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We left Christchurch after being gently rocked to sleep by yet another earth tremor and were driven to the airport at 4am by Chris who volunteered for the task, however, the drive was only 10 minutes. Chris would take the car back later to Turners who had agreed to buy it for NZ$3,800. We had paid NZ$5,500 for it 16,000km ago! Turners would run them to airport to catch their flight to Sydney and promised to pay the money for the car into our account the next day.
Our bags were miraculously well under the 23kg allowance after all the buying we did but I had been forced to throw out some of my most treasured polo shirts which Sue insisted looked dreadful!
We noticed people eating breakfast but we thought we would just put up with the airline breakfast which turned out to be the wrong decision. We had a Quaintarse round the world ticket but Quaintarse did not fly the Christchurch to Melbourne leg, even though it had a QF flight number. It was operated by JetStar which is an airline reminiscent of Ryanair and there was no free food or drink during the three and a half hour flight. You could buy breakfast for AUS$12 which we thought a little expensive for airline food so we arrived at Melbourne half starved!
Here Sue did her usual trick of abandoning her British citizenship and fishing out her Kiwi passport, sailing through immigration while I queued up with a thousand Asians for half an hour. It did not matter as it took over an hour for our luggage to arrive, then we joined the queue for customs! Gilly and Andy were there to meet us and we were whisked off to their new house in Hampton then quickly to their favourite cafe around the corner for brunch of bacon, poached eggs, tomato and baked beans washed down with mugs of coffee. Best poached eggs ever and they were egg shaped which I queried. They said you bring the water to the boil with a splash if vinegar then stir the water to make a whirlpool and crack the egg in. We have since tried this and failed miserably. The bacon was also the bees knees so a big improvement in the makings for breakfast over New Zealand where the white of eggs are often "snotty" and the bacon full of white gunge! I will probably get told off for this little breakfast rant by a certain Kingsbury Episcopi pom!!
Andy is also a rugby nut so had recorded all the six nations games which we watched together over a few cleansing ales, Tetley Bitter no less. The England Wales game was a goodie with Wales just stealing it with a late try but the future looks good for this young side. In the evening, Andy BBQ'd some terrific fillet steaks on the deck outside as it was a sweltering 38 degrees and invited Scottish Mary plus Jim and Sue Gabriel along to join his honoured overseas guests.
As you can see, Gilly was looking TTT and still competing in her netball team while "footie"(that's Ozzie rules) playing son Danny appeared briefly to get fed then disappeared as son's do! The next morning after watching a bit more rugby we lunched at another cafe. Melbourne had done it's usual trick, the temperature had dropped 20 degrees and it was raining but we managed a walk along the bay. The next afternoon, after a repeat of the brunch at the cafe around the corner, we were driven into Melbourne to collect our Hertz car and headed off down the Monash Freeway which, just to confuse you, is actually a toll road! Melbourne and Sydney have a few of these toll roads. Hertz registered the car with the toll road authorities and my credit card number. Your car number plate is scanned as you enter the road and my credit card is debited with the toll. We arranged to leave the car in Sydney.
Our first destination was Barbara and Jim Langskale's Gippsland mansion at Stratford on Avon where we arrived after about a three hours drive in the rain. Mary Croxon called us from the NZ bank and confirmed that Turners had paid the money for the car plus NZ$79 for the insurance refund which was nice. We saw very little of "Jum" due to his habit of starting work at 5am and getting home at 7pm but saw off a few bottles of his excellent home brew when we did see him. Barbara was just the same and she and Sue demolished the odd bottle of white wine while reminiscing over old times when they were young and tasty and flatted together! Jum presented us with a huge box of sweetcorn and green beans to take up to Sue's sister Frankie in Albury and we set off up the Great Alpine Road in torrential rain.
Needless to say we saw very little Alpine country side and at 6000 feet over Mount Hotham we were in the clouds with horizontal rain and 7 degrees! This is one good reason why you see a picture of our hire car in the rain at the start of this page as the weather was so bad that any interesting photography was out of the question. After a six hour drive with a stop for a great chilli and beef pie at Swiss Creek which Jum recommended, negotiating the odd flooded road and rockfalls, we arrived in NSW unscathed.
Sue's sister Frankie lives in Jindera, a village of 950 souls about 11km north of Albury in the "woop woops". The sun actually made an appearance on our first day there but the second day was back to torrential rain. Last time we were here they were in a four year drought and it was boiling hot with the countryside looking like a desert. This time the countryside was green, serious flooding throughout Victoria and NSW and I was wearing my fleece!
Some of our regular readers might be wondering about the O'Connor triplets, well, as you can see from the photograph, their Mum Claire, Grandfather Chris and all the girls are doing just fine. Carol is doing all the cooking, Chris is gainfully employed as gardener and odd job man while Josse has still to get the triplets signed up for some sporting activity that will result in them playing for the Australian national team!! They are still in hospital until they get the feeding sorted out but are all in excellent health and expected home very soon. Meanwhile Chris and Carol look like they will delay their return home until at least the end of March. We plan our return to London via Singapore leaving Sydney on 11th March and then three nights in Singapore, arriving London on 15th March.
From Jindera we headed up the Hume Highway on the road to Gundagai (with apologies to Banjo Patterson). The weather was fine but the effects of the rain of the past few days was evident, especially at Gundagai where the Murrumbidgee River was over 10 metres above normal with all the surrounding countryside flooded, stock marooned or drowned and many houses under water. In 1852 the river rose to over 12 metres and Gundagai was completely swept away with a third of it's population drowned. Downstream at Wagga Wagga was reported as being under water with many roads closed and worse flooding was expected but the flooding did not impede our progress. After 500km of the Hume Highway we arrived at Campbelltown (that's how they spell it), just south of Sydney where we had a very nice room in a Motel but the town itself was a bit like Luton only warmer, the centre being "run down modern" with lots of Asian take-aways and shuttered shops. We did find an excellent Indian restaurant which had a BYO license making it more affordable.
The next day we drove the final 200km up to see our friends Don & Maureen Laverick at Raymond Terrace near Newcastle. Don, who is pushing 80, had built three houses on his section since we saw them last on Harmonie and they had just moved into the final one. Maureen says he will stop building houses now but I wouldn't bet on it! We celebrated their 59th wedding anniversary at a nice gastro pub in Morpeth before dropping Don off at his yacht club on Lake Maquarie where he crews and races on his son Alan's yacht "Wild Cherry". In the race they came tenth out of twenty five after losing the foresail in a 20 knot gust.
We could not get over how green the countryside was at the end of the Australian summer. It was always burnt brown at this time of the year when we lived here but now the Hunter Valley looks like the Somerset levels in springtime with lush green grass everywhere. Dams are overflowing for the first time since they were built. Of course I blame global warming which they said was to blame for the 4 year drought the last time we were here!!
Don's brother John and his wife Margaret invited us all round to his new swish apartment overlooking the old Newcastle customs house, Note the "Time Ball" on the clock tower which was hauled up then dropped at precisely noon GMT so that the sailing ships could set their chronometers.
There was a big cruise ship in port and we watched her sail out of the river and out through the heads into a big 4 metre swell which I expect sent passengers scurrying to their cabins! Margaret roasted one of the best pieces of beef I have ever tasted which John and I swilled down with some good Wolf Blass Black Label Shiraz while the rest of them stayed on the Hunter Valley Chardonnay. We watched the Oz cricket team beat Sri Lanka in the final of ODI series before journeying back to Raymond Terrace for our final night there.
The next morning we drove back down to Sydney arrived at our hotel in Potts Point, offloaded our bags, dumped the Hertz hire car at their nearby downtown office then walked back to our hotel.
If you are going to live in Australia then Sydney has to be the place. It is cosmopolitan, full of good places to eat and drink, a wonderful harbour and beaches, lots of tourist attractions and one of the best climates, at least until this summer!. We were fortunate to catch a couple of normal Sydney days when the sun shone and all the young girls turned out with minimal attire to catch the rays that has been so missing in recent months.
We wondered around Kings Cross with me reminiscing of my early days at sea in the 60's when we regularly berthed at Woolloomooloo and walked up from the ship to the fleshpots of Sydney. In the evening we found Hugo's Pizza Bar in the Bayswater Road which caters for the Sydney socialites and where a couple of pizzas and a bottle of wine cost us AU$100!! We knew what we were doing.
The next day we rose late and brunched in the square in Darlinghurst Road where the iconic dandelion fountain had been dismantled for repairs. We called Sarah Muir and arranged to meet her at Watsons Bay for lunch then wandered down past the impressive Catholic cathedral and into the botanic gardens. We had walked through the Domain before but had never properly explored the botanics which are a delight.
So what are our latest impressions of Oz? It still doesn't hold a candle to Kiwiland in terms of scenery but they do know how to cook poached eggs and the beef is magnificent! Seriously though folks, and I mean this sincerely, it is horrendously expensive, part due to the high dollar value and, for us, part due to the low value of the pound. Manufacturing industry is contracting as it is so much cheaper to import, unemployment is rising with only the mining industry expanding and the government hell bent on taxing them further but doing nothing about the high dollar with interest rates kept high. The average house price is over AU$500,000, we paid £6 for a small beer and the average main course in a restaurant was about £20 with a bottle of wine the same price. We could certainly not afford the lifestyle we have in Europe on our retirement income but let us hope that next time we go there the relative costs have come down.
A seven hour flight and we were in hot and humid Singapore where the once familiar smell of human excrement had disappeared! It is over 30 years since we were here last and they seemed to have fixed the sewers in the meantime! They are also still building the place and it is hardly recognisable from what we remembered.
Changi airport was super efficient and we had our bags off and through immigration and customs within half an hour. The taxi dropped us at the VIP Hotel in Balmoral Crescent which Sue renamed the VUP (very unimportant). No bar or atmosphere but a nice swimming pool and they served a lousy breakfast just about summed it up. It was a good twenty minutes walk to Orchard Road but we did find the Newton Food Market a bit nearer where we indulged in grilled Tiger Prawns which set us back an arm and a leg. Yes folks, even Singer's is not cheap for us poor Brits any more!
On our first day we walked the length of Orchard Road (about 6km) and bought a two day ticket for the hop-on, hop-off buses and river boats. We ended up at Bugis Village which is a large covered street market full of tat and imitation Rolex's! Sue decided it was too claustrophobic and too hot and sweaty even though it was her hearts desire to visit it so we ended up in an air conditioned shopping centre opposite eating steamed dumplings.
Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles founded the city and designated separate quarters for the predominant ethnic races that lived there at the time. One did not want yer peasants picnicking on yer cricket pitch or fighting each other outside ones mansion so the Chinese, who were in the majority and still are, were allocated a separate residential area as were the Indians, Malays and Colonials. Many of the old buildings of Raffles day have been preserved but are now dwarfed by hundreds of huge tower blocks which they are still building as 90% of the population live in them. I don't suppose Raffles envisaged his city would look anything like it does today. He returned to Britain in 1823 and died there in 1826 aged only 44 years.
One of the first shopping centres to be built in modern times was next to Chinatown called the Peoples Complex and it is here that bargains are to be found. As my watch had expired I needed a replacement and found a genuine Seiko reduced from over S$220 to S$86. You don't have to go to Singer's to get one as you can buy one on the internet here, however, they do not ship Seiko watches to EU countries.
I first sailed into Singapore on the Ellerman Lines cargo vessel "City of Poona" in 1958 and the highest building was the clock tower on Government House. Now, what was the harbour area is Marina Bay with a futuristic skyline of modern buildings built on reclaimed land. Probably the most spectacular of these buildings contains the 2560 rooms of the Marina Bay Sands Hotel consisting of three 55 story tower blocks bridged by a roof terrace shaped like a boat which is 1 hectare in area. If you are a hotel guest (rooms start from about S$400 a night) you can get to swim in the infinity pool which extends 150 metres along the edge and 190 metres above the ground. You could get vertigo swimming, as you look down on the poor old little 200 room, but much more beautiful, Raffles Hotel across the bay! They also have restaurants, night clubs and lush gardens up there with hundreds of trees and plants.
On our last day in Singers it rained for the whole day. We took a taxi to the Botanic gardens and had an excellent gourmet breakfast at the Cafe in the visitor centre. Cumberland sausage, fried eggs, Back Bacon, hash browns, tomatoes, mushrooms, toast with jam, freshly squeezed orange juice and good strong coffee. We had searched every day for somewhere that served a good English breakfast and at last we had found it.
Here is Sue, still smiling after all the rain and standing under the Golden Shower Arches. Many of the hybrids have been named after politicians and celebrities who have visited the gardens and we were hoping that they might name one after us but no such luck! They have a Margaret Thatcher which looked very prickly and even one lovely white flower named in memory of Princess Diana.
Because of the weather we decided to cut short any further exploration of the city so took a cab back to the hotel and then out to Changi Airport to while away the rest of the day until our flight at 11-15pm. The flight was in the new Airbus A380 and very quiet and smooth it was, a big improvement on the old 747 that we travelled on from Sydney. Sue fell asleep before we left the stand then half an hour into the flight asked me if we had taken off yet!! The seats were really comfortable and the in-flight entertainment state of the art. Unfortunately we had pre-booked our seats well forward amongst the ankle biters who screamed all night so very little sleep was possible! Anna met us at Heathrow and managed to find her way through the fog and frost to her home where we managed to stay awake all day. The sun shone and the temperature rose to 18 degrees, then we had a good nights sleep to recover from the jet lag.
We then commenced a UK tour, first down to Somerset on the Berry Bus to retrieve our car where I partook of some exquisite Otter Ale after which back to Ann and Jeremy's in company with "Gormless Courtney" and Cynthia where I was forced to eat Simon Tangs fish and chips. They actually described it as "not bad" so have completely lost the plot or were suffering from too much Otter! Incidentally Cynthia, (who speaks Dutch), I am reliably informed by the Flemish locals that Kortrijk is pronounced "Kortrik".
Back into the wilds of the Chilterns where we attended Tim's Cricket Club Annual Dinner at the Hyde Heath pub. We were still suffering the effects of jet lag and had trouble staying awake but Tim over indulged and paid the price the next day.
Our next port of call was Portsmouth to see the family Calvert. Tom has almost left the Navy and grandson Will is waiting to go in. Eldest grand daughter Eliza has happily settled in at her London University whilst the rest of the family are busily preparing to move to Darwin of all places. Daughter Becky was born in Melbourne so is an Australian citizen, as are all the grandchildren but Tom has to apply for a spouse visa which takes from four to six months. One reason for picking Darwin is that my last surviving Uncle lives there who has offered them accomodation when they arrive. We drove over to Chichester while we were there and walked along the canal just to get ourselves used to our watery life again!
After a trip to the Force 4 chandlery for engine spares in Chichester, we met Les and Sal from Worthing for lunch in a little pub nestling under the South Downs. They turned up in Les's new toy, a BMW X3 in which he gave us both a ride. Made me feel quite sick and not from envy! The next day Sue and I joined Sal and her walking group on a nice circular stroll from Arundel (some bluebells were out already) with lunch at a golf club while Les insisted on giving Desmond Diahatsu a spring clean. On our return he was still working on him and we have never seen him looking so good. Les even went out and bought a GB sticker to cover the swastika scratch that those louts in Holland had inflicted on his rear!
Our final port of call was to ex Gulliver bargees, Keith and Jenny who live in Ilkeston in Derbyshire. They insisted we look at property in this area which is very inexpensive compared with further south and we were suitably impressed. A two or three bedroomed Victorian terrace can be bought for well under £100,000, and you are only a short bus ride from Nottingham (one every 12 minutes) which is why we might spend next winter there as it is a great city. We were thinking of Leicester who have a better Rugby team but, as Leggie told Sue in Petherton, it was a bit of a dump! Keith continued to sing the praises of Ilkeston, almost a one man Ilkeston Development Association but we needed little convincing! Glorious weather still as we toured the nearby Peak District National Park with daffodils everywhere and Ruddles beer at £1.75 a pint convinced us both that this area was high on our list of places to live when we sell Harmonie.
We motored down to Dover, just before the panic buying began when everyone thought there would be a tanker drivers strike over Easter, and caught the two-o-clock DFDS ferry to Dunkerque for £27; how do they do it?