Marigold Says...

Random thoughts on travelling and life in general.

A creative water butt on a camp site in New Zealand.

Same camp site. Lawrence Llewelyn-Bowen should take note.

Marigold Says...

Our first outing since last incarceration was to Specsavers. There was a barrier thing to stop you walking in with a masked flunky releasing the catch. As we were one of the first appointments the rest of the staff seemed to be standing to masked attention. It felt a bit like Phantom of the Opera.

We had to wait on our square until a girl, first one in, had filled in her necessary form. We were glad to see when she left the chair it was disinfected as she was wearing short shorts and her exposed bottom bum cheeks would have left an imprint. After G finished his form they seemed to pay even more attention to the chair seat than before, but I may be doing him an injustice there. I do that quite often.

It was a waste of time going for eyesight check as nothing had changed and he doesn’t need to go again for 2 years. He had been convinced he couldn’t see anymore. I said it’s probably your glasses steaming up all the time!

Trouble is with all the mask malarkey, you can’t tell what people are saying, and everybody has to speak twice as loud which is exhausting. We found when we went down the street looking into shops and cafes but not actually going inside we were like unelected mask police saying ‘they’ve got no masks on’. The other remark we make to each other like a warning bell is ‘it isn’t covering their nose’. If we were employed in this capacity, we would be vigilant and have cameras and a megaphone. We could dress up as Pearly King and Queen.

Told G he can hug who he likes this week. He said ‘do I have to?’ I wonder if it will be called Hug a Mug Day and be a national holiday. Wonder if you will have to disinfect yourself after each hug or just wipe your cheek on the back of your sleeve. We await the precise rules of hugging.

G wants to know when we can laugh in public. All this hugging could cause so much excitement people will want a wee and the toilets are all closed. Such a lot to think about.

Sick to death of the words ‘woke’ and ‘snowflake’. Why do some words grate? I wish people would just say what they mean instead of going round the houses. Will never use either word again but it seems they have a place now in the English language. Wonder what the next ‘it words’ will be.

Now cafes are open inside and out, everybody seems to be very merry, almost like Xmas, which of course was cancelled. Surprising what a cup of coffee with bacon on a panini can do for people’s state of mind. If you throw in a chocolate cake for afters things could get out of control.

We have been on our first long journey in the car since lockdown. Found the whole experience exhausting. G said he had forgotten how to drive. Motorway traffic was as bad as ever, and didn’t enjoy any part of it. Maybe being cocooned for so long, feeling safe, has turned us into nervous Nellies. A delivery van driver gave me the finger, don’t know what for as I was only the passenger, so obviously people’s manners haven’t improved. He looked very fierce so didn’t respond, just stared ahead looking scared. I saw the people in front of us waving their arms about so he must have had a go at them too. I suppose we must get used to this after so long away.

 

G Says…

Hell is Other People

So, it’s come to this. We can go out and do even more ‘stuff’ now it’s been three weeks since our second jab. I shall of course try not to start any more sentences with the prefix ‘so,’ that massively irritating adornment which portentously announces the onset of a new sentence while adding nothing whatsoever to what follows. Rant of the day over, but the possibility of being thought ‘on message’ is anathema to me.

The Black Death or Bubonic Plague took the lives of up to 200 million people and lasted from 1346 to 1353. Seven years! We’ve ‘only’ had this COVID-19 pandemic for just over a year. How did they ever manage in the Middle Ages without newspapers, radio, television or the Internet to bring them breaking news stories, each more dismal and depressing than the last? There’s a ceaseless barrage of doom-laden imbroglios ‘on the box’ of course. Never a shortage of people who like the sound of their own voice. No wonder I seek solace in reading.

‘That’s one small step for man,’ I announced as I set foot on an actual road for the first time in ages. Marigold ignored me. It seems like only the other day – an expression I’ve come to accept as having wide variance; the other day could easily refer to last Tuesday or some random point in the last year or so - I gained a riveting nugget of information relating to astronauts. Not Neil Armstrong this time, but Buzz Aldrin.

The very first man to urinate on the moon – unlikely to attract a host of challengers for that claim to fame - was Buzz Aldrin. Inside his suit, obviously, using whatever high tech contraption those suits contained, but he made a big point of talking about it later. He also took a photograph of himself* (the first ‘selfie’ in space) on that mission.

Not of him urinating!

First man to walk on the moon? That’s nothing, Neil Armstrong. What about my own personal ‘call of nature’ claim to immortality?’

Buzz Aldrin was born Edwin Eugene Aldrin Jr. on January 20, 1930, in Montclair, New Jersey. He earned his name Buzz, as a child when his little sister mispronounced the word ‘brother’ as ‘buzzer’. His family shortened the nickname to Buzz and he would make it his legal first name in 1988. Buzz Aldrin’s mother’s name, before marriage, was Marion Moon. Yes, really!

Poor Buzz, he never got over only being the second man to walk on the moon. Better to be second than the unfortunate Michael Collins, who was the command module pilot and therefore ineligible to go ‘walkies.’ Nobody ever mentioned him at all until his death was reported the other day. Or was it the other week?

In the years following the moon walk several fellow astronauts have come out and said NASA wanted Armstrong to have the ‘first man’ honour rather than Aldrin because they thought Armstrong’s ego could handle it better than Aldrin’s.

I never thought of Neil Armstrong as being especially reticent. Despite him insisting that his famous first line was spontaneous and only settled on in the moments prior to the walk, his brother claimed Armstrong’s famed ‘one small step’ line was pre-planned. Months before the launch Armstrong showed his brother a piece of paper on which he’d written, ‘that’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.’

His brother said, ‘fabulous’ and the rest is history. Pre planned or not, that’s a great line. Stealing it for such a mundane act as merely setting foot outside my house was pretty pathetic, but context is all.

Our first serious outing was to have my eyesight checked. Almost a military operation these days. After being grudgingly admitted on the premises, following the arrows of a one way system I was directed to a booth presided over by a young woman seated behind a Perspex screen and wearing a mask and clear plastic visor. This was face to face contact many times removed.

Meanwhile the sturdily built and inadequately clad young woman who had been in front of us in the queue outside was shouting and gesticulating wildly at other staff members after being asked to desist from wandering around, removing glasses frames from the racks, trying them on and replacing them. Exactly the system that was in use until the onset of Covid-19, but long since superseded by a rigorous cleaning regime immediately after any frame had come into contact with a human hand. The staff were firm but polite, the customer was equally firm and very far from polite. At least Marigold had a front row seat of the drama to keep her entertained while I was off having bright lights shone into my eyes.

As for the sight test, they didn’t actually say, ‘Your eyes are fine, no problems, but the rest of you needs replacing,’ but I did at least get a pass mark as regards eyesight.

‘See you in two years for your next test,’ my jovial examiner said as if she was counting the days until we met again. I may have been misreading her pleasant tone for adulation of my perfect vision, but I said, ‘thank you’ and meant it, sincerely. After all, ‘see you in two years’ has to be the nicest and most uplifting phrase anyone has offered up to me for ages. I may have had a Gold Star awarded by Matt Hancock for my vulnerability to viral infections, but that technician in Specsavers obvious saw a potential centurion lurking behind my eyeballs. I feel better already.

It’s very strange, this going out lark. We entered a shop, one of those offering gullible shoppers everything they could possibly need along with a plethora of items for which they would have no possible use and all at bargain prices. Poundland, but without the uniformity of pricing. We were the only customers wearing masks, there were no helpful arrows to denote a one way system, the aisles were crammed and the only member of staff, seated at a counter lacking screens and hand sanitiser facilities was guffawing into his phone while eating a slice of pizza.

We didn’t bother to look for the advertised bargains. Marigold’s acceleration from a standing start from shop interior to pavement outside was reminiscent of UsainBolt.

Face masks are like school uniform for adults, a great leveller. In many cases a face mask may be an improvement. It certainly works with me. Or so Marigold tells me. I’m a tactile person, hugging is in my DNA, but I still aren’t rushing out to embrace all and sundry.

Lockdown has been okay, in the main, and avoiding Covid has had the useful added effect of allowing both of us a whole year free from colds, ‘flu, chest infections and just about every other transmissible nuisance. Avoiding other people makes you healthier. That’s the obvious conclusion. Hell is other people, as my favourite French philosopher, Jean-Paul Sartre wrote in his distinctly existentialist play Huis Clos (No Exit) way back in 1944.

On first glance, taken in isolation, many people have misread the meaning of this quote as reflecting a rejection of other people, advocating a life of solitude and isolation. A retreat to a deserted island, removed from all contact with ‘others,’ but it is the actual concept of ‘others’ that fascinated Sartre and illustrates the nuanced levels of human consciousness.

The theme of No Exit is a group of three strangers in a mysterious room and it gradually becomes apparent this will be their home for all eternity. They’d come to terms with the concept of Hell, but instead of pitchforks and flaming coals they’re confined to this room where each individual in the room will become their own torture device for each other. They wish to escape the room, as they wish to escape the judgemental gaze of the others. But they cannot – because that is what Hell is – and this inability to escape other people and their judgemental attitudes will dominate their lives for ever.

In modern times, the same concept – hell is other people - could be applied to social media. The opinions of other people, even those complete strangers who only exist in a virtual sense, have come to dominate what we say, even what we think. It’s pretty scary.

Maybe I’m developing a morbid fear of the afterlife, undoubtedly a hitherto unknown byproduct of Covid-19, as the name Dante Alighieri cropped up in conversation yesterday. (Yes, I do have the odd, some may say very odd, friend who like nothing better than to discuss 13th century literature.) In Dante’s Inferno, Virgil passes through the gates of Hell, which bear an inscription ending with the famous phrase ‘Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch'intrate,’ most frequently translated as "Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.’

I suspect the motto, although perhaps not in the original Italian, could find a home above the doors of a certain bargain shop chain.

More to follow, the much delayed final leg of our road trip around New Zealand, but first a few photos. 

Atop a dinosaur egg

There's lots of them on this beach

It proved impossible to persuade Marigold to climb on top of even one of the half buried stones. Undignified was the word she chose

Here's one in the cliff face, waiting to join its mates on the beach

Final Leg of our New Zealand Road Trip

I’d intended to set out a fourth account of our trip throughout New Zealand, three blog posts already done and dusted, but even for someone with an evangelical zeal for all things Kiwi that may be a step so far, so the New Zealand element of this blog post will be a rather more truncated account, but at least I’ll get to post a few more photos.

I need to start with an apology. I forgot to include one of the best experiences of the whole trip in our last blog post: the ancient boulders on the shore at Moeraki. We were originally attracted by the café above the beach. Yes, we do like a good café. This one was a stunner. Marigold pounced on the only free outdoor table while I tried to decide what to order from a menu list that occupied an entire wall.

Koekohe beach below the café was amazing. Scattered along the length of it were 50 or so enormous boulders, almost perfect spheres, like gigantic stone marbles. ‘Dinosaur eggs,’ said Marigold and that was a perfect description. Many were taller than me, over two metres high at least, and we were exceptionally fortunate as we were the only people on the beach. Those breakfasts were just too filling, it was obviously more tempting to stay on the terrace than walk along the shore.

The bigger boulders weigh several tons and we found several more partly exposed on the softer cliff face about to join the others on the shore. It appeared the supply of new arrivals was ongoing. The scientific explanation for this unique phenomenon was that the boulders were calcium concretions formed over 60 million years ago, but Marigold preferred the dinosaur egg idea.

Moving on from dinosaur eggs, the highlights were many, the scenery was breathtaking and we spent our final week before jetting off back to England from Christchurch in a state of wonder. The iconic statue of Sir Edmond Hillary, a true Kiwi legend, Mount Cook, Arthur’s Pass and so many fabulous lakes, whale and dolphin watching in Kaikora, the list is endless.

Words fail me, just go there, I beg you. You’ll never regret it.

A few recollections of outstanding places: Twizel, Lake Tekapo and Omarama on the road to spectacular Mount Cook with three days of wild camping amidst stunning scenery we will never forget.

Lake Tekapo almost defies description. Van Gogh would have struggled to replicate the sheer depth of that milky turquoise shade that renders a description of the lake as merely ‘blue’ as totally inadequate. The Church of the Good Shepherd on the lake shore is beautiful and still in regular use as a church – there was a wedding in progress as we arrived. Those wedding photos will be treasured mementos; not just the lake and the Southern Alps as a backdrop but a glimpse of Marigold as well. Early photobombing.

I remember very clearly an overnight stop at Sailors Cutting camp site on Lake Benmore where on the following morning I sat behind the wheel unable to turn on the ignition because of my reluctance to leave this spectacular natural beauty behind. Lake Benmore is an artificial lake, the dam that ‘created’ it was a hydro electricity project and as I have yet to see an attractive power station maybe harnessing nature to power our towns and cities is not just about relinquishing dependence on fossil fuels, it can add beauty as well.

We lived for several years in an old finca, perched high on a mountain ridge directly overlooking the Mediterranean and treasured that first step onto the terrace every morning as we were greeted with the view to end all views. Lake Benmore was just like that.

Sir Edmund Percival Hillary was a New Zealand mountaineer and explorer whose name dominated a year of my young life. On 29 May 1953, Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay became the first climbers confirmed to have reached the summit of Mount Everest. They were part of the ninth British expedition to Everest, led by John Hunt and Hillary immediately became my first ‘hero’. I was only seven at the time.

Other than receiving a shiny metal model of the state coach from school the pomp and ceremony of the Queen’s Coronation in the same year had left me virtually unmoved, but climbing Everest, that was very different. I devoured everything I could find to read about Hillary and mountaineering, a phase of hero worship that would very soon be overtaken when Roger Bannister broke the four-minute mile in 1954.

The statue of Sir Edmond Hillary at the Hermitage Hotel close to Aorangi Mount Cook had been a must visit site. The South Face ascent had been the great man’s first climb of note and this area had been his training camp for the Everest and Antarctica expeditions. The drive in was packed with exclamations of awe and wonder. If only our budget could have stretched to a night’s sleep in the Hermitage Hotel it would have been the perfect end to a perfect day. Maybe we’ll go back there and stay for a week if we win the lottery for a taste of king size beds and hot tubs overlooking Mount Cook.

Our van ‘home’ was just on the verge of becoming a tad claustrophobic at night by now. Sir Edmond, well used to ‘roughing it’ on his various expeditions may not have sympathised, but even he at six foot five would have struggled to get comfortable in the cramped conditions inside our van.

Back on the coast we ended up in the town of Kaikoura which is the Maori word for eating lobster. Marigold prefers crayfish and there were plenty of those to be found as well. We camped near a herd of very friendly goats. In the middle of the night several of them escaped from their sleeping quarters and decided we needed to be woken up as well. One persistent youngster tried repeatedly to climb inside our van. It wasn’t a restful night, but we loved our nocturnal visitors.

A whale watching trip was obviously de rigeur and we chose a boat with a young, stylish and most importantly attractive crew in charge. Who wants to look at ugly people when sailing the ocean blue? It’s not a cruise ship.

Whale sightings were elusive at first. There was a distinctly ‘low tech’ system in use for locating a submerged whale. This consisted of a long pole with a black box on the end being dangled over the side of the boat, presumably conveying information to the captain. Perhaps the whales were too busy eating their lunch to bother about coming back to the surface just to satisfy our curiosity. As sperm whales can stay underwater for an hour at a time, a kilometre below ‘our’ boat, and eat prodigious amounts of octopus, squid and actually anything rash enough to be in the vicinity we resigned ourselves to the wait being a long one.

Our captain told us a sperm whale consumes about 3% of its body weight in one day, which sounded relatively unimpressive – I can manage that easily on a good day – until we remembered how big they were. On average a sperm whale consumes about 2,000 lbs of food per day which made Marigold mutter ‘greedy’ and reduced the other passengers to hysterics.

Whales are actually two separate species: toothed whales and baleen whales. Toothed whales, like the sperm whales found in these waters and killer whales have teeth, lots of teeth, and eat just about anything, while baleen whales, including blue whales, the biggest mammal on earth ‘hoover’ up tiny fish and plankton. There must be plenty of plankton about when you think about something the size of a blue whale feeling a bit peckish.

A middle aged couple on the boat were intrigued by our accents. ‘You’re obviously British,’ the man said to me, ‘but is that a Northern English accent?’ I confessed I did indeed have a faintly discernible Northern accent and this provoked a flurry of questions mostly relating to people we didn’t know whose only point of reference appeared to be that they lived ‘somewhere in England. One man in particular ‘sounds exactly like you on the telephone,’ they insisted as if that settled the matter.

‘James Victor Collins, are you sure you don’t know him?’ It took quite a while to establish beyond all reasonable doubt that I had never met James Victor Collins, always referred to by his full title. Marigold shouted ‘Ooh, dolphins’ at one point, but they were not to be sidetracked.

We did see many dolphins, an albatross as well which had looked rather like just a decent sized gull when floating on the sea, but when it flew off, just over our heads we really appreciated the size of its wingspan. Finally our captain yanked his technologically not so marvellous contraption out of the water and set off for where a light aircraft was circling in the distance. Those lucky people had, literally, a birds eye view of the ocean and could see whales below the surface. It seemed to be the best idea of all to me: let the aircraft do the actual spotting and just sail over there.

Marigold was in charge of the camera which explains why we took several pictures of her thumb through the lens rather than closeups of any actual whales, but as I reckoned I could see whales any time and Marigold’s thumb is a work of art no harsh words* were exchanged.

*This never happens. Ever.

It’s slightly annoying to realise we spent more time on board that boat discussing a man we did not know and have never met than looking at whales, but life is often like that. Not only do we still remember the name James Victor Collins after a dozen or so years, if we hear anyone with a strong Northern accent we still speculate this could be the elusive James Victor Collins. Hey, one of these days we may meet him. I hope he’s worth all the fuss.

Akaroa was yet another highlight of the trip. At the end of the Banks Peninsular, close to Christchurch in actual distance but almost two hours away on the winding roads, it was almost like being back in France where we’d lived for the previous ten years. The land around there was originally bought by a French sea captain, not that dubious proof of ownership had much validity as the whole district was later settled by the British. Many French people came from Europe to live here and the French theme was certainly dominant in the street signs, shops and restaurants.

We did another whale and dolphin boat trip, not as productive as the last but we did see many dolphins at close quarters, bought an Art Deco vase at a jumble sale, browsed a shop that sold ‘everything,’ visited a fabulous little church at Onuku just outside the town and had coffee and carrot cake at two separate cafes.#

# With a decent interval in between.

Akaroa turned out to be one of those places we both said, ‘we could live here’ and we regretted only being able to stay for one day as by now our flight back to England was imminent.

The last two days of the trip were spent in Christchurch. In a hotel as we had to reluctantly return our camper van. Our hotel room could best be described as gimmicky. Lights that changed colour every time we moved, a shower cubicle with automatic self closing doors that proved irresistible to Marigold’s love of ludicrous possibilities and complimentary biscuits that even I struggled to find palatable.

Christchurch was the perfect city in which to end our trip. Lively, cosmopolitan, a great tram system and so much to see. We were horrified to see the devastation wreaked by those earthquakes a few years later. We won’t ever forget the man who noticed us admiring his pristine camper van and invited us to his home for dinner, a skateboarding dog or the showmanship of a bearded sword swallower putting on a display outside the cathedral.

New Zealand. We loved it. It’s still top of the list, even after visiting well over 100 other countries since that epic road trip. A pandemic era isn’t ideal for making future travel plans, but maybe it would be a mistake to go back to the land of the long white cloud. Keep it special.

Even so…

We camped alongside this rock pool one night. Next morning the tide had come in and the pool was full of baby seals 'parked' there for the day while the adults went fishing

Not 'our' boat but another just like it

Just a hint of what this town is famous for

Lots of dolphins

Albatross overhead

A cafe worthy of the boulders on the beach

No idea.

Sometimes we camped in the middle of nowhere

Sometimes we had company. Usually a bit bigger than us.

Lots of whaling related murals

Our silly little van likes murals

Perfection

Sir Edmond Hillary statue

One of our nocturnal visitors

Giving the sleeping quarters an airing

The road into Akaroa

The Maori church just outside Akaroa

Colourful Akaroa. 'We could live here' was mentioned more than once

Caption not necessary. Marigold and friend

Carrot cake, served by French speaking waiters in New Zealand. Marvellous

Flower bedecked Marigold

The shop that sold everything - this is the S Board.

Our last night in the camper van, in Akaroa and van having to go back to the rental company in Christchurch on the next day

A Christchurch tram

All trams should have a jazz band on board

Christchurch had everything, even a skateboarding dog. He was very good too. Better than me!

Marigold makes friends easily

We lusted over this van. Its proud owner invited us to his home for dinner, typical Kiwi hospitality

Our hotel shower had automatic doors

Marigold demonstrating the potential dangers of automatic doors

Why have ordinary chairs in restaurants when lavatory seating is available.