Saturday, 28 December 2013

Back to the Future

Oh this seems so weird.  Here I am in December, typing up something that happened way back in October.  I have been very remiss.  My only hope is that you haven't all abandoned me!!  Here goes then:-

Goodbye Thames.  We headed off along the West Coramandel coast.  The views were stunning.  Poor Hubby missed most of it as he was driving, as usual.  We did stop occasionally so we could take the odd photo or two.  Just hoped they weren't too odd. 

At one stop, a mother and daughter appeared to be searching for something. Curiosity got the better of me.  I had to ask.  They were geo-caching (is that how  it is spelled?  And is that how spelled is spelled??). Using co-ordinates, they were trying to find the hidden treasures. I joined in their quest, having a liking for Enid Blyton type adventures.  Alas, alack - nothing there.  The mother wasn't even sure she had the correct co-ordinates.  So, off they went.  We saw them in another lay-by, still searching.  I just waved and wondered how many lay-byes would be investigated before nightfall.

We stopped for lunch in Coramandel, a pretty little coast town.  The Information Officer gave us plenty of ideas.  He invited us to his Stargazing site, offering overnight parking.  I couldn't resist name-dropping.  I had once received a letter from the late Sir Patrick Moore, the eccentric but loveable 'Sky at Night' presenter and xylophonist.  In his autobiography, he stated that he ways replied to letters, so I put him to the test - and he passed!! A few weeks after penning my letter, I received a wonderful reply which he had typed on his old typewriter.  Some letters were black, others red.  Some were a mix of red and black, others just an imprint where the ribbon had failed completely.  A unique memento of a unique person.  I still have it.  

I could name drop further, but I must fly on.  We made our first visit to the aptly named 'Dump Station'.  I left this department of motor homing firmly in Hubby's hands.  I merely waited until the cassette was removed, emptied, washed and reinserted.  Then I gingerly approached Hubby with the disinfectant gel to squirt on his hands before he was allowed back on board.  

With fresh milk and water purchased from the local store, we drove along, stopping to admire various bays.  The sealed road turned to gravel but it was flat and trouble-free, so we ventured as far as Otuatu Bay Farm Camp.  For a small fee we were allowed to park here with power. 

Our van's rear window faced a sandy beach with a turquoise-blue sea.  There wasn't a cloud in the sky.  The camp owner (as in the man who owned the camp, not the politically incorrect meaning) had thought it too cold to swim.  I couldn't resist the challenge.  Donning my costume, I ventured forth.  I had to walk out quite a while before the water passed my thighs (memories of Skegness there).  Eventually it was deep enough to swim.  Hot-cold-hot-cold.  It was the equivalent of swimming across a zebra crossing.  I stayed in long enough to prove that I was a brave British lass (with blue legs!). 

The onshore shower seemed so warm - for the first ten seconds.  Then the icy jet,that hadn't been heated by the sun beating down on the pipe, hit me with its full force.  I danced and whooped like a scalded cat.  

Of course, I wasn't allowed to enter the van dripping wet.  I shook myself like a mad dog.  I tried to remove as much water as possible with my 24 x 12 inch super fast drying towel ( ha ha!!). Eventually Hubby took pity on me and let me in.  I then performed a ballet routine, hopping from mat to towel to mat to towel before twirling and disappearing into the shower room to complete the dressing process.

Warm and dry, I was ready to cook our evening meal.  Hubby must have liked it. He plugged in his iPod (naughty thoughts there methinks), turned on his music and we danced - or rather shuffled in circles - to the sound of Katie Melua, with the sand, sea and stars as our backdrop.  Ahhh - that's love for you!!!  OUCH - that was my toe you trod on!   X x 

Monday, 2 December 2013

Oh Happy Day

Waking up without my IPod felt so strange.  I usually used it to check the time.  So, today I had to use my watch which I had attached to the curtain tie-back.  What I had failed to notice was the fact that I had fixed it in upside-down.  There I was going full pelt with the morning routine of filling the kettle and warming the washing water when Hubby woke.  He asked me (in a most unhappy tone) why I was making such a racket at that unearthly hour.  Half  past seven had not seemed so early I thought.  I looked at my watch and blinked - I was wearing it upside-down.  I will leave you to work out the actual time.  I crawled back to bed in disgrace!

At a more acceptable hour, we emerged from the covers and had breakfast.  I wandered over to the toilets and congratulated the cleaner on his sterling work.  He was a very amenable chap who gave me some useful tips on freedom camping.  It seemed that having a fishing rod is useful.  One would not then be camping but fishing.  He informed me that one of their councillors was very strict on people sticking to the exact rules and spaces.  Any infringement resulted in her own special warning - a 200 dollar fine.  Ouch!  I made sure we were in the white lines and moved before the moving time.  

I have decided to go with the flow and call our Motorhome a camper over here.  I was once offended when my sister-in-law called it that (apologies June).  So at 9am we moved our camper ten metres to the opposite side of the car park.  We would be allowed to move back later in the day.  What a farce.  

Once the camper was compliant, we set off to collect the iPod.  The shop's safety door was just rising.  I was in like a shot - and out not long after, minus the iPod.  Only one file had been downloaded, so the assistant attempted another ploy on one of the super- duper new computers. Now I had another three hours to kill.  

We were in no hurry, so we went to see what the local street market had on offer.  Small stalls were erected on the pavement outside the shops.  I could not resist the enormous cauliflower and carrots.  Had there been room in my suitcase, I would have purchased the heart-shaped stone decorated with decoupage ( paper napkins had been glued on then varnished ).  All manner of crafts and foodstuffs were for sale.

In the Op Shop, Hubby fell in love with a coat.  He has never been interested in buying clothes and cannot bear to part with his old green jumper.  This, it seemed, was progress.  Having only packed one fleece, I doubled my winter wear and bought a large, kingfisher-blue top with plenty of room for growth.  

At the electric shop we found a neat little device to plug into the cigarette lighter section of the Motorhome.  This would be useful for our iPods.  In the 2 dollar shop, we splashed out and bought a serving spoon and some Blu-tak.  It was the Bakery Stall which had us mesmerised with all the different toes and flavours of bread.  We decided that the Pizza Focaccia was well worth our attention and money.  Our mouths were soon devouring chunks filled with ham and cheese.  (Would you like some?) I did bow to healthy eating by setting up a side salad of tomatoes, cucumber and avocado.

My third and final visit to the Stationery shop was successful.  Success at last and the assistant only wanted the cost of the memory stick, despite all her hard work.  

As I walked back to the camper (it's also faster to type than Motorhome) I chatted to a group of mums with their schoolchildren.  They were here for a competition.  The school children had to sing, dance, recite and perform a Haka.  For the princely sum of two dollars each, our hands were stamped and we joined the queue.

It was only possible to enter during the intervals, so as not to disrupt the performances.  The doors opened and everyone moved forward.  I spotted a couple of seats towards the back of the theatre.  We had a good view of the stage.  

It was a brilliant afternoon's entertainment.  The youngsters were both confident and talented.  Their singing of traditional Maori songs sent shivers down my spine.  Sometimes the audience would erupt with loud cheers.  

The loudest was for a young fellow who stepped forward.  He was a skinny, little thing.  From behind his back, he produced the poi balls and started twirling them.  The audience went wild with enthusiasm as this was normally done by the girls.  He was singled out and congratulated by the female presenter.  She was an actress who had appeared in the 'Whale Rider' film.  I spotted the Maori leader from the film in the audience too.

The hall only seated 500 people.  Later in the afternoon, the presenter appealed for people to leave.  This would allow parents who were waiting outside to watch their children perform.  Heart strings pulled we reluctantly left.  It had been an afternoon well-spent.

Later in the afternoon, one of the school buses pulled in next to our camper.  I was able to get a shot of them in costume.  I was invited to join their photoshoot and had my nose rubbed several times ( a traditional greeting).  They had not won but were in great spirits.  They had a long journey home and waved as they left.

By now, night was falling so we thought another night in Thames was our best option.  I cooked a meal, using some of our new and tasty vegetables.  The van is feeling like home now.  Nighty night x

Sunday, 1 December 2013

Travelling up to Thames

'Time to Say Goodbye' (sing along now). First to Marg who was off to work.  She did make sure i had a good supply of books to read on my travels.  It was sad to see her go.

We felt like we had known this couple for years and we hoped they would stay in touch.  Pete was not letting us leave easily.  He ensured we were set up for the day with a tasty breakfast of scrambled egg on toast.  A question for Marg here.  Where did you find that coffee?  I love it.  

When breakfast was over, we settled down to look at maps, photo albums and a book about the history of Radio Hauraki.

After deciding on our route, I admired the photos of their wedding.  Marg had described her dress yesterday.  She looked a dream in it.  I almost looked a nightmare on mine.  I forgot to tell her yesterday, so I hope she reads my tale here.  I found my dress in a sale.  It fitted and I left the assistant to pack it away while I wandered off looking at other goods.  Two days before the wedding, I took it out to try it on.  I knew I had lost a little weight but not to that extent.  Nor had my arms shrunk!  They had packed a size 18 instead of a 12 !!!! (Those were the Days My Friend). A frantic phone call revealed the size 12 was no longer on the rack.  Bundling the dress into a bag, I took it to work.  Two very talented work colleagues stood me on a chair, wearing the dratted dress (me that is, not the chair).  They pinned and pulled it into shape.  By the end of the day, they had totally transformed it.  Bibbetty-bobbetty-boo!  Cinderella could go to the ball- and her wedding!

But I digress.  That's how my brain works.  Pete's story was far more interesting.  He showed us photos of his pirate radio days.  Look!  There he was with heroes from my past - The Beach Boys!!  Now that did bring back memories of bopping around the youth club in the 60's and n my kitchen this year.  

He held our interest with his amusing and poignant tales.  Now, here is the measure of this gentleman.  He entrusted us with the book about Radio Hauraki to read at our leisure.  Not only that, we were given loads of avocados and some of his marmalade (Pete, it is delicious).  Sad to say, we had to be on our way, but we left with many happy memories.

We drove through Waihi and into Paeroa.  Being known as an antique town, we thought we might find some pots and pans.  We found them and left them.  They were so expensive.  We wondered if they ever sold anything.  A local hardware store had a whistling kettle to replace the one that never arrived.  The good old Salvation Army had a pan with a lip.  Things were starting to look up.

We called at a garage to top up the diesel.  The gent working the pumps wanted to know where we were from.  He originated from Cradley Heath.  He didn't know my Auntie Hilda.  That surprised me.  I thought everyone would have recognised her in her Dame Edna glasses and heard her calling 'Eeh our Cathreen.  Can ee elp me oot of these stays?'  Translation required?? 'Oh Catherine.  Please could you help me out of my corset?'  Anyway, despite not knowing her, he knew lots of places we had visited.  He gave us advice on good places to visit and where to eat.

Using Pete's map and the caravan book, we marvelled at the scenery as we drove along.  The Thames Golf Club was a possible stopover.  We pulled in but thought we could find a better view elsewhere.  As neither of us play golf, we thought it could be disastrous if we tried. Those thoughts in mind, we moved on to the main part of Thames.  

Hubby had downloaded an app which showed us a site where we could park 'free gratis' for two nights.  There were some minor restrictions as to where you could park and leaving times but the ground was flat and, more importantly, the toilets were within easy walking distance.  

Supermarkets and other amenities were close too.  Hubby went a-wandering.  On his return, he insisted I walked over to see the police car near the Information Centre.  Reluctant at first, I relented.  I was glad I made the effort to see the cute little car and other unusual motors there.  

Hubby and I visited the shopping centre. The lady in the Photography Computer shop could not help me download the photos from the IPod.  She suggested the stationery shop nearby.  This was a mix of PC World and Stationery Box.  The staff were so obliging.  Of course they could do it but it would take THIRTEEN hours!!  The shop was shutting shortly but they could leave the iPod downloading overnight.  The assistant saw the anxiety in my face and assured me it would be quite safe.  She would be last out and first in.  Needs must and she did appear trustworthy.  

So, back to the Motorhome for tea then an evening stroll walking along the sea pathway.  We couldn't see much of the sea though because of a thick mangrove barrier.  We did chat to lots of friendly people out on their constitutional and patted a few cute dogs.  

Exercise over, I read some of Pete's book to Hubby.  He likes me to read him a bedtime story when we are on holiday. When my voice gave up, I turned out the light and we settled down for a comfortable night's sleep.

Katikati kindness continued

What a blissful sleep!  Not even a toilet break disturbed my slumbers.  Was gear in hand, I looked to see if anyone was around. 'Kettle's on!' came a cheery voice.  What a welcome and what a shower.  Just the correct temperature and loads of power.  Oh, I felt so clean.  To top it all, the towels were soft and fluffy.  Heavenly.  

Sadly Marg had to go to work.  Pete offered to show us around the district.  We had such a fun time as he took us to local viewpoints, Waihi Beach, a waterfall and local park.  Not only did he show us around, he was able to explain the local flora, fauna and fish.  

We were intrigued to see an elderly lady with a strange contraption on a beach (no it was not a Zimmer frame).  Pete explained that it was a kontiki.  This fired out a line to catch fish.  When the lady hauled in the line, she had caught two snapper and a gurnard.  The latter had particularly attractive 'wings' I thought.  Pete taught us so much in such a short time.

Back to Katikati base camp.  I thought it only right that I should make lunch.  Just a few butties.  Not my usual Croque Madame followed by a roast and ending with Cranachan.  Still it filled a hole.

I was needing some pots and pans.  Pete offered his car key.  What?!  There are few people who would be so generous.  Hubby seemed rather anxious about borrowing the car.  He would have been mortified if he bumped it.  I remembered Pete needed some ingredients for his first attempt at making marmalade.  

That was the solution.  We all went into town.  The antique shop had nothing suitable.  Leaving Hubby behind, I walked as fast as my little legs would take me to the second-hand shop on the edge of town.  It was an Aladdin's cave of knock-knacks.  

I delved into the pile of pans and discovered a steamer with no lid.  I dived into a pile of lids and tried the one by one.  Just like Cinderella, the last one fitted.  Hurrah!  With a shiny corkscrew (at this point I had forgotten that most have screw tops) the grand total came to ten dollars.  My kitchen was developing.

I was sure we had agreed to meet outside the store.  No one was there so I hot-footed it back into town,  like a power-walker I marched on.  CRAMP.  Ouch!!  Ouch!!!!!'  Rubbing, jumping and stomping I tried to stop the spasms.  A young boy offered to help.  He looked very worried.  I told him I would be fine, hobbling away with my toes spread-eagled in pain.  Twenty yards further on the little tootsies were twinkling normally again.

I could tell from Hubby's expression that he thought I had overstayed my shopping expedition.  When I tried to explain that I thought they were coming to the shop, he refuted my suggestion (refuted.  Is that a real word or have I made it up??). I climbed onto the rear of the car like a whipped dog and sulked like for at least three seconds.  I refuse to be a mardy cat on this trip.

Back at the range, Pete set to with making his marmalade.  Dave and I sat on the decking, relaxing and taking stock.of the last month. We had been in some precarious situations at times but had come through them unscathed.

A cheery greeting heralded Marg's return.  After an evening 'snifter', the joint decision was made to visit the local fish and chip shop.  Taking advice from our hosts ( because we didn't have a clue about the difference between a snapper and a groper!) we made our choices.  Whilst waiting for it to be freshly cooked, I checked out the magazines in the corner.  There was a copy of my favourite knitting magazine.  The lady behind the counter gave it to me and fetched a pile of assorted magazines for Marg.  It seems to me that Katikati is a place where everyone knows each other and goes the extra mile to help.  

Eating fish and chips New Zealand style was fun and involved no washing up too. The wrapping paper was opened up, salt and ketchup applied to paper then lid removed from tartare sauce.  Fingers at the ready, away we went.  It was delicious and not a morsel was left.  

Once again the evening conversation flowed easily.  We discovered similarities in our taste for humour - Mrs Brown's Boys and Monty Python forever!  We also learned that Pete used to be a pirate.  That's right.  Your eyes did not deceive you, I did say pirate.  In my youth, just a few years ago, I used to be a devotee of the pirate Radio Luxembourg.  Every evening my ear would be glued to my tiny transistor radio, tuned into the air waves. Through the crackles I could just about make out the latest pop song.  I jiggled around our back kitchen like a groupie wearing my home-made psychodelic (?) trouser suit.  Now I was in the presence of one of New Zealand's equivalent pirates from Radio Hauraki.  Amazing!

Marg brought out some photo albums.  She has presented them in such a way to make them so interesting.  I must remember her style so that my albums will be enjoyable for others and not just ourselves.  

Just before we headed for bed, we watched a video of their son, Chris, flying his plane in Australia.  Another skilled member of this close, skilled and loving family.  Maybe we will meet him one day too.  We hope so.

Outside we looked up to the sky where Venus' bright light and unfamiliar constellations held us on awe.  How lucky were we to be here at this time.  Night all wherever you are, may the stars shine for you too. X

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Katikati Kindness

16th October is always special but today felt very peculiar being so far away from our daughter on her birthday.  It wasn't officially her UK birthday for several hours and we would have to time our phone call carefully. Still, we raised our breakfast mugs and wished her a NZ one.

Although we have a shower in the Motorhome, I prefer to save our supplies of water and energy when on a site.  Clutching soap, shampoo, dental kit and the 'oh so small' travel towel, off I went to the showers.  They were locked with a huge padlock.  Did I need a key?  Going back to discuss the dilemma with Hubby, who should I meet but Mrs Chatterbox from the evening before.  Still wearing her PJs and dressing gown.  Perhaps she was a ghostly figure, doomed to wander round the campsite for all eternity, dressed only in her night attire.

 Actually she was a very helpful lady who put me straight about the showers.  During the quiet season, only the showers inside the toilet block are operational.  These were timed so she warned me to get everything ready to make the most of the allotted time.  I did just as she said and was rewarded with a good shower, timed to perfection.  Hubby followed my advice with the same result. 

Fresh and wearing clean clothes we Sally-ed (Happy Birthday to You) forth into Katikati (remembering to return the now not dusty kettle on the way out).  

Parking in the main street, we were distracted by the unique murals round and about.  It seemed that Katikati was known as The Mural Town.  How strange.  Our neighbouring village in the Highlands has the same idea and wall paintings.  

The bank was open so we popped in on the off chance that our cards were there. As soon as I asked, the teller asked,'Are you in a Motorhome?'  See how quickly our fame is spreading!!  We showed our passports, signed for and signed on our plastic cards before arranging the final payment to Paul who'd helped us to bring the Motorhome over.  Hubby, in his usual enquiring manner, wanted to know about exchange rates and savings' accounts (Am I bored?  Yawn yawn). A queue was starting to build up, so the teller made an appointment with the adviser for later in the day. 

The two ladies in the Information Centre were so helpful.  They loaded us with leaflets, newspaper and a map of the town.  When I mentioned that I was hoping to meet up with a local resident, they both knew the family and where they lived.  Not only that, the phone number was checked and dialled.  The volunteer had a quick word with the recipient , then handed me the phone.

Here, I feel I should explain, I had never met the man on the other end of the phone.  His daughter had helped to make our trip such a success so far with her brilliant organisational skills.  You only had to hear her bubbly voice to love her. Recently I had befriended her Mum on Facebook.  So, phone to my ear and tummy in knots, what would I say?  I need not have worried.  The friendly voice at the other end invited us round for a cuppa.  I explained we had a bank appointment and would call later.

Being unsure of how long we could park on the main road, we relocated to a rear car park.  Returning to the bank we were greeted by a young woman whose name had strong Scottish links.  Her first name was Maree, spelt exactly the same as one of our favourite lochs in Scotland.  As for her surname, it was the same as the Scottish Doctor Who.  She had a great sense of humour.  She needed it to cope with her wicked computer which would only allow three lines in our address.  We narrowed it down eventually.  

The ever-vigilant Hubby noted that the exchange rate had fallen slightly (yawn!).  He decided not to deposit a large amount in a savings account until it increased again.  Look after the pennies and all that.  Bidding Marie farewell we left the bank and popped into a small shop to buy a mat and a can opener.  The former to keep things out and the latter to get things out.

As we crossed the car park, someone called my name.  Surely not.  Then I heard it again.  A man approached.  I knew him not but he appeared to know me.  He enveloped me in a warm, friendly hug before shaking Hubby's hand.  The penny started to drop.  The white-haired, white-bearded gentleman explained that he had seen the Motorhome and put two and two together.  Kerching!! It was Pete, my phone-a-friend.  

'Just follow me.  Hang a right and hang a right.'  Hmmm.  What exactly did that mean?  Were two people named Wright about to be executed??  No silly.  He was giving us directions to his house.

Pete had the qualities to make anyone feel at home.  He listened carefully to our stories of the trip and life at home.  He shared some of his incredible tales too.  

Time flew by.  The sound of a car door shutting announced the arrival of his wife, Marg.  The Gilbert and Sullivan song 'Take a Pair of Sparkling Eyes' (not Gilbert O'Sullivan -he was much later) popped into my head.  Her eyes and smile said it all.  A lady with lots of love and willing to share it.

My British reserve set in.  I thought we should be on our way and leave these good folk on peace.  Not a word of it.  Out came the wine, beer and cheeses along with excellent repartee.  It was wonderful to hear more about the lovely Sassie (May I call her that now?)  we tried to phone her but had no luck.  

Pete prepared steak on the barbecue and Marg made a salad.  We were treated in style.  Dave had a great time in their garden, making his acquaintance with new plants.  Marg showed me Pete's new project - he's building a boat.
A caricature of The Rolling Stones hung on the garage wall.  Isn't it fab when you meet someone who knows the same groups you bopped along to when a young teenager?  

Pete and Marg have opened their home and hearts to many youngsters in the past, through student exchange.  Not all were planned but all had a happy ending.  Their fridge was adorned with smiling faces, including those of a Japanese family.  This was their Japanese daughter whom they rescued from a poor placement.  They remained close and even attended her wedding.

How quickly that evening passed.  I looked at Hubby.  Someone had painted black shadows under his eyes.  Marg had noticed too.  We called it a night and climbed into our little home,   We had one more thing to do before we could rest.  We made a special phone call to our very special daughter.  Happy Birthday Sally.  Even though we're far away, we think about you every day.  Night night.  God bless x x 

Saturday, 16 November 2013

The Grand Union

I had slept like a log.  Hubby not so.  He had been kept awake by three inconsiderate backpackers in the next room.  Two male and one female were being raucous until about 4.30 am when another guest knocked on their door.  The men then took their conversation to the Internet room which just happened to be on our other side.  I suppose I am so used to loud noises during the night (I don't snore!!) from a certain quarter, that I am able to sleep through lesser sounds.

So, I was quite perky at breakfast and Hubby bleary-eyed.  Once more into the peanut butter and ham, dear friends!  I love it.  So much so that I made a couple of butties to consume on our bus journey.  We didn't have to vacate our room until 11am, so Hubby had time for a little more shut-eye and snore-nose.  

There was a regular bus route down to the Harbour.  At only 50 cents each, it was a no-brainer, especially as the rain was drizzling.  The driver only charged for one of us.  Perhaps he misunderstood my request.  I had to be honest (and I didn't want to be thrown off if the inspector got on).  He was a lovely chap and I wouldn't want his takings to be down.

At the Harbour front it was blowing a right hoolie (that means it was very windy).  We both struggled to walk and had to lean forwards into the wind to make any headway.  Our 13kg wheelie bags (as weighed by airport staff). Suddenly became unwieldy beings.  Their little wheels left the floor and we had a right fight on to bring them down to Earth.  Clutching coats, hats and bags, we made our way around the corner into the safety of cafe.

I left Hubby there, drinking a hot chocolate and playing on the free wifi.  Like Captain Scott's friend 'I may be some time', I headed off wondering if I would ever make it back and thinking our roles should have been reversed.

My aim was to purchase the Wifi and mobile we had seen yesterday.  The shop in question had the grand title of - Dick Smith!  The assistant looked puzzled when I asked for the Huawei (my pronunciation being Harway).  'Oh you mean Who are We.  That's because no one knows where they come from'.  Sold to the lady.  She liked the humour.  I also picked up a neat little Vodafone phone for 12 dollars.  It gave 20 dollars worth of calls plus unlimited texts, so it seemed like a bargain.  

Hubby took some persuading to move from his cosy corner.  The news that the wind had quietened was the deciding factor.  Our Naked Bus waited around the corner.  No, we didn't have to take our clothes off.  Shame really.  There were a few fine specimens on board.  Sadly, we were not allowed to take food or drink on the bus.  Good job my butties were well hidden.  Thankfully they didn't have a sniffer dog to check.

I asked the driver what time we could board.  'In two seconds my dear.  Just wait there.'  So, I was first on.  Straight into the front seat.  No queasy travelling for me today.

Our driver was a happy chappie but he was insistent on keeping to time.  At the next stop, a young Maori girl was struggling with the windy conditions.  Her hat blew one way, papers another.  Her little sister ran around collecting them.  Fully loaded, yet wearing no shoes (quite usual over here), she went to say goodbye to her family.  The driver hurried her along as he thought the wind was delaying him.  

Later in the journey, we were given instructions that there would be a 5 minute toilet stop.  After 4 minutes he would sound his horn (demonstration of ear-blasting noise).  Anyone not back dead on 5 minutes would be left behind.  He had done it before and he would do it again.  Hubby and I leaped off as soon as the bus stopped.  We hobbledy skipped back the 200 yards and crossed the road to the inconveniently placed conveniences.  'Don't wait for me.  I won't wait for you!' I said desperately.  Rushing in, I dropped my pants and plonked myself down.  Nothing happened.  Not a drop.  Come on.  Come on.  I knew my bladder was full.  Think of a running tap.  Nothing.  Think of a waterfall.  Nothing.  Think of the elephant in Cambodia.  Ah relief.  Still zipping up, I flew out the door, almost into Hubby's arms.  Hobbledy skipping we were just in time to hear the driver say, 'This'll wake the young bu..ars up' as he sounded the horn.  The smokers on the pavement almost zoomed into orbit.  

Off we went.  Suddenly we started recognising places and things.  There was a massive P and L bottle, the emblem of Paeroa, where the famous drink is produced.  (Google it if you have never heard of it).   A friend back in Derbyshire introduced us to this refreshing pop.  

Further along was the mine at Waihi.  We had visited that last time.  Next stop was Katikati and the moment of truth.  Would Paul really exist or would our Motorhome now be in the hands of a ruthless fraudster??  The bus pulled over and we climbed down.  I had no idea what this man looked like.  How would we know him??

'There he is,' said Hubby confidently, striding out, arm outstretched to greet a strange man.  By strange, I don't mean odd.  I should have written unfiliar.  By Jove, Hubby was right ( he always is ). All our calculations and travels had come to fruition.  We were here in New Zealand about to meet our Motorhome.  It had been on its own journey across the ocean and through the Panama Canal.  Now it would be our home for the best part of the next six months.

Before that I needed to purchase some necessities.  I flew round a local supermarket tossing some staple foods into a trley.  Breads, eggs, milk, chocolate biscuits and MORE chocolate biscuits.  The New Zealand dollar was easier to understand than the dong or baht.  

We drove the short distance to Paul's workshop where our vehicle had been stored to protect it from some earlier heavy winds.  Paul told us about glass windows which had been blown out of sky scrapers in Auckland.  That accounted for the sirens and fire engines we had seen earlier.  Glad they hadn't landed on us.  

He opened the garage doors and there she was.  Looking lovely apart from a little damage caused to the bumper in transit.  Some things we knew how to operate; others Paul gave instructions; others we would learn by trial and error or reading the manual.  

Before we drove away we thought it best to sort out the insurance.  It wasn't compulsory but we thought it best.  As Paul's premises did not have good coverage, I had to crouch by a roadside hedge.  The wind howled and the traffic roared.  I must have said 'Pardon' fifty times and I could envisage having to but more phone credit before the day was over.  The patient person on the other end of the line had made some sense of my ramblings.  We were insured.

Paul said he had arranged for us to stay the first night on the nearby campsite.  Perhaps he had but the lady on reception had never heard of him.  Maybe he spoke to another.  They had room for us close to the laundry room and distant from other Motorhomes.  She could obviously tell we needed fresh clothes and showers.  I saw her nose wrinkle and not in a Samantha way.  

I asked the receptionist how we should park.  The strict ethics of the UK Caravan Club had not reached this part of the world.  There was no pole which had to be aligned with the centre rear of our vehicle and no attendant to tut if you got it slightly wrong.  We were allowed to park just as we liked as long as we were on our own plot.

We trundled round and  had just started to plug into the mains (the Motorhome, not us.  Fizzzzzz!!!) when a lady in PJs and dressing gown came a-calling.  She had a good tale or two or three or four or more to tell.  My time was precious and I needed to wash my clothes before midnight or goodness knows what they would turn into.  Making polite excuses, I climbed onboard to sort my laundry.  Hubby said he had none.  He suddenly acquired quite a large pile!!

The lady at reception had changed my NZ notes for coins.  I had enough for the 2 and 1 machines (new terminology for a washing machine with slots for 2 dollar and 1 dollar coins. I will have a laundrology by the end of this trip.  I must let Ms Lipman know). 

Washing whirring nicely, I fancied a hot drink.  Now either our kettle had never been hidden away by the Motorhome company ( slapped wrists) or someone in NZ Customs had confiscated it (handcuffed wrists). Either way we shall never know.  We had no way of boiling water.  Back to reception I trudged.  No lady there.  Her husband was on duty.  I explained my quandary.  'Come to me shed,' he said.  Was this a NZ euphemism for something sinister.  I hoped not.  It wasn't.  I had a good furtle in his shed ( I said his SHED you naughty people!!) I found a very dusty electric kettle which he loaned us for that night.  

So, our first meal in our new home was the auspicious delight of ham and peanut butter sandwiches ( remember, I smuggled them onto the Naked Bus) washed down with the very last morsels of our UK hot chocolate drink.  We toasted our good health and happiness with our splendid plastic mugs.  They had travelled all the way with us.  

Using my friend Mally's saying 'A place for everything and everything in its place', I started to store our belongings.  Oh - no coathangers.  Just fold them and put them in the wardrobe.  Little by little, I realised all the items I needed to help our home function properly.  It began with kettle and ended with nail clippers.

Over to the laundry to pop everything into the tumble drier.  Too dark to hang on the line now.  Back to the 'home' to sort out the new 'Who are we' Wifi.  Failed miserably.  Boo hoo.  Time had run out for me to relax in the mineral spas which the receptionist had effused about.  I had just enough time to collect and fold the clean clothes, then make the bed with our exported new covers, pillows and duvet.  Thank you to the bottom patting store for those.  I was whacked but happy to climb into my new little bed with my not so new and not so little Hubby.

PS For those of you wondering what Himself was up to all this time - his turn will come tomorrow when the real driving starts.  He must be fresh and relaxed for that - ha ha!!!!!!!
PPS Apologies for lack of photos, especially of new home.  I was so excited I forgot to take any more.  Tomorrow is another day.  You will have to wait just a little longer x 

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Money goes Mobile

It was 10am so the backpackers' breakfast had been cleared away.  We had only just emerged from our slumbers.  I went to pay our dues.  Realising we had not eaten, the receptionist rushed away to fetch some food.  Bread, ham, spread, jam (rhymes well) and - hurrah - crunchy peanut butter.  It was like meeting an old friend.  

We had to visit the ANZ bank to prove who we were and validate our account.  It was a long walk down the steep Queen Street.  We passed a park where hundreds of cardboard boxes had been placed.  This was a protest about changes in gambling laws.  Either that or they were expecting a lot of homeless people over the weekend. 

At the bank, our enquiries were met with polite smiles then we were asked if we had an appointment.  We hadn't.  Oh dear!  This just happened to be the busiest branch in Auckland.  Step in the Deputy Manager.  He directed us to a member of staff who was unable to help as he had an appointment in five minutes.  (How long does it take to check a passport and a bank statement?). He did, however, check to see if anyone else was available.  We were sent, like naughty children, to sit on the chairs in the corner.  

Reappear Deputy Manager.  He had made an appointment for us at the branch across the road and would escort us.  (By now I am thinking he could have sorted it himself!). No worries.  At least they were helping.  Outside the door and across the road we went.  He introduced us to a lovely young woman then left.  She sorted everything, including Internet banking.  Not another password to remember.  At our age it's not easy.  Once, when purchasing a Motorhome, the bank asked for my password over the phone.  My mind went blank.  I whispered to Hubby,'What's our password?'  From down the phone, an angry voice shouted,'I can hear you!  You are not allowed to ask anyone.  Now I shall have to ask you some questions.'  The next twenty minutes were horrendous as I racked my brains to remember my unmemorable, memorable answers to questions.  That was all sorted finally and we did buy the Motorhome.  

We were almost sorted at the bank too.  There was just the small question of the bank cards.  We had assumed they would be handed out there.  No, they would be ready in 3-5 days.  Even we didn't know where we would be by then, so we made a wild assumption and said 'Katikati'.  Our cards would be delivered to the branch there.

After sorting out the bank account, we walked further down Queen Street.  We checked out various shops for mobiles, wifi and any other devices we might need.  Being unable to communicate with loved ones knocks me for six.  Goodness knows how the early travellers survived being unable to know how people were or what was happening in Coronation Street (tongue in cheek for the latter).  

Unable to make decisions, we took a walk down Memory Lane to see the harbour and the backpackers where we stayed seven years ago.  That brought back happy memories of our travels in Spaceship Leia.  No, I am not fantasising.  That was the name of our converted people carrier.  Back seats removed and a bed frame inserted.  Hinges at either end for storage of haversacks, pots and pans.  It even had the world's tiniest fridge.  We had considered a spaceship for this trip.  Old age, new hips and night visits to the WC would have made it impractical.

However, a vehicle of any description would have been appreciated as we wearily plodded back up the hill.  Hubby offered his hand now and again when he saw I was flagging.  As a reward for reaching the summit, we visited a couple of charity shops, before heading for the eating mall.  We had a choice of several Asian cuisines.  We chose the Makaysian section because we haven't visited there yet.  Perhaps we will in the future because the food was so tasty.  I was also impressed with the waitress' mind-reading technique.  Before I could ask for it, she produced a bottle of ginger beer and said,'For you!'  Now, had she been on the plane that had none??  That was a nee-nah moment.  Obviously a trainee fortune teller.

Wearily we ate our meal using the chopsticks.  The cashew nuts were much easier to direct into the mouth than the long noodles.  I must ask the lovely Danni for a lesson in using them properly next year.  

Both plates empty, we only had a few yards to walk back to the hostel (metres to you young things).  A hot chocolate seemed like a good idea.  We hoped to sit on the verandah.  Our hopes were dashed as too many people were smoking out there.  The sofa and tv zapper were firmly in the bottoms and hands of some young things.  Mugs in hands, we retired gracefully to our 'apartment' to check the Internet and have some much needed sleep! X x 

Wot no Flight?!

'Are you coming with me to church?'  'What time is it?'  'Six o'clock'. 'No, I don't think so.'

Then reality struck home.  He could get lost and we'd miss our flight.  With an enormous effort, I threw off the bedclothes and stumbled to the bathroom.  The Oral B's final moment.  Farewell little tube friend.  You have been brave and true.

Off we set.  It was already hot and sunny.  The weather lady had predicted a scorcher followed by a storm.  We knew our way to the cathedral more or less.  We only went up instead of down once.  That was easily corrected.  Late night ( or early morning couples?) walked through the park.  Hubby's eagle-eyed sight focused on one young lady having her bare bottom caressed by her fervent admirer.  Oh I say!!  I fear I blushed at this revelation.  In the park too Mr Darcy.

Safely inside church, it seemed the priest was in a hurry.  He was probably hungry and in need of breakfast.  The female reader showed no such inclination.  Like a Hollywood star in an audition, she drawled over every word.  She put such expression into her voice.  Everyone sat up and listened.  Although not many had chosen the early morning Mass, they did reflect the diverse community.  It's not every day you have real surfers sitting alongside the Silver Surfers.

Mass over and it was a hasty return for breakfast.  We had the usual hassle with the lift card.  Up-down-up-locked.  Still no green light.  It was such a relief when another guest managed to get his card to zoom us to the correct floor.  Time for me to play with the fun 97% fat free pancake making machine, then to layer my beautiful efforts with syrup and bacon.  Yum-mee!!  

With a full tum and a happy heart I set about the unique method of packing a million clothes us family history book, clothes line, two pegs, umbrella, medicines, bowl, mug, knife, fork and spoon into my suitcase.  Other bits were squashed into the small haversack which had been scrutinised for any pieces of random fresh food.  Nothing was going to stop my entry to New Zealand.  Or was it??

We checked out and asked if we could use the business centre until our lift arrived.  Not a problem.  I went online to check our flight.  BIG problem.  It didn't exist.  I double and triple checked.  Still not there.  I tried to phone Plane Man.  It was obviously his day off.  I felt sick to the pit of my stomach.  What would we do?  The ever-calm Hubby told me not to worry as it would be sorted.  I was not so sure.

Our transport to the airport arrived spot on time. Once there we looked on the departure board.  Still no sign of our flight.  We found a voluntary help desk.  Two elderly volunteers in yellow Hi-de-Hi Campers' blazers looked very smart and tried their best to assist us.  They thought it was an oversight.  The flight was in their book.  In their book it might have been but going in the air it definitely wasn't.  

That fact was confirmed by the very jolly Qantas worker.  It had been cancelled on the 8th October.  According to their records, they had tried to contact us at Bangkok Airport.  Well, they hadn't tried very hard, had they?  We had been to their check-in desk, sat in the airport and flown with them for several hours but no one had mentioned it!!   

To add insult to injury, when the check-in lady, being a kindly soul, asked her supervisor if she could give us vouchers for food or drink, she refused.  Her reason - they had tried to contact us.  How?  Where??  Surely they had our email address. No, they don't use emails.  What sort of world do we live in?  Can you tell from my tone that I was not a happy bunny.  Airport food and drink was  not going to be cheap.

Still, I had to try to be positive.  We did have a seat on a later plane to Auckland and we could take advantage of Wifi to email, blog and send a very special card to our daughter.  We had just heard that she was sporting a black eye.  That probably accounted for the severe pain I had in my eye one day recently and the nagging worry until I heard from her.  Just one of my odd traits I am afraid.

Hunger pains struck.  I went on an exploration trip to see what we could afford.  I had little left in my purse and I didn't want to have to empty my haversack all over the floor to find my 'Norfolk Island' pocket money.  After visiting all the outlets, I returned to the one closest to us.  The waitress must have noticed me checking out the opposition.  Now she kept me waiting and waiting.  Revenge I supposed.  Any other day I would have walked away but I bit my tongue and smiled sweetly when she deigned to serve me.  

Eating and drinking had the usual effect.  I needed the washroom.  Hubby sent me off in the right direction.  'After the didgeridoos,' he said.  Whether it was the sight of those enormous long hard sticks with their Aboriginal art work, I shall never know.  The only toilets I could see were barred by a blue barrier belt.  I thought that perhaps there was a gap at the end of Gate 9 so I sidled through, pretending that I was on a flight leaving from there.  No gap, so then I had to sidle out but somewhat faster as my toilet urge had grown.  An airport worker was approaching.  I consulted her and immediately felt very foolish.  I turned 180 degrees.  There they were.  I should have turned left after the didgeridoos.  Airports always confuse me.  I think I should go on an airport phobia course.  I am fine once I get on the plane.

My nerves were rather frazzled following the lack of flight fiasco.  Now I watched anxiously to see if we were going to be delayed.  I had heard that a storm was brewing and I wanted to be away before it broke.  Guess what?  We were delayed.  Dark storm clouds gathered.  We were boarding slowly, row by row, as there was a tremendous heat in the walkway to the plane.  The staff did not want passengers to be overcome.

Our row was called forward, we thought. No, that was another flight with a masculine caller.  At least our lady had a sense of humour and deepened her voice when it was our turn.  Down the ramp we went.  Now I know what a turkey feels like at Christmas, except I wasn't being stuffed.

Seated, seatbelt fastened and 'Man of Steel' selected on the movie list.  We took off.  The plane shook and rattled.  I tried hard to concentrate on the film.  Out of the corner of my eye, the lightening flashed.  I needed something else to distract me from the weather.

My wish was granted in the form of a robotic attendant.  He could turn on the charm at two paces.  Click.  There was the smile.  Click.  Smile gone.  On to the next customer.  Click.  Smile on again.  He knew the set routine inside out but was none too happy if you diverted him from that.  An icy look would briefly appear before the set grin came back.  'I'm sorry madam.  We don't have ginger beer, just ginger ale.  Oh, you just want WATER, then.  Oh, ok.'  He was so smarmy and irritating.  Bring back the elderly attendants from the lady flight!!

I do dislike missing the end of flights.  It looked like this was going to happen.  Constant interruptions from flight staff halted the film.  Yes I knew we were approaching Auckland.  Yes I knew my seat had to be in the upright position.  Was I bothered what temperature it was there?  I had a coat if it was cold.  We were descending.  Touch down and..... End of film.  Perfect timing if a little stilted.  

Customs and Immigration at Auckland were an absolute dream.  Joking and laughing, they let us in.  Hubby with his tea-bags, me with my beads.  All declared and accounted for.  Our bags had been rather slow in arriving but it had been fun watching the unusual luggage.  One family waited for their bows and arrows, having participated in an international shooting competition in South Africa.  As they didn't appear to have any animal skins, I assumed they were only aiming at targets.

It was past 1am by the time we came out of the airport.  Instead of taking the City bus which could have dropped us anywhere, we joined forces with an Asian family group to travel on a minibus which would take us right to the door.  Only one female spoke English, so she acted as the interpreter for the rest of the party.  We never did find out where they were heading as we were the first to exit, right outside KCity Road Travellers, our backpacker stop.  We were very relieved to find that the late night door code worked.  It would have been a night in the police cells otherwise.  

Up two flights of stairs, past the Sensual Room (what?!) to reception.  An envelope containing the key to Room 8 was waiting for us.  What would we find?  A large room with a rail for clothes, one double and a single bed.  Our double was soo comfy with sweet-smelling, clean sheets.  Our heads hit the pillows and we were fast asleep.  We had arrived!!

Thursday, 7 November 2013

Iddon Links

How to spend the day?  I knew what was happening at 5pm.  A meeting had been arranged with a fellow genealogy researcher who shared my maiden name.  Her ancestors came from the same area as mine but so far we had not found the Hidden Iddon link.  It's out there though, I know it.

Sticking to a historical theme, we strolled down to the Barracks Museum.  We just viewed it from the outside.  It's not that we are mean, we just have priorities.  The priority today was to rub the lucky nose of the dog statue outside The Mint in the hope that some coins might come our way.  It must have been related to the one in the Moscow Underground.  Well, that one brought us luck.  

There was the National Library and it had Wifi.  We connected immediately.  No need to buy a Big Mac here then grumble about weight gain and no connection.  

We took a stroll in Hyde Park.  Yes, they have one here too.  We walked up to and inside the ANZAC memorial.  This is a fitting tribute to all those who lost their lives in defence of freedom for their country.  It did not glorify war.  It was a place for contemplation and peace.

We walked a considerable distance on this very hot day.  I felt no qualms in consuming a double scoop icecream in darling Darling Harbour.  Once again, we were struck by the relaxed, family atmosphere.  

An area had been set aside to celebrate the Latino culture.  Food and craft stalls plus a large stage where musicians belted out Samba music.  A lady in a fluorescent green dress was in the mode, writhing in a sexually explicit manner.  I resisted the urge to join her as I didn't want to show her up.

A little essential shopping was in order.  The Oral B had been squeezed beyond an inch of its life.  I was sorry but it was not going to accompany us on our trip to New Zealand.  The bathroom bin would be its final destination.  Ahhh.  I can't believe that.  You all just felt sorry for an empty toothpaste tube!!  We replaced it with two tubes of Colgate (on offer of course)

My second notebook was filling fast, so we found a stationery shop (e as in envelope.  That's the way to spell it). Hubby wanted a pen.  He practised with several.  It seemed like hundreds.  Then we had a debate about prices.  On this occasion I let him win as I quite liked his pen.  It would soon find its way into my bag.

We had just enough time to return to our hotel to change before our rendezvous.  We would not be looking for a man with a pink carnation.  Today it was a man in a black TT cap from the Isle of Man and my 'cousin' Carol.  Five o'clock came and went.  Dave wasn't worried.  He was watching a group of Samba dancers in their skimpy costumes.  They had more on their heads than anywhere else.  

I knew we were in the right place.  Outside the Chinese Gardens.  So many people passed by wearing black caps.  Had they seen us, thought we looked a bit dodgy, so they moved swiftly on??  I didn't think so.  After all, Carol was bringing a copy of her book, the completion of all her hard work on her family history.  She wouldn't let me down and she didn't.

Her train had been running late.  She had tried to contact me on Facebook but I had no reception then.  Alls well that ends well.  As soon as I saw her, I knew we must be related.  She reminded me so much of one of my cousins, not only in looks but in mannerisms too.  She also held the fierce pride in the family name that I have in my heart too.

Her friend Mark was soon chatting away to Hubby.  This meant Carol and I could blether away to our hearts' content about family history.  Carol came to Australia with her parents as part of the £10 Pom scheme.  How brave of them to take that step into the virtual unknown.  There was no such thing as Google Earth and Wikipedia in those days to check things out.

We walked through the harbour to find the Welcome Wall.  Carol had not seen the inscription organised by her brother to commemorate their family's arrival.  We found the special names she was searching for.  She fought back the tears as she remembered her late parents.  We had some special 'family' photographs there.

Time for refreshments.  Saturday night seemed to be 'Hens and Bucks' night.  They were all having a good time, many of them in fancy dress.  Superman, ghouls, skeletons, French waitresses and  Barbie dolls tottered around.  Wearing high wedges and stilettos, some of the young women were falling over on the harbour docks before they'd even had a drink.

We eventually found an empty corner in a bar.  Talking was difficult.  Rephrase that.  Talking was fine.  Hearing was difficult.  Still we managed to quench our thirst and share some information.  

Stomachs were rumbling.  We went in search of food.  Nothing seemed to suit our palate or budget until Mark had the brilliant idea to visit Chinatown.  This was one place we hadn't seen.

Vibrant colours and enticing smells.  We chose our respective meals and talks resumed.  So much to say and so little time to say it.  

Time for one last drink together on an Aussie pub.  What's different?  Well, the gambling certainly is.  Horse racing, dog racing, trotting.  The walls were filled with screens showing live events or the betting odds.  It goes on for 24 hours a day.  Oh and there were Hubby's favourites-the pokies, or slot machines as we know them.  

The busy day was taking its toll.  Like Little Weed, I started to droop.  We had a hectic day ahead and I knew Carol had been up early.  Handshakes, hugs and kisses.  Goodbyes for now but not forever x

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Love is Lifting Me Higher

After our first free Ibis breakfast, we took a turn into World Square, only to realise this was our second visit.  We had been looking for something large like Tiannamen or Red Square, not the centre of a shopping precinct.  We had cut through this yesterday at some point.  It was also a short cut to our Hop On bus.

Today we took the bus as far as Dawes Point.  From here we could climb up the 200 steps of the North Pylon.  We had decdided against the 200 dollar plus climb up the actual Harbour Bridge for two reasons.  It was rather expensive and, the real killer, you could not take your own cameras with you.  Hubby loves his David Bailey moments, so I could not deprive him of those.

We, along with another English couple, were having difficulty locating the entrance.  It seemed we were at the wrong pylon.  Once we did reach the correct entrance, Hubby was in a dream.  He wandered past the ticket seller.  'Sir! Excuse me , sir!  You need to pay!!'  I told her not to mind him as it was his age.  Then she said,'That will be two seniors - 17 dollars.'  I took the insult with a smile and pocketed the two dollars fifty I had saved.  

If you ever visit Sydney, you must promise to visit this viewpoint.  It might be 200 steps to climb, but we had chance to recover as we read the interesting information boards at the top.  We learned so much about how to build a bridge.  There was a reasonable gift shop to browse around too.  

As for the view.  It was fantastic.  We walked around the tower feeling quite safe.  No wobbly legs or vertigo.  The high wall was topped by see-through Perspex so even the smaller ones in the world had good vision.  If you are height-challenged, like me, you can stand on a safe metal ledge to take photos.  

It was strange looking down and seeing the walkers at various stages of their Bridge Walk.  We took so many photos, not just for ourselves but for other visitors too.  One lady said that she wished her partner had come up but she was too frightened.  Hold that thought please.

 Perhaps some people thought we were staff.  Not one offered to return the favour.  We had to resort to the reverse camera technique.  Not a great look but better than nothing.

Just before we left, we went into a room set up like a cinema.  A lady sat on the stairs looking forlorn.  She told me she had been too afraid to go up the stairs. I brightly replied, 'Oh, you will see the view with your partner.  We took her photo!'  I thought she looked perplexed.  The film started to roll.  The lady stood up, walked down to greet a gentleman and left holding his arm in a tight grip.  Wrong partner then.

It was an excellent, little film.  Using a short modern day film, followed by original photos, there was no commentary, just well-chosen music.  Those pictures spoke more than a thousand words.  The workers had no modern, safety equipment.  Suspended on high wires or walking along gantries, usually with a half-smoked cigarette dangling from their mouths, they did not wear hard hats nor rope harnesses.  They worked hard and some lost their lives.  But, what an achievement!  A beautiful, well-designed bridge that is an icon of Sydney.

We were so impressed, we had to walk across it, not once, but twice.  Our cameras clicked and whirred at the ever-changing vista.  What a time to be there as tall ships and warships were leaving the harbour.  Sailors lined up along the deck in uniform to bid farewell to the city that had welcomed them so warmly.  

From the Bridge, we walked to the area known as the Rocks.  We spent some time admiring the gourmet delights and artisan crafts on display here.  

We checked out the exact location of our evening cruise on Circular Quay.  A man was here playing his didgeridoo, at least I think that's what it was.  I would love to play that man's didgeridoo but I expect it would be hard.  Oh, I just reread that sentence.  It sounds rude but you know what I mean.  

On the way back to the hotel, I was distracted by an ice-cream shop.  So much choice.  Autism nightmare.  I eventually narrowed it down to two flavours and enjoyed every last lick.

Back at the hotel, Hubby had a rest, in preparation for the busy night ahead.  And what a night it turned out to be!  Circular Quay was only a thirty minute stroll from our hotel.  In our 'smart to casual' outfits (as requested by Captain Cook) we made our way down Pitt Street.  It was a people watcher's paradise.  All nationalities, colours and creeds mingled there, looking happy and relaxed.  

On the harbour front, I was quite surprised to see a Buddhist monk.  Was he following us??  Various street artists and artistes performed along the wharf.  A young Japanese man created delightful pictures with chalks; a Charlie Chaplin statue freaked out a passerby when he sprang into life, twirling his cane; a young guitarist belted out his own compositions; and, my favourite, a soulful singer, with a deep, cheese-grater voice sang love songs.  The strangest, though, was a woman of my age, wearing a cheerleader skirt and a sailor hat.  She had a small hula hoop which she kept twirling with her hands, as though driving a car.  I just didn't get it.  Can someone explain??!!

Nor did I get our tickets.  I wrongly assumed that we waited with our voucher to board the ship.  We sat chatting to Vincent and his wife until the cruiser pulled in.  How did I know his name?  All will be revealed later.  First I had to fetch the tickets, otherwise we would be left ashore.  Aye aye cap'n!  I was sent packing in a kindly way, accompanied by a handsome young man in a white uniform and cap.  Wobbly knee time!!

Tickets retrieved, we were shown to our table and a welcome glass of champagne was poured out.  We perused the menu (no iPod, I want perused not perished!!). Smoked Trout, Fillet Steak (rare please) followed by a Chocolate Tower.  Just the job.  

We were sipping our champagne when Vincent's wife sailed alongside, the epitome of an Australian Hyacinth Bouquet.  She invited us aloft, where she proceeded to show and tell all the famous sights of Sydney as though to the poor English peasants.  Not to be outdone, I let slip our past Royal connections.  Well, I had been introduced to the Queen when she opened Lea Green.  Oh, she almost swooned (the lady on the boat, not the Queen). That was it.  We were 'in'.  Actually we were 'out'.  Outside on the deck and I was hungry.

Making polite excuses, we went below (please note my nautical knowledge is improving.  Below not downstairs). Our starters were waiting.  I had learned from Vincent's wife that the window tables were more expensive.  If any were still vacant after the final pick up, you could request a move.  I had a word with our waitress who had a word with her supervisor.  As sure as eggs is eggs or smoked trout is smoked trout, we were whisked away, lock, stock and champagne glasses to a window setting.  

It was relaxing and romantic going round and round the harbour.  Lights twinkled along the coast, the band played and the singer crooned.  Her dress was something else.  Bright red, it was styled on the outfit worn by the Sea Witch in 'My Little Mermaid.'  Quite unusual.  I just hoped she would not strike out with Neptune's trident!!

The waitress approached with two plates - one steak, one chicken.  Just what we'd ordered.  We watched in horror as the boat lurched, and one plate full of food hit the deck.  I was reminded of a ferry journey from Jersey in. Force 8 gale.  A plucky, young woman collected her meal from the counter.  Carrying her tray, she bravely staggered back to her seat.  Three steps one way, two the other, one step back.  The relief was palpable as she sat down.  She picked up her knife and fork.  The ferry rocked.  Her breakfast tray was propelled across the table and the meal landed on the floor.  Just like mine had tonight.  

Unlike the unlucky, plucky lass, we did get our meals a short time later.  We savoured every mouthful.  Soon after, I saw the waitresses approaching with a large bouquet of red roses and a champagne bucket.  My heart began to race.  This was an early celebration for our Silver Wedding Anniversary.  He loves me ..........and the waitresses walked by to the next table.  The young man there had arranged a romantic proposal and she said 'Yes!'  Oh, it was so exciting.  They let me take their photo too.  They took to the floor for a celebratory dance.  Everyone clapped.  Another couple announced their engagement.  We all clapped again.  

I persuaded Hubby to have a smooch.  He didn't mind too much as no one knew him here (and I did have his arm up his back in a tight lock).  In fact, we stayed for another dance, this time joined by lots of couples bopping away.  Love was in the air.

Oh.  There was one more cause for celebration.  We were all invited to singalong to wish 'Vincent' a 'Happy Birthday'.  That's how I knew his name.  I never knew what his wife was called.  I bet it was Hyacinth.  We all gave a rousing chorus for old Vincent.  He deserved it, poor hen-pecked fellow.

Wondering if we could take some night shots, we went aloft ( but not as high as the crow's nest).  We couldn't quite make out what was floating in the air, caught in the lights above the Harbour Bridge.  At first we thought they were bubbles.  Closer inspection showed them to be hundreds of birds.  That was spectacular.

Suddenly a loud explosion made us turn round and a dream came true.  We had often said we would like to see the Sydney New Year fireworks.  Tonight a special display was put on, just for us we thought.  It was one of those magical moments that we have been lucky enough to share over the years.  Things just seem to happen when we turn up.  Tonight's display will go in my memory box as an extra super special time.  Thank you whoever organised it and goodnight young ( and old ) lovers everywhere  x x