Sunset from Hill House, Mount Helen. February 2024

Thursday, December 27, 2012


So Christmas came early to Ballarat, with the arrival of Matthew, Belinda, Sage and William on their way to spend Christmas Day with Belinda's mother in Kaniva.  It was a bit odd, really.  We had spent most of Sunday doing Christmas Eve type things. We had done the big shop at Wilson's and at the Supermarket.  We had survived the scrummage that was Dan Murphy's opening its doors (but not till 10:00 :-S). Then when Matthew and co arrived we settled in to what felt like Christmas Eve activities.  We had a magnificent dinner, outside. We ate and drank convivially. And the next morning we had  a present exchange and Sage and William had a go in the Christmas Lucky Dip.

The Lucky Dip had evolved weeks before, when I was pondering what to do about Christmas presents for my nieces and nephews. I started gathering silly children's toys, but still wasn't sure what to do about them. Then I thought we could maybe have a bran tub.  Then Lindsey found a big bucket. And Emily suggested we use shredded paper from the paper shredder. So Lindsey and I went out and got lots more silly children's toys, wrapped them all up, chucked in some Christmas chocolates and there we were - with a very successful Christmas activity!

Anyway. Matthew, Belinda, Sage and William continued on their way to Kaniva and we reverted to doing Christmas Eve activities on Christmas Eve.  Lindsey, The Builder and I headed down to Melbourne and laid in supplies for a Festive Steak Night (it was, after all, Monday).  Stella and Tony motored up from Mount Martha and met us at the flat, then we all took ourselves off to Simon's place where we were enthusiastically greeted by Noodle. Tony and I took Noodle for a walk in the park, which was all very lovely until Tony tripped over a grating and went flying.  Alas - he doesn't fly very well and ended up all grazed and bloody.  Fortunately, I have a packet of moist tissues in my pouch so we cleaned him up and trundled back to the house. No real harm done! Simon came home from work. Ian and Emily came down from Ballarat. And we had a good steak night on Christmas Eve. Then everyone except The Builder and I went back to the flat.  The Builder and I stayed at Simon's place where the two boys mercilessly attacked a whisky bottle.

And then it really was Christmas Day.  Simon, The Builder and I went to the flat where we all had a breakfast of bacon and scrambled eggs and pancakes and had a present exchange.  Then Simon went home, Ian and Emily went to visit Ian's mother, Lindsey and Tony came back to Ballarat in Lindsey's car and I drove Stella and The Builder back in Tony and Stella's car.

Then there was a period of calm.

Right. We need to set the table.  We will be 18 this evening. How are we going to organise this?  Stella stayed out the way, reading her book in the lounge room. Tony went for a rest.  We decided to move the startlingly heavy snooker table out the way.  The Builder and Ian at one end, Lindsey Emily and me at the other end --- and we managed to drag it back far enough so that we could put trestle tables up.  I applauded our mighty endeavour - and was told off for making too much noise cos it would wake Tony up!!!  (If us moving the table hadn't produced enough noise to wake him up, then me clapping certainly wouldn't!!)  And so - The Builder peeled a mountain of potatoes; Emily set the table; Lindsey made a mighty salad; Ian organised turkey, ham and crayfish. We were all ready when the hordes arrived. More presents. Backyard cricket. Lucky Dip. Food and wine. Snooker. Music. People gradually peeled off and went to bed - if they had beds. It is fortunate that Lindsey and Ian have a large house. If not beds, there was at least floor space and mattresses for everyone.

People gradually came back to life on Boxing Day.  Lindsey produced a mountain of pancakes for breakfast. And then people started to drift off home.  Lindsey and Ian, Stella and Tony, The Builder and I and Noodle took ourselves off to the Lake, where Stella sat in the sunshine reading her book and the rest of us set off to walk its 6km circumference. Ian turned back after a bit, to acquire coffee and to keep Stella company. The rest of us carried on. I am heartily relived that when Noodle decided to jump into the lake, it was Lindsey who had control of the lead and not me! Fortunately she was dry when we got back to the cars and Simon turned up to collect her before heading home with Yvette, Bethan and Jacob. Stella and Tony went back to Mount Martha after lunch.  Now all Lindsey and Ian need to do is to figure out a way of getting rid of us - and their life can go back to normal! Ian and Emily didn't help in this endeavour when they produced between them mini zucchinis, the flowers stuffed with crayfish mousse and delicious chicken and tabouleh wraps for dinner.
Click on Santa for the Christmas album

Oh - and the gingerbread people.  I did make them. But try as I might, I couldn't convince them to stand up on the trays.  Then The Builder suggested that maybe the kitchen was too hot for the icing to set. Things might be better if I moved into the study, which is air conditioned - and my Christmas park and Christmas ice skating rinks worked a treat.  Possibly so would the gingerbread houses if I had done them in a cool room.  But no matter. Lots of people had gingerbread houses at Christmas.  How many had parks and skating rinks?

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Getting ready for Christmas

Off to the small Farmers' Market
It might be small but it is quite cute

and you can't fault the location
So. No wandering up Lygon Street in search of a pizza-y lunch for us on Thursday.  Instead, we went with Lindsey for our first ever visit to Costco.  We got there about 20 minutes before it opened, when it all looked nice and quiet and calm.  No need for us to have got there quite so early after all.  By the time it did open there was an enormous crowd, jostling for position to be first in!  Needless to say, we did not jostle but ambled in in an orderly manner.  I have to say that I quite enjoyed it.  It is a huge building so the crowds all dispersed out the way.  And I was impressed with the quality of the meat, seafood and veg.  I had rather expected it to be full of cheap nasty meat, but there was free range chicken from a reputable brand, beautiful seafood, quality meat.  We bought some pork belly which I cooked up on Friday evening and it was lovely.  I have discovered that there's one in Sheffield.  We can't just potter in to see what their produce is like - you have to be a member to go in. But even if we only used it for loo paper and washing up liquid it would probably be cost effective.  I shall ponder.

In the meantime we went back to East Melbourne and then walked into town.  No pizza for lunch today.  Instead we went to the Bento stall in Melbourne central and had noodles (with chicken teriyaki in my case) and then we walked about a million miles in search of various things.  We came back to Ballarat via the Highpoint Shopping Centre (which has changed immeasurably since the last time I was in there), and by a circuitous route, there having been an accident on the main route we would normally take.
It is a very beautiful spot

It's nice to see the lake with plenty of water in it
And here in Ballarat we still are.  Lindsey was working in Melbourne on Friday, and Emily was working in Ballarat.  So Ian, The Builder and I pottered about and caught up with a few things and laid in supplies for dinner.  Ian and The Builder have been working hard trying to restore the greenhouse which, you may remember, blew over the fence in a storm when it was almost but not quite finished.  Ross came by for dinner on Friday evening - which we ate outside. We ate outside last evening as well. We have done a mountain of Christmas shopping (Lindsey and I have to go out and brave the supermarket later :-S ). Emily, Lindsey and I went to the little Farmers' Market which is held once a month by the lake - and quite fortuitously it was the appointed day yesterday :-) I have been making ginger biscuits in the hope that I might be able to make ginger houses for tonight (when Matthew, Belinda, Sage and William are coming) and for Christmas Day. Although the occupants might find it hard to get in and out of the second house - I forgot to make any doors :-S  Wither they will have to come in and out through the windows, or I will have to make some doors when I bake the gingerbread people, snowpeople and Christmas trees later today.

The ducks are enjoying a mud bath
And the sun continues to shine.  They are forecasting a cool change for Christmas Day itself - which might mean I will be able to wear the new Christmas windcheater I brought with me from Chesterfield. It's been a bit too warm so far to wear it, although I have had occasion to wear the lovely pink cotton jumper that Stella knitted me for my birthday.

Right.  Wish us luck.  Lindsey and I are about to griddle our lions and brave the supermarket.  Anyone want anything while we are there?

(Footnote: Alas - the Gingerbread houses are not to be.  My career in the construction industry has come to a crashing and abrupt end. I simply could not get the roofs on to my houses.  Every time I tried everything came crashing down.  I will try again, though (although not for this Christmas).  I think I was being too hasty and not letting the icing base set hard enough.  And for now, I shall go and make some gingerbread reindeer, people, snowmen and Christmas trees.  Or I will when Lindsey has finished making lemon meringue pie)

Thursday, December 20, 2012


This week we have mostly been eating.  And drinking.

On Monday we met Chris at Papa Gino's on Lygon Street for lunch (seafood pizza for me).  On Tuesday we met Robert and Rod at Donnini's on Lygon Street for lunch (seafood pizza for me). On Wednesday we met Peter and Daniel, Geoff and his visitor Beatrice, Zoy and Sammi and Judy at Toto's on Lygon Street for lunch (Sudden realisation that I've hardly had any veg this week - so mushroom pizza for me).  For each lunch engagement we walked into Carlton from East Melbourne, and then we walked back, so the pizzas are not yet having an effect on our waistlines.

On Monday evening Simon and Jacob, Yvette and her friend Paige, Bethan and Christian, Zoy and Sammi all came to dinner and we had crumbed lamb chops, mashed potato and a big platter of mixed roast veg.  Alas - the whisk in the flat has now died. Fortunately not too much of it collapsed into the mash :-S  And then on Tuesday Simon and Jacob, Christian and Wendy and we all met in The Fox for dinner (seafood platter for me).  And last night Lindsey and Ian came back from a quick trip to Perth and we had fish and chips for dinner.

But that, now, is the end of the organised Lygon Street lunches.  Probably just as well. You can have too much pizza, I'm told!!!

Let us now turn our attention to Christmas which is, I believe, almost upon us.  I think I have almost finished my present shopping.  It's been quite easy this year. I just handed a wodge of money to Lindsey and let her get on with it :-D

I have had to do a little bit of shopping though. Tabitha and Freyja gave me some money to buy something for the Christmas table.  So on our jaunt to Lygon Street yesterday, we bought this

Click on the panettone to reach the photo album

Monday, December 17, 2012


On Saturday we had breakfast in Mount Martha (delicious bacon, eggs and beans on toast, cooked by Tony), lunch in Clifton Hill (not very nice calamari at a place in Clifton Hill - the fact that they had empty tables when the other cafes around them did not should have alerted us before we sat down!) and dinner in Mount Helen (delicious crumbed pork cutlets, cooked by Ian).

Along the way we collected Ian at the flat, then went back to the flat and collected Lindsey later.  We went up to Mount Helen where we collected Pat who came for dinner.  It was a very pleasant day, topped and tailed by good food and convivial company.

On Sunday Lindsey and I went shopping, while Ian and The Builder stayed at home and did useful things like making a start on repairing the (new) greenhouse that blew over the fence last winter even before its construction was finally finished.  Lindsey and I went to all sorts of shopping places, but our main aim was the ute that turns up on a monthly basis in a car park in Ballarat and sells, inter alia, chooks and roosters.  We went last time we were here too, but this time we bought two laying hens, two 8 week old Plymouth Rock pullets and one truly beautiful bantam rooster.  We also went to the garden centre.  Twice!  I was driving Lindsey's space age brand new car home when Lindsey suddenly expostulated.  In our excitement at filling the car up with bags of sugar cane mulch (not squashing the new chooks, you understand), we had driven off and left all the other purchases sitting out in the car park :-S  Fortunately they were there waiting for us when we got back.

Then more shopping after lunch.  A visit to Wilson's for fruit and veg provisions, back to the garden centre for the third time, on to the supermarket.  That's enough shopping!!!  I am all shopped out :-S Although I did get the provisions for Monday evening when I seem to have accidentally invited quite a lot of people to  Lindsey and Ian's flat in East Melbourne to dinner.  I hope they will all fit.  Actually, I'm not worried about them fitting - you can squish quite a lot of people into the flat if you try.  But I do hope there's enough cutlery for them all!  Anyway - one less thing to worry about on Monday.

Right then.  It might be early-ish on Monday morning but we are off back to Melbourne with Lindsey this morning.  She is working, we are taking her car into East Melbourne and then she and Ian are off to Perth later this afternoon.  I suppose I had better get up and dressed and ready to go.

I do wish I could convince the Blog software to put me onto Melbourne time.  It doesn't seem to matter what I do, it is determined to keep me on Greenwich Meantime ;-(  (And it seems very strange to me that the blog spellcheck doesn't like the word "blog" and wants to change it to "bog"!!!!)

The Builder and me out for an early morning walk in Melbourne. Click on us to get to the photo album

Friday, December 14, 2012

That power surge on Wednesday was quite some phenomenon. Tony rang the power company that afternoon and told them they had lost their microwave and at 9:30 that evening two burly and very helpful electricians turned up to check the safety of the supply.  The following morning, while Tony and Stella were out, two different men turned up to check that the emergency buttons and the smoke alarm were working.  All was well.

While I was talking to the alarm men they were saying that cordless phones all over the affected area had been zapped to their death (this was true of Tony and Stella's cordless phones). Also, many, many microwaves and lots of radios.  But also people had lost their washing machines, their air conditioning units, their televisions, all sorts of things.  Fortunately the greatest loss Tony and Stella had had was the microwave. Their cordless phones and radios won't be all that hard to replace. But Liz up the road has lost all sorts of things, including a washing machine in mid-cycle (Tony and I went up in the evening to see if we could bale it out, but Liz had already done it!).

Fortunately it seems that the power company has admitted culpability and is sending out claim forms for people who have had to replace their appliances. Power surges, of course, are not covered by warranties, but the power company will almost certainly be insured against such calamities.

So life returned slowly back to normal.  Tony, The Builder and I went out for a stroll mid evening to see if anyone had any Christmas lights on.  Several people did. Nice, decorous, understated Christmas lights.  This morning Tony, The Builder and I embarked on a much more ambitious walk.  7 kilometres (a bit over 4 miles) around Mount Martha and along the foreshore. Even though it rained (but not much in the way of rain if you take Singapore's monsoon like rainstorms as your benchmark :-D ) we all really enjoyed the walk, although The Builder's feet were complaining for the last kilometre.  Tony offered to trot home and get the car.  The Builder turned this down, determined to walk all the way.  Think how very much fun I would have had on Facebook, Twitter and in the blog had he accepted the offer :-D :-D :-D :-D

Then we went to Veraison for a delicious lunch.  We've been there before, and I recognised the front of house manager.  But it was nearly two years ago that we were last there (Stella and Tony have been more recently) so I was surprised that she recognised us.  Stella says that once I am seen I am not easily forgotten.  I think it's because the lady has a spectacularly good memory for faces!

Lamb rump for lunch

We came home via a pick-your-own strawberry farm.  Not that we picked our own.  We browsed in the shop and bought some pre-picked ones instead.  And some other fruit for The Builder who is alas unable to eat strawberries.

I remembered a couple of days ago that I hadn't actually got around to making the calendars that I habitually make in December.  So I went looking for an Australian website where I could do this, and found a Photobox Australia.  I use Photobox UK so was quite pleased.  I know my way around the Photobox website.  So I registered with the Australian site and spent hours and hours selecting the photos and organising everything and getting all the captions done.  I proof read everything this morning, pretended not to notice the eye-wateringly expensive packaging and postage charges and ordered the calendars, paying for them in Australian dollars.  I was not a little annoyed, when I read my email of confirmation, to discover that Photobox Australia appears to be Photobox UK in disguise and that, as far as I can see, my calendars are coming form the UK.  Had I realised I would have used the UK site and paid in British pounds - and not registered on what purported to be an Aussie site.  Sigh.  It would seem that there is now no chance of them getting here before I wander off to Cairns and thence Japan at the beginning of January!!!!

Oh well.  No doubt someone will post on the one that is meant to be accompanying me to Japan :-S

Stella and Tony at Veraison

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Spending money

It was somewhat alarming when I hopped into Bethan's car (which she has very kindly agreed to lend me while we are here) at just after 9:00 yesterday morning, turned the ignition on - and the fuel needle moved by not so much as a flicker :-S

I knew there was a petrol station close by, because we had driven by it when Lindsey was taking me to Clifton Hill to collect the car.  I knew it took petrol - which is all to the good because there's a state wide shortage of diesel. I just wasn't absolutely certain that the car would get to the petrol station before running out of fuel, especially given the amount of traffic there was about. Hurry red traffic lights. Hurry slow moving big truck in front of me. Hurry cars. Finally I reached the petrol station and filled the very thirsty car.  All was well!

Then The Builder and I took Lily (so called because her letters are DKL - Dennis Keith Lillee, according to Simon) back to her old stomping ground in Mount Martha (until recently Lily was Stella's car. Stella sold her car to Bethan; Tony sold his car to Emily; they then bought a new car, a Jazz which I must say is very lovely to drive).

We arrived to find Tony absent at the Post Office (must go to the Post Office myself) and the electricity not absent, although it had been until about five minutes before we arrived.  Also absent were a working microwave, a working bedroom clock radio and working cordless phones.  There had been a power surge at a sub-station in Mornington and many, many people suddenly found themselves with appliances, previously happy and diligent, which now were moribund and on strike.  Harvey Norman in Mornington was doing a roaring trade when  we all dropped by later in the afternoon for a replacement microwave!!

We did get to the Post Office.  They are very helpful at the Mount Martha Post Office and wouldn't let me buy the padded envelopes I had intended to put my postings in because then they would have to go a parcels at $17.50 per item.  So I went to the newsagent and bought envelopes and my postings went at $6.20 each.  A considerable saving - which I put into buying a memory card reader while Tony and Stella were organising the new microwave at Harvey Norman.  Must remember to give back Ian's card reader which I had borrowed (I seem to have misplaced the cord which attaches my camera to my laptop)

Warm and sunny in Mount Martha.  Fortunately the air conditioner wasn't amongst the appliances which took against the power surge.  Might not have been quite so easy to replace!

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

GMT +11

There is a great deal to be said for flying in and out of small airports.  It was a doddle getting into Australia through Perth. It was a doddle flying from Perth to Melbourne.  No queues, no waiting, no hold ups at security.  Lovely!

We got to Tullamarine at about quarter to seven in the evening and were met by Emily driving Lindsey's brand new car.  Emily drove us up to Ballarat, where we were met by Lucy the dog, Ian, and a delicious lamb casserole.  Lucy seemed pleased to see us - she even greeted The Builder pretty much before she properly greeted Lindsey :-D

We've rushed about quite a bit less since we got to Victoria.  We had a dash into Ballarat for a couple of things before making our way down to Melbourne, where Lindsey, The Builder and I laid in provisions for dinner at Simon's place in the evening.  I got to meet Noodle the Groodle for the first time (she arrived a couple of weeks after we had gone home the last time we were here). She's a nice doggie.  We had a fleeting glimpse of Yvette as she dashed out to work, but Bethan and Jacob were at home.  Simon came home from work. Ian arrived from Ballarat. We all had a good time.


Lindsey had us up and out early this morning for a pre-breakfast walk around East Melbourne and the city centre.  She came home and got ready to go to work.  Ian, The Builder and I continued our walk in the sunshine and ended up in Federation Square for breakfast.  The Builder had a Big Fed breakfast.  I have no idea how he managed to finish it.  Ian and I had poached eggs and bacon and shared a bowl of fruit. That was really enough to keep me going for quite some time!

The Builder and his Big Fed. Photo (c) Ian Graham 2012
No photo album today.  I'll send you the link when it's ready in a few days time

Monday, December 10, 2012


We had a lovely drive back from Margaret River to Perth.

It was necessary to call back to the chocolate factory. I realise that we had bought an enormous mountain of chocolate - but it is just possible that we might have accidentally eaten the chocolate bullets :-S  Fortunately we are now stocked up again.

Lindsey drove back along the Old Coast Road, rather than the main highway and we stopped for lunch in Mandurah  where we had remarkably fine fish and chips at the Irish Pub overlooking the water.

Then we arrived back in Perth.  During our travels we had acquired one of those ball launchers for Scout who loves, loves, loves chasing balls.  Lindsey took it into the back garden and launched the ball - directly over the back fence, whence it disappeared never to be seen again :-S  This necessitated a mad dash to the supermarket to lay in a proper supply of balls for the launcher.  Meanwhile, Scout found an empty plastic bottle to chase around :-D

We spent a jolly afternoon making merry with Ant and Jess before heading out to the local pub for tea - a nice piece of steak for me although the lunchtime fish and chips had been so hearty there wasn't real room for steak and more chips.

Sunday dawned bright and sunny and we all took ourselves off to East Perth to a cafe called Toast, where we met Jess's cousin Jack and his partner Lou for a truly lovely breakfast. A stroll around the cove later and it was time to farewell Ant, Jess, Krumm and Scout and take ourselves on to Melbourne. Thus leaving the GMT +8 timezone we had been in since arriving in Singapore and moving to GMT +11

There are more photos in the Western Australia album.  Click on the tree to view them

Saturday, December 08, 2012

Western Australia

We arrived into Perth airport at around 1:00 in the morning on Thursday and proceeded very quickly through immigration and customs (there are some advantages to arriving into the smaller airports - Tullamarine would likely have been a lengthy wait even at that time in the morning). We went by taxi to Ant and Jess's place, where we arrived at just after 2 in the morning and were greeted by two barking small dogs and one Ant who got up to let us in.  He had gone to work by the time we eventually surfaced at a more civilised time in the morning!

Jess however had not gone to work. So we chatted with her over cups of tea and then took Krumm and Scout for a walk before heading off for a mooch around Fremantle (and a superb seafood platter by the marina) and thence on to Margaret River where we are staying for a couple of nights.  LAst time Lindsey came she brought Stella and Tony and the rain was so torrential as they drove down that they couldn't see at all and Lindsey had to drive veryveryyeryvery slowly.  This time we were in bright sunshine - until we were about 30 km away when the rain clouds came over to see what was going on and were ever so excited to find that LINDSEY IS BACK and began to rain with enthusiasm.  Fortunately not quite as torrentially!  And only for a short time.  But Lindsey is beginning to think that she, Margaret River and rain are inextricably linked!!!

It did not rain on Friday, when we drove to the chocolate factory to stock up supplies (we might need to return on our way back to Perth - we seem to have eaten the chocolate bullets), to the nearby chocolate liqueur shop for Christmassy supplies, and then on to Cape Leeuwin to admire the lighthouse, the Indian Ocean, the Southern Ocean and the enthusiastic rain.  Then we pootled back towards MR along a back road and stopped at Xanadu for a lovely lunch.  If I say we all had steak and chips for lunch this would be entirely accurate. But it might not quite adequately convey the quality of the steak or the magnificence of the chips!  If you should be in the area I would recommend a meal at Xanadu.

It probably wasn't very friendly of The Builder to try and kill me on my birthday, although it would have given me lovely, rounded dates.  He bought me some cherry chocolate from the chocolate factory assuming (as did I) that it would be cherries covered in dark chocolate.  He doesn't know about cherry ripes.  I do know about cherry ripes but have had no reason to think about them for years and years and years and years (horrible things, cherry ripes).  So neither of us was expecting there to be desiccated coconut in the chocolates. Fortunately, I so very seldom eat anything nutty that my body has become slightly more tolerant of tree nuts and coconut.  Had I not been  aware of my nut allergy, I probably wouldn't even have noticed the reaction.  (This is not a good reason for everyone to start feeding me nutty things, mind you - I don't want to resensitise my body!!!)

Lindsey says she is never travelling overseas with members of the family ever again.  When she went with Ian, Stella and Tony to New Zealand a couple of years back, Stella was struck with osteomyelitis and needed Lindsey's medical attention.  When we went to Japan last year, I came down with a rash on my leg which became very infected and needed Lindsey's medical attention.  I came to Singapore with an eye infection (which didn't really need Lindsey's medical attention, though it got a side glance) and The Builder had a cold. And now I have an infected blister on my ankle which so far is fixing itself but which Lindsey is keeping an eye on.  I have pointed out to her that she, at least, is no longer overseas, Western Australia having not been disenfranchised as yet, and my ankle didn't swell up until we got here.  She seems to think that is an irrelevant point!!!!

Right.  Must get up.  We're heading back to Perth today and I suppose I ought not go in my nightshirt

Click on the flowers to reach the WA photos

Thursday, December 06, 2012

Not quite making it to China Town

We did not leap out of our beds at our customary early hour this morning. it seems we hadn't gone to bed until after one o'clock!

But we made it to breakfast, and we packed and we got organised. The Builder went down to reception to grab a copy of the shuttle bus schedule and came back reporting that the place didn't look after luggage after guests had checked out.  This absolutely stunned Lindsey and me. We have never previously encountered a hotel, or serviced apartments, not even Bed and Breakfast places which have refused to look after luggage on the final day.  Lindsey went down to see if we could stay in the apartment for a few extra hours - and came back to tell us that no we couldn't but that the place *did* have a left luggage facility. The lady who The Builder had asked had been mistaken :-S

So we checked out and dumped our cases and set off on the hotel's shuttle bus for a final wander around.  We had been heading to China Town and got right to the very edge of it before being diverted by the Haven Lobster and Seafood restaurant. The food was absolutely delicious and we had a merry time, sat by the side of the river, eating prawns and peppered beef (and lemon chicken for those who can eat almonds) and watching the boats go up and down. Before heading off for a post prandial stroll through China Town, I went to the loo. And came back to find another torrential thunderstorm had beset us. So we waited under cover until it had passed. And abandoned China Town and went for a wander along the river instead. And quite by chance collected a few bridges.

Click on the bridge to reach the album

Then we caught the shuttle back to the hotel, a taxi to the airport and a plane to Perth, arriving at 2 o'clock in the morning at Ant and Jess's place.  They were, of course, in bed. But the dogs alerted them to our presence and Ant got up to let us in (they were expecting us!).

We enjoyed Singapore.  It's an interesting place. It is a mixture of very Western (very British) and South East Asian. There are four main ethnic groups: Chinese, Malay, Indian and Western and four main languages. The official language is Malay but English is the main working language.  All the road signs are in English. The law courts and parliament work in English.  If you had absolutely no English at all I think you would find it hard to function in society. I was looking at the dates for public holidays in Singapore - and the main festivals of Buddhism, Islam, Christianity, Taoism and Hinduism are all represented (so Christmas is a public holiday - but I don't think there is much Christian spirituality attached to it).

Oh - and I did a bit of investigating into the question of supermarkets.  It seems that Cold Storage (which I had thought was just an import store) is one of the leading chains.  The one we found was more akin to a small Sainsbury's or Tesco or IGA so you wouldn't want to do your weekly shop there. When I looked at a map of Singapore itself rather than Singapore City, it became clear that Singapore couldn't possibly feed itself.  No room for farmland at all. So of necessity things are going to be imported.

Still thought it odd to find Waitrose Essentials spaghetti there though!

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Singapore #2


Well that was a much less exciting day than yesterday. Mercifully there was no lightning, no thunder, no fizziness over our heads and, indeed, virtually no rain. No rain at all while we were outside.

Today we did Orchard Road.  I had been looking to see if there was a Build A Bear Workshop in Singapore and if so, where.  There are in fact three and one was in a shopping mall in Orchard Road.  We are staying quite close to the bottom of Orchard Road and, it being a nice day, we decided to go for a wander.  On the way we called into a couple of malls for a look see. We passed the Thai embassy and a heavily guarded complex that turns out to be the official residence of the Singaporean President (though no presidents actually live there).  We found the Plaza Singapura, where the Build A Bear shop is and had a potter around.  And then we repaired to a real street food area for a small spot of lunch.

Right.  What to do now?  We have Hippo bus passes. Let's do one of the tourist bus tours.  So we hopped on the next Hippo bus that came by and off we went for a pleasant hour's drive on the "city" tour. Then we returned to the apartment.

I have a pair of bathers which I bought when we were off to Japan in August 2011.  There were no swimming opportunities in Japan  I haven't had any occasion to go swimming since.  My bathers have remained untroubled by any watery experiences. I don't think they've been wet even once, not even in the washing machine.  I brought them with me on this trip because I knew there would be swimming pools in some of the places we were going.  Such as here, for example.  And 16 months after I bought them, they finally got to have their first swim!!


Back when I was first looking at what there might be to do in Singapore, I noticed that there was a zoo.  The zoo appeared to have a good reputation.  It also, allegedly, has mouse deer.  I decided that we had to go and observe these creatures and put the zoo on my list of things to do.  It remains on my list of things to do (right at the top!!) . In the event we decided rather than going to the zoo during the day we would go at night and do the night safari.  So we booked ourselves onto a tour - largely because that included a tour coach that took us there and back.

I thin we all three have slightly mixed feelings about the night safari.  We have all three lived in societies where the training of wild animals for human entertainment (no matter how worthy the cause) is considered to be unacceptable. The animal show that the zoo put on was undoubtedly entertaining, certainly worthy (promoting conservation and environmental issues). We were certainly surprised to find that we had been sitting in seats that concealed a large python in a cavity underneath. But we were very uneasy about watching little otters sorting the recycling and not entirely comfortable watching other animals performing, even if they weren't performing tricks.  We enjoyed our "tram" ride around the night zoo, but were anxious about the two male elephants, in their separate enclosures with no obvious things to do - so no toys, no logs to play with, nothing that we could see that was particularly stimulating.  On the other hand, We had a fabulous meal in the eating area at a very reasonable cost and really enjoyed our pottering around.  But still.  Not sure about it.  Not sure at all.

The coach, instead of taking us back to Suntec, which is where it had departed from, dropped us off quite close to where we're staying, so we had a very pleasant stroll up part of Orchard Road, able to admire the Christmas lights at night.

Click on Lindsey to reach the photo album

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Singapore #1

Well that was an exciting day.

It didn't start out in a particularly exciting way.  Was a quite unremarkable start to the day.  Apart from the fact that we all woke up at around 4 in the morning, and The Builder has a cold.  But we made our way in a calm and measured manner for breakfast and were delighted to find watermelon and cantaloupe and cheese and other yummy and healthy things (although I'm not sure the pastries were particularly healthy).  Then we took the hotel's shuttle bus to Suntec where we were hoping to find the Duck Hippo Tour desk.

Suntec is huge.  Absolutely enormous. Gigantic.  And made up of several buildings dotted around the outside of a huge roundabout.

Signage is almost impossible to understand.  The signs are in English (all the signs in Singapore are in English) but working out how to get anywhere is almost impossible.

It was more by good luck than good management that we looked out through a door and noticed Duck Tour vehicles outside.  We asked one of the drivers where the stand was and it turned out we were about three steps away from it when we diverted through the door.

A Duck Tour submersible

So Lindsey bought two day passes for the Hippo buses (tourist hop on hop off buses) which included trips on the Duck Tour and the Singapore Flyer. And off we set on the Duck Tour.  Which is kind of fun because the Duck Tours are run on Duck submersible vehicles which are land and river craft.  Gave us really good views of Singapore from the river and the guide was clear and informative.  Did you know that the marina area used to be part of the sea and is now partly reclaimed land and partly a freshwater reservoir?  No - neither did I.  They've built a dam to block off the sea and freshened up the water and claimed some land back.

Then we headed on a Hippo bus to the Singapore Flyer, which is at the moment the tallest observation wheel in the world. It's not as elegant as the London Eye - but neither were there the crowds that you find in London,  and it moves ever so ever so slowly so that you are hardly aware you are moving.

The Singapore Flyer with the F1 pit building below

Right.  Lunchtime.  There are restaurants and shops in the Flyer complex. We gave brief consideration to a seafood restaurant, but decided that the roughly $40 per main course was a tad on the expensive side for lunch and repaired to an area that was made up of street food style stores and had sweet chilli prawns, fried chicken, sautéed pak choi and rice for lunch with tiger beer.  Coming to a grand total of $50 all told.  Much better, and very tasty.

The remains of our lunch

Right, said Lindsey. Let's go over the Helix Bridge that Frannie wants to collect and we can go for a stroll in the City Gardens.  So we did. And were having a lovely potter about admiring the trees and the metal flowers and the buildings - when the real excitement of the day came upon us. We noticed a storm blowing in. So we moved fairly sharpish towards the visitor centre which has plenty of cover and watched a monsoon like thunderstorm whoosh in.  After about ten minutes the paths were awash with water (I have to say that the drainage system is extraordinarily good) but the intensity of the rain was lessening.  We have rain ponchos and umbrellas with us.  It is, after all, the rainy season.  Right, said Lindsey. The rain's not too bad now. Let's make a bid for the main road and a bus home.  The Builder objected.  The pavements were still awash with water and he only has one pair of shoes here.  OK, said Lindsey.  I'll go up there, under cover, to the loos and we'll see what's what when I get back.  Off she went.  And a minute or two later there was a distinct, loud and quite disconcerting HISSSSSSSSSSSS and FIZZZZZZZZZZ above The Builder and my heads, accompanied by a spark of lightening and a huge, enormous and very loud crash of thunder. It wasn't scary so much as very, very disconcerting. I have never before ever actually heard lightning.  I think, if we had been out in the rain, we would probably have been OK, because there are lots of very tall metal things around that area which would have been hit first.  But I am profoundly glad that we were not out in it.  It made the hairs on our arms stand up as it was.  Imagine if we had been wet! We left our sheltered area when we noticed that locals were beginning to leave!!!

We never did find the place where the Hippo bus we were after left from. But we did find a taxi rank and came back by taxi instead. In the rain.

Then Lindsey and I griddled our lions and put our ponchos back on and put our umbrellas back up and headed down to Orchard Road to find the little supermarket we had discovered on Sunday evening.  While we were pottering about I noticed that there were twiglets and cheese balls from England, Cold Power washing powder from Australia. Italian cooking sauces from England and Italy. Things from all over the world - but nothing much from Singapore.  It's an import store! That's why the lady in the Japanese restaurant on Sunday evening had asked if we minded a Cold Storage supermarket.  So last night I made dinner with Australian beef, Chinese shitake mushrooms, Italian spaghetti (but via the Waitrose Essentials range), Taiwanese Oyster sauce, Japanese soya sauce, Malaysian salad and Singaporean tomatoes.  Was quite tasty considering!!

The Builder was in bed by 8:30.   I think 48 hours of virtually no sleep had caught up with him.  Lindsey was in bed by just after 9.  I held out until 10:30.  And we were all awake bright and early this morning ready for another day of excitement and adventure.  No more audible lightning overhead though, please Oh Weather Dogs.

Just a bit of rain.  Click on the picture for the Singapore photo album

Monday, December 03, 2012

Let the GWT begin

It probably wasn't ideal, the GWT having been over 12 months in the planning and 6 months in the organising (not that I spent all of that 6 months actively organising, of course) to wake up at 04:00 on the day we were due to fly with a most horrible pain in my left eye.  Horrid, it was.  And it made my eye and my nose cry with enthusiasm.  I ended up with the sort of headache that you get when you've been crying for hours (not that I do, often, cry for hours).  We weren't ready to leave by any means and although I had intended to get up quite early, I hadn't intended it to be as early as 04:00 and nor had I intended to be weeping from one eye while I was doing the packing!!!

But pack I did - although it was extremely haphazard, and I seem to have bought a few more clothes for me than for The Builder :-S

The beds were made up ready for Barb and Greg who are coming on Monday for a few days of winter holiday in the Peak District.

Lindsey drew my attention to the fact that airports usually have pharmacies in them and suggested that I should take my eye to visit one when we got to the airport.  This reminded me that we actually have a pharmacy in the village so I pottered up there. The pharmacist diagnosed and eye infection and gave me some ointment.  This seemed to help quite a bit - although it is remarkably odd trying to see through an eye which is already blurry and which is now also covered in a thin film of grease!!

Our flight was due to leave Manchester at 17:45.  I really do prefer flying from Manchester if I can. It's a much more pleasant experience than flying from Heathrow, even if your flight does leave from Terminal 5. Which ours, being a Lufthansa flight, would not. It usually takes about an hour and a half to get from our place, or from Sheffield, to Manchester airport. But if the motorways are clogged it can take much longer. So we arranged to meet Gareth and Cally, who were coming to the airport with us, at midday.  And lo, the motorways were not clogged and nor were the roads and it took the expected hour and a half for us to get there.  Gareth and Cally took possession on the car and disappeared off to visit his family in and around Glossop. And we strolled in to an astonishingly empty airport. There was almost nobody about.  The blokes in security were so bored they decided to run proper security checks on us - they tested my pouch for explosive and my phone for things to make the explosives go off and our backpacks for all sorts of things. I don't think they were really expecting to find anything though.  And funnily enough - they didn't.

So there were were, airside, with hours left before our flight.  As part of my bank account subscription I have a travel package which provides travel insurance and access for me to some of the airport lounges.  So I paid for The Builder to have access too and we ambled in to one of the lounges and ate nibbles and drank wine until it was time to leave.  All nice and quiet and civilised, with comfy chairs and room to spread out.  Then we caught our flight to Frankfurt, where we went through a much, much busier security procedure and then Whooooooooooooooooooooooshed our way to the departure gate for the flight to Singapore which we got to just as people were standing up ready to board.

Eleven and a half hours later we were in Singapore.  So were our cases.  But where was Lindsey who was on a flight from Melbourne which was due in at much the same time as our flight from Frankfurt?  No sign of her.  My phone had died from lack of battery and I really do not enjoy using The Builder's phone.  But more to the point, Lindsey wasn't answering her phone.  Probably not arrived yet then. More to the point, I couldn't find her flight on the arrivals board.  I wonder if that might have been because we were in terminal two and her flight was due in to terminal one?  So we joined the remarkably huge queue for a taxi, figuring that rather than wandering aimlessly round the arrivals area, we might as well go and wait for her in the reception of the place we were staying.  At which point The Builder's phone rang.  Lindsey had arrived!!  So we abandoned the taxi queue and took the Skytrain to terminal one where we could see Lindsey waiting and waiting and waiting and waiting for her luggage.  She FOUND her luggage.  And came belting out of the luggage area - and completely vanished :-S  Thank goodness someone invented mobile phones is all that I can say.  Took ages to track her down!!

The taxi queue in terminal one was minute compared to that in terminal two so we hopped in one and came to the apartment that Ian had found for us to stay in.  A remarkably good find, I must say.  All the more remarkable given that he isn't coming to Singapore.  This is where we're staying.  It's about a ten minute walk to Orchard Road and is really rather nice.  I was a bit surprised at the paucity of resources in the kitchen.  Two saucepans but no sharp knife (and no wok, which seems odd given that we are in South East Asia!).  We did eventually find the sharp knives and a bottle opener.  But still no wok.  We also found, in our wander down to Orchard Road, a useful little supermarket and a rather nice Japanese restaurant.  Alas, there was no space for us in the restaurant. But the supermarket provided us with gyoza and munchy things and wine and we had a light supper before heading off to bed.

The Builder has developed a cold.  And although my eye is now very much better, I think the other one is going out in sympathy.  Not sure how Lindsey is.  It's only quarter past five in the morning (it's Monday December 3rd - the blog thinks we're still in the UK) and she hasn't appeared yet