No further comment. Move on.
We managed to tear ourselves away from the decorating several times in October. Indeed we went to Germany twice. Not a very cost-efficient way of paying visits to two old friends, but then nothing in life is tidy.
I’ve already written about our visit to the Little Red Riding Hood town of Lohr in northern Bavaria, but our first foray away from our native shores was to the 70th Birthday party of a very long-standing friend in Berlin. (How is it possible that I am now going to 70th birthday parties?)
The party was delightful, apart from one noticeable hiatus during my conversation with another guest, when I mentioned the subject of Brexit. After a moment of hesitation she said “I am so glad you mentioned this. I thought it was going to be too embarrassing to talk about.” Like most Germans, she just could not understand how the Brexit vote could have happened… or been allowed to happen. I knew exactly how she felt.
The day after the party was a beautiful, crisp October day so we decided to take the train out to Potsdam, just outside Berlin, to visit the Palace of Sans Souci. A lovely day out.
And on the way home we passed an OXFAM shop! This was of particular interest to me because, not only did I work for OXFAM for fifteen years, but I also opened the very first OXFAM shop in Germany in 1985. It was in Maxstrasse in Bonn, which was at that time the West German capital. The Maxstrasse shop was the first of what became a chain of shops throughout Germany.
The title of this poster reads “The Oxfam shops – We make the superfluous liquid”
OK, perhaps it loses something in translation but the idea is that Oxfam shops turn things that people no longer need into liquid assets, i.e. money. Still not very catchy, but it works.
The other highlight of October taking some friends from Australia to see Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice at the famous Globe Theatre in London.
The Globe Theatre stands on the South Bank of the Thames and is an exact replica of the theatre in which many of Shakespeare’s plays were originally staged. It is a unique experience watching actors performing on an apron stage surrounded by the ‘groundlings’ and overlooked by the posh people like us. All performances have to take place in the daytime, because there is no lighting and if it rains, you get wet. Well, if you are a groundling you get wet. We upper classes are sheltered from the rain but not from the cold.
It was a brilliant performance. I used to know Merchant of Venice very well. I studied it for my ‘O’-level examinations at the age of 16, so I knew most of the dialogue.
That didn’t stop Shylock’s chilling speech “Hath not a Jew eyes?” bringing a lump to my throat. It was a wonderful afternoon in the theatre.
I was certainly a better way to spend the afternoon than climbing up a leader to paint a bedroom ceiling.
… in a flurry of paint, wallpaper and exposed floorboards.
Oh yes, and getting some help to prepare the garden for the onset of winter.
But finally the kitchen was done and the electric wiring was no longer life-threatening.
And, from time to time, we were treated to a wonderful sunset, albeit reflected in the windows of the blocks of flats across the valley.
… was the tearing out of the kitchen and the unexpected news that the whole house had to be rewired before the contractors could certify that the place was safe to live in.
But on the other hand, August also gave us time to enjoy the delights of Brighton, including the Downs…
… the seafront ……
… and the razzamatazz of Brighton Pride.
It was, indeed, very Grand.
July saw out first bedroom restyled, repainted and redecorated. We decided it should have a seaside theme and called it the Brighton Suite.
You might have seen the next two pictures before.
And then, being the middle of July, the weather on the Sussex was, of course, invariably wonderful.
To judge from the photos stored on my computer for the month of June, you could be forgiven for thinking that the entire month was given over to relaxation and spare time pursuits, looking enviously at other people’s houses…
…. or wandering aimlessly around the Downs enjoying the sights of Sussex…
… or both at the same time.
The only other activities recorded in my, albeit very incomplete collection of photos were…
2. My renewed involvement with the Brighton Welsh Male Voice Choir.
Of course, that would be a very inaccurate account of what occupied us during June, when the renovations went on apace. albeit without being photographed. July might reveal more of the actual progress made. Watch this space.
… one of which was the shed roof. How can it take four days to repair and seal a shed roof? However, by the end, as I am sure you will agree, it was the prettiest shed roof in Brighton and it did give me the chance to meet the neighbours!
Well. I thought so, anyway.
Gradually, with the help of a few sturdy fellows from the internet, the garden started to come under control. From this…
…and huge numbers of these met an untimely end.
And just occasionally we had time to go up onto the Sussex Downs and witness the spring in its full glory.
It was starting to feel good to be home.
Our intention had always been to get back for the Spring and after the clocks had gone back, so that the evenings were starting to get longer. We wanted to arrive with the daffodils, which we did.
We couldn’t move straight back into our house in Brighton because the tenants had the right to stay until the 10th, which they did. In the meantime we were once again indebted to our friends in Lewes who put us up, just as they had done when we were evacuated from South Sudan two years previously.
We had been away from the house for 12 years and although it would be unfair to say that the previous tenants had abused it, the whole place was in need of a great deal of Tender Loving Care before it would be habitable again. So the Great Restoration Plan was conceived.
Just to make life more complicated, we had to gather together all of our household items, rugs, clothes, bits of furniture, books, CDs, tools etc that had been stored in various locations around the country while we were away. The house descended into chaos. Boxes everywhere.
While outside the garden had reverted to jungle and, of course, because it was April, the jungle was still growing.
The battle to restore order into the chaos was joined… Starting with a new bed.
It would be nearly Christmas before we would be able to declare that this battle had been won.
A Malaysian lion, actually. A Kuala Lumpur lion to be exact. The month ended at Southampton at the end of that particular phase of the adventure.
Kuala Lumpur was a city of contrasts. Towering skyscrapers and tiny alleys. Butterflies and jazz. Just what the doctor ordered.
Plenty of wild-life, albeit behind wire.
So after bathing in some first-world luxury, we travelled to nearby Port Kelang to meet the CMA/CGM vessel, MV Bougainville…
… to begin our first adventure on the high seas.
As you can see, we weren’t exactly living in great hardship.
and we did get to see a lot of sea..
…and a lot of sky…
… and a awful lot of containers.
It may sound crazy, but we were very fond of our massive container ship and weren’t bored for a moment.
Up the Straits of Malaka, across the Indian Ocean, past the Somali Pirates, up the Suez Canal – in convoy and single file…
… across the Mediterranean, through the Straits of Gibraltar, up the Bay of Biscay, … picked up a random pilot or two…
across the English Channel and into Southampton. Not bad for one month.
Time to settle down a bit.
February in Australia was a whole new experience. Apart from our visits to Adelaide and Darwin, both of which are cities with their own attractions, the overriding impression that February left in my memory was the huge expanses of nothing through which we travelled.
Sometimes it’s difficult to get your head around just how big Australia is. The following pictures might give you some idea.
Our first venture into the Great Nothingness that lies between Adelaide and Darwin was by car. Mile after endless mile of dead straight road…
… and so little traffic that you sometimes felt as if you were in the middle of some post-apocalyptic movie where we were the only survivors after the nuclear holocaust.
At least there was a reassuring road sign in this picture. What did it say? Ah, yes..
We were on our way to Coober Peedy, an opal mining town, where the average daily temperatures are so high that most people live underground in houses that they have hollowed out of the hillsides.
Not only are the homes underground, but so are the hotels and even the churches.
And when you venture above ground and see how barren the landscape is, you can understand why people might prefer to live underground where the temperature is a steady 22 degrees all the time.
At least in Coober Peedy we had the opportunity to dig for opals.
No, we didn’t find any!
Our second venture into the outback took us all the way from Adelaide to Darwin on the train, the famous ‘Ghan’.
There is something a bit magical about stopping in the middle of the desert in the middle of the night to have a bacon roll breakfast as you watch the sun come up.
And no sooner had we arrived in Darwin than we were off to the Katherine Gorge in search of a different kind of wilderness. This time in a boat.
and at the end of the road was the endless expanses of the ocean.
And of course, the big advantage of a big country is that you get big skies and big sunsets.
And at the end of the month we finally brought the curtain down on the Australia tour and moved on to the big city of Kuala Lumpur.