Sunday, January 30, 2011

The King's Speech

Just over 6 months ago, on the penultimate day of my big walk from the Pyrenees to Northern England, I walked past my old school, Baines’ Grammar. Of course this provoked many memories.

“Yappy” Yates was the Canadian who took us for PT and Hygiene. On February 6th, 1952, we had just finished a PT lesson. We were all in the changing room at the gym, in various stages of undress, some boys still in the shower. The school secretary, Mr Kirwin, came in and had a quiet word with Yappy (who was of course still dressed, in his white cricket trousers and a white t-shirt – the only t-shirt, at the time, that I had ever seen). They both looked shocked. Mr Kirwin then scurried off to pass the news on to another teacher. Yappy said, “Pay attention, boys. The news has just been announced that King George the Sixth passed away during the night. The King is dead, long live the Queen! You will all now stand to attention, and there will be two minutes silence.” Picture the sight of all these eleven and twelve year old boys, standing stock still, some dressed only in their socks; some still naked and shivering under the showers, which had of course been switched off as a sign of respect; some fully or almost dressed. And Yappy, dressed in the pseudo-athletic kit which he donned to watch others take exercise, rigidly at attention and holding in his stomach. Kings and Queens were still taken very seriously in those days.

The other day Gay and I went to see the film “The King’s Speech”, about the same king and his inability to speak in public. We came out of the cinema amazed at all the hype and the fact that this film has been nominated for numerous Oscars. It is a very average film. In the old days it would have been a “B” movie. In these days it should have gone straight to video. Save your money.

Last night we went to the wonderful small cinema at Akaroa here in New Zealand. The film was “The Ghost Writer”. We hadn’t heard much about this one but it was excellent. Much better than the other one. And the really good news is that Piers Brosnan was shot – something which should have happened when he tried to sing in “Mama Mia”.

Monday, January 24, 2011

It's A Mess

We are getting some good 14 or 15 kms walks in, here in Hokitika on the New Zealand South Island West coast.

Many people think NZ is just off the coast of Australia, and as we gaze out to sea here, Australia is the next stop. But it is roughly the same distance as Manchester to North Africa. Not many in Manchester think they are just off the coast of Tunisia, do they?

And what mayhem is going on over there, weather-wise? Not to mention that on the other side of this island, Christchurch is still rocking with the earthquakes which started on September 4th last year - about 4,000 of them so far. NZ is a land of many earthquakes but until that date, Christchurch thought it was immune. The north of NZ has just had a weekend of flooding, caused by torrential rains and "king tides". The northern hemisphere seems to have been buried under snow for much of the past few months. What is going on?

Monday, January 17, 2011


We are now well-established in New Zealand, where, apart from a one-week trip to Tasmania, we shall be until the end of March.

On Friday we had our first cycle ride for about 18 months. While I was training for the big walk the cycles were surplus to requirements because, with several hours a day on foot, there didn’t seem to be much energy or time left for the bikes.

At over 30 kms, some of it quite hilly and half of it against a strong wind, the ride was a bit of an eye-opener.

As was this morning’s waterfall walk at Hanmer Springs. This takes about 3 hours, out and back, and rises from 340 metres to 800 metres, on pretty nadgery tracks. Our legs were fair wobbling on the way back. Last year, at about this same time, we did the waterfall walk every day for a week. I suppose that shows how fit we were then.

This is a land with no natural mammals, except for one type of bat. Of course since man, especially European man, came to stay, he has stocked the country with all sorts of domestic, farming, and predatory creatures. Most people associate New Zealand with sheep, but the animal which always catches our eye is the wapiti or American elk, which is farmed in large numbers here. Of course there are plenty of cows, a growing number of llamas and alpacas, but never before this week have we seen American bison. We haven’t even seen them in the US, where Buffalo Bill and his like reduced them from herds of multi-million animals to near extinction.

Unfortunately we didn’t get a picture of the bison because they were on the far side of a field, but we did get this snapshot of Dr Who’s Tardis and one of his Dalek arch-enemies, in Oxford.

Of course the Daleks and Buffalo Bill have battle-cry in common – “Exterminate!”

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Step Change In Stepping Out

We are in transit, our annual migration to Down Under. We drove up through France and stayed overnight with Pam and Bob, who we met through VBW. The next evening, before boarding our ferry at Ouistreham, we had dinner with Dale and Thérèse, who we also met because of the walk.

We have made a few visits in UK, including a couple of days in Ambleside with my eldest daughter Karen and her husband Kenny - they live in Saudi Arabia so we have not seen them for months. Tomorrow morning we fly with Singapore Airlines and the above lovely ladies to Singapore on the way to New Zealand. In Singapore we shall exchange the current European temperatures of just above freezing for roughly 30 degrees and v.v. humid. By Sunday we shall be in Christchurch, where they are still experiencing big aftershocks from the recent earthquakes. All part of life's rich pattern, as Beryl Reid used to say.

Walking has been a bit limited lately by colds, bad backs, snow and ice, and travelling. We expect a step change in activity levels, very soon.