EPISODE 6 – FOUR
TRIPS, ONE WEDDING AND AN EYEFUL
Fails Quality Audit
Our return to the UK in October 94 was not
auspicious. After over 24 hours on a smelly Jumbo, the air bridge to the
terminal building didn’t work. Passengers keen to disembark were left standing
in the aisle laden with hand baggage and stayed there for over an hour while
the Thiefrow staff found first a set of steps, then a 40 seater bus to unload
some 300 pax! The escalator to the first floor wasn’t working, then not only
was there no cash machine in the arrivals hall but the one in the departures
area was devoid of the crisp and dimly remembered pound notes; why people leaving
the country should need Sterling escapes me! Then Hertz hurt by not having
available the automatic car I had booked. The 80 mph car park known as the M25
was predictably traumatic to those used to the wide open spaces. A trip to the
Maldon cash machine for cash left me hunting for car park spaces; when a space
was found the ineluctable ticket machine jammed on an Australian 50 cent piece
which some rude would-be colonial (no names no pack drill!) had inserted as a
temporary sop to the Maldon Council Parking Gestapo. At last an ATM that worked
was found and I could buy a newspaper with a £10 note to give me legal tender
for the machine, praying that Christine hadn’t used the “Sorry mate, just got
in from Oz, got no cash” excuse to the Oberparkingfuhrer! A trip to Tesco to
restock the aching void that was the pantry reintroduced us to the inevitable
till-jockey and to prices double those of Oz. A bottle of wine at four times Oz
prices was only fit for sprinkling on chips. England seemed cramped and crowded,
miserable and expensive.
House not a Home
The condition of our house in
Wickham Bishops was better than expected, yet it had the grubby unfamiliarity
of a rented holiday home. Simon had organised some flowers and bedding which
were much appreciated; he had a new accessory to show off called Sarah who
everyone liked; however they resisted our pleas to get wed in the same week as
John so that we needn’t have yet another awful journey. I threw myself into hacking away at the
backyard jungle and giving some tender loving care to the poor neglected
Triumph Bonneville in the lock-up garage. As a reward I went on my favourite walk
through village, pasture and Sparkies Wood in the warm autumn sunshine; this
was almost worth the return trip in itself. I photographed and videoed the walk
so that I could take back a little of the nice bits of England.
John & Alison’s Nuptials
Warm sunshine continued for the
wedding of the year, which went off without a hitch, so to speak. As it was a
Mormonesque dry wedding, poor best man Simon had an un-lubricated audience to
receive his speech, but coped extremely well. John looked a little green around
the gills from his stag night bash but the bride was extremely radiant. Timothy turned up looking bigger and bolder
than ever and organised the rest of the family whether they liked it or not.
Marianne was wearing her legs and came with grandson Cantlin; I hadn’t seen
either for over four years which was far too long - Cantlin was four when last
seen and had become a highly articulate seven year old who didn’t recognise me.
Susie appeared in a new slimline guise, accompanied by the other two
grandchildren, the mighty Thor and Aerie the sweet. David & Ré knew all the
words of the hymns, as usual, and sang them with gusto. After the happy pair
had made their farewells our lot all dived back to Holt Drive for bevvies. I can’t pretend
that everyone got on exactly swimmingly but for me it was very gratifying to
see them all together for the family occasion. Regretfully there wasn’t time
for deep chats with everyone and all too soon we were left to sleep off the
last vestige of jet lag, ready to abuse the metabolism on the way back. We
managed to lunch with the Pinnocks the next day, but all too soon we were
turning the key and jumping into the motor for the journey back to Heathrow.
A double dose of sleeping pills
shortened the journey to Singapore.
Christine was renewing her acquaintance with the island from some 26 years
before; I hadn’t seen it for fourteen years, so we both went round bemoaning
the disappearance of the old Singapore.
Even the Tiger Balm Gardens
had changed their name (to Haw Par Villa after the founders). However
the city area had acquired an efficient and clean Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) underground
railway system; a remarkably cheap, unlimited ticket in aid of the Hindu
festival of Deepavali enabled us to travel widely and at the same time
experience non-tourist Singapore.
The MRT linked efficiently with the bus system to take us to Sentosa Island,
the playground of Singapore.
This featured a quaint, free monorail service circumnavigating the island,
linking the principal attractions. The aquarium was certainly one of the best
I’ve ever visited (and that includes Sea World at San Diego!). We even managed to fit in a
short nature walk through the island’s “bush” before visiting the museum. This
had a nostalgic section illustrating the sights, sounds and bustle of “old” Singapore which
had sadly disappeared from Change Alley and the like. I had mixed feelings -
although missing the characterful areas I recognised that “exotic” is often a
synonym for “poor and unhygienic” and on balance the locals are probably better
off. Even Bugis Street
no longer featured its notorious transsexuals, however it did have some
colourful stalls and some excellent street restaurants. Very authentic-looking
mock-Rolex, Gucci, etc., watches at ridiculously low prices were a particular
bargain from the stalls. We enjoyed the break in the journey and Melbourne was a relatively
short night flight away. We landed in the early morning of a fantastic weekend
weather-wise - good old Melbourne
managed over 30°C to welcome us back!
Christmas 94 in Queensland
To avoid any possibility of last
year’s cold weather, the strategy for our fourth Christmas in Oz was to take
the camper-trailer to Queensland.
The grand plan was to take about a week to drive there, with journey days of
some 400km alternated with rest/sightseeing days.
The first leg up the Newell Highway crossed Victoria
and its border with New South Wales at the
Murray River, then reached as far as Narrandera, set in the Riverina area which
is irrigated by the Murrumbidgee. With the
weather warming up nicely we were given a pleasant, shady spot in the Lake Talbot
Caravan Park which combined a lakeside setting with an
impressive swimming pool. Hot northerly winds set the thermometer climbing even
further and when we reached our next stop at Dubbo the shade temperature was
Dubbo proved to be a pleasant town
on the banks of the Macquarie
River, with an
interesting old gaol and fringed by the famous Western Plains Zoo. This was a
“free-range” zoo with the animals contained by moats and ha-has, across which
sweaty humans and comatose animals peered through the heat haze at each other.
The journey northwards diverted into
the Warrambungles, a picturesque and impressive range of old volcanic core
plugs near the town of Coonabarabran
(what a lovely name, reminiscent of the mock-Aborigine house name
“Didjabringyagrogalong?”). ‘Roos peered at us as we jarred past on the unmade
and highly corrugated road (which, as I subsequently discovered, caused a split
weld on the camper spare wheel carrier; thankfully our only malfunction). This
area of NSW has a number of large optical and radio telescopes, presumably
because of the clear air and electrically quiet environment to be found “out
back”. The stop at Goondiwindi followed long, long stretches of featureless
Pilliga scrub. Goondiwindi had little to note other than a silly name and being
the first stop in Queensland;
we spent just a sleep break in an unimpressive caravan site on what appeared to
be an industrial estate.
A pleasant drive through southern Queensland led us to
Toowoomba and a camp site conveniently located in the main drag for some fast
food from the local KFC. We liked Toowoomba - it sat elegantly on a plateau of
the great dividing range and was sufficiently remote from Brisbane to have a relaxed and rural air.
We bypassed Brisbane on the way North to the Noosa
beaches, resolving to visit without our towed encumbrance. The “bypass” route
was through some very scenic parts of the great divide, including Lakes
Wivenhoe and Somerset,
and was well worth the extra time.
At last we arrived in the Noosa
area, at some 150km north of Brisbane this was our northernmost stay; having
taken seven days to cover some 1800km. We had once more found Australia to be very, very big - however the
journey had added yet another cross section to our “big picture” of Australia.
The “Bougainvillia” (sic) Caravan Park was actually at Tewantin, a few
kliks from Noosa and featured very little bougainvillaea but was well
appointed, particularly with intrusive warning signs such as “No Water Skiing
in the Showers”, “Do not breathe after 10pm” - perhaps I exaggerate!
Christmas Eve was dedicated to a victualling
venture in preparation for the bank holiday siege and to the ceremonial
unveiling of the thirty-odd year old plastic Christmas tree, hoping as usual
that a fairy light dysfunction would not once more ruin my reputation as an
electrician! Christmas dinner featured a Special B-B-Q from the traditional
Nipponese cast-iron Hibachi, spoiled only by a subsequent demerit point served
by the camp commandant for not wrapping the ashes for the dustbin as specified
in Station Standing Orders.
The Noosa area was a pleasant
combination of fine, sandy beaches and National Parkland but was quite busy and
being intensively developed to saturation; in my view the immediate Noosa area
was on the point of being spoiled; however one didn’t need to travel far to find
solitude. A highlight of the stay was a day trip to Frazer Island
by 4WD vehicle, driving even further North along the sixty-four kilometres of
the beautiful 40-Mile Beach, then across a narrow straight to the largest sand
island in the world. We lurched along narrow tracks, swam in a fresh water lake
perched high in the ancient dunes and were entranced by the flora and fauna.
day was spent “doing” Brisbane, which was sort of Sydney-ish; it was very much
centred around the river and harbour, with a small central business district
with some bijou skyscrapers on the river bank, bordered by refurbished
docklands featuring posh fish restaurants. However the main sprawl of the
suburbs had more of a grid-like traffic system as has Melbourne,
avoiding the horrendous venous and thrombotic-arterial road system of Sydney.
The plan for the return to Melbourne was to skirt the Pacific coast as far as Sydney before turning West towards Melbourne. First we were obliged to drive
quickly through the Gold Coast, if only to confirm to ourselves how awful it was
and to say we’d been there, done that. We were not disappointed - eyesore
skyscrapers stole the sun from the beach and shielded vast estates of
retirement bungalows from their sea views. We didn’t stop - fortunately Peter
was buried in his book when we passed Movie World so we didn’t get the “Oh
please, please can’t we stop?” whinges. We camped much further south at a
pleasant fishing village called Iluka, which with its sister town Yamba
straddled the estuary of the Clarence river. A peaceful stay was enlivened by a
boat trip across the river for Sunday lunch and a visit to Maclean which
predictably was infested with Caledonian memorabilia.
For our next stop we drove down the Pacific Highway
through an ominous thunderstorm to Port Macquarie, arriving at a pleasant and
friendly, albeit slightly soggy site in what turned out to be a charming
seaside town. A highlight here was lunch at the Cassegrain winery where we
stocked up our mobile cellar. To compensate for this excess we visited St Thomas’s church, convict-built
and one of the oldest churches in Oz.
In continuation of our alcoholic
researches, having “done” the Clare and Barossa
Valleys last year, we had to “do” the Hunter Valley.
Unfortunately the main town and campsite in the area was at Cessnock. This drab
and uninspiring town was immediately dubbed “Cesspit”; we had the weather to
match and the site was unfriendly. The site later featured in a tabloid story,
apparently it had been put up as security for a family loan on which the debtor
defaulted and thus forcing its sale. Certainly there was an unpleasant
atmosphere and we were stuck in a cramped corner inadequately serviced by
power, water and sullage. We compensated by visiting local wineries, buying yet
more wine to tax the towing vehicle and abuse the liver.
Dural is here not so much a sort of
aluminium but more a suburb of Sydney, where a
stop was made to increase our familiarity with the Capital City.
The site was pleasant but clearly mainly residential in view of its position.
We availed ourselves of the convenient local rail service to lunch at Darling Harbour
and do all the tourist things, like the Maritime Museum,
Post Office Tower and the City Monorail.
we left the Pacific Highway
and headed inland along the Western
Highway, through the Blue Mountains and Bathurst to a little gem
called Cowra. The campsite was quaint, combined with a rail museum it was full
of railway memorabilia; residential vans all had station names and it was run
from a ‘Stationmaster’s Office”. Cowra proved to be a busy little town by the
river Lachlan which had preserved an interesting
suspension bridge alongside its more modern replacement. However it is of
particular note as the wartime host to over a thousand Japanese Prisoners of
War who staged a mass, suicidal breakout in 1944. The story was suppressed at
the time in case of reprisals against Allied POWs and the scale of the uprising
only became clear after part-time, post-war investigations by an enthusiastic
journalist (Harry Gordon). I bought his book (Voyage From Shame, 1994) which
included interesting insight into the Jap mind; since they had been captured instead of dying
for the Emperor the prisoners often gave false names so that their families
would not find out about their shame. When Japan eventually won the war, they
expected to be repatriated to a brief period of shame before being executed by
their comrades. Thus in their own eyes they were effectively dead already, so a
suicidal breakout had an appeal as a way of confirming the status. In fact a
number used the diversion to commit suicide anyway, without being involved in
the escape attempt. A pretty Japanese garden has been created to bury old scores
and encourage Australian-Japanese links.
From Cowra it was only a leisurely
drive, with a overnight stop at Albury, back to Glen Waverley, where there was
time to water all the potted plants after our month’s absence and get ready for
Monday morning and the wearing of ties and long trousers again!
Pom Invasion III
The end of February saw the arrival
of a 747-400 at Tullamarine airport bearing my son and daughter Tim and
Marianne together with grandson Cantlin. They stayed for three weeks which
included one of the usual February hot spells, enabling Tim to get well and
truly sunburned (redheads and the hole in the Antarctic ozone layer don’t
mix!). Their stay went well but wasn’t an unqualified success. Mal stayed
behind a wall built of past injustices and Tim tried to play the parent with
nephew Cantlin, which didn’t go down too well with his mother.
But there were memorable moments - since the
stay straddled my birthday I arrived home to find it heavily decorated with
banners advertising my advanced age of 56 years to the whole of Glen Waverley.
They had gone to an incredible amount of trouble in buying touching and
appropriate presents, like a CD of Bobbie Gentry that I’d sought for ages and a
“Triumph” T-shirt. It was nice to get to know a little more about all of them,
particularly my big elder son, even if I did have to stand on tiptoe to get a
hug! We spent a pleasant, warm weekend going to Bendigo
via Mount Macedon and Hanging Rock and
serendipitously stayed in a charming old Victorian bunglehouse instead of a
plastic motel room.
The last full weekend of their stay
was spent camping at Lorne on a Jayco club outing, with yet another trip along
the bloody Great Ocean Road;
unfortunately the weather turned inclement and didn’t really look up until
winter set in.
Doing The Top End
We escaped Melbourne’s winter with a
trip to the Red Centre and the Tropical North, by courtesy of a bushel of frequent flier points. Alice Springs was surprisingly cloudy and a little
chilly, but the weather cleared on the way to the Ayers Rock resort at Yulara.
Peter and I climbed The Rock in lovely, clear, cool but sunny weather which
gave a good view of the distant Olgas. Then we all walked around it (9 km) and
next day “did” the 12 km “Valley of the Winds” walk through the Olgas. My legs
were stiff for days! Even though Ayers Rock is one of the classic Oz tourist
destinations in Oz, it was not a disappointment; the views and the shared sense
of achievement in climbing it together with my son were ample rewards. But the
Olgas got my vote as the most impressive, huge skulls of rich red conglomerate
contrasting with the many bluey-greens of the foliage of the so-called desert
and the deep blue of the sky. “The Alice”
was sunnier for our return; I liked the town which had the “matey” feel of
isolated communities and I liked the surrounding “desert” which at that time
was a riot of flowers from winter rains. The MacDonnell ranges to the west of
The Alice had stunning scenery and many photographs were taken at beauty spots such as Simpsons Gap, Standley
Chasm and Ormiston Gorge.
There was no sign of rain in Darwin, just beautiful 28°C weather. The city
was unlike any other Australian state capital that we had seen, the absence of
high-rise buildings and the profuse vegetation gave downtown Darwin a suburban feel. We had hired a brand
new Suzuki Vitara 4WD at the airport and so had loads of fun vrooming round
idyllic waterfalls and cool swimming holes in the Litchfield National Park,
to prepare us for Kakadu.
We stayed in the centre of the enormous Kakadu National
Park at Cooinda, near the Yellow Waters wetlands,
consuming vast quantities of video tape and photographic film on crocodiles,
birdlife and scenery. Trips to the Aboriginal paintings at Ubirr and Nourlangie
Rocks were interesting, even though it was sometimes difficult to distinguish
between genuine prehistoric art, recently touched up and modern additions
designed to attract the tourists. The 4WD-only track to Jim Jim Falls was an interesting challenge to
both the Vitara and its pilot, but both made it and were rewarded with
impressive views of the falls.
moved to Katherine and in lovely hot weather took a succession of boats up Katherine River through the spectacular Nitmiluk
gorge. Our reward was a magical swim in a cool lily pond at the foot of a
We saw more Aborigines in Katherine
than we had seen in the rest of Australia; it was disturbing to contrast their
much-professed love of the earth with the way belligerent groups littered the
lawns of Katherine with discarded beer cans.
After a last night in Darwin we reluctantly gave our beloved Suzie the Suzuki
back to Avis and boarded the plane to chilly Melbourne and then the dreaded “back to
John does his Duty
News from darkest Brummagem was that
Alison was “with child”, so Christine is to become the youngest looking Granny
ever. Maybe now I’ll be spared some of the Zimmer frame jokes!
Eye Eye Cap’n
I’d been surprised but moderately
chuffed by an unexpected improvement in my vision. Suddenly I could read
newspapers with the naked eye, however a downturn was that oncoming headlights
at night had acquired distracting haloes. A routine trip to the optician for
weaker glasses resulted in a rapid referral to the eye specialist, who
diagnosed a cataract in the right eye. Yes, I too thought that was what only
very old people got; I had a granulation of the rear surface of the lens of the
eye which starts in the centre, where it immediately causes scattering of light
sources such as headlights, it can affect anyone, even children. The lens had
also shrunk and fattened out explaining the increased power. The only solution
was immediate surgery to replace the offending item.
The eye specialist was reassuring in
his explanation that the operation had the unusually high success rate of 98%.
However the right eye was my only good eye, the left being only a willing
supporter; so the 2% failure rate caused me not a little concern. But the
alternative was to risk a nighttime accident in the car. So the op was set for
two weeks time, during which I had ample time to reflect on the importance of
vision to virtually every aspect of life.
The operation on 10th August was less
unpleasant than I had imagined. There was an intravenous cocktail that
introduced a sense of wellbeing and a lapse in my sense of time. I was revived
for the op and kept up-to-date with the progress. The surgeon used a
minimum-invasion, micro-surgery, keyhole technique, whereby a 3mm incision in
the cornea (1) is used to introduce firstly a kind of ultrasonic jack-hammer
(2) which dissolves the old lens (called “phaco emulsification”), then suction
to remove the debris, then a 6mm soft acrylic lens, folded in half (3). This
lens is located by little spring arms on either side (4). The ophthalmic
microscope had a powerful light which produced psychedelic swirls of rainbow
colour, which combined with the intravenous soup to produce a, like, far out,
real cool effect, man!
I was allowed home that day, with
the eye bandaged. Later that night an illicit and exploratory peep from under
the eye patch revealed a disappointingly dim and blurred world (I later found
that I’d been peering through ointment-soaked surgical gauze!).
Next morning all the dressings were
removed at the eye clinic. Someone had forgotten to order the orchestra, so
there wasn’t a crescendo of strings when I cried “Oh Doctor Barb, I can see!”.
But during the day, as my poor dilated iris slowly moved over the new spare
part, my vision improved dramatically. Not only were things sharply focused but
also colours were richer and the whites were brilliant, at least until the
brain turned down the contrast! So instead of a yellowing bit of gristle some
56 years old, I’ve now got a brand new sparkling acrylic lens as my window on
the world. Good old Melbourne obliged by putting on some incredibly warm (22°C!)
and sunny days, marvellous considering that we were in the depths of Winter, so
my recuperant time at home gave me lots of bright colours to feast my new eye
upon. After a worrying and traumatic time it felt really good that the op was a
success. Anyway it was better than having your eye poked out with a sharp
New Zealand (South Island)
is called “The land of the long, white cloud” because of its virtually
continuous range of snow-covered mountain peaks. Driven by a wish to see Australia’s neighbour and a promise of reliable
snow, we spent this winter’s ski holiday amongst these peaks in Wanaka, at the southerly end of New Zealand’s South Island.
We flew to Christchurch
and took a coach to Wanaka (neé Pembroke), enabling a good cross-section of the
land to be seen. First impressions were of the contrast between the flat,
eastern coastal plain and the magnificence of the long mountain range. The
architecture owed more to England
than that generally found in Australia
and there was a noticeable absence of the ubiquitous Aussie eucalypts. The
holiday organisation was also typically English, being somewhat muddled, as we
found when the coach dropped us at a windswept hamlet in the middle of nowhere,
with no connecting service! But the hamlet had a friendly pussycat, in fact it
turned out to be a country of friendly mogs, no doubt all fat and contented
from a diet rich in flightless birds!
ski resort at Cardrona was large, with many long runs, spectacular views,
magnificent snow and no queues for the lifts. The main hazard for most of the
holiday was sunburn, although the latter days were quite windy and the resort
closed for one day when a front came through, dropping several inches of powder
to enhance the following day’s skiing. Peter had a week’s tuition in a class
predictably called the Skiwees, leaving Christine and I to polish up the linked
parallel turns. This time I’d put in some preparation by jogging round the
block most nights, so the combination of being fitter and skiing in a less
tiring manner meant that the muscles ached less than usual each morning. The
hotel was a bad choice, but we ate out each evening and only slept in the room,
so we survived. For the day when the resort closed we hired a little Nip-mobile
and drove to Queenstown, looked at the sights and blued the unused lift tickets
on a decent pair of ski-goggles. Queenstown
was much bigger and livelier than sleepy Wanaka but we felt we had made the
right choice of resort. After all, we are, respectively, a Grandpa and (almost)
a Grandma, and after a day’s skiing we were too knackered for the après ski!
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