Breaking Out

I watched the final part of the documentary “Breaking Out”, without shedding a tear – well almost but a few watery bits slipped through. I have progressed as following the deaths of Ferg and Colin, I just couldn’t even listen to their music. It was too painful as they both died, separately but so close together, and both far too young.

Watch the documentary, Breaking Out, if you possibly can. You will be a better person for it even if you were unfortunate enough not to know Fergus O’Farrell. It’s a tale of one hugely talented man’s struggle over adversity, and overcome he did time and time again. The documentary is a remarkable story of remarkable people. The brilliant O’Farrell family, the musicians who followed Fergus over the years and were with him throughout the years, and all those who came to know him. His music is incredible and I was fortunate enough to hear and see him perform live many times in West Cork.

After a gig, I would tell him it was a brilliant night, and he would say, “You always say that.” But to me it was as the DogTailSoup group just was my type of music. Listen to the words of Ferg’s songs, and to Colin’s, both beautifully written and especially in Colin’s case almost poetic.

The Interference CDs I looked out this morning were given to me by Ferg at some point or other. I found them with Colin Vearncombe’s, Camilla Griehsel’s and Paul Tiernan’s CDs all grouped together.

What fabulous times we had when they played in the community hall in Schull. But there was the dreadful night in Skibbereen Town Hall when they played to an audience of around thirty. Then there was a magical night in Abbeystrewry Church, Skibbereen, with its brilliant acoustics when they played to a capacity crowd. The enthusiastic and appreciative audience would not let them come off stage. The audience stamped their feet and called for encore after encore, until Camilla spotted some of the children in the audience fast asleep. It was way way past their bedtime and everybody else’s.

Then there were the times in Grove House, Schull, where we squeezed in to hear Colin, and Camilla, accompanied by the wonderful Maurice Seezer. So many nights of so many precious memories. Then there was the SW Festival at Liss Ard, my first ever music festival and I only went to hear them play.

Then the summer concerts in Skibbereen Town Hall. This time packed to the rafters as the musicians played in memory of Colin and Fergus. These were fundraising concerts in aid of Bru Columbanus, Cork, a facility for the families of patients who are in Cork University Hospital.

I had a front row seat, which proved my undoing. Children from a local national school opened the concert by singing “Sail On” and at the end raised two moons (balloons) above their heads, symbolising Fergus and Colin. There was the smell of incense in the air, although there was none in the hall. I was in tears throughout the rest of the night.

Luckily a kind organiser allowed me to return the following night for the second performance, where I remained totally and determinedly dry eyed.

They were great times and I do treasure these wonderful memories now.

Clodagh McKenna’s Christmas Shop

I was looking through Clodagh’s Christmas shop on line and noticed the apron which she gave me some years ago. It’s listed as “Black with white flower” and she presented it to me in a lovely gift box. I don’t know if they come like that on her website. It is very feminine and pretty with lace and frills and a deep pocket. In fact it is very like Clodagh herself who is very feminine and pretty and is always bubbling with laughter. She is just as you see her on Good Morning Britain. It’s not an act. That is Clodagh. The apron costs £22 and my granddaughter just loves it.

Clodagh was at Inish Beg Estate, filming for RTe, probably to do with Skibbereen Food Festival which is now re-named as the West Cork Food Festival and is an event which covers the whole of the region – well it did in pre-Covid days and hopefully it will again.

We have Annabel Langrish aprons listed on the http://www.madeinwestcork.ie website and also available in the West Cork Crafts shop, Bridge Street, Skibbereen at €22.

Annabel’s aprons are printed on 100% organic cotton with Annabel’s bright and cheerful designs, there is a matching tea towel available.  These are an ideal gift for coastal kitchens. They have a large useful pocket and are long enough to cover your knees with adjustable tie around the neck. Size 92 x 70 cm. The two designs we currently have available are Funky Fish and Gone Fishing.

Swans, a Rabbit, a Labrador and five cows

Travelling the 9 km to my son’s house can be a daunting experience. I can take the main roads and loop around the outskirts of Skibbereen or run the gauntlet of crossing the main 71 at Derrylee Bridge.

Last Saturday, because I had another viewing of my house, I set off mid-morning a half hour or so before the áuctioneer and his clients would arrive.

The first thing I spotted was a pair of swans swimming in the tiny stream that runs adjacent to the road and between the waterfall and the Derrylee Bridge. Usually there is a Heron patiently standing near the waterfall waiting for his prey to arrive as the water travels south towards the sea. But I have never seen swans in the stream in the thirty years I have lived here. We have had torrential rain and storms recently and perhaps this has encouraged them to set up home there. It’s bogland to the right and left of this road and years ago the road used to collapse in heavy rain. Nowadays there are a fair few craters and one so big I drove on the wrong side of the road to avoid it.

I crossed the N71 at Derrylee Bridge which is a bit of a misnomer. There was a bridge over the stream many years ago but it fell into disrepair and rather than repair it, an area immediately to the east of it is now the exit on to the N71, the main road to Cork city.

You can sit for ages wanting to get out and the sudden stream of cars, closely knit together indicated there were traffic lights further along the route. When they passed, a quick left and a sharp right got me on to the back road to my son’s house. I had only gone yards when a small rabbit dashed from the green grassy verge directly into my path. Thankfully I had not had time to accelerate after the right hand turn and I gently braked whilst the frightened animal, white tail bobbing, darted left and right, before making a speedy escape back to safety of the long grass.

The next half mile was without traffic until the road verged to the left, near the turning to the dog groomer. There in the middle of the road was a young lad and his mum both on bicycles being led on their morning run by a floppy bouncing golden retriever. The dog was probably a year old, still puppy-like and although named golden was a pale creamy colour. Again I slowed the car to a stop as the boy called the pathfinder dog to his side. I started the car again when the mother had bent to secure the dog’s collar tightly gripped in her hand and with a nod from her and a wave from the boy I went on my way.

The sun shining although it was cold in the shade with a bite to the wind. I continued on the back road again turning right just after the huge corrugated shed to my left which has slowly disintegrated into complete disrepair over the years I have passed it. Straight ahead of me was the abandoned creamery, grey and desolate now. The school bus stops in the little yard in front of the building and on occasions I pick up my grandchildren from it, parking on the sloping ground which like the creamery has never been maintained for years.

Next left and I was on the final straight leg to my family. And I wondered if I would have another encounter. And I did. I had gone within a kilometre or so of my destination when a four wheel drive vehicle came into view. It was parked with the only occupant a black and white sheep dog, sitting in the front passenger seat. So there was something going on.

There’s a diamond shaped grassy patch at the fork in the road and at times I have had to drive down that way to get home. This being farming country, tractors, slurry tankers and a medley of different farming equipment can often make the roads impassable. You have to understand I am talking loosely of the road as being a road. It’s only car width, with some stretches sliced in half where grass has burst through the tarmac. There are passing places cut into the verges of the road and farm gates set back, enabling you to tuck in whilst allowing another vehicle to pass. I sometimes have to reverse into the nearest passing point although these days I prefer only to drive forward.

I was cautious at the T-crossing and sure enough the owner of the car and the dog, came running up the hill and into view. I turned down the radio and opened my window. He very pleasantly said, “There’s a few cows coming along. We’ll be as quick as we can.” And off he trotted again in a half run. No wonder he didn’t have an ounce of spare flesh on him.

I’d thought the cows were coming up from the direction he had emerged, but switched off the engine and waited. A few minutes later a group of five heavily pregnant cows appeared from nowhere and the farmer cheerily waved me on. I followed him as the cows, despite their girth, bounded down the slope as he ran after them, stripping the rope or string he had attached to the gates of the house on the way and across a turning to the right. There was a line up of cars where he had stopped the traffic coming in the opposite direction, luckily stationary before I turned left into Pine Trees. Tim, the farmer, had acted as the sheepdog that day and I wondered afterwards why the sheepdog was in the car and not working the cows.

But waiting to welcome me were the grandchildren, their two dogs, a cup of tea and a cinnamon bun.

10 Dogs and 2 Cats

I really miss having a dog of my own but am fortunate in that Sophie is safely residing with my youngest son and his wife and family. I can see her whenever I go over to their house and her frantic squealing and excitement when she hears my car, confirms she remembers me as being her first “mum.” She has also taken to “smiling” when I arrive. But she “smiles” at my grandchildren too and makes a fuss of everyone who arrives to the house.

I can’t remember the name of the first dog in my life as I could only have been about three years old. The dog was a collie and female as my mother would never have given house room to a male dog, “because they wandered.”

We were an unusual and pitiful sight as we went for our walk. My mother would push my father’s wheelchair because although he was only in his late 20s he suffered from M.S. It was known by another name in the late 1940s. I think it was called disseminated sclerosis. My sister was born when I was a few months short of my third birthday.

My father would have my baby sister cradled in his lap and I would be the pathfinder cycling ahead on a large tricycle. I became a substitute “sheep” to round up for the collie dog. I cycled as fast as my short legs would allow but the dog only permitted me to stretch a short distance ahead of my parents and would never allow me to get out of their sights. She would also not allow me to cross a road on my own.

She became a black and white whirlwind of fur as she encircled my bicycle slowing me down until I was stationary. Once the parents were in sight and the distance was the length the dog decided was an allowable gap, she would start running straight ahead of me.

I wouldn’t have dared cross a road on my own anyway. Although cars and buses were few and far between in those days my mother had terrorised me with warnings about what would happen if I put so much as a toe off the pavement. If the traffic did not kill me, she would kill me for disobeying her.

Bess was the second dog we had. Well we had her sister first, the most beautiful eight week old mongrel. My stepfather brought the shining ball of black and white silken fur home, given the puppy by someone he worked beside. Unfortunately the beautiful puppy had distemper and died within the month. My sister and I were distraught, in floods of tears as most little girls of 8 and 10 would be. We created such a fuss, my stepfather came back with the runt of the same litter who’d not yet found a home. Bess, who was also black and white, had short wiry hair but had none of the beauty of her ill-fated sister.

My mother disinfected everything in the house so that Bess came into a sterile environment. She was with us for the next seven or eight years. She was a nice friendly dog, but the stand-out memory of her was when she had two pups. Whenever one of her dogs was coming into season my mother kept the dog indoors and only walked the dog around the field behind our house. My mother would be armed with a stout wooden walking stick to ward off any male canine admirers. My step-father was almost divorced as he was in charge of the house, when Bess escaped. My mother was extremely vocal in blaming him for the dog escaping and I would think the whole street were aware of her fury.

When Bess did return, quite sheepishly, she had obviously had quite a time of it on the run. Several weeks later she delivered two pups, one the image of the dog next door and the second dog the image of a dog owned by a neighbour my mother didn’t like. This was a particularly ugly dog and as mother didn’t speak to the owner this added insult to injury.

Both puppies found new homes when they were around twelve weeks old, despite my sister and I pleading to keep even one of the puppies.

Bess died and for a few years we had no dog, that is until Tory came into our lives.

But more of Tory next time.

33 Days in the Wilderness Day 22

We are up early and there is no time for even a swim in the beautiful pool or to look at the beach before we leave.

We go back down towards Cairns to catch the train which goes through the mountain and above the rainforest and hope the track is safe after the Sunday landslide.

It is extremely hot and very sunny.  We wear our large brimmed hats and lots of sun tan lotion.  Maureen says, I don’t know whether we are putting this sun tan lotion on to prevent sun burn or to keep us from rusting up.”

We stop at the falls for photographs and then travel north on the train to Atherton where we have a whole hour’s break for lunch.  At Atherton Post Office I post the computer disc and a photo of me with Buddy to John so he can remember what I look like.

We go on to more falls and people from another trip go into the water and swim beneath the waterfall.  The torrent of water is so heavy we think they are mad.

We go to a museum shop past Innisfall which has been cut off through flood waters for a couple of days.  We see a young man turning wood and he makes a spinning top (peerie).  He has Scottish ancestry and he is really I interested to learn how I used a peerie as a chid in a Scottish village. I tell him how we put a nail in the bottom to lengthen the life of the peerie and how we chalked it with different coloured horizontal stripes so that it would spin and whirl away like a tiny rainbow.  He listens to me carefully and writes down the word “peerie”.

We are back on the coach heading towards the ferry for Dunk Island.  All rivers are a seething mast of fast flowing reddish mud – gardens and fields are under water.

Then under heavy skies it is on to a ferry to Dunk Island.  To lessen Danny’s load we only take two small bags with us.  Great drama as we think we have mislaid our toiletries bag and great relief when it is discovered.

The skies clear and sun shines as we travel by catamaran on the twenty-five minute cruise to Dunk Island.  The crossing wasn’t perfect but it is great to reach our destination.  Dunk Island looks idyllic.  It’s a picture postcard island with waving palm trees, tropical vegetation and golden sandy beaches.  Sandy tries to book me in for a day’s fishing tomorrow.  David, one of the men on the trip from Devon, says he will come fishing with me as he doesn’t like the idea of me going out to sea with people I don’t know.  Sandra tells me the fishing boat has been chartered and the charterers will not allow me to join them.  I am disappointed.

We walk along the small pier to the waiting dilapidated minibus.  I feel quite at home as the minibus could well belong on Cape Clear or Sherkin.

When May hears of my disappointment she says, “I hope their boat sinks.  Serves them right!”

I say, “I wouldn’t wish that on them. But I hope they catch nothing.  That’s really selfish two of them chartering a boat that an take eight.”

Dunk Island has had a tremendously high level of rain.  One of the tennis courts is under water and all the tracks are rutted and muddy.

For the moment we feel we have left the tropical downpours behind us and maybe at last we shall have some sunshine, but little warnings are in our room.  We are in a rush as we are booked into 109 Banfield Units and we have to dump our bags and rush back to the main reception for the welcome cocktail.  Dinner is to be served at 7pm so we rush back to our room shower and change quickly.

It is dark as we try to make our way to the main restaurant but we cannot see where we are supposed to go.  The lighting on the paths set within the rain forest is sparse and we can hear live things in the bushes.  We hear Titania calling.  She says, “There’s a torch and umbrella in your room.”  So we return to our unit to search them out.

We hear others of our party calling through the darkness.  Someone calls, “Stay to the centre of the path.  There are animals in the bushes,”

We are terrified but we are hungry and although the light from our torches is dim, we wave it from side to side on the path in front of us.  We laugh and giggle until we reach civilization.

We leave our large umbrella in the stand at reception and are seated with Geoffrey and Brenda, Titania and Alex, the elderly American. It seems hours since we have eaten anything. This meal has been paid for as part of our luxury coach trip and we very quickly realise our portions are small.  When our main course arrives we wait for the vegetables but the two slices of carrot and single slice of courgette  is all that we are given. `We start laughing and joking and Maureen threatens to beg bread rolls from the other tables but everyone else is in the same  boat.

continue is worried as Jimmy is getting angry and impatient with the waitress.  They have given their order six times and she still cannot get it right,  Jimmy in frustration writes it down on a piece of paper for her. To his fury she still gets it wrong.

The girl comes to take our dessert orders and we ask her what would be the biggest portion.  Brenda and Geoffrey continue to crack jokes and we all end up laughing until we are crying.  We are still hungry but we have had a great evening.

Sandy tells me that one of the charterers has backed out and asks if David and I still want to go because now the rate of the charter has almost doubled.

We still agree to go fishing.

”Can’t come all the way to the Barrier Reef and not fish,” says David.

We stay on with the others in the large, open comfortable bar, drinking until a guitarist forces us out.  The volume of his music is so loud it pierces our senses.  The bar is none to clean and only the ladies’ toilet is working.

Our umbrella is missing from the stand but the waitress finds us another one.  We walk through the rain which has come tumbling down again with a vengeance. The three girls from Yorkshire and Danny are drinking outside their room and are in fine voice.

The top surface of the fridge in our room is running alive with ants.  We had left our cups and Maureen’s tube of condensed milk out in our haste to eat earlier on.  We find a spray and ant powder in the bathroom and dispense with them. We wash the cups and saucers in boiling water.

We sit in our porch in our nighties and drink tea and listen to the rain and the lively chatter from Danny and the girls.  They brought a carry out from the last stop before we came on the island and it seems as if it may not last until tomorrow.

Thirty-Three Days in the Wilderness – Day 33

We are up early and settle the bill at reception. I take a free newspaper from reception for John and we await the coach and laundry van.

We think we will be at the airport early but somehow the coach goes everywhere and there is very little time when we get there. We queue to book in for our flight.

Lots of our fellow passengers are returning with electrical goods. One Singapore Airlines lady is employed solely to look after the large cardboard cartons. Maureen and I wonder why we were worried about our luggage being overweight when we see computers, stereo systems, televisions, cameras and keyboards in all shapes and sizes being loaded on special carriers to be taken aboard the plane.

We shoot through duty free and then head straight to the smoking lounge we found on our last time through. There are lots of people smoking and we watch our time and then head through to our departure gate. It was Micheal’s birthday yesterday and I buy him a watch at the Disney shop on the way to the gate.

We board and again we have not got the seats we have asked for. What is the point in them asking us where we want to sit? I insist and eventually get moved to a seat by the emergency exit between two men.

An English girl living in New Zealand is returning home with her two little boys. I take the baby to let her sleep for a while. They will have travelled for twenty-six hours by the time she reaches Heathrow.

I wander around the cabin to stretch my legs and look at the Ganges and then at Afghanistan through the small windows. Our flight will be thirteen hours instead of twelve as the trouble in Kosovo means we detour over Russian air space.

We get through Immigration and customs intact at Heathrow.

I see Alan waiting as soon as I get into the airport. Julie is there, Maureen’s mother and Charlotte and Jessica.

James and Louis come running up to me.

“Did you get me a snake, Nan?” asks Louis.

“Don’t be silly. She couldn’t bring you a real snake,” says James.

“Awhh. Guess what Nan! We’ve got a surprise for you,” says Louis.

“It’s a secret!” says James.

We’re coming to Ireland. We’re coming to Ireland tonight,” whispers Louis. “But it’s a surprise and we’re not to tell you,” he adds,

I hug them both to me.

I am home.

End

28,893 words

(C) Carol Gilbert

February 2000

Thirty-Three Days in the Wilderness – Day 32

We are up early to join our half-day trip to Malaysia. There is a full day trip but that entails a coach journey of over three hundred miles so we think we are wise just to have a short day.

We are labelled and taken by bus to queue with other buses at a central point. There are two trips to Malaysia and we are sorted by label for the correct bus.

We disembark when we come to the bridge that separates the two countries and queue to go through two sets of customs. We have filled in immigration forms for Malaysian customs that state how much cash we are carrying.

There is an air of tension as we walk over the invisible border. Immediately we sense a difference. We see a down-and-out laying along a slatted bench near the bus stop. He has dark hair, a rough beard and smells. He is wrapped up in a long dark coat, clutches a bag to his chest and a bottle protrudes form his coat pocket.

People are dirtier, more sullen and we instantly don’t feel as safe and confident as we do in Singapore.

A Malaysian guide comes aboard our coach and introduces himself. Immediately there are things to be bought, like bottled water which he keeps in a portable freezer box next to his seat.

A bridge spans the shallow river that divides the two countries. The British blew up the bridge hoping to halt the Japanese invasion but the Japanese rebuilt the bridge in a couple of days.

We are shown an immense palace and a huge white mosque with blue domes facing the sky. At each stop there are vendors offering their wares. A partially blind man sells charcoal sketches on silk for a few dollars. The poverty is such that it embarrasses us as we see it in direct contrast to the many-roomed palaces their prince owns. The solution to their poverty is a lot closer to home.

There are great preparations as Friday is the prince’s birthday. Tables and silken canopies are being set up near the mosque where the prince will worship. The crown prince’s mother is Irish.

At each stop where there are goods for sale, we sense our tour guide is on commission.

We are driven to a workshop where the ancient art of batik is demonstrated.

One young man is the designer and there is another man and woman who slowly pour the melted wax and perform the more basic tasks. (Joy Lawlor teaches exactly the same method in Rosscarbery School, West Cork.)

I buy some batik tee shirts. Maureen buys dolls dressed in National costume for Jessica and Charlotte.

We are now driven a short distance to an “ordinary household.” The owner of the house served in the British Army during the last war and he has a very profitable system in operation, so much so that he can afford to employ someone to direct parking of the tour buses.

A couple of young girls in costume demonstrate a dance and likewise, they pay rent to the owner for the space they use.

We can have our picture taken with the owner on a wedding chair with wedding finery thrown over us, for a few dollars, but we decline the offer.

There is a food stall in his garden, and again the owner receives rent from the stall holder. We are invited to walk through his house. There is no charge for this. One of his granddaughters is ironing in the spartan kitchen but there are several cats walking over the furnishings and the stench of cat wee makes us gag and run out into the humid air.

Quite a large room is set to the rear of the house and again rent is paid to the owner. Silver and pewter ware are for sale in the shop and there are many assistants at the counters. We are glad to escape back to the coach.

Next we are taken to an art gallery, but I am looking for a toilet and when I find one it is very basic. The flushing method is by aiming a hose that comes through the window and has water pouring out, down the pan. There is no tap to turn the hose off so the whole place is swimming in water.

Our Malaysian guide leaves the coach as we reach the border. We have to work out how much money we have spent and complete emigration forms.

We are deposited parallel to Orchard Road. We find an Irish Bar, Muddy’s, and have a sandwich lunch. The manager is an Irish lad who is terribly homesick. His Singaporean wife has just had a little girl and he is desperate for his mammy to see his daughter. I promise to send him a postcard from Skibbereen.

Later I learn that if his wife were to leave the country she would, in effect, give up her Nationality.

Michael’s shirt is ready when we return to the Far Eastern Shopping Centre. The day is hot and steaming as we take our last walk down Orchard Road. We try to find the stop for the Singapore Airlines Bus but it eludes us.

We queue for a taxi and are grateful to be off our feet.

I go for a swim in the pool on the terrace of the hotel, but I sunbathe instead. Four French children, trying to drown each other, have been left on their own whilst their parents shop. It is not peaceful. I meet a couple from Newcastle who are living in New Zealand. They are on their way home to show off their three month old son to his grandparents.

Maureen has had a sleep when I return and is tackling her packing. It is dreadful and we both keep stopping, looking at the heaps of things and trying again.

We go back to the family cafe for our last meal and are welcomed like regulars. We don’t eat very much as we are both now so tired and neither of us are too happy about the prospect of the flight home.

We ask reception to book seats near the emergency exit on the plane to Heathrow.

Thirty-Three Days in the Wilderness – Day 31

We again breakfast at the pavement cafe. We are now eating very little. Tea and toast suffice. We have eaten so much in the past month.

An American lady joins us for a cigarette. Her travelling companion doesn’t smoke so she has to come out of her hotel room to smoke.

She tells us of her lovely children and her divorce. She says she felt her divorce enabled her to become herself. She has managed every year, since her fiftieth birthday, to have a few months away in a a different continent.

Her family roles have reversed as she phones her son and daughter regularly to let them know she is safe.

Our thwarted earlier trip to Sentosa would have cost 65 dollars each but we had this refunded when I mistook the pick up time.

Our single trip on the public bus to the World Trade Centre costs 95 cents. We are the only Europeans on the bus and all the other passengers chatter away non stop to each other. We go such a long way for our 95 cents (about 40 p) we worry we have missed our stop. We reach the bus terminus which is across a busy road from the towering buildings of the World Trade Centre. We see thin straight strands falling and rising from high up on the building. These are the cable car lines which descend to Sentosa on the south and rise to Mount Faber in the north. Cable cars dangle like tiny little cube shapes, travelling in both directions.

We buy tickets for a round trip on the cable car at a cost of 9 dollars each. When we add the price of our return bus ticket our total day out will cost only 10 dollars 90 cents each. We compare it to the escorted tour cost of 65 dollars each and feel like seasoned travellers.

We pass more shops in the World Trade Centre on our way to the lifts. We queue to travel on a lift to floor 15, where a young man checks our tickets and we step aboard a cable car travelling northwards to Mount Faber.

It is a beautiful day and the sea and river below us sparkle in shades of blue and turquoise. There are many cranes and ships at the dockside and Singapore city shimmers in the heat haze of the morning sun.

More shops and cafes are set out at the top of Mount Faber. We walk around and have an aerial view of Sentosa and the vast seas beyond. The dots on the horizon are Indonesian Islands.

Multi-colour fish fill theponds and jump up in the air to be hand fed by tourists. The shop keepers sell paper bags of fish food at a dollar a tube and these are the fattest fish we have ever seen.

A fifteen foot python curls around a teenage American boy whilst he poses for his photograph. I have queued up to have my photograph taken with snake for James and Louis but I make a hasty exit as the young boy’s pretence of bravado fades and he yells for his mum.

We walk to the queue for cable cars, but Maureen pulls me away.

“The next three are green,” she says, “We’ll wait for another colour.”

We exit the purple cable car into the baking heat of Sentosa. The head of a giant green dragon is set in the centre of a fountain and as we look, his mouth opens and water trickles from between his huge spikey teeth. His body emerges from under a road about thirty feet away and his tail protrudes further on in a park.

We sit on a terrace and smoke a cigarette but the heat becomes intense and we cross to “The Images of Singapore Exhibition” and its air conditioned comfort.

Madame Tussaud inspired, we could spend a couple of days going round the Exhibition. We walk along corridors and see many animated scenes depicting the different aspects of their culture and history.

We emerge blinking into the sunlight. The heat envelopes us again as we walk past the dribbling dragon to the monorail. The island is busy because it is a local school holiday and there are queues for seats on the train. We have coins ready to pay for our journey but no one collects any money.

We stop off at a beach and trek along the sand to an open air cafe. Whilst we wait to be served Maureen wanders to an adjacent shop. I call her quietly. Two peacocks have appeared from nowhere and strut along the path behind her.

We have our first burgers since leaving the UK. They are delicious.

We return to the monorail and at the next stop we watch parrots performing for a group of excited schoolchildren. These parrots can count and answer yes or no by pick ing up cards held by their trainers.

Maureen goes to a bar to buy a boot leg style beer glass for Ian. The owner tells her that they are not for sale, but we wear him down and he trades to get rid of us.

We stop at other points on the mono rail and make our way to the cable cars. Our cable car stops above the river and we are left hanging hundreds of feet in the air as it sways in the gathering breeze. Just when we think we will have to jump for it, we are off again. The cable car gives a quick jerk and sway, then carries us upwards to safety.

We get on the correct bus back to the city but nearly miss our stop as the return journey takes a slightly different route.

We are delighted to have successfully arranged our own day and so far it has not rained, but even thinking that thought is tempting Providence.

We are determined to have Chicken Satay before we leave Singapore as recommended by John.

We walk from the hotel to Clarke’s Quay and are touted by different people to eat in their restaurant.

We choose one quite far down the Quay which has lots of Singaporeans eating in the steamy night air. We order Chicken Satay and lights flash in the distance whilst we are eating.

We think that maybe we are missing a fireworks display somewhere on the island, until we hear the first roll of thunder. We are about to experience our first tropical thunderstorm. The middle aged waitress moves us to a table under a heavy plastic canopy.

By the time we are finished our wonderful meal, torrents of heavy bouncing rain cascade from the canopy. Intermittently flashes of lightning illuminate the whole city as if someone had turned on daylight.

Table by table the guests are moved into the main restaurant building. When our turn comes the waitress tries to shelter herself and both of us under an enormous umbrella. Unfortunately she tips the water weighted plastic canopy with the point of the umbrella and the three of us are thoroughly doused over our backs and our thin blouses are sticking to our skin.

She apologises poor thing, but she is as wet as we are and we laugh as we use napkins to mop up the excess water.

We ask for coffee but it arrives black, thick, strong and syrupy and neither of us can down more than a sip of the bitter liquid. It tastes like nasty medicine. We ask for tea and are given two cups of lukewarm pale brown liquid so give this up as a bad job.

The waitress generously presents us with an umbrella so we may walk down the Quay. The rain isn’t so heavy now but the puddles are large and deep.

We are tempted to take a rickshaw back to the hotel as this driver looks strong enough to pull our weight, but decide to walk back as it is not too far.

We are glad we have decided to walk when we see our would-be rickshaw driver take his next customer straight into the path of oncoming traffic. He waves the cars and large coaches out of his way. His wheels wobble as he angrily shakes his fist at the traffic. He is cycling the wrong way up a one way street and has no lights on his bicycle.

Thirty-Three Days in the Wilderness – day 30

We arrive in Changi Airport at 3 am to complete chaos. No one tells us what to do and the whole situation is crazy

We have to fill forms in describing our luggage and numbering how many bags we each had. They promise to deliver our luggage later that day. We are given a small holdall containing basic toiletries and 140 dollars.

Many people have missed connecting flights and are being put up at various hotels whilst their flights are rearranged.

When we arrive at the Grand Plaza Royal Park, the girl on reception tells us we should have checked in yesterday. We try explaining but are keen to get to our room.

This hotel is even more luxurious than the Orchard Hotel. There is a huge marble entrance hall with gigantic leather sofas set in a square in the centre under a glass-roofed area. There is a lift on the ground floor with the doors open and we are to find that there is always a lift on the ground floor with the doors open, so we never have to wait.

Our room is comfortable but we can’t find the kettle and tea things. We ring reception and they tell us to look in the black lacquered cabinet that houses the television.

We sleep for a few hours but our systems are still on that flight and our minds can’t stop reliving the emergency landing.

Our room looks on to a swimming pool on the terrace opposite and beyond the pool we can see greenery and church spies.

We eat breakfast in a side street cafe which we find out later is actually part of the hotel.

Today we are bound for the Botanical Gardens and we catch the Singapore Airlines bus. It gets hotter by the minute and although we have both showered we feel quite smelly as we are still wearing the clothes we left Sydney in. We do have clean paper knickers on, courtesy of the Singapore Airlines free toilet bag.

We are melting by the time we reach the shops in the middle of the Botanical Gardens and buy cotton Singapore Airlines dresses. People are looking at us as if we are crazy because we try the dresses on between the rails of clothes. After our experience yesterday, we don’t care any more.

We buy bottles of cold water and enter the Orchid Gardens. Some of the areas are closed for renovation but the orchids we see are plentiful and beautiful. There are hundreds in every direction. Bronze statues and fountains mark different junctions in the park so we can determine from the map supplied with our entrance ticket, which path to take next.

We are dripping in the heat and stop frequently for cold drinks

We wander back to await the Singapore Airlines bus which drops us off at the Orchard Hotel and make our way down to the Far Eastern Shopping Centre.

We try on our new silk clothes but to my dismay, Michael’s shirt has been made but it has been sold, so they promise to make me another one for collection on Wednesday.

We settle our bill.

Back at the Grand Plaza we shoot into the toilets on the ground floor reception area and are doubled up with laughter as the toilets flush automatically as you rise off the toilet seat. We have already seen the automatic taps which run water as soon as you place your hands underneath them , but the automatically flushing toilet is a first for us on our travels.

We enquire about our luggage but it has still not arrived. We go out for a meal in a small cafe opposite the hotel.

This is obviously a family business. Father stands behind the bar dispensing drinks and passing the food orders through a hatch at the rear of the bar. A brown hand clasps the written order and occasionally the hatch flap opens and the owner of the brown hand speaks rapidly to father. Never do we see the owner of the brown hand.

Son and daughter serve tables and when father has a drink or food ready for them to collect he summons them by squeezing the grimy rubber ball of a brass horn. There is music playing overhead and traffic on the busy road, but as soon as the horn toots, son and daughter spin instantly into acton.

We wander through the busy streets. Everyone in Singapore, window-shops in the evening. The streets are as crowded as the Monday morning rush hour in the city of London. Many people are chattering into mobile phones as they stroll along the wide straight streets.

All the huge malls are open for business in the late evening and we find we are in the middle of the computer and photographic centre of Singapore.

Our baggage arrives that evening and we welcome the suitcases as if they are long lost friends.

I have read the tourist leaflets given on our previous visit and we plan to travel to Sentosa by our own steam tomorrow. We have free entry tickets to the “Experience of Singapore Exhibition” which we think is some kind of museum.

Thirty-Three Days in the Wilderness – day 29

We have a mammoth task to complete. We have to pack everything up yet again. We should be experts as we have done it so often but it is no easy task. We leave everything we don’t need for the hotel staff.

We hand our luggage in at reception. After we have breakfast, a Chinese waiter returns the carrier bag full of stuff we have left in the room. We ask him to give it to the lady who has cleaned our room.

It is tipping down with rain which rules out our plans of a quick trip down to Circular Quay. The dining room is closing until the evening but the Head Waiter plies us with free coffees before he goes home for his break. He leaves his classical tapes playing on the music system for us to enjoy.

The airport minibus collects us at 1 pm. I expect to have a rough time going out of the country as they probably have my name listed on the computer as a big time criminal. {The abandoned golf cart with the blown up engine on Hamilton Island is still playing on my conscience.}

When we are dropped at the airport we have to pay two dollars for the only trolleys that are available. What we con’t understand is that we can only use these trolleys for about thirty feet and then have to carry our hand luggage ourselves. People are being charged extra per case that they are carrying. For once we are not penalised for the extra bags.

Flight SQ222 rattles along the runway, gathering speed and finally with a wrenching thrust we are over a petrel blue Botany Bay leaving Australia behind us and heading for Singapore.

The blue uniformed smiling steward informs us apologetically that the plane is full and it is not possible to transfer us to a window seat which we had requested prior to the flight. The tall man sitting next to me in a tee-shirt and jeans offers to change places with me, but I thank him and say I might take up his offer later in the flight. Maureen is claustrophobic and prefers an aisle seat. I settle down, feeling disgruntled at the prospect of spending the next seven hours stuck in the middle of three seats.

Franke, the window seat man strikes up a conversation. He is from Holland and is a computer programmer. He tells me about his travels throughout the outback. He has his pilot’s license and has spent most of his holiday flying with the Flying Doctor Service to stations all over central Australia and describes some of his adventures. He adds that he has been invited up to the cockpit of this huge plane and is very much looking forward to the experience. He is to go up after the crew have served the first meal on the seven hour flight.

The flight is quite bumpy and we seem to hit a lot of air pockets. There’s a huge screen on the centre aisle which keeps us informed as to exactly where we are over Australia. Maureen wants to get her head down to have a sleep as we had another late night/early morning in Sydney at the club. Franke is up on the flight deck so we both need to stay alert to allow Franke to get back in past us to his window seat.

The stewardesses bring around glasses of orange juice and water. They are all slim dark haired girls with clear bright brown eyes. They wear different styles of dresses but all the material is in the Singapore Airlines design, some a deep blue whilst others wear shades of jade green with orchids and twisting stems woven in gold and red. They sway along the aisles with the easy grace which seems to be common to these Far Eastern women, smiling as they pass.

Here’s Franke back,” says Maureen. We get up and let him into his window seat.

“Was that as good as you thought it was going to be,” I ask. He looks solemn as he nods to me and turns his head to stare out of the window.

I wonder what has gone wrong as he seems so serious. I also wonder what he can possibly find of interest out of the window because it is quite dark. But I return to watch a Meg Ryan film I had switched on my screen.

“We’re going down! Why are we going down? That screen says we still have nearly four hours to go to Singapore. Carol! They’ve switched the screens off,” cries Maureen.

I don’t know what’s happening. I turn to Franke and nudge him asking, “Franke do you know what’s going on?” He turns to look at me, shakes his head and continues his vigil staring into the darkness below.

“This is your Captain speaking,” comes a tinny voice from the overhead speakers. “We are dealing with a technical problem and are going to land shortly. I have no time to explain as I am busy dealing with the problem. Please fasten your seatbelts. Put your chairs in an upright position and listen to the cabin crew for instructions.

“I told you we were going down,” says Maureen as she clicks her seat into the upright position.

“What button did you press when you were up there in the cockpit, Franke?” I tease but he stares at me with fear and terror growing in his face as I hold his gaze.

The sedate cabin crew are now running up the aisles grabbing glasses empty or full from our hands without maintaining any eye contact. The gentle sway has become rigid movements, fleet of foot, racing from seat to seat and row upon row. Sleeping babies are lifted from cots to be strapped into their mothers’ laps and the air hostesses indicate the oxygen masks, instructing the mothers that they must attach their own mask first.

I wake the slumbering blonde German couple in front of me and make them push their seats upright.

“There’s some kind of emergency,” I explain. “We’re going to land shortly.”

They look at me as if I am some kind of crazy woman, then take in the silent drama going on all around us. Still rosy-faced from sleep they fasten their seatbelts and hold hands.

The plane lumbers on being buffeted and tossed, rattling as if the bolts are being unscrewed and slowly, slowly we descend into the darkness.

A large man on the other side of the aisle suddenly unfastens his seatbelt and stands up in the aisle. He opens the overhead locker pulls out his flight bag and as he turns a steward pounces. Gone are the gentle eyes and kindly smile.

The steward wrenches the bag from the passenger, pushes him roughly into his seat and replaces the flight bag in the overhead locker slamming it shut. He stands over the passenger speaking sternly to him and then, grim-faced, scans the rows of seated people as if daring anyone else to move.

“All crews to emergency exits.” We recognise the Captain’s voice as we watch the crew hasten to strap themselves in. Their faces are set, their backs stiff with tension as they stare unseeingly to a point above our heads.

“Can you see anything down there, Franke? He must be landing this plane somewhere. Is there a runway that will take a plane as big as this?” I nudge Franke again from his concentration.

“There are lights over there. I think it is Darwin. It’s the only place we can land. But we’re still too high. The ambulances and fire engines are waiting for us. Over there. Can you see? Oh! No! He’s taking us out to sea.”

Franke turns to me, naked terror in his eyes. He thrusts his trembling hands into mine. His body is shaking and shivering.

“Why is he taking us out to sea? We’ll never survive a sea landing. There are too many of us. We won’t stand a chance with what’s in the seas here.”

“We’re turning around. He must be going back to try to land at Darwin.”

“What’s happening?” asks Maureen as she nudges me from my left side.

“Franke thinks we’re going to land in Darwin,” I whisper into Maureen’s ear.

“They should bring this down away from the town. If we all die, so be it but don’t have another Lockerbie,” says Maureen.

The lights cut out in the plane and we continue in darkness save the eerie green of the emergency lighting. And then the silence multiplies as the engines cut out. I glance at Maureen and then at Franke too terrified to speak to either of them. I stare ahead thinking that I will never see my boys or John again.

Silence echoes all around. None of the babies are crying and all the children are silent. No one speaks. No prayers break the pulsating fear reverberating throughout the steel tomb. We float as if on a glider, smoothly downward awaiting gravity’s cruel thrust. As if in slow motion we simultaneously copy the cabin crew and bend forward, heads resting against the back of the chair in front, arms clasped unfeelingly above our heads in full crash position.

We land smoothly, gently and slow to a standstill.

One by one we raise our heads and stare into the darkness around us.

What’s outside Franke?” I ask.

“It’s fire engines. A fire alarm went off in the hold when I was on the flight deck. You see I couldn’t tell you. They have got the hold open and there are no flames, so I think maybe it was a false alarm. I would laugh if I could stop shaking. I was so frightened. I thought we would all die.”

I feel Maureen fumbling about on the floor.

“What are you doing?” I ask.

“I’m trying to get my shoes off but my feet are swollen. You have to take your shoes off to get down the emergency chute,” she explains.

“Oh leave them on. They are not going to bother about your shoes after all this drama. Let’s get out of here as quickly as we can, ” I reply.

But we can’t get out quickly. We are kept waiting whilst those ahead of us get off the plane. We realise we are only four rows away from the emergency exit but there are large, young fit men and woman in front of us and we would not have stood a chance of making it to the emergency exit.

We are told to take no luggage with us. Maureen takes her passport and papers out of her handbag and we store them in my small leather bag that I can carry around my neck.

When we eventually get out of the plane it looks as if the whole of Darwin have come to rubber neck. Police and security are lined up against the boundary fence as the firemen satisfy themselves that it has been a false alarm.

Some clown lights up within yards of the plane. “Put that cigarette out!” commands a voice out of the darkness.

“Walk away from the plane as quickly as you can.” We are directed to the airport building and make our way slowly following the passengers ahead of us. We are the last to climb the stars and ask one of the policemen if we can have a cigarette. We can smoke on the stairs and shakily stand outside in the balmy air. There is a very long queue to get into the airport building. Some of the passengers have taken luggage with them.

Everything has to go through x-ray so we have some time to wait. A young policemen lets us in through a back door to use the toilets but we have to join the queue again to go through security.

The airport lounge is barely large enough to handle the seven hundred and fifty who are on our flight. There are other regular flights coming through so seats are at a premium and a lot of people just sit on the floor.

We want a cigarette but a young female airport official is going around shouting at people if they light up. Our young policemen comes to the rescue and tells us we may smoke in the Ladies.

There’s a smoke alarm set into the ceiling in the Ladies so I go back to the desk and ask him if he is sure it is all right.

“It doesn’t work, but don’t tell anyone I told you,” he grins.

A steady flow of smokers go into the ladies. Eventually the men catch on and go into the Gents for a smoke.

Maureen and I have a great laugh as the smoke alarm goes off in the Gents’ toilet. That smoke alarm is obviously working.

The loudspeaker system is not working in the airport and every so often a uniformed short lady climbs up on top of the reception desk to shout as loudly as she can to give us information about our situation.

One of the young airport staff is quite rude and we have met this rudeness from young women in uniform repeatedly since we arrived in Australia.

Other travellers comment on their experiences as they have suffered from the same rudeness. One of the Australian lads on our flight comments, very loudly, “That’s why all the Aussie blokes are marrying girls from the Far East. We can’t stand Sheilas like her.”

The young girl who has been so rude to an elderly man and woman turns away and cries in a corner but we don’t have much sympathy for her.

I phone John and tell him what has happened. He says, “You’re certainly getting your money’s worth on that trip.” Not much sympathy there either.

It is a long night but eventually we are returned to our plane which we have been assured has been checked from end to end> It’s been refuelled as the pilot had dumped all the fuel over the Outback on his way in to land at Darwin.

We should have arrived in Singapore at 9.30 pm, Sunday. Singapore airport closes at night so they have had to get permission to open it for the arrival of our flight and to call staff in to meet our needs on arrival. Our luggage is being left at Darwin for collection tomorrow. There is some kind of fire extinguisher in the plane’s hold that has been used to deal with the false alarm. The fire extinguisher has to be replaced before the plane can carry anything in the hold. So we will arrive in Singapore with what we are standing up in.

Thirty-Three Days in the Wilderness – Day 28

We are up early again to join the tour of the Blue Mountains. It is still raining. We do manage to see the Sisters Rock between the mist and clouds. A huge Aboriginal man is playing a large didgeridoo at the top of the hill. He has a great fuzzy beard and a mischievous twinkle in his eye. He only wears a loin cloth and has ash rubbed over his body. There is a good sized crowd listening to him play and he asks the name of a little boy sitting on his dad’s shoulders. On learning the boy’s name is Tom he immediately plays “Tom, Tom the Piper’s Son” on the didgeridoo. Lots of people have photographs taken with him and he makes a menacing face for the camera. The overturned cap at his feet rapidly fills with coins.

We have a ride on the vertical train that descends the rock face of the mountain in seconds. We have lunch in the revolving restaurant and watch multi-coloured birds feeding from trays hanging on the balcony.

We decline the option to watch a film of the mountains and canyon in the cinema and race to the busy market town with the Saturday afternoon shopper. We find a small hairdressers run by a Greek lady. She speedily cuts our hair and we race back to the cine complex but lose our way. We think we might miss the bus but the coach driver is waiting for us.

We go on to Sydney’s Animal Park and their Disney-like Wonderland.

We see more koalas, kangaroos and crocodiles but the sheep-shearing shed is too hot and smelly for us.

The coach driver, Dolan, drops us off in the middle of a traffic island and we have to run the gauntlet of the speeding cars to reach safety.

Trudi and Kay come, pick us up and take us to the sporting club for dinner again. This time it is Kay’s treat. We have a great meal. We each lose a dollar on the pokey machines and watch the people dancing to a great band.

We say farewell after midnight. I feel sad as I say goodbye to Kay and Trudi. I don’t expect I will ever see them again.

Thirty-Three Days in the Wilderness – Day 27

We catch a bus to Circular Quay and have breakfast in a cafe called City Press which holds a twenty-four liquor licence. The menu is set within the place mats which are printed like miniature newspapers. We watch a group of young people down bottle after bottle of champagne with orange juice. We do some present shopping and then join the queue for our Luncheon Cruise which takes us around the whole of Sydney Harbour. It is a buffet lunch and we queue table by table. It is raining heavily so that everything looks duller than it normally would.

We walk through the rain along the harbour to the bus station where we join the City Sights tour and it stops raining every time the bus stops. Amongst the sights we see are The Gap and Mrs MacQuairie’s Chair where the poor lady watched for the boats coming from England so she could have news from home.

We go to Bondi Beach which is a complete let down. It is smaller and dingier than we had envisaged and they have disinfectant bowls on the esplanade in case you are stung. I am reminded of my childhood visits to Portobello Beach but there were no stingers in Scotland.

Trudi and Kay come over to the hotel for a meal which isn’t very good but we have a great laugh and a long chat. We go upstairs around midnight.

Thirty-Three Days in the Wilderness – Day 26

We pack our bags again and walk into Alice Springs town for breakfast. Even at this early hour there are lots of Aborigines walking barefoot around the street. There are many Aboriginal owned shops but the men walking about are threatening. When they ask us the time we ignore them pretending we don’t understand what they are saying.

There is nothing in Alice except tourism and we find everything pretty costly compared to other places.

We share a car with Ken and his wife to the airport. We meet other people at the airport who we had bumped into either at Ayers Rock or Kings Canyon and greet each other like long lost family. I meet the parents of the boy whose wallet I had found on the bus. They want to buy us a drink as a thank you but I ask them just to wish us well.

We have an uneventful flight back to Sydney and on arrival the weirdest minibus driver picks us up. He has a huge beard and chatters about nothing, calling to others coming out of the airport that he is heading off to Sydney that minute. In fact it is about thirty minutes before he has crammed sufficient paying passengers aboard.

I ring Trudi when we get back to the Bayside Hotel and arrange for them to come for dinner in the hotel tomorrow night because most places will be closed as tomorrow is Good Friday.

Maureen does the washing as the hotel launderette is right next to our new bedroom.

We eat in the hotel. Our room is like a disaster area when we assemble all our bags and luggage. We ignore the mess and have quite an early night.

Thirty-Three Days in the Wilderness – Day 25

We are up early and walk back to the cafe for breakfast. It is pleasant when we walk over but is hotting up by the time we walk back and the flies are alive with a vengeance.

We see a dead snake on the road, its outline defined by the hundreds of black flies feasting off its remains.

It is so windy that we think the helicopter ride will be cancelled. At 9 am there is a knock at the door and the guy has come to pick us up in the minibus. The helicoper ride is going ahead.

We pay our money and sign documents freeing the pilots from any liability in the event of our demise and then a mere child takes us behind the office and we see what looks like a plastic bubble car. This is our four seater helicopter. The child is our pilot.

Maureen shoves me to the front so I sit beside the pilot and she sits behind me firmly strapped in with her fingers in a white knuckle grip on the back of my seat. We have head sets and microphones strapped on and then I realise I have nowhere to hold on to, save the handle which will open the door of the helicopter. My feet are placed on thin perspex. There is nothing between me and the outside but thin perspex.

I am terrified. I can hear my boys saying, “You’ve done some really stupid things in your life, Mum, but this must beat all.”

I think of the Japanese tourist who died in the helicopter in Cairns. I think of how Dave has said these guys love flying so much they are working for less than the dole. I want to scream, “Keep the money! Just let me get out!”

The pilot radios in to the base and we are off.

It is awful. We are buffeted by the wind the second we lose the shelter of the hanger building. The air vents at my left hand side puff air through and the pilot has trouble steadying the craft. As we rise further I am rigid with fear and I hear him speak through the earphones but when I open my mouth to reply no sound utters. I am truly struck dumb with fear.

Rocking and rolling we fly over the complex out towards the Canyon. The pilot radios in to base confirming our position and I know this is because they will need to know where to find the wreckage. We are now over the beautiful canyon and the pilot points out the pin pricks which are our fellow travellers on the last leg of their walk. I am too frightened to bend my head down to look as that would be enough to topple this plastic bubble over, but I glance down without moving my body weight.

We were crazy as we paid for a half hour trip which we could have just paid for a fifteen minute trip.

Again he radios in to base. This time they will find the wreckage in the desert. We fly further over the valley and the pilot spots some wild horses. I utter a soundless death scream and brace myself against the back of my seat as we dive down and he chases the horses over the floor of the valley. I think we are going to crash into the rocky cliff at the far side but he pulls up from the chase and we rise above the cliffs with inches to spare.

We turn south and the wind is no longer buffeting through my air vent. He points out the water source high on the Aboriginal land. They have been there for 20,000 years. We are shown the sacred place where no women are allowed to go. It is truly spectacular, and a privilege to see. We have see a lot more from the air than the walkers would be able to see, but I still can’t speak.

To my surprise we land safely, and I still can’t speak. The child goes off to the office and another boy calls us over to the minibus. Maureen and I are both shaking and start laughing with nerves the minute we get in the minibus. We ask the driver to thank the child pilot and explain how stressed and nervous we were.

We still can’t believe how brave we were when we meet up with the walkers in our group for an early lunch. Some of the others laugh at us and try the helicopter ride themselves.

We set off for Alice Springs, but have to back track down the road for the bus change. We see a very thin dingo on the run down.

We arrive in Alice Springs early evening and pass a dry river bed. Dave tells us they have the Oxford and Cambridge boat race there every spring but it is a fun race and the teams carry the boats up the river bed. We are uneasy as we spot basic properties which have graffiti and boarded windows. There are also many Aborigines sitting in circles under trees in the park. They have bottles and they look menacing.

We are dropped off at the Frontier Oasis and it is chaos. First of all they give us a room already occupied by someone else and then there are next to no towels in the room they do give us. There is a domestic fight between an elderly barefoot Aboriginal woman and her drunken husband outside the reception area. A young tall security guy is easing them out of the hotel complex and on to the street.

We ask at reception for directions to the town but are told that it is not safe for two women to walk unaccompanied in the evening in Alice. Maureen is very disappointed as she so wanted to see the town and we are again off at 10 am tomorrow for the flight back to Sydney.

We eat in the hotel restaurant and watch the young security guard patrol the grounds holding a thick strong torch which could double as a club. We have an early night so we can get up with the sun tomorrow and have a good look around the town I need to find a chemist as my chest is bad again and I have finished the first prescription.

Thirty-Three Days in the Wilderness – Day 24

We sleep late – until 6.30 am and have a lazy morning. We are both tired and all this touring is getting a bit much. We both feel toured out.

We pack up yet again and walk over the desert to the main shopping centre which has a hairdresser, shop, bank and bakery. We buy fresh rolls and tea at the bakery and breakfast in the early morning sunshine and sit at tables and chairs set in a central paved area. Birds fly down to feed off the crumbs.

We try to have hair cuts at the hairdresser but she is too busy to fit us in.

It is getting hotter by the minute and the flies are waking up so we catch a bus back to the hotel and sunbathe by the pool. It is the first chance we have had to sunbathe on this holiday.

We set off at 12.55 pm for Kings Canyon and change buses at a designated waiting point. We still have Dave our driver but some people are heading straigh tto Alice Springs and missing out Kings Canyon.

We pass trucks towing trailers with camels in the back who appear like lookouts aloft the rigging of a ship as the dust covers all but their lanky necks and dark lashed eyes.

We stop late afternoon for tea at a former cattle rancher’s. He has given up cattle as he is making more money rounding up the wild camels in the desert and returning them to the Middle East. There are dirty emus within a fenced enclosure, who look eager to bite us. They watch us curiously as we disembark from the coach.

I run to the toilets whilst Maureen queues for our food and we swap places. We are getting experts at this coach travel business. We sit outside the shop cum cafe and eat our food. We feed crumbs to the mynah birds who are so tame they will eat our unwrapped food if we leave it centimetres from our reach. Maureen turns for a second and they have her apple pie. Some of our fellow travellers have bought gifts in the small shop.

We walk over the yard to the coach as a man arrives in a four wheel drive. He wears an ankle length leather bush coat and has a leather bush hat in his hand which he uses as a fan to wave the flies away. He is the owner of this ranch and he is disgusted when he sees the rubbish we have tidily deposited in the bins provided. He scoops the black plastic bag up with distaste and curls his lips as the last of the passengers get on to the coat. We have spent a tidy sum of money in his cafe and shop but we are obviously not welcome.

Whilst we travel closer to Kings Canyon, Dave tells us the story o Jack Cotterill who, together with his son Jim, had built the original road through to the Canyon over a number of years. He had leased land from an Aborigine and set up a small holiday complex. He wanted all the world to see the beauty of Kings Canyon. It was a hard life as they had no diggers or JCBs but when the task was done, they were moderately successful. Eventually Jack died and the Aborigine died and when Jim came to renew his lease the grand-daughter of the Aborigine refused. She wanted Jim out and to take over the holiday complex. He took his case to court but she was within her rights to refuse to renew the lease.

Jim borrowed a JCB and raised the complex to the ground. There was a small clause included in the lease that the grand-daughtr had failed to take note of. Her grandfather had instructed that when Jim finished with the land he was to leave the land exactly as he had found it.

Jim said that he had buried his father, his young daughter and his memories there.

Jim has a cafe these days which is simply known as Jim’s Place.

The Government have opened up the Kings Canyon Resort and it is so well camouflaged we don’t realise the buildings are there until we are on top of them.

Our room is wonderful and we have a verandah that opens on to the bush. We are in the real Australia now. There’s quite a bit of greenery around because of the rain they had last week.

We all meet up in the cafe/bar for a drink with Dave, the coach driver and for something to eat. The bar is full of young backpackers and our party is a mix of French, Dutch and German. One of our party is a young English teacher from Malaysia and she speaks five languages. She is our translator when our schoolgirl French is not enough. Dave points out two young lads at the next table who are helicopter pilots.

There is a guided walk tomorrow around the Canyon. Dave is leading our group but they are starting off at 6 am. It is a four hour hard walk, the first hour or so up hill. Maureen and I know it will be too much for us. We decide to go the whole hog and book a half hour helicopter ride over the Canyon

We hope the pilots don’t drink too much that night.

We have a great evening int he bar with all the young people and the food in the cafe is reasonable and excellent.

On the way back to our room I ask the girl at reception to point out the Southern Cross for me.