Archive for January, 2016

Fiji 2

Posted in Uncategorized on January 31, 2016 by David Palmer

Woke to the captain informing us that there is presently 4700m of ocean below us and that a pregnant goldfish is called a twit. Hmmm…….. random!

We slept well. We breakfasted formally at the Sapphire and joined a table of 8 Aussies. Australians can be relied upon to wade straight in with conversation, there is no breaking of ice, what you see is what you get. I guess for a country that welcomes immigrants, it is not surprising that one takes us for English, assuming at first that we are from somewhere on their continent. It is our ignorance of place names and current local politics that gives us away.

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Last night before going for dinner I had watched the Kleber v Williams final from Melbourne in  one of the ships pubs but had to leave to eat with Kleber 2 sets to 1 up. This morning I discovered Kleber had won, yes! Go Europeans.

I had salmon Eggs Benedict for breakfast with Sue sticking to cereal and fruit. I have only ever had EB on board a ship, though to be fair Sue did make them once for me at home and they were just as good. You can have them with bacon and mushroom instead of the salmon but they are nowhere near as tasty.

Afterwards we took a turn around the decks but the more exposed ones were off limits as though it was a gloriously sunny day they were very windy. The captain had mentioned that we  had to make high speed to New Caledonia so I guess it is the speed of the ship creating the wind as the sea looks relatively calm.

Yesterday we played table tennis for half and hour and we did so today. However, because of the wind it was quite hilarious as the ball became unpredictable and we often played the ball from other tables and theirs, ours, causing great amusement among us all.

On the way back to the room I discovered the gym and Sue the shops. After a coffee I changed and went back to the gym and spent half an hour on the running and cycling machines. The bones in my feet are not used to picking up speed any more and I hobbled back to the cabin with them quite sore, but I felt great.

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We had lunch in the Windjammer and for once I was surprised that Sue had a salad with me, though she professed that it was a disappointment and she should have had the curry. We sat and chatted with some Aussies from near Byron Bay (not that we had a choice).

Next we attended a lecture on Forensic Science. Big mistake. The room was packed and if we hadn’t sat in the front row we could have left quietly. The lady didn’t know her subject, her presentation was amateurish, and at times she was just plain wrong. We both agreed  that it was extremely boring and we won’t be returning for the follow-ups.

Sitting down for an hour being bored and fighting the urge yawn made us very lethargic (unlike some of our fellow attendees who also couldn’t escape, they dozed) on returning to the cabin we napped for over 2 hours. Sue woke with a headache. Damn you Forensic Sheila!

After a refreshing coffee we took a refreshing walk around the decks, returning for another refreshing coffee.  Refreshed we returned to the cabin to change for dinner. Tonight is a formal night.

Prior to entering the dining room we joined the Captains part on deck 5 and had a glass of champagne and listened to his welcome speech (fairly amusing). He is Norwegian. We found out that: There are 4300 passengers, 1500 crew, 3700 are Australian, 150 are British and when the ship was built in 1999 it was the largest in the world.

Taken with Lumia Selfie

Taken with Lumia Selfie

Tonight we had company. A nice couple from Adelaide shared our table, though the other 4 chairs remained empty. We swapped family stories as we ate and they like us had not done many cruises so neither of us felt overwhelmed by the knowledge of ships, routes, ports and and cabins that most onboard seemed armed with.

The show tonight was songs and dances by the ships’ troupe taken from Broadway shows. Very enjoyable and after a late night coffee we hit the pillows around midnight.

Fiji 1

Posted in Uncategorized on January 30, 2016 by David Palmer

As this was the day we had to catch the ship which was to be our home for the next 10 days, we rose at 8am and began our packing. With that accomplished, two coffees and a chat with Charlotte on messenger, we left to do a spot of shopping.

The hotel was situated just a few streets away from Sydney’s largest indoor market and that is where we headed. On the way Sue managed to buy herself a new dress and a pair of trousers in a boutique and I an 8GB SD card in a 7/11. In the market itself we came across a Community Stall that was selling aborigine art and we bought a large painting of a symbolic lizard that represented  protection from hazards (best way I can put it). Everything in the painting is symbolic and has meaning. The painting is of such complexity that any 5 year old that Sue taught, could NOT have painted it. She returned to the stall later and bought a wooden kangaroo, because as she said, “I couldn’t resist it.”

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Returning to the hotel we collected our suitcases, checked out (the computer system was still down) and made our way to the station. We waited ages for the train (11 minutes) to Circular Quay and then joined a gaggle of other cruisers’ lugging cases towards the Overseas Passenger Terminal around 400m away. The ‘Voyager of the Seas’ was docked.

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Checking in involved joining one queue after another with all the right paperwork in hand until you reached the gang plank. We had no hiccups and transited the process smoothly. We were soon in one of the restaurants having lunch waiting for the staterooms to be opened, which they did at 1pm.

After a quick turn around the outside decks we found our cabin and met our Asian room maid Alloeta. Our cases hadn’t arrived yet, so we visited one of the cafes for coffee and chatted to a friendly Aussie family (all Aussies appear verbose).

Returning to the cabin, Sue’s case had arrived, so she spent some time unpacking. She claimed to my disbelief that while she did so I had fallen asleep, even though no one else in the room corroborated her story.

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At 4.45pm we made our way to our muster point in the theatre for the obligatory life-boat drill. However, we never actually left the theatre or had to take our life-jackets with us. I guess they have had to make cutbacks and probably privatised the life-boats.

Eventually we were released and on return to the cabin found that my suitcase had arrived. With clothes all stored away we returned to the deck to watch the ship leave port. It was a shame that at that moment a storm swept across the harbour to spoil everybody’s photos of the Opera House and Harbour Bridge, though I bet quite a few caught great shots of the lightning flashes  over the Sydney skyline. I wasn’t one of them.

The evening meal dress code was smart casual and properly attired we queued at the Sapphire Restaurant for 8pm. We had been allocated a table and were looking forward to meeting our fellow diners. We were placed on a table of 8. However, no-one else turned up. We suspect that the mainly Aussie passenger list prefer informal dining, such as barbies.  As very few tables had a full compliment, we presume it wasn’t a statement by the Republican movement and that people couldn’t be bothered on the first night. Tomorrow will tell.

After our spot of fine-dining we made our way the full length of the ship for the nights entertainment. First the ships resident band played a few numbers and then a Turkish comedian took the stage. He was obviously well known by the audience from his TV shows on ABC and many of his jokes went over our heads but much appreciated by those around us. None the less, his ad-libs were funny (those we understood) and he was entertaining.

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Afterwards we retired to our cabin and lights out.

Sydney2

Posted in Uncategorized on January 27, 2016 by David Palmer

We woke at 9am to a cloudy but warm day. After coffee and a shower we made our way to Central Station, purchasing 2 Opal cards from a 7/11 on the way. We loaded them with $20 each and they are valid on the trains, buses and ferries. When you spend $15 in travel each day the rest of the days travel is free.  A great idea and it works. They work by tapping on and off at the entrance to the station, bus or ferry. Dead easy, even technophobe Sue grasped the idea from the off.

We caught the train to Bondi Junction and then a bus to the beach, everything went seamless. Got off one, got on the other.

Bondi Beach was a little disappointing. Perhaps the cloudy sky had something to do with it but to me it looked like an Aussie Filey. Similar size, shape and back drop, though currently warmer and of course the flora and fauna are different (I am including the locals in that comparison).

Digital Camera

Digital Camera

First, we ambled to the rocky promontory to the left of the bay, the first part accompanied by a a young German backpacker keen to chat. As expected the sea was infested with surfers of varying degrees of abilities. We sat for awhile and watched, though a couple of white, large curved beak birds that were earnestly pecking the grass close by held our interest more.

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Satisfying ourselves that we had taken enough photos from that viewpoint we returned to the centre of the bay, found a bar and sat down at a table next to the beach. As we had lunch and drinks we watched the passers-by and chatted to the friendly waitress and later to a couple who came to sit at the a table next to ours. It turned out that they were from Gloucester and on a tour of Aussie land before they kicked the bucket. Fair enough.

On reflection, Bondi is no Coco cabaña. We didn’t feel the urge to dip our toes in the water or determine to return again. Maybe if younger, I would be of a different opinion, but I am not so sure.

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After a quite satisfying Aussie sized lunch we slowly ambled our way to the promontory on the right of the bay. A much more interesting walk, passing along a cliff walkway that had been sculpted into weird shapes by the elements. There was the obligatory stops for Sue to read the many information boards along our way. By far the most interesting one being a description of the rescue of 250 surfers in a 1938 surfing competition when a freak wave took them out to sea, 5 died. The Great Whites missed an opportunity there Bluey!

Taken with Lumia Selfie

Taken with Lumia Selfie

We returned to the central bay shops and Sue bought the usual postcard before boarding the bus back to Bondi Junction and then a train to Central.

We spent a couple of ours relaxing in our room before setting off to the Lyric Theatre near Darling Harbour later in the afternoon.

We had a meal in one of the many restaurants surrounding the theatre before taking our seats to watch a performance of the musical Martilda.  We had great seats in the centre stalls, a perfect view of an astounding musical. ‘Easily the stand-out musical of the decade’, according to the Sunday times. The Royal Shakespeare Company were the performing artists and they produced  a wonderful evenings entertainment.

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Returning to the hotel we had a little hiccup in the lift on the ascent to our floor. It became a descent into the basement. No matter what we did with our room cards (which activated the lift) it would not respond. In desperation we attempted to walk the three car parking floors back to ground level but were halted by shutter doors at ground level. Returning to the lifts we again tried all combinations of cards and floor numbers to no avail. Luckily, eventually some one called the lift to the lobby when we were inside it. Protesting to reception that the cards did not work just resulted in scepticism, which disappeared when they tried the cards themselves and they failed to operate. Apologising, we received new cards and made our way to the room for coffee and bed.

Sydney1

Posted in Uncategorized on January 26, 2016 by David Palmer
Taken with Lumia Selfie

Taken with Lumia Selfie

The flight to Hong Kong left 20 minutes late and only managed to make-up a few minutes on route. This caused some consternation as by the time we had disembarked, it left us with just 30 minutes to transit, having passed through the airport before we knew it was huge. Unlike the transit I made in June with Jamie, we gleaned the gate number and level from our seat media terminal on the plane.

Despite a rather foolish (shamed to say) British family in front of us at the transit bag scanner, who seemed oblivious to the people behind in a quickly growing queue as they professed surprise at the various banned articles in their bags and then while other illegal goodies were being confiscated had the cheek to slowly gulp down the two bottles of water also discovered.

Resisting the urge to throttle them we eventually did make our onward flight to Sydney. It left on time and arrived 10 minutes later than schedule. Having using the Sydney Transit system earlier in the year I was very impressed with its efficiency and felt confident that we wouldn’t need the usual Hotel transfer I usually organise beforehand. And this proved so, we caught the train to Central Station without any fuss and the Mercure Hotel was located just outside the station, easy! The only worry was whether we would be allowed to check-in at 8.30am, but this was unfounded as by 9am I was having a refreshing shower in our room.

We had flown with Cathay Pacific economy class. A good airline, lovely food, though I wouldn’t recommend the chicken congee, ever. They have a rather depressing system of calling passengers for boarding. There are so many tiered categories of seating and privileges that by the time economy class is called you are in no uncertain doubt that you are in ‘cattle class’. No upgrade for us this time to business class as with our Vietnamese trip! However, once herded on board we were treated and pampered as with any other airline we have travelled on. A bit of ‘sensitive’ training for the boarding staff would not go amiss to improve customer relations. After all, we get the point as we have to troop past the ‘privileged’ in First and Business class to reach our seats at the rump of the plane.

Showered and refreshed we first visited the hotel concierge to discover where the Lyric Theatre was. Though there was heavy rain as we landed, the sun was out and the the heat building as we left the hotel. Discovering that the ticket office was closed, because unknown to ourselves, it was Australia Day!  We wondered why so many flags and people dressed patriotically.

Employing Plan B we made our way to Darling Harbour where we had learnt there was going to be festivities. What a beautiful day for a celebration. Blue sky, blue sea and I guess many of the  people we mingled with were called Bluey. We took quite a lot of photos. We stopped awhile to watch some Bangra Dancers and then again to watch some Aussie Drummers bash the skins. We dallied awhile in a harbour side bar for refreshments and to eyeball the locals celebrating their country in a quite amusing way. We had to laugh at two huge kangaroos bounding along the harbour and stopping for photos.

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We stopped at a poster displaying the prices for a meal, drinks and exclusive view of that nights harbour fireworks display from a ship moored alongside the quay. We were lucky enough to book a table.

Walking on we were mildly worried that the Quantas 777 we were observing banked steeply over the harbour before screaming over our heads just a few hundred feet above. Apparently it had special permission to do so as part of the celebrations. Thoughts of 9/11 were in my mind.

We carried on with our meandering until we reached the Observatory situated above the Harbour Bridge and stopped again for photos. Moving on we travelled under the bridge and onto Circle Quay for splendid views of the Opera House and  a trio of three masted ships moored along the Cruise Liner quay from where we were to meet our own boat in 4 days time.

We joined the crowd along The Rocks, one of the oldest parts of Sydney, and today filled with entertainers and food stalls celebrating before buying train tickets back to Central station and our hotel.

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After a rest in our room we got the concierge to book us a couple of seats to see a performance of Matilda at the Lyric Theatre for Wednesday night. We set off back to Darling Harbour just ——-after 6.30pm, arriving among the many eager Aussie locals and tourists to watch the fire work display. There was not a lot of room left long the quayside, but that wasn’t our problem. We had booked a table on the restaurant boat, right in the middle of it all. A table of four attempted to get onto the boat just before us, but unlike ourselves their names weren’t on the list and got rejected.

We were shown to a table for two, bearing our name, along the side of the restaurant facing the imminent display. That made up for Cathay Pacific!  As the restaurant ship slowly filled up we could see that there was not a spare cm of harbour-side unoccupied. We were lucky to arrive when we did, or we may have not got as far as the boat.

Well, what a night. Yes, expensive as you would guess, but the food and drink was first class, the views of the entertainment (live acts  and huge video screen) uninterrupted by other bodies.
AND when the fireworks began, they lasted for nearly 16 minutes with colourful chaos and bedlam erupting into the sky choreographed to music. AMAZING (I videoed it all). When the smoke cleared we finished dessert and had another drink. Before leaving we explored the ship and discovered that the decks had been padded by quite a few celebrities; the Queen, Russell Crowe, Nicole Kidman, Hugh Jackman, Margaret Thatcher, the Beatles to name just a few.

Digital Camera

Digital Camera

With tummies satisfied and smug in the knowledge that we have the same taste in eating venue as  the more notable, we made our way back to the hotel and bed.

Christmas 2015

Posted in Uncategorized on January 6, 2016 by David Palmer

The weather on the run-up to Christmas and indeed over the festive period was miserable. However, in Harborough we must count ourselves lucky as the North West of Britain suffered much, much worse with large swathes of the country disappeared under water. We had grey clouds, frequent showers and a constant temperature that fooled all the spring bulbs in to sprouting little green leaves. The thermal underwear remained firmly in their drawers and with nine people in the house and the woodburner on in the evenings (to create that festive mood) the lounge temperature often soared towards 30 degrees!

With Sue slowly recovering from her broken foot, the family rallied round and helped out with Christmas shopping and getting the house prepared. Parsnips were lifted from the allotment and the turkey and accompanying trimmings were acquired and stashed away in the fridges ready for the ‘big’ day.

I managed to spend a couple of mornings pruning the vines and fruit bushes in readiness for the spring. I dug up the Goji bushes by the patio and moved them down to the allotment as they are now getting too large for the space they are in. I gave the garden a general tidy-up in readiness for Santa, though I refused to mow the lawns, even though most of my neighbours could be heard busy with this task during the week. Winter is for sweeping snow, not mowing lawns.

The family arrived on Christmas Eve. Though sadly there was no Nan, we did have the pleasure of entertaining Lee and Mia into the Palmer way of spending Christmas.

We had a late afternoon walk into town to see the decorations and discover any last-minute bargains in Joules (which the girls took advantage of). We stopped a while for drinks in Joules’s Eatery before continuing our meandering through Harborough. We finished up with more refreshments at the Lord Nelson, before retiring to Willow Bank for nibbles and more drinks.

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In the past we have spent the time before Santa’s arrival playing Ten-pin  bowling in Kettering, but that night we played bingo and games on the X-box until the boys fell asleep and were lifted to bed. Breaking tradition, Jamie returned to his apartment for the night as he preferred his own bed to the temporary one in my study.

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Magically overnight, presents appeared under the tree. They were first discovered by Lucas and Ellis at 4.30am, but after some subdued excitement, returned to their beds and opened their stockings with mum and dad. The next disturbance was around 7.30am when one by one, the rest of the family came downstairs to check that the man in red had done his work. All satisfied that they had not been forgotten and there were delights to be discovered after breakfast, everyone busied themselves in preparation of the first intake of calories for the day.  Jamie arrived in time to eat.

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With breakfast plates and bowls all washed and put away, each family member occupied their own little spaces  in readiness for parcel delivery. As usual, I read and sorted the packages and gave them to the elves (Lucas and Ellis) for delivery. Proceedings took a necessary pause when the elves themselves received a present. I stored my little packages to one side, to open later and busied myself sorting so that everyone received a gift at regular intervals and didn’t have to wait long before the next one arrived.

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With all packages opened and wrappings stuffed into plastic bags for later disposal people set about the business of finding out what others had received and tidying their own piles into some sort of order. Soon instructions were being read, batteries being sought and  plans made.

As it was Lee’s birthday on Boxing Day, we had a cake lighting  ceremony. He was going to celebrate it with his parents the following day.

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During the morning there was a minor hiccup when the oven door fell off. With a danger of Christmas dinner being without the turkey, the oven was too hot to exact a proper repair until it had cooled down, so the door was put back in place and held there by a stack of heavy weights.  It was cooked beautifully.  We must remember this trick next year.

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With another festive fayre safely stored away and pots and pans all washed and returned to their proper places it was decided to combat the flab by having a walk. Driving to Foxton, we did the locks. There were a few hardy souls doing likewise, but not many. The restaurant by the bottom lock was doing a roaring trade from those too idle to plan prepare and serve their own Christmas menu.  They seemed to have enjoyed themselves. Perhaps one day?

Returning home, we were soon engrossed with Christmas tea and then said goodbye to Sarah, Lee and Mia. Unfortunately, Sarah had to work that evening and the following day they were due to visit Lee’s parents in Cotgrave and for Lee to celebrate his birthday.

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Boxing Day was Greyhound racing in Peterborough.  This year we had decided to book a couple of tables in the executive suite to ensure that we got seats. They were very expensive but with Sue’s poorly foot we didn’t want to risk having to stand all day. It was a good call. Besides the usual fun of losing and the occasional win (for some), we had the services of a hostess who took our bets (so no walking) and endless glasses of mulled wine and mince pies. Later on, other  buffet delights were brought. We were stuffed and those that weren’t driving, quite a bit tiddly.

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Returning home we entertained ourselves playing family games, before retiring to bed.

The following morning some in the family took advantage of the sales, later in the evening Suraj, Jamie and I went to the cinema to watch the new ‘Star Wars’. Enjoyable, similar plot to the very first one. The central heating system decided to break down. The engineer promised to come the following day.

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The next day Sarah, Lee and Mia joined us again.  The engineer arrived to fix the boiler and after replacing the control board, it worked fine. Later on we all went to the Sondes Arms in Rockingham for a splendid lunch. Returning home I took Mia for a very muddy walk and then had to give her a bath before we departed for the pantomime ‘Rapunzel’ at the Cube on Corby. Again we had great seats near the stage and had a thoroughly enjoyable evening. The Cube is truly a lovely theatre with a very intimate atmosphere. The Braunstones had to return home that night as  again  they were both working the following day (no rest for the wicked).

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Taken with Lumia Selfie

Taken with Lumia Selfie

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With Sara and Lee back in Leicester, Jamie sleeping at his own apartment, the Rothwells left us to return to home after lunch the following day. The weather hadn’t improved but I took the opportunity to get out the bike and cycle a few miles. Ooooh it was hard going carrying those few extra pounds!  I determined to eat less and cycle more over the coming weeks to get back to some semblance of fitness.  So far …………    I have achieved one of those targets! With the house now back to quiet mode and down to a reasonable temperature, the heating has been ‘fired-up’  only in the late afternoons, the global warming temperatures have continued to ensure that the donning of any thermal underwear has not been necessary (saves on washing).

Over the previous weeks Sue’s mobility has slowly  improved as the bone knits and she has started to use her walking stick less. It was only today (6th) that she ventured out in the car herself following an encouraging prognosis from yesterdays visit to the doctor. She returned from her free-form shopping trip all buoyed up and visibly happy that she didn’t have me trailing along getting up to shopping mischief.

With the family gone I set about the task of pruning the large apple tree in the back garden. Only a few years ago I would have completed the job quickly and with few aches and pains, but the work seemed an endless drudge, not helped by the fact I had to wear full waterproofs as it rained constantly throughout the four days it took to complete the job. Though I have a green house full of next years logs and the tree looks as if it has been given a really extreme but beneficial  ‘short, back and sides’  and the myriad of twiglets scattered around the garden have been relocated to the dump, I don’t feel that ‘warm-glow’ one usually acquires after a task well done, I ache too much and am tired.  Perhaps, I should have forgone my early morning cycling mud-baths?

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