Cragg Vale, Yorkshire. The Gallows Pole.

May 3 2019 – Calder Valley, Yorkshire.

I do like a good book. However, they seem to be quite hard to find and I have started many that turn out to not be as good as I hoped. I am sure there are loads of very good books being released right now, though probably not that many that I will like today. I might like them tomorrow, who knows? My emotional need for books changes and what thrills or interests me today may completely bore me next week.

One of the very few good things about being constantly busy and constantly tired is that I have much less time, desire or energy to read. I can make a good book last a long time, thus reducing the need to have a lot of good books to hand.

Earlier this year I read ‘The Gallows Pole’ by Benjamin Myers. It is set in Cragg Vale, Yorkshire as the industrial revolution of the 18th century starts to bite into traditional rural working class lives. It is not a book that I would normally read, but it was highly recommended by people I follow on Twitter and it subsequently won an award for historical fiction. I really enjoyed it, read slowly.

The books foundation is the story of the Cragg Vale Coiners, a group of counterfeiters making new coins by ‘clipping’ the edges of real coins, melting the clippings down and casting new money. It was a very evocative read and very much made me want to visit the area and see it for myself. Times may change, but environments less so.

Cragg Vale is very close to Hebden bridge, a ‘now’ sort of place, a place where lots of bands I like play, that seems to have lots of art and artists and somewhere that sounds like a fairly cool place to live. It was also sort of on the way to Settle in North Yorkshire where I have a photo walk on Monday. The detour seemed like a good option.

It was not the best of days when I left London for the supposed five hour drive north. I elected to follow the recommendation on Google Maps to take the A1 rather than the M1, even though my gut was telling me that was the wrong choice. I followed my gut on the return journey. There were a lot of trucks on the A1.

I arrived in Hebden Bridge in the early afternoon. I was hungry and dying for a wee. It took me ages to find a car park and the public toilets were closed. I think this rather soured my view of Hebden Bridge. I wasn’t overly enthralled by the place, it is extremely commercial, most of the buildings seemed to have been converted into an establishment to suck money out of tourists. It reminded me of Canterbury, another historic town laid ruin by tourism. After weeing and eating a sandwich in that order, I left.

The River Calder and Rochdale Canal that run through the Calder Valley and past Hebden Bridge are glorious, the whole area is beautiful and I have to go back some day and spend a bit more time exploring more slowly.

Leaving town the way I came in, it was a short drive before I turned off the main road and headed up to Cragg Vale. The road is narrow and gently winding and quite fast and there were not a lot of places to stop and take photos. The village is so small that a long blink would blank it out from your journey. I carried on up the valley towards the top, and the burnt black and dry brown of the moor. This is what I wanted to see; bleak and barren open moor land. I was blessed with almost perfect weather, dark low cloud. Lovely.

Cragg Valley with Turvin Clough flowing through to the reservoir below.

I stopped outside St Johns Cragg Vale and took a couple of photos of the church and the stream, before getting back into the car and heading towards Settle and my Air B and B for the next three nights.

I took the most direct route, it may not have been the fastest, but it was a very nice drive, particularly driving up the road from Hebden bridge. There was no where easy to stop, but I can see why the place is so popular, it is a very attractive town when you are not up close and confronted with dozens of shops.

On the way I passed the small, but perfectly formed Lower Laithe Reserve, stopping to take a couple of photos before continuing my journey northward. 

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Let me introduce my flat.

May 2019 – St Leonards-on-Sea.

I may have mentioned this in a prior post but I cannot quite remember. I know I have talked about looking for a flat to buy, and I know I talked about the, often fruitless, search. I also know I have mentioned that I offered on a flat, but I am not sure if I mentioned that after seven long, slow months of faff I actually got the keys and as of 14 March I now own a two bedroom flat in St Leonards-on-Sea on the lovely East Sussex coast.

The flat is on the third and fourth floor of a Victorian block that was built for the navy in 1884 to house retired admirals. It was built as six four story houses but was sold and subsequently divided into flats in 1928. In the section I am in there are 4 dwellings. I am in the roof and the floor below in the middle of the building. My kitchen window is under………..↓

The property is a ten minute walk to the beach and is most of the way up a hill, but I can see the sea from the sitting room and the master bedroom and that is what I wanted the most in a flat. The building looks amazing, it needs some tidying up, but I love it and I love this view even more.

The flat didn’t NEED much work, though it wanted some. When I first put the offer in I was planning on getting a few things done before I moved in, tidying up more than anything else; painting a couple of rooms, moving some of the power points, changing some of the plumbing. Little things. However, not completing the sale until so close to spring meant I have now changed plans somewhat. With so little time before summer I have elected to just get the bathroom and bedroom painted, then worry about the rest come the autumn and winter. Maybe doing the painting myself.

We have stayed a few nights in the flat. I have started buying furniture, so there is a bed and a couple of chairs, and most importantly a TV. I am aiming for a 60s/70s look, so the great choice of vintage and antique shops in the area are a boon. I must admit I never expected to be visiting antique shops. Ever.

I have broadband so can work if I want to, however not having chairs to go with the table means I cannot quite work there yet, soon. The intent will be to work every second Friday and then spend the weekend there. We are very much looking forward to that.

Here is a quick walk through…

The third floor comprises a small entrance hall, a kitchen and a large sitting room. The sitting room was one of the two things that attracted me to the flat. It is really big. It was also the cause of the  long delay in the purchase process. The room used to be two rooms, and this is how it is shown on the floor plan I was given. I wanted the floor plan to show the single room as it is now, which has now been resolved. The fireplace and surround are unusual I know, but they definitely appealed. I still like them but I am not quite sure what to do with them. Things won’t necessarily stay this way.

The furniture in this image is from when I was looking at the flat.

I have bought a couple of pieces of furniture for the room, some chairs and a dining table. At the time of writing I do not have the chairs to go with the table, though I have bought this awesome 1960s sideboard from a local antique shop, and the pair of speakers from one of the charity shops. I am going for a mid-1900s vibe, so will be looking for furniture and fittings from the 60s and 70s. Oh yeah, I also bought a TV, believe it or not this is the first flat screen TV I have ever owned.

This is all my stuff 🙂

The kitchen is small, El and I struggle working in it together, but I am sure we will get used to it. I haven’t done anything to this space yet apart from buying my own fridge and washing machine. I may paint it one day, but it will the last room I do. I owned a few bits and pieces, the pot on the stove top is from a wedding present from 30 years ago. Everything else in sight is new.

The sticker has now been fully removed from the fridge 🙂

The hall is OK, not desperately in need of a paint, but I will probably do it in the autumn, it is just a little scruffy.

Upstairs, on what is the fourth floor of the building and into the roof space are two bedrooms and the bathroom.

Like the kitchen the bathroom is quite small, unlike the kitchen the bathroom was painted dark blue and was really dim. It also had the only bit of double glazing in the flat, which was a bit grubby and added to the gloom in the room. This was the first room I changed.

As mentioned earlier the intention was to pay people to do a load of the work I wanted done to the flat before I fitted it out with furniture and settled in. Being so close to summer, and not really thinking that I would not be able to just ring a painter and have them start immediately, I have resolved to just getting this and the master bedroom painted now and doing the rest myself later.

The painter has only been working on Saturdays so this has taken quite a few weeks, but the bathroom is done and the bedroom is well under way. I have had the bathroom painted white, just to make it more useable and give it a bit more space, being in the roof and having a sloped ceiling does close it in.

To increase the amount of light coming into the room I removed the double glazing from the window, the good thing was there was no howling gale coming though the sides of the remaining window. Phew. I also removed a cabinet off a wall and painted the side of the bath a dark grey, a theme I will have throughout the flat.

The master bedroom is really big, almost too big. It also has two sloped ceilings, but is large enough for it to cope. I have bought a bed but have not assembled it yet. We are sleeping on the mattress on the floor, which has now been moved to the spare bedroom while the master bedroom is being painted.

The spare bedroom is smaller, but as you can see below, will easily take a king size bed. It is currently full of stuff while the painter is in. It has the single sloped ceiling which means a little bit more storage space, though apart from the kitchen, storage is not really an issue.

I have a desk for the room, and it will be a second work space for when El and I are both wanting to work there.

I am loving the flat, really enjoying buying things for it and fitting it out how I want it. For the first time I can buy furniture without having to think of things the kids cannot damage. I can buy adult things, and things that reflect my taste and personality. Yay!

I will post an update in a few weeks, once the bedroom has been completed and we have moved in, and when a few more furnishings have been found.

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A quick trip to Aussie.

Tuesday 26 March 2019 – Brisbane, Australia.

It is almost six weeks after the fact and I am sitting in an Air B n B in Settle, North Yorkshire drinking a glass of cheap Australian shiraz, snarfling down chocolate and pondering catching up on a couple of incomplete blog posts; or just staring blankly at Twitter. As always, it has been a busy couple of months; though at least I have got the keys to my flat now, so there has been some good news! More on that in the next post.

in mid-March I made a last minute trip to Australia (with a side visit to NZ) to see my son, Dom. He needed to spend some proper time with his dad, time I did not had on the last couple of trips back to New Zealand. Time well spent.

I flew Cathay Pacific as it was the best value I could get for the flights and times I wanted to make. I have flown with them before, more than once, and they have been pretty good. They were not bad, but I don’t think I will fly with them again, the entertainment was awful. There was one film I wanted to watch, about three I tolerated and no TV shows I had not seen or wanted to see. Not a heck of a lot for 50 or so hours of flight time, thankfully I had books and music, and the ability to zone out for short periods.

I arrived in Brisbane early morning, picked up a rental car, then Domenic, and we headed up to Caloundra on the Sunshine Coast. I had rented a fairly basic beach side apartment for us for three nights. It was pretty perfect, Caloundra is not a bad spot, in fact given my hatred of Queensland it as an amazing spot. The beach is glorious, the apartment was over the road from it, there was decent coffee by the beach and some pretty good beers to be had a ten minute walk away. Things must be looking up.

We did not do a lot for the first couple of days, hung out, watched TV; I got to watch some NRL rugby league for the first time in years, which I very much enjoyed. We spent a bit of time on the beach and in the sea. The water was amazing, so warm compared to my last sea swim when I was scouting flats in St Leonards-on-Sea last summer.

I just loved the beach, golden sand, warm and soft under foot, clear warm water and small but not bad surf. I swam more times in those three days than I have in the last three years.

In an effort to keep cost down, and us out of pubs, we shopped in the local supermarket and ate in for the first two nights, only walking up to a bar near the beach in the later afternoon for one pint.

It is all pretty casual here, this is a beach town with a surfer mentality. Not used to wearing flip flop / jandal / thongs for prolonged periods I got a bit of sand / jandal rash and could not wear them for long periods without pain and bleeding. Walking barefoot on the sea front was not a problem. I liked this. I miss walking barefoot. I was the whitest person for hundreds of miles I suspect.

For our last full day we took a drive a short way inland, into the coastal hills, and the tourist road from Meleny to Mapleton. Our first stop allowed us a view over the Glasshouse Mountains.

These 13 small hills were formed million of years ago by volcanic activity. The cool thing is that these hills were not pushed out of the earth, erosion over million years left these very hard rock hills behind.

We spent half the day cruising around the area visiting a few scenic places. My favourite was the almost dry waterfall at Mapleton Falls. We took a bush walk among the trees and I really liked these massive palm trees. The name of them has long been forgotten unfortunately.

We also discovered this very unafraid lizard down by Lake Baroon.

We arrived back in Caloundra in the evening and went for a walk before heading to the pub for dinner, our one night out.

The following day we drove back to Brisbane, stopping to do some shopping on the way. The following day I flew to Auckland for a couple of days to see mum and the family and then back to London and work.

It was really cool I got to spend some time hanging out with Dom, we mostly had a good time together, talked about a lot of things and I left feeling happier about how things were going in his complicated world. We both really enjoyed the days hanging out by the beach, chilling, swimming, eating with no pressure to do or achieve anything. If only life could be like that all the time. 

This post was finished a further two weeks later! I am not good at this blogging malarky anymore 🙂

Posted in Australia, Blog, Brisbane

A trip to the 60s, under Euston Station.

Sunday 24 February 2019 – Euston Station London.

Wow. That was a pretty cool day!

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, but this was definitely better than I expected. It was also what I needed to get out of a fairly long photographic malaise. I haven’t been wanting to go out just with the intent of taking photos for months, so paying for an expensive event was a good motivator to get out.

I am not sure how often London Museum/Hidden London run this photographic event, but if you are interested in seeing a very small and normally unseen part of London’s history, have an interest in photography and a good tripod; this event, while not cheap, is very worth investigating. Hidden London run a number of tours into disused London Underground stations, most of these are very busy and are not specialist photography tours. This tour is different, focused on photography, with a maximum of eight people, split into four groups of two and across four zones s no-one gets in anyones way. The visit allows for two hours underground, though I would have liked at least one more. 

Steve and I met outside Euston station and were joined by the other six members of the group along with three staff from Hidden London. Our bags were searched (I guess for hidden bombs) and we donned hi-viz jackets; promptly covering them in camera and tripod bags. We were escorted into the station, through the ticket barriers, down to the Victoria Line platform, and then through one of those locked doors that you see every day and sometimes wonder what lurks behind.

This door took us to a short set of up steps that used to be the end of the platform, and back to the 1960s…

Once inside and the door closed to the normal people we were given a quick safety briefing and then a history of the tunnels, what we were about to see and a quick look at the four locations we would shoot in.

The mainline station at Euston was served by two underground lines. The first stage of the Charing Cross, Euston and Hampstead Railway opened in 1907, and The City and South London Railway, running from Stockwell to the city, was extended north to Euston in the same year.

The two lines, from competing companies, were separate and had stations on either side of Euston mainline station. However, they did agree to building an interconnecting passageway that contained a ticket hall and lifts to the mainline station platform.

The two above ground station buildings for those underground lines were closed in September 1914 after the two railways were taken under the ownership of the Underground Electric Railways of London, though the lifts and the tunnels remained in place. Eventually these two lines turned into the two branches of the Northern Line. Eventually the interconnecting tunnels were closed in 1967 when the Victoria Line was opened.

One of the key attractions for the tours is that tunnel walls are still liberally adorned with posters from the weeks and months before closure. Mostly they are badly damaged, though some are in remarkably good condition given they have been stuck to walls for over 50 years

After the brief history lesson on what we were seeing we were split into four groups of two, Steve and I pairing up. We were given a guide to ensure nothing untoward happened, and I guess to make sure we didn’t scarper into the tunnels for further exploration, though it was tempting…

We were allowed 20 minutes in each of the four zones, there was enough room for two people to take photos without getting in each other’s way. Steve and I have shot together before so know how we work. We are quite different in style and method, which is even better.

Our first 20 minutes was spent in a section with a number of posters as well as one of the old lift shafts. With the advent of the Victoria Line the lift shafts and old tunnels are part of the air conditioning system for the Victoria and Northern Lines. Nothing was wasted. My attempts are capturing the lift shaft failed, for some reason I did not think to bring a flash… I did have a tripod, though shooting vertically was quite difficult.

There were a few old posters here, but none of them were in particularly good condition. Though tatty and old is good.

The airconditioning is all quite modern, and I was surprised at how small the units were, probably explains why the Victoria Line is so hot in summer !

A lot of the old tile work in these stations is from Leslie Green, the man pretty much responsible for all the design and tiling in 50 stations built between 1903 and 1907. His work is iconic, and glorious and you always know when you are in one of his stations.

Section two was also comprised of two shooting areas, the first along one of the vast air venting tunnels. There is nothing pretty in this dark section, just dirt, dust and rusty pipes. It is very dirty here – we were warned before coming to not be wearing our finest. The plates making up the air conditioning ducts are all stamped with their details, size, bolt holes, batch and date manufactured. This one is from 1965. I love that sort of detail!

The second part of this section allowed us to peer down into the Victoria Line and the tops of the trains as they passed. It had been surprisingly quiet so far, but coming through the vents was the sound of a busker playing a bouzouki or similar instrument, it was eerie and appropriate. I have never noticed the vents before, and have yet to see them now I know they are there. I am not entirely sure how they can be some invisible, they are hardly small. It was quite fun watching people move on and off the trains, and seeing the trains whizz by underneath.

Section three was the main passenger link between the platforms of the two lines. It also contained the lovely tiled ticket office, which I managed to take a very poor photo of as I ran out of time due to there being so much to see.

Strangely none of the posters had a year on them, even the ones with dates.

This is my favourite of the posters.

Section four was the most one most used by those who work on our tube system while we sleep. There are stacks of tools, and large metal components, brooms and a bunch of stuff that I did not recognise at all.

There were a number of posters here, a lot had been ripped and damaged over the years and it was really interesting to see the layer on layer on layer of paper that had accrued over the years. Though the famous Psycho poster is still there 🙂

I had a bit of a play with some long exposures at the far end of the tunnel. It was quite dark here so perfect for attempting some ghostly walking, though I ran out of time to get anything I really liked.

Far too soon the visit was over and we had to down cameras, pack bags and head back above ground. I really could have done with another hour or two, and to have been able to explore a little further…..

It was a fabulous experience, and one I would highly recommend. Do the photo tour rather than the general one as you get to take a tripod and spend some proper time.

Thanks Steve for organising, and Hidden London and London Transport Museum for making it available!

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For Kevin. Rest in Peace my friend.

Tuesday 5 March 2019 – London.

This is a tricky one, not sure how to start this or even if it will be finished, though I am guessing if it has been posted then finish it I did.

I have been thinking about death a bit this year. My friend Kevin getting ill last year and being a few years younger than me opened this door, and subsequent events never allowed it to fully close.

Visiting the spot where we scattered dad’s ashes in 2007 with Mum, El and my sister when we were in New Zealand in January naturally makes me remember Dad. Fond memories; he was a good and gentle man and a great father and granddad to my children. If I had turned out to be more like him, I would probably be a better person. I am lucky that I have fond memories of him, not everyone is so lucky.

As I noted four of five posts ago, when we were in New Zealand I was reading about eligibility for Superannuation, the NZ version of state pension and was horrified to find that I may no longer qualify for it unless I go back to live there for five year between now and 65. 65 is not far away, retirement is for old people, old people eventually die. There always seems to be too much to do, and now there is less time, and who really knows how much there is. It made me think of wasted time, unfinished things and unvisited friends; then money and all that tiresome stuff I shouldn’t dwell on.

Mark Hollis, a musician, and the singer and song writer of the band Talk Talk, passed away on Monday 25th Feb. I was a little shocked, he was only 62, not much more than five years older than me. 62 used to be so old. Now, as I close in on 60, 62 seems so young. I was not a massive fan of Talk Talk when they first arrived deep in my punk/post-punk phase in 1982, I discarded their pretentious poppiness as a far too clever Duran Duran. Ten years ago I rediscovered them and the final two of their five LPs. The two LPs are considered post-rock masterpieces, the genesis of the genre, and the genre that has dominated my listening for those ten years. Tracks from 1988’s ‘Spirit of Eden’ and their last LP, 1991’s ‘Laughing Stock’ are always on an active playlist, and I have been listening to them almost exclusively since Mark passed away. They are broody and dark, vocally almost indecipherable; but the music is wonderful and complex and in its way, uplifting. It started me brooding on life’s shortness again.

On Monday it was announced that Keith Flynn, the singer from the band The Prodigy, had died. I was never a fan of the band, but was familiar with them. As it was announced on the TV news they showed a clip from one of their hits, ‘Firestarter’, a song I actually liked. I could see the clip was filmed in the tunnels under Euston Station, a place I had the pleasure of photographing last weekend. It was going to be next blog post. Seeing the video connected me to Keith, via the location, and on to thinking about people dying too young again. He was 49.

This finally brings me to Kev

I met Kevin in Da Nang, Vietnam on the 4th April 2012. Kevin and I were both there, along with a small group of Kiwis and Aussies, for the wedding of our mutual friend Dan. Kevin was there with his partner Phil and was a seasoned traveller, way more comfortable with life somewhere alien than me; and I had been on the road for three months. Kevin is a big personality, very much a life three quarters full guy, genuinely fun, nice, open and friendly. A few years younger than me he is a Kiwi, but has been living in London for a long time. After the wedding, as we went our separate ways, Kevin and I agreed to catch up when I got to the UK. Me on the left, looking leaner and browner than I am now, and Kevin on the far right, with Leonie who joined me on my Africa adventures later that year.

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I was fortunate to arrive in London just before Kevin and Phil went away for a few weeks over Christmas and into 2013. I was offered Phil’s flat in She Bu (Shepherds Bush) as a place to stay while they were gone, an offer I took up. It was while I was staying at Phil’s that I met El. I absolutely believe that without that opportunity we never would have met, life would be totally different, and not in a good way.

Not long after Kevin and Phil returned to the UK, I disappeared for a few weeks travelling. Backpacking in wonderful Sri Lanka, boat diving off the coast of Malaysia and visiting my family in New Zealand. I arrived back in the UK in late May 2013, with no job and no home. While I was looking for a job and while El and my relationship slowly bloomed I stayed in Kevin’s spare room in, as he called it, ‘Fairy Towers’; a twenty floor council tower in London Bridge. I ended up staying there for a year.

I loved my time in Fairy Towers. Kevin was rarely there, spending a lot of time with Phil so I pretty much had a central London flat all to myself. It was such a cool place to live. I took a lot of photos from the balcony.

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When Kevin was staying, often after a row with Phil, we spent a lot of time walking (and talking) around the south side of the Thames;  to Greenwich, the Elephant, along the river,. All over central south London. They were great walks and talks, discussing love and leisure, travel and home. Family a lot. I eventually left in 2014 when I moved to El’s house in Walthamstow, where I am now.

Tragically Phil passed away in mid 2015, from a heart related illness. It was very sudden, I hadn’t seen Phil in quite a while, though had kept in frequent contact with Kevin, continuing walks and cheap meals in a favourite mixed Asian cafe on the fringes of Soho and Chinatown. Our catch-ups became less regular after Phil passed, though picked up again for a while after Kevin met Adrian later that year.

I received a very excited call in summer 2018 and Kevin told me that he and Adrian were going to get married this year, and they had some big plans for travelling in the interim. It was great news and I was glad Kevin had a new partner and opportunities to continue doing what he loved so much.

I received another call in early autumn and had lunch with Kevin in Brixton. He told me had been feeling unwell and had finally gotten round to going to the doctor,  to discover he had stage 4 stomach and oesophagus cancer. It was terrible news, though in his normal highly optimistic way it was all going to be fine; bit of chemo, maybe some surgery after and all will be well. Sadly that was not to be the case.

Kevin and Adrian moved the wedding to December, I hadn’t seen Kevin in a couple of months and was frankly shocked at how frail he looked, he had lost a lot of weight as he had not been able to eat. It was  great to see him, and see how happy he was, knowing he was being well looked after by his mum and his sister’s family and Adrian. Kevin and Adrian entered the ceremony to the sound of a waiata, a Maori song which was utterly beautiful and made me cry. It was a wonderful occasion, made more poignant with Kevin’s illness and prognosis.

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I met Kevin travelling, and travelling is where Kevin was truly happy, he has seen far more of the world than I. He developed a number of friendships in his travels. Kevin managed to get a final trip in this year, visiting his beloved India, Australia and NZ. He arrived back in London on 22nd February, was admitted into hospital and passed away with his family a week later.

I had been meaning to visit him in hospital that week, but like so many things, I didn’t get around to it.

Rest in peace, Kevin. Without your enthusiasm for travel I would not have seen as much as I have, and would not yearn to do more. Without your friendship I would not have stayed in London, I would not have met El and I would not be as happy with life as I am. xx

Phil and Kev Dec 2018

Posted in Blog, Britain, England | 2 Comments

Singapore. Part 3.

Saturday 26 January 2019 – Singapore. Part 3.

With Chinatown visited yesterday it would have been rude to not visit Little India and Kampong Glam, the historic Malay Muslim section of Singapore. After eating our body weight in hotel breakfast we were back down to the metro and off to Little India. Just after rush hour it was still quiet early in the day, particularly for Little India, and even more so for Kampong Glam.

Our first stop was the Tekka Centre, a must for anyone visiting Singapore. I always take a walk though here, often stopping to buy a snack, though not today after the amount I hoovered down during breakfast. The ground floor of the building is all about food, the outer ring being well patroned food courts and the centre a large fresh food market. The upper level is pretty much all about the sari, lots and lots, and lots of saris. With the occasional tailor tossed in to balance things out. The middle of the ground floor is a large fresh food market, selling everything from live (short lived) chickens, to fish and seafood and on to that wonderful range of Asian vegetables and fruit. Including the dreaded durian. It wa very quiet.

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We did not stay long in Little India, there was not a lot open and not many people out and about, way too early. We crossed over towards Bugis and walked past the Kwan Im Thon Hood Temple. 

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There is a lot happening in the streets here, and towards Bugis with quite a few market stalls selling all the tat you would ever need for Chinese New Year. There was a good mix of European tourists and Chinese here, probably the most diverse crowd we have been in since we arrived.

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I like Kampong Glam, it is my favourite part of Singapore, mainly because it is the most hipster-ish east London area. It has changed massively since I last came here seven years ago. There are a lot more bars and cafes and a lot more street art. I still liked it, and if I wasn’t so tired all the time we should have come here one evening to experience it more fully. We found a Scandinavian coffee shop and stopped for the first flat white since we left NZ. It was good.

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I like the contrast between the older shop houses and the ultra-modern glass towers, along with the very un-Singaporean awning on the sandwich shop. Public profanity! Outrageous!

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Leaving Kampong Glam we started a walk down to the City Hall metro station, it was getting quite warm, and time again to think about getting off the open streets. On the way we passed by the magnificent Parkview Square building. Being a sucker for Gotham Gothic architecture this is one of my favourite tall buildings anywhere. Straight out of a Batman movie. Belying its 1930s art deco look the tower is entirely modern, being completed in 2002.

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There is a small art gallery on the third floor, showing a collection of Chinese prints; we had a look but it was not really my thing. The ground floor lobby was pretty stunning!

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Continuing on the journey we happened to come across Raffles Hotel next to City Hall station.

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It seemed to be very rude to not complete the ultimate Singapore tourist task and go to the Long Room and have a Singapore Sling cocktail. Not being rude people, that is exactly what we did. All the tables in the Long Room bar have a large bag of peanuts for customers to graze on with their drinks. Shelling the nuts and discarding the empty shells on the floor is all part of the pleasure of visiting. The nuts were so wonderfully fresh, I ate quite a few, leaving a decent size sea of mess around me.

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Today is the sixth anniversary of El and I meeting, so El had booked dinner in one of the restaurants in Marina Bay Sand Hotel. After an after of relaxing and writing back at the hotel we headed down to the metro and out again in to the late afternoon. We arrived early so had a bit of a walk around the marina.

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Walking through the mall to the hotel we passeda  very large and impressive DC comics shop. we were tempted to buy a little something to take back as gifts, but decided not too.

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Dinner was early, it was the only table we could get at such short notice. The restaurant was an all you can eat buffet and was pretty amazing. There was a terrific array of foods, and it is fair to say I ate a lot. Including things I do not normally eat, like crab and lobster. I also got to have what turned out to be only laksa I had during the stay. It was very nice, I love laksa. nooodle soups in general. This will be another thing I will endeavour to cook at home. 

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There is a night time light trail here, I was really looking forward to seeing some of the installations, but found it all a little uninteresting, though there are works over quite a large area of downtown Singapore and all around the marina. I was expecting BIG, but big was not the thing.

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Saturday was our final day in the city, we had a whole day to kill before our evening flight back to London. We lingered in the hotel for a while, making the most of breakfast again, and the air conditioning. We had decided to take one of the city bus tours. I don’t normally do them, but found the one I did do in Dubai to be quite a good time killer, and we had a lot of time to kill today. The weather foreacast was not brilliant either, so this really made sense.

We jumped on one near the hotel and it took us to the massive Suntec Plaza where we had to wait for a different tour. The bus was not that interesting, there was a huge amount of traffic and it moved very slowly, mainly past the places we had already been. After consulting the map and we jumped off one bus and on to another heading in a different direction and ended up by the riverside. Something I wanted to do today anyway.

We found a riverside, and touristy, Vietnamese place and sat down for a drink and a couple of Vietnamese snacks and just enjoyed sitting by the river in the warmth, no work to do and no real cares. The last until our next holiday. It was a pleasant end to the afternoon, and to the trip.

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Soon enough it was back to the hotel, a shower and a change in the gym bathroom before a final glass of wine on the rooftop bar and then the airport and home.

It was a good few days, I am glad I got to share one of my favourite cities with El. We will come back to Singapore, it is an easy place to visit.

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Singapore. Part 2.

Saturday 26 January 2019 – Singapore. Part 2.

Having gained a little knowledge on the Singapore metro system yesterday we avoided the streets and took the lift down to the metro station underneath the hotel. Speaking of hotels, I should mention breakfast. OMG (as the kids used to say, but probably not any more as that was so 2016). The breakfast buffet was enormous. One of the things I love about a large Asian hotel is the wide and wonderful array of Asian and European breakfast choices. Every day was a treat, and I could indulge in fried rice and egg for breakfast again. Mmmmmm.

We left fairly early for our visit to the amazing Gardens by the Bay. The walk from the metro to the gardens exit was a pretty good start to what was a very good day. I am loving this combo of hooped t-shirt, check shorts and sandals that I am modelling here. Travelling allows me to indulge in terrible fashion, while pointing and laughing at other tourists poor fashion choices. El, was far more elegant, I am surprised I was allowed  to take this photo of me standing next to her dressed as I am.

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I was expecting there to be a fee to get into the gardens, but the area is free, you just pay for things you want to do. I like this. We wanted to visit the magnificent Supertree Grove. I saw these from the rooftop viewing platform of Marina Bay Sands Hotel last time I was here, and they are the number one thing I wanted to see.. They did not disappoint, they are quite amazing. Standing between 25 and 50 metres tall and with a viewing walkway between two of the taller ones, they totally dominate this section of the gardens.

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We were there reasonably early so there were not too many people queuing for tickets, or to take the lift up to the walkway. I would hate to be here when it was busy, it would be brutally hot waiting for entry. The view was pretty special, obviously not the same as being at the top of those three towers, but lovely none the less. These SuperTrees are pretty awesome!

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I had a bit of a plan in mind for a walk. It was not much past 10:00 when we left the gardens as we didn’t visit any of the other attractions, yesterdays botanical morning was enough garden for this trip. Something saved for next time. We crossed back over the road and entered the strange world of Marina Bay Sands shopping mall. It is big, not massive, but still pretty big. As I observed seven years and a few days ago when I first came here, it is full of shops I could never afford to even walk in, not that I ever would.  Seven years ago today I was 27 days into the jounrey that started this blog and diving in Malaysian Borneo, I cannot believe it was that long ago!

We stopped for a cold drink in a small gallery on the far side of the marina and after consulting a map decided to skip plan A and do freshly conceived plan B; a short walk to China Town. It was a good a plan. Chinese new year is not far away, and preparations are well under way to welcome in the year of the pig. If planning had been better, it would be great to have been here for Chinese New Year.

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It was starting to get quite hot and China Town was busy as mid-day approached. I wanted El to visit a temple while we here, get a feel for the things I love about visiting SE Asia and its mix of religion and culture that is so different to our experience in the west. I am fairly sure I have visited Thiang Hock Kem temple before, but am not 100% on that. I still enjoy walking through Buddhist temples. My abiding memory of those months travelling, and the subsequent trip to Sri Lanka, was visiting these small oasis’ of calm and peace. Singapore is a young country and this is not an ancient place of Buddhist worship, only being established in 1840. It was an enjoyable visit.

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We walked through some of the side streets backing on to the temple before the heat overcame us and we found the nearest metro, jumping into a nicely air-conditioned train back to Orchard Rd.

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Somewhere along the way I must have dropped my cap. I had just bought it in NZ, specifically as I left one back in the UK and I didn’t want to get sunburnt here in Singapore. We decided to visit some of the lower-end malls on Orchard Rd to find a replacement. One that didn’t cost more than a small number of pounds. There is a vast array of shopping choice on this street.

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Arriving back in the hotel in the afternoon, I chose to start on one of my priorities for these four days in Singapore. Finding a quiet spot in the hotel bar (me and the bar person) I started writing a very short story, my first piece of fiction since school, 40 years ago. El and I have set a challenge to write a short story each month. It is going to be tough; it is close to the end of February as I write this and I haven’t started on this month’s story yet. I want to be a better writer, I love words, stories and books, and all sorts of written things. One of the reasons I have maintained this blog for so long is to be able to write more than a few words in an email, though I have yet to find my ‘voice’. I did enjoy writing some fiction in a bar in Singapore though.

As the evening settled into something cooler than day and we had recovered from earlier activities we headed out from the hotel to look for a local food court I had found on the internet. I wanted Malaysian food, to be specific I wanted char keow teow; a flat noodle dish with chicken and prawns. This was one of the first meals Alex introduced me to when I stayed with him in Kuching, and my introduction to local Malay food. It is simple, hearty and delicious and I cook it badly on occasion. I found one, and It was good.

One of the things I love about food court food, is being served the meal, and then being able to add the garnishes; choosing from dishes of chilli, spring onions, coriander, soy sauce. Adding that little extra zing, exactly how you want it to be. In the spirit of not being in London, I added a pile of diced red chilli. Maybe it was a little too much…

I cannot remember what El had, but she visited a different stall to me. It was good too.

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Singapore. Part one.

Saturday 26 January 2019 – Singapore.

This is my fifth visit to Singapore and El’s first. I was keen to come here for a few reasons. Obviously, it is on the way back from New Zealand and is sort of half way. Not having been here before it is a fun place for El to visit and for me to show her around. It is a nice city and an easy introduction to SE Asia. Finally, I have done everything I want to do in Singapore, except Gardens at the Bay, so with four nights here I was planning on spending some proper time doing nothing. Not that we did much of that of that nothing. I didnt finish my book!

Before I launch into Singapore I have to confess that I made by first ever flight scheduling blunder. I was trying to book everything via BA and the only way BA does NZ to Singapore is via Australia. I grudgingly booked us via Sydney, but absolutely missed that there was a six hour layover, only noticing a couple of days before the flight. Sydney airport is not too bad, but six hours is a long time. We ate.

We arrived in Singapore quite late on Tuesday night, but with time enough to check in to the hotel on Orchard Rd, get up to the 19th floor rooftop bar and pool and indulge in an end of a long day drink.  We also got to enjoy the amazing view over the city and towards the magnificent structure that is the Marina Bay Sands Hotel. It was humid, but not outrageously so, and it wasn’t too hot, conditions that remained for the whole trip. Thankfully.

In what seems to have become a standard activity for this holiday we hit the Botanical Gardens on Wednesday morning, a recommendation from a friend who had been here recently. A very good recommendation too. I could get into this plant thing. The gardens were seemingly not too far from the hotel, so I decided we should walk, time wise it was the same as taking the metro. The metro is air-conditioned, walking isn’t. We were hot before we arrived, so our first stop was a cool drink in one of the many cafes.

The gardens are huge, laid out in different blocks, we got to see about a third of it before getting too tired and hot. I really liked it, tropical plants are so utterly different to what we see in the UK, and to a lesser degree NZ. The difference is just so pleasurable, big, big leaves, los of weird shapes and am amazing colour.

These leaves looked like someone had painted the colour on.

I particularly enjoyed the orchid garden, I know these are fancy flowers with a billion varieties and shades, shapes and colours, but seeing so many in one place really did make me appreciate nature, and her human tweaked variations so much more.

There was a nice fake waterfall that was very much the key attraction for a large group of small children on a school trip.

After lunching in the park we headed to the nearby metro station and with a bit of help from the ticket counter got ourselves metro passes and took the, very long, ride back to Orchard Rd. We learned how to use the Metro as we went. It is a good system for the centre of the city.

I have to say that in the four days we spent in Singapore, not one single person I/we interacted with was anything but courteous, friendly or helpful. I know Singapore is very touristy, and very authoritarian and retail and hospitality jobs are probably better than other options, but it was a really friendly place and it made me very happy. I was walking down a road one afternoon and a cycle courier clipped my shoulder with the very edge of his bag, it was the most minor thing ever. I was shocked when he stopped, apologised and asked if I was OK. England used to polite like this, but now we have Brexit.

I love this big and very old plane trees outside the entrance to the President’s residence.

One of the things on El’s list of things to see in Singapore was Emerald Hill, a street of lovely old  shop houses that I had taken photos of on previous visits. Purely by luck, definitely not good planning, the street was literally over the road from the hotel. Emerald Hill is a conservation area so the houses that remain here from the early 1900s have been well preserved, they are a small snapshot of what a lot of Chinese influenced SE Asia looks like. They are very nice.

Our hotel from Emerald Hill.

Emerald Hill from the hotel bar.

We were pretty whacked when we got back to the room, so the decent thing to do was to head up to the roof, have a swim and then relax by the pool. Conveniently it was happy hour with half price Singapore Sling cocktails. It would have been rude not too….

The view from the roof.

We didn’t venture too far for dinner, the tiredness and jetlag that had plagued me in New Zealand followed me to Singapore. We found a ‘street’ curry house for dinner, and enjoyed a very nice meal, and not too far away from the hotel.

It was a good first day in Singapore!

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Family time in Auckland.

Monday 21 January 2019 – Auckland, New Zealand.

We had a total of eight nights in Auckland, not long considering how far we flew and how bad the jet lag hit. Five nights staying with mum, two with my sister and one at an airport hotel the day before we left. Not a lot of things were done, but not a lot of things were planned to be done. It was a pretty successful trip really. The only regret was not getting time to see friends, a quick drink on Friday afternoon with a couple of friends was it. We did get to celebrate my youngest sister’s birthday which was an added bonus.

I never get too excited about going to New Zealand, I love seeing family and friends and getting outside, but I have limited holiday to use each year and a list of a 1000 places I want to experience, If only I had the will and the courage to go to them. New Zealand was good this time though. El came along this time too, and I am enjoying seeing her develop a relationship with my family. Not planning on doing a lot meant getting to spend more time doing family things, seeing my grandson and son, hanging out with mum and my Auckland based sister. yeah, it was a good trip.

Highlights;

The weather was nice for virtually the whole time we were away, including Brisbane and Singapore. There was the odd shower but not one that impacted or made us change our plans at all. This has to be a first for me on a holiday.

Spending some time with my son and grandson. Mason is four now, we have spent time together before so he is quite familiar with me. He was a lot of fun to spend time with, very engaging and engaged. His family do not want him on social media, so just a sneaky photo of him unwrapping the Lego we bought him for Christmas.

I got to go for a swim in the sea with Mason and my son, Aiden. We drove up to Orewa Beach, just north of the city for a swim and an ice cream. I love the sea, and do not get to swim in it that much, though perhaps moving to St Leonards will fix that. The sea was remarkably warm, it has been a warm summer in NZ. There were no gasps when the water hit the goolies !!

The first time El and I came to Auckland we took a day trip to Waiheke Island, about 40 minutes away from the city in the Hauraki Gulf, and one of its many wineries. We had a fabulous lunch (and a few glasses of wine), and it was one of the highlights of that visit. We decided to repeat the trip this year, taking my sister as a birthday gift. Like the visit four or so years ago we had magnificent weather, another fabulous lunch (and a few glasses of wine). Waiheke is certainly an Auckland region gem, and one I highly recommend taking a day to visit.

There was a nice view of the iconicRangitoto Island from the ferry.

A key part of a every visit I make is taking a drive up to Muriwai Beach with mum. Walking to the cliff tops over the gannet colony, looking back up Muriwai to the north and over the spot where we scattered dad’s ashes. Muriwai was always one of my most loved locations, made even more so now that dad is there to. It is not a maudlin trip, and we never talk about dad when we go, but it is always on my trip plan when I go back. It was a blustery Sunday, probably the worst weather of the trip, but the rain held off, eventually clearing to sun over lunch. There were a number of gannets nesting in the colony, and I managed to get a photo of a mother feeding a small fish to her chick, wishing, not for the first time, that I had a better camera on me.

We stopped for lunch at the very busy Hallertau Brewery on the way home. The food, wine and beer we had in NZ was fantastic, even the risotto I cooked one night at mums!

Mum and my sister, Sarah.

On the day of my sister’s birthday we (mum, El, my sister and I) went to the botanical gardens for a walk, where it did actually rain for a few seconds. I haven’t been here for decades, and while I am not really a plant person I really enjoyed walking round looking at things. You cannot really tell from my photography that I am not a plant person, as there are a lot of photos of plants, and here are some more!

I enjoyed New Zealand this time, more so than usual. I didn’t have expectations and I didn’t plan on trying to fill every minute and see as many people as possible. I was really jet lagged, so lots of early nights, and the occasional afternoon nap. I think I needed the rest. Not being able to work while I was away due to not be able to take work equipment out of the country really made a difference to.

For our last night we had decided to sleep in a hotel at the airport, primarily to avoid the morning traffic that could add stress to getting to the airport at 6:30. There is a mini-golf course nearby so Aiden and I decided to have a quick round. He thrashed me.

I can confess, and didnt mention it to him at the time. After sneaking off for a quick wee behind a bush in the carpark, I jumped over the low fence to get back in I took a tumble, landing heavily on  my shoulder. I was in pain for the last 9 holes. That was really why I lost !

Singapore next!

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Brisvegas.

Sunday 13 January 2019 – Brisbane, Australia.

I am going to strike while things are hot. Having just written my first post in over three months I am going to start and will aim to finish, this, a second.

When I was in New Zealand in May I committed to mum that we would come over for Christmas. Come October when I finally got around to booking tickets the intention and desire for Christmas was still there. I knew it was going to be expensive to fly either side of Christmas, but wow. It was a lot, a very large lot. Made infinitely more expensive and complex by our desire to go to Brisbane, then Auckland, finishing in Singapore. Our original thinking had also included a week in Japan, but we soon gave up on that idea. With added work restrictions on timing and duration I ended up having to call mum and tell her we could not afford to be there for Christmas, but would come over in early January. Which is what we did.

Fast forward to Friday 11 January, and we were finally off. British Airways to Hong Kong, then two hours later Qantas to Brisbane, Australia. Arriving at 6:00am on Sunday. We completely lost Saturday somewhere.

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We had 29 hours in Brisbane. A very quick trip, here to spend a little time with my son Dom and my granddaughter Cadence. Unfortunately things had conspired against us and Dom and his partner had to finish moving house this weekend. They were moving from south of the city to Murgon, a town three hours north. I wasn’t willing to make that drive after 27 hours of flying and little sleep, and then repeat the drive back to the hotel a little later.

It was convenient in the end, we met Dom in a park as they were passing through town, and I only had a short drive to make to get there. It was great to see Dom, his partner, Tabithe and their daughter Cadence again. Cadence was very shy this time, and was not very interactive, and very unhappy with me taking photos. She is two years old now, and more self aware. The move has been a bit disruptive for her, but she did enjoy the late Christmas present we brought over with us.

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After an hour or so with them in a quite warm park El and I drove back to the hotel and had an afternoon nap. We needed it. It was late afternoon when we arose. I had booked us in a hotel that was close to the Brisbane River, on the northern, city side. The South Bank is quite a popular tourist destination, similar to London’s version, there are numerous eating places and things to do, alongside a relaxing river side walk.

The sun sets really early in Brisbane, and with no daylight saving to extend the day, getting out for a walk early was important, I had a bit of a plan in mind and wanted to get the first part done in daylight. We walked through the botanical gardens (a recurring theme for the holiday), though just along the riverside path. Thankfully it was a bit cooler on the riverside and in the late afternoon. Crossing over on the Goodwill Bridge we stopped at the first restaurant we came across that had a free outside table. Even though we had been eating pretty much non-stop since we left London, I was still hungry!

After eating my bodyweight for the second or third time in the last two days and supping a couple of very nice Australian wines we set off into the early evening dark for a walk along the river.

It is a very busy place, and there were a lot of walkers, riders and electric scooter users wizzing their way along the path. Even the beach and pool was still busy.

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The most bizarre thing on the South Bank is this Nepalese Peace Pagoda. It was assembled in 1988 for the World Expo after having all its component pieces made in Nepal. It is quite lovely.

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Crossing back over the river we walked back through the downtown area, past all the closed shops and surprisingly closed restaurants. It was a Sunday night I guess, and we certainly did not need any more food. Back at the hotel we stopped for a glass of wine in the river side bistro, before heading off for more sleep. Day one of our holiday was complete.

Monday morning we were up early, I think I woke up about 3:30 am. Lying in bed until a reasonable time to get up. Yesterday we had found quite a nice cafe up the road so went there for breakfast. 

Our flight to Auckland was at 13:00, but we headed to the airport at hotel check out time, got checked in early and waited for a third flight in three days. On our way to Auckland.

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