“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

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Christ – and all His Churches gone!

I realise that almost every Blog I write starts with a disclaimer about what time has elapsed since the last, and this is no different.  My excuse in this case being that I was left in such shock after my brief visits to Christchurch that I didn’t know what point there was in writing about it………..

Still, several weeks later and I wanted to record what I felt (and photographed) at that time – so feel free to skip what will be a rather lower-key, probably sad reminiscence.

I arrived in Christchurch late at night / early morning on  my birthday – 13 October – and  spent a pretty uncomfortable night on airport bench seats till the coffee store opened about 5am and the first bus into the City departed at around 6.

I was purely passing through, to make a connection with a coach going down south (see my Post on Dunedin) so saw little of the City itself. I remember being surprised when the airport bus dropped me next to a park and the office for the coach company was a portacabin / almost a ship’s container. A little further down the street, an old bus seemed to be the ticket office for all the local buses (and there were many).  I didn’t realise (at that time) that the whole of the transport infrastructure had been re-scheduled, due to the closure of the city centre and, with it, closure of the bus and coach depots – and much more besides.

It wasn’t till I returned a few days later – and had a day in Christchurch – that I fully absorbed the enormity of the two earthquakes that hit the city in the previous few months; the most recent (last February) causing the closure of the ENTIRE city centre……….

Imagine (say) Cardiff, or  Bristol, or Sheffield – all cities with similar populations of Christchurch – around 450K. So far bigger than, say, Canterbury, Cambridge or Bath in populations terms.  To give an idea of the size of the place. Then imagine – if you will – putting a fence around the very centre of the city/town and simply closing everything off!

This – as you see – is the Crown Plaza Hotel – it (like all the buildings you see in these photos) is closed.  It took me almost an hour and a half to walk around the metal barricades closing off the town centre. And even outside these steel walls – street after street was lined with buildings that looked like this :

As far as I could decipher, the marks on buildings indicate which International team had checked the building, when and what the result was. So many of them seemed OK – until you noticed that at ground level – right where the foundations meet the pavement or street – the whole structure has dropped. They even use that term around the City centre – you can’t enter the “Drop Zone”.  Which is why it is taking so long to restructure and rebuild : when the earthquake hit, whole sections of the ground simply dropped : fell in (sometimes by several feet) taking all services and utilities down with it……..look at the way this pavement is humped and where the building has sunk….

And one of the saddest sights – not just in and around the city centre – were the Churches. Most of them (I suppose) Victorian and therefore hardly built to withstand earthquakes, with the following result….

I must have seen 6 or 7 churches like this around the city – and two or three empty (cleared) sites with a Notice saying where the church services were being held now that the church on the site I was looking at no longer existed.

Older houses/office seemed to fare no better:

The only way I can describe the experience is to ask you to imagine arriving at your local city – whereveryou (my reader) happens to live. As you approach through the suburbs, roads are simply shut off with No Entry signs. Garden walls – especially old brick ones – every few hundred feet are shored up with L-shaped timbers, since clearly they would collapse without support. A pair of semi-detached houses stands – one unmarked and ordinary, it’s next-door neighbour shored up much like the walls are. The sight is simply bizarre. Bits of gable roofs missing, motels rickety and shut down.

And then consider ALL the shopping centre being closed – no buses, no taxis, no department stores or supermarkets, no hotels, no cinema or theatre, no clubs and pubs. All shut – save those in the outlying suburbs – most of which (at least on the landward side) escaped the worst of the shocks.

Even the bus I took from the City to the seaside made several diversions around rounds and areas where I could clearly see “drop zones” on roads, and pipes with water/gas services being restored.

At least at the seaside (I told myself) all will be clear and indeed, the lengthy beach I wandered – littered with thousands and thousands of wonderful shells, was almost deserted and very calming :

Yet even here – as I wandered a little, trying to find the diverted bus-route back, this little row of local shops had its own story to tell, 3 or 4 miles from the city centre at least.

How to finish this?

I would say that I felt a real sadness, an emptiness and hurt that seemed to pervade many of the places I visited – the people looked resigned, maybe almost a little beaten down by it all. And who wouldn’t after two major earthquakes in six months! And yet – within that, the human spirit was struggling to show through:

right next to the odd collection of huts and sheds that comprised the central bus “hub” was a brand new trailer selling home made cakes, healthy snacks, the best coffee I had had in months and two ladies serving who explained that their cafe in the city was out of bounds so they had created this unit to service people travelling the buses and so that their name (brand) wouldn’t be forgotten.

Around the corner, in the city’s largest park, a  local lobby group had set up a tented camp and was offering places to stay for people travelling through and also dispensing information on how to be part of the process of re-building Christchurch for the local community, along with help yourself lunches.

Though I left Christchurch somewhat subdued by it all, I left without doubt that it would rise again, but maybe with less desire to build high-rise hotels and offices, whether earthquake-proof or not!

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……

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!

Poetry from the sub-continent

1. Tipu Sultan

Tipu Sultan, the ‘Tiger’ of Mysore,

Was a constant thorn in England’s side for sure;

He led a people who, though filthy poor,

Could nonetheless engage in heavy war!

The British were determined that the Raj

Would be the power, and with them in charge;

Tipu disputed this and fought with style,

For 20 years he fought with grit and guile;

He kept a bunch of tigers out the back,

In case he got to use them in attack.

But Wellington broke through in ’99

And, despite his French allies, a fast decline

Was the end of Tipu Sultan and his plans.

His dreams, like water, faded in the sands.

2. Bangalore

They call it the ‘garden city’

It isn’t that no more!

They call in Bengaluru,

It used to be Bangalore!

Stinkin’, stonkin’ traffic

Cycles by the score.

I wonder how many died here

In those Raj-rich days of yore?

Dysentry, typhoid, prickly-heat

Would have carried off  more

Than now; we take the jabs

And don’t drink the water –

Some of us take malaria tabs

The rest of us probably oughta.

3. Mysore

( misquoting of Julius Caesar)

I came, Mysore. I’m conquered.