Monday, September 5, 2011

NZ flash mobs warm the heart

I was just a little nervous about the state I would find London and other parts of the UK in after recent riots / flash mob / looting episodes. I was in Brixton for the 1981 edition of this sad state of affairs, and don't need to see a repeat. All was calm on my arrival though, and the experience was no worse than hearing scary stories from friends around the country.

With that in mind, it really warmed my heart to see what New Zealand flash mobs are up to in suburban malls at the moment. It reminded me how the country that kindly adopted me is wonderful in so many ways.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

A bad night for monkeys

This is a rare departure from the travel focus of this blog - although the 12,000 miles distance between me and the site of the story might just qualify. I love - and want to share - these quotes from Ian Macwhirter's article in The Guardian on Friday May 6th.

'Seasoned political hacks were lost for superlatives in their efforts to encapsulate the scale of the Liberal Democrat defeat. Their vote didn't just collapse, it was vaporised.'

'Scottish National Party has achieved what most political analysts believed was not possible: an overall majority in a proportional electoral system. The political map of Scotland has been transformed.'

'Labour's campaign insulted the intelligence of the Scottish voters by insisting that, as their manifesto put it: "The Tories are back" when they emphatically are not – in Scotland at least.'

So the debate about independence for Scotland is shifting up a gear now that ten+ years of 'autonomy' has shown Scotland is not just willing, but also extremely able. I don't share the view of people who commented that the (now assured) referendum on independence will not return a positive result. If that opinion is as current as the comment about passport control at Carlisle, I'd start planning the severance package. Has somebody not noticed that the EU ruled out the need for passports at Copenhagen, Calais, Cologne or Carlisle?

I'm not sure I share the view of the article's author either, when he says:

'The voters have returned the insult by applying to Labour the kind of tactical voting they used to destroy the Scottish Tories in the 1990s.'

Is it not just vaguely possible that voters picked the horse they wanted to win, rather than the one most likely to fall and trip up the winner? Just a thought!

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Day the earth moved (Christchurch, Feb 2011)

We were in Hokitika on the S Island’s rugged west coast and never felt a thing while Christchurch and surrounds were being rocked by a 6.3 earthquake in the early afternoon. I was finally easing into kick back mode on day three of a sight seeing tour with big sis and bro in law on their first visit to NZ. I’ve been here sixteen years so they weren’t exactly hot on my heels, but making up for lost years with tons of appreciation now they finally made it.

The previous day, it rained in true West coast style with due respect for an annual quota of 5mtrs. The terms ‘incessant’ and ‘inundation’ don’t even come close to a fair description. We thought of hightailing it over to the east coast in search of clement weather, but the sight of Franz Josef Glacier looming through early morning mist and the river in full flood throwing random ice sculptures onto stony banks was a rarer treat. No helicopter flights up to the snow or half day hikes up the glacier in such gloomy conditions, but a promise of other exhilarating experiences next time around

So we moved on up the west coast, and were busy inspecting a fabulous driftwood and beach debris sculpture exhibition on the beach when all hell broke loose in Christchurch around 1 o’clock on a Tuesday afternoon. Shops in Hokitika had to straighten their shelf displays and phone lines were buzzing immediately after the event. Early news was of something more serious than the lucky escape that began months of after shocks and uncertainty. The nerves of a city, already shot, got blown apart that Tuesday afternoon. At the time of posting, 113 are known to have died, and more than 200 are missing four days after the event. Aftershocks continue on a regular basis.

With heartfelt sympathy for those suffering in Christchurch, and friends and whanau in Scotland dealing with personal tragedy, we did what the war time mantra advised, kept calm and carried on, mindful of new beginnings.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010


Green blue lorikeets screech in a flowering pohutukawa
Sulphur hued cockatoos fly in glittering shower formation
Pigeons swoop down from roofs then scatter
Mynahs bounce across grass verges, ratcheting out opinions
Rosellas dive bomb tree to tree chattering all the while
Ibis as old as the island, pelican asleep on a post
The ubiquitous seagull and sparrow…

Across the water Jumbo jets glide to earth then roar to a halt

A380s quieter, more graceful, frightful shedding of feathers

320s buzz up and down to various destinations

777s 330s 737s and other metal winged breeds

Painted tails to represent the flocks of many nations

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Kyrenia - an ancient and modern tale

Driving north from Agia Trias in Cyprus' south eastern corner, we cross a line that divides the island in two – Greek in the south, Turkish in the north. A few formalities must be observed. Traverse barbed wire fences, cross a strip of no man’s land, get checked at border posts at either end. Show passports, stamps on a separate piece of paper, check the boot of the car – and pay for extra insurance.

The road continues flat and straight for a while, to the outskirts of the capital. The city has not one or two, but four names, Lefkosia, Nicosia, Λευκωσία, Lefkoşa and a line through the centre. As if that will solve the problem. One sign is clear and provocative, a large Turkish flag emblazoned on the hillside for the viewing pleasure of residents south of the line.

The road starts spiraling up through hills, or are they mountains? Less signs of terracing and cultivation this side of the line than in Troodos, which is further west and south of the line. Equally beautiful though, but peppered with military installations, where signs are armed and no photos permitted. Sloping back down towards the north coast, we reach our destination.

Kyrenia is one of Cyprus’ nine ancient kingdoms and has been inhabited since at least 1000 BC and probably long before. The Phoenician scattered trading posts across a presumably unified island. By 600 BC, Egypt had taken over, but lost control to Persia. Ancient history is vague. Hard evidence of later colonization remains visible today.

Arabic writing carved in stone, vast remains of roman settlements, a 2300 year old shipwreck in a 1000 plus year old castle museum. (Click the photos to view full size)

The wreck is most enchanting. A still solid timber structure, a cargo of large, narrow based ceramic wine jars and mill stones, nails and sail rings preserved since long before the births of both this island's significant holy men. An archaeologist's dream, and the genuine articles on view for a very modest entrance fee.

Pictures of a rustic harbour scene recreate the port it might have come from, and fantasize the lives of apparently peaceful traders. What world was that? Presumably not the one when the Greco-Roman fort had to be built to protect inhabitants from Arab raids. Nor the one in which Richard, ‘coeur de leon’ captured the island from a Cypriot king, sold it briefly to the Knights Templar, then on to his cousin, the King of Jerusalem.

Part of the medieval port still stands beside fortified city walls, deep enough to enclose a church, a museum, reconstructed dungeons showing punishments of a bygone age, a shady courtyard cafe and more besides.

In the current period of calm following many storms, tourists are the only invading hordes. Their presence is harmless, their intentions benign. The only form of violence is ignorance and can easily be excused. The hosts are entirely hospitable and don’t take advantage where others might try. The site knows peace at last, but that line through the city is not far away. It is guarded by force and can only be crossed with consent.

The mythical cat

Local legend says that an ancient Egyptian queen brought cats to Cyprus because she missed her feline friends when she married her Cypriot prince charming and moved from the hot dry North African desert to the relative cool of this fertile island paradise. Ok, just to set the record straight, local legend provides the bones of that story and I made up the rest!

That there is no shortage of cats is unquestionably true, and they live very different lives to the pampered pets I know in other places. I haven’t seen a fat one yet (pack your bags Minnie!) Most seem to live in extended families, two, three, even four generations domiciled around the same garbage bin or fishing harbour. Though I have also spotted a few lone operators.

Probably they live everywhere, and it’s just that I happen to have been walking on or close to beaches when I’ve seen them. Many appear to be seaside dwellers. I wonder if they catch their own fish, or just sit on rocks to meditate in the early morning sun.

The sad side of the story is that they breed so prolifically that the population is considered too large to be sustainable. Some people feed them but not everyone is so kind, even to the cutest wee ones.

The option of neutering and releasing them has not caught on to any significant extent, and a 10 euro donation only pays for one cat. Like any kind of subsistence living, only the smart and the strong will survive.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

The old town looks the same...

...but only in certain corners!

Liverpool is a very different place in 2010 to the run down bombed out city I used to visit back in the early '70s. I didn’t explore too much the first time around. Hitched into town in October '69, camped overnight outside the Empire Theatre box office – got front row tickets for a Rolling Stones concert and hitched back home again. Repeated the free travel route a month or so later for the gig and discovered Cat Stevens' Tea for the Tillerman waiting for the band to come on. Memories as clear as if it was yesterday – including getting my purse nicked with the tickets in it. I must have had an honest face back then as we had no problem getting in without them.

I hooked up with a cute, long haired (of course) flared jean-ed Liverpudlian guy called Dave and continued to visit for the next year or so. I remember a bombed out city centre, live music at O’Connors pub and the Kardomah Coffee House in the city centre. And of course The Cavern, which is like a shrine these days, well preserved with few alterations from when the ‘fab four’ played there between gigs in Hamburg's red light district and fame and fortune in America.

The docklands are a different story – restored and refurbished with smart accommodation, shops, restaurants and the Beatles Story museum. Strange to walk through a museum full of sights and sounds familiar from my younger days. Not the first time I've done it though. I found a same year model as my ex-boyfriend Albert's Hilman Hunter in a transport museum in Wanaka a few years back. The recordings of screaming girls, thick accents and fabulous old songs are a bit older. The number of young people coming to pay tribute to their parents’ favourite musos is remarkable.

I feel sad at the end of the display as a room dedicated to each of the Beatles reminds me George died of cancer, John was shot dead in the street, Paul lost the love of his life – also to cancer - then a large-ish chunk of his fortune to a less than enduring second marriage. Only Ringo’s room brings on the warm fuzzies. Thomas the Tank Engine, movies with wife Barbara Bach, solo records and a son following close in his footsteps.

The nostalgia rounds off with a flutter in the penny arcades (at 10p a go!) then fish and chips and mushy peas at OAP prices on the pier at Southport.