Sunshine and jazz in Edinburgh


This gull had found a quiet spot to enjoy the sun we have had for the last few days but many more people were sunbathing in the Meadows, St Andrews Square or Portobello Beach. School and university are out for summer and the tourist season is in full swing. We were here mainly to get some work done on the flat but managed to escape for dinner with some friends on Sunday evening and for a trip to the Jazz Club on Monday evening. The Jazz and Blues Festival runs from 14-23 July before the main Festival and Fringe start. The Jazz Club’s resident Big Band were participating on this occasion. An early evening meal at Biblos which is almost next door meant we were first in the queue when the doors opened. Seating is fairly restricted at the venue and I did not feel like standing for a couple of hours that evening. Biblos has live music sessions in the B Bar throughout the year in Fridays and Saturdays. Here is the Big Band getting ready to perform in the Jazz Bar.

One of the festival staff asked whether I had seen them before and I had to explain that until this summer I had a choir rehearsal on Monday evenings and until last summer had to be in Liverpool early on Tuesday morning so Monday evenings in Edinburgh were not possible. He said the band had played every Monday evening for the last 10 years. The Jazz bar also runs jam sessions in the later part of the evening during the festival. Musicians can just turn up with their instrument and tell the door staff they want to play. Admission is free. They often have music going on until 5am. We enjoyed the selection of music from the Big Band but left well before morning. I made a note to get on with learning to play the alto saxophone. Wednesday was still very warm although overcast and we had a fairly uneventful drive home.

Cornbury: the fabulous finale


The sun was setting on the Cornbury Festival last weekend for the last time because low numbers of people attending in previous years left the organiser seriously financially embarrassed. However, it may not be the end as rumours were circulating that it might reappear in a couple of years in a different venue. We were attending it this year as rugby in New Zealand won over Glastonbury and my friend suggested this as an alternative. The estate is not an ideal festival venue as it has numerous very large trees, one of which obscures the view of the main stage from one side of the audience area and there are no screens. It is however a small festival, other trees provide some shade in hot weather and it is easy to get around everything and move between stages. We arrived about an hour before the campsite opened so could park near it and find a good site for our tents.

After having our very civilised camping dinner of duck à l’orange cooked by my friend with aperitifs and wine followed by dessert we wandered off to the campsite stage to hear the Overtures, a tribute band who took us back to the 1960s for the rest of the evening. On Friday we explored the venue, relaxed in the hammocks before it got too busy (I managed to fall out and acquire some bruises) and sampled some of the music on that day. Here is Kansas Smitty’s House Band: a jazz ensemble.

That evening, my view of the Kaiser Chiefs was blocked by the afore-mentioned tree and also my view of Midge Ure the following day. The festival describes itself as a very English one and certainly over 90% of those attending were white, affluent, southern English. I did spot one saltire, one Welsh and one Swedish flag in the campsite and met some Liverpool FC supporters at one point but most of the voices I heard were southern English. There were ‘posh loos’ that you had to pay to use. There would not be any chanting of ‘Jeremy Corbin’ here. One of our friends thought they spotted Michael Gove but this was not confirmed and David Cameron has attended the festival in previous years. The friends also said that they tried to get into the Cafe Nero stage at one point but were prevented from going in as it was already full (before the arena was open) by people they presumed were VIPs. In addition to music, there was comedy (the best of which was Nish Kumar), activities for children, shopping and of course people-watching. There was an airfield not far away so we saw several small planes fly overhead and it was Bristol balloon festival on the same weekend so a number of hot air balloons also flew over us.

The weather was fabulous and we enjoyed a good variety of music before heading back home, wondering which festival to attend next year as Glastonbury is having a fallow year.

New Zealand: Auckland in midwinter


While the northern hemisphere is celebrating the summer solstice by touching Stonehenge and other rituals, the 21st of June is the midwinter solstice down here in the southern hemisphere. We drove from Hamilton to Auckland for our last few days in New Zealand. The sunsets just after 5pm behind the city so we walked down to the harbour to enjoy the evening light.

Someone I was at school with has been living in Auckland for many years and had invited us over to their house in Devonport for an evening meal. We took the 10 minute ferry with all the commuters returning home in the dark and had a very enjoyable evening. The following morning the forecast rain had arrived so we decided to visit the museum which sits in Auckland Domain and had a very wet walk there. The neoclassical building was constructed in 1929 and is Auckland War Memorial Museum. Most of the top floor is devoted to the war memorial collection. However, it contains many other gems. On the ground floor Maori and Pacific Islander artefacts are on display.

In the ancestral meeting house (remove your shoes to enter) a restoration project was underway.

Although New Zealand had its own potteries from the late 19th century, we found a link with home as Royal Doulton and a tile manufacturer in Hanley produced china and tiles with Maori decoration in the early 20th century. There were also silver teaspoons from Birmingham. Other exhibits were Wild Child: childhood in New Zealand, sections on volcanoes, natural history, 20th century Japanese ceramics and a very powerful photographic exhibition entitled Being Chinese in Aotearoa chronicling the experiences of Chinese people in New Zealand in over 90 photographs from the first settler in 1842 to the present day. Unfortunately, we will not be here to see the Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition which starts on 7 July 2017. It was raining less on the return journey but the sky remained overcast and the Sky Tower was in the mist so not an evening to go up for the view.

On Friday morning, we were back on the Devonport ferry for a wander around the town. Close to the ferry terminal is Windsor Reserve with a very large tree that has numerous aerial roots. The New Zealand Tree Register identifies it as a Moreton Bay Fig, also known as an Australian Banyan.

Devonport has two bookshops, both on Victoria Road. Bookmark has secondhand books including a large section on military history in addition to all the usual sections. The shop on the other side of the street sells new books. On Queen’s Parade, we found a gallery selling antique maps and prints, Japanese woodblock prints and other modern prints and a few paintings but nothing to add to our collection. On a clear day, it would have been worth walking up Mount Victoria for the view but as the mist had descended, we confined ourselves to walking on the beach where I found some sea glass and had some conversations with the dog walkers, one of whom was originally from Northern Ireland.

As the city was shrouded in mist this was also not a day for the Skytower.

At the ferry terminal, I picked up a free copy of Paperboy, a free magazine published every Thursday and is a great guide to what’s on around the city. I spotted a photographic exhibition at the Trish Clark Gallery and would have loved to see it but the gallery opened so late that we could not manage it before a late lunch and the walk to Eden Park. We had a great lunch in the Indian restaurant opposite our hotel. A Fan Trail had been marked out for us to walk to the venue and entertainment was laid on along the route. These ladies were dancing to Amy Winehouse:

There were people dancing with fire, various bands (one of whom were doing a not very good rendition of UB40’s Red, Red Wine and people dressed up in all sorts of costumes. It took one and a half hours to get there and find our seat. Unfortunately the British and Irish Lions lost the match with the All Blacks so we slipped out early and caught the first train back to the city centre. Tomorrow we leave Auckland to start the long journey home.

New Zealand: Hamilton


En route to Hamilton on Highway 1, we stopped for coffee at Tirau, a town that does not make it into the guide book. It has numerous cafes and so is a good place for refuelling but its speciality is corrugated iron art. Some of the buildings including the information centre and merino wool shop are housed in large corrugated iron animals.


The metal is used in many of the buildings in a more usual fashion but there are also smaller art works and some for sale in the stores. I was feeling a little under the weather so after arriving in Hamilton we limited our explorations to finding some dinner. The next morning we walked the three miles from our hotel into the city centre. The guide book is somewhat scathing saying that the ‘grey-green greasy Waikato River rolls through town’ but is ignored by the city layout. There was certainly one signpost down to the river walkway from Victoria Street and another area where access is going to be made and will open in early 2018. The riverside path runs along both banks for several miles. On the east bank the path runs thorugh the Memorial Garden and Hayes Paddock, both green spaces.

We crossed the Anzac Bridge and walked along to the Hamilton Gardens which are southeast of the centre. Fifty years ago the area was a quarry and rubbish dump. There are now gardens in several different styles: this is the Italian Renaissance one

They are situated in a large park with a cafe and restaurant, childrens’ play area, productive garden, a rose garden and herb garden. We took a bus back into the city centre and browsed in Hamilton’s secondhand bookstore ‘Browsers’ on Victoria Street. We had passed the old now empty shop on the other side of the road the previous evening so assumed it had closed. It was a pleasant surprise to find it had relocated. As seems to be the case in New Zealand, there was a large local interest section but they covered a wide range of topics and had a child-friendly area. You have to keep your wits about you in the city centre, as cyclists also use the pavement. Many cyclists have no lights or bells so can catch pedestrians unaware. Tonight there is another rugby match and then we return to Auckland tomorrow.

New Zealand: Rotorua


We joined the rugby tour in Auckland and left on a bus. It was a pleasant change from driving, having done just over 2000 miles in the previous two weeks. We drove back down the Southern Highway and past Huntly but then turned off through Morrinsville amid dairy farming country and had a break at Matamata. It has achieved fame as the film set for Hobbiton in Lord of the Rings. You can tour the film set for $99 if you wish. We had a quick lunch and then completed our journey to Rotorua. The lake is a peaceful oasis late afternoon.

This black swan was just settling down for the night.

In the evening, we had a drink in Eat Street. The police and someone from public health were patrolling although it was quiet. As a street pastor back home, it is usually me keeping the streets safe while everyone else is eating and drinking inside so it was slightly strange to be on the other side for a change. Dinner was in a Chinese restaurant where we were the only non-Chinese customers. On Saturday morning, we walked out to Whakarewarewa, a Maori village with thermal waters on the south side of Rotorua.

The local community cook and bath using the waters. Very gradually they are having to move up the hill as sink holes appear in the very thin crust in the lower parts of the area.

This is an old hut they sued to shelter in on winter nights that is no longer in use.

We had a guided tour that lasts for an hour and which was very interesting, covering the geo-thermal activity, the Maori history and culture here. There are other options including cultural performances, dining on food cooked in the thermal ovens and walking trails around the village and lake, some of which we did. There are two overlooks giving good views of the geysers.

We also met a pukeko.

The woman who runs the gift shop and looks after around 15 cats, was working in the Chinese restaurant we ate in the evening before and recognised James. The money raised from the entrance fee and tours goes back to the community. There is a larger, more commercial thermal village a little further down the road which is busier and more expensive. We walked back into town and picked up some lunch before it was time to go to the rugby stadium. I have been to countless rugby matches over the years but the first game was the first women’s match I have seen. England were playing the New Zealand Black Ferns and won as did the British Lions who beat the All Blacks in the second game. It was very wet and I found myself watching some of the media. One guy from the Sky Sports Team was zooming around on a Segway and managing to shoot video at the same time. Other photographers were dumping one camera on the wet grass while they were using the other. It was quite amusing to see that the referee and lines people were sponsored by Specsavers, especially considering some of the decisions they made. Quite a few of the Lions’ fans had stuffed lions, hats and costumes but we met a group of Irish guys, one of whom was dressed as Pink Panther. After the game we eventually found the correct bus back to the hotel and planned a lazy day on Sunday before the next move.

New Zealand: first 24 hours in Auckland


Having arrived the evening before it was already dark by the time we ventured out for dinner. The doors of St Patrick’s Cathedral just down the street from our hotel were open so we looked inside. It was built in 1907 in the Gothic Revival Style with lots of polished wood and stained glass inside.

This morning we visited the Art Gallery which sits on the other side of Albert Gardens from the University. The original building dates from 1887 with a modern extension.

On the top floor was an exhibition entitled ‘Shout, Whisper, Wail: the 2017 Chartwell Show’ including works by ten contemporary New Zealand and Australian artists in a variety of media. This is ‘Nobody puts baby in a corner’ by Janet Lilo, 2017.

The first floor has modern New Zealand and international art of which this is one example from a UK 20th century family.The Boyle Family’s ‘The Gisborne Triptych’ 1990 is one work from a project in which they invited friends to throw darts at a map of the world. They then visited as many sites as possible and gathering materials from 1000 sites using what they called ‘earthprobes’ which comprised samples from the ground and resin casting. Gisborne was where Captain Cook first landed hence the significance of this work to New Zealand.

The lower levels have New Zealand paintings from the early colonial settlement, Maori portraits by Charles F Goldie and modern works exploring migration, exploration and arrival from the earliest settlements to today. There are free tours in English and Mandarin but we preferred to wander around by ourselves.
Just outside is Albert Gardens with some sculptures and plants still in flower. The University Clock Tower looks over the gardens.

The Sky Tower at 328m is the tallest building in the southern hemisphere and you can go up it and look at the view and have a drink in the bar.

We might do that when we are back in Auckland for a couple of days at the end of this trip. We met some of the other people on the trip in the bar at Happy Hour and then found our evening meal in one of the many restaurants in the city centre. Tomorrow we leave for our next destination: Rotorua.

New Zealand: Lake Taupo to Auckland

The day length is noticeably longer up here. Lake Taupo was being buffeted by strong winds as we left and the ducks looked very ruffled, not knowing to risk swimming on the water.

Making a note to return in a different season, we got back onto Highway 1 just north of the town. There are plenty of adrenalin activities to do around here but I would be happy just to do some walking on the trails. The road passes through the large Kinleith Forest before descending into farmland.

North of Hamilton, farmland merges into coal mining country and Huntly is the centre. There are both underground and opencast mines here. Happily, we found a diversion around Lake Waikare. It is struggling with algal bloom and pollution from the surrounding farms. There is a big clean-up operation underway in the Waikare River which runs alongside the road. It was just as windy as Lake Taupo.

Very few birds were attempting to fly today but we did spot a few wild turkeys foraging by the side of the road. Nearer to Auckland the expressway becomes a motorway. With roadworks and road improvement schemes we felt quite at home. We dropped the hire car off and dragged our cases the three blocks or so to our hotel. We are now joining part of the British Lions tour so that James can enjoy some rugby. It does leave us with quite a lot of free time however so tomorrow we will sample some of the delights of Auckland. While we were checking in, the screens in reception were reporting serious disruptions with road closures and ferry crossings due to snow in the South Island. At least we have escaped that.