Sunday 30 July 2017

Back In Blighty

Getting ready to catch a float plane over to Vancouver Island
Yes, chums, relatives and boaters, we are back in the UK. After almost six months away we arrived back last weekend. Funny that: the abbreviation `UK’. Before we started travelling backwards and forwards to New Zealand, I would always say England or Britain, but it seems the rest of the world calls Blighty the UK, and I’ve just slipped into it. So “hello again UK, we’ve missed you”, despite all the appalling things that have been happening to you since we left in January.

Pat has been nagging me as to when I was going to blog again. I used to keep a comprehensive record when we were cruising a lot, but our life in NZ, while far from dreary, has a repetitiveness about it, which would have been pretty boring to write about, let alone read.

So we are back in Mercia Marina, in Willington Derbyshire, and currently battling the wind and rain on board the good ship “The Cat’s Whiskers”, Ah it’s good to be back and enjoy the British summer.  We both love New Zealand, especially our adopted second home of Wellington. Most of our Kiwi friends though think we are nuts settling in a city whose weather can be several degrees cooler than that of 50 miles up the coast but we are very happy there. The home we share with our daughter and James her hubby is in a very leafy suburb, just minutes from the city centre, with a great bus service, but we do have a little car as well.

View of  Wellington harbour from the top of Mount Victoria
We know the city really well now, much better than say, Derby, which from the marina here is only a few miles away. While we were in NZ this time there was much excitement in the local and national media when Wellington was voted the best city in the world to live in. Praise indeed. It is said if you crossed Vancouver with San Francisco and Hobart in Tasmania, the result would be Wellington, proudly `the coolest little capital in the world.`

In fact I like it so much, I am 50,000 words into a historical novel about the place as it was the first planned settlement. There is bucket loads of intrigue and skulduggery surrounding its founding so I don’t have to embroider it much.  Whether it will ever see the light of day is another thing, but I am enjoying the experience of writing prose again and researching the story. It’s been a long time since I had anything published , but I think I’ve still got it.

This year’s summer in Wellington left a lot to be desired, and most of the country had odd hot and sunny days but no consistent warm spells. We did a couple of road trips and finished off the bits of the North Island around the Taranaki area we had never been to. As usual we hit the Art Deco weekend in Napier and stayed with our Kiwi boating pals John and Diane, though the weather was wet for much of the weekend, and that is unusual for Hawkes Bay. And there was our usual pilgrimage to Nelson, on the South Island, to visit our pals Vic, Val, Liz and all the Bafico tribe that grows every time we visit.

This year's outfit for Napier's classy Art Deco weekend

Normally on the beach, this years `Gatsby Picnic' session was under a shop awning in the city centre

I now play in three local ukulele groups around Wellington and enjoy them all. I reckon I now know every `Crowded House’ song they ever made though. I’ve got some good pals there, and look forward to see them all after Christmas again. They certainly push you a lot harder than the UK clubs and there are some very good players there.

Justin's fab Wednesday night ukulele group at Lower Hutt.
Southampton Steve on the  far right plays a Brian May replica uke
Because we had a bit more time on our hands this trip, we thought we would take up some summer pastimes and joined a croquet club and a local bowls club soon after we arrived. I was surprised how many younger players there were at the Bowls Club, whose chief sponsor apparently is the local Funeral Home!

But croquet was nothing like I imagined (Not a cucumber sandwich in sight) and we were just getting into it when it all stopped as both sports are seasonal and finish in May.

Pat gets some one-to-one instruction from another Roger at the Croquet Club in Khandallah
Erica and James had a short list of jobs for me to do around the house, and after a spot of heavy-duty gardening and painting we put a new kitchen in our `Garden Flat’. I say we put in a new kitchen; what we actually did was convert the laundry room, which is barely big enough to squeeze two into, but we have everything we need to be self sufficient if we choose to be. Damn expensive though, compared to prices in the UK. There is still a bit of building work to do, but that’s for next year.
The other joy, of course, is spending six months watching the grandkids grow and develop. We now have defined jobs around the house.  I take on the cooking from Monday to Friday and Pat tackles the washing and cleaning.

Granny and Pops bed makes a great camp

Work starts on our new mini kitchen in what was the laundry room

The family on Livi's first day at big school

My Friday morning job

A half-asleep Pops gets his nails painted

I thought Ben was the smaller one

It’s an old house in the scheme of things in Wellington, and was built in the early 1930s. We both felt that the house might have some history and Pat was keen to discover how many owners it had had and if any old photos existed of the area around that time. We booked in to see the archivist at the Wellington’s Record office and he was most excited when we arrived. He was very proud to tell us that at one time the house had been the home of John Reid. “Who”? I asked. Well, if you are a Kiwi and you like cricket then Mr Reid is a cricketing legend. Still alive, just, he was NZ’s cricket captain in the 1960s, who broke all sorts of national cricketing records, and lived in our house in Hatton Street for several years after his international career was over.

John Reid, NZ Cricket Legend
We broke the trip coming home by stopping in Vancouver to see Pat’s relatives and our pals Norm and Sue. It was a great week and the weather behaved itself for the most part. Pat’s sister Monica and her husband Garry live on Vancouver Island, and this time we caught the float plane over from the harbour in central Vancouver. I was really looking forward to this, and while we both enjoyed the experience I don’t think we would do it again, unless we were in a hurry. Norm and Sue took us up to Whistler to visit the Winter Olympic ski resort and we got to see Pat’s nephew Brian and his wife Terry-Lynn, who have just bought a fabulous penthouse apartment near the beach at White Rock. Terri loves her beers and had prepared a programme of food and drink that started at 4pm and finished, I think, around the fire pit at midnight. We flew home with Air Canada. They make a big thing about being voted the best airline in North America. I thought they were poor. Poor staff, poor food, poor entertainment. The flight was on time though and it was a comfortable enough.
We are going to be on the boat for the next few weeks at least. There is the normal routine for us of dentists, GP’s, opticians etc. We have leased another car. It’s a Volvo V40, which I only picked up yesterday and am still discovering what all the switches and buttons do.

Whistler Olympic Park BC

Our nephew Brian, reveals his `Beer Butt Chicken'

With our Canadian family, Terry-Lynn, Brian, Monica and Garry
We have booked out three weeks on the calendar to go cruising at the end of August. We plan to go down the Coventry and then cruise the Ashby Canal towards the outskirts of Leicester, hopefully joined by our boating pals, Dave and Angie, who have just bought a new narrowboat `Annie’.
As usual there’s lots going on in the marina, with a big new extension to The Boardwalk, called the Piazza. It’s a big three-story structure and luckily we have missed most of the noise that goes with it. I was hopeful we might get a decent pub moving in, but that looks unlikely. We will get an `art gallery` though. Just what every boater wants!!!!

Our lodge is just a few yards from the boat, and there are guests in there at the moment. In general the occupancy rate has been about the same as last year, so we are both delighted with that. We are not planning to go back in again until the end of October, when we will stay until early January, and then we are off to NZ again.

Saturday 21 January 2017

Out of Africa (via Singapore)

For all our adoring fans who missed us, we’re  back, for a limited time.

Our annual expedition to New Zealand, via South Africa and Singapore this time, got off the best of starts. The two `twenty-something’ girls who sat beside me on our flight from Heathrow to Johannesburg asked me in conversation what I did for a living. When I laughed and told them I had retired some five years ago, they were shocked. I thought you were about my dad’s age – 55! Thank you very much, I thought.

It’s an overnight flight to South Africa, on Virgin, and with a time difference of only two hours, it’s relatively easy to adapt. We were through customs and getting into our rented vehicle before 10am. We had made the same journey in 2003, before GPS and that time got out of the city no probs. This time, with a Sat Nav, it took us all round the houses, but as I had popped in inadvertently an instruction to avoid toll roads, I was half expecting it.  So we poodled along on a leisurely route south-east through the heart of South Africa and its towns and townships. It’s not a tidy place and I’d forgotten the locals do like to walk in the road, and seem completely oblivious of your presence most of the time. The roads were either excellent or awful, with huge pot holes in the rural towns. I certainly would not like to ride a motorcycle round there, especially at night. It took us five hours to get to Ladysmith, about an hour longer than taking the motorway.

Our room at Bullers Lodge
Bullers Lodge was even better than when we were there last, back in 2003. The owners have changed, but the place is still charming and homely . Lots of round, thatched lodges sitting in beautiful gardens. We had the room with the terrace overlooking the town and the Drackensburg Mountains in the distance.
Bullers Lodge.Our room's on the left

The manicured grounds

Getting into the colonial spirit in the `Boer' Bar
On our first night we had dinner with two South Africans, who were very jolly, and knew a lot about the UK. They were quite keen to know if I had tried Biltong yet. I was tempted to say “If I want to chew a bit of leather I have several belts in a drawer in my room”, but I kept quiet and told them it was not for me.

Britain’s military presence in Africa in the mid to late 19th century was not one of our finest hours. I was expecting to take quite a hammering from our South African tour guide about our imperial zeal for gold and territory, as we toured the Anglo Zulu and Boer War sites, but she turned out to be a very sprightly 78-year old, who was born in Little Gaddesdon, about 10 miles from our old home in Welwyn Garden, but had lived in Africa for over 40 years and gave us, what I thought was a balanced view.

`They don't like it up `em'
I wanted to see Rorks Drift, where Michael Caine and co, in `Zulu’ saw off 5,000 Fuzzy Wuzzies, after the Zulus swooped down and attacked their small mission, but first Liz, the guide, took us to Islandwana, about 20 kms away, where two days prior to the Rorks Drift attack, the Brits made a tactical blunder with their encampment and thousands were massacred by a huge Zulu force who cut them to shreds. Small mounds of white stones, show where massed bodies are buried. It’s a strange and eerie place.

With Liz Spiret, our Guide at Islandwana
The battlefield at Islandwana. The white stones denote mass burial sites of the British troops
Rorks Drift is tiny and you can still see the outline of the defences. The two large buildings that were central to the story are still there too. One has been converted to a church, the other a small museum. About 100 soldiers defended RorksDrift, and 11 VC’s were awarded. God it was hot there. Around 32 degrees, but that didn’t last long as the sky darkened.

The outline of the defences at Rorks Drift
The storeroom, set on fire by flaming Zulu spears
`Front rank fire'
Our journey down to Durban was interrupted by several showers, but by the time we got to our hotel on the beach, it had stopped long enough for us to have a good walk along the promenade, which is huge. I was surprised at how big a city Durban was. After a great meal in a restaurant on the outskirts of the city, recommended by Trip Advisor, which was every bit as good as they said, suspended over the ocean, and where we were the only diners, we set off into the interior for our Game Park experience.

The promenade at Durban. Storm clouds gather
The view to the north
My eyes are not what they were, so we both shared the driving. Considering the game park is about the size of an average English county, it was quite difficult to find, but find it we did, and had two dull, damp days at Hluhluwe Imfolozi Park which is claimed as being  the second biggest game park in SA, and home to the white rhino, which is not white at all, though with all the wallowing going on in the mud, it was pretty hard to tell what colour they were. We stayed at `Hilltop`, the resort centre at the park, high up, staying in thatched huts, and eating centrally. Very posh it was too, and not too shabby with the regulation monkeys swinging through the trees and elan nibbling at the foliage outside the lodge.

The lounge at Hilltop
Pat's clothes complement the land cruiser. Picnic basket at the back.
We saw all the animals you’d expect, though at 5am, as you rattle round the park in the large open-backed vehicles, with your eyes peeled for any wildlife, it’s quite a surreal experience.  And then 12 hours later the same day we also did a moonlight drive, which I thought was more enjoyable, even though we didn’t see the variety of wildlife we saw in the morning.

Grid lock in the park when lion cubs are spotted

A white rhino experience
Then it was back to Johannesburg and off to Singapore. There’s not much to dislike about Singapore. It is incredibly clean, no hassling from beggars or chancers, and the natives seemed friendly enough. They don’t like or respect queues though, especially the Chinese contingent.  Pat had to put one in their place when she tried to muscle in the fried egg Pat had had been waiting to be cooked for her at breakfast. And like most cities now, every other person has a phone pressed to their ear. As our time was limited we took the city bus tour to orientate ourselves, but could not sit on the top deck too long; it was just too hot. We shouldn’t have worried, the rain which had followed us across Africa, found us again, and there were a number of huge thunderstorms to dodge.

One of the iconic views of Singapore
The fountains of wealth at Suntec City
The Gardens By The Bay celebrate Chinese New Year
Part of the very impressive Rain Forrest walk

Our hotel near City Hall

Singapore has, of course, the reputation for cheap shopping and while I only brought a new phone case for my mobile (great value for a fiver), Pat bought a couple of pair of shoes. Our hotel sat on top of a shopping mall, and on investigation, there were six music shops down there with about 200 ukuleles of all shapes and sizes for me to investigate. Uke heaven. I think we’ll have to go back.
Pat looks to plan a kitchen for us, behind the two doors behind her.
But now we are back in Wellington and guess what. Yes, it’s tipping it down. Pat is planning a new kitchen with the cat on her lap and I am re-aquainting myself with the Bose sound system I bought last visit.


Friday 8 July 2016

Haera ra

Our last meal together with Livi, James, Erica and Ben in our local `One Fat Bird`
Well that six months certainly flew by and we are now just a few hours away from our flight tomorrow (Saturday) that gets us into Heathrow on Sunday afternoon.
I think we both have mixed feeling about returning, but we are ready and prepared for the worst the British summer can throw at us and looking forward to seeing our boy Kev and all our chums.. We have been following the UK weather forecasts and it does appear that the temperatures here in Wellington are only one or two degrees short of what is happening at home. Mind you, everybody here says this is not a typical Wellington winter, and today has been cold, wet and windy.
We will now have to wait and see when, and if, we are offered residency. There seems no reason why that shouldn’t happen but we have been advised it could take several more months. That being the case we will need to spend another 180 days here next year. I’m not complaining. We have really fallen for this place and all its little peculiarities and we are back mid-January, after stops in South Africa and Singapore.
Haera ra Aotearoa

(It’s speak Maori week in NZ)

Saturday 18 June 2016

A good dose of the `All Blacks`

New Zealand seems generally a safe place to live. Domestic violence may be a real issue here with the highest rates in the world and there are the usual drug issues, especially in parts of Auckland, but we have never felt uneasy, wherever we have travelled.

Our home in Karori is only a couple of miles from the centre of government, and we are regularly in the city, but never hear of security alerts, which are a day-to-day fact of city life in the UK these days. I was in a large department store recently and spotted an unattended carrier bag sitting by a lift. I reported it to a member of staff who was very indifferent. Customers just ignored it. If that was Britain, I expect the store would have been evacuated PDQ.

I mention all this for the other day I was mugged. Yes friends, and there was a bunch of them. At least six or seven, I reckon. I was having a cup of coffee and cheese scone in the cafe at Wellington’s fabulous Botanical Gardens with Pat and young Ben our grandson, when in a co-ordinated attack a flock of sparrows swooped down and took half the scone I was holding from my hand. Cheeky little buggers. I never realised how organised they must be to carry out such a daring raid, but it’s probably quite common. We returned there last week and I found myself consciously scanning the horizon for  incoming squadrons of feathered felons. 

The sparrow reconnaissance patrol .
It’s been pretty quiet here. We are now officially in Winter, and at times, it does get cold and wet, but not that cold. Not cold like we experience in Britain. I went to my regular Wednesday night ukulele club last Wednesday and they were all moaning how cold it was. It was 10C. Positively balmy, I thought. We are still getting sunny days and coldish nights, but there is little heat from the sun. But when it rains, boy does it fall. And it’s erratic. Last Saturday the grandkids were in the sea paddling – the day after was cold and windy.

Our routine has been altered though, by the arrival of Bella. She is a 14-week old all- black kitten, who we have now had for six weeks. Erica chose her because she seemed very calm around the children, and it was a good choice. Ben wants to poke and chase her all the time and she is very forgiving. I think she has only scratched Livi once and that was during play. I had forgotten what it’s like to have a kitten in the house. Basically she is just a naughty girl. But very loving. We will miss her when we leave here in a few weeks. 

Bella, our Kiwi `All Black` kitten makes herself at home

And helps with a bit of decorating
Last Saturday was so nice that Pat and I took ourselves off to Scorching Bay, a popular beach fairly close to the city, for a walk along the front there. It’s a lovely spot with some pretty expensive housing.  But Scorching Bay, like the rest of the coastline around the city, is very susceptible to  Tsunamis. Wellington Harbour sits on a fault line and we get shakes regularly. But if a big earthquake were to happen out in the harbour, a tsumami could decimate many of the coastline communities in and around the city. It’s something that every Wellingtonian is very aware of, and every house, ours included, has an emergency box in the garage with torches, bottled water, radio etc, just in case the big one hits. Out here in Karori, we are quite high up, but it is quite common to see the sign below  all round the coast. It directs people to the safest place in the area, in the event of a tsunami. This one was at Scorching Bay. 
Scorching Bay
A common sight round the Bays of Wellington
The more time we spend discovering Wellington, the more we fall for its charms. New Zealand likes to give its cities taglines. So Auckland is the `City of Sails`, Christchurch was always known as `The Garden City`, though since their major earthquake it’s being called “The City That Rocks!” and everywhere in Wellington you see `Absolutely, Positively Wellington`, which started by accident in the early nineties and has now been adopted by the City Council. It’s a nod to the `Can Do` mentality that exists in the capital, and reflects the artisan spirit that prevails here. It hasn’t made it onto the hillside where the “Wellington” sign is though. A bit like Hollywood it welcomes the ferries and cruise ships and sits near the airport. Occasionally the letters get changed around. It’s been `Wellywood` when Peter Jackson premieres one of his films here, and the “All Blacks” get promoted during Rugby World Cups. The flyaway letters at the end of the sign is a nod towards Wellington being one of the windiest cities on the planet. 

Our thoughts have now turned to our impending return in early July. My, it’s gone quick. We normally hire a car in the UK when we need one, but we have decided that this time round we will lease one for six months. Our lives are quite hectic this summer and autumn, and I can’t see us getting out very much on `The Cat’s Whiskers`. That disappoints me, and we will go out cruising, but it will have to snatch a week here and a few days there.

I am still playing with `The Ukes Of Wellington` on a Sunday morning and `The Hutt Valley Ukulele Orchestra` on Wednesday nights. The man who runs the Wednesday night sessions is a very good player and pushes us. It’s improved my playing a lot, especially further up the fretboard.

The Ukes of Wellington Sunday morning session in Cuba Street. My mate Ann sits to my right
The Queen’s 90th passed here with little fanfare. Ironically, her birthday is always celebrated in New Zealand with a public holiday, so it was no big thing. There was a gun salute from Government House. We went on a skyline walk above Karori and could see the little puffs of smoke in the distance. The average New Zealander was far more concerned how the new look All Blacks would do against the visiting Wales side who are in NZ for three tests . I picked up a national newspaper the day after the first match, and they had devoted eight pages to the match report, which was the first All Blacks game of 2016. I am not really surprised. This, after all, is their national sport and they are pretty good at it. Rugby infiltrates all parts of life in NZ. It is part fascinating and part infuriating,  but they certainly `walk the walk`.

It was our turn in Wellington to welcome the Welsh this weekend and my niece, who lives in Auckland, asked if James and I would like to go to the match. Her husband Mark had got some tickets. Now I am not a great rugby fan; I prefer a rounder ball, but I was not going to say no to seeing the best team in the world, on home soil.
Three Brits, one Welshman and a Kiwi get ready for the match
The Welsh Team run out at the Westpac Stadium
Essential lubrication
The game and all the razzmatazz around it did not disappoint. We had a great night. Mark brought along a Kiwi mate and his Finance Manager Mark, a Welshman, who flew over from Sydney especially for the match. The All Blacks just seemed to go up a gear when they needed to, but the Welsh were no push-overs and for much of the game it was a very spirited match. And then of course there was the usual pre and post match drinking.

And finally, I am thinking about buying a new boat, having seen this recently. Could be good for popping down the village and tying up at the pub. Just needs a small outboard. What do you think? Won't have to worry about it rusting.

So Toodaloo for now.