Category Archives: Living in Australia and travel elsewhere.

Memories of living in the Northern territory and some tales of travel elsewhere.

Canary capers. Going home.

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Tony spent an awful night coughing, I woke up feeling completely spaced, I`d had about three hours` sleep.  I felt so wretched I had already decided not to do the trip but by the time I had cooked and eaten a breakfast of toast with a chorizo omelette and copious bowls of hot tea, (I used soup bowls for my early morning cuppa as there were only tiny cups in the cupboards which are no good at all) I took a bath and felt a lot better.  I decided to go and in spite of it all, Tony came too.

It was a typical Canaries` day out, quite cool and cloudy which I was glad of as we would be walking that day.  The first stop the coach made was at a monument built by the artist (sic) Cesar Manrique.  A friend of Picasso`s he was clearly influenced by him as the impressive structure which he built to homage fishermen, is very cubist in design.  We sat down at the monument`s restaurant, also financed by Manrique, for coffee and a delicious chocolate cake which we shared before moving on.  The next stop was up on the top of some cliffs.  Here, Manrique had built into the cliff side, a place where visitors can sit down and through a vast and panoramic window, take in amazing and breath taking views of the sea, 480 metres below.  It really was stunning and we spent quite a long time just falling in love with the view.

After this we visited a place called Jameos del Agua which we quickly recalled visiting fifteen years ago in 1998.  The place is famous because the caves there are host to a tiny, albino crab which isn`t found anywhere else in the world.  The creatures are like little white specks on the rocks.  As you leave you have to walk past the most beautiful swimming pool with shallow turquoise water and curved white walls designed and built by Manrique.  His friends were often famous film stars like Sean Connery and Elizabeth Taylor and they used to swim there.  I wanted to get into the water too but visitors aren`t allowed which is such a shame.

The coach moved on to Manrique`s world famous garden, it`s called Jardin de Cactus and I have to say it is extremely impressive with several hundred huge cacti on display from all over the globe.  I took LOTS of pictures.  Then we went for a buffet lunch.

The guide turned to face us as the coach bowled along, down the volcano side which was a bit scary.  She said in a thick Spanish accent, “hwen we stop, here hyou will eat hall sorts of things you have never tasted before…..” I was excited!

It turned out to be salad and chips, very, very salty and cold lentil soup, chicken in a watery sauce, something in batter, I couldn`t really tell what it was it might have been fish once but in any event it was very old and rubbery and a paella which was all clumped together in ancient, sticky pieces.  It was quite revolting and when we were served “red wine” it smelt like something you would clean your kitchen surfaces with. Even Tone didn`t attempt to drink it!  If Gordon Ramsey had come in he would`ve closed the place down.  “What the fuck!”

Our last stop was at Manrique`s home which he constructed and linked together out of five, enormous caves formed by a previous flow of lava.  They were lava tunnels from some ancient volcanic eruption.  It`s now an art museum displaying work of his and other famous artists like Miro.  The caves have been plastered and like the pools are curved and tactile and whitewashed. They are on two levels with another fabulous swimming pool and gardens on the bottom level.  It soon became clear from comment and conjecture that Manrique was a gay man.  There is a definite air of gay nightclub about the caves and lots of photographs of him surrounded by gorgeous looking bronzed and adoring young men.  “He had a girlfriend,”  our guide comments as if reading our thoughts,  “about forty years ago, but tragically she died from cancer.  So that is why he never had another girlfriend,” she gave the passengers from the coach her best sad look but nobody was buying it.  As if it matters!

Tragically, Manrique died when he was 73 in a spectacular car crash. The guide hints that he may have been drunk so at least we can hope that he died a happy man, he was certainly a generous one.

Hurrah!  We were going home the following day.  I was peeling everywhere.  I missed Leslie a lot that week and on Friday evening I sent him a forlorn little text asking him if I could go and see him on Sunday.  In the middle of the night his reply woke me up briefly, “That`d be lovely and we can have a bite to eat if you like.  Love you Hel.”  I fell asleep happy and looking forward to the flight home.

I love the Canaries, cheap and cheerful and pretty and lovely. I`d go back to Luz Y Mar again, just not in August when it is packed and VERY hot, there is no air conditioning at the apartments. I must just mention the cleaner, she looked like Patty and Selma from the Simpsons and was a right old battle axe. We tipped her 10 euros and she still moaned at us in Spanish and clanked around noisily and turfed us out 20 minutes before we needed to go. Miserable git! Hah!

For anyone who wonders, Tony`s cough did get better, thank heavens it was just one of those things.

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Canary capers. Wednesday and Thursday…..

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The book is totally gripping, completely unputdownable, about a Wall Street hot shot faking his own death after the breakdown of his marriage. It put me in mind of the Cohen brothers and if I knew them, I would tell them to make a movie out of its extremely dark humour.

I woke up that Wednesday morning at 5am with sore shoulders which were rubbing on the sheet.  I`d had the most lovely dream, I was with Alan Bassett (an old boyfriend from donkeys` years ago) and we were living in a large house which my daughter Becky was painting white throughout. Her ex partner Robert and I were friends again and he was there too.  We were all playing with the grandchildren, Rob`s hair was long and oiled and plaited into rectangular cornrows and hanging down his neck in tight braids.

I got up feeling really happy and went out on to the balcony and fed the birds. Tony got up, had a fag, drank tea, took 2 Nurofen and went back to bed.  I am staggered by the amount he can sleep.  He had slept  throughout most of the previous day.  I kept hoping he would get up and say, “Hurrah! I feel better!”  but it wasn`t happening. I knew he was poorly and unfortunately it was beginning to affect my mood.

I decided to book a day trip for the following day when I hoped he would be feeling better.  The leaflet I was reading informed me that the day was called “A Trip to Cezar Manrique,” who is an artist, now deceased and much loved for the impact his work has had on the island. I had a tidy up, took a bath and made myself breakfast.  For breakfast I made toast, boiled eggs, cheese, mussels, olives, onions, salty tomatoes and garlic-y mayonnaise. It was delicious, Tony got up and shared some with me and then went back to bed.

At around midday Tony finally got up, up and we strolled across the road to book the trip, on Friday as it happened, which was our last day on the island. There were a number of days out to consider. We had holidayed at another island, Fuerte Ventura in 1998 so we recalled doing “Fire Mountain” and a trip to honour another local artist (we thought) whose name escaped me.  Nothing much changes in the Canaries, the islands are quite small and so they are limited in the number of activities they can offer,  In the end we booked a day trip which cost fifty euros, taking in a museum, some caves, what looked like a terrifically scary drive up into the mountains and a tapas-y kind of a lunch.

We strolled to the harbour and on the way stopped at a cafe to check my emails, there was nothing of any importance.  I was feeling peckish so we found a restaurant by the harbour and sat outside.  I ordered a steak Diane with a side salad and it was absolutely delicious. Neither of us felt like doing anything very much so we strolled back up the hill to take a taxi back to the apartment where I finished my book.  A good read!

Thursday.

Hurrah!  Two more days to go!  Tony was still hacking away and making some really weird noises, I thought it was like sharing an apartment with Linda Blair.  It must have been really quite exhausting for him poor man, (I know it was for me!)  I was glad to be going home, I was missing Les and I was missing my own bed. To cheer myself up I made a list of things to do today:

1) Take copious quantities of empty wine bottles to bottle bank.

2) Check bank account

3) Check flight home time (hurrah!)

4) Get a present for Dan and Les

5) Start packing  (I drew a little smiley face in my journal.)

I insisted to Tony that we do something today so down at the harbour we paid ten euros each to take a water bus along the coast to the next marina, Porto Calero which is a very wealthy part of Lanzarote.

It turned out to be the best tenner we had ever spent.  As our waterbus chugged out to sea it became evident we were not alone.  About a hundred dolphin swam all around the boat, leaping in and out of the water chasing a shoal of sardines.  To everyone`s utter astonishment we also quickly realised there was not one, but four sperm whale not far from the boat, three adults and a baby.  It is impossible to describe in words how fantastic and moving this experience was.  Many of us on the boat, including me started to cry tears of pure joy, it was just one of the best and most thrilling times of my life.  They swam around us and blew great snorts of water spray at us, it was wonderful and they remained by us for about fifteen minutes.

Once the whales had moved away we chugged into the harbour.  Me and Tone walked around the harbour for a while.  It was filled with incredibly luxurious yachts and boats worth gazillions of pounds.  We ate a lunch at a splendid restaurant called Wave.  I chose tagliatelle with king prawn and zuccine, drizzled with an olive oil and lime dressing, it was superb.  While we waited for a waterbus to take us back we chatted about our afternoon to some very envious people who had paid a huge amount of money for a four day whale watching trip and never got to see even one.  We had been so lucky!

We were bushed when we got back to the apartment.  Tony`s cough was horrendous, I was so worried about it.  He woke me at three thirty a.m. then thankfully, fell asleep again, I wrote this part of my journal while I was awake!  I knew we had the trip booked but I thought I would probably give it a miss as I was so knackered and i knew he would be…….

Canary capers. Monday and Tuesday…..

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After we had breakfasted on Monday morning on a local full English of course, I suggested we take a bus into the island`s capital Aracife, (which is pronounced A-ra-seef-y,) where we could stroll around and do a bit of window shopping.  The buses are frequent and cheap in the Canaries so it`s incredibly easy to get all over the place.  We paid one euro and thirty cents for the journey which was about five miles from where we were, along Lanzarote`s pretty coast.  We found a chemist straight away and I bought Tony Vicks ointment for his chest, some cough medicine and sleeping pills.  We strolled around for a while taking it all in.  Aracife is a large, modern town full of shops, hotels, sports and leisure centres, places to sit and sip coffee or a cold drink and watch the world go by.  It is like many large towns in Britain except it sits next to the beautiful ocean and has a large and extremely pretty harbour.

We found a pet shop and I bought a smart, new collar for my dog Alf and a large bag of bird seed for our feathered visitors back at the apartment. As I looked at my reflection in various shop windows I was struck by how much I resembled an Easter egg on legs.  I made a note to myself – must lose weight.

We walked along the length of Kings High Street which is famous for its designer shops.  I looked at leather bags from around two hundred euros each, I gazed into the windows of Mango and Zara and wished I had a ton of dosh.  We realised we were hungry and so walked downhill again, to the harbour where we took lots of pictures and tried to avoid a group of dodgy looking people who were sitting around with very dirty sleeping bags rolled up by their sides, their clothes were dirty, they looked like they were high or drunk or something anyway, we walked away from them.  It`s what I experience in every country I visit, the extremes between rich and poor and usually they are sitting side by side.

It was very hot so we found a fish restaurant called Lemon and sat in the breeze and ordered paella.  It took thirty minutes to prepare and the fish was fresh and very nice but disappointingly, the rice was Golden Rice, from a packet like you get at home.  The prawns were huge and sweet and juicy though and the mussels were delicious, drizzled with olive oil.  We gazed out at the sea which was a deep blue and crystal clear and drank lots of iced water.

We taxi`d back to the apartment and Tony went to lie down.  I lay on the sofa and read my Kindle.  I finished an excellent book called “A Lady Cyclist`s Guide to Kashgar,” which I enjoyed immensely.  Eventually I dozed, a bit sore, I was quite sunburned after our walk around Aracife.

When we were both awake we visited a little English pub which was a few doors down from our apartments.  There was a pub quiz on that evening but the pub was very parochial and full of ex-pats who asked us if there were any white faces left in Birmingham any more.  I made myself unpopular by asking if there were any black ones in Lanzarote.  An obnoxious little Scottish man sat by me and when I laughed at something he said rather belligerently, “Are you laughing at me?”  I thought, I am drunk, he is drunk, far too drunk and went home.

Tony took a sleeping pill and went to bed but woke me at three a.m. banging and clattering about, switching on various lights, looking for his glasses.  He said he still felt like shit but his cough had noticably lessened.  I made a cup of tea and he went back to bed. I fell asleep again at five a.m. and we were both awake by nine.

The cleaner knocked the door but I sent her away, “no need thanks,” I said, I just accepted fresh towels.  Tony said his head felt fuzzy from the sleeping pills so he didn`t want to do anything at all that day.  However, we did go and eat breakfast. I think when you`re on holiday a full English breakfast is a lovely way to start the day, served with fresh orange juice, delicious.

Tony returned to the apartment to go back to bed.  I walked down into town and found the beach. To my surprise it was really tiny, a little horse shoe shaped strip no longer than about fifty feet or so which in the height of the season must be horrendous.  That day though there were just a few random people lying on the sand and children building sandcastles.  I paddled for a while and watched the divers returning, squelching and dripping and slapping their fins on the path from their boats.

I went into the town shopping and bought trinkets for my daughter.  I bought Aloe Vera for my sunburned shoulders and it immediately soothed my hot skin.  I spent a couple of hours wandering along the sea front and then taxi`d back.  Tony got up for a cup of tea and shared crisps, cheese, garlic dip, olives and peanuts with me before going back to bed.

I put my cossie on and lay on the balcony for a while but the sun was so hot, it beat me into retreating back into the cool of the apartment.  Another tourist had generously left me a book, a paperback by Douglas Kennedy called The Big Picture.  It looked promising so I plumped up my pillow and lay down on the settee to begin…..

Canary capers. Saturday and Sunday….

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Me and my ex old man took a holiday in the Canary Islands earlier this year.  here`s a little journal of what we discovered there…..

Officially Spain, the flight from Birmingham to Lanzarote takes four and a half hours and if you flew around 69 miles further on, you would be on the coast of west Africa.  The plane was very hot and cramped so I was very glad when we touched down.

We taxi`d to our self catering apartments called Luz y Mar.  As we journeyed the few miles from the airport, I was struck by how pretty Lanzarote`s coast is, with clusters of white houses dotted here and there, solar panels glinting everywhere in the strong sunshine and beyond, the deep azure of the ocean scattered with shallows of brilliant truquoise.  Lovely.

We were staying in Puerte del Carmen which is a pretty town and a major centre for deep sea diving so it was busy and bustling, which I like.  There are plenty of eateries reflecting good cuisine from all over the world and many Irish pubs which remain open until 4 and 5am.  There are lots of shops to mooch around of the cheap and cheerful touristy kind, especially Chinese supermarkets which are packed with all sorts of trinkets, clothes and souveniers from upwards of around 2 Euros.

Our apartment was one of about 300 on a huge and very pleasant complex where all the apartments are painted white.  A lovely, quite small pool sits in the centre of it all and I had it to myself which was fabuloso.  I love swimming on my own, it`s so cathartic.  It`s so quiet here, but the man in the pool bar assured me that in the high season (August) it is absolutely rammed.  There are cactus gardens all round the complex which are very stark and attractive against the black, volcanic gravel that they grow in.  Palm trees fringe the pool and in amongst the dried fronds which hang down their tall trunks like Bob Marley dreads, roost dozens of sparrows, house martins and collared doves.  They enchanted us peeking out from their leafy homes every day before lining up on the balcony railing, waiting to be fed.  We gave them crumbs and cheese in abundance and wound up with bird pooh all over the floor and table but hey!  We didn`t care.

There are two supermarkets nearby which are very convenient and several places really close to the apartments where we could sit and catch the breeze and sip a cold beer.  It`s hot, around eighty five degrees so the breeze is lovely.

On Sunday we walked down the steep and winding road into the town, which took us about ten minutes.  Tony wasn`t well, his head ached and he had the most horrendous cough.  The chemist was shut, It was Sunday so we strolled further on down to the harbour where we found the locals celebrating Canary Day.  It was baking hot and there was a market, iced beer on sale, traditional Spanish food and live music.  We decided to stay and sat in the sun drinking beer which tasted delicious, the live Spanish music was good.  We ate two plates of tapas consisting of deep fried home made crisps, salted Canary new potatoes (lovely) cooked tuna standing in a sweet vinegar and a very sweet, sesame paste which to our surprise, complimented everything else.  We ate until we were really full.  Tony knocked a glass of cold lager over my legs which was shockingly and stickily refreshing.

We taxi`d back up the hill at about 1.30pm, slightly pissed.  All of the Canary islands are volcanic so of course they are really hilly everywhere.  Tony went to lie down and have a kip, I went to swim and then sun bathed for about an hour which is plenty long enough on day one and it was nearly tea time so I was becoming a bit peckish.  While Tony dozed I walked to the supermarket and bought cheese, salami, crackers, butter and olives and then came back and watched TV.  It was an English film with Julia Roberts and Clive Owen in it, all dubbed in Spanish but I had seen it before so I knew what it was about.  Tony got up to eat at about 9pm and then went back to bed.  I was sleeping on the sofa and it was incredibly comfortable.  I slept until 5am and then got up.  I had bought milk the previous day and then forgotten to put it into the fridge so it was slightly sour but I didn`t care. I still drank loads of sour milk tea.

Tony eventually arose at about 9am, he was cough, cough, coughing and still had a bad headache.  His cough sounded awful and I was quite worried about him……..

It`s too darn hot!

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The weather here in England at the moment reminds me a bit of when I was living in Darwin.  It`s the humidity that makes it feel so much hotter because it doesn`t allow us to get dry at all and so we don`t cool off.   In Darwin it can reach almost one hundred percent, you drip the moment you leave the house, I think here in the UK today it`s around eighty five percent, so for many of us, very uncomfortable.

The average temperature in Darwin is slightly under 40 degrees all year round, (that`s 104 degrees Fahrenheit to those of us who still remember that measurement.)  In the summer the temperature will drop slightly so that it`s hot and dry and quite fresh, like an ordinary summer`s day here in the UK.  But come October, in Darwin the temperature begins to heat up.  They call it the build-up and it reaches its peak around the end of November when it is ferociously hot.  People go mad with the heat in Darwin, couples fight, people fall out, lots of people drink massive amounts of alcohol and then go a bit more mad and sometimes kill someone.  In Darwin they call it the suicide season and in fact Darwin has a very high rate of suicide, particularly amongst young men between 16 – 25.  Perhaps they feel trapped in all that heat and all that distance away from the rest of the world.

Because Darwin is so hot, the Federal Government encourages skilled people into the area with rewards, for example, if you are a nurse or a teacher and you commit to ten years of working in Darwin, you then receive six months off on full pay.  Not bad eh!  People don`t naturally gravitate there because it really is the back of beyond, it sits right on the Equator and because it really is one of the hottest places on the earth.

In Darwin the shopping malls are air conditioned and everyone gathers there daily, simply to get out of the heat.  When you stroll up the road you will hear people shouting to their kids, “Shut that door!”  It`s to keep the cool air in.  Everyone`s houses have louver windows that are permanently open in any unoccupied rooms and lots of houses are built on stilts, which keeps them a bit cooler.

Like many places with dodgy infrastructure, Darwin is prone to electricity blackouts.  I can`t tell you how horrible it is lying in 40 degrees of heat trying to sleep without any fan or air conditioning to cool you down.  The only thing to do is go and run a shower but you will often find that the cold water is hot because in the Northern Territory, the water pipes run overground.  (Only in Darwin!)

Mind you, all that heat produces some stunning thunderstorms and spectacular displays of lightening which you are unlikely to see anywhere else in the world. The claps of thunder are so loud, it is easy to imagine it is God speaking, I loved it.  Then down comes the hot, hot rain, in sheets, heavy and heady, you are soaked within moments and dry again, well, damp at any rate in not much more time.

Lots of people ask me how it is that I managed to cope with all that heat in Darwin but the answer is simple.  I had a swimming pool in my back garden with a shady canopy over it to stop the water from becoming too warm.  I could dip in and out as many times a day as I liked and believe me I frequently did!  I could handle this hot weather today in the UK, much better if I had my own pool. 

I think we are around 23 degrees centigrade in Brum today so a bit cooler, thank goodness.   Roll on the autumn, I never did like the heat very much.   🙂

The smile on the face of the crocodile…..

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I heard on the news this morning that another unfortunate soul has been killed and consumed by a great white shark off the coast of Western Australia.  It`s the fifth fatal attack in less than a year and it reminded me of living in Darwin.  Darwin`s sea which is the beautiful Arafura Sea, is mostly infested with salt water crocodiles rather than great whites and dozens are fished out of the harbour each year.  They are still a protected species having been hunted almost to extinction in the last century so they are usually placed in crocodile farms or released in Kakadu National Park or somewhere which is patrolled by croc` wardens every day.

I wouldn`t go swimming in Darwin`s ocean, I considered it far too much of a risk.  It wasn`t just the croc`s either, Box jellyfish also inhabit the waters there, the most deadly jellyfish in the world. One whip of a tentacle can kill a weak person or a child, if it doesn`t kill you the pain is so intense, you would wish you hadn`t taken that refreshing dip.

The first day I arrived in the Northern Territory I was taken for a swim in a billabong. I always thought that billabongs were small ponds where you could fill up your billy can but no, this one was a huge and beautiful lake set in fabulous bushland and I really enjoyed the freedom of swimming in open water and pretty much on my own.  It was so peaceful and I felt alone, which is what I needed at that time and I felt chilled and very happy.  I couldn`t help thinking though, “What if there`s a croc` lurking somewhere about to munch me up?”    You know that Jaws` music, du du du du du du du…. came into my head.  Couldn`t help it.  Fortunately, at least half of the people in Darwin have their own swimming pool so it`s easy to take a dip every day.

Lots of areas in Darwin are infested with crocodiles and there are many signs all over the Northern Territory warning people not to swim in waters which aren`t wardened, so it`s all the more shocking when they do!  Some years ago a teenage girl who was visiting from Germany took a dip, she ignored the signs or maybe she simply didn`t understand them but in any event she was taken by a croc`.  The top half of her was found and later on, two miles up river the croc` who had killed her was also discovered and shot dead, the unlucky girl`s upper legs still protruding from its immense jaws.  Poor croc` he was only doing what comes naturally.

On another occasion, a man out swimming was taken and the croc` decided to put him in his larder.  Like a lot of creatures, crocodiles store food for later on in larders all along the river banks.  This man, still alive was fortunate indeed because there was a pocket of air which kept him going for around two hours he thinks, until he was brave enough to venture out and scramble up on to dry land.  Do you suppose he will ever fully recover from that near death experience?  Actually I was recently dismayed to read that the Australian government has agreed for crocodiles to be hunted again and business men, mostly from Japan will have to fork our 10,000 Australian dollars for the privilege of shooting one.  It`s a sad old world for croc`s.

As with the West Coast, the Arafura Sea hosts great white sharks too.  Years ago, Darwin`s council put a wide, metal mesh net right across one of its bays to try and keep them out.  It was vandalised by kids within weeks leaving gaping holes for the sharks to swim through.  And you think the youths over here are a nuisance!

I have been back in the UK for a while now and I enjoy swimming at Ninestiles Leisure Centre.  It`s pretty good and the only sharks you are likely to encounter there are of the human variety.

Cycling in Darwin

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I was cycling one day in Darwin and had ridden my bicycle about ten miles out into the bush. I was feeling really down, I was missing my family terribly and missing my friends. I had become quite tearful and depressed. Everyone had assured me it would pass and that the missing generally goes away after about six months, but I couldn’t see any let up.

Having said that, it’s really lovely cycling in Darwin because it’s flat, everyone drives on the left and because there is such a small population in the town, there are hardly any cars. If you see six cars in an hour then that’s going some. It was a hot, hot day in the wet season and I was trying to get to a charity shop out in the middle of nowhere, to have a mooch.

I cycled left and something caught my eye as I rode past, it was an orange bag which was lying on the grass at the side of the road. I could see it was a linen bag, the kind they sell you in some supermarkets, or are given out at events and conferences and I decided it looked too interesting to cycle past. I did a U turn and peddled back to where I had seen the bag.

Getting off my trusty bike with the bread basket on the back where little dog Jessie used to sit to be cycled about, I bent down to pick the bag up. It had a logo on it which related to a women’s charity. I could feel it held a secret inside so I opened it up and took out a package of paper. As I unwrapped the paper, disappointingly, a pile of stripped chicken bones fell to the ground and as they tumbled down, to my horror they released a torrent of biting, stinging red ants all over my hands. The ants travelled rapidly up my arms to wreak more damage. It must have seemed like a scene from a movie as I danced about anxiously brushing ants from it seemed, everywhere. They were on my clothing, in my shoes, on my neck, in my hair. Once I was satisfied I had managed to rid myself of my ant invasion, I hurriedly got on my bike and rode off rather more quickly than I had arrived.

Strange and scary though it certainly was, it was also a profound moment in time for me when I finally ditched my sorrow and began to be aware of a change taking place inside my mind.  A new seed of excitement had planted itself, an excitement relating to my future and a happiness in my heart that I could actually feel taking place as it grew in strength.  I began to smile and then to laugh as I recognised I was at last ready and able to let go of my past. Spotting the linen bag was my epiphany and I realised that the experience had taken on a sort of metaphor for my life as I had been living it.  Releasing the old chicken bones and seeing all the ants streaming out seemed to me to trigger a different kind of release in me of all that had been weighing me down and gnawing at my soul.  I shall never forget that cycle ride, it lifted me up and moved me along and it was a marvellously defining moment.

Darwin

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I was watching Dragons Den last night and there were two women entrepeneurs on it who ran a creche for dogs and it started me thinkng about when I lived in Darwinand walked dogs for the RSPCA.

I would get up early, before it became too hot and cycle the six miles to where the offices were. The centre gave out free mosquito spray by the gallon to their volunteers and I had to spray myself everywhere before going out into the fields or I would have been bitten to death. They don’t tell you that, about the mossies.

Darwin is so close to the equator, millions of mosquitos abound and you have to turn yourself into a toxic wasteland before venturing out. Light aircraft fly over Darwinbay every year during the wet season, spraying the rock pools all along the beaches with poison to kill the larvae before they have a chance to hatch out.

 

I used to cycle past circles of Aboriginal families sitting chatting in the early morning hot sunshine. They are referred to in Darwin as the ‘long grassers’ because that is where many of them live. They’d call out and cheerfully wave hello to me as I cycled by, some of them already drunk on beer at eight in the morning. It paints quite an endearing picture doesn’t it until you understand that there is a massive alcohol problem amongst the Aboriginal people which means entire communities are homeless.
We should know, we introduced them to it.

 

Anyway, back to the dogs. I’d take two or three out at a time across the hot, red earth of the Northern Territory and occasionally one would slip the lead and I would have to take off, the other dogs excitedly racing alongside of me in lterally hot pursuit of my escapee. Afterwards I would sometimes cycle to FannieBaywhere there is a large, freshwater lake that I could swim in and cool off with the turtles. Lovely. Sometimes I couldn’t go in the water because it would be infested with jelly fish or occasionally with a crocodile or two which the wardens had spotted. Not many things scare me but crocodiles definitely do. They are enormous and very, very scary. Every year in Darwin up to three hundred of them are hauled out from the creeks and bays around the towns and occasionally from people’s back yard swimming pools. They are taken to farms to be harvested for meat and leather. Actually, I ate crocodile meat while I was there and found it horrible. Tough and a bit like mega greasy pork so it’s a touch ironic that I am scared of them. 

Lots of people in Australiahave swimming pools or jacuzzis as standard. It is so hot it’s difficult to understand how people managed before the advent of pools and jacuzzi’s. Life would be very hard to bear if you didn’t have somewhere to cool off and it is not always safe to go into the sea but I’ll get onto that later.A number of houses in Darwin are built on stilts so in the evening, people sit beneath the house to be cool, with a barby, watching the sun set at six every night. Looking like a lightening display in the sky, it is beautiful and moving and free. You have to spray yourself liberally of course and make sure you light plenty of mosquito coils and place then near to your feet and ankles. There’s nothing more irritating than a mosquito bite on your toe, it is excruciating torture. Some people have those electric zappas in their garden to attract the mossies but I hated them as they would also attract large and very beautiful moths to the bars and there they would stick, popping and sizzling as we ate. Horrible.

It would be nice to go into the ocean to cool off but in many parts of Australia, it just isn’t safe not only because of sharks but also because of the box jellyfish. One gentle touch from their incredibly toxic tentacles can kill a strong man. In rough weather the tentacles break off and free float in the shallows, you can’t see them but they can find you and still wreak their damage. Fishermen often wear chain mail protection to step in and out of their boats on the shore but I have seen Buddhist monks in Darwin, waist high in the ocean, their maroon robes floating out around them as with nets spread, they benignly trust in the universe and karma to keep them safe. 

People often ask me about funnel web spiders but they don’t inhabit Darwin, they prefer the cooler southern parts of Australia. Darwin also doesn’t have kangaroos or koalas. It does have bush fires however and it is exciting and thrilling driving or in my case, cycling past vast areas of bush land, all alight and burning.
 
 
 
 

Tales from the Northern Territory.

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As I lay in bed in Birmingham, England, late one night with my pj’s on, I became aware of a sensation just as though something was crawling up my lower leg. Because I was sleepy, I decided that it was just that, a sensation and I ignored it. A few minutes later, the feeling had moved on up to my thigh and I realised there was indeed something crawling up my leg. I put my hand down and felt a large, lumpy and definitely alive, something or other inside my pyjamas and whilst I appreciate there is massive room for many jokes here, it wasn’t very nice at the time!

I scooped a swathe of material around whatever it was and peeled off my pj’s. My partner at that time had started to laugh rather raucously by now as I gingerly undid the bundle of cloth in which I had trapped my invader. Whatever it was, it was big, it was black, it was plated and hard, like a large beetle and as I un-wrapped my hold on it, the creature literally leapt from my hand and scurried off, alien like to who knows where…….. I can only assume it has now taken up residence in my bedroom.

It reminded me of when I lived in Darwin in Australia and shared my house with all sorts of creepy-crawlies. For example, there are two hundred species of ants in the Northern Territory and they all lived in our kitchen!

Situated in a spare room of the house where I lived was the computer and it was not unusual within minutes of sitting down to find a column of ants steadfastly walking with some apparent aim or other, up my leg, some as tiny as specs of dust I could blow them away with a breath.

Geckos lived in the house too and were very welcome as they are beautiful, like little ribbons of sage velvet darting across the walls and also because they ate a lot of creepy-crawlies. We had bush rats in the attic and cock roaches pretty much everywhere.

The bush rats usually headed up to the loft to camp out and were as much of a nuisance as escapee hamsters are here in the UK since they will gnaw their way through anything, including electric wiring. I shared the house with someone who would put down poison for the bush rats.  I would protest because I hate killing things, until I realised that the cockroaches absolutely loved the poison, they thrived on it and ate it gleefully, growing to gargantuan proportions. The bush rats were fine too since the cockroaches cleaned up the poison. It was a win-win situation all round.

My Ossie mate once recounted to me that one morning he had been awoken by a very odd sensation on his face. Placing his hand there and to his horror, he discovered there was a large and hungry cockroach sitting astride his rather ample eye brow, clinging on for dear life and munching away at his hairy brow. Like something out of a Hammer Horror movie he leapt out of bed with cries of, ‘oh, oh!’ hopping about on one foot, desperately trying to bat the unfortunate creature away.

They don’t tell you about that on ‘A Place in the Sun’ do they!

Reflections on Rhodes.

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  I’ve just returned from a week in Rhodes, we booked self catering in a pleasant, albeit in serious need of a refurb’ place called Annixis Apartments in Ixia. The apartments are family run by Glynis and her Greek husband Stematis. (Isn’t that a treatment drug for vertigo?) Anyways, we arrived in Ixia which is only twenty minutes from the airport, at three in the morning absolutely wiped out by a five hour flight. Sensibly prepared we sat on the balcony to our very basic apartment (two plates, two cups which did not match, no toaster, no cutlery etc,) as I uncorked a bottle of wine I’d bought in customs. We watched the sunrise and drank from mugs, which was pretty enjoyable and then slept for several hours. 

There is a small pool at the apartments which happily, remained almost people-less for the whole of our stay. I’d taken my Kindle, loaded with some excellent reading and the last thing I need on holiday, is people. (Bah people humbug.) I spend all day with people so on holiday I like to be alone. Les sat by the pool, doing a newspaper crossword while I read. Bliss. However I do love to get out and about so on the second day we travelled around the island on the Island Tour, by air-conditioned coach which is just as well as the temperature had soared to nearly forty in the sun. There were old people on our coach practically expiring in the heat.

 Rhodes is a picture box pretty island, with lots of lovely old colonial style houses painted mostly white and blue, surrounded by olive groves and Cyprus trees. The countryside is quite verdant owing to a plentiful supply of underground water which, we were reliably informed, you can drink. After two days our morning ablutions had turned a shocking, knock your eye out, nuclear orange and I still don’t know if it was the water!

It is evident all around you that Greece is struggling financially, not only from the tell tale half built houses which scatter the countryside but also the many boarded up, previously thriving shops all over the island. It’s very sad and gives parts of Rhodes an air of neglect.
 
The beach near us, just five minutes walk away was only reachable by crossing one of the most horrendously busy roads I have ever crossed during my entire and varied experiences of travelling. You really do risk your life every time you cross and I’d hate to try it with children, or after indulging in a few beers. It is beyond me why there were no crossings for people as the flow of speeding traffic is constant and all through the night. Not that I minded much since I’m not a huge fan of beach holidays but we did walk down one afternoon, hearts in mouths across that road just so’s Les could tell his mates at work about all the flesh on display. The beach is pebbly and not all that but the sea is lovely, frothy white and a deep azure blue further out.

We also booked a ferry to what the tour guide called an island, Lindos, but which turned out to be an extension of the main island of Rhodes. We were told it would take about an hour to get there, in fact it took three and when we arrived all there is, is a very small beach crammed with hundreds of people which for me is a nightmare. In essence we were trapped so I had to stick it out for the afternoon, watching a lot of men on sun beds sitting upright, ostensibly gazing out to sea, heads bobbing up and down they reminded me of meerkats and gent’s, we already know it isn’t the sea you are gazing at. It baffles me how so many women happily strip off all their clothes in front of hundreds of strangers. I suppose I might consider it if I was being paid, but no, even if I had a fabulous figure which incidentally, I do, I just wouldn’t strip like that. I think it’s weird and quite surreal to be sat next to a naked woman, chatting to me about her hol’s as though we’ve known one another all our lives….. bizarre.

Les liked it. Honestly, that beach was like a still from Tube 8. Hey ho.
 
One night Les went for a walk. He decided to climb a mountain and left at about ten o’clock, with no money and no keys and absented himself for about five hours. This was not entirely unexpected so I let him get on with it, it was after all, our time to do with as we wanted. This was the night I decided to walk down a dark lane and look at the old cottages behind the apartments in the moonlight and then fell over. If you’ve got FB then you will have seen the picture. When I walked back, Les was zuzzing peacefully in bed, he’d got lost which isn’t surprising as said mountain was in reality, about fifteen miles from our pad. What are we like…

On the last day, I returned on my own to Rhodes town where I spent the day wandering around the old part, which is beautiful and steeped in history, then took myself to the far end of the town beach because there was no-one on it and I had the sea to myself. Heavenly.

If you haven’t been to Rhodes, I would recommend it as a great place to visit if you’re not looking for breathtaking beaches and if you enjoy culture, beautiful countryside and ancient architecture, for that there is in abundance. You also need to like the British for there are large communities of ex-pats all over the island.
 
Next year, I intend visiting my mate Helen who lives in New Zealand and next year dear reader…… I will be writing an entirely different tale for you.