Going To Malvern Not Wembley

Some of the last week or so has been spent managing my disappointment that Forest Green Rovers (FGR), the football team I follow avidly and actively, just failed to make it through to the English Football League 2 (EFL2) Playoff Final at Wembley.  FGR have had a great season following the struggles experienced last year during our first season at this level.  However, we just fell short of entitlement to a third visit to Wembley in four years.  I’ve amended my diary to free up the play-off final weekend, responded to the commiserations from friends, and adjusted the focus of my hopes towards next season.

Lining Up For The 1st Leg Playoff Semi-Final At Prenton Park (Tranmere Rovers)

Lining Up For The 1st Leg Playoff Semi-Final At Prenton Park (Tranmere Rovers)

We (and I do think of FGR as a ‘we’) nearly managed automatic promotion but we faltered near the end of this season with a 4-3 loss at Crewe Alexandra having be3-1 up.  Then, in the play-off semi-final against Tranmere Rovers, the fine margins between success and failure fell against us.  It didn’t help that we had a player sent off in both home and away legs but, in truth, we also didn’t quite play to our potential.  Now we have to wait for a team rebuild for next season and see if we can challenge for promotion again.  I’ve renewed my season ticket but am already missing the weekly routine of live football!

FGR Lining Up at Gresty Road, Crewe Alexandra

FGR Lining Up At Crewe Alexandra. We Are Getting Used To Playing At These (Relatively) Big Stadia

Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) does long-suffer when it comes to my obsession with football.  But she and I did have a trip out that was rather different from the one I had been planning to Wembley.  We bought a fully electric car recently to replace one of our two existing and now aged cars – probably my rusting, but still remarkably effective, hulk of a Saab will go for scrap.  LSW had been using her new electric e-Golf for local trips to and from work but wanted to try out a longer run that would involve practicing charging at a service station.  We chose a visit to the Malvern Spring Festival and charged up successfully at the rather wonderful Gloucester Services, Farm Shop and Kitchen on the way back.

The Festival is a vast exhibition of plants, gardens, art and everything to do with gardening.  It is very popular and there were large crowds.  There is more of a focus on selling garden paraphernalia than I remember there being at the Chelsea Flower Show.  The amount of space available at the Malvern Festival is conducive to that and I enjoyed wandering around the multitude of outlets and tents even though the weather was damp and grey.

Riot of Colour In The Floral Tent At The Malvern Spring Show

Riot of Colour In The Floral Tent At The Malvern Spring Show

Both LSW and I love aspects of gardening.  I tend to focus on the vegetable patch and my allotment while LSW prefers mapping out and planting the flower beds.  However, we didn’t go to the show with any clear purchase plan and only came away with three small perennials and, for me, a £2 pot of recently germinated dill.  Given the vast quantity of stuff that was on sale, we weren’t great customers; just voyeurs!

Habit of Living Garden By Tatlow and Hathaway

Habit of Living Garden By Tatlow And Hathaway – Probably My Favourite Show Garden At Malvern

We had a very pleasant, relaxed morning despite the rather grim weather.  Some of the model gardens were very impressive and, because was the first day of the Festival, the rain hadn’t yet made the car park or walkways too muddy.

It was nice to get out of the drizzle to hear some of the speakers (including James Alexander-Sinclair, Jamie Butterworth and Jo Whiley) in the main marquee.  There, we were also treated to an eclectic fashion exhibition where the designs were based on different plant types and garden themes.  Most of the outfits were rather skimpy and I sympathised with the models and dancers who had to tolerate the cold as well as the weirdness of some of the things they were wearing.  They seemed to enjoy it as much as we did though.

Part Of The 'Floral Eccentricity' Show By Sarah Champier

Part Of The ‘Floral Eccentricity’ Show By Sarah Champier. Brrrr!

The What If Garden With More Underdressed Dancers

The What If Garden With More Underdressed Dancers

Fortunately the weather improved after the Malvern excursion.  That gave LSW and I the first opportunities since Easter to sit out in the garden, have a relaxing glass of wine or two, and to survey our past gardening efforts.  We have gradually got increasing control of the small meadow-cum-orchard that adjoins the main garden.  We moved a bench up to the top of it last year.  From there we have a sunny view and can see the gradually increasing diversity of the meadow.

View From The Bench Near The Top Of Our Meadow

View From The Bench Near The Top Of Our Meadow

Common Blue And Little Copper Butterflies

Common Blue And Little Copper Butterflies In Our Meadow. A Very Pleasing Addition to Fauna There

I think we will spend more time there in summer evenings this year while planning further garden evolution and pondering the possibility of Wembley next football season.

Walking, Drinking And Bending at 63

I had a birthday last week and I’ve made it to 63 years of age.  When I was in my twenties I didn’t believe I’d get so far and I’m sure some of the damage I did to my body around that time will catch up with me in due course.  But not yet, it seems!

I do a lot of walking to maintain a modicum of fitness.  My average number of steps per day has steadily increased in recent years and, especially since I retired nearly two years ago.  Many of those steps are up and down the steep valley slopes near where I now live.  They are therefore more testing than the pure statistics suggest.  However, I do wonder if increasing walking just makes me better at walking rather than fit and I do need to ensure that I walk at a heart-exciting pace so that I do get a true health benefit.

Of course, walking is not just for fitness.  I do need to get from A to B and, since we tend to shop daily for just what we need each day, this includes a daily walk into the local town (Nailsworth).  There is a real pleasure in this which I have mentioned in these posts before, not least because of the variety of routes and the lovely countryside to view on the way.

Bluebell Woods Near Nailsworth, Gloucestershire

Bluebell Woods Near Nailsworth, Gloucestershire (One Of The Few Places Not Yet Overrun By Wild Garlic)

I’m fortunate in that Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) has also developed a love of walking in recent years.  That means we can venture out on walks for walking’s sake together while discussing the issues of family, friends and the wider world.  We also encourage friends who visit to join us on some of the nicest walks near our home.  Indeed, that is how we celebrated my birthday when my Best Man visited us.  After a lovely, sunlit three hour traverse of several valleys we adjourned to the local pub (as you do).

Birthday Walk West Of Horsley, Gloucestershire To Owlpen And Back

Birthday Walk West Of Horsley, Gloucestershire To Owlpen And Back (Wild Garlic, Owlpen Manor And Rape Fields)

Nonetheless, much of the walking I do is alone and that too is calming and enjoyable.  I don’t tend to think of matters of great import when walking alone.  I watch nature around me, make mental to do lists, envisage great wins for Forest Green Rovers Football Club, play Pokemon Go, think about my next blog post and let my mind go near blank.  The emptiness of mind as one simply puts one foot in front of the other amid beautiful countryside is what makes walking relaxing.

Sunlight Through Trees Near Owlpen

Sunlight Through Trees Near Owlpen, Gloucestershire

Reaching 63 has got me thinking about a couple of other aspects of health that I need to give more attention to.  For about 15 years I have tracked the number of no-alcohol days that I manage.  For the most part the trend has been steadily increasing – that is, improving.  My current, (for me) aggressive target is to be alcohol-free 140 days in the year.  I have only managed that once in the last 15 years and I’m not on track to meet it again but I am going to be more resolute, I promise.

I have also, for the last 6 months, been tracking my daily alcoholic unit intake using an application called Drinkaware.  This is scarier since I am way over the safe limits health researchers have determined.

Part of my problem here is that in measuring only non-alcohol days, I have been only measuring my performance in one dimension.  So, on a day when I might have one drink – to be sociable during a meeting with friends or to fill in time before a football match for example – I then think: ah, I’m not having a no-alcohol day, so why not have a few more drinks later.  Dumb huh?  I need to do better and will continue to track daily alcohol volume intake as well as no alcohol days.  Just the action of tracking should encourage improvement.

The other health aspect that I need to work on is balance and flexibility.  This is being underlined daily at the moment by a lower back pain I get after sitting down – something I do less of now I’m retired but which still occupies hours a day.

I’m also reminded of my failures in this area by the Instagram feeds that I see almost daily being posted by Youngest Son’s girlfriend.  She is an osteopath and yoga teacher and has a great Instagram feed and blog (becthomaswellness.com) showing how to maintain core strength and flexibility.  She recently posted a video specifically on how she keeps her spine supple and it was pretty inspiring.

Today I can’t physically do (at least not properly) 10% of the exercises she does but I need to do more than the 1% I currently do on some days.  Just writing this down here feels like it is strengthening my resolve.  But the important thing is action not words.

Let’s see how I am doing by the time I am 64.  Meanwhile, I’ll build consuming one of my birthday presents into my strengthened fitness and health regime……

Tasty Birthday Present From Middle Son

Tasty Birthday Present From Middle Son

Two London Visits

I continue to be able to ameliorate my yearning for the buzz of living in London with one or two visits each month.  These are often based around meetings with old friends or gigs of bands that I like but can’t see out in the country.  That was the case this month and, once again, my ability to camp in my old flat on the sofa bed has proved very convenient.

During the last week I saw a couple of gigs.  The first was The Antlers at Union Chapel with Middle Son (MS).  This was a celebration of the ten year anniversary one of my favourite albums: Hospice.  It’s a very sad album about domestic, emotional abuse (apparently) and (more clearly) terminal illness.  That may not sound appetising but it’s wonderfully powerful and the stripped back acoustic version The Antlers performed was moving and beautiful.  It drew on the hushed and respectful atmosphere the Union Chapel often generates and I love going there despite the unforgivingly hard pew seating.

img_3411.jpg

The Antlers At Union Chapel

The next day, following a planned lunch with one old friend and then an impromptu meeting and beer with another outside Rough Trade East, I saw Malena Zavala at The Moth Club in Hackney.  This is a compact venue that is an ex-military veterans club with sparkling ceilings and amusing customer signs I have mentioned in previous blog posts.  The support band (Wovoka Gentle) and Malena were both good.  Malena mixed the tuneful, dreamy songs I knew with warm Latin rockers that indicated her Argentinian heritage.  I, and the rest of her audience, had a great, foot-tapping evening.

Malena Zavala and Support (Wovoka Gentile) at The Moth Club

Malena Zavala and Support (Wovoka Gentile) at The Moth Club

Earlier in April I had visited London for another gathering of old friends.  On the back of that I visited two places I had not been to before: The British Library and The Wallace Collection in Hertford House.

The British Library is vast and I limited myself to just the art exhibitions and the Library Treasury Gallery.  The latter provided an insight into the types of document that is held in the enormous reserves of the library.  There were beautiful illuminated books, religious texts representing all the main religions, historical documents (such as the book of Welsh Laws), important scientific papers and literature (such as the 14th century Gawain and The Green Knight) and sections covering Shakespeare and The Beatles.  I was drawn particularly to the old maps and I will look out for future special exhibitions that showcase the library’s holding of these.

The British Library

The British Library

One especially interesting section was on ‘Friendship Before Social Networks’.  This displayed many Friendship and Student Albums dating from the mid-16th century to Victorian times that individuals used to record the friends they met and the things they saw and did.  They were a little like artists’ sketch-books and many were really intricately completed and beautiful.  Their aim was to record, or even show off, the social networks and activities of their owners in much the way Facebook and Instagram often do today; fascinating!

Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) tells me that I saw at least part of the Wallace Collection at Somerset House many years ago.  I barely recall that and, in any case, the collection is now in Hertford House in Manchester Square.  Like the British Library, the permanent exhibition of art, armour and weapons collected in the 18th and 19th centuries (and bequeathed to the British nation by Lady Wallace in 1897) is free.  I love it that such attractions are open to all without mandatory charge – not least because I could visit on consecutive days rather than struggle to take it all in in one go.

The Back State Room, Hertford House (Wallace Collection)

The Back State Room, Hertford House (Wallace Collection)

The armoury is particularly impressive although I rather hankered for the more selective and minimalist displays LSW and I had seen in Kolumba in Cologne and in the Museum of Islamic Art in Doha.  The Wallace Collection of armour and weapons is certainly comprehensive but also a bit overwhelming.

Part Of The Wallace Collection Armoury

Part Of The Wallace Collection Armoury

Not so, apparently, for Henry Moore the famous British sculptor.  He loved the armoury and visited it often during his time in London.  It inspired his development of the head and helmet as one of his iconic sculptural forms.  This was the subject of what I thought was a tremendous exhibition of his ‘Helmet Heads’ in the basement of Hertford House.  This wasn’t free but it was excellent in terms of the items on display and the information about how the helmets concept influenced his ideas throughout much of his life.  It’s on until 23 June 2019 and I recommend it.

One Of Henry Moore's Helmet Heads

One Of Henry Moore’s ‘Helmet Heads’

I’m back home now and the focus is on the last few games of Forest Green Rover’s unexpectedly successful and entertaining football season and on population of the vegetable patch and allotment.  Easter saw marvellous weather and it would be nice to see a return of that so gardening and football can be followed by wine in sun in LSW’s new garden.

Old Friends And Oxford

Christ Church College, Oxford

Christ Church College, Oxford

While Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) and I were in Australia, we met up with three of her long-standing friends: a school friend in Perth, a college friend in Hobart and a more recent friend in Sydney.  Each reunion was refreshing.

LSW has been continuing this sustenance of her friend network since our return.  Three friends who we knew when we lived in Kew near London have dropped in to see us.  She has also been with other friends from Kew to the People’s Vote March in London and to Bristol to see another long-term acquaintance from work.  It is time for me to match her relationship maintenance!  I have the time now I am retired, and the only issue is fitting in with the diaries of my old friends who are still working.

For many years, a small group of friends who I got to know shortly after I first moved to London over 40 years ago have been getting together on a regular basis.  For the last few years we have been meeting up every few months in a restaurant chosen alphabetically based on country of cuisine.  We are up to P for Portugal.  I travelled up to London last week for the latest instalment of catching up with personal developments, railing against the inequities of the world and solving (in theory) a few current newsworthy issues.  It was fun and informative as usual, and an excellent excuse to spend time in London.

Also, I have also managed to get together with two friends from my college days.  My goodness; now we are talking about 45 years ago!  We have stayed in touch intermittently since then.  Some years we have been completely out of contact with each other and then we have had periods when we have been close.  One of these friends was my Best Man (BM) at my wedding and, as those who have read earlier posts will know, I see him off and on at his house near Cambridge.  The other now lives with his wife in Oxford and that is where all three of us met.

I have only been to Oxford a few times in recent years.  Then, the visits have been mainly to the outskirts to see Forest Green Rovers Football Club play Oxford United or to drop off or pick up Youngest Son from Oxford Brookes University.  This latest visit allowed me an almost full day wandering the city alone and then further sightseeing with my mates the next day. It’s a lovely city.

Scenes In Oxford

Oxford Scenes (Ratcliffe Camera, Bodleian Library, Bridge Of Sighs)

Upon my arrival, the weather was cold and I decided to go for a brisk walk to warm up.  I ended up walking a few miles up and down the Oxford canal.  This is a much scruffier walk compared to that along the Thames which we did together the following day.  Along the canal are mainly dilapidated barges.  Some sustain human life but almost all are covered in detritus and the romanticism of living independently on water looked rather battered.  The wildlife was plentiful though and the oblique view of the city through small canal-side workshops and back gardens was interesting.

I went to an exhibition of Jeff Koons’ work at the Ashmolean Museum and continued to warm up.  I am not sure I like Koons’ work but it is certainly striking.  Regardless of whether the pastiche or banality is deliberate, his work isn’t the sort of thing I would want in my home.  However, the exhibition explanations of the pieces on show, and a short video interview with the artist, helped me understand at least some of what he is trying to achieve.

Pieces By Jeff Koons At The Ashmolean Museum

Pieces By Jeff Koons At The Ashmolean Museum (Balloon Venus, Ushering In Banality, Rabbit And Ballerinas)

Much of the rest of the Ashmolean Museum – apparently the world’s oldest museum – is rather like a stately home with sumptuous furniture, display cases and huge paintings.  I didn’t explore all of it but wandered a little aimlessly though impressive collections of porcelain, musical instruments, and modern art by a number of artists I admire such as Bacon, Kandinsky, Matisse and Hepworth.

I dwelt only in two galleries.  The first held a small but lovely, lush collection of 12th and 13th century Italian art which had some unusual pictures (one apparently depicting God himself and another showing a time lapse series of poses following the crucifixion).  The second covered the Pre-Raphaelites and included accounts of some of the salacious and scandalous relationships between the artists and their partners.  I saved the rest of the museum for another visit.

We ate well in Oxford but I walked many miles to work off the calories.  The sun came out for our walk around the north end of the city (including a brief stop at the remarkable and rather thrillingly cluttered Pitt Rivers Museum at adjoining the back of the Natural History Museum) and then along the Thames to a pub called The Perch.  It was great to get together with these university alumni, together for the first time in years, and to catch up with our ups and downs (in my case, thankfully, almost all ups).

Inside The Oxford Natural History Museum and Pitt Rivers Museum

Inside The Oxford Natural History Museum And Pitt Rivers Museum (Dinosaurs, Stuffed Dodos, Stuffed Human Heads And Other Marvellously Higgledy-Piggledy Collections)

Walking By The Thames At Oxford

Walking By The Thames At Oxford

Today LSW and I are off to Cheltenham to see some more old friends.  How personable I have become since retiring!

Marvellous MONA

Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) and I have been back from our Australia trip for about two weeks.  Those weeks have been spent quietly slotting back into a daily routine.  I have been getting a fork into the vegetable patch, strolling around the neighbourhood to spot the small changes that took place while we were away, catching up on a couple of Forest Green Rovers FC games, and recovering from the jet lag.  Once again I feel so relieved that, having retired, I can do all this without the worry of having to catch up at work while negotiating jet lag muzziness.

Though these two weeks, the memories of Australia have lived on pretty vividly.  They are reinforced by each retelling of our exploits down under to friends and relatives.  We’ve had some very good holidays in recent years but our Australia trip was one of the best.

One of the most exhilarating days that we had in Australia was that we spent in Hobart visiting the Museum of Old and New Art (MONA).  This was set up by and is run and financed by David Walsh, a millionaire Tasmanian who made his fortune through gambling.  He is passionate about art and giving something back to Tasmania.  Visiting the gallery is free for Tasmanians and it has become a huge tourist attraction.

MONA

Museum Of Old And New Art (MONA)

The visit started on a purpose-built jetty from which Youngest Son (YS) (who paid for the excursion), Long-Suffering Wife (LSW), and I boarded a strangely shaped and coloured ferry.  As we boarded we were invited to load up a MONA app on our phones and, as we started to look through the web site pages, we could see we would be in for a fun time.  This feeling was underlined by the presence of a full size cow sculpture on the boat and seats that looked like sheep.

The journey itself, up the Derwent River, gave us a new, interesting view of Hobart’s industry and huge river side mansions.  Then, as we approached MONA on its own island in the middle of the river, we could make out a series of balconies, walkways and low-slung, rather strange looking buildings.  As we left the ferry and entered one of these I was reminded of Thunderbirds and Tracy Island; it all felt slightly off kilter and unreal.

Inside it quickly became apparent that the bulk of the cavernous space for the art, the bars and the selection of restaurants is carved deep into the sandstone rock of the island.  There are spiral staircases, long corridors, small and huge rooms and, everywhere, fascinating sights.  I loved, for example, the slot machine beer dispenser which took one’s money and took its time to decide whether to dispense a lovely, expensive craft beer or a can of bog-standard Fosters lager.  I didn’t try it but was entertained by the relief or the frustration of others who did.

IMG_2721

Lucky Dip Beer Dispensary

As we moved around, so all the art was labelled, described and explained by the location sensitive app on our phones.  This provided various levels of detail – as much or as little as you wanted – on whatever was nearby.  I experienced something similar at the Opera exhibition at the Victoria and Albert just over a year ago but nothing as slick, comprehensive or amusing as this.

Screenshots From The MONA App

And so onto the art!  Incredible!

The first exhibit, Mummy and Coffin of Pausiris, required application for entry on the MONA app.  When my turn came I was let into a dark room, alone, and made my way around a platform with black water on either side.  In the middle of the room was, on one side of the platform, an Egyptian mummy in its shroud.  On the other side was a CAT scan of the same mummy that presented layers of the mummy progressively so that the mummified flesh was peeled back gradually to reveal organs then bones.  Some of these were damaged and indicated the cause of death and that, plus the irregular drips of water in the silent, dark room, made this lone experience really eerie and memorable.

Perhaps the best exhibit was Artifact by Gregory Barsamian.  I think it was YS’s favourite too.  It was a large bronze head on its side with several portals so you could see inside.  From each portal one got a different view of what resembled a rotating machine with birds, balls, hands, heads and wheels all moving around in sync in a quiet whirlwind of stroboscopic light.  It was riveting but I couldn’t grasp what I was seeing then and can’t hope to describe it adequately now.  It was astonishing and brilliant.

Inside Artifact by Gregory Barsamian

Inside Artifact by Gregory Barsamian (But I Just Couldn’t Capture Any Of The Movement or Impact Of It Here)

That was unsettling but even more so was the tattooed man, Tim.  The gallery has bought the tattoos on the back of this man and he is paid to sit all day, silently and still, to exhibit it.  It raised some deep ambiguity about ownership, slavery and art.

Tim, The Tattooed Man By Wim Delvoye

Tim, The Tattooed Man By Wim Delvoye Overlooking One Of The Restaurants Cut Deep Into The Sandstone

Other exhibits were also designed to keep one off balance.  Near Artifact was a bowl of water on a chair with a large sharp knife and two red and orange goldfish in it.  It was a simple piece (by Jannis Kounellis) but unnervingly reminiscent of blood in water.

Untitled, By Jannis Kounellis

Untitled, By Jannis Kounellis

Another exhibit (Kryptos by Brigita Ozolins) was a room set up as a small black maze with niches holding ancient vases.  When one got to the middle of the maze there was something unconscious that prompted one to look up.  Above was a mirror reflecting my upturned face; it scared the living daylights out of me.

I could go on.  There was the room half full of dense, black oil by Richard Wilson.  There was a grave stone at which we could throw glass bottles.  There was a huge room of tables with moving pellets, stroboscopic lighting, vast noise and hundreds of digital displays filled with alphanumeric characters (Supersymmetry by Ryoji Ikeda).  There lovely set of pieces by an Australian artist called Patrick Hall with opening drawers with recorded sounds, words and inscriptions.  There was a room with smelly hanging bowls linked by tubes and being fed food so that they reproduced the workings of the human digestive tract from start to finish (Cloaca Professional by Wim Delvoye).  There were skeletons making love, corridors with ever changing wall colours, a fat red car and hundreds of other works of art that surprised, enthralled and unsettled.

Fat Car By Erwin Wurm and Cloaca Professional In Action

It was simply the most engaging and enjoyable art exhibition I have ever seen.  It was huge but my attention didn’t drop once over about 4 hours. I’d love to go back and I recommend it to all.

One Of The MONA Rooms (Artifact In The Corner)

One Of The MONA Rooms (Artifact In The Corner)

Views Around MONA

 

Perth’s Diverse Hinterland

Our last week in Australia was spent exploring the south western corner of Western Australia.  What struck me as we travelled north, south, and east form Perth was that, even though the scale of the landscape is huge, there is considerable diversity in flora and landscape.

To the north are sparse coastlines backed by gigantic dunes.  The eucalyptus gives way to other tree species and then to heath-like scrub.  The towns on the coast such as Lancelin and Cervantes are quietly dedicated to small-scale tourism and crayfishing.

Sleepy Lancelin, Western Australia; Between Sea, Sky and White Dunes

Sleepy Lancelin, Western Australia; Between Sea, Sky and White Dunes

The famous Pinnacles Desert is inland from these fishing towns and was our main target.  This desert in the Nambung National Park is a marvel of calcified tree trunk stumps.  These were once in a forest that was submerged by dunes and now stand in their thousands across a baking desert.  It is possible to walk among them but fortunately, given the heat, there is also a rough car track through the park and we used that.  Once again we admired the way the Australians know how to present their prized landscape wonders.

Pinnacles Desert, Nambung National Park

Pinnacles Desert, Nambung National Park

We spent four days touring the region south of Perth.  We started with a 4 hour drive to Pemberton, broken by a pleasant stop at Bunbury.  As we drove south, the countryside was initially desiccated and there was a good deal of stressed-looking forest.  Later, as we approached Bunbury, the grassland and forest became lusher.  Where there were vast plantations of conifers, we were reminded of our drives around Vancouver a few years back – but now with the temperature gauge turned up!

Straight Roads And Huge Eucalyptus Forests

Straight Roads And Huge Eucalyptus Forests

Bunbury itself had some on-trend cafes (e.g. The Townhouse) that echoed Perth’s modern restaurant scene and a lovely rocky coastline was nearby.  There, I was so busy taking a photo of the waves on the basalt pillars that I was too late getting out of the way of an abnormally large wave and got a thorough soaking.  Good job the temperature was in the mid-thirties and I dried out quickly; lesson learnt though.

IMG_2898

Maidens Reserve, Bunbury. A Few Seconds Later, I Was Very Wet!

Pemberton is an unremarkable town surrounded by vast tracts of remarkable Karri eucalyptus forest.  I wanted to visit to recapture the magical feel we got from similar forest we saw 18 months ago west of Melbourne. We weren’t disappointed.

We walked through the forests both in the evening when we arrived and then the next morning and, both times, the slanting light through the trees was gorgeous and the sheer size of the trees was impressive.  My only regret was that I failed to pluck up the courage to climb one of the look-out trees that the fire marshals use to spot fires.  Had the enthusiasm of Youngest Son still been with us, I’m sure we would have all gone up for the tree-top view.

It was during our morning walk through gigantic eucalyptus groves of Beedelup Falls forest that we saw a snake.  Unlike when we were on the Great Ocean Road in 2017, this time, it was Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) who had the closest encounter and was within a couple of yards of its basking spot before it moved.  I think it was a moderately venomous short-tailed snake but it slid away quickly before we got an even closer look (which I really didn’t want!).

Beedelup National Park

Beedelup National Park

From Pemberton we went west and south to Margaret River and Augusta.  Here we chilled out among the wineries and breweries (Xanadu, Watershed and, the best of those we visited, Eagle Bay) and took in views of the surf and dolphins along the dramatic and largely empty coast.  Sugarloaf Rock, Prevelly Bay and Hamelin Bay provided particularly sweeping vistas and the latter had the added attraction of a large number of incredible metre wide sting rays patrolling the shallows.

One Of Many Sting Rays In The Shallows Of Hamblin Bay

One Of Many Sting Rays In The Shallows Of Hamblin Bay

Panoramic Shot Of Hamelin Bay

Panoramic Shot Of Hamelin Bay (Actually, It Makes It Look Smaller Than Reality…)

We also visited one of the large caves just inland.  Fortunately, Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) overcame her fear of enclosed, dark spaces to see all of Lake Cave. This was smaller than the Cango Caves we had seen last year in South Africa, but almost as impressive.

IMG_2974

Lake Cave

As we travelled around so we passed through little settlements each showing off their specialisms with great pride – Donnybrook is famous for its fruit and had streets lines with lamp posts shaped as apples, Cowaranup has life size models of cows everywhere and another town had a squad of scarecrows on show.  Each community took great pride in their identity.

Unusual Floral Display In Nannup :)

Unusual Floral Display In Nannup 🙂

Further north we visited another of LSW’s old friends – a school friend this time – in Dawesville.  The stories she told of her life since migrating to an Australian farm in the 1970’s were fascinating.  Her very Australian husband was an impressively practical antithesis of my own ability with machines who also had some amazing tales of the sharp end of life and travelling in Australia.

We rounded off that stop over with a wander around Mandurah where a ‘Crabfest’ overlooking a bay bigger than Sydney Harbour, attracted more people than we had seen together in one place throughout our entire trip.  We also diverted to take a walk along Clifton Lake through Tuart eucalyptus woods.  This was interesting for the rare, calcified structures an ancient species of bacteria (thrombolites) produces on the lake floor and also for the chainsaw-like noise the clouds of (non-biting) midges made as we walked through them.  We’d seen a variety of marsupials, birds, reptiles, dolphins and other wildlife on our trip but I didn’t expect to be impressed by midges!

IMG_3048

Thrombolite Structures At Clifton Lake

Our final, and probably hottest day, was spent east of Perth.  Here, the trees species were different again.  A whole chook (chicken) lunch at The Feral Brewing Company was followed by a brief, hot trip to the massive and historic Mandaring Weir.  Then there was a final round of drinks at the historically interesting and now rather trendy Guildford Hotel in Guildford.

Mandaring Weir

From there we departed for the airport and left Australia having loved pretty much every minute of our stay there.  We’ll be back one day.

Bright, Shiny Perth (And Freemantle)

The third city in Australia that we visited, after Sydney and Hobart, was Perth plus its twin, Freemantle, way out on the west coast.  During our five hour flight over the south coast of Australia we got a sense of Australia’s huge scale.  We had previously admired the 9 mile beaches in Tasmania but now we could see we were flying over beaches on the south coast more than 100 miles long.

View Of Perth Centre From Kings Park

View Of Perth Centre From Kings Park

Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) had booked us into the Alex Hotel in Perth as the base for our stay in Western Australia.  It was excellent – probably the best value hotel I can remember staying in.  It was central, modern, cool, informal and very comfortable.  The friendly and helpful staff, the buffet breakfast and the honour bar systems in the lounge and roof top seating area were very trusting and relaxing.

Sunset Over The Alex's Roof Top Bar

Sunset Over The Alex’s Roof Top Bar

We were initially disappointed that breakfast was included in the room rate since we had been looking forward to finding the best breakfasts Perth could offer.  However, the breakfast was so good – the fig bread was especially tasty and the coffee was predictably excellent – that we indulged every morning.  These substantial breakfasts plus, I think, the 30 degrees of heat outside, meant that we rarely felt like more than light meals for lunch or dinner.  Not that stopped us sampling the excellent food that seems the norm in Australia (for example at NoMafia, Shadow Bar and Gordon Street Garage).

On our first morning LSW and I walked to Kings Park. This is a 1000 acre site overlooking the Swan estuary and the central business district that contains the botanical gardens and a large tract of native bushland.  It was a good introduction to the plants and, especially, the trees of Western Australia and the views were great across brilliantly sunny, clear air. We flagged after a few hours in the heat.  Fortunately, the Swan Brewery, with its view across the shining Perth Water, is adjacent to the park so planning for refreshments was relatively easy!

Swan Brewery From Kings Park

Swan Brewery From Kings Park

We strolled around the waterfront which is undergoing a huge transformation.  Everywhere we looked the city seemed bright, shiny and vibrant.

Perth Waterfront And Typical Graffiti

Perth Waterfront And Typical Graffiti

The following day we took a ferry to Freemantle, the port out on the coast at the end of the Swan River.  Again, the city was clean, tidy and looked great in the brilliant sun.  The historical buildings were rather more grouped together than we had seen in Perth’s centre and the strips of late 19th century and early 20th century colonial buildings were busy with independent businesses but well preserved.

On The Way To Freemantle

On The Way To Freemantle

High Street, Freemantle

High Street, Freemantle

We visited two historical prisons and the Freemantle Shipwrecks Museum and each held our interest for an hour or so.  The Roundhouse opened in January 1831 to hold those convicted of a crime in the settlement and was used until 1886.  We were fortunate enough to be visiting just as a demonstration was taking place of the Freemantle Time Ball and Cannon.  This was used daily until 1937 to indicate the precise time to sailors off the coast so they could navigate successfully through the islands and reefs.  The cannon was a good deal noisier than either LSW or I expected!

The Roundhouse, Freemantle

The Roundhouse, Freemantle

The Freemantle Convict Prison was built in the 1850s by convicts shipped from England and was then used to house them as they continued to be sent to Australia until 1868.  The building was impressive and LSW was rather taken by the standard prison uniform which was rather like some of her own best outfits.  Over 10,000 convicts passed through the prison and helped build the settlement’s infrastructure.  Some convicts served their sentence and went on through various levels of freedom to be successful outside the prison.  Of course, many did not and the exhibition showed how tough conditions were for the convicts, especially those undertaking hard labour in welded-on manacles in over 30 degrees of heat.

The Convict Prison, Freemantle

The Convict Prison, Freemantle

'The Slops': Convict Uniform

‘The Slops’: Convict Uniform

The Shipwreck Museum was stuffed full of information and exhibits and, frankly, we were ready for another nice lunch (which followed very pleasantly at Hush).  I focused on learning about James Stirling who explored the Swan River in 1827 and made the case to the British government for establishment of the Freemantle settlement.  He is an ancestor of LSW’s brother in law so there was an extra twist of interest in the material relating to him in the museum.

The Shipwreck Museum, Freemantle

The Shipwreck Museum, Freemantle

Back in Perth, we went to the Institute of Contemporary Arts which, apart from a nice looking café and an interesting exhibition by Cassils (a Canadian performance artist), was rather empty.  I also went to the Art Gallery of Western Australia which was more conventionally full of Australian, Aboriginal and European art.  A collection of European sculptures by Jean Arp, Henry Moore, Auguste Rodin, Lynn Chadwick and Antony Gormley) was impressive.

Our last full day in Perth ended at one of Australia’s iconic beaches: Cottesloe Beach.  Here was more sculpture; this time, a temporary exhibition of international, modern sculpture in a collection called ‘Sculpture By The Sea’.

Sculpture By The Sea, Cottesloe Beach

Sculpture By The Sea, Cottesloe Beach

This exhibition, and Perth’s love of the beach, attracted big crowds.  Navigating these was a novelty given that everywhere else we had been on this trip had been very sparsely populated or entirely empty.  We simply retreated to a bar and watched the lovely sunset.  It was a beautiful way to round off our time in bright, lively and seemingly confident Perth.

Sunset, Cottesloe Beach

Sunset, Cottesloe Beach

We used Perth as a base for travel south, north and east in the south-west corner of Western Australia.  I’ll cover my thoughts on some of those journeys in the next post.

Scratching The Surface of Tasmania

Tasmania is more than half the size of England so it is no wonder that, in the five days Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) and I have been here, we have only seen a fraction of the island. However, having met up with Youngest Son (YS) here, we have seen a good deal of the south-east of the island and of Hobart, the capital. Once again, Australia has been spectacular.

Panorama Of Hobart From Mount Wellington (Originally Called Kunanyi)

It was great to see our exuberant and bouncy YS again. Having now parted once more, as we head to Perth and he heads back to Brisbane, it is nice to know we will see him back in the UK in May as his three-year sojourn in Australia comes to an end.

LSW certainly welcomed YS’s love of driving; he drove us proficiently and everywhere. We started in Hobart but soon hit the road east through wide valleys of brown grass and rolling hillsides covered with dense eucalyptus and pine, to the little town of Swansea. Here we did a couple of coastal walks and then drove on to the dramatic Freycinet Peninsula.

Lichen Coloured Rocks At Loontitetmaorrelehoiner Track, Swansea

Here, YS got us up very early to walk up to the lookout across Wineglass Bay to see the sunrise. The climb started in the dark silence with a terrific view of the stars and Milky Way above. It finished with the sort of sunrise view over pink granite cliffs and a remote circular bay that one sees in picture books. We were alone as the sun came up, gradually lit up the rocks and triggered the dawn chorus of birds. It was spellbinding.

Wineglass Bay and Mount Mayson from Wineglass Bay Lookout At Sunrise

There were two more highlights nearby. The first was a walk to Cape Tourville Lighthouse as a brief, violent storm hit the coast. We could see the rain coming in sudden, vicious gusts of wind. We rushed some photographs and ran back to our car. We reached it as the hail hit. It was all very invigorating.

Storm Approaching Cape Tourville

Then, as the rain cleared and newly cleared air settled again, we visited Sleepy Bay. This was lovely and, as usual, almost empty of fellow walkers. We pottered around for a calming hour or so amongst the brightly coloured boulders and gritty sand filled with shells. We visited other bays but this was my favourite.

Sleepy Bay

From the accurately named 9 Mile Beach at Swansea and the Freycinet Peninsula, we travelled on to the larger Tasman Peninsula. Here we focused on the famous coastal features near Eaglehawk Neck and Port Arthur namely: Tasman Arch, Devils Kitchen, Blowhole and Remarkable Cave.

Remarkable Cave, Tasman Arch And Blowhole

All are similar geomorphic features showing the sandstone and volcanic dolerite coast at various stages of erosion. Each was great in its way and all were wonderfully accessible and at their best in the welcome sun.

View From Devils Kitchen, Tasman Peninsula

We returned to Hobart having failed to visit the world heritage site at Port Arthur that showcases early immigrant convict treatment and not having undertaken a really big hike. There just hadn’t been time.

Nor was there time to do all the trips out to National Parks around Hobart. But our days were, nonetheless, full (and not just with eating and drinking in fun bars and restaurants such as Hobart Brewery and Aloft on the vibrant waterfront, and Kalbi in grittier North Hobart).

Preachers Bar In Salamanca Square – With Coach Seating In The Beer Garden!

We reached the peak of monumental Mount Wellington which towers over Hobart. It is covered by huge eucalyptus trees at its base, shorter eucalyptus further up and boulder hugging shrubs and lichens at the top. It’s rocky sides are sheer with spectacular pinnacles of rock (known as the ‘Organ Pipes’). It’s an impressive and very accessible mountain. The views from it rival those we saw last year from Cape Town‘s Table Mountain.

Windy And Stupendous Views On The Top Of Mount Wellington

We travelled north up the Derwent Valley for a rather fine lunch in a converted convict hospital and mental institution (Agrarian Kitchen in New Norfolk). We got away and travelled south to visit some of LSW’s old college friends who migrated here 30 years ago. Their hospitality was very generous and it was fascinating to hear of their lives in Tasmania including their gardening challenges with the local wildlife.

Derwent Valley Cliffs At New Norfolk

On the way with these friends to the local, authentically rustic pub, and then on the way back to Hobart, we saw a lot of marsupial wildlife (wallabies, pademelon and something smaller) for the first time. I saw the full range of stuffed versions at the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery. This also had an excellent exhibition on Antarctica, the remote islands between Antarctica and Australia and, of course, the impact of climate change.

A Couple Of Our Friends’ Domesticated Animals: Selby and Thomas

Our final full day in Hobart started with a wander around the large and colourful market in Salamanca.

Colour And Goodness At Salamanca Market

However, the day was dominated by a trip to The Museum of Old and New Art (MONA). This was fabulous and I will leave it at that here and cover it in a separate blog post when I get home. At the point of writing this in Hobart airport, I think it is simply the most entertaining art gallery I have ever visited.

I visited Battery Point, an upscale residential area overlooking the bay in the early morning sun after breakfast on our last day.

Typical Battery Point Houses And The Castray Esplanade/Yacht Race Judges Hut

Now we are on our last leg of our Australian adventure. Perth promises to be every bit as interesting as Sydney and Tasmania. Once again though, all we can hope for is a taste of it.

Early Morning – Last Day In Hobart

Spectacular Sydney

I’ve seen a lot of Facebook and Instagram pictures of Sydney Harbour but nothing really prepares you for its scale and beauty until you are on a ferry crossing it. Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) and I have again been fortunate with the weather here but I imagine that Sydney Harbour is spectacular in almost any weather.

Looking Back At Sydney From The Manly Ferry

From the ferry one gets different perspectives of the iconic Sydney Bridge and Opera House. But once in open water the most impressive things are the sheer scale of the outer harbour, the multitude of interesting inlets and bays that line it, and the vast number of people on the water in something or other. I also liked the dramatic cliffs that stand on either side of the opening onto the Pacific.

Sydney Opera House (Of Course!)

We cleared some of the fuzz of not having slept for about 36 hours in transit from Doha, by wandering through the city, the Botanic Garden and the Opera House, and then boarding a ferry to Manly. The ocean breeze was as refreshing as the first cup of Australian coffee we had in a typically hip coffee bar in a Manly backstreet.

Manly Beach

Later in our stay in Sydney, LSW and I met up with an old friend who moved here a couple of years ago from our home town in Gloucestershire. She suggested another ferry trip and then a walk along the eastern promontory that protects the harbour. The views from Rose Bay to Watson Bay were again spectacular – this time, not only of the harbour coastline, but also of the grand glass and swimming pool-fronted houses that overlook this.

View of Sydney From Near Rose Bay

The Bondi Beach to Coogee walk we did on our last full day was also wonderful. This time we could see the full force of the Pacific Ocean. Again, the walkways and availability of quality drinks, eateries and other conveniences was excellent. As we noticed when we drove along the Great Ocean Road From Melbourne 18 months ago, Australians are (rightly) proud of their natural environment and want to make it accessible so it can be appreciated.

Bondi Swimming Pool, Bondi Beach And Coogee From Marks Park

Rock Formations Near Bondi Beach

Our other excursion out of Sydney centre was to the Northern Suburbs Memorial Gardens and Crematorium. This was definitely off the normal tourist routes! The reason for the visit was to find LSW’s grandfather’s crematorium plaque. It took LSW a while to relate her old map to the current, extended crematorium layout but she found it and so a big emotional to-do was ticked off.

LSW’s Grandfather’s Plaque (Died In Sydney 1953)

Of course, we also spent a lot of time walking around, drinking in and eating in Sydney centre. The streets and shops we saw were perhaps less interesting than those we recall from Melbourne but we loved the cafes and restaurants (especially Chin Chin, Paramount Coffee Project, Social Brew Cafe and the Quarrymans Hotel rooftop bar). We stayed near Darling Harbour which was lively and close to the rather sweet and calming Chinese Friendship Garden.

Darling Harbour

Panoramic View Of Chinese Garden Of Friendship

The Art Gallery of New South Wales (NSW) was even more impressive than expected. There was some great Aboriginal art and a wide selection of work by Australian and international artists (Brett Whiteley, Francis Bacon, Lucien Freud, etc.). But what made our visit exceptional was a special exhibition there of ‘Masters of Modern Art From The Hermitage’. This told of the history of this amazing Russian collection and included great examples by Matisse, Kandinsky, Picasso, Delaunay and many others. It was a very high quality show.

Examples Of Aboriginal Art At The Art Gallery of NSW

The Aboriginal art tended to support my theory (in my last blog post from Qatar) that desert artists tend to go for bright colours. However the Matisse, Delaunay and Kandinsky paintings on show underlined the mastery of colour by many European artists.

Examples of Delaunay and Kandinsky From The Masters of Modern Art From The Hermitage

After all that, the Museum of Contemporary Art felt tame. We didn’t stay long and soon retreated to a roof top bar.

Snapshots of Sydney (Bridge, Opera House, Queen Victoria’s Building, Botanic Gardens, Hospital)

We loved Sydney. it was especially lively due our visit coinciding with Mardi Gras celebrations and the weather was lovely. The food and drink was every bit as good as we had hoped/expected. The people were friendly and the service in pubs, restaurants and cafes was excellent. There is, as anticipated, plenty to see in the City beyond the obviously iconic. And the harbour is truly magnificent!

Random Bits Of Wildlife We Saw (Fairy-wren, Rainbow Lorikeet, Some Sort Of Iguana, Kookaburra)

On now to Hobart in Tasmania. The highlight there will be meeting up with Youngest Son (YS) who has travelled down from Brisbane for a few days. There will be other treats too I think….

Qatar: Architects’ Playground

On our way to Australia, we stopped over for a couple of days with Long-Suffering Wife’s (LSW’s) brother in Doha, Qatar. He has been in the Middle East for many years. Currently, he is working on the design and build of one of the new stadia for the 2022 Football World Cup.

Doha’s Museum Of Islamic Art

It was great to see him in what has become his new natural habitat. Despite his work pressures, he kindly accommodated us and introduced us to some of the night life. This included the lively and labyrinthine Souk Waqif and some of the numerous hotels that cater for business expense accounts, ex-pats and the indigenous rich. LSW loved the valet parking but the highlight for us both was dinner at an Iranian restaurant called Parisa in Souk Waqif. The food was substantial and flavoursome and the decor was simply astonishing.

Parisa Entrance And Main Interior

Qatar is, in most ways, a very young country. For centuries it relied on fishing and pearl diving. It’s incredibly rapid growth has just been since the discovery of oil in the mid-20th century. Now it is vastly wealthy with investments all over the world and massive infrastructure development at home.

Construction seemed to be everywhere although there was a feeling that some had slowed recently due to political conflicts between Qatar and some of its neighbours.

Along the thoroughfares, new landscaping (with expensive-looking paving, date palms, colourful petunias and leaky pipe watering systems) is joining up buildings that are springing up from bare desert. Clearly there has been a massive amount of money and architectural imagination at play. The architects have had a huge amount of fun with everything from the buildings to the lamp-posts.

Part Of The Central Business District (CBD) (Including The ‘Condom Tower’)

The most impressive buildings I saw were the Museum of Islamic Art and the Jean Nouvel Museum. The latter is not yet complete, and was hard to get close, but it looks wonderful already.

Jean Nouvel Museum From The Corniche

Also, we were impressed by the Msheireb Downtown Area. This is a swathe of Doha that was part of the mid-20th century expansion, that then fell into disrepair and which has recently been cleared. It is being replaced by an innovative, relatively low rise, sustainable development. This uses shade and the wind for cooling and removes cars to underground passages. The area re-built so far feels accessible, fresh and calming.

Views Of Msheireb Downtown Area

Not all the new architecture works for me. Some of the buildings are bizarre or just ugly to my eyes. The blingy palaces and residential blocks on the artificial islands called The Pearl were particularly soulless and disappointing (although the gin palaces in the nearby marinas were as impressive as expected).

My impressions here were not helped by the piped muzak – truly ghastly – or that I temporarily thought I had lost my wallet. Fortunately I had simply left it at LSW’s brother’s house so my doom and gloom contingency planning was quickly made redundant.

The Pearl Tower Blocks And Marina

Qatar is fiercely proud of its heritage and culture. There are a number of cultural centres. One we visited was the Msheireb Enrichment Centre, on a huge barge, which provided some well presented, fascinating insights. The exhibits posed provocative questions about the role of social media and women, and about sustainability and climate change (surprising given the country’s dependence on oil/gas revenue and the car). It also explained the objectives of the Msheireb Downtown Project.

As part of that project, four historic buildings have been restored/re-built and now house interesting exhibitions on life in pre-modern Qatar, on the role of oil in the country’s development, and on slavery. The buildings were peaceful and cool in every sense.

Inside Bin Jelmood House, Msheireb Downtown

LSW and I visited the Mathaf Arab Museum of Modern Art several miles to the west of Doha centre. The trip was worthwhile despite none of the artists being known to us. The overall impression I got was that the desert light prompts artists to use a more colourful palette than we often see in the West.

One Of The Rooms At Mathaf Arab Museum Of Modern Art

However, the centrepiece of the Qatari focus on culture is the Museum of Islamic Art. We visited twice (all the museums are free), the second time to focus on the threat to Syrian monuments and cultural artefacts posed by the war there.

Various Items (Invariably Much Older Than Expected) At The Museum Of Islamic Art

A little like the Kolumba Museum in Cologne that we visited late last year, the emphasis is on quality not quantity. The pieces on show are terrific, the lighting is atmospheric and the interior architecture is inspiring. We loved it.

Inside One Of The Museum of Islamic Art Exhibition Rooms

The Cafe In The Museum Of Islamic Art Overlooking The Sea And The CBD

Our stopover in Doha was a huge success. It was made special by being able to meet up with LSW’s brother but we may well visit again on our way east in the future even if, by then, his work in Qatar is done.

Now on to Sydney.