The Coronavirus Diaries, 5th June 2022

I got home late on Friday night. The train was delayed because of a trespasser on the line. At first we were told there were trespassers, and I imagined it was some kids who’d got onto or near the track. Later we learned it was a man with mental health issues. He had a razor, so it sounds as though he was threatening to kill himself. It took a while for the emergency services to do whatever they had to do, talking and listening I imagine, before he was taken away in an ambulance. I hope he is receiving the help and support he needs now. Our health service, run down by a cynical government who would like to see it in private hands, is on its knees. Make it fail, then open the door to the highest bidder and say goodbye to arguably this country’s greatest ever achievement.

I was very tired, and though I slept well, yesterday I felt jet lagged. Still, I got the washing done, stocked up on groceries and caught up with Celia. Today I feel more like myself. I have my barometer back. It’s shiny and beautiful, but it doesn’t work. Gareth, the man repairing it, could not find anyone who could supply the needed mercury. In fact neither of us could find anyone who is licensed to have mercury. There’s a list apparently of people who are so licensed, but finding this list is a something both Gareth and I failed at. If you know, please do tell.

Gareth left with the station clock from the sitting room which needs cleaning and some minor attention. It will be good to hear its sombre tick again. I have dead headed the roses, repotted the basil, collected up the stray bits of litter that were scattered about the garden, washed out the cutlery drawer (a much overdue chore), done some accounts, and prepped supper. So a day of small, necessary tasks.

The last view I had before leaving Ray’s house was of cow so close to the haha that separates field from garden she looked like she was in the garden.

Cow by the haha.

It felt a suitably bucolic image to end my stay. In the afternoon, Ray had chosen to remain at the house while Octavia and I went to Burton Agnes Hall. The hall is beautiful, but it is the art collection it houses which is jaw dropping. Marcus Wickham-Boynton, a younger son, inherited the estate last century. He restored the house and hung its walls with an astonishingly varied, superb array of paintings: Corot, Utrillo, Lely, Kneller and many many more. There are also modern sculptures, including one of Marcus, tapestries, including one by Kaffe Fassett, and the gardens are as lovely as the house. Here’s a glimpse.

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The Coronavirus Diaries, 1st June 2020, the Bridlington Connection

A chance encounter with a memorial tablet while we waited for Ray’s coiffeuse to complete her magic led us to learn about a more than local hero. Ray is Octavia’s 99 year-old mother, and I am visiting her at her house in Bridlington for the first time. Octavia met me at the station yesterday. I have seen so many pictures of Ray in her kitchen, or sitting outside enjoying the sunshine and the view across the fields, that some parts of the house feel very familiar. Not so others.

Her five children, all adult, left home decades ago. It’s a big house, and a big garden. The garden was always Ray’s love, and it shows. It is gorgeous. Allegra, Octavia’s sister, has undertaken the herculean task of restoring it to glory. A restorative project in every sense. She is doing an excellent job.

The other day I was having a conversation about how changing technology affects the verbal expressions we use. I observed I hadn’t pulled a chain in decades. For years now I have flushed the loo. Within hours of arriving at the house I had pulled a chain. In the back kitchen are not one but two meat safes. There are people alive today in their late middle age who have never heard of, let alone seen, a meat safe, never mind two. This is a house where technology of the past is preserved and used alongside the technology of today.

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The Coronavirus Diaries, 4th May 2022, a Birthday Weekend

Celia wanted to post her brother’s birthday card. No sign of a post box, but there was a postman in a stationary van. Celia waved to him and walked over as he started move. Is it just the one thing you want to post? he asked. Yes, she said. He reached out a hand. I’ll take it, he said.

In my head I could hear my mother’s voice. They’d only do that in Ireland, she was saying, probably correctly, proudly pointing out yet again how the country of her birth was far superior to anywhere else.

We were in Belfast. The centre, not the suburbs, a stone’s throw from City Hall. It was the end of the weekend we spent in Northern Ireland celebrating both our birthdays. Working backwards, yesterday we had been in the centre, meeting Fiona for coffee at the Linen Hall Library, a favourite venue of mine, then staying chatting for so long we decided to have lunch there and forgo our other plans. We had already had coffee at the Two Sisters coffee shop off the Cregagh Road. I also had a vegan brownie there and Celia had resisted a bag she would have liked to buy. If you are near this coffee shop I recommend you pop in. It’s lovely. The coffee is lovely, the goods on display available to buy are lovely, the staff are even lovelier. It’s spotlessly clean, welcoming and probably saved our lives on Monday when we first visited it bleary eyed after a bad night’s sleep in a cold Airbnb with inadequate bedding. We compared notes in the morning, discovering we had each struggled to get warm. each been convinced in the small hours we had Covid. There were no extra blankets, no hot water bottles. The heating system resisted our efforts to spring into action despite our following the instructions to the letter. Via email I requested help, blankets and hot water bottles. Someone would come to sort the heating later I was told. Twice more I requested blankets and hot water bottles, requests which bore some fruit as we found blankets on our return.

Not the best start to our only full day in Belfast. Still, we managed a good walk through a bluebell clad Cregagh Glen to the rath at the top, then back on the Cregagh Road we enjoyed a tomato and chilli soup at the café attached to the Museum of Orange History, and where my cousin Kathryn collected us for a drive round south and east Belfast which included visiting a property she intends to renovate. She suggested we spend the evening in the buzzy cathedral quarter. All we could think of was bed and an early night, both duly achieved. Thank goodness we both slept well.

We’d arrived in Belfast by bus from Castledawson at lunchtime on Sunday. Our very lovely B&B landlady having left us at the stop after also coming for a walk with us around Church Island in Bellaghy, a walk we had hoped to do on Saturday but it had rained most of the day, and was raining particularly hard at the time we thought we might walk. We caught another bus out to our airbnb, dropped our bags and headed straight out again to the Titanic Quarter and exhibition. I think it was only when we came outside again that Celia believed my assurances that I was more than happy to go the exhibition again. Since I visited it a few years ago I’ve wanted to return. Celia is now where I was then. I am now ready for visit number three. The exhibition does everything only the best exhibitions achieve. It informs, awes, makes you think, has an emotional impact.

It had been overcast when we went into the exhibition so to emerge to bright sunshine was an added bonus. Fortunately I checked my phone as we sat looking at the water. Petra had sent a message saying she could after all join us for dinner. However, she thought we were still in Bellaghy, and was intending to travel down to Co Derry. I called her to say we were in Belfast and Home was the restaurant, not a reference to our Airbnb. Disaster averted. Home is a great place. My friend Jo, who we were also meeting there, introduced me to it last summer. The food is excellent and the service friendly and professional. Celia was impressed by the level of customer service she was experiencing. We had a great evening. Lots of chat, lots of laughter. The craic, as they say, was good.

Jo and I have known each other most of our lives. By one of those freak coincidences she was buying vegetables in the supermarket near the airport at the same time we were shopping for provisions after Cecilia (our landlady) had picked us up on Friday. That woman looks like Jo, I thought. Then, that woman is Jo! She had been at a flower show in Antrim, and had left her car at a park and ride by the supermarket.

Friday the weather was amazing. Blue skies, warm sunshine. A contrast with the grey skies and low temperatures we had left behind in London. Saturday not so much. It started with drizzle and became rain. But we spent most of the day at the Heaney Homeplace, first at the exhibition and enjoying the new digital archive in the renovated library, having a snack lunch in the café so we weren’t exactly inconvenienced.

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To Blog or to WhatsApp?

My friend Octavia has been away for five weeks and is due back tonight. I’m hoping to see her tomorrow if jet lag doesn’t claim her. It was Celia’s birthday on Friday, mine tomorrow, and we are meeting up with a small group of mutual friends to have lunch in a local, unpretentious gaff at Borough. Yes, there are unpretentious places at Borough if you know where to look. I took my cousin-in-law to the same place for lunch when she was over with Food NI last month, and she loved it.
While Octavia was away, she sent me WhatsApp messages with photographs of stunning views. I suggested she start a blog. After a few days she said that it took her minutes to WhatsApp some photos, whereas it must take me much longer to write a blog post, (I assume she meant the type of post I am writing now), and when she had time to spare, she wanted to relax, not write.
Fair enough.
It did get me thinking though. I use WhatsApp sometimes to send photos too. I think it’s a great medium for quick communication. But as a record keeping app, it’s lacking. It became quite frustrating getting tiny photos to see on my ‘phone when I should much rather look at larger ones on my laptop screen. Continue reading

Dunes

I have over as thousand pictures from my NZ trip. While I was there I posted, but there lots of places we went to that I didn’t mention. These photos are from our trip to the misleadingly named Ninety Mile Beach.

sea and sand


We were on a coach, driven along the sands at low tide. We met quite a few people walking in the opposite direction. They were embarking on a long distance walk. I became somewhat obsessed wondering how they got supplies of fresh water.

sand and green


Also, beautiful though it undoubtedly was, it wouldn’t be my idea of a great walk. I like variety, shelter, shade, greenery.
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Hold the old photos, we went to Devonport today

Spring weather today, sunshine and warmth, alternating with heavy showers. We took a bus into town and headed for the harbour to catch the ferry to Devonport. It had been on my to see list, but I thought the weather was going to rule it out. Although we travelled there by water, it is attached to the mainland,
Before I came to New Zealand, people told me it was like Tasmania, but until today I hadn’t felt that was true.
But there was something about Devonport that did remind me of Tasmania. I couldn’t tell you what though.
The ferry ride lasts just twelve minutes, so you just have time to enjoy the view before you disembark. A gentle walk along by the sea was a nice introduction. With the sun out, the sea was restored to a blue-turquoise. Dogs were swimming, people too.

Swimming retriever

A walk by the sea, with driftwood

There were benches to sit on to admire the view.

Bench with a view

There were also reminders that things had not always been so tranquil.

Execution site

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A Backward Glance

I go home in two days. Last night I arrived back in Auckland and was reunited with Lyn and Malcolm. The coach journey had been long but not particularly eventful. We left Napier over half an hour late as the driver had to wait for the coach from Wellington to arrive. So one delay lead to another. I had to change coaches at Taupo. More delays as there was a cycle race around the lake, so we stood in the drizzle by the two portaloos before finally boarding. The coach was pretty full. I got a seat next to a young woman and sat down. Unfortunately there was a woman with two young children in the seats behind us. I say unfortunately as the children cried and kicked our seats. Thank heavens for noise cancelling headphones.
When the woman and her children got out some two hours later, the young woman beside me turned to me with relief. Apparently the children had been swearing for most of the journey.
Auckland toady is wet. It may be wet tomorrow. I don’t know. But it is fairly safe to assume most of photos have now been taken.
I haven’t written about everywhere I have visited, nor have I posted pictures of all the places I have seen, though you might be forgiven for thinking otherwise.
So I thought today and tomorrow I might put up some of those pictures. Not necessarily the best, the most carefully composed, they are snaps, things that remind me of different stages and people I have met on this journey. I’ll try to put up some more tomorrow.
First up the miracle worker who prepared my fabulous lunch when we visited the Hundertwasser toilets.

The miracle worker


This panel was close by.

Remembrance of animals past

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A Last Evening in Napier

There were only five of us on the wine tour on Wednesday, all of us from the UK; two from London, three from Scotland. For four of us, this was our visit to Napier and the surrounding area. Where we have stayed will have informed our opinions, our impressions of the place. Two of the women were staying in very swish hotels in the town centre; the couple from Isla at a more remote place on the Maraekakaho Road. I am at the top of the hill, on a road called Bay View, for fairly obvious reasons.

View of the bay from Bay View Road


While I was walking about yesterday, I met both of the women who were staying in the town. One was about to leave, and the other was planning a visit to the aquarium. It felt nice to be able to hail a familiar face, stand on the pavement and chat for a few minutes, and it also underlined how small a place Napier is. I met a friend of Lyn and Malcolm’s today who told me about the two degrees of separation people experience in Wellington. I’ve experienced that frequently in Northern Ireland, and surprisingly often in London.
Monica and I talked about both Napier and London, about our mothers’ dementia, about poetry, dodgy painful joints (her hip, my knee) and a host of other subjects. We got on. I got my map out and asked her if she could tell me how to get to Bluff Hill, a lookout point Lyn and Malcolm had said I should see. It looked tantalisingly close to Bay View Road but there was no obvious route. I had seen one signpost, but although I had been walking in that direction, not seen another. Monica drove me there. Quite honestly, having seen the up, down, and up again, complete with a twisty road devoid of pavement, I don’t think I could have got there any other way. Continue reading

More Napier

I packed two summer dresses for my NZ trip and I hadn’t worn either of them until today. It’s not that the morning as any warmer than before, in fact a cool breeze was blowing, but having watched the forecast I realised it was now or never. I did accessorise with leggings and a cardigan, but it felt good, and my landlady admired my outfit. However, it looked like it might rain later. Kindly, Jenni offered me an umbrella to take with me. I forgot it. So I was keeping one eye on the clouds, alert to a few drops of rain that fell, ready to dive for cover if necessary. I put my cardigan on and took it off again. My sunglasses were sometimes on my nose, and sometimes dangling from their cord. The sun shone, the clouds scudded over. It is, after all, spring.
I walked past Lyn and Malcolm’s old house when I went into town, but I’m not sure if it was the white one or the dark one. I admit I was distracted by a a friendly yellow Labrador.
Pearl had turned up to see me just before I left. Apparently she can be quite shy, so I am honoured that she let me lift her up and succumbed to a cuddle and a chin scratch with closed eyes and purrs. She is difficult to photograph as she wants to investigate the camera, so I took this one through the window.

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This morning’s Pearl

She reminds me of MasterB, sweet natured, chubby and a bit nervy.
Today’s plan was to do one of the self-guided tours of Napier’s famous Art Deco buildings. Although I was hobbling, taking photographs, asssiduously reading the information and looking at other things besides, I realised I was getting around pretty quickly.
I kept trying to reach Monica, a friend of Lyn and Malcolm’s. We had liaised by email and agreed that I would text her. I didn’t want to use all my mobile data, so I kept turning it off, checking every half hour or so to see if she had responded. We finally made contact mid afternoon as I sat down to watch the film about the earthquake. With luck, we’ll meet tomorrow.
I took lots of photos, far more than I am going to post here. Not all my photos were of the buildings.
Outside one shop was a bench, a pile of wool, some knitting needles and an invitation to contribute to their effort to yarn bomb the bench. Who could refuse? Not I. Only later did I realise the colours were very similar to one of my favourite buildings. If go by tomorrow I shall do a few more rows.

Hildebrandt’s Building

An invitation to knit

Hildebrandt’s Building

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Wine Tour

No pictures tonight. Aeris has claimed my knee, and my bag, with my camera inside it along with other useful things like my phone is out of reach. The tv remote is in reach, as is my iPad. I have an old rerun of QI on, whuch features Barry Cryer which is great, but unfortunately Jeremy Clarkson is also on, which isn’t. Into all lives some rain must fall.
I can also reach my glass. Water, in case you are wondering.
Today I went on a Wine Tour. New Zealand is famous for wine and this is the main wine growing region of New Zealand, so not to imbibe would be almost st rude.
My guide, Greg, collected me from my accommodation which saved me a walk down into the town. We were a small group, just five of us, all from the U.K.. there was a couple from Isla which I guessed has a small population. I asked the, 3000 they said. So there’s a chance you know my ex neighbour Adam S, I said. Yes, he is a good friend of our son Alan, they got up to some mischief together when they were boys. There you go. Continue reading