Tuesday, 30 December 2008

Living with a calculating cat...

Billy likes to keep me company when Im playing on the computer, and follows me round the house like a black and white furry shadow at times.

We have two desks right next to each other in our office, so there is a nice cat shaped space on my right for him. He has a lovely furry cushion cover to lie on (his cat rug) . He lies there and purrs and purrs - its lovely.

A few days ago, he wasnt at his usual spot, so I borrowed his cat rug to give my left elbow something soft to lean on for a while.

Billy came up onto the desk, went to his normal spot and just sat there looking at me. Moments later, he walked in front of the computer monitor to my left, and sat there glaring hard at his cat rug under my left elbow.. I was in trouble!! Bad Anna! How dare I steal his bed!!

I hastily apologised to him and put his nice soft rug back in place. Seconds later, he had moved back into normal position (on rug) and lay down stretched out on it purring, as if to say

"Hmm thats MUCH better"

I better find something else to put under my elbow next time, or I will be in big trouble again!

********
An example Billys devotion to me.. (sorry Douglas...)

Last night the dear moggy slept on our bed.. he decided that the best place for him was where my legs normally go. Not quite the place i would have chosen, but it was nice to have him there.

Now, Billy is a bit of a pig when it comes to food, and normally hes the one walking up and down my recumberant body at 5am telling me its breakfast time.

This morning Douglas woke at 5, went down and put the heating on. He fed Lilly who went down with him, but it wasnt until about 6, when I got up and went down that Billy deigned to get up and go find his breakfast!!

Now.. is that because he loves me, or because hes such a lazy cat he couldnt be bothered to move?!!

Saturday, 27 December 2008

Christmas

We went over to my little brothers for about midday and had a lovely afternoon.

The house was quite full.. my brother Thos, his wife Kt, 3 kids.. Kts brother, wife and 2 kids.. Kts brothers wifes dad. (work that one out lol) and of course the two of us.

I'm glad to say my brother has a big kitchen/diner with a lovely big table in it, so he managed to seat everyone together (apart from 3 kids who were on a kids table next to us).

It was a lovely meal of roast chicken for those that did.. with roast potatoes, parsnips, red cabbage, sprouts, stuffing, bread sauce, gravy and nut roast (mainly for me).

After the main course, we went through into the living room, and the mayhem of presents started!! It was fun to see the kids and adults all getting lovely gifts, although the thought that this one festival causes so much money to be spent on presents, and I think I may well just ask for Oxfam vouchers next year as I really dont need anything! Having said that.. Thos and kt gave me a school photo of their three kids. I was so pleased to get it - its a really lovely photo.

The other lovely thing I got today was some paua shell earrings from the parents - (fresh from New Zealand) they are little ovals of paua shell set in gold, and I will wear them quite a bit :-)

For me, the very best bit of the day came after everyone had settled down a bit, and Carlo (littlest nephew age 4) and his cousin Matilda (aka 'Tilda) (one of Kts brothers children) aged 3 came and snuggled up on me whilst I invented a story for them. I used to invent stories for Thos when he was little, then I did the same for Martha and Leo who are now 10, so it just came naturally to me to carry on with little Carlo. 'Tilda is a very sweet little girl, so it was lovely to tell her my invented story at the same time.

The sadness of never being a mother will never leave me, but when I get the opportunity to totally immerse myself into being with children I love, its the best feeling in the world :-) That really was the bestest present there could be.

Thursday, 25 December 2008

By the way..

Happy Christmas! I must go to bed :-)

I hope all of you that celebrate have a lovely time. We are going over to my little brothers to eat drink and make merry, so I better go get some sleep now before Santa catches me awake!!

A xxx

Warning.. a long post from Simon!!

Hey there,

We just lost internet here for a couple of days because of some underwater cables which THE WHOLE MODERN WORLD RELIES ON so I've been freaking out a bit because I was a bit cut off. This was especially the case because I was itching to pass on some of the things I've been
feeling about Egypt now I've made it to the proper part of the country. Now it's become a bit of an extended ramble with no real linking aesthetic and I feel somewhat despondant that you're getting a weeks brainfart all in one splurge.

The first thing that surprised me upon hitting mainland Egypt was how verdant the whole thing was. I'm not used to it in most of the Islamic countries I've visited. As soon as I crossed over the Suez canal there was a massive profusion of green, making sense of how Egypt used to be the breadbasket of the Roman Empire. Even the buildings themselves seem to be in a constant state of growth or decay, organically changing in tune with the life around it. Lower Egypt so far reminds me of the Punjab, but with African light instead of Indian. This particularly true in the canal zone where most of the architecture is colonial (spruced up with joi de concrete moderne).

The first place I stayed, Ismailia, could have been designed as a demonstration of the word genteel, all colonial verandas and massive gardens. I went to a restaurant there which boasts of having been founded in 1950 - I think what they meant was locked in time since then. The playlist was incredible, a mix of Eurovision also-rans (a French song about the fate of an Italian fishing village pre and post WWII), some easy classics ('We're All Off to Sunny Spain') & country
and western songs about wishing you weren't paralysed so you could kill your cheating wife. It reminded me of nothing so much as the hour after Tez returns from a charity shop run and drops all the best ones on me - I was rather nostalgic as I tucked into my fish.

The next day I took the train to Port Said, which is at the mouth of the canal and is an uneasy alliance of resort town (a bit too much faeces on the beach for me) and industrial port. The train ride was great, although stinking of piss and absolutely filthy. When I asked for a student discount the guy decided not to charge me. You look out of one side and there's loads of trees and crops, out the other side there's sand dunes with the occasional tanker seeming to plow through
them. That's a pretty cool sight.

Port Said has lots of fantastic architecture, and a cool free ferry across the Suez canal which I took a few times - it was especially magical at sunset as gulls swoop around you and the light reflects off the massive ships. On one of these ferries I got talking to a chap named Adel, who told me he liked my clothes. He asked for my name & e-mail address, which I supplied. Then things got a bit weirder:

"Now write your name here." [Gestures below]
[Suddenly feeling uneasy for unknown reason] "Mish faahim (I don't understand)"
"Your name. Write it. Here."
"Aasif. (Sorry) Mish faahim." [Feeling a bit pathetic that I'm putting up such a resistance]
[Drawing loveheart where he was gesturing] "Your name. Simon. Here.
Write next to this."
'La, la. Aasif."
[Sighing, as if explaining to idiot child] " Write name. Please.
Here, next to this."
[Starting to wonder if this is just a cultural misunderstanding] "La, la, aasif, mish faahim."
"My name here" [writes Adel next to loveheart] "You write name here."
[Noticing ferry is pulling in, jumping up to leave] "Aasif."
"Me, marriage, no."
"Really."
"I want to sex you up."
[Hoping he's telling me his favourite Color Me Badd song] "Bye, good
meeting you!"
"You. Me. Sex Now."
"BYE."
"Okay, nice to meet you."

Still, there generally needs to be one such encounter every holiday, and this was better than the mentally defective dwarf, at least.

Anyway, I pulled out of Port Said soon after and through the extensive wetlands that mark Egypt's coast. They support teams of birds - herons, storks, swallows, sparrows - some hanging in the last vestiges of sunlight, others stalking their pray through the shallow pools, as well as countless fishermen throwing out their nets in the rose red rays. As I hit the delta proper, I passed many huge cities which foreigners probably never visit, surrounded by vast plantations and fields.

And so to Alexandria. Despite being founded by Alexander the Great there's very little ancient history to show for it - some tombs, a pillar. The Pharos lighthouse toppled and was replaced by a little fort - it lives on only as a particularly popular shape for minarets. The Great Library was destroyed and has recently been replaced by a great library. In fact, even the relatively recent history has very little to show for itself.

The city was rebuilt in the 19th century along European lines, as is evidenced by the Venetian Gothic, Neo-Classical, Art Nouveau & Deco stylings that much of the city once had. But it's as if you got all the people out of a beautiful European city, smashed it up with some sledge hammers, then left it to decay for a hundred years before moving twice as many people back in. It's filthy and collapsing.

There are numerous old coffee shops around done out as it would have been but they overcharge and the coffee's been over-roasted.

It still has the energy and buzz that it used to have, but rather than this culminating in a fever pitch of desire and creativity as it did when the city was a cosmopolitan mix of Arabs, Jews, Greeks, Italians & anyone else who fancied a piece of it, it seems now to all have been sublimated into shopping. All night, men walk around the main streets arm in arm, window shopping. Despite their disavowal of shoes (and boy do they love that chucking shoes at George Bush event, there was one TV channel which had it on repeat for 3 hours), there are hundreds of shoe shops, as well as windows and windows of dressing gown displays and sharp suits on offer. Naturally that which is dirt has been fetishised.

In fact, to some extent, Alexandria started to annoy me. It just seemed a waste of a great city. I went to see some Arabic music at the opera house, and was severely told off for not wearing a tie, and was made to borrow one. Once inside, everyone chatted merrily throughout the performance, texted away, even answered phone calls when their ringtones rung out. Now, I'm willing to accept that the Western attitude to music can be a bit stuffy at times, and it could be quite refreshing to have people clap when they heard something they loved (maybe), and why shouldn't they treat it like a social event out with their mates, but it did seem that they had their priorities wrong and were focussing on the image over the music.

And bars! I could accept having none, and drinking being off limits, but they had 2 (plus a couple of restaurants that sold it). One was ridiculously expensive, and their Best of Disco CD got stuck and I started to wonder how many times one could listen to the first minute of 'Love to Love You Baby' - for me it was 17 and a half times (note that's over quarter of an hour), so I'm afraid I can't report on how long everyone else could take it. The other one has been described as a Bangkok bar without the gogo girls - in this case they been replaced with fat middle aged men dressed in cardigans & moustaches (not gyrating, don't worry). When I told one of them I was Scottish, he branded a Jimmy Hat at me.

This felt badly wrong, and I felt I should make some kind of reperations for my nation scarring his culture. Having said this, the music they play alternates between UB40 & BOB
SHITTING MARLEY, as if to rub their hatred of reggae in my face.

It's also difficult to try and find restaurants, as they're all in the residentual areas very far from where they put the hotels. I would end up circling for ages, before sadly sitting down to pizza again, or negotiating another kebab. I did have some wonderful meals - the fish is great - but it seems like such a trial.

The trams are also unbelievable, moving at a subambulant pace. To be fair, they occasionally break into a light jog, but you can always catch up with them and jump on. They're more there as a labour saving device than as any increase in speed - a child can (and frequently does) outpace them - but in a city stretched out along the coast as much as this one they can come in handy. And they do cost 3p for any trip, so it seems churlish to complain. It does also seem that the
locals hold their ridiculously slow speeds in a good natured mixture of awe and pride.

But their transport is messed up generally. The corniche, a road running the length of what is one of the world's classic bays, and lined by historic buildings, is an 8 lane highway. You can chill
where Churchill sat and all that sits between you and the harbour Alexander the Great founded is a impenetrable stream of heavy traffic. That's not entirely true - you learn a great faith out here that cars will swerve by you if you stride out into the road. It's almost beautiful in its own way; as if the sea were parting around you; as if an invulnerable bubble surrounded you. It reminds me of when I was scared as a child in bed, and used to imagine an invisible shield of
love protected me and prevented any of my imaginations terrors from getting close to me.

The Friday prayers were weird too. They broadcast it out of every mosque and it reverberated round all the streets. The mosques were full to overflowing and people were praying across the whole main street. I've been quite digging the fact that they enjoy listening to people singing the Qoran on the radio, and that my lift here sings me a choice verse as I ascend or descend, but this was the first time I felt like an outsider, walking round a ghost town where every street was shaking to a different sermon. Also, something I've never seen before, is that the really devout people have a bruise or callus in the middle of their forehead from praying too hard. I was initially all like, "Wow, can you inherit birthmarks?" untill I realised what caused them.

But, after a couple of days I realised I'd got it all wrong, and I was judging Alexandria by my standards of what a great city should be like. Their nightlife is all about the late night sha-clack-clack of Dominoes & Backgammon in Ahwas, chess players sucking sheeshas and the
old gang sitting round drinking tea and laughing. Their culture's built round caffiene, not alchohol. And it's a pretty cool culture...

I found the greatest Ahwa ever down this alley two people can't pass in, set into this amazing old 19th century department store. It opens up into this amazing courtyard which is a complete shambles, but they've covered it up by painting it this baby blue, except where they ran out of paint and finished it off in pink. Every now and then some unseen person would yell long & loud, but no-one took any notice of them, too involved were they in their own little worlds. 3 cups of
tea and a sheesha set me back less than a coffee in any of the oldy world mock-European efforts, and the staff carefully rearranged or replaced my coals every 10 minutes or so to keep them fresh. It was a beautiful shithole, and I loved it.

I had been concerned about the lack of youthful, live music, but as if on queue I ran into a wedding procssion on my way home, and they were drumming some feirce beats out, singing & clapping as they walked the bride and groom up and down the street.

The souqs are vivid as well, a much more human commercialism. Tables of blue-legged crabs, white bellies pointing up, next to a creche of goats heads, eyes tight shut and mouths open as if a sweet voiced choir. Baskets of tightly packed fish, innocent rabbits siflaying unaware of the fate they face once a buyer likes the look of them, great mounds of feta. Baskets keep descending on strings from upper windows, for people to drop some groceries in. It's a joyous place to be.

The new library is astonishing as well. It's a beautiful thing, architecturally, all space and pillars with the native lotus capitals. From the outside it looks like a giant disc rising out of the sea, in
another homage to the Pharos. It also has a reasonable collection of books, but there is a wierd high pitched buzzing sound which was thankfully masked in the Philosophy section. I went and caught a lecture by Stephen Greenblatt (shout out to my literature homies), basically all about the subject of my philosophy book, but relating it to Shakespeare, which was quite surreal.

In the end, I think it comes about because the familiarity of Alexandria makes you think it should make sense, should fit your pre-conceived notions, but it doesn't. It looks European; it's part of our history; our dreams. Yet it's a very different place. Cairo fits in much easier; a giant capital with a generally Islamic culture but where anything can be found or could be going on, where globalisation is a reality. Alexandria is a genuinelly Islamic megalopolis in European clothing, nowhere near as universalised as its past or looks would imply.

It doesn't really fit its skin, a bit like Warsaw, a bit like myself, and despite its collapsing, stinking, mangy exterior, I do love it. I've been debating whether I could live there, as I always do, and I still don't have an answer. It did have a particularly good juice bar though...

Anyhow, I'm in Cairo now, and judging by the fact that the bar I was in played Wham's 'Last Christmas' twice I feel I should be giving you season's greetings. Keep safe one and all. Please keep e-mailing me; I savour even the slightest missive.

Enjoy Christmas, and I hope the unreality it has for me makes it all the more real for you.

Remember you're all wonderful, never to be repeated snowflakes,

Simon

Sunday, 21 December 2008

Sat 21st Dec. Shortest Day, Longest Night.

We woke up early (5am) - Douglas was like a little kid desperate to get his mits onto his present - so desperate was he, that he suggested opening a particularly fragrant one the night before.. cause it might just have some bath goodies in it!! (I told him off, and made him wait lol)

We sat in bed and opened pressies.. a really nice scarf each from Ds dad and step mum, and some Thorntons choccies (as yet untouched!!) An Amazon voucher and some lovely LUSH soap from DMIL..(Douglas will be rushing onto the Internet with great joy tomorrow, I suspect.. looking for some books to buy with the voucher) ..

We got a huuuge box with some more glorious LUSH stuff in.. its great.. instead of using polystyrene "worms" as packaging, they use popcorn, which can be popped straight into the compost bin!! The mega LUSH box was from dear Dreaded Sis in Law!! Thank youuu!

D's lovely Auntie and partner I presume to me you would be DAIL ;-) - Dreaded Auntie in Law? got us a lovely pale ceramic wind chime with moons and stars on. I think we might hang it in our downstairs loo, so when the back door opens the wind will make it jingle :-) .. loo is right near back door. as if you wanted to know that!!

Finally we got a lovely M&S Hamper from DBIL (Ds brother) which we will enjoy over the year to come. We already had some of the sweet wine out of it as part of a syllabub D made for our meal.. mmmmm!

After we had done pressies, we got up and started to prep all the veg for later, as we had invited Ds Dagda friend Dangerous, his partner Liz and her daughter Louise round for a late lunch/early tea.

We prepared potatoes and parsnip for roasting, carrots for boiling, red cabbage to cook with onions, apples and balsamic vinegar, I had already cooked my nut roast and made a cheese sauce to go with it, so D prepared some pork for the meat eaters.

At about 9.30am, we were tired again.. so went back to bed, and went out like a light!! It wasn't until 11am that my mum phoned and it woke us up.

I went out almost immediately to do a small tesco shop and a few more techy things for the parents, and D washed up and laid the table.. it looked a treat.. a paper Xmas tablecloth.. glasses.. settings.. napkins.. the works!!

Our friends got to us at about 4pm, and we were almost ready to eat. We had a sumptuous feast, ending with Syllabub, and Xmas pudding with brandy flamed over the top, brandy butter and or cream (oh how my arteries shriek!!) I didn't even mention the sparkling Chardonnay, the lovely red and nice cold white wine we had with it!

After the meal, we had a really lovely few hours chilling, chatting, and thoroughly enjoying each others company.

D is now watching some awful film and I have come up here to be peaceful and update the blog. I've done most of the washing up.. the rest of it is in soak and can wait until tomorrow.

We will be at my little brothers Xmas day, so that will be quite a different celebration.. probably more hectic with three little ones rushing round, but lovely to join in with their Christmas :-)

Saturday, 20 December 2008

Solstice eve!

Sadly the blog will be rather boring now.. until Simon sends us a new message that is..

Douglas dropped me, the computer and some bits off at my parents house, and went to do a large shop, and get our TV that has just been mended (better to spend £50 on repairs than £300 on a new telly!!

I connected the computer, got that going, got my mums 170 photos onto her computer, and whilst it was being a pain, I went and re-programmed the pre set buttons on my dads digital clock radio. I then downloaded the nearly 900 (wow!!) photos my dad took on his computer. Whilst that was doing, I had lunch, then when a very tired Douglas showed up, I very quickly showed my mum the two folders I have put their photos in and went.

Douglas has done a grand shop, and got our Telly, and went to pick up the cat food before picking me up and returning home. I put the shopping away whilst Douglas and a friendly neighbour carried the huge and heavy telly back into the house.

The afternoon was spend tidying and cleaning the house, which looks lovely now.

Tomorrow we will open our presents (yay!) and have a relaxed morning before doing a major cook, as we have our dear friend Dangerous and his partner Liz, and her daughter Alison coming round to celebrate with us.

Whatever you celebrate, have a nice day tomorrow, and be loving and kind to your family.

Friday, 19 December 2008

Theyre baaaaaaack!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

They landed at about 11am, and got home at about 4, tired, brown but very happy.

I will steal all their photos tomorrow ;-)

its soo nice to have them back!

Thursday, 18 December 2008

Countdown to parents return...

This time tomorrow they will be just a few hours off landing, hopefully....


soooooo looking forward to seeing them!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

PS why dont you lot leave me any comments any more? :-(

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

Last Email before flight!

Last visit to internet cafe!

We went to Sydney today, saw the fruit bats hanging from the trees, flapping to keep cool, making loud noises, and quite a few of them flying around!

We arrive at Manchester at 11.45 am on Friday 19th. When we get to the train station your end, we shall get a taxi to Thos's, and collect our car. So we should be back home approx mid-afternoon. Thanks re preparations - see you then!

Tuesday, 16 December 2008

Mount Siani (from email came in today)

Hey there,

Well, I finally made it out of Dahab. I was tired of being forced to frequent spots which served Bob in a Dylan flavour rather than Marley, of spending days lazing around in the sun, drinking tea and gazing out across the Red Sea at Saudi.

I headed across the desert up into the mountains in the centre of Sinai, to a place called St Katherine, so called because this is where the angels took her body when they rescued her from her eponymous wheel. They probably picked this spot as it is incredibly down with God, and the remarkable conjunction of the Mountain where Moses got the 10 commandments, where the Burning Bush that chatted to him grew, plus the spot where Elijah heard God talking to him, has meant that the tourists have been rolling in for 1700 years.

It's also an area of astonishing natural beauty. The granite mountains come in two kinds, spiky, tall and difficult, and softly undulating and red. The Bedouin who settled down here long, long ago were taught by the Byzantine monks how to build gardens, and as you ramble through the countryside you come aross their wells and walled gardens dotting the wadis and climbing their sides.
I had planned to come and climb Mt Sinai, and maybe do one other trek, but I ended up staying 4 days. It's just a wonderful, beautiful place, and there's a real community feeling amongst the locals and the visitors. Most importantly, they had Earl Grey. I met lots of lovely people & now have numerous invites for when I visit Cairo. One girl had been living in Dahab for 3 years. When I asked her what she had been doing, she said "Mostly Yoga, some Snorkelling." To be fair to her, she occasionally came up to Katherine and lived in caves to get away from it all.
There's some EU money coming in to develop sustainable tourism, and I saw some ex-pats having a "How Eco are you?" argument:
- You mean you use nails?
- But you've got iron hinges on your doors! Anyway, all my roofing is tied together with rope.
- What kind of rope?
- ... [hanging head in shame and defeat] Plastic.
On the first day I visited the monastery, which had been well endowed with lots of icons and early paintings, and also had a cutting from the burning bush which was looking a bit sorry for itself. I then boshed it up Mt Katherine, the highest mountain in Egypt, that afternoon. The view from the top was spectacular, out over the Gulf of Suez to the mainland, and back t'other way to Saudi. Mountains stretched off in all directions, before falling to the desert. The sunset was an incredible mix of colours, bouncing off the slight haze which was at cloud level below us.
On the last day I went up Sinai. Lots of tours go up in the morning for sunrise, but everyone seems too tired to enjoy it. I was recommended by the cave lady to go up in the day, as there's lots to see up there, and it means you don't have to share the top with 600 others. I'm so glad I did, as when I went up I was roaming around in the less explored valleys and came face to face with a Nubian Ibex. Bedouin lore has it that if you ever meet one like that then you must ask it a wish, as it will have been waiting for you - it can smell you a couple of miles off so you won't surprise it. We stood looking at each other, then he turned his head and scampered off. It was just incredible - he was only about 20 odd metres away.
If that wasn't enough, I had sunset to myself up the top, and the clouds made the most amazing swirls and patterns. The whole thing was a transcendental experience - with a great feeling of unity with nature. It's just such a special place, beautiful and peaceful. Cave lady made me promise to come back with someone I loved, and I urge you all to do the same.
Keep on being wonderful,
Simon

Update from Simon

This email from Simon came in a few days ago.. have been posting lots of bits, and forgot to put this on . sorry!!

Ive acutally spent more than half my time so far in Dahab..

...but I should be leaving soon - honest!
It almost feels like I haven't started my travels yet. When I got to Dahab it was like a homecoming with lots of people hugging me and welcoming me back, which was lovely, but I can't help but wish that this chilled out place full of people who know me could be a bit further through my journey, when I could really need it - perhaps we could move it to Sudan?
Having said that, the journey back from Jordan was pretty fraught. We caught the fast ferry this time, and it only took 7 hours to go 40 miles instead of 12 on the slow one. Upon arrival in Egypt, I thought my pack had been nicked but it was just on a later trolley than everyone elses. We got through customs s l o w l y but upon reaching the other side found that one of our number, a Georgian, had got lost. It turned out he'd been held up in immigration as he now needed a special visa, but no-one had talked to him for the half hour he'd been sat in a little room when I went to go find him and he had no idea what was happening.
He told us to head on and he'd make his own way down, so we set off, but our minibus driver decided to krnk the prices up by 50% once we were underway, so we told him to take us back to the port. Finally we found someone willing to take us for the original price, and we again set off, just glad to be getting somewhere after an extremely long way. He was driving pretty slowly though, and with the lights off for long periods of time. In fact, he started coasting down the hills. Finally we stopped. No petrol, and 10 ks from Dahab. Still, the desert is famously warm at night.
We spent a good 45 minutes working out whether it was a good idea to walk, whilst some Japanese guys frolliced and made some cool photos with their torches. Luckily we got picked up eventually and dropped off hungry & tired in Dahab.
To be honest though, I viewed the whole day with amusement. It wasn't so bad. If we had ended up walking it might have been a bit more miserable, but we got here and got some food down us from the always awesome 'King Chicken'. And now I'm back in Dahab, sitting under plam trees, snorkelling & diving, drinking tea and chilling. It's been Eid, so there was no real point in going anywhere else as most places are shut whilst everyone visits their families, but I'm hoping to get off tomorrow to start my travels (finally!) and climb Mt Sinai.
Hope all's well, and that the weather's let off a bit. If it's any consolation the breeze here has made the sea a bit choppy and lowered visibility, though it has made it a bit nicer for walking around. I have started wearing a jacket at night though, but it's not strictly necessary.
Love and happiness,
Simon

Austrailia!

BlogYesterday we left the Vagabond Backpackers, quite sad really.

Spent the (rainy) morning in Christchurch, then in the Canterbury Museum which was superb. We wandered back to the car and had some sandwiches, watched by at least 50 ducks, and then I thought I would check the flight time. I looked at it and it said 16.45!!!

It was then 1500 hours. Horror. So we roared off to the airport, and looked for the Apex return of cars place. There was none. Avis told me very snootily that they didn't have anyone at the airport!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

My email had definitely said: return to Christchurch airport. Fortunately a very pleasant official-type woman sent straight from Heaven came to our aid, and said: leave it in the long term car part with the key in the boot, and ring them and tell them where it is. So we did.

Then hared off to the International Departures, nobody at the Emirates departures, thought WE HAVE MISSED IT!!!!!!!!!!! Another kind lady came along and looked at our ticket, and lo and behold, it was 18.45 take-off. So we were the first (somewhat chastened) bods in the queue to check in, and then had a restful time recovering in a very quiet airport!

The journey, after that, was a doddle. Met by Shuttle driver Ted and transported to Emma and Dom's flat, modern and comfortable.... except no kettle, but I have since learned that they do not have one! Also the cooker does not seem to work, but oh dear, that means we shall have to eat out :-)

We did just that this morning, and had an Ozzy breakfast that should keep us full up all day. We have been watching surfers and generally relaxing. Will go into Sydney tomorrow.

Monday, 15 December 2008

A special day

Happy Cativersary !!!

Billy and Lilly!!!

Just one year ago today we brought you home, scared and yowling from the cat rescue place, and you hid under the sofa, we worried that you would never come out.

Now you are happy, loving and relaxed puddies who know you are very much loved by your two human pets :-)

Here is to many more years to come!!

Sunday, 14 December 2008

The last from NZ!!

We went to the Bot Gardens today, it was really cold this morning . Had lunch there and then went to the Banks Peninsula, which is a huge rocky area, volcanic, remains of huge crater with sea in the hole, next to the very flat area around Christchurch.

Saw lots of super birds, great crested grebes doing their courtship dance (both heads together turning in unison, very funny) and masses of black swans and little blue herons, fishing. It was sunny this afternoon, but rain is forcast for tomorrow.

We have just had our last hostel supper, steak and lots of veg. Rang Wendy and Brian, had a good chat. We fly out at about 8 pm.

Will try to email, or failing that text, from Oz.

Lots of love to everybody and especially yourself and Doug. Mumbo.


"One picture is worth a thousand words, so why didnt she send any?"

I guess it would have been difficult from the many computers she has been using, and even harder to choose a few choice photos! Never mind.. I will put all their photos on Photobucket when they return, put a link on here and a few choice ones in the blog.
I cant wait to see them again.. it will be my best present of the year!!


Christchurch

I seem to have been getting the dates wrong for some time - not too surprising I suppose.

Anyway, this is Sat 13th December.

Woken in the night by bird noises - P. thought they were penguins, but as we were in the town of Oameru it did not seem likely. But it was blue penguins, who apparently come and nest in the garage of the hostel, quite a way from the sea, and also under the houses!

At last we found some decent bread, in the Historical Quarter, a German bakery.

Made our way north towards Christchurch. Stopped for a free coffee (for the driver) en route, and saw in a paper that the Barclay brothers have failed in their bid to take over Sark politically. They are withdrawing financially, so it may be a disaster in the sort term for Sark.

We managed to find Raymond Cossham's house in Redwood, Christchurch, and he came to the door and spoke to us for a while. Unfortunately he is still In the Exclusive Brethren, and so is his son Philip, so we didn't stay long. He seemed a very sweet old man, lonely because his wife died in 2000, which is why he moved to be near his son and 2 grandsons.

Rather a sad visit.

We are now at the Vagabond Hostel which I booked aged ago. Christchurch seems very busy after the quiet places we have been in. Accommodation excellent, sharing a nearby house with another couple who have a little girl aged 3.

Today we shall go to the Botanical Gardens and various museums, and the Banks Peninsula.

Very sorry our visit is coming to an end.

Saturday, 13 December 2008

Douglas the Deptuty Father Christmas..photos!

Santa and a very cute elf!



The scroll of names.. have you been good this year?



Santa meets Katy(top left) , Thos (holding Calro) Martha (in pink)
not forgetting Leo, getting a nice hug from Deputy Santa (aka Douglas!!)

Martha and Leo knew immediatly who the Deputy Santa was by his voice.. Martha also told me that she recognised the scrunched bridge of his nose :-) Carlo was a bit scared (ahhh bless)



HO HO HO!!!

I took this lovely picture of a fountain covered in blue lights




Finally, a sweet photo of Carlo next to a Polar Bear



Deputy Father Christmas

Father Christmas was booked to go to the local Botanic Gardens this evening, but sadly due to Rudolph having a bit of a cold he couldnt make it (Ahhhhhhhhhhh)

He sent an email round to some very special people and asked if any friendly happy rotund gentleman (prefereably with a decent beard) could take his place on Saturday night!

Well... there was one, very happy, bearded slighly rotund gentleman who read the message and decided it sounded like a rather nice thing to do.. any guesses??

Santas (not so little) helper is going to be ..........

DOUGLAS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I will do my best to take some photos.. so watch this space.

Friday, 12 December 2008

Dunedin and onwards

Weds 11 Dec continued.

Today we arrived in Dunedin and found a super little hostel on the Otago Peninsula called McFarmers backpackers.

The owner John has a good sense of humour and some sheep! The road to Portobello on the peninsula has more bendy twists than you've had hot dinners, right by the water and nothing to stop you going in. Hostel a wooden house perching on the hillside, bellbirds singing, quirky things all around as John is a train nut. There is a miniature railway in the garden with crossing signs! In the harbour we saw 3 spoonbills feeding about 20 yards away.

The area is full of unusual birds, won't bore you with all of them. BUT we saw Royal Albatrosses sailing majestically about in their nesting area, and then, having waited a long time in the cold, we were rewarded by seeing little blue penguins come ashore to change over with their mates - they do 24 hour shifts, one lot sitting on egg, the others feeding out at sea.

We were told there were penguins on the way, and for ages there was nothing, just a black shape in the water (they swim in formation) and then suddenly - pop! about 20 of them on the beach. They waddle along like little old men. They come in after dark, so you have to strain your eyes to see them, but they come up the beach and spread out all over the hillside to go to their nests. Big groups of them walked past us - they don't see very well, we just had to move aside. Then, the most magic thing, as they met up with their mates, a sound of them calling and greeting each other from all around us - bubbling, trilling calls. Wow.

Thurs 12 Dec

A day in Dunedin, getting petrol, supplies and cash. We visited the impossibly grand Railway Station, and the not so impressive Cathedral.

The Botanical Gardens were really good, and we had a pizza in the cafe, which was most welcome.

Friday 13th (!)

Poured with rain overnight, but cleared and we had good views of the harbour from the hostel sitting room.

On the way north we revisited Baldwin St., said to be the steepest street in the world = 1 in 2.86. At Shag Point we had the best ever view of fur seals, about 3 dozen of them, on rocks quite close below us. It was blowing a gale and freezing and raining occasionally, but unforgettable. There were families, with babies and teenagers all interacting. Nobody else there.

At the Moeraki Boulders the tide was in and very violent, lots of surf - nearly got cut off, and had to remove footwear and paddle back to the car - not the weather for it!

Saw Wendy's 'fantastic beach' on the way to Oamuru, yes it is but we were not tempted to go in! The sea is the most astonishing colour here, a milky bluey green.Booked into the Empire Hotel backpackers, in the middle of Oamuru, which is a very grand little town.

This evening we went to look for yellow-eyed penguins about 2 km away, and were rewarded with seeing not only distant ones coming in from the sea and some going off out too, but others really close to the path. One was sitting beside its mate who was presumably sitting on an egg, about 5 ft away, seemed oblivious to us.

Supper is ready so I had better stop 'going on'! Christchurch next stop.

Love to everybody, Mumbo.

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Photos of the area

My Cousin Wendy has very kindly sent me some photos of the area my parents are travelling
in - she tells me that she and Brian want to take their motorbike to this area sometime! It certainly is very beautiful :-)

This is Mount Cook as the parents might have seen it - apparently
its quite rare to be able to see it!


These photos are of Dansey's Pass








Thanks Wendy!!



Tuesday, 9 December 2008

Rain Rain go away..

Didn't tell you that Paul cut my hair, did I! Very successful. There will be no stopping him now. (Please see current photo of my mum below lol)



Roxburgh is in the middle of a cherry-growing area, we bought some, very expensive, but the best ever, huge & sweet.

Mon 9th December.

Woke to find it raining, all the residents had gone to work as they are all fruit-pickers. Wet cherries.

On to Alexandra - spoke to travel agent who checked that our flight from Christchurch is still scheduled, so we don't need to reconfirm it. With some difficulty, found the 'Shaky Bridge' (why are there so many shaky bridges?)

Paul had fun making it wobble. (typical) I watched from the shore! (again, very typical lol) We drove to Twizel over the Lindis Pass, brown bare high hills, very bleak - and still raining. But lots of lupins at lower levels.

Lindis Pass:




Found a pleasant hostel outside the little town, alleged to have great view of Mount Cook - actually not. Thick cloud. Interesting Czeck man plus daughter staying, much chat. Lots of other soaking wet bods arriving, we lit a log fire and all dried off.

Tue 10th Dec

Still very low cloud, so we abandoned our trip to Mount Cook - it would have been a bit pointless.
On the way east stopped to look at an enormous earth dam, the Benmore Dam, the largest in the Southern Hemisphere.



Drove round the quiet side of Lake Aviemore (everybody here came from Scotland) which was absolutely beautiful, and it stopped raining, sun came out.

After several stops to admire birds etc. we were hailed by an elderly couple who told us that he had seen a car in the water from his fishing boat and could we take him along the lake to have a look? Did so, found a smashed-up blue Honda, but fortunately there was nobody inside. The number plates had been removed, so obviously stolen and joy-ridden into the lake.

We reported same to very laid back policeman in the next little town, no question of filling in a form or anything like that, just said he would 'pass it on' - Good on'ya.

We then turned off to cross-country on a mostly gravel road over the Dansey's Pass. It was quite hair raising for a long while, and we thought we had 'done' the pass, when a notice announced that we were just entering it!!!

Up and up we went, into the clouds, thought we would never come down.... but we did. Hardly saw one car on all the way.

At Naseby, a well-preserved gold-mining town, we could not find suitable (i.e. cheap) accommodation, so we went on to Ranfurly and booked at the Old Post Office backpackers, which we had to ourselves.

Extremely helpful couple running it, another log fire. I am using the computer in the information centre, which is in the old railway station.

We shall go on to Dunedin and probably stay 2 nights there, maybe on the Otago Peninsular where there are penguins, albatrosses and so on.

So, no more until the next thrilling email!!
Lots of love mumbo.

Monday, 8 December 2008

Short text message!

At about 7am I got a text from my mum.. it said..

At Twizel near Mount cook, good hostel but pouring with rain. The mountain is invisible! No access to email but all well,

love mumbo

Well short and sweet and Im sure once they get back to email land they will do so :-)

Ps let this LINK be a warning to all those who want to climb Mount Cook not to do so!

Sunday, 7 December 2008

Nugget Point

Hi! Am in an internet cafe with the usual short ration of time.

Yesterday we saw a sealion mum lying on a sandy beach, with its enormous cub... walked quite close to it very carefully, they can get cross.

When we went to Nugget Point we saw lots of fur seals on the rocks below us, the cubs calling, sounded a bit like a hen that has laid an egg , without the chuck chuck!! There was also a roost of spoonbills, saw their huge spoons quite clearly, and also a lot of spotted shags.

As we drove up to the point, a yellow-eyed penguin walked across the road in front of us! Not a pelican crossing, but a p p p penguin crossing. We watched the fur seals swimming in the green water.

Spent a second night at Hilltop Backpackers, would have been super except for a party of 3 Chinese bods who occupied the sitting room and played a video of Spiderman, modern version, very loudly.

We left there this morning, and had a look at some more of the Catlins coast at Curio Bay. There we saw a fur seal which was lolling about on the grass near the car park, doing rolly pollies like a pussy cat. When someone approached it got up and showed its teeth. At Curio Bay there were lots of people on the beach, so no yellow eyed penguins, but the moment the last person left, a penguin emerged from the bush and waddled across the rocks to the sea!

We drove north through gravel roads and are now staying in Roxburgh in central Otago by the river Clutha, which is the most extraordinary colour, a brilliant blue/green, and it rushes along at about 10 mph., with standing waves.

Our backpackers is actually rather luxurious, a huge bed and TV, en suite wet room (shared with one other, but nobody in there yet, fingers crossed). All the gardens here are crammed with the most perfect roses. The village has a splendid swimming pool - eat your heart out Weston super Mare. It is boiling hot, 28 C and very humid. May go and look at Lake Roxburgh before cooking supper.

My mum also said that my dad read a bit of my email to her about his plant being poorly.. I have been exhorted to get it better before their return :-) Dear father.. I will try my best! :-)

What happens when super heroes get old?









I found this cartoon and many more whilst "Stumbling" round the net, which is good fun. The artist is called Glennz - its worthwhile looking at his other cartoons as he has a great sense of humour and insight! Just by pure chance hes a New Zealander!

Saturday, 6 December 2008

Our weekend

Well anything I post does seem to pale in comparision to what my parents and brother in law are getting up to, but this is OUR blog so Im going to bore you all with some Life in South Yorkshire :-)

It has been a long week. Poor Douglas fell over twice in the snow (poor boy) but also got a George Foreman Grill and a £25 Meadowhell Shopping Centre gift voucher from work for being wonderful (Im glad they realise hes wonderful.. Ive known for years!!) Way to go Douglas!!!!!!

He has now won a total of £50 from work in vouchers. He let me spend the first lot, with which I purchased a non xmas present for my parents, and wanted me to use the second one but I'm going to drag him shopping tomorrow morning as he will I'm sure find some things he would like!! After all.. he earnt it by being wonderful, so he should benefit from it!!!

I woke up very early this morning (4am) and couldnt go back to sleep, so I decided to use my time doing something useful, and went shopping at the 24 hour Tesco and called in on my parents house.

Glad to say all is well, apart from one plant that looks quite unhappy. I think my mum has put a jinx on it, by telling me to try and kill it whilst she is away ;-) Just in case my dad reads this.. please know that I am watering said beloved bad taste red and yellow flowered plant of yours and not trying to kill it.. I think its missing you!!! (me too but Im not wilting or loosing leaves lol)

I got back home at about 6, fed the moggies and put the shopping away. Cats are not best pleased because we ran out of their normal biscuit food, so breakfast was tinned cat food. Strangely, they managed to force it down :-)

I joined Douglas back in bed, and zonked out till about 10, when we started on our normal house tidy. D went to the tip with various bits of "weee" (Waste Electronic Electrical Equipment) along with our normal tin, plastic and glass that the council will not recycle from the kerbside. He went past our local friendly pet supplies shop and got the moggy food we ordered 2 weeks ago.

Our local Pet supplies shop is run by a fairly elderly gentleman with help from his almost teenage son, who is learning the ropes :-) The shop is stuffed to the gunnels with nearly everything you can think of for any regular pet, and what he dosnt have in stock he is always happy to order in. We feed Billy and Lilly biscuits from a company called James Welbeloved as its really good stuff without any rubbish in it. Douglas, being the sensible person he is, paid for two, so Mr Pet Supplies will order another one in for us soon.

Before I sign off.. I would like to celebrate this time of year with you all. Not only is it coming up for the Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year, but it means that we have had Billy and Lilly for a whole year now!!!

Lilly has transformed from the terrified rather skinny cat we picked up who spent her first week terrified under the sofa, to a beautiful sleek happy affectionate cat who is, as I type, prowling round the garden looking for more beasties to slay and bring in as gifts. We still have a way to go with her, as she is still very jumpy about being picked up, but with love and perseverance I know she will get used to the idea.

Billy was always the bigger and more relaxed of our two, but he was pretty scared when we got him too. He now sleeps on our bed, snores like a wheezy old man on his favouite cushion cover on our desk, or on "his" chair in our lounge. Recently he has started getting up beside us on the sofa, (when there is a space free) and curling up in a ball to keep us company.

I wish them a very happy Solstice, and look forward to their antics and development for years to come.

Catlins NZ

Hello! We are in the Catlins, an area in the south of the South Island, where there is no phone signal and very little internet or anything else apart from scenery!

Our day trip to Doubtful Sound started apparently badly with a night of pouring rain and howling gales - we wondered if the boat would sail. But no! We were told that this was the IDEAL weather as the waterfalls would all be very good! They certainly were.

We first were taken across Lake Manapouri in a little boat, almost nothing visible, mist covering the surrounding mountains. Then on a coach across a pass covered with temperate rain forest, every tree smothered in velvet moss in varied colours, and plants growing on plants growing on plants... waterfalls pouring out onto the road.

Into Doubtful Sound itself next, the cone shaped mountains coming and going in the mist, sometimes a gleam of snow in a patch of sunlight on the top... magical. At the mouth of the sound we saw fur seals basking on rocky islets, and a group of Fiordland tufted penguins, very rare. I was glad of all the warm clothes I had, including the gloves made of possum given me by Christopher - thank you Christopher!

We went back to probably (I hope) the worst hostel we have been in, in Manapouri, where we slept in a sort of garden shed, and the loo (primitive) was some way away in the bush, the showers in the opposite direction, and a very small kitchen. To crown it all there was a couple there from Doncaster!

Enough about that, not much time left. Yesterday we had a long drive to the Catlins, and eventually, exhausted, stopped at a backpackers just by chance, Hilltop Backpackers which sure is on a hill, in the middle of a sheep farm, fab views of the coast and such a luxurious place, just what we needed after Manapouri.

It is a wooden Victorian house which was brought bodily from somewhere else, and we have a magnificent huge bed and en suite and hardly anyone else there.

We are going to have another night there. As I said, no phone, so no communication until next thrilling update! Love to all of you - mumbo.

Thursday, 4 December 2008

Last Days in Jordan (From Simon the Wanderer)

Hey there,

Sorry to hear the weather's so poor over there, I would weep for you but the sun keeps evaporating my tears. (Pig lol)

After Petra I mosied on down to Aqaba via the Desert Highway. I thought the Dead Sea Highway was bleak: nothing lives in the Eastern Desert but death. An occasional dust devil stirred the nothingness that stretched to the curvature of the Earth. Still, I listened to Gypsy Woman by Tim Buckley and was deeply, deeply happy.

Aqaba is aplace I love to leave, for some reason, it's really not that bad. However, I was headed out to Wadi Rum. This is one of the most beatiful places on the planet. Watch Lawrence of Arabia if you don't believe me.

Muppets pay 100 pounds a day to be driven in herds of 4 wheel drives from Bedouin tent to Bedouin hut, stopping for tea and a glimpse of some prehistoric rock art before being shepharded on. I walked and scrambled over the crags and through the sands and felt deep peace in my soul. Most religions have come from the desert or the mountains, and out here you experience a oneness with nature and contentment in solitude that is humbling.

The sands are a deep red and the massifs are myriad colours shimmering in the sun. At night they tower blacker than the night whilst the sky is a forest of stars, the milky way a clear highway across the heavens. It's a wonderful, wonderful place.

Still, I came back dusty and have enjoyed a Turkish bath. The massage wasn't full on but at least there wasn't any Bad Touch this time! (err what?) It does make you feel a new man, truly clean for the first time since I began this trip, especially in my freshly laundered clothes.

Aqaba's not doing too badly this time round, mainly because of my balcony. I sit, higher than all around as the sun sets. The street below me sells pots, pans and songbirds on my side, and nuts on the other.

Above that, cat stalked roofs lead to a giant tamarind tree which guards the fruit suq leading down to the corniche and the sea. A short distance across the boat filled bay sits Eilat, which I could walk to in half an hour were it not in Israel. Behind that the sun dips behind the mountains of Egypt.

It's a great place to read my books and do nothing. The streets not too busy bar the occasional chirping and the pimped up car horns. For some reason throughout Jordan the Lambada is massively popular and it plays every time a pickup reverses. I've also heard it as a ringtone and a burglar alarm.

This is probably my last night in Jordan, and I may spend it with some Peace Corps people I've met. I first met them in Karak, then again in Dana, and when I met some girls tonight it turned out they were friends of those two guys and were meeting them in my hotel tonight. I've started to suspect that terribly well intentioned and softly spoken Bryan (possibly gay/serial killer) is stalking me. He likes things to be clean and neat, apparently. Still, Conrad and the girls seem fun and it'll be nice to have a night out for a change.

I did meet a girl in Wadi Rum who almost went to my school, but got kicked out of her previous school and mine got cold feet. And I have enjoyed hanging out with the Jordanians, who, appart from when they want money from you, are lovely, lovely people, whom I will miss.

I should head now, but keep me up to date with how you're coping with the cold. All my love and thoughts amd magical happiness are with you all,

Simon

NZ Update Sent 3rd Dec

The hostel in Arrowtown was excellent, the most comfortable bed yet, and masses of roses outside the window.

The owner, Aiden, was a slightly chippy Kiwi. When I said to Paul that the funny bun we had bought in the village was the wrong shape for a football (it was called a Football) he informed me that this rugby-ball shaped object was in fact a FOOTBALL and that round balls were called SOCCER balls, that I was in New Zealand now, and that my accent was the funny foreign one!

Hum.

Incidentally, they have whimsical names for mountains here. One peak is called Mount Aspiring, which results in the dentist in Waneka calling himself the Aspiring Dentist, etc etc. Then there are the Remarkables, a truly amazing not to say remarkable range near Queenstown - so in Arrowtown there is the Remarkable Sweet Shop. (was it? did ya get me any???)

This morning ((Weds 3rd Dec.) we left before Aiden appeared and drove to Te Anua. It started off fine but soon deteriorated into heavy rain. Te Anua is by a lake of the same name and its claim to fame is that it is the gateway to Milford Sound and Doubtful Sound, where every tourist has to go.

We booked into a hostel recently built by the pleasant owner, Bob, about our age - we had to settle for a dorm, but at the moment there is nobody else staying there altho other rooms are taken.

There is a very pleasant Irish couple from Belfast with their little boy, about 1 yr. old. Huge log fire in the middle of the big kitchen/dining/sitting area. We needed it, it is much colder here - nearer the south Pole and quite high too.

Eventually the rain stopped, and after a discussion with Bob we went and booked a trip to Doubtful Sound tomorrow. Apparently it is less touristy, has more wild-life and is bigger and better in every way (quote from the Lonely Planet). We managed to pay for it on our credit card so it didn't hurt.

We drove some of the way along the Milford Sound road, very spectacular mountains and another vast valley filled with multi-coloured lupins - so glad Paul got that fancy new camera!

Hoping for a good night's kip with no other bods in dorm? Love to all, mumbo.

Wednesday, 3 December 2008

Two Yays!

Firstly, D got me the Jamie Oliver cookbook that Sis in law used to make the yummy asian soup at the weekend (oh and some pasta with baked camembert in, also nice)

There are lots of recipies in there which I can test on Douglas, and make non meat versions for myself (ie the soup) Thanks Jamie, Thanks Douglas and Thanks DSIL (dreaded Sister in Law)

Secondly.. also strangely with a cooking theme... but only of interest to my Co Runescapers.. I got 89 cooking yesterday!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Yay!

Monday, 1 December 2008

Holiday - Sunday continued.

I didnt go to the Leisure Centre (no swimming cossie with me) so instead I checked my emails, dropped in on Runescape for a bit, and got about an hours sleep to help me cope with the journey back.

When I woke up, D's Best Aunt in the World had come over from where she lives to visit, as its been ages since we have seen her too. Everyone had a pleasant few hours chatting and catching up.

Douglas was short of one of his important tablets, and had decided it would be much quieter and faster to drive home overnight, so we packed and got ready to go.

DSIL with help from various lovely assistants made the most super supper - it was a chinese soup with noodles and vegetables in. It also had toasted sunflower seeds and cashew nuts, and chicken for those who wanted it. It was a Jamie Oliver recipe from his Ministry of Food book, and I was dead impressed!!!

Despite feeling a bit wobbly from having a sleep, and not quite like eating, I had a little of the soup.. then had some more :-) Guess who wants the recipe now??? I may just have to buy the book at some point.

We set off at about 8pm, having been deluged by lots of goodbye hugs just before we left despite the incredibly cold weather.

The journey went well.. the roads were very quiet but there was a lot of fog to start with, and the temperature dropped to a very chilly -8'C Brrrrr!!! Douglas did the majority of the driving, and we got home at about 3am.

Billy and Lilly were in, and Lilly was immediatley delighted to see us, but Billy put up a bit of a cold shoulder, but that lasted all of about 5 mins. Soon Billy was up on our bed purring away, and we joined him. They woke me at a very reasonable 7am for breakfast, so i sorted that and went back to bed.

Its now 11am and we have finally (almost) got up.

What a lovely long weekend! Next time though, we will go by train as the journey by road is so very long, and it really took the Stuffing out of Douglas, and I can't drive for long distances because I get tired and loose concentration. Shame we can't teleport up there.. we would visit much more often!!

Thank you to all the members of D's family who made our trip up North so very pleasant - we love you all!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

1st Dec in NZ

Can't believe it is the first of Dec. especially here, where it is behaving like an English summer, slightly overcast, a bit muggy, rain possible!

We left Franz Joseph glacier on Sunday morning and made the spectacular journey across the Haas Pass to Waneka. Paul said he had never enjoyed a days driving more in his life! The roads are wide and empty, as I have said before (!) and lined with interesting weird jungle, or golden broom, foxgloves pink, red and white, or masses of yellow lupins.

The Pass itself was not all that high, but there was a view of the rushing Haas River going under one of the special NZ scary suspension bridges, and the endless views of the Waneka Lake with snowy mountains, blue reflecting the sky. Waneka itself is a little place by the lake, and there are walks all along under weeping willows.

Our hostel (not our first choice, the good ones were all booked up) was sort of OK until we went to bed, when we realised that our room was right underneath the sitting/dining area, where many jolly young folks were having animated conversations until well after midnight, even when asked very politely by Paul to tone it down a bit.

The boss does not live on the premises, so nobody in charge. This morning we rushed over to our hostel of choice, the Purple Cow, which is a large wooden chalet type building overlooking the lake, and with a very pleasant girl in charge.

We were able to book a twin room, and leave our suitcases while we went off exploring some of the region around the lake. Saw lots of interesting things, a field with about 6 enormous bulls in it (Why? Is there bullfighting around here?) A flock of sheep being tormented by a naughty sheep dog, and the shepherd being cross and tying it up as a punishment; a large eagle thing eating a rabbit; a dead cow; the usual large amount of scenery and flowers, oh and waterfalls. We have now booked into our super accommodation, such a relief after last night.

I think the moral is, to book in advance as things are getting a bit busy holiday-wise around here.
Tomorrow we shall go to Queenstown over a high mountain road, and explore around there a bit.

Sunday, 30 November 2008

Sunday in NZ

Yesterday we drove along the West coast, quite slowly as we had booked a hostel in Franz Joseph in advance.

Stopped at a glacial lake where a young woman was just taking her canoe out, she was the only person around in this quiet and beautiful place. She told us about DIDYMO -(its also known as Rock snot!) there are lots of notices about this around, warning about it, but nothing to tell you what it is!

Apparently is it a noxious plant, brought in by an AMERICAN, which looks like brown snot and covers rocks and vegetation, and spreads like the blazes. I wonder when we will get it in the Uk?

At Franz Jo we were in a small self-contained unit so could cook etc, but it does mean less contact with other travellers. Nearly all of them seem to be German actually. We took the car up the dusty track towards the glacier, and then walked the last bit through a track with interesting jungle and piping birds.

Access to the actual glacier is forbidden at the moment due to the awful rainstorm which has made everything unstable, but we had a good view of the blue ice from about a quarter of a mile away. The mountains covered with clouds above the glacier. Our first glacier!! A white/blue immobile torrent.

Lots of love to all the Scots and yourselves. Mumbo.

The weekend

Douglas and I decided quite a while ago that we would go up to Scotland this weekend to make up for not being at his Dads 70th Birthday party a while ago (douglas was in hospital)

The reason I didnt disclose this earlier will become apparent when you get to Saturdays bit!

We came up on Friday, left very early in the morning and drove the long, long way up to near Dundee where D's brother lives. We arranged en route to meet him and his two kids, Aileen 10 and Andrew (14 I think) at a Boarders book shop ) Even better than Waterstones!!) Of course, being book lovers, this was a very bad idea.. well.. for our bank balance anyway :-) We came away with 3 books, and having got early Xmas presents for both kids.

We got to Bro in laws, and said hello to his wife and very enthusastic dog. Everyone, minus dog had to rush out to see the Xmas lights being lit (I think Nephew (alias Pengper) was playing his ? tuba ? there?) so we sat on neice, and made tea.

It was lovely to sit down with this part of Ds family over a meal and chat, but then Pengper had to rush out to Boys Brigade, his mum and dad went off to a fund raising Ceilidh they had to attend.

We were very tired after the long drive, so headed up to bed long before they returned.

Saurday

After a slow start, we chatted a bit more, ;exchanged hugs and kisses, then headed off down a little further South to meet up with David and Sandy for lunch (Ds dad and step mum) We met at an outlet for Blackwells, who produce various quality tinned and jarred food, and had a lovely lunch with them, catching up on what they are doing etc.

We then headed on to see Ds sister, her partner and her two boys, they live near Stirling, so we didnt have much further to travel, thank goodness.

Its great to catch up with so much of Ds family in a weekend, although the driving has been very tiring. Nice to see the new house they into less than 2 weeks ago!!

We sat in the dining area of the kitchen and waited to spring the surprise we had been planning for a while..

Ds and DSILs mum, Elaine (Known also to me as DMIL, Dreaded Mother In Law) had been invited over for tea, but had no idea we were there too!! It was such a pleasure to see the look of stunned delight on her face when she saw that her "Wee boy" and his wife were there sitting in the kitchen, larger than life!!!

As you can imagine, we had a lovely evening, then watched Mission Impossible 3 (quite a good film!) before zonking out on the air bed in the lounge, as Elaine stayed over. Sadly, as we are not the thinnest couple, the air bed protested slowly during the night, and slowly lost its pressure a few times, so we had to get off and pump it back up again :-)

We think it got down to about -6 'C or less last night because everything has turned into a winter wonderland, and the cars are all throughly Jack Frosted!! Even now, at 3pm the temperature has not gone up past about -2'C. Brrrr

Elaine went back home after a late breakfast, and DSIL and I went shopping in Stirling and came home to defrost and have lunch.

Everyone has gone to the local Leisure centre for a swim and sauna whilst I type this up. Im going to have an afternoon nap, as D wants to drive back home during the night. The traffic will be much less bother, and it means we have the whole of Monday off work to recover.

I'm sure they will come back having had a lovely time!!

Simon in Jordan

Hey there,

I hope I find you all in the very best of health. I promise I'm trying to cut down on these e-mails, but as so much happens I may be forced simply to make them a little less portentous and trim all the flab.

Jordan is effectively a ridge of plateaus stretching south, with the Dead Sea Rift Valley down one side (I hope I've given an adequate idea of that), and the desert on the other. It's scored by dramatic Wadis (dry river valleys), and as the inhabitants don't want to take up precious agricultural space, their villages trickle down the sides of these Wadis, which makes them very picturesque, although the individual houses are pretty ramshackle given the usual response to
only paying taxes on finished buildings.

The first place I visited was Karak, which sits at the junction of 3 Wadis, and is crowned with a magnificent Crusader castle. The scenery is incredible, with views down to Sodom & Gomorrah, but the place is pretty undersold, even the hotel manager was flabbergasted when I said
I wanted to stay 2 nights. Most people just visit the castle and bugger off. It is a pretty amazing castle, and you really get a feeling for what it must have been like to live there in medieval
times.

The town itself is very Jordanian though, and everyone seems sublimely happy. Some guys were riding around town all day, clapping along to their music. Others were just having a good old sing-off in their car whilst it was parked. Instead of people slowing down to try and get me to use them as a taxi, they just wanted to shout "Welcome!".

Everywhere you go people are desperate for you to have some tea. It's often flavoured with mint or thyme, but always with LOADS of sugar. It's effectively trad Red Bull, and after a day walking around your teeth feel syrupy and your heart is racing. I think it comes from their Bedouin heritage - they are very proud of being Bedouin here, as opposed to Egypt where they're seen as troublemakers and terrorists - think Gypsies with Bombs.

If you go for walks in the countryside then you see their Black Goat Hair tents all over the shop, and you can hear their kids for miles. Often you have conversations such as the following:

"PLEASE COME FOR CUP OF TEEEAAA!"

"La, shukran." (no thanks)

"PLEEEEEAAASE! PLEASE! PLEEEEAAAASSE! PLEASEPLEASEPLEASE!"

"La, la, mut shakreen."

"...
...
...
PLEEEEEEEEEEEEAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAARRRRGHEEEEEAAASE!"

However, I have been very grateful when they've given me lifts on their tractors, and they seem to be expert cooks - the smells which come off their camps are lovely and their dishes make a welcome change from Falafel and Kebab on the countries menus.

After Karak, I went to Dana Nature Reserve, the most dramatic Wadi of them all, with its head in the clouds and its base 400m below sea level. It's full of life, and remarkably free of litter (well, it is now that I carried out loads of it - my old headmaster would be proud). You can walk for miles (mostly straight up or down) without seeing anyone, just hearing the birds cry or a soft breeze blow.

The Wadi walls are all twisted sandstone & limestone, and the sun sets straight down the Wadi - its one of the best I've ever seen. I went on lots of hikes including one to the top of a dried up waterfall with a drop about the height of the Arts Tower - to be honest it makes the
soles of my feet hurt just thinking about it. Does anyone else have this physiological reaction when thinking of huge drops?

I visited another Crusader castle, this one with a secret passage which winds down through the rock almost vertically to emerge next to a spring. Thanks for the head-torch, Tez, though even with this and my mag-lite it was like staring into an abyss as the sheer steps plunged to the maw of darkness below.

Finally I arrived in Petra. What can I say? It's awesome, literally. Plunging down the sinuous Siq and emerging in front of the Treasury is an unforgettable experience. You know the Treasury, it's the one that's in Every Picture Ever of Petra, the one they used in Indiana Jones. It seems to bring about mass hysteria in the tour groups when they reach it, whooping and clapping. I climbed high above it one day and it sounded like children's hour at the local swimming baths.

What is lovely is that as soon as you get off the main track you pretty much have the place to yourself, bar some goats and lizards, and some sneaky Bedouin who pounce upon you with tea. You can do loads of hikes and scrambles up the surrounding mountains, and it really is fantastic. Striding out amongst the Neapolitan swirls of the rocks and coming face to face with a magnificent tomb around almost every corner is incredible.

Atop the High Place of Sacrifice, a little Bedouin woman sits offering tea and playing a wooden recorder. Her spastic playing is possibly some of the most inspired I've ever heard, and you can hear it when the wind carries it to you on other mountain tops. I was going to make a joke here, but unfortunately I can't remember the names of any Free Jazz Female Recorder giants from the past. Soz.

There's also some good Calls to Prayer here. One of the Muezzin sounds so maudlin its like some Eastern Blues Lament. When you here it from inside Petra itself the rise and fall of the voices all melds into one rolling exhalation, once a breeze started up at that exact time and it felt like the breath of God.

Today I went further afield to Little Petra, a suburb, where one of the houses retains its paintings. These are 2,000 year old paintings which retain a Renaissance freshness and style. I then went round the corner to a village which was abandoned about 6,000 BC. It had been in use for the last 4,000 years before that, and marks the transition from Hunter Gatherer to Agricultural society. It feels like having a peak at the dawn of man.

But now it's time to move on I fear, I don't want to get stuck in the way of the great migration of the Hajj, which is coming soon, and devours all hotels and transport in its path. You Don't Fuck With The Hajj.

Keep smiling, remember that I love you all, even (especially?) the bad ones,

Simon

Saturday, 29 November 2008

Birdsong in sunny warm NZ

Hi there,

How different is this to your cold weather... Its sunny, incredible views of the Southern Alps with snow in the distance, empty roads.

We travelled along the West coast yesterday having paid another visit to the Pancake Rocks near our hostel. Stopped in a town called Greymouth, which was much more attractive than the name suggests!

Got some hay fever stuff from a pharmacy, as I had failed to realise that it is hay fever time here - not too bad, just a bit of a nuisance. Stopped at this little place called Hokatika at the Birdsong hostel - it is beautifully decorated by the owner's wife with pictures of the local birds, each room has a special one, and we are in Spoonbill.

The only snag is that it is on the main road, but it quietened down at night and we slept well. Having booked in, we went on a drive recommended by the owner, Neil from Congleton, Cheshire (!) into the hinterland of the mountains.

We got as far as the Hokatika Gorge where there is a really scary suspension bridge which wobbles when you walk across it, with a milky blue fierce river in a canyon beneath. We went back via a glacial lake, much of it on a gravel road but so well engineered that no decrease in speed was required.

After supper we walked along the road to the Glow Worm Dell, a bit of the bush with a path in it, masses of little lights, same animal as in the cave we saw from the boat. Off to the Glaciers today, Franz Joseph and Fox.

Love to all, Ma and Pa.

Thursday, 27 November 2008

BBC Good Food Show, Birmingham

Today Douglas and I got up early, got sorted out and went down to the NEC near Birmingham by about 9.30am (it opened at 9) and went to the disabled car park, which was still about 20 mins walk away from the exhibition halls. Luckily nearly all of this walk was inside.

We got our tickets a while ago.. we decided to do the "disabled and helper" thing, and so i as the carer got in free!! We took Margarets wheelchair, and although most of the time D sat in it, and i pushed, as it was a very long way round, and we were there till about 3pm, I had a few goes too when i was flagging.

There were loads and loads of stalls selling everything from museli to chillis to washing up cloths.. chocolate and steam cleaners too! We had a taste of loads of things, and purchased a few, but only in moderation :-)

Our most expensive purchase was a very nice new potato and other things peeler, oh and we switched our energy tarrif (gas and elec) to National Trust, and decided not to get a new Steel (knife sharpner) at £90 for Douglas.

We were so glad of the wheelchair, because during the day we procured little bits of this and that, leaflets here there and everywhere, and would have ground our feet into the ground without something to hang it all on!!

At one point I saw a stall selling chilli dips. D loves chilli, so I put a tiny bit of bread into one called 100% pain (thinking the name just meant very hot) I gave it to him, and almost immediatley I could see he was in agony. The stuff was hot enough to blast a rocket into space. We purchased an emergency bottle of water from a nearby coffee stall, but he was still in so much pain that they gave him a cup of milk - very good for calming burning mouths down. After a cup and a half of milk, his poor mouth had calmed down somewhat, but the nasty bitter taste still remained.

I also had taken a dip of a less hot chilli sauce, which was burning my mouth up, and the water didnt quench my fire. In the end I had to take a mouth full of milk and just hold it there to soothe things - even though I really dont like milk and it tasted disgusting.

It was a great experience. D drove home, and we got back to a waiting set of moggies at about 6pm.

It was nice having a day off for the food show.. who knows what we will do with the rest of our mini holiday?!! Dear reader, you will just have to return to this blog after the weekend to find out what we did (if anything blog worthy occurs!)
Today we left Nelson after a very comfortable stay with Robin and David Hall.

Yesterday they took us for a terrific tour of the Nelson area, starting with a short walk into the Abel Tasman Nat. Park. It is right by the sea, so we started by walking across a marshy area where the river comes out, on a wooden walkway.. We saw a little blue heron (NZ type) with something in its beak; it was an elver, and the heron was having a hell of a job trying to eat it! In the end we left it still strugging.

We went back to Kaiteriteri, an absoutely idyllic sandy bay with rocks and gently breaking waves - bright sun . Robin had made a picnic and we sat and eat it and watched a party of school kids with kyaks, very colourful, and I thought how M & L would have loved it. In fact all of you would love ALL of it, it is truly fantastic here.

After that, David and Robin took us up a most beautiful valley where David's ancestors settled in the 1840s - he showed us where all of them lived. At the top of the valley is a little white church in a place called Dovedale, and all the graves of all his ancestors on the hillside. It was very special. On the way back we saw a memorial to Ernest Rutherford, the father of nuclear science, who was born and brought up at Brightwater, near Nelson. A super day concluded with having fish and chips and then watching TV, one of the Tribal Wives series.

Today David and Robin showed us Nelson cathedral, the organist was playing Christmas music and it was v. impressive.

Then we set off for the West coast - knowing that because of the torrential floods of a couple of days ago the road had been blocked. When we got to the blocked bit, they had traffic lights, and were furiously removing giant boulders which had crashed across the road.

Once again the scenery defies description, vast mountains and roaring rivers, some blue, some green, many stops to look.

At about 4 pm we arrived at Punakaiki where I had spotted a hostel, and there are the famous Pancake Rocks. For $66 we have a room in an empty house near the main hostel, twin beds, sitting room, kitchen, etc. with great view and about 200 yds. from the sea.

Paul is cooking at the moment and I have bagged the computer, $2 for 20 mins. (EEEK it just went off and I thought I had lost the lot, but put in another $2 and got it back!) Only snag, sandflies.

Lots of love to all, mumbo.

Tuesday, 25 November 2008

Email Wed Morning from South Island (I think)

Hello there! It's weds morning here, and we have had our first night with Robin and David Hall in Nelson. The have been very welcoming and hospitable and they are very funny too!

We had a good crossing from Wellington despite awful weather forcast, sun came out as we went up Queen Charlotte Sound which is very narrow, the boat has to creep along avoiding rocks. There are huge mountains all around. (Wellington, folks is at the south tip of North Island, and Nelson is very near the North tip of South Island!! Have a look at this map and see for yourselves)

We were very tired after the anticipation of the day's journey, woke terribly early, so after a while we stopped and had a brief sleep. Nelson had had 4 inches of rain over a 36 hour period, so the sea and all the rivers were chocolate coloured and roaring. We were lucky that this was over before we arrived!

We had a trip round Nelson with David driving us, saw a memorial to all the settlers who arrived here in the 1840s, David's family amongst them. They had a tough time, had to dig up the seed potatoes because they were starving. Today we go to see Abel Tasman reserve, with Robin and David.

A lovely set of photos!

Wendy has kindly sent over some lovely photos, including one of her, Brian and the parents on the balcony of their house!!

There are too many to fit into this blog, so follow this link and have a look a the lot :-)

Wendy.. you are a star!! They are really lovely photos, and bring the whole trip alive.

Thanks :-)

Monday, 24 November 2008

Mondays news from NZ

Brian looked after us today, we went to a couple of the museums in Wellington which were really good, especially Te Papa - very child-friendly, so I liked it!

We managed to extract some cash from a bank with difficulty, had to use the old Halifax card, Nationwide apparently no good. (ohh hope thats only one bank!!)

In one of the museums there was a film about the wreck of the Wahine in the 1960s in Wellington harbour, a ferry, great loss of life and of course a lot of film - terribly sad. And tomorrow we sail to the South Island. The weather is not looking good, rain and mist and gales predicted. These days they are more keen to cancel sailings in such conditions. Fingers crossed!

Paul and Brian had a long walk in a wildlife area near Lower Hutt while I sat in the car, it is marvellous country and so close to Wellington.

Chris Cossham and his partner Joanna came this evening for coffee - we feel really sad to be parting with all the family, but hope they can come and see us some time.

Sunday, 23 November 2008

A dramatic email from Simon!

Hey there,
Well, it's been a week since I've last written and it's been an eventful one! I'm currently sitting about half a K from Petra in Jordan, and I'll try to keep things fairly brief though this may spread over a couple of e-mails.

I got out of Dahab and made my way up to Nuweiba, an attempt at a seaside resort near the port that has the ferry to Jordan. Those of you that know my dream of living somewhere shit by the seaside will guess how my heart leapt at this empty town, all infrastructure and no buildings or people. Checking into my hut I gasped at how empty the radiant beach was, till I attempted to enter the impotent sea. It varied between ankle and knee depth for a hundred metres or more, and there were barriers of razor sharp rocks to cross.

My first attempt failed and I had to regroup and formulate a plan of attack based on the colour of the sea. I eventually found a passage of nearly all sand and made a brief foray so I could claim a pyrrhic victory.
Still, I lazed in a hammock and caught up with reading. I wandered round the empty spaces between the impressive roads where hotels and tourists should be. I gaped at the closed casino designed like the mud mosques of Mali. I found a paper which reduced some of my Guardian related pangs (the Al-Ahram Weekly - who knew there was so much going on in the Middle East?). And the next day I set out bright and early to catch the Ferry to Jordan.

I was worried when I finally made it down to the port, as it was almost eleven, the ferry left at twelve, and I'd heard the port was somewhat chaotic. All the roads for miles around are a queue of trucks waiting for their turn to get the ferry. As the daily ferry could only handle about 20 at the most, and as there must ahve been 500 trucks at least - it could be quite a long wait. Once inside the port I wandered around. A lot.

I sat down watching as the ferry pulled in, reasoning that this would mean I wouldn't miss it. An hour passed. Nothing happened. No-one even got off the ferry, even though it was teeming with passengers. Finally an Italian lady spotted me, who happened to speak good arabic. She told me that had to go through immigration in a vast warehouse, and once I'd done that, came and got me and made me sit with an Argentinian couple she was also shepherding.

It was at this point that we met Hani. Hani was the ferries engineer, and he was very proud of his American accent. Strangely though, the American accent he had chosen to copy was that of a ludicrously camp New York party organiser.

"Get owt af tooooooooooooown! You ahr soooooo crazy! Letmeshowyoumy PIC-tures. This is my girlfriend. I HAVE SEEN EVERYTHING, ifyaknowwaddImean. She makes me wanna EXPLOOODE. Oh, I am so beautiful in this picture, I am not this beautiful now. Wait, DID I SAY BEAUTIFUL? I mean handsome, people will not know whether I am a she or a he! This is my friend! If he was not my friend, I would hit him in his private parts."

He then proceeded to try and convert me to Islam.

The ferry finally set off at sunset, and was full of people lolling about & praying on the decks. Once in Jordan I stayed a night in Aqaba, then decided on a whim to move on quickly, perhaps because I had been munched thoroughly by Mozzies the night before. I was heading to Karak, a hilltop town crowned with a magnificent Crusader castle, and the next bus heading there went down the Dead Sea highway. I nodded off.

I awoke to a different world. The sky had become overcast and a small sandstorm was blowing. Visibility had gone down to 100 metres or so. The palette had reduced to grey & yellow. In scattered places the sand was uncovered and drifted & duned, but mostly it was covered with a grey ash, the Gomorrahn remains endlessly tumbling in the wind. Every footprint or tire track disturbed it leaving bright yellow scores on the ground, a landscape of Richard Longs. A camel stood astonished. A tightly wrapped girl chased goats home on donkey back. If the scenery was biblical, it was the book of Revelations.

The road swept downward, and the sandstorm lifted, but we were still bleakly surrounded. Occasionally mountains hazed into view, grey-purple like solidified clouds. Scrubby shrubs were bleached by the dust. The earth lay cracked & useless where the memory of water remained. Its day of happiness was long gone.

Here & there the hubris of life determined that crops must be grown. The sand was scraped back into great dykes defended by a hydra's mass of green tentacles, unlike any tree I'd seen before. In between there was palms, withered vines, and great seas of verdant lushness. I never saw anyone working there but there were occasional sentinels staring bewildered at the invasion of green. I swear one time I even saw a bird above such artificial oases.

It seemed strange to start at sea level yet keep descending, heading into the Earth's wound. The air grew palpably thicker, the passengers pensive and glum. A small child whimpered softly but could get no succor from her parents. Still we continued our mad rush down to the well of tears.

The road finally erred towards the rose red mountains in which Petra dwells. The earth became beetroot stained, sometimes tending to purple. Goats and hasty shelters against the enemy sun became more frequent. A huge Potash factory loomed into sight, towering above the southern Dead Sea. Here the water has been divided into great salt pans, depriving it of its precious cargo. A truck headed out into the murk along one of the dividing roads, if Limbo exists it is due North of The Arab Potash Co., Jordan.

We veered right amongst the tortured crags & pulled out gasping from the soup of the valley. As we raced lorries up switchbacking roads, our only consolation was the evening redding in the west. Darkness fell, and I was in Karak.

Simon

P.S. Not all of my e-mails will be this overblown, I promise! (yeah, right lol)