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.

Water water everywhere

With almost one thousand isolating at home, around thirty in a hospital ward and another ten in ICU, I am isolating. It’s not as hard as it seems as I am lucky to be where I am.

Walking with the mask on when it gets hot makes breathing difficult so I walked early this morning and was back busying myself. There are always jobs to be done and I swept up the huge patio outside and then through the rooms in the villa. I decided to wash my bath towels and that’s where the trouble began.

In fairness the washing machine is not the best. From the first day I carefully followed the handwritten instructions inside the cupboard door it has made such a loud banging noise you could probably hear it half a mile away. It clangs, bangs and as it has never drained out completely I have worried about the clothes being rinsed thoroughly.

Today it made screeching sounds in addition to the bangs and clangs as it whirled away. It would not spin at the end of a cycle. I tried turning the dial around to the spin of another programme but all it did was add more water. The level of suds, which would not rinse away, formed a three inch thick white foamy line on top of water. I studied the porthole door for some time, willing the water to drain away but it was having none of it.

Eventually armed with a bendy rubber pink two-handled bucket and a rigid blue pail, I opened the door. The bucket filled immediately and the pail took what cascaded out of the open door with the excess flowing on the tiles. I couldn’t lift the bucket to empty it out such was the weight of the water. I pulled the towels out and rinsed them individually in cold water in the sink. It took ages to rinse the suds out of the towels. I was worried about how much precious water I was pouring down the sink. I baled out the washing machine with a saucepan.

With the towels drying in the breeze, I did an absolutely stupid thing. I switched on the machine, this time with no clothes in it. It filled as before and I hoped that it would empty but no matter how I changed the programme it still would not empty. So I have a slightly thinner white foam line sitting on top of the water which fills over half the porthole window of the machine.

I phoned reception for help but they had gone for the day so I have decided to leave as is and wait for one of the maintenance guys to come on in the morning and sort it out.

The only positive is so much water missed the pail and the bucket I was able to mop up the kitchen floor which I had intended washing but not necessarily today.

It’s another day tomorrow and the kitchen floor might well get a second

Washing Machine Woes

So the washing machine man came this afternoon. He tried different programmes on the machine but the foamy water just continued whirling around getting foamier with the continued agitation. Finally he decided to take off the protecting white plinth that made the washing machine a ‘Built-in” machine. Really it is installed behind a door which matches the newly installed kitchen. If I had managed to remove the glued-on plinth myself I would have found the drain trap and might have been able to open it myself.

He selected the shallowest Tupperware box I offered him. He gently opened the drain trap and filled the box, closed the drain trap and emptied the contents into yesterday’s pink bendy bucket. He repeated these steps several times and eventually cleaned the drain trap.

His English is slightly better than my Spanish and I think he told me he had cleaned the drain trip and unblocked the pipe. He had used a screwdriver and a biro pen to achieve this and told me the washing machine was working. If it was not I was to call reception and he would come back.

After he left I put some whites in the machine and the floor had another wash. Clean water poured out from underneath the machine and he has either not closed the drain trap door properly or he has poked a hole in a pipe underneath the machine with the screwdriver or biro pen.

Of course when I phoned reception to report water flowing over the kitchen floor the machine repair man had gone home but would be back in the morning.

So I have another display of dripping wet clothes on the patio. But this time I didn’t need to bale out the machine as it flowed freely from underneath the machine.

The kitchen floor has never been so well washed.

Happy days!

Another week

So here we are at the start of another week, that is if you count a Sunday as the start. I would like to think of it as the start as there is hopefully a change in the government in the UK. Not a change of government – a change in the team of advisers to Mr Johnston. Maybe things will be clearer and more efficient.

The Canary Islands require you to have a clear Covid test before landing and I believe the onus is on the hotels to check that their guests are Covid free. Much better that the test is done before one boards a plane, as the whole plane load of passengers could be at risk.

I love the Channel 4 programme “A Place in the Sun”. A young man in the hotel who I had mistaken for a diver – is working on a programme. Tells me it take a week to prepare the programme and a week to film. I don’t know if they are filming locally but further enquiries reveal they are. In fact there is another team filming in Matagorda.

As the director who looks like a surfer heads off to Grand Canaria another team arrive into the hotel and they are a lovely bunch of people. They too spend a week researching and the second week filming. We have had heavy rain as we slip into the final month of this never to be forgotten year. The rain and flooding must affect the filming. But the team head down to the beach on their final afternoon in Playa Blanca. The rain again disturbs their afternoon and they head off as the skies darken, with slate grey clouds, and their next destination is Tenerife.

They were good company. Nice people and I appreciate their company. I find myself lonely. Self-inflicted, because I am avoiding new arrivals to the hotel as they could be carrying the virus. I never believed the saliva test was to be trusted. Today it was announced it is only fifty percent accurate. Testing now has to happen 72 hours before arrival. This means you have a gap before catching the flight where you could become infected. Our Lanzarote Ladies Connected and Lanza Swallows groups both have a rule no one is permitted to join in any event until they have been on the island a minimum of seven days. Until the vaccine is as widespread as the virus we will still be at risk.

A week in November

It’s been a fabulous week weather wise, but that is all about to change. Lanzarote held its breath for a couple of days, week before last, as it was forecast we might face the wrath of a hurricane as it blew across towards us from the other side of the Atlantic. In any event it did not hit us, at least as far as I am aware. It missed us but drew the hot air of the Sahara over us so we enjoyed temperatures in the 30s. As I walked down to the Monday coffee morning in La Gran Via, it was a mere 32 degrees at 10.30 am and I mean Celsius and not Fahrenheit.

So it was throughout the rest of the week and we basked in baking temperatures totally unseasonal but really enjoyable. How quickly I have become acclimatised and am now finding a drop to 22 degrees quite chilly and looking for a cardigan.

Monday 16th was a busy day, coffee morning and there was a nice turn out with a lovely young girl who arrived looking for company. We oldies tried to do the best we could and hopefully we have pointed her in the direction where she might make some friends. It didn’t help that she looked 22 but was in fact 32 or is this me becoming so old that I look at all youngish people as I do these days at doctors or policemen?

Afternoon tea at Las Casitas was followed by a couple of games of bingo. The afternoon tea is worth a mention as it is a very English afternoon tea with tiny sandwiches, smoked salmon on brown bread and best of all, wonderful sausage rolls which were served piping hot. The many cakes were delicious and everything was fattening but completely enjoyable.

Third outing of the day was a 60th birthday celebration to taste home distilled rhubarb gin, which I am told was extremely palatable and went down a treat. Nibbles were plentiful and chocolates seemed the right thing to follow the gin and the fizz. It turned into a “girls” and ”boys” session, the boys sitting round a table and we girls enjoying the comfort of the plush garden furniture and there we sat in the warm night air enjoying the chat, laughing as we shared experiences and tall tales.

Unsurprisingly I was wrecked on Tuesday. I need to remind myself of the age I am and that I am here to recover after the complications of recent surgery. I think I have been recovering from one thing or another the past eight years or so. You have to have fun sometimes!

Wednesday was Image consultation day and the lambs gamely arrived to the slaughter. Even me as tea girl was told I had the wrong lipstick on. I replied, “You told me to wear this colour of lipstick!” “But not when you are tanned. You need a darker lipstick.” Was the retort as I was firmly put in my place!

I didn’t do much Wednesday but I did walk from the bus stop to the villa where the workshop was and I made the teas and coffees but I was wrecked by the time I got back to the hotel.

The lambs were great fun and were variously told they had the wrong colour hair, make up, glasses, sandals, and the wrong shorts, dresses, either shape, colour or fabric. They stripped to their bra and knickers and were advised if they were apple, pear, or hourglass, whether they were short or long waisted, narrow or broad shoulders, long or short legged. The corrections were greeted with laughter and the questions flew as although everyone was laughing this was serious business and each lamb really did want to know how to make the best of their assets.

On Thursday good friends called for a coffee in my hotel. They also wanted a look around my new hotel as it was refurbished a couple of years ago. Thursday night I played hotel bingo and won a line, for which I was given a cocktail. My young friend who I gave it too would rather I hadn’t bothered as she said it was pretty awful. It was a very nice blue colour at the bottom half of the glass but that’s the only positive thing she would say about it. Then I went on to win the house and a bottle of Cava. (I should have bought a lottery ticket!)

On Friday, dear friends collected me and we drove in convoy with other friends through the National Park to San Bartolome where we had a coffee in the square near the church. We headed further north and parked in Teguise which is a beautiful town. It’s best seen on a day when the market is not on so you can enjoy the beautiful buildings. One building had similar doors, the height and carving, to one I had seen in the city of Salisburg many years ago.

So we girls did some shopping in the small winding streets. Every shop welcomed us as these people really need our custom. The current lockdown in the UK and France has affected the traffic to this island to a huge extent. The first lockdown was bad enough but this one has knocked the hope out of many. But we tried as best we could to spend where we could. We didn’t need much encouragement.

We returned to a tapas bar which was a favourite of my friends on a previous visit. We were the only foreigners as the rest of the customers were all Spanish – a great recommendation. The tapas were excellent as was the wine I am told. One friend asked for a glass of rose and then changed her mind saying if she got the bottle it would be cheaper and she could get a cork and take the rest home. My other friend had ordered a glass of white wine and not to be outdone said she would do the same. The food was delicious and plentiful and if we had stuck at the tapas it would have been fine, but as the wine flowed and the beer arrived chilled we decided cake was a necessity. One order was apple cake and the other a piece of carrot cake, but two of us were invited to try “the most delicious cake” and we did.

It was a sponge base, then what seemed like a layer of sliced peaches, then a layer of cream, cake, then caramel and so it went on to the top which was again sponge cake topped with meringue. I couldn’t finish it but I ate all the meringue off the top and the remnants were demolished by the others.

Off we went again, this time heading towards Famara, where the surfers play. We took a wrong turning which was beneficial because as we turned we faced the full majesty of the mountains which are the backdrop to the surfers’ beach. In the late afternoon the mountains were as stunning as Ayers Rock in the shadow of the waning sun.

So on we travelled to stop for a coffee before heading south. Surfers, all totally mad in my opinion, were bobbing about in very high seas off La Santa. Somebody commented, “They are rocks over there.” But they were not – they were a row of black clad surfers lined up to ride the next high wave.

It’s worth mentioning that we had set out in the morning under cover of bright blue skies which had followed us throughout the day. But at La Santa the sky had changed to a grey/sandy colour and we were experiencing a Calima.

It was one of those magical days on this island. The company of good friends made it all the more so special.

Saturday I was wrecked so I went for a pedicure down the Marine Rubicon and fell sound asleep in the chair, much to the amusement of Angela, the best podiatrist ever.

Sunday I went to church and it was just wonderful to be back amongst these lovely people so caring and so deep is their faith. Lunch at Geckos’s with other friends was the usual high standard. Dave is an excellent chef and he is going to try the chocolate fudge cake recipe I gave him during this week.

Now there is a circus act in the hotel tonight. I am told they are excellent. It would take a lot to beat the magician who was here during the week. He did the usual boxing up his wife, sawing her in half and then magically putting her together again. But the white doves appeared from nowhere as did a huge white rabbit but it was the dog, the double of my Sophie, who suddenly appeared out of a box which really threw me. Then the bottle and the glass jumping over and back again. We were within ten feet of him and how he did this, we just couldn’t work out at all. But that’s what all the magic is about.

So we are back to the coffee morning tomorrow and another week has gone by on this paradise island.

Where were you?

It was one of those momentous weeks. Will you remember where you were when US news stations finally declared Joe Biden, President-elect? Will you remember where you were when you heard there was a vaccine for the Covid-19 virus? Or will you remember where you were when you heard the UK deaths from the virus had topped the 50,000 mark? (The death toll is probably much higher than that because for the last while only those who have been diagnosed with the Corona virus and have died within 28 days of the diagnosis are counted as dying from the virus, i.e., if you were diagnosed 29 days ago or earlier you don’t count as dying from the virus!)

I was at Lesley and Michele’s at a barbecue on Saturday 7th when their daughter Emma checked her mobile phone and announced Joe Biden had made the necessary number 270. I had watched the counts during the previous nights when the numbers seemed stuck for over 24 hours. Great relief that the Trump dynasty may be at an end but you can understand quite clearly why he rushed to put his own lady in the Supreme Court.

I was at a Swallows’ lunch overlooking the harbour when I received a phone call from an excited Christine N. She is planning to travel out to Lanzarote early 2021, but not until there is a vaccine. A vaccine has been announced as being 90% successful. Tuesday’s news was exciting and positive, and a GM reporter even managed to doorstep the cautiously optimistic Minister for Health between a Sky news and BBC interview. Government ministers have been boycotting Good Morning Britain for around 200 days.

And I was in bed with the headphones on listening to Ben and Susannah this morning -12th November – when the deaths for the UK topped the 50,000 mark, the highest death toll in Europe. Meanwhile Johnston’s buddies were jostling for position in a power struggle. Carrie is said to have blocked the appointment of Lee Cain as the PM’s chief of staff. Said Lee Cain has resigned and Dominic Cummins, (he who tested his eyesight by driving a thirty mile round trip) is also said to be considering his position.

Was this a diversionary tactic to block the top story of the day i.e., 50,000 plus Virus – related deaths in the UK? One wonders but thankfully common sense prevailed and Susannah and Ben continued with the deaths as their lead story.

Johnston’s ex-wife, Marina Wheeler, was also interviewed by Ben and Susannah this morning. Launching her new book, “The Last Homestead,” Ms Wheeler explained the last two years had been very traumatic and difficult. Battling cervical cancer, but in remission following three operations, as well as coping with divorce and the death of her mother to cancer, Ms Wheeler was the epitome of dignity as she refused to be drawn into answering questions regarding her ex-husband and what may be happening in No 10 at the moment. The book covers the end of British rule in India and the partition into India and Pakistan. I truly hope it is very successful for her and that she finds peace and fulfilment as she returns to her legal work.

Click Click

Christine and I got a click tonight – a double click.  At least when Christine’s click kissed her hand this time she didn’t have her false teeth (bottom set only) clutched between her trembling fingers.

It appears we are fair game.  Two women on our own, even though we are past our sell by dates, the French men think we are incredibly rich when Christine tells them she is here for six months.   What they don’t know is that we have a discount because we are long term residents and that our rooms are a simple double bedroom with en-suite.   They are paying much more for studio apartments, spacious bedrooms, bathrooms and sitting rooms, with at least one balcony.

I came out on 19th October, and have been here three weeks now.  It has just flown.  I was exhausted coming out with all the trauma of trees chopped down to save the garage roof, the main house roof and the outhouse roof.  Then the wood needed to be taken out of the garden shed, bagged up, transferred to the dry of the garage and then the newly cut wood stacked in the garden shed, now renamed the wood shed.

My attempt to remove the gravel around the pond to the side of the house has been going on intermittently as and when I have been strong enough to lift the gardening tools.  (This being my contribution towards saving the planet.). Was almost on the point of giving up when a woofer enthusiastically took over the job for me.  He found it hard too but the night before I was flying off for the winter, he worked until 11.30pm.  I had explained I wanted grass seed laid across the area around the pond, replacing the gravel. He scrapped and dragged the tiny grey stones until there were two large heaps of gravel by the boundary wall.  He placed bamboo cut to approx three feet tall around the area to be grassed.  He wound rope around the bamboo stakes in a cross cross arrangement.   I had given him a whole new and unopened packet of Lidl tinfoil and demonstrated a strip approx three inches wide and a foot long to be twisted over the rope.  This would I hope frighten the wonderful bird life away and allow the seeds to grow.

I got up around 8 am when it was light I looked out to find the area resemble a space age scene with huge strips of tinfoil waving in the breeze.  In his enthusiasm he had used nearly the whole roll of tinfoil.

As I was still at the stage of unpacking and repacking suitcases, balancing them on the bathroom scales and transferring item from suitcase to suitcase to meet Ryanair’s designated luggage limits, there was little I could do to sort out silver city.  I was travelling with four suitcases.  One 20kg and another 10 kg added the previous evening, and these two would go in the hold.  Good old Ryanair allow me a 10 kg suitcase on board free of charge because it contains necessary medical equipment and there was also the regular 10 kg bag I could take into the cabin.  This suitcase was also filled with medicines.

I could do nothing about the silvery garden as Jonathan was arriving shortly to take me to the airport.  I don’t know if the tinfoil strips were successful and if any of the seeds have developed into little green shoots.   (Latest report five months later is that the bamboo and silver strips remain, but the grass seeds have disappeared completely).

I underestimated the temperatures in Playa Blanca.  Last year it was 23 and 25 in October but reverse the numbers and you get a fair idea of what we have been experiencing. I didn’t bring clothes suitable for these temperatures but have made do and mend.

It took several days to sort out all my possessions.  I had left one very large suitcase, one small suitcase, two large plastic storage containers and my tartan shopping trolley packed to overflowing with my sun hats, cushions and covers for the patio chairs, and throws stored for a friend in the hotel store room.

I was also storing art equipment for one of my friends due out in February 2020.

It’s take these past three weeks to sort everything into some sort of order within the limited space.

It’s been so lovely meeting up with friends and catching up on the six or seven months since we last met.

I am now coming within sight of the end of my winter sojourn in the sun.  What a five months it has been.   There have been dramas and excitement, unrequited love affairs or would be affairs.   The special and wonderful experience of seeing two people you really like finally realise they are meant for each other.  I love them both and am so happy they have found each other.  Personally the loneliness is present all the time and I do feel envious of the many couples who walk along the beach hand in hand.  Feel angry and cheated that John didn’t try harder to look after himself.   But on the positive side I have made the most amazing friends.  The Spanish Social group are friends I know I will have the rest of my life and one couple in particular have been the backbone of my stay here.  I would have not managed half as well without them.  I miss people of course at home, the grandchildren especially. But conversely I will miss the friends I have made here and will look forward to returning in October.  How luck am I to have two places in the world I want to be!  And dare I write a tell all tale of the past five months in paradise?   It has been such fun at times, but maybe what happens in PB should stay in PB?

 

33 Days in the Wilderness Day 23

 

We have booked an airport bus to pick us up after breakfast.  The small minibus arrives and we hurtle around Sydney picking up luggage and other passengers and when we are full to bursting point head out to the airport.  There are different terminals and the bus driver drops us at the wrong one.

I go into the terminal, show my ticket, and the girl directs me upstairs.  I check with the girl at the desk upstairs and she, very rudely, tells me I am in the wrong terminal. We have to get a trolley and push it through the car parks to the next terminal.

The plane for Ayer Rock is the scruffiest plane we have seen.  The seats are tatty and none too clean.  The air hostesses have lots of make-up but their clothes are messy and untidy.

We fly over Botany Bay and then turn north. The first settlers found a lack of fresh water at Botany Bay and they set to see again and discovered Sydney Harbour which had plenty of fresh water.

It is a three hour flight to Ayers Rock and we lose half an hour in the time difference.

There is nothing to see after we fly over Sydney and the Blue Mountains.  Australia is just mile after mile of red oxide earth.  Most of the population live within a few miles of the coast as the interior is so inhospitable.

We are collected in the searing heat at airport by coach and driven the short distance to the main accommodation areas which are about fifteen minutes’ drive from the Rock itself.  All accommodation is low level, and we only have a short time to dump our bags, grab a sandwich and then wait with others at reception.  Our next coach collects us at 3 pm and we set off for Ayers Rock.

First of all we go to the Mumbles and there is a walk through to a ravine.  It it is snowing flies and even though we have out netted hats on, it is miserable. I start to climb the hill to the ravine but give it up as it is too hot and I am wasting so much energy waving flies away.

We wait, with others unable to make the trek, under some shade until the rest of our group returns from their walk.  Whilst we are waiting, Dave the driver, lifts a dragon lizard in the palm of his hand.  The creature is so perfectly formed, with a series of mottled triangular spikes rising from his spine and reaching down to his tail.  He scuttles into the bush as soon as he is set free.   We are take to different photographic stops.  It’s a very flat reddish landscape with two rock formations on the horizon which look like two septic boils..  There is more greenery than we had expected.  It had rained last week, the first time since October.  The dust is as bad as we expected.

Dave, our driver, is very pleasant and gives us lots of information whilst we are in his care.

He warns us to stay rigidly to the desert code.  Do not go walkabout without informing someone where you are going and when you will return.  Take one litre of water for every hour you walk and two litres for every hour you walk in the middle of the day.

He tells us that the Australian government returned the lands at Ayers Rock to the Aborigines several years ago and then leased them straight back.  Everyone entering what the government call the “National Park” has to pay 15 dollars toll to the government on top of whatever the tour company has already charged.

Dave also tells us he had climbed Ayers Rock seven times when he was young and ignorant, but will never climb it again.   The Aborigines consider Ayers Rock a holy place and all tour guides are now honour bound to tell the tourists that the Aborigines have requested that the Rock is treated as a sacred place and ask that tourists stop climbing it.  The Aborigines are also fearful as the Rock is eroding.  We can clearly see in the distance the lighter coloured red soil that highlights the path taken to the top of the Rock.  Added to this is the fact that thirty-seven people have had heart attacks whilst climbing the Rock since the start of the year. (It is only March).

For Maureen and I this decision is not a problem.  We are not fit to climb the Rock but in view of what we have just heard, even if we were fit enough, we would not climb it in respect of the Aborigines’ wishes.  For us it will mean a long lie tomorrow. The rest of our party who are climbing tomorrow morning leave at 5 am to view the sunrise and then start their climb.

We are promised a “good sunset” and Dave pulls the coach into the coach car park.  He hands out folding chairs and sets out glasses, wine and nibbles.  We sit to wait out the half hour or so until sunset.   Many other coaches arrive and I count at least twenty.  Maureen and I are sitting quite comfortably when a coach deposits its load of American tourists who proceed to set up camp directly in front of us and spoil our view.  The driver is quite embarrassed by their behaviour and spends the rest of the viewing time talking to us.  We drink white wine whilst the Americans drink champagne.

The Rock changes colour rapidly as dusk descends. The waves of crimson and purple fan over the crevices in the Rock, but for me the most startling event is what is happening to the west of the Rock.  I can see flurries of ever deepening shadows which looks like fine black dust thrown up from the heels of a thousand horses racing.  I ask the Americans’ coach driver, “What’s that over there?”

”You’re seeing the earth spinning into darkness,” he replies.

As I watch this I am aware of seeing the earth’s movement for the first time, that the earth is round and that it is travelling through space.  It’s a mind-numbing sensation and I feel as if something magical has touch my soul and start to shiver as night blankets the Rock and the drivers collect the drained glasses.

We eat in the restaurant at our hotel.  It is self-service and we pay a flat rate of 35 dollars each for our meal.  This is the most expensive meal we have had yet in Australia.

It is very disappointing as there is no bread, little meat and no tomatoes left in the salad.  We do not complain until an Australian does. He loses his temper and is shouting at the staff saying they are cheating the tourists.  We are refunded most of our money but we complain at the main reception desk so they know what is happening in their restaurant. They ask us to book for breakfast but we decline.

 

33 Days in the Wilderness Day 22

We re-pack our bags yet again, have breakfast in the hotel and walk down through the park to Rushcutter’S Bay.

Kay and Trudi pick us up and take us to the GAP.  These are huge rocks that stand each side of the narrow entrance to Sydney Harbour which widens to resemble an opened fan.  There is a lighthouse on the southern side of the GAP and many tourists stop and walk over the rocky path to look at the dark blue choppy water.  The girls drive us to Manley and the wide sandy beach set within the Bay is busy with families enjoying the bright afternoon sunshine.  Craft stalls are set up on the road leading away from the seafront and many shops are open.  A brass band plays in the pedestrian walkway and we sit for a spell and watch the other visitors.

We drive to Trudi’s house.   I have seen this house from photographs over the past thirty years so I feel at home as we walk up the path.  The garden is beautiful and the decor in the house very much like what used to be Trudi’s mother’s home in Edinburgh.  The large back garden is beautiful with banana trees and sub-tropical plants.   However Trudi sweeps away giant cobwebs with a broom before we can walk up the back garden, and she says, “It’s been a bad year for spiders.”

There are cats everywhere.  I don’t know how she remembers the names of them all and Maureen and I secretly count at least twenty.  Trudi was denied the chance to have children and the cats are her family.

The girls drop us off at the station. There are double-decker trains directly into the centre of Sydney.   We again walk up to Hyde Park and get back to Bayside Hotel early evening.  We have to reorganise our bags as we are leaving luggage in store in the Bayside because we are off to Ayers Rock tomorrow.  We only need to pack enough clothes for four days.