of my actual work location though.

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My cousin Jim Sweeney summed it up with the comment that it was ‘a part you were born to play” confusing Santa, I think with Ebenezer Scrooge in his dotage! Though to my surprise and delight, I think I may be becoming Scrooge AFTER the various visitations; you know the one that actually likes Tiny Tim!  Tell that to the old JC!

(Sorry for the bedroom shot, incidentally; the shot was taken at a highly secret extra appearance by special request at Brenda’s family Christmas do where the various great-nephews and nieces were completely boggled to have a real live Santa of their own!) Left to my own devices I would have posted the entire costume and “Santa Belly” back to its owners by now.

Otherwise, I have been fortunate in creating a little network of Poodle owners who live in very nice places and travel quite often, needing someone efficient and safe to manage the house and the dear doggies. Step forward that qualified English Butler Mr JC. I offer a couple of snaphots of locations: one with stunning Sydney views, the other more northerly (close in fact to the suburb where Santa appeared!).

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This suburb is called Killara:

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But I can’t find a picture of the house – so I offer instead a Lunch held there for an old friend – Miguel – before he returned to Europe. Also present: Brenda of course, my old artist pal Steven from Canberra (now), Graham (a fantastic zoologist friend – his partner Debra is on the camera!).

There are more plans for further house/dog sitting at both locations in the New Year and I am working on widening the contacts list. There’s a lot of competition from the so-called ‘grey nomads’  (look that up!) who will house-sit for free, whereas my comprehensive services have a cost! Luckily my word-of-mouth recommendations work well enough.

As I said at the start, I am involved with an exciting theatre project in a few months which you can read about soon on a further blog.

But for now, as December 27th draws to a close here (and a Happy Birthday to one of my oldest friends, Marilyn in the Orkneys), I shall also draw this blog to a close.

The adventure continues. I hope to be back in the UK sometime in 2013 – there are (inevitably) things to sort and various possessions to be sold off, or passed to deserving causes! Watch out for a good garage sale too!

In the meantime – I wish you all as exciting, stimulating, scary and fulfilling year in 2013 as this year has been. With love and all good wishes.

JC

j5DONEoo-er, missus………

Sharp as a Rapier; on my visit to Napier……

Not sure how sharp, to be honest. My trip starts with a very boring flight (cheap air ticket as usual) to Auckland. At least  I am on the North Island of NZ this visit. Last time (some of you may recall) I planned a visit for architectural delights, but mis-remembering the info in my brain, took myself via Christchurch to Dunedin (on the South Island). Dunedin, to be sure, is quaint enough, with lots of decent Edwardian/Victorian architecture that would not disgrace Edinburgh or the city of London, but I wanted art-deco. And was therefore disappointed.

More certain geographically this time, I headed into Auckland City which, to my surprise, reminded me quite a lot of San Francisco!  Similarly hilly terrain (very); lots of nice villagey neighbourhoods. Alas, no cable cars but a very efficient system of inner-city-circle buses in various colours.

Digressing – what’s new? – I recall that I forgot to visit the steepest street in the World whilst I WAS in Dunedin! Most people think Filbert or Lombard Streets in San Francisco; the latter because it has eight hairpin bends in a very short space! But no, Baldwin Street in Dunedin lays claim to be being steeper than both – and it is – though Canton Street (Pittsburgh PA) may be steeper. If you can be bothered Google or YouTube any of the above and see what you think. 35% incline or steeper is the mark

Anyway – whilst I was speaking with my sister Jean about this trip, she remembered to ask if I have seen Baldwin Street whilst I was in Dunedin and I had to confess that it had completely slipped my mind. Ah, such is age…….shall I go back to check it out?  Probably not – life is too short for two visits to Dundedin.

By chance and – I suspect – because of its silly name, I booked into a B&B in a suburb of Auckland : Ponsonby . Turned out to be the little Chelsea area, with boutiques, designer shops and cafes etc. I lucked out (as my San Franciscan friend Miss Purple, would say).

Which really means, incidentally, “lucked in”, as it is a good thing, not a bad. Coincidence One.

Though the B&B was not good, but that’s another story.

Here is the city at night, from Ponsonby hill-top:

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Auckland has a city population of around 450,000 – the metro area in total is in the region of 1,300,000 and indeed, 30% of the population of NZ lives around here. So no surprise to find it is a bustling and lively city. Reminiscent too, if you haven’t been to San Fran, perhaps of Seattle. Young and studenty.

I am NZ  (as much as for any other reason) to renew my Australian Visa. My initial year Jan 2010 to Jan 2011 will run out on Jan 28th so I am making this trip in order to claim one final 6 month entry before that day, which will allow me to stay till July. As this little trip unfolded, I became convinced that my guiding star was setting the scenario with great flair.

Coincidence Two: I need to get an early (7am) bus for Napier – seven hours away. A bus runs from the end of my B&B street to connect with that service.

I had planned none of these connections before travelling. There was more to come.

Since I was leaving early, I left my major sightseeing in Auckland till my return a few days later, but in terms of this post I will add them here.  A few shots from the sky tower you see in the picture above and random images from Auckland.

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Apart from being hillier, this map shows a striking resemblance to the layout of the city of Sydney! All roads lead down to the harbour – facing north; large par/gardens to the right side, freeways to the left….

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This is One Building: the brick front is simple a facade attached to glass and the glass tower continues the building upward.

The Sky Tower from below:

I am saying nothing – it’s all in the mind!!

You can ascend to various observation decks and cafes – you can even (not that I was game enough) attach yourself with a rope and clip and walk around ‘outside’ at the top! Heavens above – and what a drop below!!

So that’s Auckland from the air…….

And so – to Napier. Another of my bus specials; it actually took from 7am to 3pm with a lunch stop and several other stops and plenty of Lord of the Rings landscapes, which I won’t bore you with.

NAPIER: lies on the south east coast of the North Island and with its sister city, Hasting is sometimes jointly known as the Bay Cities.  Captain Cook charted the site in the 1760s but it wasn’t till 1850 or so that European settlers obtained the land from the local Maori tribe and started building.  At that time it was little more than a swampy bay inlet with land on both sides and a lake behind.

Nature giveth and she taketh away!! In 1931 a severe earthquake more or less demolished the entire town centre (swampy foundations couldn’t take it, though more damage was done b y the fires that also broke out from fractured gas mains etc).  Though 250+ people died, the city gained an extra 4000 hectares of land that, until the earthquake had been undersea!

But – with a speed and commitment you cannot help but admire, the bulk of the town was rebuilt in two years. Given the time – and the architectural influences (coming via Australia from America) of Frank Lloyd Wright and others, it isn’t so surprising that most of the rebuild is in Art Deco style.  There were a couple of very far-sighted local men too, who interpreted the styles in overseeing much of the rebuilding. What is remarkable today is how much of it still survives.

Most of the buildings are simply two stories high and have every type of Deco embellishment imaginable, from Egyptian to Ocean Liner, from Greek motifs to Maori and to wander around the half dozen streets that make up the city centre, is a real treat. It is more fun in daytime that at night for – whilst there is less traffic and noise in the evening, many of the buildings have internal details which you cannot get at after the businesses close for the day.

WARNING: This is the point where you close down if you can’t be enthused by a row of art deco!

Having said that : this building is anything BUT Art Deco! The only town centre survivor of the earthquake/fire, the Public records office has a grandeur that belies the fact it is actually quite small. (compare the cars parked alongside to see that it is quite tiny). But perfect as a Greek temple on the Acropolis (almost!). It is now empty downstairs and has a gym upstairs.

Only 3 of these street markers survive; built into the pavements at a corner. There were at the time no lamp-posts or other street furniture from which to hang a sign and anyway, it’s easier to look down!! Though you miss a lot if you do: my travel tip is always to look up (above the shopfronts) : that’s where architecture often surprises.

Government Offices.



Some lovely lion head details and lettering. Almost all buildings had the same sort of overhang – to protect pedestrians from rain and/or sun – but ALL also had to have the securing rods above to for extra safety against earthquake vibration!

Probably the swankiest building – HQ of the Daily Telegraph newspaper.


Munster is a province of Ireland.  Check out the little shamrock motif.

Some lovely black and white detailing here….

This was my favourite : neglected and lost in a corner away from the Centre. One-time Servicemens’ Club, then back-packer hostel. Now empty and dusty – but for my money, echoes the landmark buildings of people like Frank Lloyd Wright and Corbusier in a gentle and imaginative way.  Still remarkably intact – I hope someone gets it and looks after it. Maybe we should all have a whip-round and I will reopen it as a chic boutique hotel….. Napier could use one.

Talking of hotels – this is where I stayed:

Coincidence Three: without my asking, they had allocated me a room right on the Terrace, overlooking the street : the best view and, as it turned out, the last room available there. Thanks Guardian Angel!

Rebuilt after the earthquake – the Masonic is now in its 3rd incarnation – today complete with roof level terraces overlooking the beach and promenade. Once a year they host the focal point of a city-wide Art Deco week where you can’t move for Gatsby lookalikes, their molls and the motors!!

I think even an art-deco fan like me might find that all a bit too much like a trip to Vegas or maybe Brigadoon! And – to be honest, the rooms were nothing special. I know the (newish) owners are working their way through upgrading but there’s a fair way to go. However, not many hotels can supply such a stylish local mineral water as this:

I am re-using the bottle since I brought it back with me. As you might imagine, it raises a few eyebrows down the Gym!! I jest……

And so – after a few days wandering and wondering, I returned to Auckland and thence to the airport.

Somewhat trepidatious, I was expecting a grilling at immigration. Guardian Angel had other plans. Coincidence Four.

I was flying with  LAN Chile – no I had never heard of them either!  But, as it turns out, they are the national airline of said country and as it also happens, they had a promotional deal which meant that for the same price as a real budget airline, I got a proper economy ticket to and from Auckland. LAN Chile flies Santiago de Chile to Auckland to Sydney and back again. Who knows why?

Trying to check in online didn’t work  (it couldn’t find my booking!) but I managed OK at the airport and then waited; it was a 6am flight. I arrived far too early  and  was dozing by the Gate when they called me by name over the tannoy to come to the desk where the attendant asked for my Boarding Card and promptly tore it up!

I thought to myself:  this is either very bad news, or very good news and it became the latter when she handed me a new Boarding Card saying with a smile, “we’ve upgraded you, Mr C – have a nice day”.

Feigning nonchalance, I pocketed the Card till I got around the corner and took a look at it. Seat 2A. Thank you LAN Chile! You can’t get any nearer the front.  Premium Business Class came with all the extras you would expect; my only regret was that I was taking only a 3 hour flight to Sydney – I would have liked to try the full flat bed on a longer journey (say to Santiago) but I gave it a trial run anyway. My fellow Premium Class passengers probably wondered what was wrong with me as I went horizontal and back several times.

Coincidence 5 now  under way, upon disembarking at Sydney, a very nice Qantas ground handler gave me an Express Ticket for both Immigration and Customs/Quarantine. Suffice to say that, whereas the majority of passengers were forming orderly queues for entry to Australia, your’s truly whooshed through an empty express lane  and arrived at the Immigration Desk.

Him: “Good afternoon, Sir” (Me: Afternoon)

“Travelling alone Sir?” (Yes)

“Have a good day Sir (stamp stamp – that’s him not me!!)

and I am  through and in the Arrivals Hall. Total time from landing 30 minutes – including picking up my case. from the carousel.

As I said, my guardian angel / call it guiding star was on my side that trip.

Oh, there was the one other (little) adventure I almost forgot to add.  What does New Zealand say to you?

Rugby, Maori warriors (Haka), Cricket, Arms covered in tattoos, Lord of the Rings, local culture and icons, Cheese, Lamb????

Anyway – more than anything I always remember those almost Celtic tattoos everyone seems to have – well everyone under 30 anyway. So who says an over 60 can’t?

So my New Zealand souvenir of choice – a very little Libran astrological sign, which now sits – resplendent in bright blue (outlined in black) on my left inner wrist!  Like this:

This is not to be confused, as one or two “wits” have suggested, with this logo:

Which is, as can be clearly seen, one of the local transport providers!!

There is (I know) no fool like an old fool and I stand here before you, thus self-proclaimed.

Did it hurt? Yes, a bit. Like that bit when the dentist first puts the numbing needle in –  only this took a while longer than a micro-second.

I didn’t know what to expect either; bit like a visit to a new dentist in that respect also! I just hoped it wouldn’t hurt so much that I would sob or groan, since the Tattoo place operatives were all very macho. As it happened, I gritted my teeth and thought of England – or something. I was more concerned about keeping my arm flat and straight (!) so the hand-drawn image wouldn’t be crooked. Which it is a little, anyway, but that doesn’t matter a jot.

After it was done, it was wrapped in cling film for the day and though I kept close watch on it, nothing happened : it got a little crusty a week later and after 10 days or so, is all quite ordinary.

So my first (and last!) tattoo or self-organised mutilation! I started this post with a pun about Rapiers in Napier and , as it turned out, finished there with an even sharper tattooist’s needle!

Whatever next…………………… pray for me!

JC x

“The Boat that I row………..”

Greetings!  Christmas Greetings if you wish (if you follow such things). It is past midnight here in suburban Sydney – so it is December 25th, 2011 for me – even if for YOU  there may be several hours before we are on the same day. And even though this Blog says posted 24th – that’s because my computer clock is still on UK time!  So, Patience, mes amis!

All around me (especially at AA meetings) I hear the common cry : ‘it’s just another day’ and that’s fine with me. But it does have special meaning to many people and I respect that too. Each to their own. Although, I read in the local paper today an address from the Bishop of Sydney : I had to keep putting it down in disbelief.

Being (once) a proper Catholic boy I have quite a good handle, as they say, on the story of Christmas (according to that church, anyway). I was surprised with the Bishop’s “Christmas : the True Story”.  Apparently “Mary was a peasant girl coming, like Joseph, from a very devout family……..” Hmm. How does he know that?

And how about “Jesus was born between the years 4BC and 7BC”. Doesn’t BC mean “before Christ” and isn’t that the date that BC/AD changes?   This is apparently “some time before the Christian era” which it would be wouldn’t it, since it’s named after Christ! All very confusing, so we shall leave him to it. Maybe they’ve discovered stuff I didn’t know as a boy?

Anyway, I was going to go to Midnight Mass and the preceding Carols (as I do back home) and there is a convenient Catholic Church 5 minutes walk away in Gladesville (where I stay). In the event, I didn’t as I ended up at an earlier service in the City. I co-opted a few pals and went to Sydney Town Hall for a free Christmas Eve concert which included a performance by the Sydney Gay & Lesbian Choir.  Since I plan to have a sing with them in the New Year I thought I would have another look at them. To my surprise the ‘concert” was a Carol Service organised by the Metropolitan Community Church and featuring loads of carols, a few solos, speeches and even a communion at the end.  As it happened I would have missed my ferry if I had stayed for communion, but hadn’t planned to stay to the end anyway. Though the whole thing was so inter-denominational that I am tempted to go along one Sunday and see what they get up too. It was far more than gay supportive, to say the least and the size and variety of the crowd was inspiring indeed. I seem to recall there is a similar Metropolitan Church in central London (Bloomsbury?). I would urge anyone who has issues (as I do) with organised religions to maybe check them out.

ANYWAY….. I wish you all, my dears, the happiest of Christmas Days and hope you get all you wish for. Though you should be careful of what you wish for  – oh, but that’s for another time! :))

Most of you will know I am not much of a water baby!  As in, I am a pretty useless swimmer – though I sink very elegantly.  I have never quite mastered that bit about breathing while you splash along though many wonderful people have tried to teach me. Even Steven, my old and trusted Australian artist friend, failed – and that was in a private pool with just we two.  So, in the water – no. By or on the water? Now that’s a different story. When I left London some years ago, I went first to Margate (don’t ask – aka – benefits central!) which was a mistake – but the view from my little eyrie down and across the Harbour was magic. Less fun were the nine flights of stairs.

Thence rapidly to Seaford and – for a while – my lovely little house with garden running down to the beach and the constant awareness of the sea from sitting room and bedroom windows. Sound & movement. When I had to move just around the corner to save money, I never settled and was heart-sore for my lost sea-view, more so than I would have expected.

So here I am by another sea – the Pacific, or Port Jackson (Sydney Cove) and the Parramatta River. I spend a lot of time taking the Ferry up and down from my lodgings to the centre of Sydney. I often take my bike on the Ferry and then take my life in my hands on the Sydney roads!  But I begin to wonder now if I am for ever to be on or around the water.

Last week – quite unexpectedly – and old friend from England (who has a business here) invited me to join him on their Office Party (with a Christmas theme.  I went as Manger – obvious, but also a play on the French for “to eat”. It’s a long story).

Here’s the little boat we sashayed around the Harbour on….

To give an idea of scale, it is only 110 feet long. The Helicopter, alas, was not aboard that day! We were using that area for dining, as you do.  If you can bear it, here’s a link with some fuller information on this floating gin-palace!

http://purecruises.com.au/2011/02/07/mv-flying-fish/

Tomorrow (that is – Boxing Day) sees the start of the famous (and famously dangerous) Sydney to Hobart(Tasmania)  Yacht race. I shall be on another (smaller) boat in the Harbour, following the  boats as they start out from the Heads (where Sydney Harbour meets the open sea). Courtesy of an AA pal and as a thank you for helping to make 100 desserts for a Christmas reunion last week.

Meantime, my friend Brenda (with whom I am staying),  has been a volunteer for the Cruising Yacht Club (organisers of the Race) for some years and will be flying off to Hobart on the 27th to prepare for the flotilla to arrive in Hobart.

And to finish the year off, New Year’s Eve will see me once again on the Harbour – moored as serenely as possible for viewing of the best NYE Fireworks in the World!  Courtesy of Lisa (old friend of my brother Sean)  & her partner David. I think I recall putting this shot of their boat on an earlier blog.

And should we tire of Bridges, Fireworks and food, we can cruise around the corner to Glebe Island where Jamiroquai, The Pet Shop Boys and Boy George/Culture Club will be giving a concert! What a life.

Apropos of nothing, I used to hate New Year’s Eve – it seemed that I sat somewhere each 31st December wondering where the year had gone, why I was another year older, why I had achieved nothing and why it was so unfair! Recent years have taught me differently; now I see a new year coming as part of the challenge, the adventure. Who knows what will happen – or even if one will see the year out (not being negative, things happen!).  But in line with my philosophy of trying to live each day as it comes ( to the fullest), how can I not be happy, grateful and inspired by the lucky circumstances that see me here in lovely Oz?

Even if Sydney is experiencing the coldest / wettest December in 50 years. These things are all relative : 26/28 degrees even if wet and muggy is not so bad.

To return to my watery subject, the oddest thing is that I feel quite unconcerned to be up and down, round and about the River, ocean etc. yet with no desire to swim in it. My recent visit to Magnetic Island (see Blog) saw me unusually venturing above the waist into the water – and that only because I was skinny dipping –  so sort of had to!!   I do wish I as comfortable with it – but  there is something about the power and strength of mother nature in the raw that is too much for me, and yet draws me.

I am also a little obsessed with the wonderful poet T S Eliot and, in particular, his masterpiece “The Wasteland” which not only includes a reference to Margate, it even has a section called Death by Water.  I suppose one can read too much into things?

So to Christmas and lunch.  We shall have smoked salmon (not Oysters as planned : the guests not like them!) and Brenda will crank up the Barbie for steaks (of course) and salad and veggies. I have made the dessert – a classic traditional Plum Pudding. Made really just with various fruits (raisins, currants, sultanas, flour, eggs, breadcrumbs and rum (call that rum “flavour”). It takes only a short time to prepare (mixing it is a bit of a bitch!) but then six hours in a bowl, on a saucer, in a big pan – constantly topped up so it doesn’t boil dry. For “traditional” read “for the days when servants had hours of time to kill”.  I was up till 01.30 on the simmering process, then waited another hour for it to be cool enough to refrigerate. We shall know in about  15 hours whether that was worth it – or if I shall be faced with a few wry faces, trying to say how “lovely” it is!!

So I shall get myself off to bed now – in the knowledge that some of you will possibly read this before I awake again – though I’d leave it till Boxing Day if I were you!  My love and best wishes to you all – sorry that I am not having Christmas lunch with family and friends in the UK but also – selfish as ever – happy to be avoiding the winter.  We may speak over the next day or three but meantime I hope the Christmas you get is the Christmas you want.  Old (and un-reconstructed) hippy that I am, I offer these few lines from that lovely old song by Greg Lake (who he – Ed?)

I wish you a hopeful Christmas,
I wish you a brave New Year,
All anguish, pain and sadness,
Leave your heart and let your road be clear.

They said there’d be snow at Christmas,
They said there’d be peace on earth,
Hallelujah! Noel!, be it Heaven or Hell,
The Christmas we get, we deserve.

JC x

Magnetic Island – no hardship to get stuck there.

Welcome to Maggie – 5 miles off Townsville in Northern Queensland. Though Captain Cook in 1770 called it “Magnetical” Island – he thought something there was having an effect on his compasses. Later research has been unable to trace anything, hence it has become more simply Magnetic!

(Puts me in mind of the Harbour at Sydney Cove – where all the ferries come in and out – it was first called Semi-Circular Quay. Why? Because of the shape of the bay naturally.  But in true Aussie style, that’s a bit of a mouthful, so Circular Quay it is now called. I await further shortening: one day it will be Serky!)

But (again) I digress. Magnetic is a good name – the island drew me back (with a friend) 26 years after my last visit.  Sadly, I couldn’t remember a bit of it! Not entirely my fault; they have moved the Ferry from the mainland to another port and built a new terminal along the coast. Which simply wasn’t there in 1985.  It has to be said that much of the island looks as if it hasn’t changed a lot since then, though again I can recall only a rather backpacker-ish guesthouse with very lush gardens and whilst we saw one or two of them (and a fair few backpackers) nothing rang any bells.

But what we (my friend Robin – out from London) and I were seeking was sunshine, peace and tranquility – and we got that in heaps.


This is Jeffery Bay – 2 mins across the sand from our little un’s front door. Taken somewhat late, so here’s a daytime view on same beach:

 

Hmmm. I tried – without success – to turn this picture up the other way; I had intended to make a flippant quip about the distortion of the waistline being caused (perhaps) by gravity in far north Queensland. Unless you turn the page upside down you won’t see the joke. So I should reverse the joke to say that I was too heavy to be returned up the right way. Sadly it was too hot for much exercise – that’s my story anyway.

Another more reasonable shot on the beach!

The point behind me was famous for its rock wallabies – tiny, kangaroo-like marsupials which gather at dusk – so gullible tourists can feed them! They even sell little bags of “feed”in the local store much like we used to do for the pigeons in Trafalgar Square.

Is that cute or not? And here is Robin being creative with a perching marsupial, silhouetted against the sky!

 

There’s little that creativity can do to help here :

As you can see, it is something of a small and very rocky island – covered, indeed, with these large, probably volcanic, boulders.

It is also quite a famous jumping off spot for the Great Barrier Reef and for deep sea fishing trips. I am sorry to say that we didn’t any nearer to the Reef than you see me now.  Our trip, basically, was R&R not adventure travel – as least that what it ended up as.

There are wonderful fish to be fished, if that’s your thing:

Blue and Black Marlin, Sailfish, Mackerel, Wahoo, Giant Trevally, Dogtooth Tuna, Coral Trout, Mahi Mahi, Tuna, Red Emperor and Sea Perch. But, you know, I caught a Wahoo once – in the India Ocean off Mombasa during my acting days in Kenya. And that’s another story.

So meantime, we walked a lot around the island – it is not large and half a day would see you from one end to another. We were, unbeknownst to we pommie travellers, at the end of the season.  From November onwards, it gets wetter, businesses close, tourists disappear and in their place,  the seas start to fill with stingers of various kinds, up to (and including) the infamous Box Jellyfish. Though the Box can be as large as a metre or more, the tiny (finger-nail size) Irukandji is as deadly if not more so. The remedy for being touched by either? Liberal doses of vinegar and call 999 or equivalent. Don’t worry,  they will send a helicopter to get you : there isn’t a hospital on the Island!

 

Far cuter, far less dangerous. In fact, unconcerned and oblivious to passing tourists and clicking cameras:

I was completely convinced it was a plant, until we saw another (and with a baby!). Aaahhh!!!

I wish I could offer you a picture of the Dugong that swam within a metre of me as I paddled in one deserted bay, those that know me know that I don’t really “do”swimming. No photo because :

I was skinny dipping and didn’t have a camera with me

Even if I had a camera, I was too shocked initially as I thought it was a shark and then it was gone

There were a couple of “naturists” haunting the rocks a little up the beach and I didn’t want to draw attention to myself

Which leaves me with only one wildlife picture to show: our (almost) nightly dinner guest:

And strangely enough – is it something to do with eating lots? I can’t make this bird picture turn the correct way round either!!

It’s a bush curlew or plover and teams of them raid any outdoor eaters across the island. Chivvy one away, and three return so you learn to ignore them pretty quickly. Though they settle down very late at night and like to sing for hours before they do. A haunting, cur-lewing sound which can severely jar the nerves if you’re not in the mood! Sadly you’re not allowed to eat them, strangle them or (indeed) kill them off in any other way!

Despite them, we managed a few days of complete rest: lots of bush walks and (for me) a pretty severe case of sunburnt shoulders.Which, being  so surprised and embarrassed by, I shall discuss no further. Except to say that it was not for lack of sun-screen, just a failure to remember how hot it was (even with sea breezes) and how often you should replace your sun screen. At least once more often than I did, I now realise.

 

To conclude : I think my memories of Magnetic were coloured by the years that have passed; by the amount I was drinking in those days (maybe I was on an altogether different island?) and by the fact that it is probably a destination for ‘the youth’.  Not that there’s anything wrong with that except that I wanted more than just bars and surf hire or jetski shops and was disappointed. My attempt to bike hire was thwarted by indifference and end-of-season slow down. So probably won’t be going back again in another 25 years.

 

New zeal and new direction??

Hi all

After a shaky few weeks trying to reconcile my vanishing bank balance with my original plan to stay away from the UK at least for one winter……

I was on the point of heading to France for an interesting but financially unrewarding caretake / houseit adventure. Nice old manor / chateau that used to be a Fort (1700) in the south Languedoc.

But it started to unravel and I started to realise that I hadn’t yet fulfilled my plans in Oz so – with a little Help from  Better Homes & Gardens and a live version of Masterchef Oz,  I am back  on track and I write this missive from departures at Sydney International – en route for Christchurch, New Zealand. Some of you may know it as earthquake central (Feb 2011, Sept 2010) so if you never hear from me again, start the search there…..

or better, yet don’t start the search at all. But remember me with a smile. Oops….. the flight is called.

Well , several hours later – 01.39 to be precise – I am in the arrivals area at Christchurch airport. With the TV blaring out the latest Rugby Match. Apparently I must be the only one not following it. Indeed, I hadn’t really connected that it is on – mostly in the North Island (I am South – we go south in the winter!!) and in any event, the British team (or probably English) has already been knocked out by – guess who, the Froggies! – and I presume have slunked orf home!!

I am awaiting the first proper bus of the day. At 06.05 – call me Cheapskate O’Rourke if you wish, but I don’t allow (as in budget) for taxis and shuttle-buses. All far to expensive and seems even more so here in darkest Christchurch.

Of course, I have no idea what it looks like until it gets light; we did fly over snowy-topped mountains on the way down but that’s all I know. Then I take the bus (an Intercity this time) down the coast fort 5/6 hours to be place called Dunedin.

Here’s an object lesson in what happens if you (by which I mean “I”) trust the memory banks. When I decided to hop across here, I attached a little dream to my plans : to visit a city also ndestroyed by earthquakes (in the 1930s)  but rebuilt in almost completely preserved Art-deco. Yum for architectural buffs. So….. booking my trip, I “remembered” that it was Dunedin and duly got a flight to Christchurch – easy and swiftly done.

Ah, but. Speaking to a friend later about said art-deco delight, she said, “oh, yes, Napier is lovely – you must go”.

Needless to say Napier is on the North island – accessed via Auckland – all of where I am NOT going! Hey-ho, it turns out that Dunedin (and here is where the wires may have crossed) is famous for it’s Edwardian / Victorian architecture.  Think Edinburgh, or those large offices and banks that litter the City of London. Oh, well, perhaps I can pretend I have come in search of Charles Rennie Mackintosh influences, since Dunedin is also (allegedly) a Scottish city – whatever that means.

This blog ceases here again for a while : the airport very kindly provides free internet (like Sydney) but only for 30 mins, so I shall log away and be back in a twinkling of the southern stars.

Incidentally – I am as far away in time and space as I think is possible from London /England etc.  Exactly 12 hours ahead of you (if you are in UK) and as of now, I am 62 years of age and 2 hours!! Happy Bday to me!!

Well, circumstances dictated a rather different trip that expected and indeed, I am completing this Blog from what passes for home (in Sydney, that is) after an eventful but fun few days.

I am keeping Christchurch for a separate Blog : as much as anything, because it’s a very sad subject. I was more shocked and saddened that I had expected; to see quite a sizeable city reduced to a cordoned off, quiet  and eerie no-mans land was quite hard to fathom. So more of that later.

Meantime, I arrived at the bus interchange outside the city (see para above) since the absence of a central point has created two interchanges – one each side of a huge park. Here I get my bus for Dunedin (6 hours to the south) but not before having a delicious home-made muffin and exceptional coffee from a little roadside shack near the buses. An enterprising couple set it up precisely to fill the many gaps in the normal day-to-day workings of the city. (It is very hard to avoid references to ChCh as they call it).

Anyway, after my sleepless night travelling, I saw little of the journey south as I slept fitfully – first in my own seat and then (when I spotted an empty back row), actually sleeping lying down across the seats. Albeit the seat ridges giving the feeling I was sleeping on a corrugated roof!

Had I been awake, I might have seen scenery like this (which of course I captured on the return journey!):

and this

Now I know I said “oh it’s just going to be like Wales or Scotland – and I’ve been there”. And to an extent, that is true, but the actual foliage (the flora!) is quite different – apart from the yellow Gorse which is unmistakable anywhere! I can’t believe that the immigrants brought it with them – there’s so much of it! But yet, it can’t be a native plant and I believe that most of the land was native bush, until Europeans got there, when they cleared it and made farming land – so maybe they did bring it. To remind them of home.

Other reminders…. this could be a Scottish loch or Norwegian fjord:

So – I arrived In Dunedin and checked into a converted Tannery – now a rather stylish industry-style hotel. Here’s the view from the window – quite industrial – though an intriguing building looms on the horizon (more of that later!). The building centre left is the Fire Station, incidentally.

Yes, quite an industrial view! But the room boasted (as they say) a very groovy curved glass bathroom :

how  Star Trek is that!! Slide the glass door back and inside is a loo, a sink, and another glass wall within which lies the shower.

So, Dunedin did not disappoint. It is – as I have said elsewhere – the Gaelic name for Edinburgh – and it’s layout is almost the same: long flat plain with railway alongside the main streets – yes there are Princes and George Streets here. There’s a volcanic plug at the far end (matching Arthur’s Seat in Edinburgh). The only thing missing is a castle. But there are plenty of other splendid buildings:

The Railway Station :  I kid you not! Though no passenger rail exists at the moment – only freight! What a terrible waste.

 

The Cathedral – complete with statue of Robert Burns in front!


Wonderfully neo-classical ex theatre and offices.

The University clock tower – worthy of St Pancras himself!! The building you saw from my hotel window.

 

So you see, a small town – population no more than 12,000 but with many students and a bustling arty feel that made me think more of Oxford than anywhere else.

This is Paul – he is (I suspect) a perennial student as he’s near 30! He very kindly borrowed his flatmate’s car and took me around the University and the nearby Otago Peninsula – as far south as I have ever been.

He’s from Malaysian originally, but has been in NZ for 10 years – and still studying! Currently a Doctorate in Chemistry – clearly we had much to talk about especially given my fascination with the Periodic Table of Elements. (see, I bet you think I am joking!). In a year or two he plans to go to Europe and maybe take another Degree – there seems no end to the potential in Chemistry!

By the way, he was very lovely and really generous – I just don’t think he liked having a photo taken!!

I would not have seen so much of the area without his kind offer of tour guiding.

At the end of the peninsula, a Seal sanctuary and an Albatross colony! Though we didn’t see any of either. Here’s a shot of some cormorants (or shags) nesting nearby : spot the shags anyone?

We are close to the sea here, and the river is quite a tricky place to navigate – with sandbars and shifting tides. But it looks and is beautiful.

As far away as the Victorian settlers of Dunedin were, they clearly did not forget their homeland – these images speak for themselves, wherever in the world we may be (and they are ubiquitous):

this is a bar and restaurant now

this, an employment office

and this…….

 

Pom pom pom pom pom-pom (do sing along!!!). She would not be amused.

And so – after a turn around the very well-equipped town library – which included an exhibition about Eleanor Farjeon. She wrote the poem everyone thinks Cat Stevens wrote : Morning Has Broken In fact, he simply put music to her words.

It’s 11,000 miles from home here – and not far from the international dateline that would take me back into yesterday as the time flies. So I am not surprised at all to see how those pioneers 150 years or more ago wanted reminders of their home country. What is surprising is that (as the money from sheep farming and dairy came rolling in) they had such grand architectural ideas for their town – equal to any in the cotton mills back in Lancashire, or to those of the rich aldermen of Edinburgh. Though not so surprising when you know that one Thomas Burns, a nephew of the Bard of Alloway himself, was a founding father of the town.

Now I’m awa to ma bed………………….and as my dear old departed father was wont to say, by way of convivial farewell:

“lang may yer lum reek”.    I couldn’t have put it better myself.

 

 

It’s All Good……………

Australians – as I suggested in an earlier blog, have a certain way with words (avo=afternoon, for example.)

They have similar affinity with phrases – some you will know :
no problem / g’day / that’d be right / bloody oath! / beyond the black stump.
You get the drift…….

One of my favourites though, is “it’s all good” = people use it to mean “that’s OK, everything’s OK, cool , even No Problem.

Sad to say that insidious (and invidious) multi-outlet burger monster, the  yellow arses (McDumpsville) has taken the phrase and tags it onto the end of their latest product launch. So we shall have to stop using it I suppose……

I hadn’t planned a whinge (!) so moving rapidly on to say I am quite living the Life at the moment.
An old friend of my older brother Sean lives here and Lisa, her partner and family took me out on Sunday. For a little spin around the Harbour – picking me up from my local Pier – this is how we do it here!

And mine hostess – in the Galley!

There are 4 sizeable bunks in the fore cabin – and shower room.  Liza and David have a double bunk, with their own en-suite shower room!  All mod cons, sat-nav and more.

We had a leisurely cruise down the Harbour – under the bridge (of course) but stopped en route (as you do) at Sydney Markets to pick up some fish and the most enormous prawns I have ever seen – I promise.  We ate those after mooring up in one of the little bays that surround central Sydney. I was home in time for tea after we explored some way up another of the many rivers that feed into Sydney Harbour.
I was struck later this week – on another trip – by how extraordinary it must have been for the first explorers here (Captain Cook, and then  the First Fleet etc) when they came in through the gap in the hills and found themselves in what we now call Sydney – initially it was called Port Jackson. Even today you can get a flavour of that first sighting as parts of this huge harbour have been left quite untouched. Here’s a shot or two taken from the Manly Ferry. That’s not a description of the crew, incidentally (though they usually are!) but an outlying town across the bay from Sydney; Manly sits across a spit of land with the Ocean and one end and the Bay at the other and you can walk from one end to the other in about ten minutes.

If you squint you can even see a tiny yellow beach centre right!!
Mind you, if you looked right and  behind this little hill ::::::

There’s the City and the Harbour laid out across the horizon.

Manly once had a well known – and somewhat disreputable artists colony – consisting largely of writers (mostly poets, as it happened) which caught my attention. As did a somewhat derisive poem addressed to the township from one of the more successful poets. Here’s a snapshot which I hope will be legible.

I hope it isn’t too hard to read; you get the bonus of my fingers in shadow at the bottom. Will I ever manage the technology that taking a photo requires? I doubt it……

I also took a trip up-river (past where I am staying) to a town called Parramatta which has early buildings to rival the oldest in Sydney.  It owes its existence to being inland and easily reachable by the river.  Having established the colony in Jan 1788, the earliest arrivals realised very soon that the local land would not support crops and – fearing starvation – they searched for more fertile land up-river and found it at Parramatta, establishing the town there in November 1788.
Its climate and accessibility made it a popular early choice for Governors (and their wives) and some of the earliest farm experiments and government buildings are still there. Sadly the town itself has grown in a rather disorganised fashion and now hides any quaintness it may have had with a rather boring centre of uninteresting offices and shops.
Though it was extraordinary of learn of one Convict (transported here for 7 years) who was working for the Governor in Sydney and who was moved to Parramatta when his gardening gifts were recognised. He was given a few acres, some animals and other support (and got married), with the proviso that they prove a man and family could be self-sufficient. Suffice to say they did, in less than two years, and were rewarded with further land etc. Eventually, having made a good living, they sold up and bought a larger farm further up-country and retired quite rich. I couldn’t help but reflect on a life that (back home) might have continued in criminality and maybe the gallows,  but which, in this colony at least, gave him a true opportunity for a new and successful life. I hope there were many more like him……

But Sydney – and the country around – is moving into Spring now (another reason not to rush back home!) and as the days get warmer, the beaches and bushland will get ever busier. I met with an ex-UK colleague (she now lives in Melbourne and Dubai) who said that the best reason for living in Australia was the sensible work / life balance and – though I could hardly say I am “working”, I do observe that little has changed in that respect since I first visited here (in 1985).
I interpret people’s attitude to work as being the means to fund people’s social life, family and friends and so on.
Work does not wholly seem to overwhelm lives quite as much as it appears to in the UK.   Feel free to disagree, of course; it may just be that I’ve become such a non-worker I have completely lost the plot!!

I am off again tomorrow with a friend here who is driving us 2/3 hours up the coast to what remains of a small sea-side community off the beaten track. Like a lot of country places, it is threatened by the growing mining industry here – many small towns, villages and even homesteads are suffering from the boom in mining (for iron and other minerals) or gas from coal seams which is also widespread. The coming years, as a result, will bring  huge financial bonuses here – but some fear it comes at the expense of land-destruction and that once the mining moves along, it will leave areas depopulated and poorer. Though central government (Canberra) seems to favour the $$$ it sees to balance books – especially from China, which will buy almost anything mineral, ore and gas to feed its own booming economy. There is almost no trading deficit here – at least at Federal level. Individual states are not much worse off.

Imagine if we could say in the UK that in 10 years or so, there would be NO government need to support the ageing population!  Because of an insistence on private pension / health cover that has been going on for many years (they call it “Super” – short for Superannuation  – and it has been compulsory), the population should be self-sufficient as it retires.  Add to that the booming billions from the industries I mentioned above and the coming years should be very good for Australia.

Unless the politicians manage to turn such a success into a disaster – we shall see……