Sunset from Hill House, Mount Helen. February 2024

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Being Frugal (Not!)

As you know, I am imminently (well, in 9 weeks) about to become unemployed.

As you may have noticed, we are in the process of renovating, decorating and beautifying our house, ready to put it on the market.

You would think this would be an ideal time to take up a life of parsimony, miserliness, frugality, perhaps even extreme austerity.

And you would be right!

So you  probably think that I shouldn't have waved my credit card over the internet and bought two expensive train tickets to Edinburgh (and back), two flights from there to Kirkwall (and back), rented a car for four days, rented a holiday cottage also for four days and bought two Orkney Explorer Passes to some of the historic places in the Orkney Isles?

And again, you would be right.  But I have yearned to go to Skara Brae since its existence first made itself known to me.  There are lots of other neolithic sites and other historic monuments dotted around. The Orkney Islands seemed a great place to go and explore, albeit not exactly easy to get to. You can't, for example, fly directly there from England. You have to first get to Scotland. We could have driven and then taken a ferry, but it's a long way to go and I'm not sure that our almost 11 year old car, sturdy and reliable though it is, would have been entirely delighted by such an adventure. So I kept putting it off, but kept it on my list of Places To Go.

We almost went in 2014, but went to Ireland instead. After our  visit to the beautiful Western Isles last summer, I had it vaguely in mind for a summer trip this year.  Then events intervened and we are now not sure where we will be this summer.  And, although we will most certainly make regular trips to England in the future, they probably aren't going to involve trips to remote bits of Far North Scotland

I am absolutely certain that if we don't go, my one big regret later would be that I had had almost 20 years to do it, but that I had never made the effort to go and visit Skara Brae.  That seems a ridiculous thing to have as a regret when it is so easy to fix, particularly when time isn't going to be an issue after April 1st.  So we are going.  The day after The Builder's birthday.  The fulfilment of a very long held ambition of mine can be his birthday present.  (He had better enjoy it; it has to rank amongst one of the most expensive birthday presents I have ever bought for anyone - apart from for me :-D )

Sensible?  Probably not.  Exciting?  Absolutely!!!!

In other news, the plasterer Liam and his apprentice have been making steady progress in our lounge room. The only problem now is that the whole house is absolutely covered in plaster dust. But that won't be hard to fix.  I was going to wash the house this weekend, but Liam says they will come back and do Stage 2 on Tuesday (earlier than expected; apparently the wood fire is drying the plaster nicely). I might dust down the worst of it and leave a proper clean up to next weekend.  And the apprentice is a bit heavy handed and has somehow managed to break the corner off the power socket by the window. We will buy a replacement when the apprentice has gone away for good.  He has also spread plaster all over the porch, though I don't suppose that matters all that much.  And he used MY, that's MY blue bucket to mix his plaster in.  Liam has made him clean my bucket so it is now useable again.  But I went out at lunchtime and bought a very fetching new purple bucket.  No apprentice plasterer is likely to use a purple bucket to mix their plaster in :-D

From first thing this morning:

Much better now. You can't see the lathes or the very dodgy artex any more
Nice and smooth, ready for painting behind the telly

Still a bit of work to do here

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Funding Emigration - one redundancy at a time

About three years ago, I was sitting one evening with my nephew and his partner in their sunny back garden in Perth, Western Australia,along with The Builder, Lindsey and Ian. We were sipping wine, chatting, and generally relaxing and having a good time

The conversation turned, as it so often did, to my foolhardiness in leaving Australia for so long, without having first taken out citizenship. My permanent resident's permit had long expired.  I was no longer married to an Australian. It looked as though any chance of returning to Australia on a long term basis was out of the question.

My nephew listened to all this and offered the opinion that, although immigration law was not his field, he would have thought the situation was not beyond redemption and recommended that I find an immigration lawyer and discuss it with them.

I didn't.  I moved on to Melbourne and continued my three or four week visit, occasionally thinking that I ought to Do Something - but I didn't.

Twelve months after that I was back in Melbourne and observed that a new legal practice, which offered immigration advice, had opened up nearby Lindsey and Ian's City Centre apartment block. Right, thought I.  I shall go and make an appointment and put this thing to bed.  I am almost certain the lawyer will say there is no chance. Then we can all move on and consider the alternatives.  (I had a Plan A ready to roll, involving 8 or 9 months in Europe and 3 or 4 in East Asia and Australia each year).  But no.  The lawyer said he thought it was going to be possible to sort it out and offered me a fixed price on a no-win-no-fee basis.  I was a bit surprised. Plan A was demoted to Plan B, at least in the short term.

In the end it took my lawyer, plus Lindsey and me about 18 months and lots and lots of effort to gather together the documents required, get them all certified, write up the statements, gather the additional material that the Immigration Department wanted, get more things certified. It cost quite a lot of money, by the time you took into account all the incidental expenses, the immigration fees and my lawyer's fees.  All the way through I was fairly sure the Immigration Department would say no - until they asked for the last lot of documentation they required.  I thought then they might say yes, or they wouldn't have asked for it. I was nevertheless quite surprised and not a little discombobulated when I got an email from my solicitor congratulating me on the restoration of my residency.

I went into Darwin last December as a resident, able to stay indefinitely, and with a travel permit that allows me to be out of Australia until September.

In the meantime, the library service that I work for had started going through a massive restructure process, more or less at the same time that I was putting into train the process that would restore my Australian residency.  The restructure was beset by delays, postponements and deferments.  Slowly, slowly, the restructure made its way through the various layers of management, and finally got to my level the day before The Builder and I left on the World Birthday Tour in December.

We knew more or less what the document would say. We just didn't know the fine detail. What that came down to, in the end, was that there were too many people for the number of jobs available and that we would have to compete for those jobs. The other alternative was to put in for a redundancy.

So apply for a redundancy was what I did. And the application was accepted.

I started work at SHU in June 1997 on a 6 week contract. I am finishing on March 31st this year after oh-so-nearly 19 years, without a break in service.  Not a bad run, when you think about it.

We can't go anywhere until after the end of May. The Builder's son is getting married in Winchester and we have already replied to the invitation saying we will be there.  Plus, of course, we need to sell the house which will be looking resplendent and gorgeous when it goes on the market in a few weeks time. We will get The Builder a 12 month visa in the first instance to see how he gets on with Australia as a place to live rather than a place to visit and then see how things go.  My solicitor says there will be no trouble getting him a partner's visa but that will be quite expensive. A 12 month visa is much less money and allows a bit more flexibility.  However, I have been doing a spot of house hunting and have found some quite nice places that would suit us just fine.   Please everyone cross your fingers for a swift and hassle free sale of the house in Tupton.

It's a bit like what we did when I came to the UK almost 20 years ago. We used redundancies to pay for it, came for 12 months and accidentally stayed (although Ross went back after a few years).  I think this will be the last redundancy that will come my way, though.

The plasterer and his mate did turn up this morning.  The radiator pipe is no longer leaking. The plasterers are making steady progress.  They'll be back tomorrow to finish up, then back in a week or two to do the final bits and pieces. Progress is being made!

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

It's not going very well

We're having the lounge room re-plastered at the moment.  The plaster has been coming away from the front wall for some time now.  This is largely our fault. We waited for ages and ages before we fixed the guttering which had come away from the front house wall which meant, of course, that water simply poured down the front of the house whenever it rained.  That meant that the bricks got wet, which meant that the plaster got damp and it perished.  It hasn't got any worse since we had the guttering fixed but it did need dealing with.

We decided while we were about it that we would have some other bits where the plaster was looking unhappy done, and have another wall skimmed, and have the artex on the ceiling covered over. This was an issue not because the artex in the lounge room itself was unsightly, but where the old hallway had been, before someone knocked the wall down, the "artex" on the ceiling was appalling.  Someone has just splapdashed stuff all over the place.  No attempt at a pattern.  It was awful.  Cally would have done an infinitely better job.

Well.  We knew it was a bodgy job.  We didn't realise quite how bodgy. When Liam the Plasterer started to take the stuff down in the passageway, this is what he found:

Fortunately, the main lounge room ceiling is in much better condition and it seems as though he's only going to have to properly fix the old passageway. He can skim the rest.

He started taking the perished plaster off the front wall and found a gap in the bricks, letting cold air in.  He's filled that with some foamy stuff.  The front inside wall now looks like this:

It so happened that we had a bloke from British Gas in the house on Monday, when all of this was going on. He was doing our annual boiler service.  When he discovered that Liam was intending to take one of the radiators off the wall, he came down to help.  Most unfortunately, this left one of the radiator pipes feeling very unhappy and it was leaking slowly in sorrow at losing its radiator friend. The boiler man gave The Builder instructions on how to stop it and went away. Liam was going to look at the leak yesterday morning when he came in.  Sadly, unexpectedly he wasn't able to come in yesterday.

As slow leaks do, it got over-excited and by yesterday was quite an enthusiastic leak.  This made the boiler very unhappy. Fortunately it is quite mild at the moment and even more fortunately we have our lovely new wood stove to play with.  The wood stove keeps the downstairs nice and toasty warm. Just as well, because we can't really run the central heating while the pipe is leaking.  It then leaks with extreme vigour and empties the boiler.  Sigh.

I am hoping that Liam will be able to stop the leak today.  I know he is a plasterer and not a plumber, but he takes many radiators off walls in the course of his working life so he must know how to deal with grumpy pipes.  Otherwise I'm going to have to get in a proper plumber. We don't want water running randomly onto the wooden floor in our lounge room indefinitely!!

I think next time I'll just hang an arras over any dodgy plaster I happen to have lurking about. Much less trouble, though possibly quite a lot more expensive if I get a richly textured mediaeval arras.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Flynn's First Sunday lunch out

And actually, it was probably his first Sunday Lunch ever.  I know he was born before lunch last Sunday, but I don't think lunch would have figured in his thinking a mere 12 hours after he was born! It must be said that Flynn didn't eat much from the menu, but we should clearly start as we mean to go on, and we are all enthusiastic Sunday Lunch eaters, quite often out.

Anyway.  Freyja has been involved with the Real Junk Food Project in Sheffield recently.  It's a place where they base their menus on food that would otherwise go to waste, from local shops, households, restaurants and other places which might have left over food.  So there isn't a lot of choice, and mostly it's cooked by home cook volunteers (although I believe there are a small number of actual chefs who get involved sometimes). When you've eaten, you pay what you think it was worth, or what you feel like paying, or what you can afford to pay. You can also pay with donations of food, or with your time, or with your skills.

It's based in the old Regather Works building in Sharrow, and the eating area isn't very big (although there is an area upstairs which can be pressed into service when required).  Freyja suggested that we all meet there for lunch yesterday, so we could see what it was like. She has done some volunteering there, so she knew already what it was like!

When The Builder, Freyja and I turned up, the downstairs area was already full, so we went upstairs, reorganised the tables to suit our larger party, turned on the heaters and made it all cosy.  They had run out of braised beef ribs, so The Builder and I had all the roasty accompaniments with bolognaise sauce on the side.  Freyja had nut roast.  Tabitha, Gaz, Cally and Flynn turned up a bit later, by which time tables had become available downstairs, so we all decamped down there.  It was a good experience (apart from Tabitha's food which was a bit on the cold side - that was easily fixed by bunging it in the microwave).  The Builder had some beetroot cake which Freyja had made for the kitchen on Friday. I had frozen banana "ice cream" which was very tasty, but which had dates mashed in with it to add a bit of sweetness.  I am not a huge fan of the texture of dates.  They need more chocolate and fewer dates in their frozen banana "ice cream".  Alas, I'm told they virtually never get given chocolate as a donation.  I think I might have to rectify that.  We usually buy something for the local food bank when we are in the supermarket.  I might have to add "Chocolate for the RJFP kitchen" to my list! Not that that would be waste, or junk food, but you need some condiments for your cooking :-)

I don't seem to have any photos of Flynn's parents from yesterday, and the photo I took of The Builder was all blurry.  But here are some of Freyja's and my photos:

Pirate Cally has arrived for lunch. 

You want me to come out of my snuggly capsule?  Really?!?!?!


Pirate Cally and Flynn the Cabin Boy

Auntie Freyja

Flynn loves it when Cally sings to him

In other news, there is a plasterer in our lounge room.  He's expecting to be there today and tomorrow and then again in about two weeks time.  We had to clear out the whole lounge room yesterday afternoon after we got back. This did not delight the cat!

It's a lot easier to empty a room when you have already started a de-cluttering program

What on earth do you two think you are doing now?!?!?!?!?!?!?

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Where's The Builder?

We went shopping on Sunday, off to the supermarket. As we came out, I realised that I had forgotten to get something.  So I suggested that The Builder go and put the shopping in the car and I would drop back in and pick up the forgotten item.

It didn't take long to get it and I was soon back out again.  I walked confidently to where the car was parked.  And there it wasn't :-S  I looked around.  I was *sure* it had been parked here, or at least very close to here.  And we had definitely gone in through that entrance.

I looked up and down.  I walked up and down.  I moved to a different lane. I knew we had parked on this side of the disabled bays.  But I couldn't see the car anywhere :-S

I rang The Builder.  But he didn't answer his phone :-S

I walked up and down a bit more.

I rang the Builder again.

I stopped to ponder.  It didn't seem likely that he would have gone home without me.  And if he had, he wouldn't be able to get in.  He didn't have his house keys with him.  I pondered a bit more.

And then saw him walking back up from the store.  It seemed he had moved the car down right by the door, waiting for me.  Alas, I hadn't come back out through that door and hadn't noticed him. And he hadn't seen me.  And his phone was at home, on his bedside chest of drawers.

Just as well I had noticed him walking back up from the store, where he had gone to find out where I was!!

Yesterday, I arranged to meet him after work in the staff car park.  He would give me a ring or a text message when he arrived so I wasn't standing about waiting in the cold.  At about the time I was expecting him, my phone rang. As I answered it, it cut off.  I assumed that was code to say that he and the car were in the car park, so off I trundled.  I got there.  I found the car this time.  But it was locked.  Locked and abandoned.  No sign of The Builder anywhere :-S

I rang him.  And the call went straight to his voicemail.  I texted him. Answer came there none. I rang him again. And texted him again.  Same result.  I walked up and down to see if I could find him. But no.

I didn't really know what to do after that, so I waited by the car (I wonder what I have done with the spare key, which is usually in my bag; I left it behind when we went away but I can't remember where I put it :-S). Eventually, he turned up.  His phone battery had died as he tried to ring me, so he had come over to my office to tell me he was there. Alas, I had already gone.  Someone took him up to  Level 7, because they had seen me go up there a few minutes earlier.  Then he got hopelessly lost trying to get back out onto the street.  Finally he found an escape route! When he got home and plugged his phone in, he got loads of messages from me, asking where he was. By then, of course, I knew where he was :-D

Reunited, we headed off to Costco for a shopping trip for us. Then we went to visit Tabitha, Gareth, Cally and Flynn, armed with a beef and vegetable casserole and bag loads of stuff for them all. Happy new life presents for Flynn, Congratulations on being a Big Sister presents for Cally. Presents from loads of people from Australia and Japan for Cally. Presents from Australia and Japan for Tabitha and Gareth.

Then we went to visit Freyja, taking with us presents from Australia and Japan for her and Simon.  While we were there we picked up Marlo and took him home with us. I'm not absolutely convinced he really wanted to go.  He wasn't entirely delighted to be put back into his travel basket. But he seems to have settled back in. He was very quick to head outside to check it all out.  He's been sequestered inside for 6 weeks at Freyja's place!

Time for work.  Second day back, but the first day on the bus.  The builder needed to go into Sheffield early yesterday morning for some building supplies and took me in with him. I've re-charged my smartcard bus pass. Fortunately - it worked :-D

Monday, January 18, 2016

Welcome to Flynn

Flynn Nicolas Ronnie Gillard was born at 00:05, thus just sneaking into Sunday 17th January.

Congratulations to Tabitha, Gareth and Cally on their new addition

Photo by Gareth (or perhaps Tabitha)

Sunday, January 17, 2016

A Very Long Friday

My goodness but that was a long day!  I think Friday lasted for about 33 hours, counting from its start at midnight in Japan, through to its finish at the following midnight in England.

We were travelling for most of that time, although in reality a great many hours were spent sitting or standing around waiting for something to happen.

Largely, it was uneventful.

We left the hotel at a little after 07:30 and ambled over to the airport.  I upgraded us to Premium Economy for the flight to Frankfurt.  They were offering upgrades at a reduced rate and it bagged us seats at the very front of the Premium Economy section with no one in front of us and lots of room to stretch out.  I have been wondering why I didn't just buy Premium Economy tickets in the first place - but I don't think they were available when I booked the flights back in July. The Osaka to Frankfurt route only introduced them a few weeks ago. I'll certainly book it next time.

We had quite a long wait for the flight once we had checked in, so breakfast and then a wander up and down to get in a little bit of exercise.  We got into Frankfurt ahead of schedule so there was no rushing about to make the connecting flight. The only drama that occurred all day was when there was a kerfuffle up ahead of us on the plane to Manchester. Someone had been taken ill. It was the first flight I had ever been on where a call has gone out for a medical professional to assist. Despite the fact that the flight was absolutely packed, no medical professional came forward. I think that most oft the passengers were business people returning to the UK from meetings or from working away for the week.  The Poorly Passenger recovered without medical intervention and walked off the plane when we landed. His neighbour got moved up to one of the few vacant seats on the flight, which happened to be in Business Class. I don't suppose he minded all that much!

We missed the direct train from Manchester to Chesterfield by five minutes. They only go once an hour, and there didn't seem to be much to be gained by going to Sheffield and changing to another train there. Certainly not when you took lugging heavy suitcases about with you. So we bought a (very hot!) pasty each and just waited it out.  We took a taxi from the station to our place and walked in through the door in Tupton about 23 hours after we had walked out of the door of the hotel in Osaka.

We celebrated by cracking open the 5 litre box of white wine we had bought in Costco in Gifu and lugged all the way back with us (we had, with regret, left what was in the other 5 litre box in the hotel in Osaka. We didn't have the space to bring them both back).

And that was the end of what had felt like a Never Ending Friday.

We spent today sorting things out and hitting the supermarket to stock up with vegetables and a few other useful things. And cat food. We are expecting Marlo to come home tomorrow, although I'm not sure he's going to want to. I think he has been enjoying being spoilt by Freyja, Simon and Aidan. He has certainly seemed very comfortable in the photos Freyja has been sending us.

Right. Bedtime.  I hope I sleep as well tonight as I did last night.

Friday, January 15, 2016

On Tuesday, Tatsuki and Kaori went to Tatsuki's music class.  These are usually on Fridays; this was an extra one to make up for one that was missed over Christmas and New Year.  There will be another one on this Friday.  Lots of music this week!

Austin, The Builder and I didn't feel the need for a music class so we drove up into the mountains instead. It's a lovely drive.  And at the end of it there was a huge, deserted park with an enormous cherry tree at the centre of it.  It's around 1500 years old and very venerable.  It's propped up in much the same way as the Major Oak in Sherwood Forest. At this time of year it is bare and leafless.  Austin tells me that during the couple of weeks in spring when it flowers the park is absolutely packed with people.  But I can imagine that the park would be beautiful in summer and autumn as well. It's rather lovely in winter, it must be said. There are lots of other cherry trees in the park. In the autumn I can see it being every bit as colorful as during the time of the spring blossom.

Kaori made us gyoza for dinner.  Kaori's gyoza are a wonderful treat. If she ever comes to my place we will have gyoza at every meal!

On Wednesdays, Tatsuki will soon start going to sessions in the kindergarten he will be going to full time from April in Gifu.  It's a bilingual kindie that teaches in Japanese and English.  But he hasn't started doing that yet, so he, Kaori, Austin, The Builder and I headed into Gifu - to the new Costco that opened last November. It was surprisingly crowded for a weekday! We couldn't do a massive shop. The Builder and I have no way of transporting the contents of a big shop back to Tupton, and Austin and Kaori don't really have anywhere to store vast amounts of things like loo paper,l or washing up liquid or whatever. (We use the cupboard on the upstairs landing as a Costco storage space :D ). I did, however, accidentally buy an enormous quantity of wine.  They had two x 5 litre casks of wine in boxes.   In the English Costcos you wouldn't be allowed to split them.  In Japan, however, they expected you only to buy one! So the end bill was huge (to Austin's alarm) and The Builder and I ended up with ten litres of wine!  One of the boxes is packed in a suitcase and ready to emigrate to Tupton!  Then curry at another Coco Ichi for lunch, and I made us stir fry chicken for dinner. Not as good as Kaori's gyoza, but palatable.

And then it was Thursday.  Austin went back to work. Tatsuki and Kaori went to Tatsuki's play school. And The Builder and I took various trains back to Osaka Airport Hotel, ready for the final flights which will bring to an end the World Birthday Tour. I knew that the time would go very quickly when we set off on the first leg to Singapore, and weeks and weeks of time stretched out in front of us. And it has.  This last week especially has vanished very quickly. Many thanks to Kaori's parents for a fabulous evening at their place, and to Austin and Kaori and Tatsuki for a lovely, restful, adventurous, fun-filled time at their place.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Victoria Photos

Click here for the

Noritake Gardens and Wagyu Beef

We had a lovely day yesterday.  We all took the train in the morning and headed into Nagoya.  Tatsuki quite enjoyed travelling on the train.

Then we caught another train, out to Noritake Garden.  Tatsuki wasn't quite so sure about that.  He doesn't approve of train hopping!

We had gone to  Noritake Garden partly because I like it and I don't get to go very often, but mainly because I wanted a couple of Totoro tea mugs and mostly because I wanted some of their chopsticks. If you are there in January they sell chopsticks with the animals of the Chinese zodiac on them.  I have a pair with sheep on (I am the year of the sheep). I bought a pair with monkeys on (that's this year and Kaori's year) and another with dragons (that's Tatsuki's year) and one with cows. I don't think I have a pair with horses (The Builder's year) or chickens (Austin's year). We'll have to get those next trip.

Right.  Lunch time.  And off we went to a CoCo Ichi curry house.  It wouldn't be a proper trip to Japan without a curry at a Coco Ichi curry house :-D

And then we headed to the Nagoya City Science Museum, which was lots of fun.  We only went into the museum, leaving the Planetarium and the Pokemon exhibition for next time.  We got a discount because we had come by train!  And we had a great time.  It was very busy, particularly on the lower levels where there is lots of stuff for little children.  But it was, of course, a public holiday. Tatsuki thought it was fabulous.

So much so that he didn't want to leave and chucked the biggest of huge big Wobblies as we headed off back to the station.  But we had to go.  We were due at Kaori's parent's place for dinner and it wouldn't do to be late - particularly since they were coming to the station in to cars to pick us up!

We had a delicious dinner at Kaori's parents' place.  They did us a lovely, traditional Japanese meal, with sashimi, chicken salad, tempura and wagyu beef cooked on a table top griddle.  I have never had wagyu beef before and it was absolutely lovely.  We muddled along fine with their English, my rather bad Japanese and Austin's translating skills.

When we were in the Science Museum, I stopped to play with one of the exhibits, where you put little balls at various places and push them off to see which gets there first.  The Builder went to show me how to use it (he had been watching some children using it).  I turned round and said "Yes. I know. I can read!"  And then realised that I can now read Katakana (sometimes with considerable effort). I could see the two different lines that said "start".  But it isn't that many weeks ago that I couldn't read katakana at all. I must practise it a bit more.  And learn a few more kanji so that they are reliably in my memory. I keep seeing kanji that I know I should know but which aren't planted in my memory sufficiently well for me to recall their meaning in the wild.  It's a bit frustrating sometimes!!

Monday, January 11, 2016

Arrived at Austin and Kaori's place

There as no trouble at all on the Japanese railway system.  Not that I expected there to be. A nice man at the railway station at the airport sold me ticket right through to Nagoya. We had no trouble changing trains at Shin Osaka.  We even found the right platform for the train to Hozumi without trouble when we got to Nagoya.  And Austin was waiting for us when we got there, to take us back to their place.


We're having a good time here.  Tatsuki seemed pleased to see us, and doesn't seem to mind that we are still here.  We went yesterday afternoon to the Ichinomiya Tower Park to see the Christmas and New Year illuminations, which were lovely.  Both Austin and Lindsey said that they were better than the Christmas lights in Tokyo, which surprised me a bit - but the ones in Ichinomiya were certainly good.  Tatsuki enjoyed the playground, and especially the bouncing area, which was like a bouncy castle only it looked like ski slopes, not a castle.  Kaori quite possibly doesn't enjoy being squashed between Tatsuki's chair and me on the back seat of their little car, but seemed to enjoy the park and lights.  Austin enjoyed the whole thing, apart from the bit where he dropped his brand new, replacement for the one that got dropped in the toilet, iPhone and the screen cracked into a very pretty, but largely unusable pattern.  We called into a local mall on the way home to get it repaired, but the Apple repair store closes at 3 on Sundays.  Today is a public holiday (Coming of Age day), and we have other plans. So tomorrow is now Repair the Phone day!  We had dinner in a Katsu diner to relieve the disappointment.

There are, of course, photos and no doubt there will be more to come.  I'll let you know when they are ready. In the meantime, here's a selection:

Saturday, January 09, 2016

Arrived in Osaka

We had a good night at Reef Palms in Cairns and took advantage of their free shuttle trip to the airport in the morning.  This did mean that we got there ridiculously early for our flight, but it also meant that the airport was close to empty!  In almost no time at all we were airside and ready to fly.  In about two and a half hours time :-D

No matter, thought we.  We'll fill in some of the time by having breakfast. So we did.  And it ranks amongst some of the grimmest food I have eaten in a very long time.  Even allowing for the fact that they only made up one breakfast instead of the two that I had ordered, so the second was "prepared" in super fast time, the food was dire.  I didn't eat mine.  The Builder ate most of his, but only because he was hungry.  I filled in the rest of the time by buying up the airside shops.  Not one of my usual activities but they did have some nice things.

I had entirely accidentally booked us seats in what is the closest you can get to Premium Economy on Jetstar.  We were one row back from the beginning of the economy seating.  There was only one row behind us before you got to the cabin crew's galley.  By the windows there was one more row behind that, then a barrier to the rest of economy.  We were in a small, self-enclosed area and were mostly attended to by the crew who were looking after Business Class.  I had pre-ordered meals.  It was all rather civilised.  Next time I shall try for the front row, which has extra leg room, and no one tipping their chair back in your face! (I realise that you have to pay extra for that on Jetstar, but that's ok).

We had a good flight over.  Immigration allowed us into Japan.  Customs expressed absolutely no interest in our cases.  The only slight drama was that, although I could remember all the words in Austin and Kaori's address, I couldn't remember any of the numbers and I had forgotten to save their address before we left Cairns.  It didn't matter in the end.  There is excellent wifi in the airport pretty much from the moment you arrive.

I had booked us into the airport hotel, which is where you find us this morning.  We had the buffet dinner option last night, and very tasty it was too - though I fear that we were both much more entertained by the soft ice cream machine than by all the rest of the food, delicious though it was!  Breakfast this morning was a much better deal than in Cairns yesterday.  I was going to say that it jolly well should be, considering how much it cost.  But in fact it wasn't significantly more expensive than yesterday's offering.  A bit, but not hugely so.  I did fill in a fairly grumpy comments form yesterday, so maybe they'll improve things.  And, of course,  yesterday might just have been an off day.

And shortly we will head off and entrust ourselves to the mercy of the Japanese Rail System.  We have to get ourselves from here to Hozumi, where we are hoping that Austin will meet us :-)

Friday, January 08, 2016

On The Move

We had a lovely meal in The Builders Arms with Lindsey and Ian on Wednesday night, in celebration of our final night in Victoria for this trip. We expect to be back sometime in the (Aussie) winter.

Then we flew up to Cairns for a night, en route to Japan, for the last leg of the #WBT.

I fly a lot, comparatively speaking.  I know what you can and can't take in your cabin luggage.  When in doubt, I don't. So The Builder and I were a bit surprised when our little cabin suitcase was set aside and opened for inspection.  If you had asked me, I would have said that the picnic cutlery had been packed in the suitcase with the stuff for Japan.  But no. There it was, metal knives and all, packed in the cabin luggage :-S. The picnic cutlery doesn't have its knives any more.  Then I got selected for a random drugs screening.  I passed that one :-D

Oh, and the Tullamarine Airport might like to consider improving its signage for access to the new Terminal 4.  It was something of an adventure trying to get there and find the short term parking! Thank you to Ian for taking us on this adventure - though I don't think he realised when we set off from the flat that it would be quite so exciting.

It was quite hot and rather humid in Cairns yesterday afternoon. It's only a couple of km from where we are staying, into the town centre, along an attractive walk along the seashore.  So off we went for a bit of exercise.  I think I nearly did for The Builder.  A 4km walk in the middle of the afternoon might not have been my brightest idea. We didn't go back in in the evening to check out the restaurants. We went to one of the two nearby pubs instead. Although the hotel does run a shuttle into town in the evening. Next time we'll make use of that. I quite fancy sampling some of the seafood restaurants in town, although the Dunwoody did us a very nice chicken schnitzel and a lovely piece of barramundi.

We're off to Osaka this morning.  I am not expecting it to be 30+d and humid there!  Might have to dig out my shoes, socks and jumper, none of which have been disturbed for nearly a month.

Frannie in the Builders Arms (photo thanks to Ian)

Wednesday, January 06, 2016

A busy few days

We went from Warragul back to Mount Helen, Lindsey and me in her car with Sam, and Ian and The Builder following on later in Ian's car.  I think Sam enjoyed his visit to Coco and Vallie - but he was certainly happy to get home again to his own toys and couch!

Pat came to lunch on the Sunday. Ian made a slow cooked lamb dish with lots of vegetables and with roast potatoes on the side.  We had cheese and fruit for afters.  It was all very delicious and a good afternoon was had by all.  Well, by all apart from Sam who was very restless and a bit agitated.  The reason became clear when we could hear, far in the distance, the rumbling of thunder.  Sam hates thunder.  And can clearly hear or feel it long before we could.  He has a storm vest which is alleged to calm dogs down in stormy weather.  It seemed to help. Unless it was him hiding under the dining room table, protected from the Evil Monster by all our legs around him :-D

We moseyed on down to East Melbourne (there may have been lunch involved, at L'Espresso in Ballarat) and had dinner at Simon's place (excellent steak).  And now The Builder and I are at Mount Martha, starting our last full day of the Victorian leg of the World Birthday Tour.  Three weeks, which have gone very quickly!

If you should find yourself in East Melbourne, looking for somewhere to have a pleasant, light breakfast, brunch or lunch, you could do a lot worse that to try the Square and Compass.  Lindsey pointed it out to me on our morning walk yesterday, though I don't think she or Ian have ever been in.  It was very busy when The Builder and I dropped by at lunchtime. And it was easy to see why. The menu isn't extensive, but it was well cooked and very tasty.  I shall remember it for future visits.


Dinner time:

Doing what The Builder and I do best - eating and drinking :-D

Saturday, January 02, 2016


Some weeks ago I was in the shower in Tupton.  It was just before 6 in the morning. It was still dark.  And I became aware that I could hear a kookaburra.  This was a bit disconcerting.  There aren't many kookaburras in Tupton and I have never previously heard one (although someone round about our place appears to have a cockatoo - I'm sure I hear one occasionally and they are hard to mistake!).  Anyway, the bird I could hear from the shower was definitely a kookaburra.  Very odd.  Then I went into the bedroom and The Builder asked me if I had heard the kookaburra on Tweet of the Day. Ah yes.  I had forgotten Tweet of the Day.  My kookaburra had been introduced by David Attenborough :-)

This morning I was woken by the loud laughter of several kookaburras.  Aside from the fact that it was unnecessarily early (something around 6 in the morning :-) ),  it wasn't particularly disconcerting.  There are lots of kookaburras round about here.

Greetings to 2016

Seeing out 2015

And greeting 2016

Friday, January 01, 2016

En route

We had a lovely visit to Geelong.  We went to visit my friend Irene and her venerable dog Maggie.  Irene's friend Gilly was there too. I've known Gilly for a long time, but haven't seen her for, it must be over 20 or 25 years.  It was good to catch up with her.  It was good to catch up with Irene, too, though we have seen her more recently than that - most recently at Chris and John's place when we went for lunch. We dined on vegetables from the garden, vegetables not from the garden, meaty stuffing and apricot tart. It was all very delicious and convivial.  Thank you to Irene and to Maggie for their hospitality.

After a hearty breakfast (I had never thought to have silver beet/chard with my eggs and bacon - I will do in the future), we returned to East Melbourne where we gathered up Ian and then we went New Year's Eve Feast shopping. We went to Port Melbourne to a delightful deli/grocers  for most of our provisions and to Chadstone for supplies of meat. Then we headed to Warragul. Not a bad run. The roads were relatively clear, it being what someone on the radio this week called the Inter Fest, when many people are on holiday and the pace of life slows.

We went with Matt to close up part of  his school after the builders had finished for the weekend.  While we were there we had a look around.  It's a lovely school.  Much bigger than I had expected.  On the way back we called in to look at the house they have recently bought.  It needs renovating but it has lots of potential.  Belinda's mother is going to live there when it's finished.

Then Lindsey turned up with Sam and an evening of eating delicious food, prepared by Ian, and drinking delicious wine ensued.  I didn't stay up to see in the New Year.  Every day is the start of a new year for somebody!  And anyway, these days the mornings seem to me to be the time of new beginnings, not midnight. I left them watching a film about some bloke growing potatoes on Mars and went to bed in the quite remarkably warm bungalow.

And here I am, greeting a morning which is much fresher and cooler than yesterday, poised at the start of 2016, which promises to be even more "interesting" than 2015. I wait with interest to see what it has to offer.