The beautifully brutal.

Sunday 03 June 2018 – London.

When I started thinking on this post it was going to comprise a number of semi random images taken during June. However, I could not put together much of a thread for the images beyond ‘All taken in June 2018’, and well, some of them were a bit crap. This post thread has now reduced to images taken on a single walk.

On and off over the past three years I have been visiting towns and villages outside of London, looking for somewhere that I would want to live, and that I can afford to live in. There have not been many. Long term readers (are there any? If you are one “Hello, and thanks ” 🙂 ) will know that I was looking quite seriously at Folkestone back in early 2016. Sadly Folkestone was ruled out with the MEP (Member of the European Parliament) election, where the right wing UKIP party won a number of seats in the European Parliament; and then Brexit happened. Folkestone and its surrounding areas were pretty Brexity, this was something I was not happy with so I subsequently wrote Folkestone off as somewhere I wanted to live.  Hastings, however has come back into the picture, and more of that in near-future post.

Anyway, that was a long preamble, and almost, but not quite pointless. Much as I am trying to find somewhere else to live part time, it has to be said that that has nothing to do with the city I live in. I do actually love London, and do not ever see myself not being in or near the city. There is so much to love about this city, access to concerts, to galleries, its history; and its architecture. Today El and I visit two of those things.

Tate Modern has a couple of really interesting exhibitions on at the moment. As members we get to visit these exhibitions for ‘free’, more importantly we get to visit them an hour before the public. This is crucial as sometimes these special exhibitions can be packed, even with a £16+ per person entry. The Picasso 1932 exhibition was very busy even before the public viewing, I am very glad we got in there early! There was some interesting work there, but with a single year focus the broad range of his work was not on display, it was not the best Picasso event I have been to.

The second exhibition we visited was ‘Shape of Light – 100 years of photography and abstract art’ combining painting, photography, and other light manipulation techniques. I will admit to being a bit disappointed, mainly because I misunderstood the subject. It was OK though. This was the first time I have been to an exhibition where photography was allowed, not sure if this is a new thing, or just for that particular show. I liked the idea and took a couple of pictures. I particularly liked this doorway…

This final room was by far my favourite, and seems to be the subject of a number of Instragram posts. A wonderful moving abstract piece by Maya Rochat.

The other great thing about having Tate membership is access to the various members lounges for food and drink, in relative peace. There is a great members lounge on the 8th floor of the new wing, so taking a detour via the free exhibitions we took to the members lounge. This piece ‘Babel’ by Cildo Meireles is quite amazing, and quite loud. At 4 metres(at a guess) tall and with hundreds of radios tuned to different stations it is quite disconcerting; and very aptly named.

This is Terry, according to his Starbucks coffee. I always try to take a picture in this section of the members lounge, the view down this narrow and beautifully lit passage is one of my favourite bits of the building.

After coffee and cake we decided to take a walk from one key London location for brutalist architecture to another; South Bank to The Barbican. The new wing of the museum is amazing, in fact architecturally, both buildings are amazing, I am going to have to come here on my own one day and spend some just taking photos of the building itself. I love it. A lot.

There are a lot of solid, angular, concrete buildings between the Tate and Festival Hall, including this block of flats that used to be on my courier run when I lived here in the 1980s.

The Barbican Estate was built between the 1960s and 1980s on old WWII bomb sites, there is still building going on around the fringes of the estate as, with new buildings being finished on London Wall. I love the Barbican and the area around it, my cousin lived in one of the towers in the 1980s and I visited a couple of times, the view from her flat was magnificent.

The Barbican Estate is the classic example of 60s brutalist architecture. Being a private estate with relatively (and very) wealthy residents, means it is well maintained and its fine sharp, industrial looks are not marred by decay.

I have been here a few times before, usually with EL or other friends, not usually with much of an opportunity to use the camera. I grabbed a few photos today, trying to catch the lovely late spring flowers against the sharp angles and dirty brown and grey concrete.

We stopped for a drink and very nice lunch in the Barbican Centre before wandering slowly to Liverpool St Station and on to home. A really nice end to a great morning.

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A quick trip ‘Up North’

Wednesday 13 June 2018 – Newcastle.

Not a brown ale in sight. The ten minute walk from station to hotel took me past two bars and nothing; no advertising, no ale drinkers, not even the sad relic of a shattered brown bottle in the gutter. So far, Newcastle has been a disappointment.

My view of Newcastle has always been tainted; a city built for and populated by ‘Newkey Brown’ drinkers, dour, gruff/rough northerners, black and white football shirt wearing anti-football thugs, haters of southern softies, the metropolitan liberal elite from London; me for instance.

As is usually the case I was wrong, very wrong. I really enjoyed the 24 hours I spent in Newcastle, it is friendly, welcoming and a lovely city. This sticker I found near the hotel I was staying in didn’t help my original thoughts. I am sure there was some ironic humour there.

I am up in Newcastle on my first official visit to another Cabinet Office location (have I mentioned where I work before? ) There is a large government hub on the outskirts and the team there are doing some interesting development work. It seemed like to a good opportunity to visit them, see what they are doing; and hopefully dispel my ideas of the city.

But first, York.

El and I visited York three years ago (bloody hell, I cannot believe it was that long ago!) and absolutely loved it. One of my key vendors is based in York and with a big project coming up I took the opportunity to visit York as the Newcastle train stopped there. I am very aware that as a civil servant, everything I do, including my salary, is paid for by the citizens of the UK. Taking trips to visit vendors when there is a cost involved is not something I do, though there will be future savings to made after this trip though, so all is good.

I didn’t have a lot of time in York after meeting the vendor. They did buy me lunch, and I had a glass of wine, all under the £25 declaration limit  🙂 There was just time for a short loop walk back to the station. Passing the fort, the minster, and the old cit walls on the way.

The few times we have been to Edinburgh we have passed through Newcastle station and over the River Tyne and the great view of the other magnificent Tyne bridges. I have liked the look of the station and was looking forward to finally being able to get off the train. I was not disappointed; it is a really nice station.

Arriving in town in the late afternoon I went straight to the hotel to dump my bag, passing the above sticker on the way. I was meeting one of my London colleagues for a walk around town before having a beer and burger planning session ahead of tomorrow’s full day of meetings.

Not having a huge amount of time, nor a plan, we started in the centre of town and walked down hill towards the river, passing the now shut, castle on the way. I didn’t know there was a castle here, and know nothing about it all, it was castle-like. Nothing wrong with that at all.

Newcastle is well known for the bridges that cross the River Tyne, individually they are excellent bridges, but the sum of the parts does exceed the components and together they are wonderful, different engineers, different styles, colours and construction. Lovely. There has been massive investment in the river front area and it is a really nice place to stroll, and not full of bars and restaurants for the tourist trade like so many other river and sea front cities. Being able to walk unimpeded by construction and ‘private’ property is a massive bonus, something Sydney could possibly learn from.

Walking back in to the centre of town we found somewhere to eat over a couple of beers, and still no Newcastle Brown Ale in sight.

I was hoping for a little time off after meetings the following day, but in the end it was a rush to the station, though naturally the train back to London was late.

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The Epping Forest Project, Phase 5 – May.

The Epping Forest Project, Phase 5 – May.

Reluctant at first I headed down the gentle slope and into trees, uninspired and frustrated at myself for not being able to relax into this morning alone in the forest.

As I descend towards what I suspect will be a small stream the noise from Epping Road slowly recedes, the bird noise becomes prevalent and I start to hear beech nuts and other tree fall crunching under foot. The peace of the surroundings is settling my busy mind and soon enough my footfall is quieter, my march has become a relaxed stroll and my ears and eyes are tuning into the frequency of my environment. I hope to see deer.

Another busy month, another with few opportunities to get to the forest of a weekend. I must try and get up after work some time, battle my way through the late afternoon traffic, or this project will never take place.

For the first time this year I took the mountain bike for a quick ride before El and I went out. I didn’t go far, just to Higham’s Park Lake, though even that was enough for me. The newly arrived adult hay fever has been particularly bad this summer, even with the daily pill I am left sneezing, coughing and streamy of eye on the worst days. It was still great to be out on the bike for the first time in months, though I did suffer for it.

I also found my new favourite tree, so gnarly!

I bought an Epping Forest book the other week, it was mentioned on Twitter and just seemed like the perfect book for me. Written by the naturalist Edward North Buxton in 1884, I found a second edition copy from 1885 on the internet for £17. The book is in fabulous condition and contains the author’s description of the forest and 6 maps, all drawn from his exploration of the forest. Epping Forest have recently released an updated version of their forest map, so it was with great delight I spent some time comparing the two. There were not too many differences, the roads and paths were almost all the same, interestingly Hollow Pond did not exist in Buxton’s book. I looked it up and the pond was only created in 1905 when stone was quarried for the construction of nearby Whipps Cross Hospital.

This morning’s walk was to look at Ambresbury Banks, one of the two ancient earthen forts in the forest; the other being Loughton Fort which I have visited many times in the past. The construction of the earth fort is believed to have commenced around 700BC and the site was occupied until at least 42AD. There is a 6ft tall bank and moat surrounding an area of around 4 hectares.

There is not a lot to see to honest, a bank and some beech trees, some pollarded and some not. It is quite close to Epping Rd and the traffic noise was quite loud, verging on unpleasant. It was not what I needed this morning. I walked the perimeter, where possible I used the top of the wall. Walk in the footsteps of those ancients who created this haven for their families and their livestock. It is more clearly defined than Loughton Fort, but I feel less of it than I do for Loughton, perhaps it was just the nearby road?

Completing the loop of the site I consulted my new map and decided to head towards Theydon. I did not have a huge amount of time this morning, so started walking along one of the mapped pathways, taking the opportunity to experiment further with impressionist photography.

Mapped pathways are not really my thing so spotting a bike trail pointing roughly where I wanted to go I wandered off into the trees. Finding the small stream at the bottom of the valley I could see loads of deer sign in the mud, clearly this place, without a steep bank is where wild life came to drink. I decided to follow what looked to be a well used deer track through the twisted young scrub. No human or cow sized animal could walk though here, it was all very low. I was making so much noise bashing though that I gave up any idea of seeing any wildlife at all.

I followed the stream until it joined with a proper trail and finally I found a scene that was worth spending some time setting up the tripod and getting angles just right. The tripod thing is a whole story in itself, though I am never sure on how to express it, one for another day.

Soon after I found this big old beach, I think it is one that was a coppice (chopped at ground level) which has led to these four separate trunks. I decided to take some time with my camera, walk around the tree, set up some shots and try to make some crisp photos. Then the noisiest man in Epping Forest turned up with a friend and they sat right by the tree I was taking photos of. Talking inanely, he at the loudest possible volume, I quickly lost my happy vibe , took two pictures and stomped off.

Almost back at the car I came across a small open plain area with some lovely tall silver birch on the edge and a wonderful old oak surrounded by fern in the centre. I took a lot of images, though the light was hideous; bright and flat, filtered through low light cloud. I will come back here again when there is some big cloud going on. It is a lovely spot.

These silver birch just screamed out for a bit of panning, so tall and straight.

After a fairly flat and uninspired start to this walk things really did pick up and I was happy with the photos I took, and the time I had outside. My enjoyment increasing the further I moved away from the noise of the traffic; something to add to my mental health toolkit.

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A small taste of the Cotswalds

Sunday 20 May 2018 – Cotswalds, Gloucestershire.

How do they fit all this countryside in? This is something I ponder (and wonder at) every time I leave the city and explore somewhere new.

Why is it all stunning? often follows immediately after that first thought. This is now my favourite part of the country, being the final thought in that head conversation.

The UK has a population of about 65 million. It is roughly the same size as New Zealand, which has a population of 4.5 million. Where are all the people in the UK?

Admittedly almost 9 million live in London alone, but that leaves a heck of a lot to fit in somewhere else. I cannot believe the country has so much rural and open space. I am not complaining one little bit.

My daughter, Meliesha, recently took a nannying job in Stonehouse, a small, unremarkable place on the fringe of the Cotswalds town of Stroud, about 3 ½ hours by car from home.

El and I were invited up to stay with her and her host family for the weekend.

We arrived in time for Saturday lunch. After meeting the family, Meliesha, El and I got back in the car and Meliesha showed us around some of the nearby places. Stonehouse itself is not that great, a commuter town, three crap pubs, no coffee shop, and probably voted for Brexit. It is that sort of place. But wowsers; all around is loveliness. Out first stop was the gorgeous village of Painswick.

Painswick made its money as a wool town, and was obviously once a very wealthy place, and probably still is. It is an absolutely gorgeous village, the epitome of English villageness.

It was remarkably quiet when we arrived, with very few cars passing through and very few people on the streets. This made it even nicer, in my eyes. The buildings are primarily made from local stone and are similar in style and colour. It is all very attractive, and I immediately fell in love with the place.

We passed through the churchyard with its sculptured yew trees. I could quite easily have spent 30 minutes there alone with my camera.

Meliesha has been to Painswick Beacon with a local walking friend she has made. Leaving the village, we started up a small section of the Cotswalds Way long distance walk.

The walk begins with a loose collection of interlinked foot and bike trails through a tiny section of ancient forest. Tall unpollarded beech trees tower above and shade the last of the spring bluebells and the abundant ferns. It is quite lovely.

The forest runs along the edge of a golf course that slowly rises up towards the beacon. On its edge lies one of the quarries where stone is carved from the hillside for the building trade.

One of many, many things I love about the British countryside, and a point of difference with New Zealand, is stone walls.  Though they are very difficult to take an interesting photo of.

The top of the hill is a popular place. As part of the Cotswalds Way, walking groups pass by and there was a large group of school kids monopolising the beacon when we arrived. The view from the top was far-reaching in all directions.

IMG_8090

We did not stay long on the top. Too many people and a cold pint beckoned.

On the way back down through the forest I experimented further with some intentional camera movement photography, working on a technique to produce impressionist painting-style images without relying on post-production techniques.

Meliesha had another village to take us to, this time with a pub, rather than a walk. So off to Amberley Village we went. I cannot remember the name of the pub we went to, but I do remember that the three drinks I bought cost less than two in London, and that there was a nice view. A brief walk from where we parked the car took us past fields full of daisies and buttercups. I remember that parks and verges used to be covered in these flowers, but we see so few in the city these days. Is this a false memory?

This mini library in a phone box is brilliant, one book out and one book in. A large version of the little libraries on the streets of Walthamstow.

Our final stop for the day was for an early dinner at the Stroud Brewery and its really nice pizzeria. Sadly being the driver, I could only have a single drink. Nice beer, great pizza and a really nice family vibe, I would definitely be a regular if I lived here!

Meliesha was babysitting that night so El and I went for a walk to one of the local pubs. We didn’t stay beyond a hastily consumed single drink. Not our sort of pub.

It had been recommended to us to walk up to the top of a nearby hill. Meliesha comes here often to watch the sunset.

There is a magnificent oak at the top of a wild flower filled field, though we didn’t get to see the sunset. Sitting down turned us into midge magnets and we were soon swarmed with flying, biting things.

The following morning, after breakfast with the family, Meliesha took us on one of her regular walks round the neighbourhood. Stonehouse sits on one of the canals that were used to transport goods from the mills that abound in the valleys, providing the source of wealth that created these now lovely old villages.

Like the tow paths of the canal system through London, there were numerous runners, cyclists and walkers making the most of this lovely late spring morning. What a lovely place to take some exercise. One day I would love to take a long bike ride along these paths.

Too soon, it was back to Mel’s place and then El and I were in the car for the 3 ½ drive back home. A lovely weekend away, and a place we would like to come back to and explore more.

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A Place To Bury Strangers @ The Garage.

Thursday 10 May 2018 – A Place to Bury Strangers @ The Garage, Islington.

A Place To Bury Strangers (APTBS) are a three piece band from New York, with an expat New Zealander, Dion, playing bass. They are one of my favourite bands and are touring their new LP ‘Pinned’. This will be the third time I have seen them, though I only seem to have one blog post; six years ago from a gig in Brighton, just before my fiftieth birthday.

I have not been to The Garage in Islington before, but really liked it. Similar to the Dome in Tuffnell Park, it is a decent sized venue, with a big bar and good beer on tap and in the fridge. Venues must be learning that good beer sells. I will definitely come to gigs here in the future, being right outside the tube station on my home line also helps a lot.

We arrived at the venue just as the support act, American duo Buck Gooter took the stage. I had not heard them or even heard of them prior to this morning. I tried a couple of songs on the internet at work and was not overly excited, or particularly impressed. Their first track was very typical of what I had listened to, and I was not looking forward to an entire set of it. However…. They did have two distinctive styles one quite yelly, techno industrial sort of thing with the singer going mental on stage, which was mildly entertaining for while. The guitar player had a much mellower voice and I preferred the songs he sang. It was OK in the end and I mostly enjoyed it.

APTBS hit the stage on time and into a mass of strobes, smoke and noise. The first track ‘We’ve come so far’ was a sonic blast. Playing up for the gig photographer every move in the guitarists inventory was pulled with Oliver Ackermann smashing his guitar at the close of the song. Brilliant 🙂 What an opening!

I stayed up the front for the first four songs, they are an impossible band to shoot with a pocket camera, light, movement and smoke, and very dark. Hectic. There was so much back lighting and smoke that even from the front left of the stage I could not see the drummer, and barely grabbed a couple of fading shots of the bass player.

Mid-way through the set the band descended into the crowd, by this time I was right at the back on a low set of stairs with El. About two thirds of the way in to the crowd they set up instruments and played two songs surrounded by fans, concluding with Dion the bass player, crowd surfing while continuing to play. We could not see any of it, though I was expecting this at the end of the set, so was unprepared.

The previous times I have seen them they have concluded with a storming version of my favourite song ‘I’ve lived my life to stand in the shadow of your heart’. I was pretty disappointed by it tonight, it was not too long, and didn’t go into the manic feedback, droney finale it is known for. It was disappointing to think that was the end of the show. However, there played two more songs, ending on a brilliant long, feedback, droney, mad version of another older track ‘Ocean’.

They were fantastic again, though I am glad I took earplugs!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XYtZ__l8j_Q

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The Epping Forest Project, Phase 4 – April.

April 2018 – Epping Forest.

April was busy, so I did not get a lot of time to get to the forest. With the New Zealand and Australia trip taking up the second half of the month I only had two weekends free for a wander with the camera. I took a drive up to High Beech Church the first weekend of the month, feeling I had an obligation to myself to do it.

I have not been feeling particularly inspired lately, I am bored with my photography and am going through another low period where I feel every image I take is rubbish, my camera is rubbish, and I cannot believe I am still bothering to take photos. I feel like I should stick to walking the forest and enjoying the images of others more worthy than me.

One of the reasons for deciding to do a yearlong project was to keep myself motivated to take pictures. Going to the forest is something I am generally keen to do and we all know that being in nature is good for mental health so sticking to this project has many benefits.

This walk was over a month ago. I vaguely recall only having a short amount of time, so chose to go a place that was familiar; a gentle slope down into a valley, both sides hosting small glades of young silver birches amongst older beech and scrubby holly and hornbeams. Knowing I should be able to find at least one image there, one for the end of year calendar (I hope).

Though I enjoyed being out, I wasn’t in the right head space, I took a few pictures, mainly because I felt I had to. Perhaps coming back to a place I knew well was a bad idea. The idea of the project was to explore more broadly, yet I am stuck in the familiar. I also hate my camera now, and have started blaming it for my lack of creativity. I hate that it is heavy, that it is old, I see it as an impediment to something. Though I know this is complete rubbish and any block is me. It is not impeding anything; there is nothing to impede.

Spring had only just started, last time I was here the forest was covered in snow, though I was surprised at how little green there was. Autumnal colours were still prevalent, as were a couple of downed trees.

Though this one was not going anywhere at all. I wonder how old it is?

Void of anything that interested me photographically I continued with my experimentation with intentional camera movement (ICM) , or impressionist photography, as I call it. This grove of young silver birch proved a good range of colours to experiment with some vertical panning.

I know this technique has been done to death, and I have used it myself, but I do like the range of options it can provide for image making. The following three images were all taken of a different grove of silver birch, without moving the tripod.

I have also been experimenting with another style of ICM, for a more painterly type of image. I am trying to come up with something that approaches the pointillist style, mixed with classic impressionism.

Mildly disappointed with what I had achieved in the short time I was out, I headed back towards the lovely High Beech Church, my parked car and ultimately, home.

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Queensland, a brief foray

Saturday 05 May 2018, Brisbane and Gold Coast, Australia.

I have strong feelings about south east Queensland, and they are not overly positive ones. I go there to see my oldest son, and middle child, Dom; and his daughter Cadence, my second grandchild. If they were not there it is not a place I would visit; even though the beaches are stunning. Anyway, Dom, Cadence and the rest of his family are there so here I am visiting. This was a tough trip, a complicated trip, though ultimately a good and joyful trip, circumstance made it what it was. It is not my story so I am not going to detail it here, but maybe with Dom’s permission, one day I will.

My flight left Sydney at 1:00pm Wednesday, it is a surprisingly long journey of 1 ½ hours to Brisbane. Flying over those lovely Manly and North Sydney beaches and up the coast makes it mostly enjoyable.

Like in NZ I have a rental car. There is slightly more public transport on this strip of coast, but it does not go where I need it to go, this is a car country. I used to be entirely confident (perhaps overly so) driver, but this trip I have not enjoyed driving at all. I particularly hated this Kia rental car, and for the first time I found driving to be quite stressful and unpleasant. Made worse by not being able to sync my phone with the car sound system.

On the first night I stayed in an apartment/hotel thing, with a view of the hospital. Keeping up the tradition on this trip of great views from hotel rooms.

My room was pretty good though and I enjoyed my one night stay, being close to the hospital and far from anywhere else I just stayed in my room. TV, beer and photo-editing, I didn’t need a lot else. Though the hotel restaurant ‘The Stuffed Badger’ was excellent, good enough to mention here. Nice food, good beer and wine and great staff, if you are ever near Brisbane Hospital I recommend it. However, the coolest thing about the hotel was the car lift to the underground car park, I have never used one before, it was a bit exciting. Even with this piece of shit Kia.

The following day I drove down to the Gold Coast, I have two nights in a hotel near Broadbeach beach, not too far from where Domenic and Cadence, my granddaughter live. I decided to stay somewhere nicer than the motel I stayed in last time I was here. I spent a couple of hours with Domenic in the afternoon before checking in to my room.

The sun sets early here, it is autumn and it is dark by 6pm. I took an evening walk along the beach to the main restaurant/bar strip. This area is totally different to how I remember it, though it has been a very long time since I was last here. I am guessing that on this strip five years is considered a long time. I had a bit of a play with some out of focus blurry shots, trying to capture a mood, or an impression rather than something crisp and clean. I wanted the colours to tell more of the story.

Though further up the beach, at the next life saving tower it was just too well lit for any imagination to be allowed.

As you could imagine the coast is very touristy, the focus is families, and groups, hen and stag parties, corporate ‘dos’; not for solo travellers wanting some space and alone time. I struggled to find a bar or a cafe where I could eat a meal, take a drink and sit in a quiet corner on my own, read a book or write. I found somewhere with a booth that was barely good enough. After one pint I ate and left, buying a bottle of wine to take back to my room. Though the experience of not finding a space drained me so much that writing or photo editing was not doable, so I slumped in front of a TV series I downloaded off the BBC before I left London. You didn’t think I was going to try Aussie TV did you?

Friday, I didn’t have a lot to do so went for a walk around before finding a different cafe on the same strip for breakfast, which was pretty good.

You certainly cannot argue that the beach here, and for miles, both north and south, is not magnificent.

Though the construction right behind the beach is frightening.

I had a quiet, ‘me’ day, I met a friend from when I lived in London in 80’s for lunch at a nearby mall, but did pretty much sod all else for the rest of the day and evening. I finished last night’s wine in my room after a listless and un-enjoyed meal in the same seat in the same place I ate in last night.

After checking out on Saturday I visited Dom and Cadence for a couple of hours. It was really nice to hang out with them again, even for a short time. It was Dom’s birthday yesterday; the main visit for my trip. It was  great to see you son 🙂

Though I am not convinced this place is really safe.

On the way back to Brisbane Airport I caught up with my Deana, my ex-wife and the mother of my children. We took a walk along the banks of the Brisbane River, which was nice. The last time I was here was the early noughties, soon after a massive flood that had devastated the recreational area along the side of the river. Like everything in south eastern Queensland, it had all changed in the intervening years.

I hit the airport early, too early to check in; but I was worn, the two week ‘holiday’ was busy, and tiring and the jet lag and too much food and drink was catching up. I just wanted to be home.

I will be back in again in December, with El , with a bit of holiday thrown in too. Japan maybe…

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An Opera House and a Bridge. Sydney.

Tuesday 02 May 2018, Sydney, Australia.

Flying into Sydney from the east, from over the Tasman Sea on a sunny day is one of very few pleasures there is in travelling to Australia. The city is stunning from the air; the long sandy beaches, that glorious harbour surrounded on most sides by dark green bush, and by a not unattractive city on the other. Sydney is one of my favourite cities and I spent a bit of time there on various work and social trips in the past. I was looking forward to this very quick visit; less than 24 hours on the ground.

My original thinking was to spend two days here, see a few people and then hire a car and spend a further two days driving north to Brisbane. However, the cost of a rental car between cities was insane, so the plan was changed to a single night and a catch up with an old bestie.

I chose a mid-day flight from Auckland, missing the rush-hour Auckland madness, and the rushing, busy business folk heading to meetings ‘across the ditch’.

This dropped me into Sydney early on a sunny afternoon. There is now a train from (and to) Sydney Airport, something that did not exist when I used to visit in 90s, and it is a double decker!

Airport trains are the best things in the world for a traveller, and this one takes 20 mins to get to downtown Sydney. Brilliant, and my hotel is a five minute walk from the station. Someone thought the train was ‘Wack’, but not me.

This a glorious looking city, though the view from my hotel room is not the best, a bit like the view from my Auckland hotel.

I was meeting Nicole for a drink and dinner after her day at work. I had an hour to spare after I arrived so decided to go for a walk around the mid-town area. I used to know this part of town really well, but with so much building over the last 20 years, I hardly recognised the place, and immediately went the wrong way.

The old Grace department store was reopened as the Grace Hotel sometime in the 90s and I used to stay there as it was close to the office. It is still one of my favourite hotels, though it has been a long time since I stayed there. it was the first ‘posh’ hotel I stayed in.

George St Dymocks. I always love a good book store, and this was a perfect place to meet someone.

The Queen Victoria building, inside it is a premium brand mall. Not a lot of shopping from me, but the building is lovely and I have not been here for a very long time so it was worth a quick visit.


After a brief walk around I met Nicole for a drink and a meal in a very nice south Indian restaurant. The downtown area of Sydney has a lot more places to go out for a drink and a meal then I remember. The attitude to drinking, in this part of town anyway, seems to have changed from 20 years ago. There was a good vibe in the air for a Tuesday night, and I am really liking the feel of Sydney. Dinner was great, it was great to catch up with Nic. I haven’t seen her in a few years, so there was a lot to catch up on!

I was up early on Wednesday morning, deciding to get out for a walk before breakfast and my flight to Brisbane at lunch time. I took a wrong turn out of the hotel again (perhaps my north/south compass has finally aligned itself with the northern hemisphere?), either way it was a good option as I got to see a bit of downtown I would not have seen if I had headed straight to the Opera House, which was my final destination.

Heading through the back of ‘The Rocks’ area I discovered a small remaining section of ‘old Sydney’, old terraces and a sandstone church that have so far survived the rampant and hungry bulldozers of developers. It was really nice. For a busy, tower-ridden downtown, Sydney does not feel too crowded, though there are a lot of tall buildings, there is some sky and some air. These streets just behind downtown, quite empty early in the morning, seemed like I was a million miles away from the centre of a big city. Like a small rural backwater town.

Back down to the water front and I was confronted with another set of hoardings and more construction, the path around the ferry terminal was closed off to pedestrians as another waterfront something was being built. Construction is endemic, London, Auckland, Sydney. Someone should make a t-shirt. No unspoilt view of the bridge from here.

The sun was in exactly the wrong place for a ‘good’ photo of the Opera House, but meh; I like flare, so I was happy.

The public spaces along the harbour front are brilliant. That bridge. Those Ferries. That Opera House. All wonderful, all photogenic. The light was harsh, but who cares. Who would not be happy here, it was 8:00 am, the air was clear, it was warm with a nice sea breeze. Coffee shops everywhere, and people seemed to not be miserable. It was an enjoyable walk, especially for pre-breakfast.


Sadly I had a flight to catch so after walking round the Opera House I headed back up towards the hotel. Stopping for a really nice breakfast and coffee at an outdoor cafe, surrounded by construction and all the noises they bring. These polenta cakes were amazing!

Love Sydney.

Posted in Australia, Blog, Sydney | Tagged

Random Auckland bits.

Monday 01 May 2018. Auckland, New Zealand.

I started writing this post about three weeks ago, when I was still in New Zealand. I have just abandoned what I wrote and started again, stripping out everything I was trying to say. I was trying to sum up my thoughts about the visit, seeing my family and friends and the city I was mostly raised in. 

I got stuck, unable to clearly define in my head my feelings, let alone write it all down. This became a roadblock to getting other things done, every time I sat down at my laptop to do something, I would open the post and stare at it, then shut the laptop and walk away. I have scrapped what I was going to write and will leave it for another time, put less pressure on myself.

So here are some photos from my trip to Auckland, from the days I did not walk up any hills.  I was only in the country for eight days, mostly spent with family and friends and time with my lovely grandson Mason who will be four in July.

I took a lot of photos of the wee tacker, he was hard to pin down. he is a delightful lad, very friendly, always smiling; always chatting; and a cheeky wee grin. My son and his partner do not put Mason on social media, so I will sneak a quick photo of him here from when we went to the park, the rest I will treasure myself and share with my family.

Heathrow Airport. I flew Singapore Airlines both ways, and it was pretty good. I do not sleep on planes, even on a flight that is 13 hours and 40 minutes and I have taken a sleeping pill. Thankfully the flights were comfortable enough to exist for that much time in one spot. My travelling has allowed me to zone out for that much time. Thankfully!

On first arrival I stayed in a hotel in Auckland City for a couple of nights, mum was away, but I wanted the space anyway. It has been a while since I spent some time on my own, and I need that time.

My room had great views…

One morning after breakfast I spent some time at Blockhouse Bay Beach. in the 50s this used to be quite the spot, but by the time I lived here when my family emigrated from the UK in the 70s it was just another suburb on Auckland’s second harbour; the Manukau. It is a large harbour, one of the biggest in the southern hemisphere, but it is very tidal and a sewage treatment plant and meatworks on the opposite side to where we lived meant the harbour was not the nicest. It has long been cleaned up, but the 50s glory days are never to return.  I used to belong to the sailing club and sailed with my dad through to the early 80s. I have fond memories of the place, and it is a pleasant link to my late dad. I was really glad I visited, I have not been here for a long while.

Here are some random plants to finish. I have started taking extreme close-up photos of flowers – generally shooting into the sun, and often slightly out of focus. Breaking the ‘rules’, rebel that I am.

Posted in Auckland, Blog, New Zealand | Tagged

Wainamu

Sunday 29 April 2018. Lake Wainamu, Bethells Beach, Auckland, New Zealand.

‘You are here’ the sign tells me, us. However, this is not always helpful. Where exactly is here? The sign may show which way is up, but sans compass in the middle of dense forest, how do I know which way north really is? Getting the map out doesn’t really help. Doubt creeps in. We have been here before, making assumptions, tired decisions, stupid decisions, decisions based on what we know, familiarity leading to contempt. Wrong choices and wrong directions.

I am not talking about life, or a trans-Gobi expedition, this is just a four hour walk in the bush (as we in New Zealand call the forest). Though there was a brief moment on our walk this afternoon when we were not exactly sure where we were. The sign told us, but making sense of that in relation to where we came from and the map we carried led to a brief moment of indecision. We are both experienced in the bush, but have both made directional errors in the past. Nothing tragic, this is hardly serious wilderness, but frustrating and tiring mistakes, ego deflating mistakes, a loss of face as we consider ourselves experts in our domain.

Vicki is my newest Auckland friend, I am guessing we were introduced to each other some time in 2010 when we were both looking for someone to run in the hills with. Vicki wanted someone to slow her down so she could train for ultra distance off-road events and I was just too slow for the other trail runners I knew. We both love the bush and running the Waitakere Ranges trails, and we both like to yak incessantly. We made for good running/walking companions, and she became one of my closest friends. I always leave a day free on my visits to Auckland to ‘go bush’ with Vicki.

The Waitakere Ranges are under severe pressure right now. Kauri die-back is a fungal killer of New Zealand native kauri trees, most of which are found in the northern part of the north island. It has been identified that the fungus is spread manually and with this in mind the Waitakere Ranges are to be completely closed to humans from 1 May 2018. Two days time. As tracks are upgraded and modified; basically made into dull, boring, non-muddy super-highways they will be reopened. It is better than having no kauri, though I wonder if that means I will never be able to walk in the ranges again ? A terrible thought to contemplate. Luckily there were two days to go before the ban, my timing was perfect yet again.

I am now so unfit that the idea of a run fills me with dread, and though Vicki still likes to run she has put together a nice afternoon walk for us, early training for a mega event in January. Naturally this turned out to be more complex than planned. We arrived at the Cascades car park to be greeted by a sign advising that the trails were closed. We were a bit miffed at this as the closure was not due for a couple of days. Ignoring it we carried on, only to be met by a park ranger on the road down to the tracks. We questioned him about the closure, and he informed us that the swing bridge over the river had been washed out in the recent storm, hence the track closure, that was not a pre-empting of the council order.

Luckily Vicki had a plan B. Back in the car we carried on to the dunes at Bethells Beach and the start of the Wainamu tracks. Crossing the dunes was a bit of a slog, I hate being unfit, but we were soon in the mud and walking around the lake that has formed behind the dunes. There has been a lot of rain lately so the tracks were a little muddy, and very greasy. Pretty much how I like it.

Taking a right from the Wainamu Lake Track and on to Houghton’s Track we started to head uphill, always up hill. I have walked up and run down this trail a few times in the past, it has never been dry and I have been on my bum more than a few times coming down. The recent storms had turned the trail into a bit of a river. Though merely wet now you can see where the water had  flowed not that long ago.

Two weeks ago a super storm hit Auckland, there was a lot of wind damage, trees and power lines down, my youngest son had no power to his house for three days; and some were out for as long as ten. The Waitakeres took a battering as well and there were a lot of trees down across the tracks. I guess with the area being closed in a couple of days there was no compelling reason to keep these paths clear.

At the top of Houghton’s we decided to break the rules and walk a track that had been closed for some time. It was slowly disappearing as the bush took over, there were a couple of moments when we had to scout around a bit to find the trail as tree fall and new growth hid those faint traces of prior human passage. I can see how easily it is to get lost here. The bush is spectacular, lots of nikau, rimu and kauri. Punga trees, ferns and cutty grass line the trail.

I wish I knew more about the various bushes and trees, both here and in England. I can see that even in these low hills the variety of plant life varies at the different altitudes and I would love to be able to describe why.

Dropping back down the far side of the ridge we cross the Wainamu Stream, the exiting path slightly upstream from the entry. Luckily the stream is not running too fast, or too deep. I am foolishly wearing long trousers. Good for the cutty grass, but not so good for stream crossings.

The stream marked a low point, a valley bottom. Half way round the walk, naturally this meant a schlep back to the top, to the next ridge. grrrr….  At the end of this track we had the ‘which way do we go now?’ discussion, the signs and the map not helping. Up was the right way, which was lucky as up we went, though we went that more based on feel than fact. Sometimes feel is right. These old signs are slowly being replaced with newer, modern, shiny white and orange signs. None of which I think will last as long at the old wooden signs, signs from youthful walking and camping sessions in these hills.

More uphill, more greasy track and windfall clambering, more bush bashing. This is why I love the Waitakere Ranges so much more than Epping Forest. Epping is not a bad substitute, and it certainly gets muddy and slippery, but it does not have the short steep climbs and the range of flora is limited, it feels less ‘jungle’ Most disappointingly, it does not have all these lovely and photogenic streams.

Our rolling ridge loop completed we were back at the top of Houghton’s Track. It is always so much easier going down, and I only slipped once, not quite landing on my butt; very close though. I was getting quiet tired by this stage, not having had a lot of sleep over the last week due to the time difference from London. The second (or was it third) large whisky late into the previous evening certainly didn’t aid matters, enjoyable as the evening was. We have been walking for four hours and I ran out of water a while back. I know when I am tired as my feet catch every second rock or root and each slippery patch gets closer to catching me out. Even so, I would rather be doing this than walking a mall – which I did yesterday.

Houghton’s Track ends at the bottom of the hill, back on the flat, on the far side of Wainamu Lake from the dunes and the car park. It is a boggy and wet slog back along the Lake Track and was one of the least fun sections of the day. However, it does lead to the lovely Wainamu Falls, looking quite calm and pretty with the right amount of water flowing over them.

Behind us is a valley connecting the falls to the lake,  we had approached the falls up the valley from the other side of the river. We could see the flood flattened grass, the water mark up the bank was scarily high, there must have been a metre of water flowing through here after the rain a couple of weeks ago. You cannot see the normal flow of the stream in this picture, it is off to the right and I could have easily jumped over it. I cannot imagine how it would have looked and sounded as a raging torrent. Like all wild streams and rivers, these can be very dangerous in flood, two young lads drowned not that far from here only a couple of weeks ago.

I had been thinking that we were pretty close to the end as we left the falls, but there was still a way to go. As we rounded the lake an early autumn squall passed, we stopped to don rain jackets, but by the time I took a picture and put my coat on the rain had passed and humidity briefly increased.

The last few hundred metres were mostly spent walking through the stream, it is shallow, but with all the rain it was too wide to bypass. Private farm land on one side and steep sided dunes on the other meant wet and sand filled shoes.

The stream narrowed just before the car park, forcing us to crab walk up a steep dune face to avoid the deeper and faster running water. My shoes were black with sand, and all I was thinking was ‘I am going to have wash these before I go to Australia on Tuesday.’  We soon arrived at the trail head and on to the waiting car, and lovely tin shed near the car park.

It was an excellent afternoon out, my second to last day in Auckland and a fitting end. I am pretty sure there was not more than a few seconds when one of us was not talking. I must note that more than once on the uphill bits I was only capable of a grunt or two. I must get fit again!

Thanks Vicki, I love our walks and talks. Good luck with your training, and don’t get caught Smile x

Posted in Auckland, Blog, New Zealand | Tagged , , ,