Sunday, June 11, 2017

Train to Johannesburg

You miss so much by flying. Our researches had found that travelling on the Shosholoza Meyl Tourist Class train was safe, comfortable and inexpensive. The scenery was supposed to be delightful. We also noted that the train had a bit of reputation for being late, but we did not have a tight connection in Johannesburg so that didn't matter. All our expectations were met.

Rather to our surprise we were instructed to check in an hour before departure. This seemed to be excessive for a train, but we nonetheless arrived at the appointed hour. Signage in Cape Town station was a bit vague, but we found a queue for the Johannesburg train. It was moving very slowly. A single window was open, where a lady unhurriedly performed her duties. Eve stood guard over the luggage while Bill joined in the queue. After a longish while someone called out for anybody who had made an online reservation. Maybe we should have formed a separate queue, because Bill was directed to a different office where our booking was checked and some mysteries were performed that allowed Bill to go back to the first window (without queueing again, thank goodness) and receive tickets. Hooray.

We traipsed along the platform, past wagons loaded with the cars of those who had chosen not to drive for 13 or 14 hours. The train was scheduled to take 26¼ hours. Beyond them was a lot of empty platform, where the passenger wagons were due to arrive. We sat on a bench with another couple, Brenda and Patrick, who turned out to be from Vancouver Island, Canada. During our conversation they asked which compartment we were in. We pulled out our tickets to see, but there was no indication. “Oh, that's on the board by the platform gate”, advised Patrick, so Bill marched back past the wagons with cars to where there was a list of berths pinned to a notice board.

After that the train arrived, we climbed aboard, found our compartment and the journey got under way more or less on time. We trust that the queue of hopefuls at the ticket window all got aboard.

We had a 4-berth compartment to ourselves. The weather was very fine; just right for a sightseeing jaunt through the Karoo. We relaxed and, as we passed through the built-up areas of Cape Town, considered the continuing gulf between the lives of white and black South Africans. It is illegal to set aside areas for one race or another, but wealth and income still severely limit the number of non-whites that can afford to live in the nice suburbs behind spiky fences and razor wire. The poorer areas varied enormously, from shanty towns built with wood and whatever other materials can be scrounged, through boring but apparently sound brick buildings 3 or 4 stories high to what look like quite new and nice bungalows, and quite a lot of variation in between.

Life at the bottom of the heap.

Possibly the worst we saw, with particularly bad littering.

Much more solid buildings.

We saw many buildings that had been started, but had no roof.  Presumably the money ran out.  We are sure the residents of those shacks would prefer to move on to a modern, brick bungalow.

Not a township!

High-rise living.

We were surprised at the number of buildings in the townships with Sky dishes, even in the roughest shanty towns. We were told that Sky is very inexpensive, and presumably television sets are too. At least it argues that electricity is available.

In one collection of ramshackle one-room wooden dwelling places Bill saw a car parked behind padlocked gates set in a solid fence. Ownership of a car would be rare in that community and it was worth protecting.

We were well looked after on the train. A man came and, for R60 each, turned our compartment into a bedroom. We slept well.

The dining car was not far away. It wasn't an extensive menu, and not even all that was advertised was available at any particular time, but the food was well cooked and tasty. The train wasn't crowded, and we spent a good deal of time in the dining car talking with Brenda and Patrick.

There was little obvious wildlife. Birds generally shun trains, but we did see a group of 3 cranes in a farm paddock. Bill thought at the time they were crested cranes, and since the other species have no crest that is most likely what they were. Any crane is uncommon in S Africa, and the crowned crane is endangered.

We had been alerted to look out for a lake “about 10 minutes after you leave Kimberley on the left” where we were bound to see flamingoes. We were having breakfast with Brenda and Patrick when we stopped briefly in Kimberley. Possibly only 5 minutes later we saw the lake. It wasn't right up to the tracks; in fact it was a fair way away. Our companions were a little sceptical when they were told that the pale smudges in the distance were flocks of flamingoes. The train's course did take it a bit nearer the water, and it was admitted that we were observing flamingoes. There are only two species of flamingo in S Africa and they both frequent this lake, so we have probably seen the complete set. But all of them looked quite pale – almost white – which is typical of the greater flamingo. To be certain of identification you have to see how much of the bill is black, but the range was far too great for determining such detail.

In little New Zealand we are used to many hills and, particularly here in the South Island, mountains. South Africa is a large country and has some hills and mountains, but where it really scores over NZ is in large tracts of wide open and pretty flat land. The first few hours were spent rolling across such a plain, with large hills in the distance. They gradually got closer and the transition from plain to hills was so sudden we could almost time it to the second.

We knew that we would be carried across “the Karoo”, but there was go guide on the train to tell us which part was the Karoo and what was special about its vegetation. Karoo lamb is a prized meat because the shrubs the sheep eat make them 'ready-herbed'.

The following photographs were taken from the train, but we don't know exactly where any picture was taken, and we can't tell you anything about the geology or ecology of the region. But it's still nice scenery.

A farm and track.

More farmland.  The other end of the field is over the horizon!

We cannot remember now when the first announcement was made that the train would arrive late in Johannesburg. At that time the estimate was 3 hours late. This was quickly amended to 3 hours and 40 minutes. Our friends looked uneasy. They had a plane to catch in Johannesburg at 5:50 to make an important appointment in Windhoek. If the train arrived at the revised time of 4pm they would not have much time to get to the airport in time for check in.

The train stopped. This was the second time it had rested and the passengers had been told that there was no power in the overhead line to take us forward. The sunshine of the first day had been replaced by ever darker cloud. The first spots of rain fell.

Motion returned, and the train continued its unhurried way. No, there was no chance of catching up time. There were speed limits on the track. Playing with Google Maps on the tablet I found that we were little more than 4 hours driving time from Johannesburg. Brenda and Patrick went to have an urgent conversation with the train manager. We gather that it took several conversations before a plan was devised for them to leave the train two stops early and continue by road. Presumably the train company would arrange a taxi.

We haven't been in touch with them since the left the train, so we can only hope they caught their flight.

The delays were not catered for. The dining car stopped serving after lunch. Maybe they had run out of food?

Further delays were not announced.  The scheduled quarter past 12 arrival at Park Station in Johannesburg became a reality of 8pm. It was well after dark when we hopefully followed the crowds along the platform that indeed led us to the exit. Our accommodation for that night had recommended the gautrain, Johannesburg's modern, fast rapid transit system. But we would have had to haul our luggage and change trains, so we thought we'd do it the simple but expensive way and get a taxi. A porter helped to get us and our bags to the pick-up point. Well, his English wasn't terribly fluent. Had he understood?

Out with the trusty tablet and summon an Uber car. The app guided us to a pick up point, which agreed with the porter. A driver picked up our request, and was only 10 minutes away. So far, so good. We want this to go quickly and smoothly because Park Station is in a bad part of a very dangerous city according to Wikitravel. We were pestered by a (white) beggar.

The Uber app allows you to watch your driver approach. We knew his name, the model and colour of his car and its registration number. The little car image got close and we started looking for silver cars in the station forecourt. Not that one. No, that's a Honda. The little car on the map stopped in the street. As soon as the traffic lights change. But no, it stayed where it was. After what seemed an age the ride was suddenly cancelled.

If there had been a regular taxi in the forecourt we would have taken it, but there was no sign of a taxi – and no sign to direct us to a taxi rank. We tried Uber again. It was picked up by the same driver and the same frustrating sequence was followed. We could even see what may have the car, about 150 metres away. What do you do in a bad part of town after dark? We decided to stay together with the luggage. Many private vehicles had come and picked up or dropped off passengers so we must be in the right place. Another car drew up beside us and dropped off a young couple. “We're waiting to be picked up by Uber. Is this the right place?” we asked. It was, but by great good fortune the car was operated by Taxify. The driver wasn't working. He was doing a favour for his neighbours, but he took pity on us. “Where are you going?”

On the way to the guest house the driver told us about friction between the regular taxis and Uber/Taxify. Some Uber drivers have been beaten up and their cars burned. Maybe the Uber driver was scared that there was a trap in the station forecourt? We will never know.

The driver told us that he was on the waiting list to become an Uber driver. When that happened he hoped to earn enough money to buy another car and employ someone to drive it. A budding entrepreneur.

The guest house was a house in a suburban street with no signage. There was no answer to the buzzer, and once again we had to telephone to get in to our accommodation in Johannesburg. At least this time the manager was on the premises.

The room was large, particularly the bathroom, and the bed was huge. The room scored only 5 out of 10 for cleanliness, but the bedding was freshly laundered and the plumbing worked.

It was now approaching 10pm. We had had no dinner and the safari would be picking us up between 5 and 6 a.m. on the morrow. We brewed ourselves a cup of indifferent tea in our room, had a bath, and turned in.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Cape Town – Part 2

This was Bill's 12th Golden Oldies festival. He has often described them as a week-long party with hockey breaks. They start with some brief speeches and a welcome party. This time it was in Cape Town Castle. It's a time to catch up with old friends – and after 11 previous festivals there are plenty of them. Over the week we noticed that where the first questions used to be “How's work?” and “How are the children getting on at school/university?” it's now “Are you still working? Have you retired?” Anyone would think we were getting older.

It's also an occasion to enjoy some more South African wine. In fact, such opportunities crop up throughout the week. That's not to say that South African beer should be avoided. They brew some good beers, and so do the Namibians. Windhoek brand beer is widely available and very good.

Monday is a hockey day. The International Harlequins is listed as a Canadian team because the manager lives in Calgary, but we are genuinely international with players from all sorts of places. Dave and Norm had both spent part of their lives in South Africa, and they delighted in swapping comments in Afrikaans. As far as we know, blonde blue-eyed Rose is the only hockey player born in Burundi. We didn't have a full team, but it is part and parcel of Golden Oldies that players may take the field for anyone that invites them. Goalkeepers are particularly in demand. Bill also gets involved as an umpire. There are no prizes for winning games, but that does not mean we don't do our best to score goals. We weren't terribly good at that this year, but neither were our opponents. They were all low-scoring games.

Tuesday is the 'picnic day'. We were loaded onto buses and whisked away to Stellenbosch, one of the major wine-producing regions. Our destination was the Spier Vineyard, where we were welcomed by a band in brilliantly coloured outfits singing “Welcome to Cape Town”.

Previous picnic days have suffered from long, slow-moving queues at lunch buffets. This year we each collected a true picnic lunch in an individual chilly bag and a plastic wine glass labelled “1692 Spier”. The wine glass could be filled as often as we liked, and then taken home as a souvenir. This did eliminate the queues, but the food couldn't be quite as good if it was all pre-packaged.

Tables and chairs were set out in a large marquee. On a stage a band was setting up. They called themselves Sincere Swing and Bill hoped that meant they played jazz. They did! They played extremely good jazz. The lady in the group played jazz flute and had a wonderful voice for singing the jazz standards. Having been raised on swing jazz, Bill was in heaven. To get an idea of why he was so delighted you can listen to a few tracks on their website here.

The vineyard grounds contained a craft market. We suspected (correctly) that there would be craftwork offered at all major tourist attractions and that we would have many opportunities to buy crafted souvenirs. That said, the goods on offer were well made and most featured recycled materials.
There are no tigers in Africa - except this one!

We did buy a few small items.

There was, of course, a tasting room. A group of Harlequins was already there. We decided to verify their opinion that the wines were worth tasting. The samples were generous, the tasting notes helpful and the wines slipped down very pleasantly. A sauvignon blanc was so good we bought a bottle. And a bottle of bubbly for a forthcoming celebration.

Back at the hotel no-one had the energy to go far for dinner, so the team popped across the road to a modest Italian restaurant. The food tasted good, but after several hours at a winery it was perhaps no surprise that several of us drank only water.

Bill normally has a stomach that will digest anything, but something he ate or drank got the best of him that night. He felt washed out in the morning and in no shape for hockey. So he stayed in bed for most of the day with the 'Please do not Disturb' sign on the door. To pass the time he enjoyed the novelty of watching television.

In truth it was not that much of a novelty because screens assail you in bars, restaurants and many other spaces. They are always tuned to a sports channel. There might be golf in the dining room at breakfast, rugby in the lunchtime cafe and English Premier League football in the hotel bar all day. Recuperating in the hotel Bill watched soccer, rugby and occasionally checked that there was no news to interest him.

When Eve went down to breakfast and pass on the news of Bill's indisposition she found that 3 or 4 others in the squad were also nursing tender tummies, but not as bad as Bill's. Was it the Italian food, or maybe something in the picnic lunch? We do not know.

Eve doesn't play hockey and chose not to go to the grounds and support the Harlequins. Instead she went in search of sandals, something we had done together without success during our stay in Muizenberg.

The Victoria and Alfred waterfront area (“V&A”) has been developed in much the same way as Auckland's Viaduct Basin and Sydney's Darling Harbour. There is a pleasant outdoorsy atmosphere and a host of opportunities to spend money. She didn't find the emporium that had been recommended to us, but did find a leather goods merchant with some sandals that she thought would suit Bill.

Thursday is a day with nothing organised. We had hoped to go to Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela and other political prisoners were imprisoned, but the sea was rough enough that the ferries weren't running. The terminal had long lines of people queueing for refunds. Our only other opportunity was Saturday, and that was fully booked.

We promenaded the V&A. Bill tried on some of the leatherwright's sandals. He has broad feet with small heels that can be difficult to fit, but by adding an extra hole to one of the straps he found a pair that met the challenge.

Cape Town's aquarium is near the big ferris wheel in the V&A. It is well worth a visit. The displays are definitely superior to the usual big-tanks-in-the-wall. For example, some have a small tunnel to allow children to wriggle through and stand up in the middle. The cylindrical tanks of jellyfish are lit in a clever way that allows the observer to really appreciate the delicate form of the animals.

One cuisine that we particularly wanted to sample was African food. To locate some we used the Internet (of course) and Tripadvisor pointed us to an eating house called Mzansi. Just one little detail – it is located in Langa township and all the guides tell visitors to keep out of the townships unless you are part of an organised tour. But many of the reviews talked about how safe they felt, so we picked up the 'phone and we booked.

We went there by Uber. The driver, who was black, asked us if we were sure, “because it's dangerous”. The main roads took us to within 2 corners of our destination, so we didn't feel as though we had gone deep into hostile territory. When we arrived at the address there was a moment of puzzlement. The number was clear – on a residential house. We looked around. There were some black children playing in the street, but they ignored us. Then Eve spotted a roomful of tables inside the house just before a man came to welcome us. This was Mzansi.

They were having a very slow night. There were only 5 diners, us and a group of 3. But some evenings they have over a hundred at the long tables. And there's more than just good eating here. An artist from over the road came in and showed us how he creates his pictures by painting dilute PVA glue onto the surface and then shaking sand onto the glue. He collects fine sand from the beach and colours it with oil paints. He uses a little tea strainer for even distribution. The image of a bushman he created in front of us was a simple drawing in one colour, but his display included all sorts of pictures with many colours. We were very tempted to buy one. He would roll it into a solid cardboard tube, but we already have more pictures than wall space at home so it wouldn't have been very sensible.

There is no menu. You serve yourself from a buffet. Mama Mzansi explains what each of the dishes is. Despite his recently upset tummy Bill went round for two large platefuls. The food was GOOD. You are invited to help yourself from the bar.

In the next room was a marimba band. A marimba is basically a wooden xylophone. The band had two of these, drums and a saxophone. The marimba music we heard here and in other places explains the origins of jazz in African music. We both found it very pleasant. And the band achieved the miracle of being loud enough to hear and not so loud that they impeded conversation.

After the meal Mama Mzansi came and told us the restaurant's story. She described the house in the apartheid era, when it was just 2 rooms and toilets were shared amongst a whole street. After apartheid they were given the property, but the house had been so poorly maintained that only the land had any value. The idea for the restaurant came after other projects, and it very nearly foundered. A group of American students ate there and asked why it was not on the Internet. At that time Mama had no computer or smartphone and had never heard of Tripadvisor. But the students wrote reviews and more people started to come. Now Mzansi has its own Facebook page and it has received hundreds of reviews on Tripadvisor. What is really remarkable is that, in a city famous for its wonderful food, Mzansi is number 1 of almost 900 restaurants in Cape Town. Follow the link here and see for yourself.

In general, life is still very harsh in the township. There is 50% unemployment, so when bookings are heavy Mama hires in extra staff for the evening. As far as she can, she buys locally. There are women who are growing vegetables in parks and on church land.

Almost all patrons are tourists. Very few locals eat at Mzansi, which is a terrible shame.

After the story, we met the band. The saxophonist offered to play any jazz standard. “Take the 'A' Train”, suggested Bill. And after a brief pause to think about it, that is what was played. Then it was time for the diners to pick up a mallet and have a go – under strict tuition. We played simple phrases while the band added a tune. It was a little crowded round the marimbas, but it was fun to be part of making real music.

When we paid we were simply asked what we had had to drink and the proper amount was added to the bill, which was extremely reasonable.

Due to concerns about going into a township, we had not brought a camera. There are many photographs on the Tripadvisor page.

We thought it would be a great idea to go back the next night with all the Harlequins, but in our absence they had booked – and paid a deposit – for the whole squad to go to a seafood restaurant in the V&A. The food was excellent, but it was at least twice as expensive as Mzansi and the venue didn't come close on atmosphere.

Our final games were on the Friday. Bill is noticeably sluggish around the pitch these days, and never declines an opportunity to be substituted. However, he was moved to the back in the last game and feels he did a good job of stifling the opposition forwards. His ancient stick, that has seen service on five continents, has now been donated to a South African school so that at least one more child can have a game of hockey.
Bill in 'action'

The International Harlequins.  What athletes!

Saturday was our last full day in Cape Town. We reckoned that the hop-on hop-off bus would be a good way to see more of the city's points of interest. Our first hop-off was at the Greenmarket Square. This was large craft market with goods of all sorts. All prices are “negotiable”, but even the asking prices were not bad. We were torn between the opportunity for some very nice souvenirs and presents and the possibility that there would be even better options later in our holiday. We did spend some money, including on a colourful shirt for Bill.

We hopped on more buses and saw the sights. The commentary was very helpful. It was a lovely, sunny day, so we favoured the open upper deck. The weekend traffic was heavy, and going towards Table Mountain we found the bus was in a traffic jam, that stopped and crawled and stopped again.
The Table Mountain Cable Car.  It rotates as it travels very slowly up and down and people PAY to ride in it.

With the traffic and a lunch in Camps Bay that was delivered very tardily we had to abandon the plan to have a second look at Greenmarket Square and hasten back to the hotel to get ready for the final party.

There was food, there was drink and there was jollity. The band was too loud, and Bill, whose hearing is not 100% anyway, danced only between the dining table and the door because the dance floor was uncomfortably noisy. He did nonetheless dance with great energy, and the comment was made that at the next festival rock music should be played next to the pitch to get Bill's legs moving. Cheek!
Exhausted by too much partying.  Bill is in his Greenmarket shirt.

And another Golden Oldies festival was over. The next one is in Christchurch next April.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Cape Town – Part 1

We deliberately arrived in Cape Town a few days before the Golden Oldies hockey commenced so that we could recover from any jet lag and, if we wanted to, be as idle as we liked.

We again favoured an Airbnb home. It seemed to be ridiculously cheap, but we discovered that South Africa is generally much cheaper than New Zealand. It was in Muizenberg (pronounced Mew-zen-berg), a few km to the South of the CBD. It has a sandy beach that is popular with surfers and a generally laid back 'vibe'. We were hosted by Sam, a historian, who is teaching at the University of Western Cape and researching a most depressing subject; something like State Sponsored Violence. Apparently the South African government was a great practitioner of this before the end of apartheid. Unfortunately we never met his partner, Charlene, as she was away working as a safari guide.

Few of the properties in Muizenberg village bothered with the spiky fences and razor wire we saw in Johannesburg, but they all sported notices advertising alarm systems or the use of an armed response service. A house in a nearby street was robbed during our stay, and Bill saw the responder driving furiously along the narrow streets. Yes, he did carry an automatic pistol.

To avoid the inconvenience and doubtful safety of public transport we rented a car. Having read a review of a really cheap car rental company, which was reported as charging customers for almost invisible scratches, not returning the deposit, etc., we went for one of the international firms, Thrifty. It was still a very reasonable rate, so we splashed out for a satnav. It was a Garmin device and it worked perfectly on our first journey to Muizenberg. After that it always got in a tangle somewhere along the route. Sometimes it sorted itself out, and sometimes we had to refer to a map on the tablet and override the Garmin's maniac instructions. We have a Tomtom at home, and we will not be switching brands!

If you drive in South Africa you will quickly come across parking wardens. These individuals are not there to give you a ticket, but to watch over your car while you are, say, walking on the beach or dining. They generally will point out an empty space for you, and help you reverse out when you leave. Sam explained that some of them are employed, but at a ridiculously low wage, and they survive on tips. Others are entrepreneurs who have obtained a high-vis jacket from somewhere and just turn up. The usual gratuity is R1 or R2. At roughly R9 to the NZ dollar, that's not a lot. We had cause to be grateful to one of these wardens, who came into a restaurant to advise that a car had been left with its lights on. He got a larger tip!

Cape Town is famous for its eating houses, especially for seafood. The coastal communities of Muizenberg and southwards are well furnished with everything from cheap-as-chips takeaways to fine dining. It is not difficult to find very good, inexpensive food.

For our first evening we found a Mozambican café that only had 6 dishes on the menu. And 4 of them were afterthoughts. Basically you choose 8 prawns or 12 prawns. They are huge, almost big enough to call lobsters, and served with a delicious sauce. Eve thought 8 would be enough, but gluttonous Bill went for the BIG plate. And we shared a salad (one of the 4 afterthoughts) to persuade ourselves we had eaten a balanced meal.

For breakfasts we walked along to the end of the street, turned left, and barely 150m away was a café called “Joon”. All the staff were cheerful, the coffee was strong and the cooked breakfast was irresistible. There are breakfast cafés near the beach with great reviews, but we couldn't see how the extra walk could possibly be worth it.

One of Cape Town's attractions for the natural historian is the Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens. It is particularly well known for its collection of Fynbos (the first syllable rhymes with “rain”) plants. The Cape Floral Region is one of the richest areas for plants when compared to any similar sized area in the world. It represents less than 0.5% of the area of Africa but is home to nearly 20% of the continent’s flora. Unfortunately we were there in the Autumn, so few plants were in bloom. In the Spring it would be much more colourful. Nonetheless, the guided walk was well worthwhile. It is very tempting to go back in springtime and take one of the guided Fynbos tours while the proteas and other bushes are in bloom. They are reputed to make a wonderful display.
 One of the plants that was in bloom was this rare, yellow bird of paradise flower, bred at Kirstenbosch and named after Nelson Mandela.

The gardens are home to quite a few birds and our birds list got properly under way. Nothing rare, and, alas, no sunbirds or sugarbirds.

The tea room in the gardens is rather pricey by local standards, but the food and service were very good. As well as a yummy snack, Eve selected one inedible item from the menu - the tea room's own cook book.
The gardens are home to a thriving population of horned guinea fowl.  This mother and her chicks are foraging amongst the tea rooms' tables.

A very popular day trip is to Cape Point Nature Reserve. We saw rather more of suburban Cape Town than we should have, thanks to the eccentricity of the satnav, but we did manage to cross the peninsula, drive through Hout Bay and South to the reserve. We saw several signs warning us not to feed the baboons, several of them in quite built up areas. When we did come across a baboon troop in the road we were well into the countryside – and we didn't feed them. They were accompanied by a human wearing thick clothing and a face mask. We couldn't decide whether he was monitoring the baboons, or had driven them onto the road so the tourists would see some wildlife.

By the time we got to the nature reserve it was raining, but we paid our entrance fee anyway. It was past lunch time and the reserve boasted a café. In the café we met some other Golden Oldies from the Havant Cavaliers. Luckily there was a fairly sheltered spot where we could munch our sandwiches and fend off the starlings.
The red-winged starlings (the one with a grey head is a female) will eat from you hand or, if you do not offer them a hand, will 'buzz' you and rip a piece of bread off the sandwich as you lift it towards your mouth!

There was no shelter at the top of the funicular by the lighthouse. We got the full benefit of the wind and the rain. And the cloud was so low that we couldn't see the view.

Back in the car, we set out to explore the reserve. We visited the Cape of Good Hope. After reading about it in so many stories and seeing it on so many maps the reality was a little disappointing. But the wildlife wasn't. We saw our first ostriches on the beach. Does that classify them as seabirds? ;-) There were also seals and many true seabirds.
A waterlogged ostrich

The Cape of Good Hope is well populated with cormorants, and there are seals on the further islet.

Down a road to the East of the Cape we saw our first antelope – bonteboks. They are unmistakeable with their white 'faces', but they were not very close and the photographs were disappointing. We also had an eland leap onto the road in front of us. He or she capered along the tarmac ahead of us while Eve groped frantically for a camera. Alas, the frolicking stopped and the beast trotted off into the undergrowth before she could get a picture. Later on we saw many eland, but none so high-spirited as this one.
A southern boubou

Thankfully, the day we went to see the penguins the weather was much better. At Boulder Beach there is a well-populated colony that is well used to human visitors so they are not shy. Until recently they were given the unflattering English name, jackass penguin, but now they are referred to as African penguins. They still bray like a donkey, though.
An African (nee jackass) penguin

Who says penguins can't climb trees?

Maybe there's a roster - two hours sitting on the land being photographed and one hour relaxing in the sea?

It would be unthinkable to visit South Africa and not sample the wines. We entered a liquor shop attached to a supermarket and chose two bottles each, based solely on the names. We both selected a Tall Horse wine, one chardonnay and one shiraz, with a picture of a giraffe on the label. They were R42 or R43 each – about $5 NZ. Eve located a sauvignon blanc for only R26 ($3), but I splurged R99 ($11) on a bottle of Fat Bastard. This is actually a well known, premium pinotage. Over a series of evenings at the Airbnb, with a little help from Sam, we drank our purchases. They were all good wines, particularly the Fat Bastard.

As you probably know, Cape Town is dominated by Table Mountain. There are paths for the fit and strong, and a cable car for the weak and idle. The cable car travels slowly and rotates while it dangles in space. As an acrophobe (look it up!), Bill could not face the cable car, and Eve was not enthusiastic either. Walking up and back would take several hours, assuming we were fit enough, so we conquered Signal Hill instead, by driving to the summit.

A handy frame for your picture, in case you forgot what you were photographing.

We enjoyed great views of the city, but most folk at the top of Signal Hill were involved in tandem paragliding, either as providers or passengers. We watched them gallop along a 'runway' and lift off as the parachute gripped the air.
"You're mad, I tell you."

An even more accomplished aviator on Signal Hill.  This rock kestrel completely ignored the humans below its perch.

Bill's brother, Nigel, keeps in contact with scores of folk around the world. One of these is Evon Smuts-Rogers in Cape Town. Nigel wrote to her and thus engineered an introduction for us to a local resident. He even remembered that Bill had met Evon once in the UK. We worked out that it was Xmas/New Year 1977-8. The conclusion of these machinations was an invitation to meet Evon and Jerry in the British Hotel in Simon's Town. We imagined a drink or two at the bar.

We arrived at the appointed time – and the hotel was closed. Fortunately we had Evon's cellphone number. “Yes, we're upstairs. I'll come down and let you in.” It turned out that the building was no longer a hotel, but had been converted into apartments. We then had a most enjoyable evening with Evon and Jerry, and nattered on so long that we got to our chosen restaurant after the kitchen's closing time. Luckily the owner suggested that they could manage a pizza – and very good it was, too. Another example of the kindness we received from so many people during our holiday.

Sunday arrived, and it was time to transfer to a posh hotel for the Golden Oldies Hockey Festival. We said goodbye to Sam. We had been very comfortable in his house and had seen our first sunbirds in the tiny back yard.

We arrived at the hotel too early to go straight into our room, so we stored our luggage with the other early arrivals' kit and Bill set off to return the rental car to Thrifty's city depot. The horrible Garmin satnav kept the worst for last. It should have been a 2-minute drive, but the idiot device directed him firmly towards the airport, which was in the opposite direction! Luckily he saw a safe place to park, switched off the mendacious machine and worked out a proper route from a map on the tablet.

On returning the car it was inspected for damage. Alas, there is a round piece in the front panel that can be removed to allow a tow rope to be passed through and attached directly to the chassis. The piece was missing. We have insurance to cover a rental car 'excess', but the inspector and his colleague could fix it if Bill just dropped R200 on the driver's seat, which would avoid a lot of paperwork. We realise now that it was a scam and the piece was almost certainly in one of their pockets, but Bill took the simple way out and paid up.

Now we were all set for the hockey festival.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Getting to Cape Town

This is the first instalment of our five weeks of adventures in Southern Africa from late March to the beginning of May this year. Others will be added as we find the time to write them.

We live in the Southern Hemisphere. It should be easy to get to Cape Town. But of course it isn't. Over the years we had collected many Qantas air points. Did we have enough to get there?

First of all, Qantas doesn't fly to Cape Town, so a reward ticket will only get us as far as Johannesburg. For some reason we could not get a reward booking from Nelson, even though Qantas's horrible subsidiary, Jetstar, does fly from Nelson to Auckland, so the main booking would only be from Auckland to Johannesburg. Then the Qantas computer tried mightily to persuade us to select a route flown by Emirates, which would have involved changing planes in Dubai as well as Sydney and a journey of more than 30 hours. We had enough air points to get there, but not back.

Reluctantly the computer confessed that, at least on some days, we could fly all the way on Qantas, changing only in Sydney. This was much quicker and also cheaper. We had enough air points for return tickets.

Notice that we have not called it a free flight. The taxes and “charges” have to be paid in cash, and we were levied more than $900 to be able to enjoy our reward.

We booked as soon as the flights were open, a year in advance. In that year Qantas changed the booking 5 times. Three of the changes were trivial; a flight departing 10 minutes earlier or arriving 5 minutes later. But two of them were significant. We were moved to an earlier flight out of Auckland. The Sydney-Johannesburg flight did not depart any earlier, so we would have to sit in Sydney Airport for nearly two more hours. Then, despite that fact that our return flight from Johannesburg was unchanged, we were shifted to a later flight from Sydney to Auckland. More hours sitting, tired and bored, in Sydney Airport. Sometime soon we will give Qantas some feedback.

Not having a single booking through from Nelson to Cape Town adds an awkward risk to the traveller. If you are delayed and miss a connection within a single booking then the airline has to arrange a new onward flight. But if they are separate bookings you count as a 'no-show' and, especially if you have selected a cheaper fare, may forfeit your fare and have to pay again. (Always have travel insurance – it will cover this horrid eventuality.) Also, you are probably at the back of the queue for seats on the next flight.

In New Zealand, to be sure of checking in on time we had to fly up to Auckland the previous evening. The flights to Australia all seem to depart at or before dawn, so even if there had been a connecting flight in the morning, we would have had to leave home so early it wouldn't have been worth going to bed. Consequently we flew in the evening and arranged dinner with some particularly friendly clients of Bill's.

In South Africa we were due to be delivered at the very reasonable hour of 5pm. We could no doubt have found a late evening flight to Cape Town, which would allow for a bit of delay and the unknown time to struggle through customs, but why make the journey an endurance event? We found an attractive and modestly priced Airbnb near O.R. Tambo Airport, and selected an economical onward flight for the middle of next morning.

How airlines are organised will forever be a mystery. The cheapest deal from Jo'burg to Cape Town was Kalula Airlines, but they fly out of the other airport in Johannesburg. For not much more we stuck to the convenience of O.R. Tambo Airport and flew with, of all people, British Airways, booked through the Kalula web site. Why is BA in the 'cheap flights' market in South Africa?

So the planning was done, and fares paid. What was the reality?

For the first time we tried checking in online. You have the 24 hours before departure to do this and, the web site promises, it will be a simple matter of dropping your bags and sauntering on the aircraft, avoiding those ghastly check-in queues. You even get a chance to select different seats. From a purely technological point of view it worked very well. But we got a shock. Despite that fact that we were one booking, and had made the reservation a year before travelling, the Qantas computer had us sitting 12 rows apart for 13 hours from Sydney to Johannesburg. The flight was virtually fully booked, and the best we could manage by selecting another seat was 2 rows apart.

The only hiccup in Auckland was that the hotel's shuttle was so slow in arriving that the clients picked us up from the airport. We had a good dinner with great company.

We set two alarms to make sure we dragged ourselves out of bed in good time the next morning. Clutching our home-printed boarding passes we were staggered to find that we really did walk straight up to a 'bag drop' desk, while long queues waited for a regular check-in. The clerk had to check our passports, but it really was very quick. “Before we go, can you do anything about the seats from Sydney to Johannesburg?” The clerk had to ask a more experienced colleague, but it turned out that, yes, she could rearrange things so that we were sitting together. What a relief.

In Sydney Bill offered Qantas a chance to redeem themselves by admitting us to their lounge as compensation for the extra waiting time they had inflicted on us by rescheduling. No luck there. The flights were regulation boredom. We both got some sleep on the very long sector into Jo'burg. The No-Jet-Lag pills seemed to work well and we arrived in Africa in pretty good shape. Customs was reasonably efficient, and the passport officer was friendly and chatty.

Our overnight stay in Jo'burg was supposed to be just a long sleep and back to the airport in the morning, but circumstances delivered some unwelcome complications. We were booked into an Airbnb private house. Our hosts had recommended Uber for getting to their house, and also advised the proper fare if we chose a 'regular' taxi. Although the airport provided WiFi, we could not connect with Uber for some reason, so we looked for a taxi. Some Jo'burg taxis are metered, but with others you haggle. Acting on our hosts' advice we haggled R200 down to R150.

When our taxi arrived the house was deserted. Like every other house we saw in the city it was surrounded by high fences and razor wire. Our phones were refusing to connect to any local network, so the taxi driver kindly phoned the contact number for us and refused to leave until the host arrived. Standing on the kerb after dark is not a safe activity in Johannesburg. For his conscientious assistance the taxi driver got his R200.

Greg was very apologetic. There had been an accident that stuck him in a traffic jam for an hour.

We then had a long, comfortable and refreshing sleep.

Our first accommodation in Africa.  Note the shadow of the outer fence.

In the morning all we had to do was summon a taxi and go back to the airport. I checked the tablet was now connecting with Uber, and downloaded a few emails. We chatted to our hostess, Gwen, and she left for work. We were alone in the house, but the maid would be here "soon". Are we all packed? Yes. Then call Uber. What's this? No Internet connection. The Wi-Fi was down. We did have time to spare, but how to call a taxi at all?

By now Bill's phone had adopted a local network and it was no time to be squeamish about roaming charges. Call Gwen. Easy, but her phone was switched off! The maid will probably be able to restart the Wi-Fi, but she has still not arrived. To call a regular taxi company we need its number. We have 2 other SA phone numbers, both in Cape Town. But if we ask nicely they may be able to look up a number for us. The first number didn't answer, but we did make contact with our next Airbnb host. Sam, bless him, tried to make a booking via his own Uber account. That didn't work but he did provide 3 numbers for local taxi companies.

At this moment Augustina, the maid, arrived. So sorry she was late. A train broke down. But she did know how to start the Wi-Fi. In 5 minutes an Uber car had arrived and we were on our way to the airport. (The Uber fare was R100.) We even had time to grab a quick breakfast before boarding the flight to Cape Town.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Some nature pics

Eve and I recently did a little tour of the South Island.  I haven't even gone through all the photos, much less write up the trip.  When transferring pictures from the camera to the computer I spotted these:

This tui has been feeding on flax nectar.  You can see pollen on its head and beak.

A red damselfly (Xanthocnemis zealandica)

NZ's other common damselfly (Austrolestes colensonis) is blue or green (female).  This male is particularly well focussed.  If you enlarge the picture you can almost count the cells of its compound eyes.

A wild flower near Fox Glacier.  We don't know its name.

A rare bearded orchid at Virgin Flat (yes, really) near Westport.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Coastal Classic 2006

As explained below, I sailed in the Coastal Classic yacht race 10 years ago.  Afterwards I wrote about it and tried to sell the article to the New Zealand Herald.  Their rejection was very polite.  So I'm publishing it here...

The Coastal Classic is raced every Labour Weekend from Devonport Wharf, Auckland to Russell in the Bay of Islands. It's a very popular race and I thought I'd like to take part at least once. My yacht is not a racing yacht and I don't have a regular crew so I advertised on the race web site as available to crew. The skipper of Winedown, Alistair Taylor, was brave or foolish enough to take a chance on me. His yacht is somewhat larger than my Air Apparent and has a considerably more complex rig.

We started on the Friday from Pine Harbour marina at 7am. Alistair was last to arrive and spent the first hour installing his brand new chart plotter, an electronic navigation device that worked very well and I want one! Our skipper was very safety conscious. Every member of the crew wore a life jacket and safety harness at all times.

We set off to motor to Devonport and arrived just in time to put up the sails for the start. Like most racing skippers Alistair is very keen on using his spinnaker, a difficult sail to control but which can deliver great speed. The start was chaotic, even though the fleet of around 300 was started in three groups. Boats were madly trying to sail fast, not hit each other and to demand their right of way. After 5 minutes we sailed around North Head and all the spinnakers came down. They must have gained all of 20 seconds over a more conventional sail setting.

The fleet then spread out along the 120 miles to Russell. We had many miles of reaching (with the wind coming from the side), which is Winedown's least competitive point of sailing. So we were well to the rear, and possibly last in our division. However, there was a strong, steady wind and every vessel made good progress during the day. Winedown was averaging 7 to 8 knots. At 8 knots 120 nautical miles will take 15 hours, which would mean arrival at twenty past one in the morning. The chart plotter estimated that we would arrive nearer 3 am.

That, of course, assumed that speed was maintained but shortly after dark the wind dropped entirely and we were becalmed. It was quite pretty, with the boats' navigation lights dotted around us. Where the water was disturbed phosphorescence shone. Alistair now proceeded to demonstrate light airs sailing technique of a terrific order. So long as there was a tiny bit of wind he would harness it. The trick is to get moving, in any direction, and then build on that to create wind by the boat's movement. It took a lot of patience to start creeping over the water. A quarter of a knot became half a knot, then a bit less but eventually we were moving at 2 knots. This is very slow, but since no-one else was moving at all it moved us up the fleet many places. For a couple of minutes we actually recorded 7 knots, apparently moving in a private breeze in defiance of all logic. Then the magic faded and Alistair started all over again. It took ages to repeat the trick, but 20 minutes at 5 knots moved us almost 2 miles, not directly in the direction we were headed, but close enough to be very, very useful.

To work this miracle Alistair was using one of three spinnakers that he carries. In case of a real wind arriving suddenly, as was forecast, he needed hands on deck to be ready to take in the tricky spinnaker. So only one person at a time got to go below and get some sleep. Going short of sleep is part of the Coastal Classic experience, but this was severe. My ration was 1.5 hours. Alistair got about half an hour below, but he didn't actually sleep.

Dawn on Saturday found us with Cape Brett in sight with a genuine wind pushing us along at 2 to 3 knots, but it strengthened as the grey light grew stronger. And the sea was mostly empty. There were yachts dotted about, but very widely dispersed. Most of the lights-in-the-dark we had passed were nowhere to be seen. The wind direction had changed from that which prevailed on the first day and we were now sailing as close to the wind as we could. This was where Winedown showed to best advantage. Unfortunately, with the yachts so spread out, we didn't "overtake" in the conventional sense of catching up and passing a competitor. We mostly had to be content with the knowledge that we were approaching Cape Brett faster than our opponents.

Beyond the Cape we were in the Bay of Islands, but it was still a good few miles to Russell. And the wind changed again to very light and dead against us. We still had an advantage, but it was dreary, hot, slow work as we tacked under a strengthening sun. Our ETA in Russell was pushed further and further back. At least there were opportunities for more naps as we toiled towards the finish. Courses converged as all the yachts got closer to Russell and a flotilla of race boats ahead were pursued in slow motion. Around a headland the angle of the wind now allowed spinnakers to be flown. One competitor was passed and we were close enough to see that the next two yachts were in our division. By taking the last corner on the inside, while the other yachts went further out to be sure of more wind, we managed to sneak ahead of one more vessel before the finishing line. It was now roughly 1:30 in the afternoon, 27 hours and 10 minutes after the starting gun.

The sails had to be stowed and the yacht anchored before we could have a beer to celebrate finishing this major race. John, one of the crew, had arranged to stay in a hotel so we were joined by John's wife Judith for a very quiet beer. We were all too tired to party. I had an earnest conversation with Judith and John on GST for non-profit enterprises! Errands ashore had to be run before we snatched an hour's sleep. Then we took the ferry to Paihia to join John and Judith for dinner. The meal was very good but I'd have swapped it for a hamburger and 2 more hours sleep. I hope Judith didn't think the zombies she was dining with were rude.

After some negotiation, we agreed to start back at 8am on Sunday morning. The main consideration was some very nasty weather forecast for the Monday. Alistair didn't wait for favourable winds. We were not racing so the motor was used to make sure we made good progress. At Cape Brett we admired the famous Hole in the Rock and watched a couple of tourist boats go through before taking photos of ourselves with the Hole in the background. I fear these may be produced as evidence that the brave sailors went through the natural tunnel, although there is clearly not enough height for a mast.

From Cape Brett our course was many miles in a straight line past Tutukaka to Bream Head and Sail Rock. An ugly rain squall passed over us and left a strong wind blowing us straight towards Auckland. These were ideal conditions for spinnaker use and Alistair was in his element. The boat performed excellently and it wasn't long before a cheer was raised when the log (boat's speedometer) registered 10 knots for the first time ever. This very long course could have been extremely tedious, but time went quickly as we urged our vessel to even greater speeds. We exceeded 10.5 knots and then, as we willed the magic of 11 knots to appear on the screen we surfed down a wave and saw the digits flash to 10.98 before dropping again. That was the best for some hours, but Winedown wasn't through with setting records. When the wind was strong enough to generate good speed at the same time as the sea would give an extra push the peak speed finally broke the 11 knot barrier and at the end of the run we had logged 11.51 knots twice.

As if this was not joy enough, during this exhilarating sailing we were joined on two occasions by pods of dolphins. They played around the pressure wave at the bow before darting ahead or to the side, cavorting apparently for the sheer pleasure of being alive.

At Bream Head the weather changed again and we had to use diesel power to make worthwhile progress. For all the speed of the spinnaker run it was half past five and we were only about half way back. Winedown has an oven, so the skipper heated up some pizzas for the crew as the motor pushed us through the evening. Running under power requires a different arrangement of navigation lights under the rules of the sea and Alistair had to jury rig a couple of coloured bulbs to make us legal.

Yet another wind shift by Kawau Island permitted a return to sail power and brought a chill to the air. Maybe it was the time of year, but I've never seen dolphins so often. In the dark their approach was marked by a diffuse white trail in the water as their passage stirred up the phosphorescence. Two groups played for a long time around the boat. The shimmering haze of phosphorescence around each dolphin was a gorgeous and ethereal effect. It was like the airflows around a model in a wind tunnel but even more perfect. Since the phosphorescence is a product of agitating the water I can tell you with absolute certainly that a dolphin is hydrodynamically most efficient over its body. The greatest disturbance, and thus the brightest phosphorescence, is around the head and behind the fin. And, of course, when it flexes its tail there is a burst of light as it accelerates. It's an effect more lovely than anything Weta Workshops has yet produced.

Eventually we had to return to motoring for the last of our journey back to the marina. At least we arrived in line with expectation a little after 3am. Packing up took time and so it was around 5:30 when we set off to drive home to make good the sleep deficit and for a long-overdue shower.

The race web site records Winedown's times and rankings. She was the 35th boat of the 51 in division 3 to cross the line and placed 30th on handicap. Before Alistair owned her she had raced the Coastal Classic and come last or one from last. Handicapping is not precise and the weather and sea conditions can make a great difference. I hope Alistair is well pleased with his achievement. The statistics are all that history will remember, but I will look back on ghosting through the night past yachts with baffled skippers, the elation of new speed records and dolphins riding the bow wave clothed in a beautiful, luminous shawl of phosphorescence.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

What we got up to in 2015

The first action of note in 2015 was the purchase of our launch. Lady Ethel is a carvel built kauri planked vessel launched, according to the plate in the saloon, in December 1962. She is a very roomy vessel and comfortable to live aboard. If you are interested, she is featured on a classic boats web site here. Or Google “Lady Ethel Motueka”.

Like every boat owner we know, we don't seem to spend enough time afloat, but we have managed a few short cruises. Because of the very shallow marina and equally shallow channel to reach the sea we have about a 4-hour 'window' each tide in which we can leave or return to the marina. The practical effect of this is that it is virtually compulsory to be out overnight. Since there are some wonderful anchorages in the Abel Tasman National Park just 2 hours motoring away, this is not a disaster. However, there have been some visitors who have had to make do with a clamber over her in the marina because there was insufficient time to go to sea.

Bill's granddaughter Laurel steering Lady Ethel.  Tansy is helping.
We have also been unlucky with things going wrong. The freezer went on strike just before we took possession. The toilet was refusing to empty and after a long delay was replaced. This was first noticed at sea, when Bill's daughter Elizabeth and her husband, Tim, were with us, making that voyage memorable for a wrong reason.

January brings many visitors to the region, and 2015 included Eve's daughter Amy and her three younger children, Mana, Will and Nevaeh. They are amongst those whose visit did not coincide with favourable tides for boating, but we spent a delightful day at Kaiteriteri Beach playing in the water.

In February Angela and Gordon Mizner were here. Angela is Bill's second (or so) cousin on the Roblou side. They live in England. Their visit coincided with a water-borne trip round the Abel Tasman NP that had been booked before we had even thought about buying our own boat. Angela and Gordon decided that it would be a good idea to join us and we had a marvellous excursion. We were shown some lovely little inlets that Lady Ethel will not dare to navigate. We didn't know there were colonies of spotted shags in the park, but there certainly are. The commentary was just right, the lunch was tasty and the weather was perfect. A great day. We can heartily recommend Abel Tasman Golden Future Conservation Tours.

After the tour returned us to Marahau we went to have a cup of tea with Rae and Aaron, who live nearby. Rae is Eve's niece. They had generously looked after our growing pup for the day. They have a dog of their own, a spaniel called Toby. He is smaller than Flossie but much older and spent a lot of time reinforcing his dominance, when Flossie just wanted to play. After tea the dogs had a fight. We think Toby got fed up with Flossie's youthful playfulness and bit her. She returned the compliment with interest and definitely won the fight. Fortunately no blood was spilled.

Having lavished many dollars on a boat, we followed up by the further extravagance of having a deck built on the Western side of the house. This had always been planned and the house is now complete. A key feature of the design is the two clear toughened glass panels which allow small visitors, such as our youngest granddaughters, to see the view without needing to see over the balustrade or risking falling off the edge. It also keeps an exuberant dog outside where she cannot terrorise said small visitors.

For many years we had known what outdoor furniture we wanted for the deck. We first saw Mark “Peg Leg” Perry's output at a fair in 2009. He takes huge flitches of macrocarpa, sprinkles pieces of paua shell in the irregularities and then fills them with clear acrylic. So on most days we can enjoy lunch and afternoon tea on the deck. We anticipated regular dinners there as well, but as the sun gets lower it can be a pain to those sitting with their backs to the house. Maybe we need some kind of sunshade. And for much of the year it can be too cold after the sun has gone down behind the hills.

Bill had a business trip to Northland in April. Eve decided to come along, too. The client very generously invited Eve to use the firm's car so she did some sightseeing while Bill earned the money. While dodging showers at Ocean Beach Eve met a lady who was touring NZ as a member of the Affordable Travel Club. The deal is that all members can act as hosts or visitors. The host provides bed and breakfast; the guest pays a $20 “gratuity”. Part of the fun, of course, is meeting new people. It is based in North America and there is no annual fee for members outside the USA and Canada. So far we've had three enquiries but have been unable to host any of them because we already had a full house on those dates.

Every year Nelson has a book fair. A very large room is full of trestle tables on which are thousands of books at very low prices. Nearly all of them are second hand, but in perfectly good condition. As books are sold the tables are replenished. The fair lasts a week, and there is a special price for a week-long pass, so some people must check the offerings repeatedly. Our bookshelves are full and there are more volumes in storage so we don't desperately need more books. You will not be surprised to learn that we needed a banana box to carry away all our finds. And wonderful reading they are, too.

Bill has been presenting seminars for years on esoteric matters of no interest to non-accountants. Seminars have reached the cyber-age now and largely been replaced with “webinars”. In June he presented his first webinars; a series of two sessions a week apart. They were organised by the New Zealand Institute of Chartered Accountants and delivered from their office in Wellington. Bill decided not to rely on the early morning flight from Nelson, but to stay with Elizabeth and Tim in the capital city. The first session was extremely memorable for a very wrong reason – Bill was late.

Like so many accidents, it was a combination of factors. First, he didn't get to sleep quickly, and after hours of tossing and turning fell into a deep sleep. He had set his phone as an alarm clock, but the battery ran down overnight and it didn't go off. Tim got up for work but knew he was earlier than Bill needed to be so he thoughtfully didn't disturb his father-in-law. Elizabeth was working from home that day, rose late and assumed that her Dad had already left. By the time he did wake up and plug in his 'phone there were already messages from the Institute asking where he was. An urgent taxi-ride and no breakfast later he got to the Institute 10 minutes after the session was due to start. A half-hour briefing on how to use the software was compressed into 5 minutes and he was on air.

The actual presentation went off far better than it had any right to. The second one, which started on time and without any rush, was even finer. The feedback was extremely positive. A webinar is nowhere near as effective or enjoyable as being in the same room as the attendees, because feedback has to be via typed comments and folk cannot see each other. In a classroom a question can be put up on the screen and the audience invited to discuss it between themselves. The webinar is what radio must be like – the presenter must not stop talking and leave silences. However, Bill feels he can adapt and there will be more webinars in 2016.

Lots of Heritages headed North in 2015. Bill's son, Richard with Tansy (wife) and Laurel (daughter) were the first to go to the UK. This prompted Grampa Bill to arrange a little present for Laurel, who was then 18 months old. He bought her two bibs proclaiming her support for York City. Since Laurel's Dad and Great Uncle Nigel are both rabid Arsenal supporters this did risk igniting a feud.

We were close behind them. Our 5-week tour started in England and went on to Germany and all sorts of places, ending up in Istanbul. These travels have been described elsewhere in this blog, artificially dated at the time we were there. See July and August 2015. N.B. At the time of writing this it is not quite complete. Istanbul is missing. It was a fascinating city, and we hope we can manage a return visit.

An important piece of travel technology was a Samsung tablet computer with the Ulmon CityMaps2Go app. Read the Berlin post (the earliest in August) for a full description.

We were able to leave our animals (1 dog and about 10 chickens) because Eve's son, Matthew, came to live on the property. He needed somewhere new and we needed a dog sitter. So he took up residence in the sleep-out. To Flossie's delight, he takes her with him to work (farm contracting) so she gets rides in the car, than which there is no greater treat, and lots of space to run around or just blob in the shade under the vehicle.

There have been some important anniversaries in 2015. These kicked off in Christchurch with Eve's brother, Russell and his wife, Ivy, celebrating their golden wedding anniversary. Their four daughters organised a great party with a live band. Eve, who is one of the few people who have known them for all 50 of those years and the only one of Russell's siblings to be able to attend, delivered a very good speech.

In October Matthew reached 40. How can we possibly have children that old? This was celebrated with a brunch at Jester House, one of NZ's very best cafés. It was one of the very rare occasions when Matthew's controlling ex-partner permitted us to meet their daughter (and thus Eve's granddaughter), Leila.

Matthew (40) and Leila (2)
Only about a month later we were off to another party in Christchurch. Alison Newbegin is a long-standing friend of Eve's. She had reached 70.

At Alison's birthday bash.  The birthday girl is behind Bill's shoulder.
The most remarkable anniversary was in England, so we were unable to attend in the flesh. But we were very much there in spirit when Bill's Uncle Norman and Auntie Chick celebrated their 70th wedding anniversary. Chick had been ill through much of the year, but she was out of hospital and in the thick of the celebration lunch. Bill's brother, Nigel, who lives not too far from them, was there and reported to us:

It was held at a pub on the edge of the New Forest outside Ringwood called the Alice Lisle. Everything was beautifully laid out; Julia's daughter Kia who works in event management had found gigantic 70 shaped balloons and the table was liberally - very liberally - sprinkled with sparkly things including little number 70s. Nearly everyone managed to find one of these sprinkley sparkly things in their food at some point.

The story of the day was about Chick's engagement ring which she had lost at some point during her illness and being in Bournemouth and Southampton hospitals. Norman had bought her a replacement which he was going to present to her during the meal. And then on Saturday morning whilst getting ready, Chick found her ring! Norman gave Chick his present anyway, which was lovely, so she now has 2! There was a photo of them on their wedding day, aged 20 and 19. And here they still were, and so happy.

Sadly, Chick was soon unwell again and died in January, aged 89.

In the spring we added to the livestock that once upon a time we resolved not to have. We were given four geese. Strictly, they are one goose and three ganders. We were told that the goose was a young bird and she clearly needed guidance on how to be a mother goose. She laid her first egg out in the open and left it, so we had scrambled goose egg. After that she made a proper nest and laid three eggs in it. Only one of them hatched, and the gosling died two days later.

Eve has kept a goat before and we know a couple down the valley who have surplus kids. That's young goats, not children! Two of them are promised to us when they are old enough to leave their mothers in the New Year, so our menagerie will get even bigger.

Part of our life now is wwoofers (willing workers on organic farms). They are mostly young folk travelling round New Zealand and want to exchange half a day's work for board and lodging. Most enquiries come in the summer, but they may turn up at any time of year. In 2015 we had delightful people from Germany, Denmark, Uruguay, USA and NZ. Diego and Valentina are from Colonia del Sacramento, which is one of the two Uruguayan towns Bill visited in 2007. Raja (pronounced rye-er) from Germany liked us so much she came back for a second visit. And if we do not look up Wylder when we are in North Carolina there could be an international incident! Thanks to all of them for their labours and their great company.

Valentina and Flossie

Minako and Naoto from Japan.  They wwoofed for us in 2014 and came to see us before they left NZ.

Bill, Eve, Matthew, Raja and Christin.

At some time during the latter part of the year Bill's son Richard introduced a game called Ingress, which Bill is now also enthusiastically playing. It was designed to get computer nerds out in the fresh air and requires actual travel to play it. The object of the game is very simple. Around the world there are lots of “portals”. Strictly these are GPS co-ordinates, but they have a name and a picture attached so it is easier to think of them as the pictured object. They have to be in public places so that players can approach them legally and safely. When you download the software to your smartphone or tablet you have to choose which of the two teams you wish to join. You then try to “capture” portals, defend them and link them, all of which has to be done within about 40 metres of the portal. If you link three in a triangle you create a field, which is worth a lot of points. The other faction is, of course, trying to capture your portals, and so on.

If you want to try this for yourself, Bill and Richard ask that you join the green team, the Enlightened.

Late in November Bill received the unwelcome news that his largest client, BDO New Zealand, had decided to make other arrangements. It was not dissatisfaction with Bill's work, but they wanted to find a role for an individual who was too experienced to be a manager, but for whom no member firm had an immediate opening as a partner. Bill certainly has other clients, but this will make a big dent in our income in 2016.

We cannot leave an account of 2015 without some mention of being proud grandparents.

Grandma Eve with Bill's granddaughter Laurel

Grampa Bill reading a story to Eve's granddaughter Ellyssa