Lambs and Latte

I have been a bit lax and didn’t write my blog last Friday. It is amazing how you can fill your time doing absolutely nothing. I am still angry with the Government. Just tell us what the plan is. We don’t need an actual date! My frustration comes because I like to be in control and plan things for the future. With no control and no idea what the future will look like you can imagine I am not in the best of moods. Last Wednesday was a really low point and for whatever reason this Wednesday isn’t much better. Maybe I should just stay in bed on Wednesdays.

Last week we went for walks in the evening as the weather was sunny and very warm. The horse chestnut tree is looking very lush.

There are still a few trees covered in blossom but it is turning into confetti now. What is wonderful is the smell of lilac and wisteria.

On Saturday we went for a much longer walk and discovered a number of ruins and follies along the way. These included the church of St John’s at Boughton Green which is meant to be haunted.

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The gatehouse of Holly Lodge is also quite impressive and was once owned by a member of the Jeyes Fluid family.

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Further along the lane is another folly known as The Spectacle.

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This walk gave me an opportunity to see and hear lambs in the field which was a bit of a boost. The bluebells in the wood here were more impressive than the ones I saw the previous week.

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There are a multitude of butterflies around including orange tips, woodland brown, brimstone, peacock and this beautiful holly blue.

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I should have been at the hairdressers last week for my usual cut and colour. It will be interesting to see what I look like in the coming weeks. I have been blonde since my teens apart from a brief spell when Sophie and Jack were little when time and money were in short supply. I have a feeling there will be a lot of grey coming through and an uncontrollable fringe to deal with. I may set a new trend in wonky fringes if I grab the scissors in frustration.

Today was my weekly shopping trip to Waitrose and I am pleased to see that there is now more food on the shelves. Social distancing was well observed which meant I didn’t get too stressed. I went to the local farm shop, Smiths,  who sell tasty pies and cakes and joy of joy there was a coffee cart outside. How I have longed for a latte over the past few weeks. I bought one and came back via Pitsford Water and pulled into the layby and savoured the coffee looking out over the water with the window down listening to the birds.

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The weather has changed and it is a lot cooler and we have had rain. I have spent time reading and this week’s delights were:

Tim Winton’s The Shepherd’s Hut based in Western Australia and which focuses on the relationship between a wayward teenager and an older man who lives in a hut in the desert. Skillful story telling by Winton. Also,

Pat Barker’s The Silence of the Girls which tells the story of Briseus, a noble woman who becomes Achilles’ battle prize and covers the final months of the Trojan Wars. I would recommend them both.

As always, stay safe and well.

Ups and downs

So, another 3 weeks of staying in. If it was winter I am sure we would be really grateful but with the sun shining and some hot days (in Northampton) it is frustrating to be as my Dad would say ‘confined to barracks’. I know it is to save lives but I do worry about the longer term impact on the mental health of the nation being kept at home, separated from family and friends and the lack of social, face to face interaction with work colleagues and routines. The thought of people dying without their family around them and then being deprived of a funeral where family and friends can pay their last respects is morally wrong and sad.  I have days when I am very angry. Usually at the government who I think lie to us most of the time. Refusing to be drawn on an exit plan is worrying. People like to have some certainty in their lives and although we are told there is a light at the end of the tunnel we have no idea when or how we are going to reach it and I suspect neither do they. As my family and friends will know, I don’t like being told what to do. My sister and I spoke about this earlier in the week. Our Dad always said that this was a Rutherford family trait. We didn’t like being told and we didn’t like the person telling us. And he was right. Rant over.

I did my first wheel yoga session and managed to fall off it and bang my shin. My beautiful wooden yoga wheel has changed from an object of great beauty to an instrument of torture. I have decided yoga is a dangerous sport. The latest craze amongst my fellow yogis is to see how long a headstand can be maintained. I am not going there as it will end in disaster. I can’t do the headstand never mind maintain it. If you want to have a laugh watch Gordon, Gino and Fred Road Trip Episode 3 where they are doing goat yoga. I ‘kid’ you not. It is one of the funniest things I have seen on TV for ages.

The Easter weekend was long and boring. A walk in the park and sitting in the garden just didn’t cut it. Four full days of nothingness. It was my birthday on Easter Sunday and it passed by as just another day. Some FaceTime calls from family helped but it would have been good to go out for a meal somewhere to celebrate.

It is not all doom and gloom. The birds in the park are still very happy. I heard some skylarks today when I went to the farm shop. First time this year. My horse chestnut continues to unfurl its summer finery and the candles are beginning to explode.

 

The bluebells are starting to bloom but the nearby park’s offering is poor compared to the ones in Bothal Woods (right hand image taken in 2018).

My walk is around a park called Bradlaugh Fields. It is huge and I alter my route every time. It is 60 hectares of meadowland, hedgerows and trees. Every time I go, I see something different. I found this large, grassed area with clusters of trees which was empty of people. Bliss. Yesterday I heard a woodpecker but couldn’t find it in the trees.

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Sometimes it is the simple things that make me feel happy to be alive. I saw this dandelion clock and was struck by its beauty.

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A speckled wood butterfly alighting on a plant. A man in the neighbouring allotments asked me if the butterfly had smiled when I took the photograph. That made me laugh.

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It is a park that keeps on giving. No words necessary.

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I have read a lot of books – the last week has seen me polishing off The Long Call by Ann Cleeves, Without a Trace by Mari Hannah, Strangers by C L Taylor and Big Sky by Kate Atkinson. All great reads if you are looking for something to keep you occupied.

As for my own writing… You would think having all this time on my hands I would have turned into a frenzied writer locked in my tower rattling off thousands of word a day. It is not happening. I want to literally tear it up and start again with something different. It has been fermenting for so long it has gone off. I am going to change genres and see what happens. Watch this space…at least for the next 10 years.

I hope you are all staying well and safe.

 

 

And so it goes on …

This Easter weekend many families are unable to be together to enjoy the sunshine. In normal circumstances we would be at the beach, in the hills or enjoying barbecues with loved ones. In our case, probably not a barbecue as it always rained when we tried to have one and our children sat indoors watching through the window as Barry battled against the elements. We have been out for our usual walk around the park. Social distancing is generally being observed and Barry,  in his own usual style, is practising distancing from me. This is nothing new. The first photograph is from today and the second one from our walk in the Wolgan Valley when we were in Australia. I don’t take it personally.

I have not been motivated to practice my yoga for a week, so that is something I need to get back to. I was able to obtain a yoga wheel from the studio I attend and I think that as well as being practical it is an object of great beauty. What do you think? There are an array of yoga classes on offer for a small monthly fee including hatha, vinyasa, power, chakra and meditation as well as HIIT classes which I can’t do because of my decrepit knee. I still prefer the discipline of going to a class but this is a good option and there are lots of on-line classes around if you want to give it a go. I go to Soo Yoga in Northampton so have a look at their Facebook page They often offer on-line dance fitness classes taught by the amazing Kristina Rihanoff and family yoga sessions at weekends.

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Last week, I bemoaned the fact that I hadn’t seen any lambs in the field. On my weekly shopping expedition I came back the ‘long’ way through the rural parts of Northamptonshire. Before anyone gets uppity about unnecessary journeys etc. I didn’t stop on the way back, I didn’t get out of the car and I had a boot full of shopping. What it did give me was a sense that there is still a world out there where new life is bursting forth despite the sadness, despair and uncertainty facing the country and the world. It gave me hope and a reminder that nature gives as well as takes.

I walk most days and I have been watching a horse chestnut tree in a field. Its leaves are beginning to unfold and the candles of blossom waiting to burst forth. I will use this as my seasonal barometer. I am sure people in the park think I am strange. I can be found staring up at trees and into hedges watching birds and listening to their song. I am sure they are enjoying the sunshine, less traffic noise and cleaner air. On Wednesday a pair of jays were sitting on the tree outside the flat.

I have bought a garden chair so I can make the most of the outside space. The ‘oldies’ were getting a bit twitchy when I was sitting on their garden bench.  I probably should have bought two but Barry can sit on the grass as I have a picnic blanket. (He will be delighted). Manfield Grange is looking very grand and the stained glass window is illuminated by the sun today.

Over the past three weeks I have been contemplating on life. Haven’t we all. We are defined by what we do and this normally relates to our work and professional life. When that is taken away then what do we become? I seem to have morphed into some sort of Stepford Wife carrying out household duties like cleaning,  cooking meals and generally ‘looking after’ Barry. Most of you will know that this is definitely not me who normally sticks two fingers up to any kind of domestic drudgery but when you can’t go anywhere then it is difficult not to do these tasks. Barry is working long hours in difficult circumstances so I do make allowances but how long I can sustain this perfection is open to debate. I am thinking about reinventing myself when all this is over.

It is my birthday on Sunday and I will be having a birthday cake (bought by me at Waitrose) and enjoying a lovely lunch cooked by my darling husband.He doesn’ know that yet.  It will be strange not being with my family but as long as they are safe and well I am happy. I will be 60 next year and had started a ’60 things to do before I am 60′ list. Many of the things on the list are seasonal and involve visiting places in the UK  (all shut) and travel to some different places abroad. I have renamed it ’61 things to do before I am 61′ instead, as there is no chance I will get through the list. I am hopeful that this will end and the world will reopen for business.

Have a good weekend and stay at home and be safe.

 

Highs and Lows

Another week over and life is starting to fall into a routine. Actually getting out of bed in the morning is a challenge. Not sure how I will manage early starts when all this is over as my body clock seems to have found a new rhythm which means breakfast is happening nearer to lunchtime. I do put my clothes on so that is something. I hope it doesn’t get too warm before the lockdown ends as I have no summer clothes in Northampton.

The daily (ish) walks are becoming a challenge. There are three parks within walking distance, none of them pretty but they offer space, birds and trees. I found a different route around one park yesterday and the way the trees joined together overhead looked like a tunnel. I think we are all in a tunnel at the minute and not sure where the light is at the end – but it will come.

I found a clump of cowslips and they looked so pretty in the sunlight but it made me so homesick. My parents lived at Cowslip Hill and the sight of the flowers brought back all sorts of memories. The woods around their home were indicators of the months and seasons. Snowdrops in January/February, Primroses, Cowslips and Violets in March/April, Bluebells and Wild Garlic in May, Dog Roses over the summer and then blackberries, wild raspberries, conkers and falling leaves in the Autumn. I played in the woods all the time, climbing trees and walking for miles. I collected frog spawn from the café sand pits and then got chastised from my mother for all the frogs in the garden. The sand pits are now a housing estate so not sure where all the frogs and newts went.

There are lots of hints and tips on Facebook on how to stay positive through the coming weeks which is good but I also think it is fine if you feel sad or a little down. These are strange times with feelings of anxiety and lack of control over the events unfolding across the world. IT IS OK TO CRY. I love Katherine Jenkins and she performs a live concert every Saturday at 6pm on Facebook. This week she sang ‘Somewhere’ from West Side Story and I cried, and cried and cried. I didn’t beat myself up for doing so, I accepted that this will happen from time to time. I am with my husband but away from the rest of my family and that is hard. I miss my cat, Luna, as I spend most days when I am at home talking to her as there is no one else around. Now I end up talking to myself. I miss seeing the lambs playing in the fields. I haven’t seen one this year and it has always been a time of great optimism when I see the first one.

One tip that I thought was a great idea is when you think ‘I wish I could…’ , write it on a piece of paper and put it in jar. When we can go out again you can pick one of the ‘wishes’ out of the jar and do it. I wish I could go out for a walk in Sywell Park or have a latte in an independent coffee shop. I wish I could hug my children and cuddle my cat. Try it.

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My highlight every week is going to Waitrose. I hate shopping but the fact that I can go in my car to a place where there are people is a real positive. There isn’t a great deal of food on the shelves but it doesn’t really matter. We make do with what is there.

The on-line yoga sessions are going well including Barre Pilates. The picture froze but I continued on with the sound not knowing what I was doing but improvising as the class progressed. Maybe I invented some new ballet positions. My legs are very stiff. There is a current challenge to see who can stand on their head longest. I haven’t attempted it yet but who knows, maybe one day I will give it a go. Watch this space.

I hope that everyone is well and keeping safe.

 

 

Magnolias

When I was in Australia in 2017, I was fascinated by the number of jacaranda trees in gardens and the stories behind why there were so many.
On my daily walks around the streets of Northampton I have been enchanted by the number of magnolia trees there are in front gardens. They are full grown trees not little bushes and come in a range of colours. I am not sure why they are so popular, but it is warmer ‘down south’ and they seem to thrive here.


It was always going to be a culture shock living somewhere other than Northumberland. The coast and hills have always been on my doorstep and any troubles seeped away when you put one front of the other and took in all the beauty. Northamptonshire is different.

The nearest hills are probably the Chilterns. The nearest beach is a two-hour drive away in Norfolk. The good things about it are that London and Birmingham are both an hour’s train ride away so handy for work meetings.

Northampton, as a town is like many struggling town centres. Retail has been hit by out of town developments and it looks sad and unloved. It was once a thriving. The centre of the boot and shoe industry it has a proud history. I live in an apartment in a converted mansion. Once owned by the Manfield family. How many people remember Manfield shoes? It is still the home of luxury shoe brands; Churchs, Crockett and Jones and Trickers. There is currently a sculpture trail of 12 different types of shoes across the town. I have so far, found six. More on these in a future blog.

I discovered Sywell Country Park on Monday – I was so happy. It is an old reservoir and there are a number of trails you can follow. The sun shone and I was treated to the sound of a woodpecker tapping, a robin singing a song (just for me), blue tits, great tits, chaffinches, goldfinches, nuthatch wrens and peacock butterflies. I also saw a bird I did not recognise and had to research when I got home. A reed bunting. It was a day when I felt both joyful, because the sights and sounds made it clear that Spring had finally arrived and desperately sad, as this would be my last long walk for some time. Sywell Country Park is closed for the foreseeable future.

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We have entered a period of great uncertainty. We are concerned for our family and friends, our work and the aftermath of it all on our lives, the economy and the world. But life will go on. I do feel isolated, but grateful for technology so I can keep in touch with my family and friends. Everyone has different challenges, but we are resilient beings and will find ways to get through this.

Stay safe, well and look after each other.

Whitsundays and qualia

Our final destination was Hamilton Island in the Whitsunday Islands. Weary with walking in cities this was our rest and relaxation stop before we headed home. I had chosen qualia, an adults-only resort at the tip of the island, as it was important we had time to reflect on our Australian trip but also enjoy one of the natural wonders of the world; the Great Barrier Reef.
I knew it would be special when I handed over the luggage tickets to the resort staff at the airport and being whisked away, hoping that my luggage would reappear later in the day. I was anxious throughout our holiday that our luggage would get lost but nearly four weeks in and we still had it all.
Walking into the Long Pavilion and looking out across the Coral Sea is one of those unforgettable moments. A couple of glasses of champagne and we were given the keys to our transport for our stay – a golf buggy. Hamilton Island is quirky as the main form of transport is golf buggies with only a few cars and trades vehicles allowed. It is also very hilly so ascents are slow and overtaking is not allowed. With a demon driver for a husband this was going to be a stressful experience.


We were taken to our Windward Pavilion and walking through the doors we were met with floor to ceiling glass windows with views across the sea. Like the Wolgan Valley this was one of those moments that will stay with me forever. To say it was dreamlike is an understatement. Everything was perfect. The lounge, bedroom and bathroom all had stunning views across the sea. An outside terrace with our own plunge pool completed the picture. Below the pavilion, a family of wallabies was searching for food and they were regular visitors during our stay. Sulphur Crested Cockatoos flew from tree to tree and on one occasion one came to join us on the verandah.

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The degustation menu in the Pebble Beach restaurant was our treat on the first night, paired with a wine flight. For those readers who know me, they will understand that drinking wine with each course is a recipe for disaster for this very lightweight drinker. The last occasion was at the House of Tides in Newcastle where I struggled to negotiate the stairs. Maybe it was the setting or the fact that I had become accustomed to alcohol during this holiday that I managed not to fall down or suffer from a hangover the following day.
On the island there is a small selection of restaurants; Italian, Fish and Chips, Pub Grub and Fine Dining. The one good thing is that you don’t need to take money with you. The island has a system where everything can be charged to your hotel room. While convenient, it is also dangerous as you can easily lose track of your spending. Oh how we dreaded the final bill!
Our travel agent had booked two boat trips for us; a full day trip to Hardy Reef to snorkel and see the marine life and a half-day trip to Whitehaven Beach, probably one of the most iconic beaches in the world.
Cruise Whitsundays run a range of boat trips and the full day one to the Reef is popular. The trip also comes with a warning. The sea can be rough and anyone who suffered from seasickness was advised to take tablets before we hit the turbulent waters. Fortunately we both have good sea legs but many of our fellow passengers did not. The crew were dishing out sick bags and ice cubes to a large proportion of the tourists on board. Oh how we laughed.
There are briefings for snorkelers and divers to ensure the safety of everyone and to protect the marine life. It was the start of the jelly fish season (in particular the Irukandji jellyfish) and everyone donned either wetsuits or stinger suits.

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Nothing can prepare you for the beauty of the marine life in the Barrier Reef. Donning our snorkels, goggles and flippers we took the plunge onto the reef. The sheer volume of fish is staggering and the different species made this trip feel like you were in a giant tropical fish tank. There were Parrot Fish, Gold Barrel Coral Fish, Six Banded Angelfish, Pearly Monocled Bream and the Giant Maori Wrasse (who appeared in all the photographs). The coral is also really beautiful but the deeper you go the colour fades – there is a scientific explanation; basically as light passes through water the colour is absorbed by the water. Blues and purples were easier to see, the giant clams had purple edges but the bright pinks you see on television programmes are created using special cameras and only those near the surface were pink to the human eye.

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Sound seemed to be accentuated and I observed fish rooting around the coral – I could hear them moving the coral and stones and there was a high pitched noise in the water which sounded like the noises you hear dolphins make. Strange and quite eerie.


After half an hour I began to feel the cold and it was time to return to the pontoon. A buffet lunch was served (not very appetising) and we headed back to Hamilton Island. This time the sea was even rougher and we were perched on the top deck, uncovered and open to the spray and waves. We were soaked by the time we got back to land and wished we had sat in our swimming gear.
The half-day trip to Whitehaven Beach was shorter and although there was a swell it wasn’t as bad as the previous day. We were dropped on the beach and had time to meander along the beach. The sand is unreal. Like a child I sat with handfuls of the stuff and let it fall through my fingers. It was the consistency of somewhere between icing and caster sugar. Made from 98% silica it is also good for cleaning jewellery and taken in by the hype I cleaned my rings. Gullible or what? We watched the seaplanes landing on the sea and spent time just marvelling at the sand and sea.

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The Whitsundays were hit by Cyclone Debbie in March 2017 and this caused considerable damage to the islands and Whitehaven Beach. Considerable effort has been put in to restoring the beach to the way it was but you can still see the damage and the original treeline before the storm. Nature is also beginning to repair the damage and there are signs of new growth.
My image of Whitehaven Beach has always been the photographs showing the white sand and the turquoise sea. From the beach this is not the view you get. I had a dilemma. I didn’t have time left to take the full day boat trip to walk up to the lookout at Hill Inlet and if I went home without seeing this famous view I would regret it.
The hotel gave me some options; a speedboat trip but the sea was too choppy, a larger yacht but this was prohibitively expensive or a twenty minute helicopter ride. Later that afternoon we waited at the hotels heliport for our helicopter to arrive. I had been in a helicopter many years ago but it was a Sea King and the one we were about to board was like a little bubble with a rotor blade.

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Once on board we had our safety briefing and we were off. The views going out towards the beach were jaw dropping. Going over the sea the pilot pointed out turtles and rays. It gave a totally different perspective. The white sand the different shades of blue was what I wanted to see and this helicopter trip delivered.


We were only at qualia for five nights but it felt like a lifetime. Qualia is Latin and in the hotel’s words means ‘a collection of deeper sensory experiences’. It certainly delivers on sensory experiences and that was without visiting the spa at qualia!
It was a sad moment when we had to leave. When I was a child before we went on holiday I used to wander around the garden observing what plants were growing, their colour and smell. It was a ritual and seemed to affirm my place in the world. I did something similar when leaving qualia – breathing in the air, listening to the birds and waves and committing to memory the vista of hills, trees, sand and sea. A tearful goodbye to the peace and tranquillity.

Koalas and Rain

Brisbane weather was not particularly kind to us. A four night stop and we only had one day of sunshine.
We spent the sunny day on the beach – yes, a beach in a city. Streets Beach is a man-made beach overlooking the river. It is bizarre but it fitted the laid back vibe that is Brisbane. It was a Friday and we were bemused by a group of young people, complete with school uniforms who decided to go swimming – some of them in their clothes. Why we wondered? Apparently it was the Friday before ‘Schoolies Week’ and this group of young people had finished their final exams. It is a week of revelry and high jinks and no doubt copious amounts of alcohol.

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One of my ambitions when in Australia was to cuddle a koala. They are not bears we were told but marsupials. We booked the river trip to the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary and on the journey there were regaled with a tale of murder (Alderman Patrick Mayne’s deathbed confession), the history of the University of Queensland and its links with the said murderer, and the catastrophic effect of floods. What a hospitable place to be!
The rain became torrential at Lone Pine and a brown paper bag full of kangaroo food soon became sodden and disintegrated in my hands. I paid my $20 and lined up with equally drenched tourists to have my photograph taken with a koala. This was my real life encounter with Tingha or was it Tucker?

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Before we came to Australia everyone warned me of deadly spiders and snakes. On leaving the Sanctuary we saw a snake in a tree. It was asleep. No danger.
Wherever you go in the world there is always someone from the North East. Brisbane was no exception. A man from Sunderland at Streets Beach, there for the forthcoming Ashes. An invitation to the home of a school friend of my nephew’s introduced us to a mini community of Morpethians. People who seized the opportunity to make a better life for themselves and their families on the other side of the world but who still hold their love for Northumberland in their hearts.
Brisbane has some beautiful old buildings but like other cities they are dwarfed by growing office blocks or in some cases demolished. It is sad to see once great buildings reduced to bystanders to progress.

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And just to remind us it was nearly Christmas. Lights.

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Next stop Hamilton Island and the Great Barrier Reef.

 

Racing and Remembrance

Arriving in Melbourne after the peace and tranquillity of the Wolgan Valley was a real shock to the system. We were staying in the Crown complex on the South Bank and all I can say is that it was hell on the Saturday night. It was the end of Australia’s most famous racing festival so the complex was packed with race goers, stag and hen parties, several weddings and gamblers aiming to win their fortunes in the casino. The noise was an assault on the eardrums. There were women in hats and fascinators, some dressed as showgirls complete with feather headdresses and men in shorts and flip flops (or thongs as they are known here). Not the best start for the next five days.

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It did improve. On the Sunday morning we found that the hotel was rapidly emptying of the weekend hordes. The sun was shining so off we went on a tram ride to sample the seaside delights of St Kilda. We passed the home of the Australian Grand Prix in Albert Park on the way.
Like Manly, this was a town that reminded me of seaside resorts of a past era. The buildings were showing their age and there was feeling of neglect. Despite this there were crowds of people. The Sunday Craft Market (which my husband told me was really a ‘hippy market’) stretched along the pavement. There was everything from jewellery to hot chilli sauces – artisan this and authentic that.
The scary clown at the entrance to Luna Park sent chills down my spine which contrasted with the screams and laughter coming from inside this traditional amusement park. Alongside is a community garden which looked as if it should belong to another era (think the 1960’s). Lovingly tended and a real asset to St Kilda.

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As it was Sunday we felt the need to indulge in a Sunday Roast and we found an establishment that could provide. Nothing beats roast beef, Yorkshire pudding and roast potatoes when you are feeling a tad homesick. A walk along the prom to burn up the calories brought us to a small colony of Little Penguins. Hiding under the breakwater they are most active in the evening but we still managed to catch a glimpse of them during the day.

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Monday was hot, very hot and we spent some time in Fitzroy Gardens trying to find some shade. The family home of Captain James Cook is here, having been dismantled in Great Ayton and transported to Melbourne. A little piece of England in Australia. It was a chance to catch up with an ex-work colleague who emigrated ten years ago and hear how she has prospered, taking every opportunity offered and enjoying a lifestyle which wouldn’t be possible in the UK.


No visit to Australia would be complete without a visit to the Yarra Valley vineyards so off we went. Our tour guide, who purported to be an ex-sommelier, talked us through the wine tasting experience before we started on an array of wines in each vineyard. The Yarra Valley is beautiful and it was another very hot day. On our tour we visited some small producers; Punt Road, Yering Farm and Soumah where we had lunch.

Our final vineyard was Domaine Chandon – part of the Moet and Chandon conglomerate. A tour of the production plant ended with a choice of one of the sparkling wines they produced. This vineyard was extremely busy due to the Chandon connection. All of the vineyards afforded stunning views of the Yarra Valley. By the end of the day I was sick of the taste of wine and one just blended into another. I am sure if they had given me a glass of cheap plonk I wouldn’t have known the difference.


Wednesday took us to the Shrine of Remembrance. Having missed the British Remembrance Day we had our own service. There is a short act of remembrance every half hour where they reproduce the sunlight moving across the stone. The playing of The Last Post and the reading of part of ‘For the Fallen’ by Laurence Binyon was extremely moving especially when you are so far from home. It brought back memories of my Granda telling me he learnt to swim in the Nile when he was a soldier in the First World War and my Dad’s brother William killed in action in the Battle of Asiago in Italy in 1918. It was important for me to reflect on the solemnity of the event but there were those around us who filmed everything on their mobile phones.

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We then sampled the delights of the Botanical Gardens including tea and scones overlooking the small lake. In the background there was a rock band doing a sound test for later that evening. We subsequently discovered that Take That were also in town playing at the Rod Laver Arena.


Melbourne is a great place for food and we had some really good meals, namely Lucy Liu Kitchen and Bar and Red Spice Road.
I am beginning to think that Australia is a building site. After the fiasco that was George Street in Sydney I found the iconic Flinders Street Railway Station shrouded in tarpaulin undergoing restoration works. I am sure it will look amazing when it is complete. It would have been good to ‘meet under the clock’ which is a Melbourne tradition but sadly it was not to be.
We came to see Australia’s cities and you can’t visit cities without going shopping. Melbourne has some quirky shopping arcades including this one, the Royal Arcade with statues of Gog and Magog.

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Christmas was beginning to emerge and the equivalent of Fenwick’s Christmas windows namely Meyer’s department store was attracting young and old alike. The only difference being the temperature, which was in the low 30s.
Our next stop is Brisbane.

Paradise and Kangaroos

A two hour drive into the Blue Mountains from Sydney took me to a place I had only dreamed about. Set in the Wolgan Valley, the Emirates One & Only resort is surrounded by rock escarpments under deep blue skies.

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I wanted to see a different part of Australia from the big cities and this two day stay did not disappoint. We stayed in a ‘Heritage Villa’ which sounds as if they are authentic homesteads from the 1800’s. They are definitely not. Gas fires built to heat both the lounge and bedroom, four poster bed and a bathroom where the bath looked out across the valley. There is an original homestead where it is alleged that Charles Darwin once stayed. A more rustic affair. To me this was my own little piece of paradise. I came here not for the luxury but the wildlife. Dawn and dusk are the best times to see what the valley has to offer.

Homestead
Dragging myself away from the villa I encountered wallabies or were they wallaroos or kangaroos? By the end of my stay I knew the difference. A large, furry creature was ambling across the field – a wombat that had emerged from its underground home. When I was a child in the 1960’s there was a programme on a Sunday – the Tingha and Tucker Club – two koala bear glove puppets and Willy the Wombat, all of the memories came flooding back and I recall joining the club and receiving a boomerang which never worked!

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In the evening we attended the Stargazing talk. Being in the southern hemisphere I expected the sky to be different but the Plough was still there and this made me think of my Dad who was the first person to show me this constellation. Because there was no light pollution we saw Magellanic Clouds which are dwarf galaxies only visible in the southern hemisphere. A magical moment.
The following morning I was up early and sat on the steps outside the villa watching the wallabies having an early morning feed. It was cold and there was dew on the grass and droplets of moisture on the wattle bushes. A stillness pervaded the valley and it was a time for contemplation and appreciation of the beauty of nature. My feet became cold and I attempted to go inside but couldn’t get in.  I had inadvertently locked myself out. Knowing my dearly beloved was fast asleep I patiently waited another 30 minutes in the cold before knocking on the bedroom window to be let in. The waiting time was spent watching three crimson rosellas in the trees above the creek.
After a hearty breakfast of porridge which made me feel like Goldilocks eating Daddy Bear’s porridge we prepared ourselves for the day. We kitted ourselves out in long walking trousers and stout walking boots as the ranger who briefed us told us this would protect us from snake bites. Yikes. We also had to take a radio in case of emergencies. They weren’t really selling the experience with all this risk mitigation but off we went for a leisurely 10 mile hike.
The air was clear and the sky a deep blue with the sun high above the mountains. Under all the trees were family groups of kangaroos. There was always a male at the front – standing up straight and showing us who was boss! Joeys were hopping around until they saw the perceived danger and proceeded to disappear, head first, into their mothers’ pouches. How I longed to see one peeping out at me. As a child who watched Skippy the Bush Kangaroo this was the ultimate in kangaroo viewing.
There were wombat holes everywhere and armies of ants across the whole area. Fortunately we didn’t encounter any snakes. Tucked under the trees were the smaller, shy wallabies that watched us for a while and then bounced off into the forests of eucalyptus and cypress. The air smelt of resin and reminded me of home. There were curious squiggles on some of the tree trunks and I learned that they were Scribbly Gum trees. The marks were caused by the larvae of the Scribbly Gum Moth.

Scribbly Gum
Although we could hear birds in the trees they were elusive, apart from the magpies and pigeons which were ever present during our stay. There were beautiful plants which appeared in clearings in the eucalyptus forests.

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On the final day I was out early to see the wildlife feeding before the sun became too hot. I walked for over two hours taking in the wildlife, landscape and the memories of this place.

On a wooden post sat a Laughing Kookaburra and I remembered a song from my time in the Brownies:
Kookaburra sits on the old gum tree,
Merry, merry king of the bush is he,
Laugh, Kookaburra, laugh Kookaburra,
Gay your life must be

The variety of birds was amazing; Sulphur Crested Cockatoos, Fairy Wrens, White Naped Honeyeaters, Australian Wood Ducks, Dusky Moorhens and the incredibly Noisy Friarbirds.
Towards the end of my walk I was rewarded with the sight of a kangaroo family and a joey peeping out of its mother’s pouch.

Kangaroo Family (2)
The two day experience was unique; memories made and memories retrieved from my childhood. A place that will stay with me forever.

 

Jacaranda and Jasmine

Flying into Sydney I was enthralled by the purple trees below. What were they? Our taxi driver from the airport told me they are Jacaranda trees and said that there was a tale about a midwife in Sydney giving a tree to the parents of every newborn. That is the reason for so many in the city. On a return trip in a taxi the story changed, to each district giving those who became citizens of Australia a jacaranda tree for their garden. Who knows which is the correct story of the trees.

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Sydney was not welcoming. It was cold and raining and the newspapers told me it was the coldest November weekend in ten years. Great. The Opera House and Harbour Bridge were wrapped in grey clouds and I was enveloped in a fleece and waterproof. Our hotel was just off George Street. I had heard great tales of what a wonderful street it was. The problem is George Street is a building site – a new tram line is being installed, already over budget and running over time. You couldn’t see from one side of the street to the other due to the hoardings. Very disappointing. It got worse. No one seemed to be working on it through the day but night time the jack hammers came out in force and sleep, at times, evaded me.
So what did I see? Other than the obvious ‘Big Two’ I spent a very leisurely time on a lunchtime cruise around the harbour. I found out where Russell Crowe and Cate Blanchett live (Finger Wharf in Woollooloo if you’re interested). The house where Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman used to live (I wasn’t impressed), and the fact that Prince Harry likes the Shangri La hotel when he visits Australia. A barbecue lunch with Australian wines shared with other tourists – one English couple, the rest American and a crew member who was born in Byker.

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We took the Hop On/Hop Off bus to the Fish Market. Yes, I am becoming a bit obsessed with these tourist buses but they are a great way of seeing parts of the city without ending up with aching feet. This was the place for oysters and fish platters – both at a reasonable cost – unlike the rest of Sydney.
The Rocks, apart from being very touristy and expensive has some hidden gems. Susannah Place is a line of cottages decked out in furniture and fittings from a bygone age. For my North East readers think Beamish in miniature. The houses were tiny but were still lived in up until the 1990’s. The end property was also a shop selling such things as Tunnocks Wafers and Teacakes. What’s that all about? As well as household implements from another era – wooden pegs, carpet beaters and brooms.

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The harbour seemed to be constantly occupied by a cruise ship (four while we were there). The daily expulsion of its inhabitants swelled the tourist population and like Venice they ebbed away when the ship sailed off into the Pacific.
We had the misfortune of being in Sydney on Melbourne Cup day – hotels were offering Melbourne Cup special deals with champagne and competitions for the best dressed on the day. It was the equivalent of Derby Day or Northumberland Plate Day in Newcastle. As with Plate Day the evening casualties were plentiful. Women walking around carrying heels and what were once well dressed men, now looking worse for wear. To cap it all while we were eating in the Rocks the waitress came in from an outside table shouting ‘the man on table 34 has wet himself’. Such class.
Sick of the city on the day before we left we took the ferry to Manly. It was like a British seaside resort from the last century but with surfers. A walk to Shelly Beach and around the North Head Sanctuary gave spectacular views across to Sydney.

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The houses were quaint and many had jasmine hedges. It made you feel as if you were walking through a perfume cloud. In the trees were lorikeets, noisy but colourful. A paddle in the Pacific to ease aching, hot feet was the perfect ending to our few days in Sydney. Like a child waiting for Christmas I was excited for my next location – the Wolgan Valley in the Blue Mountains.