Tuesday, April 29, 2008

And today, I managed to dodge the showers and dashed up to the allotment and planted 6 rows of Ambo (2nd early potatoes) and 4 rows, followed by one very long one along the path of Arran Pilot (1st early potatoes). Plus I sowed 2 rows of Lincoln peas.
This is how things look now:

Back at work - and an update on The Builder's father

The good news is that The Builder’s father appears to be improving. Barb has just texted a photo of him lounging in bed, smiling broadly and clutching his water beaker. No oxygen mask. So, still not out of the woods, still not at all a well man, but, according to Barb, chatting, smiling and laughing. A vast improvement on Saturday!

The very bad news is that I came back to work today to find that a colleague in Acquisitions, who has been plagued with a horrendously painful back since Christmas, and who has had tests and scans and all sorts done but to no avail - was diagnosed a week or so back with a cancerous tumour on the spine and died last Friday. A bit of a shock for everyone. Though I suppose, if you are going to have cancer, that quick is vastly preferable to slow and lingering. But even so, that was extraordinarily quick.

On a happier note, we managed to get some gardening done yesterday, in the garden but not on the allotment. When we were dropping Gwen back at home last Saturday afternoon, we noticed that one of her neighbours was gardening with a kneeling pad which had handles so you can easily drag yourself back upright again. I developed a sudden need for one of those. We hit the DIY and garden stores yesterday afternoon – and eventually found one. Hooray! We also found a couple of quite nice table lamps for the lounge room. Then we had roast sirloin for dinner with roast potatoes and Yorkshire pudding and purple sprouting from the garden. And then I pretty much went to bed. I seem to be a bit tired.

And today we are both back at work. The Builder has started working for the kitchen and bathroom firm again, but this time on their books rather than through the agency. He’ll probably be with them until their contract is up. He trundled off at 07:00 this morning. I pottered about at home, sorted a few things out, pottered up to the allotment, came back from the allotment, left the spade up there (oops!), and trundled in to work at around 15:00. This meant that I passed the end of Freyja’s road at about the time she ordinarily leaves for work. I was watching out to see if she was at the bus stop – and lo, there she was, walking up the road. I stopped, and captured her. I’ve left her at the solicitors’ office across the road for safe keeping.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Late April

We came back from Japan and Australia to find that most of the seedlings in the propagating tent had died while we were away. The broccoli had survived. And for some reason th capsicum and one or two of the passionfruit seeds had actually germinated in the last couple of days. They must enjoy being warm and arid!

So I've bought some more tomato seeds and re-sowed them on the 24th. Three different types, two cherry tomatoes and one roma.

On the 25th, we planted out ten ariane asparagus crowns. We can't pick any spears for twelve months. Realistically, that means spring 2010, I think. We're preparing another trench for some autumn planting asparagus too. The sweet potato slips have finally arrived. I've put them into plant pots to root. I cant say they're looking very happy but fingers crossed they'll survive and can go into the greenhouse in three or so weeks.

Something is digging up the pea seedlings in the second pea bed :-( The Builder has put a little fence alongside them so they have something to grow up - and perhaps to dissuade the digger from digging! I am going to plant more peas on a bed on the allotment. I seem to have run out of room in the kitchen garden! And today I am hoping to plant some more broad bean seeds and some beetroot seeds.

On the allotment we have planted 60 red baron onions, 15 res sun shallots, 15 golden gourmet shallots and 60 stuttgarter white onions. I have many onion sets left, and no where to put them! I also have no room for the leek seeds. I'm going to sow them in a seed tray and think about where to put them.

There are two beds more or less ready for potatoes. I could do with another two, or perhaps even three!

I am also intending to plant soya seeds in seed pots today. I'm going to put them on the lounge room window sill. They need to be warm to germinate.

I don't know what to do about the Cape gooseberries. The seedlings died while we were away and we don't have any more seed. It's not available in the nurseries and it seems a bit excessive to buy it online - the package and postage costs more than the seed packet!! I might have a look on eBay!

This morning, I have planted in seed pots or seed trays:

Bean magic mix (6 different types of drying beans)
mammoth pot leeks and white giant leeks
soya beans (to be put on the front window sill)
pea beans (French, climbing)
queensland blue pumpkins
runner beans

In wooden boxes:

rainbow carrots
mesclun salad mix
a mix of parsnips, red radish (candeladi fuoco) and long white radish

In the garden:

Boro F1 and Monorubra beetroot
Bunyards Exhibition broad beans.

Haven't got to the allotment yet today. I think it might rain shortly

A hurried trip to Salisbury

Barb sent us a text message as we were coming back from Manchester airport last Wednesday, to tell us that The Builder’s father had been taken to hospital with a chest infection. It seemed, though, as if he was doing all right.

Nothing much changed on Thursday.

On Friday, Gwen rang in the evening sounding quite distressed. Mick had taken a turn for the worse. In a series of conversations with various people, we decided that we had best go to Salisbury on Saturday, perhaps for the weekend, hopefully for the day. We arranged to stay at Barb’s, if need be.

At 3:30 on Saturday morning, Barb rang to say that the hospital had sent for Gwen and that Mick was fading. Barb set off to collect Gwen and The Builder’s sister Marie.

At 4:30, she rang to say that he was fading faster and that the doctors thought he probably wouldn’t make it. We got up and started making preparations to leave. But not until 7. No point us rushing about and having an accident and making matters worse.

At 6:30, Marie rang to say that Mick looked as though he was improving slightly. He was talking coherently to the pretty nurses (I don’t know how he was going with the not pretty nurses!). We told her we were about to leave and set off.

We got to the hospital at around 11. I have to say that I have never, ever seen anyone who looked quite as ill as Mick did. I admit that I have never attended a death bed (The people whose death beds I might have attended were either too far away, or dropped down dead without invoking a bed scene). I was quite surprised that anyone who was so very poorly was still breathing. Marie and Barb assured me that he had looked very, very much worse at 4:00 when they had got to the hospital. I found this hard to picture!

Marie and Barb handed over the bed sitting and keeping Gwen company to The Builder and me and went off to attend to other matters.

They are pumping Mick with industrial strength antibiotics to deal with the pneumonia/chest infection. He is on various drips and wotsits. Regular blood sugar level tests are being taken. As the day progressed his urine, from the catheter, began to take on a more normal colour. Life returned to his eyes. He began to look only very ill instead of mortally ill. He even managed to have a little lunch. (We took Gwen to the hospital cafe while Mick was being tempted to lunch by a pretty nurse). When we came back, he was able to make conversation with us. A pretty physiotherapist came and shook and wobbled his chest. A male staff nurse came and took his observations. Everyone seemed very happy with his progress. The staff nurse suggested that perhaps the obs, apart from the finger blood tests, could be dropped back to every couple of hours.

I must say, though - I am surprised how much trouble is being taken to get him better. If it were me, at 85, with emphysema, asthma and barely controlled diabetes, unable to do any of the things I enjoy doing, effectively house and pretty much chair bound, and having been in very indifferent health for months - I’m not sure I would want them to make quite such heroic attempts to save me. A quiet slipping away might be preferable.

However, the efforts have been made, and we’ve heard nothing from Salisbury so far today - so I assume he is still with us and still making progress. The physio and the staff nurse were talking about letting him out of bed and into a chair tomorrow (Monday) if all continues to go well.

Gwen is bearing up with considerable fortitude. But she is clearly very tired. Mick had said to her on Saturday that he was really very tired of all this and that he wished it were time to go. I think, when the phone rang at 3:30, that she thought he had probably packed his bags and left. Not yet. Not quite.

It is quite clear that if Gwen wishes to misbehave, she is going to have to go away from where she lives to do it. A fair number of people had observed her leaving at just before 4 in the morning - though quite what they were all doing awake at that time is a mystery to me. I wouldn’t have been, had it not been for the 3:30 phone call. And if I had been inadvertently awake, I wouldn’t necessarily be paying attention to what my neighbours were doing. However, when we took her home at about 4, lots of people enquired if all was well and what was going on.

We had great fun getting to Salisbury. There wasn’t all that much traffic, given that we left at 7:00 on a Saturday morning. All was going swimmingly - until we got just beyond Oxford, when the road we were on was abruptly closed at Abbingdon and traffic was diverted off. No notices, no signs, no indication of where we should go when we came off the road. Jenny the Sat Nav was appalled. Why had we left the main road? Get back onto it at once! I fished out the map and directed us off to the A338 which is not quite so direct but suffices - and is quite a pretty route. Jenny kept bleating at us, trying to take us back to the A34. We, however, didn’t know how far down the road was closed. We stuck with the map and the A338. Until it too was abruptly closed - though this time we did have the benefit of diversion signs! Took us through a very pretty valley, with little villages and race horse stables dotted about. Loads of jockeys out training the horses. Under less fraught circumstances, it would have been lots of fun. As it was, we lost an hour trying to get to the hospital. Still, at least we weren’t getting phone calls from Marie or Barb, so assumed things were OK and quite enjoyed the diversions. Jenny did not! And for some reason, as we progressed down the A338 (having finally met up with it again), she tried desperately, urgently and forcefully to get us off it. She wasn’t having any of it. She wanted us OFF that road. Eventually, for her own peace of mind, I turned her off!!

It was a beautiful day yesterday. We had been planning to spend it on the allotment and in the garden. And perhaps to make a quick visit to Salisbury today to see how things were. Today, when we are at home, it is, of course, raining. Or drizzling. Just enough to make digging on the allotment an unappealing prospect! I might plant seeds in pots instead.

I have finished the washing and the ironing!!! Hooray :-)

Friday, April 25, 2008

We're home!

We managed to get to Tokyo with no incidents whatsoever. No real trouble with the ticket machines. Managed to get all the tickets we needed. Navigated the stations and the trains. Couldn't see Mount Fuji, for it was swathed in mist. But I waved, for I knew where it was. We got to the airport and immediately onto a shuttle to the Holiday Inn hotel, where we were staying the night, prior to leaving at 11 the following morning for London.

It was all good!

I'm not sure we'll stay in the Holiday Inn again, though. It was clean and comfortable. But at around £100 a night I would expect more than clean and comfortable. Like, for example, wireless internet access. Or at least internet access that wasn't 2 PCs at ¥100 for ten minutes. I might also have expected some information about how things worked. Nobody said anything and there was no information pack in the room. So we didn't realise, for example, that there was a buffet dinner if you fancied it, and ordered from the menu. The buffet looked much more exciting. And came with ice cream! But the hotel in Narita town which we found by accident when we arrived last Friday was much more atmospheric, half the price, had wireless access and had much more interesting food. Assuming we come through Tokyo next time, and assuming I can remember the hotel's name - we might stay there if staying overnight is required.

We got to the airport in good time. Joined the queue (for some reason we couldn't check in online. Again!). Waited. Waited some more. Waited again. Eventually the check in counters opened. e were towards the front of the queue. Got to the desk. The lady asked if we would like a window or an aisle seat. A window seat please. She clicked awa at her keyboard. Then said: If you wouldn't mind having an aisle seat, I could upgrade you to Economy Premier. OK. If you want to. Makes no odds to us where we sit, not really. I've no idea what Economy Premier is, mind.

Economy Premier is more or less what Business Class used to be, before Business Class became more or less an office space. It was very comfortable indeed. Wide seats, plenty of leg room, our own cabin steward shared between 40 of us. And slightly better food, I think - although BA food is generally better than QANTAS'. (Except QANTAS give you an ice cream half way through the fight!) Also, more games to play. Including an anagram game that kept me occupied for *ages*!

I wonder how much it costs to buy Economy Premier (or, if flying BA, World Traveller Plus) tickets?

Transiting through Terminal 5 was a bit chaotic. I understand the need for vigilance, really I do. But I can see no reason why we need to go through a rigorous security check at T5 when we had already gone through such a check at Tokyo. And when we cae from a domestic flight to connect with an international one, no such checks were made. We just walked through - though they did do a passport check before we got into the terminal. Surely, once you're airside, your opportunities to buy naughty things are almost zero? The queues were enormous. And several people had very tiny windows to catch their connecting flights. Happily, we had three hours or so. Less, b the time we'd gone through all the security!

And so on to Manchester, collect The Vixen and make our way home. Marlo was VERY pleased to see us.

Yesterday - it rained!!!!!!! I had forgotten about taking rain into account when planning a day's activities. It hasn't rained anywhere I've been for three weeks, apart from the occasional light shower.

As predicted, the Mac wouldn't talk to my wireless box. Ian tried. I tried. Freyja tried. Nothing worked. I kept getting a "connection failed" or "invalid password" error message. Today (after the universal adapter arrived in the post so I could connect the Mac to mains power) I girded my loins and rang Orange. At vast expense. 5 minutes and £2.50 later, I pressed the 1 button on my wireless box - and the password was miraculously accepted. This is quite irritating. When Julia was here, I consulted the Orange Help Pages for Mac to see why I couldn't get her connected. Nowhere, at no point, not at all does it mention that things proceed in a much more orderly manner - if you PRESS THE 1 BUTTON!

Mind you, Freyja had pointed out that Tabitha's livebox requires that you press the 1 button whenever you add anyone. I can't say I remember ever having to do this with Windows laptops.

So we're back online in The Sidings. And we had bacon sadnwiches for breakfast yesterday. Freyja had laid in bread and bacon for us. And milk so there was tea as well

The Builder's father is poorly sick in the hospital again. I think he has pneumonia. It's all very worrying - although they've put him on a course of antibiotics and seem to be optimistic about his recovery chances. But pneumonia is not a good thing to have when you are 85 and in frail health

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Last day with Austin

Yesterday, our last real day, was lovely and quiet.

It started pleasantly slowly. We pottered about. Austin and The Builder watched the last bit of the last quarter of the football match which the bulldogs drew. We wandered off in the sunshine (and in Austin’s car) for a final visit to the ¥105 shop and the Liquor Mountain. Not quite sure why we bought the bottle of vodka, mind you. I know The Builder has run out but we aren’t going to be in this evening for him to drink any of it! Oh - and there’s onl enough gin to make one gin and orange - Lindsey and Ian may need to make a trip to Liquor Mountain too. Although the supermarket also sells gin. And orange juice.

Anyway. It was lunchtime and I, at least, was hungry. We went back to the shopping mall and into the food lane for some lunch. Austin had spaghetti bolognaise Japanese style, with garlic bread, also Japanese style. It comes a a chunk o roll with all the garlic buttery stuff on one end. You have to mash it down in with a fork! It was all very tasty. But I might have had rather a lot, given that we were going out for dinner!

So. Back to Nagoya. We were on a mission for some converse shoes for Taffa and Freyja. They are about half the price in the shopping arcade that they would be in Sheffield. Expensive from my point of view, though. I don’t normally buy their shoes for them these days! Plus I put up some money towards Austin’s new pair of shoes too. That’s it! No more shoe buying for anyone EVER!!! Except, perhaps, for me :-)

We ambled around the shops, pottered about the city centre, called into a squillion shoe shops, drifted around the kitchen area of Loft and slowly made our way to the station where we caught a train to Kamayama where we were meeting Kaori for dinner. She is much better than she was over the weekend.

We were a bit early, so we had a drink in Starbucks then poked about Kamayama (it means Golden Mountain, or perhaps Money Mountain. I suspect they intended the mountain to be golden!). There are a surprising number of hotels around the station area. All big and gaudy and looking as though they had stepped over from Los Angeles or other tacky American tourist area. Austin tells me they are Love Hotels which you can hire by the hour, or three hours or whatever so you can play with your partner away from your parents’ eagle eyes. It would seem that the Japanese seldom move out of their parents’ home until they get married, or at least engaged, so there is a need for somewhere they can stay for a short time for playing purposes.

We went to a Japanese restaurant close by the station and hd lots of lovely food. Though it was certainly the case that I shouldn’t have had quite so much chicken at lunchtime. I wasn’t starvingly hungry at 7:15! Kaori’s parents had sent The Builder a little Samurai man. And Kaori and her mother had made for me, Taffa and Freyja little silk bags. Plus Kaori had made small photo albums with pictures from our first visit. Austin is a bit miffed. Presents for me, presents for The Builder, even presents for Tabitha and Freyja. No present for Austin!!!!

We didn’t stay late. Everyone was quite tired. We were still recovering from our mega-walk in Kyoto on Sunday - not to mention the walking we had done in the course of yesterday. My shoes are never going to recover. The soles have almost completely lost their tread under the balls of my feet! And Kaori, of course, had been poorly sick all weekend. We wended our way home where Austin got ready to go back to school this morning.

And now Austin is at work - or I assume he is. He left just after 8 this morning. The Builder and I are packed and ready to roll. We are heading off in about an hour to take a taxi from Apita to the station, then we get to commit ourselves back into the impenetrable mysteries or the ticket buying systems and to the comfort of the trains as we make our way to the Holiday Inn near Narita airport.

I am hoping very hard that there will be nothing significant to blog about this trip!

We are due back to The Sidings late evening on Wednesday 23rd. I’m not sure when I will next be online. I need an Australia-British adapter for the Mac’s power cable. Plus, I’m not sure what success I’ll have logging onto my wireless. Mac user’s often find it difficult - and Ian never did tell me how he logged his onto my wireless completely effortlessly :-(

Monday, April 21, 2008

A day in Kyoto

I have to say that the whole enterprise of purchasing tickets in Japan doesn’t make very much more sense even when you have Austin with you. We decided to buy unreserved seats on the shinkansen to Kyoto because it’s not a huge distance and there didn’t seem to be huge numbers of people around and it’s quite a bit cheaper than a reserved seat. Trying to figure out the machine’s instructions, even when it was talking in English was something of a mystery! And it wouldn’t take my credit card which meant that I had to pay in cash - which is irritating because it costs me less to use the card to buy things than to get cash, which is quite expensive.

But once you get on the train of your choice, it’s a dream. The train took us smoothly and speedily to Kyoto, and decanted us 30 minutes later.

Lindsey had bought a copy of the Lonely Planet City Guide to Kyoto which we had brought with us. She and Ian are heading this way in a couple of weeks time, so we’ll leave it with Austin when we go. It had suggested that if you only had a day in town, to do one of two guided walks. We selected the first one and decided to walk to it. Off we went and were heading towards the bus stop where the walk starts, when we noticed a park. We popped in to see what was in it. And found a temple complex. At first we thought it was Kiyomizu-dera which is the temple complex mentioned in the guide book. It was certainly quite busy. And rather beautiful. It was only when we were heading out and saw signs to Kiyomizu that we realised that this temple, which wasn’t mentioned anywhere in the guidebook, was somewhere different. I noted the name on sign at the time but didn’t write it down. It’s taken me quite a lot of serious searching this morning to find its name. And I can’t think why. It was lovely. (For those who are interested, it was the Higashi Honganji temple)

Out we came and tried to find the guided walk. We did find it, but weren’t actually where we thought we were. Nevertheless, we found our way to Kiyomizu which is huge and amazing. And very, very crowded. It was full of both Japanese and foreign visitors. Not that that is surprising. It is a significant Buddhist temple complex, it’s a World Heritage Site and it was a sunny Sunday afternoon. We had a leisurely wander about. Austin and The Builder went down to the Tainai-meguri, which is the figurative womb of some “goddess” who has the power to grant every human wish. You have to pay your ¥100, remove your shoes, go down into the pitch black darkness, make your way along a winding tunnel to a wishing stone which has daylight shining on it. You turn the wishing stone and make your wish then go back into the pitch black darkness and make your winding way out.

I did not engage in this activity!!!!!!!!!!! There is nothing at all that I wish for strongly enough to undergo that sort of activity voluntarily. Or at all!!!

Didn’t take them long, though. They ere only gone a few minutes.

There were children dressed up as geishas. And lots of the women were wearing kimonos. And some of the men were also wearing traditional dress. Mostly, of course, people don't.

We decided not to pay our ¥300 to go into the main temple complex. The afternoon was getting on a bit and it would have taken most of the rest of it to explore it properly. We wanted to see more of Kyoto.

We came out and went back down the hill - and eventually found a map of he city on a wall which had a nice red “You are here” arrow on it. At last we could orientate ourselves with where we actually were. We made our way back to where we should have been on the walking tour. For the first time, I think!!!

There are laneways filled with shops selling pottery, food, knickknacks, things, and lots and lots of people milling about. There are little shrine along the way. We missed the turn off to what is supposed to be Kyoto’s most beautiful street but found a beautiful verdigris covered building with a huge verdigris crane poised above the top. That’s a bird, not a mechanical crane! We ended up in a lovely park, where we sat and followed the fortunes of the Bulldogs in their footie match against, I think, Richmond. The Bullies were down. Then they came back. It was all very fraught. At the siren ------ it was a TIE! A bit of a relief, for after a good start it had looked as though Footscray was going to be pipped at the post. It was Ian, I think, who was keeping Austin informed by Text Message.

We abandoned the guided walk at this point and made our way in a leisurely and roundabout-ish sort of a way back to the station and thence back to Nagoya and Hozumi, Austin’s local station. I oh-so wish I had been wearing a pedometer. I would love to know how many steps I took on that walk. It was a fantastic day. I’m so glad we went. It was a bit tempting this morning to abandon the plan and hang around here!

Oh - and we have found a thible for The Builder's mother's thimble collection. We had despaired of ever finidng one and bought a small turtle incense holder that wold fit in the thimble holder. Then, in a pottery shop in Sannen-zaka, there they were. Lots of handmade thimbles costing a pretty penny. We bought one anyway. They are hand cast and hand pained and no two were the same. I do hope she likes it

Back in Motosu we went to Apita for a few bits and pieces and then back to Austin’s for another serving of steak and chips. Kaori was supposed to be with us. She was supposed to have been with us all day, but was still not well enough to come. She was especially supposed to be with us this evening, though. She’s never had home made chips before :-( I think we are supposed to be meeting her this evening in Nagoya for dinner.

It’s our last day here. We have to make our way back to Tokyo tomorrow, ready for our flight back home on Wednesday. Hardly seems any time since we were leaving ready for our big adventure!

Saturday, April 19, 2008

The Builder and Frannie have been loose in Narita

So. The plane caught up the time it had lost in Sydney and got to Tokyo only about 15 minutes late. I was beginning to feel quite hopeful about meeting Austin in Nagoya around 9:30 or certainly by 10:00. Then we were put into a holding pattern :-( A 15 minute holding pattern. Still, that might have been salvageable - except that it then took us 15 minutes to taxi to the terminal. We got off the plane at 8. I rang Austin and said I wasn’t expecting to be in Nagoya in time for the last available train. But if by any miracle we could get to the airport station by 8:30, we would proceed and let him know.

At 8:30 we were still passing through immigration. It was completely chaotic.

Customs, on the other hand, was a breeze. Our bags had all been taken off the carousel and were waiting in a neat line to be collected. I can’t remember my luggage ever getting through before me! The customs woman was completely uninterested in us. At 8:33 we were at the airport information desk enquiring about a hotel for the night.

None? None at all?!?!? NONE? Shall we make an attempt at the train and see how we go? Although, I don’t really want to end up stuck at Tokyo Station and the lady came up with a suggestion of a hotel in Narita town centre which sounded all right. We’ll give that a go. All we need now is a taxi.

Where are the taxis? Oh look. There’s a whole line of them over there. Off we trundled and headed to the front of the queue. Odd that there’s no footpath, but strange places, strange habit. The taxi man came to enquire where we were going and pointed to a tiny row of taxis across the road, which we hadn’t seen and which did have a pavement. We headed that way - and were shouted at by a taxi security man who pointed a baton at the pedestrian crossing behind us. We went and crossed that way. I was met by the original taxi man and the taxi driver at the front of the queue and we were merrily “discussing” where we wanted to go. Then The Builder turned up quite cross and put out, for the taxi security man had stood in front of him as he followed me - and shouted at him for approaching the taxis in all the wrong way. The Builder pointed out that we hadn’t really known and it wasn’t very well sign posted. I think he thought that the taxi security man wasn’t going to let him pass at all - though I would have noticed when he didn’t turn up. Fortunately, all was well, and the taxi driver took us away. Not that he really knew where he was going. He’d never heard of the hotel!

His sat nav got us there.

Though I was beginning to wonder where we were going. It seemed quite a long way away. And it looked a bit desolate.

When we did get there, it turned out to be a proper, traditional Japanese Inn. We had a small bathroom and a tatami bedroom with futons and a little sitting alcove. Quite basic but all that we needed.

As we went to bed, though. I was pondering braving the trains and security people the following day. And decided that I hate Japan. I don’t understand it. It’s all quite bizarre. And I’m only ever coming again to visit Austin and not moving out of his apartment. I’m not sure how I’m getting to his apartment but that’s a problem for another day.

Breakfast is due at 8:30. And it’s served in or room. We’d best be up by 7:30 so we are showered, dressed and ready.

I woke up just before 6 and got up to draw the curtains and see what was outside. What was outside was an AMAZING temple complex. I admired it in some surprise and went back to bed.

At 6:30, someone started chiming lots of bells. This woke The Builder who didn’t know there was a temple across the way.

At 7:30 we got up and began getting ready for the day.

At 8:30 we were poised, ready for breakfast.

At 8:45 - I was beginning to get worried. I went outside to investigate. Perhaps I had misunderstood when told it would be brought to our room. We encountered a cheery chap and a helpful young woman who kept saying that we had asked for breakfast at half of eight. Indeed we had. But it’s quarter less nine. Oops, said The Builder consulting his watch. It’s only quarter to eight. Eh? Ah - I’d adjusted my phone clock. The Builder had adjusted his watch. But not his phone. And we’d been taking time from his phone. So the bells had actually been at 5:30. And we were an hour earlier than we needed to be.

The chap came in and folded up the futon and packed away the bedding and brought the table and little chairs across.

We went out to investigate the temple complex.

As we were pottering about I reconsidered my hatred of Japan. Apart from the fact that I find the public transport system impenetrable and the taxi security man had shouted - everyone else has been supremely helpful and extremely charming. Really so. The taxi driver couldn’t have tried harder to get us to the hotel. The hotel staff were incredibly helpful. Perhaps I don’t hate Japan after all.

Back for breakfast. At 8:30 a doorbell rang. And in came a senior breakfast server and her apprentice. They knelt down on the tatami floor and brought out bowls with a little tiny fish and some marinated peanuts and a bowl of pickled somethings and a salad and a cold poached egg in a strange sauce - oh, and green tea. They spoke, smiled and went away. We started tasting. Then they came back. And served us rice and miso soup, said lots more - and went away. On we munched. Then they came BACK! And brought fried silky tofu and natto beans in something puffy and other things. Then they said many, many things and went away. They knew we didn’t understand; I assume they were following a formula of things they had to say.

The Builder tasted something of everything. I didn’t try the fish for it was sticky inside. I also didn’t try the natto puff cos it looked as though it might have nuts in it. I don’t think it did, but you need to be careful.
Lots of it was lovely - if not traditional breakfast for from or point of view.

I really didn’t expect, after it was clear that we were going to miss the train to Austin, to have such a fantastic experience. And certainly didn’t expect a traditional Japanese breakfast served so formally.

When we left, the woman said that she would drive us to the station but not until 10:00. Se we went for a walk through the town. And it’s lovely. Full of food shops (it’s exceedingly disconcerting wandering through a series of food shops and not knowing what anything is - and what are those things that look like a big fat poo coved in baby poo?) and other things to look at. It's a lovely winding, narrow-ish main drag. I like Narita. Compared to hounslow, which is mre or less the Heathrow equivalent - it was astonishing. Then we went back and she did drive us to the station. We could have walked it, mind, but it was very very kind of her. We paid the equivalent of around £85 for all this, including the formal breakfast service and the drive to the station.

I think I might be beginning to get the hang of the public transport service. We got tickets for the train, checked where we needed to be - and boarded the train. All well and good, exceot that at no point did anone mention Tokyo as one of the places the train was calling, and I ddn’t know where the final destination actually was. I checked with a young man sat next to me and he said the train would go through Tokyo. I just trusted it - with some concerns that we might be heading in entirely the wrong direction. But no. Eventually, we did arrive in Tokyo, ambled to the Shinkansen area and in a mild, calm and leisurely manner boarded the train to Nagoya. And arrived. All was good.

We came back with Austin on the train to his local station Hozumi and then he drove us back to his place. Since then we’ve raided the supermarket (twice in the case of The Builder and me - why do they ask me loads of complicated questions that they never ask Austin?) pootled about and now we are eating spaghetti Bolognaise and drinking wine and watching British television which Austin has downloaded and generally chilling. Though I do seem to have trashed the kitchen.

Kaori is poorly sick. She couldn’t come to dinner tonight :-( Hope she’s better for tomorrow. We’re all supposed to be going to Kyoto

Friday, April 18, 2008

So many people have asked me to Tell All about our visit with Karen in Carlton on Thursday morning. In truth, there is really very little to tell. She was at Readings when we got there. We had coffee (well, The Builder and I had coffee; Karen had water) and then went for a very pleasant wander along Lygon and Rathdowne Streets. We chatted about The Sidings and the garden and the allotment. We caught up with what various people were doing. She told us a bit about the eight weeks Yvette is spending at the MLC country campus. We had a further walk along Swanston Street and back along Grattan and back up Cardigan. Then Lindsey came and met us and we went away. It was all very cheery and friendly and non-confrontational. Nothing in the least bit controversial was mentioned. All very civilised. She even managed to chat briefly to Lindsey. I have to say, though Karen is looking VERY thin.

So were The Builder and I. I think I had assumed that we would have coffee and something to eat rather than a stroll around Carlton. Since The Builder had his hernia operation, he tends to feel a bit sickly if he doesn’t eat, and especially if he doesn’t eat breakfast. So Lindsey stopped in East Melbourne and I raided a rather fine patisserie for apple and pear puffs and chocolate donuts. Not perhaps what we normally have for breakfast - but they shouldn’t have sent me unescorted into a cake shop with my wallet stuffed with money when I was hungry!!!

We arrived at Mount Martha at around 12:30 after quite a good run down. Tony got me a stubby of cider. He had laid in loads of bottles when I said I was coming over. There are still about a million left. The best before date is 2010. Any cider drinkers looking for a supply … Or perhaps I’ll have to make sure I come back a time or two before the end of 2010! Tony had booked a restaurant in Red Hill in the middle of the peninsula, whose name I forget and which I can’t look up because I am writing this while flying over the Coral Sea and for some reason QANTAS has failed to provide wireless internet access! Anyway, I’m sure Stella or Tony will be able to enlighten us. But whatever it was called, the food was absolutely magnificent. The Builder and I were individually in two minds whether to have the spatchcock or the lamb. Tony said, I think probably facetiously - why don’t you have one each and share? Brilliant idea. We did. And it was wonderful. Took about an hour to come, but they cook everything from scratch. Stella and Tony had duck and Lindsey had rib of veal. Then Tony and I shared a cheese platter and The Builder had a gingerbread soufflĂ©. We left, after a very pleasant afternoon, at about 3:30, and made our way via the new complex called Martha’s Cove - where they are terraforming the place so there is a marina and bits of sea heading quite a long way inland - and back to their place.

They gave Lindsey her birthday present early. She and Ian are off on a cruise through the Straits of Malacca and then on for a week in Japan fairly soon and don’t get back till around or just after her birthday. It is the most wonderful camel. It’s a big, floppy camel puppet with HUGE feet

Then we had to leave. Not entirely an ideal time but we had to get back. We had promised to cook for Ant, Jess and Emily and Ian was out all afternoon and not expected back until mid-evening.

I have just looked out the window. I can see New Guinea! Earlier I could see atolls and the Great Barrier Reef. Wasn’t expecting to look out and see land. You get used to looking out and seeing nothing but sea!

It took FOREVER to get back to Richmond. But eventually we made it and hit the supermarket. I bought all the ingredients for a fish pie (salmon, blue grenadier and smoked cod) and some, but not all ( :-S ) of the shopping list for Japan and England. I forgot Austin’s tins of spaghetti and ravioli. More interestingly, I forgot Mark’s peppermint crisps (sorry!) I didn’t even go down the tinned spaghetti aisle - I virtually never buy tinned spaghetti so didn’t think to go down there. But I was in the chocolate aisle, selecting chocolate. How could I forget the peppermint crisps?!?!?!?!?!?

We got back to the flat and The Builder and Lindsey prepped the veg while I packed. Simon rocked in. Then I made the fish pie and Lindsey made a lentil pie and Ant and Jess and Emily and Krumm arrived and then Ian arrived and we all sat down to a rather nice feast with lots of wine. Not that I needed anything else to eat, but you have to do your bit!Krumm had some of the fish. But not the topping because I had made it with potato and leeks ad alliums are not very good for doggy tummies.

Jess has asked me to put my recipe for fish pie on Ian’s Kitchen :-)

And Ant is no longer a vegetarian. He is now a vegequarium. I wonder if it was my fish pie that tempted him.

Then everyone went away and The Builder and I went to bed. We had an early start on Friday morning.

I must say - it seems very peculiar to have come to Australia and not to have been to Ballarat. On the other hand, it’s been lovely to reacquaint myself with Melbourne. Melbourne is a beautiful city and I’ve hardly been there on my visits back since I upped sticks and moved to England.

I got to play with two doggies on Thursday. Martha from across the road from Stella and Tony came out to say hello before we went to lunch. I think someone had accidentally pressed Martha’s person’s emergency button and the centre manager had come to see what was wrong - armed with all sorts of very odd paraphernalia. This drew Martha and her person outside to see what was what.

We were up on time this morning and left to plan. We got to the airport. The woman at the checkin desk asked if we’d like to go on a slightly earlier flight. Absolutely we would. The time in Sydney is, I think, not long enough - though it was arranged by QANTAS after they diverted us back to Sydney in an itinerary change. Off we went. Got to Sydney and spent nearly half an hour circling around overhead. Eventually landed. Rushed off to the international transfer area. Went in a very crowded bus to the international departure. Got through immigration. Then ended up in a hugely crowded security area. People milling about and getting underfoot and nudging into The Builder and generally getting in the way. So many people in our queue were setting off the alarm or having their stuff rescanned and rescanned again and it was all getting rather fraught. Eventually it was our turn. But the person behind The Builder pushed into him while he was getting m mac out of its bag and it fell to the floor with a crunch. I’ve only had it a week :-( Still - it seems to be working all right.

Anyway, we got through, found our gate number and rushed along, past loads of loitering people pondering duty free shopping. No time for that for us. I profoundly do not want to miss that plane. We got to the boarding gate about 5 or 10 minutes before they let everyone on. It was all very stressful. Although I don’t know why I was stressing. If we’d missed it, QANTAS would have had to sort something out. However, there we were, in our seats and in my case at least - calming down.

Then the plane didn’t leave. It was raining and this seemed to be causing a problem loading the cargo. We left 3/4 of an hour late. I would suggest that you should all cross your fingers that we catch the train into tokyo promptly and that we make the 9:30 or, at a desperate measure, the 10:00 shinkansen to Nagoya all right. I think the 10:00 shinkansen is the last one. And in any case, the last train from Nagoya is just after midnight. As I say, I would ask you to cross your fingers - except by the time you read this you will know whether it all went according to plan!!

I wonder how much it costs to fly business class. The chap in front has pushed his chair back so far I can’t see the screen :-S

PS we didn't make it. WE are holed up in a Japanese style hotel in Narita near the airport. I will tell all tomorrow. My battery is almost flat and I don't have an Australia/Japan converter for the plug

Thursday, April 17, 2008

A trip to the seaside

Breakfast was lovely yesterday. We went to the coffee shop downstairs, where Ian has lunch but where nobody has previously had breakfast. They do a fried egg to rival Norma's at Bridge Farm in Britford. A good find. Then we went back upstairs and Ian settled to his Finish It Day and Lindsey, The Builder and I got ready for a trip to Lorne.

It was a deceptively loely day. But the wind was rather on the cold sie. We took jumpers. Off we set. Ian rang. Had we heard th report of the accident on the Westgate freeway? We hadn't. We put the radio on. Oops. 774 was recommending avoiding the Westgate. Which was a bit of a worry for that was the way to where we wanted to go. We plotted an alternative route. So did Ian. It was the same rout. Which was also a bit of a pity, for it was a substantial detour. We did it anyway. Out on the road towards Ballarat, until we got to Hopkins Road just beyond Caroline Springs and down towards Werribee. Eventually we got to the Geelong Road. And ere brought to a virtual standstill on the freeway by roadworks. The traffic in Geelong was very heavy. At just before 1 we abandoned our Lorne quest and stopped in Anglesea. Mind you, Anglesea is very satisfactory. Except it was full of school parties on excursions. But the fish and chips were excellent and the weather was nice and the beach was excellent for walking on. There were some local children having their PE lesson in the water on surf boards. So that was good. But it really shouldn't have taken three hours to get there from East Melbourne!

We stopped and looked at Bell's Beach on the way back, but didn't go down onto it.

Took just over an hour and a half to get back!

Then The Builder and I took ourselves off on the tram to Lygon Street where we were meeting Chris and Kate and Bev, all of whom I had worked with at Glenroy. I keep in close touch with Chris, and ring Kate from time to time but had lost Bev. Kate did give me her address, but I wrote it down on a piece of paper and lost it. It's in my diary and in my Outlook address book now! Kate has been not terribly well over the last few years but I must say that she looks remarkably fit and sprightly now. Bev has left Moreland - and indeed the city. She and Bill have moved to Mount Dandenong and Bev is doing some casual work for the Eastern Regional Library. Chris's job title has changed again but she is still doing more or less the same thing. It was a good evening, at a place called Trotters. It's a funny menu though.

Chris is a shining example of a blog reader. She can nearly quote you chapter and verse of what we've been up to. I hope you are all reading just as closely!

I don't think Ian's Finish It Day went as well as he had hoped. He's still working on it now and it's quarter past eight in the morning.

It's our last day. We're off back to Japan tomorrow morning. It's gone VERY quickly

Bev passed through Terminal Five last week. She says it was completely and absolutely chaotic. They missed their flight to Istanbul (and never did get there) and her luggage got lost on her way to Belfast, which is where she was heading to. I wonder if it's sorted out even yet

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

We captured Simon at ten to seven on Monday evening - not that he put up much resistance! Then we went to Clifton Hill and captured Emily and Christian. They were ably defended by Krumm - until his attention was diverted by Lindsey whom he loves, adores, worships and admires with a passion. Then we squished in (mercifully Lindsey’s car has two hidden seats which can be pressed into service following a successful multi-capture!) and transported the captees to the Little Italy which is Lygon Street where we were meeting Ant and Julia at Papa Ginos for pizza - and so I could hand over Julia’s stuff which was abandoned at The Sidings last December when her American baggage limit was abruptly reduced to a Rest of the World baggage limit! I have brought many things to hand over to people. I had thought we might be going back with nice, light suitcases. Alas - people keep giving me things to take home with me. I am an inter-hemispheric courier!

We hadn’t booked for Papa Ginos. Partly because it’s a pizza house for goodness sake. But mostly because the numbers were very fluid right up until half past seven when we were due to meet Julia. Papa Ginos was very full. I asked, without much hope, if a table for nine might become available at any time in the foreseeable future. Around 15 minutes? Excellent. We’ll wait. In fact it was only about 5 minutes and we had just collected Ant and were settling at the table when Julia turned up from her lecture which finished at 7:15. She’s doing a Masters in something cinema related - my memory says that it has a lot to do with cinema management but my memory is not terribly reliable when it comes to other people’s courses! (Julia - tell me again what you are doing!!)

We had a lovely evening. I don’t think Julia had seen most of us since she went to America. And she wasn’t expecting Simon, Christian, Ant or Christian because we had arranged for them to come after we had arranged to meet her. It was a good evening. It had nice pizza in it too.

Then Lindsey and Ian took Christian, Ant and Emily - oh, and Julia, who lives in St Kilda Road - home and Simon, The Builder and I walked back to the apartment. I think we have worn The Builder’s feet out. He’s not used to walking quite so much!

His walking isn’t over yet!

We woke up on Tuesday morning to find that there was almost no milk! Just enough for the pre-activity cups of tea!! The good news is that there is a supermarket immediately under our feet. The bad news was that we were all still in our pyjamas :-S I got dressed. When we first arrived, Lindsey had presented me with some “very expensive” blueberries. Blueberries are always expensive. I decided to treat myself to some. “Very expensive” is all right. Extortionately expensive came as something of a shock. EIGHT DOLLARS FIFTY for a tiny packet of blueberries!!!!!!!! The Builder’s pineapple treat was much less of a shock!

Time for our morning constitutional. We walked into town to visit Target to see if there were a more Pirate knickers. There were not. Very boring knickers in the City Centre Target. So we made our way to the block Arcade for Morning Tea then Lindsey went away to a meeting and The Builder and I pottered about in the shops and mootled about. We had been supposed to be meeting Karen in Carlton for lunch but she had cried off. This gave us, at short notice, an unexpectedly free day. So we went to look at the exhibitions in the State Library. The in flight radio on the flight from Tokyo to Sydney had a review of the Illuminated Manuscripts exhibition which was generous in its praise. Plus, it’s a free exhibition, which is always a bonus! Ian had seen it well reviewed somewhere else. Plus, there are posters and banners all over the place advertising it. Seemed as good a way of passing a couple of hours as any. In we went. Couldn’t immediately see where it was, so wandered through the reading rooms to the paintings. Then we went up to the exhibition rooms in the dome - the walkways where I’m sure the books stacks use to be. The display shelves of old, old books still line the walkways which are visible from the domed reading room. But I wonder where the stacks have gone?

Anyway. The exhibitions were great. One on level 4 about the development of the book, which I found very interesting. I don’t know about The Builder, though he seemed interested enough. Then up on L5 there’s another exhibition on the history of Victoria which was also extremely interesting. Plus there are magnificent views of the domed reading room. And the dome!

Right. Time to find the manuscripts. In a room by the front door! Alas, the exhibition was full of school parties with industrious students peering into the exhibition cases and filling in question forms. Where there were no students, there were parties of little olds, also peering industriously into the cases. We decided that it might be a well-received exhibition - but if we want to look at illuminated manuscripts we can do it in considerably more comfort at home. Whenever we want to. In London, amongst other places.

So we hopped on a tram (Lindsey having provided us with day tickets) and went to Carlton and had a lovely potter about the shops, then a souvlaki at what used to be the Twins’ burger bar and which is now twice as big and is the Intersection Cafe. Still does a fine souvlaki, however!

We took a tram back to Victoria Street and tried to take a tram back along Victoria Parade to the flat. This failed dismally. We managed just one stop :-( We walked the rest of the way :-(

Lindsey came back from her meetings - and she, The Builder and I went to Ikea in Richmond. The Builder and I have never been to Ikea before, but have heard many horror stories of people who have innocently wandered in - and have never been able to get out again!!! Lindsey was in a hurry and we were frog marched through at speed. It looked fascinating. There is an Ikea in Leeds. There is also one in Nottingham. Perhaps we might go on an inspection tour one day. Then we dashed into Dick Smiths and into a delicatessen. Then we ran around the supermarket and back to a butcher where we bought a magnificent and HUGELY expensive piece of beef fillet, which fortunately I did not pay for. We now had the makings of a wonderful roast dinner for the carnivores and falafel for the veggies to add to their roast veggies. For Simon, Ant, Jess, Emily and Krumm were coming for dinner. Haven’t met Jess before. Haven’t really met Krumm - the very brief meeting at the front gate on Monday evening doesn’t count. It was a good evening. Krumm is a lovely doggie. Jess is quite nice too!! And the beef was magnificent. Hardly needed chewing. More or less disintegrated a you put it in your mouth!

And now it’s Wednesday morning. The sun is shining. The barometer is set fair. We are shortly going downstairs for breakfast. Then Lindsey, The Builder and I are off to the seaside. Ian can’t come. He has a grand Finish It Day in store. But he’s coming to breakfast. You can’t have a grand Finish It Dy (I’m not sure what it is he’s finishing!) without an adequate breakfast!

But first, I need to get dressed. I’m still in my jammies

Monday, April 14, 2008

Sunday lunch at Mount Martha

So. There we all were. Awake bright and early. Pottering about. Even Stella was up and organised. Tony had taken the pork out of it plastic bag and put it in the oven. Stella took the pork out of the oven, put it in a new oven bag and put it back in the oven. Seemed a bit early to me, but there you go. By about 10:30 Lindsey had prepped all the veg, the kitchen smelled beautifully of roast pork and roast chicken, we had had breakfast, cleared up, showered and got dressed. Even the twiglets, chips and dips were out.

In short, we were ready.

About three hours early!

We waited. And waited. And waited. And ate the twiglets. And nibbled on the veg. And waited.

Eventually, Simon turned up with Yvette and Jacob. Bethan had cleverly managed to be away at a school camp - despite the fact that I had announced my intention of being in Mount Martha for Sunday lunch on the 13th of March back in September! Yvette has grown! She is at least as tall as me and possibly even a bit taller.

Next to roll in were Matthew, Belinda, Sage and William. William has recently turned three. He trundled in. Stopped. Looked at The Builder and me and demanded to know who we were. They’re part of the family, he was told. No they’re not, he asserted. Yes, yes. This is your Auntie Frannie and your Uncle Jim. No they’re not, he stated firmly. Yes, yes, they are. Oh no they’re not. Sage was watching all this with a cautious interest. Stella intervened. You know how Sage is your sister? William acknowledged that Sage is, indeed, his sister. Well Frannie is your daddy’s sister, just like Sage is yours. No, no, no no, no, no, NO, said William. They’re *old* people. Much too old to be somebody’s sister.

So that’s me told. Out of the family. Disinherited. Dispossessed. By a three year old :-(

Happily, he was persuaded to allow us to stay for the party. Just as well, really. We’ve come a long way for this lunch!

We hit the twiglets, chips and dips.

Then we were invaded by an advancing army! Emily had driven down with a crowd load of people and they were moving purposefully down the road towards our lunch table. Ian and Ant and Christian and Wendy, together with Emily and accompanied by Jacob who had gone out to investigate. They breached the moat, ignored the defences and moved with deliberation towards the lunch table. But were diverted by the nibbles, beer and wine dotted about the place.

It was very noisy!

Eventually, we all sat down for lunch. The Kids’ table now is mostly made up of adults, although it just manages to earn the epithet by virtue of Jacob, Sage and William being seated at it. We were 17 in total. We had roast pork and roast chicken and roast potatoes with lots of vegetables and salad. Was all very good (though I still think that whoever it was who invented the microwave oven should have been drowned at birth to prevent outrageous offences against vegetables) We had a moderately reasonable quantity of wine. We had a magnificent apple and plum crumble made by Belinda. I had my very own, which I shared with The Builder. For Belinda puts coconut in her crumble mix, which I can’t eat and The Builder won’t eat. Wendy dished up. Carefully measured each portion. Cleaned the bowl right away. Then we discovered that she had forgotten Lindsey!

Then we all cleared up and sat about watching the Blue Dog on the television, or football final repeats on the other television, or sitting about and chatting and catching up.

Then everyone went away and a strange, eerie silence fell upon the house. Lindsey, Tony and I went for a walk. The Builder and Stella stayed behind. And then we sat in front of the telly - and I promptly went to sleep. And then went to bed. And then woke up enough to ask if The Builder had rung his mother before the internet had been put to bed. He had intended to ring her at 7am on Monday in the mistaken apprehension that that would be 4pm on Sunday. Actually, it would have been 10pm and perhaps a bit on the late side He rang her on his mobile!

We didn’t get up quite so early today. Closer to 7:30. Much better. We had breakfast and cleaned - well, Lindsey cleaned - the house after yesterday’s party then Ton went to golf and Stella, Lindsey, The Builder and I went shopping in Mornington. We had a much more successful time than on Saturday. At least, Lindsey and Stella did. They were clothes shopping. The Builder and I mooched about other shops while we were waiting. This was a disaster from the point of view of my wallet :-( We did, however, replenish my knicker and bra collection in Target. Then we went back to Mount Martha and raided the bakery.

You can’t really get party pies in England. You can, of course, get small frozen pies but they’re not the same. I have been trying to master the art of ex-pat party pie baking and have now got to the point where a taste test was necessary. We couldn’t of course just have a party pie for lunch, so we bought one PP and shepherds pies for Lindsey and me, a sausage roll for Stella and a steak and kidney pie for The Builder. Oh, and some salad as a nod to health and well being. We also bought a sticky bun. The Builder and I taste tested the party pie. I don’t think my version needs very much alteration, if any at all. Now all I need to remember is what I did last time at home!

We went back to Stella and Tony’s place to find the last leg impeded by a concrete churning truck blocking the road. But eventually we made it back to the house and to our pies and salad lunch. Stella ate the almond cake she had bought for dessert. We decided to take the sticky bun back to Melbourne with us - our pies and salad had made us quite full. We packed the car, got ourselves ready and leaped into Lindsey’s car ready to head back to town. The concrete mixing truck was well and truly in the way. We waited. We waited. We waitedandwaitedandwaitedandwaited. Eventually, a foreman or site manager or someone came and said we should drive through the construction site - carefully! - or we’d never get out. So we did. Slowly. And careflly. We had just got onto the highway when Stella rang to say we had left behind the sticky bun :-S We decided not to try and get back in. We might never have got back out again The sticky bun has been left to its fate. We shall buy another one.

We came back via the Chadstone shopping complex, brought the stuff up, sorted ourselves out and then went for a late afternoon constitutional.

We went on a Ferris wheel!!!!!!!!!!!!!! There’s a big one down by the Yarra. There’s a photo of it in the Melbourne album. It’s very big and has fantastic views. It went round and round and round and round and round and round. I don’t think Lindsey enjoyed it very much - she kept muttering about being hijacked by a Ferris wheel operator! I enjoyed it very much indeed. It’s by the tubular bells and they started chiming and playing at 5:00 while we were going around. It was great.

We’re off shortly to have pizza with Julia, Ant and Emily. Excellent

Saturday, April 12, 2008

A report on the fish and chips from the new chippy. The fish was fantastic. The scallops weren't bad. The prawns were nice. But the chips were rather disappointing. They tasted a bit like frozen chips not properly fried up. Still, they've only been open a week and as Lindsey says, it takes time to learn to cook chips. So not bad. Worth another try.

Simon stayed for a bit and then went home. We went to bed.

The Builder's shoes have developed a crack along the sole. When we were in town on Saturday with Simon, Ian and Lindsey, I had noticed an Ecco shop in one of the arcades. The Builder wears Ecco shoes. We went into town to see if we could find the shop. We walked through the park and down and around Parliament House and onto Collins Street. We walked down, dropped back into Treats from Home for more twiglets, for Simon had seen the twiglets on Thursday night - and scoffed them! Then we went looking for the ecco shop -and found it almost immediately! But the shoes are very expensive, so we didn't buy anything. We had a potter in David Jones instead. I'll bet, though, that when we get back to England, we'll find that they're very expensive there to

Time for lunch. We walked down, across the Yarra and onto Southbank for souvlaki. And then we walked in the magnificent sunshine along the Yarra and then up through the Fitzroy Gardens and back to the flat. A nice, long walk.

We had intended to head to Mount Martha in the evening, but Lindsey had come up with the notion that, since The Builder was in Melbourne during the football season and since he had never been to a game of proper football, it was time he went. And that he should go to the Bullies v Bombers game. On Friday evening, at Telstra Dome. And that we would go down to Mont Martha on Saturday morning. So The Builder, Lindsey and Simon took themselves off to Docklands to the Tesltra Dome to watch the game. I had declared early on that I had no intention of going. So Ian and I went to Smith Street for dinner. We went to somewhere called Panama Court which is on the third storey of something that looks a bit like a warehouse from the outside. It was very crowded. And noisy. It was an interesting food experience. My first course of calamari with crispy ham and a salsa sauce was lovely. I had asked for a t-bone steak with some vegetables without nuts and without vinaigrette. They brought me a beautifully cooked steak. But the spinach was so, so salty and the broccoli was effectively raw and cold, also salted - and had French dressing on it! Because French dressing doesn't have nuts in it so as all right. Odd how they could do the meat so well and do such horrible things to the veg.

The others left at three quarter time and came home via a food place to watch the end of the match on telly. It was very,very close but the bullies eventually merged victorious.

The Builder was a tad on the tired side. They had walked back from Tesltra dome. He must have walked KILOMETRES in the course of the day.

Which meant that he didn't particularly want to come on a morning constitutional with Lindsey and me at 7:30 on Saturday morning. He did wake up and come and look at the seven hot air balloons which were drifting past the flat at 7:00. Lindsey and I left him in bed and went across to the MCG then down to the Yarra, pausing to admire the swans, the rowers and the tubular bells which are tucked away on a walkway. This area of the Yarra was in a state of considerable disrepair when I left Melbourne. It's had lots of interesting things done to it in the intervening years.

And then it was time to head to Mount Martha. We hopped in the car and off we went. I'm glad I wasn't navigating. I'd have had trouble, I think. Will be even worse next time. They're putting in a new road. To make things even easier :-( We haven't been to Stella and Tony's new house. We saw the show house but theirs was behind a cyclone fence the last time we were here, in a state of not-readiness. It's very nice. Spacious, light and airy, but easy to maintain and with a small garden. There is a dog called Martha living across the way. She waved at me through her lounge room window.

We had lunch in a seafood restaurant in Mornington with some friends of Stella and Tony who used to live in Chesterfield and who will be visiting there at the end of August. They are a very nice couple. The food was very nice too. Then we went to Officeworks to look for something that Lindsey is after for tomorrow. They didn't have it. We headed back to the house, decanted Tony and The Builder and gave them a glass of whisky each to keep them occupied, then Stella, Lindsey and I headed off looking for various different things. We didn't find them. I did find a very cute bathroom mirror with beach huts around the bottom for the bathroom. And we bought lots of wine. But none of the things we had gone for. We went home.

I had just sat down and started the blog when Tony suggested a stroll around the block. That sounded nice. Oh - an hour's stroll. OK. I'll take a coat and a bottle. Actually, it was a very pleasant walk. Except that Tony had forgotten to take his lunchtime angina tablet so was a bit uncomfortable. We ended up walking along the coast cliffs and then up past their new local shops and back. Oh - and as we were heading out, we met Fleur who is a six month old small poodle puppy. She was very cute. And very enthusiastic. It seems there are lots of dogs in the complex.

Time for Chinese food.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

There has been lots of food!

Simon came around last evening for The Builder's birthday dinner. We had chicken, bacon and mushroom thingies with roast potatoes and vegetables. Was a good evening. We didn't sing happy birthday. We had done that at lunchtime, accompanied by the waiter - which provoked the next table to announce that they too were celebrating a birthday and would the waiter sing with them too!

We had a nice, peaceful start to the day. Lindsey didn't - she left at 7:45 for Ballarat. Ian connected the new Mac to the internet, using his alarmingly named "dongle". I'm having a good time working out how to use the Mac. So much so that we - well, I! - nearly forgot to leave to walk to Melbourne Uni. The expedition was made all the more problematic whe I came out of the apartment block and promptly turned the wrong way. I would have done that yesterday too, were it not for Lindsey taking us confidently in the right way. I think I must be confused by the position of the sun! However, we walked merrily up to Carlton and in a sunny zigzag, making our way to Robert's new office in Morrison Close. Where is Morrison Close, I asked. Where it always was, said Robert. Hmmmm. Further questioning elicited the information that Morrison Close (nee Hall, I think) is behind but not accessible from Ormond College. All right. I can get to the back of Ormond College. Not sure about Morrison Close, but no worries. I've put Robert's work number into my mobile! We were due there at half past twelve and got there, I think, pretty much at half past. But it's just as well I didn't need to ring for further instructions. Robert was stood in the lobby chatting to someone and, I assume, waiting for us. Morrison Close has a lovely new theological library and a rather nice looking cafe.

We went with Robert to University House, which is the staff private club. We've eaten there with him before. They do lovely food and rather nice wine. I had trevally. I like trevally and it's not available in Sheffield. We had a great time catching up. It was a very jolly lunch. We shared a bottle of wine and chatted and caught up with the doings of our children and various other people. He is clearly thoroughly enjoying the freedom that being nearly retired brings! He looks relaxed, happy and fit. Then he went back to his tutorials and The Builder and I made our way into town to meet Wendy outside Borders book shop in Melbourne Central - the owl building. We were a bit early so went into Borders to have a poke about. Wendy says that I walked right past her in the shop. I, of course, wasn't looking for her. I was looking up, searching for The Builder's height!

We went for an iced coffee (have I mentioned that it was warm and sunny here today?) and a chat. Then we went to try and find Treats from Home, which Wendy hasn't been into. We walked up and down Swanston Street because my mind is absolutely convinced that it's in a shopping complex on a CORNER. It isn't. It's in Collins Street, in the middle. We found this out by texting Lindsey. I've been there with her twice before, but paid no attention to where we were going! Wendy seemed quite impressed with it. Then she wandered off into the bookshop downstairs and The Builder and I walked back to the apartment block.

I was very glad to get back. My feet were getting rather sore. I wish I had a step meter though. I'd love to know how many steps I walked today!

It took *ages* to work out how to turn the television on AND get sound. We never did get it properly right, though we did manage a picture of sorts and sound. Ian has now come home and sorted it all out. We are planning to hit the brand new fish and chip shop down on the plaza - it opened on Friday of last week. An adventure. We have no idea what it's like.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

We're in Melbourne

We had quite a quiet day on Monday. Nice late start. Pleasantly lazy.

Then we went to the local mall to have a look at laptops and mobile phone covers. Nothing particularly appealed. We went for lunch. I dragged Austin into a place he hasn’t eaten in before because I wanted NOODLES. I like noodles! Then we looked at lots of shoe shops and food shops and gift shops. We bought Austin a lion. Every home needs a kitty! It was interesting in the supermarket. It’s a long time since I’ve been in a food shop where I had absolutely no idea what most of it was, or what you would do with it. At the ¥105 shop we bought some stuff to take home, and a bowl for Austin’s kitchen. And another couple of dinner plates.

It fascinates me that, after you have bought something, the shop keepers go into a spiel which is clearly along the lines of “Thank you for coming into my shop and buying this object and giving me your money”. Then they stop, smile and bow. At which point I say “Arigatou” – and they beam at me and burst into a further torrent of chatter. But why? Where’s the point? They can surely tell that I don’t speak Japanese. I have NO idea what they’re saying.

In the course of the day, I had asked Austin what he fancied for dinner, if I cooked. He had mulled over this question and decided that what he would really have liked, except that alas it was not possible, would be steak, chips and vegetables. I can’t see why it’s not possible. Why isn’t it possible? They have potatoes, don’t they? And steak. Not to mention vegetables. Ah – but not ready made chips. No worries. I shall make chips. Austin seemed to be absolutely appalled. I think he was worried that I would burn down the entire apartment block. I didn’t. I did make the chips though. And very nice they were too. We bought a tin of demi-glace something or another other that looked a bit like gravy on the tin. I was a bit worried when I opened it. It looked remarkably like ox tail soup. It smelled like ox tail soup. I tasted it – it tasted like ox tail soup. Oh well, Better than nothing. Actually, when it had cooked up, it thickened and tasted quite nicely with our chips, Japanese style steak strips and vegetables. But next time I shall buy two packets of steak.

I tried to check in for tomorrow’s flight this evening. It won’t let me. I tried, and tried, and tried and tried. It wouldn’t let me. Austin eventually grabbed the mac back from me. He wanted to play on the Jetstar website, dreaming of cheap fares to Melbourne. Eventually, I gave up and went to bed. If I can’t check in tomorrow, we will just have to check in the old fashion way, when we get to Narita.

And it wouldn’t let me check in online on Tuesday morning. Austin took us to the Post Office and then to the station. Then he went off to school to prepare lesson plans for the coming term which starts tomorrow, and we handed ourselves over to the public transport system.

It worked all right at Austin’s local station, where we bought tickets to Nagoya successfully, and even managed to get on the right train. We managed to get off at the right station. It all went downhill after that …

We found the ticket machines for the shinkansen. I bought two tickets to Tokyo. At least, that’s what I thought I was doing. But it only cost half what it had cost to get from Tokyo to Nagoya. I was puzzled. I took the tickets over to the staffed counter. The man spoke to me. Lots :-( Hew took my tickets from Austin’s station and my tickets to Tokyo and my credit card and did lots of things (while speaking quickly in Japanese at the same time)then he handed me two credit card receipts, two more tickets plus the tickets to Tokyo that I already had. On reflection, I think that I might have just bought the seat reservations and not actual train tickets.

On our way to Tokyo, we saw Mount Fuji. It was covered in snow and was wearing a cloud bonnet which was draped dramatically around its summit. It was an amazing sight. Even the Japanese were taking photos on their camera phones.

So. We’ve got to Tokyo. We have found the platform for the train to the airport. What I can’t find anywhere is ticket machines. I leave The Builder guarding the bags and go a-hunting. I see signs to ticket machines, but no actual machines themselves. I do, however, find a ticket counter. But I need both our tickets from Nagoya to Tokyo (I presume since we are still on the other side of the barrier they want to check that we had bought some sort of tickets in the first place). Alas, although I have mine with me, The Builder has his with him. Two levels below. Down I trot. Back I trot. Tickets are acquired. We are off to the airport. In the meantime, I bought The Builder a sandwich to keep him going. Bravely, I bought me another of those seaweed covered rice triangles that Austin and I had in Nagoya on Saturday. I was being brave because I had NO idea what would be inside it. I still don’t, beyond the fact that it was chicken in some sort of sauce. It was very nice.

So we were at the airport in plenty of time for checking in. And airside with plenty of time to browse laptops in the duty free shops. Except there are almost no duty free shops and only three laptops, none of which are suitable. You can buy rice cookers aplenty, although why you would want to just as you are about to fly overseas is a mystery to me. There wasn’t even much in the way of food choices. We went into one place and had something to eat and a couple of glasses of wine, then into the internet cafĂ© (free!) and then it was time, suddenly to go to the boarding gate. And here we are, off to Melbourne.

I don’t reckon that QANTAS food is as good as BA’s. But they have lots of things to watch on the telly.

The worry was that we had to go through both Immigration and Customs in Sydney. That meant that we had to collect our luggage in Sydney. Not really a problem, except that we have a short turn around time for the next flight. We were amongst the first of the plane and rapidly through Immigration (Enlivened by me, when filling in The Builder’s immigration form, attesting that he had TB and a string of criminal convictions!). Our blue bag appeared in very good time. We waited. We waited. We waited and waited and waited. Oddly enough, everyone else appeared still to be waiting. It was very strange. Bags were circling merrily and no more were appearing – and no people were leaving . Then an announcement: Passengers from Flight QF Wotsit from Los Angeles. Your bags will be sent to carousel 8. Oh joy. TWO lots of bags on one carousel. We’re never going to get that flight. Then another announcement. Sorry folks who came in on QF22 from Tokyo. That was us – bugger; they’ve lost all the rest of the bags. Oh no. Phew. It’s all right. The rest of our bags have gone to carousel 11. The Builder legged it up to there and pulled the red bag off. It seems most of the luggage from our plane had been cheerfully circling for some time and nobody, oddly enough, had been collecting them. It seems the baggage handlers in the cellar had got confused.

Anyway. RUSHHHHHHHHHH. Puff puff. Hurry, hurry. And we got to the gate with 8 minutes to spare. And then the plane’s departure was delayed. Several people who had been in the queue behind us had been moved back to the next flight – I think they probably left at about the same time we did.

So eventually we did make it to Melbourne and more or less on time. Lindsey met us and took us back to their city flat. Has stunning view over the city. Then we went and inspected Simon’s flat in the next block. Nobody told me about the three heated, under cover swimming pools. I’d have brought m’togs if they had! Everyone (Lindsey, Ian, Simon, The Builder and I) headed off in the sunshine for lunch and then we hit the David Jones food hall, inspected the Macs in the computer section, bought chocolate, hit several other shops, and checked out the mac shop. I am now the proud possessor of a new Mac Book – it’s the cheapest model available so it doesn’t have a humungous memory capacity. But it should do for me for the time being. I’m not using it at the moment, though. Lindsey and Ian don’t have wireless in the flat, so I’m using Lindsey’s laptop which seems to have its own internet connection. The poorly laptop is still in Nagoya. I think I will try and get it a new screen when we get home, then The Builder can have a machine all of his own.

Lindsey is proposing to take The Builder to the footie on Friday evening :-S

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Still in the LotR(S) - though the sun has now set

The laptop is broken :-( The Builder went to move it at lunch time and the monitor up and died on us :-( It's covered in bits of blackness, or shimmering, multicoloured light lines :-( I assume we will be able to buy it a new monitor. Not here, of course, but once we get home. In the meantime, I think I might look into the possibility of getting a new laptop. The Builder and I have thought for a while that there are occasions when two would be handy. And I might venture into Mac-world - if it's not going to bankrupt me!

Apart from that little excitement, we've had a good day. Kaori arrived at 13:00. We had a sort of omelette with bacon and cheese. It tasted quite nice, if I do say so myself. Then Austin gave us the fermented soya bean taste test. The first mouthful was fairly innocuous, I thought. The second was slightly yeasty. I stopped at that point. It wasn't the taste that was worrying me but the slimy, sticky, thready look when you stirred it. It was the aftertaste that was slightly unpleasant. Very, very yeasty. I think I would say that it was so so. Mah mah desu. If obliged to eat it I would do, but I wouldn't choose to.

Right. Cherry blossom. We all CRAMMED ourselves into Austin's mini-car (it's mini in size, not in brand) and went to a local road with an avenue of cherry trees. It was very lovely. The trees were all absolutely covered in white blossom, and the breeze blew it down in snow drifts. The sun was shining, and the road had the local allotments on one side (the broad beans and peas are about a month advanced on ours). Japanese people were gathered in the little parks on the other side, eating, drinking and making merry. The children were playing with plastic baseball bats. There were barbecues and picnics. It was lovely.

Back in the car, and we went to inspect Austin's school in Godo, near Gifu. Then we went to a local shrine, cum temple, cum park where there was a pagoda, lots of little shrine houses and many stone urns and things. Godo was fairly dead, but then it was getting on, on a Sunday afternoon.

Time for bowling. The bowling alley expected me to know how mnay centimetres long my foot is. I have no idea. I had to guess. I am never in a million years ever going to win a bowling competition :-( My ball has a very distinct curl to the left. It kept falling in the gutter. Mind you, I did get a strike :-) And The Builder didn't do very well either, after quite a good start. But Kaori scored her highest score ever, so that was good. Austin won. Both times. Of course!

Then we went to the curry house for dinner. I played safe and had a super mild seafood curry. Kaori had a sort of cheesy, crab type croquette in super mild curry sauce. Austin had fried chicken. In a #1 curry sauce. The Builder, spurred on by Austin, had thinly sliced pork in #5 sauce!! Christian, apparently had a #7 (out of 10) and couldn't finish it. Ross, it seems had a #4 and did finish it. The Builder finished his. I think he's planning to try the #7 when we come back in a fortnight and see what happens.

I have discovered some other oddities about life in Japan. You can buy, in the supermarket, cans of gin and tonic (very light on the gin). You can buy in the pubs gin and tonic mixed to your liking. You can buy bottles of gin in the supermarkets. You cannot, however, buy bottles of tonic. We ended up buying orange juice instead. And yesterday, while eating my mixed seeds and dried mango strips for breakfast, I thought how nice it would be to have fresh mango with my seeds. We looked in a couple of places in Nagoya for fresh mango. The equivalent of TEN POUNDS. For a mango! There was one that cost upward of FIFTY POUNDS. There were a couple of little ones that cost £5 but even that seemed a tad expensive for a tiny, tiny mango. In the supermarket this evening I found a couple for the equivalent of £2.50. I have bought one. But fruit is spectacularly expensive. And vegetables are fairly expensive. And there are very few veggies offeed in the restaurants we've been to. Might have to go veggie when we get back home. At least for a week or so.

Out and about in Nagoya

We did eventually get up yesterday. At least, I eventually got up. The Builder and AJ had been up for a bit by the time Austin hauled me out of bed to get dressed. We were off to Nagoya for a bit of a look see.

We started at a convenience store for some money (most Japanese ATMs don’t take foreign cards; bank, Post Office and Convenience store ones usually do) and a snack for lunch. Austin and I had rice parcels wrapped in seaweed with chicken mayo in the middle. It was rather nice. The Builder had an egg and ham sandwich. Austin and I had also bought rice patties with fishy bits in them. This apparently was by mistake. Austin doesn’t like fish. I do and mine was quite nice – but rather more than I needed!

We made our way to a shopping arcade, and found a group of people doing a drumming exhibition in a square just before the arcade. They were very good. And very enthusiastic. We stopped to watch for a while and then went to the arcade. I have a new pair of trainers. New season Converse for around £30! Taffa will be soooooo jealous (so, it would appear, was Freyja but I don’t have Freyja tagged in my mind as quite such a Converse Freak). There was a stall selling pancakes, wrapped into a cone and filled with cream and fruit. I just had to have one. Filled with mixed berries. The Builder had one filled with cream and orange slices. No strawberries for him!

We pottered around Nagoya, looked in the shops, played in a rather fun department store (must come back on our return visit and raid it), looked at a foreign language book shop where Austin can get some learning Japanese material and then went through the sunshine, past a rather nice fountain, to Spaceship Aqua, which is a beautiful public space made of glass and white materials which floats up to a rooftop filled with water, and with a blue space below where there was a juggler juggling and children playing board games, and arcade style shops around the edge – oh, and two dinosaurs propped at one end watching proceedings.

A hot chocolate in Starbucks and then it was time to meander back to Nagoya station where we were meeting Kaori at 7, for an evening out on the town.

Starting with dinner in a Japanese restaurant. We were upstairs in a little room with a sunken table. We had to take our shoes off to enter it. We started with drinks – Austin and I had some sort of quite weak vodka-like drink into which you pour freshly squeezed grapefruit juice. And then we had a selection of different kinds of food: chicken skewers, a kind of thin omelette atop various vegetables in sauce; pork skewers, soya beans in rice paper, noodles with vegetables, some sort of rice concoction, spring roll style things filled with yam and cheese. It was all very, very delicious. Oishee! And we had lots to drink with it, including sake. Kaori has given me a bottle of sweet sake which we didn’t drink. The sake in the restaurant was not sweet.

The toilets are space agey in restaurants and shopping malls. They have electronic keypads attached to them! The seats are warmed and the buttons, if pressed, will direct a gentle stream of hot water towards your bottom, or, depending on the button, a bidet style steam towards your whole nether regions. Oh, and there’s a button which will produce a flushing sound so no one can hear what you are doing!

Anyway. Enough of that. We left the restaurant and tried to get into an Irish bar. But it was too full, so we went somewhere else, to the Elephant’s Nest and had a drink there. Then we moved on to try and get into another bar where Austin and Kaori and The Builder could play darts. But that was really too full and time was marching on (the last train from Nagoya back to Gifu is just after midnight). So we went back to the Irish bar, which had emptied out quite a lot and had another drink before heading back to station. Kaori went off home. So did we, but in another direction.

It was a good evening. Kaori is lovely. And very pretty. And it’s amazing how well you can communicate when she has a little English and e have no Japanese. It helps that Austin can provide a translation service, but you can do quite a lot with a few words, gestures and miming. Austin wrote us out a little introduction in Japanese for when we first got to the restaurant. Mine was longer than The Builder’s :S Still, it seemed to go all right. At least Kaori seemed to understand what we were saying! A bit later he made me do it again in Italian. I was quite impressed that I could suddenly turn out a paragraph in Italian, without having time to think about it. I don’t have any reason to speak Italian very much any more.

I am warming to Japan. It was very stressful (for me) when we first got here and I had no idea what was going on or how to do things. It's beginning to make much more sense (again, it helps having Austin around, who understands how things work). It's a bit odd, though. In Japan it is forbidden to smoke on the public streets - but you can smoke in the pubs and the restaurants. It's a long time since I've come home from an evening out smelling faintly of cigarette smoke.

Time to get up. It’s another lovely day and we are going out this afternoon to explore around Austin’s corner of the world and, I hope, to look at the cherry blossom